Being Mabaa's assistant wasn't so bad. For the first week he was mostly just following her around and learning the location of everything. The worst thing he'd had to deal with was the extra work on top of his studies. Mabaa still insisted he keep up on his history studies but had lessened the amount of reading and frequency of her random quizzes. It was an awkward transition from doing nothing but reading to trailing after the witch queen.
Thankfully, he picked up on the location of everything fairly quick. Most of his time was spent in the library or Mabaa's study, doing everything from organizing books, scrolls, and loose leaf papers to fetching things she needed. He was surprised to not run into any witches during this time, but Mabaa herself eventually told him she had arranged things to avoid that for a short time. She had undoubtedly noticed his fears and thought ahead to make this adjustment easier.
His only issue was that he wouldn't have more time to adjust to his new role before he was met with unfamiliar witches. One week was too short in his opinion and the first time he was faced with an unfamiliar witch, it took everything he had to keep his breathing steady and fight the nauseous feeling his fears caused. He hadn't recognized her at first. Of course he had never seen her before himself, only heard the name through Vajra or one of the others.
Medusa Gorgon was a terrifying woman. Though smaller than him, she exuded confidence and stood tall as if she thought there was no one better than her. Even in front of Maba, she had an air of superiority that he cowered away from. Her eyes flickered to him for a brief moment, a spark of interest clear in them as she shared what she knew of her elder sister's whereabouts.
The whole time she kept her gaze pinned to him and as she finished her report, she nodded to him. "So this is your little reaper pet?" The smile that crossed her face sent shivers up his spine and he buried his face in his scarves, shifting to stand behind Maba. There was a tint to her voice that just screamed 'danger' to him.
"He is Asura. For now he helps me with small things as my assistant while he adjusts to living in our realm." Maba emphasized the word assistant but whether it was for his sake or simply to disagree with the other woman, he wasn't sure. "If there is nothing else Medusa, then please leave."
"Could I borrow him? He could be valuable for my research and if I learn of any weakness from him it could help us defeat Lord Death." The smirk on her face was too confident but her words still earned Maba's interest.
A spark of curiosity that he felt in her soul made him shake, biting his lip so hard he could taste the coppery tang of blood in his mouth. If Medusa was Arachne's sister then he would bet nothing good would come from having her interest or being a part of her research. Vajra came to mind, how the only time he ever seemed truly frightened was when he remembered Arachne or her experiments.
"Asura." Maba spoke firmly, casting a glance over her shoulder. He jumped at the mention of his name, heart pounding so much that he couldn't think enough to string words together. The older witch turned back around to face Medusa. "I cannot give him to you. As you can see, he is too skittish. I worry that whatever you do to him may harm him too much for me to follow through with my own plans for him."
Medusa's smirk fell away, eyes narrowing as she glared over Maba at the reaper. "...I see. Well. If you change your mind let me know first." Her posture stiffened as she forced a smile back on her face and bowed. "I will see you again if anything changes with my sister, so please at least consider my request." Maba waved a hand dismissively and the younger witch left, slamming the door behind her.
It was quiet for a few moments before Maba spoke again, "Do you have such little faith in me that you believe I would give you to someone like her so easily?" When he didn't respond to her immediately she sighed and gestured for him to sit down.
Asura was quick to obey, sitting in the nearest chair he could find and folding his shaking hands together to hide it from Maba. He knew it was pointless, his posture was stiff as a board and every breath he took was short and uneven. There was no way the witch hadn't noticed. When she asked him that question, he didn't know how to respond to her at first.
It took a moment to calm himself enough to speak to her in even a quiet voice. "I… I can't help it. I'm… I'm…" He paused. Should he continue that sentence? Something told him he should just tell Maba about why he was so afraid in case his fears caused him trouble in the future. As far as he could tell, she only thought that he was afraid of her and of being in their realm. She knew nothing about how he was created or what the other warlords expected of him and a part of him thought it unfair.
Taking a deep breath, he tried again. "I… It's not that I'm ungrateful, but I cannot get rid of my paranoia or my fears. Father made me from his own fears so that he could be a perfect god of order." Maba said nothing in response, just folded a hand under her chin and leaned forward. It took him a moment to realize she expected him to continue and he stuttered as he tried to figure out how to explain it.
"I… I don't really understand everything about it. He never told me himself, just left me to learn what I could from the others or from listening in when they would speak." Asura fixed his eyes on a spot on the floor, shoulders tense and one foot tapping on the floor nervously. "A-As a result, I… I can't get rid of my fears no matter what I do. It used to make father angry because I was too scared to train. I don't think there's anything I can do to stop it."
"I see. How irresponsible of Death." There's an angry and disgusted tone to her voice as she speaks his father's name, but somehow he feels it isn't the same as usual. For a moment he wonders if she is angry for him. He brushed the thought aside quickly though. Why would she be angry on his behalf? "Is there anything else?"
Asura thought for a moment, tightening his grip on his own hands as he tried to muster the courage to speak again. He already told Maba this much, he could at least give her a fair warning about himself. "Well… Father and the others used to say that I'm likely to go mad because I'm… I'm like this. I don't want to go mad, but I can't do anything to get rid of my fears."
"If you can't get rid of it, then don't try. You'll only stress yourself out trying to do the impossible."
"But-" Asura was cut off as Maba held up her hand.
"Asura, is it your fear you dislike or your inability to manage it and your reactions because of it?" Maba asked, crossing her arms and leaning back in her seat. She watched him hesitate, confusion clear on his face as he thought about her question. It was obvious that he never put any thought into it before.
After a long moment, he finally responded. "Both? I… I've never really thought about it. I'm sorry."
Maba nodded as she watched him fidget nervously. She debated continuing the conversation but a part of her worried about pushing Asura too far too soon. So she waved a hand dismissively at his apology and said, "Don't apologize, it is no problem. Now, I need you put these books in the library and get me these spellbooks."
Asura didn't respond immediately. The sudden change of subject seemed to throw him off and took a minute for him to process the request. Carefully he took the parchment from Maba's hand and read it over before folding it up and tucking it in his pocket. He gathered up the books he needed to return and left, stopping only to spare a glance back in case the witch needed anything else. Maba only waved him on though, so he left.
Now that she was alone, Maba sighed. It made a little more sense to her now why Death got rid of his son. She wasn't quite sure what to do with the information now. Asura was wary but he wasn't hiding from her anymore so she couldn't go back on her word. Still, if he did go mad then the entire witch population could be at risk. If it came down to it she would choose the witches as it was her duty to protect them, but a part of her hoped there was some way to prevent the reaper's possible downfall.
Her mind drifted back to Asura himself. It seemed he was aware of how Death felt towards him to some extent, but like a child he ignored it until he couldn't. He knew Death created him from what his father viewed as an imperfection, heard them talk about him behind his back about being a threat. Asura must have assumed that all of this was related to his abandonment and was clearly affected by it.
Anger twisted her gut. Her hands balled into tight fists as she took deep breaths. Death was a worse person than she thought. His own neglect could have been what would push his son over the edge of madness had Asura stayed with him. How he could do something like this to someone like Asura was beyond her. A part of her wondered how he stayed sane while under Death's care. The boy had no idea how to handle his own fears and Death clearly didn't try to help him.
There was a knock on her door suddenly and she jumped. Quickly composing herself and pushing her previous thoughts aside she called them in. A part of her had been expecting Asura to be back, but instead it was Kirai. The taller woman glanced around the office for a moment before throwing herself down into a seat. "Where's your reaper?"
"Library." Maba responded automatically.
Kirai raised an eyebrow at this. "You let him off leash so soon? I'm shocked and disappointed. And you cost me a good bit of money with this move."
Maba only stared at her, clearly not amused, so Kirai changed the subject. "Maba, you seem fond of him already even if you're being careful. You aren't getting too attached to him right?"
"I am trying not to but I am starting to think it may be better to be a little attached. From what little he's told me, Death certainly held no attachment to him and he is still young. Children need someone to rely on and it seems likely that Asura had no one." Maba explained as she leaned forward on her desk.
An idea crossed her mind and she smiled to herself. Asura didn't have a real parent, just a master who saw him as an imperfection and abandoned him. She wasn't sure if she was the best candidate, but perhaps she could take that role for him. It could help prevent him from falling to madness to have someone's support and she could have a child without forgoing her duties to raise one herself. Maba wasn't about to lie to herself and say the idea wasn't appealing.
"I'm… not going to ask what the smile's for." Kirai spoke suddenly and drew her attention again before continuing. "I should get on track with why I'm here. We got a report from some of our spies about that little thing you asked us to keep an eye on. The reaper's friend."
Maba motioned for her to continue, and Kirai tossed a bundle of papers on the desk. Opening it, her eyes fell on the drawing of the weapon, a dark-skinned boy with his long hair pulled back behind him and wearing heavy fur armor. "What was he doing last?"
"Still looking for Asura it seems. Last we saw he encountered Eibon and has been following him since. Probably thinks Eibon could help him." Kirai explained before adding, "They headed north last we heard. Eibon would know where Asura was left, though I didn't think he would actually help the guy. Do you think there's some reason beyond their time as warlords that would have Eibon agree to help?"
"Eibon does take pride in his creations. I cannot say for sure, but he may be fond of this one. This Vajra boy is still one of Eibon's creations and that may affect how Eibon views him." Maba stated simply as she shuffled through the rest of the report. "If that's everything then you are excused."
Kirai stayed put for a moment before she asked, "When do you want me to start training this brat? I've already got a plan set up to start at any time. And before you ask, no, I did not make it exceptionally difficult. I don't like reapers but I will do my job properly. Yoru already asked that."
"I will contact you once I convince him."
Kirai accepted the answer with a nod and stood. She bowed low and strode back through the door, pausing only to let Asura through. He cast a nervous glance towards the woman as he passed, clearly seeing the wariness that crossed her face at the sight of him. Maba waited until he found a safe place to set the books she asked for before calling him over.
He stood over her, shoulders slumped and unease clear in his eyes, but she only gestured for him to bend down. Once he did, she reached up to ruffle his hair and give a quick, "Thank you." Asura nodded once, tense under the touch. He fixed his eyes on the desk and she had only seen his eyes widen before a hand slammed down with a loud bang.
Maba reeled back as Asura snatched the papers from her desk. It took a moment to realize what exactly had happened. When she remembered she had left Kirai's report on Asura's weapon friend out she relaxed and let him flip through it. There was nothing much in it, just a more detailed account of Kirai's summary, so there was no problem in letting the god see it. She would have told him anyway.
Soon Asura lowered the report, sheepishly setting the papers back where he found them. "Sorry I…" He paused, shoulders drooped and head lowered with an almost ashamed expression on his face. "I jus-" Maba held a hand up to stop him before he could continue.
"The report just got here but there's no need to look so ashamed. I would have told you what is on it anyway." She assured, "You must be relieved. Your friend is in good company."
"Of course. I was worried about him being alone. Even though I know Vajra is very capable he is only human." Asura said as a small smile crossed his face.
Maba nodded, folding her hands in her lap as she thought. Asura's worry for the weapon made her wonder what exactly their relationship was like before he ended up in their realm. She knew her curiosity would get the better of her eventually so she asked, "For you to be so attached to him… I wonder, what is your friend like?"
There was a pause where Asura was considering whether to answer or not. She watched him chew on his bottom lip anxiously for a long moment before he faced her with the brightest smile she had ever seen on his face. "Vajra is very kind and patient with me. Because of how I was created I didn't know a lot of things I should have at first. Fa- Death thought I should and didn't teach me anything and the others were mostly uninterested in me. Vajra was the one who insisted on being close to me because we are about the same age and when he learned I didn't know something he would show me."
"He would also comfort me when I was too afraid of something and he often tried to help me with my training or learning to manage my fears. I used to be much worse. I could hardly leave my room back then but Vajra kept me company when he could. He even used to promise that we would be partners one day when Death said I was ready." The fondness Asura spoke with made it much more clear how important this weapon was to him than his words ever could.
A part of Maba was curious about this weapon now and she wondered if he would be so loyal as to join them for Asura's sake. Having a reaper like Asura and one of Death's defected warlords would greatly boost their chances of survival. Perhaps even Eibon would join them? She shook her head slightly, ridding herself of those thoughts. For now she needed to focus on Asura and since he had already mentioned training, now was a good time to bring it up.
"I'm glad to hear you had someone who cared about you. Now, I need to ask you something." She waited until she had his full attention before adding, "I would like you to start combat training with Kirai."
Asura's expression changed in an instant, smile falling away and eyes going wide. She was quick to continue before he could find the words to object. "I am aware how Kirai feels about you and Yoru has offered to supervise these sessions. She doesn't dare step out of line."
The question was sudden but it didn't catch her off guard. "Remember Medusa earlier? She isn't the only witch who might pose a threat to you. Most will listen to my decision but some who hide here are not loyal to me. If they attempt to hurt you or use you for their own gain, I want you to be able to protect yourself. Some may be bold enough to do so in my own home. If you need time to consider it, then please do." She added the last part upon seeing Asura's uneasy expression.
"Can… can I think about it? Just over the night?" He asked and she nodded immediately. It was the expected answer and she had no problem waiting for his answer. She already knew working with Asura required patience.
"Of course. Take as long as you need. Now come here and put these away for me please." She changed the subject quickly, sliding a stack of reports his way. He set the report on his friend down reluctantly to take the others and hurried to do as he was told. Maba watched him for a moment before turning her attention back to the files Asura left.
No matter how possible the idea sounded to her, she knew she couldn't bring a demon weapon back. It was not likely to happen within the weapon's lifetime at least. The wounds Arachne left were far too fresh and it would seem suspicious to anyone outside of the small circle of witches who knew the reaper. She just hoped she wouldn't give Asura the wrong idea by keeping him updated.