Sunlight caressed Noah’s face like a mother waking her child. As he opened his eyes he noticed the feel of grass underneath him. He raised a hand to shield his eyes from the sun.
“And I was so hoping I’d get to throw a bucket of cold water on you,” announced a familiar and welcome voice. “Did you disappoint all the women in your life, Noah Haynes?”
“Only when I left,” Noah smiled up at Death. It was good to see a friendly face. “I’m surprisingly no deader than when I left. What happened out there?”
Death scowled at her unruly charge. “What happened is that you hurled yourself headlong into a situation you had no understanding of and that you had no hope of resolving. Had I not been there you would certainly have been torn apart by those devils.”
“I thought you weren’t allowed to help me,” Noah responded peevishly. He had a growing suspicion that he was being played.
“During your first test, I was not. However, during your second trial it was my responsibility to prevent your death, should you pass.”
“I wasn’t told about this second test.”
“Of course you weren’t. Awareness of the test would invalidate the result.”
“Of course,” he replied, genuine annoyance creeping into his voice. He was starting to develop a good idea of what had happened, and he was not pleased. “So when exactly did I pass the first test?” Noah demanded. “Was it after I fought off a crazed badger while hiding in a hole in that cliff side? Or was it when I fought the scaly turkey on top of that plateau? Maybe it was after I dropped the demon brother of the deadly mantis?”
“Devil,” Death corrected. “Devil brother of the deadly mantis. Demons are mythos based, traditionally Judeo-Christian, though the Japanese Oni could technically be considered demons.”
“Semantics is not a big priority for me right now.” Noah growled.
“Nor are manners, it would seem.” Death replied coldly. “Here I was, worried that at an moment something would tear you apart or swallow you whole, then when I finally see you again you pick a fight with a type 4 devil, before trying to take on the rest of his bask. Now, after the utterly predictable beating, you wake up and belligerently harass me like it’s my fault you show atrocious judgment.”
Noah squirmed under Death’s penance stare. “I’m sorry, I didn’t- wait, were you there when I first ran into Belron?”
Death looked to the side and tucked a lock of scarlet hair behind her ear. “I monitored your progress throughout the first test. When the time came to progress to the next, I was required to take a more active role.” She glanced back up at Noah. Their eyes met.
“You were the girl.” Noah stated evenly.
Death nodded. “The deception was integral to the test. We had to be able to judge your response.”
“There was never any danger?”
“None. Those devils didn’t have the power to harm me.”
“Sure did a number on me, though.” He smiled ruefully. “Suppose the body parts I saw were fake as well.”
“Meat prepared to bait the devils. No human had walked that place in generations.”
“You should get a Tony for that performance,” Noah observed. “Standing in mute awe at my presence, as if I was the last thing you expected to see.”
“Oh, and I suppose you don’t feel you were in any way overly dramatic. The way you swept in to my aid I half expected you to start calling Belron a ‘fell beast’ and demanding that he ‘unhand me’”
Noah chuckled. “My name's Noah Haynes, and I’m here to rescue you.” He shook his head. “No, the best performance of the show was after I dropped Kazzak. The way you blushed, it was brilliant.”
Death glanced down slightly, and Noah thought he caught something in her body language.
Is she….? No..., of course not.
“Is it safe to assume you put those devils down after I took that hit?” Noah changed the subject.
“They were dealt with.” Death replied, her gaze returning to Noah.
“Care to elaborate?”
“No,” Death replied icily