“ Are you done? I wish not to hear you banter for days.” Said annoyed Lord Grim. ‘I would gladly play dead but their bantering would wake up anyone, especially the dead.’
One Autumn Leaf frowned and turned towards Lord Grim with a dangerous glint in his eyes. Before he could do anything more, Ye Xiu asked a question.
“Did you leave Sun Xiang alone there?”
“No, I left him with Autumn Tree. Speaking of Autumn Tree, he kept insisting on tagging along. I don’t know what happened to him. He is terribly annoying today.” Answered the Battlemage with his frustration oozing into the bond. Lord Grim froze hearing this name. He did hear it somewhere but had a hard time identifying it.
"After your stunts with Excellent Era, I am not surprised." Said Ye Xiu.
“ Hey, you didn’t say a word to any of that! Don’t blame me now!” One Autumn Leaf immediately rebutted.
“Because you’re a lost cause. No matter how many times I repeat something, you go and do it anyway.” Said Ye Xiu crossing his arms, preparing for a long debate.
“ Who’s Autumn Tree?” Asked Lord Grim quietly, ending the beginning of new banter.
The Battlemage grabbed his lance more surely and looked with resentment at the other avatar.
“What’s it to you!?” Before Ye Xiu could react, the blood-red lance was pointed at the Unspecialized. Lord Grim didn't even move from his spot as if knowing that he is well out of range to receive more than a graze.
“Woah, hey, calm down.” Said Ye Xiu eyeing the bond and sweat dropping when there were no red strings to yank out.
“ Nothing. I am just curious. That’s not a crime.” Answered Lord Grim, still unbothered by One Autumn Leaf’s attitude. ‘Why is he so protective over him? Why does this name seem very familiar?’ he wondered.
“Well, you’d better stop asking.” Snarled One Autumn Leaf, this time taking a step forward and swinging his lance so this time it will unquestionably hit Lord Grim. The lance suddenly changed its course as Ye Xiu chose this moment to kick One Autumn Leaf with full force to make him falter and fall on his ass.
Lord Grim stared wide-eyed at Ye Xiu. The human certainly knew where to aim as it was the same move, he always used. One Autumn Leaf who rarely listened to advice still had a poor combat stance even many years after.
Ye Xiu was a human. True. But he was also one of first Avatar's handlers. A pro, to add. The first bunch of masters often trained to try to keep up with their spirits. They weren't great or even helpful at fights but they needed enough speed and stamina to reposition themselves around the battlefield. This way, the energy lost by the transition between spirit and master would be diminished and the duo could hold on for longer. Even with a blood bond, it was a very important matter.
But Lord Grim didn’t know that as he was stuck inside his card for many years. ‘He must have seen this move somewhere. Still, he is either stupid or brave enough to get in the way of an attacking spirit.’
“ Why you-!” One Autumn Leaf looked with betrayal at Ye Xiu.
“I won’t repeat myself twice. What the hell is wrong with you. I know you have a short fuse but today you’re unbearable. What are you hiding from me this time?!” The human asked the Battlemage with irritation painting his voice.
And then Lord Grim remembered why Autumn Tree seemed familiar.
‘Oh. He is...’
Without informing anyone, he disappeared to materialize in the real world.
While they talked, the soldiers gave permission to come out of shelters.
Ye Xiu was half paying attention to what is going on around him. Boss Chen received a green light so everyone could come out. While she wrangled with the jammed doors that stopped cooperating after something smacked against them (It was One Autumn Leaf but she had no idea about it. Otherwise she wouldn't be cursing so much right now.) However, she didn't expect to see an avatar right in front of her when she turned to ask for help. A very angry looking spirit might I add.
“Eeek!" Chen Guo jumped away seeing such a stormy expression. Using her slip up, Lord Grim forcibly shoved open the doors and slipped through. Right after that, Ye Xiu unfroze from his spot.
“Shit." Murmured Ye Xiu, when he noticed Lord Grim's absence. He barely caught the blood-red scarf sliding through the cracked doors.
“I will be right back.” He said to Chen Guo, running after the spirit. Before she could say anything, the two already disappeared.
Dancing Rain, One Autumn Leaf and most of the soldiers hastily vacated the area, so that the city could come back to life. The streets were still empty. With Lord Grim being unable to rush at his top speed, Ye Xiu managed to catch up to him.
He stopped right before the intersection with collapsed buildings. The Unspecialized stood facing none other than Autumn Tree. The Sharpshooter stared at Lord Grim while in his hands was-
“Myriad Manifestations Umbrella.” Ye Xiu whispered in shock.
He was right. It was an umbrella. But it wasn't the one from Glory. This one looked more worn out by years of constant usage. While Su Muqiu's was rather delicate and light with some thought put into making it pretty by adding ornaments on the handle... the one in Autumn Tree's hands looked sturdy and heavy, brutal in its simplicity, with mechanisms covered solely for defensive purposes.
No, this one wasn’t just Myriad Manifestations Umbrella. It was the original. Lord Grim’s Umbrella.
With the two standing with just a few meters from each other, Ye Xiu noticed that in some ways, Autumn Tree resembled Lord Grim. The Sharpshooter changed over the years and now looked strangely similar to the avatar before him. Darker hair, slightly different eye colour and shape than it used to be. The changes were so unnoticeable over the years, that not even One Autumn Leaf spotted it.
“We finally meet.” Said Autumn Tree changing his grip on The Umbrella.
"You have something that belongs to me." Growled out Lord Grim loud enough to be heard. It was jarring how different he sounded in reality without using the bond to communicate.
“One Autumn Leaf! Where are you?!” Ye Xiu called through the bond.
“Don’t bother to call him. He’s safe in the bond plane but won’t answer for now.” Said Lord Grim not sparing Ye Xiu a glance.
“Ye Qiu!”Someone called him. It was Sun Xiang clutching an onyx card in hand. “Where is Su Mucheng?”
“Back to what is left of Excellent Era’s building.” Ye Xiu stiffened sensing something foreboding.
“But One Autumn Leaf! He-” the blond-haired master started but stiffened a second after Ye Xiu did. They were both very sensitive so they noticed something almost immediately.
The killing intent.
Without hesitation, Ye Xiu grabbed Sun Xiang and ducked to the side.
Autumn Tree attacked first.
With a boost from Rapid Fire, the Attack Speed was even higher. Ye Xiu’s eyes widened expecting a bloodbath but he was even more surprised by small movements of Lord Grim that enabled him to miraculously avoid all the bullets rushing his way.
“Almost like a Z-shake. An S-path?” He said quietly.
While z-shake can look like a tremble, Lord Grim’s movements were nothing like that. The movement was small, yes, but it wasn't as exhausting and rapid as z-shake. It was more like swaying than shaking. Ye Xiu was actually fascinated even in the current circumstances as he remembered all the failures of One Autumn Leaf attempting to do something similar. After all, it was just avoiding the damage with minimum effort and stamina. The theory was easier than practice.
“Is that all you have?” Asked Lord Grim, slowly walking back to his previous spot. If Ye Xiu and Sun Xiang still stood behind the Uspecialised, they would be like a piece of swiss cheese.
Grenades and Burst Firing followed right after.
The grenades were caught and thrown back while still avoiding most of the bullets. Some of them managed to graze Lord Grim’s arm and a leg but the avatar didn't even flinch.
Seeing his attacks were ineffective, Autumn Tree used Gatling Gun to gain some distance from the thrown back grenades, immediately preparing to use Laser Rifle. Lord Grim jumped up and then used Air Jump to fully avoid the deadly laser.
Ye Xiu frowned. Some of the skills weren’t even in Autumn Tree’s skill tree. How come he could use them?
“Child’s play.” Said Lord Grim looking at the Sharpshooter with disdain.
“You’re not the one to judge!” Screamed Autumn Tree, firing Smoke Bullet for a cover and following with Floating Bullet. The bullet actually hit Lord Grim this time!
But Ye Xiu already knew why as the silhouette of real Lord Grim appeared behind the unsuspecting Sharpshooter with a brick in his hand.
Luck wasn’t on Lord Grim’s side it seems. Autumn Tree saw a shadow holding a suspicious rectangle and turned around, raising his leg for a Knee Attack.
But Lord Grim merely sidestepped him and threw the brick up in the air. Using close proximity, the Unspecialised used Back Throw. What's the use of uninterruptible Super Armor skill, if you don't hit your target? The skill ended, Super Armor was broken and Autumn Tree couldn’t recover fast enough as Lord Grim caught the brick and threw it aiming for his face.
Autumn Tree blocked it with Umbrella, which gained a growl from Lord Grim. Using this instance, he immediately stood up and swung his weapon at the Unspecialised. But then-
Ye Xiu stared at the following chain of attacks in wonder. ‘Those aren’t skills from Glory.’ He noted.
“Holy shit, since when avatars know Krav Maga?” Sun Xiang asked, still using Ye Xiu as a shield.
Lord Grim and Autumn Tree disengaged a few seconds later but this exchange ended up with Lord Grim taking back the Umbrella.
"Damn, even like this, you still fight like a damn beast, heh. You won."
Autumn Tree looked devastated for a moment before starting to hysterically laugh through tears.
“Autumn Tree?” Asked Ye Xiu, standing up even though Sun Xiang tried to stop him.
“Heh, good old Ye. Don't worry about me. I was never supposed to live that long anyway." The Sharpshooter looked with a bitter smile at the fallen battle god.
“What are you-”
"You always wondered why I remained with my card obviously shattered while your dear friend died. I know what you thought then. I didn't judge you for blaming me for a full five minutes back then. I wouldn't have judged you if you despised me to this day. Because, somehow, it actually was my fault. I survived because..." Autumn Tree lifted his hand that started to fade. "Because I... the thing binding me with this world was not a card. It was this umbrella. A promise to take it back to its owner" Ye Xiu rushed over to him as the avatar staggered but the Sharpshooter waved him away. "Don't. Don't give me the same look you gave Muqiu. After all, ... I am just a failed result of cloning the spirits, heh." Autumn Tree grinned but it wasn't Su Muqiu’s smile anymore like he used to give. Looking right at Ye Xiu he straightened himself and nodded. “Remember what you promised him.”
Ye Xiu nodded back, lips trembling a little.
Autumn Tree used last strings of his strength to turn towards Lord Grim and slowly walk up to him.
“Guilty look doesn’t suit you...”
The Unspecialised looked unsurely at the approaching Autumn Tree. This dying avatar was using the last bits of his energy to talk to him out of all people.
"Neither does the face of anger, sadness, revenge and indifference..."
Autumn Tree stumbled but was caught by Lord Grim. The now almost weightless avatar only smiled again. Next words were only for him to hear.
“I kept my word. That weapon is back to its rightful partner... But I ask you for a promise in exchange."
For a second Lord Grim thought that Autumn Tree won’t say anything but was quickly proven wrong.
“Take care of everyone... and... lead us to glory once again.”
Lord Grim's face was concealed by his bangs as he pondered over the answer.
‘Take care of everyone? After all what happened?’ Thought Lord Grim. ‘Who am I supposed to lead? We are not at war anymore-’
He couldn’t feel him in his arms anymore.
And with a brilliant smile aimed at Lord Grim, Autumn Tree disappeared.
The Myriad Manifestations Umbrella felt heavier than he remembered.
One Autumn Leaf was enraged when he figured that he is incapable of coming out of his card. Lord Grim took most of his energy to recover and to challenge Autumn Tree. As a consequence, the Battlemage, who wasn't able to function below 70% was stuck in the bond plane.
When he found out about Autumn Tree…
He couldn’t believe it.
He knew there was something iffy about him but he never anticipated this. Yet, the longer he thought about it, the more real it became. He always thought of the Sharpshooter like of older brother that annoys him from time to time. It turns out that Autumn Tree was a botched clone of Lord Grim all this time. One Autumn Leaf didn't know what to think about it anymore. From one hand he was angry because Lord Grim kind of killed Autumn Tree by taking back his Umbrella but on the other hand, he felt empty. Autumn Tree was Lord_Grim_v.2 but never bothered to tell anyone about this. Well, no one besides Su Muqiu that used The Umbrella to create a better version of it.
Somehow, after thinking about it all for some time, One Autumn Leaf wasn't angry anymore. After all, if Autumn Tree wanted to keep living, he would have to just run away instead of facing Lord Grim.
Ye Xiu said that Autumn Tree told Lord Grim something but was unable to hear it. Since then Lord Grim looked as if he was furiously thinking about something.
‘Whatever it was, it surely left an impression.’ thought the Battlemage, while glancing at the Unspecialised.
While he looked at his older brother, it reminded him of the old days. Lord Grim would mumble all the strange and complicated calculations to himself not caring about the world around him. One Autumn Leaf would always try to gain his attention by being an annoying brat.
‘Heh, good times.’
A few minutes later, Ye Xiu connected with their plane.
He had a talk with Su Mucheng and Dancing Rain. Somehow, Sun Xiang wiggled himself into the conversation too and Ye Xiu had to explain everything once again. One Autumn Leaf wasn’t jealous of that exchange at all. He more than happily stayed put. Not that he could come out anyway but still.
“What are your levels?” Ye Xiu asking him.
The Battlemage pursed his lips.
Lord Grim has still mumbled something as he was finishing reassembling his Umbrella. It looked much better than previously and the avatar even added some ornaments. Seems that Su Muxiu’s project did catch his cynical eye.
One Autumn Leaf rolled his eyes so hard it almost hurt and reached for his lance. After a warning glance from Ye Xiu, he huffed, put his lance back and positioned himself in an almost comic stance. Ye Xiu raised an eyebrow at that.
A second later, One Autumn Leaf was leaping onto the unsuspecting avatar. There was one effective way to gain Lord Grim’s attention after all.
One Autumn Leaf landed hard on Lord Grim.
“Get off!” Said the Unspecialised trying to wiggle himself from beneath the Battlemage. One Autumn Leaf didn’t budge and merely sprawled himself further.
“Nah, feels comfy.”
Ye Xiu stood at the side with a mouth slightly open.
“Get off! Can’t b-breathe! ” It wasn’t that Lord Grim wasn’t trying his best. One Autumn Leaf was not only heavier than he used to be but also his armour was digging uncomfortably into recently healed Lord Grim. His diminished lung capacity didn’t help him either.
A second later One Autumn Leaf was hefted off him with a force, for which Lord Grim was grateful. For a fraction of a second. Because his saviour was obviously Ye Xiu, so he won’t be grateful for forever. He would totally do it himself.
“Ye Xiu asked you a question.” reminded him the Battlemage.
Lord Grim looked surprised at this and then faced the human. 'I was so absorbed in repairing umbrella that I forgot where I am.' He thought.
“What’s your energy level?” Asked Ye Xiu.
For all what it’s worth, Lord grim wanted to answer with: Go to hell; but with how One Autumn Leaf was manhandled away from him, he didn’t feel so safe in the bond plane anymore. With a clear view, Ye Xiu was using his status of a master more freely. Only against One Autumn Leaf for now but Lord Grim preferred to stay away from the hit list for a little bit longer. His stunt with pulling energy off the Battlemage and facing Autumn Tree put everyone on the edge already.
It seems that everyone expected him to lie or bark a string of curses at them.
One Autumn Leaf already opened his mouth to say something but Ye Xiu grabbed the younger avatar and sent him to check on Sun Xiang.
Once the Battlemage left, Ye Xiu walked closer to Lord Grim.
To his shock, the human sat down right before him.
"Let's talk." Said Ye Xiu.
The Unspecialised merely looked at him unamused.
One Autumn Leaf stared at the room before him, while exclusively ignoring a human inside it.
“You’re going to listen to what I say-” Said Sun Xiang.
“How about: no?”
"-and we will be partners from now on." The human finished not bothering with the instant answer.
“I said no.”
“Is that so?”
"You heard me the first time."
Sun Xiang revealed what he was holding all this time behind his back. It was a bag of cookies.
“Every time you won’t listen or leave me behind; I will eat one and won't give any to you. If you listen and will be nice, I will give you one."
“E-eeeEEE?!!" The avatar looked wide-eyed at Sun Xiang. 'Ye Xiu! You sold me out!!!!' Wailed One Autumn Leaf.