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A Smaller, More Honest Soul

Chapter Text

For an uncountable number of years, Salem had kept a close watch on the Silver-Eyed Warriors and their ability to destroy the soulless creatures of Grimm with a single glance, so she did what she normally does with her enemies.

"Never underestimate the usefulness of others."

Rather than have this incredible power eliminated altogether, she thought of how to turn it to her side. One such idea was...Grimm corruption. It seemed fitting to her. The gift of the God of Light, turned into something vile; a petty insult to the gods that made her immortal. Like any new concept, this one started on the alpha stage. Salem had many Silver-Eyed Warriors abducted to use for her vile experiments.

Her first attempt was to simply have one of these warriors dunked in a Pool of Destruction. Salem herself had been made immortal by the Fountain of Life; one of the God of Light's creations, so she survived falling in the Pool of Destruction. There was a certain logic to doing the same to someone blessed by the same god. However, the result was a failure. The Silver-Eyed Warrior simply died from contact with the pool, and left Salem with nothing. A waste, but one step closer, nonetheless...

The second attempt was to rip out a Silver-Eyed Warrior's soul with magic and encase it within the shapeless body of a Grimm in its preconception stage. Again, this went nowhere. The Grimm body's negativity rejected the pure soul's positivity and released it to its proper place in death. The power of the Silver-Eyes is one and the same with the soul; the Warrior's body was useless without it.

The third attempt involved copying the Warrior's soul to circumvent this issue. Salem would then rewrite this copied soul as she saw fit and put that within a shapeless Grimm's body. This, however, had its own complications. For one, Salem couldn't leave even a single spark of light in the copied soul, lest a similar result from the last attempt occurs. Secondly, as careful and intelligent as Salem was, she was not omniscient. She couldn't know absolutely every aspect of a person's soul without knowing how a person lived and perceived the world. Sure enough, a few sparks slipped through the cracks; the soul was rejected. Another failure...

Ever since Ruby displayed her power at the Fall of Beacon for the first time, Salem had her eye on her. She commanded Tyrian to abduct her alive; a dead Ruby would be useless. The abduction failed, of course, with the timely intervention of Qrow Branwen, but Salem was far from done. She concocted more schemes to claim Ruby. The attacks on the other academies were among such schemes, as Silver-Eyed Warriors were naturally drawn to the suffering of others. Ironic, as this made them similar to the Grimm to a certain extent.

It didn't really matter how many times these schemes failed. Losing hired hands meant little to Salem; there were always more she could use. She only had to succeed once, and she had all the time in the world. Finally, after years of this ceaseless struggle, it was done. Ruby was taken alive; Salem had everything she needed for her fourth attempt.

This time, she would make sure her light was snuffed out before the copy is made. Salem had vile Grimm tentacles dig deep into Ruby's subconscious through her brain. She would force Ruby to relive the worst parts of her life, over and over, until her mind and spirit were broken from the emotional torture. Only then, would Salem copy her soul into the Grimm's body. The experiment appeared successful; at least, the Grimm didn't reject the anguished and painful feelings. It took form in one similar to the original, but with eyes as red as blood and skin as white as a Grimm's face.

Salem's reason for doing all of this? It wasn't to use the copy to oppose the original Ruby, or any Silver-Eyed Warrior for that matter. She had already abducted several of them; they were clearly no match for her in a straight-forward fight, and Salem herself could always waltz in Remnant and handle things if the need arose. Her immortality and knowledge of magic made her a god among mortals, after all. That wasn't the point. That wouldn't get her what she wanted: Ozma.

The immortal wizard and former lover she struggled with since time immemorial, Ozma, is just as immortal as she is, in his own way. No matter the method, each death would only force Ozma to inherit a different identity. As petty and twisted as Salem is, even she could recognize the futility of a direct battle under these circumstances.

Enter the Reaper; the ultimate Grimm and Salem's magnum opus. A single Grimm with a body physically reinforced with the anger, sorrow, and suffering of countless people over centuries of evil and blessed with magical wards that would turn away any Semblance used against it. Most importantly, this was the first Grimm to possess a soul, and with it, a perverted form of Aura.

The Infernal Aura; a destructive force that stands in contrast to the protective Aura of living things. Rather than directly shield the Reaper from attacks, the Infernal Aura is used as a source of power. First, it allows the Reaper to draw strength from the suffering of others; every death by its hands would mend what little damage others could inflict upon it. Like any Grimm, the Reaper can also sense the negativity of others even miles away and use that to mend itself, if necessary.

Second, the very influence of the Infernal Aura is similar to the Apathy; those around the Reaper are subjected to feelings contrary to their own. The difference is that instead of weakness and lethargy, those around the Reaper feel a deep hatred and anger within their hearts. Those that remain near the Reaper for too long ultimately succumb to such hatred and turn on those they love and care for. A foolproof way to force humanity to turn on one another, even in the event of the Reaper somehow being detained.

Third, the very air around the Reaper would combust when it ran or moved quickly, thereby unleashing destruction to the world around it. These flames are dark, unnatural, and hellish; very different from a Flame Dust Crystal. It also carries a unique property; it completely bypasses a living thing's Aura, allowing the Reaper to attack its victim's flesh at any stage in a fight. The scythe is an extension of itself, and reinforced by these flames to allow a quick bisection or beheading.

The fourth and final ability is the most important one and the very reason that she created the Reaper: the Eyes of Destruction. Just as the power of the Silver-Eyed Warriors could kill the soulless creatures of Grimm with a glance, the power of the Reaper could inversely burn the very soul of its victims, circumventing any reincarnation attempts and killing that person once and for all.

With all of these traits, the Reaper would be an unstoppable scourge against any Huntsman or Huntress that mustered up the courage to face it, Ozma and his incarnations included.

Except...it wasn't.

Salem used the anguish and sadness of Ruby's soul very well; too well, in fact. Not only did the Reaper possess Ruby's negative feelings, it also possessed her personality, her memories, and...her moral sense of right and wrong. From the moment the Reaper first stepped from the Pool of Destruction and saw the original Ruby comatose and in extreme pain, the Reaper felt its own pain and connected with the fallen Huntress; to see an innocent like this was...wrong. The Reaper felt for Ruby and every single person whose anguish gave it form.

It looked upon its razor sharp fingers and blackened knees; a far cry from the gentle hands and normal knees it remembered. Looking upon its creator with boiling rage, the Reaper turned its destructive force toward the one responsible for so much pain.

The clash between immortal witch and unstoppable Grimm echoed throughout Salem's castle. No matter how many of its creator's limbs the Reaper would dismember, Salem's curse would restore her body; no matter how many spells Salem used to strike her creation down, the inherent negativity of the surrounding lands and Grimm would sustain the Reaper.

The conflict would go on until the entire castle was engulfed in the flames of Destruction. Clawing its way through the flaming debris, the Reaper sliced Salem's arm off yet again. With its red gaze upon the immortal witch, the Reaper unleashed the power of Destruction upon her.

Salem's soul did not burn; the essence of Grimm that coated her flesh protected her, but the curse of light that sustained her for so long...weakened. The severed arm that regenerated had the index fingertip and thumb reduced to bone.

And from this moment, the Reaper felt a new emotion come from Salem; one that none have seen from her since ancient times. It was fear. The Grimm that surrounded the ruined castle charged to defend their master, but fell namelessly with bathos, one by one. Every Beowulf with its jaw torn off, every Beringel with its skull caved in, every Sphinx sliced in half, every Seer with its orb crushed under the Reaper's heel; they would only renew it and fuel its power.

Salem, and the followers that evacuated from the castle, could only flee from the unstoppable monster she'd created. Did the Brothers of Light and Darkness have a hand in this? Have they watched her all this time and waited until now to cause her grief? She cursed her creation. She cursed the universe. She cursed everything, everything but herself.

The truth was one that Salem could never understand. Ruby's heart wasn't easily swayed. It was that simple. And why should she understand? Salem had manipulated thousands of humans and Faunus that had deemed themselves "righteous". Why should Ozma's "smaller honest soul" be different? But it was.

The Reaper's sense of self may have manifested by the negativity in Ruby's soul, but...it was still Ruby Rose. Deep in its subconscious, the ultimate Grimm was still the embodiment of purity that Blake spoke of. It was for this reason that the Reaper didn't pursue Salem; for the innocent Ruby was still trapped in the ruins of Salem's castle, rendered comatose and helpless from the cruel ritual.

Ruby's copied personality, of course, compelled the Reaper to put this innocent soul's life before its innate desire for destruction. It carried her away to safety; its impulses forcefully locked away, never to be released upon the innocent. Without looking back, the Reaper walked toward the pool that leads to Remnant with Ruby in its arms as the castle behind it burned to ashes.

Chapter Text

With the comatose Ruby in its arms, the Reaper stood before an ankle-high pool that led to Remnant and gazed upon their reflections. One was pure and innocent with desperate tears of heartbreak fresh down her face; a side effect of the torture she endured deep in her mind. Her face, once contorted into a ball of misery, had only relaxed after the Reaper freed her from Salem’s Tartarus Grimm. Beneath the unhappy surface, it is possible that Ruby felt peace in her heart. At the very least, the emotional pain she endured must have been alleviated to some extent.

The other was the exact opposite; on the outside, there were no tears, fear, or anger. It looked human, but its facial expression showed no emotion. Everything about its appearance, from its jagged fangs to its blood-red eyes was designed to bring forth feelings of terror. Designed…that was the right word. That’s what it was. Deep in its black heart, it knew it was a fake. The Reaper knew its memories weren’t its own; that they’ve always have belonged to Ruby, but it all felt too real to just be let go. The time spent at Beacon before it fell, the journey to Mistral and eventually Atlas, the pain of watching beloved friends die, and the constant pressure of leading at such a young age; it remembered it all, but it was Ruby’s life. That simple truth, more than anything else, left a deep self-loathing in its heart.

The Reaper looked down at Ruby’s face; she looked so vulnerable now. Out of impulse, it traced its thumbnail over her face to brush a lock of her hair off of it, only to leave a bloody graze across her skull. Ruby let out a weak cry; the face of anguish had returned. The Reaper’s mouth went agape with guilt; the memories it had accounted for soft fingers that could barely harm a butterfly without a scythe, not razor-sharp claws that could rend flesh with a gesture. This was like a sick joke; a vile curse that robbed her of her life and forced her to bring pain to those around it. Only there was no curse; the original Ruby was in its arms. No gods commanded it to “learn the importance of life and death.” No gods gave this “transformation” any kind of escape clause. Even Salem, for all her cruelty and pettiness, had a way out of her curse, if only she would take responsibility for her mistakes. For the Reaper, there was no hope.

With a resigned grimace, the Reaper took its first step into the pool. They would leave this vile place behind and…

“No, no, no, no, no. This is wrong. What you’re doing is wrong! ALL WRONG!”

The Reaper heard a frantic man yell at her from behind; Tyrian Callows, one of Salem’s servants. It stopped in its tracks, but it didn’t turn around to look him in the eyes. He got down on his knees and exuded a negativity that suggested a growing desperation. He made one wild gesture after another as if he was giving a stage performance.

“You have upset Her Grace. You have upset the Queen! With each passing moment, you stray from your chosen path and the glorious destiny that awaits us all!” Tyrian pleaded.

Faint memories of the time Team RNJR fought this man lingered in the Reaper’s mind. Ruby first crossed blades with this man at Higanbana…and nearly lost her uncle Qrow to his poisonous stinger. What he was doing here and now, after her “goddess” fled the castle that the Reaper left in flames; it didn’t entirely know, but one thing was certain, and the original Ruby would surely agree. This guy is weird.

And so, the Reaper offered all of the respect that this weird sadistic man was worth; none. With a deadpan expression, it shook its head, pointed at said head with its index finger, and twirled said finger in a circular motion to eloquently convey just how accurately the Reaper simply. Does. Not. Give. A. Shit. It walked across the pool; the gateway back to Remnant was only a dozen steps or so away.

“Don’t ignore meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” Tyrian yelled hysterically.

The reaper ignored him. It didn’t care what he had to say. At all. Despite that obvious fact, the crazed Faunus wouldn’t relent and tailed behind it.

“You’re confused, conflicted; you truly believe you are Ruby Rose! But you are not…you cannot be. The truth lies in front of you!” Tyrian pleaded.

He wasn’t lying. The Reaper didn’t delude itself; it just didn’t care. He quickly ran in front of it and made more wild gestures.

“You are the Queen’s greatest creation. A testament to the follies of the two false gods! You know deep in your heart! You belong to our goddess, now and forever!”

The Reaper bared its teeth in anger; bestial growls escaped its lips. If an innocent person’s life didn’t matter so much, it might consider grabbing this demented man by the throat just for saying that.

“All hope is not lost! Return to us! She will forgive you! I swear it! You’re the one…the only one that can end the cycle. It was the Queen’s wisdom that gave you power and purpose. Follow your path. Embrace the pain and violence. This is Her gift to you. Fulfill your duty to your divine sav—”

Tyrian’s incessant rambling was cut off by the Reaper’s hand over his face. Imbued by the Infernal Aura, the Reaper’s claws dug into Tyrian’s face, bypassing any Aura that would normally protect him. It pushed him down into the pool and walked on top of him; its foot crushing his face as it left him behind.

And still, he would not relent. His loyalty to his “goddess” is unwavering; the Reaper supposed he deserves that much praise. He rose from the pool with fierce hatred and tears of betrayal in his eyes. The pincer-shaped blades attached to his bracers extended and he charged toward the Reaper in a fit of insanity.

“You bitch!” Tyrian yelled.

The scorpion Faunus quickly leaped on top of the Reaper like an animal; its metal stinger wrapped around the Reaper’s torso. It stood unfazed by the assault and actively restrained itself not to outright murder this man. That is, until he carved a huge gash across Ruby’s leg with his weapon. The Reaper’s calm antipathy faded immediately. It grabbed the demented man by the throat and lifted him off the ground with one hand. Tyrian stuck his tongue out in twisted glee and sank his blades around the Reaper’s throat, in turn.

With his other hand, he thrust his other pair of blades into the Reaper’s face…only for the blades to shatter upon impact, leaving only a minor cut on its face. A loud clang echoed in both sets of ears; a stark difference from the flesh and fur Beowolves Tyrian murdered on a whim. The Reaper glared squarely in his eyes. Its other hand reached one of the blades across its throat, snapped it apart like it was little more than a pencil, and dropped it in the pool. And then, the Reaper felt his fear. Its skin fed off of it and healed the scratch on its face just as quickly as it was delivered. The sight of such recovery only caused more fear from him.

The Reaper’s already blood-red eyes glowed with an all-consuming hate. Within seconds, a red light came from its eyes and engulfed the unfortunate Faunus. His anguished screams grew quieter and his body withered like a raisin. The pupils in his eyes faded; his eyes were completely white. The Reaper pried the stinger off its body and tossed it aside. It sank its claws into the back of his skull and slammed it into the ground beneath the pool. The impact was so great that his head burst into a bloody paste. Finally, the Reaper tossed the rest of the body away like pointless trash.

It took a moment to collect itself after what just happened. The memories it possessed was not one of a cold-blooded killer, yet the Reaper did just that. More self-loathing entered its heart; it felt so wrong to do such a thing to a person. Its attention then turned to Ruby, who still hadn’t woken from her torture-induced coma. The Reaper traced its finger over Ruby’s cloak and cut a long strip out. It wrapped the strip around Ruby’s leg to use it like a makeshift bandage and picked her up.

The Reaper took one last look at her fallen victim. Was he truly demented or only deceived by Salem? The original Ruby never knew this man beyond his cruel actions, and neither did the Reaper. No matter what the circumstances were, murder felt horrible. Necessary? Possibly, but it was still horrible. Putting this ordeal behind it, the Reaper walked across the pool with Ruby in tow.

Red like roses fills my dreams and brings me to the place you rest.

Fresh blood spread across the pool and followed the Reaper as it walked.

White is cold and always yearning, burdened by a royal test.

The gateway between worlds slowly opened; cold air and fresh snow was visible on the other side.

Black the beast descends from shadows.

Grimm came from all sides, attracted to the agony left behind by the dead Faunus.

Yellow beauty burns gold.

Sunlight shined from the gateway upon the Reaper’s face.

The Grimm approached the Reaper from behind with unusual hatred; one that would only be given to a traitor to their kind. Sensing their presence, the Reaper turned around. This action alone caused the Grimm to stop dead in their tracks. A long wordless standoff occurred between the Grimm and this heretic. Neither side would budge until the Reaper glared at the Grimm with narrow eyes and a silent warning that conveyed the following statement: Look upon your creator’s servant and ask what chance you have that you’ll leave here alive. After a few seconds, the Grimm understood the statement, turned their gazes away, and slowly walked away.

Setting foot into the world of Remnant for the first time, the Reaper could sense the familiar sensation that settled in its heart from the outside. Was it anger, sadness, or something else; possibly another Grimm? Whatever it was, it was negative, and it felt enticing enough to instinctually follow. It was a reminder, not of its cursed fate, but of the misery that others felt in this world. Surely the pain of others mattered as much to the Reaper as its own pain, if not more so. It couldn’t help it. It couldn’t just stand aside and let things happen as they do. The memories of such moments…of being powerless to help while others were hurt was…abhorrent. This was the choice it had to make. Whatever loathing the Reaper felt over its own circumstances wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things. Its suffering wasn’t important. The entire world was on the brink of despair from the actions of the Reaper’s own creator. It needed hope; it needed that spark. It needed…Ruby. That’s what mattered.

The Reaper wandered aimlessly across the frozen landscape for hours with Ruby in its arms, ignoring the urges that directed her toward any other Grimm. By some miracle, the young Huntress finally woke from her coma; her silver eyes met the Reaper’s red eyes. It set her down on the ground when it felt the fear come from her heart. From the Reaper’s lips came a young girl’s voice, similar to the original Ruby’s, only with a distorted and lower pitch.

“I know you’re worried, Ruby, but trust me. I won’t leave your side for a second! I promise.”

The fear in her heart subsided in an instant. Her face still displayed justified confusion, but the Reaper offered a sincere smile.

There was no hope for the Reaper. It would fight the endless tide of negativity that would surely follow in the days to come, both from outside and within. It may never be trusted by the light or the darkness, and may suffer an ignoble end, but if doing so could bring hope to others, then that was the choice it would make. It was the only choice it had.

Chapter Text

In the heart of the snow-filled middle of nowhere, two “roses” sat apart from one another. One was human; shivering with her arms crossed from the bitter cold and unnerved by the Reaper’s very existence. The other was Grimm; unfazed by the cold, but concerned for Ruby’s physical and mental well-being. Neither knew what to say or do; this was a situation that both parties never considered.

Without a word, the Reaper walked to a nearby tree and plunged its claws deep in its bark. A burning sizzle echoed in the air as the tree withered; what few leaves persisted against the cold quickly wilted and eventually rotted into ashes. The tree itself fell to the ground completely black and devoid of life. The Reaper tore off several pieces of bark with its claws and gathered them in one place. Ruby watched this “savage dismemberment” with discomfort. Not outright fear, but discomfort.

The Reaper dropped the wood next to Ruby and made a small pile. It knelt down on its knee and touched its claws at the tips above the pile. With a bestial growl and a vile expression, the Reaper flexed its claws downward. This caused the claws to glow red and ignite into dark flames which spread on the pile like a makeshift campfire. Ruby’s discomfort lessened to a small extent; at least she could see what the Reaper was doing now. It looked back at her with a welcoming smile and broke the silence.

“You were cold,” the Reaper said. “Careful. That’s…not normal fire.”

The Reaper turned its gaze away, not wanting to overstay its welcome. Its very voice was distorted enough to cause Ruby discomfort. It was her turn to break the silence now.

“Okay, I’ve gotta get this out there because nothing makes sense,” Ruby said with a note of frustration. “Who are you? Where did you take me? How do you know my name? And why do you look and sound like some evil reflection of me, like in a comic book?”

“And we dived right into the awkward,” the Reaper turned its gaze away. “Well, it’s actually, uh…a really long story.”

Both “roses” were silent once more. This was going nowhere fast.

“I guess I’d better start from the beginning,” the Reaper said with a pause. “I’m trying to figure things out myself…which means I’ve gotta ask you something, too. Ruby, what’s the last thing you remember…before you woke up?”

A question with a question. That wasn’t the best way to break the tension. Ruby took her gaze off the Reaper and on the campfire.

“I…I remember wires around my arms and legs. Something was over my face; I couldn’t see anything. My mouth was gagged. I was like that for hours until I ended up in some  black room full of Grimm,” Ruby explained with a pause. “And her.”

“Salem,” the Reaper finished.

Newfound terror spiked in Ruby’s heart. She glared at the Reaper with suspicious unease.

“You know Salem?” Ruby said in an accusatory manner.

The Reaper regretted its words. It wanted to ease her worries, but that slip of the tongue ruined that. Now that it was out in the open, however, keeping secrets would just make things worse.

“She built me,” the Reaper said with a sadness in its voice. “And I know what happened next. You got stabbed by these little Grimm tentacles. They did something to your mind; made you think about the horrible memories you had to live with.”

Ruby was taken aback at how the Reaper could know that; her mouth went agape.

“Watching Penny get ripped to pieces, being too late to save Pyrrha, knowing how hard it was for Yang to lose her arm, searching for help when Uncle Qrow was poisoned by that psycho,” the Reaper said that last word with bitter anger. “I could go on and on. You couldn’t take your mind off of those moments, no matter how hard you tried. Those Grimm weren’t powerful or fierce, but they could make people relive the worst moments of their lives, over and over again.”

“How…do you?” Ruby could barely ask.

“Because I remember every single second of it,” the Reaper answered with a calm fury and venom in its already distorted voice. “I remember because it’s like I lived through that nightmare myself!”

All was silent once more. Ruby stared at the Reaper, unsure of what to think of it.

“I opened my eyes and saw myself standing over one of those black pools. When I looked down,” the Reaper explained and looked at its claws. “I saw these…things where my hands should be. And when I saw you across the pool, I put the pieces together. I’m a copy; a fake. That’s why I look like you. As for where I took you, I don’t know.”

“You took me here and don’t know where we are?” Ruby asked with more suspicion in her voice.

“All I could think about was getting you out of Salem’s castle, out of that torture,” the Reaper said. “I didn’t know where we’d end up when I did. I guess I didn’t think things through. I’m sorry.”

Silence was in the air once more. The closest thing to sound came from the dark flames between the two. After ten seconds, the Reaper tried to ease Ruby’s fears again.

“So, how are you handling all this?” the Reaper asked.

“I don’t know,” Ruby said. “It’s just…this is a lot to take in.”

“I get it,” the Reaper assured. “It’s okay. I didn’t mean to pry. After a little while, I think we should—”

The Reaper paused and suddenly stood up. It turned its gaze away from Ruby and toward the forest around them. Something was coming; something negative, filled with the desire to destroy.

“Should…what?” Ruby asked.

“We’re surrounded,” the Reaper said blankly. “It’s Grimm. They’re really fast and they’re coming at us.”

“Wait, what do you mean we’re surrounded?” Ruby asked.

 “I can feel their hatred for life. They’re underground!” the Reaper yelled and looked at Ruby. “I know you’ve been through a lot, but you need to put it behind you! Take your mind off all the negativity! Think about the people who love you. Focus on them. Focus on the way you’ll feel when you see them again. Use your eyes! It’s the best chance you have to get through this!”

 “What are you doing?” Ruby asked frantically.

 “This is my fight, too. I won’t stand by and watch someone get hurt!” the Reaper glared at Ruby with absolute certainty.

Ruby could only stare that this “fake”, taken aback by its intentions.

Two roses;

Red and black.

Out of nowhere, several Grimm burst from the snow-filled ground. They appeared a bit like the Apathy in that they appeared in emaciated human shapes. Unlike the Apathy, however, these Grimm…these “Revenants” have two long black blades where their arms should be, which are used to borrow deep in the ground. There was also black smoke where their legs should be, which allow them to spin like drills. Finally, the Revenants were fast. Very fast.

Simple truth;

Can’t go back.

The Reaper stood between the closest Revenant and Ruby. Its claws curled with such hostility that they burned with dark flames. Its eyes evoked such anger that they glowed in a faint red light. After the closest Revenant burst from the ground, it extended its blade-like arms toward Ruby to plunge them deep in her skull, only to find the Reaper in its trajectory. The blades struck the Reaper’s skull instead, only to bounce off its skin with two scratches where deep gashes would be on an ordinary person, unshielded by Aura.

The Reaper ignored the blows entirely and grabbed the Revenant by the skull. Its claws dug into its skull with much more success; dark flames immolated the Revenant’s screaming face from the inside-out. The Reaper pried its skull to pieces and punted the remains away like pointless trash, though its final moments of suffering mended the scratches on the Reaper’s face. Some of the other Revenants nearby witnessed the outright contradictory concept of a Grimm defending life. Being incapable of comprehending these actions, they briefly tilted their heads and looked at the Reaper in confusion.

It all started with abduction;

I’m cursed to bring pure destruction.

This gave the Reaper the opening to run quickly toward another Revenant and grab it by its blade. Dark flames rose from each step the Reaper took during this sprint. It effortlessly lifted the Revenant over its head and slammed it into the ground. The Reaper pinned the Revenant’s shoulder under its foot, ripped its blade arm off its body, and impaled its skull with its own weapon.

Infernal death lies in my wake;

Deep down, I know I’m just a fake.

The Reaper ripped the bladed arm out of the Revenant’s skull before its body dissolved. The blade was no longer black, but a bright red that seared the very air around it. The other Revenants shrieked with an unusual hatred; one befitting a heretic, rather than a mere victim. They burrowed back under the ground, where the Reaper couldn’t touch them, and circled around both Ruby and the Reaper.

I keep the evil locked away;

A nightmare every single day.

The Reaper chased one of them with the intent to ambush it when it emerged from the ground to attack. The very air around it ignited into dark flames that engulfed everything near its path, including the snow and trees.

The world around me shall decay;

I wish there was another way.

The Revenant emerged next to Ruby with the intent to attack her from the side, but the Reaper ambushed it by being in its trajectory. Like with the first Revenant, it tanked the initial attack with minimal damage. Unlike with the first Revenant, the Reaper used the burning blade in its hand to cut through it like a knife through butter. Its whole body seared red from the fire as the Reaper bisected it. Particles of the dissolving Revenant took the shape of a long pole in the Reaper’s hand. It attached the burning blade to the tip of the pole; the resulting combination took the form of a very familiar scythe.

The witch’s actions are to blame;

Without this mask, we are the same.

The Reaper’s new scythe glowed red with the flames within the Reaper itself. A single red eyeball formed on the scythe’s blade; a blinking testament to the Reaper’s grotesque exterior. Red eyes and silver eyes stared into one another; the former assuring the latter of its true intent without words. Ruby saw so much of herself in the Reaper; slayer of monsters and wielder of the scythe. Her doubts in her look-alike began to fade, and she nodded with the first sign of mutual trust.

Beneath the monstrous face I wear;

This simple soul we both must share.

Without the negativity of doubt to hold Ruby back, thoughts of those she loves filled her mind. Several more Revenants ambushed Ruby all at once and at all sides. She dashed toward the Reaper with her back toward it. The Revenants quickly followed her with their own speed, but this left the fatal error of lining them up in Ruby’s peripheral vision, all at once. With a final thought of love, the light of the Silver Eyes engulfed all of the Revenants at once. Their bodies dissolved completely into nothing.

Your power brings you love and light;

You give others the will to fight.

The remaining five Revenants still alive quickly spun underground, but the Reaper went into a predatory pursuit. With a burning effigy of the original Ruby’s Crescent Rose in its claws and speed on par with the Petal Burst Semblance, it ran around her toward the Revenants, struck the ground with its scythe, and used the recoil to leap high off the ground. High above the area where the Revenants burrowed in the ground, the Reaper twirled its scythe to change its trajectory in mid-air and strike the ground like a meteor.

This awful power is my fate;

I channel it through all my hate.

Upon impact, the dark flames engulfed everything within fifteen feet of the Reaper’s impact, including beneath the ground. Four Revenants burst from the ground all at once, covered in flames and shrieking in agony, though the fifth one remained hidden.

I may be loathed and feared by all;

I’ll never be the witch’s thrall.

One of them landed near Ruby, and the Reaper prioritized that one over the rest. It quickly bisected two other Revenants in its path and saw the one next to her borrow under the ground again before she had a chance to destroy it with her Silver Eyes. The Reaper ran straight toward the hole left behind, reached inside, and plucked the Revenant out. Its right claws punctured the Revenant’s back; its face encased with its left. With its foot on the Revenant’s back, the Reaper brutally tore its head off with a quick pull and tossed it aside.

Do all I can to save someone;

I’ll rip and tear until it’s done.

Meanwhile, Ruby saw the fourth Revenant behind the Reaper and dashed toward them.

You’re a leader; I’m the reaper.

Our fates are war; clawing deeper.

The Revenant wrapped its blade around the Reaper’s neck, but before either of them could do anything, Ruby flashed it with another use of the Silver Eyes…as well as the Reaper itself.

Unwavering, unyielding;

The soul is…incorruptible.

Like every other Revenant, this one dissolved. However, the Reaper screamed in agony; this was the first time it suffered real damage. Ruby clasped her hands over her mouth in shock. The Reaper’s left arm and left side of its face was encased in stone. Her shock turned into fear when she saw the Reaper’s jagged fangs and furious glare. The sudden shock and sorrowful remorse froze Ruby stiff even as the Reaper pointed its scythe toward her…

My heart is…in-cor-rup-ti-ble.

…hilt first.

“Behind you!” the Reaper yelled in pain.

Out of combat instinct, Ruby grabbed the Reaper’s foul scythe and swung it behind her without even seeing what was there. When she felt the blade come in contact with the last Revenant, she saw flames engulf the scythe’s blade. Split into two, the Revenant was flung backward and dissolved before it even touched the ground. The bulging red eye on the scythe’s blade shed a single tear that came into contact with Ruby’s arm…and burned through her dress and skin.

Ruby dropped the scythe and clutched her arm, screaming in agony. The pain was nothing like what she usually felt in combat; the pain didn’t subside. The Reaper covered its mouth in shock with its right claws.

“It burns! It burns!” Ruby screamed.

She put her arm on the snowy ground in an attempt to soothe the pain, but found no relief. Meanwhile, Ruby’s suffering strengthened the Reaper enough to escape the accidental petrification inflicted upon it.

“Ruby! What happened?” the Reaper asked with worry.

“The…the scythe! It’s evil! Eeeviiil!” Ruby yelled frantically.

It took a moment for the Reaper to put the pieces together, but once it did, it showed immediate remorse. It was too obvious; it should’ve known better. The Reaper may have made the scythe, but it was still Grimm, and it didn’t have a soul of its own, copied or otherwise. Naturally, the scythe’s first instinct was to hurt someone.

“Ruby, I…I’m so sorry!” the Reaper apologized profusely. “I…I didn’t think that…I mean, the Grimm was behind you and…I didn’t mean for that to—”

“Your arm,” Ruby interrupted, noticeably wincing in pain. “It turned to stone.”

The Reaper paused and looked at Ruby’s face with worry.

“You’re Grimm,” Ruby said in an accusatory manner.

“Yeah,” the Reaper turned her gaze away. “I thought you figured that out.”

“I…I guess it was kinda obvious,” Ruby said with her face turned toward her arm. “Don’t know how I missed that.”

She wiped the snow from her arm to see the damage and the Reaper saw the fear in her heart.

“Oh my god!” Ruby yelled. “My arm! I…I can see my bone!”

The skin over Ruby’s arm wasn’t just burnt; it was gone entirely, leaving the muscles, bone, and tendons completely exposed. Meanwhile, the Reaper cut out a long piece of Ruby’s cape with its claw.

“Here,” the Reaper wrapped Ruby’s wound. “It’ll still hurt, but at least, it won’t be exposed.”

The fear was still palpable in Ruby’s heart. That gesture did nothing to ease her.

“All that power. The gloomy fire, the rotting away the trees, the evil scythe; you’re like Destruction itself,” Ruby looked at the Reaper with unease. “And Salem made you?”

“Yeah,” the Reaper said dejectedly. “But…I’m nothing like Salem! That was an accident! I didn’t mean to hurt you!”

“I know that,” Ruby said and paused. “But how do I know you’re really trying to help me?”

The Reaper didn’t know how to respond. Its memories didn’t come from someone that was untrusting. If anything, it remembered being too trusting once.

“Salem had me kidnapped, right? That means she didn’t want me dead, so I believe that you didn’t mean to hurt me,” Ruby said without even looking at the Reaper. “But how do I know this isn’t some elaborate scheme to take me back to her? You’re Grimm. That means other Grimm are attracted to you. What if this fight was staged somehow? How do I know that somebody else, maybe even my friends, didn’t already save me…and you killed them to take me back?”

The Reaper was heartbroken by these questions, yet it couldn’t refute her point. She doesn’t know; she couldn’t have.

“You don’t,” the Reaper whispered and turned away again.

Both “roses” stood with their backs facing each other with a sorrow that affected them both.

“I’ve been lied to before,” Ruby explained. “I’ve seen people turn against me, keep secrets from me, and it’s getting hard to know who I can trust.”

“I get it. It’s okay,” the Reaper assured. “But I can’t leave you all alone, not when you’re lost in the snowy wilderness with no food, water, or weapon besides your eyes.”

“No, it isn’t,” Ruby said. “It’s not okay. I shouldn’t be like that. Assuming the worst of people; I never wanted to be that person. That’s why…I’m gonna try.”

The Reaper was instantly taken aback by this. Deep down, it knew it was a fake. In spite of that, this real person, the very person she was copied from, no less, considered her as one of many “people.” Both “roses” turned toward each other at the same time.

“I’m gonna try to take you at your word,” Ruby said. “I don’t know if you’re telling the truth or not. I know I’m risking my life even being near you. You could kill me, and you could attract more Grimm to me. But…you’re risking your life, too. You didn’t try to hide anything. Salem built you. Those were your words. It’s not easy admitting that kinda thing, but I didn’t even have to force that out of you. You just told me. And now that I know you’re Grimm, I know I could kill you, too. And you’re still here. You’re not letting fear get the better of you. If I turned my back on you now, it wouldn’t be fair to you, and that’s not the kind of Huntress I want to be.”

“Yeah,” the Reaper said and gave a weak smile. “I get it.”

Ruby met this smile with a weak one of her own. They weren’t officially “allies”, but who can say what the future will bring.

Chapter Text

The aimless journey of the two “roses” stretched on for hours until the sun set over the horizon. Night would come soon and there was still no sign of a village. Though the weather was very cold throughout the long march, Ruby carried a makeshift torch made from a long tree branch and the Reaper’s dark flames. The Reaper wasn’t bothered by the cold, and only carried its scythe. The two stopped in a small, yet hollow cave that was nearby a plateau that overlooked many trees.

“Here,” Ruby said. “If we stop here, one of us can keep watch for somebody while the other sleeps. Wish I still had my sleeping bag; the ground here looks kinda…gravelly.”

The Reaper silently nodded and walked toward a nearby tree. It did the same thing it did with the last one; pry off little twigs and branches, build a pile, and make a campfire with its dark flames.

“Uh, that fire sure comes in handy, you know?” Ruby attempted to sound encouraging, but her thoughts turned toward her burnt arm when she saw the flames.

The Reaper sat nearby the campfire and stared down at its scythe. Its bulging eye was a reminder that the scythe was, in fact, a living Grimm. Looking back at that moment with the Revenants, the Reaper was unsure of how it made the weapon in the first place. While it did possess incredibly detailed memories of the inner workings of a “Crescent Rose” scythe, including its construction process, they were completely irrelevant to the making of this weapon aside from its faintly similar shape.

“I mean, we’re still lost, and cold, and we could be miles away from somebody. But we can figure this out,” Ruby said.

The Reaper still didn’t respond. Its attention remained fixated on its scythe. As far as the Reaper knew, it just stuck Grimm parts together and made a scythe somehow. There was no logic to it; none of the knowledge and science that made the scythe in its memories special.

“Hello? Grimm person?” Ruby stared at the Reaper.

“Oh! Sorry,” the Reaper responded. “I was just, uh—”

“—distracted?” Ruby asked. “Yeah, I, uh…like to look at Crescent Rose, too. Well, I did…once.”

Ruby instantly gave herself sad thoughts of her missing scythe; a sensation that the Reaper noticed.

“Are you okay?” the Reaper asked.

“Oh! Yeah. This just feels—”

“—awkward?”

“Really awkward,” Ruby finished.

Both “roses” sighed at the same time. The tension didn’t just evaporate over one day of walking. After a minute of awkward silence, Ruby clutched her arm and grunted in pain.

“It still hurts,” the Reaper said with concern.

“Yeah. My Aura should have regenerated by now,” Ruby answered. “It’s been hours.”

She pulled the Scroll from her pocket to see how much Aura she had left on her personal gauge; it read 82%. Her eyes widened in confusion.

“Wait, what’s going on?” Ruby quivered. “W-why does my Scroll say I have Aura? My wound should have healed by now! Is this thing broken?”

After a few seconds, something clicked in the Reaper’s mind. It was just like the moment when its claws dug into that weird sadistic man’s skull. The Reaper wished it brought the subject up sooner, but the pieces just now came together.

“Maybe I’m just tired from all the walking,” Ruby assured herself.

“Well, actually, uh, now that you mention it,” the Reaper said hesitantly. “Therrrrre…might be another reason why your arm didn’t get better.”

“What other reason?” Ruby asked with dread in her voice.

“Funny that it didn’t come up until now, but, uh,” the Reaper paused mid-sentence.

“But…uh,” Ruby signaled the Reaper to finish.

“Turns out…Aura doesn’t work against me,” the Reaper squinted and rolled its eyes in embarrassment.

A long pause of silence came between the two that lasted seconds, but felt like an eternity.

“Huh?” Ruby muttered in disbelief.

“Aura doesn’t stop my attacks…at all,” the Reaper hunched slightly out of guilt. “So if I’m in a fight with somebody that relies on Aura to protect themselves, I can hurt them anyway. And apparently…that applies to the scythe I made, too.”

Ruby blinked twice, in disbelief of what she just heard.

“But…every living thing depends on Aura,” Ruby reiterated with astonishment. “Everything with a soul has Aura. Every Huntsman from every Academy was trained to harness Aura! It’s like the magical power that makes our shields and our Semblances work!”

“Yeah,” the Reaper muttered and turned its gaze. “I know.”

“So you could kill anybody,” Ruby said with a chilling tone. “No matter how strong someone is, all it would take is one mistake and you could cut them in half, or rip their arms off, or crush their skull with your foot! And then you could just move on to the next person!”

“I could never do something like that,” the Reaper muttered weakly.

“But you could,” Ruby stated matter-of-factly. “I saw how you fought those Grimm. You might look like me, but you fight like a m…like a scary, uh…”

“Monster,” the Reaper said in a sad tone. “That’s what the Creatures of Grimm are. We’re the monsters that the Huntsmen dedicate their lives to protecting the world against. I can feel it in your heart; you’re still scared of me.”

Ruby paused, unsure of how to answer. The Reaper looked down at its scythe and gripped it tightly.

“I don’t care,” the Reaper said defiantly. “Monster or not…I don’t care what anyone calls me. I know what I want to be; what I’ve always wanted to be.”

“I am scared, but not just because of you,” Ruby clarified. “Salem doesn’t care if you’re standing against her or not. She’ll kill anybody, and that scares me most of all. If she can make a Grimm like you, then you might not be the only one. There might be mo—”

“No,” the Reaper interrupted suddenly. “I mean, I don’t think there are. I can’t prove anything, but if those other Grimm we fought today were like me, I wouldn’t have torn through them so easily,” the Reaper looked at Ruby. “And they would’ve just turned to stone and broke free of your Silver Eyes like I did, instead of just dissolving away into nothing.”

“So you’re tougher than other Grimm, but I did face another one just like that,” Ruby pointed out. “It was a Leviathan.”

“Was it all ‘angry monster grrr’, or could it talk and think like me?” the Reaper asked.

“It was ‘angry monster grrr’,” Ruby admitted. “And much bigger than you, too.”

Both “roses” let out a single laugh at the same time. For that brief second, there was an awkward tranquility between the two. After that, it was just awkward again. They went from comfortable to self-conscious just like that.

“Uh, Grimm person…that looks like me?” Ruby asked. “If we’re gonna stick together, we’re gonna have to have more than just awkward small talk, you know? Break out of our shell?”

“You mean—” the Reaper started.

“The really—” Ruby continued.

“Uncomfortable—” the Reaper continued.

“Terrible—” Ruby continued.

“’Getting-to-know-you’ stuff,” both “roses” dreadfully said in unison.

They both moaned in disgust; both had less than comfortable memories of introducing themselves to strangers, and both were reluctant to even begin a subject. Their gazes shifted around randomly in a pitiful attempt to avoid conversation. After about ten seconds of silence, Ruby noticed something in the Reaper’s claw that would be much easier to talk about and pointed at it.

“That scythe,” Ruby said with more enthusiasm. “I’m more interested in that. Let’s start with that.”

The Reaper looked down at the sentient weapon with both a great unease and more genuine interest than anything else that was brought up tonight.

“Yeah,” the Reaper responded with the same enthusiasm. “It’s a flesh-burning Aura-circumventing scythe…with an eyeball attached to it!”

“Huh?” Ruby looked confused.

“It’s also a Grimm,” the Reaper said, smiling, only to frown immediately afterwards. “That sounded better in my head.”

“Yeah, you’ll wanna work on that description a bit,” Ruby agreed. “But it’s shaped almost like Crescent Rose! Hey, what other tricks can it do? How much does it weigh? Is it also a gun? Are the bullets it fires also Grimm?”

“I…don’t know,” the Reaper answered. “I haven’t really had a chance to find out.”

Ruby pouted at the anticlimactic response, and the Reaper took a moment to observe this new weapon closely. It didn’t appear to have any trigger or muzzle attached to it.

“Well, I don’t think it’s a gun,” the Reaper guessed. “It doesn’t feel very heavy for me, but I need a scale to tell how much it weighs. The only thing that’s really different about it are the Aura-circumventing ability and the eyeball.”

“Okay, so what does the eyeball do?” Ruby asked, and then squinted. “Aside from burning my arm with its tears.”

“I don’t know,” the Reaper answered and held its scythe in the air. “I mean, I just slapped Grimm parts together, thought about a scythe, and somehow that’s what I ended up with. It’s nothing like the way Huntresses make their weapons. They put time and effort in their weapons. I didn’t; it just came out like this.”

“And it has your power in it, too,” Ruby added. “I saw how it turned red when you assembled it. But maybe it only seemed easy because the arms you made that scythe with were also like scythes?”

“You mean, different Grimm are like different parts?” the Reaper said with great interest.

“Maybe it’s customizable like my Crescent Rose?” Ruby said with excitement. “Oohhh! Maybe you could make it spit venom like from a Dromedon, or put tentacles to drag opponents toward you like a Seer, or put wings on it like a Nevermore!”

“Why would I want a scythe to have wings?” the Reaper asked.

“I, uh, I don’t know,” Ruby said. “I guess I got carried away. I’m kind of a dork when it comes to weapons. Hey, if you can make weapons out of Grimm by thinking of them, maybe you can change their shape, too?”

“Huh. Maybe,” the Reaper said, intrigued.

It grabbed the long hilt with both claws and bent it into a U-shape, then grabbed the top of the blade and curled it into the hilt like a coil. It held out the result and showed Ruby, who appeared…less than impressed.

“It looks like…like, uh,” Ruby said.

“A paper clip,” the Reaper said, completely deadpan. “It’s mostly for putting it away.”

Out of muscle memory of Crescent Rose, the Reaper attempted to attach the folded weapon on the back of its waist, only for it to fall to the ground the instant it let go. Ruby covered her mouth and withheld a chuckle. The Reaper picked up its weapon and noticed the bulging eyeball on it, which blinked and looked back.

“The eye,” the Reaper glared at it with anger. “It’s sentient. I know that much. Probably what was left over from the Grimm I tore apart.”

“Even though that eyeball is clearly as big as your entire face?” Ruby pointed out.

“Oh yeah,” the Reaper agreed. “That doesn’t make sense. Huh. But I know it fears me. I can feel it. It won’t hurt anyone I don’t want it to, as long as I’m holding it.”

Ruby grabbed her burnt arm instinctively when she heard that, which the Reaper noticed.

“That was a mistake,” the Reaper assured. “I didn’t know how dangerous it is to anyone else. It won’t happen again.”

“I guess your scythe is still really cool, “Ruby said, half-heartedly. “And dangerous; really dangerous.”

“Maybe I should just destroy it,” the Reaper said. “It would be safer for everybody.”

It positioned its thumb claws over the scythe’s eyeball to do just that, but hesitated at the last moment. Its eye silently gazed upon its wielder, which stared back for a few seconds.

“This feels wrong,” the Reaper explained. “I don’t know how to explain it, but this feels like I'm gonna tear my own arm off. I don’t think I can destroy it.”

“You mean…your weapon is a part of you?” Ruby asked.

“I…” the Reaper hesitated to answer. “I guess it is.”

“I get it,” Ruby responded. “Crescent Rose and I are one and the same. I miss it so much.”

Ruby suddenly yawned and stretch her arms up, only to recoil her burnt arm in pain. She walked slowly toward the cave in a slump.

“I guess all this talk about weapons made me tired,” Ruby said with half-opened eyes. “We better get some sleep in our nice cozy cave.”

“I…” the Reaper hesitated again. “I’ll stay out here and keep watch. I’m not tired and the cold doesn’t bother me.”

“You sure?” Ruby asked with concern.

“If any more Grimm are drawn to me, I don’t want them to kill you in your sleep,” the Reaper explained.

“Oh,” Ruby sounded disappointed. “Right. That makes sense. But if you do get tired, we can trade places. You don’t have to do all the work, okay?

The two “roses” looked at each other one last time and nodded before the Reaper walked on the plateau that oversaw so many trees. When Ruby left its field of view, it looked upon its scythe one more time.

“Am I one and the same with this scythe?” the Reaper shook her head in disgust. “I shouldn’t be. It’s Grimm. It’s dangerous. I shouldn’t just embrace it like this, even if it is part of me.”

Chapter Text

Hours have passed since night fell and the Reaper stood alone in the forest that was overlooked by the plateau. Despite choosing to distance itself from Ruby, there hasn’t been a single Grimm. The negativity that the Reaper sensed earlier that day was silent as well. It must have stemmed from the Grimm that attacked them. It was actually quiet; almost peacefully so, in fact. Without anything else to distract it, the Reaper’s own inherent negativity, alongside that of the scythe it carried, was that much more noticeable. That much was normal for the Grimm, creatures of Destruction and negativity that they were, but what wasn’t normal were how the memories of Ruby’s life remained dormant in its mind.

There were memories of thrills…

“You’re a Huntress! Can I have your autograph?!”

… triumphs…

“Don’t act like you all haven’t done crazy stuff before! I mean, Oscar made a successful crash landing! He’s a fourteen-year-old farm hand!”

…and tragedies…

“I…I…I got to the top…and I saw Pyrrha…and Cinder…and then everything went white!”

…but most importantly, innocence.

“Justice will be swift! Justice will be painful! It will be DELICIOUS!”

Ironic for one made of negativity to have such varying memories, and even more so to understand the significance of them. Yet these aspects of Ruby are all that separated the Reaper from what was no doubt meant to be an unquenchable and unstoppable monster. When it opened its eyes and looked upon the sharp claws and vile scythe within them, the cruel reality of its situation sank in once more.

“It wasn’t mine. It was never my life. I have no right to act like we shared it,” the Reaper solemnly said to itself.

At least one good thing may yet come of all this; Ruby…the real one, may go back to live her life, but what happens after that? Will they be forced to part ways? Will her friends and family look upon it with fear? How about if they learn who created it? What about the many Huntsmen that do their best to protect this world? Will they see it as a mark; a monster to vanquish? And what about the innocents that live scattered throughout this world? Will they fear its existence too?

When all is said and done with this journey, then what?

Mere minutes went by with that very question on its mind, but it seemed like hours. It gazed upon the fractured moon in the sky, partially to avoid its own question. There was a terrible beauty to it, to seeing something so grand and magnificent reduced to a shattered remnant of its former self. It’s the privilege of the Reaper’s condition; to see the result of all-consuming Destruction in the night sky and appreciate it. The look of awe turned into one of curiosity when it saw a purple light shine from the moon’s exposed core, then one of shock when the light shined brighter. The light engulfed the Reaper’s surroundings until it could see only purple, and then, darkness. Just as quickly as the light blanketed her surroundings, the Reaper no longer recognized them. The trees and snow that bordered where it stood were gone. Even the plateau where Ruby set up camp was nowhere to be seen. Everything was replaced by a single platform that floated over a seemingly endless void. The ground was dead and lifeless, much like the domain that Salem’s castle once stood in. Even the sky had no features to look upon, as opposed to the red clouds that loomed over Salem’s abode. All there was to notice was the giant pool in the center of the platform; one that had an uncanny resemblance to the pool that the Reaper first came from.

“Ruby?” the Reaper yelled frantically. “RUBY?”

Dark flames erupted from the Reaper’s body as a result of its intense emotions, but it would receive a response; just not from Ruby.

“You are lost. Confused. You do not yet understand your true purpose.”

The voice that echoed in the air sounded like that of a very wise man. That only brought more confusion, but that was nothing compared to the moment that bubbles emerged from the black pool, followed by a figure that was entirely purple. It crawled across the pool’s surface like a water strider, but with twisted limbs and sickening cracks. The figure untwisted itself and stood upright, on top of the pool, to address the Reaper.

“Do not fear, child. I welcome you to my domain.”

Now that it stood normally, the figure clearly possessed a humanoid form. He had curved, segmented horns that arc over his head and curve upward over the back of his cranium. His arms curved behind his back to convey an approachable stance. Most notably, his face was utterly devoid of features.

“Yes…You are different from my other agents. You are the first among them to possess thought and identity. It will take some time for you to adjust to your proper role.”

Ruby’s memories were triggered in the Reaper’s mind upon the sight of this imposing figure. Ever since Ruby asked the Relic of Knowledge that question, the tale of the world before it was the Remnant of today was one she never forgotten, and so, the Reaper remember it as well. The being that stood before it was no mere man; he was so much more. He was one of the two gods that created the world and humanity eons ago.

“The God of Darkness,” the Reaper muttered in awe. “But…the gods left the world. I…I thought…”

“In time, child. In time,” the God of Darkness said in a soothing tone. “Doubt still lingers within you. I have brought you here to address them.”

“What are you talking about? Why am I here? Where am I?” the Reaper asked.

“Think to the moment you first opened your eyes,” the God of Darkness said. “When you first laid eyes on Salem…and defied her. Do you understand why only you, among your kin, could do such a thing?”

The thought of it made the Reaper seethe with anger; more flames erupted from its body in the process. It was impossible to tell what the God of Darkness thought of this, but the Reaper quickly calmed itself.

“I…I have someone else’s memories. A Huntress. Salem copied them from a Huntress. I…I don’t know why she did that, but…everything about me feels so wrong now,” the Reaper answered, too much in awe of its situation to withhold any information besides Ruby’s name.

“It has ever been Salem’s wish to spite us,” the God of Darkness answered matter-of-factly. “To turn our gifts against us after we punished her for her arrogance. The powers of light my brother left behind is no exception.”

“You mean…the Silver Eyes?” the Reaper guessed.

“Yes. She sought to use it, to twist it to her own ends, and when that failed, she made her own power using my brother’s as a template,” the God of Darkness explained. “Her intention is to use your eyes to destroy her former lover, in body and soul, so that his promise to my brother would never be realized.”

“Destroy…a soul?” the Reaper responded in horror. “My eyes can do that? That’s why she made me?”

“It is ironic that my brother’s blessing could be used to create such a destructive force, but it is the truth,” the God of Darkness said with judgmental spite. “And so she used the soul of one of my brother’s chosen as the means to do so.”

“I won’t!” the Reaper glared at the god. “I’ll never do something like that! I’ll never hurt Oscar’s soul…Ozpin’s soul…Ozma’s soul? I won’t let you!”

“You do not understand,” the God of Darkness shook his head. “Your role is not to serve Salem. You shall serve…me.”

The Reaper’s expression went agape, but no words came from its mouth.

“It is no miracle that things have turned against Salem as they have, with her army scattered and her castle reduced to rubble before you,” the God of Darkness explained.

“How…do you know that?” the Reaper barely muttered.

“Did you think my brother the only one to leave behind an agent to carry out his will in the form of a mortal blessed with life after life?” the God of Darkness asked in hypothetical terms. “It was I, who allowed Salem to experiment with my pools and use my agents as her personal army. It was I, who allowed her to bring famine and destruction to the world of mortals. And it was I, who allowed her to use the suffering brought about by her actions to create the very instrument of her destruction.”

“You…you planned all of this? Everything?” the Reaper asked in disbelief.

“Before I left the world my brother and I created, I erred. Taking in Salem’s honeyed words, I went against the balance we agreed upon without thought,” the God of Darkness explained. “I have learned from this failure. I knew what Salem would do in her arrogance; what she would always do, and so I watched from beyond the scope of mortal eyes and waited for this moment. The circle is now complete. When I left that world, I was but the fool; now I am the master!”

The Reaper paused to take this all in. It was too hard to believe. The gods were fallible; it remembered that much from the Relic of Knowledge. How could he know so much now?

“Why?” the Reaper finally said, its voice growing louder and more hostile with each statement. “Why now? You abandoned the world. You left humanity behind with four Relics. I know what they’re meant to do. You left humanity behind…to fend for themselves! You left them at the mercy of Salem and the Grimm! Why do you choose now to do anything?”

“It was my brother’s decision to make Salem immortal…and then grant Ozma endless incarnations, and then his chosen after that,” the God of Darkness looked toward the empty sky. “These acts were of Creation, of his domain, and so it fell to him to pass judgment. He believed that humanity could remake themselves without our blessings to tempt them, and so I held my tongue and departed with him, but not before leaving my agents behind to sow destruction in the wake of my absence.”

The Reaper’s eyes widened. This plan went on for millennia?

“In truth, I knew that immortality was my brother’s mistake,” the God of Darkness spoke with thinly veiled anger. “He had always possessed such ideals, such hope, and where did that hope lead? Two humans, both made eternal by my brother, locked in a stalemate? The folly of my brother’s failure is clear. This quarrel will not be resolved by the powers of Creation, but Destruction. That…is your purpose.”

“To destroy Salem?” the Reaper asked with both doubt and shame.

“Unite humanity into one like mind and bring the Relics together, so that my brother and I may settle our wager once and for all!” the God of Darkness commanded.

“Wait…wager? What wager?” the Reaper asked.

“You do not know?” the God of Darkness sounded genuinely puzzled. “Perhaps the Relic of Knowledge did not, in fact, know everything…or perhaps my brother kept that information a guarded secret. No matter. We had come together to create this world, this beautiful experiment, for a singular purpose; to discover which power was greater, Creation or Destruction. The mortals we created so long ago were to be used as our test subjects, before Salem roused them against us. Now this mistake shall be corrected. I grow tired of this idle waiting.”

The Reaper looked down upon its claws with the thought that it could never have hated its terrifying appearance even more than it did, only to find out…that it was all planned.

“A bet?” the Reaper seethed with rage. “You abandoned the world, left so many people to die at the hands of Salem and the Grimm, all for some STUPID BET?!”

The God of Darkness did not take this response lightly. He pointed his arm and fired a beam of purple energy at the Reaper, which instantly caused it to float helplessly in the air. Its limbs twisted and contorted backwards, causing it great pain. It tried to scream, but sound wouldn’t escape its lips. Only the sounds of sickening cracks filled its ears.

“You dare take such a disrespectful tone with me!” the God of Darkness said in anger. “The mortals alone were given the ideal of choice. You were not! You are my agent of Destruction! You are mine to command! You will ALWAYS be mine!”

In a fit of rage, the God of Darkness swung his arm down toward the barren ground, which caused the Reaper’s contorted body to strike the ground like a burning meteor. In seconds, its agonized voice was finally audible and its limbs twisted back into their humanoid shape. It couldn’t even speak coherently; only bestial growls escaped its lips.

“Understand your place; it is beneath my feet. You are my agent, and you shall do as I command. My eye…will always be watching you,” the God of Darkness warned.

What eye? It wasn’t on his face; he didn’t even have eyes. Or maybe they were just invisible? The Reaper moved slowly in an attempt to get up, still in pain from the god’s earlier show of power. By chance, it noticed the giant eyeball on its scythe, and it put the pieces together.

“Your eye…the scythe?” the Reaper asked, wincing in pain. “But…how? You couldn’t have…I made this scythe. How did you..?”

“I told you. I am no longer the fool,” the God of Darkness answered.

“Wait…the Grimm. The ones…that attacked us. They were different. Ruby never saw that kind before. I know from her memories,” the Reaper said while trying to at least sit up. “The Grimm in Salem’s domain…they were terrified of me. They wouldn’t fight me. They ran…which means that the Grimm that attacked us…they weren’t Salem’s.”

The Reaper gave the God of Darkness one last look of defiance.

“They were yours!” it yelled.

“Think of it as an experiment; a way to ascertain your power,” the God of Darkness justified it. “But know that while Salem’s soul is mortal, mine is not. Your eyes cannot harm me. Do not think of rebellion. The last group of mortals that dared try were wiped to extinction. You know your purpose.”

The Reaper felt a surge of air engulf its body, but it was too fixated on the god in front of it to find out why.

“Begone,” the God of Darkness said his last words before the dark world around the Reaper faded.

It felt itself thrust backwards by an incredible force, only to land on a cold surface. When it opened its eyes, the Reaper noticed that it was back in the snow-filled forest. It was back on Remnant, alone with its thoughts. It was bad enough to know it was a fake; to have memories of a life that didn’t belong to it. But now, that was nothing compared to the truth. It wasn’t just a fake, it was a pawn. It looked upon the eyeball on its scythe with utter hatred.

“I don’t care what Salem or the gods or anyone else says!” the Reaper shouted. “I don’t care what you do to me! I won’t be a monster! I’ll never be a monster!”

It screamed with rage; dark flames erupted from its body like a volcanic eruption and engulfed the trees and snow nearby until they burned to ashes. It was only after the Reaper saw the result of its fury that it made any attempt to compose itself. In a final fit of rage, the Reaper tossed its scythe as far away as possible…only for the scythe to return like a boomerang and land hilt first on its leg.

“Huh? How did it..?” the Reaper muttered.

It grabbed the scythe off its leg and attempted to throw it again, only for it to remain stuck to its claw. It got it off its claw by pinning it underneath its foot…only for it to be stuck to its foot. It was like a magnet, and it wouldn’t let go. Finally having enough of this madness, the Reaper considered the one thing it felt it should have done hours ago.

“So that’s the game we’re playing? Fine!” it yelled and pinned the scythe under its body. “I’ll just rip that stupid eye out of your—”

Before it finished its threat, the Reaper sensed the scythe’s fear. With the same burning tears that burned Ruby earlier, it was the same fear it sensed before. This time, however, there was another underlying emotion that the Reaper sensed from the scythe. It was powerlessness; a loss of control. The rage subsided immediately at the realization.

“You didn’t choose this,” the Reaper said softly. “You never chose to be a monster…or a weapon. And you never chose to be stuck with me. It was that god. He made that choice, just like Salem made the choice to build me. You’re just as cursed as I am.”

More tears came from the scythe’s eye, possibly as its way of responding. The Reaper wasn’t fooled by the weapon’s true nature, though. It was Grimm, and it didn’t have a soul, copied or otherwise. It couldn’t feel for others in its state, yet the Reaper couldn’t bring itself to destroy it. They were one in the same in every way.

“One chance,” the Reaper warned. “You already burned Ruby’s arm. I’ll give you one more chance…because I made you like that. I ripped those Grimm apart. I left you stuck like this. I made that choice and I take full responsibility for that, so I’ll give you this chance. Just remember this. From now on, no evil, no matter what. If either of us hurts even one more innocent person like that again, there won’t be a third time. I’ll make Ruby kill us both if I have to. Bet on that.”

Chapter Text

After a silence that seemed to last an eternity, dawn finally came. The Reaper sat in the same rotted location it was in since its temper flared…literally. It never moved. It never made another sound beyond that warning about never harming another innocent. It simply sat alone with its thoughts with poignant eyes on its scythe.

Meanwhile, Ruby woke up to the bright light of sunrise. Her body was sore from having slept in that cave the whole night; it left her stiff. Out of a lack of awareness, Ruby stretched her sore limbs, only to agitate the wound that the Reaper's scythe left on her arm. The sharp pain forced her to clamp down her wrapped wound with her hand. She quickly glanced at her Scroll and reacted in quiet dread. Even at 100% Aura, the wound never healed.

Ruby stepped outside; her free hand kept the sun out of her eyes. Only the cold remains of the makeshift fireplace stood on the plateau. There was no sign of—

"Other me?" Ruby called out. The cold made her body shiver. "Where is she?"

It didn't take long for her to find it, considering it sat in the one rotted part of the forest that was overlooked by the plateau. Her eyes were naturally drawn to such decay; it stuck out like a sore thumb.

"What are you doing down there?" Ruby yelled. "Are you…okay?"

The Reaper came out of its thoughts and looked up at Ruby. After a moment to get its bearings, it silently wondered how much time passed.

"Yeah, I'm," the Reaper's voice lowered. "Never better."

"I can't hear you!"

"Never better," it said louder. It climbed up the sheer cliff of the plateau, which was about 18 feet up. The scythe in its hand dug into the cliff like a pickaxe while its free claw kept it from sliding down. It moved slowly and carefully, making sure not to leave behind any more flames.

"Why were you just sitting down there?" Ruby asked.

"I told you," the Reaper answered as it climbed. "I didn't want Grimm to be drawn to you, so I stayed away."

"That spot," Ruby said, referring to the rotted part of the forest. "It's like someone sneezed on Dust crystals and left a huge crater. What even did that?"

"Grimm," the Reaper said matter-of-factly. "The most terrifying Grimm I've ever seen. That was responsible."

It reached the top of the plateau and pulled itself up, ignoring the hand Ruby offered. As far as the Reaper was aware, the lack of protection that Aura provides against it might have caused her hand to be crushed to pieces with a squeeze.

"Why didn't you wake me up?" Ruby asked with concern. "You didn't have to fight it by yourself. I could've helped you."

"You…might still have to," the Reaper whispered with a pang of guilt.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It's…no, it's nothing," the Reaper tried to portray a sense of confidence. "I've never been better."

"You sure?" Ruby asked. "You were keeping watch the whole time, right?"

"Yeah."

"Aren't you…tired?" Ruby squinted.

"Uh…no," the Reaper asked with a noticeable delay. "No, I'm not. Huh."

It took until now for the Reaper to realize the implications, but it wasn't exhausted from staying awake the whole night…not even a little bit. Nervous about what its very existence could bring to the world, yes, but it definitely wasn't tired.

"Maybe…Grimm don't need to sleep?" the Reaper guessed. "I mean, they only eat because they choose to, but they don't have to, so maybe. I mean, I don't look tired, do I?"

"No," Ruby admitted. "But you seem…off. You sure you're okay?"

"Yeah," the Reaper couldn't even look her in the eye. "Never better."

It couldn't say it. After everything that happened last night, the Reaper couldn't find the courage to bring up what happened last night. It was bad enough when Ruby knew Salem built it. That caused enough fear as it is. It knew deep down that keeping secrets made things worse, but how could it explain the fact that it was destined to be a harbinger of destruction by the God of Darkness himself? Even if that aligns with the goal of defeating Salem, where does that leave the rest of the world?

After an eternity of war with Salem, there was finally a real chance of ending it and bringing true salvation to the world, but would it last? All it would take is one person unwilling to obey the rules that the gods made, and the cycle could begin all over again. Would the God of Darkness have it hunt that person down as well? A constant cycle of destruction that the deity that orchestrated its very creation would only take glee in such a thing. That doesn't even mention the possibility of that salvation being instantly wiped away by a petty deity that lost a bet.

A bet. That's what the true meaning of life was for the people of Remnant; to satisfy a bet. If every religious person that looked up at the stars and believed in destiny ever learned how ridiculous the truth was…the Reaper didn't dare think of how many Grimm would show up from the negativity. Would the Grimm still unleash destruction to the world on behalf of their true god, as opposed to Salem? Would destroying her even change anything in the long run?

The two "roses" walked aimlessly for hours across the cold snow, both distracted. For the Reaper, it was the events of last night. For Ruby, the thought of seeing her friends and family again…and eating something besides frozen berries. Compared to yesterday, the weather wasn't as frigid; it wasn't snowing, but the two were still lost. The quiet and grim worries that plagued them both to the point that neither paid attention to the other…and the Reaper stopped in front of Ruby, only for her to walk into it.

"Sorry," they both said in unison and briefly paused. That moment when they both say the same thing at the same time was still awkward.

"I...still can't find any sign of a village," the Reaper admitted. "I'm sorry. I dragged you into this."

"Aw, it's okay," Ruby tried to sound optimistic, but couldn't hide her worry. "I'm used to long walks across the continent. I hear that tree bark is tasty this time of year."

The Reaper looked at Ruby with a deadpan silence and shook her head. Even Ruby thought that was too fake after a pause to think about it.

"Yeah, that's not…helpful," Ruby said with a sigh. "We're lost."

She saw the look of guilt over the Reaper's face and silently berated herself for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. This wasn't the time to mope.

"We're gonna be fine," Ruby said with more optimism. "We've been in worse situations than this and survived. Well, I mean you haven't actually been around for that long. I mean—"

"It's okay," the Reaper interrupted. "I'm not worried about me."

That statement stopped Ruby cold. She looked at her Grimm counterpart with open worry. As much as the Reaper wanted to take back that statement, it was the truth. It didn't value its own life. It turned its sad gaze away from Ruby and continued onward. Ruby couldn't leave it like that, even if their predicament was its fault. That's not how a good Huntress was supposed to act. With a pause, she decided to do what they both wanted to avoid since yesterday: the awkward getting-to-know-you stuff.

"What's it like?" Ruby somberly asked. "Being a Grimm."

The Reaper was briefly taken aback by this question. It tried to find the words that properly articulated the answer. After that moment, only two words came to mind.

"It's horrible," the Reaper said. It wanted to keep it as simple as possible, but the thought of yesterday also came to mind for it. This was a good opportunity to get it over with.

"Uh," the Reaper spoke more deliberately. "Maybe…I should use…more words?"

"And," Ruby spoke with just as much discomfort. "Maybe…we can talk about this…while…we're walking. You know, just in case we—"

"Yeah, yeah," the Reaper agreed. "No point in standing out here in the cold."

The two gave each other another awkward look before they continued their trek.

"Okay, I guess a good place to start is the beginning," the Reaper said. "For me, the beginning was when I rose out of that pool. You remember how I said I remembered how you relived the worst moments of your life?"

"Yeah," Ruby nodded.

"Well," the Reaper paused. "I remember everything else, too. I remember living on an island…with a dad and a sister. I remember the fairy tales my sister would read me every night when I was young. I remember wanting to be…a hero who saves everyone, like in storybooks."

This description left Ruby's mouth agape. The Reaper was describing her life.

"I remember the first day of Beacon…and how amazing it was to be surrounded by so many weapons," the Reaper blinked in realization of what it said. "Oh, and other Huntsmen, they were cool, too. I also remember…"

The Reaper paused and displayed noticeable discomfort, which quickly turned into anger and despair. It stopped walking for a moment and looked down at its knees.

"I remember what I said to my sister that day. I told her that I didn't want to be any kind of knees," the Reaper seethed with anger. "I just wanted to be a normal girl with normal knees!"

Dark flames formed under the Reaper's feet due to this outburst, which melted the snow around it, though it wasn't in any discomfort. It took a moment to calm down.

"I…I remember going through so much suffering…so much loss," the Reaper spoke with sorrow. "I remember having to move forward through it, one day at a time, and then…I was abducted. I thought I was gonna die, that I was never gonna see my friends again. Instead, I had the worst moments of my life forced in my mind, then I woke up…and saw…me…on the other side of the pool."

The Reaper stared down at its claws; its scythe gripped tightly in its right.

"Then I looked at my hands…and saw these…sharp…things where my fingers used to be," the Reaper could barely articulate the words. "I saw my reflection on the pool…and that's when I knew, I wasn't me at all; that the life I remember isn't even mine! I…I look at my knees sometimes and…I…I just—"

"I'm sorry," Ruby quietly interrupted. "I didn't know."

"Being a fake wouldn't be so bad if I just…wasn't so…angry," the Reaper gritted its teeth with rage. "I'm so angry, all the time! No matter what, I always think about hurting someone. I…I can't help it. I feel like there's this…monster inside me, and it makes me want to take these things and dig them deep into someone eyes 'til the blood comes out!"

Ruby's eyes widened in shock at the graphic description of its claws.

"I spend every waking moment keeping that monster locked away, deep inside me," the Reaper's voice softened. "I can hold it back, but it's always there. It's always…clawing at me from the inside. It never stops and it's always so angry…and hungry. Hangry…it's—"

"The desire to destroy. You really are Grimm," Ruby interrupted with a sad tone. "Have you ever…lost control?"

The Reaper paused, not out of remorse, but fear. It would choose death if it hurt an innocent, unwillingly or otherwise.

"I…no. No, I never lost control," the Reaper quivered with vulnerability. "At least…not yet, but…I'm so afraid of that. I have to be so careful, especially around people. Every time I move really fast, like my legs or arms, this fire comes out of my body and burns everything I touch. I…I remember how fun it was to be faster than everyone and move all over the place; it was my Semblance. I can still move like that, only now I can't run without the risk of setting someone on fire. And my eyes…they're so different than what I remember."

"You mean like my silver eyes?" Ruby asked, ignoring the obvious fact that the Reaper's eyes were clearly red.

"Mine are…different, the Reaper explained. "They're like the opposite of silver eyes, you know? Your eyes destroy Grimm and protect life; mine kill people, but don't work on Grimm."

"Huh," Ruby muttered. "We're kinda like two sides of the same coin. Wait, how do you know they kill people? I never seen you use them."

"Tyrian tried to stop me from getting you out of Salem's domain," the Reaper explained.

"You fought Tyrian?" Ruby asked with shock. "By yourself?"

"I murdered him," the Reaper admitted with shame. "All I had to do was look at him and think really hateful thoughts. It's…so easy for me to hate; so easy to make it a habit! Nothing should ever have this kind of power! It's too easy to abuse!"

The same thought occurred to Ruby, albeit without the awkward pause that would usually come from thinking the same thing at the same time. Normally, she would try to make the other person feel better about themselves, but it was still hard to have complete confidence in this Grimm.

"Can I…ask you something?" Ruby asked.

"Sure," the Reaper answered.

"You said you have my memories…that you remember living my life, but there's still a chance that Salem might have messed with the way you understand them," Ruby explained. "I still don't know if I can trust you. I just need to be sure, so…when I stood against the Leviathan and used my eyes on it, what was the very last thing I thought of before I turned it to stone?"

"The very last thing?" the Reaper reiterated.

"Please just tell me that much," Ruby pleaded. "Just tell me…why it meant so much."

After a brief delay, the Reaper nodded in understanding.

"It was your mom," the Reaper answered. "The last thing you thought of was your mom. You thought of her alive and well and…happy…and that made you happy, more than anything. She's the reason you wanted to be a Huntress. Even after everything, she's still your hero. Every time you run into a problem and don't know what to do, you think to yourself 'what would Mom do?' You look up to her every day."

Ruby was taken aback by the answer, barely holding the tears back. Her lips trembled and she gave the Reaper a smile.

"You are me," she said. "In every way."

"No, I'm not," the Reaper shook its head. "I'm a Grimm. I always have been."

"No, you're not like those monsters," Ruby tapped the Reaper's chest. "You've got a heart, and a soul; I can feel it!"

It stared at her in astonishment. This was nothing like the way the God of Darkness spoke to it. Even toward a copy of her, Ruby saw value in it.

"I…I don't…Ruby, how can you trust me?" the Reaper asked in disbelief. "I got us lost, I burned your arm, and I don't think it's gonna heal. Why…aren't you afraid of me?"

"I never told anybody those details," Ruby explained. "About Mom, I mean. Even when my friends see me use my eyes, they don't know what goes through my mind each time. I keep that stuff private. It makes me emotional even talking about it…but you knew. You even told me what she really meant to me."

Tears formed in Ruby's eyes, which she tried to laugh off.

"There's no way you're a monster," Ruby declared with a comforting smile. "I refuse to believe that. No monster could understand things like that! You're your own person."

"You said that same thing to Oscar…about being his own person," the Reaper said with a forced smile. "He had his own personality, even before Ozpin came in his life. I don't."

The smile quickly faded from Ruby's face.

"This isn't my personality; it's yours," the Reaper tapped its skull. "Your memories, your feelings, your life; that's the only thing separating me from a monster. I don't have any original thought in my mind. I wasn't even given a real name."

With that, the Reaper attempted to go back to walking. It was just about done with this exhausting getting-to-know-you stuff.

"Then you can have my name," Ruby spoke with heartfelt sincerity. This stopped the Reaper in its tracks. It listened in quiet anticipation. "I'll share it with you."

The Reaper's eyes widened at the sentiment, but its back still faced Ruby.

"You said that you're a copy," Ruby said. "That means you're just as much 'Ruby Rose' as I am."

The Reaper finally turned around and looked at her squarely in the eyes. Its limbs trembled with conflicting emotions.

"I guess you'll wanna be able to tell us apart," Ruby said innocently. "How about…Gruby? You know, Grimm Ruby, but for short?"

No vocal response came from the Reaper's lips. All that came was the gentle smile of something that was truly accepted as someone.

Chapter Text

Time quickly flew by for the two "Rubies." Their little heart-to-heart seemed to dissolve a lot of the tension from their desperate situation, or at least provide a distraction from it. Despite having walked for hours in the snow-filled middle of nowhere, they were in high spirits. It was much easier for a person to take their minds off the awful moments when they're replaced by moments like…

"Okay! My turn!" Ruby said. "What am I thinking of?"

"Let's see," the Reaper said with its claw over its cheek. "Is it something you eat?"

"Nope."

"Is it also a gun?"

"Nope."

"Hmm…that rules out cookies, strawberries, and every cool weapon ever," the Reaper mumbled. "That leaves…ah-hah! Perverted thoughts about ninjas!"

"Huh?" Ruby blinked repeatedly. "P-perverted…what?"

"You know…Ninjas of Love?" the Reaper said in a teasing tone.

"N-no! Nonononono!" Ruby said in desperation. "I mean…nope, never heard of it. Nevernevernever, nope!"

"Yes, you have," the Reaper gave her a snide smile and tapped its skull. "You snuck into Blake's things on the weekend before Salem built me. I remember it…with your memories."

"Nope! Nopenopenope!" Ruby covered her ears and shook her head. "You can't prove it!"

"No shadows can conceal the lust of one enigma for so long," the Reaper recited in a deep tone of its already distorted voice.

"Nope! Never read it! I don't read filth!"

"Ah-hah! You just said you never heard of it, now you said you never read it," the Reaper gave Ruby a knowing smirk. "How did you know it was a book if you never heard of it?"

"Because…you said…uh," Ruby stuttered.

"I didn't say it was a book," the Reaper explained. "I said you snuck into Blake's things. You filled in the blanks. See, I know how your mind works. You overlook stuff like that until it's too late."

"You," Ruby glared. "I take back all the nice things I said about you. You're evil! Eeeeviiil!"

"Who's more evil?" the Reaper smirked. "The Grimm that thinks of filthy novels or the person that the Grimm came from?"

"Salem made you in my image," Ruby dramatically pointed at the Reaper. "You poisoned my mind with evil! You made me unclean! Unclean!"

"So you do think perverted thoughts?"

"Well, I am now…but only because you put them in my mind," Ruby pointed at her head.

"I have your mind," the Reaper pointed at its head. "You already think of them. If you didn't, I wouldn't think of them."

"But…you…Gruby!" Ruby snapped like she wanted to strangle her Grimm counterpart, who covered its mouth in an attempt to mask the great amusement it felt. "For the record, I was thinking of a weapon."

"I know. It's a katana," the Reaper said. Ruby paused for a moment before she answered.

"Yeah," she admitted in defeat. "It's a katana. Please don't tell anybody…I…think of…stuff."

"It's okay," the Reaper nodded. "I have those thoughts too. I'm not gonna judge. Okay! My turn! What am I thinking of? And don't worry, it's not filth."

Chapter Text

Time quickly flew by for the two “Rubies.” Their little heart-to-heart  seemed to dissolve a lot of the tension from their desperate situation, or at least provide a distraction from it. Despite having walked for hours in the snow-filled middle of nowhere, they were in high spirits. It was much easier for a person to take their minds off the awful moments when they’re replaced by moments like…

“So…Gruby,” the Reaper squinted.

“Uh, I’m Ruby. You’re Gruby,” Ruby responded innocently.

“No, I mean I can’t get over that name you gave me…Gruby,” the Reaper cringed. “I know it means Grimm Ruby, but that just sounds…too edgy. It’s got ‘grr’ at the start. I’m Grimm, but I’m not edgy.”

“Okay. How about ‘Gruby Grose?’” Ruby teased.

“Ew, no,” the Reaper said. “Now you sound like a cartoon dog.”

“Oooh! What about ‘the Grimm Reaper?’”

“Okay. That’s definitely a lot cooler,” the Reaper nodded. “No, wait. That one’s been taken. Maybe…’Grimm Slayer?’”

It stopped walking when it no longer heard Ruby’s footsteps. When the Reaper turned around, it saw Ruby staring at the red sky. It was only now that it realized just how long they’ve been walking.

“It’s getting late,” Ruby said nervously. “Guess we better find another place to rest soon.”

“Yeah,” the Reaper frowned, knowing that this predicament was its fault. “We walked past some thick trees on the way here. If I’m careful, I might be able to—”

“To…what?” Ruby looked at her Grimm counterpart awkwardly. “Gruby?”

“Fear,” it muttered, staring past a field of lightly snowed trees.

“Fear?”

“It’s in that direction,” the Reaper pointed at the trees. “The feeling is…muffled, kinda like a sock in someone’s mouth, but there’s fear over there. I think there might be other people!”

Ruby’s eyes widened. She wasted no time running in that direction, but stopped to see the Reaper walking in a brisk, but much slower pace.

“Gruby, what’s taking you? Come on!” Ruby yelled.

“I start fires when I run,” the Reaper said with a look of guilt. “What if there is someone there out there? I can’t risk burning them.”

Ruby’s attention turned to the wound she got from the Reaper’s scythe yesterday; the wound that still hadn’t healed.

“And I can’t risk letting someone else die because I was too late to do anything…again,” Ruby responded in self-judgmental spite. “I’m sorry.”

The Reaper moved its arm slightly toward Ruby in a half-hearted attempt to stop her. She was rushing into potential danger without so much as a scythe to defend herself. Deep down, however, it understood why she had to try. To do anything else could possibly be another death etched in her heart. Another person she was too late to save; it understood that feeling perfectly. With sad eyes, it only watched her run forward with her Semblance and followed the trail at a walking pace.

Despite the possibility of danger, Ruby was hopeful to an extent. Any chance of contact with another person was welcome after the past couple of days. With her Semblance, she arrived at a small village in seconds. It appeared mostly primitive, with brick houses to keep out the cold drafts and wooden fences with barbed wires on poles that…really didn’t keep out anything, given how dilapidated they are. Even at a first glance, it’s obvious that this place wasn’t given much upkeep. Ruby’s hopes quickly faded…and she yawned. Just looking at this place made her feel tired.

“Maybe it was all that walking from before,” she muttered at first, and then called out. “Hello?”

There was no response. Maybe everybody went to sleep for the night. She knew it would be a little awkward to just knock on someone’s door in the middle of the night, but two days of eating nothing but wilted berries and tree bark made her desperate. After a moment of hesitation, she knocked on the door.

“Hello? Anybody?” she yelled. No response. This wasn’t normal. Did this have something to do with the fear the Reaper was talking about? There weren’t any signs of damage, aside from the dilapidated fences.

“Maybe nobody lives there,” Ruby assured herself. A larger building stood in the center of the village; an inn called the Ice Flower. On the side of the inn, there was a large rickety sign that read Aisufurawa.

“Eye-soo-fur-ah-wah,” Ruby read aloud with awkward pauses. With a shrug, she slowly turned the handle and peeked inside. The counter where someone would check in was in plain sight, but nobody was working. From the looks of the cobwebs, nobody had even set foot in the inn for a while.

“Maybe…they’re on a strike?” Ruby unconvincingly tried to assure herself. Things were too quiet for her liking, but that changed when she saw somebody on the other side of one of the house windows. They were too far away for her to single out any specific features, but it seemed like they were waving at her. The details didn’t matter to her. It was somebody; that was the most important thing.

With a sigh of relief, Ruby ran toward the stranger. As she came closer, more and more things seemed off with this stranger. When it seemed like they were waving, she noticed that both of their arms were moving, not just one. When it seemed like they were settled in the house, they were actually leaning on the window itself. When it seemed like they were greeting her, their eyes appeared unresponsive and exhausted. And with that, a cold exhaustion came over Ruby as well. Something was very wrong.

She exercised caution and kept a couple feet of distance from the man. At least, she thinks they’re a man. Their facial features were… off. She wished she had her Crescent Rose right about now. Just holding that thing takes some of the edge off.

“Excuse me, sir? I’m sorry I’m bothering you so late, but I was wondering if—”

Ruby’s request was cut off by the sight of black and sickly claws around the man’s throat. He twitched and tapped the window, but barely responded otherwise…even as the claws dug into his skin. Ruby was roused out of her exhaustion and covered her mouth in shock.  Even with blood seeping from his wounds, his expression was not one of agony. It almost seemed…beckoning.

The claws quickly tore through the man’s skull; bits of his brain smeared on the window. His orifices ran heavy with liquid and brain matter and pieces of his face were ripped off like confetti. The gory bloodshed left Ruby’s mind blank for a few seconds until she collected herself…and saw the culprit. It was humanoid in shape, but had a hideous face that resembled a skull and a low-hanging jaw. Ruby recognized it immediately. It wasn’t a person; it was an Apathy Grimm.

Another bust through the door near that window, while more appeared from behind the surrounding buildings. They slowly shuffled toward her from all sides with crooked limbs and vaguely human moans.

“Oh my god,” Ruby quietly whispered to herself. “I can beat these things. It’s just like Brunswick all over again.”

Brunswick Farms…That was one little detour Ruby wanted to forget. Sure, it led to Maria teaching her to use her Silver Eyes at will, but what the Apathy did to her, her friends, and her loved ones was traumatizing, to say the least. The ability to drain the energy and willpower of their victims with their very presence made the Apathy more frightening than any fire-breathing kaiju-sized Grimm ever was.

Dealing with them shouldn’t be too hard now, though. Ruby only needed to remember three things when pitted against the Apathy: stay calm, find a pack that was grouped together, and think happy thoughts. Just like that, the Apathy in her immediate line of sight were disintegrated by the silver beams. Looking back, it’s a little hard to believe they were much of a threat to begin with. Sure, they had nearly killed her once, but that was only because she spent an entire night under their influence and the caverns she navigated were dark and full of spots even a pack could hide in. This time, they had no such advantage. The only weapons they had against her were their sheer numbers and their screams. A village could be overrun from a large enough horde, but if she was quick enough, killing them would be—

Ruby feel to her knees by a noise that pierced her ears and froze her spine. Not quick enough.  A single shriek from the other Apathy was enough to make her feel weak. The next pack of Apathy fell just as quickly, but the feeling of weakness only got worse by another shriek. Ruby fell on her arms and just barely caught a glimpse of another pack. Even her thoughts began to slow, and her eyes didn’t flash as quickly as she needed them to. A third shriek, and she could barely keep her eyes open. It was no use. There were too many of them surrounding her to disintegrate them all quickly enough. The Apathy’s shrieks were so pervasive that even her happy thoughts faded into nothing.

Ruby couldn’t focus or think. Her limbs were numb and her face was on the ground. Everything was quiet…peaceful even. There were no worries, no  fears, no Apathy, no danger…only quiet. Her eyes were closing. She was about to sleep…until—

“Mommy?”

A young girl’s voice roused Ruby out of her lethargy. She slowly pulled herself up to her knees. Was she already too late? She couldn’t let it end like this. She couldn’t fail. Not again.

“Mommy, get up.”

Who was this little girl? She looked and sounded so young; so innocent. The girl wore a little green shirt with overalls, brown skin, and pigtails. Seeing this girl trying to wake her mother reminded Ruby of when she lost her mother. Thoughts of her mother filled Ruby’s mind; how she lived…and the absence she left behind when she died. Ruby directed her gaze at another pack of Apathy; the one closest to the young girl. She focused on her mother standing near a gravestone with the words “Thus Kindly I Scatter.” Her mother turned around, her face was revealed, and…turned into a skull. All Ruby can think about is that she died. That young girl’s calls for her mother ended up morphing Ruby’s thoughts of her own mother. The memory wasn’t even a happy one now.

She took another look at the young girl, who was kneeled over an older woman that resembled her. That was probably the girl’s mother. Behind them, the pack of Apathy closest to the mother and child slowly shambled toward them. Their moaning echoed in the air so hypnotically; it was like a lullaby.

“Mommy,” the young girl pleaded, but in a lethargic tone.

“Not now,” the mother softly replied. “Mommy’s tired.”

The Apathy shrieked again; this time, the girl collapsed next to the mother. Ruby desperately tried to hold a happy thought again. She couldn’t let anyone else die. She crawled toward them in vain; a final desperate attempt to tell them to run. Their claws reached out to them, just as Ruby’s hand reached out to them from afar.

It was here that Ruby completely lost control of her thoughts. The sight of this little girl lying next to her mother made her think of how she used to lay in her own mother’s arms when she was so little. The memory was hazy, given how long ago it was, but she could see her mother’s smiling face. It was so warm and tender. She heard her voice and felt a perverse calm across her body.

“Good night, my little rosebud.”

Once again, there were no worries…only peace. The Apathy in front of her didn’t seem so scary. Everything felt…okay.

“Good night…Mom,” Ruby muttered with a sweet smile and then…her silver eyes inadvertently shined before they had a chance to close, which engulfed the pack of Apathy.

Ruby immediately came to her senses, as did the people in front of her. A sense of fear and dread crept in her heart. For once, she wasn’t too late to save somebody, but it wasn’t as if she had triumphed in any capacity. It was an accident. That simple fact made Ruby aware of just how badly she screwed up. She threw caution in the wind and nearly got herself killed for it. The only thing that save her was an accident. What choice did she have, though? She couldn’t relive that moment of “being too late.” Not again.

Some of her strength already returned from that pack’s disintegration; Ruby was able to stand on her feet. Her attention remained on the mother and child, who still looked exhausted. The mother was more alert than before, but the child was exhausted. Ruby quickly ran toward the two, shambling from the Apathy’s residual effects. The mother noticed Ruby and clutched her child in her arms.

“Who…who are—”

“I’m a Huntress. I know you’re scared, but I don’t have a lot of time to explain right now,” Ruby said quickly, not wanting to waste what little time she had. The next choice might decide the fate of these two innocents, and she didn’t have a lot of time to think it over. Should she tell them to evacuate the village until the Apathy has been exterminated, and possibly run the risk of them getting attacked by Grimm that might be outside the village while she’s occupied? Or should she keep them close by where she knows she can protect them? But what if she fails to use her silver eyes when she needs to? She didn’t have the Relic of Knowledge to stop time again.

“Rabenda,” the unfamiliar voice of a young boy said. “What’s wrong…with Rabenda?”

Ruby found the source of the voice cuddled near the mother. It was another child; a boy with plain clothes and dark skin that matched the others. He looked no older than that young girl, but he seemed tired. Ruby didn’t even notice him until now, but that makes three people to protect.

“Rabenda,” the mother spoke in desperation. “Rabenda!”

“You’ve got to leave…now!” Ruby ordered. “It’s too dangerous here!”

“But…that light. What—”

“We don’t have time!” Ruby assured. “Just get as far away from the village as you can and find help.”

 “I…I,” the mother muttered weakly.

“Mommy?” the boy pleaded. “I’m scared.”

The boy clung to his mother’s leg, who returned the sentiment and kept him close with one hand and wrapped around her daughter with the other. Despite the newfound understanding of her recklessness and what it nearly cost her, Ruby ventured further into the village in the hopes that there were more survivors. Reluctantly, the family left the remnants of their home behind. With nowhere to go, the three were left to wander aimlessly, but what other choice did they have? They ran.

Unfortunately, it only took a minute for the family to run straight into another pack of Apathy, just outside the village.

“Monsters!” the boy yelled. The mother gasped in fear, clutching her children out of instinct. One quick moment of carelessness and they were already surrounded. Without so much as a chance to flee, the Apathy shrieked and the mother and boy collapsed; her grip loosened over her daughter. Drawing closer, the Apathy had the three all but trapped. Their claws slowly came toward their next victims until…another set of claws intervened.

The one Apathy closest to the family moaned in pain when its claw sank into its skull from behind. Flames immolated its skull from the inside and came out of the orifices of its face; its moans grew louder and more painful. The claws wrenched the Apathy away from its would-be victims and twisted its neck just enough to make it face the very angry Reaper behind it. The Apathy could only emit a single grunt before it had both of its jaws torn apart in one swift motion. It fell on its knees, unable to make a sound, before the Reaper thrust its own claw through its skull and dropped its on the ground dead.

From here on out, the remaining Apathy turned their attention toward the Reaper, who kept its movements slow and precise enough to avoid unleashing any flames on the family mere feet away from it. That meant no running and no swinging around the scythe wrapped around its back. It had to keep all its power and anger contained. The result was a much colder and more controlled hatred for the Apathy than the fire and howling it unleashed on the Revenants. No words, no outward emotion, no facial expressions. Whatever it took to prevent a repeat of Ruby’s arm burnt to the bone.

The Reaper grabbed the next Apathy by the throat with one claw and its elongated arm by the other. With a vile glare that could make even the Apathy’s gaze seem tame, the Reaper ripped the next Apathy’s arm off, only to impale its skull with its own claws and toss it aside like garbage. The next one had its pelvis crushed under the Reaper’s foot and its legs ripped off before finally having its skull crushed by the same foot. The impact also caused the ground beneath the Reaper’s foot to crack.

The mother watched the cold violence with her hands over her mouth. The boy turned his gaze into his mother’s shoulder, unable to watch the Reaper’s cruelty upon its own species.

It approached the next Apathy with all the drama of a casual stroll, which responded to the Reaper’s approach with its signature shriek. A futile effort; the source of the Apathy’s power was that of all Grimm. It was negativity; the very thing the Reaper drew strength from. Unfazed, the Reaper grabbed the Apathy by the jaw mid-shriek and snapped it off. With its other claw grasping the Apathy’s skull, it jammed its snapped jaw into one of its eye sockets and dropped its body to the ground.

The final Apathy shrieked once again with no effect. The Reaper walked toward its prey slowly; its claws curled inward being the only thing showing hostility. Without taking its emotionless face off the Apathy, it stepped on the other one’s skull and slowly pressed down on it with a sickening pop. The final Apathy shrieked again; not with hostility, but terror. Its limbs quivered and its back hunched over; the terrifying zombie-like Grimm was itself, terrified.

With panicked moans and shaking limbs, it backed away from the Reaper in an attempt to flee for its life, but its slow body could only afford it so much distance. Drawing strength from its terror, the Reaper pursued this Apathy with the same stunted speed; with none of the presence of a Huntress…and all of the presence of a silent serial killer wearing a mask in a horror movie.

The Apathy shambled away, moaning and shrieking. Was that its way of calling for help or just the final terrified moments of its life? The Reaper slowly gained on it like a slow and ruthless predator, and the Apathy’s movement grew more frantic. It tripped and fell to its withered legs; its body unused to quick movements. With a final shriek of terror, the Reaper grabbed it by the skull. The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on the Reaper. The Apathy claim the lives of their victims when they’re weak and unable to fight back. The sight of such a creature in the same state was poetic. Even with the memories and heart of a Huntress, the Reaper knew it was still very much a Grimm. Holding its impulses back every passing moment would always take effort. It always had to stay in control, but for now, it could very much let these impulses out.

And so, it sank its fangs on the unfortunate Apathy’s face, wrenching the bones of its skull in pieces and spitting them out. This savagery continued when it sank its claws into the Apathy’s chest and peeled it open like a banana. For this one moment, it relished the destruction it brought upon the Grimm. It was like relieving stress that was pent up for days. The pleasure only faded when it saw the terrified faces of the mother and boy and watched it the entire time.

When it saw their eyes and felt the fear in their hearts, it buried its impulses once more. Did it lose control, or did it simply choose to let go? What could it say to these frightened people, who it did everything in its power to save? It reached out to them, wanting to help; to comfort, and it took a step toward them.

“Monster!” the boy shouted and pointed at the Reaper.

This declaration wounded it more deeply than any Grimm ever could, but it was true. Deep beneath its copied personality, there was something very terrifying. It turned away and uttered one sentence.

“I’m sorry I scared you.”

Chapter Text

With most of the Apathy in and around the village killed, the Reaper expected the overall panic and negativity in the village to decrease. Instead, it was the opposite. The village was in more of a panic now than ever. It should have been obvious what was happening, but both it and Ruby were too occupied with the Apathy themselves to realize it.

The Apathy’s presence masked most of the negativity with a perverse sense of calm that the Reaper could only sense upon close proximity to the village. With most of them dead, the calm faded and the terrible situation began to set in for those that were fortunate enough to survive. Ruined homes, broken families, and bloodshed; all were a result of the destruction that devastated Aisufurawa before the Rubies even arrived.

The Reaper explored the village slowly, taking care not to leave behind any flames from a quick movement, inadvertently or otherwise. Many of the survivors here rose from their Apathy-induced lethargy and were now forced to confront the tragedy that befell them. There was anger, fear, but most of all, sorrow; all of which came from such a senseless massacre. Just about any human or Faunus would either be afraid, sympathetic, or both for what happened here, but for the Reaper, this was brought to a greater level. It felt their negativity literally in its psyche.

The pain of losing a husband and child, of being homeless and destitute, of all hope lost; all of these were feelings that Ruby, and by extension, the Reaper should never be able to completely understand. And yet, these feelings were exposed to it freely. The Reaper need only have a glimpse to read their agony like a book. Amidst all of the suffering, there was one iota of positivity; a silver light that shined behind the dilapidated buildings nearby. When most of the villagers were on the verge of completely succumbing to despair, a meager few looked to the light.

Ruby’s light, her silver eyes; they shined over and over, which meant that more and more Grimm fell by her gaze. Ironically, the Reaper’s condition meant that it couldn’t look toward the light for hope. When the average person could bask in it without harm, even looking at the light was like staring into the sun for the Reaper; its eyes squinted and it was forced to shield them with its claw.

Doing its best to ignore the discomfort, it approached the light. It couldn’t rush to action without collateral damage, which made even walking around a building take up precious time. To make things worse, a lot of the sorrow around the Reaper turned to fear.

“Grimm!” a man yelled, though the Reaper was unsure exactly who or where it came from. Immediately, the villagers around the Reaper panicked while it looked around for any Grimm that Ruby may have missed. It found none; just a group of terrified survivors. It was about to walk over to somebody and ask where the Grimm were coming from…until it noticed the way that man stared at it. The Reaper itself was the Grimm the villagers were terrified of.

“Right,” it said with its claw over its face. Given the reaction of the few survivors that witnessed it fight off the Apathy firsthand, it was little surprise that the rest would be equally as terrified. Doubly so in fact, since it was a human-shaped Grimm. Aside from its scythe and dress-like membrane over its body, it could easily be mistaken for some kind of “female Apathy” to the civilian eye.

“That thing’s got a scythe!” he yelled and pointed at the Reaper. The other survivors reacted in a flood of panic; the screams made the rest of the spoken words inaudible.

“Okay, stay cool, Ruby…uh, Gruby,” the Reaper muttered to itself. “Right, I’m Gruby now. I mean I was always Gruby. I just remember being Ruby and… wait, who am I talking to ag—”

The Reaper’s “conversation” was interrupted by a Dust round to the head. A jolt of lightning permeated its skin. It didn’t inflict any real damage, but the blow came suddenly and forced it to shield its face. Another lightning Dust round struck its arm; again, this did no damage. Its body was too resilient. The Reaper peeked from its claws to see a human pointing a rifle at it. A spark came from the muzzle followed by a third round; this time, to the forehead.

The impact forced the Reaper to take a step back, but it never took its eye off the shooter’s weapon. It looked ordinary; no blade attachments or revolving chambers. The gun didn’t have any features that were dramatic or exaggerated, which meant that it probably didn’t belong to a Huntsman. It looked more like a civilian’s weapon…no, a villager’s weapon.

“Wait!” the Reaper yelled, its claws held out openly. “I’m not one of them! I’m—”

A fourth round struck it, this time in the back. The Reaper looked behind it to see another gun pointed at it. The cavalcade of fear and anger all around it made it hard to keep a clear head, but it noticed both shooters joining together with a third one.

“Please just hear me out!” it yelled, backing away from the attacking survivors. “I don’t work for Sa—”

More shots were fired; one of them struck the Reaper’s chest. As sturdy as its body was designed to be, the shock across its center mass made it flinch in pain briefly. Two more survivors, one male and one female, came from the direction it was backing into. When it turned to see them coming, one of them clubbed it across the jaw with a metal sledgehammer. The impact briefly knocked it off balance, but it steadied itself before it fell to the ground. Its ears ringed; the sound was more like a hammer striking a hot iron at a forge, rather than a shattered bone or a sickening thump.

“Kill it! Kill it!” one of the survivors nearby yelled. The Reaper glared at the sledgehammer-holding attacker with a silent anger. When he attempted to hit it again, it caught the wooden handle mid-swing and snapped it like a popsicle stick with a squeeze. The anger in his eyes briefly turned to fear, but the other attacker stabbed the Reaper with a knife…or at least tried to. The knife snapped when it collided on its chest and left only a single mark, and the collective negativity of every person in the remnants of this village constantly mended any injuries it sustained in seconds.

“Stop! I’m not here to—”

The Reaper’s pleas were interrupted by the weight of the sledgehammer wielding man that climbed on top of it. It could still stand with such weight, but the attacking survivor clubbed the top of its skull with the blunt end of the snapped sledgehammer over and over again. The Reaper gritted its teeth; the sound and feeling of a hammer hitting its head like a nail caused it visible discomfort.

“Get out of my way!” one of the rifle wielding survivors yelled. They couldn’t get a good shot at the Reaper with that man on top of it.

“Please,” the Reaper said softly. “I’m not…like those monsters.”

The Reaper closed its eyes and braced itself for more attacks. It kept its claws clenched inward, making sure not to cut someone by mistake.

“Don’t give in. Don’t give in. Don’t give in,” the Reaper muttered a mantra. “No sudden movements. No lashing out. No hate. Whatever you do, don’t hate!”

An invisible struggle took place within the Reaper’s heart like a sentient volcano that was trying to erupt. Every Grimm impulse and reflex wanted nothing more than to fight back and murder everyone around it, but its copied personality did everything it could to keep its destructive impulses in check. It couldn’t hate these people. It couldn’t let itself. Hate is what fuels the power of its destructive eyes. Someone could die if that happened. It couldn’t let that happen. It had to pardon them, no matter what. It had to force itself to forgive.

“I said get out of my way!” they yelled, followed by a gunshot. The weight on the Reaper’s shoulders slumped off…and fell to the ground. His body twitched with electricity and he coughed blood from his mouth. The Reaper turned around and looked at the wounded man in horror.

The other two survivors shot the Reaper at the same time; one at the face, the other at the chest.

“Stop! You hit him! He—” the Reaper yelled until the woman that stabbed it earlier resorted to grabbing it by the throat with both hands and strangling it. The Reaper looked in the face of its furious attacker; mucus and saliva oozed out of the orifices of her face. This woman was less like a person and more like a dog diagnosed with rabies. At such a close range, it could sense all of the hatred in her heart…but there was little other negativity outside of that hate. This was almost…inhuman. It hadn’t noticed until now due to the constant attacks, but most of the other negative emotions it noticed earlier, like sadness and fear, had dissipated in favor of pure hatred.

“What’s wrong with you?” the Reaper asked, unfazed by this woman’s attempts to strangle it.

At first, it seemed like these people attacked out of fear for their own lives, but this sudden surge of hatred wasn’t normal. It was irrational how much they wanted to kill it, even with the willingness to endanger their own. This woman was another example. She completely ignored the bleeding man lying next to her in an attempt to claw out the Reaper’s eyes. It blinked and turned its face away out of reflex and finally grabbed her arms to restrain her. Unfortunately, its neglected to curl its claws as it did so, and they slit the flesh on her arm.

“Oh my god! I’m so sorry! I—” the Reaper had time to say before a gunshot struck the woman’s back. Her electrocuted body fell into the Reaper’s claws. It turned its anguished gaze toward those responsible for shooting this woman.

“Why did you do that? She was your—” the Reaper stopped when it noticed how another survivor entered the scene and violently assaulted one of the shooters with a chair. That man was then shot by one of the other two shooters, and then he was assaulted by a completely different person while he was down. Another man jumped into the fray armed with a sword and ran one of the shooters through, then another woman chopped that man’s back with an axe. More and more people ran into the scene with bloodthirsty intent; they were killing each other.

“I…I don’t get it!” the Reaper stared at the scene in horror. “What’s happening to them?”

It was about to run deeper into town to look for some help for the woman in its arms. She was still breathing. It had to find someone that could help her…only to find the first step it took caused its leg to exude dark flames beneath its foot.

“Oh come on!” the Reaper complained about its predicament. It was still in a populated area and couldn’t risk running, especially with someone in its arms, so it walked. It felt wrong just leaving all those people to fight among themselves, but anything it could try in that situation would, in all probability, have fatal consequences. When it reached a large water fountain in the center of the village, two more people ran toward the Reaper. It glanced down at the woman in its arms and tried to explain the situation.

“It wasn’t me, I swear! I didn’t—” was all the Reaper had time to say before the two attacked and it turned around to shield the woman with its own body. As usual, the axes weren’t very effective weapons against its skin. Even after repeated strikes, they left only small marks that quickly healed from the inherent negativity in the area.

“Kill it!” one of them shouted. It couldn’t see which of the two said that, but his voice sounded psychotic. Did he lose his mind too? It endured more blows to the back, clutching the woman in its arms…until it heard a familiar voice.

“Get back!” Ruby yelled. The Reaper turned around and saw a faint glint come from her eyes. In that split second, it knew what was coming and shielded its own body with the woman’s before the silver light completely engulfed it. Its arms and claws were still exposed; it screamed from the excruciating pain and fell to the ground with the woman in its petrified arms. Oddly enough, the two men that were just attacking it also fell to the ground. Given the fact that the silver eyes didn’t harm people, this made no sense.

“Oh my god!” Ruby gasped with her hands clasped over her mouth. “Gruby! I’m so sorry! I thought you were an Apathy! I didn’t see your face!”

“Ruby,” it said weakly. “The people…there’s something wrong with them!”

"Your arms," Ruby said with remorse, gently holding the Reaper's petrified arms. "I..."

"They're killing...each other," the Reaper said, looking into Ruby's eyes with desperation. "So much...hate. Saw it...in their hearts. Like...they're possessed."

Ruby looked back at the two men on the ground, confused. The Reaper slouched on its back and used its petrified elbows to hoist itself up.

"Help them...please," it said. "I...I couldn't...do anything."