It's that time again! Here's a little excerpt from my newest WIP. It's very, very rough, but I thought I'd give you a hint at what's to come. :D
I tapped a sheaf of papers—which was all that was left to do after my latest transport—so the pages lined up, and placed them off to the side to bring to the file clerk, even in the Otherworld there was paperwork. I adjusted my stapler on the corner of my desk so the edges matched up, spending almost five minutes making sure it was perfect. Then I slipped my pen in the drawer, and preceded to organize my already organized files, going so far as to make sure the files in the alphabetized folders were also in alphabetical order.
This wasn’t done to make sure my workplace was tidy; it was a way of stalling. Just after I’d transported her to her final destination, I’d received a message from Azrael—my boss, “Meet me in my office when you’re done,” and I’d been a nervous wreck since.
That wasn’t at all the way it was supposed to happen. Usually, I got a ‘good job’ when I handed in my paperwork—if he was around. If I’d done really well, I might have even gotten a handshake, but I’d never gotten called to his office. And especially not the second I’d returned from Elysia. In fact, I’d only ever been to his office once. The day I’d arrived.
Almost no one went to his office, unless you were a member of his Assembly or you did something very, very wrong. I was not a member of his Assembly.
When I caught myself straightening the pencils in my drawer so the tips all faced the same direction, I forced myself to get up and go to Azrael.
His office was similar to mine—as were all the offices—except it was bigger. A lot bigger. But then when you where in charge of every single reaper in the Otherworld it only made sense.
The walls of his office were a fawn color and had wainscoting along the bottom, while my walls were a dingy yellow, as if they had suffered through years of smoking. His desk was beautiful rosewood, while mine was a dented, brown, metal military surplus. He had a beautiful Turkish rug over Mahogany hardwood floors and I had threadbare carpet over concrete.
I stepped into the anteroom, which was a smaller, cozier version of his office. It was where he did his more informal discussions with those in the higher circle. Those that had gone beyond just a simple collector or transporter. Candlelight lit the room, giving it an even more homey feeling.
As modern as the Otherworld had become, it still didn’t run to modern conveniences such as electricity. There really wasn’t any need. Reapers didn’t need the comforts humans did. Cold, heat, light, dark. None of that mattered to us. If we were lucky enough to be given an assignment that meant becoming corporeal, than it would. We would feel the same humans did, but that was rare and only given to the most trusted reapers. An experience I hoped to gain one day.
I grinned when I saw Azreal’s hound sleeping in the center of the Aubusson rug. One massive eye opened, then the rest followed suit. His tail waged, and three tongues appeared from behind rows of razor sharp teeth. I knelt down to scratch his belly with both hands, laughing when his leg started kicking. For a dog that had three heads and was larger than myself, Cerberus was as gentle as a lamb. With people he liked anyway.
“Whose a good boy? Huh? Whose a good boy?” One of his large heads lifted and his tongue slurped up the side of my face. “Eww!” I exclaimed, laughing, and trying to wipe the slobber off with my sleeve. “Keep that up and we won’t play Frisbee later.” His tail thumbed heavily.
A throat cleared behind me and I jumped up to stand at attention, trying not to show my embarrassment of having been caught by the man himself, playing with his dog. Cerberus whined, stood, and went to his master—who gave him a few strokes behind the ears of one of his heads—before going to curl up in the corner.
“Emily, it’s wonderful to see you again. I don’t get to nearly enough,” Azrael said, and took my hand to shake it. He gestured to the couch behind me. “Please have a seat.”
My nerves settled slightly as I took a calming breath. We weren’t going to his office, which meant I wasn’t in trouble. I sat, but didn’t relax completely; I’d still been summoned. That was never a good thing.
He waited until I sat before doing the same, and then steepled his spidery thin fingers together. He propped them under his chin and then leaned forward to rest his elbows on his thighs, studying me, while I watched him. His dark hair and pale skin glowed under the lamplight. His eyes locked onto mine and stayed there, not even blinking.
When I started to fidget from the intensity of stare, he smiled. “Yes, I do believe I was right about you.”
That threw me for a loop and I blinked. “Sir?”
“When I brought you on board.” His smile grew. “I saw something in you. The others did not agree, but you have proven me right time and time again. As you well know, there aren’t many that were in your position that are offered what you were. I am quite proud of you, Emily.”
I blushed and looked down at the hands I’d clasped in my lap. “Thank you.”
He stood up, drawing my attention back to him. “There is a request I must make of you.”
Knowing better than to interrupt, I waited for him to continue. He walked across the room to shut and bolt the heavy door, sealing us into the room. A feeling of dread settled over me.
“You did well with your latest,” he said, returning to seat.
“Sir?” The abrupt change of subject confused me, but did nothing to expel the dread that was creeping into every corner of my being.
“The woman. With the heart failure.”
“Mrs. Crous?” I asked, stupidly, my eyebrows winging up.
He gave me an indulgent smile. “Yes, you would know your charges name. You always do.”
“I don’t understand.”
“That case could have been very difficult.”
I gave a soft snort. “How so? It was just a standard C & T.”
He shook his head. “There is no such thing as standard, Emily. But yes, sometimes they are easier than others.” He stared of into space again.
I waited him out, being careful not to say anything. Whatever was on his mind was big and it was bad. Worry and little prickles of panic tickled my nerves.
“We have a problem,” he said, with a sigh. “A big problem. And I need your help. I’m making you a part of the Assembly.”
“Yes. I’m afraid you’re the only one it can be. I trust no one else.” His eyes hardened when he said it, stopping me from asking any more questions. He tossed me a file folder he’d pulled out of thin air. It never cease to amaze me how he could do that. “Study that.”
With a slight hesitation, I flipped it open and read through it. The only sound was the rustling of pages and Cerberus’ light snore. When I finished I looked back up, my brows furrowed. “I don’t understand.”
“There’s been an influx of ethereal activity in the past six months, but no one can find the source. We’ve monitored it, but it wasn’t until a girl died and Cera, who’d been assigned to her, came back without the girl’s soul. Because there wasn’t one to collect.”
Shock poured over me. “She sold her soul?”
He shook his head and sighed. I worried I’d disappointed him, but it was sadness etched onto his face. “No. Worse. Read it again.”
I read through again, carefully this time. Going over a few pages several times just to make sure I was reading correctly.
“Someone stole her soul?”
He gave me an indulgent smile. “I knew it wouldn’t take you long,” he said, rubbing a hand over his eyes. It was the only outward sign of agitation I’d ever remembered seeing on him. “Yes, and she’s not the only one. I’ve had three more reapers come back empty handed.”
He shoved a hand through his hair. “There is no good reason and that’s what I’d like to know.”
“What do we do?”
“I can do nothing. It’s you that’s going to have to do it.”
I almost swallowed my tongue. “Me?”
“I need somebody I trust to go to the Corporeal world—to become corporeal.” He watched me as the news sunk in. “You will try to find out who is doing this and why. We also need to find everyone who’s missing a soul, so we may return it to them after we get it back from the creatures that have taken them and you have to do it quickly.”
“The longer a human is without their souls the less chance we’ll be able to get the body to take it back and the more chance that someone is going to realize they’re living, talking, and eating with living, breathing zombies.”
I burst out laughing. “Zombies? What like those horror flicks that humans are always watching.”
His mouth tilted up a little in the corner. “Yeah, a little, but they’re not like that exactly. The voodoo definition is a more accurate description.” His lips went back to the straight line he’d held before. “But this isn’t a laughing matter, Emily. We don’t want any more innocents dying without their souls. And I don’t want you to lose yours.”
My heart leaped into my throat. “What do you mean?”
“Demons and reapers don’t get along because Reapers impede the demons need to corrupt innocent souls. They can’t harm a soul as long as we are they to courier them to the Otherworld. If a demon knew you were there—especially the one that’s the cause of all this—the results could be disastrous.”
“But why me? Surely you have someone who’s been around longer, someone who’s dealt with this kind of thing before. Someone who isn’t here as a punishment.”
“Because you’re the only one I trust.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Why?”
“Because in life—and death—despite your…mistake, your soul is pure. You have a kindness that knows no bounds, and most importantly, you still remember what it’s like to be human.”