Cover Art By HookFISH
The tree tops were afire with the brightest shades of reds and yellows in the orange morning light. The colored leaves slowly falling one by one to the green grass below when they became too weak to hold tight to the branches. The sky showed streaks of blended pinks, purples, and blues to the east around the bright orange sun.
Morning birds sang cheerfully overhead, and the sounds of small animals starting to move around the floor of the wood could be heard.
Such a perfect, peaceful morning, no one would have guessed the horrors that had happened under the stars on that moonless night.
In the shade of a large oak, the ground was painted red with more than discarded maple leaves. Pale, white skin with transparent white-green scars in the shape of vines, soft, shaggy brown hair, a broken pair of thin, wire-rimmed glasses, and a ripped suit. Green-gold eyes open wide, thin shapely lips gasping silently in pain as a gloved hand clutched the fabric of the vest over his heart; tears rolling down deathly pale cheeks.
He’d never see Eric’s face again…the face of the one man he had longed to be loved by…the man he’d never given himself the chance to confess his feelings to. The man who’s face smiled down at him. But he wasn’t there. The brunet knew that. He knew he was alone…and yet, he lifted a shaky hand to touch that ghostly face, his fingers finding nothing but air.
He coughed again, blood painting his pale lips.
A collection gone terribly wrong. The struggles of the dying had fought back, and Alan Humphries hadn’t been strong enough to fight the cinematic records off. They had entered him, and they triggered another attack of the Thorns of Death, a deadly and rare disease among the immortal race of Shinigami.
–His last attack.
The soul had won and returned to the body they belonged to and the human fated to die earned a second chance at life. One he wasn’t supposed to get. And instead, it was the death god charged with his collection that lay taking his last breaths, longing for more time…
He wasn’t ready to go yet. He needed to tell Eric how he felt! He needed to see Eric—to hold him and be held once more…
Alan Humphries took one last deep, ragged breath and the light from his eyes dulled, his chest halting its movement and his body falling to the ground as still as the dead.
“ALAN!!!” A Scottish-accented voice screamed out, heavy footsteps growing nearer the oak at an inhuman speed, making the wildlife scatter. Eric, searching for his partner when he learned that the younger reaper hadn’t returned from his collection, gasped in worry beside the fallen brunet, scooping him up into his arms, “ALAN! Alan—no! No, don’ do this ta me! Wake up! Please! Open yer eyes—oh Styx, Alan!” He gasped, trying to deny to himself the amount of death that clung to the brunet’s petite form. He knew Alan was gone—but he couldn’t admit it to himself.
He had failed… He hadn’t been able to save him—He had been unable to even fulfill his promise to be there so that Alan wouldn't be alone in his last moments.
Alan received a small, private funeral, only those closest to him attending, except for the honorable legendary reaper who currently called himself ‘Undertaker’ who had taking it upon himself to take up the honor of preparing and laying the fallen reaper to rest. His usually rough, croaky old tone softened to his more natural, deep voice. Sending Alan off with respect as Eric, his good friend Grell Sutcliff, Grell’s newly-recruited junior Ronald Knox, and his Supervisor and boss William T. Spears, among a few others bowed their heads in grief.
“Many of our agents have been lost to us since the beginning of life and death upon the plains of existence that make up this world. Most out on the field; an honorable death caused by the hazards of our ultimate place in the world. Others of their own hand when eternity becomes too great a burden. Some as punishment for crimes, and others…” The silver-haired reaper clad in black robes paused, his reaper trademark green-gold eyes closing behind the shaggy fringe of his long hair. “Others are unfortunate enough to be taken from their loved ones by a fate far worse than any other. Incurable and unchangeable once fate rears her cruel head. The Thorns of Death. Rare as it may be, it has stolen yet another kind, innocent reaper soul from our ranks. One who never deserved such an illness. A single, kind soul worth a thousand. And yet, here we are gathered to witness his final celebration of life—his death.”
He swallowed, placing a pale, bony hand with long black nails on the coffin’s clear glass lid. Inside laid Alan’s body, cleaned up and dressed in a suit of honor. The silk lining of his final resting place covered in white lilies. His eyes closed as if he was simply sleeping.
“Alan Humphries was one of the best young men I had ever had the chance of knowing. Hard working, yet warm and caring. He helped so many. He spread love and hope. He had a special spark which can only live on in the hearts of those he’s touched…the hearts of each of you.” Undertaker said, looking at each of the younger reapers gathered around the gold and glass coffin. “And as such, each and every one of you shall get a chance to give Mister Humphries a few last words in private.” He nodded and placed a large, floppy and ragged top hat upon his head, slipping soundlessly out of the grave chamber.
Unlike human customs, deceased reapers weren’t buried underground. Reaper bodies didn’t decay. They were immune to such, as they left behind traces of decay on the bodies of the mortals they collected souls from. They also were an immortal race. So their body counts were much lesser than humans. Rather, they had a large island in the middle of the ocean of their realm dedicated to their fallen. A large white tower built in its center filled with coffins of precious metals and glass to house the bodies.
Alan’s coffin was already in its place of honor, his name and dates of existence carved into the base. Apart from small funerals for a newly fallen God of Death, visits to the tower were limited to all but the few reapers charged with maintaining the tower, who also lived on the island with their families. Twice a year the tower would open for visitors for a week, and then close to the public once more. It was important to say what was needed at the funeral as well as the rare visits.
One by one, the grieving reapers left their parting words to Alan and left the same way Undertaker had, spiraling down to the main floor of the tower until only Eric was left standing over Alan’s coffin, gazing tearfully at the soft features of his partner’s face.
Alan had been his student, once. He’d mentored him and trained him, then he’d become his partner. He’d been there for Alan nearly the brunet’s whole adult life—only to have been hanging out at some dingy old pub when Alan had needed him the most.
The Scotsman ran a gloved hand through his long, shaggy blond hair before half-collapsing on the coffin lid, “Damn it! I shoul’a been there fer ya! I coulda saved ya!” he cried, tears forming little pools on the glass right over Alan’s calm face. “I shoul’a…I shoul’a…Alan—I loved ya. Ne’er said as much but I love ya! I’m sorry…This is all m’ fault…”
Pure souls of a thousand. He'd heard the rumors and he'd been tempted by them. He should have collected them before it was too late. Even if Alan had hated him for it, it would have saved him!
To be continued…