IT began with Death.
He watched as the violent storm approached. The swirling, black clouds let their sparks of lightning fly as they funneled about. A macabre silence enveloped the area as the storm built up for its attack.
And, yet, all he could do was stare at the body laying haphazardly in the dry brush. The poor girl's skin was becoming waxy, and there were flies starting to gather. His eyes narrowed as he stared at the corpse.
She had been cut in half.
He remembered a similar death many years ago of a young girl named Elizabeth, but this... this was different. This girl, this corpse was not like the other. This one was... sad.
Sad because her soul was nowhere to be found.
The large raven on his shoulder cawed loudly.
"Yes," he said in a grim tone. "She needs to be found." He glanced back at the dangerous storm. "But, first, for the body to be found."
HE walked into the police station of Argent, NM and asked to speak to a detective. When the desk sergeant took him back to the bullpen to Detective Mendoza's desk, he sat, quietly waiting.
Eric Mendoza eyed the strange man before him. "Can I help you?"
"Yeah, man," came the odd voice from the equally odd man. "Like, dude, I think I saw a dead body!"
Mendoza still eyed the man. That voice did not belong to that face. The man seemed as if he were trying to be something he was not. "You did?" he asked, arching his brows, "Where?"
"Out by Highway 180, man, near Laguna Gatuna," came the reply.
Mendoza stared at him. "I see. How did you come to discover this... body."
The strange man blinked his strange eyes at him. "I was taking pictures, man, of the storm clouds." He handed him a USB drive. "When I found the body, I took pictures, dude."
Reaching for the USB, Mendoza's fingers brushed against the man's. And, in that instant, a feeling washed over him. A feeling of despair. In fact, it kind of burned him. There was a hollow look in those black eyes that seemed to have no irises.
Your wife is ill, isn't she? Don't worry, it's not her time yet.
Mendoza snatched his hand back, grasping the USB drive. The burning in his fingers faded as he kept staring into those eyes.
A knowing look passed over the man's face. A look that told him he knew the pain Mendoza's family was suffering.
"The pictures are on here?" Mendoza asked.
"Yeah, dude. I transferred them with my laptop."
"You went home first, then came here?"
A snort. "Don't be stupid, man! I take my laptop with me when I go take photos!"
Mendoza leaned back in his chair, eyebrow arching. "Okay," he said with a hint of suspicion. "Can you show us where the body is?"
The man stood, a haughty air about him. "Can't, dude," he said hurriedly. "I have an appointment to keep." With that, he left.
Mendoza just sat there... staring at the man as he seemed to disappear from his sight.
AS THE storm brewed and drifted into Argent, he started to notice the town's folk preparing for what was sure to be a tornado. They either prepared with food and water, or by heading to the local shelters to wait the storm out.
But he was not worried. None of those people would need him today. The only one that needed him was one whose soul was lost.
Up above, the raven croaked loudly, pecking on the street light it sat on.
"Is this the building?" he asked the big, black bird.
The corvid fluttered down to his shoulder, and let out a low, guttural croak.
"I see," he murmured. He walked to the steps of the building and eyed it.
Before he had left the body, he had made sure he knew who she was.
Skylar Harris. A young, vivacious woman who was to embark on an adventure at the University of New Mexico.
An adventure that was to never be completed.
Now, as he stood at the steps of her apartment building, he felt a pang of sadness for this one. True, he always felt sadness when it came to his job, but this one... Her soul needed to be found, needed to be guided to where it should be. Guided to a place where either it rested or waited for its next life.
In all his years—centuries—of doing this, never had he come across a soul who was simply gone. This baffled him more than anything. And, to be sure, hardly anything ever surprised him.
His strange, black eyes narrowed a bit as he looked up at the front of the building, an apartment complex designed in the Southwest adobe style. Something was... amiss.
The raven cawed again, a gravelly, raspy sound.
"Yes," he said to the bird. "I feel it, too. Someone who should not be here is." So, he entered the building. As he did so, a woman who had been standing near the mailboxes, stared at him in fear and awe. He simply ignored her and went for the stairs.
Skylar's apartment was on the third floor, and when he approached it, he could feel the presence within. And the feeling was not pleasant.
Behind the door, he could hear somebody muttering to themselves, and, apparently, trashing the place. His eyes narrowed as his ethereal vision allowed him to see beyond the door. What he saw made him frown.
He nodded to the raven, who then flew away, disappearing from sight. He stared at the door, willing it to open on its own. Quietly, he stepped in, almost gliding. The apartment proper was in complete disarray with objects strewn about and furniture slashed. The kitchen area and cupboards in the hallway were in the same condition. And he could hear, either in the bathroom or the bedroom, more chaos ensuing.
"Where the fuck is it?" the person creating havoc groused. "I know the bitch hid it here somewhere!" It was in that moment that he became aware of the strange presence behind him. "What the fuck?"
"Indeed," Death said, his tone, not quite menacing, but not altogether pleasant. "Where is her soul, Gerald?" He fixated those eyes on the man.
"The fuck you talking about?"
"You know of what I speak," he replied.
"Fuck I do," Gerald took a stance.
He could see it in Gerald's face: fear. Fear of being caught, fear of what might come, fear of Death himself. The stance he took was that of one not going to back down. Of one not going to give into the trepidation that coursed through his veins, even if the color was draining from his face.
Without any visible movement, he was right in front of Gerald. Those creepy eyes bore into Gerald's mind. "Do not play games with me." When his face shifted from flesh to bone, the man paled even more. "I will not have it. Tell me what I want to know!"
Gerald was now very afraid. "I–"
"Do not think to lie, Gerald. I know you, and I know how your life will end."
Gerald's eyes widened at that. "All I know is he told me to do it. That she had a stash."
"Of money and drugs," Gerald was now trembling, but those eyes held him in thrall.
That face shifted again. "She did not," he stated simply. "Her life was not like that." He put a hand on Gerald's chest. "Who? Who did this to her?"
"He goes by the name of Vice, and that's all I know!" A groan came from him as Death's hand burned his breast. He collapsed to the floor as smoke rose from his chest, a hand-shaped scorch mark on his shirt.
"Your time here is done, Gerald." He turned back to him. The eerie, bone face seemed to crackle as those empty eye sockets bore into Gerald's eyes once again. "There will be no coming back for you. And no eternal rest."
The raven suddenly appeared, cawing loudly as Gerald screamed from the searing pain inflicted upon him. Tapping the wood floor with its beak, the bird seemed to count the seconds it took for Gerald to die.
VICE... another name for Sin. He left the raven to her work, and heard the sounds of sirens off in the distance. The storm had arrived. A low, menacing moan came as the wind from the funnel cloud seemed to engulf everything in its path. The smell of ozone hung in the air as lightning crackled and sparked in the oncoming darkness.
He glanced up at the sky. He needed to find Vice before the storm actually got into town, before the Sinful One got away. He left the apartment building and headed toward the city morgue. Perhaps he would find Vice there.
After walking a few blocks, the raven rejoined him, grunting and croaking. "Find him," he said to the bird. When she took to the sky, he continued to the morgue.
It was not needed for him to be seen there. The people who worked there didn't need to see him to know he was there. So, he passed into the building, noticing that it was empty on the ground floor. The morgue attendants, he surmised, were probably in the basement area.
As he made his way down the hall to the cold storage room, he had the sense of someone watching him. Upon entering, he knew he had found her. She was standing in the corner, back to him, sobbing quietly. Pale, her waist was bloody, and clothing tattered. Why hadn't he noticed her soul before this? And, it seemed as if she didn't even know he was there.
"He won't let me go," she sobbed. "I can't go..."
And, then, he knew. Vice was holding her soul for some reason. "Why?" he asked, concern and tenderness in his voice.
She stiffened. "To manifest," came the soft reply.
"Manifest? How do you mean?"
"He needs a pure soul so that he may inhabit this world. To add more corruption." She kept her back to him. "You think all the unrest in the world recently is coincidence?"
No, he knew there was a reason for the world's problems. Indeed, he'd had more souls to collect for the Afterworld than usual. Anger seeped through him, then. "He will not."
She turned to him then. "How? I can't go with you to find peace. To find out if there is another life waiting for me." Skylar began to cry anew.
He went to her, put his hands on her shoulders, smiling. "You do have another life waiting for you," he replied. "And I will make sure that in that other life, you will be aware of Vice."
Her large brown eyes searched his black ones, and she sighed when he placed a soft kiss on her forehead.
In that instant, a pall fell over the room, more so than usual. Slowly, he turned his head to glance over his shoulder, eyes narrowing in ire.
"She belongs to me," came the scornful voice.
"She belongs to herself," Death answered. "I cannot let this happen." He looked back at Skylar and kissed her forehead again. He noticed the raven sitting nearby. "Take her, he cannot have her now."
"I can and I will," Vice sniffed. "She is mine."
"No, she is not."
The raven, meanwhile, grew impossibly large and gripped the girl's shoulders, disappearing into the shadows. Death only grinned his cadaverous grin at Vice, knowing full well that Sin would try to retrieve her. And, true to form, the evil god tried to reach for her as the raven carried her away.
Vice managed to grasp her leg, and she shrieked. A shriek that burst open all the doors of the cold storage units. The drawers slid out and the cadavers sat up at her cry. They sat, stiffly for mere moments, before something moved them into action. Their heads turned in unison toward the devil god , their blank, opaque eyes focusing on the object of their reckoning. In what seemed like a dreamlike slow motion, they each stumbled off the trays to move toward Vice.
Vice turned his head at the movement. A horrible look twisted his face as he kept hold of Skylar, but held his free hand up to stop the horde. They did not stop, they kept coming, and more were coming from the other room down the hall. His nostrils flared as they didn't stop.
"Go back to your pit, Apophis," Death snarled at him, those black eye sockets murky pools. His skeletal features were now engulfed in inky robes that seemed to be alive. Tendrils of black snaked about as the cadavers edged closer to Vice. "You will not have her, nor will you have this world."
Vice sneered at him. "So you know me? So what? I am not the only one who seeks to dominate this world. Look around! War and Famine in some places. It has already begun."
His features shifted again as he let out an unearthly howl. Suddenly, in golden splendor, he pointed a staff at the other god. "Set does what he does because he must. You always seem to do these things for pleasure!"
Vice, also known as Apophis, reared his head back as he hissed, becoming snake-like. "I also do what I must!" He yanked at Skylar's leg once more. "The girl is mine! She will give me what I want!"
Another howl. "She will not!" Death cried. As the corpses grabbed hold of Vice's free arm, a lightning bolt snaked into the building. Striking the hand that held Skylar, he hissed loudly, letting her go.
The lightning caused a hole in the side of the building, letting the wind rip through as the tornado roared behind the gusts. "Back to your pit! Back to your hell!"
Skylar screamed once more but Vice had let her go. The raven carried her to the Afterworld as the corpses descended upon Vice.
Outside, the tornado made its way relentlessly through town.
ERIC Mendoza opened the door to his home and found a strange man standing at the door. Confusion gave way to recognition as he realized the smartly dressed fellow was the same man that had come into the station three days before. "What are you–? How did you–?"
The man, whose strange eyes seemed out of place with the blonde hair, just smiled at him. "I think you know," he said in an even tone.
"We haven't found the girl's killer," Mendoza said hoping to thwart the subject.
He shrugged. "And you won't. The ones responsible were taken care of." He eyed Mendoza. "You know why I am here. You know what must be done."
Eric Mendoza drew in a shaky breath. "What do you mean 'taken care of'?"
"If you must know, the man who killed her will be found in her apartment. The one who set it up has gone back to his pit of hell."
Mendoza narrowed his eyes at the cryptic remark. What the hell does that mean? "Okay..." He just shook his head.
"Now, I must do what I must," the man said to him. "It must be done. This is why the one who killed was killed." He stepped in the door past Mendoza. "As for your wife, it is time." And without another word, he went upstairs.
It began with Death...