Can you believe there are only 7 days left to this release??? I can hardly wait! So, why not share the first Chapter, right? I can't wait to see what you guys think :)
Death; a journey we all must make, more than once, is just as riveting—if not more so—than life. The aftermath is, anyhow. The process, I admit, is by no means a pleasant stroll into the sunset. It’s as confusing as it is terrifying. Sadly, a vital decision must be made by your soul at this juncture. I’ve seen it so many times, I can almost call it every time—which way they will choose: to rise, fall, or sustain.
I’ve died twice. The first time, I never made it to the Veil. I was…well, I guess I was claimed. Claimed by someone who surely grew to regret that decision. The second time I chose death, I chose it to protect my closest friend, Mazing. I chose death to protect my line, too. Not to mention the human souls that will never know my name or my role in the grand scheme of things. But that is not really the point, now is it? The point is that the second go around, Sirius chose not to let me pass. I was rejected. No surprise there.
I wasn’t bitter. The Reaper had grown to be a wise advocate of Mazing and me. He welcomed our offer to guard The Fall, the one and only passage that led to the twin reality. The one point that every Escort was fighting to pass through. We all wanted to go home. To the other half of our life. We wanted the power in, around, and behind The Fall. It was the next frontier. Or, well, the old frontier that got wise and burned the bridge down. Now we are all stuck here. Fun. Not.
I always kept my gauge on the procession of death. When it was massive, there was not a doubt that somewhere in the mix of mayhem there would be an Escort or two. I was in the mood for a good hunt. It had been days since I was given a solid release of power. Days since I’d been fed properly.
The procession began when dusk reached the Veil. Those that did not pass into the calling light or felt they should plead to continue their path were granted permission to speak with the Reaper, to approach his throne and humbly state their reasoning—reasoning that rarely made sense when fear and confusion were seizing their soul, reasoning that had no meaning in the larger scheme of matters. More times than not, by the time they reached the Reaper's throne the people they left behind had either passed on or were a few feet behind them in line. They were all blind to each other in this state of existence.
Often the Reaper would offer a glance or a simple word that would convince the souls to move on. Yet, there were others that remained, stubbornly refusing his persuasion. Some lingered in the enormous cathedral that I call home. Others ventured into the Veil, seeking to find their own way home. More often than not, those were the ones that became haunts, or worse, nourishment for my kind: Escorts. But hey, we all make our own choices now, don’t we?
The throne the Reaper sat upon would change—as would his appearance—with each new soul that was brought to him. I asked why once. If the way I saw him was even real, he grinned and very politely told me that I was one of very few that knew his true form. The change was made for the comfort of the soul, to frame the beliefs their energy was emanating. When I thought about it, I realized it was a foolish question to have asked in the first place. The soul is in a constant state of manifestation. Sees what it wants, hears what it wants to, and feels what it wants to.
I was standing one story up and a few feet in front of the Reaper. From here I could not only watch him and his gracious decisions, but also keep a weathered eye on The Fall.
I leaned against the white marble column as I gazed out at the wonder of The Fall. It was just that, a fall of liquid, yet there was no beginning and no end. A solid wall of what looked like water but was pure energy, stretching in each direction as far as the eye could see.
Sirius, the majestic star, rested in the center of this wall, only a few thousand feet above the highest peak of the cathedral. At least that was what I was told. I see nothing when I look up.
All I see is the overgrown, dark, mystic forest that precedes The Fall. I’d stared at this forest for so long that I knew every branch on every tree. I knew how the wind teased them with a sway. How the moonlight caressed each branch.
I knew exactly when the soul of an Escort was lurking. I didn’t see one now, but I felt the air. I felt that drawing sensation. The energy moving to one source. It wouldn’t be long now.
The pungent odor of a pipe singed my nose, causing me to glance to my side.
“Cowboy,” I stated with a slight nod as I stood from my lean.
Cowboy had been in the cathedral for all of seven moonrises, yet I’d grown familiar with him. He was inquisitive in a simple kind of way.
“Glory,” he stated gruffly to acknowledge me.
“You remembered. The Veil is accepting you. Bravo,” I said in the same absentminded tone he offered me.
Chances are, if the souls remembered who they were and how they died they would become lifers. Not really a good thing, but I guess it was better than being a mad haunt.
The grant the Reaper offered those who were determined not to move on was only a transitory stay. A stay that had the underlying clause that the moment you were forgotten by your previous life, you moved on. It was a pretty cut and dry deal, one that most wanted anyway. If they were forgotten, that meant one of two things: either their family had passed on as well, or there was no one holding on to them anymore—both good reasons to move on to the next dance with life.
The only mishap with that stay was when parks, benches, or buildings were established for souls to be remembered by—great in the real world, not so awesome in the Veil if you took that deal. It put you way off track, real fast and for what could conceivably be a really long time. It’s best just to move on. Honestly, souls should never even see the Reaper. They should follow their guide and move on. Easier said than done, I suppose.
“Hard to forget your name, pretty lady,” Cowboy said as his aged sky blue eyes slanted at me and he tipped his overgrown tan cowboy hat. I was pretty sure I knew what century he died in, along with what dimension.
Time is funny. It loops. So at any moment, a soul from each century, each dimension would be in the procession. It was a glorious history lesson. Interesting the first time around. The thousandth, it became a bit of a bore.
I’d learned to alter my words with each soul I bothered to speak to. That act had given me a well-rounded range of slang words to use, to say the least.
The Cowboy’s eyes were trained on the procession below. Most of the souls in line tonight were soldiers. My guess, they were from the Twenty-First Century, far ahead of my cowboy friend’s time. It wasn’t odd to see soldiers before the Reaper. Soldiers took the meaning ‘no man left behind’ quite literally. Each was vanishing into light as they approached the throne. The Reaper graciously assured them their path was complete with a nod of appreciation.
“Looking for someone?” I mused.
“These souls are not from your time, Cowboy.”
“Oh, sweet lady, I’m aware. I’m in waiting.”
“Special girl,” I assumed.
“What lady would not be?” he offered with a wink. “Just looking for an old friend I made a promise to.”
“You do realize they could have moved on?”
“Not my first walk into the sunset. We agreed to meet at this point in her existence.”
“Some promises are forgotten within the dance of life,” I grimly offered, knowing all too well how true those words were.
“No man of worth would have forgotten you, Glory. I swear to that.”
I grinned, wishing I were what he assumed I was: a pure soul.
“Tell me. Are there no children?” he asked as his eyes moved through the procession.
I offered him a humble glance before I spoke. “We are all children.” I let my words settle for a moment. “The young question everything, with the exception of thine own heart. They always go with their guides. Well guarded. Cherished and protected each step of the way.”
“Good to know,” he responded with a sense of relief, letting me know he was pleased not to see any young before him on this night or any other.
Mazing manifested at my other side at that moment. She was dressed as I was, tight dark jeans, tall boots, a leather corset and a dark jacket. It was a universal outfit. The dead do not care much for changing their attire, I’ll grant you that, but all we had to do to become more formal was shed the jacket and wrap a long skirt around our waist. Warrior to lady in under a second.
Mazing looked like most of my line. Auburn hair and eyes that held the color with a hint of gold, pure skin that would glow when we were appeased.
Always wanting to be different, Mazing had thick streaks of blonde racing through her long, thin dreads. I could never figure out why she liked that style. It was too constricting for me.
“Lordy, now the second hymn has arrived,” Cowboy said to her.
Ah, so that was how he was remembering our names, through association. He wasn’t far off the mark with Mazing. Her real name eons ago was Gracelend. I suppose the family she had before my line claimed her and added ‘Amazing’ as a nickname. Had to do with a song the Cowboy was obviously familiar with. I’d always called her Mazing, and so had everyone within our line.
‘Glory Glory Hallelujah’ was some song he had sung to me not long after I met him. Smart man. That is, if he was trying to change his address to the Veil. It was better to forget. Let this place be a dream.
Mazing offered him a nod, then glanced at me. “You feel the air?”
From her tight leather jacket, Mazing pulled out a velvet pouch and offered me the salt within it. I took a handful and slowly rubbed it across my hands, feeling chunks of it settling in each crease and behind each nail.
“Oh, ladies, trust me, you do not need sugar to draw any soul to the likes of either of you. Sisters, is that what you are?” Cowboy said with a puff on his pipe.
“What a charmer you are,” Mazing said with a wink, blatantly not answering his question, simply because it would confuse the old man.
Mazing was in a sense a child of mine, even though I had never carried a soul within my vessel. Never would.
I’m a sovereign. An original Escort of dark energy. When my energy is magnified, or should I say was magnified, it absorbs into the cosmos, and that energy is infused with souls that felt called to it. Sometime in their first life, their dreams call to me. That is when I pull them into my line. Mazing was the first. There were more than I could count after her, but she is one of only a few souls I’ve let get close to me. She was my first in command, closer than any sister, child, or best friend as far as I’m concerned. Proving that had landed us both here.
The cowboy opened his duster to reveal a set of steel guns. “I’m always up for defending a damsel in need.”
I smirked. “Not sure those weapons will do you much good here, Cowboy.”
“Thought I’d offer,” he said with a wink and another pull on his pipe.
I caught a glance from the Reaper. His eyes had the appearance of near pure light and appraised me as he offered a nod. He’d felt the pull in the air as well and was bidding us a good hunt.
Escorts pull energy, light, dark, both—energy is not their main course; it’s their only course of any real value, though. Skilled Escorts that had evolved through time could move through The Realm and find themselves in any period of time. When soldiers marched through this Cathedral, you could bet anything that an Escort was in tow, hoping that the mass would hide them long enough for them to seep through the cracks of The Fall, cracks that recently had allowed a few pure lights through. Well, a house, too, but that was forever ago. There was no telling where the war of light and dark was at this point. And I didn’t care.
I just wasn’t going to let any line past that Fall. Mine knew better, and the other seven had no right to pass as far as I was concerned.
“Bid you goodnight, Cowboy,” I said with a slight bow.
“Happy hunting, ladies,” he said with a pull of his pipe before leaning forward on the banister.
I offered Mazing a nod, then we both vanished from sight, only to manifest at the edge of the forest.
“Caramel,” Mazing said with disdain.
Every line had a distinct aroma to its energy. Ours was something like the smell of fresh, warm honey. Caramel belonged to the one line that had landed us here: Xavier’s. Mazing thought she and Xavier’s first in command had a fever, what we call a passion between Escorts. She was wrong about that. Very wrong. Disastrously wrong, in fact.
“Oh, I’m going to enjoy this,” she said under her breath as she rolled her neck and loosened her sleek shoulders.
No fury matched a woman that was scorned. I was all for a little action, but I could vow that caramel odor had a clean scent laced within it. One that brought back too many memories and killed any appetite I might have had. I’d let her feast first tonight.
We eased behind one of the large trees and stared into the darkness. For any Escort to make it this far, they had to be top level. Their energy was so powerful that nature would sway toward them, not by choice, but by the sheer pull of their essence.
I rubbed my hands together, feeling the chunks of salt that had settled there. I could almost see them. There were at least three approaching. At this point in the forest, you could see The Fall. I’m sure they thought they were home free, that a throne of their own was moments away. Wrong.
Mazing vanished in that instant. A second later, I heard a scream and saw black smoke rushing toward the sky. I vanished, too, and appeared right behind the strongest caramel scent of the three.
The Escort was at least six-three, almost a solid foot over me, and at least three times my width. The males were always built like warriors. Good for combat, not so awesome when it came to stealth maneuvers.
Before he even had a chance to sense me, I ran my arm through his back, easily piercing his flesh. He bellowed and fell to his knees as I gripped his soul. The salt was pure agony and left him powerless to retaliate in any form or shape. I could feel his energy pounding, seeping into his flesh, infecting his vessel with one of the most deadly emotions: fear.
“You’re a myth,” he breathed.
I leaned down, and next to his ear, after I let a sinful smile come to my lips, I whispered, “This myth,” I squeezed his soul, feeling his energy pulse against my skin, “is sending you back to The Realm.”
He exhaled, “Please.”
He knew that meant that his freedom to walk the Earth had now ended. That now he must beg and plead for nourishment. That he would be pieces, not a whole.
“I believe your master stated ‘this pleases me’ once in my direction. Who am I not to return the favor?” And with that, I pulled his soul through his vessel and watched the black smoke soar through the air of the Veil. Clearly, he was an addict. That is what black smoke meant. Our souls are made of light, our essence is, but when we walk with evil, when we forsake a sacred charge, our essence dims, becomes darker. Some even have a theory that it takes on its very own life form within you. There was no surprise that anyone from Xavier’s line would be infected. They were all addicts, taking more than they ever should from the souls we were designed to protect.
I had already heard the cry of the third Escort, so I was free to take my time and consume some much-needed nourishment. Nourishment that I despised but had to have.
I held my hand over the vessel and beckoned the remaining energy into my flesh. Within that essence, I tasted the one emotion Xavier’s line was known to invoke and meant to reprieve: shock. I could sense every soul that had provided for this Escort. I didn’t take it all. I never did. Those souls needed their energy just as much as, if not more than, I did. I let the rest seep into the air with a simple command for it to return to the souls that had blindly given it away. Once the energy took its course, I called upon the flames of power to diminish the rest of the vessel.
It always takes a second or two to feel the effects of the energy, which is why Escorts are known for taking more than their fair share. As the energy absorbed into the core of my soul, I seized. Something was wrong.
I realized that my senses never betrayed me, and they hadn’t failed me tonight. Beyond the caramel, there was the distinct aroma of mint. That cool, refreshing scent was too powerful to ever be masked. Especially to me.
A warm, humming sensation reached through every shred of my soul, causing a sigh that had not left my lips in an eternity. A flash of fever raced across my skin before I could tell myself to be furious and demand that my soul despise the sensation it was greedily absorbing as if it were the essence of life itself.
Mazing manifested at my side right then.
“Glory,” she said quietly, looking into my wide eyes. I’m sure they were a mix of colors right now; a deep auburn with a ring of emerald green, and of course a warm glow of honey behind them. Each color represented a sensation. The auburn was the base, the green was a sign of rest or peace, and the glow was a reflection of being fed. Surely, the green was confusing her. I hadn’t felt peace in eons.
“Why?” I swallowed. “They are crossing lines.”
She inhaled deeply, trying to see what had left me bothered. Nothing ever left me this twisted. Well, one person did. And he was the source of my fading trepidation.
Mazing flushed with anger. “If that is not the lowest of all lows. Ass. That’s what he is: an Ass. The whole stock of em.”
“I dare him,” I seethed as my soul finally decided to listen to me and back out of its euphoric state.
All sovereigns could sense their lines at all times. Wherever Xavier was right now, he knew he’d lost a few of his warriors. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was that the sovereign that carried the aroma of mint now also knew this Escort had perished. And he knew exactly who could have accomplished a task such as this with little to no effort, which also meant he now knew exactly where I was. Not good.