An excerpt by Nikki Landis, from Fallen from Grace...
Black sludge clung to the walls of the cavern, mixing with the ebony slime that oozed and poured from every crack and crevice. Shadows lingered in and around the ramparts as demons of every shape and size slithered from the roof and across the floor. They were drawn to him, his power, and the raw brutal strength that radiated from his body. In this form the reaper was deadly and carnal; his appetite for blood, suffering, and death compelling him forward.
The legions smelled it on him; the recently cultivated souls, the spirits of those who had met their final doom. The reaper smiled, his skeletal form grim and horrifying but those that surrounded him were drawn, like insects to a deadly flame, and they could not resist reaching out and trying to capture some of the residual energy the souls left behind.
The reaper roared, sending them scurrying in all directions, but not for long. They never scattered for more than an hour or two before they were back, begging for the pleasure to torment and sink their teeth and claws into the tortured spirits.
For the reaper had only one job and objective. He collected souls. His scythe, sharp and stained with the blood of thousands, was aided by the Darkness. Heavy with the burden of death and suffering, the weapon could only be wielded by one strong enough to carry such a burden.
He walked through the living wall of fire that separated the cavern from his dark lord’s chambers. Only the highest ranking among the Darkness’s armies were capable of passing through the barrier. He smiled wickedly, giddy with the news he came to offer.
As he approached the dark throne, he knelt on one knee. “I’ve found her.”
A sardonic laugh echoed throughout the chamber, so vile and evil that even the reaper could not prevent the shiver that traveled along his bony spine.
“Let us begin.”
The reaper raised his head and stood, his eyes locked on his dark master. “I have already anticipated your desires, my lord. The malevolent have been unleashed.”
A rumbling shook the walls. “I give the orders, not you, reaper.”
The reaper bowed his head, knowing he would have to show his obedience but secretly smiling inside. The Darkness was too slow to act. Without the malevolent to chase and frighten the girl, and to alarm Basasael, his plans would be for naught. Revenge was a foul taste in his mouth and he relished it, savored it, and cultivated the hatred brewing and churning inside his tarnished soul.
“As you wish. Shall I call off the soldiers?”
The Darkness laughed, his aura pulsing with an ebony shroud of true evil as crimson flames licked their way around his taut body and towering frame. His wings spread out, the width of a small house, as he jumped to the floor and landed with a thud, his talons scraping across the hardened volcanic rock.
Before the reaper could react, the Darkness had grabbed him by the neck and hauled him from his feet into the air. Dangling, at his master’s mercy, he was forced to look into his eyes. A dark swirling mass of shadows, weaving in and out – the mirror image of captured souls and walls of blue flame – burned inside his omniscient being.
The shadows darted from the eyes, screeching as they sailed through the air, and flying into the reaper through every open crevice of his skeleton. They burned like acid, writhing and searching, seeking the truth of his motivations; once the depth of his revenge and hatred was revealed, they pulsed, exploding from his bones and nearly cracking his frame into pieces in the process.
The reaper cried out in agony and slipped to the floor as the shadows returned to their master. The Darkness vibrated with the consumed energy and thoughts, desires and needs, and true purpose of the deceptive reaper. The dark lord began to laugh, louder and more sinister, as he looked down at the pitiful creature that served him.
“Keep your plan. It serves my purpose.”
The reaper nodded, trying to stand with what little energy the shadows had not consumed. He was drained but dare not let any thoughts enter his head. Anything he envisioned now, so close to the dark lord, would be siphoned before he could react. No, he must bide his time. He had won, despite his deception, and he was secretly pleased. The Darkness was allowing his plans.
All the better.
The reaper made his way toward the wall of living flame, ready to quit the chamber of the darkest fallen angel and his master in haste. Even more menacing than Lucifer, none other held the power to make him quake in fear. He was stopped by the voice of the Darkness, filled with promise.
“Fail and I will destroy you.”
The reaper nodded and passed through the flame as a thousand knives struck his body all at once. Pain seared him in every cell of his bones. His weakness had claimed his memory. Passing through the barrier to meet with his master meant giving up a portion of his power and the souls he had gathered. Ripped from his bony frame they squealed in agony, pulled through the fire, and yanked into the lair of the Darkness.
Screams echoed from the chamber as they were hunted and consumed, shred with razor sharp teeth and forever plundered for their spiritual energy. They would feed the dark lord many millennia. Their auras, their pain, their suffering; their very essence would gather and grow until the Darkness fed again. Over and over, for all eternity.
Such was the fate of those who did not believe.
Humans were foolish.
The death dealer’s laugh rang out in the narrow space above his head. His master, the Darkness, had disclosed the plans of the reaper. A new soul, a powerful soul, was soon to be theirs. One such as this had not been heard of for decades. This level of energy could sustain him and his Lord for a long time. Centuries.
He laughed again, delighted with visions of chaos and pain, dismemberment and torture, blood spilling and all manner of carnage. The shadows scurried along the walls around him like insects, up and down, left to right, their twisted and grotesque forms dripping black sludge across the cavern walls like some demonic snail. The death dealer lifted his head and inhaled, a sardonic grin spreading across his face. He loved the scent of death.
Rotting flesh, bones, blood. His favorite things.
Under his throne, a mighty volcanic river of blood, sweat, tears, and lava constantly flowed, a trickle of bodies carelessly tossed in whenever it needed replenished. Flames crawled up the walls, licking their way up to the sides of the dais, interweaving with the black slime always present. The fires of Hell burned hot, hundreds of degrees that would singe and blacken human souls.
Souls in torment met their fate in the chamber of the death dealer or the Darkness. There was no escape. No hope of redemption. No chance to beg, borrow, steal, cheat, kill, or deceive in order to obtain release. Once the fate of a human was handed over, their soul became the property of the Dark Lord. Their lives were forfeit. Their souls indebted in eternal servitude.
And the Darkness always collected his debts.
Foolish humans, their refusal to acknowledge the truth of good and evil, of Heaven and Hell, had fueled his lust for more power and inflamed his desire to deceive as many of these arrogant souls as possible. How easily they succumbed to lies, driven by their selfish greed.
A reaper entered his chamber, groveling at death’s feet. He bowed low. “I have brought gifts.”
“Rise. Show me these tokens of your loyalty.”
The reaper, and others like him, owed their allegiance not only to the Darkness but also to his first in command, the death dealer. The reaper would never dare to enter without souls to offer. He could be crushed and destroyed, thrown into the lake of eternal fire, which flowed below the throne of death. This was the only place held with the same demand of honor and allegiance as the chamber of the Darkness. The death dealer, none other than death himself, was the ultimate harvester of souls.
Death rose as he heard the wails and suffering of the spirits.
The reaper opened his long black trench coat and plucked several from his bony skeleton, gritting his teeth as sharp pains pierced his bones. He flung the souls out into the chamber, all five, as they darted back and forth, their frightened cries filling the cavernous chamber.
Human souls were made of flesh in the Underworld, not given the reprieve of incorporeal form. In Hell they would reap what they had sowed in life, eternal torment their punishment, but a hundred times worse if they were directly coveted by the death dealer or the dark lord.
There was no escape.
The death dealer began to laugh, his eyes glowing crimson as he joined the hunt. The first soul was snatched from where he stood, unable to move from fright. No matter, the death dealer bit off his head, blood spurting in a wide arc, crunching and grinding his bones into dust. Death finished him off in two bites, watching as his spirit fled into one of the passages. He would enjoy that one again soon.
The second and third souls were side by side, hiding behind a rock. He picked one up in each hand and slammed their skulls into one another, smashing them into bits of mangled flesh, and devoured them at his leisure. The fourth soul had run, screaming in terror, into the lake of fire and was now burning. Such a waste. Death broke her in half and swallowed whole the remainder not scorched by the boiling lava.
The fifth soul was more cunning. He crept along, avoiding the movements of the death dealer with a practiced eye. This one would be fun. Death played the game, letting him believe he was making progress. He caught up to the man seconds before he slipped from the chamber.
“Foolish human, you have made me work for your sustenance and so I shall enjoy killing you slowly.”
He snatched the man by the arms and ripped them from his body, stuffing each one into his mouth and sucking the flesh from the bones before he ground them beneath his razor sharp teeth. The man howled and screeched in agony as Death ripped off both legs below the knee next. The man flopped onto the ebony soil stained by the blood of hundreds of thousands of souls and volcanic rock, writhing and trembling with shock. Death smiled, the corners of his lips lifting into a cruel and calculating grin. Before the man could blink the death dealer had slit his stomach open and was feasting on his entrails. The crimson flow of metallic blood filled the chamber, drawing shadows, demons, and malevolent to the enticing scent.
The spirit wailed in agony as it left the man’s torn flesh and sailed away to be hunted and consumed another day. Death was sated.
“A worthy offering.” Blood dripped from his mouth and chin, puddling onto his lap as he resumed his spot on the throne. “I will hear you. Why have you come before me, reaper?” He knew the reaper would disclose the information he had gathered about the powerful soul, the one the Darkness had foretold was coming.
The reaper smiled, his bony grin full of teeth. “There is something you should know.”
The malevolent gathered in the presence of the reaper, bowing to their master. As he paced the reaper swept his dark cloak aside, walking the length of his chamber deep in the Underworld. Shadows scurried out of his way, darting passed his legs in an effort to avoid his unpredictable temper.
No flames adorned his rooms as the death dealer and the Darkness, part living flame, loved to have nearby. He preferred the low flickering flames of a fire in a hearth, his long years of roaming the earth had become accustomed to inns that boasted an old luxury feel he readily enjoyed. His lifestyle was extravagant when he chose to take on his earthly form, for only a few ever recognized him for the true evil being he had become.
Reapers were souls. Lost souls. Enslaved souls. Spirits that had been cast straight to Hell upon death and sent directly before the Darkness. Those who were skilled in life, whose assets could serve the dark lord were given an option. Rise as his minion or end up like the countless others devoured for sustenance.
The reaper had chosen wisely. He barely remembered his name or his past now. On occasion he would have brief flashes of memory, as visions of his life came back to haunt him. He had been a selfish bastard in life, it was no different now. Few emotions but rage, lust, desire, deceit, and vengeance mattered to him.
He was the embodiment of evil.
As all reapers were.
With one exception. The reaper knew Bash. He doubted the Angel remembered their brief interactions but upon the reaper’s death, the memory of his revenge was so striking and deeply ingrained that the Darkness let him keep those memories. The only ones he was allowed to revisit. Part torture and part necessity, they enabled him to stay the course and complete his quest. Hundreds of years he lay in wait for the opportunity to exact his revenge.
He was so close.
The reaper stopped in front of his soldiers and raised his hands wide. “We have been unleashed.”
Red eyes lifted as one as a mighty roar echoed in the chamber.
Vengeance was near.
Copyright © 2017 NIKKI LANDIS
All rights reserved.
No part of this excerpt may be reproduced, shared, used, copied, etc.
without the express permission of the author.