The Immortal Strain
You and me, always and forever. Just you wait and I'll be there. Love always, Sarah.
The wind was icy cold on my skin, whipping the sand about in swirling spirals, and causing my golden blonde hair to billow around my face in unruly yellow strands. The sun was yet to rise, and the beach that I was standing on seemed devoid of any colour; washed out to a dull grey by the pre-dawn light. I wrapped my long coat tighter around myself and shivered.
The sun would rise soon, and when it did I would finally get to see the one that I was waiting for; the one that I had been parted from for a whole year, and whom I desperately missed. My pale skin prickled in anticipation. It wouldn't be long now.
"Brendan Hieson," I muttered to myself as I read the name that was at the top of my list. The numbers next to it were fast ticking away, racing towards oblivion as I stealthily followed the young man through the rain. Closing the card that was in my hands, I slipped it back into my pocket and focused my green eyes onto his back as I quickened my pace. I only had minutes left.
His head was bowed, his hands in his pockets as he splashed his way up the street. The rain had plastered his dark brown hair to his head like a helmet, and as he stopped to look up and down the street before crossing, I caught a glimpse of piercing blue eyes before he jogged across the road. I followed, as silent as a shadow; a figure of Death at his heels.
Brendan Hieson was going to die tonight. In fact, he was going to die in less than three minutes. I didn't know how, and I didn't know why, but it was true, and it was my job to cut the Soul Thread that bound his spirit to his flesh. That's what I did; I was a Grim Reaper.
My name is Azaelee, and there are literally thousands of people just like me all over the world. We look just like ordinary humans, but we are a far cry from ordinary. We are immortal beings who exist on the borders of Death, and as such, we were all created at the moment of our death. I myself was born in 1644, and met my end during the Great Plague of London in '65. It wasn't exactly a pleasant experience, yet it allowed me to be where I am today; modern day Sydney. When I was mortal, I didn't even know that Australia existed. Now I called it home.
Brendan had entered a part of the city that was full of on-going construction; the footpaths were walled in by scaffolding, making claustiphobic tunnels and dark passages. The tunnels opened up to offer views of dank and dripping side streets every now and then, and it was at one of these side streets that I heard the voices. Two older males had stepped out in front of Brendan, and from what I could make out, they were demanding that he hand over his wallet.
"This won't end well," I muttered to myself as I folded my arms over my wet coat and leant against a makeshift wall to observe the proceedings. I couldn't stop what was going to happen; his time was just about up. All I could do was watch and wait for the inevitable.
I slipped the card out of my pocket and opened it up. On the left hand side was a list of names – Brendan Hieson was at the top – and on the right was a list of numbers that corresponded with how much time the owners of the names had left to live. Once the time reached zero their lives would end, and I would have to cut their Soul Thread. All of the names on the card were my responsibility; my reaps, and no one else's.
Thirty seconds to go. I looked up and saw that Brendan hadn't handed over his wallet, and that one of the men had him by his jacket collar. The other one was reaching for something that was stuffed down the back of his jeans; a gun. Brendan saw the gleaming black weapon at the same instant that I did, and for a moment no one seemed to move. Then a truck went roaring past in the rain, spooking the gunman, and tightening his finger on the trigger.
One second remaining. The sound of an explosion, and the men bolted as Brendan hit the ground. I felt a sudden pain in my chest, and the next thing I knew I was crying out in agony as I fell to my knees. There was blood coming from my chest, but it was already slowing – Reapers healed way too fast – yet I could now feel the bullet that was lodged in my ribcage. Not good.
Worse, Brendan wasn't dead. I had been standing almost directly behind him, and yet the bullet had missed its intended target by mere inches and had hit me instead. But why? He was supposed to die! I looked down at the open card that was still in my hands and blinked in bafflement. Brendan Hieson's name was now close to the bottom of the page, and his counter said that he now had six days left to live. How was that even possible?
"Oh my god, are you okay?" a voice cried out, and with a grimace I stuffed the card inside of my coat pocket before looking up into the worried blue eyes of a dead man walking. "You're not hurt, are you?"
"No," I said with a shake of my head, closing my coat over my bloodstained shirt. Lucky for me, my coat had been open when the bullet had hit, and thus it had escaped any blood splatter. Yet the bullet remained lodged in my ribs; a painful reminder that I would need to go and see a surgeon some time tonight.
"Are you sure? I thought-"
"I'm fine," I said, suppressing a groan of pain as I climbed back onto my feet. I knew that my skin would already be healed, yet I was fairly certain that the bullet had broken a rib or two, and was probably stuck in the middle of one, preventing its healing. It needed to come out, and soon. But Brendan didn't need to know that.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know there was anyone else around," he said, and I frowned at him.
"So if you had have known, you would have tried to get shot somewhere else?" I asked, and Brendan gave a faint smile.
"I guess not," he admitted, and I had to smile at him. He had nearly been shot – should have been shot – and yet he was trying to comfort me, who had never been in any real danger in the first place. Sure, I had a bullet embedded in one of my ribs, but it wasn't going to kill me.
"I should go," I said, turning to leave, and yet Brendan grabbed my right wrist, causing me to flinch as a surge of panic shot through me. Luckily, he didn't noticing anything strange as I hastily pulled away from him.
"Wait, maybe I should walk you home?" he said with obvious concern, and I regarded him for a moment as I bit my lip in thought. "What was your name?"
"Sarah Whitefield," I replied in somewhat of a dazed whisper, before mentally kicking myself as I realised what I had just done. Why in the world had I given him that name? Stupid!
"My name's Brendan Hieson, and I insist on walking you home."
"I'm not taking no for an answer, Sarah," he said, and something about the way that he said my name made my breath catch. What the hell was wrong with me? I had abandoned that name three hundred and forty-two years ago, so why was it the first name that I had thought of to give him? And why was he even standing before me, alive, in the first place? It just wasn't right. Not that I wasn't glad that he wasn't dead, but that's not how things are supposed to go. When your name comes up and your number reaches zero, you die. In nearly three hundred and fifty years of reaping, I hadn't seen anyone avoid that fate, and yet Brendan had. What's more, I don't think he even realised what he had done.
"Okay," I sighed in defeat, before locating the nearest apartment building. "But I live just there," I added, pointing up at the building. It was a lie of course, but Brendan gave a nod as we started down the street.
What was so special about him? As we walked, I continually glanced over at him, trying to sense if perhaps he wasn't quite as he seemed. As a Reaper, I could sense if another of my kind was near, as we gave off a certain vibe. Mortals didn't normally notice anything strange about us – except for maybe a slight feeling of apprehension – but Reapers could pick each other immediately, and I wasn't getting anything from his guy. He was just a mortal, and yet he had so effortlessly avoided death to the extent that his life counter had been reset to end six days from now.
We walked in silence until we reach the steps leading up to the apartment building. "I should be fine now, you don't have to walk me in," I told him, yet for a moment he looked like he wanted to do just that. But then he smiled and stepped backwards.
"Okay. Well, I hope you have a good night," he said casually, as if we hadn't just been shot at ten minutes earlier. I swear, what was with this guy? I watched him as he walked away, before I stepped into the foyer. The building was dark, as it was quite late at night, so no one was around to see me vanish.
Teleportation was one of the better side effects that came with being a Reaper. Sometimes, the people that we had to reap were miles away from each other, yet their timers would expire only minutes apart. In order to get there on time, we could instantaneously teleport ourselves to where ever we needed to be. This ability also extended to allowing me to arrive at North Shore Hospital in the middle of the night.
"Hi, could you tell me what floor doctor Davies is working on tonight?" I asked the girl at reception, who regarded me with a friendly smile before answering my question.
"Let me just check," she said, before clicking a few buttons on her computer screen. "He's up on level two."
"Thank you," I said as I headed towards the elevators, still clutching my coat shut. The last thing that I needed was for someone to see my bloodstained shirt and panic.
I found doctor Taylor Davies just as he was completing his rounds for the night, and when he saw me, he sighed. By Reaper standards, Taylor was still a baby. He'd been a medic in World War One, and had died in the Somme, yet that hadn't stopped him from doing what he loved. It was sad in a way; Taylor was an excellent doctor, and yet he was doomed to forever witness people die. On a plus side, whatever Higher Powers that existed had taken pity on him, and the only reaps that ever came up on his card were ones that were located within whatever hospital he happened to be working in at the time. For the most part, Taylor could continue doing the job that he loved, even though the job that he hated was also a part of the equation.
"Azaelee. To what do I owe this pleasure?" he asked in apprehension. I didn't blame him for being nervous; Reapers from all over the area came to him when they needed work done, and not all of it was as simple as removing a bullet. Reapers can heal practically any sort of wound, providing that no foreign matter was obstructing it, so some of his cases have been fairly interesting to say the least.
"Sorry to do this to you Taylor, but I have a GSW that needs attending to," I said, before opening my coat and showing him the blood-soaked shirt that was underneath. In the harsh hospital light the crimson stain showed up worse than I'd realised. Maybe it was because I was wearing a white shirt? Maybe next time I should wear black? I made a mental note to update my wardrobe, whilst flashing Taylor a grin.
"Christ Almighty, what have you gotten yourself into now, Lea?" he asked as he switched into doctor mode, sticking a finger through the hole in my shirt.
"Well, obviously, I got myself shot whilst working a job," I said, rolling my green eyes at him.
"The skin has already healed," he noted with a frown.
"Yeah, but the bullet is stuck in one of my ribs. I can feel it every time that I breathe," I said, sucking in a pained breath as Taylor poked the place where the bullet had entered. He gave a nod as he felt the broken ribs, and most likely the bullet as well, before he straightened up and met my eyes.
"It has to come out."
"Duh," I replied. "So lead the way to a nice quiet room and open me up already," I added, and with a sigh Taylor grabbed my hand and dragged me into an empty ward, closing and locking the door behind us.
Another down side to the rapid rate of healing that we Reapers possess is that any kind of anaesthetic wears off in a matter of minutes, meaning that it's basically pointless to use any in the first place. Meaning that Taylor had to open my chest up whilst I could still feel everything. Then again, knowing Taylor's sadistic streak where Reapers were concerned, even if it did work, he probably wouldn't have used it anyway.
"Okay Lea, you know the drill. Take a deep breath and hold it," the ex army medic said, and I gave a nod as I closed my eyes and drew in a lungful of air. The burning sensation of a scalpel slicing open my skin caused me to grip the edge of the table so hard that I knew without looking that my knuckles had turned completely white. I heard a clatter as Taylor set the scalpel down, and the next thing I felt was more painful by far. The scalpel had merely been a burn, but the feel of medical tongs pushing around inside of my flesh was like being repeatedly stabbed, and having the knife wiggled around inside of you each time.
I said a few words that my mother would have slapped me for. "Hurry the hell up, Taylor," I snapped through gritted teeth, opening one eye to glare at the concentrating surgeon.
"The bullet has cracked one rib, and completely snapped another. Give me a second," he replied, frowning as his tongs closed around what I was hoping was the bullet. A clatter in a dish later, and it was confirmed: the bullet was out.
"How bad are the ribs?" I asked, trying to keep a whimper out of my voice as Taylor continued to poke around inside of my chest. But with the bullet gone, the healing had already begun. I knew that he had probably left the removal of the bullet til last, pushing my broken ribs back into place, as the disappearance of the bullet would trigger a rapid heal. If my ribs weren't back in the right place then they would heal badly, and would probably need to be re-broken. I definitely did not want that to happen.
"I think you got lucky. The break was clean, and I managed to get it back in place. It's healing nicely, and the cracked one healed as soon as the bullet was removed," Taylor informed me, and I knew that the worst of it was over.
"Well that's a relief," I said, letting out a rush of air as an itchy sensation came from my chest. The itch of skin healing wasn't too bad, but the itch of bone was worse. It was an itch that I couldn't scratch, and I knew that for the next few minutes that it was going to drive me crazy.
"Go easy on them for the rest of the night, and you should be fine by morning," Taylor told me in his doctor voice, and I gave a nod as I sat up and closed my ruined blouse. I definitely needed to start investing in black clothes. Too many of my favourite garments had been ruined by blood splatter.
"Thanks Taylor, I really appreciate this," I said, before giving him a quick hug.
"No problems, Lea," he replied, before grinning at me as we broke the hug. "Besides, if I didn't keep patching you up, you would have fallen apart by now."
"Ha ha, very funny," I said with a roll of my eyes, before taking my leave. I had another appointment in ten minutes, and I couldn't be late. Somebody's soul depended on me being there on time, and I had to make it halfway across the city before time ran out. I was so glad that I could teleport instantaneously.
However, what I wasn't expecting when I arrived on the scene was that Ashley Thwaite would die in a horrific pile up on the freeway. What I also wasn't expecting was that the passenger of her car was also going to die, and that his Soul Thread was going to be cut by the last Reaper that I wanted to see – a dark auburn haired Frenchmen by the name of Asher.
What I know about Asher is this – he died in the July of 1789 during the French Revolution, and the same Reaper who made me made him. That's about it, really. Well, I also knew that he was an arrogant aristocratic wanna-be, and that he had a tendency to get on my nerves simply by being near me.
"Well, if it isn't the Little Flower," the smug-looking Reaper said as he spotted me on the scene. There were people everywhere, so we, whom mortals didn't like to notice anyway, managed to move around unhindered. Just my luck. I would have paid to see a cop drag Asher away in cuffs.
"Well, if it isn't the Lestat clone," I shot back, and indeed Asher did remind me of the famous vampire. French, pompous, loved to live in grandeur, selfish as a child, and above all immortal. He hated the comparison, just as I hated what he had called me.
"Which one is yours?" he asked, and I sighed as I nodded towards the girl that was still trapped in her car. In all cases – be especially when there was more than one victim – Reapers were able to sense which one was there's. It saved us having to run around trying to find out a person's name, which would have been really annoying, not to mention time wasting. Besides, if you left a soul attached to a body for too long it started to break apart and go insane. If not cut free, it would eventually deteriorate completely.
"I've got the driver," I said, striding towards the wreck and calling out my sword. It was a dead weapon, meaning that it existed in the same way that spirits did; slightly out of sync with the rest of reality, meaning that normal mortals couldn't see it. Just as well, because I think someone definitely would have noticed.
"Ah. Well, I have her passenger," Asher said as he kept stride with me, and I glared ahead, doing my best to ignore him. Slipping out my card, I saw Ashley's time racing towards zero, and I knew that I had less than a minute left. Standing before the wreck, I could see where the paramedics had done what they could whilst waiting for the Jaws of Life to break her free. In fact, the paramedics had only left for a moment, so I didn't have long.
The Soul Thread is like a spider web of strands that surrounds a person's body, holding the soul in. Some people have really thick threads, whilst others are thinner, but they all do the same thing. Thin threads just means that the person perhaps perceives things that other can't. They may be called psychics, clairvoyants, or just plain weird. In the end, the threads served the same purpose, and could be cut in just the same fashion.
As I watched the time run out for Ashley, I lifted my sword high and swung it down. It passed straight through her without so much as leaving a mark, and yet it tore the cocoon of threads that she was wrapped in apart. I watched them disintegrate, and then I watched Ashley Thwaite slip out of the car and vanish, leaving her empty body behind. I didn't know where the souls went, and a part of me didn't really care. I would never be walking down that road myself, so why bother wondering?
"Well, this has been fun," Asher's voice intruded upon my thoughts. "But I must leave. Business elsewhere, you know?" he said with that suave smirk of his, and I scowled at him.
"Don't let me keep you from any more carnage tonight," I said dismissively, and Asher sighed.
"For one so young you are incredibly jaded, Azaelee. Has anyone ever told you that?" he asked as I rounded on him. Glaring up into his strange yellowish-green eyes, I could feel my own arrogant anger rising to the surface; something that only Asher ever seemed to be able to draw out of me.
"In case you've forgotten Asher, I'm older than you are," I snapped, and he nodded, contemplating his next words.
"That may be true, but I think that I have lived longer. Truly lived, and not simply existing under Gallen's thumb," he said, before giving me a slight bow and disappearing.
Gallen; the Reaper who had made us both, and the man who was like a father to me. Asher hated him, but I had no idea why, and I wasn't about to ask. Gallen had saved me, and for that I would be eternally grateful. I didn't care what Asher thought.
I sighed as I wandered away from the crash scene, slipping my card out of my pocket as I did so. Looking down, I felt a pang of worry. Brendan Hieson was moving his way up my list, and I had no idea what was going to happen when he once more reached the top.
Author's Note – So that's chapter 1 done. I hope you all like it so far! This story has been partially inspired by the TV series "Dead Like Me", and a bit of the main character's personality inspired Azaelee. As to how you pronounce her name, it's a-ZAY-lee. You'll find out later how she got her name, and what it means. Anyway, please review and let me know what you think!