"—and that time you were so little, that I told you were we pixie fairies and you completely bought it." He chuckled through his words, wiping a tear from his eye, "It's much easier when you're a child. A lot less bargaining and fewer questions."
"No." he went on, "This time you're old enough, so I'll be honest with you. My name is Helios. This is Xelios. And we don't really know that one's name, so we call him No Name. We're from the Fate Department of Heaven. And we are here to kill you."
The brunette twenty-something pressed into the wall took a shaking breath, but he spoke again before she could make a sound.
"You are the Cornerstone; the remainder of destiny's imperfections. Humans are dysfunctional by nature. This is the price of free will. For this reason, fate and all of its complexity is inevitably thrown off track. Once it has detoured, we find the human who has suffered the most unscheduled changes and eliminate it, throwing it back into the cycle. Forgive me, I've given this speech hundreds of thousands of times." He yawned.
Riley Reigns returned from class to find three men floating in her bedroom. They had no wings and appeared to be wearing this season's Levi's, but said they were angels. The talkative one was handsome and condescending. He flicked his perfect silver hair and flashed his teeth animatedly when he spoke. The smaller one, Xelios, looked like an inverted version of his partner with charcoal-colored hair and a sour face. He had yet to utter a word but was nowhere near as disconcerting as the one they called No Name.
It perched on her bed frame like an animal, tattered black cloak fluttering like burnt paper. His hair was an unnatural orange color— bright amber-like hellfire. And eyes that looked like they could devour her.
"Do you have any questions?" Helios asked, "As if it matters."
"You're angels." The girl pointed. He nodded in affirmation, "And you're going to kill me?"
"Technically, No Name is going to kill you."
Riley shivered. That vaguely human-looking person was staring at her again. No hunger or malice behind his gaze, but he was locked on her like a panther seconds away from leaping.
"I'm afraid that won't work." Said Helios.
In a graceful movement, No Name abandoned his perch and walked upon the mattress with a slight bounce. He pulled a gigantic scythe out of nowhere and slowly raised it over her head. Riley, who was still wrapping her mind around the situation, instinctively hit the floor when the weapon sliced through her dresser. Like any right-minded New York girl, she kept weapons of her own—desperately reaching for the baseball bat beneath her bed and scurrying to her feet.
The reaper hardly had time to turn around when the bat shattered against his temple. For a moment his honey-colored eyes actually widened.
Riley took a deep breath.
Then, clutching the broken bat, she bolted from the room and screamed down all six flights of stairs. On the sidewalk, her strangled cries and shrieks were drowned out by rush hour traffic. Working on adrenaline and instinct alone, she dove into the streets, only narrowly avoiding another wind-like slice of the scythe. While she stumbled over honking taxis and trashcans, he calmly walked toward her— and moreover, through them.
The girl ducked into a phone booth and vigorously dialed a number.
"I'm being chased by a flying man with a huge scythe!"
She shielded herself in the corner while the phone booth shattered around her, cleaved clean in half horizontally. When she removed her arms from her head, she found No Name perched on one of the booth's wooden supports. He leaned forward to inspect her, "You're not like the rest."
His voice was velvety, soft, and completely devoid of emotional fluctuations.
"Get away." She squeaked, feet slipping on broken shards.
"Hold still." The scythe was raised again.
"Wait!" her hands were in the air. To her surprise he actually heeded this, so she stalled, "How am I not like the rest?"
"Well." His amber eyes found the sky in thought, "In your past lives, you regained your memories and let me kill you."
"Hah!" he stared at her pointed finger, "I can't be the Cornerstone. I didn't remember anything. You have the wrong girl!"
"Oh no." No Name said, standing up and balancing perfectly on the broken wood, "I'd know you anywhere."
"How could you?" Despite herself, tears flooded her eyes, "If I'm different every time, how could you know me?"
"That is simple." He said, "It is because I loved you."
What followed was perfect silence.
She watched the blade come within an inch of her nose before she was shrouded in white light. No screaming. No sounds. Just silence. When the light subsided, Riley was staring at her hands. Her knees ached and dug into the ground, gliding over glass and drawing minute spikes of pain. She was looking at concrete.
It came back in a rush. Screaming sirens. The roar of a fire hydrant erupting. People shouting all around her. Touching her shoulders. Giving her a shake.
Riley was hauled to her feet and pulled onto the sidewalk by a construction worker and a businessman. The building across the street had its windows blown out. A traffic light dangled by a thread. Cars were pushed into store windows. It looked as if there had been a catastrophic explosion with no fire.
"Can you hear me?" they shouted, "Are you okay, Miss?"
Further down the sidewalk, a crowd of people gathered. She shook the men off of her, ignored their pleas to sit down and wait for an ambulance. Riley forced her way into the crowd and found what they were fussing over.
Lying on his back, wide-eyed and unblinking. Eyes that had once been glowing an uncanny gold were dulled, like his hair, which was still orange but a more believable strawberry blonde. Instead of a cloak he wore a black t-shirt and pants— and he looked terrified.
"This boy is in shock!"
"Hurry! Get the ambulance over here!"
"You there, are you with him?" somebody shouted to her.
She shook her head no, but her mouth said, "Yes."
Riley couldn't take her eyes off of him. No Name. Death. The Grim Reaper. He looked almost like—.
"What a mess. Now look at what you've done." Helios floated to her side, a thoughtful hand on his cheek. He seemed to be barely containing a smile, "No Name has been turned into a human. This is horrible."
Riley looked back to the vegetable on the concrete.
"Xelios, take care of this will you? Say it was a— pipe explosion or something. I'll take them back to the Cornerstone's home." The angel said to his cohort, who sighed and flicked his bangs.
In an instant, they were back in her bedroom, broken dresser and all. Riley wasted no time, snatching her lamp from the table and brandishing it about, "Don't think I won't go down without a fight, asshole!"
The angel held up his hands, "No one is going to die today." He looked at the comatose reaper in her bed, "Quite literally."
"What does that mean?"
"You've turned the force of Death into a human being, Riley. Your soul clashed with his and you breathed life into him." Helios shrugged, "I suppose this was inevitable. With a soul as old as yours, you're bound to have some tricks up your sleeve."
"I don't know what you're talking about." She lowered the lamp, "Does this mean I'm not going to die?"
"Not for now." He grinned, "No one will in fact. Accidents. Decapitations. Illness. Humans will survive anything until No Name returns to his true form. How unfortunate. Look after him, will you?"
"No." she dropped the lamp, "You're from Heaven. Fix this."
"I'm sure the boys upstairs will figure something out. Until then, we'll be in touch." And just like that he was gone. No plume of smoke or poof of feathers. Helios abruptly vanished.
Slowly, she looked at the unconscious person on her bed. Riley took a few gulping breaths, immediately burst into tears, and wasn't even granted the courtesy of collapsing onto her own mattress.