“JB, can you hear me?”
“Loud and clear baby, what’s up?”
“Hahaha, I must be near a cell tower … I have fantastic reception! Can you pick up on my signal, I’m ready to come home now.”
“Let me see.”
She clicked off the phone and waited. It wasn’t long before JB appeared as dark, amorphous shadow beside her. She grinned at him.
“That was fast.”
“Of course, it was, this is the Reaper’s home world.”
“I thought the middle realm was…”
“It technically is… but this is slightly different. We control the middle realm; but if we don’t have connections to earth, this is where we live outside of that.”
“Holy shit! Does that mean you have a place here as well?”
“Baby, I’m king of the middle realm. I own a castle.”
Grinning, he held out his hand and motioned her forward. Taking his hand, they walked from the stream up towards the town. The more she looked around, the more something felt off. JB was in human form, as was she, but there was an odd shimmer to everything.
“JB, what does this place really look like?”
“My head is beginning to hurt… and there’s a weird shimmer to what I’m seeing.”
“Are you sure you want me to show you what it really looks like?”
“Once you see it, you can’t un-see it, and this is merely a perception of reality.”
She looked at him, steel and determination shining in her eyes. He leaned down and kissed her, and with that she felt her perception shift back to reality. When he leaned away from her, his eyes were the smouldering darkness of shadows lost within their depths. The scenery around them went from a bright, beautiful landscape to a dark and evil world. They were on a pathway lined with skulls, the rivers and streams ran with blood, fear and death were tangible on the air and she could hear the screams of the damned.
She couldn’t get enough air, panic was beginning to boil in her chest and she couldn’t get enough air.
“Eryn, breathe. It’s ok baby, I got you. Your alright; just breathe.”
JB’s voice cut through the panic and screaming in her head.
“JB, where are we?”
“It’s ok, give it a minute. Calm your heartrate, you’re alright.”
Her whole body shuddered and it took a massive amount of will power and concentration to calm down enough that she could breath without feeling like she was about to pass out. JB rubbed her back, and though he maintained some semblance of human form, his reapers form was much more prominent in this world.
“Can you take me back to earth?”
“You don’t want to see my castle?”
“JB, I feel like I am losing my mind, my mind is screaming, I can’t hold on like this. Please.”
He bent down and kissed her again. She felt her mind and presence being surrounded by a protective shield.
“This is the Reaper’s promise. This is my promise to you. I will never let any harm come to you so long as our souls are connected. I love you.”
When she opened her eyes again, she was still in the Reaper’s home world; except now, she was un-touched by everything. Her mind and soul were quiet, her emotions were not running rampant and her breathing was steady. JB looked solemn; yet there was a deeply withdrawn feeling about him. He led her to the castle that waited for them. A beautifully gothic structure with spires and gargoyles and runes of death carved into every stone. The foundation was stone skulls, or at least that was what she hoped they were. There were ornate skulls decorating the interior and everything spoke of death, silence and eternity.
He walked her through the grounds and showed her the beauty of the dead world. JB’s castle reminded her of a Day of the Dead ceremony, where everything was brightly painted with colorful designs of death, skulls and skeletons; wilted flowers. Motifs of reapers and cemeteries decorated the walls. It was quietly peaceful and timeless; and though she could feel eternity stretching out around her, she could also feel her protector’s guardianship for her. His promise protecting her, their tied life forces burned brightly in the grey darkness that enveloped the world.
He showed her the gardens and ponds, the multiple rooms of the castle, the throne room, the weapons room; everything.
“How do feel now?”
“That’s good; are you hungry?”
“Starving, I haven’t eaten since… two days ago? Not since I was in the criminal’s world. How long have I been here?”
“A little over 14 hours. Time passes differently here than in other realms.”
He made her dinner just like he used to when he had been human and they were living together on Earth. While he was making dinner, she went to have a shower. Blissfully grateful that he had hot running water, and mildly surprised that he had every modern convenience. His castle was set up very much like his penthouse suite in the city they lived in on Earth. She was watching him quietly from the doorway as he made food. Perception made it seem like he was human, and yet instinct said otherwise, that in his home world he would be in his reapers form.
“So, when are we going to go home? To Earth?”
“Soon; I’ll take you home after breakfast.”
“Alright. Smells wonderful by the way.”
They sat down to breakfast, a seemingly normal thing to do. But something kept nagging at the back of Eryn’s mind. A feeling that kept urging her that something wasn’t right. Something was off; but she couldn’t figure out what it was. JB was saying something, and when she tuned in, it all clicked into place.
“Listen; I know I haven’t been the best partner or husband, and I know that we can’t go back. But what if we gave it a shot again? I’m not asking to be partners again, but I have become better at controlling the reaper, and I promise I won’t be the asshole I was.”
It took a long time for her to process and think through what he was saying, and what he was asking. JB had gone quiet and waited in solemn expectation of her answer. They cleaned up the breakfast dishes and then lacing his fingers with hers, they walked through the castle grounds.
“We always did make the best team.”
“That we did; and we still can. I’ve got close to a hundred years of reaper experience and though I’m still young in terms of being a reaper; I’ve proved that I can handle my own. I took out Tucker, and Lenora, became King of the Middle Realm and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make us work this time. We’re both immortal; so, time isn’t a problem.”
“Wow… alright, well if your willing to make this work, I guess that means I have to as well. There’s just something I got to do first.”
JB nodded in understanding and then opened the portal to Earth. Eryn stepped through the swirling light and into the alleyway beside her apartment. JB appeared after her, this time his human form was more solid though his eyes were the iridescent blue black that betrayed his power.
The city seemed normal. People bustled about through the streets, shopping and rushing to and from work. He watched the lights change, and traffic moved forward. The ceaseless chatter of human voices was an underlying current in the cacophony of the noise from vehicles. The winds swept lazily through the streets and forest creatures stirred from their long winter slumber. Kyros reported on the number of deaths, as well as general population statistics. Eryn was in the study writing, forming her report and putting together her pictures for her presentation at the museum next week. JB was off with Kyros collecting souls and protecting his city.
Kat opened the door to mansion, surprised to see Eryn standing there in her motorcycle gear. Her custom-built ER-6N Kawasaki Ninja sitting in the driveway.
“Hey girl, long time no see.”
Kat pulled her into an embrace, hugging her tightly. Eryn hugged her back laughing.
“Yea, I know; a couple months is a long time. How are you?”
“I’m good; what brings you here?”
“To see Jayson… actually. I have something I need to give him. How has he been?”
“Better; the doctor’s say he’s healing nicely and he has both of his eyes again. Scotty and Bryan were able to configure it to his system. But man; Ace did a number on him. Thanks again for your help in rescuing him.”
“No problem, can I see him now?”
“Sure; he’s in the study.”
She left the other girl, and headed towards the study down the hall on the left-hand side of the hallway. The study had been renovated since the Blades had mailed a bomb to Jason and it exploded in his study. The walls and the bay window had been replaced, as had the bookshelves and there were new plants to replace the old ones.
“Hey. Long time no see.”
Jayson got up from behind the large mahogany desk and went over to give her a hug. She hugged him back; glad that he was alright and on the mend.
“I haven’t heard from you in a long time, everything ok?”
“Yea, I was off-world for a mission. Sorry I didn’t call.”
“It’s alright, I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help you.”
“That’s ok; I had my partner.”
There was a moment of awkward silence that stretched between them. Jason sat on one side of the desk, and Eryn sat across from him.
“I’m guessing this isn’t a social call? And that you’re not here to get laid?”
She chuckled; and shook her head. “No, I’m glad you’re doing better, and that Ace didn’t kill you.”
“Oh aye, takes more then that to take me out lass.” Jayson grinned showing the barest hint of fangs.
“Anyway, I’m not going to stay long… I just came to say goodbye. I’m an adventurer, not a soldier… I did my time with the military.”
“Alright lass; I get what your saying. Thanks for coming by and telling me.”
She nodded and got up to leave, slipping the envelope with Jayson’s name on it onto his desk while he was getting up to see her out. He played with her fingers while he walked her to the door, her motorcycle helmet in one hand and Jayson’s hand in her other. Jayson looked sad, but she could tell he understood that this was the best course of action for them. His grey blue eyes looked distant as he hugged her one last time, and watched her ride away on her motorbike.
Going back into the study, he leaned against the door, his thoughts pensive and sombre. He went and sat behind his desk, he picked up the letter with his name written in elegant curling cursive writing.
Please note that it is with a heavy heart and sound decision that I do this. I love you, and I know you love me… but I can no longer stay with you. We are both immortal, so our paths may cross again. I’ll never forget you and I’ll always cherish the time we spent together. I’m an explorer, and I don’t like being put in the middle of a war between vampires. I’m sorry it must be this way, but I know that we’ll see each other again when the time is right. Besides, at least now you don’t have to change who you are to make someone else happy. And if we’re being honest, you never asked me to be your girlfriend in the first place.
I know it hurts right now, but as the saying goes: time heals all wounds, and we’ve got all the time in the world, right? I took the vampire weapon Ace had, and gave it to Tyver to keep safe. The ring you have, and the rest of the Vampire made jewelry are copies of the originals. Please don’t hate me for doing so, and one day I hope you can forgive me. Please note that I did it to protect both you and the Armies of the Night, as well as humankind. I love you, but I can’t be with you
Jayson read the letter through to the end, and then read it a second time to make sure he had read it right. She had taken the vampire weapon and given it to Tyver… and though he still had no idea who or what Tyver was; he knew he should trust Eryn in this matter. Clenching his fist, he growled angrily as he slammed his fist into the wall. A large hole blossomed in the drywall as Kat came running in to see what that cracking noise had been.
“Oh dad; you put your hand through the wall again.”
Kat chided him, as she pulled the plaster from his knuckles and wiped his hand and wrist down.
“She took the vampire made jewelry and left me. I have a copy of the ring of toughness.”
His voice was numb and hollow, his smoky grey eyes haunted.
“I know dad; but understand that it’s because she loved you that she had to do it.”
“Yea… I knew. Once she found what the weapon would do when all the pieces were together; she decided it would be best if neither side had them.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Come on, really? You can be incredibly stubborn and hard-headed and controlling when it comes to things like this.”
Jayson looked away from his daughter, and allowed her to finish cleaning his wounds.
“So, the vampire jewelry that I’m wearing, that my lieutenants are wearing… are fakes?”
“Essentially. Yes; however, they still have much of the same properties, Bryan’s watch has an invisibility, stealth mode, your pendant uses ionic and magnetic atoms to help increase and maintain toughness, endurance and stamina. My earrings don’t do anything except they can transmit my location when need be, Ace no longer has any vampire jewelry and Scotty has the amulet that helps to increase speed by allowing the person wearing it, to feel lighter than what they are. Eryn knows some really awesome people.”
Kat explained everything to him. How the generals had been stripped of their weapons and jewelry, and that Ace had been in the process of assembling it, when Eryn and JB had interrupted him and stolen the finished amulet during the fight at Ace’s castle. They went back and made sure all the jewelry was found and then Eryn gave them to Tyver to keep safe.
“Who or what is Tyver?”
“I don’t know, honestly. Eryn always mentioned him in passing as a friend. I don’t think he’s human though.”
“If he’s not human, then what is he?”
“Dad, please just leave it alone.”
He looked sullen and furious but dropped the subject. She cleaned up the mess he had made with the wall and the plaster, before leaving him to his brooding; hoping the boy’s night would cheer him up.
Everything had been packed up the night before, and she was standing on the balcony enjoying the warm summer air; when he came out and wrapped his arms around her.
“You know, you could always move back in.”
“You know I can’t. The whole reason this works so well, is because we each have separate lives and separate homes.”
“Yea I know, but I’ve always loved seeing and feeling you sleeping beside me.”
He nuzzled her neck, gently licking and nipping. She smiled and leaned into him.
“So, when do we start training?”
“Whenever you’re ready. Where would you like to start.”
“Probably from the beginning; I know I can channel your powers and siphon them, as well as charge them. But I don’t know how to use or access my shadow panther’s form.”
“Alright, then that’s what we’ll start training on. Is everything packed and ready to go for tomorrow?”
“Of course, I made sure everything was ready.”
“Good, then my shadow princess; it is time for me to make you feel some incredibly intense pleasure.”
Grinning, he led her back into the master bedroom and she let him. She could practically see the pornography written across his face, and reflected in the mischievous light of his eyes.
“What are you thinking?”
“Oh, you’ll find out.” He winked as he laid his lips across hers, backing her up into the bed.
The plane skimmed through the clouds, white and puffy on the bottom, slowly turning to an ominous dark grey on the top. Images of the plane crash burned through her mind, the screaming and panic consuming her. Startled, she gasped as she came awake. Panic making her edgy and claustrophobic. JB was in human form beside her, though not fully human. She knew he only appeared and went with her because of her newfound anxiety about being in a plane. Sometimes he teased her about how she used to be the one to have to soothe him whenever they were in a plane.
“Bad dreams again?”
“That’s an understatement.”
“How bad was it this time?”
“I was reliving the plane crash from a few years back. God; it was awful.”
He put his arm around her and stroked her back. It was odd finding more human gestures with JB now than any other time before. It seemed as if he were trying to put in a legitimate effort to both control and maintain the reaper.
“When did our lives become so convoluted?”
“When we started going out. Our lives were never meant to be normal.”
“That’s for sure. Why are you putting in an effort now when you didn’t before?”
“What do you mean?”
“I find it’s easier to be with you now; reaper and all than it was before; why?”
He went quiet and his eyes took on a haunted distant look. His voice dropped to a whisper as he leaned into her.
“In the beginning, it was incredibly hard for me to control, get used to and learn to become a reaper. I was hungry all the time and I didn’t have any control over who I was…when you left and the years that followed; I submerged myself in that darkness and I became everything I hated most about who I was.
“When you came back, and that whole fight with Lenore, and then Tucker on top of that; that’s when I made the decision to be the partner I should have been all those years ago. Jayson said you didn’t belong to anyone, least of all me and it made me realize that I thought of you as more of a possession than a partner. I’m sorry for all the shit I’ve caused and have made you go through because of me.”
She was stunned; never had she heard so much sincerity and heartfelt emotion come from JB, even when he had been human. She ran the back of her knuckles down the side of his whiskered jawline. His sapphire eyes swirling with black.
“You know your eyes are sickening when they swirl.”
“I can’t control how they are; I see fine.”
She chuckled and leaned into him; her fingers clamping around his as the plane shook and jostled as the storm outside grew. JB kissed her temple and smiled slightly as he felt her body relax. So, long as he was touching her, he could keep the barrier between her and her nightmares. His phone beeped, images of the people in the plane appeared in quick succession one after the other. Concerned; he made sure Eryn was still asleep before he began moving about the cabin. Due to the long flight, nearly everyone was asleep so it was easy to collect the souls.
His phone beeped again; this time a timer appeared. He was floating in the aisle when a middle-aged man with a black beard and dark skin passed through him. JB shivered as he saw why everyone on the plane would die tonight. The man had set bombs throughout the plane, from cockpit to cargo. The plane was about to explode in five minutes. Once he had made sure everyone’s soul had been removed, he took Eryn to the Middle ground; to his castle where he knew she would be protected until he was finished in the mortal realm.
The plane gave a wicked jolt as it crossed through the turbulence of the storm. People were starting to wake up now, disorientated and concerned about the motion of the plane. This would be one disaster that would make headlines across the globe; not just because it had several political leaders on board, but because no one would survive when it exploded mid-air above the Atlantic Ocean. The captain was saying something about experiencing minor turbulence; JB laughed darkly as he waited for the countdown to reach its final gruesome end. He took solace in the fact that Eryn wasn’t here to witness it.
The explosion happened like a slow growing clap of thunder, rumbling throughout the belly of the plane. The engines blew out first, then the nose burst apart in a reign of metal, smoke and fire. The interior twisted into a convoluted screaming maelstrom, metal and human screams converging into one horrifically beautiful moment of destruction as the rest of the plane exploded in a torrent of pressure and fire.
They watched, scared and shocked as the massive black cloud engulfed what had once been a Boeing 747 Airliner with over 500 passengers. Those 500 plus souls now stood in front of a reaper, who was standing in front of a glowing doorway.
“In the next stage; you will be seen by a judge. If you are deemed worthy, you will be sent to heaven, if you are deemed unworthy, you will be sent to hell. Does everyone understand?”
Heads bobbed up and down, as the souls began to realize they were no longer alive and attached to their bodies. One man raised his hand; JB glanced at him.
“Excellent, if everyone understands, please proceed through the gate.”
“How long is the wait time?”
Some people laughed, most just began shuffling towards the gate.
“I have no idea what lies beyond this realm for you; that’s between you and whatever version of God you believe in.”
“Do you mean to say, we’re dead?”
“Yes, that is why your moving from the realm of the living, onto the realm of the dead.”
“My God; what happened that we all died?”
“The plane exploded.”
There was a shocked silence among the group of souls collectively standing above the ocean. JB ushered them through the gate onto the next stage. Glad that Eryn was not among them. He knew she would most likely be pissed at him for not telling her what the plan was, but she would understand that everything he did was to keep her safe. Once the last of the souls had passed through the barrier, he disappeared into the middle realm to find Eryn.
She awoke to the freezing cold of the realm of the dead. Instantly recognizing JB’s castle. It was quite similar to Tyver’s; wherein Tyver’s castle had rugs and followed the chronological drone of time and the events that shaped history; JB’s castle was removed from time, and devoid of feeling and life. She appeared to be in the throne room, except she didn’t remember JB taking her here; in fact, the last thing she remembered was being on the plane. A bad feeling settled over her as JB appeared from the shadows. Black armour a lite with flames of darkness covered his body, the handle of his reaping scythe poking out behind him, and his eyes smoldered with blue fire and shadows.
“The plane exploded; I thought it would be best if you weren’t in it.”
“Ah, I see. Why are you wearing the Black Fire’s Armour?”
JB looked down, mildly surprised to see the armour covering his body. “It appears every time I enter my castle. It first appeared when I fought Lenore… no idea how.”
“Alright, so do we still get to train?”
He nodded and held out his hand, she took it without hesitation, gasping as he flashed them from the middle ground to a field lush and green with life. Pulsing with vitality, and resonating with a heartbeat she had never felt before. The place was beautiful and serene, it held a quietness that one only found in deep pools or cemeteries. She breathed in the quiet stillness of the air.
“Where are we?”
“In a hidden world, protected by barriers, outside of time.”
“How did you find this place?”
“We found it years ago, when I had been human. Before all shit that happened in our lives. This was where we ended up in our first mission.”
A memory surfaced, and suddenly she recognized where they were. They had accidentally found this realm when they hopped worlds during their first mission as interdimensional explorers. The blue-green trees, the soft flowing grasses, the sweet winds that blew lazily through the meadows.
“This is where we’re going to be training?”
JB nodded, helping as she set up the tent and campsite for the night. Stars twinkled high above them and they sat watching the fireflies as they appeared one by one. The fire crackled and reflected eerily in JB’s sapphire black eyes. She leaned against him, her thoughts lost to the time when he had been human and she could feel his pulse under her fingertips, liking it when his heartbeat would race and skip as she nibbled her way along his scruffy jawline and down his neck. He was saying something, and waving his hand in front of her face.
“What? I’m sorry I spaced out.”
“Apparently, what are you thinking about?”
Her face flushed, and she glanced away, chuckling. “Nothing really, I was thinking about how I missed your heartbeat. It’s unusual not being able to feel it.”
“I can make my heart beat, if you would like.”
“No, it keeps things in perspective for me.”
He pulled her close, nuzzling against her neck while his hands stroked her sides. He may not have been human, but when he was in human form, she could feel how thick he was, and how real his body was against hers.
“How is it, that your able to maintain human form better now?”
“Practise, experience, I’m not trying to control the reaper as much, but I’m not letting it control me either.”
He slid his lips along her throat, his tongue skimming her earlobe, as she leaned back against him, her eyes drifting closed. The sun peaked over the horizon, lighting the world to a brilliant sparkling green. Everything looked bright and full of vitality, and when she looked at the sky, she could just barely see the barriers JB had mentioned earlier.
“Are you going to stand there looking up at the sky, or do you want to start training?”
“Training; someone’s in a grumpy mood this morning.”
“Reapers live in darkness, and even when we take souls during the day, rarely do we expose ourselves to sunlight.”
He rubbed a hand across his bleary eyes, already she could see how being awake and outside during the daytime affected him.
“Alright, so let’s begin.”
She stood with her palms out in an easy stance, ready for anything.
“Close your eyes, feel the energy of the realm, the wind and sky as one, the water and ground as one, the sky and ground as one.”