Gateway to Aethera | Wynonna Grimm Book 1

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Chapter 3

A loud buzz enveloping the two figures that faced one another, filled the background noise. Seconds passed and neither made an attempt to move. For the first time in the three hundred years that he had spent working as a soul retriever, Sixteen Forty-nine regretted having ever left the safety of Lord Death’s castle. Never in his entire existence had he ever messed up this badly. He had really gone and done it this time.

The young reaper himself couldn’t deny the fact that for quite some time a small part of him had once still had hopes of someday becoming well-known throughout the spirit realm as the youngest grim reaper to have ever retrieved the most souls in the entire history of soul retrievers. Said dream, in all fairness, had merely been a product of a low point in his life in which he was constantly being hounded by other officials during his employment in the court on a daily basis.

But as he stood there with a dead corpse lying before his feet and with what felt like the weight of the world upon his shoulders, he realized that rather than being remembered as one of the most outstanding reapers to have ever graced the spirit realm, it now seemed more likely for him to go down in history as the first grim reaper to have ever reaped the wrong soul.

“Dead. So, I’m dead,” Wynonna kept muttering to herself under her breath, having momentarily forgotten about the reaper’s presence, as she tried to wrap her head around her current situation.

Sixteen Forty-nine felt his stomach churn once more and wanted nothing more than to cry in despair. How was he supposed to explain to someone that’s already dead, that not only was she dead, but it turns out that it wasn’t her that was supposed to have died in the first place? But before he managed to even get a word out, the spirit of the dead woman began to laugh hysterically, as if in a moment of weakness, she’d finally lost all her senses.

“Uh h-hey, this... this isn’t a joke. You really are dead,” he stressed as gently as possible, worried that she was taking this all as a huge practical joke. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a spirit would enter a state of denial even after having seen their corpses with their very own eyes.

Yeah, I gathered,” she snapped at him much to his astonishment, as all traces of laughter disappeared as quickly as they had come. Quite frankly Wynonna wasn’t all that surprised. From the moment she was born, life had taught her that with her luck just about anything was possible. As such, it didn’t take much for her to accept the fact that she had croaked after getting run over by a bus. It’s certainly not the most graceful way to go out but beggars can’t be choosers after all. She sat on the gravel with her legs sprawled open and released a puff of air in frustration before finally looking up at the kid standing before her.

“So... what are you supposed to be? Death?” she ventured a guess as she studied his attire.

“Re-reaper, grim. I m-mean grim reaper,” he spluttered, red in embarrassment as he mustered to form a coherent sentence. He didn’t even bother to rebuke her as he would have to any other in any other situation― in consideration to the fact that it was his mistake as to why she was dead now in the first place.

“Nice to meet you, Reaper Grim. The name’s Wynonna. Wynonna Grimm,” she snorted in amusement at the irony, only further embarrassing the bumbling fool in front of her.

“Say aren’t you a little young to be a grim reaper?” she noted, silently judging the appearance of the kid who still hadn’t recovered from her blatant teasing.

Who could blame her though? Despite his youthful appearance, Sixteen Forty-nine was no longer as young as he had once been. It just so happened that grim reapers tended not to age much, especially those of which hadn’t been born as reapers. Those such as himself―who had turned into reapers post-death― eternally retained the physical appearance they had at their exact moment of demise.

“So, what now? Aren’t you supposed to take me somewhere?” she ran her fingers through her hair in resignation before picking herself up off the ground, her mood only worsening by the second.

“Uh, that... Umm not exactly?” he squeaked.

She paused for a moment before narrowing her eyebrows in suspicion at his tone of voice.

“Usually that would be the case, but uh... actually the funny thing is― and trust me you’re going to laugh― there may have been a tiny, somewhat teensy-weensy, bit of a mistake?” he clenched his scythe, even closer to his chest.

“What kind of a mistake?” the tone of her voice having dropped several degrees. She sobered immediately as her icy gaze fixated downwards on the kid currently standing a whole head below her.

“Ah, um well you see us grim reapers are quite hard working you know and sometimes even we get pretty tired. It’s not like we can always bring our, how does the saying go again? A-game to work? Yeah, that sounds about right and so sometimes it really can’t be helped if our aim is a bit off, you know? Oh! Here’s an interesting fact, did you know that to wield a death scythe you actually have to build up quite a bit of arm muscle just to even be able to properly handle-”

“What. Kind. Of. Mistake,” she clenched her jaw as she cut off his ramblings, reiterating her previous words with a bit more force, causing the poor reaper to shrink back in fear.

“That- um... The truth is that, I guess you could say that I might have... accidentally... reaped the wrong soul?” Daunted by her imposing figure, Sixteen Forty-nine tightened his hold on his scythe even further to his chest, chuckling nervously as he awaited her reaction.

Wynonna was completely and utterly baffled to put it mildly. A million thoughts ran across her mind and she couldn’t exactly piece together what it was that she was feeling at that moment. Even though she was clearly dead,― as indicated by her corpse that still lay not even a few feet away from her— she suddenly felt overcome with exhaustion.

She threw her head back, taking in several deep breaths as she struggled to maintain a certain level of composure.

“So, what you’re saying is that the one who was supposed to die here today, wasn’t me?” she grit her teeth whilst rubbing furiously at the small space between her eyebrows, in an attempt to smoothen the lines out, “then isn’t there a way you can bring me back?”

“Not exactly. I’m just a reaper, I can only reap souls. Not bring them back to life,” he admitted, hesitating for a moment, before breaking the most important bit of information to her, “There’s also one other thing... seeing as how you weren’t supposed to die today. I can’t bring you back to the spirit world to be judged because.. well you weren’t exactly on the list.”

“In other words, not only was I not supposed to die today, but now because I am dead, I can’t even move on to the afterlife to rest in peace simply because of the fact that I’m not on a damn list?” she hissed furiously, her fists trembling in barely contained anger as she attempted to prevent herself from throttling the damn brat standing before her.

He’s just a kid. Reaper or not he’s just a kid. Calm down Wynonna, you can’t beat the shit out of a child, she continued to chant the mantra in desperation.

“Well that’s not really how it works, but basically yeah. I mean you could, but it’d do you no good to take you to the spirit world if you can’t receive judgement,” he nodded completely ignorant of the malicious thoughts currently being aimed in his direction. Even if he were to take her to the spirit realm, she would have to wait years or perhaps even decades until her real time of death arrived in order to receive judgement.

“Hah,” she laughed humorlessly. Forcing a stiff smile onto her face, Wynonna steadied herself as she opened her mouth to use the one line that had been used countless of times on her before―the one line she never imagined herself ever having to use on anyone else, “In that case, I’d very much like to request to speak to your superior right about now, if that’s not too much to ask for.”

Sixteen Forty-nine’s face fell the moment she spoke these words. For a second it felt like a small piece of himself had died as well. He knew for a fact that if he allowed her to file a complaint against him, Death would immediately force him to go back home. If there’s one thing that he has learned from spending a century as his advisor, it’s that Death did not tolerate any mistakes. Furthermore, if it were revealed to other reapers, that the only grim reaper who had ever received a personal recommendation from Lord Death himself, had accidentally reaped the wrong soul, it would only end up causing Death to further lose face.

No. There was absolutely no way he could bring her back to the spirit realm. He’d have to take matters into his own hands if he were to properly sweep this under the rug.

“Not at all but actually... now that I think about it, there might be one possible way we could bring you back,” Sixteen Forty-nine knew that what he was about to do went against every law and regulation in the Spirit realm and as such he couldn’t help but feel slightly hesitant. If he were to get caught, things could go south fast.

“How? I thought you said you couldn’t bring me back to life,” She looked at him sharply.

“Well we’d be bringing you back in a sense, but it just wouldn’t be here if that makes any sense.” He let the words soak in.

“Elaborate.” Wynonna tapped foot against the ground impatiently, an indication for him to continue.

“The chains binding your soul to your body have already been broken in this world, and as such as long as you continue to remain here, there’s no possible way for them to be restored-”

“Get to the point,” she cut him off mercilessly.

Sixteen Forty-nine was unable to hide his displeasure this time, after having been interrupted one too many times but made no comment.

“There’s a place. A place that I can take you that might help restore the bonds. But for that we need your body- wait where’s your body?” Only just now taking note of the fact that whilst they were caught up in their own matters, Wynonna’s body had disappeared.

“The paramedics took it.”

“And you didn’t say anything?” he looked at her incredulously.

“I’m dead, what more do you want from me?” she shot back defensively.

“Shit,” he covered his eyes in disbelief.

“We need to get it back. Even if I wanted to bring you back, there’s no way that’s going to happen without a body. Hold on... You weren’t an organ donor, were you?” he floundered, suddenly alarmed at the prospect of the body being cut open and having its innards removed.

“No.”

Sixteen Forty-nine visibly relaxed for a moment before his eyes widened once more in horror as a sudden realization dawned upon him.

“The autopsy!” he exclaimed in a state of panic, “We need to go. Right now.”

“Now hold on a minute. Even if what you’re saying is true, how do you suppose we go about getting it back? I haven’t even agreed to anything either. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you bringing me back to life sounds a little too good to be true. What’s the catch? Because I’m not dumb enough to believe that this is something you should be doing in the first place,” her gaze pierced right through him as she attempted to discern his motivations for having agreed so easily to her demands, shortly after being asked to speak to his superiors.

It was obvious that he was trying to cover up the matter, but she was still unclear on what his reasons were for acceding so easily to helping her and what he gained from it.

“There is no catch. This is simply my way of making up for what I’ve done. Whatever the case so long we can fix this, it’s fine no?” he hurriedly attempted to appease her doubts. It wouldn’t be a good idea to give away too much information if he were to successfully pull this off without anyone ever finding out about what he’s done, and he certainly couldn’t have her backing off at the last minute.

“So, I’m to believe that you’re doing all of this simply out of the goodness of your heart?”

she arched an eyebrow. This all seemed a bit too hard to swallow and she’d certainly had a whole lifetime’s worth of experience to understand that in this world, there was no free lunch.

“Does it matter?” he questioned, not bothering to give her a definite response.

“No. I suppose not,” she admitted reluctantly, after a moment’s contemplation.

“In that case, let’s get going, shall we?”


An hour later, Wynonna stood before the county coroner’s office with a conflicted expression on her face.

“Isn’t there any other way to go about this?”

“If you have a better idea, then by all means feel free to share,” he deadpanned.

“Well no, but breaking into a morgue? And stealing a dead body on top of that, seems like a bit much no?”

“Would you rather stay dead then?”

“No.”

“Then quit complaining. I’d very much like to get this over with before rigor mortis starts to set in. Besides it’s not breaking and entering if they can’t see us,” he reasoned with her, his patience already at its limit.

“Fine,” she finally caved.

As they made their way into the edifice, Wynonna still couldn’t help extremely uncomfortable with what they were about to do. Over the years following her parent’s deaths, Wynonna had taken up many odd jobs and had been willing to endure even the harshest of working conditions in order to pay off her debts without a moment of hesitation. And although it was her own body that they were stealing in the first place, breaking into a morgue crossed her bottom line. As a result, she couldn’t help but feel rather compromised.

Picking up her pace to match the reaper’s speed she stuck closely behind him so as to not get left behind. When they finally reached their destination, she felt a certain sense of relief. Even though she knew no one could see them, she still couldn’t help but feel rather angsty.

“Forgive me if this sounds like a dumb question, but uh... how exactly is it that we’re supposed to figure out which one it is they stored me in?” she wore a pained expression as she stared at the refrigerator vaults that lined the far end of the room they entered, shivering at the thought of having to look through each and every one of them.

“It’s the one on the lower far right.”

“How did-?”

“Your soul traces,” he cut her off without giving any further explanations. Sixteen Forty-nine opened the vault and pulled out the tray her body rested on. He then proceeded to unzip the body bag and placed two fingers against her cheek.

“You can touch things?” she reacted in surprise at his actions.

“I’m a reaper, not a spirit,” he glanced at her in annoyance, storing his scythe away with the flick of his wrist,” It’s still warm. They’ve only just put it in, which means we’re going to have to work fast.”

“And how exactly are we going to move the body without anyone noticing?” she inquired, not bothering to question as to why or how his scythe managed to disappear abruptly with a burst of flames.

“Possession.”

“I can do that?”

“No. No matter how the media tries to portray it, spirits are not capable of corporal possession.”

“But you can?”

“Only reapers and occasionally some demons can, yes,” he replied as he hopped onto the edge of the tray, getting ready to enter the corpse.

“Wait! Before you do anything, I’d just like to say that I don’t really know how comfortable I feel about you possessing my body. Hell, I don’t even know your name!” she winced at how awful that sounded considering she followed him all the way there without even knowing a thing about him other than the fact that he was a grim reaper. Sixteen Forty-nine paused for a moment before furrowing his brows and aiming a dry look in her direction.

“It’s Sixteen Forty-nine,” he mumbled before jumping headfirst into the body. A few seconds passed and nothing happened. It was only then that Wynonna took notice of the terrible state her body was in. She then began to worry about how they were going to walk out of there without anyone noticing the mangled state of the woman walking out of the building. It didn’t matter which way you looked at it; if she were to walk out of the building looking like this, she would most certainly resemble someone who definitely shouldn’t be alive, much less walking around like it’s nobody’s business.

The corpse’s eyes suddenly flew open as it sat up abruptly, gasping for breath, startling Wynonna out of her stupor.

“Shit,” the grim reaper―now turned dead female― groaned out loud, “That bus really did a number on you. Fuck, I think I can count at least three broken ribs, if not more.”

Wynonna could only watch helplessly as her now animated, dead body climbed out of the tray. The mere sight alone was staggering; she desperately tried not to get creeped out by her own corpse.

Sixteen Forty-nine wobbled, as he tried to regain his balance.

“Help me find something to cover myself,” he ordered, while looking down distastefully at the blood drenched clothes that clung to his newly acquired body. Scanning the area surrounding them, Wynonna managed to spot a white lab coat lying on a table and had to point it out for him seeing as how― in her current form― she was incapable of picking anything up.

“It’s white. Lovely. With any luck, the blood won’t seep through,” he delivered his words with derision.

After washing his face, Sixteen Forty-nine proceeded to rinse off all the visible blood from his newly acquired body at the nearest sink. Drying his hands before removing the upper layer of bloodied garments from said body, he closed eyes at the owner’s behest and replaced them with the coat.

“Go outside and let me know if it’s all clear to leave.”

Stepping outside of the morgue Wynonna checked the hall and waited for a bit before giving him the thumbs up.

When they finally made it past the exit without getting caught, they were finally able to relax.

“Now what?” she shifted on her feet suddenly finding it rather awkward to stare at her own face. Knowing that it wasn’t a mirror that she was looking into now but someone who was walking around inside her own body, she couldn’t help but feel strange.

“Now we wait. I can’t exactly be walking around in a dead person’s body in broad daylight looking like this, now can I?” he waved downwards at his appearance. Even though most of the blood had been cleaned off, the body still wasn’t in very good condition. She agreed and as such led the way back to her place.

When they reached the apartment complex, Wynonna started feeling rather self-conscious and one might even say a bit shy about her humble living conditions. It was the first time anyone other than herself had entered her living space. When her parents passed away, her family’s house was seized by the bank. Therefore, with the amount of debt piled up from their gambling days, she had no choice but to do with what she could and at that time, the small one-bedroom apartment was all she could afford.

She could only count herself lucky that they didn’t ask for a security deposit.

After being told where to find the spare key, and having finally made it passed the threshold, Sixteen Forty-nine plopped down on the nearest chair before taking in his surroundings. Despite noticing the deplorable condition of her dingy apartment, he was kind enough not to make any comment.

“How much longer do you plan on staying inside my body?” Wynonna found herself unable to tone down the eagerness in her voice. It didn’t have to be verbally expressed that she didn’t want him staying inside her body a minute longer, as it was quite evident from the look on her face.

“It’s not like I’m inside a woman’s body because I enjoy it,” he huffed in indignation, “I’ll stay in here as long as it takes. As long as I’m possessing your body, I can preserve its state and deter the process of rigor mortis.”

Wynonna calmly accepted his response before another thought crossed her mind.

“So how long does it take to get to and back, to this place you’re taking me to?”

Sixteen Forty-nine quieted down once more at her question before wondering if it was a good idea to tell her about it now. There was a good chance that if he told her the truth about where he was taking her, she would end up not wanting to go anymore. After contemplating a bit more, he ultimately ended up relenting.

“Miss Grimm, do you believe in the prospect of a parallel universe?”

“Uhm... please don’t tell me that’s a real thing because I honestly don’t think that my brain can handle anymore disclosures today,” she frowned unpleasantly.

“Don’t worry, it’s not,” he reassured her, “At least not in the sense you’re thinking of right now. But would you believe me if I were to tell you that there is in fact another realm out there? Just as there is the spirit realm. What if I were to tell you that there is another world that is connected to this one?”

“Well, I think I can honestly say that if you had asked me this yesterday, I would have definitely thought you were messed up in the head. But now…Hell I’m dead and talking to a grim reaper that has taken possession of my corpse, so I clearly don’t know a thing. Also, you didn’t answer my question,” she answered thoughtfully, making a side note near the end.

“Miss Grimm, the place I’m taking you to, is known to us in the spirit realm as the Otherside. One might say that the Otherside is very much like this world but at the same time you could also say that it’s completely different in a sense.”

“The other side?” she interrupted him in confusion, “But I thought you said that I can’t go to the spirit realm?”

“The Otherside is not to be confused with the spirit realm. After all, the ‘Otherside’ is just a relative term we reapers have likened to it, such as how we much often refer to this world as the ‘human realm’. There’s just one problem though. If I take you to the Otherside, you can’t come back.”

“What? Why not?” she straightened up immediately, startled at the thought of being stranded in an unknown place with no way to return home.

“Well how do you intend to explain to both the authorities and your acquaintances, having waltzed out of a morgue and how it turns out you’re not really dead after all― despite having been hit by a bus?”

“Point taken.” It’s not like she could easily just walk into a courtroom and ask to have her death certificate revoked without raising suspicions from the authorities. Yeah, just the mere thought alone is easier said than done, she figured.

“In that case, what is it that I’m supposed to do after you’ve brought me back to life when we get there?”

“You do whatever it is that you wish to do. From that point on, your life is your own. I have no say in the matter.”

“Hate to sound like a total stick in the mud, but to me that’s starting to sound a lot like ‘every man for himself.’ Don’t tell me you were just planning on dumping me there and ditching me without a means to survive as soon as you got the chance, now were you?” she eyed him suspiciously, causing him to freeze up as that had indeed been exactly what it is that he had been planning to do.

“Of course not,” he smiled stiffly, “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Uh-huh... And how is it that you plan on bringing me back to life anyhow? I thought you said reapers can’t bring people back to life.”

“Aether. Humans are all mostly ignorant to the existence of aether. But to put it simply, it’s what the chains that bind the soul to its body, are made up of. It’s quite interesting but the fact of the matter is that aether doesn’t originate from this world.

“In fact, its real origins lay in the Otherside. There, aether can be found in abundance. It’s all around and in the air itself. By contrast in the human realm aether is scarce which is probably one of the major reasons as to why humans tend to have such short lifespans.

“As time progresses, the chains that bind your souls to your bodies weaken, so even if we reapers don’t reap your souls, you would still die. Maybe not on the day you were assigned but perhaps the next week or even the next day. Our job is to simply speed along the process of collecting the souls and sending them on their way to the Spirit realm.

“But on the Otherside it’s different, there is aether everywhere. If I were to take you there, as long as there are no complications, in theory it would be simple matter to restore these chains once more,” he concluded trying to sound as convincing as possible, having taken the time to thoroughly explain only some of the minor details she needed to know and also what little it was he was willing to reveal to her without scaring her off.

“That’s... a lot to take in. I’m not sure if I really get it, but hell, as long I end up alive and well, then I guess I’m down for it?”

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