Time passes in fits and starts when you’re busy travelling through reality, collecting the souls of the dearly departed. This made it difficult for Death to say exactly how long it had been since his last glimpse of the red haired girl as she left the coffee shop with her friends. He had a feeling that it had been a lot longer than he’d intended. It wasn’t that he was too preoccupied to think about her, it was the soul collection list that was causing him a problem. He’d gotten some weird idea that if he just cleared the jobs on his list then he would have time to see her, but his last little trip out had caused a bit of a back log; a backlog he was having trouble getting on top of. It was frustrating the hell out of him, and some of the souls had complained about being made to wait, which had made persuading them to go through their designated door to the underworld a bit more difficult than usual. Why had this never bothered him before? The constant demand of the dead was beginning to feel exhausting. Oh yeah, that was right, because he wasn’t “alive” before. He didn’t have anything else in his existence before.
He promised himself that after he’d finished ushering Mrs Price from Fort Lauderdale into her appointed afterlife he’d go see what the red haired girl was up to.
He couldn’t wait for the silver haired octogenarian to stop talking. She’d been bending his ear about her beautiful grandchildren and how she hoped that they had pudding in the afterlife since he’d taken her from her neat little bungalow and yapping lap dog. Her twittering was getting on his nerves and he could swear that the eternal door he called for her took longer than it should have to arrive. When finally the old coot had shuffled through the shiny blue door and into what lay beyond, Death closed his eyes and moved himself through space and time, back to the cherry tree outside the cafe.
The budding blossom from his last visit had been replaced by dark green leaves and ruby red fruit. He didn’t have a sufficient understanding of the passage of time to accurately say how long it had taken him to finally check up on the object of his attention. He knew the seasons though and they were telling him it hadn’t necessarily been that long. A wash of relief brought him some much needed relaxation. Time had always been something that had happened to other beings, but now it was happening to him it brought with it a certain level of anxiety. Right now though, he had all the time in the world to do the one thing he wanted so desperately; to talk to the red haired girl, and it was going to happen today.
Scanning the window side tables in the coffee shop he picked out the two dark haired girls and the sandy haired boy that she normally sat with but he couldn’t see the red haired girl anywhere. Maybe she’d gone to the bathroom. It wasn’t a function he was unfamiliar with, but obviously never needing to eat or drink meant that he had no need for bathroom breaks. Good job too. He could imagine it might be a little inconvenient to suddenly need to pee when you’re half way around the world and miles away from a toilet. That would seriously interfere with his job. Job interference’s were fast becoming ‘a thing’ though and none more important than the first words he would say to the red haired girl.
A flutter of nerves danced around in his belly as he left behind the cherry tree and pushed his way through the coffee shop door. Inside, the atmosphere was subdued. There was none of the giggling and gesticulating he’d seen on his last visit. The group of friends he’d watched previously had their heads hung low, exchanging short sharp words. Something bitter tainted the air. It made Death feel uncomfortable, but it was too late to back out now. One of the dark haired girls had spotted him when he passed through the tinkling glass door and her gaze had followed him to the stool he had chosen to perch on, in front of the coffee shop counter. Her eyes seemed to bore into his back, increasing his already rising anxiety.
Something was wrong and he wasn’t sure how he could find out what. He wasn’t part of the human world so his lack of social skills put him at a disadvantage; one he needn’t have worried about. The dark haired with the burning stare had launched herself across the room and was taking up the space to his right; her stare even more intently placed on his face. Death froze. Either she was going to tell him what the problem was or she was going to verbally abuse him. At first he couldn’t tell which, but with a quick glance at her eyes he could pick out the stress of intense worry.
“She’s not here.” Each word falling from her mouth in an accusatory fashion.
“I can see that,” he murmured, “where is she?”
The dark haired girl’s visage became instantly savage but the raw emotion faded as fast as it had appeared, leaving behind it defeat and resignation.
“You don’t know.” She muttered. It was a statement rather than a question, like he was her last hope of an answer and she’d just realised he couldn’t help.
“No,” he said straightening up and opening up his posture, “but maybe I can find out, how long has she been missing? Tell me everything.”
An hour later he’d been given everything the red haired girl’s friends knew. He even knew her name.
She’d been missing for two days. Stephanie, the dark haired girl, had arranged to meet her at the college library and Sarah hadn’t showed. Several frantic phone calls later, it was ascertained that not only had Sarah missed their meeting, she’d missed most of that day’s lectures too. Sarah’s Mom was frantic but had refused to go to the police. Death was officially on unfamiliar territory. He was being sucked into something he knew nothing about but was powerless to stop himself.
Leaving the coffee shop he wasn’t sure what to do next. Finding souls was his business and tracking them was simple, he could hear them, feel them even. He had never tracked a living person before, but he knew someone who had.
Pythia had been an oracle for the Gods back in Greece, but when her temple had been destroyed by the Christians she’d found herself suddenly at the mercy of soldiers. No one escaped their swords, least of all the oracles and when Death came to collect her she clung to him and begged him for mercy. A small grain of compassion had floated around in his core that day and instead of transporting her to the underworld he had placed her in the space between worlds. The White Room. She kept an eye on the world from there and occasionally warned him of any particularly difficult future collections. It wasn’t something he had ever regretted and right then he was really glad she was there.
Death knew that Pythia had tracked a General of the Roman army once for one of the Grecian armies. Not that it had helped, but it had been successful. He just hoped she could still do it, because he had no clue how he was going to find Sarah otherwise.
Sliding through realities, he reached the White Room in the seconds between the minutes that were passing inside the coffee shop. The room was always stark but Pythia always looked right at home. Perched on a pure white office chair, behind a desk of the same hue, she was staring at the screen of a milk coloured laptop. He knew they were merely constructs of Pythia’s power but he had to admit, she looked cool.
“Hey bud, long time no see.” She exclaimed, without tearing her attention away from the screen. Her dark curly hair was tangled in a pair of wire framed spectacles, a larger more flamboyant pair were framing her bright amber eyes. She was tiny, but Death knew she was more than she seemed.
He let her greeting hang in the air, hoping that if he didn’t reply she’d be forced to look up. As if reading his intention she glanced up, her assessing gaze stopping at his face, her small rosebud mouth forming a perfect circle.
Pushing herself out of her seat she rounded the desk and stood before him, looking up into his face.
“Oh crap” she muttered. “You’re growing.”
“I know,” he replied, “so I’ve been told.”
“I did not see that coming.”
“Yeah,” Death sighed, “I’ve heard that one too, but listen I’m not here for a social visit, I need your help.”
Pythia waved him away and returned to her seat.
“I know,” she muttered, “the red haired girl right? Sarah? Yeah she’s not everything she seems.”
Death was confused. Not that Pythia already knew about Sarah, but that she clearly knew something else about her that he hadn’t noticed. He decided not to push it though, he had a feeling he didn’t really have time.
Landing back in her office style seat, Pythia tapped on the laptop keys as she spoke.
“There’s been some rumblings from some areas of the Underworld. Certain groups have been ‘on the move’ but there had been no obvious reason why.”
Death frowned. “How did I not know about this?”
Pythia chuckled. “It seems you’ve been a little pre-occupied of late. It hasn’t gone unnoticed.”
Death felt the sting of guilt clutch at his core. He’d been so focused on getting to the end of his collection list he’d missed potentially important happenings in his own domain. Still furiously tapping keys Pythia continued.
“It seems my dear Azrael that you may have gotten yourself a little tangled in a long standing feud between two Gods.”
Azrael. He hated it when she called him by that name. The Hebrews had called him Azrael, “the help of God” and he detested it. He didn’t help any deity, he helped the cycle of creation, that was his purpose, or at least it had been until now.
“Which Gods?” He demanded, dragging his focus back to the task at hand.
Pythia screwed up her flawless face.
“You are not going to like it.” She whined.
“WHO?” He asserted, using the base tones of his commanding power. He didn’t like using it on a pure soul like Pythia but he had suddenly started feel the sour sting of anxiety reaching up his throat and threatening to choke him.
Pythia squirmed. “Hades and Zeus” she squeaked, before placing her head in her hands and doing her best to hide behind the white laptop screen.
Death felt a mixture of confusion and anger spread through his veins. He refused to give in to it though, until he knew more about the bizarre situation he had been forced into. Pythia didn’t deserve his blossoming rage but he knew who did.
Forcing himself to remain calm he turned to face Pythia fully, relaxing his stance a little in an effort to let her know that it wasn’t her he was upset with.
“What has this got to do with Sarah?” He asked, dreading the answer he suspected. Sensing his effort to remain calm, Pythia raised her head a fraction, her hands moving slightly but still covering most of her face.
“She’s Zeus’s daughter.”
Small shards of realisation clicked into place in Death’s mind. It made sense. Sarah had seen him and the door that he’d called for her friend had been the kind that only goes to one place.
Elysium, the resting place of the Gods.
Now he understood what Khaos had been talking about. She’d been playing with the Olympians again and he’d been snagged up in the fall out. After all the times he’d cleaned up her messes and now he was part of it.
He closed his eyes and ran a hand down his face. As if he wasn’t already struggling with the many changes to his being, now he had to potentially go up against the Gods.
Pythia raised her head above the laptop screen.
“Are you okay?” She asked softly.
Death raised his head to meet Pythia’s eyes.
“No.” He said firmly, “I need help.”
Pythia looked suddenly helpless. “I don’t know what I can do.” She whimpered.
Death gave her a warm smile. ” It’s okay,” he said, “someone owes me a favour.”
Pythia offered him a weak smile in return, a look of relief brightening her face.
“Thanks.” He whispered before shifting through the time realms looking for his Grandmother, Khaos.
She had some explaining to do and a promise to keep.