“Thank you, I will. Though everything seems weird at this point, overly weird things I will definitely report,” I promise. That has a chuckle escaping her.
“I’ve been here a long time and weird shit still happens,” she agrees then meets my gaze. For once she’s not locked away, but letting me see her regret. “I’m sorry for being so surly, I don’t handle stress well. I know all of this is overwhelming. You just arrived at one of the darkest times we’ve seen in the city.” She looks uncomfortable, but gives me a small smile.
“That’s alright, I can handle some snark,” I say with a shrug, returning her smile. “The afterlife isn’t for grudges.”
That has her nodding and going back to trainer mode. She walks back to the center of the room. “On to the fun stuff. When your body repaired itself from the trauma of your death, you were infused with reaper power. Your runes are your link to those abilities. Let me demonstrate first.”
Arianna holds out her hand, palm facing outward. She yellsportaand the air seems to ripple in front of her hand and her entire body is enveloped in the soul energy I’ve seen filling the city. It reminds me of the odd effect when you see heat rippling in the horizon on hot, sunny days.
“That is a portal to the human side of the veil. They close automatically after a few minutes so don’t linger. You have to be specific for it to take you where you need to go. I will demonstrate it when we do a trial reaping. You will not have to be specific when returning with a soul, the soul’s energy will lead you to the gatekeeper’s platform automatically. You also can’t travel using portals from one place to another within the same side of the veil.” I nod to show that I understand, though honestly my mind is reeling from everything. I sure as fuck hope they give some sort of manual and don’t just shove me in head first.
“Sounds easy enough. I’m sure it will become natural after a few times,” I say confidently and she gives me a nod of approval. “How many souls do you think will be assigned to me each day? Because there doesn’t seem to be enough reapers to handle everyone who dies on Earth.” She gives me a little chuckle and I almost gasp at the sliver of a personality that starts to shine through.
“Reapers are not always needed for souls. We only go retrieve the souls that are confused or stubborn. Sometimes if a familial bond is strong enough, then a family member’s soul is able to draw the soul here without a reaper. This is one of the biggest reasons souls are able to leave the Sorrows and move on to the After when they’re finally ready. Over half of the souls accept their death and end up in front of the gatekeepers for judgment. The white light humans refer to is a portal connecting souls crossing over to the city.” She seems to be in her element as she explains. It’s obvious her runes fit her, a natural born leader. It’s a far cry better than the bitchy reaper who woke me that first day.
“That makes sense,” I offer, so she doesn’t think I’m spacing out on her.
“As for your quota, you start at four until you acclimate. Then the normal quota sits around ten to fifteen. It really depends on your abilities,” she says as she comes over and guides me to the middle of the room. “The last thing your reaper powers do is mark you each time you bring in a soul for judgment. It’s a small picture, symbol, or word that is a representation of that soul’s life. It burns for a moment, so don’t be alarmed.” She shrugs her shoulder out of the jacket to show an array of colorful tattoos.
“That’s awesome. I was too afraid to get one in life,” I say with a grin. I’m even more ready to start now. Apparently I’m not only retail motivated, but tattoo motivated as well. Anything to make this existence a bit less monotonous. The last thing I want is to end up like those miserable reapers I’ve met so far who seem to live for gossip and treating souls poorly.
“We barely appreciate them anymore,” she says with a chuckle, shrugging completely out of her leather jacket and holding her arms out for me to see.
Her arms have enough tattoos to qualify as a sleeve. The artwork is breathtaking. It would seem like such a random mess if not for the fact it was so beautifully done it somehow makes one cohesive work of art. I’m immediately drawn to an amazingly realistic black wolf with piercing blue eyes.
I can’t help myself, and lean in to run my finger over the wolf’s face. She looks down and locks her eyes on what has me so distracted.
“Beautiful isn’t she? That soul raised husky-wolf hybrids. Her first was a wolf named Layla,” she explains, her voice full of affection.
“I love that you care. I’ve seen too many jaded reapers here already. I saw a reaper yesterdayat the gatekeeper platform that was yanking around a soul bound for Sorrows.” My voice is hard as my anger rises again.
“I’ve noticed that lately, but there aren’t rules against reapers being harsh. They can’t harm the soul,” she says sadly. I can tell I’ve struck a nerve. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one against it and I know I sure as fuck won’t stay silent next time.
“I’m excited about this part now,” I add, giving her arms another appreciative look before she throws her jacket back on.
“Well, we have one soul assigned to us for training purposes today. Ready?” she asks lightly, her guard fully down now. She picks up a smaller version of the chain Elias had me train with, and turns to me with an eyebrow raised in challenge.
“Hell, yes! Let’s do this.” My enthusiasm has her perking up and she flashes me a grin before opening a portal, this time giving a name and city. She takes my hand and yanks me through the portal.
Traveling via portal is easily the weirdest thing I have ever experienced in either of my lives. It’s almost like traveling through clear syrup. I half expected to be sopping wet when we pop out of the other side, but thankfully I’m just as dry as I was when we stepped in.
The portal leads us to the middle of a grocery store. EMTs are trying to revive an older woman, though it’s a wasted effort. I can see her soul standing to the side. I’m just thankful that my first soul isn’t angry. Or running like Elias had warned about.
“Hello ma’am. I’m here to help you cross over,” Arianna says in a sweet voice, taking careful steps toward the poor woman. The woman looks up at her with aconfused look on her face.
“I guess itismy time then?” she asks sadly. “Will my husband be alright without me?”
“I don’t know your husband, but you will see him again someday,” Arianna reassures her the best she can as she reaches the woman’s side. With resignation, the old woman sighs and gives her body one last sorrowful look before nodding to Arianna.
The reaper gently touches the scythe’s handle to the woman’s arm and the silver chain extends, wrapping around her as the portal opens automatically. I step forward and place a hand on Arianna’s shoulder so I’m not left behind.
The portal is much easier to travel through the second time, especially since I’m expecting the odd sensation. We’re spit out onto the platform in front of the gatekeepers.
“Maria Smith, please step forward,” one of the gatekeepers calls and Maria takes a small shuffle forward. She looks terrified and I can’t stand it. Fuck them for making this moment so harsh and alarming to souls already in a state of disbelief and confusion. Without hesitation I step forward with her and place a comforting hand on her shoulder. She smiles up at me gratefully and her fear fades.
The gatekeeper gives me the side eye, which I ignore. Instead I keep a look of pure confidence in place. He finally stands and looks Maria in the eye. Leave it to a pompous man like this to drag out the sentencing for his own ego.
“You have led a good life. You have accepted your death and you shall move on to the After,” he states imperiously. I hold back an eye roll as Arianna leads us off of the platform and through the archway to the three sections of the afterlife.