Brook Jackson.

That had been her name, though it was getting harder to remember. Nowadays she was Sin; embodier of the flames of vengeance, the hastener of souls whose transgressions had shortened their stay in the mortal realm, Death’s Assassin.

She stood on a street corner in a rundown sections of Tucson. People walked past her, unconsciously giving her a wide berth. Most couldn’t see Sin, but they sensed her presence and avoided it, especially when a reaper was with her, as one was now. It floated above her, restless, eager to collect the soul it had been denied.

Sin cared little for her targets, although Death always imparted the knowledge. The soul she was going to collect belonged to a middle aged homeless man who traversed Arizona, murdering young girls in their beds. His death had been meant to come to him via a piece of a fallen overpass. The vehicle he was hitching a ride in was hit by a car that had run a red light. The collision had halted the vehicle before it could reach the overpass, and the man’s intended fate.

Sin crossed the road and entered the derelict building that her target was sleeping in. She took the stairs, climbing them as silently as a wraith despite their worn nature. She arrived on the third floor to find her target asleep in the hall. Like the others who’d cheated Death, the man had a crystalline aura surrounding him that prevented the reapers from claiming his soul. The only way it could be taken was if it faded due to old age–or if an Assassin broke it.

Sin took a step forward.

She was never sure what happened. Perhaps she’d made a sound, or the man hadn’t really been sleeping. Maybe there was even some truth to the phrase, ‘Someone walking on my grave’. Whatever the cause, the man leapt upright as if he’d been electrocuted. His gaze fell on Sin first, then the reaper behind her. He paled. A faint trembling started in his body.

“Please,” he whispered. “I don’t want to die.”

“None of us do,” Sin replied quietly. “But it cannot be denied. Death does not like to be cheated.”

The man turned and fled, diving into a nearby closet. Sin heard the sharp click of a lock and almost smiled. If the man thought a door could keep him safe, then he’d never read Poe’s, The Masque of the Red Death. Sin walked to the door and heard the man whimpering inside. She raised her foot to kick it down when the reaper reached out a bony hand. Sin glanced at it.

Sever through fire.

The words rang in her head. Sin lowered her foot and held out her right hand, calling forth the fire that burned inside her. Flames burst to life, wrapping themselves around her palm. She reached out and clasped the door knob, melting it instantly. She knelt down and placed her hand on the wooden floor. The flames raced across the floor and surged up the walls. Smoke billowed in the air, making it difficult to see. Aware of the fire, the man tried to open the door. It didn’t budge. He banged on it, streaming incoherently. Sin stood as the flames spread, deaf to the mans pleas. She waited.

“Stop!”

Sin turned to see a middle aged man standing in the hall behind her. Slightly overweight and dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, there was nothing remarkable about him except that he could see her. And he was holding a gun.

“I don’t know what you’re doing here, but you should leave. Death is coming.”

“No one has to die Brook,” he said. “Just let the man out.”

“How do you know my name?”

Behind her the man’s cries had died and the reaper hovered at the door. It was almost time.

“I’m Keaton Mercer,” he explained. “I’m a private investigator whose been looking into your murders.”

Sin cocked her head sideways. “Then you are a fool Keaton Mercer. These deaths are ordained and you’re stepping into a world that you don’t understand.”

Keaton pointed the gun at her. “This is your only chance Brook. Surrender and I’ll show you mercy.”

Sin smiled. “Death knows no mercy.”

Keaton fired. Sin leaped forward, dashing under the path of the bullet. The man fired repeatedly and she dodged each shot with inhuman speed. Sin covered the remaining distance in a blink and knocked the gun out of his hand. She slammed him into the charred wall and raised her right hand. The flames incasing her palm surged, spreading to her elbow.

Death was an equal opportunity claimer. Keaton Mercer wasn’t destined to die here, but by interfering with an Assassin’s duties, he’d forfeited his soul. Sin smiled and lowered her arm.

“Brook!”

The sound of a familiar voice caused her to turn. For a brief moment she wasn’t Sin, Death’s Assassin. She was Brook Jackson, a sister. And what she saw terrified her.

Gale staggered toward her though the smoke, one hand across his mouth. The reaper was hovering in front of him, near a section of ceiling that was about to give. But what truly terrified her was the figure behind Gale. An unidentifiable figure. A black void in the world.

Death.

“Watch out!”

Brook shoved Gale out of the way. The ceiling crashed into the ground, sending up a rain of sparks. Brook rolled upright and spun around, coming face to face with her employer.

“This must bring back memories,” Death replied softly.

The smoke swirled around it like a billowing cape. The flames–which had all but consumed the floor–seemed to dull and shrink back. Brook didn’t care and was only peripherally aware of the reaper hovering at Death’s shoulder and Mercer standing down the hall. Her gaze never wavered from Death, her mind fixated on what he’d tried to do.

“Traitor,” she hissed. “We made a deal; my service in exchange for my brother’s life.”

“Then you were a fool,” it replied. “To think that you could bargain with Death after I’d been cheated of a soul. I always intended to collect on that debt, I just figured that you wouldn’t care by now.”

Brook screamed. Flames burst to life in her hands and she hurled them at Death. The fires made it half way before they vanished, as if sucked into a void. Before Brook could react, something snapped inside her. The flames she carried within her surged through her body, causing her excruciating pain, more than she’d felt since she was alive. Brook collapsed. Arms caught her, settling her to the ground.

Gale.

“Brook,” he exclaimed. “Are you alright?”

Brook twisted to the side and heaved. Blood poured out of her mouth, black and viscous as tar. Her body began to shake. When she held up her hand her veins had gone red, burning with the fire that was now consuming her.

Gale pulled her closer and glared at Death. “What have you done?”

“What I’ve always done when one of my Assassins betrays me,” Death replied coldly. “I’m drawing her back into my domain. Once complete she’ll no longer walk this world, or interfere with my plans.”

“What plans,” Gale demanded.

“For what he’s been taking those souls for,” Brook gasped. She was still in agony, but forced herself to speak. “The souls the Assassins collect are not sent to Death, but to USAMRIID in Maryland.”

“What’s that,” Gale asked.

“The US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases,” Death supplied. “You’re a truly intelligent person Brook, more so than my other Assassins.”

“Sending them to a place in the mortal realm makes no sense,” Gale said. “Especially since you’ve gone to such effort to claim them.”

“Do you know what’s hard,” Death hissed. “Time, and how it’s worked against me. Collecting souls was once a simple affair. As a result of technological advances, however, I’m permitted to collect fewer and fewer souls before their bodies reach old age. I’ve been forced to seek new ways to overcome this as I will no longer be denied.”

“Care to explain that,” Brook replied, through gritted teeth.

Death glanced at her. “It’s a ‘Research Institute for Infectious Diseases’. Figure it out.”

They did. Death continued speaking.

“They have virulent strains of diseases that humanity conquered long ago and then forgot. The souls I’ve been collecting have cheated death and been granted immunity to it, but because they were collected by the Assassins, they changed. I will bond them to the agents within the facility and unleash them upon the world. This planet will become a grave and I will have all the souls that I desire.”

“You’re crazy,” Brook stated.

“I’m Death,” it countered. “I do what I please.”

“Not this time you won’t.”

All of them had forgotten about Keaton who raised his gun. Gale dragged Brook out of the way as gunfire rang out. Keaton unloaded his gun into Death. The bullets tore through it and embedded in the far wall, doing no harm to their intended target. Death and the reaper faded, leaving behind a chilling laugh that echoed above the flames.

“Try to stop me mortals,” Death’s voice echoed. “You will fail.”

 

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