Azrael's Light:Demon Runners of Unearth

By: Amy J. Hawthorn

Demon Runners of Unearth

Chapter 1

The midday sun beat down in bright, piercing rays. Baking beneath his leathers in a lounge chair too small for his length, he absorbed each individual ray. The gods could stake him to the desert floor of Death Valley and as long as the sun continued to do its best work, he’d die a happy male.

Calm, clear waters lapped at the boat’s hull and rocked him into a relaxation so deep he might never return to reality. Again, fine by him. This all-too-brief reprieve would be over in the blink of an eye, and he was determined to experience each second of solace.

He’d more than earned it.

Contrary to myth, Death did vacation, but it was a rare event. He was allotted one brief break every two hundred years, but this time around it came late. His vacation was eighty-three years and fifty-two days past due. The excruciating delay only made the reprieve that much more precious.

Yet it wasn’t going to be enough to remove the dark stain from his soul. That was what happened when one spent every waking moment transporting the dead from Earth to their final place in Unearth.

Unearth existed beyond the gate between the physical and metaphysical world. It consisted of Olympus, Heaven, Hell, Hades, Limbo, Valhalla, and every other metaphysical realm mortals had created with their dreams or imagination. All of the immortal realms were divided by invisible barriers.

As a designated Runner, or glorified errand boy for the gods, he was one of the few who could travel from realm to realm without the use of gates. For a few Runners the assignment was an honor, but for most it came as punishment.

Runners were assigned sparingly because the god governing them was required to give a small fraction of their own power to their chosen lackey. They used the system as a checks and balance system to limit the amount of servants a god could have. Types of Runners varied depending on the god who supervised them and the duties required of them.

As the Fates’ only working Soul Runner, he was beyond overworked. Traveling the various realms as easily as if he walked through his own home, he spent countless hours collecting departed souls and delivering them.

Once a soul reached its final home, there it stayed for eternity. Demon, god, or elder god, not even the most powerful immortals could retrieve it.

He’d been doing so for three thousand years and had one thousand more left in his service. He reminded himself the bulk of his sentence had been completed.

And maybe if he repeated that back to himself another fifty times, it might sink in. One could hope.

Then again, maybe there was no hope for him. Guilt battled with exhaustion for the title of greatest soul oppressor. For the first time since he’d begun his service to the Fates he’d been gifted with help.

All he’d had to do was train his apprentice, and he would have had a partner to share his burden.

Somehow he’d fucked it all up. He’d left his apprentice behind in the depths of Abaddon’s abyss. Each time he closed his eyes, the terror replayed in a nonstop loop on the insides of his eyelids. As many times as he’d watched it, he had no clue where he’d screwed up.

The only thing he did know was that something had gone very wrong, very quickly, and he’d give anything to be able to go back and start over.

The anxious tap-tap-tap of a heeled boot on the deck broke into his thoughts. With his eyes closed tight, he held his breath and prayed the sound went away. Demon nails raked across iron bars had nothing on that tapping boot.

The tapping grew in tempo and volume

He was so screwed.

He might as well kiss his vacation good-bye. Though he knew the effort was wasted, he wasn’t going down without a fight. He refused to give her the respect she demanded of everyone else.

“Az? Azrael? Will you look at me? This is important.” That smooth, honeyed voice made his skin crawl.

“Go away, Lilith.” He kept his eyelids closed. With each word that came out of her mouth, he saw drops of his vacation falling through his fingers like water.

Though they’d known each other for millennia, he reminded himself she was the queen of duplicity. Her moods changed in the blink of an eye, and so did her favored “friends.” The fickle bitch had to be in some serious trouble if she’d come here seeking help.

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