The look on Eric and Melody's faces as I snatch Ellie away before their eyes is enough to make me want to crow with triumph. I've done it! I've actually done it! Well, I may not be in posession of Ellie's soul per se, but I am definitely more conscious of her now. Little does she know that the mark that now burns on the inside of her wrist is mirrored exactly in mine - right down to the last detail. I can feel her fear as we plunge earthwards in a blaze of black and white smoke. Ellie clings to my semi-solid form, obviously terrified as we hurtle down into the blackness. Strangely, I find myself tightening my grip on her ever so slightly, almost comfortingly. I push such notions out of my head and instead focus on the sheer speed and power with which we hurtle downwards into oblivion.
When we finally do stop, Ellie is practically shaking with terror. I laugh and look down at her.
"Welcome to Hell, princess."
Hell is nothing like the pictures would have you believe. There are no fiery columns of sulfur bursting from red-stained earth and crimson rock, nor is it filled with red pointy-tailed devils brandishing pitchforks and cackling like villains out of a children's cartoon. No, the real hell may be hot, but it's a dark place, pale mist drifting ominously through the air. Creatures worse than devils lurk in the mist, flickering in and out of view, rolling eyes and lolling tongues mingled with tails, hooves and claws.
A small cough echoes from behind me. I turn to find another Dark Reaper standing a short way off, a soul of his own slung over his shoulder. It must be a new one, I can still hear it whimpering slightly as the other Reaper approaches, looking at Ellie and I with a strange expression.
"What's this then?" he asked. "Looks rather solid for a spirit."
"Hello Rafe." I grin. "It's been a long time."
Rafe returns my grin, but his eyes never leave Ellie. "A long time indeed Sable. I hear you've been causing mischief in the Upper Realms - I take it this is one of your new projects?"
"In a way. It's a very long story." I reply. "That one of yours then?"
Rafe shifts his grip on the soul on his shoulder. "Yeah. Nothing special, just a minorly interesting one. Excuse me a moment, I'll just deal with it now."
I nod and step back obligingly to give Rafe some room to work. With practised skill he pulls the spirit off his shoulder and drops it in a whimpering heap at his feet. Then, slowly, he uses his scythe to open the spirit's chest cavity, the pitiful creature scarcely daring to move as he does so. Quick as a flash, Rafe seizes the shining core from within the spirit's whispy body and swallows it whole. The soul gives one final shriek, then pales away into nothing. Rafe licks his lips in satisfaction.
"Nice one." I smirk.
"Better than I expected. I'll call it back as a Wraith or something later, but for now I think I'll just enjoy the taste. What about you? You gonna finish her off now?"
"No!" Ellie and I cry in unison. Rafe jumps and backs off, looking just as confused as I am. What did I do that for? I never even thought such a thing, the words just ... came. Ellie shudders and pulls away from me, eyes wild with fear. She's very scared, I can feel it so acutely it's as if that fear is my own. I feel an urge to go to her, to reassure her I won't hurt her, to hold her warm body in my arms and...
"I'll be seeing you round." I say to Rafe, hurriedly cutting off my thoughts and striding off across the misty black ground. Ellie follows at a distance, at a loss as to what to do. She doesn't trust me, but I don't think she likes the idea of being left in this strange place alone. The mark on my wrist begins to itch, a burning irritating itch that refuses to abate no matter how much I scratch at it. I growl, I think it's Ellie's doing. Somehow her emotions or feelings are causing me discomfort.
Brilliant. Now she can irritate me without even trying. This could cause problems. How am I going to explain this to the others? What are they going to make of me for it?
"Come on," I snap to Ellie. "We have guests waiting for us. There's a few people I'd like you to meet."
"What people? What are you doing Sable?" Panic begins to rise in Ellie's voice. I snort and ignore her, but my wrist begins to itch worse than ever. Bloody thing.
Finally we reach the edge of a large rockface. There is a small overhang, beneath which sit a group of other Black Reapers. Two women and a man, the three most powerful dark beings in existance, known to all as the Triumvate. They look up as I enter, three pairs of cold eyes locking onto me like a hawk on its prey.
"Greetings Ancient Ones." I say respectfully, bowing to them. One of the women, a tall black-haired woman with a sharp face and crimson lips, inclines her head to me.
"Greetings Sable." she says. "What is your business here?" Her gaze flickers to Ellie, and her pitch dark eyes widen ever so slightly.
"I come seeking advice Great Ones. I tried to claim this girl's soul, but there were ... complications. Titan is trying to trick me into believing a story doubtless conjured up by Light Reaper scum. And there is also this."
I pull back my sleeve to reveal my mark, the skin around it raw and red where I have been scratching at it.
"The girl now bears my mark as well." I continue. "I do not understand what this means ... I seek your help on the matter."
The black-haired woman looks at my arm for a long time, then turns her gaze to Ellie.
"Come here girl." she snaps, voice cracking like a whip. "Come closer that I might see you properly. And show me your mark."