The “Soul Shark”
Two hours earlier…
Boring as fuck.
Somehow, all three have become the sum of my existence; the very definition of my life—if you can even call it that.
I wade through countless files and backed up inventory, resisting the urge to gouge my eyes out as I try to finish up seemingly unending paperwork and listen to the tell-tale venting of a buddy who’s currently suffering from a case of soul-overload:
A Reaper’s worst nightmare.
The long hours—actually, more like the long weeks—and crappy working conditions, not to mention the constant mandatory travelling, almost don’t seem to be worth the pay off when you’re responsible for thousands or even tens of thousands of souls at the same time.
I would know.
I’ve dealt with soul-overload three times in my existence, and every single, excruciating one I had to handle by myself, without any help whatsoever.
“I dunno how you did it, Matt,” Ozar mutters, pacing back and forth like a restless cricket. “This shit is off the wall!”
I feel the poor bastard’s pain, thinking back to my own times as a standard Golden Reaper. I almost physically recoil at the unpleasant memories.
They obviously aren’t distant enough.
I certainly don’t miss those days, and I’m beyond ecstatic that I’ll never have to experience anything as shitty as that ever again.
“I don’t know how I did it either, dude,” I admit, extending my empathy and trying to offer him some type of assurance.
I look through some more of the documentation he’d given me, my brows furrowing as I continue to flip through the pages.
“Geez, Oz, you have to get all this done by Sunday?” I sigh. “That’s only two fucking days away.”
He nods somberly. “Yup.”
With a deep sigh of his own, he places his hands on top of his head as if he’s under arrest. “I don’t even know how the fuck I got caught up in this shit storm.”
I scan over his Reaper Prospectus as I try to reassure him despite how bad I know this really is. “It’s not exactly something anyone sees coming, Ozar,” I say. “Hell, with everything I know now, I’d still be caught with my pants down if I ever found myself in that crummy situation again. Doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done it before. It never gets easier.”
And that’s just the truth.
It honestly never does.
Soul-overload is an excruciating experience at best, taxing in every way imaginable and then some.
The only upside presents itself if you manage to single-handedly pull one off successfully, each case guaranteeing a host of rewards.
Of course, only two Reapers have ever been able to accomplish that task. I happen to be one of them, and the only one who’s done it more than once.
Each of my ‘victories’ have subsequently gotten me to my current position as the Golden First in Command. They also unwittingly landed me the nickname “Drago the Soul Shark”, a reflection of my veteran status in soul-harvesting. Drago is my middle name. I still have no clue where they got the ‘Shark’ part from, though. All my teeth are symmetrically aligned as far as my dentist is concerned.
But in spite of all the promotions and privileges my soul-overload cases have afforded me, I’d opt out without hesitation if I were asked to do it all over again. I’d probably give up an arm before agreeing to switch places with Ozar, as would any other Reaper. Hell, he’d probably give both legs away to get out of the predicament.
That’s why he came to me twenty minutes ago.
To ask for my help.
If it were anyone else, I’d probably tell them to get in line. However, and as much as I know I’ll hate my guts for it later, I simply can’t let him deal with it on his own in good conscience, not only because he’s a good soldier, but because he’s my friend; one of the few I have left.
So in the minutes that follow, I officially agree to take full responsibility for a quarter of his workload and delegate another quarter to two of my best resident Reapers, Porr and Kesser. Fortunately, I have the authority to make such a reassignment; one of my many privileges as First in Command.
Ozar all but physically kisses my ass in gratitude for literally halving his burden before he leaves, a lot more motivated to finish the remainder of his daunting task.
As soon as he’s out of sight, I lock the door to my office and get back to the slush pile of paperwork on my desk, deciding not to take any breaks until I get all of it done and out of the way so I can get started on Ozar’s stuff.
I’ll probably end up sleeping here tonight again, after all, I think to myself.
Not that I mind it.
I’m a workaholic.
At least, that’s what everyone says.
I don’t necessarily disagree but it’s not like I can help it.
Being busy is expected with my position. Keeping the multiverse in check isn’t exactly your regular nine-to-five. I don’t just get to go home for the holidays or weekend, and I do my best not to take any time off unless I absolutely have to. Doing that just piles more work on that I’ll have to end up doing anyway. It’s inefficient and only makes things harder and more overwhelming in the long run.
However, my family and non-soldier friends don’t seem—or want—to understand that, constantly complaining that they never see me enough and that I work way too much.
My mother in particular won’t stop claiming that that’s the reason I’m still single.
Well…that and my inability to commit to anyone ever since my ex left me.
Don’t think about her…
I shove the unwelcomed thought from my mind and force myself to focus on the tasks ahead, eventually falling into my typical “workaholic trance” and losing track of time.
At some point, however, I notice this…scent.
Or, more accurately, I’m distracted by it.
It’s odd and distinct and…
I don’t know.
I’m not even sure there’s anything I can compare it to.
Right at that moment, I realize something isn’t right; even before an unfamiliar voice echoes from above, catching my full attention.
What the hell…?
I hear it again through my office ceiling; a makeshift barrier and false floor separating the main assembly hall from the rest of the underground asylum.
The words sound clearer now, as if its bearer is getting closer.
“Hello? Is anyone here?”
I frown, unable to place the raspy voice. I don’t recognize it at all, and that’s more than enough confirmation that something is definitely off.
I can always tell whenever anyone comes into the Arkadi, even without seeing them, as I’ve memorized the energies of any and everyone who’s allowed in and has access to it: Golden Reapers.
No one else can phase into this facility.
No one else has the ability to.
And this stranger is definitely not one of us.
I emerge from under the secret floor, swiftly and stealthily moving in the direction of the voice, trying to pinpoint its origin.
It’s not long before my eyes land on its source, confirming that there is, in fact, an intruder:
A human girl.