I turned to walk back to my car and suddenly the world began to slip away. I rocked back on my heels, suddenly fearful that the haziness of my vision might mean that I was going blind for some reason, but as soon as that thought had crossed my mind, the world came back into focus. Only, it wasn’t a world I immediately recognized.
I was in a much darker world, an ancient, golden world lit by torchlight, and a female face—a reaper’s—appeared inches away from mine, her hand clamped around my chin, her nails digging into my cheeks and jaw. She had me shoved up against a wall that felt cold and hard at my back. The sheer pleated dress she wore was cool against my arms and legs. Her skin was dark brown and her eyes were inhumanly large, the pupils melting into black irises so wide that only slivers of white curled around their sides. Her hair was long and dark and separated into thin braids in order to, I supposed, blend in.
“You shouldn’t have come here,” the reaper hissed in a language I somehow recognized as Ancient Egyptian and knew to be her native tongue. “Those who love your God are slaves and you are a stranger here.”
I could barely speak through her grip. “The business of man is of no matter to me. My only concern lies with their souls—free and captive alike.”
“You’re a fool. Not even the angelic venture here.”
“We both know that is a lie.”
Her snarl became a sneer. “Do you mean your Guardian? Ah, yes. I tore her throat out myself. Now even the archangels have forgotten this land.”
I set my jaw set and ground my teeth in churning rage. “If they’d forgotten it, they wouldn’t have sent me here to kill the reaper posing as the pharaoh and stop you all from claiming more human souls.”
She cracked the back of my skull into the wall. Pain shot down my back and blackness crept around the edges of my eyes. “They sent you here to die, killer. Just like your Guardian.”
Harpylike talons sprouted from her fingertips, but I didn’t wait for her to cut me. My power surged and shoved into the reaper in a flash of white light, but she strained against it. Her face twisted with fury and her own power exploded as her ash-colored wings burst from her back, and she shoved me deeper into the wall, shattering the painting of the pharaoh’s gods. I slammed my palm into her chest and sent her crashing to the floor. Unable to catch her balance on her feet, she took to the air, filling up the palace throne room with her massive wings, which smashed through the room’s stone columns as if they were made of reeds. A section of the ceiling came crashing down around us, and I sprang to avoid the falling debris. The reaper flew backward toward the throne, where she landed, perching on the gilded chair, her wings spread wide. The torchlight gleaming off the golden walls gave the reaper an unearthly glow.
I called forth my swords and swept them upward, instantly lighting them with angelfire. I held them tight as the reaper leaped off the pharaoh’s throne and took flight again, her dress billowing around her, wings flapping once, talons slashing. She descended on me, but I made my aim true and swung. My fiery blades sliced the reaper’s head clean off and I ducked as her flaming body exploded above me and was gone.
Ash and embers settled around me and I stood, letting the angelfire die. I took a deep breath to steady my heart and I focused at the next task at hand. I ran from the throne room into a far darker hall to find the pharaoh’s reaper imposter, but I stopped dead when I turned around the next corner.
One of the bear reapers blocked my path. I spun around to find another at my back; I was trapped. Angelfire returned to my blades and I launched myself at the first reaper. I spun and twisted and sliced but one of them struck. I jutted a blade straight into the gaping jaws of the first bear reaper and its head went up in flames, but claws wrapped around my waist and yanked me back. I cried out and flailed….