Soft snores carried from the darkness on Nathaniel’s right. Weak sunlight slanted over his shoulder, cut through the gloom, and illuminated the weathered face of his mark. The mattress squeaked as the man rolled onto his back. His tangled
Nathaniel traced the cool metal handle of his shears, sheathed in their fitted holster.
The black marker on the man’s soul pulsated, calling to Nathaniel. The only sounds came from a pay-per-view skin flick he’d already seen playing in other seedy motel rooms just like this one. He crossed the room and glanced at the nightstand.
Pictures lay spread like glossy fans across the chipped laminate surface. He glanced away. Soon he’d know the story behind those photos as well as he knew the man who had taken them.
Knocking a fly from his ear, Nathaniel sent the pest zooming around the room in circles.
He lifted his pendant over his head and tucked it into his pocket. His skin rippled and faded to the golden outline of his spiritual form. He winced as the psychic bond between a soul harvester and his prey snapped into place. A deluge of sickened thoughts branded their knowledge inside Nathaniel’s skull as he slid his fingers into the handle of his shears. “She wanted it. Begged for it. Should’ve made it last. Damn camera. Ran out of batteries. Now I won’t remember it all.”
Nathaniel’s gut clenched. It never got easier. Each time his stomach roiled as bad as the last, maybe worse. His mark’s twisted pleasure trickled through their connection. He shivered with loathing and tightened his grip.
“They’ll never know. No one ever knows. I liked the look of that blonde. Could’ve had them both. Be ready next time. She’ll still be there. Waiting for me.”
“Enough.” Snarling through gritted teeth, Nathaniel made his accounting. “You’ve taken innocence not yours to have, and you will be held responsible for that loss.”
He braced his hand over the man’s heart. Steady thumps pulsed beneath his palm as he sank intangible fingers into the man’s chest. There, on his left. He’d found it. Miniscule thing it was. Cradled inside the man’s rib cage, Nathaniel’s quarry clung to its host.
The marked soul slithered right outside Nathaniel’s grasp. Sinking his wrist inside the man’s body, he growled his frustration. Disgusted, he plunged deeper, opened his fingers wider, and sifted through organs and tissue until his fist closed over his prey.
The man’s eyes popped open wide, his gaze searching the room. “W-who’s there?”
His feeble swipes through the air might as well have swatted flies. The urge to take a pound of flesh from the man’s wrinkled hide tempted Nathaniel, but he could only touch fellow spirits without his pendant to ground him, to wrap him in flesh like the odd gift to the world that he was.
On a choked sob, the man began begging for pity, for leniency, for mercy.
The words should have burned his forked tongue as he spoke them. Instead, he blathered on about things he’d left undone, words he’d left unsaid. As if he hadn’t ended lives while indulging his sick tastes. Without a thought about who his victims left behind as he silenced their voices.
A tic worked in Nathaniel’s cheek. He would not snap. This death would not be the one to break him, though if it did, he could hardly be blamed. Teach a man to kill, and he lusted for blood. Show him how scales are balanced, and he will discover how they can be tipped.
He chuckled darkly as hatred unfurled in his chest. Pity had no place here. In any case, he’d run dry of that emotion long ago.
A twist of Nathaniel’s wrist pulled taut the length of soul writhing in his fist. His mark’s body strained and bowed off the bed in an effort to remain connected.
He snipped the man’s soul free with a quick clip of his shears, and the body fell in a limp heap against the mattress. His mark’s sightless eyes stared into nothing. His parted lips dry.
Holding the swath of soul at arm’s length, Nathaniel retrieved his pendant and threw the chain over his head. His skin prickled as he became corporeal. Once he shook off the sting, he reached for the short velvet pouch hanging from his belt. He freed it, forced the mouth open, and shoved the hand holding the blackened soul down the gullet of the bag. Familiar suction nursed his fingers as a vortex swirled around his hand and a portal swallowed his arm up to his elbow.
Heat singed his fingertips as his hand burst through the bottomless bag and into a soul pit.
He smelled flesh cooking and knew it was his. Of course, if he hadn’t worn his pendant, his soul would have been sucked into the bag—into Hell—too. Any spirit not tethered by a body would.
Considering a soul lost to the pits was a spirit lost for eternity, he’d suffer the burns any day.
Wrenching his arm free of the bag, he wiped the residue from his fingers on the bed’s soiled sheets. He cinched the ties, closed the bag, and reaffixed the pouch to his belt. His shears still vibrated from the power that had radiated from his spiritual form. Holding their jaws open, he sliced through the air and opened a rift.
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