Chapter 1

If you’ve read chapter 1 via an ad, scroll down for a link to chapter 2…or re-read chapter 1 here with the adult-language intact. 😉

I stood there staring at the boss of this little killer monastery. He was the last of them. Their proverbial cult leader. No, he wasn’t the leader of everything. That was going to be one of the lesser gods. He just happened to be the head honcho of this particular cult of supers. Former cult, at least, since I’d wasted the rest of them.

I adjusted my brown leather gloves, making it so the little holes went back over my knuckles. They were the type of gloves that had the fingers cut off, allowing me to easily grip things like blades, swords, and throats. Then I straightened out the collar on my duster and pulled some bits of flesh and caked blood out of my thick, ratty beard. It wasn’t like I was trying to make a fashion statement or anything, but I’d never been a fan of having gore goop in my hair.

My best guess was that Perses was pulling his strings. It could’ve been Nyx, too, of course. Or Erebus, Moros, Hypnos…hell, just about anyone from that line of idiots. Not Charon, though, or Philotes. I knew Charon too well to suspect him, and my heart told me Philotes would never be like her brothers and sisters.

Still, I assumed Perses. He’d changed a lot over the years, seemingly attempting to regain his title as being the God of Destruction. I almost had to laugh at that, considering I’d caused more destruction in a single generation than Perses had done in thousands of years. It was kind of a drag, since he and I used to be pals. Such was life, though. Time and power changed people, even gods. 

Perses didn’t sit in one of the big chairs with the top gods or anything, but just like the majority of not-quite-at-the-top gods, he was doing his damndest to get there. To be on the council was a big deal to both the lesser gods and the council gods. Those sitting on the council protected it like mad, and those wanting a seat fought like hell to gain one.

“I know who you are,” the cult leader said, his bald head glistening with nervous sweat. He was much larger than me, and his selection of tattoos was a clear indication that he loved to inflict pain. I especially enjoyed the one on his bicep. It showed a skeleton being strangled by human hands. “Perses said you’d be after me.”

Yep, Perses. Knew it.

“And for once,” I replied, reaching to pull down my sunglasses just enough to peer over them, “Perses was right.”

Perses wasn’t known for being the brightest of the gods. 

The guy’s eyes flashed at my comment. He gripped the spiked baseball bat he was holding even tighter. Clearly, he didn’t like my cavalier attitude toward his god. 

I didn’t give a shit. 

“It doesn’t have to go down this way, Grave Digger.”

I put my glasses back in place.

“Grave Digger” was my title. I was never officially given a name, so people tended to just call me Grave or GD. It was rare for the gods to tell their minions my name, though. Not that it was a no-no or anything, but lesser gods saw their creations as nothing but tools. So why would Perses bother to tell this guy who I was or that I’d come for him? It was kind of weird.

Again, though, dropping my name wasn’t that big of a deal. It wasn’t like this guy was making it out of this alive, so who was he going to tell? And even if he miraculously survived the pain I was about to bring and he did tell someone, so what? Normals who studied mythology would just laugh at him, knowing that nobody named Grave Digger was in any of the texts. 

The reason for that was simple.

I wasn’t created to be part of the lore of the gods. I’m not listed directly in the pantheon. You’ll see all the others, of course. Hades, Erebus, Nyx, Tartarus, Thanatos, Chaos, Menoetius, Ares, Zeus, Aphroditē, Hera, Athena, and so on, but there’s no mention of the Grave Digger. 

My pal Charon, who was Erebus and Nyx’s kid, was the guy people considered to be me. He’s the one who ferries the dead over the Rivers Styx and Acheron, taking them to the more decent areas of the underworld. Some called him Death. He didn’t really like that name, since he wasn’t the one who caused death. He just met people when they died. If anyone deserved the Death title, it was me. Not because I went from person to person, setting off their finality or anything, but rather because I hunted people who became too powerfully evil and killed them. Those people were generally created and mentored by lesser gods. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to kill lesser gods themselves—they were immortal. But I could destroy their creations.

Again, though, I’m not mentioned as a god or deity in the canon, and there’s a good reason for that. 

I wasn’t birthed by the council gods. I was crafted.

They’d had enough of dealing with the gods screwing around with normals—literally and figuratively. It may be better stated that the council gods were sick and tired of the normals bitching about it. 

The gods weren’t exactly a caring bunch.

So, they created me to act as a middleman. 

Now, when I say that, I don’t mean it in a mediator kind of way. That wouldn’t be easy considering a few goodies the gods threw into my makeup. They made me a snarky, surly, introvert who holds a deep contempt for supers who were built to bring pain. They also made sure I loved to fight, with special attention paid to honing my desire to kill.

In other words, they made me in their image. 

The point is I was never a good fit for listening to both sides of a story and then facilitating a discourse on the best way to make everyone happy. I guess it’d be better to consider me as a problem solver. I walk into a sticky situation, negotiate using my fists, feet, elbows, knees, any weapons available to me, and sometimes a shitload of magic—though I preferred to avoid it—and left all the idiots involved in that sticky situation dead. Problem solved.

You see, the gods know one thing better than anyone: Death is the best cure for assholishness.

They gave me some intense powers, but only to the level of being able to destroy supernaturals. 

They’d have been insane to grant me enough power to rival their own. Why? I’d have used it a hundred times by now. Actually, that’s not accurate. If I’d been able to kill the lesser gods, they would rise up and start an all-out war with the council gods. They’d lose, of course, but so would everyone on Earth. It’d be a blistering hell for the normals, and very few, if any, would survive it. For reasons I’ve never understood, the gods liked keeping the normals around. Maybe because they were their creation? Probably, but the way they’d treated the normals over the course of history, it was difficult to see that as the reason.

What I was given was the ability to kill the gods’ supernatural creations, effectively destroying any armies they tried to build up in order to take a run at the council.  

I also had immortality on my side. That didn’t mean I couldn’t be put into an eternal state of wishing I were dead, but it did mean they couldn’t just wipe me out. 

The cult leader in front of me at the moment wasn’t a god, though. He was a super. Not even an interesting one, really. 

This dude was a soul eater.

You may consider that interesting, but if you’d seen as many of them as me, you’d yawn too. 

The struggle I’ve always had with them is that they’re downright dickish about life. They don’t give two shits about it. In fact, as long as they felt confident, they adored killing. The moment they believed they were threatened by something far stronger than themselves, though, they became a quaking mass of jelly.

What I hated most about soul eaters, though, was how they treated animals.

Case in point was the dog chained up next to him. She barely came up to his knee, but I had the feeling her head would be above mine. She had dense fur that was a cool mix of blues and grays, and some unfortunate reds as well. Blood stains. She was looking directly at me with bright brown eyes. They were beautiful, but they also held a deep sense of fear that tugged at my heart. 

The poor thing looked downright terrified, and she had a right to be. 

Soul eaters don’t just snap out your soul and follow it down with a quick shot of whiskey. They tortured you for a while first, making sure your soul’s energy was brimming with fear before ingesting it. According to one of the soul eaters I’d dispatched a few hundred years back, torture makes souls extra spicy.

The guy must’ve caught me studying the dog, because he peered over at it and grinned.

“You like these things, eh?” he teased, moving over and giving the mutt a kick in the side.

She whimpered, and I growled.

Okay, call me a softy when it comes to animals, but I liked them far better than I liked humans. Animals were upfront about their emotions. They didn’t play mind games, and they sure as hell didn’t deserve the treatment they often received.

“Oooh, you do like animals.” This asshole was obviously enjoying my irritation. “Well, maybe I’ll just bash the little shit on the head with my spiky bat, eh?”

As I said before, I typically don’t like resorting to magic. It’s just not as much fun as going right into a fight with fists flying. Now and then, though, I called upon its use, especially when I was overwhelmed with numbers, or if I needed to make something happen quick. 

Reaching out with my right hand, I caused the collar around the dog’s neck to release. Then, using my left, I sent a spell that compelled the dog to run to me.

She did, an instant before the bat would have crushed her skull.

“Using magic?” snarled the guy. “I heard you rarely used magic, Grave Digger.”

“It seems Perses has told you a lot about me, soul eater.” 

I glanced at the dog. She was sitting to my left and shaking. I knelt down and gently ran my hand along her back, sending in healing magic until she was fully whole again. She was still trembling, though, and I couldn’t blame her. 

“Stay here, girl,” I soothed. “I’m going to go and take care of the bad man.”

With that, I stood up and cracked my knuckles.

That’s when the soul eater understood he wasn’t getting out of this alive. I could see it in his eyes. It was the same fear he’d likely caused hundreds of people over his miserable lifetime. I’d personally seen that look far more times during my existence, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit there was an allure to it. Never once had I killed an innocent, on purpose at least. The gods made it so I had no desire to do that. 

“Wait, wait, wait,” the soul eater said as I began walking toward him. He lowered the bat but didn’t drop it. Oh, how quickly his kind wussed out when the shit hit the fan. “Let’s talk about this.”

“Nope.”

I jumped forward in a flash and cracked him in the jaw with a jab. It wasn’t intended to kill. I just wanted to show him this wasn’t going to be fun…for him.

He stumbled back and shook his head. Then, with a warrior’s cry, he brought the bat up overhead and swung it straight down at me. 

I dodged to the left and kicked out at his knee, breaking it. He grunted and fell to the side, losing the bat in the process. I dropped down immediately and put my hand on his leg, healing the injury in an instant. I wasn’t a healer, per se, but I had enough capability to handle easy things like broken limbs and such.

The look on his face was one of pure shock.

“What?” I said, grinning. “I know how you like to play with souls before eating them. I’m just giving you a taste of your own medicine.” I tilted my head and pouted. “Not as much fun on the other side, poopsie?”

I backed away and motioned for him to get back up. 

He did, though it was clear he’d already lost this fight in his own head. It was so annoying when that happened. I liked a challenge. This wasn’t a challenge. It was lame. But that always seemed to be the case with soul eaters, hence why I considered them boring. They loved spreading fear, but just like all bullies, they were pussies when it came right down to it. 

“Don’t forget your bat,” I said, pointing helpfully.

“Listen,” he groveled, “what say we make a deal? I’ll do whatever you want. Anything.” He even kneeled and put his hands together like he was praying to me. “You name it, I’ll do it.”

I sighed. 

Things like this made me question so much in this life. Why were people like him allowed to exist at all? Yeah, I know he was made like this by the lesser gods, but come on. Give them some backbone, at least, and not just when they were on the winning side, either. People like this knob weren’t tough, they weren’t leaders. They were merely assholes who spent their lives shredding others so they could feel a sense of power in their own feeble existence.

Of course, I rather did enjoy toying with them. Maybe that made me an asshole, too? Probably.

I was okay with that, though.

“Jeepers,” I said, chewing the inside of my lip, “I don’t know.”

“Please? I’ll do anything!”

Ugh. 

His eyes held hope as he stared up at me.

“Dude, you’re kind of freaking me out,” I said, my teasing turning to distaste.

“Name your price,” he pleaded. “Wine, women, song…” He gave me a quick once-over. “Or wine, men, and song? Whatever you want!”

I grimaced at him. “I do not drink wine.” 

“Uhhh.”

“All right, fine,” I said, shaking my head at him and frowning. “If you’re absolutely serious about this, then shut your eyes and repeat after me.”

He immediately closed his eyes.

“Say, ‘My name is,’ and then state your name, and then say, ‘and I am a massive douchebag’.”

He opened one eye and gave me a look. I gave him one back. His shoulders dropped a little.

“My name is Dirgen, and I am a massive douchebag.”

“Oh, come on, Dirgs,” I scoffed. “That was weak, man! It lacked conviction.” I shook my head disapprovingly and put my hands on my hips. “You’ve really gotta sell it to me, Dirgs, or I’ll think you’re just going through the motions. If I think that, how am I supposed to believe you’re really going to do whatever it takes to save your ass?”

“Sorry, sorry,” he said, his hands up in apology. “My name is Dirgen, and I am a massive douchebag.”

“Yeah, okay, that was better. Not great, but passable.” I motioned to the dog. “Now, apologize to her.”

His brow creased. “What?”

“You kicked her earlier,” I pointed out. “Apologize to her.” I wagged a finger at him. “And you’d better mean it, Dirgs my man.”

He swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and turned to face the dog.

“Make it formal, too, Dirgs,” I warned. “I’m not messing around here.”

Oh, the look on his face was priceless. He seriously did not want to apologize to the dog. It was demeaning as hell to someone like a soul eater to even acknowledge an animal as a worthy life. To have to grovel to one had to be worse than death! Okay, maybe not, since he seemed to be prepping himself for an award-winning performance.

If only I had some popcorn right then, to make the moment perfect. 

“Go on,” I encouraged him.

“My…dearest Mitzy…”

“Mitzy?”

He looked up at me. “That’s what the guy who owned her was calling her before I nabbed them both.”

“And you killed that guy, right?”

“Of course I did, you frickin’…uh…” He gulped, clearly recognizing that he shouldn’t call me names at the moment. “I mean, yes. Yes, I did.”

Poor Mitzy.

“Add that to your apology, Dirgs.”

At this point, most people would’ve just accepted death and gone out with a little pride. Not a soul eater, though. Seriously, they were the biggest wusses around.

“My dearest Mitzy, I offer my most humble apologies for kicking you.” He was actually making a show of it this time. He even had an imploring look on his face. “Also, I fully regret having killed your owner. I can only hope you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me.”

I started a slow clap. It was somewhat mocking, but not entirely. Dirgen had actually delivered what sounded like a heartfelt apology. I knew it wasn’t one. He was just acting. But it was pretty damn convincing.

“You know, Dirgs,” I said, “I kind of want to believe you. Thing is, I don’t know if Mitzy feels the same way. She seems a little less than impressed, if I’m being honest.” I smiled and added, “So, here’s how it’s gonna go: If Mitzy believes your apology, and she decides to spare you, out the door you shall shuffle. Otherwise…” I ran a finger across my neck and made a slitting sound. “Fair enough?”

“You’re going to let a stupid-ass dog choose whether I live or die?”

“Probably not a great idea to call her names right now, Dirgs.”

“Shit,” he said, his eyes jumping back to Mitzy. “Sorry, again, oh worthy one.”

I covered my mouth to stifle a laugh.

“Besides, Dirgs, would you honestly rather I made the call directly?” I raised an eyebrow. “If Perses told you much about me, you know you’ll have a better chance with Mitzy than with me.”

His face went white. “Okay, yeah, I’ll go with the dog. The wonderful, loving, and—most of all—forgiving dog. Isn’t she just adorable?”

I nodded. It was a wise choice, even if he was hamming it up.

“Mitzy,” I said in a warm voice as I moved over to her, “I’m going to leave this to you. If you want the bad man to live, just go over and lick his face. That will show me you’ve forgiven him.”

“Calling me a bad man kind of sets her up in a negative way, don’t you think?” He was clearly distraught. “Then again, maybe I’m being stupid here. Dogs can’t understand anything we actually say, so why the hell am I…”

Dirgen stopped talking as Mitzy padded her way over to him.

She looked straight into his eyes for a few seconds.

He gulped.

Then, with lightning speed, Mitzy lunged forward and chomped down on his neck, tearing his throat out in one vicious bite.

“Holy shit,” I gasped, rushing over to watch the light fade from the soul eater’s eyes. 

Dirgs couldn’t speak, for obvious reasons, but his final look most definitely said, “Dude, what the fuck?”

I turned my shocked gaze to Mitzy as she spat out the flesh onto the ground. Her muzzle was covered in blood and her eyes were filled with worry as she looked back at me.

“Mitzy,” I whispered, dropping down to my knees, filled with a level of pride I’d not felt in years. I lovingly scratched the sides of her neck and head as I smiled huge and said, “Who’s a good girl? Who’s a good girl?”

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