Chapter 3

As soon as I was about fifty feet into the woods, and far enough away from Charon, Mitzy was back at my side.

“Not a fan of the one they call Death, eh?”

She sneezed. 

“Ah, he’s not so bad. Plus, you should know he’s not the guy who kills you anyway. He just helps you get to the other side of the river.” I glanced down at her. “I’m sure you’re pretty keen at doing the doggy paddle, but I wouldn’t recommend it in the Styx. Dipped my toe in it once. Freezing. Actually, worse than freezing. Still liquid, though. It’s kinda weird.” I shrugged. “Plus, if Styx—I’m talking about the goddess here—gets her hands on you, that’d be bad, since she’d take you down to the naughty area of the underworld. She hates everyone. I’ve never asked why that’s the case. Guessing she wanted a My Little Pony for Saturnalia and got a pair of corrective shoes instead.” I shook my head. “She’s quite touchy, that Styx.”

We continued on in silence, aside from the crunching leaves, chirping insects, and the occasional owl hoot. 

I could see my breath, which made me cinch my hood a little tighter. 

In all their wisdom, the gods made me immortal while also making sure I could feel everything humans could feel. Physically speaking, at least. As Artemis had put it, “Quit being a pussy. If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen. You have to learn to face impossible odds, stand tall in battle, and be ferocious no matter what’s coming after you.” That was right before she went off on a big game hunt and dropped a bunch of animals who were minding their own business, each peacefully sipping from a pond. 

Athena’s reason was more fitting, in my estimation. She’d said, “You will struggle to empathize with humans if you don’t know how they feel.”

Empathy. That wasn’t exactly something they’d woven into my mental design. I knew what it meant. The dictionary description, anyway. I knew what a lot of words meant, but that didn’t mean I’d ever experienced them. For example, I knew what impotence was, but having never suffered from it made me less able to understand when a dude whined about his pecker not working.

I stopped walking and let out a grunt, thinking it’d be a rough day if my pecker didn’t work. 

“Oh, that’s empathy. Who knew?”

Mitzy sneezed again. Twice. 

“You okay there, girl?” I asked, kneeling down to her level. “Ah, I see. You’ve got ash all over you. Allergic to that stuff, eh?”

She growled.

“No need to get grumpy at me. I’m just trying to help get some of this—”

She showed her teeth and growled some more, but she wasn’t looking at me. 

I glanced up and saw the face of a creature a little way ahead. It was glowing white and had red embers for eyes. I wasn’t sure what kind of beastie it was, but it was definitely big.

“Whatcha thinkin’?” I whispered to Mitzy. “Maybe we’ve found Sasquatch?”

She stopped growling and looked at me for a moment. I could’ve sworn that dog was judging my intellect.

I stood up and started walking toward the creature.

Mitzy hung back.

“Howdy,” I called out as I approached. “The name’s Grave. I’m just walking through these woods looking for an ex-soul eater by the name of Dirgs. That’s not his real name.” I scratched my beard. “Actually, I don’t remember his real name. Diggen? Duggin?Doug? Heh, doesn’t matter anyway. As far as the lore goes, he won’t even be a footnote.” I looked back up at the beast. “You know, if it wasn’t for the fact that the guy was a real knob, and that both me and Charon will get taken to task if I don’t find him, I’d just let the turd go. It’s not like he really matters in the grand scheme of—”

“Silence,” growled the beast as it stepped into the light of the moon.

“A werebear,” I said, grinning from ear to ear. “Nice!”

I liked werebears. They were cool, when they weren’t trying to rip you in two. Of all the supernaturals the gods created, there was just something about the werebears that worked for me. It was probably how they were as fast as they were big. Now, werewolves were faster, and way more agile, but they got dwarfed by the size of a werebear.

“You know, I’ve always been fond of your type. You guys are—”

“Silence!”

Mitzy whimpered and scuttled backward.

That didn’t exactly fill me with good tidings regarding my new werebear buddy. 

“Hey, pal,” I said, stepping up and poking him in the chest, “it’s one thing to try and scare me, but leave the pooch out of it, capisce?”

The werebear wasted no time in discussing things further. He merely swiped his massive paw at me, catching me on the left bicep and launching me a solid twenty feet through the air. 

It was just my luck that an incredibly strong tree stopped me before I landed in a nice soft patch of grass.

Damn forest.

“Ouchie,” I said, rubbing my arm and my side at the same time. It was kind of like giving myself a hug. “Whadya do that for? You’re the one being a dick to my dog, ya know?” 

The werebear was walking toward me, drool hanging from its maw. Most people—smart people—would’ve tried to run away at that point. I wasn’t most people, and I certainly wasn’t smart. 

“Okay, to be fair, I guess I really shouldn’t refer to Mitzy as my dog. I mean, we’ve just met. She’s in a bit of a bind, though, so I’m willing to help her out and all, if she’ll have me, but you know how it is with—”

And there I went flying again. 

Its power was crazy.

At least this time the damn thing had slugged my other arm. It helped to balance out the pain. 

I got up and glanced at my arm. It was hanging a bit lower than my other one, and it hurt like a bitch. Fortunately—or rather unfortunately—I’d been in this situation before. On top of that, I happened to be someone who could pop his own arm back into its socket, which I learned how to do back when the Roman Empire was still a big deal.

With a massive yank and press, I shrieked and felt the arm go back in place. 

Goddamn if that didn’t hurt bad enough to make me want to hurl up those super tasty marshmallows I’d eaten earlier.

“Fine,” I seethed, before Mr. Grumpy closed the distance between us, “if you wanna play rough, I can play rough.”

It dropped to all fours and charged. 

I started to go left. It corrected course. I went right. Same thing. Finally, I stood my ground and waited until the last possible second before jumping straight up into the air.

It’d been a hell of a plan that would’ve worked great, had there not been a massive branch about two feet over my head. 

I kaboinked the top of my noggin dead center on that damn branch, and it didn’t budge. It rang my bell like mad, dropping me to the ground in front of the bear, leaving me feeling woozy as hell. And there wasn’t just one bear anymore, either. There were three. Either that or my eyes were so wobbled it just looked that way. That was my assumption.

Worse, the damn things were all laughing at me. I’m talking belly laughs here, too. 

“Not cool,” I said, holding my head in my hands as I rolled over to my knees and pushed my face into the chilly dirt. “Not cool at all.”

The bear’s laugh slowly morphed into a woman’s laugh. 

I glanced up to see three female faces slowly merging back into one. The face was a mixture of vile and morose. Not unattractive, exactly, but she wasn’t likely to be in any beauty contests anytime soon. She had black hair with gray streaks. I thought that looked pretty nifty, personally, though I could’ve done without the weird wooden-spiked headdress she wore. It looked like a messy sun-halo but with a black sun. Her eyes were dark and her skin ashen. That played nicely against the lacy funeral outfit she always wore. I’m not saying she was into goth, since I have no idea if she was or wasn’t, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had a subscription to Goth Quarterly—if there were such a thing.

“Nyx?” I said, doing my best to combine her three faces. That explained why the werebear was so damn strong, anyway. They are strong, but that was some next-level strength. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Was in the area and thought I’d have some fun at your expense.” 

Yeah, I doubted that. Unless she had something to do with the soul eaters, of course. That wasn’t far out of the realm of possibility, seeing that Perses and Nyx were old pals. They were both assholes, too, always going out of their way to start shit.

She laughed again. “Boy, did I. You’re a moron, Grave. Jumping straight up into a branch that thick? Can’t wait to tell everyone about this. Classic.”

I carefully got to my feet, pumping some healing juice into my head. 

“You sure you weren’t here to help Dirgs find some new bodies to occupy, Nyx?” Yeah, so it was kind of a direct question, but subtlety was never my strong suit, especially when suffering from a bruised brain.

“Dirgs?” she asked, wearing the fakest innocent look I’d ever seen, and I’d seen quite a few over my years in this job. “Whatever are you talking about, Grave?”

So that’s how it was going to be.

Here’s a tip for you if you’re ever dealing with gods—lesser or greater: Don’t trust a damn thing they say. I suppose I should amend that, since some of the gods are pretty upstanding, like my pal Charon, for example. I guess it’s better to say you should know which god is which, because if you don’t you’re likely to find yourself bent over a barrel with a cork in your ass, a fan belt between your teeth, and a twenty-dollar bill taped to your forehead. More accurately, the hotel room service people are likely to find you that way, and they’ll damn sure wonder who the hell brought a barrel into the room.

Not that I speak from experience or anything. I…uh…just…uh…happen to have heard that story from a friend.

“So you don’t know anyone named Dirgs, then, Nyx?”

“I can honestly say I don’t know anyone by that specific name.”

“Uh huh.” My head was clearing up fast enough to recognize she was playing me. I wasn’t going to hang around and engage with her. It’s what she wanted, and I never gave pricks like her what they wanted. “Well, thanks for stopping by and rearranging my body. Always a pleasure.” I started to turn, but I stopped. “If you do happen to see a ghost roaming around who was clearly once a soul eater, I’d be obliged if you’ll let me know about it. You know how the big gods hate when things are left undone, and that means they’re going to send me out again to hunt for that prick, and it most certainly wouldn’t work out in anyone’s favor to be aiding and abetting him.”

Her mischievous grin faded.

“Are you threatening me, Grave?”

I wanted to say, “Sure am,” but I decided a little gamesmanship wasn’t a horrible idea. 

“Threatening you?” I laughed. “Why would I do that? You said you were just passing by, happened to see me, and decided it’d be fun to knock me around a bit.” I raised my eyebrows. “That is what you were doing, right?”

The look on her face was one mixed with a full vat of irritation, a pinch of rage, and a dash of hate. 

“Of course it’s what I was doing,” she replied, her voice even and cold. “I already told you that.”

I smiled and clapped my hands together. “Right. Nothing to worry about for you, then.” I held up a finger. “Oh, and please note that I’m going to get you back for your little smack at some point. Nothing like practical jokes between friends, eh?”

There was no reply to that. 

“Hah hah hah,” I hammed it up, pointing at her as I side-stepped my way back toward the church. “You definitely got me on that one, Nyx. I’m sure all the gods are going to have a nice laugh. Better watch your back, though. When you least expect it, I’ll be there.”

I waved up in the air, turning my back on her as I continued to pretend-laugh. My senses were on full, though. It was never wise to show your back to a god like Nyx, but I knew she wasn’t going to do any permanent damage to me. At least not without a plan. The big gods would find out about a direct attack—a serious one—and they’d rake her across the coals something fierce. 

That didn’t mean she was going to let this go, however. She was going to try to sort out a way to destroy me. She obviously couldn’t kill me, due to that immortality perk of mine, but she could hide me away in some terrible place for a very long time. 

Mitzy appeared at my side again.

“I guess that means Nyx is gone,” I whispered, reaching down to scratch the scruff of Mitzy’s neck. “You were right to run from that one, Mitz. She’s a real bitch.”

To continue with the series, pick up book 1 today!

The Council Gods Are Brutal. The Lesser Gods Are Worse. I’m All That Stands Between Them…
You won’t find me in the lore of the gods, but I’m there, hidden between the lines. Whenever the lesser gods torture humanity, creating armies of supernatural beasts to rain hell down on the innocent, it’s my job to stand against the tidal wave of pain and death.

I like my job. It’s fun, even if the gods are assholes.

But in the thousands of years I’ve been running this gig, I’ve never seen the lesser gods pull together as a team. They’ve always been way too selfish and power-hungry for that.

Until now, apparently.

Perses, one of the lesser gods, has somehow managed to corral them into a unit of death and destruction, and the council has recognized their creation–me–isn’t capable of handling it alone. So, for the first time since I’ve been doing this, I’m being forced to run a team of people who need to learn the ins and outs of what I do.

It ain’t easy, especially since my new crew wasn’t exactly built for this kind of mayhem. That’s what happens when you take a bunch of normals and gift them with immortality, I suppose.

If we fail, the lesser gods will find their way onto the council, and that’ll spell doom for the world as we know it.

My name is Grave Digger, and this is my story.

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