Chapter One- The Dwellings Complex

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I trailed up the stairs leading out of the Ilibris Hall and into the Dwellings Complex, where all the Reapers met and stayed while they weren't on assignments. Climbing the vast, marble staircase that wound up fifty-nine stories, I idly considered using my abilities to transport myself to my floor by ghost-travel, but I decided against it. A little extra exercise wouldn't kill me, and it'd give me a bit of time to think on my next assignment.

Burlington, Vermont.

It'd been nearly forty years since I'd been to Vermont, the last being for an assignment involving a mountain lion attack on a seven-year-old. Not the happiest assignment, you could imagine, which I suppose was why I hadn't been back for so long. That, or I'd just been busy working assignments all over other corners of the world I reaped in. Either way, it would be interesting to see how Burlington had changed in the time I'd been away.

I reached the forty-seventh floor and turned left, traveling down the third hall on that side of the Dwellings Complex. Sixty-three doors later, I reached my personal room and turned the knob that unlocked at my touch. Upon stepping inside, I breathed in the familiar scent of pine wood that always seemed to be there, no matter how long I was away.

Closing the door behind me, I began to pack a large black suitcase with all of the clothes and other supplies I'd need for the next three months and twenty-eight days. I didn't figure I'd need anything too crazy, but I did pack my faithful dagger in case of emergencies. I wouldn't need my gun for anything, since my assignment was supposed to die of suffocation, so when I finished packing all of the other belongings I thought I might use, I tossed in a favorite pillow and a few old books and zipped closed my suitcase.

I ghost traveled with my bag down to the third floor of the Dwellings Complex, where all of the offices were located, and headed to find the secretary in charge of last names beginning with G. When she saw me, she smiled and motioned me over.

"How's it going?" Secretary Amelia asked, a few wrinkles showing around her eyes when she smiled.

"No too horribly," I told her. "I reckon you already know why I'm here?"

She nodded and turned around to shuffle through some files.

"Donovan Grier, Donovan Grier," she muttered as she searched. "I just wrote your assignment up not ten minutes ago!" Finally, she found my file and pulled a stack of papers clipped together from inside. "Here you are!"

"Thanks, A," I told her, taking the stack from her. "How have you been doing?"

"Not too horribly myself," she replied. "Busy as always. I had seven assignment requests come into my Ilibri just this morning."

I glanced behind her at the small sand-filled dome on its pedestal and smiled sympathetically.

"Anything interesting come in?" I asked, hoping to distract her from the stress of the morning. She shrugged.

"Nothing that crazy today. Though, yesterday I had to write up the details for an assignment where some girl dives headfirst into a canyon, full-on Olympics style, in the Prysima world. Klaren Gelardys got that one."

I nodded in mild interest.

"At least there's that," I told her, and she smiled.

"You always lighten my day, you know?" she told me. "I mean, I guess after three-hundred and thirteen years, I get a little attached to my Reapers."

I laughed lightly and opened my mouth to say something in return, but a whooshing noise from behind Amelia cut me off.

"Another assignment?" I asked, glancing to her Ilibri, which was alive with sand as the grains swirled about the dome. The swirling signaled another assignment coming in for Amelia to write the out details for the Reaper who had been given it, and I figured no would be the time to leave her to her work.

"It seems so," she sighed. "It was nice seeing you, Donovan! Have fun in Vermont."

I waved goodbye and headed off with my suitcase in tow and a stack of information to read up on. When I reached the base floor of the Dwellings Complex, I headed out the enormous front doors of the building and into the streets of the Underworld.

The Underworld looked a lot like one of the surface worlds might, except that unlike most surface worlds, there was no sun shining in the "sky". Enclosing the Underworld was a layer of dark matter that let off a dim, unwavering light, much like the barriers of Hell, but significantly brighter, and bluish instead of red. The Dwellings Complex was the center of the Underworld, second only to the House of Death in importance, and it rested in the middle of a crossroad of streets made of obsidian and black marble.

Filling the streets were hundreds of Reapers of varying race and being. Most were humanoid, from the system of worlds that contained humans or beings like them, but scattered among them was the occasional faerie, shapeshifter, or otherwise inhuman being. It wasn't an incredibly busy day in the Underworld, but there was definitely a good amount of Reapers out and about.

I walked down the street splitting off to the left of the Dwellings Complex, Gateway Boulevard, and past a few diners and scattered small shops. That particular day, I traveled on foot down this street only in hopes to run into a familiar Reaper crossing my path, but when I reached the end of the two-mile walk, I was still alone.

I found the Hall of Portals and entered through the arched doorways, taking in my surroundings with a sense of outworn familiarity. Inside the arched doors of the Hall of Portals, twelve stories of portals could be seen from standing in the entryway; the ceilings extended upward openly, and the actual standing area of the floors could be seen from the balconies that lined the entirety of the building. I made my way to the lift that would take me to the second floor of the hall, glancing at the map as I went.

The map was split up into three sections of floors; the Earth-world floors, the Fantastical-world floors, and the Planetary-world floors. The bottom eight belonged to the first category, seeing as the majority of the worlds resided on parallel versions of Earth. The top four floors were split evenly between the Fantastical-worlds, those with creatures such as faeries and dragons that took place on an earth different from the usual (one example being the well-known Middle Earth, which was in fact a place), and the Planetary-worlds, or those similar to the Star Wars universe in the way that there are many life-bearing planets usually accessible to one another.

As interesting as many of the worlds were to me, I was not allowed in any of them but the one I came from; world number Ninety-One. This particular Earth-world had absolutely nothing out of the ordinary in it, except for the same extremely general creatures of mythology that most Earth-worlds had hidden within them. Ghosts, legendary deep-sea creatures, some mythical creatures, and the occasional chupacabra-like mutation were pretty much the extent of interesting finds in Ninety-One. There were no people with special abilities or anything like that here. Just humans. And Reapers of course.

When I reached my floor, I stepped off of the rickety lift and turned to the right, watching the numbers above the miscellaneously-colored lit portals until I reached mine. I showed my detail papers to the Portal Guard, who checked the world number on them and then motioned me towards the portal.

I stood in front of it for a moment, watching how the surface of the portal seemed to ripple like water in front of me, before taking a long, deep breath and stepping through.



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Fun fact: I do name chapters after the important location in the book they take place in :)

Happy Reading!

-Haybails

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