Gabriel's Hope (Chapter Two, page 1 of 11)

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Death was almost seven feet tall, built more solid than a tree trunk with hair and eyes darker than a moonless night. The weapons lining his body and tucked into pockets of his trench coat were items of comfort rather than necessity; his hands alone had ended the lives of more humans and Immortals than there were stars in the sky he stared into. Dawn lined the horizon in faint yellow. He watched his expelled breath float away from him, his calm features hiding the anger in his blood.

"Cancel all contracts. We've got to figure out this shit," he told the female death-dealer beside him.

"Gabriel, why does this keep happening?" the red-headed assassin asked, frustration in her voice.

His gaze went from the sky to her to the body at her feet. A competent, methodical assassin, she didn't make the mistake of trying to collect from someone not on the list. And yet, this wasn't the human she came for. Just like every other soul collector Gabriel sent out the past week, Harmony had gone on a mission and returned empty-handed. It was better than the alternative: returning with the wrong soul, which almost happened twice today.

Immortal Code, Rule 5329: Death shall not knowingly claim a soul not on the list, he recited silently.

In the matter of seven days, Gabriel had come close to breaking more Immortal Codes governing Death's actions in the mortal world than his predecessor did over hundreds of thousands of millennia. His predecessor, referred to as past-Death by his collectors, made exactly two mistakes, the second of which landed Gabriel his new gig ruling the underworld. Four months after becoming Death, Gabriel was trying to salvage what he could of the underworld as it crashed and burned. He followed all the rules in the Code, but he couldn't help thinking he was doing something …wrong.

"I went to the soul I heard," the assassin said. "I swear it. I came right here, where the radar brought me. It's not here. This guy isn't even on the list." She wiped her face and paced. "I failed you. I messed up."

"You didn't fail me, Harmony," Gabriel said. "You broke no part of the Immortal Code, and you followed our procedures. The radar led you astray. It's outside of your control." Like every other part of my life. This part he kept silent for fear of spooking someone he was supposed to be leading.

"But if this guy wasn't supposed to die tonight, where is the soul I came for?"

They were in the middle of the desert in New Mexico. It was cold, sandy - and completely void of any other signs of life for miles. Death-dealers operated off a sense of soul radar that pulled them like magnets to the lives that were on Death's list to be ended. Except, a week ago, all the radars of his army of grim reapers had gone haywire. Sometimes, the souls they sought were a few feet from the ones they claimed. Sometimes, the humans or Immortals targeted for extermination or soul extraction were on the other side of the world.

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