It was a mistake to think he could have escaped Lucifer's judgment. He was being hunted. There was no denying it. A sharp exhale escaped John as he weaved in and out of the sparse crowds of Others standing on the side of the crumbling street.
Those around him weren't human.
This strange place he found himself in. Where was he? It looked like New York but it wasn't. It was some sort of dystopian shadow of the city he once knew.
Pushing forward, John turned down an alley to get away from the talking voices. He needed to think and form some sort of plan but everything wasn't as he knew.
Running a shaky hand over his brow to wipe the sweat away, he would have let out a shout of frustration if he had known it would make a difference. But he remained silent. He needed to be as quiet as possible.
Clenching his teeth together, John knew that if he made any noise at all, the one hunting him would find him.
Since the morning of the day before, the sound of chains followed him.
Brushing it off in the beginning as his paranoid imagination and having pushed it to the back of his mind, John tried to ignore the sound but it was soon accompanied by a presence.
A man. Emerging in the wake of the sound.
First, from out of the corner of his eye John had seen him. Vanishing when he turned his head to look. Yet this little game didn't last long as soon in full view, John caught sight of the one that followed.
A tower of a man, dressed in a black suit. His eyes were black with boring pupils of white and his grip were two long lengths of chains.
John's fear was apparent as his fatigue. His strained mental focus was written across his face. A predator's tactic. Tire the prey until they couldn't run anymore.
Away from the busy streets of that crumbling cityscape and into the labyrinth of the alleys.
The echoes of John’s frantic footfalls hit against the brick walls of the back alley corridor. More an inescapable valley of high walled cliffs than a path to freedom.
It was cold, and white wafts of anxious breaths left John's lungs. It was a nightmare. He didn't know where he was going. The streets down which he bolted frantically were not the New York streets of his memory.
Where was he?
Swallowing hard, John tried to gather his focus.
His inner voice reassured that if he took enough turns, he would find his escape. After all, it had worked so far. Yet his luck was running out and every desperate turn was now proving a dead end.
In the chilling night air, with hair clinging to his forehead, there wasn't even time then to wipe the beading sweat away.
Rounding the next corner, John could no longer suppress his howl of ire rising from his core when he was abruptly met with another dead end blocking his path.
There was no way out.
The frustrated roar rose from him as in anger, he kicked the nearest garbage can. With a loud bang, the alley was filled with its deafening crash.
Heaving, John faced the wall as the world fell back into silence. A silence that gave birth to another sound. .
From the quiet nothing of the alley, the sound of footfalls and chains began their approach. The pursuing footsteps a steady sound, looming closer like the slow second-hand ticks on a dying watch.
John didn't turn. His hand, unseen from his back, was reaching into the inner pocket of his jacket.
Anxiously eyeing the bricks in front of his face, John's breath stilled when the footsteps came to a stop not a stone's throw behind him.
He didn't turn around. He didn't want to see that man although there was no sense to cower in fear. With nowhere to hide, John couldn't run any longer.
With racing thoughts and his back to his pursuer, John grasped for the handle of a knife he kept beneath the flap of his jacket.
Casting a glance over his shoulder to check for the predator that hunted him, John's inner voice screamed at him when his stare met the one that followed.
Instant, John’s sight snapped back. Gripping his chest in terror, he near curled into himself.
The black wells that were the man’s eyes with pupils of white. The tower of a man who was not just a man. He was something else and his gaze was stabbing at John's soul.
In his hand still, two lengths of chain that reached the ground and curled back behind him from the way he came. Metal snakes slithering off into the dark.
"Stay back! Why are you following me?" John's voice shook with fear as the hair on the back of his neck stood on end.
Why was he asking that question when he knew full well why the man in the suit was following him.
He could pretend to not know the reason as though it had all been a mistake. An innocent victim of this whole affair.
But his unknowing look lasted only so long and soon cracked under the black and emotionless stare of the man in the suit, shrouded in shadow.
"John Fallows. This one has been sent to collect you." The man in black's voice was frozen as he addressed him.
"No." John's voice cracked. "It took me years to escape. I can't go back. I won't go back."
John’s admission of the truth came as a cornered animal. The color drained from his face, dark circles shadowing his eyes. He was a fugitive while the man in the suit was the one sent to retrieve him.
"There is no escape." The Collector said with a voice empty of emotion. He had these exchanges a thousand times before.
Standing at the center of the alley the towering man blocked John's only escape.
John turned to face the tower of a man in black. His hand still hiding beneath the flap of his jacket, grasping the knife's grip. His gaze moving from the man in the suit's unchanging expression to the little space between him, the wall and a possible getaway back the way he had come.
The Collector was only one man, as tall as he was, the odds were even. Weren't they?
With enough force, John presumed another chance. His pursuer could be subdued with one perfect strike of his knife. The two lengths of chains the man in the suit held in one hand appeared far too long and heavy to swing. More of a hindrance than a usable weapon.
With no time for caution, the prey rushed the predator.
Drawing the knife, John did the only thing he thought he could.
Solid to the ground, the man in the suit didn't move. As John rushed him, blade forward and ready to strike his pursuer in order to get past him, the Collector countered. With lightning fast reflexes, the man grabbed John’s wrist with his free hand.
His grip was vice-like and solid like unbending metal before it began to tighten.
John winced, dropping the knife.
The Collector's hold was near crushing John’s wrist although it was not the grip alone that mattered.
Unable to shake free the hand that held him, John was helpless as a fire erupted beneath the man in the suit's palm. Against John's skin, the man in the suit's palm burned against the flesh of his prey's wrist, leaving John wailing in pain.
The man did and when his hand lifted away, his palm was revealed. Fire and shadow smouldered within the lines of a sigil carved into the skin of his hand. An inverted triangle with a V at its bottom point on the man's palm was also burned in a mirror image into John's arm.
John jumped back, cradling his arm, his back now closer to the dead end wall.
"Come, my Sky." The man in the suit spoke. Frantic, John's fearful confusion was clear as he tried to understand.
His Sky? What did that mean?
There was a moment of nothing before from the dark to behind the man in the suit with his black eyes staring, the chains came to life. Like appendages controlled by the dark man, John's eyes widened in horror to see the metal links rise from the ground, alive with a will of their own.
In mirrored movements, drawing forth from the shadows of that black alley the chains were leading the figure of a ghost.
The ghost of a beautiful young woman in torn summer dress, floating in the air as though she were swimming in still waters. She was tethered at her wrists to the ends of the floating chains the man in the suit held.
"Is it time?" Her gentle and sweet voice was out of place beside the man in the black suit's somber air. He reached out a long arm to take her by the hand to lead her forth towards their frightened target who's back finally reached the wall.
"Yes. Your Silas awaits my Sky's separation of this one's body and soul." The way the man in the suit spoke was bizarre yet the ghost woman appeared not to take notice of it. Her line of sight was targeting John.
Releasing her forward, the Collector gave the ghost girl her space. Her arms opened to John with an expression welcoming and tender but John was less than accepting.
Despite the terror anchoring his feet to the ground, he was determined to fight his way to freedom.
The beautiful ghost girl and the man that held the chains were sent to return him to Hell. The place that he had only just escaped. He had been condemned. A murderer in life, he was met with Hell's gates upon death. Sentenced by Lucifer to suffer. Time then proceeded to blur and the months gave way to years. How many years had it been? It was by sheer luck he had been able to get away. In a break for freedom, his soul escaped and managed to make it back just beyond Hell's doorstep.
Back to the world of Others.
The parallel world to man beyond death before the gates of Heaven and Hell.
The world of Angels & Dæmons, vampires, witches, ghosts, sorcerers and beasts. All governed by the Fallen and Divine.
A world that existed as the dying mirrored image of the world of the living.
His escape was something Lucifer wouldn't let slide and when it came to bringing back Hell's escapees, the Devil had his own professional way of dealing with the problem.
The Soul Collectors.
Waving his arms to discourage the ghost's advance, John's back was pressed harder against the alley wall, trying to bring at least another inch of space between them.
Undeterred, Sky continued her approach.
With her advance, her innocence faded as the corners of her mouth curled upwards into a vicious grin.
Heaving in fear, a scream left John. Trying to push her away was a futile attempt as his hand passed through her apparition.
"There is no escape." Her voice was but a whisper. She grasped the sides of his head with a frozen ethereal touch and his wail died to nothing.
His thoughts became a void of nothing inside his skull as every bit of warmth was sucked from his body. Standing before this strange nymph-like spirit, John was still and voiceless.
With a consciousness growing light, he lost his grip on the world and with that loss, tears streamed down his face.
John's mind pleaded into the emptiness. His inner voice was fading fast. With eyes beginning to gloss with death, he was ensnared. Before him, Sky took a deep breath in, smelling his soul.
"Just a taste..." She couldn't help herself. All ghosts hungered for life. As humans had foods to stave the hunger, ghosts fed from the force within a soul.
Forgetting for a moment as the involuntary hunger burned within, she was shaken from her thoughts by Silas, the Collector, with a light but reminding snap to the chains in his grip. The ripple sent through the links to Sky's wrists, breaking her intentions with its reminder.
Her focus returned.
Shaking her thoughts clear, she returned to the task at hand without a glance to the one who held the chains.
All of those marked for collection by the Collector would be delivered back to Lucifer's judgment.
Their collection's soul was not hers to devour. It was hers to collect.
When the tension in the chains eased, Sky lifted a hand away from John's ever paling cheek ready to strike.
As he stood dazed, her fingers dove forward. Translucent spears into his chest, striking his heart and causing it to stop.
Without vacillation, Sky pushed her ethereal arm further into John, pushing his soul out of its shell.
His eyes rolled back in his head, his knees giving way beneath the weight of the body he had stolen, dropping like a lead balloon.
Interest on the man's remains was lost and his corpse was left to collapse under its own weight. A broken marionette. The focus was on his soul in the form of a ghost, now in Sky's grip.
The soul was all that was needed.
Silas approached, watching everything unfold. Lifting the marked hand, the glow of the sigil was again an eerie red. The shadow beneath his feet found life. Stretching out across the damp alley towards the ghost of the fallen man, tendrils of shadow twisted and whipped the air. Sky's weightless frame, lifted her prey's now spectral form.
Her touch was careful and gentle.
The black reached out from the man in the suit's shadow to the arms and legs of the man's ghost. Coiling around them in an unbreakable grip as a gateway to the Inferno opened in the darkness of the Collector's silhouette, the black that held John's arms and legs began to pull him down into the abyss.
A fear sprung to life in those final moments before death; John clawed at the air, frantic.
In silent screams, he was devoured whole by the shadows, leaving nothing but a dead body where he had stood.
Before the curls of darkness could touch her, Sky had backed away from being caught in the snare of the writhing tentacles that was Silas' living shadow.
Remaining suspended, she floated without effort.
When the Collector's shadow had nothing left to devour, it retracted back into itself, becoming once more an inconspicuous refraction of light. His stone expression unchanged.
The chains gathered closer to the Collector. Several loops of links coming to a rest draped over his welcoming arms. Fluid and without hindrance of the metal, Silas reached out, beckoning with a glance for his Sky to return to him.
To his side, Silas again took Sky by the hand. Drawing her close, he briefly brought the back of her hand to his forehead as words were passed as thoughts between them.
Then, as silent as he was, he turned from both her and John's body left dead on the ground. Another of Hell's escaped apprehended.
Walking away, Silas' pace was calm and his aura cold. He didn't care about what was left behind. He did his job. Pulling the floating metal lines along with him, the ends of Sky's chains were forever in his hold. Summoning her to follow.