The Eternal Footman

By JinxoLAL

"Joe?" Richie tentatively pushed the door to Joe's Bar open in the harsh wind, the storm whipping rain in through the open doorway around his body, his coat flapping about his well-built frame. "Joe?" he called again, eyes searching the darkened bar for the familiar form of the old bartender, while meanwhile one hand strayed up to his neck, rubbing the sore spot there. He couldn't quite recall how he'd gotten that bruise there; no matter, it would be gone within minutes. "You here?"

Receiving no reply save the howling of the wind in through the doorframe, Richie nonetheless stepped over the threshold, nearly tumbling to the ground over the high stoop between the pavement outside and the tiled floor of the bar. The door slammed shut behind him, quieting the wind's fury but still reminding him of the storm outside as rain pelted the glass separating him from the elements.

The back lights were on and the door had been unlocked, Richie reasoned, so someone must be here. He scanned the room once more, and was caught off-guard as he suddenly saw the form of a young woman sitting at one of the tables, staring directly at him with the look of someone who knew a secret that he wasn't in on. He hadn't seen her before.

"Joe's gone at the moment," she said. When she spoke, her voice crept across the room like a cold mist, chilling the young Immortal to the bone. There was something about her, something he couldn't quite put his finger on…

"Have a seat." She indicated the empty chair opposite her at the table; Richie moved slowly in her direction, not entirely sure if the action was compulsory or of his own volition. He sat, shivering in his wet jacket, now taking the chance to get a better look at the woman across from him. It was only now that he noticed how pale she was – almost too pale, he thought – with dark, spiky hair cut in almost a punk style, falling haphazardly around her face and shoulders. Despite the sickly pallor of her skin and the temperament of the weather outside, she wore a black tank top and similarly black pants. Around her neck was a gold chain from which hung an ankh – the ancient Egyptian symbol for life. She really was quite beautiful, Richie mused.

From her chair across from him, the woman seemed to be studying Richie as well, a look of almost amusement on her face. "So odd…" she muttered to herself. "I am not usually required to deal with your kind so often."

Richie started at that. "My kind?" he asked, trying to sound confused, play clueless.

The girl smiled playfully – an almost frightening maneuver. "Yes," she replied. "You do not come to me often. But you – you, Richie Ryan – you are a particularly odd one, are you not?"

"How do you know my name?" Richie asked, eyes narrowed, feeling inconspicuously for the hilt of his sword concealed within the lining of his coat. He had not felt the Buzz from her – but what could she possibly want? Who was – it was gone. He felt the blood go cold in his veins; his sword was gone. But where was it? He couldn't have simply forgotten it – Immortals never went anywhere without their swords, and now was a shining example of the reason why. Richie didn't know who this girl was, why or how she knew his name, what she wanted with him.

"You will not need your sword, Richie. It will be of no use on me. I have not come to speak to you of my usual business. It is under rather unusual circumstances that I have come to confer."

"What?" Richie asked, not totally confused, on-edge and wishing Joe would show up to assure him that this was all a big joke. Who was she, and how did she know about him – about his sword? Was she a Watcher? One of Joe's friends?

"Are you… one of Joe's people?"

She laughed – a sound like falling leaves, dust blowing in the wind. "No, Richie Ryan, I am not one of Joe's. But I am a watcher of sorts, I suppose. I watch many: you, your kind, humanity – I watch you all, and I come only when called by fate." Her enigmatic reply did nothing to calm Richie, and the fact that he still didn't know who she was or what she really wanted was really starting to get to him. He wanted to get up, wanted to leave, but somehow felt compelled to stay, as if some force was keeping him here, cemented to his chair, unable to leave.

"I speak to many only on their deathbeds," she continued. "I come only when it is their time; only when I am required to quit them of their lives and lead them away from the living world. The terms I come to speak to you of, however, are not these. You are different, Richie – different than anyone before you, and unlike any to come. I will not touch you – fate and perhaps even fortune have deemed it so. Instead I have come to offer you a position – a job, if you will. And in your… condition, I fail to see how you could refuse."

"Refuse what? What do you want from me?" Richie was getting chills again, like someone had just stepped on his grave. And the feeling her voice was giving him wasn't helping any.

"I offer you this position as your fate: the thing you were destined to become. You are my footman, Richie Ryan, and it is time I offered you your place in my command. Do you accept?"

"Footman?" Richie blurted. "What in the world are you talking about?"

Her eyes caught his – he was suddenly staring into an abyss: a never-ending blackness, the end of all light, and dark…

"You are the eternal footman," she restated. "Take your place by my side. It is time." She stood and offered him her hand. Richie looked up, afraid if those eyes, afraid of what they held, what they told him.

"Who are you?" he whispered.

"I am Death, Richie."

He shuddered; somehow, he had already known. "Am I dead, then?"

She shook her head. "No. As I said before, I will not take you – merely employ you, as has been your fate. Join me – it is your place."

He stood and, taking her hand, saw the world around him change. His own body seemed to at first darken, then take on an aura, and the blackness from her seemed to run into him. But he was not afraid; it did not hurt, did not bring fear, only the knowledge that this was indeed his place, as it had always been. The bar grew translucent around him, and as he gazed around with his new sight, voices suddenly pierced the edges of his perception, drifting into his mind, close yet of no seeming importance, a world away and not important to him now.

"It is time to go," she said. Was that… urgency hinting her voice? No matter; she led him to the door and pushed it open, leading him out into the cold rain. It did not fall on him now, and they walked through it as if not of that plane. She led him to him motorcycle and slipped his extra helmet gracefully onto her head before tossing him his. It suddenly struck him as humorous, he realized, that Death should think to wear a motorcycle helmet. Nonetheless, he put his own helmet on and climbed onto the bike; she did so behind him, grasping him in her feathery embrace with her arms around his waist.

"Now," she said, and the engine roared to life and they were gone, off into the dark night like a shadow, or a waking dream. An instant after they had left, a black '67 Thunderbird pulled up and stopped, the driver struggling out of the car and over to the door, still locked as it had been when he had left, leaning on his cane to pull out his key as the two passengers got out of the car. One leaned on the other as if his legs would give out at any moment; weak beyond all measure despite his rugged Scottish build. The other one, taller and seemingly more frail yet acting as the only crutch keeping the Scot up, was doing his best to look indifferent about the whole situation, yet consoling in his own way. He held three swords: a broadsword, a katana, and a rapier.

"These things happen, MacLeod. It wasn't your fault," the sword-bearer was saying.

"It was my fault," the Scot replied. "You know that. It was. I took it. I took it. And I can never give it back."

And despite the attempts of the taller Englishman to support his friend, even he did not seem to be able to help support the weight of Death that lay on the anguished Scotsman's shoulders.

The End

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