Published August 25, 2017 by

Memories of a Soul in the Underworld Chapter 34

Story Summary

Ethan is a soul in the Underworld with no memory of his life on Earth. He is bought and sold by various masters for centuries. Traveling from large industrial towns to scorching hot deserts. During his journey he picks up the skills, knowledge and magic to escape his enslavement. He runs with the intent of living a free life, but is pursued by agents until he's cornered on a remote mountain range. With little time left, Ethan begins to recount his life and masters in the hope of leaving a record of his existence. These are his memories.

Together Oscar and I pushed the bloody cart of corpses over the dunes and towards a billowing cloud of black smoke. We soon arrived before a large bonfire and several other souls. A few were dyed black from ash as they fed wood and fuel to the raging blaze, while the rest were picking over corpses on the sand.

"Well?" barked one soul who approached us with a clipboard and pen. She was a short girl who didn't look any older than fifteen. Her uniform covered in holes and bloodstains.

"A272 and A274 reporting from quadrant D7 south." The words easily rolled off my tongue from repeating them several times a day.

"You're late!" she snapped. "And where are A271 and A273?"

"Well, that pompous arrogant-" Oscar muttered before I cut him off.

"Destroyed by the enemy. The rest of us dove for cover. When we got out, they were both gone."

"Tsk," she huffed and crossed something off the paper with two dramatic sweeping motions. "You better not be covering for that shirtless idiot again. The last group who attempted to make a break for it were strapped to poles and used as signposts."

"Well I never," said Oscar. "What a terrible fate-"

"Definitely destroyed," I interrupted. "There wasn't anything left!"

The girl sighed. I could tell that she didn't believe my lie, but there was nothing she could do. "Go take that cart over there to get sorted. And then head back to camp once you're done. You've been out here for two days, so you're due for a rotation."

"Thank you, kind miss," said Oscar with a bow.

The girl stood there stunned like she had no idea why she was being thanked. "You're... welcome?" she awkwardly replied.

I tugged Oscar's sleeve and we pushed the cart of bodies next to a group of souls who were sorting the dead. Soldiers of any importance would be sent back to their relatives in the cities, then anyone else would be burned.

Soldiers from Heaven were also burned. Like there was no time or sympathy to send the enemy home.

"This guy's completely unrecognizable," moaned one soul picking over a headless corpse. "Can't find a name."

"Don't know it, burn it," snapped another soul. "If the family complains, the stinking military will just say he was blown to bits."

They then proceeded to undress the corpses and remove anything of value, such as jewelry or gold teeth. The uniforms could be recycled and given to the next batch of soldiers, and any valuables could go towards funding the war.

I watched as they proceeded to dismantle the armor of one Heavenly soldier. What looked like wings were nothing more than a strange device to help them fly. Once you ripped the pieces out of their sockets, they could be used for scrap material.

"Check it out! I'm an Angel," laughed a soul wearing one of the enemy's bloodstained helmets. "For the justice and glory of Heaven!" he yelled while imitating their battle cry.

"Check this out," said one girl who unearthed a stack of portraits from under a dead man's clothes. "Looks like these guys are gonna be lonely without their old man. Just imagine their itty bitty faces when they hear he's not coming back."

"The utter disrespect of those uncivilized simpletons," muttered Oscar. "Every day they treat those poor dead people like playthings. I should have a word with them."

"Don't!" I protested. "You won't achieve anything. They'll never understand."

Oscar huffed defiantly and I tried to lead him as far away from them as I could. The last time Oscar tried to lecture our fellow souls about empathy and honor, we were splattered with body parts.

The next work station was my least favorite, but impossible to ignore.

Beside the fire lay a small mountain of bodies that were waiting to be burned. On the battlefield, the humans of the Underworld and Heaven couldn't have looked any different, but once they were stripped of all armor and clothing, I could no longer tell who belonged to which side. There were no real glorious angels with feathery wings, just other people with a different way of thinking.

"Why do you think they're always at war?" I asked Oscar. "They're exactly the same, yet all they do is fight."

"I'm no expert on these matters," Oscar replied. "I can only speculate that they don't approve of the way Azazel has chosen to run the Underworld. Soul slavery and loose morals apparently conflict with their ethics."

"I see..." I looked up at the sky. "I wonder what it's like where they come from."

Oscar huffed. "Well considering how they've unjustly decided to destroy every soul they see. I highly doubt that we'll ever be welcome."

"Yeah, I suppose you're right." I tried not to sound too disappointed.

We walked through the dunes away from the battlefield and onto a makeshift gravel road. We strolled past soldiers who were pulling military equipment and marching off to battle. There were also other souls like ourselves, who were carrying weapons, or moving out to clean up the remains of the last fight.

I nodded to the few souls I knew, but Oscar enthusiastically greeted everyone. Even if they didn't appreciate it.

"Good day to you, B164," he said to a soul who couldn't have looked any more miserable. "A wonderful clear day, isn't it? You should have no problem seeing them coming."

"Screw you," B164 snapped and continued walking.

"Well, I never," gasped Oscar with horror. "The utter nerve of that guy! And after I helped him cover up his mistakes and everything."

"He's heading out to the front lines," I said. "He's just upset because he might not come back."

"I know that! But it's still no excuse to be rude!"

"Haven't you heard of reading the atmosphere?"

"Don't be absurd. The atmosphere is invisible. Nobody can possibly read it."

I sighed in defeat. As much as I tried, I could never understand Oscar.

We continued onward until we reached a sea of gray tents. There were soldiers on break loitering in groups outside. Exchanging war stories, or smoking a strange powder which gave off a purple haze. Some were also unsuccessfully trying to clean the blood and grime from their bodies with what little water they had.

We quietly walked around the tents with our heads down, making sure not to make eye contact with a single living person, until we reached a large open square.

There was a white tent in one corner of the square. Full of kitchen utensils, bowls, and a dozen souls who were preparing a huge pot of soup.

I soon noticed Escape there, standing before a wooden chopping board. My friend was furiously mutilating carrots with a large knife like he was trying his best to destroy them.

"Well, well, well," said Oscar with a smug grin as we approached him. "One hour? That must be a personal best."

"Shut up!" Escape snapped.

"I'm surprised that you're still even here," Oscar continued. "Nothing can confine you, right?"

"As soon as they remove this bloody chain, I'm out of here!" Escape pointed to a rusty metal chain around his ankle which was tying him to the table.

"I thought that would be easy for a man of your caliber," said Oscar. "Tunnels, dungeons, tissue boxes. There isn't anything which can hold you, am I correct?"

"It's a magic chain."

"Ooooooh, a magic chain? Did they tell you that? Or did you test it yourself with your superb escape skills?"

Escape slammed his metal knife down on the table. "If you're gonna fricken stand there insulting me, then you can do it while helping out. These stupid fricken plants are endless." He pointed to a small mountain of vegetables beside him.

"No, no," laughed Oscar. "I'm very content with just watching the Underworld's greatest escape artist struggle with the onions."

"I'll help you." I took a knife from the table, grabbed some carrots from the pile, and began cutting them into small pieces.

Oscar's mouth twitched like he was going to protest, but he then sighed and picked up an onion. "You're so fortunate that I'm a charitable and forgiving soul."

"Just cut the damn onion!" Escape snapped.

A large group of foot soldiers slowly assembled in the open square before the tent. Their commander, a short angry man in his late twenties, began barking out orders. He soon placed them into pairs and forced them to practice sparring against each other in hand to hand combat.

"Put your back into it!" The short commander yelled at a blonde woman who was forced to fight a man twice her size. "I've seen toddlers put in more effort than you!"

The woman let out a growl of frustration and lunged at her opponent, who easily blocked her attack, grabbed hold of her wrist, then slammed her against the ground.

"This is pointless!" The blonde woman angrily picked herself up and spat the sand from her mouth. "There's no way that I can beat this guy without any magic or weapons!"

"Really? "Is that how you think?" asked the short commander.

"Of course!" she cried back. "It's so bloody obvious!"

"Step aside," he ordered.

The blonde woman stood back and the short commander took her place, removing his jacket and dumping it into her arms. The other soldiers stopped training and gathered around to watch.

"Gregor," said the short commander to the larger man with a smirk. "If you knock me to the ground first, I'll give you double rations for a week."

"Wow, sweet." Gregor grinned before he suddenly remembered his place. "I mean, thank you, sir."

It looked like there was no way that the smaller man could win, but the commander didn't appear the slightest bit nervous. "Well, are you going to attack me or not," he laughed. "If you're not up to it, I know plenty of other guys who'd appreciate those extra meals."

The large man bit his lip and then rushed towards the commander, aiming to overpower him with strength alone. Gregor almost succeeded in landing a punch, before the commander suddenly dodged to the side to avoid the attack. The commander then grabbed the larger man's wrist, used his opponent's momentum to pull him further off balance, then kicked Gregor's legs out from underneath him.

It was almost too quick for my eyes to catch, and the large man soon crashed face first to the ground. All the soldiers around them cheered.

"Better luck next time, Gregor," the short commander laughed. "See that!" he said to the blonde woman. "Just because your opponent is larger, doesn't mean that it's impossible to win. Use their weight and momentum against them, and you might just survive your next fist fight."

"Yes….yes, sir," she stuttered nervously.

"Did you see that guy?" I shook Escape to grab his attention. "He looks smaller and weaker than everyone else, but he always wins."

"Get off! Stop that!" Escape growled and pushed me away with his elbow. "As if I actually give a damn about them!"

"I can never understand what you find so interesting about all that violence over there," said Oscar stiffly as he began peeling potatoes.

I watched the short commander with awe. "I want to be like that."

"I want to be like that," Escape mocked. "I want to be an up myself breather."

"Hey! I didn't mean it like that," I protested. "I just think that it would be useful to actually stand a chance against anyone, no matter their strength or size." I thought of the countless times I lost in the past. "You guys also think so too, right?"

"No," said Escape. "Who needs to fight when you can just run away."

"How about you, Sir Oscar Cornelius Maxwell the Third?" I asked.

"In case you haven't noticed," said Oscar. "I consider myself a pacifist. There's no need for fighting if everyone would just solve their problems calmly with words."

I sighed in frustration. Of course there was no way they would understand.

I watched the short commander slowly demonstrate the move to the other soldiers, then tried my best to mimic his footsteps with my feet. Escape laughed at my pathetic attempts like I'd gone insane.

"Oi! You! Dancing Boy!" snapped a soul from behind me, a large angry woman with her hands on her hips. "If you've got time to dance, then you can go feed the officers." She pointed to a small cart which was loaded with a pot of soup and several bowls.

"Come on!" protested Escape. "The guy just fricken-"

"It's okay! I'll do it!" I quickly replied before he could start another fight.

I took the cart and pushed it to a nearby tent. Ten men had assembled in a circle around a small campfire. The days in that place were scorching hot, but as soon as the sun set, the temperature plummeted.

Only one man gave a small nod to acknowledge me as I carefully dished out soup into metal bowls. I then passed them around with the same hands which I used to move corpses.

"Six months of fighting and what do we have to show for it?" said an elderly man with more badges then I could count. "Five yards! Only a measly five yards!"

"It could be worse," said another officer. "At least we've been able to hold those flying buggers back from the cities."

"I lost three hundred men today. Good ones too. I promised them adventure and glory. Now they're out there burning like a pile of rubbish."

"There's no way that Heaven can keep up their onslaught for much longer," said a thin man with glasses and long boney fingers. "They must be running out of resources."

"That's what you've been saying for weeks, and yet those bastards keep coming. There's no telling what else they're preparing for us up there."

"I must admit, I wouldn't mind seeing this so called eternal paradise that they're trying to inflict on the rest of us."

"I heard they've got no souls up there," said a large pudgy man. "Instead they assign jobs to everyone and share things equally."

"Too bad for you," said the guy with the boney fingers. "With fat hands like that, you don't look like you've scrubbed a thing in your life."

"Hey!" Pudgy protested. "I wouldn't be here if I just spent my days lying around."

"General's son," coughed another man under his breath. Luckily the pudgy guy didn't hear.

"My grandfather was a big heaven lover," said one young guy in the corner. "He was always talking about how much better the Underworld would be if we were more like them."

"As if something like that would actually work down here," said Boney Fingers. "Without any intimidation, there's no way that the peasants or demons would ever stay in line."

"What do you think, Gabrielle?" asked the young guy. He turned to a large man with long curly blonde hair and stunning blue eyes. "I heard that you once lived in Heaven."

Gabrielle placed his bowl of soup down and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. "If you listen to nothing but those kind of stories, then you might think it's great."

"What do you mean?"

"For most, it's as you said. An equal paradise for all. But if you dig deep enough, it's not so different from here. Everything's fine as long as you think like them, act like them, and do what they want, but if you go against the grain, they'll beat you down or throw you out."

"Is that what happened to you, Gabrielle?"

"More or less."

"I see," said Bony Fingers and he turned to the young man. "So Heaven really isn't your grandfather's perfect paradise after all."

The young guy scoffed. "But it at least has to be somewhat peaceful, right?"

"Azazel's domain may be lawless and full of anarchy," said Gabrielle. "But if you have what it takes to survive, then it's not so bad.

Unless you're a soul, was what I wanted to say, but it wasn't my place to speak.

"Hey," whispered the young guy. "Did you hear the stories of how King Azazel was thrown out of Heaven?"

"But that's only a rumor," replied Bony Fingers.

"But don't they say that there's a basis to all rumors?"

Bony Fingers sighed. He then noticed me still standing there watching. "Hey, soul!" he said with a snap of those fingers. "Why are you still here?"

I jumped in surprise. Then lowered my head and obediently backed out of the tent.

"Why so anxious?" asked Gabrielle as I left.

"I can't stand those things. And besides, you never know if someone is who they say they are in this place."

I walked ten or twenty steps away from the tent, then collapsed onto the sand. Deciding to spend the night in that spot. The distant voices of Oscar and Escape bickering echoed throughout camp, until one soldier screamed at them to shut up.

I looked up at the stars, searching for Heaven even though it couldn't be found. I tried to imagine the distant kingdom from all the stories. A peaceful land full of angel like humans who didn't need souls slaves. But I was overcome with exhaustion and soon fell asleep.

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