Published December 08, 2017 by

Memories of a Soul in the Underworld Chapter 43


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.






After centuries of disappointment and broken promises, I was surprised that Josephine followed through with her word.

Her lessons began the following evening. She pulled me from the kitchen (away from washing dishes) and escorted me into the sitting room. There she sat me down at a small writing desk with a large pile of tattered books.

I wanted to ask if she'd lost her mind, but I was curious to see how long my new mistress could be bothered following through with her promises.

"It's been a while since I taught anyone." Josephine nervously paced around the room while flipping through a textbook so old that it was handwritten. "How much do you already know?"

"Only a little," I said. "Just bits and pieces that I picked up while serving other masters."

"Then it's probably best to begin with the basics." She put the book down on the desk, then passed me a sheet of paper and an ink pen. "You'll probably need these too."



"May I ask what they're for?"

"For writing notes, of course."

"Oh." I placed them down on the desk with the hesitation of someone who'd never been a student.

Most of what Josephine had to say were things I already knew, but I sat there and patiently listened to her words like I was hearing them for the first time.

"Do you know how mankind can use magic?" she asked.

"I have no idea, Mistress," I lied. "Please enlighten me."

"Well... It's said that people originated from another realm above this one. A place that they called Earth."

"Like me, Mistress?"

"Yes, like you Ethan," she said with a hint of hesitation. "Somehow our ancestors found ways to open gates through to this world. Here they discovered land, resources, and another element which they soon called magic."

"So that's how you can use magic, Mistress?"

"But it's not as simple as that." She shook her head. "Unfortunately beings from Earth aren't born with the ability to manipulate magic. Almost all human magic users gain their abilities through contracts with demons."

Of course it had to be contracts. Like my misfortune, everything in Hell seemed to revolve around fricken contracts.

"Contracts, Mistress?"

"Yes. In ancient times mankind had to find a demon willing to make a contract. But that didn't always end well. The government now regulates the process, and there's even a department which grants licenses, if you can pay the fee."

"How about me?" I asked innocently. "Is it also possible for me to get a license?"

Of course I already knew the answer, but I wanted to see how she'd react.

Josephine was quiet for a moment, as though carefully choosing her words. "I'm sorry, Ethan," she said softly and I could hear the pity in her voice. "Even if you did somehow manage to get a contract, you can't channel magic without a solid body."

"Oh, that's too bad," I sighed in fake disappointment.

"But there are still other ways of manipulating magic, as you may already know." She unscrewed the top of a lamp and reached inside, pulling out a glowing yellow crystal the size of a coin. "Crystals like this are just concentrations of magic. These days they're used for lighting or weapons, but with the right insignias and combinations, the possibilities should be endless."

"That's amazing, Mistress."

"Most private research into this kind of magic was forbidden long ago." She placed the crystal back into the lamp. "But it does have some appeal to people who don't have the opportunity to get a license, if they can survive."

"Survive?"

"Creating the right combinations can lead to the discovery of new spells, but a single mistake can be fatal. Causing either the crystal or diagram to explode. Plenty of researchers have been killed by their own work."

"That sounds absolutely terrifying."

"Doesn't it? And it's for that reason that almost all magic users, now choose to do magic using their own hands and chants."

"Chants?" I knew that my questions were becoming ridiculous, but I wanted to see how much she'd believe.

"Chants are what you probably think of as magical spells. A contract only grants your body the ability to channel magic, but you still need the right training and discipline in order to use it correctly. Without that, you're no different from any regular person."

"Oh, I see."

"Once you master the basic spells, you can do magic almost anywhere, even in this room." She gestured to the space around us. "There's already magic in the air, but it's invisible to the naked eye. Simply moving your hands, or willing it to do something, isn't enough. You must take command and shape it." She deeply inhaled. "I'll show you."

Josephine closed her eyes and held her open palms out before her. She then began to chant in a demonic language. Slowly, a yellow ball of light formed in the center of her hands. It grew larger and larger, until it became too bright to see her fingers.

I watched on with disdain. Envious that she could easily achieve something which was impossible for me.

Josephine opened her eyes and looked pleased for a moment (forcing me to hide my displeasure) but then her face winced in pain and the spell suddenly broke.

Josephine coughed. Then her legs gave out from beneath her. She collapsed onto the floor while gripping her side, body racked by coughs which seemed to come out of nowhere.

"Mistress!" I cried.

Before I knew it I was on the other side of the desk beside her. Attempting to help as she weakly shoved me away.

"I'm fine," she rasped in between gasps of air.

"No, you're not!" I cried defiantly. Tired of that woman always lying about her own health.

Josephine looked taken back by my outburst. The coughing gradually subsided and she grew quiet.

"I'm sorry to cut your lesson short, Ethan," she said weakly through the pain. Face turned away like she couldn't bare to look at me. "If you don't mind, I would appreciate it very much if you could help me to my room."



Josephine was almost too heavy for me to carry alone. She put one arm around my shoulder, and I helped her climb the winding staircase to the third floor.

I pushed open the cracked wooden door and helped her past piles of books and loose sheets of paper. The room looked like it could have once belonged to a young girl. There were light pink curtains by the window, and a small wooden music box playing in one corner. Beside it lay an assortment of dusty gold trinkets which shone in the dim light. There were also several small paintings adorning the walls. Mostly of young people, along with Josephine. All seriously staring at the artist with their hands clasped in their laps.

I helped her to the large bed in the center of the room. She slipped off her shoes, then collapsed on top of the dark blankets and velvet cushions. Lying on her back like a broken rag doll.

I pulled up a leather chair and took a seat beside the bed. Watching on like she could disappear at any moment.

Josephine glanced at me and sighed in irritation. "There's no need to make a face like that, Ethan."

"Really? And why would you say that?"

"I'm fine, honestly." Her gaze returned to the ceiling. "I just need to lay down for a bit, that's all."



"Are you certain?"

"Of course."

"Mistress," I sighed in frustration. Irritated that she took me for an idiot. "You're a terrible liar. Even I can tell that those sort of fits are abnormal."

"Oh, so you're a doctor now?" she snapped. "Sounds like I should fire that con man who calls himself a physician and hire you instead. Only you won't take money, will you? I guess I have no choice but to pay you in compliments and good deeds. If you even accept those."

"When are you going to tell me what's wrong with you, Mistress?"

"I already told you, there's nothing wrong."

I crossed my arms and patiently waited. Of course it wasn't my place to question her, but I found myself prepared to sit there for eternity if I had to.

Josephine glanced away and tried her best to ignore me, but she gave in once it became obvious that I wasn't going to move an inch.

"You're very defiant when you want to be, aren't you Ethan?"

"Only when it's necessary."

"Fine. I'll tell you. But you need to promise me that you won't tell a soul. Living or dead."

"That's... Something I can do."

"Well, it's like this…" She was silent for a moment. As though the truth had been hidden for so long that it had become difficult to voice out loud. "I used to be immortal."

"Immortal?" I breathed with disbelief, but it did make sense. The decay of her home and possessions was something that should have alerted my attention.

"Yes, immortal. There's this spell and-"

"I know what an immortal is, Mistress."

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," she said with a strained laugh. "Nobody wants to grow old, right? Years became like days, centuries passed in the blink of an eye. I really thought that I could live forever."

"Yes, I do know the feeling," I said while thinking of my own experience with so called immortality.

"The immortality spell is the final goal for most magic users. Succeed and you can stop your body from aging. But what they don't tell you at the academy is that the effect isn't permanent. The spell slowly wears off over time, and you need to repeat it every decade if you want to live forever."

"I have... heard something like that before."

"Do you see that picture over there?" She pointed to a small painting beside her bed. "Those are the friends I had when I was a student. Back before we started experimenting with dangerous spells."

I leaned in closer to see several bright smiling young people standing before a large stone building.

"They're all dead now," said Josephine.

I didn't know what to say, so I remained quiet.

"We were afraid," said Josephine, her voice wavering. "So we all promised to do it together. Our first immortality spell. But half of them didn't succeed. Their bodies were changed…...in ways which I don't wish to remember. The others succeeded. That time. But every time you repeat that spell it's like playing with your own life. One small lapse in concentration is enough to end everything."

"Mistress, don't tell me that you also-"

"I was always so careful. I could perform hundreds of complex spells like flexing my fingers, but I became arrogant. I thought I knew everything. That I was incapable of making mistakes. But then one day I became distracted and slipped up."

"I'm sorry, Mistress."

"What is there to be sorry about?" she laughed. "It was all my fault, not yours. Fortunately Macy was there to get help before I bled to death, but they could only do so much to reverse the damage. Now this body can barely channel magic, let alone pull off the immortality spell. My fate is sealed," she said while staring down at her living hand. "I'm just a regular mortal now."

"But you said it yourself that there are still other ways of using magic."

"With those crystals? Of course. But immortality is something else. As much as I searched, I couldn't find a single diagram or old party trick, which even resembled something close." She shook her head. "But it doesn't matter anymore. I've decided that it's time to give up on selfishly prolonging my own life and living only for myself. I'd rather achieve something for the good of others in the little time that I have left. It's what the people in that picture would have done."



"I see..."

"Does it sadden you, Ethan?" She looked right at me. "To hear that your Mistress will die before you?"

"Of course it does, Mistress."

"I doubt that," she laughed. "We barely know each other. Someone like you has already lived long enough to see plenty of death. As soon as I'm gone they'll just hand you over to a brilliant new master. I know that I probably don't mean anything to you." Josephine almost sounded bitter.

"No, you're wrong," I said defiantly. "I would care!"

"Really? And why is that, Ethan?"

I searched for the words to explain the feeling I had when I was together with her. As difficult as it was. "You... Remind me of someone."

"And who would that be?"

"A master that I had a long time ago. The very first one, in fact."

"He?" she scoffed.

"Yes, he."

"And how are we similar?"

"It's….. just a feeling." That sounded so stupid. "He was very studious, a little eccentric, but very kind to me. Even though I'm a soul."

The anger and annoyance evaporated from her face. "Do you miss him?" she asked softly.

"Sometimes….but not as much as before. It's been so long…. When I try to remember him." This was the saddest part of all. "I can barely picture his face."

Josephine looked away and returned her gaze to the ceiling. "Perhaps, that's something that the two of us have in common."

At first I didn't understand what she meant, but then I realized that if Josephine had lived for hundreds of years, it meant that like me, she had watched plenty of people who she loved die.

I wonder how she did it. Living century after century in that old townhouse. Surrounded by paintings of people who she could never meet again. Reluctant to make new connections with mortals because she'd outlive them. Giving into solitude just to avoid getting hurt again.

Yes, Josephine and I had far too much in common.

"You know," she said. "You're also very kind yourself."

I laughed. "Really? Is that what you think, Mistress?"

"Yes."

"I'm not so kind, Mistress," I muttered. "I've also done plenty of selfish things."

"Like what?"

I tried to think of the right way to phrase my words without shooting myself in the foot.

"I….. did things just to protect myself." I thought of the abused housewife who I could have saved. "I also stood back and did nothing, when people needed my help."

"What else?" she asked like she could sense there was more.

"That is all, Mistress."

She huffed like she didn't believe me for a moment. "You know Ethan, I told you my secret, so it's only fair that you tell me yours."

Part of me did want to open my mouth and tell her of the horrors that I'd endured. To mention what I'd done. But I'd kept those memories and emotions locked so deep within myself, that even if I opened my mouth, no words would come out.

Even if I did tell her, she would only cry in horror and push me away. There was no one in this world who'd accept me once they knew the truth.

"There's nothing which would interest you, Mistress," I said quickly. "Only dull and boring memories." I got up to leave. "Now if you'd excuse me, your house isn't going to dust itself."

I walked straight towards the door.

"Ethan!" she called as my fingers brushed the handle.

I obediently stopped. Even though all I wanted to do was run. "Yes, Mistress."

"It's not good to keep the past bottled up inside. If you can't talk about it, then try writing it down instead."

I nodded, even though I had no intention of following her advice. "I'll think about it, Mistress. I'll think about it."

And with that I slipped out of the room and gently closed the door.

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