Memories of a Soul in the Underworld Ch3

Story Summary

Long ago I sold my soul and doomed myself to an eternity in the Underworld. I was treated like a slave for centuries, but no more! I'll find a way out of this destiny or die trying!

It's difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when things began to change. I suppose like everything, it began gradually. Alistair's vain mortal friends got old and stop visiting, the mansion fell into disrepair, and the townspeople around us became anxious like there was something terrible looming on the horizon.

Alistair changed too. Our relaxed and overly friendly master became withdrawn and paranoid, until I wondered if he'd been murdered and replaced with a stranger.

Soon all the majestic night parties were gone, and the guy spent his evenings staring out windows for reasons that simple souls like us couldn't understand. Sometimes he was studying, sometimes he was drinking, but he always kept one eye outside like he was too terrified to look away.

I guess his unusual fascination with the window must have started when the war did.

I can't remember which war it was. People screaming in pain as they cut each other down has become a monthly event. Perhaps it was the war against the Southerners, or Azazel, or Heaven, or just some ridiculous fight without any meaning.

It began on the outskirts of the province, then slowly began creeping towards the cities until we could see smoke on a clear day.

I should have been afraid, but back then I couldn't comprehend the horrors of war. I was still certain that terrible things only happened to others who weren't me.

Of course that way of thinking would soon be corrected.

One evening I found Alistair in the sitting room leaning up against a window. Staring into darkness like death itself was going to come strolling up the front path to abduct him.

"Master!" I called out from the doorway.

Alistair jumped in shock. The wine glass fell from his hand and shattered against the floor.

"Master, don't-" I called out, but with a mortifying crunch, Alistair took one step forward right onto the shards. He didn't cry out in pain, and instead just silently stood there staring at his foot which had begun to bleed.

"Please don't move, Master." I rushed over and picked up the glass around his feet.

I then dashed out of the room to fetch a small medical kit that Alphonse used to patch up guests who partied too hard.

When I returned, Alistair was still standing there like he was too tired to move. I gently guided him over to one of the plush velvet chairs, then carefully removed the glass from his foot with a small pair of steel tweezers. Watching the blood drip from the wound.

I tried to hide my fascination with his cuts, but I couldn't help but wonder what it feels like to bleed. Is it really as painful as living people make it out to be?

"You're good at this," said Alistair as he watched me. "How did you ever learn?"

"Someone has to know, Master," I said with a nervous smile. "Who else is going to patch you up when you get hurt?"

I could have sworn that I saw his cheeks turn red, but he quickly looked away.

I was relieved that Alistair believed my lie, but the truth was that I had spent hours studying his books about anatomy and medicine. I was desperate to remember what it was like to be human. Everyone around us was always changing, while my fellow souls and I remained the same.

"How long has it been, Ethan?" he asked. "Since you came here."

"Forty years," I obediently replied.

"Forty years, huh? Has it already been that long? I remember when I first met you at the Soul Market," he said with a small smile. "Do you remember, Ethan?"

"I'm sorry, Master."

My memories of before the mansion are hazy and I can't remember much. It must be a side effect of death.

"Well I remember," he said. "You were just staring into space with a blank look on your face. You couldn't even talk. I asked if you wanted to come back, and then you smiled. You actually smiled, Ethan."

"Really, Master?"

"And then I..." he paused and I patiently waited for what else he had to say. "I suppose the rest doesn't matter," he sighed with defeat.

Alistair went silent and watched as I finished bandaging his foot. I found the silence unnerving. I was so used to a flamboyant lively young man, that I didn't know how to act around the new quiet version.

"How about Anya, Master?" I asked. "What about the day that you met her?"

"Anya?" he muttered. "My friend picked her out for me. I suppose that he must have asked for the most violent and strong willed girl they had. Perhaps it was his idea of a joke, but she has served me unexpectedly well."

"Yes, she's great," I said brightly. "She seems to care for you very much, and she's kind, thoughtful, and beautiful as well. She might just be a soul, but anyone in the Underworld would be lucky to have her."

I may have developed my own secret feelings towards Anya, but all I wanted was for her to be happy. If making Alistair like her was the way to do it, then I would have said anything.

I thought I'd done a brilliant job of supporting my friend, but against my expectations, Alistair just let out a frustrated sigh.

"Don't you think that's something you should say to her yourself, Ethan?"

"I..." He was staring at me so seriously. I stood there unsure of what to say.

I never voiced my true feelings about Anya to anyone, and kept them to myself like a teenage crush.

Could it be that Alistair saw through me?

There was a knock on the door, and I was thankful that someone had come to save me.

"Master," said Alphonse from the doorway. "There's someone here to see you. He looks like he's from the barracks."

Alistair's face turned pale, and when he looked at me, I could see fear in his eyes for the very first time.

We all stood there in silence for what seemed like forever, until our master pulled himself from the chair and went to meet his guest.

"Thank you Ethan," he said with one last glance at me. "That will be all."

Angela, Alphonse, Mira, Anya, Felix, and I lined up in the front garden the next morning to wish our master a safe trip. The army forced him into the war, and there was nothing we could do to stop it.

I don't know why they were interested in a pampered aristocrat like Alistair. I can only assume that the shitty king thought that conscripting magical users was the best way to crush his adversaries. This cruel strategy worked in the end, but my master had even less experience than me when it came to combat and war.

Alphonse nervously brushed a crease in his suit for the twentieth time that morning, and Anya kept readjusting her hair. Mira was sobbing uncontrollably, and I was certain that I saw a small glimmer of sadness within Angela's dark lifeless eyes. Felix also looked anxious, but as concerned as I was for our master, I hadn't considered the possibility that he may not return.

Alistair's face was cold, passive, and he was trying his best not to cry. He quickly turned away once or twice to wipe stray tears from his eyes.

"I'll be back soon." Alistair's gaze flicked between us like he was desperately trying to memorize our faces. "I expect you all to be on your best behavior during my absence, so that means no throwing sharp things."

"We'll try, Master," muttered Alphonse, but I remember him and Mira getting into several knife fights over the following months.

Alistair then hugged each of us goodbye. I was last, so he desperately held onto me as though terrified to let go. When my master reluctantly moved away, I glanced over to see a teary Mira furiously staring back, and for some unknown reason, Anya also looked hurt. I tried to make eye-contact with her, but she quickly looked away.

"Farewell beloved souls," said Alistair as he slowly and dramatically climbed into his horse drawn carriage. "Words can not describe how much I'll miss you all. I pray that we can be happily reunited by the end of the year."

"I'll miss you too!" sobbed Mira.

"Come back soon, Master," said Alphonse. "It won't be any fun around here without you."

"Slice them to pieces," said Angela in her morbid childlike voice. "And then dance on the bodies."

"Good luck out there, Master," said Anya. It was easy to see how much she adored him. "If anyone can come back alive it's you. I'll be here waiting for you. For as long as I exist, if not longer."

"Thank you, dear Anya," said Alistair with a sad smile. "I'm eternally grateful to have found such kind souls who believe in me."

Alistair then looked directly at me, but I didn't know what to say, so I said my goodbye with a small awkward wave.

He looked like he expected more, but then sighed and took a seat in the carriage. Arms crossed and face blank.

We all stood there waving as the carriage moved away from the house. Out iron gates which I hadn't been through since the day I arrived.

As soon as he disappeared from sight, Mira collapsed to her knees and began crying out like an injured animal.

Alphonse crouched down to comfort her, and when I took a closer look, I could see that he was also quietly sobbing.

I assumed that someone like Anya must have also been suffering, so I reached out to support her.

"Anya," I said kindly and placed one hand on her shoulder, but she angrily shrugged off my touch like my presence was revolting.

"Don't talk to me," she snapped before spinning on her heels and dashing back into the house.

I stood there frozen in shock with my hand still reaching out, and it was then that Angela started giggling at my misfortune.

"Girls, huh?" said Felix with a smile as he jabbed me in the ribs with his elbow. He then must have realized how devastated I was, and attempted to give me better advice. "Don't worry about Anya. She probably just needs time to adjust to him being gone. That's all, you know."

His words seemed logical and I hoped he was right, but in the following days, Anya continued to shut me out like she despised my existence.

"Anya!" I called out nervously when I knocked on her door for the tenth time that week. I stood there listening to her shuffle around the room. "Please come out Anya!" I begged, but perhaps Alistair's absence was a bigger shock than I expected.

"It's all your fault you know," laughed Angela from the shadows at the end of the hall. "She hates you Ethan. She's never gonna speak to you again. Never ever ever. You should just go somewhere dark and never come out. That's what I do."

I don't know what other crazy gibberish she had to say, because I walked away. Angela began chatting to a painting of Alistair's grandfather.

After that failed attempt to speak to Anya, I retreated to the library. There I could distract myself by reading textbooks for hours on end. Disappearing into my own fantasy world. I tried to picture what it feels like to breathe and eat food, but as much as I searched, I found nothing about what a soul is, or what happened to me back on Earth.

Until one day when I found a small sentence that went something like this.

Once the soul is removed, the body dies.

I stared down at the page and repeated those words again and again in my head.

Slowly, I opened the reading desk draw and pulled out a sharp silver letter opener. I then positioned it just above my arm. My hand nervously shook, but with one deep breath, I stabbed it straight through my wrist until it clanged against the wooden desk.

It went through my body like I was made of smoke, and I could easily move it back and forth through my hand without feeling anything.

I didn't stop there. I tried stabbing it through my arm and thigh, but I couldn't find any of the vital organs or arteries that were written in the textbooks.

All I did was confirm what I already knew. Once a soul is ripped from their body they die straight away, and my current form is just a ghost of what I used to be. Some weak little shadow that can be used without limits to serve rich hellish beings.

I growled in frustration and flung the letter opener across the room. It bounced off a wall and landed somewhere under the shelves.

I angrily ran my fingers through my colorless hair. Furiously tugging on ghost like strands which couldn't be pulled from my scalp.

Why did I agree to this back on Earth?

I expect you all to be on your best behavior during my absence, so that means no throwing sharp things, echoed Alistair's last words in my mind.

Even though he wasn't there, I could recall his sad face as he went off to war. Terrified and hopeless like there was no going back. I suddenly felt terrible for ignoring his request and got up to retrieve the letter opener.

It had rolled under a large bookshelf at the back of the room. The space was too narrow for most of my arm, so I slowly eased it out with my fingertips until it rolled into my hand.

It was then that I caught sight of an odd book sitting on the bottom shelf.

It was small, thin, green, and covered in dust. Wedged between two books on exotic insects where I'm sure it didn't belong. I found the title on the spine intriguing, so I tilted my head to read it more clearly.

Magic for Anyone.

Perhaps my fellow souls would have left it there, but I always found demonic magic intriguing. I used to watch Alistair perform incantations from the crack in his study door, and if I was lucky, he'd even let me hold materials as he conducted experiments.

When I first got there, I often daydreamed about becoming a magical scholar like him, but I had long given up on using such abilities myself. Such things require a living body, which I don't have, so I thought it was stupid and childish to even consider the possibility.

But I couldn't turn away from the book on the shelf.

I carefully pried it out as a chunk of the spine crumbled away at my touch.

Magic for Anyone; Easy techniques for the magically impaired, said the cover in bold golden letters.

I curiously opened the book and read the first page.

Tired of your magic wielding friends showing off at parties? Had enough of people mocking your inability to do spells? Well you need not suffer anymore my friend, because with Otis Vandagear's guide of magic for anyone, even a monkey can pull off the simplest of incantations. All you need is the book in your hand, Otis Vandagear's sparkling magic channelling crystal, Otis Vandagear's gateway to dreams chalk, and an undying determination to upstage your friends and acquaintances.

It then showed a picture of a crystal and chalk with an insanely high price tag, and only someone as rich as Alistair could possibly afford them.

I sighed and flipped through the book to see what was so great about Otis Vandagear's techniques. It was full of diagrams of strange circles and how to replicate them in a few easy steps. I never knew that it was possible to do magic with just a crystal and chalk, but it did explain how even ordinary people can use magical weapons on the battlefield.

Had it been a different day, I may have brushed the book off as nonsense and placed it back, but I desperately needed something to distract myself from Alistair's absence and Anya's strange behavior.

My old master had accumulated a collection of magical artifacts, so I knew that his study was the best place to search for the things that I needed.

I silently snuck into his bedroom that afternoon. Past Mira who was sobbing into one of Alistair's shirts, and took the key from a small drawer beside his bed.

The study was smaller than the library, but still large enough to contain three cabinets of magical artifacts, several bookshelves, and a desk in the corner overflowing with notes. The floor was littered with books that Alistair had aimlessly discarded when he couldn't find what he wanted. There were also maps of the Underworld decorating the walls. I'd regret not studying them more closely.

"Sorry for the intrusion, Master," I apologized and quietly crept inside.

I walked past a bookshelf stuffed with moldy encyclopedias on magic. I'd attempted browsing through them before, but unlike the book in my hand, the language was too old and complex. I was always envious of how a party boy like Alistair could recite them with ease, and he pulled off most of his magic by chanting those ancient words.

I pulled a book off the shelf to take a closer look, but it immediately ripped into two and the pages crumbled to the floor.

I stared at the pieces in horror while trying not to cry, then grabbed a bunch of stray books and piled them on top of the ripped pages.

I lost the courage to snoop through more of his things, and instead went to a cabinet in the corner which emitted a faint glow. Inside were various colorful crystals of all shapes and sizes. Some just looked like regular rocks, but others glowed brightly enough to light your way through the dark.

I grabbed a small purple one which resembled the picture in my book, then uncovered a stick of chalk from the back of a desk drawer. It didn't seem especially magical, but I hoped it would be enough.

I then sat cross legged on the rug in the center of the room and placed the crystal and chalk on the floor before me. I turned to the next page in my book and scanned the instructions.

"Welcome to the mystical realm of the unknown, my soon to be magic wielding friend," I slowly read out loud, as though it would improve my success. "If you're reading this, it means that you've decided to take your first step towards becoming an elite spellcaster, or at least showing off like one. And what better way to display your new found powers but with this fabulous technique. Simply draw this easy diagram onto any flat surface, then sit back and let the powers of magic do the work. It's a hit at children's birthdays, and creates the right ambience for any dinner party."

I squinted at the diagram of a chalk circle with a ball floating above it. There were many strange symbols and every line was neatly joined together like a spider's web.

I rolled back the rug to unveil the floorboards underneath. The wood was already scratched and burnt from hundreds of previous spells.

I began reproducing the strange circle with my chalk. Sketching various symbols and pictures without any idea of their meaning.

I was careful to copy every line and squiggle on that page, and after an hour of drawing, it was finally complete. The book didn't specify how large it had to be, and I'd unknowingly made a circle so big that it consumed half the room.

"Once your diagram is complete," I read. "Be certain that there are no lines overlapping that shouldn't. You wouldn't want to blow yourself up now, would you?" I nervously glanced at my harmless chalk drawing. "Next, draw one line away from the top symbol, the length matters not." I drew one line leading away from the circle like the book instructed. "We highly recommend using a light blanket, rug, or table to cover your diagram and give the illusion that your magic seamlessly appeared out of thin air. Once your guests are gathered to see your amazing techniques, simply place the crystal at the end of the line and watch your friend's jaws drop open in awe." I put the book down. "Surely it can't be that easy?"

Until then demonic magic always seemed so far out of my reach. I found it difficult to believe that it was as simple as drawing on my master's floor.

I carefully picked up the purple crystal and placed it on the line which linked up with the circle. I didn't expect anything to happen, but to my surprise, the effect was instantaneous.

The chalk drawing glowed, then a faint ball of yellow light suddenly appeared a meter from the floor in the center of the diagram. It was only the size of my fist and far dimmer than an ordinary lamp, but it was enough to help illuminate my surroundings.

I walked around the outside of the circle and examined it from all sides, but no matter what angle I looked at the orb, there was no denying that it was magic.

"Amazing," I whispered in awe.

"Master?" said a voice from the doorway.

It was like the bottom dropped from my stomach. I immediately glanced up in terror to see Anya curiously peering into the room.

My best friend looked more disheveled than usual. Her maid uniform was full of creases and her long wavy hair was a mess. I guess Anya stopped paying attention to her physical appearance after she locked herself away to sulk.

The hope in her eyes disappeared when she realized that I wasn't the guy she wanted.

"Oh, it's you Ethan," she sighed with disappointment as though I was nothing. "It's so dim in here that you kind of look like him. When you stand there like that."

I had no idea how to respond. I wasn't sure how to talk to the girl who ignored me for weeks, and I was in the middle of doing something I shouldn't.

"Why are you in Master's study anyway? Is this magic?" Anya walked into the room to examine my chalk diagram and the light floating above it.

"Kind of, sort of, in a way," I nervously stuttered. "I found a book in the library and decided to give some of the stuff inside a go."

"Wow, you did this yourself?" She looked in amazement at the orb I'd created. "I had no idea that it was possible to make something like this, but I guess it's still nothing compared to what Master can do."

Perhaps Anya didn't mean to be cruel, but her words were a punch to my self confidence.

Even when he was gone, I was still nothing compared to Alistair.

"What are you doing here, Anya?" I asked without bothering to hide my irritation.

"Don't tell anyone this," she said nervously. "But sometimes I come in here to look around. Everything in here reminds me of him. If you know what I mean."

"I suppose," I muttered. Looking around the room it wasn't difficult to imagine that our master had even left.

She picked up a glass paperweight from his desk and turned it over in her hand. It began to glow a dull pink, and it wouldn't be a surprise if even Alistair's stationery was magical.

"I wonder if he's okay," said Anya. "Felix told me that lots of people die when there's a war."

"I'm sure Master's fine," I said even though I knew nothing. "He's really good at chanting spells, and immortal, so there's no way he'll die."

"Yes, I know that," she sighed. "But I still worry about him all the time. So much that it hurts. Sometimes I wonder if he ever thinks about me too." She glanced up at me. "But I guess I'm not important enough to that guy."

"I'm sure he thinks of you, he even told me himself." It was a lie, but the words slipped from my mouth before I could stop.

"Really?" she asked hopefully. "He said that?"

"Of course!" I was such an idiot. "He was worried about you being alright without him, but I said that someone as strong as Anya can survive no matter what."

"And then what did he say?"

"I don't remember." I was running out of ideas. "But he looked glad."

"Glad? Even though he was going to a war zone?"

"Of course. Because he was relieved that you would be fine here without him, and wait for ages, I think."

Anya paused to process my words. "I'm happy that he was thinking of me, but I wish that he'd told me himself."

"You know how Master is." I shrugged. "Maybe he was just too shy to say it to your face."

I'm amazed that she believed me because it was the exact opposite of what Alistair would have done. That weirdo would have never hesitated to voice his strange thoughts out loud.

Anya's mouth broke into a smile and it was the first time I'd seen her happy in weeks.

"That funny guy," she giggled, and I can't believe how willing I was to say anything in order to make her like me.

"Hey, you learnt this from a book right," she said and pointed to my magical orb. "Can I see it?"

She took a step towards me, but instead of walking around the circle she went straight through it.

I saw the chalk lines smudge together under her foot. All of a sudden the drawing brightly glowed, and I remembered the book's warning about explosions.

"Anya watch out!" I cried and dived towards her.

I knocked her to the ground and attempted to use my body as a shield, but I wasn't fast enough to get us out of the way.

There was a loud bang as the diagram exploded in a brilliant flash of white light.

When the smoke finally cleared, there was a new burnt patch on Alistair's floor in the shape of my circle.

Our ghostly bodies may have escaped unharmed, but the hem of her skirt and my trouser legs weren't so lucky. The edges of her maid uniform had been burnt to a crisp, leaving most of her long legs exposed.

All I could think of was Alistair's face looking at the damage in horror, but Anya began to laugh uncontrollably like the incident was hilarious.

"Ethan, I can't believe that you just blew up Master's floor," she giggled.

Anya flopped back onto the floor like a rag doll and I watched her chest move up and down with each laugh. I couldn't help but think about how she was still beneath me. Her face inches from my own.

"Ethan?" said Anya when she noticed my unusual fascination with her mouth.

She looked at me curiously, and that would have been the perfect moment to gather my courage and do something. Anything. But instead I quickly shuffled away like the spineless coward I was.

Anya pulled herself to her feet and brushed the burnt crisps off her skirt. Luckily she couldn't read my thoughts because I was ashamed for thinking inappropriate things about my friend.

"Good luck explaining this to Master." She rolled the mat back into place to cover the damage. "He's going to be so mad at you when he sees this."

"I'll think of something," I muttered. I came up with plenty of creative excuses over the following weeks.

"I better get started on my chores." Anya turned to leave the room. "It would be a disaster if Master returned tomorrow to find the kitchen in that mess. Let me know if you need anything, Ethan."

And with that she walked out and left me alone.

"I'm such an idiot," I moaned and collapsed face first to the floor. Wallowing in self pity for what felt like eternity. "This is all your fault." I glared at the magic book which lay discarded halfway across the room. "Perhaps there's a reason why souls can't do spells."

I lay there until I grew tired of staring at the pattern on the rug, then pulled myself together and stood up to fix the mess I'd created.

Chapter: 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27