Memories of a Soul in the Underworld Ch18

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!

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

The ground crunched under my bare feet, then something snapped.

I paused for one moment. Debating whether or not to look, but decided that it was best not to glance down and continued forward. The gravel like sand sinking in between my toes with each step.

Behind me lay a wasteland of ivory dunes that continued as far as the eye could see. But it wasn't a desert.

It was a graveyard.

What resembled sand, was in fact the remains of an ancient city which had been destroyed countless times by war. Crushed over and over again, until grand palaces and stone houses were reduced to fine grains.

Every once and awhile I would come across large chunks of bone or cloth, as though the previous inhabitants had been trapped with no hope of escape. Their blood sinking down between the gaps in the sand.

This was the battlefield of the war against Heaven and the Underworld.

Bright lights flashed in the distance like lightning, then a giant white crack appeared among dark clouds. Growing larger and larger as though the sky was being pulled apart.

Then they came through.

Hundreds upon hundreds of Heavenly soldiers with gleaming white wings descended upon this world. Screaming prayers towards gods while brandishing swords and summoning magic spells. Trying their best to obliterate anything that represented Hell.

The Underworld's forces were prepared and ready to counter them.

The ground was lined with hundreds upon hundreds of black steel cannons that blew magic explosions into the sky. Green and purple beams of light shot through hordes of heavenly forces, and any soldier too slow at creating a magical barrier would plummet to the ground. Falling like dead birds who'd had their wings ripped out.

Even if the enemy survived the fall, the Underworld's foot soldiers would soon advance. Some were experienced magical scholars who'd already been through countless battles, others were simple farmers who had nothing but a sword and shield to defend themselves.

They were usually the first to go.

Bright explosions and shock-waves lit up the desert for hours, as the Underworld and Heaven tried to obliterate each other. Each side refusing to relent or back down.

I tore my eyes away from the distant battle and continued walking forwards. The white sand giving way to blood soaked dunes. I clambered up a small mound, slid down the other side, and then all of a sudden I was surrounded by corpses. Mortals, demons, magic users who'd thought they'd live forever. Soldiers from Heaven and Hell rested side by side. Some resembled sleeping bodies, while others lay in pieces among broken weapons.

In the center of it all stood Escape. Leaning against a battered wooden cart full of corpses with his arms crossed over his chest. We were all given gray woolen jumpers and pants on the day we arrived, but my friend found our new uniform too confining. Refusing to wear nothing but the pants which he cut to resemble small shorts.

Before him sat Oscar with his back towards me. Wearing the same uniform along with an assortment of accessories that he'd picked up off the battlefield. Several bolts adorned his fingers like rings, a rusty chain lay around his neck, and a sheet of metal was wrapped around his head like a crown.

"Oscar!" I called out, but he didn't respond. "Oscar Cornelius Maxwell!"

Escape let out an irritated sigh and kicked the sand by his feet.

"Sir Oscar Cornelius Maxwell the Third," I tried again.

"Yeeees," replied Oscar and he turned to face me with a strained smile.

"They're waiting for us."

Oscar turned away and looked back to the bloodstained jumper in his hands. "I can't believe he's gone," he said with bewilderment. "One moment the poor lad was ranting on about death like always, the next…"

"It wasn't your fault," I said. "There's nothing you could have done."

"He didn't even try to hide," Oscar continued. "Everyone fled and took cover when that one bugger broke through, but the lad just stood there. With his arms wide open. Staring up at the sky with a silly grin on his face."

Oscar fell silent and the three of us stood there staring at the jumper in his hands. The only remains of the fourth soul in the basement who spoke only of death.

Just like the Soul Market's white stone, the soldiers from Heaven possessed magic capable of disintegrating souls. Most of the Heavenly forces were tied up in battle, but there were often one or two who were sent through to destroy as many souls as they could. They called it liberating us from our suffering, but I saw no difference between that and how the Soul Market tried to destroy us.

It was Escape who broke the silence. "Well… it was probably what the little guy wanted. I mean, maybe that's why he was always going on about death and stuff. He was probably sick and tired of this damn world like the rest of us."

Oscar looked back at Escape for a moment, then put the jumper on the ground. He gathered sand in his hands and placed it over the fabric. Creating an unmarked grave for Death Boy.

A chubby soul with an empty cart emerged from the top of the hill. "Hey! What are you slackers up to!" the soul yelled. "The tenth brigade is on its way! They want this place cleared so they can move their cannons through."

"We were just-" I said before he cut me off.

"Just shut your bloody trap and get it done already. I don't wanna be sent up the front for bait just because your group of retards can't move a few corpses."

"What the frick would you know!" Escape yelled back. "Like working around this hole is any safer, you stuck up piece of sh-"

"We get it! We're going!" I cried out before Escape could get into another fight. I'd already pried his fingers from several other souls. "Come on." I took hold of Oscar's arm and pulled him to his feet. "We have to get back to work."

The chubby soul smugly grinned and moved on.

Escape let out a growl of frustration and threw his arms in the air. "That pompous, useless, arrogant, transparent cun-"

"Escape! Can you help me with this one!"

I grabbed the shoulders of one dead human and attempted to lift him. Escape growled and then grabbed the corpse's feet. Between the two of us, we managed to carry him over to the wooden cart and pile him on top of the other bodies.

"And what makes you so Hell bent on doing your job right, Vase Guy?" asked Escape.

"I just want to get out of here," I said. "The sooner we win the better, right?"

"That's if we win. If those flying pricks get their way, they'll have every soul erased from the Underworld."

"Which means we should do as much as we can to help."

"And whose to say that winnings gonna be any better for us?"

"I can hope."

"Is this still about getting revenge on the shitbag who beat up your old mistress?"

"No, I-"

I was interrupted by Oscar who was standing over the body of a large foot soldier. "No! No! Not Mr. Gruff and Tall!"

"Not again!" snapped Escape. "Didn't I tell you to quit giving the breathers stupid nicknames! Now you've gone and gotten yourself fricken attached. Again!"

"He was a valiant soldier who fought bravely!" cried Oscar. "His sacrifice will never be in vain!"

"He was an arrogant douche-bag who used to kick you. He's better off dead."

"No! Not Lady Frumpy Knickers as well!" Oscar rushed over to the body of a young woman with short black hair. Blood still seeping from the holes in her chest. "Never again will I have the pleasure of washing your over sized panties."

"Why are you still even here!" cried Escape. "Weren't you always going on about wanting to die? You could have vanished along with Death Boy when that bastard flew over, but instead you dived under the cart. Why?"

"That was the old me," replied Oscar.

"The old you? What does that bloody mean?"

"I've come to a decision," sniffed Oscar while cradling the woman's dead body in his arms. "However convenient it may be to leave this world, real courage comes from continuing on. No matter the circumstances."

"Whatever, Mr. I'm so much better than everyone. You're always going on about how brave and honorable you are. Like you didn't sell your soul like the rest of us. But when push comes to shove, you're just as afraid of death as everyone else. Admit it!"

Oscar clenched his teeth. "I'm not afraid of death! You uncivilized, arrogant, rude, shirtless, uncombed barbarian who can't even remain on the run for more than an hour!"

Escape stood there stunned. It was unlike him to not return an insult, and I could tell that he was affected by those words.

Escape quickly spun and walked away. "That's it. I'm off," he snapped.

"Wait!" I cried and grabbed onto his shoulder. "We agreed to stay together. Strength in numbers, right?"

"I can't stand this frickin place a moment longer," Escape hissed. "All this bloody death, rules, and him." He tilted his head towards Oscar. "This isn't who I am. I have to be on the move."

As much as I wanted to hold onto Escape and never let go, there was nothing I could do to make him stay.

"I understand," I said with a sigh and let go of his shoulder. "I hope that you can get away this time."

"I suppose that we'll be seeing you later then," said Oscar stiffly.

"There ain't going to be any later," replied Escape coldly as he walked away.

"Give my regards to the man who catches you!"

"Wanker!" Escape yelled back while giving Oscar the finger. He then disappeared behind a red dune of corpses.

I turned back to Oscar who was stroking the dead girl's hair like she was a porcelain doll.

"Just look at you now," he sadly said to her corpse. "You were supposed to come back from the war and marry a handsome prince. You'd live in a grand mansion overlooking a sparkling lake. Living out your days peacefully until you'd pass away from old age. Now that will never be."

He slumped over the body and I couldn't tell whether or not he was sobbing.

"Come on, Oscar Cornelius Maxwell." I laid one hand on his shoulder. "Let's go lay her to rest with the others."

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 resembled a short girl no older than fifteen. Her worn 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. 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. 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 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're 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 pulling military equipment and marching off to battle. There were also other souls like ourselves. 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 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, as though 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 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.

When I awoke the next morning, Escape was already gone.

Oscar brushed off his absence with the same indifference he showed every time our friend ran away.

"That idiot," he scoffed as we polished the officers' shoes. One small dirty bucket of water sat on the ground between us. "He'll be dragged back here within a day, perhaps even less."

"But what if he actually gets away this time?" I asked.

"That will never happen," Oscar laughed. "That brainless buffoon can wriggle his way out of any noose or chain, but that idiot has no idea what to do once he's actually free. Any sane person would have the sense to formulate a proper escape route before even bothering to leave."

Part of me hoped that Oscar was wrong and Escape did achieve his dream, but I couldn't deny that I hoped to see my friend again. As much as they fought, I'd become attached to Escape and Oscar in our short time together.

"Hey soul!" shouted a young foot soldier as he tossed a pair of bloody boots at Oscar. "Shine these too!"

"We're under orders to do the officers' shoes," snapped Oscar. "We don't have time for your disintegrating loafers."

"Yeah, well… ….I'll tell them that you weren't doing what you're supposed to." He poked his tongue out and shoved his middle finger in Oscar's face. "Then they'll punish you!"

My friend sighed in defeat and picked up the boots. The soldier walked away grinning victoriously.

"Arrogant, spoilt, overly privileged, waste of existence," Oscar muttered as he furiously scrubbed the shoes. "Fricken thinks that he's actually gonna live to see the end of this week," he added, followed by a string of insults which sounded more like something that would have come out of Escape's mouth.

As much as Oscar claimed that he didn't care about Escape, I noticed him glance over his shoulder several times that day. As though waiting for our friend to make another dramatic reappearance.

But there was no sign of Escape that day.

Or the next.

Or the day after that.

After another two days I'd begun to accept that Escape could have finally gotten away. I could imagine him on the outskirts of the Underworld beside a gleaming blue sea. Doing as he pleased without having to take crap from shitty masters. Finally living the free life that I'd always dreamed of.

But Oscar immediately rejected my idea. He, like all my dead friends, denied that there was a way out of our enslavement.

"No, it's not possible," he'd quickly mutter before changing the subject.

Then after one week, Oscar became…... even more difficult to understand. He was quieter, withdrawn, and would stare off into the horizon when he thought no one was watching.

He never once voiced his thoughts out loud, but it was almost as though he missed the third member of our small group.

"I'm sure that Escape's fine," I said in an attempt to reassure him.

Oscar huffed and quickly pulled his eyes away from the empty dunes in the distance. He was sitting upon a mound of poorly buried shrapnel and bone. In addition to his crown and rings, he'd added a red cape fashioned from a deceased soldier's jacket.

Like a tragic ruler of a kingdom of death, was the first thought that entered my mind.

"No, that idiot's long gone from this world," Oscar hissed.

"You don't know that! Maybe he actually managed to escape. He's tried so many times, so he had to get away eventually, right?"

Oscar hopped down from his small mountain. "No, that's not possible."

"Then perhaps he just got held up? Or maybe he's stuck working with a different group? We could go look for him later?"

Oscar ignored my question and walked straight past me. I gave up and followed behind him. Still convinced that Escape had to be alive out there somewhere.

The two of us soon arrived before a familiar bonfire of corpses. It had grown twice as large since my last visit and five times more dreadful. I shielded my eyes with my hand to stop the smoke and ash from obscuring my vision.

The girl who used to manage it was gone. Probably destroyed and replaced by a young soul with long ratty hair. His mouth was fixed into a large morbid grin, like being surrounded by death was somewhat enjoyable.

"Heya fellows!" he casually called out. "It's your lucky day. You're on fire duty!"

"Roger," I quickly replied. Wanting to get myself away from that creep as soon as possible. "We'll go collect some-"

"No, no, no," the creep laughed. "Not that fire duty. I'm talkin about that fire duty." He pointed to a group of souls who were already submerged in the flames. Moving corpses to be destroyed and redistributing coals.

I gulped and took one step forward towards the blaze, but that arsehole put his hand out to stop me.

"You're not goin in dressed like that, are ya? That cheap arse uniform will go up in seconds. It's the only one you've got, so unless you want to spend the rest of the war butt naked, somebody's gotta strip."

"Crap," I hissed under my breath.

I expected Oscar to protest and begin one of his rants about honor and dignity, but he instead obediently stripped his clothes like he'd lost the will to protest.

I growled in frustration and quickly removed my own clothing as the soul with the large teeth watched intensely.

"Nice arse," he commented. "Man, if I was still alive, I'd so pound into-"

I blocked out the rest of his words, and instead focused on Oscar who'd removed everything except his handmade crown.

I reached out to remove the piece of metal from his head. "Oscar, you need to take this off-"

"It's fine." He brushed my hand away. "It's fashioned from metal, so it shall not burn."

"Oh, yeah, of course," I muttered. "You're probably right."

I grabbed hold of his wrist and dragged him into the bonfire. The crumbling hot coals shifted and collapsed under my feet, making it difficult to maintain our balance and we almost slipped several times.

Another soul, blackened by ash, shoved the remains of a mortal into my arms. I stumbled, tried my best to shoulder its weight, and along with Oscar's help, we moved the corpse to the top of the blaze.

I turned and tried my best not to watch as fire consumed the bodies, but it was impossible to completely block out. I'll never forget what they looked like as they burnt.

Oscar seemed to hate that place even more. His eyes were grim, lips tightly pressed together, and he didn't say a word as we moved the dead soldiers.

"Hey Oscar," I said in an attempt to distract him from the scene before us. We grabbed the body of a small thin woman and moved it towards the top of the fire. "Do you remember the time that Escape switched uniforms with C273 and rubbed dirt into his face. They spent days searching for him, but he was at camp all along. He thought that if he ran once they gave up looking, then it would be easy to get away. But it didn't work in the end, did it?"

Oscar scoffed, but I saw his mouth curve into a smile for one short moment-

Until the eyes of the body in our hands suddenly sprung open.

The deathly pale woman, face mostly concealed by blood, violently jerked as though awaking from a dream. Her gray eyes rolled around in their sockets, then fixed on Oscar. She fiercely lunged at my friend like a cat preying on a bird, wrapping her thin blue fingers around Oscar's neck.

Oscar screamed and fell back. The half-dead woman pinning him down. I couldn't tell if it was the enemy or one of our own, until she began frantically chanting words in a language I couldn't understand.

Her bloody hands began to glow red, and a bright white light emerged from beneath her palms.

Then Oscar screamed.

Long agonizing cries of pain, like souls in a dungeon as demons slowly erased them.

"No, No!" I dove at the mortal and desperately pulled on her slim arms, but her grip was unbreakable.

She was desperate to destroy my friend, even if it meant letting herself burn.

"Let him go!" I screamed.

Oscar's face began to glow red. The woman's hands sank through my friend's neck as though he was made of water.

"Stop it!" I pounded my fists against her back as Oscar started disappearing before my very eyes. "Please stop it! I beg you! We don't need to be saved! Just let him go!"


The woman lifelessly fell forward and I looked up to see an ash covered soul nonchalantly holding a bloody steel pipe in his hands. He just stood there. Face devoid of emotion. Examining the dead woman without saying a word.

When she didn't move, he turned and went back to work as though the whole incident meant nothing.

"Oscar?" I called out hesitantly, but there was no reply. The woman's body quietly burning. "Oscar?" I used all my strength to roll the corpse over. "Oscar?"

But there was nothing beneath it but coals. I desperately searched through them like sand. Over turning charred body parts and bones. Clinging onto the weak hope that my friend had somehow sunk through.


But as deep as I dug, I found nothing but a single iron crown.

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