The Life of Death
In life I imagine people experience these sorts of days as well. The ones where you can’t possibly think anything could make the day worse, yet a few minutes later you’re hit with another problem. They probably aren’t as life threatening as continuously fighting creatures that want to taste the soul of your friend, but all the same, I was having one of those days. It was exhausting, all the screaming, punching, and running from danger. I was winded, my body fed up with the physical exertion I’d put it through. I have to admit though, it beats sitting at home starving myself once again.
If I lived through the day maybe I would start a crypt-hunting hobby. The black soul did taste delicious, and the best part was that I didn’t experience a single flashback to the crypt's original death. I’d been expecting some real mind-bending, psyche-destroying encounter. Instead, all I got was the sensation of butterflies fluttering in my stomach. Now, I’m not complaining about that one bit. What I am complaining about is how difficult it was to acquire the crypt’s soul. If I hadn’t needed his help, perhaps things would be looking better right about now.
My reflection’s power had left me drained, unable to combat the new monster spilling out of Ava like a faucet that had sprung a leak. The longer it flowed out, the more intimidating the sludge became. It grew larger and more defined as time passed. Horns sprouted like fresh saplings after a spring rain, its pointed ears moving behind them. Each new feature brought it closer to completion, its appearance looking more and more like a devil drenched in tar.
It’s liquid state solidified, the darkness stretching and lacing together to form rigid muscles. There was no protective layer, its body looking like those medical figurines used to teach students about the muscles under their skin. The arms were thick, wider than my torso and easily capable of snapping me like a twig.
Are you going to make up your mind soon or not? I can make the choice for you, but it’ll be a smoother transition if you are willing.
“I said no. Do you really think I trust you?”
It’s not about trust, it’s about survival. She’s not going to live through this either if you keep being stubborn.
I ignored him, pressing up from the ground to stand. I was only half the size of the abomination dragging its still forming legs forward. My nose recoiled from the smell, paralyzing me in disgust. It retracted an arm, winding up for a brutal punch. My body was slow to react, the only option to protect my face. With one arm still deteriorated from using it to kill the crypt, the block was an ineffective defense. I lay among the rubble, my limbs aching and unusable.
“That was pretty painful Ava.” I said, spitting out a glob of blood that had formed in my mouth.
So you realized it too?
“Yeah, that monster is a piece of her. It was hard to smell at first, but under that pungent odor is her scent. At its core, is her soul.”
It angered me how helpless I was, barely able to move enough to protect myself, let alone liberate Ava’s soul. It snarled, baring its canine teeth. They had just started to come in, white razors poking through the murky darkness. Its originally flat face had morphed into a snout, which wrinkled in aggression as its lips curled.
The corrupted soul turned away, directing its attention to Ava’s body. She was still unconscious and incapable of protesting as slimy fingers wrapped around her. The monster pressed her to its chest, the darkness ensnaring her like overgrown roots. All that was visible was her sleeping face, tranquil in its expression as she remained blissfully unaware.
Every time I think it couldn’t get worse, I’m proven wrong once again. Separating Ava from this darkness would’ve been difficult before, but now it was near impossible. The darkness functioned like a parasite, dependent on Ava for survival and unwilling to part from her.
Change your mind yet?
“I’m still not-”
There was no time to finish, not even to react as I was thrust into the air by a speedy jab to the gut. It’s knuckles dug into me like a drill, my insides squirming from the pain. I couldn’t move, my shell cracking like ceramic. I felt nothing, my whole body numb.
It’s difficult to make a choice that you know will end poorly. I was never good at making decisions. Most times I would avoid such situations, and if that wasn’t possible I’d run. If there wasn’t an obviously correct path, I backed out. I’d retreat within myself and away from my problems. This was the first time I felt trapped.
I’d never felt so compelled to stay even without an easy choice. I could choose to die, allowing Ava’s rampaging soul to finish me off. I already couldn’t fight back any longer, my end would hopefully be swift. Or, I could trust my reflection to fight for me. Saving Ava was a possibility with that option, but I couldn’t get the images out of my head.
Like a broken reel, reruns of my fight with Aoki played. I watched as I tore through a crypt’s bones, shredding it to bits. It was merciless, rabid destruction and here I was debating taking that path. It was the sliver of hope that made it even remotely alluring.
“So, what’s that you were saying about helping out?” It was hard to breathe flat on my back. Every inhale created fresh breaks along my skin, like a frozen lake experiencing too much foot traffic.
Finally willing to let go? I guess I could step in for a bit. Just say the word and I’ll take care of it...
My ears rang, his voice trailing off as my senses began to falter. My vision turned grainy, everything only distinguishable by shape and not detail. I think when on the verge of death everyone has their most selfish thoughts. I didn’t want to die; I wasn’t ready. There was so much left I needed to find out. I thought I knew myself, or at least as much as I cared to know, but that didn’t even scratch the surface of who I was. Ava needed saving and all I could think about was staying alive to discover who I really was. Despicable.
“Do it, take control.”
Perfect. Close your eyes and it’ll all be over soon.
I felt the curtain fall over my world as I resided within my mind. I was the one in the mirror this time, my fingers unable to push through the glass. Black eyes and a satisfied smirk mocked me from the other side.
“Feel free to watch from there for this one. That girl, she’s starting to pique my interest. Maybe I’ll try a taste of her soul.” He smiled at me, gloating over the power he had over me.
“If you do anything to harm her, I’ll-”
“You’ll do what? You’re the one trapped now, back where you belong. There’s a reason you’re the weaker one of us. You’re nothing more than a mask I used to see in the mirror. I’m the real Milo Lethe.” He faded away, like mist dissipating for the flame of a torch.
A projection of the outside world played in the darkness, broadcasting in real time what was happening through my body’s eyes. No time was wasted, my hands already tearing into the arms of Ava’s monster. I felt the sensation from inside the mirror, my nails sinking deep into the flesh. I looked at my own hands, the fingertips turning black just like they were out there.
My mouth came next, a warmth flooding onto my tongue as I felt my teeth tear into the muscular throat of our adversary. I felt my teeth chatter as a deep growl rose in its throat, followed by a swipe from its left hand. It made contact, my body crashing into the ground with such velocity that I felt the cement crumble under me.
I was back in action quickly, resuming my assault of punches and slashes as my hands tore chucks of Ava’s darkness away. This time it was my leg that was attacked.
I looked down to see my leg slanted inward at the shin. I felt no pain, but my stomach did somersaults as waves of nausea washed over me. As quickly as it was broken, my leg realigned itself, the sound of crunching and grinding making my ears flinch. Every injury I experienced healed as quickly as breathing.
“Stop it! Stop hurting her!” My pleas fell on deaf ears, my body ignoring them to continue eating through Ava’s soul. I couldn’t watch anymore, every wound I inflicted enough to make me ill.
“Please...make it stop.”
I closed my eyes, ashamed of my futility. My world shifted, the scene around me turning into night. It really was me who was the monster.
The alleyway was dark and dreary with car horns blaring in the background as city traffic moved at a snail's pace.
“Where am I?” I slowly started to explore the area.
I moved out of the alley and onto the main road. Lights flashed in the sky, followed by loud bangs that echoed in the night. It all felt so familiar, like a distant memory long forgotten.
I was swallowed by hordes of people, the crowd moving like a school of fish. There was screaming, but not from fear. An energy of excitement hung in the air, everyone waiting in anticipation for one exciting moment.
I couldn’t look in a single direction without seeing the number ‘2000’. It was on glasses that people wore, on TVs playing behind the glass of the buildings, and on signs hung along the street in celebration.
Another barrage of fireworks raided the sky, thickening the smell of smoke that drifted on the wind. I continued walking through the crowd, my body moving as if on a predetermined journey. I had no destination in mind, just the urge to keep walking against the crowd.
“Milo!” I felt a hand grab my shoulder. I didn’t feel startled, only indifferent as I turned to look at the person touching me.
I recognized her face, but my thoughts were hazy, unable to place the girl in any context. There was one thing I did know, she smelled strongly of a death. She stood slightly taller than me, her heels adding a few inches to her height. She wore a loose red sweater, her black hair falling past her shoulders. Gold hoop earrings dangled from her ears, sparkling in the fanfare of lights.
“Earth to Milo, anyone in there?” She waved a hand in front of my eyes, trying to focus my attention. It wasn’t very effective, my thoughts still slow to follow what was happening. Her smile was soft, her cheeks donning a slight blush as fireworks lit up her face.
She tried multiple times to snap me out of it before dragging me out of the crowd and back into a dismal alley. She squeezed both my arms, bending over to meet my eyes. They scanned me with concern, her bottom lip quivering after a few moments.
“You did it, didn't you? You really did it?” Her voice was unsteady, cracking on every other word.
“Did what?” I’d finally found my voice, but it was weak, barely louder than a whisper. This did nothing to appease the girl. She wouldn’t tear her green eyes away from me, sadness welling up in them.
The more I looked, the more I felt I knew her. It was as if her name hung on the tip of my tongue, but refused to jump off it. Her eyes turned harsh, the sadness replaced with fury. An open palm smacked my face, stinging my cheek instantly.
“What the hell!” I guess my voice had returned.
“Ass! How could you do this to both of us? What am I supposed to tell Leviah? This will break her. I can’t believe you’d go through with it. You promised Milo, you promised!” Her face was bright red, her eyebrows furrowed angrily.
“I don’t even know you or what you’re talking about!”
“And there it is. You chose to leave us behind. You promised you’d never use the Curse of Lethe for that again, but look what you’ve done. You’re nothing more than a liar!” She shoved my head away, turning to leave. She stopped, taking in a deep breath to quell her frustration.
“If the judges ever come asking about you I’ll keep your identity secret. Leviah and I owe you that much for everything we’ve been through. But tell me Milo, is it worth it? How many times does this make? When you found us, you could barely remember your own name. Aren’t you sick of starting over?” She turned away, storming off into the crowd. I felt more drawn to her as she walked away. Her mannerisms, her stance, all of it brought faint memories back to the surface.
“Wait! Aoki, wait!” She never heard me, my words getting lost among the yells of excitement as midnight finally struck. Fireworks blasted in the sky, drowning everything in its roar.
I grew unfocused, my vision blurring as my thoughts became fleeting. The sense of familiarity I felt dissipated, my recent memories escaping, diffusing out of my head. When the feeling passed I was alone, confused by my surroundings. I couldn’t recall what I was doing in that alley or how long I’d been standing there. One thing found a way to tug at my memory, a girl shouting one word.
What a strange girl. I wonder who she is? Is she calling me Milo? Is that my name?
The scene fizzled away, turning black.
Bits and pieces of color started to peek through, burning my retinas.
Full sunlight broke through the darkness, blinding me as my eyes struggled to adjust. A firm hand gripped my forehead. It was wet. Actually no, more like sticky. My eyes slowly brought into focus the rooftop, or what was left of it.
Piles of concrete littered the roof, like uprooted trees after a storm. Black and red was smeared everywhere giving off the faint aroma of death.
I focused on the girl in front of me, her blue eyes looking back at me in disarray. Ava was lucid, freed from the darkness that had engulfed her. She looked lost, completely unaware of where and when she was. Her arms were red, fresh scraps dotting her body.
“Just what…what are you two doing?” I looked up through the blood dripping down my face.
Logan stood between us, his hands holding both of us by the head. His body was covered in wounds, cuts deeper than anything I’d seen him suffer before. Pools of black blotched his shirt as the ink leaked from underneath. His face was dark, matted in smut and dried blood. He drew in irregular breaths, some catching in his throat as he struggled to stay on his feet.
“One of you better start explaining.”