Chapter 20:

Underworld's Interlude 2

The Life of Death


The most common misconception about the Underworld is that it’s always hot. This is incorrect. Just like the world above, the Underworld is subject to various climates, but what it doesn’t have are seasons. At any given moment, the weather could change. Right now, it was freezing, with raging winds blowing against my face that managed to further ruin my day. I had a soul constantly trying to use the wind to escape and a useless body to drag around in the middle of a blizzard. At least he wouldn’t be useless for much longer, but that did little to make up for the horrible reunion I had with Milo. Bookmark here

It would have been nice for it to go differently, but seeing that blank expression and weak constitution only infuriated me. Disgusting. That wasn’t my Milo, just a poor imitation. Not even an imitation, rather a remake that failed to hold a candle to the original by gutting all of its charm. The real one was in there somewhere and it was most upsetting that I failed to bring it to the surface more than once.Bookmark here

“Aoki! Quick, get inside before you’re seen!”Bookmark here

Finally, my destination was here. It was only a beaten down shack on the edge of the Asphodel Meadows, but it was a welcome sight in this storm. It was the best region in the Underworld to hide in. No one, not even the judges, had many suspicions when it came to the meadows of the unexciting ordinary.Bookmark here

“Let me take that for you.” Leviah kindly took the soul from my mouth. At last, I could relax my jaw, my teeth aching from being clenched for so long. Bookmark here

“You have the vial I asked for? I don’t want anything happening to that.” I pushed my way through the door, tossing Reggie’s body into the main room. Bookmark here

“Right here!” Leviah replied, her upbeat tone sounding like the chime of a bell. She flashed the glass vial between her fingers once before stuffing Erik’s soul inside. It fought her, but after a few forceful thrusts with her finger the soul fell into the tube.Bookmark here

Leviah’s ability to be so cheerful was a quality that was both endearing and irritating. It all depended on the context. This was one of those times where she failed to be endearing. Bookmark here

“Mind taking it down a notch. Just because I’m back in the Underworld doesn’t mean my body is magically better. I’m getting a headache from your voice being so chipper.” I laced my tone heavily with annoyance to get the point across.Bookmark here

“Sit in the chair, Aoki. I’ll be back to fix your arm.” Leviah’s ability to switch off the charm and reveal the chilling soul underneath was enough to make a lesser death cower. I, on the other hand, was used to this behavior after so long. It never even caused me to bat an eye. We were all insane. The three of us used to be able to showcase that back in the good days.Bookmark here

“You look deep in thought.” Leviah said as she set a tray on the table to the side of the chair. Her tools clattered against the tin, each one a little scarier than the last. She tucked her side bangs behind her ear, her blonde hair catching the glare from the one overhead light above us.Bookmark here

I avoided looking at Leviah operating on my arm. I learned a long time ago that no matter how many times you watched her technique of manifesting skin and simultaneously suturing it together, you’d still grow nauseous. It was a slow process, filled with sounds of the liquefied essence of my soul sloshing under each new patch of skin Leviah conjured. Bookmark here

“Just thinking back to when the three of us would hide out here after completing a job.”Bookmark here

“And bicker over who we felt should’ve gotten to eat the last soul? Yeah, I remember.” Leviah was monotone in her reply, too focused on her task to be nostalgic with me. Bookmark here

“There was more to it than that. It wasn’t always easy sneaking back and forth between here and the world above. Following Milo always came with risk.” I said, wincing from the fresh prick of the needle poking into my new skin. All of this work because of a single slash from one of Linnaeus's cursed items. His handiwork was impressive, fitting for the youngest soul to ever be a judge. It must be strange to discover you are a prodigy in death.Bookmark here

“So, what made you try to kill him? Just look at what it did to you.” Leviah scolded me like a mother disappointed in her daughter for tracking dirt into the house.Bookmark here

“He angered me. I only got to see a small glimpse of him being himself and the rest of the time I got a brooding teenager. It’s hard to see him like that.” I lowered my voice to try and calm down. Just thinking about how weak Milo had become made me angry. Bookmark here

“It worries you, figuring out which version of him is the real one, doesn’t it? He’s like a coin, two sides and two different images. But he’s made of the same thing regardless of what side he lands on. Either way, he’s Milo.” Leviah was too rational for my tastes sometimes. At this moment it was particularly unpleasant. Bookmark here

“Only one side of him is my Milo and that’s the one who would sit right over there and smile with joy at being dead. He loved having another chance to experience the world.” I glanced over at the other chair in the room. There was a thin layer of dust settled over the seat, no one having sat there in years. Bookmark here

“We were with him for what was it, fifteen years? Even after he abandoned us we never gave away his identity. Us and ‘The Frenzy’ were never brought to light.” Leviah chipped in more to the conversation, her tone beginning to fluctuate with enjoyment. I knew she too would enjoy reminiscing. Bookmark here

“To think we went on to be judges too. Milo would’ve been disappointed. He never shut up about how much he used to hate them.”Bookmark here

“It was a good idea to join pretending we’d never met. It made the deception easier. It’s nice to still have this place. It helps with remembering who we truly are.” Leviah pulled another thread through. I made the mistake of glancing at it for too long, my stomach instantly punishing me for it. I could rip others apart, but the image of seeing my own body like this was just revolting. Bookmark here

Reggie groaned. It was subtle, but still audible. His fingers began to twitch, his soul finally beginning to acclimate to the Underworld. Hopefully his shell would keep its form. It was going to be hard enough for him to accept his new body without it becoming disfigured. Bookmark here

“It won’t be long before he wakes, so pick up the pace.”Bookmark here

“Don’t. Rush. Me.”Bookmark here

“Ow!” My shoulder tensed as a reflex to the overly forceful stab of Leviah's needle. I studied her face to distract myself from the pain. Bookmark here

She was beautiful when she concentrated with those cold eyes. She was so calculating. They only ever stayed focused on her task, never straying to examine anything else. She was unique in that way. There was always one thing you could dangle in front of someone to distract them, but not her. She was impervious to such things. Bookmark here

“I’m turning myself in tomorrow. There aren’t many places I can hide from the judges, and I’d rather die before I let this place be known. After what I’ve done, they won’t just be able to sweep this under the rug.” My declaration was met with silence, Leviah’s brief pause in her stitching the only hint she’d understood me.Bookmark here

“They’ll throw you in Tartarus. They wouldn’t grant you death after killing a human. To force him to become a death by bringing his physical body to the Underworld too. That’s going to add to your sentence. If you are down there too long, you’ll lose yourself, or worse. Maybe you’ll even run into the Behemoth.”Bookmark here

“Well, I’m not going to bring up the ‘turning a human into a death’ part. I’ll simply admit to killing him. As for the half-soul we have, that’ll be able to stay under the radar with how little energy it produces.” I waved away her worries with my available hand. Killing a human was taboo, but with my status it wouldn’t result in much time imprisoned in Tartarus. “I’m most surprised you believe in that old folktale. The Behemoth doesn’t exist, Leviah. No death would willingly return to Tartarus after being released.” I tried reasoning with Leviah. She wouldn’t have had so much input on my decision if she agreed with it. Bookmark here

“Why keep the boy a secret? Does it matter if they erase him for not being born traditionally?” Bookmark here

I kicked Reggie's new hand, the power of the Underworld reassembling the one I bit off. That was the first I’d ever tasted of human blood. Milo was right when he used to say it wasn’t quite as good as a death’s. Bookmark here

‘It’s because of the mercury. It makes it taste too metallic.’ Bookmark here

He used to swear by that. Bookmark here

“I’ve got a job in mind for this boy. After all, only one person could ever break me out of Tartarus and it’ll be up to Reggie to ensure that happens.” Bookmark here

It was barely noticeable, but I saw the quick smile on the corner of Leviah’s mouth. It was annoying this amused her, but she knew I could never give up on Milo returning. With my still intact hand I raised a finger, a string of darkness shooting from its tip. It grew like a root, implanting itself in Reggie’s head and expanding its reach. Bookmark here

“Now, let’s see if you can serve me better in death, Reggie Sims. Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

The second most common misconception about the Underworld is that it’s always dark. The light from the blue sun ragging above was proof otherwise. Pure soul energy, massed into one ball. It was the heart of the Underworld, diminishing once a day to recharge and collect more energy from the residue left by every soul in the Underworld. Once it returned to the sky, it dispersed this energy back to the residents. It was under this light beaming through the skylight of the courtroom that my judgement was to be passed.Bookmark here

“Miss Aoki Evergreen of the seven court justices. You are hereby sentenced to five years within the pit of Tartarus. Your crime of killing a human is in violation of commandment two. I would consider yourself lucky that five years is all you’ll receive. It gives you a chance to come out of it still sane.” Ikiryo’s booming voice resonated through the room. For such an old soul, he had quite the vigor. It was a redeemable quality but failed to fully make up for his narrow-minded views.Bookmark here

“I concede.” I bowed my head in acceptance. It was fake, but I had to play the part. I’d been doing it for years, my façade only ever seen through by Leviah. She too lived in the same way.Bookmark here

I looked over the six judges. Every decision they made was law, every soul forced to comply. It was no wonder Milo used to hate them. What gave them the right to hold such power? Even as a former judge, I never understood why I could weigh the value of one’s soul. I was nothing short of an imperfect being myself. Bookmark here

“Sir Ikiryo, what should we do about the death she failed to bring to justice? If what we’ve heard is true, the girl’s condition has only worsened and both her and the death are a growing threat.” Kiburi interjected, smirking my way as he spoke with Ikiryo. I wish I could just have one minute to punch him relentlessly before plummeting to Tartarus. Bookmark here

“The death isn’t the issue. We can kill him easily. It’s the girl that’s more pressing, especially if Logan has taken an interest in her as Aoki’s told us.” Ikiryo said, his comment triggering me. Bookmark here

“You really think the death that infected her is nothing? You’re in for a rude awakening when you meet him.” I couldn’t resist, my response coming out before I could think things through. Bookmark here

“I knew she was withholding information! What do you know?” Kiburi commanded, shifting to the edge of his seat. Him, as well as the rest of the judges stared down at me from their thrones. It was intimidating standing so far below them. It’d been so long since I’d been the one being judged I forgot what it felt like. All I could do was laugh, my laughter growing louder, turning into a wail of elation before long.Bookmark here

“It was wonderful being reunited with him after so long! Milo Lethe, The Frenzy, as all you knew him has become quite something!” The courtroom was silent, all the judges holding their breath. I could tell even Leviah was surprised, though it was short-lived. Her open mouth soon turned into a faint smile that was all the reassurance I needed to continue.Bookmark here

“Fifteen years I ran with him. Fifteen years I fed on the souls of crypts and deaths with him. I am one of his followers. I too, am a Frenzy!” It all came flooding out now, the years of holding it in wasted. Screw the secret and screw the man I had held it for. It was time he accepted he was a Frenzy with me.Bookmark here

No one said a word, staring at me in horror as I continued laughing at their misfortune. To think they thought they could kill Milo Lethe. It was joyous to know I would plunge the Underworld into chaos before my imprisonment. Bookmark here

“Send me to Tartarus, old man! I’m ready. I won’t be there long. He’ll invade the Underworld to free me. He’s done crazier things in the past than that to save me!”Bookmark here

With a frown that reached his chin, Ikiryo clicked the button on his armrest. The floor disappeared below me, the dark pit of Tartarus awaiting my journey into its dark depths. Bookmark here

“Your sentence has been extended to eternity in the deepest recesses of the Underworld. Now fall as a misguided fool!”Bookmark here

The wind was cold as it whirled around me. The pull of the pit was irresistible, my body being sucked in immediately. Ikiryo’s voice was unfortunately the last thing I heard before the floor closed above my head. I was left alone to relish in my laughter as I descended into Tartarus. The echo in the tunnel increased the volume of my laugh, making the noise sound like it was coming from multiple spectators mocking my sentence. Bookmark here

I’ll await you in Tartarus. Make a fool of the system in this world. Turn it on its head and watch it all burn to ash! I’ll see you again soon, Milo. 
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