The Life of Death
The families packed inside the train car emitted a steady hum that functioned as a source of white noise for my ears. Weekend commutes to Arcaya were a stark contrast from the half-dead train ride I’d grown accustomed to during the weekdays. No one was lethargic. A smile was painted on everyone’s face as they excitedly waited for our arrival to the city. I was the only one without this expression. My face was twisted with unpleasantness as I stared at the electronic advertisement flashing on the train’s wall opposite me.
HAVE YOU SEEN ME?
The question blinked in and out like a strobe light to catch passengers' attention. Only I paid it any mind, my teeth clenching as Reggie’s face flickered into focus before fizzling into a new face of another missing minor.
Why so upset?
“Now you decide to talk?” I said, the chorus of voices in the train car drowning out my words. It helped to keep my conversation with myself private.
It was tough clawing my way back into your consciousness; don’t criticize me for being too exhausted to talk earlier.
“I wasn’t complaining.” I was short, his reawakening an unwelcome occurrence. I’d grown less accommodating of him living in my head without permission.
That boy, he betrayed you, didn’t he? If that’s the case, why are you so upset he’s gone?
“He still died more heroically than I ever could. He’s the reason Erik is still breathing, even if he managed to only save half his soul. It’s my fault they were involved in the first place and it’s my fault Reggie was taken to the Underworld.” My words drew a nervous glance from the mother sitting beside me. She relocated with her children to a part of the train far away from me. I couldn’t blame her. By all accounts, I was clinically insane.
It’s interesting how you’ve changed. Or made us change I should say. We never used to empathize with those weaker than us. Do you prefer it this way?
“I’m not sure. It’s painful, but I think it’s better than feeling nothing.”
Don’t change too much. I quite liked how we were.
“What makes you think you have a say?” My voice rose a little louder than I’d anticipated, gaining the attention of more wandering eyes. I put my hood up to shield myself from their stares. So many eyes on me made my stomach churn as I thought about how I must look.
Why not just come visit me at the mirror? You won’t come off as talking to yourself then.
“I’m good without seeing your face.” I said, sinking further into my seat, my hands stuffed deep into my jacket pockets. The more I hid within my jacket, the safer I felt from everyone’s gaze.
You mean our face.
I chose silence after that, the conversation getting to a point I was uncomfortable with. It was not a good sensation knowing the voice in my head was my past self. I was him and he was me, at least at one point.
Going to the Underworld was a quest to save Erik’s soul and to discover who I was. I knew I’d find the former. Erik was still alive after all, so the remnant of his soul in the Underworld couldn’t have been destroyed. If it had, surely Erik would cease to exist as no one could survive with so little soul energy. The part of him trapped below must be feeding him energy to hang on, even if it was only enough to sustain him in a coma.
As far as learning more about my past, I’d pondered whether my reflection could enlighten me. I’d been inclined to ask him, but knew his answer would be biased and border on the edge of insanity. I couldn’t trust anything he had to say. It would be better to discover those answers on my own.
The train lurched, pulling me out of my thoughts. It was too early for us to have arrived in Arcaya. I knew something was wrong before I noticed the silence in the train car. As if frozen in time, the rest of the passengers were completely still. People’s hair hung in impossible ways, the strands seemingly floating in the air. Not even their chests rose, their bodies akin to that of a statue. There were zero signs that life existed aboard this train.
“What is this? It’s similar to what Aoki did at school before.” It was a rhetorical question, but my reflection felt compelled to reply condescendingly.
So, the new us is also an idiot? Fantastic. It’s Portal Manifestation, though this one is weak. We can easily produce a better one than this, but honestly I never found them very useful. We are plenty strong without it, but if someone else used it then it means we have some new food to play with!
My nose caught the scent in the nick of time, alerting me to the death outside the window behind me. I rolled out of my seat, avoiding the shards of glass that sprayed the area I’d been sitting.
“You don’t look like much of a threat. The judges must be losing their touch to offer such a high reward for your capture.” The death’s voice was booming, reverberating through the rest of the windows in the train. His arms were ripped, the cuffs of his white tee barely able to contain his biceps. The shirt was deeply tucked into his camo pants, revealing the faint outline of his abs as the tee clung to him tightly. His skin was tanned with veins spreading across his forearms like spiderwebs. It caused streaks of black to run throughout his body as his darkness flowed underneath.
“Mikey! Joey! The two of you can sit this out. He won’t last two minutes.” His teeth were sparkling white, gleaming with cleanliness.
“You got it boss!”
Two voices from the roof of the train spoke in unison. They didn’t possess the same commanding voice as their leader, instead sounding like a couple of squeaking hamsters.
The boss turned back to me, cracking his knuckles while still bearing a wide grin. The confidence oozed from him, but just from the way he smelt I knew he was more bark than bite.
“Milo Lethe, correct? I’m going to ask you once to come with me.”
“And if I refuse?” I layered my response with an excessive amount of aggravation. This brute was delaying my train and I didn’t take kindly to such things anymore. I wasn’t the timid death starving myself because I was too scared to watch the memories of the dead. That version of me was long gone.
“Either way you’re going to oblige. The judges never said you had to be brought to them in one piece!” He rushed forward, his meteor-sized fist barreling towards my face. I sidestepped with ease, the boss’s immense body coming with a major drawback - speed. He blinked in disbelief at my swiftness, his fist hitting the air I once stood.
“Want to try that again?”
My retort was enough to fill his face with red-hot anger. He flared his nostrils, attempting another pass at my head. It only took a simple duck to avoid it, but I failed to stay aware of my surroundings. By dodging, I’d put a child in the direct path of his punch.
“Not so fast, we aren’t meant to interfere with the living!” I yelled it like a battle cry, angry at his careless attack.
I lunged at him, digging my elbow deep into his gut. He let out a pained gasp, rich with the scent of mint as I felt droplets of his saliva spew from his mouth. Before he collided with the family frozen behind him, I gripped tightly onto his shirt and flung him out of the nearest window. His howls of pain were loud enough to rumble the earth.
“Boss Marco!” The two scrawnier deaths jumped from the top of the train to assist their companion. They were similarly dressed, each sporting the same wardrobe as their leader, only the clothing looked less stretched when worn by them.
“Buzz off you two! I’m fine!” He grunted, spitting out blood. His teeth were stained black as his broken smile turned into a frown.
I pursued them through the hole in the glass, leaning against the outside of the train as I waited for the boss to regain his footing. He dusted off his pants, gingerly getting to his feet near the edge of the surrounding forest.
“What’s this bounty the judges put on my head you keep talking about?” I asked, intrigued as to why low level deaths like this would be hunting me. Surely they would’ve sent someone of a higher caliber to bring me in if Aoki told them what I was capable of.
“They dangled an offer so sweet that no soul could ignore it. Anyone that assists in the capture of the death, Milo Lethe, and the human, Ava Angelo, will be given a free pass to Elysium.” The boss spat in frustration.
At the mention of Ava’s name my inside burned, an aggressive anger beginning to boil in my gut. Power surged into my legs, the energy enough to propel me at my attacker. Dirt and dust flew into the air, a thick cloud masking my movements. My fingers wrapped the boss’s thick neck as I drove him into the ground. Every time he squirmed I pushed him further, the earth collapsing over his face only increasing his desperate attempts for air.
“Let him go!” The other two deaths yelled, taking a step to assist their boss.
“Move again and you die.” I growled, the intensity in my words enough to halt their movements.
“Damn Milo, you’re a beast. I honestly didn’t peg you to be so hostile.” Dex’s familiar voice caught me off guard, loosening my hold over the boss. He exploited the opportunity, thrusting one of his burly hands towards my throat.
A flash of black, no larger than a marble, flew past my face. A noise resembling a gunshot followed, the sound traveling slower than the darkness. The bullet left a small hole in the boss's hand, barely an injury worthy of concern. That’s when his entire arm erupted, casting the area in a rain of his blood. Boss Marco’s scream of pain deafened my ears as the train behind me roared back to life, the power of the Portal Manifestation fully released.
“Sorry about that, looks like I accidentally lost your ride.” Dex laughed through the boss’s blood-chilling screams. For such a large man he sure did cry a lot.
“How exactly did you find me here? I thought you wanted me to meet you back in Roku.” I asked, releasing my hold of the crippled death entirely. His accomplices ran to him, doing all they could to ease their leader’s pain.
“You were late. We agreed at noon and it’s well past then. I tracked your scent to the train station, and then felt the energy of a death’s portal being used. It led me straight to you.” Dex grinned, overly proud at his achievement. His eyes turned cold as he directed his attention to the boss and his lackeys. “What’s this I hear of a bounty on him?” Dex asked, pointing his thumb at me.
“We were told that if we became deaths and hunted you down, we could bypass the old criteria to reach Elysium. So many souls in the Asphodel Meadows took the offer, including us. They were impressed with the boss’s energy so much they gave him some extra power when they turned him, but-”
“Shut your mouth Joey! Don’t speak to them!” Boss Marco had ceased his wailing to interrupt his subordinate. His arm was slowly healing, but it was still barely more than a stump.
“So, you have a little fight left in you?” Dex sneered, pointing his middle and pointer finger in the boss’s direction.
“Kill me if you want! I should’ve gone after the human like everyone else did. We weren’t told capturing you would be so difficult. I have no intention of reaching Elysium the traditional way by transporting souls for decades. I know I won’t last five years before turning into a crypt, so end me now!” It was a plea, the large man’s face contorted with despair. His eyes watered as if he were going to cry if Dex didn’t grant him relief.
“Boss, don't say that!” Mikey and Joey said in unison again. They reached to comfort him, but it was too late, Dex’s shot already resonating throughout the forest.
“As you wish. This life isn’t for everyone.” Dex whispered as Boss Marco’s body exploded in a flurry of black. His companions wept, clinging to each other for comfort.
I turned to Dex, images of deaths surrounding Ava’s house running through my mind. Even if they were as weak as these three, the sheer number of them would be troublesome.
“I can’t leave yet, Dex. If there're deaths going after Ava I need to help her!” I said, my urgency intense enough to raise one of his fiery eyebrows.
“I figured you’d know the human they’re after. Of course, just my luck!” He was exasperated, throwing his arms in the air as he let out a disgruntled groan. “Look, Milo, I don’t have any longer to wait and need to enter the Underworld now. Either you can come with me or stay here. You won’t have another chance like this.” Dex’s straightforwardness halted my decision.
It was unlikely I could reach the Underworld without Dex, and after witnessing his power I knew having him with me would be an asset. Even if I somehow did make it to the Underworld on my own at a later time, it could all be in vain if I wasn’t strong enough. Dex was too important a piece to lose in the battles to come.
Before I could reply, a doorway of darkness materialized near the train tracks. A familiar presence came from it, but rage was all I felt emanate from the dark passage.
“A note! Milo Lethe, you left me with nothing but a note!” Ava shouted from the darkness, erupting forth and barreling directly for me. Her face was bright red, her eyes casting a menacing glare in my direction.
“Ava?” I was in such disbelief at seeing her I couldn’t move in time to avoid the punch to my chest. The force was strong enough to send me flying into the forest, my back colliding with a tree.
I couldn’t tell if the noise was from the tree trunk or my spine, but regardless, my whole body was in severe pain.
“Did he say Ava? She has to be the human, let’s get her!”
Both Mikey and Joey charged at Ava, their enraged assault a way to avenge their fallen comrade.
“I’m not here for you!” Ava yelled at them as darkness cloaked her fists. With a single right hook, she blasted through Joey’s face and continued the course until her fist connected with Mikey’s as well. Both deaths crumpled to the ground, their essence slowly dissolving away into nothingness.
“Holy crap, I’m dead.”
You really should’ve done more than the note. Seems like our darkness is manifesting quickly within her.
“I didn't ask you.” I grumbled as I returned to my feet. Ava waited for me at the edge of the forest, her arms crossed angrily over her chest as she pounded her foot in the ground repeatedly. I was certain it would be my head in-between her foot and the dirt as soon as I reached her.
As I got closer I saw her face in greater detail. Her hair was a mess and the clothes she wore made it obvious she’d come here immediately after rolling out of bed. The whites of her eyes were red under her glasses, making them look even more menacing.
“Ava, I’m sorry. I didn’t know what else to do. How’d you even get here let alone find me?” I should’ve put together a better apology before asking her questions about how she got here. My insensitivity received a hard slap to the cheek that stung worse than a wasp sting.
“That’s not good enough for me, Milo! And if you must know, Logan lent me his dark passage to come find you.” She bitterly puffed out her cheeks, neglecting to look my way any longer. My mind flashed to Logan snickering back in Animus with a smile that said ‘I told you so.’ If I lived to see him again I was going to kill him.
“Uh, I’m going to let the two of you figure this out. Milo, I’ll leave the dark passage open for you when you’re ready. If you don’t come through in ten minutes I’ll assume you won’t be joining me.” Dex checked himself out, opening a passage beside us and stepping through. The darkness stayed put, waiting for me to follow.
“And who was that?” Ava interrogated, still refusing to look at me.
“That would be Dex, the death I’m breaking into the Underworld with. I won’t have another chance like this! Ava, I don’t ever expect you to forgive me, but I can’t stay here questioning who I am any longer.” My words did little to sway her mood, her irate attitude holding strong. “I need to find out who I was and how to control myself before I wind up hurting someone I’ll regret. He’s back Ava and I can’t ignore him without putting those I care about in danger.”
This was enough to get her to look at me. Her eyes were still angry, but underneath was a different emotion - anguish. It was then that I realized her eyes weren’t red from rage, but from tears she had shed that morning. I could still see the thin layer of water coating them as she looked up at me.
Then, the fascinating Ava Angelo did something so unexpected it left me stunned. Her warm lips pressed against my own, their softness caressing my lips in the same way she’d hold my hand. Shy, but certain. It was gentle but sent electricity throughout my body like a current powered by our kiss. My limbs went numb from the overwhelming sensation, my legs weakening at the knees as I struggled to stay standing. It wasn’t until she pressed harder that my hand regained enough healing to run my finger against the curve of her cheek. I cupped my hand behind her head, drawing her in close for only a moment before our lips parted.
I was given a second to admire her beautiful face smiling at me before her hands pressed against my chest and shoved me backwards. I left her warmth for the cold, emotionless darkness wrapping itself around me. I became ensnared in its clutches, but I carried the image of her smile with me, even as my world turned to black.