02. Land Of The Dead Read Count : 6

Category : Books-Fiction

Sub Category : Fantasy
One time, I was lying in my bed. It was midnight, and I had yet to fall asleep. But for a while, I was just staring at the window. No thoughts, no recognition. Just an idle image being registered into the brain. A good twenty, thirty minutes passed, yet to me it felt like just a few.

You must not stop thinking like a living one, said Erek, to me. There will never be a way out of Irkalla, once you've started to think like the dead. Your soul will stop growing, it will stop imagining possibilities. You've always had a tendency to calm your mind a little too much.

But imagination is what I'll never lose, you know that. I said. The angel smiled and pat my head. Good luck, you'll need it. They kissed my head as the Reaper arrived.

The Reaper rode a skinny horse with fishtail. I called it the Death Kelpie. Both the ride and the rider were awfully quiet, as they brought me to the Netherworld. Before I had a chance to say goodbye to Earth, we were already swimming through an infinitely large body of something that felt like both air and water at the same time. It had no color. It was confusing and devoid of characteristics. 

I tried to talk to the Reaper. They wore a pure white robe and had a mask on - or was it their face? There was no scythe, just a tablet. I kept talking even though they did not answer, to fight back the feeling of sleepiness. I shouldn't need to sleep. It was the trap of idleness.

After a while I saw others, Reapers and their deads, emerging from the great mist. Most of the deads have fallen asleep. If it wasn't for my voice saying hello, it would have looked like a strange, solemn, muted masquerade. A morbid pilgrimage. My voice dropped and sank into the dense surroundings, muffled to the point I had to convince myself I was really making sounds and not just hearing what I intended to say in my head. It probably didn't make any difference to the silence of the whole ride.

We flew out of the mist and landed in a dark place. Strangely, I could feel coldness. The ground was solid, but covered in some kind of black ash. There were people, holding lanterns, waiting there. On closer inspection, they weren't people at all. They were hooded beings with no faces and no legs, each holding a tablet just like the Reapers. The lights from the lanterns were inexplicably beautiful, they were irresistible. 

The Reapers dropped us off and made haste back into the dark space, probably going back into the mist, to pick up some new deads. The other souls started to wake up, and the hooded beings immediately approached them. 

"Hello." One spoke to me. Even without a face, they still somehow managed to convey a smile. "The year is 2020. You're dead. Congratulation on a life well lived, and welcome to Irkalla, the Land of the Dead!"

They held out their gloved hand. I shook it, smiling:

"Not too well-lived a life, but well, it was a ride. Thank you."

"Really adapting to the situation, aren't we?" The hooded one spoke with a tone that made me think they were raising an eyebrow humorously. "I see that you were already awake when you got here. Lucky you, get to see them Reapers!"

"Please, they didn't make a single sound. It was depressing." I laughed. "I never slept, actually."

"Oh?" The hooded one tilted their head, before they decided to shrug it off and proceed with the orientation. "They're quite talkative off-duty. Anyways... my name is Charon. Actually all of us are Charons. Here, have my reference number." They tapped on my hand and a string is registered into my mind. "It's for feedback, if you want to leave one with the network."

I half expected them to say "Thank you for choosing our service" but they didn't.

I have so many questions.

"Isn't Charon a ferryman? ...And you have a network?"

"I'll ferry you, alright. After the formalities. And the fees, of course. The Charon network supports you through your stay here, and we require a one-time fee upon your arrival - you see, people didn't get it and said we were greedy. It costs a lot of energy to manage millions and then billions of souls. I haven't taken a day off in years..." The Charon rambled on while scribbling away on their tablet.

"I don't have money." I said, confused.

"It's your, eh, spiritual energy. Don't worry, we'll charge it directly, if you just sign here..."

They gave me the stone tablet with shining, silver letters and numbers on it. It said 50 Kar.

"How much is 50 Kar?" I frowned. "How much do I even have?"

"It says here..." The Charon took back the tablet and held it up in front of me, scanning: "Sixty-six thousand two hundred seventy-two. Wow, that's a lot, for a human soul. Did you save someone's life or something?"

"And died as a result." I nodded.

"Heroic compensation, I see. Still, this is a lot. It's still increasing, that means people are thinking of you, a lot. You're gonna be a happy lady down in Irkalla. So, I assume a measly fifty wouldn't even be worth thinking about."

"I don't want you to directly charge me. How do I know how much you took?"

"Make it a coin then..." Charon sighed.

I produced a coin. "Like this?"

"Huh, I didn't expect you to really... You did lucid dreaming?"

"Sometimes, yes. Not too often."

"Figured. That coin's 122 Kar, Ma'am. Cut it to a little less than half and you're good."

I now truly believed the Charon's integrity, and appreciated it. But I didn't want to go into Irkalla, so I wasn't going to pay. I put the coin back into my pocket.

The way I guessed it, energy and money were the same thing here and this currency was magic itself. I was glad that in my culture, the living kept sending thoughts and, more importantly, immitation money, to the dead on a regular basis.

"Do you have something that can scan the worth of an object? I would like to buy."

"We do, but you need to complete registration first, sorry." Charon insisted.

"May I ask a question first?"

"Of course." The Charon sighed.

"Do demons exist and where are they?"

"Not in Irkalla, if that's what you're worrying about." Charon shook their empty head. "See, you'll be safe here with us, just help me out here and finish the damn registration!"

"I want to see a demon." I said, quite bluntly. "...I'm looking for one." 

The Charon stared at me. Unexpectedly, they just calmly asked:

"Do you have a proof of connection?"

"A what?"

"Proof of connection. To any demon. A crest, a pact, a contract, anything. We allow priests and contractors to be picked up by a third party, they are a hassle to deal with anyway. But without a proof, I can't just make them take you."

I bit my lips, trying to produce something, but I had nothing. Even if I had come into contact with real demons, Erek probably had blocked me from retaining any such proofs.

"Into Irkalla you go, then." The Charon said. "Look, you probably think you're special and don't want to forget how special you are. Trust me, kids like you are a dime a dozen. They all want to become a vampire or something. We're used to dealing with people who went 'oh? is this Heaven? why am I not in Heaven?' (The Charon imitated a high-pitched voice) but recently there have been a lot of those crackheads who think they have dark magic power or something. They're probably just strolling the streets of Irkalla now and still as irritable as before. We try not to let them make visits back to Earth."

To be honest I was taken aback. But if anything, I certainly didn't expect demons to be cool, or think that I was powerful.

"How could one leave Irkalla to visit Earth?" I asked.

"You don't leave. You imprint your consciousness on a medium for a while. We have a system." Charon explained, anxious. "Do I have to drag you in, now?"

Makes sense. Erek told me that the only place where you can leave Irkalla was here, at the entrance of it, the Tail of Kur. It's a little disturbing to think of how souls gradually move from the Tail to Kutha - the capital or, quite literally, the Head of Kur, and then into reincarnation. It's as if when we are born, we're born from Kur's barf. At least that was what I thought at the time Erek briefly explained to me about it.

"Sorry." I shook my head. "I'm still not going in. I might not have a proof, but I have my choices. I choose not to go in, and you can't make me."

"Really now?" The Charon sighed. "Ah, crap, the next batch is coming already... Excuse me, but in that case, you're heading straight to Purgatorium. Reapers!"

For some reason I immediately went for the lantern as the Charon called for the Reapers who just came in. The Charon yelled when I snatched the haunting light away from them. I ran, holding the light up in front of me, although it did not help because everything was black and even the ground was covered in soot. The Charon and two Reapers chased after me, fast approaching. No time to think, I threw the lantern at one Reaper. The Charon rammed into me in the dark and yelped. My intuition told me they started to cast a spell, probably a binding spell, but my arm found the tablet and I grabbed it, this time tearing the tablet from its owner.

I dispeled the bind in that moment. I couldn't explain how, but I did. It worked kind of like when you dreamed. I got up and continued running.

"Goddamn lucider!" The Charon cursed and quickly caught up, way faster than I thought. I let out a laugh, unknowingly. 

It felt amazing. I felt awake. I felt more alive than when I was alive. There was no exhaustion. The possibilities are limitless.

My feet suddenly slipped from the ground and I fell down the cliff, I and the Charon both. It was pitch black and there was no air.

We fell in dead silence.

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