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Orphean Complex

By Brian Baker All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Thriller

Blurb

Eurydice didn't always go by the name. Back on Earth, she was an 8th grade school teacher known as Ms. Petridis, although many of her students called her the Dragon Lady. But down here, where the souls of the dead comprise everything from the walls of the buildings to the food you eat, her reputation as a strict but protective teacher meant something completely different. At least, it did right up until two of her former students appear, trapped in the cavernous wasteland. And worse, it seems they're not actually dead yet. Orphean Complex is cryptic take on Greek myths, where Hades recycles souls to make itself stronger and the meaning of life and death take on a strange life of their own. When your perception of who you are can kill you, then what meaning does sacrifice have?

Chapter 1

The bar smelled musty.

To be fair, everything here smelled musty. There were few places you could find in this hole that didn’t smell like someone had died recently, and even fewer where that wasn’t actually the case.

The bar was special, though. Unlike the dank smell of the underside of an old bridge that found anywhere else, here the smell was almost pleasant. The scent that accompanied active people looking to be a little less active for the day. The smell of old friends and older liquor.

Eurydice didn’t know where her favorite barkeep got liquor, and she didn’t want to know. Knowing things here was painful. It was the first lesson you learned when you arrived: the more you knew, the more likely you were to be bothered. Plus if someone who wanted to know something you knew, then they might try to come and take it from you.

It’s why she hadn’t bothered to learn her bartender’s name, or even the name of the drink she ordered every time she came here. Staying sober enough to remember her own name was the only goal. That, and to find a way out of here.

A difficult proposition, to say the least. Although she could find the little hole she called home, and she could find the wonderful bar with the free drinks, she could never reliably find anything else. The caves--were they caves? Who knows--the tunnels were impossible to follow. Even sober the only way she could tell which way was up was by pushing off the ground. No one could make sense of which way was anywhere down here, and everyone felt lost.

Which is why the rumors of directions seemed so dangerous when they hit her ears.

The couple discussing it were doing their best to keep their voices down in the raucous room, but Eurydice had long ago learned how to listen for specific words. The two gossipers licked their lips while they exchanged quick phrases about newcomers and a compass. Eurydice did her best to avoid gathering any attention to herself, simply resting her head on the bar and tilting her head to the side, waiting to hear a hint that might give her something to act on.

While the couple gave no further indication, Eurydice stood up when she heard them begin to discuss leaving and started to head out to find a shadow to lurk in. The barkeep eyed her as she began to walk away.

“You know you still owe me ten pounds?” he said simply.

“And when was the last time I made you wait more than a week?” she replied with a dismissing wave of her hand. “You know I’m good for it.”

The barkeep nodded. “And you know I’m running low on casks. As soon as you can manage, alright?”

Eurydice did not turn to face him once again, simply raising a hand in acknowledgement. It was a nasty business, but it kept her occupied, and drunk. Both very important things to be once she found herself stuck down here.

It didn’t take long to get into someplace suitable. The tunnels were full of dark spaces just waiting for the wrong person to find them. Unfortunately for the couple in the bar, Eurydice was exactly the wrong person.

They didn’t keep her waiting long. They were making a show to hide the conspiratorial giggles, but to Eurydice they were like a beacon in the dimly lit pathway. She waited for them to get a little ahead, looking down at her feet and scuffing at the loose, damp stone below. She missed the roads back home. She missed cars. These narrow passages and cramped buildings did little to make the dark tunnels seem any less oppressing.

Eventually the two rounded a corner, and Eurydice was only able to see the light they were carrying. She moved at a trot, a practiced silence in the eternal night. It was unlikely the foolhardy couple would hear her, but she took no chances. She flicked from corner to corner to follow the rumor and the people who embodied it. Eventually they came to an unadorned outcropping.

Eurydice watched from some distance as the two attempted to quietly approach the mouth of the short cave, cupping their candle to try to keep the light from shining within. She shook her head. The ones in the cave must be new to miss the sounds and sights saying they had visitors. Still, it made her job a lot easier when everyone was oblivious.

One of the two at the entrance--Eurydice couldn’t be bothered to figure out their genders--reached into the back of their pants and pulled out a knife. It took everything Eurydice had not to whistle. Now there was a nice a trophy. Maybe this night wouldn’t be so bad after all. She studied the other one but no other weapon was produced. Either they were confident just one of them could take whomever was in the cave, or there was only one weapon between them. Eurydice was guessing it was the latter; weapons were hard to come by and even harder to make down here.

But then, not everyone down here is like me, either, she thought to herself, trying to resist the mad smile coming across her face but failing. She knew tonight’s take was going to be a lot more than ten pounds, so long as she was careful, and she might even have a bit left over for herself, depending on what was actually inside.

The one with the knife pivoted, placing the light near the entrance to cast inside, attempting to blind the ones in the dark cave before going inside. Eurydice quickly readied herself as well. The moment the first step was taken, she crossed the distance between where she was and the one who stayed behind.

There was barely a grunt of surprise as Eurydice’s left hand covered the mouth of what she was now fairly certain was a man. Her hand raked across through the front of his neck and removed almost all of the tissue. There was a slight hissing sound, and the body went limp.

With her debt now ready to be paid, Eurydice glanced around the corner towards her next prepayment. The one with the knife--also obviously male, now that she was closer--was standing over two cowering figures, which were covered by his shadow. He flicked the knife in his hand, making a show of intimidating the two already fearful people inside.

A bubble of anger boiled up. This wasn’t how it worked down here. No one plays with their food.

She watched for a moment, trying to get a grasp on what the man with the knife was doing. It took her a moment to figure out he was talking to them; sound traveled poorly outside of buildings in the tunnels.

“Don’t lie to me. I saw you with it when you arrived, you were holding on to it. Where did you hide it?”

The two figures only shook their heads and trembled. Eurydice grinded her teeth. The man was enjoying himself. As if this place wasn’t sick enough already.

“I see. Well then, I suppose you can watch as I skin your companion.”

Before she knew it, Eurydice was closing the distance to the man with his back to her. A fleeting thought crossed her mind, this wasn’t how she does business, wait for them to kill each other, then execute the remainder. Her anger shoved the thoughts away, and she growled as got close.

The man turned around at the sudden sound from behind, his eyes widening at the silhouetted figure approaching him so quickly. His hand shot up to swing his knife, but Eurydice had little patience for such an unpracticed move. Her own shot up and her fingers gashed through his wrist. His hand, still clutching the knife, tumbled to the ground.

Her other arm was poised to go through his chest when she pulled up at the last second, her fingers sinking into his shoulder instead. Finally he let out a scream, but it didn’t last long. There was an audible click as Eurydice opened her mouth, followed by a snap when they closed on his throat, her teeth, suddenly more like a sharks then a humans, tearing through the flesh and cutting off the air to the scream.

Eurydice willed her body to return to normal. It was difficult, as it normally required a calm state of mind, and it took some time for both the anger and the adrenaline to subside. Still, although she had finally conditioned herself to be willing to take advantage of a hunter’s kills (and the hunters themselves), she had no desire kill newcomers. In a strange twist, the sickness of their killer has spared them for at least one night.

“You should probably go somewhere else,” she said to the two in the shadows, trying to wipe the blood from her mouth as she searches the body for anything of value. Nothing, of course, outside of the knife. He probably gave up everything he had to get it. Idiot. “These two were being a bit too loose with their discussions at the bar. With the rumors they were likely to stir up, I would imagine others would be coming to look for you soon, especially when they don’t show up again. And if the rumors are true, you’re in even deeper trouble.”

Eurydice grabbed the hand and pried the knife out. She put it in her belt, next to the hand itself. Then with a grunt, she hoisted the body over her shoulder. She looked back to towards the entrance. She’d have to drag the other one.

She walked towards it, considering the candle. The two inside probably did not have a light of their own yet, a must have down here for anyone looking to survive. She bent down and picked it up, walking it a bit back into the outcropping and setting it down again. “Here, you’ll probably need this,” she said simply. “Don’t forget the sacrifice of those who died to make this for you.”

She glanced at the two figures in the candlelight. Children, teenagers at best. Shit.

Before she could find herself reaching out, Eurydice turned her back and walked out. “You’ll want to find somewhere high if you can, so people can’t see the light from outside. Avoid rooftops or squatting in buildings. No matter how empty it seems, it never really is. And keep moving. It’s hard to find someone down here, but even harder if they’re not where you left them.” With her open hand, she reached down and grabbed the leg of the other body, giving a yank to make sure it wasn’t caught on anything.

A small voice called out behind her. “Ms. Petridis?”

She froze. It was hard to say when she dropped the foot she was holding, but it was fairly obvious once it hit the floor and bounced off her own foot. Still, it was difficult to give the feeling more than a fleeting thought. The implications of hearing that name for the first time in so long was consuming her mind.

Her body tensed. Her mind had flashed to a younger self, one not so cold and hard as the one she had here. That realization made her regain her composure. She couldn’t afford such changes, not if she wanted to keep going.

But what of them? She focused, having asked too much of her beleaguered psyche and relied instead on conditioned reflex of handling business first. And step one in that process was to distance herself from the site, at least for now.

She turned her head only slightly, avoiding her face to be shown in the light as best she could. She spoke over her shoulder.

“There’s a bar not far from here. It’s not hard to find, and the only one around. You might be able to figure out your next steps there. You can let the barkeep know you know me.” She pulled the hand on her belt loose. “I’m not sure how much good it’ll do you, but it’s worth a shot if you’re having issues.”

“Wait, Ms.—“

With a flick of her wrist, she flung the hand over her head. It landed just in time to interrupt the voice with a thud. She couldn’t afford to let it plead, and the hand drove home her point far better than anything else: now wasn’t the time.

“Use that to get some food, if you need it. Or a drink, if that suits you.”

With that, she reached down as steadily as she could, grabbed the nearby ankle once more, and sped forward. She had to squint her eyes; despite being used to the dark, despite there being nothing in the air, her vision had become blurry. Still, she had no time to think about it.

As she got to the corner where she watched from before, she could no longer fight the urge. As she rounded, she stole a glance back toward the nook.

The figures, and the candle, were both gone.

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