The falling sensation never came. Eliana opened her eyes to see that she and Orcus were floating in the cloud of darkness. It was cold, as was the abyss. She pulled her arms around herself to keep warm.
When the cloud dissipated, they were in a library. The cold was gone and Eliana let out a sigh of relief, causing the god of death next to her to chuckle.
“Welcome my home,” Orcus said. “Well, a piece of my home.”
The library was huge. Shelves lined the walls and reached all the way to the ceiling where they stretched to cover the ceiling as well. Books floated through the air, rushing past their heads and landing gracefully in the hands of others around them. At the same time, books were being released and sent back to their spots on the shelves. Chairs were scattered about in some organized pattern that Eliana could not recognize. People sat in them scribbling inside of the books. There was only one window, but it took up most of the back wall and it looked out onto the ocean. The center of the room was cut out into a square and a waterfall fell through the center of it. Guard railings surrounded the rushing water to keep people from stumbling down it.
“This,” Orcus explained. “Is the Library of Souls. Every human being who has ever lived has a book in this library.”
When he spoke, the others in the room glanced up. They stood to bow to him before sitting back down to continue to write in their books.
Eliana stared at everything in bewilderment. No wonder there were so many books.
“Do I have a book?” She asked, scanning the shelves with her fingers. One each spine of the books were a name and symbols she did not recognize.
“No,” Orcus said from behind her. “Your soul has not passed on.”
“But this is the afterlife, is it not?”
Orcus frowned, grabbing his chin with a bony hand. “Not exactly.”
He pointed to the waterfall in the center of the room. “That waterfall flows through all of the God Planes and the human world. When a human died, their soul is sent down the waterfall. As it passes through here, Soulscribers, transcribe the contents of that person’s life into an empty book. The books then rearrange themselves in the specific alphabetical order they are designed to know.”
He led her toward the waterfall. On closer inspection, she could see the transparent forms of people rushing through the water. One woman’s hand reached from the water and extended toward her. Eliana leaned over the railing and reached for her hand, but Orcus stopped her.
“You must never touch the waterfall. You are originally from the human world and since you have a human soul, the waterfall would pull you in and take you to the afterlife. You can never return here after you fall. If you thought the portal Lux created was painful, falling down the waterfall will feel much worse.”
She nodded and stepped back. “What is my purpose here then as your apprentice?”
“That depends on you,” he said. “Most of my apprentices are trained to become Soulscribers, but occasionally I will get one that either has no desire to write in books all day or physically has not been able to learn how. Those apprentices are given other jobs such as cooking, cleaning, and the like, however, all apprentices are expected to do that work as well.”
“How many apprentices do you have?”
“I have many, but not as many as the other gods. Most apprentices do not want to spend their eternities with the god of death. There have been several that have thrown themselves into the waterfall for that reason alone.”
He sighed and sat in a chair. Eliana sat in one across from him, hoping her first lesson would start.
“I do hope that will not be the case for you,” he said. “The humans who worship us tend to forget that I am also the god of knowledge, but they only remember the god of death part.”
Eliana raised an eyebrow at Orcus’ sulking. She had not expecting him to be as easy going or whiny as he was currently being. She picked at the skin around her hands while he rambled on about being forgotten and unloved. When he finished, he cleared his throat and stood, awaking Eliana from a light slumber.
“Well, then,” he said. “I best show you to your room.”
“What about learning to soulscribe?”
“You need time to rest first. Your life force has not completely regenerated after you fell through the planes. Your lessons will start once that force is back at its fullest.”
“And when will that be?” She asked.
“It is different for everyone. It could take anywhere from a few hours to a few decades. It depends on how strong your life force was before you died.”
“How will I know when that happens?” She asked, tugging on a strand of her hair.
“We will know when you remember your name,” he explained. “Your name will be the only thing you will ever remember about your life.”
She gave him a sad nod and followed behind as he led her from the library. As they walked, Eliana took in the surrounding area to keep herself from getting lost.
The walls were made of black stone and torches lined the walls, illuminating the stone walls in a warm glow. There were also large windows at the end of each hallway. The corridors seemed to move like a maze. There was always an end, but also a turn. Wooden doors lined the walls and paintings and tapestries decorated the empty spaces.
Eliana found herself stopping at one masterpiece. It was of a young woman with dark hair and dark skin. She was standing on a cliffside about to jump. Tears fell from her eyes as angry men with torches and pitchforks stood behind her, pushing her toward the edge.
“Apprentice?” Orcus called. His head peaked from around a corner, chuckling when he saw Eliana. “Amazed by the artwork, are you?”
“Who is the artist?” She asked.
“His name is Daniel. He became my apprentice about a century ago, however, he is one of the cases where he does not soulscribe.”
“Is that because he chooses not to?”
Orcus shook his head. “Not at all. His case is a rare one. His life force never fully developed here. Part of his soul became lost in the human world, making it impossible for him to grasp the art of soulscribing. He has a knack for painting. Before he arrived, the walls were bare.”
“How do you know his name is Daniel if his soul is incomplete?”
“It is a name that was given to him by those around him. No one, not even he, knows his true name. I doubt anyone ever will.”
Noticing every painting they passed seemed to be about someone about to die, Eliana asked Orcus about it.
“Daniel finds solace in painting life before it ends. He is often reading the books in the Library of Souls and uses the deaths in those books as inspiration. But come, your room is just around the corner.”
He ushered her around the corner with a wave of his hand. She nodded and followed as he led her to a large wooden door, identical to all that they passed. A key appeared from a cloud of darkness in his hand and he used it to open the door. Inside was a large bed, a nightstand, a wardrobe, and a desk.
The two of them stepped into the room. “This room is yours,” Orcus said. “You can decorate it however you please. The wardrobe is filled with clothes, although, you may find that they don’t fit your liking. If that is the case, call Albert, and he will put in an order for new ones.”
Orcus nodded and handed her a gold whistle on a string. “Yes, he is the butler here in the castle. You can call him by using this whistle.”
“Thank you, sir,” Eliana said. Her stomach made a growling sound, making Orcus chuckle.
“No need to call me “sir.” I do not find being above others as others as appealing as the other gods do. I would like to consider myself a friend and equal to my apprentices. Meals are in the dining hall. There are other apprentices who live in this hallway. I will ask one of them to show you around the castle.”
Eliana thanked him once more and he left. She put the whistle around her neck as she took the time to look at her new room. The walls were bare, other than the red curtains covering the windows. The carpet was black as were the blankets on the bed.
She opened the wardrobe to look at the clothing inside. Most of it was black.
“Not a colorful place, is it?” She muttered to herself. She pulled an article of clothing from the wardrobe and put it on, switching from her red garments to the black dress. The sleeves were long, but the dress only stopped at her knees. She tried pulling the fabric down to see if it would cover more of her skin, but she did not have any luck. She searched through the wardrobe for a longer dress but found nothing.
Hearing a knock at her door, she ventured toward it. She opened it to see a man standing before her.
“Hello,” he waved. “You must be the new apprentice. My name is Oliver. I live just across the hall.”
He stared at her expectantly with bright blue eyes. His dark hair resting neatly on his head.
“Hello,” she said. “I’m Eliana.”
The name rolled off her tongue with ease and she blinked in surprise.
“You seem shocked,” Oliver said. “Are you alright?”
She nodded. “Yes, I just could not remember my name until now.”
He nodded. “Yes, that happens. It will be the only thing you remember so I suggest you cherish it.”
“So, I’ve been told. No one knows how we’ve died?” She asked.
“Yup,” he laughed. “Of course, Orcus knows; he’s one of the gods. He just refuses to tell anyone who asks.”
She nodded, continuing to try to pull her dress down. Oliver paid no attention to her awkwardness and he pulled her from the room by her arm.
“I bet you’re hungry. I remember that I had quite the appetite when I first arrived.”
She nodded. “I am really hungry.”
Her stomach growled to make a point.
Oliver laughed and let go of her hand. “The dining hall is in the dungeon. It is always open so if you get hungry in the middle of the night, you can get food. We may be dead, but our souls still need sustenance and sleep.”
She nodded and followed behind Oliver as he led her through the twists and turns of the castle. They passed the library and several more paintings. They went down several flights of stairs before Oliver stopped in front of two large doors. He warned her to brace herself for people get excited when a new apprentice arrives. Eliana nodded in understanding and took a deep breath.
Much to her surprise and disappointment, there were not many people in the dining hall. The room could probably hold hundreds of people at its maximum capacity, however, the room was nowhere close to being that full. Only a few of the tables were filled.
“Oliver!” Someone shouted.
Eliana turned to see a girl running toward them.
“Juliet,” Oliver said with a nod.
Juliet turned to Eliana and began to stare her down, her blond hair falling over her eyes.
“Is this the new apprentice?”
“Yeah,” Oliver said. “Orcus tasked me with showing her around. I brought her here first since she was hungry.”
“We all were after arriving,” Juliet laughed before turning to Eliana and introducing herself. Eliana returned the introduction.
“Well, welcome to the Death Plane. Do you know who will be teaching you to Soulscribe?”
Eliana shook her head. Orcus had never told her.
Juliet tapped her chin. “That’s odd. He usually has someone assigned by the first day whether or not you are complete.”
Oliver nodded. “But occasionally he chooses to train apprentices himself. He did that with me. It was terrifying.”
Eliana’s stomach growled again and she wrapped her arms around herself, squeaking out an apology.
Juliet laughed and took her by the arm. “Let’s get some food in your system.”
She led her to the buffet line where all different types of food were sitting. Occasionally, a person would come out from the kitchen and exchange the empty containers for full ones.
“What suits your fancy?” Juliet asked.
Eliana stared at all of the food. It all looked delicious, but she did not know what she wanted.
“I don’t know.”
Juliet sighed. “Well, I shouldn’t expect you to remember your favorite foods.”
“Just do what I did,” Oliver said, appearing from nowhere. “I ate just about everything in sight to figure out what I liked.”
Her stomach growled once more. “Good idea.”
Oliver and Juliet both laughed as they filled their plates. She thought that she was getting a lot of food until she saw Oliver’s plate. He had two and both were stacked high with whatever he could fit on it. I cringed as he added another scoop to the pile.
“How do you do that?”
“Practice,” he winked.
Eliana laughed as they found an empty table. People were beginning to clear out, but there was still quite a bit of chatter echoing off the stone walls.
Eliana looked down at her plate of food and took a random bite. She gagged and spit something out into a napkin.
“Now you’ve learned that you hate mushrooms,” Oliver said with a mouthful of food.
She nodded and picked the rest of the mushrooms out of the food. Oliver kindly asked that she give them to him. She did and watched in disgust as he devoured them in a single go.
“You’re lack of manners astound me,” Juliet scoffed.
Oliver pointed his fork at her and swallowed. “A soul got to eat.”
“You aren’t eating,” she argued. “You’re inhaling.”
“Inhaling. Eating. What’s the difference?”
Eliana tuned the rest of their argument out, figuring this was a normal thing for the two as she continued to taste little bits of her food. Nothing else was sticking out as disgusting like the mushrooms, so she finished the plate and went back for another. She filled it with different food. When she returned to the table, Juliet was gone and Oliver was inhaling the last of his second plate.
“Where did Juliet go?” She asked.
Oliver swallowed and pointed at the door with his form. “She’s on the clock to soulscribe tonight.”
Eliana nodded, taking another bite of food. Nothing on this plate disgusted her, so she kept eating until the food was gone.
“I guess mushrooms must be all that you don’t like,” Oliver laughed. “I will gladly accept them as an offering of friendship.”
Eliana nodded with a laugh. “Deal.”
Within the next moment, the room seemed to go silent. Oliver’s head turned toward the doors and Eliana followed his gaze. In the doorway stood Orcus with a tall, thin man. His skin had the same sickly pale color as Orcus’ skin. He wore a black trench coat and the rest of his wardrobe was varying shades of greys.
“Who is that with Orcus?” Eliana whispered to Oliver once his head turned back to her.
“That is Crane,” Oliver whispered. “The first apprentice.
Eliana glanced back at the duo at the door only to see that they were gone.
“There’s my new apprentice,” Orcus said behind her.
Startled, she jumped in her seat and fell out of the chair. She looked up at Oliver, who was trying to stiffen a laugh.
“I’m sorry,” Orcus said as he extended his hands to help her off the floor. “I sometimes forget that I can unintentionally surprise people.”
Eliana nodded, accepting his help. “It’s alright.”
“Good,” Orcus said as he took a seat next to her where Juliet had previously been seated. He snapped his fingers and two plates of food appeared. Crane sat on the other side of Oliver.
Eliana secretly snapped her fingers under the table to try and make a plate of food appear.
“What brings you to our table?” Oliver asked. He was shaking under Crane’s gaze as he reached down to take a slow bite of food.
“I wanted to check on your progress of showing our new apprentice around,” Orcus said, taking a bite of food.
Oliver nodded. “Well, Eliana was hungry, so I brought her hear first.”
The god of death nodded. “So, Eliana is your name. I did not ask earlier. I assumed you would not be able to remember it so quickly.”
“She remembered it right away,” Oliver said.
Orcus nodded. “Good. Then I would like to begin your soulscribing lessons right away, Eliana.”
Oliver blinked. “But she hasn’t even been here for a day.”
“That means nothing. We could use all the help we could get with soulscribing. A plague is beginning to break out and we need as many hands scribing as possible.”
“Is Oliver going to be my teacher?” Eliana asked.
Orcus shook his head. “Crane will be the one to teach you.”
The color in Oliver’s face drained. “Sir, are you sure she is strong enough for Crane’s lessons?”
“But,” Oliver protested.
“Silence, Oliver. I sense a strong amount of life force within Eliana. I believe that she can handle it. If I am wrong and she cannot, you will be tasked with teaching her. In the meantime, I would like you to head to the library and begin scribing.”
“Yes, sir.” He stood to leave and as he did, his plates vanished.
“And stop calling me sir,” Orcus shouted as Oliver walked away. “It makes me feel old.”
Oliver turned around and nodded before leaving the dining hall.
Orcus dabbed at the corners of his lips with a napkin and stood. “Alright then. I have my own business to do. I leave Eliana in your care, Crane.”
Crane dipped his head. “Of course.”
Orcus nodded and disappeared in a cloud of darkness. Crane sat patiently waiting for Eliana to finish her meal before he stood.
“Follow me,” he said once she was finished.
Obediently, she followed him from the dining hall and back up to the main floor of the castle through hallways that she had not seen yet. More of Daniel’s paintings covered the walls and Eliana could feel a longing to meet this mysterious and talented painter.
Crane stopped at a wooden door, unlike all the others, this door was painted black with a white skull in the center. He turned the knob and inside the room was nothing but darkness.
“Normally, we teach in rooms in the library, but I like to teach here.”
Crane stepped into the room and Eliana followed behind. She could not see anything. She stood silent waiting for Crane to light a torch or a candle. She fidgeted with the hem of her dress to wipe off the sweat building up.
“Aren’t you going to light a candle?” She asked.
“No,” Crane said. “You are.”
“But I can’t see anything!”
“That is the point,” he said. “Souls are made up of energy otherwise known as life force. This energy is what we use when soulscribing. In order to effectively scribe, you must first learn to control this life force.”
A ball of light flickered and vaguely lit up the room. Crane’s form illuminated across the room as he forced the light from his hands into a torch on the wall. Then he spread the light to cover the remaining torches, lighting up the entire room.
“You’re turn,” Crane said as he moved his hands. At that moment, all light disappeared from the room and sent them back into darkness.
Eliana raised her shaking hands and tried to imagine light between them. Nothing happened, so she tried concentrating harder. Still nothing.
“You are trying too hard,” Crane said as he stepped close to her. “Let the life force flow from you.”
Eliana nodded. She could not see him, but she knew Crane was close to her. Her breathing quickened and she tried to calm herself down. She was afraid and she did not know why which was even more frightening.
“I don’t like the dark,” she muttered. Light flickered in her hands.
“What was that?” Crane asked.
“I don’t like the dark.” The light grew bigger.
“I can’t hear you,” he said again.
“I said, I don’t like the dark!” She shouted, suddenly releasing a large ball of light out of her body. It connected with Crane. He was thrown back several feet into the far wall and the sparks from the blast hit each and every torch.
By the end of it, Eliana was bent over panting, trying to catch her breath. Crane was on the floor with his eyes wide, as if he had never seen anything like that before. Eliana stared in awe at what she had accomplished.
Crane got to his feet and cleared his throat. “Stay here,” he said, disappearing in a cloud of darkness.