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Afterlife as an Obolus

(Pt. 1 of a New Serial)


by

Mike Spera

"We, the jury, find the defendant, Arnold Blaken, guilty of conspiring with
the servants of Oblivion, and sentence him to the soulforges."
Those words sealed my fate. I was taken by the guards and dragged, hands
behind my back with relic cuffs, out of the courtroom. This was injustice,
but I knew that neither the jury nor the judge would have listened to a single
word I said in my own defense. I'm also sure that the prosecutor was a
Solicitor, the bastard. I pleaded my case and did my best, though. How the
hell was I supposed to know the guy was a spectre? They don't call them
Doppelgangers for nothing, you know.
I was taken by the two guards to a jail cell and roughly tossed inside. "The
Masquer is on his way to pick you up," one of them said as he slammed the
barred door shut. The two guards left the room, leaving me alone with my
Shadow.
Well, this is a fine mess you've gotten us into, Arnold, my dark side said.
"The best thing about me being pounded down to plasm is that YOU get
pounded into Oblivion," I shot back: "Which means I don't have to listen to
your bullshit anymore."
My dark side knew I was right. Goods made from souls didn't have
Shadows. The darker side got pounded right out of the psyche, and while the
psyche remained, the Shadow went to Oblivion. I might be someone's pen
for the rest of my afterlife, but at least I wouldn't have a Shadow.
Better rest up, boy, it teased: You're gonna need all the strength you can get
before they heat you up and pound the shit out of you...
I lay down on the floor and shut my eyes. At least we both could agree on
something once in a
while.
"Rise and shine, Blaken," someone said.
There was a pounding in the air that shook me out of my meditation. The
two guards were back, with someone else. The guard was using a nightstick
to bang on the bars of my jail cell.
"Time to go," he said.
I got up and almost fell over. I'd forgotten that my hands were still bound
behind my back. I carefully got to my knees, then my feet.
I checked out my Masquer escort. She wore a gray cape that flowed over a
black skintight suit. Her mask covered all of her face except her mouth. Her
lips were the only colorful part of her, and the blood-red stood out against
her darker suit and cape. The blood-red lips were sealed shut into a
motionless expression that was neither a frown nor a smile nor a smirk. Her
mouth might as well have been part of her mask.
She kept her dull blond hair short, just below her ears but not down to her
shoulders. Her dull eyes examined me, and she was probably considering
what kind of accessory my corpus would best suited to make.
The guard opened up the jail cell and yanked me out, pushing me towards
the Masquer: "He's all yours."
She nodded silently and motioned with her head to the exit. I walked
forward, with a guard opening the door for the rest of us. I could run now,
but I knew it was useless. Time to face the music.
I was pushed and prodded outside of the courthouse, where there was an old-
fashioned carriage waiting outside, the door opened, waiting for me. Four
dog-like plasmics, barghests I think they're called, were strapped in where
horses would normally be.
"How quaint," I said, bitterly.
"Don't talk, get in," a female voice ordered from behind me. I felt a hand on
my back, pushing me almost down the stone steps. I moved forward, and the
barghests snarled and bit at one another as I stepped into the carriage. The
interior smelled like death and didn't look much better. The Masquer closed
the door and produced a whip from under her robe as she leapt up onto the
driver's seat. The whip cracked against corpus, the barghests whimpered,
and the old carriage lurched forward.
I don't know how long we rode for, but at least I had a view of the outside as
we made our way to my doom. We passed by the parts of the Shadowlands I
was familiar with, then into an area of town that the local wraiths knew to
keep away from.
The streets were deserted, and a group of mourners could be heard in the
distance. If there was a Hell in the Shadowlands, we were heading to the
heart of it. There were a few structures in the distance, and screaming and
moaning could be heard as we drew nearer.
After a few minutes, I saw that the buildings, the doors, the smokestacks,
and everything else, were all made of forged souls. My god, how many
wraiths, spectres and plasmics had been smelted to construct this hideous
place? I didn't want to ponder how many screaming souls I was looking at,
and I certainly didn't think of what it would be like after I became one.
The barghests came to a stop outside of one of these hellish buildings, and
the Masquer woman dismounted and opened the door for me.
"Get out," she ordered. I did, and she followed behind me, pushing me
towards the door. She had no weapons other than the whip, but I wasn't
stupid enough to try and make a break for it. I would end up here at the
forges sooner or later...
The door was closed, and there was a slot to peek through and a large
doorknocker in the shape of a skull. My lady escort picked up the knocker
and banged it several times, the skull giving out a small, agonized cry each
time it struck the door.
We waited, and not long after the slot slid open from the other side. A set of
eyes peeked through, then slid the peephole shut. The door opened a
moment later, and a large, slightly overweight man with a large hammer in
his hand stood in the doorway. He was covered in the soot of fire and had
splatters of plasm dripping off of his relic smith's clothes.
"And who do we have here?" he asked.
"Arnold Blaken," the woman responded, coldly.
"Ah, Blaken, yes," the man smiled at me: "We've been expecting you."
He pulled me inside and thanked my Masquer escort for the delivery. As he
closed the door and pushed me forward, I took in my surroundings.
The place looked smaller on the inside than the outside. The ceiling wasn't
that high, the hallways were narrow, and the place was lit by torches dotted
here and there. The lighting was dim; not dark enough to be blind, but
noticeably darker than the outside. The firelight made the shadows flicker
and change, making the place all that much bleaker.
The hallway I entered was narrow, as I mentioned, and lined with portraits
of the Artificers that worked there. The end of the hallway looked much
brighter, and with a larger ceiling. I was pushed in that direction. As I got
closer, I could hear screaming, talking, and pounding. The air got noticeably
warmer as well. The taste of soot snaked into my nostrils and between my
lips, and my tongue and nose disagreed with the dry, bitter taste.
Eventually, I was pushed and shoved into the main hall or room or whatever
the forgers called this Hellish place. There was a huge well of fire, about the
length of a bus, in the center of the room. All around the well were the
forgers, made up of Artificers and a few Masquers as well. A few of them
were talking amongst themselves, and a few of them were by the well,
sitting on
benches, using what looked like huge forceps to hold wraiths by the neck
and insert them into the fire.
The screams were ungodly, and the fire danced with flames and flailing
limbs. As I gawked, one wraith disappeared into the flames, probably sucked
down into a Harrowing. Before I even knew what was happening, I felt a
cold steel clamp close around my neck as I was prodded over the edge of the
fire pit. I couldn't keep my balance, and I fell.
How do I describe the pain? Indescribable would be a good adjective. At
first, I felt nothing. The flames licked at me, and felt myself getting warm
under the collar, and I had time to think only one thought, which was, "Oh,
this is going to hurt soooooo much."
This thought only lasted a moment, because after that the flames penetrated
my corpus and sent me into a screaming fit of insanity. I wish I had been
sucked into Oblivion; at least Oblivion eating my soul would be quick. What
I felt was like a scalding hot stovetop smothering me, wrapping me
up in a blanket of blistering, fiery needles, searing every single inch of my
corpus.
Maddening agony shot through every part of my plasmic body straight to my
brain and screamed in a voice so loud "PAIN!! ABSOLUTE PAIN!!,
EXCRUCIATING PAIN!! MAKEITSTOP!! KILLME!! PLEASE!!" The
red-hot, skin-peeling heat scourged through my corpus and squeezed pain,
agony, screams, and pure Hellish suffering right out of my mind with
burning white-hot talons, ripping away sanity and leaving behind a bleeding
hole and nothing but scalding pain and fire to fill the gap.
The pain and chaos and pain and agony and pain and screaming and pain
and pain and more pain lasted too long. Even if I was lowered for one a
moment, I would say that it was one moment too many. I was lifted out, and
the pain held me in its embrace, the flames not wanting to let me go, and the
blistering heat smothering and spreading over my corpus like a disease,
melting my soul. The cold steel of the bench was a welcome relief, and I
could feel my corpus sizzle and the waves of scalding pain weakening ever
so slowly.
Then came the hammer. The hammer was a new kind of pain. It hurt, oh
God did it hurt, but nowhere near as much as the Hellish fire. Besides, there
were pauses in between hammer blows, as the hammer-bearer had to raise
his arm again. In an inferno, there is no pause in the agony, no respite from
the scorching, mind-rending pain. So the hammer was a much more
welcome pain, and at this point, my sanity was so pushed to the limit that I
just didn't give a shit what
happened to me, as long as I was out of the fire.
The hammer pounded me hard, and I cooled down a little, which felt good.
The tool came down again, and by now I had cooled down enough to really
notice how much it hurt. The hammer came down yet again, and this time I
was fully out of the fire and could feel the sledge coming down with all its
fury. Like a steel piston to the chest, I could feel it cracking my ribs,
splintering my corpus into pieces.
By now my Shadow was wimpering alongside me like a wounded animal
begging to be shot. At least that part of me wasn't making any smartass
comments now. I would have liked to have been sucked into Oblivion then, I
really would have. But the hammer came down yet again and brought me
right back to the horror of where I was and what was happnening to me.
After the next hammer blow, I was actually thankful to be facing this type of
pain rather than the fire. Hell, after this many blows with the hammer, I
really didn't seem to care. They could put me through any torture, and I
would welcome it as long as they kept me out of that fire. The Artificer
banged on me again and again, pounding me, molding me, shaping me. I felt
my melted bones cracking and breaking, and I was in so much pain that I
didn't care anymore. I just waited for him to finish. After so many blows,
each one was like a scream through my soul, he left the bench.
Oh, sweet respite. Finally, the process was over. What they had done to me I
hadn't even begun to imagine. What was I? Where's my body? I could still
feel and see; the bench underneath me was still cold (thank God for the little
blessings) and I was staring up at the ceiling.
However, I couldn't move my eyes or my head: the only way I could see
something was if someone would point me directly at it. I didn't have arms
or legs, and I didn't expect to, either. What shape was I? I couldn't tell...
Where was my shadow? The voice in my head had been quiet for a while,
and I tried to seek it out. I called to it, wanting it to come to the surface of
my personality. Instead of feeling my darker self, I felt an empty hole, an
odd nothingness. Maybe it was hiding, or maybe it was gone. As
the saying goes, the lights were on, but nobody was home. When the
hammer had slammed into me, I guess it had smashed my Shadow out of my
corpus and straight to Oblivion.
So the rumors were true... But I missed my Shadow right now. He was me,
and I was him, and right now, staring at the ceiling, I really wanted someone
to talk to, and the Shadow had been there with me, screaming all along
beside me, within me. And now it was gone.
I was picked up by an Artificer and carried down a hall. Whatever I was, I
was small enough to fit in his hand. He came to some room, and I think there
was a desk with a woman behind it.
"Subject's name?" she asked. She sounded like a machine, almost. No
feeling, no life in the words at all. She'd probably been asking the same
words for decades, and from the sound of it, they weren't very exciting
anymore.
"Arnold Blaken," the Artificer replied.
"Forged into?" she asked in the same monotonous tone.
"Obolus," he replied.
So that's what they did to me. I was turned into a coin. Well, there were
worse things to spend eternity as.
I heard a rustling of papers, and heard her scribbling a note down.
"All set. Put him with the others," she said.
Without another word, I was carried down a side hall and through a doorway
into a small, torchlit chamber. There were some shelves in here, holding
what looked like very old, well-used cardboard boxes. Before I knew it, my
carrier stopped dead in his tracks and I could hear a box pulled out from a
shelf. I was lifted up and dropped inside, and I heard the box shoved back
into place and footsteps walking away. The door closed, and then there was
silence.
So, this was it: I was to spend the rest of my afterlife as a coin. Things could
be worse. They could be better, of course, but I considered myself somewhat
lucky. I sat in a box with (I assume) other oboli, although I couldn't speak to
them, or even see them in the darkness. Even in a crowd, I was alone. I
didn't even have my shadow to keep me company. Even though I didn't have
much left in the way of Pathos or Corpus, I figured that I might as well try to
sleep.
After all, what else was there to do?
***

Afterlife as an Obolus
(Pt. 2 of a New Serial)
by

Mike Spera

It's funny how time passes when you're dead. A second, a minute, an
hour ...even a week, a month, or an eternity... none of these words mean
anything. It all sort of blends together, and the only words used to describe
anything are either "now," "soon," or "in a while." Of course, "soon" could
be a week to one person, a year to a wraith, and a century to a vampire.
To some, this paradox means little. To those with no arms, legs or mouth, it's
sheer Hell.
I sat in that dark box, staring at nothing, hearing nothing, and saying
nothing, for some indeterminate amount of time. It might have been a day or
two or seven or 100 or 30,000. No clocks or calendars in the Shadowlands,
no sun or moon to count the days and nights.
The dark stagnation was eventually disturbed by the sound of a door
opening. I would have cried out if I still had a mouth, but instead I just
hoped and prayed that it was time to leave. I felt the box shift, and it
bounced up and down as it was carried out of the room. Finally some action,
some event to stimulate me.
I was carried with the other oboli to some place, then plopped down on a
surface.
"How much do I owe you?" said a voice that sounded watery, gargled, and
generally not too human.
"Four," said a cold female voice. Uh-oh. I recognized that voice.
A hand reached in and clasped its fingers around myself and three other
oboli. We were thrown on the table, and I bounced and rolled to a stop
looking up at a female wraith with a dark skintight suit, a mask to match,
and blood red lips.
She looked down at me. Did she recognize me in my current state? If she
did, she certainly didn't show it on her face or body language. Then again,
she never showed ANY sign of ANYTHING with her face or body
language.
I was picked up off the table and placed in a pouch at her hip. The pouch
was made of a very thin fabric, so at least I wasn't stuffed into a dark place
again; I could see what was going on.
She turned around and walked away, turned a corner and opened two VERY
large, identical wooden doors. She walked outside and down the front steps.
The streets were busy, like any average living city or any average night, and
wraiths mingled with each other and went about their own business. The
noise of chatter drowned out the footsteps of my new owner, and she made
her way into the crowd of souls to mingle as well.
Dodging in and out of different wraiths, the lady Masquer finally made her
way onto a not-so-crowded sidewalk. She stopped and turned around,
paused for a second (to see if she was being followed?) and continued...
slowly... on her way. Her hustled step had slowed down, and I could get the
feeling that she was feeling very tense.
"Diana," a voice boomed out behind us.
She stopped, turned, and I saw, from within the coin-holding pouch at her
side, a tall, gaunt-looking wraith. He was male, wearing a black toga, with
black skin to match. His face was covered in shadow, even though there
were no other shadows in sight. Two small pinpricks of Hellfire looked out
from the blackness of his face, examining Diana.
She said nothing, only waited for him to get on with his business.
"You're late for a payment,"
"I'm also late for an appointment," she snapped back without a pause.
"I'd hate to have to kill you,"
"The feeling's mutual,"
He, or whatever gender it was, was taken aback by her boldness: "You are
foolish to shoot your mouth off. I would hate to have to remove it from your
pretty face. I am on my way elsewhere, so I will let this meeting slide.
However, the next time I see you, Diana, I will not let your debt be delayed
further."
She turned and walked away, and muttered what sounded like "asshole"
under her breath.
The street was long, each burnt-out, boarded-up building looking just as
generic as the last, if that were possible. She crossed the street at one point
and walked through the brick wall of one of the generic brick
establishments. How could she tell which one was which? I discarded the
question: how she found the place was irrelevant to me.
As she passed through the wall, I seemed to become incorporeal along with
her...and her clothes, and her other possessions. From being put in her
pocket, I was like a part of her, like a finger or piece of clothing. I became
incorporeal and corporeal just as she did. That reminded me again of my
fate: no longer an individual, but a possession. I would have to deal with this
many more times over the course of eternity.
When she and I became solid again, we saw four male wraiths sitting around
a creaky old table, as if in conversation. The room was furnished with a
faded carpet, four rickety chairs, and the aforementioned old table. It looked
like the mold was the only thing keeping the furniture together. The four
souls seated around the square table were all male, with grey beards. They
looked almost the same, except for a few subtle differences: one had a
toothpick in the corner of his jaw, one had a cowboy hat on, one had talons,
and the last one had no eyes.
"Who's that?" the no-eyed one asked.
"Diana," my owner responded.
"Been a while, girl," Toothpick said: "What have you been up to?"
"Business as usual. Same deal, different day," she responded.
"So, what can we do for you?" No-eyes asked.
She opened up the pouch and grabbed the obolus next to me, tossing it on
the table. It clacked once on the wood as it bounced, then clacked again as it
landed flat. The one with the cowboy hat reached out a skeletal hand (and I
do mean skeletal, as in "stripped of all flesh and muscle"), grasped the coin
on the table, and withdrew his hand to his side again, dragging the poor soul
in his clutches with it.
"You seen Rayhand recently?" Talon-hands asked.
"Because he's been looking for you," No-eyes said, finishing the sentence
without a beat.
"I ran into him a few minutes ago." Diana said in her typical, emotionless
tone.
"And?" Toothpick inquired.
"He's getting impatient," she reported: "I'm going to pay him soon, and he
knows that I'm always busy, so I wish he'd stop harassing me about it."
"You know Rayhand," No-eyes said: "Always keeping on top of his debts
and loans."
"Right," she said: "Can I bother you good old boys for some information?"
"What do you need to know?" Cowboy hat said.
"I think I'm being followed, and not by one of Rayhand's boys. You know
anything about that?"
There was a pause, as Toothpick, Cowboy hat, Talons, and No-eyes looked
at each other, considering what they should say to Diana. Talons turned his
gaze to her.
"I think I recall someone having a problem with you, but I'm not sure how
much I should tell you..."
He stopped, waited. Diana paused, considering. Finally, she dug out another
obolus and slid it onto the table. Talons took it with his knitting needle-like
nails and grinned as he spilled everything he knew.
"His name is Jacobs. He's part of a Heretic-Renegade gang, or cult, or
whatever. They call themselves the Riders of The Wheel. Buncha friggin'
lunatics. Heavy gamblers, and damn good Oracles. Real big into Fatalism,
Chance, Fate, gambling, Riding the Wheel, whatever you wanna call it.
"Anyways, according to him, you sent one of his Circlemates, can't
remember the name, into a Harrowing. The guy came out of the Tempest as
a spectre. The spectre killed all of Jacobs' circlemates until Jacobs himself
managed to put the thing down.
"Jacobs found out that you were responsible for sending the guy into the
Harrowing, and now your name is at the top of Jacobs' hit list. He's pissed,
he's got connections with other Riders of the Wheel circles, and he knows a
little Fatalism, so watch your step."
"Thanks for the heads up," Diana said: "You know where he hangs out?"
"No I don't. And to be honest, I don't want to know where that freak spends
his spare time." Talons responded with a something in between a shrug and
shudder.
"Thanks again," Diana said as she stepped out of the brick wall, leaving the
four inside to their business.
Once Diana got her corpus back together, the milky veil of incorporeality
dropped from my eyes and we both could see some plain old Joe Somebody
standing on the sidewalk with his hands casually clasped behind his back,
like a military man at attention or a gentleman at a party. He was smiling a
nice, big, ear-to-ear grin that I didn't like one bit.
"Hello," he said in the friendliest of voices, before whipping his arms into
view. I barely got to see how long the blades were before the happy boy
plunged both Moliated arms into Diana's chest, up to his elbow. Ouch.
She fell to one knee, but didn't go down all the way. Like a flash, her hand
whipped to her side and brought out something. The other wraith removed
one arm from her chest and used to block the small dagger that Diana had
tried to use.
With his left bladed arm fending off my owner's attempted attack, he twisted
his right arm a bit, rotating the blade inside her body. She cried out and fell
to both her knees, then to her side.
"To whom do I owe this pleasure?" She managed to choke out. The
assailant, still grinning the polite grin of a lawyer or door-to-door salesman,
kneeled down next to her, with his elbows on his knees and the 2-and-a-half-
foot blades for arms pointing at her face.
"The name's Jacobs," he said, then swooped down with one arm and sliced
Diana once, twice, three times, again and again, one cut after the other, until
she stopped twitching.
After she lie still for a moment, the sidewalk below us started to swirl.
Jacobs didn't seem worried. On the contrary, actually; he looked rather
pleased with himself. The swirl on the pavement turned black, and four
black arms reached out of the inky abyss, grabbed Diana's body, and ripped
it down into the Tempest before the portal shut as quickly as it had come.
Diana's cloak, outfit, weapon, and mask lay on the sidewalk. And her pouch
of oboli, naturally.
Jacobs leaned down with a bladed arm and slid the tip through the eyehole
of her mask, picking it up to eye level. He examined it, admiring it like a
trophy. His hand became soft suddenly, and mutated back into a normal-
looking hand. When it had had transformed back into its natural image, still
holding the mask, he tucked his new trophy under his arm.
His other hand began to reshape now. He picked up the dagger and the
pouch containing myself and the other obolus, tucking the blade into his belt
and putting the pouch in his pocket.
I could see through the pouch, but I couldn't see through Jacobs' pocket. I
could feel him walking down the sidewalk, though, whistling to himself. I
counted 10, 20, 30 steps, then gave up and stopped counting. Seems like he
was going to be walking around for a while. Would it be a few seconds? A
minute? An hour?
It's funny how time passes when you're dead.

***

Afterlife as an Obolus
(Pt. 3 of a New Serial)
by

Mike Spera

Jacobs, the one who belonged to the Riders of the Wheel heretic cult, now had me in his
possession after killing Diana. I don't know where exactly he was taking me, but I had a
suspicion that he was taking me back to wherever the Riders of the Wheel hung out.
After walking for some indiscernible amount of time, he came to a stop. I was still in his
pocket and couldn't see anything, but I heard him knock on a steel door. Not just a normal
knock, though: this was a series of raps with slight pauses. It was a code. A moment later,
I could hear the door unlocking and the old, unoiled door open up with a squeal and a few
creaks as it set into place.
"Jacobs, glad to see you," someone said wholeheartedly. "Come in, come in. What have
you been up to? We haven't seen you all damn day."
"Taking care of business," he said nonchalantly.
"Say no more," Jacobs' companion said: "Because I'm better off not knowing."
Jacobs laughed and they both walked inside.
I could tell from the other voices inside that we were not alone. Far from it; this place
was buzzing with shouting, talking, laughing, and all sorts of other noise clashing around
the air. Jacobs eventually pulled me out of his pocket and slammed me down on a table
next to a series of chairs. He took one chair, the voice that had answered the door took a
seat across from Jacobs, and a few other wraiths were already seated at the table.
The setting looked like a hangout, presumably for the Riders of the Wheel. There were
many, many wraiths in the background (too many to begin counting), and they were all
laughing, having a good time, talking, and more than a few were playing cards and
tossing oboli, masks, weapons, and other goods around.
Jacobs had put me down on the table, keeping Diana's mask and knife inside his overcoat.
One of the other wraiths at the table took out a deck of cards and began shuffling. I
remembered then that the Riders of the Wheel were fanatic gamblers. Jacobs would
probably use me as a starting bid, and would toss in Diana's mask and knife if the ante
was increased. That made me wonder what other hidden treasures the other wraiths
sitting around me had in their pockets.
The cards were wordlessly dealt, and it was only after every had been dealt a hand that
the conversation began. They exchanged dialog about so-and-so making a deal with
someone else, and how somebody had been screwed over by somebody else in a game of
poker. There was a tension in the air, and it wasn't because of the game. Indeed, no one
had even thrown a card on the table yet. The tension had to do with the air of the dialog.
All eyes kept shifting towards Jacobs, but nobody asked him what he had been up to
recently. It was as if they wanted to ask, but were afraid of the answer...
As the trite dialog died down, the wraiths began to play poker in silence. Cards were
thrown out, and the others were tossing things into the ante. I'm surprised that Jacobs
didn't throw me in. I couldn't see his hand, and his poker face revealed nothing about his
luck, both for ill or for good.
After a few rounds of poker, a tiny hand closed around me and quietly took me off the
table. For a moment, I couldn't see; I was enclosed in the darkness of this thief's palm.
Almost as soon as the darkness came, I heard Jacobs call out "Hey, now!"
The hand that had snatched me off the table now released me, and I fell onto the floor.
From my worm's-eye view, I saw a child wraith, a little boy of about 5 or years years old,
looking with fear into Jacobs' eyes. Jacobs was holding the thieving boy's wrist in his
hand, and it looked like Jacobs had twisted the boys arm in order to make him drop me.
"What were you trying to do, steal my obolus?" Jacobs asked in a scolding tone. He voice
was stern, but not terribly angry... Like a parent catching their child stealing a pretty-
looking piece of jewelry for the first time.
The child wraith looked so frightened that I thought he was about to cry. "Jacobs, I want
an obolus."
"Why mine?" Jacobs demanded.
"I dunno. Everyone else has one. I don't. I want one. You have lots, right? Grown-ups
have lots, and they don't give me any." The boy pouted and looked down at me, sadness
and longing filling his dead eyes. Jacobs sighed, considering what to do with the thief. He
let go of the child's arm and hopped off the chair, reaching down to pick me up. There
was a moment of silence as I was enclosed in his hand. He was thinking...
"I guess I'll let you have this one. I have other goods to bring to the table tonight." Jacobs
let me go and dropped me into the cupped hands of the child wraith. The little boy held
me in his hands and had the widest eyes I've ever seen on a wraith. So young, so
fascinated with this new toy. He closed his hands around me, quickly thanked Jacobs, and
ran off somewhere.
The boy had a tight grip on me as he ran. It was strange to see such excitement, such
happiness in the Shadowlands. He really was excited to be my new owner.
He stopped running at one point and sat himself down on the floor. He held me in his
hands and eyed me closely. He ran his fingers over me, feeling the contours of my eye on
one side (I could still see), my ear on the other side (I could still hear), and my corpus all
around. He rubbed me and looked me over again and again, simply fascinated by the
concept of a coin made from a soul.
Normally I would be annoyed at someone handling and ogling me this way, but a child
was different. He was delighted, even ecstatic, to have the privilege of holding something
that only "grownups" had access to. He was naturally curious about me.
After a few minutes he put me on the ground and pulled out sack from behind him.
Normally, I would call this sack small, but given my worm's-eye view from the floor and
the fact that the sack was actually taller than the sitting child, it looked large and a bit too
intimidating.
The child shuffled around in the pouch, actually breaking eye contact with me for the first
time. After a few moments the boy pulled out a hammer, a nail, and a string. Grasping the
hammer in his little hands, he turned his gaze towards me again. The wonder and
fascination had disappeared from his eyes, and his smile was leaning more towards glee
with a streak of sadism. I wasn't going to like this...
Slowly, carefully, the boy put the nail just above my center, my "eye" you could say.
Memories of my hideous soulforging came back to me. The sharp pain, the throbbing
agony of being pounded with a hammer repeatedly. Oh, dear God, not again.
The child slammed the hammer down, and I felt the edge of the nail split the exterior of
my plasm. If you can imagine stomping your foot down on a nail, then you can imagine
my pain.
The pain from the first blow had just settled in when the second strike came crashing
down. The nail impaled itself deeper. It was halfway through my corpus now. If I could
only scream, or thrash, or do something to distract myself.
But no, I couldn't. I could only lie on the floor where I was placed and sit patiently while
this child played with me. It was like being raped, I suppose.
Again, the hammer came down. I felt the nail break through the other side of myself and
heard a slight clang and it embedded itself into the floor. My plasm screamed for release,
but I had no mouth to let it go. The pain rattled around inside me as I prayed to Oblivion
to come and suck me down, to take me away from all this.
But thankfully the child was finished. He put the hammer down, and my soul breathed a
sigh of relief even as it shuddered from the pain of that third and final strike. The boy
reached his hand down, and I began to feel a twisting sensation. The nail that had impaled
me through the floor was being taken out, and I could feel every particle of it slide its
way through my plasm as it was withdrawn.
The boy put the hammer and nail back into the sack and picked me up in one hand, the
string in the other. I felt the string move against my corpus as it weaved through the fresh
hole that he had pounded into me. The boy tied the string together and placed his head
through the loop, wearing me like a necklace.
I hung on the string, dangling just below his neck. He let me hang from him for a
moment, then took me in his hand. He brought me close to his face, grinning from ear to
ear. The boy had his very own obolus, a brand new necklace, and a new toy, all in one.
The childlike fascination had returned to his eyes as he flipped me over and over again,
examining one side, then the other, then the first again.
After a few moments, he let me go and bounded off, taking me along with me. I bounced
up and down around his neck as he ran, passing by adult wraiths as they talked, argued,
or gambled. Now that I had a moment to think clearly, I was glad that this had been done
to me. After all, I could see more of the Underworld hanging from somebody's neck,
rather than spending eternity stuffed in someone's pocket.
***

Afterlife as an Obolus
(Pt. 4 of a New Serial)
by

Mike Spera

The child wraith at the Riders of the Wheel hangout had pounded a nail through me and
now had me dangling from his neck like a medallion. Although my corpus still stung with
the pain of having a small hole punched through me, I could see much better dangling
from the child's neck than from the inside of his pocket like any other obolus.
The Riders' hangout looked like a pretty exciting place now that I could actually see it.
The walls and floor were made of stone, and just about everything else was made of
wood. The area had the feeling of an old English or Scottish pub: laughing, drinking, and
a whole lot of gambling. Perhaps even a fight or two. The place was lit from table lamps
on the ground as well candles hanging from the chandelier above. There were gambling
tables all over the place: craps, poker, roulette, and a few simple tables where wraiths
held arm wrestling contests... all of this was bet on by the participants and the spectators,
of course.
There were two blood-red doors on the far side of the den, and this pair of doors were
guarded by two wraiths who looked like they'd seen it all, heard it all, kicked its ass, and
lived to tell about it. Their muscles bulged out from underneath bloodstained muscle t-
shirts, various scars and cuts ran over their arms, necks, and faces, and while their
expressions were emotionless, their eyes never kept still. They were watching the whole
scene, taking everything in, keeping an eye on every wraith, every table, and every detail.
If these guys needed to break up a dispute, they wouldn't have much trouble from the
looks of it.
The boy finally took me into a corner and twisted me around to face him. He was
grinning ear-to-ear, and he started rubbing me again.
"You're mine now," he said to me: "All mine. Now I have something that the grown-ups
have. My friends might get jealous, but forget them. I can get new friends. Friends with
oboli. And then I can trade you. Then I can-"
The boy's speech was interrupted by a huge crash. He let me go and stood up to see what
was the matter. From his chest-eye view, I couldn't see that much {this kid was only 5 or
6 and wasn't very tall} but it looked like something outside had slammed into the double
doors, trying to get it.
"They're Back!" one of the two tough-looking wraiths that guarded the door announced.
Everyone in the den started cheering and applauding, grinning ear-to-ear. Even the two
scarred and muscular guards were delighted.
The doors behind them shook as something slammed into them again. Behind the sound
of the cheering and the door being pounded, I thought I heard something else. It sounded
like... wailing? Crying? Screaming? All three? The little boy started jumping up and
down in excitement, chanting to himself. "They're here They're here They're here!!!"
The doors bulged again as "they" slammed into them. At this point, everyone in the place
was facing the door and kneeling. Some on one knee, some on both. The frantic shouting
that was present a few minutes ago had now dimmed down to hushed, excited
whispering. I could definitely hear wailing now, and the sound of chains rattling. I didn't
like this one bit.
The little boy was the only one that was standing. Every other wraith in the place except
for one of the tough-as-nails guards was on his or her knees. The excited whispering
continued, as the hideous screams of desperation and agony came from outside,
accompanied by the sound of chains rattling. The standing guard called out to all present,
"It looks like they're eager, so I won't keep them waiting. Let's see who the lucky winner
is this time." And with that, he slid back the horizontal latch that kept the doors shut. He
quickly dropped to his knees like the rest of the group. And then the doors burst open.
A tall, gaunt-looking figure wearing a black-as-Oblivion shroud that was bound with
chains pounded through the doorway and into the den. Its face was ghastly white and
twisted into a hideous expression of both sadness and rage. It moaned at the top of its
lungs, and the sound was so loud that it made the chandeliers above rattle. It carried in its
skeletal hands a loop of heavy chains and a thick manacle. It stepped into the den and
looked among the crowd, and I could see that there were four more of these hideous
things waiting outside, decked out in black shrouds and loops of chains as well, vomiting
that unearthly howl from their mouths.
The tall, dark-shrouded thing stalked among the crowd of kneeling Heretics, looking each
one over in turn. The boy to whom I belonged still stood. In my head, I was screaming
for him to get down, to hide, to not draw any attention from these things, but I had no
mouth to scream.
He didn't want to hide. Indeed, it looked like he wanted to get their attention. As the thing
let out another lamented wail and turned his head, the boy started waving his arms. He
shouted, "Over here! Choose me! Me!"
The thing turned its attention to the boy, and for a moment I stared into that hideous,
twisted face and into those deep, hateful eyes... and in that moment I saw something
frightening. I saw deep down its eyesockets and its twisted soul, and if I'm not mistaken, I
caught a glimpse of the black light of Oblivion itself. The gaunt figure took a step
towards the boy and reached out with its chains.
"You want ME!" somebody shouted to the left. The figure stopped, confused, and started
reaching for this new target.
"Choose me!" someone else in the den shouted. "No, me!" came from somebody else.
Before long, the entire den of the Riders of the Wheel were off their knees and on their
feet, begging for this thing to pick them as a "lucky" winner.
The creature let out a howl of rage and stomped into the crowd, wrapping its chains
around somebody and locking the manacle around his neck. And now that this creature
had its chosen victim, he turned towards the door and stomped away, dragging this
Heretic behind him by the manacle around his neck. The Heretic looked like he had just
won the lottery.
"Yes! I'm the chosen one!" he shouted to the group. "He chose Me! I'm the winner now!
Screw you all, I'm moving on. I'm the chosen one, and I'll see you all in Hell!"
The hideous, shrouded creature screamed again as he dragged his victim out the door, and
the creatures outside screamed in response. Only this time their wail was different. Were
they screeching with delight? Like they had found what they'd been searching for? I
didn't want to think about it. The doors slammed shut, and eventually the clanking of
chains and the ghastly wailing faded into the distance.
***

Afterlife as an Obolus
(Pt. 5 of a New Serial)
by

Mike Spera
After the Riders of the Wheel den saw one of their numbers dragged off in chains by a
group of howling... things, events simmered down and they started going about their
business again like the whole thing had never happened. Nobody talked about it, and
nobody seemed to be mourning or even thinking about the fate of that poor soul who was
dragged away.
Of course, the whole lot of them had been begging for the creatures to choose them as
their victim, but I wasn't even going to guess at why the Riders saw those things as
saviors of any sort. The psychology of Heretics was something that I just shrugged my
shoulders at and said, "Okay, whatever you want. It's your soul, you can do whatever you
want with it."
The child that had me dangling around his neck went back into his corner and pouted a
bit that he hadn't been chosen this time. A few minutes later, he got over it, and found a
relic puzzle to play with. He must have done it a lot in his living days, because he
arranged the whole hundred-something piece puzzle in about 5 minutes.
The picture, once put together, depicted a beautiful sunset by the ocean. The child started
at the picture for a few minutes, and I gazed at it with him. I wondered what he was
thinking right then, and if it was anything at all like what I was thinking.
I was thinking back to my breathing days. I missed seeing the sun and the ocean. I'd been
dead for Lord knows how many years, and haven't seen the sun or the sea even once in
my time in the Shadowlands. How long had I been here? How long was I going to stay
here, smelted into the form of a coin that can't talk and can't move by myself?
At least my time as an obolus hadn't been boring. I'd heard of worse shapes to be smelted
into: torches, the arm of a lawn chair, an ashtray, a portrait to be stuck on a wall
somewhere. At least as a coin I was getting circulated and seeing new sights.
But how long was this going to last? For eternity?
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of banging on the twin doors to the outside.
My first thought was that those black-shrouded, screaming creatures had come back
looking for someone else, but I didn't hear any screaming or clanking of chains like last
time.
The boy stood up at the noise and turned towards the door. I could see the two wraiths
that acted as doormen opening up a horizontal slot in the door and peeking outside to see
who was there. After a moment, the peephole slammed shut and the door was opened.
A woman stood there, her clothes ripped and her corpus in tough shape. "Where is
Rikkit?" she called out to the group.
"Rikkit's gone," somebody I couldn't see called out.
"Dammit," the woman spat out, and ran her long fingernails through her shoulder-length
hair: "Is there anyone here who's a talented Pardoner?"
The kid stood up and raised his head as far up as it would go: "I am," he said.
The woman in the doorway did not look impressed: "YOU? The best Castigator you guys
got is this kid?!?"
"I've only lived for five years, but I've probably spent more time dead than even you
have," my owner boasted.
"He's right," someone off to the left added: "He's been here longer than even I have. He's
not bad."
The woman rolled her eyes in exasperation, but gestured for the boy to follow her
anyways.
"Fine, follow me. My friend needs help, and quick. I think he's on the verge of a
Catharsis. What's your name, anyway?"
"Nicholas," the boy replied. I heard the doors slam shut behind us as this woman led
Nicholas and myself down a barren street.
There were no other wraiths in sight but us. We passed by relic buildings of old antique
shops, forgotten restaurants, and closed-down record stores. A boarded-up cathedral
loomed over the other buildings from down the street a ways. The only thing I could hear
was the sound of a faint wind blowing, and the sound of weeping coming from a distance.
As we walked along, the sobbing sound grew louder. It appeared that this woman was
taking us right to it.
"I hope it's not too late," she said to Nicholas: "He's been like this for at least an hour.
Take a look at him and tell me what you think."
She stopped suddenly and gestured down an alley between the Shadowlands relic
buildings of 'Joe's Cafe' and 'Picker and Co. Life Insurance.'
Sitting in a little ball, with his knees up to his chin and his head buried in his hands, was a
very thin and very miserable-looking man. He an older man, in his 70's or 80's, with more
hair on his short, white beard than on his balding head. His skin was wrinkled and his
bones exposed themselves like they were trying to escape from his skin. This crying man
was shoeless and shirtless, and his dress pants looked like they'd been through Hell and
back. Overall, it looked like this guy looked like he'd just spent a few months stranded on
an island starving to death.
Nicholas took a cautious step towards the wraith, who hadn't even seen us yet since his
face was buried in his hands. Nicholas examined him for a few moments before turning
back towards the woman, who had been silent during all of this.
"What happened?" Nicholas inquired.
"Well, we were making a raid against a Hierarchy soulforge, when-"
She stopped and pointed behind Nicholas: "I think he might be coming out of it now."
Nicholas turned around and we could both see the man wiping his eyes and looking
around, as if seeing his surroundings for the first time. Did he even remember how he got
here? Eventually his eyes rested on the woman and Nicholas. After that, his eyes rested
on me. Not on Nicholas, but on me, the small object hanging around his neck.
"My family's heirloom," he mumbled mostly to himself: "That's my family's heirloom
that boy's got there!"
The thin old man pulled himself to his feet, never taking his eyes off me. Nicholas took a
few, cautious steps back.
"I think you're mistaken, mister." he said: "This necklace is an obolus, and it's mine."
The old man took a few steps forward, leaning down to take a good look at me. Nicholas
took a few steps back in turn. I hoped that this old, senile wraith would realize his
mistake, but part of me knew that this was turning very bad, very fast.
"That necklace is my family's keepsake, and it belongs with ME!" the old wraith
corrected Nicholas. His voice was getting louder, and his eyes were growing wider with
greed.
With a dash, the old man rushed Nicholas and made a grab at me. Everything went black
after his palm enclosed around me. I heard the sound of string snapping and just knew
that the old guy had torn me away from Nicholas.
The boy shouted something a couldn't hear. I still wasn't able to see anything, but I could
hear the sound of bare feet running against pavement, and the sounds of heavy breathing
coming from an elderly man's lungs. Part of myself wondered why a deceased spirit
would need to breathe in the first place, part of me concluded that old habits die hard, and
the rest of me was too terrified thinking of what kind of situation had befallen me now.
I don't know how long we ran for (remember my pervious ramblings on how time passes
when you're dead), but eventually the movement stopped abruptly. Too abruptly.
I heard the sounds of bodies colliding and then the old man let me go... or dropped me,
from the looks of it. I landed on the pavement, looking up at the bleak Shadowlands sky,
and at a wraith dressed like he was in the Dark Ages: studded leather armor, shield at his
side, and a huge sword in his hand that gave off a soft but malevolent dark blue glow.
Stygian steel.
Whoever this guy was, he worked for the Hierarchy and was higher up on the political
ladder than most. His long black hair swirled around his face as he looked down at the
wraith of the elderly man, who had literally just run into him. The knight did not look
happy.
The old man snatched at the broken string of Nicholas's necklace and picked me up off
the street as he hurriedly apologized to the knight. "Terribly sorry, sir. I'm so clumsy. I
was fleeing from these Heretics and-"
"SILENCE!" the Hierarchy wraith shouted. The old man shut up.
"You were the one who just attacked the smelting forge, aren't you?" the knight accused,
as he grasped his sword even firmer than he had a minute ago. The old man had no
response whatsoever. Dangling from his hand, I could see that his mouth was opening
and closing, but no words came out. His brain was probably scrambling for an excuse to
explain himself, but as the Hierarchy official raised his sword, it appeared that the old
man's brain wasn't scrambling fast enough.
Without any further word from either of them, the glowing blue Stygian steel plunged
into the old man's chest, and out his shoulderblade. The skeletal wraith fell to his knees,
looking up at the knight, who in turn twisted the blade and plunged it deeper into the
victim's chest.
The sidewalk started to swirl underneath the old man. The Hierarchy wraith quickly
pulled his sword out and backed away a few feet.
As the sidewalk rippled like water, it transformed into a dark hole. The Tempest lay
underneath us now. I couldn't see anything, but I could certainly hear the cries of spectres
and the screams of damned souls emanating from the hole.
Several pairs of black hands reached out of the hole and grabbed onto the elderly wraith,
one hand grasping each limb. They began to pull him (and myself) down, into the
Tempest.
The last thing I saw as the nihil closed and the sidewalk reformed was the expression of
grim satisfaction on the Hierarchy official's face.
***

Afterlife as an Obolus
(Pt. 6 of a New Serial)
by

Mike Spera
The darkness enveloped me and the elderly-looking, sickly thin wraith that held onto me.
I knew we were in the Tempest, and I was wondering where we were spiraling to,
although in my gut {not in the literal sense of the word, mind you} I knew damn well
what was happening to us, and I didn't like it one bit.
Eventually, we hit a wooden floor. Darkness surrounded us. I fell a few paces away from
the man, but he scooped me up in his greedy hands before he even got a decent look at
his surroundings.
Frankly, there wasn't much to look at. He was sitting on a wooden floor in a circle of
light that seemed to come from a spotlight above. There were no walls around us, just the
floor of an eternally huge room full of nothing.
The old man looked around for the first time, then turned his gaze down on me. He
turned me over and over in his hands, rubbing every inch of me with his thumb. It was
almost as if he was more concerned with me than with himself.
A light flashed suddenly in front of us. Another spotlight from an unknown source above
shown down on a pile of coins atop a pedestal.
The old man seemed to forget about me immediately and ran towards the golden treasure
that lay ahead. I bobbed alongside him, the string which ran through me clutched tightly
in his hand.
He ran towards the money, arms and legs pumping madly. The stack came closer and
closer until the old man seemed to ran into something invisible. He hit a wall or barrier,
or something, and bounced off, falling flat on his back.
He groaned and rubbed his head for a moment, then pulled himself to his feet, still gazing
up at the stack on money on the pedestal. He walked forward again, cautiously this time,
until he walked into the invisible wall again.
He placed a hand on it, feeling around to see how tall and wide it was. Apparently it was
tall and wide enough to prevent him from getting to his prize. With his other fist he
pounded on the wall, which made no sound of impact whatsoever.
Behind us, another light flashed on, revealing another stack of coins on another pedestal
behind us. The old man took a cautious step towards it, then another, then another. And
then he reached out, and eventually touched what we both suspected would be there -
another non-visible barrier.
Another stack of coins appeared to our left, a mirror image of the first pedestal. Another
pedestal appeared to our right. Then another, and another, all around us.
The old wraith whirled around in a circle, eyes gleaming with the thought of money, but
his cheeks and lips melted into a frown knowing that it was all out of his reach. Around
and around we turned, until we realized that we were stuck in a maze of glass and
mirrors, the kind of you tend to see at carnivals.
The old man gazed down to see the word "EXIT" on the floor, with a green line going off
in a certain direction. It zig-zagged a twisted path through the mirrors, glass panels, and
the taunting coins. Another line of the floor glowed with a golden hue, and it shot itself
down another path that led deeper into the mirror maze.
"Go for the gold!" a voice echoed around us: "You have no idea how much is in this
place!"
The man looked around to see who was speaking, but was only greeted with the sight of
the false treasure all around him.
The elderly wraith gazed at the green and golden lines on the floor, leading to the Exit
and the treasure. This was obviously a setup, and I was hoping that he'd see through the
obvious trick, but his eyes kept roaming from the golden line to the treasure, then to the
green line, then back to the treasure. I was trying to scream "Don't be an idiot," but,
naturally, I was unheard.
The voice made itself audible again, offering more riches than the man had ever dreamed
of. "It's a stash of Relic treasure, tucked away in the Tempest. This is the only way to it.
Only a lucky few ever find this entrance." The elderly wraith seemed unconvinced, as he
took a few steps along the green line towards the exit.
"This is the only chance you'll get at this, my friend!" the voice continued to offer.
"Go to hell," the old man responded, trodding down the green line that led to the exit.
"If you want to leave, you can," the voice said with a disappointed tone: "But if you want
to take just a few items before you go, you're welcome to."
The old man stopped mid step: "Can I take just one, then leave?" he inquired.
"You can take more than one if you wish,"
"I don't believe you,"
"Then why haven't you left already?" the voice inquired. A golden line appeared to burn
itself into view, straying off from the green path towards the exit: "Just follow the line,
take what you want, then turn around and walk straight back to this point and continue
towards the exit. It's as simple as that."
The wraith that still held me in his grasp seemed to be turning the offer over in his head. I
was screaming at him without being heard again. The old guy knew this was a setup, so I
hoped that he wouldn't step off the path.
He stood there for a while, thinking and thinking. Maybe it was a minute, or two minutes,
or even five minutes, but he could have made his decision in a nanosecond for all I know.
{It's funny how time passes when you're dead...}
Eventually he took a step off the green line and began following the golden one. That's
when I knew that we were both screwed.
The voice from no one went silent as the old man trod down the golden path, through the
mirrors and glass walls, and weaved his way through the fake images of treasure. He
followed it until it ended in front of a golden pedestal with a treasure box on top.
The box had shiny silver edges with red velvet covering most of it. The hinges and the
latch on front reflected the light that shone down from above. The old man took a few
steps towards the box, reaching out towards it.
I was screaming in my mind for him to stop. I was praying to God or Allah or Yahweh,
Zeus, Ra, Quetzalcoatl... or any other god that might have been listening at the moment.
Apparently, my prayers were going unanswered today. The old man flipped the latch
open and leaned the top part of the chest back, peering inside.
At first, nothing greeted us - a whole lot of nothing. There was no bottom to the box, only
a small square portal that gazed into the swirling blackness of the Tempest. I could feel
the old man's shoulder's dropping in disappointment.
For a moment, there was complete silence. Then there was chaos.
A black fist shot out of the swirling madness and grasped the wraith by his throat. The
old man gagged and tried to pull away, but a second hand shot out and grabbed his hand -
the held that held me.
The fist was no more than a mere number of inches away from my dangling self. It was a
firm, strong hand that looked like it was formed of strong flesh. It held the poor doomed
wraith like steel. Glancing over at his other hand, I could see it was trapped in a similar
vise-like grip.
Then two ebony arms popped out, and wrapped themselves around his waist. And they
all, as a group, began to pull.
The old man was frantic now, crying out, pleading for them to stop. He was pulled face-
first through the bottom of the treasure box and we were both dragged into the Tempest.
And for the first time since he picked me up at the beginning of this Harrowing, he let me
go.
I watched him drift farther and farther away, until he was nothing more than a pale dot in
the distance. By now, his wailing was lost to the eternal silence of the Abyss.
***
Now I'm drifting aimlessly. I float through the air, although it feels like I'm flowing
through water at the same time.
On the side of me that can see, I catch an image of a spectre flitting about. There is a
byway nearby, and the spectre lies in wait.
I see other things floating around as well. Teddy bears, watches, a few keys. Forgotten
objects. Forgotten objects like myself.
On the side of me that can hear, the sounds of water and wind make themselves audible.
The wind I can understand, but I do not see any water nearby. Or maybe I am floating
under the water. The laws of physics are sheer madness in a place like this, and now I'm
experiencing it for the first time without a way to escape it.
My vision of the spectre lying under the byways drifts away. Either I drift away from it,
or it drifts away from me. Either way, it gets smaller and smaller until it's gone.
I pass the time now by watching nothing flowing over nothing. I count out to myself to
keep myself amused. After counting to 1,527 I decide to stop. Keeping track of time here
is pointless.
I begin to sing songs to myself in my head. I go through one song, then another, then
another. I used to have a vast music collection in my living days, and now I'm singing it
all, only with no voice.
After a while, I finish singing the last lyric of the last song of my music collection. How
long did that take? An instant? A few minutes?
How much time has passed now? A day? A week? Has the end of the world already come
and gone, and I missed it all by being here, floating eternally in dark nothingness?
It's funny how time passes when you're dead.
END