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The After Life
“Keep a cool head and maintain a low profile. Never take the lead, but aim to do something big” –Deng Xiaoping
I laughed at this. How cliché could you get?
“What’s so funny Mr. Taylor? Would you like to share something?”
I looked up, choking back a laugh. Mr. Griffin wasn’t the kind of man that took messing around lightly. Especially not on the subjects he found interesting. The hairless, skinny man had been there for thirty years and never switched out his curriculums for the newer information, but still loved listening and reading the same old rotten material every year.
I had heard that he still refused to use a screen. It was a miracle they had gotten him to teach the class outside of an actual building. Can’t teach an old dog new tricks. That line ran through my head all the time in his class. It fit him perfectly, proving the old saying over and over again.
“No, sir. I was just thinking about something earlier. It won’t happen again.” I replied, my voice cracking.
His small squinting eyes glared at me through slits. The man reminded him of a hairless cat by his features. He had the same wrinkly, stretchy skin that almost hung down to his neck. His eyes were the only sense of color on his whole body, a speck of green in an ocean of greying skin.
“Good, since you aren’t paying attention maybe you can teach the class about World War III?” he replied.
I shook my head, sighing. I knew that was coming, but I had no background on the third world war. I had obviously heard the stories of the United States bankruptcy and the Soviet’s attack, but that was about it.
That had been so long ago and no one talked about it anymore. It was a terrible memory left of the United States. A terrible memory left of the old world.
“No, go on. Tell me about the World War III.” He insisted. I stood up, shrugging. I guess I would try my best.
I sighed, “There isn’t much known to us now, but it was a bloody battle, worse than the second. The U.S. was down on its knees because of the interference with Russia and Ukraine and their bankruptcy. The Soviets took them by surprise, attacking Hawaii and New York from both sides. Nuclear bombs were dropped and they were weak. The United Nations tried saving the U.S., helping in any way they could, but it was no use. They were gone. Wiped from the face of the Earth. Gone like Rome.”
Mr. Griffin nodded, liking my answer. I was surprised I had pulled that out of my hat. Surely, I could have looked it up or just as easily said I didn’t know, but I somehow knew more than I thought. Where had that come from?
“Nicely said, Mr. Taylor. I’ve got to say I’m surprised you knew that much about it. You youngsters don’t like talking about this stuff.” He complimented.
I smirked. Yup, he was old. Anyone that used youngsters and stuff was over the age of thirty.
“Three points added to your GPA.” He finished.
I sat down, turning to my friend, Phillip who sat in shock. His blue eyes glittered in the hologram, shaking his head.
I’d heard that he was one of the hardest teachers to earn points from because he hated the new generation, he thought they were lazy and gamed their lives away.
A screeching noise tore through my eardrums, alerting me of the end of class.
Mr. Griffin frowned, scanning the room.
“Okay everyone, we’ll finish this tomorrow. Make sure you all read up on the U.S. bankruptcy to understand the World War III!” he shouted.
I held out my wrist, sucking all the data from the lesson into my watch. Students didn’t usually copy all the data down for fear of filling up all their hard drives, but I didn’t care. I could just as easily erase old data.
“Mr. Taylor, before you leave I would like to talk.” Mr. Griffin hollered over the other kids.
I bit down on the inside of my cheek. I really wanted to get back to the VIRS (Virtual Interactive Responsive System). I wanted to roam the densely populated streets of Manhattan and fight off Canadian forces before Canada had been obliterated.
“Okay, Mr. Griffin. What is your dilemma?” I cautioned. I wasn’t sure what to think of any of this. I had only said one little thing about the war. Did that make him think we were best friends?
His eyes rose and fell back down again.
“Desodous, I hear you’ve been competing in the Arena of Fighters.” He started.
I grimaced at the lisp rolling off his tongue dragging out a long “s” off fighters. He watched me through the corner of his eye, judging my expression.
“Yes, Sir, I have been competing in the Arena of Fighters.” I raised a brow.
He leaned against the wall behind him, still staring me in the eye.
“Be careful and remember; life isn’t only about VIRS. I’ve tried to get this point across to numerous students, please listen to me about this. I know what goes on in the arena.” He advised.
I huffed, trying hard not to roll my eyes at the statement. I knew he meant well, but it didn’t mean that I hadn’t heard it before. Everyone always insisted on lecturing me on the competition.
“What’s your point, Sir?” I said through clenched teeth.
He folded his arms, gazing out the virtual window.
“My point is that the games are dirty and they get worse as you go up in ranks. Watch your back.” He rambled.
I swallowed hard, accepting the fact that he may be right. I had never thought about it like that before. Tonight was my fifth match. There were fifteen matches in all, and I was skilled enough to be accepted into it. That skill wouldn’t help me against my opponents if I didn’t get a trainer soon, though.
“Okay, I understand. Thank you.” I said, reaching down for my watch.
“Good luck tonight. I’ll be watching.” He replied. With that, I left, switching the dial to return to home.
Right, left, duck. He thought of these three simple words as he faced his opponent. He had tried a quick jab to the other kid’s jaw, but there wasn’t a reaction, but a slight flinch.
I was better with a staff or sword, but this was fists only. There were no other options. Anything more and you were a goner, ejected from the arena.
The kid jabbed quickly, nailing me on the side of my face, just under my temples. I couldn’t say that it didn’t hurt. In fact, it almost knocked me onto my butt with the power behind it. I made a mental note to stay away from his right hand.
I weaved to the side, ducking under his fists as he heaved himself forward. Critical mistake. I went in for the punch, pushing all of my power into it and landing it on his ribs, hearing a quick snap before the kid cried out in pain.
He should’ve known better than to put all of his power into it and leave himself unprotected this early in the fight.
He stumbled back, holding his side for a few seconds before bringing his arms back up. I grinned, knowing that I had gotten him. It would be a short fight after this. He would slowly get worse, the pain finally catching up to him. It had almost happened to me my first fight.
I had been lucky enough to get to half time before the kid was able to finish it.
The kid swung at me suddenly, catching me off guard as it struck against my throat. I coughed in response, gasping for air. The blow had penetrated my air supply. I quickly wiped the tears away from my eyes, watching.
I weaved to the side, spotting an opening in guard. There, his side was completely left open. I took it, punching repeatedly until the kid yelped and crumpled to the ground like a wounded dog, backing away.
He was done. I was going to put him through the pain of another blow. That was if I got him to surrender. Usually my opponents did after I toyed with them for a bit, but this kid seemed nice. He had been put through enough pain.
I held my fist out, giving the kid time to decide if he was going to touch it or not. The kid looked up at me with relief, his golden eyes almost tearing up.
He pushed his palm onto my fist, giving up on the fight. I felt bad for the kid. He had made it this far, looking to be about ten.
I held my hand out, pulling the kid up.
“Thanks, Desodous. Not many would leave with a surrender.” He sighed, grimacing as the breath settled down into his ribs.
“How do you know my name?” I questioned. I might’ve been on TV, but they didn’t give real names, just our usernames unless we gave permission for it.
The kid smiled, “everyone knows you. They have their eyes on you. A rookie.”
I recoiled, pulling my hand back. Who was they?
“They?” I questioned.
The kid nodded, looking up and pointing. I followed his finger, higher than I had realized the arena went. There, at the tallest point, was a box by itself, people gathered in it.
“The League of the Elite Fighters. The coaches there are superb.” He said.
How did he know all of this? I didn’t even know this and I was a nut about these things!
“And…” I started.
The kid grinned once more, “my father is in charge of it all. I’ve seen your file there on his desk, marked with a star. That’s good, Desodous. Keep going.”
I stood there, trying to process this. Me? They were looking at me?
I shook the questions away, making my way to the center. The Ref. glared at me as I walked up. I guess I had made them wait far too long.
“Your scroll, Dez302, to advance to the next round. Take care of it.” The Ref. growled.
I bobbed my head back and forth, rolling my eyes. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
“Thank you, Sir.” I said, still shell-shocked. I really hadn’t anticipated coaches lining up yet. Rookies rarely had a coach until the eighth to tenth rounds.
Was I really someone that different? Could I be that someone special?
“Desodous, step away from the VIRS.”
I turned my head, sighing. How did he find me this time? Sometimes I swore that he had implanted some sort of locator in the back of my head. No matter where I went, he found me.
Maybe it was because he was the ruler of all of this world, or maybe it was because the locals knew me. The reason didn’t matter, did it? He still found me.
He stood tall with the look of disappointment on his face. His eyes grew fiery, the flames swaying in swirls around the usual color of gold.
He pushed his red hair behind his ears and crossed his arms.
“Hey, Dad. Nice meeting you here,” I smirked. He glared at me, the usual look of disgrace he had for me. As his son, I was supposed to take his place in the world, but I really didn’t feel like becoming the ruler of the After Life.
“Desodous, I told you not to immerse in that VIRS! It’s a waste of time! You need to start thinking about what you’re going to do once I’m gone!” he snapped.
I stood up, stretching my arms. The daily life of Desodous Hades. Dad hated all of the technology. He hated that after the World War III, that all of these people had gathered into his realm. He hated that Earth was now non-existent.
The strange thing was since the gods needed the mortals to exist, none in the world of Hades died. Not since the obliterated Earth.
“I’m not going to do anything, Dad. Just get one of my half-brothers to do it.” I mumbled.
He huffed, steam shooting out his mouth. This was an often conversation they both had. Neither of them seemed to get their points across to each other.
“Desodous, you are the youngest, the strongest. You will be my replacement.” He said.
I shrugged my shoulders. I had tried and it hadn’t worked. It was time to leave.
“I watched your match, you’re too merciful. When we train, in real life, we’ll take care of that.” He switched the subject.
“Dad, you’ve already tried that and it hasn’t gotten any better. I won’t kill my opponent.” I huffed.
“We’ll see about that when we’re done here.” He growled, dragging me away by my ear.
“Ah, Desodous. It’s been awhile since you’ve come home. VIRS again?”
“Does it matter? Can’t you just see I want to leave here? I want to be with the other demigods! I want to explore the tattered lands of Earth!” I snapped, recoiling from the look of disdain from my own mother.
“I’m sorry, but we know your father won’t let that happen anytime soon. You may only be his half-god son, but you’re his favorite. He’ll take whatever precautions to make sure you’re safe. Even if it means giving you VIRS.” She said, her greying eyes consuming me.
She grabbed my hands, holding me back from frustration. Her smooth, kind hands enveloped my own clenched fists.
I stared into her eyes, the blood rage distinguished like always. Sometimes I wished my uncles would take in interest in me for once. I wished they would release me from this realm. From these people. I couldn’t stand any of them.
“Just sit down and eat. Maybe one of your brothers’ mothers will allow you to use their VIRS. Just…no more talking about running away to that awful place. To those awful people.” She whispered.
I nodded. I wasn’t up for anymore arguing. I just knew that my mother’s request would not go as she wanted it to. The Arena of Fighters would see to that. Once I could get to a VIRS anyway.
“Push harder, Desodous! We’re not fighting in those stupid games of yours! You could die here!” My trainer shouted in my face.
I pivoted to the right, dodging before his knuckles had the chance to cut down my cheekbone.
The adrenaline was starting to pump through my veins, encouraging me to try harder.
The trainer zoomed past me, catching himself before he stumbled forward.
“Good, good, Desodous! You’re getting better. Now, try taking me down.” He shouted, blood gushing out of his nose.
I glanced to the side, catching my brother’s gaze as I did so. His brown eyes glittered as he spotted me.
His red hair swayed as he jumped up and down, the leather coat, stretching. A sharp pain shot through my shoulder. I yelped, turning my attention back to the trainer.
He shook his head.
“Wrong move, Desodous. You know this! Pay attention to the fight at all times!” he shouted.
My arm was pulled behind me, rotating back further than possible. I took a deep breath and ignored the pain.
I pulled back my arm further, hearing the quick snap before the trainer let go of my arm in surprise. Sometimes in a fight, you needed to get injured before you could win the fight. My father had taught me that.
I grimaced in pain and kicked out. The pain would soon start to take over my mind, but before that, I needed to end this fight.
I tackled him to the ground, punching him with my right arm before the shock had dissipated.
A few seconds later, he started blocking his face, easily pushing me off him. I wasn’t as good as him. I knew that, but I could get the advantage.
“Alright, alright! We’re done for today, Desodous!” the trainer shouted through clenched teeth.
I stopped pounding and stood up. That would put him off for a while!
“Just go find your brothers. Stay off the VIRS! Your father was very clear about that this time.” He said, wiping the blood and sweat off his face. I wiped my own face. Sense I was a demigod; I didn’t scar and bleed as easily as the others. And if I did, I could just drain life force from the dead. However, I did not prefer to do that. My brothers did in fact, but that was beside the point.
Because I was half-human, I was also well aware of the feelings they carried and how they treated others. It was in fact different from how the gods and other Halflings thought about the way of life. In their world, it was the more the power you had, the higher rank you carried.
“Okay, you can use the VIRS. You just don’t let Dad know that I let you. That fight was awfully bloody.” My brother said, wiping his mouth.
I grinned, thinking of all I could do. The VIRS always did this to me. It was addicting. Everyone played it, except for my dad and me when he didn’t allow me to. Even my other brothers were allowed to.
“Thanks, Zagreus. I’ll keep this in mind the next time you need a favor.” I said.
He leaned up against the wall, tossing me a plastic, square key. I caught it with my left hand and spun around. It was a thing we had. With Zagreus being my best friend, my only friend, we were really close.
“I’ll remember that. Now get out of here before he looks for you.” He snorted.
“This will be the only and final choosing! Only this day will trainers pick from all of you. If more than one trainer calls on you they will duel to earn your approval, once that is done, you are stuck with him or her.” The announcer shouted.
I raised a brow. This had never happened before. Not so early anyway. Generally, the contestants were chosen during the quarterfinals. We were only at the ninth fight.
I gazed down the line. There were twelve in all for the last six fights. Eleven would be defeated and ejected from the tournament. Only one would join the League of Fighters and become a permanent beneficiary.
“Desodous, it looks like this is going to be our last chance. Good luck.” The kid said beside me.
I nodded firmly. The boy’s grim expression showed that he didn’t think he could pull anything from all this. His blue eyes stuck out in the middle of the desert landscape around us. A blue in a sea of orange.
His muscles bulged out as he tried to look buff, the veins popped out in his neck. I hoped that he would make it to the next round. From the beginning, we had become virtual friends surrounded by enemies. His name, Arius tried portraying the man he wanted to be, but it was clear he was still a boy playing man. He wasn’t an Ares, god of war. He just wanted the money that came with the prize.
I was in it for a different reason. I sought out people like me, people that wanted to outrun their problems, escape the real world outside. It was so much more peaceful here.
He pushed his sweat matted, black hair back. It worked for a couple seconds, then bounced back into the unkempt manner it usually was.
“This will go in alphabetical order, starting with a’s. Arius first.”
I smirked, trying to lift the boy’s spirits. He didn’t think that he would get anyone, but if he was called, he would, right?
The long range of trainers looked between each other. After a minute or so, I was getting worried. No one made it without a trainer, but luckily, a man stepped forward after another minute.
It would’ve been a poor sight to see no one jump at him. Arius grinned, turning to me. His pearly whites almost knocked me off my feet. He walked up to the man, a stalky man, full of scars. His dark brown skin stood out against the others. It was rare to see someone like him.
Most of them died off quickly after the plague that drew over the mass of five out of six countries.
“Craceous, please step forward.”
Six men raised their hands, auctioning off the boy. I’d read something about this. Slavery I believed they called it way back when, but now it was for sport. The boys would never come to harm besides in the arena and did it for themselves, none were forced to. Not like in the real world.
I closed my eyes at this point. I never like watching the trainers tearing apart each other. I liked fighting and that was all
I couldn’t remember how many more people were called before I finally heard my name, but once it did I felt my heart palpating. I was definitely scared of the outcomes. If there were more than one fighting for my allegiance then I would have to watch the bloody fights.
“Desodous, please step forward,” echoed in my ears.
I took a deep breath before opening my eyes and stepping forward. Fifteen men in all stood out, glaring at each other. I was shocked. Not that it wasn’t common for more than ten men to stand out, but because of the men that were there. Ten of the fifteen were previous champions, and fourteen of them were from powerful groups.
“It is a star, trainers. All of you could be missing out on one of the next top fighters here. No other takers?”
A few more men and a woman held up their hands. I couldn’t bear to watch all this. It was going to a blood bath. And all for me.
“Is there anyone else that would like to take a pick? Anyone at all?”
I watched in awe as a behemoth of a man grazed across the crowd, coming to the front and raising his giant, scarred hands. His knuckles were white, probably due to the constant pressure of fighting on them.
His eyes rolled over the crowd, finally landing on me on the last round. As I stared into them, I felt warmth come over me; his silvery eyes studied me, picking apart every one of my limbs.
The sun radiated off his baldhead, rays shooting out in vertical bisectors to his steel armor.
Once his eyes left me, a sadness crept up and down my body, warning me that the warmth had left. I had never felt anything like it before. It was stupendous. I wished that I could feel it again, but his eyes never returned to me.
“You all know the rules; no executions, dirty fighting, illegal hits to the body or face and absolutely no bribing the contestant.”
I counted all the men that had stepped out of the line of hundreds of men and women. Unbelievably, I counted 26 in all. And I was just surprised that I had gotten two!
I watched as they all took their stances, fighting for my attention. It was odd, fighting for my attention. No one had really ever done that before. Not besides my mother and in his own way, my dad.
“No! No! No! NO!” I shouted, as the surroundings around me turned black. They had just started fighting! I was just getting to the most important part of my competition!
I pulled my arms free from the rubber straps that held them in place while I jumped into the cyber world of VIRS.
The mask still clasped against my mouth and under my chin; making it easier to breathe when put under.
I pushed the top of the machine off me, lifting the top of the machine and allowing myself to get out. Since the machine encased you like a mold replicated and placed on top, it could read all of your senses and distress. It could also cause some distress if you woke up in a moment of fear or fighting in your “dreams”.
“Stupid machine.” I muttered to myself, pulling my legs free from the clasps. Not once had I heard of a machine turning off in the middle of sync. It was just horrific! Who knows how long it would take to get back to the Arena!
And then again, I had never heard of a machine turning off in the middle of sync. I pulled up my black boxers and spun around.
“Dad, why did you have to interrupt right then? I was just getting to the best part!” I exclaimed.
The lights flickered, revealing flashes of a form stalking across the floor. A long, disfigured form. My heart stopped.
This wasn’t Dad. He at least decided to stay in the form of a human! He didn’t form into a hideous creature!
I yelped, a slash running down my back. I could feel the cold, slow dripping of my blood already spilling. Then another. Three slashes in a row.
I had already dropped to my knees. I didn’t know what could possibly be attacking me. I was Hades’ son for goodness sake!
I thought of my training, Dad’s constant words, “Pain is only an emotion, a weakness. Put your logic before emotion.”
This brought me to stand up, building up strength. I may not have loved my dad, but he did train me well. He did show me how to think in these kinds of situations and for that, I would forever be grateful.
I clenched my jaw, calling all the forces I had in my midst. A sense of anger, desperation, and power sucked out all other thoughts. Bodies emerged from the ground, disintegrating the stone tiles beneath my feet.
I felt my hands warm and my body to begin to tingle. I was calling upon all the souls surrounding this area. They would be my minions. They would fight for me when I needed it.
I sucked in a deep breath, renewing the energy in my body. I focused my mind, sharpening it to a point, sending out one word. Kill.
I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t understand what had overcome me. I had never tried these many souls in one area. It was always one or two, three at most.
Screeches tore through the air, slicing at my eardrums. I covered my ears, trying to get out of the room. The dead could take care of whatever was chasing me while I escaped.
I dashed out of the room, almost sliding into the wall in front of me. Boxes stacked off to my side toppled over as something crashed behind me.
What was chasing me?
I released a thick, black smog, shooting out from my fingernails to behind me. Boxes began to deform, decomposing. A sizzling followed behind me as long as I released the gas.
A white door appeared out in front of me. I shot through it, manipulating the deathly air. The smell filled my nostrils. Sulfur and scorched flesh.
“Tracked down to right here. Are you sure it’s wise to come into his lair?”
I let go of a breath. Relief to my ears! Friendly voices! Ones that wouldn’t slash down my body!
“Help me! Please! There’s something following me!” I shouted, stepping out from the shadows.
A woman and two men faced me, eyes fixating on my bruised and scratched body. I knew it had to look bad, but it wasn’t too bad.
One of the men turned to the others, saying something I could barely make out.
“It’s him, the one we’ve received all the readings from. Not much different in real life. Let me handle this.” He said, gesturing to me.
“Desodous, I’m Killian. Or as you know me, Arius.” The man said, bending down to my height. He was at least three inches taller than I was so it looked pathetic.
My mind was blown. The grey brain matter splattered against the walls, covering every crevice available. I thought I had known Arius. I had counted him amongst one of my best friends. My only best friend besides Zagreus.
A beard grew around his chin where I thought I knew to be smooth and free of any scars or hair. His tanned skin wasn’t actually tan, but pale. He also wore a jumpsuit, not a leather coat.
“I know that you must not trust me right now, but Desodous, we need to get out of here.” He said, pulling me behind him.
I looked to the others. They were dressed just like him, only carrying weapons. The other man held two weapons, a bow and sword. I assumed that one of them was for Arius. I was sure that they wouldn’t want to scare me away. That was certainly a possibility with what I had just gone through. I still didn’t know what that was.
I didn’t even know that I could do stuff like that with my fingers!
“What are you doing here? Why were you even talking to me if you aren’t a teenager?” I questioned, folding my arms.
He sighed, rubbing his forehead. His dark blue eyes focused on mine.
“We’re here because you are a demigod. And we are demigods. It is not the place for a demigod to stand at a gods’ side. We help our own kind.” He said.
This caught my attention!