“B-b-baka!” Hades crossed her arms. “It’s not like I was waiting for you to die or anything.” The blue-haired girl glared at me from across the warmly lit classroom.
A shorter girl, calling herself Luci, squealed beside her. “Aw, he’s so cute. Can I keep him?”
“You want to keep everybody.” Hades snapped.
The pair bickered back and forth as another two girls stood silently by the chalkboard.
The tallest one, dark with black hair, looked down at me as though I were an insect. She’d introduced herself as Anubis, the first of the Death Gods, Lady of the Sacred Land, She of the Holy Mountain, Ruler of the Nine Bows, The Dog who Swallowed Millions, Master of Secrets...and a bunch of other titles I couldn’t keep track of, but I’m certain embalming was mentioned.
“Of the past six hundred and sixty-five souls, you’ve requested,” Anubis adjusted her glasses as she paused to calculate, “six hundred and sixty-five.”
Luci’s face turned pinker than her hair. “It’s not true!” she said to me. “Don’t listen to them.”
“So greedy.” Hades rested a hand on her hip.
Luci blew a raspberry back and pouted.
The fourth girl, pale with white hair, stared at her feet. Anubis introduced her as well, calling her Hel, daughter of Angrboda, Ruler of the Hidden Hall, Guardian of the Graves, Sister of the Wolf, Loki’s child, Death herself. Hel had blushed terribly throughout the entire introduction.
According to the four of them, I died. Right here in class, after choking on a lozenge. Apparently, since I’d been coughing all day, nobody noticed I was dying until I fell out of my chair and wet myself.
Hades had found that hilarious. Luci looked sympathetic, but Anubis said to be wary of her sympathy as Luci was literally the Devil. She then ran off a laundry list of titles while Luci yawned.
Beside the five of us, my classroom was empty. No students. No teacher. Not even any desks or chairs. Only the chalkboard remained. But even there the day’s lessons had been wiped away. Hades said they were here to judge me. And well, fair enough. If I really was dead, then receiving judgement was to be expected. What I didn’t understand was…
Why did they all look like anime girls???
“Okay, let’s get this over with,” Hades folded her arms and looked off to the side. “Some of us have better places to be.”
“Yeah…” Luci grinned. “But not you, so I don’t see why you’re bothered.”
Hades’ voice rose. “Y-you think I want to be here? I have lots of other things to do.”
“Mhm. like what? Sit in that gloomy underworld of yours?” Luci raised an eyebrow.
“It’s better than your stupid fire pits.” Hades spat.
Luci made her voice harsh, “I’m Hades. Nobody likes me. My own family sent me away. I have to steal my friends.”
“Oh, like you’re one to talk!” Hades balled her hands into fists. “You changed the name of your realm to Hell just to steal Hel’s souls.”
Luci shrugged. “You can’t prove that. And if someone says they want to go to Hell, how am I supposed to know they mean her. I mean, it only makes sense they would mean me.”
Luci turned to me with a wide-eyed look. “I’m way cuter and more fun than that stick in the mud. Don’t you agree, Soul-chan?”
I stuttered a non-committal series of ums.
“That’s not his name.” Hades glared.
“Oh, that.” Luci gave a coy smile and winked at me. “It’s a pet name. We have a thing. You wouldn’t understand.”
“You call all the shades that. You just can’t be bothered to learn their names.” Hades huffed. “And I chose to rule the underworld. You’re the one who was kicked out for being annoying.”
“Uh huh. Sure.” Luci rolled her eyes. “If that’s true, then why is it when I left, a whole bunch of my friends came with me? Hm?”
“I-I prefer to be alone.”
“Poor Hades.” Luci frowned.
A vein in Hades’ temple began to bulge. “My point is, we’ve all been cast out.”
“I haven’t,” Anubis corrected.
“I wouldn’t say that…” Hel mumbled.
Luci threw her head back and cackled. Hades growled. Her golden eyes flashed. She looked like she wanted to hit something. I took a step back not wanting it to be me.
Anubis cleared her throat. “Hel, Loki’s child, perhaps you could begin?”
The pale girl jumped at the sound of her own name. She brushed away a strand of long white hair from her face and nodded. It fell back to its original spot.
Hel bowed. “I’m really happy to meet you,” she said softly. “I’m sorry it has to be under these circumstances.” She continued speaking but was too quiet to hear. Her eyes were the palest of blues and sparkled like crystals. Her pink cheeks darkened the more her mouth silently moved.
“Hel!” Hades stomped. “Get on with it.”
Hel squeaked. “Oh. Right,” she said at an audible level, then turned to write on the chalkboard.
Cycle # 937
Most recent name--
“This is so boring!” Luci skipped over and grabbed my arm. “Let’s just skip to the end. He’s mine. Look on the board. 666 is my favourite number. We were meant for each other.”
She looked at me deeply with her large red eyes. “You’ll have pride of place in my harem.”
Anubis slid her glasses up her nose. “That is not how this works, Lucifer of the Morning Star.”
“It could be how it works, if we let it.” Luci nuzzled her head against me and snuggled closer.
My body stilled as prey does when spotted by a predator. This had to be a dream. I must have fallen asleep in class.
“Begone, Satan.” Hades grabbed my other arm and tugged me away. Her nails digging into my arm certainly felt real. I swallowed. Did I really piss myself in front of the whole class after being killed by a piece of candy?
Oh gods! Was that going to be how I was remembered? They’d point to the floor beside my desk and tell future students, “That’s where that guy died, flopping around in a puddle of his own pee.”
Anubis approached. And although I was certain I was taller, I felt myself shrink before her judging glare. Fortunately, she turned her attention to Luci.
“As per our agreement, made during cycle 666 when you proposed all shades should belong to you that cycle, all souls hereafter shall be jointly judged and their destination determined by turn.”
“And it’s my turn,” said Hades.
“Oh.” Luci’s shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry, Hades. I didn’t realize you wanted him so badly. You can have him.” She looked up at Hades with sad eyes before skulking back to the front of the classroom like a scolded child.
“I-I-I don’t want him.” She released her grip. My arm dropped to my side.
Luci’s defeated expression flicked to one of excitement. “In that case, he is mine. Isn’t that right, Anubis?” She bounced over. “Hades has forfeited her turn and I’m next. I told you all.”
The death gods began to bicker. I took a step back, and then another. With the anime girls distracted, I headed to the door. Only, it wasn’t there.
“I’m rebelling!” shouted Luci.
Hades huffed. “You’re always rebelling.”
“Ladies…” Hel squeaked but her plea was drowned out. She turned to me with her haunting gaze then quickly looked away.
I ran to the closest window. My class was only two floors up. It might be better to jump and risk injury than the alternative. I wasn’t sure where they’d be sending me, but none of the options looked to be any sort of heaven and one was most certainly hell. Worst case, what, I die again? Best case, I wake up.
I pulled on the frame. Stuck. Bracing myself against the floor I pushed harder. An icy tap on my shoulder sent chills racing up my neck. I turned to see Anubis looking down at me. Before I could muster an explanation, she shoved her hand into my chest and ripped out my heart.
Agony radiated from where my heart once was. I crumpled to the floor. Fatigue set in and a hollowness within me throbbed. I should’ve been afraid of what might happen next or angry at the violation, even sad about what my life had come to. But instead, I felt nothing.
“You said you weren’t going to do that anymore,” Hel mumbled.
Hades and Luci had ceased bickering. Anubis carried my heart to the front of the class and plopped it into Hel’s hand.
Anubis snapped her fingers and a justice-style scale appeared on a table. “If contracts between death gods are broken, protocol 7 section 3 states we revert to standard operating procedure.”
She directed Hel to place the heart onto one of the scales. The golden plate dropped down as the empty plate shot up.
“And now, we begin.” Anubis plucked a feather out of thin air. “If your heart is heavier than this feather, you will be fed to the devourer.”
I looked around from my seat on the floor. While Anubis had an expression of pure apathy and Luci one of annoyance, both Hades and Hel looked as though they might cry. “What does that mean?” I croaked.
“You will be eaten,” Anubis said with a blank expression. “Digested and destroyed.”
“Cease to exist.” Anubis’ glasses slid down her nose. She pushed them back up and placed the feather onto the empty plate. “If your heart Is lighter however, we move on to stage two and determine to whom you will go.”
The other three death gods seemed to hold their breath as the scales shifted. I’d had held mine too, if I had any. Slowly the scales stopped, with my heart and the feather near parallel.
“So?” Luci went over to examine the results. She tilted her head so as her eyes were level with the plates. Anubis looked as well. Her brow furrowed.
“Anubis?” Hades sounded concerned.
The dark-haired goddess stayed silent. Her glasses slipped once again, but she didn’t bother to push them up. She mumbled something. The room had grown so quiet that when Hel spoke I had no trouble hearing her.
She said, “It’s even.” then looked over to me briefly. “Perfectly even.”
“Whaat?” Luci barked. “Is that even possible?”
“Even?” I repeated. “And that means?”
Anubis regained her composure. “I’ll need to check the book.”
Luci burst out in laughter. “She doesn’t know.”
“I’ll be right back.” Anubis clicked her fingers and vanished.
“You just had to cause trouble.” Hades glared at Luci and pulled a chair out of nowhere to sit on. The pink-haired girl responded by pulling down her eye and sticking out her tongue. The two exchanged death-glares as Hel took my heart from the scales and slowly made her way over to me.
“Here,” she said gently. “You’ll feel better once this is back.” She moved my heart back to my chest with blushing cheeks and eyes squeezed closed.
My spirit reabsorbed it with a pale blue flash. My vigour returned. “Thank you.”
Feelings of fear, confusion, relief, and more fear flooded back to me. I raised myself from the floor and brushed off my legs. Hel turned her gaze to her hands, mumbled something, and shuffled back to the scales.
Strange girl. Well, death god. Strange anime-school-girl-looking death god.
Anubis returned, holding a giant open book with both hands.
“So?” asked Hades. “What’s it say?”
Anubis cleared her throat. “In cases where the shade’s heart is of equal weight with the feather. The decision of where to go resides with the shade.”
“You mean, it’s up to Soul-chan?” Luci raised her brows.
In a mix of ice and fire, I felt the gaze of all four death gods bore into me.
“Well?” Hades spoke first. “Which of us do you choose?”
“Wait—what? Me?” I pointed to myself.
Luci nodded and skipped over to me. “Just tell them you pick me, and we can be on our way.” She smiled sweetly.
“Can I—um” I glanced at the devil and swallowed hard. “Can I pick not to be dead?”
Anger flashed across Luci’s face before being suppressed by a look of innocent curiosity. She turned to Anubis. “Can he?”
Anubis flipped through the pages of her gigantic book. “No.”
Luci shook her head. “No. Oh but don’t worry, Soul-chan. Being dead isn’t all that bad. Especially when you’re with me.” She grinned.
“Can I—” I took a step back. “Choose heaven?”
The devil glared.
“Or, or something like that, you know. Ha-Ha.” I rubbed the back of my head.
“You must choose from one of the four Death Gods assigned to judge you.” Anubis closed the book.
“But—” I looked at each of them. “I don’t know much about any of you.” It was true. For starters, I’d thought at least three of them were supposed to be male.
“Maybe we could show him around each of our realms?” Hades shrugged.
Luci’s eyes widened. “Like a date?”
“No, not like a date.” Hades glared. “like a—like a tour.”
“I think a date is a great idea.” Luci hugged herself and squealed. “I vote yes for dates.”
“Not a date!” Hades balled her hands.
“I’ve never been on a date before,” Hel said softly.
“Oh, they’re great fun,” said Luci.
“Not a date,” said Hades.
“Oh-okay then.” Hel nodded as she looked at her hands.
“It’s settled,” said Anubis. “Soul #666 will go on a date with each of the Death Gods present and then decide with whom he wishes to spend this afterlife.”
“Not a— oh forget it.” Hades grumbled. “I’ll go first.”
“Oooo,” Luci smirked. “Someone’s eager.”
“I-I’m just eager to get it over with is all. It’s not like I like him or anything.”
“A sensible suggestion.” Anubis disappeared the scales and book with a wave of her hand. “Dates order will be the same as in the previous agreement. Picking up where we left off, Hades first, then Lucifer, myself, and Hel last.” She looked to me and Hades. “Ready?”
“Now?” Hades and I said in unison.
“It’s a bit sudden.” Hades looked off to the side. “I-I’d like some time to prepare.”
“I thought you wanted to go first to get it over with.” Luci rolled her eyes.
“I do, it’s just—the underworld is, it’s very large and, I, um. Impressions are important.”
“Aw, you do care.” Luci smiled. “You’re so cute, Hades-sama.”
“I only care about the reputation of the underworld.” Hades straightened her school uniform.
Anubis pushed up her glasses. “A recess then. Each of us will return to our realms to prepare for our turn.”
“B-but what about…him?” Hel motioned to me with a nod of her head. “Where will he go?”
I opened my mouth to suggest back home when Anubis said, "Limbo.”
She snapped her fingers and I was gone.
"Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant."
(65 bce - 8 bce)