An ancient fight for truth and life fought by an unforeseen hero: Death
Ameus is an atheist, a rarity for a person born before the birth of Christ. He lives in solitude as a shepherd in the Dolomite Mountains, without the scriptures of God; not a common occurrence in this era. He is one day selected by God out of cruel irony, to be his reaper of souls, and is renamed Death.
Several hundred years later in the 14th century, the Black Plague emerges. However, Death notices something unusual; the souls that succumbed to the plague are going missing, and are vanishing from the halls of Judgment. He is blamed and punished by God for destroying souls since so few appear in Heaven, and causing the disease that’s infesting the world. God promises him further reprimand if he doesn’t cure the disease.
Setting out on a journey that transcends Earth itself, Death aims to prove his innocence, to find who made the plague, and why. But upon discovering the identity of the diseases curator, his task takes a difficult turn.
In hope to find clarity and relief, he has to uncover hidden secrets of Heaven, Hell and a dimension only known to higher powers, where all things begin.
Death spent the rest of his time in Eastern Europe reaping souls that suffered the same end as those he had encountered in Kazakhstan. For the next few weeks, whenever he returned to Europe he would find it had only spread further, and each gathering of souls only grew larger. The last reaping in was in its thousands.
As Death pushed the final set of souls through the doorway into the Hall of Judgment, he saw Dumah approaching him with a brisk gait, for the third time this week.
‘I’m busy,’ Death said with a hostile tone.
‘Not enough it seems. I’ve been sent to give you word that God would like to speak with you.’
Death faltered. ‘Why does he want to speak to me?’
‘Most likely to do with the lack of souls he’s been receiving.’
‘The lack of? I’ve been bringing in more than ever since I began this job!’ Death sealed off the door with a frustrated sweep of his scythe before turning to confront Dumah.
‘Regardless, he wants to see you.’ He responded tonelessly. It was clear in the angel’s mind that Death sat at the bottom of the hierarchy of those serving God. Dumah turned and walked away, dismissing himself with an aloofness that Death quietly despised.
Death spun the scythe in his hand and sliced a doorway into the air, but rather than opening with his hand as he would normally, he pressed the metal butt of his tool into the door, changing the colour of the light that emanated from the seams cut into the air from a white to a glistening watery blue. As the door opened, it revealed a black, starry space that dropped away into nothing and stretched out into an endless universe of spiralling galaxies and systems. As Death stepped through, his feet connected with an invisible floor. It was no way in any shape or form a room, however due to the large armchairs and table that occupied the ‘floor’ in front of him somehow created the illusion that he was in a finite space.
‘Black Death.’ God’s voice came from all directions, an act that Death was used to now. He sat on an armchair with an exasperated sigh: though he didn’t get tired physically anymore, he was mentally worn out from the last few weeks.
‘That’s a bit racist, ‘ Death responded.
‘What is the meaning of this?!’ He boomed again.
‘The meaning of what?’ God materialised in front of him in a gigantic form, and continued to play his dominance game. ‘I haven’t done anything? Actually I’ve been doing everything.’
‘You dare break the laws that were set out for you? You dare take the lives of my children for your amusement?’ His voice began to hurt Death’s ears.
‘What are you talking about!?’ Death rose from the chair and leered at God, not before being picked up and flung by a great invisible force across the empty stars. As he impacted the floor, his lungs emptied of breath and he tumbled heavily over his flailing limbs.
‘And you dare play innocent to your actions?!’ Death landed on his chest several hundred metres away from the armchair, his face raw and sore from being scraped across a floor that was surprisingly rough despite having no visual presence. He struggled to push himself upright, as his strength had been drained from the force of the throw.
‘I don’t know,’ he said through grimaced teeth, ‘what you’re talking about.’
‘Black Death is the name of the disease that is spreading through Europe, your disease. Your ailment on MY people!’
It dawned on Death what he was being accused for. ‘You think I did that?!’ he exclaimed.
‘There is no question. My angels would never defy me in such a way. They were created to nurture life. You take it.’
‘No, you take it! I clean up, those are your words!’ Death finally found the strength to stand and face the angry deity.
‘You are taking these people away before their destined time. You are denying them the pleasures of life. And I shall do the same to you.’ The power of his anger made Death’s heart weak, bringing him to one knee.
‘It’s not me!’ he cried, but God would not listen.
‘I deny you of any pleasure of sustenance. You no longer need food or water to live. You are but a shell to obey my orders under my hammer.’
‘I would do no such thing! You’ve already taken away most of me? Why would I go against you for such a reason? You made me Death against my will so what would I have to gain from this?!’ Death cried out in angst, his fury knotted into his fists, he didn’t understand why this was happening to him.
‘Enough! I have no reason to believe you, that much has been made clear to me.’ God covered the distance he had flung him with a single step and shadowed Death.
‘By who?’ Death called, looking up from his knees, ‘I’ve had no enemies in this or my last life.’
‘I will have no more of this! This is your punishment and you shall accept it. And you shall finish what you started and withdraw your disease from my world. If you don’t do this, I will subject you to further forfeiture!’
‘I have done nothing but that for the last centuries of my life. What more do you expect?’ Death knew God hadn’t heard the last of what he said, as he was flung once again, this time back through his doorway and into the Hall of Judgement. He tumbled head over heels on the hard marble until he collided with a pillar, stopping him abruptly and knocking the wind from his chest. Around him souls watched as he picked himself up and brushed his tunic down, which is when he noticed that God had bestowed one more punishment upon him. As he looked down to inspect the damage, he saw his fingers were bone. He brought them up in front of his face and watched as light seeped through the joints. His sleeves drew back and revealed the radius and ulna bones of his arm, held together by the unseen muscles. Death realised his tunic was limp, and hanging off his jaunty shoulder blades, and as he pulled the neck back on his tunic, he peered down and saw his empty ribcage. He brought his hands to his face, clicking his skull gently as he felt his bleach white fingers dip into the hard crevices of what was his face. Utterly numb with the shock of having his flesh stripped of him, and deprived of any sort of sensation or feeling, he became aware of the many eyes staring at him. The souls looked horrified as the undead skeleton stood before them, unable to recognise that it was him that had brought them here. Death had once been an outcast, but under his own will. Now people stared at his unearthly appearance. He had truly become one with his place in this world.
He flourished his hand and produced his blade, and swiped open a doorway, bursting through it and staggering out into the Dolomite hills of his old home.
He sealed the door behind him and collapsed once more to his knees, staring down at his hands.
‘I don’t deserve this.’ He breathed to himself. He raised his head, looking out onto the snow-capped hills of his upbringing. They had changed, much as he had in these last few hundred years. There were new forests where there had not been before. The old hills had crumbled in places, and grey scree tracked down the slopes where green had once been.
Death rose from his knees and stumbled to a stream nearby and gazed into the running water, seeing a blurred and shimmering reflection of white. He moved down to a calmer pool where the water was still. Empty sockets stared down into the melt water, through to the pebbles beneath. He reached into the pool to touch the water, but felt nothing. No coolness of the water or drip as it left his fingers. He bent over and pushed his face down, bracing himself to feel the freezing temperature that he knew the water to be, but found himself unable to drink or taste it. He was surprised at first that he could breathe whilst submerged, but then realised he had no windpipe for the water to clog and choke him.
He sat back onto the grass, looking down at his limp tunic. He would need something different to wear, something to hide in, otherwise reapings wouldn’t work and he would terrify anyone that came near him. Not ideal for him.
He stared for a brief few minutes at the weather aged hills, silently contemplating his future and what was to come of it, and how to go about solving his predicament.
‘I don’t deserve this,’ he said again to himself, simply to assure himself that he could still speak and was in a way human. He could stand his job before. He had enough pleasure in his life to make it worth living, but now he couldn’t see past today.
He would find the cause of this plague and end it. He could not see how God could punish him further, but he would find a way if he could not. He would also find the person responsible for placing the blame on him.
Picking up his scythe, he cut a doorway, stepping through and sealing it off from the other side.