Dreaming in the Underworld

“Which punishment should we inflict on him today?” The voice boomed from high above, so strong it seemed to reverberate her from inside outward.

She heard shrill screaming, and the thick pungent scent of blood hung in the air. She wanted to scream herself, but could do nothing.

“This was not a good time to come,” Zhong Ye said aloud, in a quiet voice.

“Shut up, worm!” The voice pounded into her mind.

She couldn’t hear Zhong Ye’s thoughts, but felt his fear–his anticipation of what was to come. A sense of defiance still lingered within him.

He was strapped down on a wooden plank, unable to move. Zhong Ye opened his eyes, and she saw the hell lords towering over them. They were at least three times the height of any mortal man, their black hair unkempt, wild. Both were dressed in glimmering robes the color of fire. She glimpsed bodies strung from the cavern ceiling dangling like slaughter, and screamed within her mind. Zhong Ye twitched, his concern washing over her.

Most did not have all their limbs, their naked bodies scalded and scarred. They swayed amongst the two giant magistrates like grotesque ornaments, moaning; and she suddenly realized they were all still conscious. Ai Ling tried to quiet her mind, tried to will herself awake. Panic spread like an inferno.

“This one is stubborn.” One demon leaned close and she smelled death and violence from him, through Zhong Ye. His giant eyes glowed red. “But he will break. We have him for eternity. This one can’t reincarnate.”

The other rubbed his meaty hands together, his robes dancing with flames. “Fantastic!”

Zhong Ye closed his eyes again. Ai Ling tried to stir herself, but to no avail.

“Why not a classic today? The three tortures?”

Zhong Ye flinched, despite himself. Ai Ling whimpered. She knew the three tortures from The Book of the Dead–burn by fire, chop by knife, torn apart by beasts. The victim was kept conscious for the entire ordeal in the underworld—even if it were a physical impossibility in the mortal realm—to maximize the terror and pain.


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