In life, we are plagued by the uncertainty of an afterlife, and it is often expected that when we die, everything will suddenly make sense. But when a group of strangers, similar only in their time of death, find themselves in the afterlife, they are faced with more questions than ever before. Are they in Heaven or Hell? If they’re in Heaven, why is there a Nazi wandering around? Why are there no children? If they are in Hell, what universal law did they break? Is there a way to repent and move on to a better eternity? At least one man seems to have some answers. Marcus, a Roman dead for 2,000 years, gains the group’s trust by leading them through the perils of their new reality. But soon it becomes clear that Marcus is only telling them half the story.
L. A. Barnes is public librarian in the southern US. She is a Nerdist podcast listening, South Park loving, Twin Peaks conspiracy theorizing, Stephen King reading and Joss Whedon worshiping geek. The Pit is her first novel. She plans to explore the Watchmaker’s universe through four more novels.
THE NEWLY DEAD IN THE Pit often stage their battles with the largest number of soldiers possible. Their hypothesis is that the attacker can only win without weapons if they overwhelm the enemy. This is a good hypothesis. And it often applies when invading an area the attacking force intends to occupy. In Marcus’ opinion, it was often overkill. Twenty skilled, brutal fighters could take down a force twice their size if they prioritized. For example the guards Marcus would shortly lead into the Pit were ordered to incapacitate their prey, not fully destroy them. The Chinese and the Indians, in his new recruits’ first week, thought they needed to completely destroy the body. And if they wanted the soul to leave, they were right. Marcus was content with leaving Alex’s Tribe incapacitated, without legs or heads, because that would leave them stuck in the Pit and unable to ask for help. Days later, the blast would come along and finish them for good. In the last few years, Marcus became more accustomed to planning this kind of attack with a 2:1 prey to attacker ratio due to the decreasing size of his team.
Otto trained the Camp guards well: follow orders, don’t question orders, don’t worry about consequences, trust that Marcus has thought things out. As a result, Marcus only needed a handful of words to prepare them for their next task: enter Pit, incapacitate targets, exit Pit.
A good fight was just the thing to top off a week that ended well but began badly. The loss of Julian, though he would never admit it, bothered Marcus. Julian had run the City for Marcus for 200 years. And while Marcus didn’t really have friends, that man Virgil so carefully destroyed was Marcus’ oldest companion in Hell. During the quiet period this week, while along the river with Max, Lauren and Regan, Marcus found himself thinking more and more about retrieving Julian’s soul. It would be labor intensive and a massive pain in the ass. So much so that he hadn’t retrieved a soul in years. While waiting for another opportunity to grab members of Alex’s Tribe off the worn path, Marcus started justifying a mission to retrieve Julian. He needed people. And as ridiculous an option as soul retrieval was, it would produce more than just Julian. The process was incredibly time consuming, and that was always the deciding factor. Hell might offer Marcus an eternity but Virgil would not.
Either way, the remnants of Alex’s Tribe needed to be incapacitated. They could not be allowed to reach Virgil. Snatching these people before they added to his army would leave Marcus feeling like he’d won a battle against his long away challenger. Like Nadia, Marcus knew the value of advanced preparation. Diminishing Virgil’s potential reinforcements could keep this skirmish from turning into an all-out war. For that, Marcus was happy to break a few shell bodies.
In battle, Marcus would describe himself as deft and attentive to his forces. The very guards with him would agree, until he was out of earshot. Then they would describe him as dancing around the edges of a battle, letting others do the work and running when things got brutal. It wouldn’t stop them from following him though. Marcus’ personality type tended to survive even the worst situations. Those standing nearest to Marcus often fared equally well.
The guards were down the stairs and on their enemy in moments. Their first goal was to incapacitate the soldiers. As soon as the first guard stepped off the stairs, he grabbed the soldier nearest to him, Lt. Fox, by the shirt. Smashing Fox into the ground with full force cracked most of his head and caved in his right ear. One swift stomp from the guard’s boot caved in the entire right side of Fox’s head. Pieces crumbled off him as he grasped his foe, pulling the guard nearer to kick him. Instead, the guard picked Fox up and smashed his seat and hips into the ground. Three quarters of the skin holding the bottom half of him cracked and detached from his torso. Another swift stomp on the remaining skin severed Fox in half. Finally, the guard discarded Fox, tossing him into the middle of the Pit like trash.
The second guard went straight for Pati. Marcus warned them to treat the woman in the burqa as an enemy soldier since she was so determined to be seen that way. Her attacker grabbed her by the throat, shoving her to the ground. Abdul responded by jumping on the man’s back. The guard unbalanced Abdul, throwing him off in one movement. Then he brought his boot down on Pati’s face.
Marcus hopped over bodies, heading straight for 6 o’clock. From there he would have decent sightlines. The first thing he wanted to see was Sid and Nadia. Scanning the Pit, he saw no signs of them anywhere. Returning to the battle, he saw Fox tossed aside. Marcus scanned the Pit again. At 11 o’clock, several Asian people, including Do Jin and Woo Bin, watched the fighting, stunned. At 1 o’clock, Marcus saw the guard toss Abdul aside and stomp on Pati’s head until it was shards inside her hood. Scanning the Pit yet again, Marcus saw Reggie lead the criminals from 4 o’clock into the fray. There weren’t enough of them to worry Marcus. Instead, he scanned the Pit again, but still, Sid and Nadia were not with them. Marcus scanned the Pit another time, more desperately than the last. Instead of the two leaders, he saw Do Jin and Woo Bin finally finish reacting to the image before them. Do Jin ran in the direction of his friends, immediately tripping over a body and falling on his face. Woo Bin too ran for 1 o’clock with determined but labored jumping over bodies. Where the hell were Sid and Nadia? Weren’t they the tribe’s reluctant leaders? They couldn’t have chased after Heinrich; Marcus would have seen them exit the Pit. Where were they when their tribe needed them?
Marcus finally received his answer as Nadia tackled him from behind, knocking him to the ground.