So, here’s the deal. It’s actually several deals, but you’ll just have to deal with it (word play). I did not want to post this story. I am actually really happy with it. I’m so happy with it that I didn’t want to post it until it was finished. But, I figured I needed to let everyone know that I finished my daily goal, so, with extreme reluctance, I will post what I’ve written. I will also only be posting the bare minimum, so, yeah, sorry about that.
My second deal is that I want to say I’m not done with yesterday’s work yet. I had a lot of fun writing something fun and humorous, and it got a lot of likes and follows from new people. I will most likely continue the story of the self help group for worthless heroes at a later date, but it will happen after this current story reaches it’s end.
My third deal is that today marks the halfway point in my challenge. 15 days out of 30. Get hyped yo!
Anyway, here’s the story. Like it if you want, follow me if you want, comment if you want. Just understand that I won’t actually pay attention to what you have to say until the entire thing is posted. At least one more day’s worth of writing, maybe two, will follow. Thanks.
Writing Challenge, Day 15: Afterlife (Working Title)
By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2003
Reinhardt finally sank to his knees. The sounds of battle around him were still cacophonous, but the quality of the sounds had shifted. Snarls of rage and cries of anguish had been replaced by the exultant shouts of men victorious and the terrified wails of monsters defeated. What had moments before been a swirling melee without rhyme or reason was now a full fledged rout. Weary soldiers found one last burst of energy and drove beasts and nightmares before them as though the full might of the Heavenly Host was beside them. Reinhardt had no reserve of energy into which he could dip. No store of vitality, hoarded subconsciously in the vain hope that there might be time later to put it to use. He was spent. In a few more moments he wouldn’t even have enough blood in his body to keep himself conscious.
He had no regrets. Several paces in front of him the corpse of the warlock Theramin G’uul was even now withering away, the black magics that had extended his life far beyond mortal reckoning finally unraveling. It was strange, he thought, that in the end it should be so simple. A knife to the throat had been enough to end the madman’s rampage. Of course, it had also taken the combined might of the half the nations under the umbrella of the Three Empires to hold back the tides of monsters and unnameable demons the warlock had summoned over untold years in the scarred wastelands to the west and the finest soldier the Empires had seen since Illian Thoq, if Reinhardt did say so himself, to get it to that point, and it had cost him his life, but in the end all it had taken was a simple dagger. Cold iron dug from the heart of the land and beaten into shape on an anvil by a simple blacksmith in a backwoods town in the mountains. Iron, sweat, and blood. More powerful than any magic.
He’d been a soldier all his life. Reinhardt the Solid. Reinhardt Steelbrow. Reinhardt Swiftblade. He’d forgotten more appellations than ten average men could ever hope to attain in their lifetime. The greatest soldier in ten centuries to face the greatest threat the Empires had ever seen. It was a good death. He slumped sideways as the world grew less steady. Darkness crowded the edges of his vision and his limbs felt cold and numb. This would be his final campaign: conquering the afterlife. Penetrating enemy territory without reliable intelligence. Insurmountable odds. Just another day in a soldier’s life, then.
The darkness closed in completely, and he closed his eyes. Reinhardt the Savior died without ever hearing his final epithet.
When he opened his eyes again he realized he was walking. He wore the garb of a traveler. No breastplate or greaves or gauntlets or helm. Just a simple leather jerkin, thick woolen trousers, and a comfortable, wide brimmed hat. His sword had been replaced by a simple length of wood on which he could lean as he progressed, his shield by a traveler’s pack. The pack was comfortably light, seeming to possess only as much weight as required to comfort him with it’s presence, but not enough to inconvenience him.
Around the time he noticed this he came in control of his own legs. He felt rested, almost spry. The path along which he walked was a pleasant country trail through a wooded area. It reminded him of the place where he grew up without actually being familiar. Golden sunlight streamed through the gaps in the canopy of leaves. Off to his left he heard the soft burble of a brook or stream as it wound it’s way down to some unseen valley or lake, maybe even out to the ocean.
It wasn’t what he had expected to find in the afterlife, but it was pleasant none the less.
A bend in the path yielded another stretch of forest much the same as the last. A little ways along he found himself at a fork in the road. Down the path to the right he could see more dips and curves before the trail disappeared completely. Down the path to the left he saw a clearing perhaps half a mile ahead. He could just make out a wooden fence at the edge of the clearing.
Something pulled him in that direction, towards the clearing and the fence. Perhaps it was simply the habits he had picked up over the course of life, the unwritten desire to seek out his fellow man for comfort and security, or maybe it was something else entirely. Perhaps it was destiny. Or perhaps whim and whimsy were stronger in the afterlife.
In no time at all he found himself at the edge of the clearing. It wasn’t a large clearing, just a small glade in the middle of the of bramble of trees and undergrowth. What made the glade special was the small cottage situated at the end near where Reinhardt had entered.
The fence’s gate stood slightly ajar and Reinhardt felt that it would be no great impoliteness to entered the fenced in area and approach the cottage. He did, however, feel that it would be rude to enter the cottage without first making his presence know, and so he knocked on the fine oak door and waited.
Several moments passed without any stirring inside the cottage, but Reinhardt was a patient man. After nearly a minute had passed, as far as he could reckon in this strange land, he raised his fist to knock again, louder this time, but it found only air as the door swung part way open. In the doorway stood an old man in a light blue robe, wrinkled and wizened but with a certain glimmer to his cool blue eyes, the same color as his robes, that suggested complete and total mental sharpness and with quite a bit of mirth and not a small amount mischief.
“Yes?” the old man asked in a melodious voice.
“Sorry,” Reinhardt answered. “I was walking through these woods and, well, I saw your cottage and I…” He faltered as he tried to find the words to describe why he had knocked on the old man’s door.
“You felt like you should stop by and pay a visit,” finished the old man. It wasn’t a question.
“Yes,” Reinhardt said, relieved. “To be honest I arrived in these lands only recently and I was surprised to find anyone else around.”
“Oh, most people find their way here eventually, though few do so quite as quickly as you.” The old man’s smile never left his face as he spoke. It was warm and gentle and made Reinhardt feel more at ease than he had ever felt in all his life. Or afterlife, for that matter. “Won’t you come in?”
“That would be nice,” Reinhardt responded. He was not in the least bit tired but he still felt a desire to enter the cottage and rest. The old man closed the door behind him and shuffled off into the next room.
“I’ll put the kettle on and we’ll have a nice cup of tea before you know it,” he called jovially. “Feel free to look around.
It was exactly as Reinhardt had expected. Beside the door was a simple hat rack and walking stick holder. He unslung his pack and placed it and his hat on two of the wooden pegs of the hat rack. Then he moved his hat so that it occupied the same peg as his sack, should anyone else need to use the rack for any reason. He deposited his walking stick in the hollowed out log that served as a repository for any canes or walking sticks the home’s occupants or guests might bring with them. There were no other canes or sticks there, and Reinhardt found it odd that so elderly a man would not need any aid whilst moving about. A strange land this was indeed.
Reinhardt made his way deeper into the cottage in a different direction than the one the old man had taken. He could hear the old man going about the business of washing the kettle and drawing the water for the tea. The first room he found himself in was a simple sitting room furnished with equally simple rocking chairs and a wood burning stove that could be lit on cold winter nights to ward off the chill. He passed through this room and down a long corridor, taking note of how the cottage seemed much larger on the inside than the out. The next room was full of hunting trophies. Elk, deer, bears and wolves lined the walls, along with many creature’s Reinhardt had only ever heard of, and even then there were some he had never had the fortune to learn about. There was a unicorn, so bright and sleek that it looked poised to burst through the wall. Above a great stone fireplace there were the three mounted heads of a chimera; lion, eagle and serpent all bowed low in defeat. The edge of the fire place’s mantle were lined with dragon’s teeth, still as sharp as the day they were harvested. And then there were the others. There was something that was just a strange, string mass of whip like tendrils surrounding a great cat’s eye. And a strange, dark shape that seemed composed entirely of wings and teeth and always seemed to be in the corner of Reinhardt’s vision. Along one wall was the head of a giant bird. At least Reinhardt thought of it as as giant. It seemed to stay the same size no matter how close or far away from it he got.
There were two doors in the room, other than the one he had entered from. One was on the opposite wall to the first, and the other was in between the others on the left hand wall. He decided to change direction and took the one in the middle, a ninety degree change of direction. He opened the door but didn’t step through right away. The room beyond was much darker than any of the rooms he had visited so far. Each of those rooms had had windows facing the forest he had been traveling through. The same golden light that had graced his journey through those woods had graced each and every room in the cottage so far. The new room was different.
Darkness lingered there. Across the room he could just make out another window. Rather than the bright, golden light of mid day, this window shone faintly with the silvery light of the moon. No candles or torches were lit within. Reinhardt could only make out the barest outlines of objects inside. There were chairs, and perhaps a table, but that was all he could discern. The rest of the room was a patchwork of shadows in varying shades of black.
“What do you want?” asked a crisp, crackling voice from the darkness.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t…” Reinhardt began.
“I said,” interrupted the voice “What. Do. You. Want.”
“I—I was just looking around. The other man, he said it would be fine if I had a look around. I didn’t mean to disturb.”
One of the shadows in the room moved. It inched it’s way toward the doorway. A faint under glow of reflected sunlight added a third dimension to the shape. It was a man. That much Reinhardt could be sure of and, if he were honest, relieved about. If he had to guess he would say that it was the figure of an old man, at least as old as the one he had already met. But whereas the first had been upright and proud, the shape before him now as hunched and twisted. Even so, it moved with no less sureness of step or purpose, edging it’s way slowly but inexorably towards the doorway and the light beyond.