Well, this is a continuation of yesterday’s story. It’s not done, but it’s close. Maybe 1,000 more words. I’m just too tired to keep it going right now. I’m really happy with it though. If you haven’t done so already, please read yesterday’s post first, or else you might not understand what’s going on. Thanks a bunch.
Writing Challenge Day 16: Afterlife (Working Title)
By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2097
“Did he now?” croaked the figure. “Well, that is something.”
The man was close enough now that Reinhardt could just make out some facial features. There was a wide mouth with thin lips, a bulbous, uneven nose that looked as though it had been broken several times in the past, and a pair of dark, stony eyes that seemed to suck the light in rather than reflect it back. One corner of the mouth was raised in a sneer.
“Well what kind of person would I be if I revoked such an offer? Even if it was given prematurely. Two wrongs don’t make a right, do they? Please, come in.”
“Um, no, that’s fine.” Reinhardt said, backing away from the door. “I’ll just stay in here.”
“Oh, but I insist,” hissed the man.
“No, really” Reinhardt said. “I’m sorry to have intruded.”
“Oh, don’t be silly,” came a melodious voice from behind him. Reinhardt turned and saw the first old man striding through the open doorway, a tea tray in his hands. “Yarik’s harmless. He just likes his privacy is all.”
“I’m sorry,” Reinhardt said, suppressing a gasp, “did you just say Yarik?”
“I don’t suppose you brought three cups this time, did you Tollan.”
“Tollan?” exclaimed Reinhardt.
“Honestly, Yarik, that was only one time. I do wish you’d stop bringing it up after all this time.”
“And yet it feels like only yesterday,” quipped Yarik.
“Well it wasn’t,” snapped Tollan in response
“Technically it was today.”
“I thought we had decided that that argument was invalid here since, as I know you are fully aware, there are no separate days.”
“You have quite a high regard for my memory, don’t you?”
“Of course I do.”
“Then how can you expect me to forget about being forgotten?”
“Excuse me!” shouted Reinhardt, bringing an end to the heated and obviously well rehearsed argument. Tollan shut his mouth and pursed his lips, and Reinhardt had got the feeling that the sneer had disappeared from the face of Yarik in the darkness. Reinhardt pressed on before either could start up again.
“Are you telling me that your names are Tollan and Yarik?” he asked slowly.
“Well, yes,” Tollan answered kindly.
“THE Tollan and Yarik?”
“My, aren’t you quick on the uptake,” trilled Yarik sarcastically. “I can see why this one impresses you so much, Tollan. He’s so bright I fear I shall be blinded.”
“But—you—I mean, you are…” Reinhardt stammered.
“May I suggest,” Tollan interjected, “that we retire to the drawing room. I fear I see where this conversation is headed and I think if we are going to delve into it more deeply it would best be done before the tea gets cold.”
“Finally, something we can agree on,” answered Yarik from the other room. Reinhardt thought he heard the swish of a cloak and then the presence in the darkness was gone.
“This way,” Tollan said, smiling gently as he gestured with his tea tray to the door on the far side of the room. “Through there, second door on the left.”
Reinhardt opened the door and stepped out into another long corridor. As he made his way silently down it towards the second door on the left, quite a long way down as it turned out, he contemplated the identities of his hosts.
Everyone in the Three Empires knew the story of Tollan and Yarik, and Reinhardt had seen enough of the rest of the known world to know their names were spoken in even the most remote locations. In the beginning, the world was empty. It was a barren wasteland, a hollow shell. Exactly who or what had created it in the first place was a subject of heated theological debate, but what everyone seemed to agree on was that, at some point after creation, the brothers Tallon and Yarik had come. They had not created the world but they saw that it was worthy of their attentions. They planted the first seeds, nurtured the first animals, taught the first humans and dwarves and elves and other sapient races to speak and walk and think. They fashioned the world in their own images.
But they did not agree on everything. Tollan cherished the light. He desired warmth and growth in all things. Yarik favored darkness, the privacy of shadows, as the true state of things. In the end they compromised. Tollan sent the sun soaring across the sky and created day. Yarik cloaked the world in shadow after the sun had set and gave the world night. The moon they fashioned together, hanging it in the night sky so that it waxed and waned, light and dark forever entwined.
Just as the twin entities of light and dark were inseparably joined together in the moon so was it impossible to worship one brother while entirely denying the other. Though considered the chief god of the righteous and the pure, Tollan was not entirely a benevolent deity. Many a man had prayed to Yarik for deliverance from the heat of the desert sun or the end to a tiresome day. And Yarik was not entirely evil, though it was true that he was patron and kin to those who craved the dark, who hid in the shadows: thieves and murderers and worse. Theramin G’uul himself, it was said, had raised his banner under the name of Yarik when he began his campaign of terror in the west, though to be fair to Yarik, by the end G’uul had crowned himself a living god and had ceased praising Yarik altogether.
These were the things Reinhardt had been taught as a boy. And even though he believed them with all his heart and knew the wisdom of seeking balance as the village elders had taught him, he also knew on which side of the battle he would find himself if it came down to it. Men were meant to walk under the sun, to live in the light. While it was true that blind and total devotion to the light was both impossible and foolish, it was much harder to succumb to the light. Most people, he thought, felt this way on some level. It seemed only natural. But if he was forced to guess, then he imagined this fact wouldn’t have bothered Yarik if he knew, which he probably did.
“This one,” Tollan sang out. Lost in thought Reinhardt had walked past the door. It had seemed so much further away before. Tollan jingled the tray a bit and nudged his head in the direction of the closed door, indicating politely that his hands were full. Reinhardt pulled the door open and stood aside for the old man to pass. “Much obliged.”
Except for the long hallways, the drawing room was the largest room Reinhardt had seen yet. A trio of chairs sat next to a short legged table along one of the walls. Behind them a pleasant fire crackled in a hearth. The walls themselves were lined with rows and rows of various objects. One section was books in all the languages Reinhardt spoke and possibly all the ones he didn’t. There were paintings and sculptures scattered throughout the room at appropriate intervals. Lavish rugs and tapestries covered any empty spaces on the walls or floors, creating a collage of colors that was just muted enough to be interesting but not distracting. Along the far wall were a few windows, and Reinhardt was not entirely surprised to see the sky outside was locked in the final stages of sunset. Deep purples and reds were all that remained of the sunlight.
The rest of the room was dominated by games. Wooden chessboards with ivory and onyx playing pieces. Masses of tangled knots and metal links were lined up on tables, waiting for someone to solve the puzzle and straighten them out. Reinhardt recognized an exquisite Go board, a game he’d been taught one winter while campaigning in the east. Finely printed books of word puzzles stacked neatly in one corner.
All of this information came in a flash and was gone just as quick. What captured and held Reinhardt’s attention was on a table halfway between the fireplace and the twilight filled windows. In fact, it seemed as though it had started out as one table, but several others had been added as their burden grew. Some of them had books beneath the legs to hoist them up to the proper height. Others look like they’d been sawed off partway up. They butted up against one wall, but still it dominated the whole room. The entire table area was occupied by an massive, complex house of cards. It stood easily three times Reinhardt’s own height and was at least his own height wide. A gigantic stepladder stood idly by the table’s corner.
“Yes,” said Tollan beside him. “It takes everyone like that.”
“What is it?” Reinhardt asked, but then realized that he knew what it was. “I mean—why is it?”
“Later,” barked the voice of Yarik from the opposite corner of the room. He’d stepped through a second door Reinhardt hadn’t seen because it was lost in the shadow of one of the bookshelves. “First tea, then questions.”
Reinhardt tore his eyes away from the monstrous tower of cards. He took the empty chair by the fireplace and quietly waited for his tea.
“How do you take it?” asked Tollan politely.
“A few drops of milk and a spoonful of sugar,” Reinhardt answered. He noticed that Tollan had begun adding the extra ingredients to his cup before he’d actually started to answer. “But, I guess you already knew that.”
Tollan grinned sheepishly, “Yes, sorry about that. One of the perks to being a god, I’m afraid. Still, if you promise not to get offended, I’ll promise to try not to do it.”
“Thanks,” Reinhardt said. This was one of those times where the piercing quality of the light was a bit awkward. He took the cup of tea and sipped it gingerly. It was exactly the way he liked it.
Tollan waited until after he had poured Yarik’s and then his own cup of tea before continuing. Tollan had spooned three helpings of sugar into his own glass and a generous bit of honey. Yarik’s cup was poured and handed to him without any additions.
“So,” Tollan said after taking a sip from his own cup, “that was a jolly good performance out there today.” He was beaming. Yarik snorted into his own cup.
“The battle, you mean?” Reinhardt asked.
“Oh yes,” Tollan answered enthusiastically. “A triumphant victory for the light and all those who walk within it. Touch and go there for a bit but you got it done in the end. Smashing, absolutely smashing.”
“Um, thank you.” Again, Yarik voiced his displeasure vaguely, this time with a scoff and a loud snorting to clear the sinuses.
“Oh, come now,” chided Tollan. “Don’t be such a sore loser. You almost had it in the end.”
“Dagger up the boot,” Yarik exclaimed. “Should have seen it coming. You got lucky with that one boy. Damn lucky.” This last bit was aimed directly at Reinhardt, complete with a wagging finger of disapproval.
“I’m sorry, but…” Reinhardt began slowly “are you trying to tell me that you really were behind Teramin G’uul and his army of demons?”
“Bah,” grumbled Yarik. “Not exactly behind him. Not exactly. Above him, more like. In him. Around him.”
“You actually sided with that madman?” asked Reinhardt, surprised at his own temerity to speak to a god in such a way. “Why?’
“Oh, yes, and there are so many other pawns lining up to join the forces of darkness,” jibbed Yarik. “Had my pick of the litter I did. You play the hand you’re dealt, lad. You play the hand you’re dealt.”
“Even if you’re dealt a handful of pawns?” asked Tollan somewhat smugly.
“You know what I mean,” snapped Yarik.
“But, how could you support someone—something—so blatantly evil?” Reinhardt was spilling his tea, he was so worked up.
“Because somebody has to,” Yarik answered blankly.
“No, they don’t,” Reinhardt insisted. “You could leave them to rot, to fester and die. You don’t have to encourage them.”
“Yes, I do.” said Yarik, his voice suddenly hard and cold as an iceberg. There was so much more to it than was first apparent.
“I think,” said Tollan in a placating tone of voice, “that now would be a good time to show our friend here the house of cards. Help him understand, that sort of thing.”