The Forest of Eyes and Shadows (Reincarnation Competition Winner)

Gwendolyn Rivers died in her sleep. This is her afterlife. As she races to get back the life she once had, Gwendolyn must face the wrath of the Forest, one very high-strung Grim Reaper, and a very peculiar Mad God all while coming to terms with the fact that nothing she had previously believed about the "afterlife" was true.
As it turned out, being dead was the least of her problems.
(Note: This is a prequel for Halo, but does not need to be read first)

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6. IV: There's No Place Like The Forest of Creepy Dead People

IV.

There’s No Place Like the Forest of Creepy Dead People

            The Forest was more like a quaint little fantasy town tucked away in the trees than an endless, dark, and scary forest. The path that led through the giant trees stretched all the way to a large clearing, which burst into a vibrant, busy marketplace. There were booths set up on every corner, and the ground shifted from dirt and pine needle-looking things to cobblestone. The people at the booths looked like Isiil—they were almost hobbit-like in shape and had those pointy ears. But what made them different from everyone else in the market was that they were solid—organic, which, basically, just meant not dead.

            Everyone else? Pretty dead.

            That whole stereotype of ghosts that they were kind of light blue and semi-transparent was only half true. The people weren’t all one color—their clothes were vibrant blues, purples, and reds, their skin looked healthy and almost youthful. It was only the eyes that were haunting—eyes that weren’t actually eyes, just a piercing and glowing white. I would say that it looked like they could stare into my soul or whatever—but I was dead, so of course they would see right through me, none of us were solid.

            And not all of them were human, either. There were some who had strange markings on their bodies, which almost looked like flower tattoos, except that the markings would move and grow. Some were almost ten feet tall, with long, bone-like legs and huge, dinosaur-like feet. And some looked like those little green men from sci-fi movies. There were thousands—maybe even millions—of different species—some humans, some animals, but mostly aliens.

            Oh yeah, did I forget to mention aliens exist? 

            The Isiil-like people at the booths were shouting in thousands of different languages, holding up these little medallions that glowed and pulsed like they were alive, but I couldn’t see through the twisting silver vines of the metal locket casing enough to know what was inside.

            Jaq snapped his fingers in front of my face. “Miss Dylon? Please, pay attention. I am only going to tell you this once.”

            I huffed and shoved his hand away. “How can I pay attention? I can barely hear you over all these people. Where does the marketplace even end? It looks like it stretches for an eternity in all directions. I can’t even see the forest anymore!”

            Jaq crossed his arms over his chest. “Which is exactly why you should have been paying attention. This is Rinm’quria—or Market of the Dead. Here, you can get energy, trade goods, and even buy Morphs.” Jaq turned and started walking away, gesturing at different booths. As we walked through the market, I realized that not every booth was run by the weird hobbit creatures. There were some ghosts at booths that had these strange, shining plaques behind them, and other booths had actual, tangible things like clothes and knickknacks and other things you would find at a flea market—other than actual food.

            “What are morphs,” I asked as I caught up to him.

            “Modifiers of sorts. Some of you find it intriguing to alter your soul’s appearance in various ways. Morphs allow you to do so without stretching your soul energy too thin. You wouldn’t want to tear yourself apart, after all.”

            “Tear myself apart? Aren’t I dead?”

            “Souls can disappear, Dylon. I explained that to you before, didn’t I? If your soul is destroyed, then you cease to exist entirely—no reincarnation, no consciousness, nothing.” Jaq glanced at me out of the corner of his eye.

            I gulped. “I thought you were kidding…”

            “I never kid, Dylon.”

            “Yeah, I figured that out,” I grumbled, scoffing a little. What was he trying to do? Scare me? Yeah, not likely. I was already dead, what more could they do to me? I looked around again, trying to see where I was in relation to the exit—but since there was no glowing neon sign that said “exit,” it was a little hard to figure out. “So, how do we get out of this place? Don’t tell me the afterlife is just a giant market.”

            “Of course not. There are also your living quarters, and there is always the Forest, if you would like to wander in the quiet. And there are the caves—but I would advise that you stay away from there.”

            I raised my eyebrow at him. “Why? Is there something dangerous there? Do monsters lurk in the shadows?” Needless to say, I didn’t really take him seriously. Sure, there were ghosts and aliens and limbo—but monsters? Nothing else was anything like the stories I heard as a child, so I doubted that monsters were all terrifying and deadly.

            Jaq scoffed. “The caves are a labyrinth, Dylon. They go on for eons and souls who venture in rarely find their way out.”

            “Oh.” I cleared my throat, trying not to imagine some minotaur looking creature guarding the entrance to the caves (it was the minotaur’s job to do that, right?) “So… Living quarters… I get one of those? How do I get there? Is it by the market?” Changing the subject was probably the best course of action.

            “Well, it’s in another section of the verse. You can travel there yourself by focusing your energy on home. It will shape itself into whatever image you’d like. For most, it starts out being a mirror image of their home before they died—but eventually, it will change on its own. As the spirit moves on.”

            I wrinkled my nose. “That sounds unnecessarily complicated and convoluted. What does that even mean? ‘Focusing your energy on home’?” I mocked, putting my hands on my hips as I waited for an answer.

            “Remember when you poltergeisted earlier?” Jaq paused and turned to look at me.

            “Well, yeah, but you told me not to do that…”

            “Oh, I was right, never do that again—but that isn’t my point. It’s a similar concept. You tapped into the energy around you in order to make things move. In order to take yourself home, you use the energy around you to bring yourself to a new place. If you picture your ideal home in your mind, focus on that, the energy of the universe will bring you there.”

            “That still doesn’t make sense.” I deadpanned, staring at him with a blank expression.

            Jaq sighed, pinching his nose. “I suppose that’s to be expected. You humans always have a more difficult time with magic once you get here. I thought since you were able to tap in so quickly before, you might be able to create a home faster than the others. Very well.” Before I had a chance to answer, Jaq raised his hand and snapped his fingers.

            The market began to swirl and fade, almost seeming to rip apart in the black expanse of time and space—well, it didn’t actually rip apart, we were just moving so fast that it looked like it was. We passed through the market, the forest, towns with people and life, until finally, before I could fully process anything, we were in a room.

            It wasn’t much. It was almost like a small apartment—on our right, was a little living room with a couch and a coffee table, which was facing an entertainment center with a TV on the other side. On the left was a small kitchen, which included a stove, oven, fridge, dishwasher, and all the necessary tools. There was even a small table, with four chairs. Straight ahead was a hallway with one door—I assumed that was the bedroom. No bathroom, but of course it didn’t have a bathroom, I was dead. I guess dead people don’t need bathrooms.

            “Where…?”

            I didn’t have to finish the sentence for Jaq to answer. “You’re in an apartment. This is rins’hala douya—there isn’t exactly an accurate translation in your language, I suppose the most accurate would be Home of the Newly Dead. Essentially, it’s a dormitory for the newly dead that is used as a sort of… transitionary period. This gives you a place to stay while you learn how to navigate the afterlife.”

            I looked around the room again slowly, trying to take it all in. “Ok… So… I live here now…” My eyes fell on the kitchen, and I frowned. “Why do I need a kitchen, exactly? I’m dead.”

            “It’s mainly for looks. It makes your kind more comfortable to be surrounded by familiar things. Also, even though you are technically dead, you can still consume the foods you ate in life. It’s not going to actually do anything for you—if you want to keep your soul energy replenished, you have to get energy fragments from the market—but some still like to eat things that are familiar to them, as you souls can still taste.”

            I nodded slowly, pretending that that made sense. “Ok… So, a kitchen, but no bathroom…”

            Jaq raised an eyebrow. “Why would a dead person need a bathroom? Even if you eat regular food, there’s no need. A soul doesn’t work the same as an organic form.”

            “Right…” I said slowly, still trying to make sense of everything.

            And because my afterlife wasn’t weird enough, it was that same moment that the room literally split, a giant black gash reaching from the ceiling to the floor. The gash opened, and out came a man. He was muscular in build and pretty tall. He had long silver hair which was braided in a series of long, intricate braids weaved with some sort of gold, shaped into the form of ivory. He was wearing a white tunic, with the sleeves cut at his shoulders, and a gold belt around his waist. On his back, he had a quill, which was wedged between his giant, silver wings. The bow was in his hand—the one that had a weird, black tattoo that wrapped from around his left ring finger, all the way up to his shoulder.

            The portal closed behind him when he stepped out, and he looked at us with his bright, silver eyes.

            Needless to say, I literally had no idea what to do. A guy just popped out of what I assumed was a rip in time and space. I had no idea who he was or what he wanted—so naturally, I hid behind Jaq. I was just a defenseless human, but he was the grim reaper. Jaq could save me.

            Except Jaq didn’t save me. In fact, he didn’t even move. I peeked my head around his side and looked up at him, trying to figure out what was going on.His face twisted up in confusion. “Saerin? What are you doing here?” 

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