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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5. III: Spirits and Reapers and Elves, Oh My!

III.

Spirits and Reapers and Elves, Oh My!

            Now, if I’m being honest, I don’t really know what I was expecting. I guess it was something along the whole “long staircase, golden gates, white fluffy clouds that you can walk on, listening to the music of angels” kind of thing. I mean, I guess the door was kind of grand, and there was a staircase. But the staircase was a bland corporate-white, and it went down, down, down, all the way to a little white table at the bottom. And after that, nothing. At least, nothing that I could see. It wasn’t an unending white—like limbo—but I couldn’t see beyond the table for some reason.

            There was a man sitting behind the table—but not the human kind, which I suppose should have been expected at that point. He looked like a cross between an elf and a hobbit—short in stature, with pointy ears, broad shoulders, and these little black librarian glasses (you know the ones). He wore a suit that looked almost exactly like the one Mr. No-Fun—oh, excuse me, Jaq—was wearing.

            He wasn’t smiling, either. In fact, his frown lines had frown lines. And he was almost as obsessed with the papers he was shuffling through as Jaq was with his notebook thing. Mr. Grumpy Elfbbit picked up the stack of papers in front of him and knocked them on the table to straighten them out (get it? Because Elf + Hobbit = Elfbbit. Yeah, it’s not my best work.). He didn’t look up at me. “State your name and date of death, please.” His voice was gruff, low, and as crackly as a coffee grinder. Also, it was weird that he spoke in my language. Wouldn’t they have their own language? And how would he know?

            “Isiil! Always a pleasure to see you.” Jaq stepped in front of me and spoke before I could answer. I should have been used to that, but honestly, it made my blood boil. Way to cut me off, asshole.

            Jaq flashed a rather flashy and uncharacteristic smile at Isiil (which was a rather disappointing name, in my opinion. First of all, it should be spelled Eeseel, because that’s how language works, and second, it doesn’t sound like the name of an elf at all. It’s lacking 15 apostrophes). The second most hilarious thing I’ve seen since my death: the way Isiil’s face twisted between a mixture of terror, surprise, and adoration when he noticed that Jaq was there (second only to, of course, Jaq’s face when I called him Jaq). “M-M-Mr. Grim! Oh, my, I wasn’t expecting your visit!” Isiil looked even more horrified as he began furiously looking through the papers, some even landing on the floor in his haste. “I-I am terribly sorry, it seems I missed your memo, please forgive—”

            Jaq raised his hand, instantly silencing Isiil. It was both strange and a little validating to see Jaq’s power in action. I mean, I had only assumed that being the Grim Reaper made Jaq pretty powerful, but actually seeing that power was a whole other story. “Not to worry, Isiil, my visit is unprompted. I’m simply here on some… unexpected business.”

            “That would be me!” I poked out from behind him, smiling and waving at Isiil. In case you’re wondering: my sudden appearance at that moment was entirely planned. Hey, I had to make sure people knew that I had the Jaquillian Grim-Reaper (I don’t actually know his last name) wrapped around my little finger.

            Plus, it was nice to see the look of disdain and utter regret on Jaq’s face.

            Isiil looked even more confused than before—which was an added bonus. He looked up at Jaq, frowning in confusion. “Isn’t that our new arrival? Forgive me, I made preparations for a normal human mortal.”

            “Those preparations will do just fine, Isiil. Our situation is… complicated. No need to go the extra mile for this one.”

            “I told you, my name is Dylon. Not “you,” not “this one.” Dylon.” Unfortunately, I was ignored by both of them.

            “I-I see. In that case, I will notify Spirit and Pride of your arrival. I’m sure they would like to greet you themselves.” Isiil picked up what looked like a semi-transparent tinted blue slab of glass, and started typing on it. Little yellow circle-shaped lights appeared where he pressed.

            “No need to get them involved. I regret to say, I won’t be staying long. Just long enough to finish my business with this soul. I have a rather long list piling up, so I must be getting back to it as soon as possible,” Jaq explained.

            Isiil slowly put the tablet-looking-thing down. “I-I see. In that case, I will log the new arrival and allow you through the veil as quickly as possible.”

            “That would be preferable, yes,” Jaq pulled out that ever so annoying notebook of his and began scribbling something down—which was, in all likelihood, about me.

            I snapped my fingers in between where the two of them stood to get their attention. “Hello! It’s the “new arrival” here. Is anyone going to give me the “what’s what” of being dead, or am I expected to just figure it out on my own?”

            “You will get all that information once we pass through the veil and enter the Forest,” Jaq deadpanned, never looking up from his book—as usual.

            “Why can’t I get answers now? Also, what is the “veil” and what do you mean by enter the forest? Because it sounds ominous and unsettling.”

            “Because that’s not how it works, Gwendolyn—excuse me, Dylon. Answer Isiil’s questions, and you’ll get the answers you seek faster. There aren’t very many questions, but it’s required that we ask.” Jaq finished writing and let his notebook disappear, then crossed his arms over his chest.

            I groaned. As much as I hated to admit it, he was right. If I wanted to get answers, I was just going to have to play their game—at least, for a little while. I turned to Isiil. “Right, E-sul, was it?”

            “E-seel.” Isiil picked up that blue tablet again, a scowl settling on his face.

            “Whatever. Let’s get a move on with those questions. We don’t have all day—wait, do you have days here? Oh, right, I’ll find out on the other side of the “veil”—whatever that is.”

            Isiil huffed, a vein practically bursting in his forehead. “Yes, yes. Name and date of death.”

            “Gwendolyn Rivers, and I don’t know. Did I die before or after midnight?” I turned to Jaq. Thinking about that sent shivers down my spine (if I even had one of those). Date of death. It sounded so… weird, and formal, but at the same time unsettlingly casual.

            “After. It was the 11th of July in Earth months, celestial year 15.005.6097. I sent her file your way a few hours ago.” Jaq leaned over the tablet, pointing out the “file” on the screen—at least, that’s what I assumed he was doing. I couldn’t actually read anything that I could see through the blue of the tablet. The fact that it was backward aside, it was an entirely different writing system—which only added to the confusion that they were all speaking English.

            “Any regrets, missed opportunities, or any other goal-driven attachments you have to your previous life that you would like to declare,” Isiil asked, moving on with the questions.

            I looked at him like he was completely stupid. “Uh, yeah. Hello. I’m 16. Everything about my death is one huge missed life-opportunity. I think you can say that I’m pretty attached.”

            Isiil—somehow—frowned more. He had that same annoying habit of not looking up at me as he typed on his little tablet-device. “Hm… I see how this one got a little complicated…” He grumbled, clearly directing that comment at Jaq, who nodded in response.

            I huffed. “Aren’t you both immortal or whatever? You don’t get to judge me for being attached to my old life—you’ve never died before.”

            “Not immortal, Eternal. There is a difference. And it’s not judgment, Dylon, it’s business. Souls with more worldly attachment take more care and attention. You aren’t alone in being attached,” Jaq explained. His tone was somehow softer—and it dawned on me after a few moments that he was actually trying to comfort me.

            I blinked a few times in surprise, pulling slightly at the hem of my nightgown. “Oh. I… didn’t know that. I guess we should just… finish the questions.”

            Isiil glanced between me and Jaq a couple times before turning his attention back to the tablet. “Right. Well, seeing as though most of the information I need is here in your file, all I need from you is your signature.” He turned the tablet towards me, and all the little foreign scribbles shifted and danced until they turned into English letters.

            I blinked a few times and shook my head, feeling a little dizzy from watching the letters turn. “Why do you need my signature?”

            “It’s just your death certificate. It’s for filing purposes more than anything else. Your simply signature legitimises the document.”

            I squinted at the screen a little, focusing my eyes on the words so I could be sure that that was really what it was. Not because I didn’t believe Jaq, but because I wanted to be sure it was really what I was signing. Of course, the words DEATH CERTIFICATE at the top in big, cooperate-looking letters was a pretty strong indicator that Jaq wasn’t pulling my leg. And since there was no indication (to me, at least) that there was any sort of fine writing other than “this is to say that you died,” I lifted my finger and pressed the screen.

It dawned on me then that I had no idea now to work the tablet in the slightest. I moved my finger slightly in my confusion, which prompted a little silver line to be drawn in the shape of how my finger moved. Duh. It responds to touch. I scribbled my finger across the screen in a shape that semi-resembled my name. “There. All done?”

            Isiil took the tablet from me and inspected the signature for a moment. “That will be all, then.” He knocked his fist on the table three times, and the top opened to reveal some sort of control panel—I’m talking something straight out of a sci-fi novel. He put his hand on a pad, which prompted a little black box to open up, revealing a golden button.

            The white backdrop behind him parted in the middle, like a huge pair of double doors swinging towards us. The inside of the doors closely resembled the one that Jaq had summoned to bring us there in the first place. And waiting just on the other side of the door was a vast, almost sickening sea of green, and a narrow dirt path leading ominously through it, stretching towards the horizon with no end in sight.

            I guess that’s what Jaq meant by “The Forest.” 

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