Incorporeal, but somehow aware. That’s how it felt when the darkness left, only to be replaced by something else. A plane of quasi-existence that I am unable to fully describe with mere words.
I could feel others around me, specks of light forming beautiful streams that stretched forever in both directions.
Even though they never touched, all the streams went the same way, moved by a quiet determination, pulled by a strange hopefulness that resided just over there, beyond the horizon.
I could feel it too, and was content with obediently moving forward. And for a while, I did.
I eventually realized that it was getting increasingly harder. Others would silently move past me while I struggled, confused as to why I felt so heavy. Lamenting, "why me?"
I came to a halt, exhausted and unable to continue anymore.
That’s when I started being pulled down.
I knew something terrible was happening, so I panicked. No one reacted as I was dragged down, out of the stream. Out of the feeling of joy. Out of hope.
There came a point when I was under all the different streams, but the descent didn’t stop. I could now perceive much farther in the distance and noticed that I wasn’t the only one heading down.
All around me were dots of conscious light, wrenched from their infinite destiny.
I moved my awareness downward and found nothing, so I kept pushing, trying to sense what was even beneath the nothingness.
It got cold, cold enough for a man’s blood to stop in his veins. But that did not worry me, as I had been frozen cold before. So I kept pushing my awareness lower.
Beyond the cold, it got hot. Hot enough to scorch a man’s scream in his lungs. But that did not worry me, as I had been burning hot before. So I kept pushing my awareness lower.
The hope of the streams could not reach beyond the heat, so I shuddered. But I had lived most of my life without hope, so I figured I would be able to manage.
So I pushed my awareness lower down the abyss, to what should be its deepest part... And my mind reeled, threatening to break as I looked away.
But it didn’t matter because I had dared to gaze at it. Because even though I couldn’t comprehend what I had seen, I knew what it meant for me.
I was ready to do everything to avoid the fate that awaited me.
Once I made that realization, I was whisked away.
Everything was blurred, as my awareness was severely crippled, no longer able to wander wherever I wished. I felt constricted, limited. Less. It wasn’t until I realized that I needed to breathe that I understood that I was back in a body made of flesh. But younger, much younger than I had been when I died.
The voice was low and seemed strange to someone like me who was only familiar with human tongues. I could only compare it to the sound of the wind, howling through an uncaring mountain. Uncaring, because it had been there for eons, and would still be there for eons to come.
I did as the voice ordered me to, still trembling from the ungodly terror I had just experienced. I was in a vast stone hall illuminated with rudimentary torches.
There was no one else around me, and no exit. But I knew I wasn’t alone.
“State your name,” the voice demanded.
“My name is Edward Lee,” I said.
There was a pause, during which I heard whispers and hushed voices.
“Edward Lee. You have been brought before us to fulfill an old request. A request for a mortal who meets a particular set of criteria. If you are willing, you will be reincarnated in a world much different than the one you left.”
There was another pause, which was apparently meant for me to think.
“What does that request entail?” I asked.
“Things beyond your understanding and things you are not allowed to know,” the voice said. “But I can see that you fear for your freedom, and you can rest assured that there is no need for such concern. If you were to accept, you would be as free as a mortal can be.”
That last comment caused chuckles in the invisible audience.
“What if I refuse?”
“Then you would simply be excused and your soul would resume its journey to its final resting place.”
“I’ll do it!” I blurted out, almost biting my tongue. “I mean... I accept the request.”
Everything sounded better than going back to that dreadful descent.
And they knew it. Whoever these disembodied voices belonged to, they knew they had me in the palm of their hand.
“Very well,” said the voice, unsurprised.
For crossing from one world to another, you have received the title “Transmigrant”.
You have gained the human racial trait “Technopath”.
Words appeared in the corner of my vision and disappeared once I read them. But before I could try to guess at their meaning, the voice spoke again.
“We now ask to the court; is one of the members willing to offer the mortal Edward Lee their patronage?”
Utter silence, for the first time. Then another mocking chuckle.
“Very well,” the ageless voice repeated, “Edward Lee, it is almost time for you to leave for the world of the living... but you cannot. Not yet. For the Scale is left unbalanced and no one can truly escape their karma.”
There were tremors and I spun around to face an altar at a spot where nothing existed a moment ago. On top of the altar was a bow decorated with carvings that seemed alive.
“Use it,” said the voice.
I did as told, and an arrow made of solid light appeared in my other hand. It seemed oddly familiar, but I couldn’t remember ever seeing something similar.
I looked up and there was no ceiling, only a beautiful starry night sky. So I nocked the arrow, pulled the string as hard as I could and released it. The arrow flew straight up, and so fast it seemed it would never stop.
Half unconscious of what I was doing, I kept firing arrows into the sky until they no longer kept appearing in my hand. Then I put the bow back on the altar, unable to understand what had just happened.
I felt different, lighter. As if some part of me was missing.
Though I couldn’t understand them, the whispers around me had turned into what sounded like intense arguments.
“Now that you have passed judgment upon yourself, it is time,” said the ageless voice. “Edward Lee, the court-”
“Hold,” said someone else.
A heavy silence followed.
“Edward Lee, I would like to be your patron,” said the newcomer. “If you don’t mind, of course.”
There was a rumbling noise as cracks appeared on the stone in front of me. Pieces of the blocks that formed the wall flew past me, as if some invisible sledgehammer took it down, revealing a pitch black room.
To go past the rubble and enter that darkness was far from an appealing idea, but even if I couldn’t tell what a patron was, I could sense it was fairly important.
I took a step and heard gasps.
Light inundated the room, and all around me several doors appeared on the previously naked stone wall. Proper doors of various designs, ornamented with gems and embellished with golden flourishes. Through some of them filtered sunlight and the sound of chirping birds.
I raised a questioning brow at the empty room. A new voice spoke, feminine and charming.
“Rejoice, mortal,” it said. “It appears your karma isn’t as bad as one would think. “In their great mercifulness, several members of the court have decided to offer you their support.”
The voice made a pause, as if expecting me to show a visible sign of my gratefulness. I just waited for it to actually finish speaking.
“However,” the alluring voice continued, “ their support requires you to step away from that ghastly hole. A foul beast is locked inside, and it is surely only looking to take advantage of you. Refuse its offer and start your new life with the support of one of our esteemed members.”
I almost let out a sneer, but managed to keep it inside. Earlier I was hesitating to enter the gaping hole in the wall, but now I wanted to do it just to spite these bastards who were mocking and ignoring me a moment ago.
I didn’t know if I could trust their words but they clearly didn’t want me to get this particular patronage.
If I had been younger, I might have outright ignored the proposition. But I wasn’t a child anymore.
“I am thankful for the offer,” I said without sarcasm. “However there is something I would like to clarify. You said ’support’. Would I be correct to assume that this ’support’ isn’t actually a patronage?”
There was only silence to answer me.
“Thought so,” I said as I walked through the opening and into the darkness.