chapter 77: a glimpse beyond the veil

Shara stood as the leader of the group of assassins, those chosen to block the path of retreat for the invading creatures. Among the five selected for this task, she had undoubtedly mastered the class the most. If not for the suggestions of her people, Shara would have been part of the main ambush where she thought she belonged, instead of away from the front lines. She did not even really have confidence that they would retreat until they killed all of the halflings, and even if they did they might not choose her path.

Yet, her people insisted that she stay there. Even if it was only the smallest chance, this gave her a chance to survive the fight without going against her ideals. Her people truly wanted her to live, even if she was the only one among them. Yet, nobody really gets what they want in this age.

It was not long after the battle began that she saw fires emerging from the trees, a sign that the enemy force had a number of mages. Yet, for some reason, the first only burned off the first layer of bark from the trees before going out. She wasn’t sure what that meant, and would have liked to study that for future plans, but she heard hooves rapidly approaching her.

At first, it was only three of the creatures that had chosen to run in this direction, but Shara would show no mercy. With a subtle nod of her head, her and the four others sprang into action. The power of her mind guided her feet, allowing them to slide soundlessly across the forest floor, while the power of her body caused her to lean left and right in a swaying motion, making her form indistinct.

This was the movement technique of the Assassin class, the shadowless step. With it, they rapidly approached alongside the three creatures. Though one of them got in a lucky stab to kill one of her people, Shara focused on her task. Although she wanted to chase the one that got through, there were more coming, and so she sprang into action again.

After the first few groups, there did not seem to be anyone else that sought to retreat the way that Shara was guarding, causing her to purse her lips slightly. Yet, she remained at her post, right until the sounds of battle began to die down. At that point, she knew that her time had come. “Now, let us meet our end.” She said under her breath, leading the other remaining assassins to finish their final task.

When they arrived, there were still a large number of enemies left, though it was nothing compared to what had originally charged into their forest. The thought of that made Shara proud, knowing that her people had fought such great numbers and still dealt that much damage. Quickly, she targeted her prey, one of the horned creatures which was erecting magical shields around those still engaged in combat.

Though her target looked exhausted, he was still doing his best to shield his fellows. But right now, that was not something that she could allow. Shara moved like a ghost, sliding across the hellish landscape to leap up onto the creature’s bestial back. It shuddered slightly, seeming to notice her presence as she stabbed her bone knife into the side of its neck, jumping off to find her next target.

After her group was noticed, the battlefield quickly became chaotic once again, though this only lasted a short time before the four of them had been slain. Shara herself had been shot through the shoulder, still struggling to fight with one arm before her head was caved in by a powerful kick.

Yet, that wasn’t the end. The world seemed to turn grey at that moment. As her body fell backwards, Shara was able to look back and watch it hit the ground. All around her, confused people stood. Well… people might be a bit much. Some of them looked vaguely like those she had known before, those whom she had lived with for months. Yet, their forms were grey and blurry.

Others were the forms of those that they had been fighting, the creatures that had killed their kin and attacked their woods. Right now, they all looked as if they wanted to fight, but were unable to. Ethereal vines bound their bodies to the ground, vines which rapidly emerged to restrain Shara as well, before she had time to properly react.

“You are the last one, huh?” A voice spoke from above. Looking up, Shara saw large, winged people. With pure white wings, and pure black hair, the male figure that had spoken to her descended to the ground.

Along with the winged figures, there were also some more solid forms without wings, those that looked like halflings, and those that looked like the creatures they had been fighting. Shara wanted to ask what was going on, but when she opened her mouth, she could not hear any sound coming out. Yet, the man glanced over to her, as if he had heard her nonetheless.

“You died.” He said simply. His eyes were an eerie black, yet somehow she could not look away from him. “We are envoys of the afterlife. The Governor of the Fallen heard that there was going to be a battle here today, and dispatched us to convey you to the other side after everything was done. Now, just wait there for a moment, and things will be explained shortly.”

After saying up to there, the man turned back to look at the others. Somehow, Shara felt like she could hear a number of mixed voices coming from the bound figures, yet she was unable to properly understand them. “Okay, everyone. We’ll begin the transfer in a few minutes. Once we’re on the other side, there will be no fighting. Anyone that attempts to attack someone will be placed in isolation. If you have family on the other side, we will attempt to help you locate them in a timely manner.”

Before anyone could respond, he let out a long sigh. “Okay, everyone, get ready!” He called out loudly, causing the various unbound figures from above to descend. All in all, there were over a hundred of them, and they spread out in a circular formation around the group of bound souls.

When the various figures landed, they clasped their hands together in front of themselves, and Shara saw a sudden change in the surrounding environment. All around her, the landscape turned more and more blurry, the last remnants of color being leached from the very air itself. After that, the shapes grew distorted and cloudy, until they appeared as nothing but wisps of smoke that scattered with an invisible wind.

At this point, the only thing left in the world that she could see were herself, the bound souls from the battle, and the unbound ones who were doing the ‘transfer’. “And, synchronize!” The apparent leader of the winged men shouted out, causing the faces of the unbound souls to stiffen in focus.

Only allowed on

Now, the smoke surrounding them began to take a new form. Colors once again returned to the world as Shara felt a stone floor beneath her feet, as if she was standing atop a mountain. Looking down, she saw the stone was black, and stretched out several meters in any direction. Outside of their circle of souls, she saw stone pillars rising up like great trees, supporting a building larger than she had ever seen.

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Glancing behind her, she saw the stones taking shape into the form of people. Ten of them, standing in a circle. One such shape was immediately recognizable to Shara, and made her bring a hand to cover her mouth in shock. She saw the statue of Aurivy, the goddess whose form she had never seen before, yet knew instinctively.

At some point, she realized that the vines tying them down had disappeared, and she was able to again move her body. This realization came when she heard a sudden shout from behind, and turned to see one of her people charging at one of the strange creatures that they had fought. However, before he could even cover half the distance, a black box formed around him, holding him in place.

Shara heard a sigh from somewhere off to the side of her, and turned to see the same winged man from before looking at the now trapped halfling. “I did warn you.” He said, shaking his head, before signalling to some of the others. “Haul that one off to containment. For attempting to attack another civilian upon entry to the Underworld, one week of isolation. Try to arrange for someone he used to know to go explain things to him when the time is up.”

Another winged person nodded, snapping their fingers as a rope materialized around the black box, one end leading to their hands. After that, she flew off into the air, the black box dragging behind her. It was at this point that Shara actually noticed the sky, or lack thereof.

No matter where she looked above her, there was only a boundless, grey horizon of shifting smoke. Far above, she could faintly see an object floating amidst the smoke, but was unable to tell just what it was. “Shara!” It was at this moment that she heard a loud call off to her side, causing her to turn and see something that took her breath away. If she still had breath, at least.

Running towards her was a young halfling, one that she barely recognized, yet could never forget. Her father, who had died months ago, looking younger than she had ever seen him. “D-daddy!” She cried out, her voice echoing out without meaning to. Startled, she raised her hands to her mouth again, surprised to hear her own voice.

Hearing that, Savir laughed, running up and picking Shara up in his arms, spinning her around once before pulling her in for a tight embrace. “I’m sorry I left you like that.” He said gently, and Shara suddenly felt like she was a kid again, before any of this fighting had happened.

“She one of yours?” The winged man asked, looking indifferently towards Savir, who only nodded happily.

“She’s my daughter, sir. I’d like to take custody while everything gets settled.” He answered, never releasing his firm grip on Shara.

The man looked to Shara for a moment, but seeing her happy smile, he realized that he was telling the truth. With a small smile of his own, he nodded his head. “Alright. From what we’ve heard, the instigators behind the war have already been tried. There shouldn’t be any issues if you take custody of her, just be sure to have her available if we need her for something.”

Savir quickly nodded his head again at that. “Of course, sir.” He said, before smiling down at Shara. “Come on, let’s go home.” He said with a laugh, setting Shara down and holding her hand to guide her.

Home? She thought to herself, confused. Did her father have a home built here? She had assumed after seeing this place that he would want to explore again. And, seeing the variety of people, and the different characteristics of their races, she couldn’t help but wonder. “Dad… what is this place? Who are all these people?”

“Well…” He smiled awkwardly at that, glancing around. “This is the Underworld, Shara. The place where the dead… live. Ever since coming here, I feel like I’ve learned so much more about the world that we never imagined. But, that’s not the best part.”

She tried to get him to elaborate on that, but he only grinned, looking to her and telling her that it was a secret. Even when they reached the edge of the city, and found an expanse of empty greyness waiting for him, Savir just continued walking ahead. And Shara followed, leaving the capital behind them, only to notice that their speed had somehow increased drastically after leaving the city.

Soon, they found themselves at another, smaller city. Although the buildings here were also made of stone, they were far smaller than what she had seen before, and some looked ready to fall apart. It was in front of one such building that Savir finally stopped, standing in front of a wide door. With a gentle pat on her back, he urged her forward. “Welcome home, Shara.” He said with a wide smile.

Shara nodded, walking up and slowly pushing the door open. She heard a female voice call out from within as she stepped into the house. “Savir, is that you?” Shara felt her heart stop when she heard the voice, her feet frozen at the door. Somehow, she knew who the voice was, or she was able to quickly figure it out.

When she saw a young halfling woman step out of a nearby doorway, Shara couldn’t help but feel her eyes begin to water. Intellectually, she knew that she should not be able to cry. She was not even alive anymore, and yet the tears came.

“Shara?” The woman asked, briefly stunned.

“Mom!” She shouted, running forward and embracing the woman, burying her head in her mother’s shoulder and crying. She had wanted to see her mother again for so long. And while she felt that she would be able to find her father after dying, she had never considered that there would be someone else waiting for her here too. Silently, she thanked Aurivy for giving her this chance, for letting her be with her family again.

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