The image of his tormentors hovered over him like a nightmare, painted on the ashen cloud of his own remains. They had won, and he had lost. His ambitions had been so grand, and his power so certain that he was still shaken with disbelief when they set fire to him, and thus ended his legacy.
How could they oppose him? He had only sought knowledge that was otherwise withheld from him in contempt over the fact that he was greater than they were. He could have done so much with the mysterious shards of creation, yet, people feared him. They feared he could use these magical artifacts in ways none of them could understand. Maybe their fears weren’t so misplaced after all, because even he, couldn’t begin to understand everything the shards were capable of.
At the head of the most sizable army none alive had ever seen, he had been crushed like an ant under a foot. He shouldn’t have acted so boldly, but at the time, he was so confident in himself and what he could achieve. Medregal Tergrast was not a name that should be remembered in the same breath as failure, and yet there he was.
Where was he? With the memory of his death fading, the most unfamiliar of places now painted the background of his surroundings. He was floating in emptiness, where there was neither light nor shade, only a constant blue gloom that seemed to emanate from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. The horizon freckled with lights that resembled stars, which glittered and swayed every so often.
Other people were there too, flying gently in every direction. They traveled alone as well as in groups, their faces and bodies lit up with dozens of different colors. They smiled and spoke softly to each other, as if their glee wasn’t an affront to his person.
Was this the Afterworld he was meant for? Were all kinds of folk not supposed to linger on Exitium, the plane of the living, when they had unfinished business? Weren’t his gods suppose to welcome him in this place? It seemed as if they were laughing at him, because every kind of folk was there, even races he did not recognize, and none of them unhappy with their fate.
A rage boiled within him, and it flew outwards, like blood oozing out of a sunken body. It bubbled and expanded outward, reaching for the people closest to him and draining them of color. They started drifting ever so slowly, and the joy faded from their faces.
As the wave progressed around him, the horizon and other souls were devoided of colours, turning grey, but he didn’t budge. Didn’t look away. Didn’t mind what he was doing or the consequences. After all, if he couldn’t get what he wanted, why should other people get to be happy?
He began roaming, looking for something that would make him whole again, but eventually the emptiness began to take his mind, and his motions started to resemble everyone else’s.
Centuries passed, and he came back to his senses when something quite peculiar caught his attention; there was a tall and massive door, hovering above him. Had it always been there? He would have undoubtedly seen it before if it had been, even though this place was immensely vast, probably without end.
He drifted upwards to get a better view. Ten men high and twenty wide, it was made entirely of gray rocks; something that did not belong in the Afterworld. There were also four key holes set on a vertical line going all the way up and down the door, separating it in two. The top of it was arched, and the sides and bottom were straight. He reached even closer to touch it, to make sure it was real and not just a figment of his imagination.
As he was about to make contact with the door, his hand went through and he felt nothing. Still he went on and his body passed through. When he appeared on the other side though, he was still in the Afterworld, but there were now five souls standing before him. They were not gray like him and all the other ones he had turned, but darker, almost completely black. They stood, looking at him and none speaking a single word. He peered behind them and saw other souls of the same shade, dozens, which had stayed away from the ones that were close to him. They were simply floating, watching as silent spectators, clustered in a wide bundle.
The five nearest to him and the large group were of the same ethnicity as he was: Ethula. The dark skin, distinguishable even with the colour of their souls, and intense red eyes belonged to no other race. Though they were of the same people, they looked nothing liked Medregal, who was taller and bulkier than most Ethulas. The ones in front of him were skinnier and looked devoided of any muscles. The only thing they shared, aside from the color of their skin and eyes, was the lack of hair; shaving daily, both hair and beard, was customary for ethulan men. Their gazes looked fierce though, and contrasted greatly with their frail shape.
They stayed silent for some time, until the one in the middle of the five spoke.
“Are you Medregal Tergrast?”
It was the first time in centuries he was hearing a voice, aside from his own within his mind.
It was also the first time in so long his name was spoken aloud. A wave of relief ran through every fiber of his soul. This place hadn’t taken all of his sanity and he had not been forgotten.
Still, he frowned at the strangers. How could they know him? He had been dead for a long time now and no one before them had known who he was.
“I was, but am no more. Who are you? How do you know of me?”
Instead of giving an answer, they bowed before him, putting one knee down. The large group behind mimicked the gesture.
“What’s the meaning of this?” Was the only thing he could think of saying.
With their heads still down, the one in the middle spoke again.
“Your highness, we are your most loyal disciples. I am Heddrien.” He gestured to his right, “They are Eymrin and Derren,” and then to his left, “and they are Heyden and Medrell. We have devoted our lives to bring you back to the world of the living so you could achieve your destiny.”
“And what would that be?”
The five looked at each other in a puzzled way. Heddrien spoke again, this time in a passionate way.
“You are Medregal Tergrast, ruler of the Ethula, who lived five hundred years ago and who was said to be the most intelligent being ever to have lived. Legends say you could control the shards of creation like no other, do things others could not even dream of. The ruler who was unjustly denied his right to control the shards.”
Heddrien lifted his head so their gazes could meet. He had resolution and fire in his eyes, more than Medregal had had in the last few centuries.
“You could have done so many great things, yet their ignorant eyes could not see what you and I could.” He took a small pause before continuing, trying to find the right words. “Our nation once was powerful and proud, but since your demise we have been cast out, put aside and bullied by the other nations. They feared us, frightened that others could rise as you did. With no ruler, thieves and murderers took over our cities and before long, everyone had to fend for themselves. Even the other nations made sure we couldn’t thrive, by cutting us off of their trades and daily lives.
“We have lived in poverty and mediocrity for the past five hundred years. This is why our ancestors created our order, to bring you back to life in order for you to guide and rule us once more, and fulfill your destiny. The elves tried to bury your story, they tried to make sure you were forgotten, but your exploits were passed down through the members of our order for generations.”
Medregal appraised Heddrien a long time before he spoke. It had been eons ago and yet they seemed to believe in him more than he did in himself, but they were right. It was his right to use the shards, to control them as he saw fit. They spoke to him like they wouldn’t speak to anyone else, calling him their Master deep whitin his own mind. If only he could have gotten his hands on one of the greater shards. The smaller ones were in abundance and their power limited, but the greater ones… no one could imagine what they were capable of.
He lowered his gaze and sighed. The endless years of roaming without purpose in this forsaken place had torn away any will he had before he came here. There was no escaping death, nor this place.
“What good is it now? I am dead and this is all there is to it.”
He drifted upward and above the heads of the five, resolved to continue his aimless roaming. They stood up from their bowing and turned to follow him.
“You can’t just leave like that, we gave our lives to your cause! We even built this door!”
Medregal suddently stopped in his tracks and turned around. He approached Heddrien until he was at an arm’s length of him.
“You did this?”
“Not only us, but our fathers and their fathers beforehand. We were just the ones fortunate enough to see this grand design, years in the making, come to fruition. With the help of the shards, we carved this door in a mountainside and were able to link it to the Afterworld by sacrificing all the members of our group.”
Heddrien held a hand toward the silent dark mass of souls that had stood silently.
“We gave our lives, and they did too.”
Heddrien looked back at the door.
“We could not be sure we had succeeded, but now I can see we did.”
Medregal floated closer to Heddrien and faced him. He grabbed him firmly close to his neck.
“Then why isn’t it open?”
The ethulan man, a startled look in his eyes, couldn’t get any words out.
Heddrien finally caught his breath.
“I don’t know.”
Medregal sighed and let go of Heddrien, who raised his hand and tried to touch Medregal; his hand, however, went through the dead king’s body.
“How did you do that? How could you grab me?”
Medregal was as startled as the man.
“I have no idea. Tell me your story. Tell me everything,” said the old king with rekindled hope.
“After carving the door and sacrificing the other members, it went dark and I woke here. Heyden was the last one to arrive.”
The one called Heyden came closer.
“A bastard elf hid while we sacrificed the members and came at us when there were only the five of us left to establish the connection with the Afterworld and open the door. We were taken by surprise, so we never stood a chance.”
Medregal had been contemplating the door the whole time the two had been speaking. His gaze finally settled down on Heddrien.
“What are the chances this gate ever opens now?”
The five ethulan men shared a look before Heddrien spoke again.
“We don’t even know why it’s not open. After the connection was established it was just supposed to be unbarred and ready.”
“Then why have you come to me and told me all of this?”
The five had all of their heads down, like scolded children.
“We thought maybe you could do something about it.”
Medregal started drifting away and turned back to address them one last time.
“I think you believe in me too much, I’m dead after all. Enjoy your stay in the Afterworld.”
As he continued floating away, their spirits turned gray and they drifted away. The group that had stayed still and silent behind did the same; they turned to the same blemish color and disbanded, blending with all the others that had been there with him for so long.
He was dead and couldn’t do anything about it.
Another five hundred years had passed and although time was very much an abstract concept where he was, it was as if he had calculated every second since he was here. Even after all this time, he still couldn’t take his mind away from what had happened, from his demise to his meeting with five of his unknown disciples. He had kept floating close to the door; it was, after all, his only link to the world of the living, the world he was longing to go back to. It seems he wasn’t the only one to have had the feeling; a lot of other souls had made their way to the door over the last centuries. As all the others that had approached him, they had turned gray.
As he was floating in circles below the door, five little dark dots began approaching him. There was no doubt on who the five souls were; they were the only one that had spoken to him, even if it had been a long time ago.
The smiles on their faces mixed with their mouths moving; they were trying to speak to him from afar. He couldn’t understand how they could be happy after being trapped in here for half a millennium.
“We did it!”
“What? What did you do?”
“We went on the other side of the door your majesty.”
Medregal was speechless.
“How is it even possible?” was the only thing to come out of his mouth.
“We have been thinking about it for a long time and we remembered that the gate is a connection between the world of the living and the Afterworld and we have been trying to breach it. We just did it, but when we were on the other side, it hurt; so much we don’t think we could survive long out there.”
Medregal looked at the five, each one at a turn.
“What good is it to go on the other side just to die again?”
“We thought about it and we think it’s because a soul needs a host body to survive.”
“We are pretty much certain of it. The only problem is we do not know how to go about it. That is why we think you should come with us. We are going to show you how to cross to the other side.”
“Why would I want to cross over?”
They looked at each other, puzzled.
“Your highness, we are going to open the door.”
He had almost forgotten about opening it. Could it be possible? Could it be that after being trapped here countless centuries he could finally get out? He had to go with them, he had to. Even if there was only the smallest of chances that any of this could succeed.
“If we can go on the other side with it closed, why would we want to open it?”
“Well, first of all, if the door was to be opened, you would probably have your old body back. We all would.”
“How can you be sure about that? What would be the difference with having someone else’s vessel and my own?”
“We created the gate with two purposes; to be a link to the Afterworld, and to reconstruct the body of any soul crossing through. And, well, the other one you would possess, for one, would not have your talent with the shards. Even if it were your soul, it would not be your brain.”
“How can you be sure any of this is actually true?”
“We have no way of knowing your majesty, but the presence of the door in the Afterworld tells us we actually succeeded at part of it. So why should we not have succeeded at the rest of it? If you would prefer, though, your highness, you can stay here for all eternity, or come with us and try.”
A smile came to Medregal’s face for the first time in a thousand years.
“You made your point.”
“And maybe when the door opens, we could get some help from your friends in here.”
Medregal noticed that all the souls he could see had stopped moving and seemed to be facing him. A wide grin now spread across Medregal’s face.
“Lead the way.”
As they all glided upward towards the stone gate, all the heads of the dead that were near turned to follow his every movement, as if they were awaiting his command.
He was dead, but for the first time in a millennium, he could do something about it.