Silence. Complete silence. No… the absence of even silence greeted Henrich as he opened his eyes. There was no sudden gasp for air, no jolt upright. The blond opened his eyes and slowly sat up, taking in his surroundings with a surprising calm. He was in attire he never remembered owning in his life. It was soft and light like the finest cotton, but shimmered at his movements like the smoothest of silk. It didn’t feel real. It was simple, but ornate. An elegant robe of sorts; pure white with crimson trim and gold filigrees along the edges of the fabric, glimmering at his movements as if the fabric was inlaid with pure stardust.
Standing up and adjusting the odd clothing – it rippled under his hands – he looked around to find himself in some… white colored void. Furrowing his eyebrows, he looked around at the vast nothing in confusion. He recalled the snarl of the centaur… his rifle giving a pathetic click… sharp pain –
Henrich’s hand ghosted to his chest, feeling the hole where he had been run through. Looking down, there was just a void, through and through, his being. His mark of death. Death… he was dead. The immediate despair fell on him and he felt the urge to cry, but no tears came. Hans was all alone.
The blond began to worry, to panic, at the thought of Hans being unable to cope with his death. He had to get back… he had to find a way to tell Hans it would be alright. But he couldn’t now, could he? He was dead. This was it. This was final.
If this was final, wasn’t he supposed to see Grenth somewhere? Be in some place that resembled an underworld of sorts? What the hell was this white area? A waiting room? Was he the only one? The questions burdened his mind to the point of headache and he sighed and sat down in a huff, folding his arms on top his knees and rest his chin on his arms.
“Guess the gods really are gone… or I fucked up somewhere.” He grumbled to himself
“No mistakes here.”
Henrich started in surprise, looking around and finding a man standing a few yards behind him. The man was tall – as tall as Hans – and looked like Uncle Rolf. His platinum blond hair was smoothed back neatly as icy blues perched atop a long, thin nose stared at him with a surprising warmth.
“Uncle Rolf?” He stood up and gave the other a confused look.
The man’s overall figure and shape was long and slender, but the definite outline of his being was obscured and hidden under long, black robes that seemed to move and swirl like shadows. But… ‘evil’ or ‘darkness’ didn’t come to Henrich’s mind. This man was… somehow an ally?
“No. I am not your uncle.”
“Grenth? Never imagined you to… not look like the spooky skull mask I’ve seen on you everywhere.” Henrich made a motion with his hand before his face, trying to illustrate ‘spooky mask’ to the other man.
The other simply smiled, but said nothing. Henrich couldn’t gauge him proper. Was he just some guy pretending to be Grenth? Was it Grenth taking on a familiar form for Henrich?
“You don’t look like an Adler.” The taller man’s form shifted, his arms folding behind him or in front of him; Henrich couldn’t really tell.
“Well I am.” The smaller frowned, folding his own arms across his chest, glaring at the stranger.
“I believe you. Come, we have much to discuss.” The taller turned in one fluid movement, his robes flaring a bit, dancing like a mix of water and shadow.
Hesitating at first, Henrich figured having someone to talk to was better than sitting alone in some nebulous void. He fell in step next to the other and glanced up at him. The other was certainly calm, collected…. The stoic type, obviously. Henrich couldn’t see any holes in him, so he couldn’t pinpoint how he died. Maybe disease? A long fall with a quick stop? The smaller couldn’t tell, which made it harder to tell if this was Grenth or not.
“Tell me, Henrich. What do you last remember?” The other asked, his tone calm, and holding a softness that made Henrich calm his hectic thoughts and pay attention to the posed question.
“How I died.” He murmured, glancing down as they walked. “Hey Grenth? Where are we going? Why did the gods leave? Am I like… going to a bad place now that I’m dead?”
“Henrich, calm yourself. All questions will be answered in due time.” The taller reassured, and Henrich believed him. How could he doubt Grenth? The patron god of the dead? There was no way in hell he was going to second guess this guy.
“You know… I never expected you to be so… chill. Well I guess being half human makes a guy not so pretentious, right?” Henrich gave the other a wry grin.
“I suppose so.” Grenth gave an amused chuckle.
“Soooo….where are we going?” Henrich asked after a small amount of silence between the two of them. The white void started taking shape. First, dark shadows shifted around them, then buildings began to take form. They soon stepped into Ebonhawke, just as Henrich had left it. “Ebonhawke? Why?”
“It is familiar to you. We are going to reflect on your life. You died too young to reflect on it in old age. Now that you have all the time in the world, why not do it now?” The other motioned a hand, Henrich stared a bit bewildered at the smooth hand coming from the seemingly formless blackness of the man’s robes.
Just as soon as the hand emerged to perform its wide-sweeping gesture, it disappeared once more, leaving Henrich to look back to his home. “What, are you one of the ghosts of Wintersday past or something?”
“I thought I was Grenth.” Came the amused retort.
“Funny.” Henrich cast the taller a cold glance, but softened and continued walking with the other down the street.
“So, walk me through your life, Henrich. As far as you can remember. I’m sure your memory is as sharp as your wit.” Henrich gave a pout. Man, Grenth liked to poke his fun didn’t he?
“I don’t remember…” he fibbed lightly, mostly not wanting to remember it.
“You got hit in the chest, not in the head.”
“I….I don’t know. It hurts.” Henrich admitted sadly, looking away from Grenth. He knew the god was judging him. Weighing the worth of his soul, even now. He didn’t like it. All his life, he was told to respect the dead, respect Grenth. He knew his family used to be necromancers, revering Grenth. Then when they magic ran out… they looked to Balthazar. Would Grenth feel like the Adlers betrayed him? Was that to play a large factor in Henrich’s judgement?
Henrich was scared. For the first time in his life – er… death – he was scared for his immortal soul.
The smaller’s thoughts were again interrupted when a warm arm curled around his shoulders, pulling him close to the taller. He looked up with fearful crimsons to the deity of death. “I’m sorry.” He whispered, only earning him a warm smile.
“Do not be. You are only human.”
The… odd words were reassuring, and a kind of warm comfort wove its way through his body. “Thanks…” he murmured softly, looking ahead at Ebonhawke once more. He saw his younger self suddenly skitter by, laughing heartily.
He looked on as he paused and turned to wait on someone, a crooked smile at his lips. “Come on, Hans! You slowpoke!” he bent and placed his hands on his knees teasingly. Around the corner hurriedly waddled a 2 year-old Hans. His golden hair shining brightly in the sun, big blues focused ahead, trying not to trip over his tattered plush bear, Fritz.
Henrich smiled softly as he watched his younger self pick up Hans and give him a piggy back ride. He chuckled and watched the scene of the past play out in front of him as he and his brother played together.
Just as the fond memories began to warm his heart, the image flittered out. “What happened?” he looked up to Grenth with a worried furrow of his brow.
“You forgot.” The taller replied evenly.
Henrich looked down sadly, only to look up again when Grenth’s arm fell from his shoulders. “Do not look so down, Henrich. Everyone forgets. No one can remember the small details of childhood.” He shrugged and began to move a few paces.
“I want to remember. Hans isn’t my brother by blood… I knew this. Dad never thought I knew, but that night… when Uncle Rolf left Hans here. I just felt like I had to accept him as a brother, to love him, no matter what.”
Grenth paused and glanced over his shoulder, “Did you love him?”
“Of course I loved him!” Henrich barked, his anger flaring. God or no god, no one was going to question Henrich’s love for his brother!
Grenth didn’t react at the sudden yell and turned to face Henrich fully. “If so, then why is that technicality an issue?”
The unexpected question stunned Henrich, as his eyes grew wide, “Uhh… it doesn’t, well I mean… uh…”
“You loved him. Even if you didn’t before, you don’t remember it. It is not important to you. What matters is that Hans was your baby brother and you were going to protect him at all costs.”
“Of course I was… but now I let him down.” Henrich looked back down at the ground, crestfallen.
“That’s letting him down. Now he’s all alone.”
“But you didn’t shirk your self-proclaimed duty. You vowed to protect him and take care of him until your dying breath.”
Henrich didn’t look up, but was left in silence. Henrich’s self-promise told to him outloud was a bit jarring.
He would… die to protect Hans. He did fulfil that promise in the end. The odd mission success confused him, but he felt at peace with it.
“I guess you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right.”
“Because you’re Grenth.”
“That has nothing to do with it. It is obvious to anyone that your loyalty to Hans was firm and unwavering. It is all anyone could ask for.”
“Thanks.” Henrich gave a small smile to the other, earning him a small smile in return.
“Now let us continue?” Grenth asked, holding out an arm for Henrich to lead the way.
The two fell in step and walked until Ebonhawke’s image shifted into Divinity’s Reach. The two stopped when Henrich spotted himself walking with Zahied… his former lover. It hurt to see this, and Henrich didn’t let the memory continue, blocking it out. A hand on his shoulder made him look up. Grenth kept looking ahead, only glancing down at him for a second, and then nodding his head to continue.
Henrich felt a blush linger on his cheeks when the memory had him and Zahied stop their patrol to steal a few kisses in a dark alley way. Henrich rubbed the back of his neck, too chicken to look at the other. The image shifted to the two of them sharing the bedsheets, kissing feverishly, hands wandering along bare skin hungrily --
“Ok got it? We were a thing.” Henrich grumbled through an embarrassed pout.
“No, keep going. It amuses me.” Grenth mused.
“Are you fucking serious?” Henrich glared up at the other, indignant.
“I am always serious.”
“I think you’re smart enough to fill in the blanks.”
“I know, I just wanted to see your reaction. So. Tell me of the Elonian. As far as I can tell, it was never ‘official’?”
“What, are you a teenage girl looking for gossip?”
“I thought I was Grenth.” Came the same reply as before, which made Henrich bristle and pulled away from under the hand to his shoulder.
“Stop playing fucking games. Why do you have to do this? You’re Grenth! You already fucking know what happened in my life! Stop making me relive all the pain and hurt!” The smaller barked. “I loved Hans with all my heart, I loved Zahied like no man has ever loved another! And now I left them both behind, alone. If I can’t even let go of my own death, how can they?!” He yelled defiantly, wanting to cry in anger, but again, finding no tears.
Grenth’s expression never changed, nor did he move. Icy eyes locked themselves onto Henrich as he threw his tantrum as well as his words. “You cannot let go. And you will never let go because your love for them is too great. Your selfish desires keep you tied to them.”
Henrich’s glare didn’t let up as the other spoke, but it softened as he looked down, a hand over the hole in his chest. “I can’t… No matter how hard I try. You said it yourself; I am only human. Humans are creatures of emotion. We cannot help but be driven by our feelings. Love and vengeance are two pretty strong emotions. I’m just glad I have more of the former.” Henrich responded softly, his voice just above a whisper.
The silence between them seemed to span millennia and Henrich gulped in fear, afraid that he had pissed off the god of death, of all people.
“Look I-I’m sorry, Grenth, I-I didn’t….”
“Hush. There is no need to apologize. You speak the truth… Come, there is something I must show you.”
Henrich gave Grenth a confused look before following him out of the vision of Divinity’s Reach.
The sudden unsteadiness of sand greeted Henrich’s feet as he stumbled at the sudden shift. Desert? Henrich had read of deserts, but had never actually seen it. The gates to the Crystal Desert were barred off because Kralkatorrik ruined half the area with his disgusting corruption. For as long as Henrich could remember, those nauseating purple and black spikes marred the landscape of his home.
“Where the hell is this?” He asked, looking around at the unfamiliar landscape.
“People call it the Silverwastes.” Grenth replied evenly, not at all shifting under the uneven sand.
Henrich looked around, blinking at the bright sunlight that beat down upon the parched land. He saw the heat waves in the distance, distorting the landscape, but felt nothing. No heat, no thirst. It made sense since he was dead, but he felt like he was really there.
Something shot past him, some green and orange terror with long tendrils and disgusting fangs oozing with green spittle. Then some beast only seen in nightmares with long spikes coming from its back ran past Grenth.
“Great Dwayna what the fuck is that?” Henrich cried out in alarm and retreated backwards in terror.
“It is called a Teragriff.”
“More like Tera-fying!” Henrich stared on with wide crimsons as the creatures of nightmares assaulted the walls of what looked like an outpost of sorts.
“Wh-why are we here?” He whined, looking towards Grenth, who stared ahead silently, his calm gaze watching the scene as Pact soldiers fought against the attack with all their might.
Henrich watched in horror as a poor charr was flung up in the air, then fell with a sickening thud, only to have her skull crushed in by some ugly, hulking behemoth of a monster. Henrich covered his mouth, feeling like he was going to puke. He had never witnessed anything so violent.
“Not pleasant is it?”
“Why are you showing me this?” Henrich moaned past the feeling of nausea.
“For you to understand that Hans needs you more than he ever has before.”
“What?!” Henrich looked back at the scene, seeing Hans jump off the wall and run the Teragriff through, cleaving its head from its shoulders with a cold brutality he had never witnessed in the younger. Henrich watched in horror as the hollow stare overtook his brother’s eyes as he buried his sword deeply into another monster.
“Th…that is not Hans. This isn’t real. What are you playing at?” He demanded, glaring up at Grenth.
“I play at nothing. Hans needs you.”
“But I’m dead, damnit! What good does this do me?” He growled in anger, looking back in despair at his poor brother being subjected to this… nightmare. What events had even led him here?
“How… long have I been dead? Shouldn’t he be in the Seraph?” Henrich asked, realizing that Hans looked worse for wear, like years had worn away at him.
“About 8 years.”
“EIGHT YEARS?” Shrieked Henrich. The smaller fell to his knees, scarcely believing it. “But we have only been here a few hours… I don’t…”
“The Mists are funny like that. You took a decidedly long nap.” The taller replied cooly.
“Why… Why are you showing me this?” He begged, again feeling the tears at the edges of his vision.
“You have a second chance, Henrich. If your will is strong enough. You will come back to Hans. He is the last of the Adlers. If he dies here, the line dies with him. Do you want to live again?”
Henrich was quiet for a bit, as he stood up, confused. “I… yes. I need to be there for him. I’m not doing it for me. I’m doing it for Hans. I have already died once. What is death to me anymore?” Henrich stated with icy resignation.
Grenth gave a nod and turned swiftly on his heel, his robes flaring, seeming to wipe the image of terror away. “There is much more to show you.”
Henrich followed along, contemplating what Grenth was getting at. This was odd… was this some sort of reincarnation? Was this a second chance?
They came to another area that was completely unfamiliar to Henrich. It looked like a great library as well as a sanctum of magic and science. “Where… are we?” the words left his mouth before he realized it.
“This is your home until you find your way back to Hans.” The taller replied evenly.
Plucking a number of large tomes from shelves and placing them on a central desk lined with tall candles glued to the table with their own wax, Grenth looked to Henrich. “Start with these. Find your inner strength. You are smart, Henrich. You will figure it out, and hopefully make friends along the way.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” He asked, turning to Grenth.
The other simply smiled.
“You’re not Grenth… are you?”
“Of course not.”
“You lied to me!”
“I never said I was Grenth. You simply chose to believe I was.”
“Then who the hell are you?”
“Someone you know.”
Henrich looked around, trying to figure it out, seeing if the large chamber would clue him into who not-Grenth actually was. “I don’t know anyone who looks like you.”
“No, but you’ve seen my name around.”
Henrich turned around, ready to retort only to see not-Grenth suddenly gone.
“What the f…uck?”