Zane was dizzy just from looking at all the features of this odd plane. If this was what came for you at the end of your life, he mused, he never wanted to die. It was chaotic and muddling to the senses, making his head ache and spin. He closed his eyes and shook his head to rid it of the achy feeling, but it persisted. He groaned.
“Your senses will adjust,” Scrathes said from next to him. Peeking out of a slit between his eyelids, Zane looked at him scathingly. He could make out a faint smirk on the demon’s lips. Or, what he took as a smirk; he was suddenly reverted to his cat-like form again. “The first time is always the worst,” he went on. Scrathes was rather small in his cat form, and so he easily perched on the young man’s shoulder.
“You come here often?” the boy asked, surprised that someone would subject himself or herself to this willingly. His head wasn’t hurting so badly anymore, but the landscapes still made his head throb.
He could only think to describe it as what a television might look like if it were being flipped through channels so fast that the pictures began to blur together. He made out snatches of forests, beaches, and deserts, even city-scenes. Everything was included in this helter-skelter place. And the edges of each image blurred and shifted, extending into each other and then reverting back to their own boundaries, if there were any at all. And then the pictures would change completely into a whole other place. Zane and Scrathes were currently standing on sand, the lapping of waves coming from their right.
Then there were the people. Or, Zane wondered, are they people? Scrathes had said this was the world that people ended up in, found in-between portals… More specifically, where dead people went to, awaiting their time to move on and then be sifted into a wonderful afterlife or a hellish one. Humans and demons, animals, everything and everyone came here to wait, and Zane could see that the demon perched on his shoulder had spoken the truth.
And just as suddenly as he had taken them in, they took him in, as well. The dead could easily pick out the living among them, and they all turned and stared. Elderly humans, demon children, birds, creatures Zane couldn’t begin to describe watched the two newcomers closely.
“Ignore them,” his companion coached, and Zane tried. Oh, how he tried. But their eyes bored into him from all sides. “While they can all see us, they cannot see each other. Each of them is in their own form of this world, a world that reflects them. Ignoring them will hopefully make them retreat back into their space.” Pawing lightly at the side of Zane’s neck, Scrathes urged him onward.
“And if they don’t?” he whispered, keeping his eyes focused intently upon the ground, already changing from sand into scorched grass.
“They will clamber to you. Most will go right through you, but others will have more power due to their emotions from before their death. They might pose a problem… Which is why we have to find Nekane, quickly.”
Watching where he walked, Zane snorted softly. So far, nothing had come up to them, but he wasn’t getting his hopes up. He lightly rested his hand upon Draig’s hilt. “You seem to know a lot more about this place than you let on before.”
“Is that not part of the reason you and the trial demon sought me out?” he retorted, staring down a spirit of a demonic-looking dog. Tucking its tail between its legs, the dog slunk away into its space. Scrathes tilted his head up in a prideful manner. “She mentioned coming here once before,” he said, changing topics. “Did she tell you much of the experience?”
“Not much,” he admitted, glancing up briefly to make sure of his direction. He really had no clue where to go, but Scrathes hadn’t said to change his path, so he went on. “She said she’d gone in once before… but it took her almost five years to make it out. She couldn’t really remember how she did it, either.”
“Disappointing,” the cat hissed a sigh. “No wonder she asked for help. By the time she made it out again, it would be far too late to make a difference in anything.”
“We hadn’t known she would end up in here again!” Zane said, turning his head and stopping in his tracks to glare at the cat. “I’ll be honest and say I’m not really sure what all she expected from you, but I’m sure she wasn’t expecting this to happen!”
“Quiet down,” the demon hissed, eyeing the incoming ghosts reproachfully, “and keep walking.” He waited until the human did as told before replying. “I’m well-known for my repeated jaunts into this realm. I’m sure that was part of the reason your friend wanted to find me. It’s tricky to get in here, and even trickier to make it out. She probably had an idea that she would either have to retreat here or would be sentenced here, and that is why I am an asset.” He looked around before pointing with a paw to their left, and Zane obligingly turned. “Not to mention my dabbling in necromancy.”
“Why would we need a…” Zane trailed off, eyes widening in understanding and horror. “B-but, that couldn’t have killed her!”
“But it did.”
“So you’re saying she’s dead, but that you can bring her back to life, right?” he asked eagerly, but seeing the pensive look on the tusked cat’s face did little to give him hope.
“I said I dabbled,” he reminded, scanning the area thoughtfully with his eyes. Zane felt the cat tail twitching against his back, tickling him slightly. “I am masterful in getting in and out of this in-between world, but raising the dead is difficult and messy. Your friend took great risk in employing me for that purpose.
“Cat demons are the only ones able to use necromancy due to having nine lives each, but many do not simply because it is their very lives they must give up. I still have all nine lives, which is already surprising for a demon considering my age, and while I know the process I have not practiced it.”
“But can you do it?” Zane asked again, stopping and staring hard at the cat on his shoulder. Scrathes was about to tell him to stop being stupid and to keep walking, but the look in his bright green eyes gave him pause. More than determination, and underlying hope in his abilities, was a concern that this child (for he had to remind himself that this young man was just a child) couldn’t possibly mask. His eyes were expressive and open, not at all like Nekane’s guarded blue gaze.
At that look, Scrathes made a decision. In response to the boy’s query, he merely nodded. “I’ve every intention of trying.” This seemed to pacify Zane, and he continued forward again.
Nekane had said that time passes differently here, but wasn’t very specific about it. Zane felt that hours had passed, and he’d checked his watch for the time, but the hands, oddly, were all slowly spinning, faster than normal, but still a slow pace. Even his phone, near out of battery life, kept constantly changing numbers. He sighed angrily at their uselessness, as well as his dependency on them.
After this hours-long trek (but who knew how long it really was?), Scrathes perked up on Zane’s shoulder, staring past more ghosts and spirits at one in particular. Zane saw nothing yet, but at the cat’s reaction he began walking faster.
Nekane’s small space (though according to his demon guide, Zane learned these small spaces were much larger in appearance to the dead) was decidedly unsettling for the human teen. He saw the wrought iron, intricately detailed fence wrapped around a modest front yard and average, two-story home, a skinny sidewalk breaking up the fence to meander up to the front door. The door, a familiar dark green, set against the light green paint of the home, and the siding with ivy curling slowly up the sides. The colorful flower plots, the green shutters to match the front door… Looking closely, he even saw the tiny handprints in the concrete of one of the sections of sidewalk leading to the house, and the names engraved next to them.
Nekane’s space he could have picked out easily from all the others, for he had a sneaking suspicion that it would be what his own looked like, were he the one dead.
It was his home.