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The Place In-Between

     He felt the Lifeline snap taut, and it pulled him back. Pulled him back from darkness into light.

     He felt ground underneath him, felt himself lying on the cold, stone floor of The Place In-Between.

     His lungs were empty. He gasped to fill them, choked on the blood in his mouth. He spit the blood out, tried breathing again. It hurt, but it worked.

     His head swam. He felt as though he’d been kicked by a horse.

     He never got used to this part.

     He opened his eyes and saw the vaulted granite ceiling. With a low moan, he propped himself up on one elbow, waited for his pulse to quiet, waited for the iron taste of blood and the adrenaline taste of death to clear.

     He started to count: one, two, three…

     He stood up, and saw her, seated as always on her low stone bench: The Woman. Saw her white-robed and cowled, head down, eyes hidden behind the satin folds of her hood. White-skinned, rose-cheeked, with thin, drawn lips the color of old blood.

     The Woman held one hand open upon her lap, empty, palm upward. In her other hand she held a golden crosier with a white-knuckled grip.

     He could not see them, but he knew that the many invisible strands of the Lifeline were tied to the crosier’s fluted top. Or so The Woman had told him. He had no reason not to trust her.

     “Hello again, love,” he said, feeling sore, rubbing his back, still counting in his head: thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight…

     “Greetings, Returned One,” The Woman said. She did not look up, did not seem to move except to speak, her thin lips parting just slightly to let the words slide through.

     “This one was right rotten,” he said, passing the time. “Got turned around in the thick of things and got lanced through the back. Hurt like blazes. I’m going to get that little bastard when I get back. Maybe you’ll see him next.” He laughed.

     The Woman said nothing. So he shrugged, kept counting: sixty, sixty-one, sixty-two…

     The Woman never had much to say unless prompted. The first few times he’d seen her, he’d asked her all sorts of questions. Where was he? Was he dead? What would happen to him? She had explained things to him, in a voice that seemed patient but disinterested. What the Lifeline was, how it worked, how it connected the souls under her protection to her, how it brought them back from death to The Place In-Between before returning them to life.

     Eventually, he’d run out of questions, and they hadn’t really talked much since then. So, now, when he woke up in The Place, he mostly just counted. Counted the seconds in his head as he waited for The Return.

     Usually, he counted about one hundred. It wasn’t always the same, not exactly. He wasn’t sure why. It had never occurred to him to ask.

     It didn’t seem very important.

     Eighty-seven, eighty-eight, eighty-nine…

     He started to feel the strange sensation which heralded The Return. A kind of pulling, prickling, stretching sensation, which started at the tips of his toes and slowly moved up his body. It made him nauseous. He never got used to The Return, either.

     He tried to focus on his counting: ninety-one, ninety-two, ninety-three…

     “Well,” he said, “seems like I’m off again. You hold on tight to them strings, now. Wouldn’t want to get dead and stay that way.”

     “There are worse things than death, Returned One,” The Woman said.

     For the first time, he noticed that she sounded tired.

     The pull was strong now. His vision was distorting, the whole world seeming to stretch, as though he were being sucked through a narrow tube.

     His own voice sounded strange and elongated as he heard himself ask: “How long you been here, love?”

     Her reply came like a distant echo: “I've lost count.”

     It might have just been the warping effect of The Return, but he thought he might have seen The Woman smile, might have glimpsed the flicker of sad, black eyes beneath the shade of her white cowl.

     Or it might have all been a trick of the light.

     He felt the Lifeline snap taut, and it pulled him back. Pulled him back from darkness into light.

"The Place In-Between" by OrcishLibrarian was originally published as part of the Expanded Multiverse project.

To learn more, and to read more Expanded Multiverse stories, please visit the Expanded Multiverse forum at No Goblins Allowed.

Magic: Expanded Multiverse is not associated with Wizards of the Coast. This is a transformative work of fanfiction, protected in the United States under the laws of Fair Use. 

All works copyright their respective creators.



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