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suddenly and from nothing at all

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There was so much happening, even with his eyes screwed shut his mind felt assaulted with stimuli, the sound of something inhuman and the taste and smell of copper and, gods, the pain, pain that transcended pain to reach numbness and then come back to him all sharp again, he tried to scream again but his lungs were- he was--

Suddenly, there was nothing happening.

The darkness was more than just behind his eyes now - he opened them and barely found a difference in what he saw. He didn't hurt any more, but he refused to risk looking down, lest he see the results of what happened- What had happened? How did he get here, and, oh dear, where was here? It was hard to recall, though he was sure just a moment ago it was all he could think of. Now he was just... tired.

A voice changed the silence, like rippling water reaching for him by the shore.

"I'm very sorry to say, young man, that you've died."

That didn't sting as much as he thought it should. He was so tired.

"This isn't how it normally happens, mind," the voice felt closer, and when he turned, the voice had a figure. A woman, taller than him even without the heeled boots she wore, and dressed in finery that would have been gaudily gothic on anyone less regal. She was very pretty. Nothing about her betrayed softness, or kindness, but he found himself soothed by her presence nonetheless.

"Usually, one of my reapers would escort you to the astral plane - you will still get there, don't fret - but. You died under a unique set of circumstances, my dear, and I'd quite like to discuss them."

An ornate table and chair were beside him, now, and he didn't think there was anything but blackness here before, but sitting down sounded so very inviting, and-

She guided him to one of the seats, as if she could tell just how much fog was inside his mind. He felt no more or less comfortable than when he was standing.

"What do you remember happening to you?" The woman prompted, perching elegantly on the second seat. "Recount for me how you found yourself inside that temple."

He blinked. And again, except this time his eyes stayed shut. Something- happened to him? Temple? He couldn't remember how he got here, let alone some other place, maybe there was a metallic tang to the air but he couldn't-- there was nothing for his mind to grasp at, he didn't understand, he was so awfully tired-

A short sigh startled him into opening his burning eyes. He was still here, wherever that was. With- her. Who was she? Was it rude to ask? He didn't- could barely remember who he was, and oh, that was a frightening thought. He was supposed to be someone, he was almost sure of it.

"I don't- I can't remember," he managed, tongue heavy like cotton, "I was somewhere else, but now I'm here, and, please, who- who am I? Am I supposed to know?"

The woman's face softened. "Ah. Don't fret, this happens sometimes. Here," with a wave of her hand a parchment appeared on the table between them, "this will be printed a few days from now. I'm afraid it won't be easy for you to read, but do try."

It took his eyes a moment to focus, but after blinking away the haze he could see a clear headline staring back at him.

Son of the Family Kravitz Found Murdered in Neverwinter, Necromancy Suspected.

Kravitz. Oh. That was him, his family, he'd left them to travel as a musician and see the world and- someone, someones, they took him in, they told him they were safe and he'd be safe and they seemed so friendly until- there was a ritual, and then there was blood, and there had to be pain, they said, and he'd screamed and screamed until he couldn't, until suddenly he was--

"You have to stop them!" Kravitz heard himself yell, the silence broken and rippling by his own voice.

The woman, who at some point had moved a cool hand to his forehead, blinked at him curiously. "That's the plan, yes. The people who killed you are experimenting with some awful magic, and you giving me your story is an integral part of a very complicated process to-"

"No, that's- you have to be quicker, there's no time for a process when th-that cult is out there, hunting people, I-" Kravitz took a gasping breath that felt wrong in his chest, like he didn't need it. The woman looked slightly miffed, as if she wasn't used to being interrupted. "I'm sorry... I just. I have a family, my father and my sister and- oh, gods, my niece and nephew, they're only little, I- please. If there are people as evil as that, out there occupying the same world as them... you have to do something, a-and soon, gods, please, I can't let this happen again!"

The woman removed her fingers from his head, steepling them in front of her mouth instead. His blood felt like ice moving under his skin, dizzying for a body used to breath and heart and warm. Kravitz gripped the table to steady himself.

"Mr. Kravitz," she started after a long moment, and oh, how good it was to hear his name, "I brought you here for information before sending you to the afterlife... but I must admit, I'm beginning to feel as though that may waste a potentially valuable opportunity for both of us."

She stood, and suddenly there was an archway a few paces from them, allowing Kravitz a view into what looked to be the hall of a grand gothic castle, decorated similarly to the woman's garments.

"Mortals tend to know me as the Raven Queen, and I orchestrate a balance between life and death. You'll learn more as you need to, but for now, don't fret upon formalities."

Kravitz's eyes went wide, knees threatening to buckle. He really- He really was dead, wasn't he? A strange thought to think, of course, but... he didn't feel particularly scared. The Queen's voice seemed to hold a confidence that kept his own afloat.

Suddenly and from nothing at all, the Raven Queen plucked a scythe, almost as tall as Kravitz himself. The wood of the handle was twirling and intricate like creeping feathers or vines, and the blade cast a haunting luminescence in purples and silvers. Somehow he knew it belonged to him - he'd never hurt or killed anyone before, never wanted to - but the weapon pulled at his chest like a lover.

"You've heard of Reapers, I assume? Astral bounty hunters?"

He nodded dumbly. Old legends, he'd thought. She tossed the scythe towards him, and though it felt as though he should have fumbled, it landed perfectly in his hands.

"Well, dear Kravitz. I'm not going to eliminate those necromancers." His mind raced in tandem with the shine of his weapon as she reached for his arm, leading him through the archway portal and into the catacombs on the other side.

"You are."