Vision in Green

“Alya Orfea Samara. The Green Nightmare herself. You certainly put up quite a fight but everyone ends up coming before the two of us sooner or later.” Diza picked up a stack of papers from the desk he stood at and casually flipped through them. “Do you have any questions before we begin the proceedings?”

Light shone down from the ceiling, bright as the sun. Alya squinted and held an arm over her face, one wide, green sleeve hanging down in front of her eyes. “What’s going on?” she growled, trying to collect her thoughts. The last thing she remembered fully was climbing to the rooftop of the ruined inn and taking aim; her memories beyond that point were fragmented and nearly useless. As her eyes adjusted, the twin desks in the room faded into view, each one with a child-sized figure behind. As soon as she realized who they were, Alya stopped herself from commenting on their appearance.

“Ah, of course. A fair question. I am Diza and she,” Diza said, gesturing to his nearly-identical counterpart behind the other desk, “is Dia. We are the god and goddess of judgment. Does that help you understand why you are here?”

“I… died.” Alya wanted desperately to feel more strongly about that, but the past six months had drained her of everything but anger and despair in equal measures. Thoughts darted through her head – the sight of a smiling face, the softness of a warm embrace. “That means… that means I can…” Alya’s eyes lit up. “I can finally see her again,” she said, her voice barely audible.

“You did, in fact, die,” Diza said. If he’d heard what Alya had whispered, he didn’t acknowledge it. “In a fairly spectacular manner. According to this report,” he tapped the page in front of him, “it seems it took no fewer than twenty Kenban soldiers to take you down, and you still managed to prepare a last-ditch explosion spell that leveled a building.”

Alya crossed her arms and aimed a cold stare at where she expected Diza’s eyes to be, though they were hidden by a mop of hair. “It was war,” she said, a few shards of memory slotting into place.

“Yes, and we’ll get to that in due time,” the second figure – Dia – added. “This trial, Ms. Samara, is to determine your final resting place. I will be defending you and my colleague Diza will act as the prosecution.”

“Indeed. Ordinarily, we’d begin at your birth and work our way forward, but we rarely get such distinguished mortals in our courtroom,” Diza said. “The Green Nightmare! A lone vigilante, wiping out whole battlefields with her unparalleled magic. A lot of people met their deaths at your hand, Ms. Samara. Generally, murder is regarded as something to avoid.”

Ima  ge: The twin desks in the room faded into view, each one with a child-sized figure behind. Illustrations by Chloe Rubenstein

Image: The twin desks in the room faded into view, each one with a child-sized figure behind. Illustrations by Chloe Rubenstein

Dia slammed her fist on her desk. “Let’s not be hasty, Diza,” she said. “Context is important. Her actions should be viewed through the lens of the Kenban-Alzabatan War.”

The argument continued, but it passed through Alya’s ears without making much of an impact. She knew all about the war, of course. It had taken just one trip to the port for her life to utterly change. She had journeyed from their small home to Port Ternqe to  sell the wares her wife had made. Alya was always the better saleswoman of the household, priding herself on her silver tongue; in contrast, Suhaila was incredibly gifted with her hands, weaving rugs and quilts beautiful enough that the Emperor himself had bought a few to hang in the palace.

When Alya returned, their entire village was gone. All that remained were footprints in the ash, the remnants of a Kenban battalion marching away to their next target.

Alya never understood it. She was Kenban. Her town was part of the Kenban Empire. And yet, when the meager forces of the Alzabatan army occupied the town, the Emperor of Kenba’s response was to obliterate them all. The Green Nightmare was born that day.

The sound of Dia slamming her palms on her desk drew Alya’s attention back. “Therefore, Diza, by your logic and your prior judgments, we can clearly see that Ms. Samara’s actions are an example of righteous retribution!”

Diza scowled, his hands entangled in his hair. “I can’t argue with that,” he muttered. “So be it. We’ll proceed with your recommendation for her.”

“Excellent!” Dia said with a small smile. She scribbled a quick note on a sheet of parchment, rolled it up, and tied it with thick string. When she snapped her fingers, the scroll appeared in Alya’s hands. “Best of luck to you in the afterlife, Ms. Samara. Give that to Tukha when you leave the courtroom, if you’d be so kind.”

Before Alya could piece together what was happening, her legs were guiding her out of the courtroom – seemingly without input from her brain, which usually liked to have some say in the matter. The heavy oak doors opened for her, then just as quickly shut behind her. A figure loomed over her, dark as the night sky. Black glasses hid his eyes, but Alya could feel that he was watching her carefully. “Greetings once more, friend,” he said, and Alya’s mind filled in his name: Tukha, the god of odds and ends. As she inspected him further, more of her fragmented memories fell into place. She  recalled meeting him before the trial, where he had explained his role as the god of ends, and how it was his duty to escort mortals to the afterlife.

Alya held out the scroll. “Dia told me to give this to you.”

“Ah, yes, of course.” Tukha took it, unfurled it, and read it. “It looks like the dice rolled in your favor, all things considered, Ms. Samara.”

“Did they?”

“Indeed.” Tukha started down the hallway and gestured for her to follow him. “Surely you knew that, though. I mean, you did sit through your trial, right?”

Alya gave a slight shrug. “I wasn’t listening very closely.”

Her response caught Tukha by surprise, and he let out a belly laugh that echoed down the curves of the hallway. Alya didn’t know where they were going – they kept turning down different halls and passing what seemed to be the same doors three or four times over. When they eventually did stop, the door they stood at bore a glowing square with a small cross inside, the same symbol as was emblazoned on the back of Tukha’s left hand. “Here’s where you’ll see for yourself,” he said, and ushered her forward.

The room they entered was barren with barely enough space to fit a desk. Its only accoutrements were a simple wooden chair against one wall and another door directly opposite. “There, friend,” Tukha said. “Right through that door.”

Alya paused, staring at the closed door . “Will I see Suhaila again?”

It took a moment for Tukha to answer. “That’s not my place to answer,” he said, avoiding her eyes. He opened the door and a blinding light spilled out. “Now, friend. After you.”

Image: She spread her fingers and aimed her palm at the ground. 

Image: She spread her fingers and aimed her palm at the ground. 

“Have you seen Suhaila Eurida Samara?” The question had left Alya’s lips more times than she could count. Nobody could answer her. There was no shortage of people in the afterlife. It all felt to her like the main bazaar at Port Ternqe: shops as far as the eye could see, with customers and vendors alike streaming back and forth along the main dusty thoroughfare. Alya finally found an overlook a small trek away where she could keep to herself. As  she sat atop it, she could see the bazaar from above, and it truly seemed as though the market did go on forever.

Nobody here has even heard of Suhaila. There are a lot of people, so it’s possible that she’s lost in the crowd… but after everyone I’ve asked, surely one of them would have encountered her. Her gaze wandered over the crowd below her. Perhaps  it’s a lost cause… Suhaila lived a much more virtuous life than I did, after all. She must be somewhere else. Somewhere quieter, where she can weave in peace without having to worry about someone like me. Somewhere she’s not always under the baleful gaze of Takren. She paused and looked again. The statue of Takren, god of fives and money, loomed at what seemed to be the center of the bazaar, arms spread wide. Alya hadn’t taken note of it before; Takren had been  the god she worshipped in life, as was common for merchants. A quick prayer muttered to Takren before going into a bargaining session could sometimes tip the scales, after all.

There weren’t any other statues that Alya could see, though. Alya couldn’t remember coming across any other statues at all since she’d gotten to the afterlife. And on top of that, everyone here is either buying or selling something… she thought as the pieces started to click together.

With twenty known deities forming the pantheon, it was common for people to pick one to worship. Members of the legal profession often offered prayers to Diza and Dia, while gamblers and storytellers favored Tukha, god of luck. Those who wished for a change in themselves would beseech Alagi, deity of transitions and entropy; those who wanted to do something risky and needed guidance would call upon Duximas, goddess of danger and adventure. Alya had worshipped Takren, but Suhaila… Alya’s eyes widened. Suhaila worshipped Espoi, god of crafts and the homestead.

Their choice of deities hadn’t caused Alya and Suhaila any trouble in life - far from it. Not long after they started selling Suhaila’s handiwork, Alya had walked in on her in the middle of a prayer. The sound of Suhaila’s voice wavering as she pleaded with Espoi, begging him to help her understand why nobody was interested in her pieces, never left her. Alya immediately sought Takren’s guidance for the same problem. Soon after, Alya changed her sales pitches, Suhaila changed her stitching materials and methods, and the gold began rolling in.

Alya stood up. Her limbs grew heavy as the realization sunk in. She was in Takren’s domain, and Suhaila must be in Espoi’s. Nobody had ever told her that gods had their own realms for those who worshipped them, but she didn’t see any other way that it all made sense. Why would the afterlife just have a statue of Takren and nobody else, unless it was for Takren alone? Her eyes lost focus. Surely there was something she could do – someone she could appeal to, maybe. If not, then... she’d never see Suhaila again.

A burning heat rose in Alya’s chest, crashing down through her arms into her hands. She felt the familiar stinging of embers dancing around her fingertips. Alya’s eyes widened at the initial shock of her magical abilities following her into the afterlife – as far as she could tell, nobody else kept their magic – but then she realized. The faviel, Alya thought. This is its doing. She spread her fingers and aimed her palm at the ground. With only a gentle nudging, a small fireball leapt forth, setting the grass ablaze. Alya watched it for just a moment before stamping it out, then she looked up. Good. Nobody saw that. A plan was beginning to form in her head. There was a lot that she didn’t know, but that hadn’t ever stopped her before. Amidst all the thoughts flying through her mind, Alya kept one picture constant.

It was six months before Alya’s death. She’d just finished loading up the cart with Suhaila’s latest quilts. On her way out, Alya stood in the doorway. “I’m leaving now, Suhaila,” she said.

“So soon?” Suhaila looked up from her rocking chair. “Well then. Safe travels, tachi.” Suhaila, fluent in Old Kenban, liked to pepper it into her speech. Alya never learned to speak it herself, but she knew ‘tachi,’ which roughly translated to ‘my moon.’

“I’ll bring you back a candle from the waxworks at the port,” Alya said. “One of the good ones.”

“I’m looking forward to it. Love you, tachi.” Suhaila held up one of the pieces of fabric in her lap. It was emblazoned with a large heart.

“Love you too, Suhaila.” Alya smiled and approached Suhaila’s chair to give her a kiss on the forehead.

Those were the last words they spoke. The picture of Suhaila in her chair, holding up a heart, was the memory that kept Alya going throughout those six months. It drove her to make the deal that she did with that blasted faviel – who knew such a tiny bird could grant such immense power? It guided her from battlefield to battlefield, striking down anyone in her way. And, ultimately, it led Alya to climb down the hill in the afterlife and push through the throngs of people.

Surely the afterlife couldn’t really be infinite, Alya figured; if she went far enough, surely she’d find a border or a boundary. She had no guarantee, of course, that her search would bear fruit, but she figured she had nothing else to lose.

Eventually, Alya found it – and realized why it had taken her so long. Sandwiched between two vendors (one selling fruit, the other selling intricate wind-up toys) was an empty stall. When Alya tried to climb inside, an invisible barrier blocked her progress; it hummed beneath her hands as she felt it out. She wasn’t sure how she knew, but she was certain – that was the wall she’d been searching for.

Image: Sandwiched between two vendors (one selling fruit, the other selling intricate wind-up toys) was an empty stall.

Image: Sandwiched between two vendors (one selling fruit, the other selling intricate wind-up toys) was an empty stall.

Alya wasted no time. She took a step back from the stall and held both of her hands out, her palms facing forward. The air around her heated up, the people nearby scattered; it wouldn’t have surprised her if the fireball that she loosed on the barrier a moment later was visible throughout the realm.

A crack appeared, seemingly hovering in the air. Alya narrowed her eyes. It was right where she had felt the barrier. A second fireball exploded out of her hands, then a third, then a fourth. When the heat finally began fading away, the crack had expanded enough for Alya to just barely crawl through. Without so much as a final passing glance around Takren’s afterlife, she disappeared into the breach.

Alya opened her eyes. She hadn’t remembered losing consciousness (but, she supposed, that made sense). At first, she didn’t see any difference in the realm around her with her eyes open or shut – it was pitch-black, with no light that she could see anywhere – but as she looked around, she saw faint silhouettes scattered here and there. High above her, in what could loosely be termed the sky, was a crack, slightly glowing. “Where am I?” Alya said, her voice falling into the clear, icy tone familiar to the Green Nightmare.

The figures around her flinched away. “Please, quiet,” one of them whispered.

“This is the afterlife,” said another.

Alya glowered, but in her head, she admitted she didn’t know what answer she was expecting to get. “Who do you worship?” she asked.

“Krytikas,” answered a third, “the goddess of secrets and solitude.”

“And I suppose none of you know anyone by the name of Suhaila Eurida Samara?” Alya asked. The silence that met her was all the answer she needed, and she felt her way away from the figures until her hands met another invisible object. The fireballs she launched at the barrier lit up the realm with brilliant light, sending the figures near her fleeing. Another crack opened, and she left.

Alya began keeping count. First it was Takren’s realm, then Krytikas’. Fourteen more followed, from Mihtas’ garden overflowing with lush greenery to Ithria’s concert hall filled with the clarion harmony of innumerable instruments all played at once. Suhaila was in none of them, and none of them were Espoi’s. The seventeenth realm, a vast casino filled with cigar smoke and the sounds of playing cards hitting fabric, was the only place she encountered resistance. She darted between tables, avoiding the eyes of the gamblers, until she reached an out-of-the-way hallway, with only a single door down it. She reached out her hand for the doorknob as thoughts stormed through her head. There’s only one more after this, she thought. Suhaila must be in the next one. And once I find her…!

Image: A vast casino filled with cigar smoke and the sounds of playing cards hitting fabric.

Image: A vast casino filled with cigar smoke and the sounds of playing cards hitting fabric.

“Hello, friend,” came a voice from behind her. Alya whipped around, her hands blazing with crackling flames. The figure she saw was familiar – a tall silhouette clad in an immaculately tailored suit and dark glasses. Tukha met her stare and raised one thick palm. “Now, now, there’s no need for that. Why don’t you and I have a chat, friend? Maybe you could tell me why you’re in my realm.”

“I will find Suhaila,” Alya growled, the fire in her hands growing brighter. “And you’re not going to stop me.”

“We can get to that.” A chair from one of the card tables flew down the hallway and settled under Tukha just as he sat down. “You know, my colleagues have started to catch on to what you’ve been doing. They’re not taking it very well. Diza in particular was livid.”

“I don’t care what any of them think. And neither Diza nor Dia saw fit to tell me that I wasn’t going to get to see Suhaila, so he and his horrible afterlife can go take a running jump for all that it matters to me.”

Tukha’s glasses gleamed. “I see you weren’t a fan of Diza’s eternal courtroom, then.”

“Get to the point.”

“Very well, friend.” Tukha looked back over his shoulder at the rest of the casino. “As we speak, Diza, Dia, and several more of my colleagues are following your trail. Whole barriers shattered behind you; it wasn’t subtle. They will likely arrive here shortly.”

The fire roared higher, reaching past Alya towards the ceiling. “So you’ve just been keeping me occupied here until they show up? You’re stalling?”

“On the contrary, friend. I’m here to keep them occupied.” Tukha tapped a finger to his temple. “As far as Diza knows, I’m just dropping by my realm right now by chance. I never saw a lost soul wandering through, especially not one trying desperately to find the one they love.”

“Wh… what?” The words stumbled out of Alya’s mouth as the flames around her hands lost their potency.

“It certainly would be a shame if someone were to break through that barrier at the end of the hallway, though,” Tukha continued conversationally. “The one that’s masked as a door. As far as I can tell, it shares a wall with Espoi’s realm. That said, if someone did find their way into Espoi’s realm and tried to break their way out from there, they’d likely be past Diza’s reach. Hypothetically, of course.” He paused. “And as long as we’re speaking hypothetically, maybe you should think about who sent the faviel in your direction to begin with.”

“Who sent the…” Alya frowned, but then it clicked. “So I have you to thank.”

“I assure you, friend, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Tukha turned his chair around, his back facing Alya. She could hear the wink in his words. “Now, please, be on your way. I bet whoever sent that faviel to you is eager to see that final wall broken.”

All it took was one super-charged fireball to blast a hole in the barrier. When Alya slipped through, she found herself in a massive workshop – work benches spread as far as she could see, with people at each one enraptured by whatever small trinket they were making. The air was heavy with sawdust, and the sounds of saws and hammers drowned out almost everything else. She weaved through the benches, and the sounds of tools began to die out as she approached a wing of the workshop filled with looms, fabric, and thread. Her eyes darted from seat to seat until…

“Tachi! You’re here!”

“That’s far enough, Ms. Samara!” came Diza’s voice from behind them. Alya whipped her head around. Diza and Dia’s child-like stature became even more pronounced silhouetted against the deities that flanked them – Espoi, Takren, and Mihtas, who even dwarfed the others.

“We can’t have this type of behavior from you. Please, stop all this,” Dia said.

Alya took a step back, placing herself between Suhaila, Diza, and Dia. “You will not separate us again,” Alya hissed. She reached her arm back and exhaled, feeling the comforting warmth of Suhaila’s hand in hers.

“Frankly, Ms. Samara, you have no say in the matter,” Diza said. “It is the way of things – and it shall forever remain so. Now, if you will follow me, we will return you to your rightful home.”

“Aren’t you being a bit rash, friend?”

“So you followed us here, Tukha,” Diza said through grit teeth. “Are you attempting to delay us again?”

Tukha leaned on a workbench and picked up a pair of carved wooden dice. “These are very nice,” he muttered to the mortal seated there. “Mind if I borrow them for a second?”

The mortal, trembling in her chair, shook her head, as the eyes of every god in the room looked between her and Tukha.

“Ah, thank you. Now,” Tukha continued, raising his voice, “I just think that there’s value to be had in not rushing headfirst into these things. Maybe you ought to think a bit more about what you’re doing to these mortals. After all, why do we exist, if not for their sake?”

“Your point?” Espoi asked in a voice rougher than any sandpaper in his afterlife.

Tukha tossed the dice in the air. The clicking of the dice in his palm echoed through the room. “I just want what’s best for the mortals. Oh, and to answer your earlier question, no, I’m not trying to delay you. Not anymore, at least.”

An explosion rocked the workshop, the heat of what was doubtlessly a massive fireball blowing past them. “They escaped!” Diza cried, tearing his eyes away from Tukha. “Find them!”

“It is no use,” Espoi said. His eyes were closed. “They’re not in my realm anymore.”

“Tukha, you… you…!” Diza growled. “We must do something about this!”

Tukha smiled. “Why don’t we call a meeting?”

“Allow me to summarize the discussion thus far,” Meion said. He’d transcribed every word from the meeting into the book perpetually in his hands; as the god of knowledge and records, he always wrote everything down without fail. “On the topic of the barriers between each of our realms, Tukha and Espoi would have us remove them.”

“That’s right, friend. How cruel are we willing to be to the mortals who have already died?” Tukha said.

Espoi nodded slightly. “Additionally, the damage to the barriers is extensive enough that it would be much more trouble to repair them than to take them down.” A moment of silence followed. It was the longest sentence anyone had heard out of Espoi in eons.

“On the other hand, Diza and Takren would have us repair the barriers,” Meion continued.

“That wretched mortal!” Takren said. “Who does she think she is? She comes into my afterlife, busts down my walls…!”

Diza cleared his throat, cutting Takren off. “Correct, Meion. We need to show the mortals that our domains are absolute – that we will not tolerate this sort of destruction.”

“Very well.” Meion finished jotting Diza’s words down and looked up. The eyes of the rest of the pantheon were on him. “We will decide our policy from here on by vote. As is tradition, I will abstain. Those in agreement with Tukha?”

Hands rose throughout the meeting hall. Tukha craned his neck to count them all.

“Very well,” Meion said. “Let it be written that the votes in favor of Tukha’s proposition were as follows: Tukha, Espoi, Thale, Dirata, Mihtas, Duximas, Alagi, Ithria, Optrian, and Dia.”

Tukha watched with a wooden expression as Diza shot a glare at Dia.

“That is ten votes out of nineteen. Therefore, the motion passes by a simple majority.” Meion slammed his book shut with the noise of two boulders crashing together. “Meeting adjourned.”

The meeting hall emptied quickly; everyone had work to do, Tukha figured, getting their realms ready for the destruction of the remaining barriers. He smiled. His realm had been prepared for such an eventuality for some time. The only walls that would remain in place would be those that shielded the realms from the nothingness that extended beyond them.

Nobody had ever explored the void outside their domains, but nearly all of the deities had their own pet theory about what lay past their boundaries. Tukha normally abstained from such speculation, but he was certain that no matter what was out there, there would also be two mortal souls, finally reunited in death.

Jocelyn Blair is a trans author living in North Carolina with her wife. Her interests are fantasy, bad jokes, and the disappointingly-rare intersection of the two.

Chloe Rubenstein is a queer visual artist currently based in Boston. She specializes in murals, illustration, and printmaking. Her passions linger in the world of bad puns, dad jokes, craft beer, and the inner child who is constantly begging for attention. Her work is on permanent and temporary display nationwide.