Death, Noah Vines found, was not what he had been expecting. He’d never considered himself a particularly religious man, but he’d always thought there was something that came after.

He was pleased to discover that there was indeed something.

He was less pleased to discover that the something involved waiting in a line. A very, very long line. To make matters worse, he had absolutely no idea what he was waiting for. There hadn’t been any introduction. He even would have settled for an onboarding video.

Instead, he found himself standing behind another man, as naked as the day he was born, slowly wandering toward something. The only thing that existed was boredom. There was nothing around them but more lines of people, winding through empty space and standing on faint, translucent paths of energy. Time passed – at least, Noah felt like time was passing. He didn’t have any way to tell for sure.

Several times, he thought about talking to someone. Each time, he decided against it. It just didn’t feel right. Perhaps that came with being dead. It did give him a little time to self-reflect, though.

Unfortunately, what he reflected on didn’t make him feel particularly great. He would have loved to arrive at the afterlife – whatever it was – with a little bit more to be proud of. Thousands of successful students, or perhaps a loving wife and kids.

He hadn’t quite made it that far. Noah had a grand total of four years of teaching under his belt, along with a useless university degree that had barely gotten him the job – the same job that had forced his fellow teachers to give up their sick days so he could afford the hospital bills.


God – Gods, however many or whatever type there are, I hope those kids have a good start to their life. They deserve it.

The line inched along. Time stretched. It passed, but by how much Noah was unsure. Hundreds of years. Thousands. He wasn’t sure anymore. The only thing that really kept him company was his own voice, echoing within the silent confines of his mind.

He just stood, occasionally taking a step whenever the soul in front of him moved.

The world changed.

Noah wasn’t sure exactly when it had happened. But, one moment he was standing in line floating in infinite nothingness, and the next his feet were on solid ground. The lines all converged on a single point, where a tall woman towered above them all. Behind her was a huge lake full of glimmering silver water.

Unlike everyone else, she wore clothes. Beautiful silk hung from her body and danced around her like streamers, but nothing on or beside her could compare to the woman herself. She was perfect to such a degree that the only emotion that Noah felt was fear. Without a doubt, she was not human.


One by one, the people in the lines stepped up to her. They paused for a minute, as if in silent conversation. Then they continued, walking into the lake dipping their hands into it. They raised the silver liquid to their lips and vanished, transforming into streaks of white light.

The line continued on. Before Noah could even truly process it, he was standing before the beautiful woman. Time froze around him as they locked eyes.

“Noah Vines,” she said, as if reading from some invisible prompt. “Died at the age of twenty-six. You were an influential figure for eighty four of your pupils. Many prayers have been sent up for you. A life well lived.”

“I – are you god?” Noah asked, speaking for the first time since he’d died and instantly cursing himself for it.

“I am Renewal, one of the many goddesses of Reincarnation,” she replied, looking slightly bored at the question. “You have been chosen to be reincarnated in a higher plane. Drink from this well of the Waters of Life and, in losing the memories of your current life, continue unto your next. A suitable body will soon be born for you.”

“Wait, I won’t remember anything? Nothing at all?”

Renewal opened her mouth to respond. Then time snapped back into motion. Thousands of streaks of black light carved through the nothingness like a shower of falling stars. Noah stared up at them in awe, his mouth hanging askew.

The first star hit, falling into a line of people just a short distance away from Noah. It obliterated them and smashed through the floor, sending huge chunks of it spiraling away into nothingness.

A massive rumble shook the ground as more of the stars fell, each one tearing the serene scene into smithereens. Renewal raised her hands. A beautiful pink flower bloomed in the air before her, moments before a lance of black energy slammed into it.

It crushed the flower and narrowly missed Renewal as she spun out of the way. More of the stars continued to rain down all around Noah, but he couldn’t bring himself to move. All he could do was watch as they tore through the other souls surrounding him, ripping them to shreds or sending them plummeting into nothingness.

A deep, grating howl echoed through the air. Renewal staggered as a jagged black spear erupted from her shoulder. Cracks formed in the air around her and a gurgling mass seeped out from within it, pouring onto the ground like sludge.

Screaming faces rose up within it, as if they were straining to escape the bubbling goop. It rose up, forming into the blobby shape of a man. He ripped the spear free of Renewal.

“I finally found you, Renewal,” the man said, his whispery voice laden with a mocking tone. “My beautiful flower.”

Renewal’s face didn’t budge. She thrust a hand toward the man. A beam of brilliant energy erupted from her palm, searing into him. A thousand voices screamed in pain and he clutched his chest. Black liquid poured down his body and into the pool of silver water, tainting it.

Another falling star slammed into the ground just beside Noah, snapping him out of his reverie. There wasn’t a single other soul left that he could see. He’d been so close to Renewal and the terrifying man that he’d been spared from the destruction so far, but it didn’t take a genius to tell that sticking around for a battle between gods was a terrible idea.

His eyes latched onto the Waters of Life. He glanced up at the two, but neither of them were paying attention. Noah scrambled to his feet and threw himself forward. The man turned, and for a single instant, he locked eyes with Noah.

Then Noah plunged into the silver pool. He drank without waiting to see what would happen. It poured into his throat, sweet and syrupy. A sense of peace enveloped Noah, cradling him in its comfort.

The terror that had been gripping him just instants ago faded away. He was safe. There was nothing to fear. All that mattered was moving on to his next life. His past didn’t –

Noah recoiled as something bitter hit his tongue. It spiked through the peace, binding around him like a thorny vine. The fraying memories of his mortal life suddenly stopped decaying and rushed back into him, packed into his body along with the disgusting taste.

And then Noah was gone, a streak of light shooting across the cosmos.

Worlds stretched past him in a blur of color across a black canvas. He streaked through the infinite black, his mind a muddled mess as he tried to comprehend the visions flashing before him. Time became a foreign concept. To Noah, existence became the dancing shapes and universes that he passed by.

But, as all things must, it came to an end. He felt a sharp jerk in the area that would have been his chest, had he had a physical form. The dull pain was the first thing that he had felt in – well, Noah wasn’t sure. A while.

Images bloomed before him, no longer of flitting worlds or stars, but of endless green fields and massive mountains. Lakes the size of an ocean and intricate cave systems deep below. Awe filled his being as he hurtled through the new world, his awareness sputtering as it tried to fully reignite.

For the briefest instant, Noah spotted two massive, reptilian eyes looking down at him from within the stars. Then he was gone, getting lower and lower to the surface of the planet. A faint drawing force pulled him down into a village and he slipped through the wooden planks of a small house.

A woman laid in bed, a newly born infant mewling in front of her. Her features were a mixture of relief and pain, but Noah didn’t get to examine them long. The force tugged at him, pulling him toward the child’s body.

He descended, brushing the crying boy’s face for an instant. Tight bands wrapped around him, sending flashes of agony throughout his body. No more than a second later, he was yanked away and sent hurtling across the planet once more.

Several more times, Noah was pulled into scenes of births, where his floating body tried and failed to merge. The tightness grew stronger, to the point where he could barely even muster the meagre thoughts that he’d managed thus far.

Noah caught a glimpse of the towering walls of an enormous castle the size of a city an instant before he shot through them. He pushed through the cracks in the stone and continued onward, hurtling past forests and great plains.

He slammed to a halt in a small clearing surrounded by charred, blackened trees. They stretched into the air around him like withered hands reaching for the heavens. To his surprise, there was no child. There wasn’t even a mother. A greasy black haired man sat beside a dying campfire beside a small lake. His features were sharp and pinched in pain. Blood trickled down his chest from a deep wound. Noah wasn’t a doctor, but he was pretty certain that it wasn’t the kind of wound that people walked away from.

The corpses of several furry creatures laid around him. They roughly resembled monkeys, but had large, jutting fangs and claws far longer than any monkey on Earth. Their fur still smoldered, and they were all riddled with holes as wide as quarters.

Drawing a labored breath, the man fumbled in his belt and pulled out a small gourd. He snapped the wax seal at the top and lifted it to his mouth with trembling hands, drinking greedily from it.

Noah tried to move, but he had no control over his body. All he could do was float and watch. The wound on the man’s stomach rippled and bubbled. Strands of flesh and organ reached out, reconnecting themselves.

The man went to take another drink. He stopped halfway through the motion, his eyes bulging as he grabbed at his throat. The bottle slipped from his hands and fell to the ground, liquid spilling from its mouth.

A sharp tug pulled on Noah’s navel. The man glanced up just as Noah was yanked downward and into his body. Ice rushed through Noah. It felt as if he’d been plunged into the freezing ocean.

A scream split through his thoughts, but only later did he realize that it hadn’t been his voice. Noah drew a ragged, desperate gasp for air – and it worked.

Noah froze. He slowly reached up to his face, pressing against skin instead of ghostly ectoplasm. He patted himself down, slowly at first, then leapt to his feet. His foot landed on a patch of bloody mud and he lost his footing, slamming onto his back with a loud crash.

Pain flashed through him, but he didn’t even register it. Noah scrambled on all fours over to the lake and peered into it. What stared back was the man’s body, but no traces of his wound remained.

“Gods above,” Noah muttered. His head throbbed and he grimaced. He ran his hands along himself again, just to make sure he could still feel. “I’m alive. I’m alive!”

Noah burst into hysterical laughter and slapped himself across the face, just because he could. He had a physical body again. Sinking down into a small ball beside the lake, Noah continued to laugh until tears streaked down his cheeks.

He was alive.

The bout passed, bringing considerably less joyous emotions with it.

“I thought I was supposed to lose all of my memories and be reborn,” Noah said, staring at one of his pale hands. The voice that emerged from his mouth wasn’t his, though it wasn’t all that different from it. “Neither of those seem to have happened.”

A shudder ran through him at the thought of the terrifying creature that had attacked Renewal. Whatever it was, he never wanted to see it again. But, possibly worse, someone had been inhabiting this body before his… arrival.

“Did I just murder someone? Or did I just watch them get murdered and take advantage of it?” Noah asked himself, swallowing nervously. He crawled over to the gourd the man had drunk from and picked it up.

A small piece of parchment was tied to its lip with tweed. To Noah’s surprise, he could read the words on it perfectly, despite knowing full well that they weren’t English.

Thanks for everything, Magus Vermil. I hope this healing potion helps you out.

Evidently, some of the man’s memories were still bouncing around in his head. That might have explained the throbbing headache. Something sharp poked into his chest. Noah reached up, pulling a small metal badge with the words Magus Vermil carved into it from a slot in his jacket. He tucked it into his pant pockets with a grimace.

Judging by the man’s expression moments before he’d died, Noah was pretty sure that this potion had done more than just heal him. From the looks of things, it actually did more to kill him.

Whoever this guy was, he had some enemies.

“Tough luck, man,” Noah muttered. “The line isn’t too bad when you get used to it, though. Hope things go better for you next time around.”

He gave it a hesitant sniff. The gourd smelled like honey and cinnamon. Noah carefully set the gourd back on the ground, making sure not to spill any of its contents on himself. Just because it didn’t seem to be affecting him anymore didn’t mean it wouldn’t work again if he got more of it on himself.

“Well, this certainly isn’t anything like monkeys on Earth,” Noah said, studying one of the dead monkeys. Now that he had an actual pair of eyes to look through, he was even more certain. The dead monkey’s eyes were bloodshot and its fur was so matted that it could have been armor. There was no word to describe it other than monster.

He pushed himself off the ground, standing on shaky legs. Strangely, Noah felt no panic or fear. He’d spent more than enough time coming to terms with his life when he was waiting in line for the afterlife.

If gods existed, it wasn’t hard to extrapolate that monsters did as well. More importantly – something had seriously injured the previous owner of Noah’s body, and he wasn’t sure if it was still around.

An image of a towering, furry mass flickered through Noah’s mind. He paused, trying to bring it back, but the memory was already gone – and it certainly wasn’t one of his.

“What the hell was that?” Noah muttered, rubbing his eyes. “Is that what gored this Vermil guy before I got around to him? I hope not. I don’t want to be anywhere near that thing.”

A shadow passed over Noah’s head. He stared down at it, as it eclipsed him, passing far into the campsite. His lips pressed thin. “Ah. Of course. It’s behind me.”

He turned around and came face to face with the fattest, ugliest monkey he’d ever seen. The monster towered nearly twice his height and had long, gangly arms that ended in disproportionately long clawed hands.

Its eyes were small and beady, and fangs jutted out of its mouth in every which direction. If someone had taken a rabid orangutang and shoved a bunch of extra teeth into its mouth before driving its face into the wall half a dozen times, then it probably would have been this thing’s mother.

“Hello there,” Noah said, lowering his gaze as he desperately tried to dig through his old memories of earth to recall what to do when one came face to face with a predator. Avoid smiling. Don’t make eye contact. Give a firm handshake and talk with confidence.

Wait, that last one might be for an interview. LinkedIn articles didn’t prepare me for this. I don’t think –

The monkey screeched. Its awful voice tore through Noah’s ears like a rusty saw. He clapped his hands over his head and spun, sprinting away as fast as his legs could carry him.

Screw the rules. Those are for bears, not the goddamn sasquatch’s hillbilly son.

Heavy thumps behind him marked the monkey as it charged after him, but Noah didn’t dare waste the time to glance back at it. He was fairly sure it was gaining on him, but the jagged trees surrounding the clearing could slow it slightly.

Out of the corner of his eye, Noah spotted a massive gangly claw hurtling toward his head, jagged claws glistening in the light of the setting sun. Panic flooded through him. His body moved of its own volition. His hands rose into the air and white lines danced in the air before him, forming a strange pattern.

A streak of wind ripped out from his palms. It bit into the monkey’s paw, carving a deep cut into it, and pulling a pained screech from the monster’s lips. Noah stumbled as energy rushed out of him. He stared at his hands in disbelief, overwhelmed for a moment.

“I just did magic. I can do–”

Four huge claws slammed into his head as the monkey swung its other hand at him, carving down through his body and cutting the rest of Noah’s sentence as short as his life.

It was his first death on this new world – but it would be far from his last.