Daren really didn’t know what to make about all of this. Yes, he just died. He had managed to save his student in the process, and that was enough for him to feel content for the time being.
After he died though, he immediately got approached by a pair of frightening demons. A second later, some giant amazoness who stood over 7 foot tall and was dressed like a secret service agent showed up and started pulling weapons out of thin air to fight these demons with.
Daren was not a skinny guy. He was not ripped, but he was no toothpick either. However, this giant of a woman looked like she could easily snap him like a twig. She wasn’t just tall, she was lithe and had broad shoulders and arms that looked like they were probably rather manly under those dark grey suit sleeves. Her chestnut hair was done up in a tight bun, and the sunglasses and iconic earwig decorated her face and ear making her look like she literally did just come here from a detail protecting the president.
“Daren Aldrich?” The woman said, and then turned to face him. “I must apologize to you for my tardiness. I ought to have dispatched those demons before you’d ever even seen the chance to encounter them. It seems you have been made to see something you shouldn’t have had to deal with in your current state due to my negligence.”
“Uhh… it’s Ok.” Daren said, not really certain how to react to this situation. “Uhh… I mean, I’m fine now. So, all’s well that ends well, right?”
The woman nodded and removed her sunglasses, which she promptly stored in her front suit pocket. “I believe introductions are in order, as well as an explanation of the current situation.” The woman said. “My name is Haraiel. I am an angel of death in service to the lord, and it is my duty to protect the recently departed who fail to meet the requirements for immediate transcendence such as yourself against demonic attack and to serve as a guide and escort into the kingdom of heaven.
“As for why I was late in arriving to your aid, that was because I had seen the way you lived your life up until now. I was certain you would have met the requirements. However, it seems I was mistaken. For that, I apologize.”
“Wait, hold on.” Daren said. “Uhh… Ok, that’s all a lot to take in. So, yeah, I get I died. Angel of death, huh?” He craned his neck a little to look up into the huge woman’s eyes. Her face softened as their eyes met.
“Yes, indeed.” She said. “I am aware humans have mixed perspectives on those who serve in my role, and that there are some strange ideas that have come up depicting us similar to the demons we protect people from. I assure you, none of this is the case. My sole duty is your protection until the moment you cross the threshold of the gates to heaven.”
“Uhh… right.” Daren said and then looked up and down the completely empty and eerily quiet halls. “So, are more of those guys going to come out and attack us along the way? Why can’t I see any people anymore?” Seriously, shouldn’t there at least be police and paramedics crawling the halls about now? And what would it mean to have a ghost fight right in the same area there are living people anyway?
“This hallway…” Haraiel said, gesturing to the hall. “It is not really here. You might not have noticed it, but one of those demons actually grabbed you and pulled you fully into the spiritual realm before they started trying to deceive and manipulate you. You may not meet the requirements for transcendence, but the goodness you held in your heart was enough that they couldn’t lay claim to your soul without sparking some anger and bitterness from you first.”
“This isn’t… then what am I looking at?” Daren asked as he approached the locker that had a light javelin sticking in it a moment ago. It was flawless and undamaged now, as though the fight earlier had never happened.
“The spiritual realm is made completely from spiritual energy.” Haraiel said. “Spiritual energy reacts to the thoughts and expectations of those who view it, and it takes on whatever appearance you want to see. You still believe you are in a school, so the spiritual energy in the area created the appearance of a school.”
Daren took a step back as he thought about the implications of that. Did this mean he could make everything around him look like anything he wanted? He focused for a moment, and then the school halls dissolved into a silvery mist. That mist quickly became a fog, surrounding Daren and his angel of death. That fog quickly began to shape into tables and chairs, walls and windows, and a carpeted floor before the colors filled the area and he was suddenly standing in a very accurate reproduction of his childhood home.
It was dingy and dirty, there was water damage to the beige walls, the brownish-grey carpet showed signs of splotchy stains and there was even a smell of mildew. All of these things filled Daren with nostalgia.
Suddenly, all the furniture and the room itself seemed to get bigger. Even the already giant Haraiel seemed to double in size. It took Daren a moment to realize that everything else wasn’t getting bigger, he’d gotten smaller. He looked down at his hands that were suddenly that of a child and he realized what had happened.
“Sorry about that, I should have warned you.” Haraiel said. “You are comprised completely out of spiritual energy as well now. This means that your form can alter just as easily. Your memories too, by the way. A spiritual being is incredibly vulnerable in that way. Unless you can transcend and gain a fragment of the lord’s divinity, allowing you to become an angel, you will gradually loose your sense of identity as your form changes on a whim and you forget who and what you are.
“What!? Seriously!?” Daren demanded, and he could already feel a part of him had taken on the immaturity of the child form he suddenly became. In a panic, he banished this nostalgic space from his mind and turned it into his own work office. Somewhere he could re-center himself. He regained his previous form rather quickly, and he felt himself starting to shake a little as he looked down at his hands.
Daren sighed and settled his nerves. He doubted he even needed to breathe at all right now, but this human activity did wonders in centering himself and reclaiming what he was. “So, if that’s what happens to spirits like me, what do we do now? How do I get this whole ‘transcendence’ thing to happen.”
“Right now? You don’t. You missed your opportunity for that one.” Haraiel said, delivering the words bluntly.
“Let me guess, I had to pray and get my soul saved while I was still alive, right?” Daren said.
“To put it bluntly, yes. When you pray, you receive a part of the lord’s power. That power, those fragments of his divinity, those are what aids your transcendence into becoming an angel upon your death. You simply do not have enough of his divinity to fuel the transformation right now.”
“So, what happens to me now?” Daren asks.
“Now? We go into the kingdom of heaven, and I will bring you to meet the lord yourself. You can make a decision there as to what you will do. Your situation is not at all uncommon Mr. Aldrich, and the lord only wants what is best for all of his children. There are options that have been put in place for those in your situation.”
Daren became rather quiet as he followed Haraiel after that little scare and the realization of exactly how vulnerable he was right now. He was literally in a state where a stray thought could alter his very being. It was like being told by a doctor that they had removed the top of his skull, and now something as simple as sleeping in the wrong position could cause permanent brain damage.
He had given up control of the environment around him to his guide. She’d transformed the scenery into a dirt road that was slowly climbing a mountain, as he obediently followed behind her. She, for her part, seemed content to just remain quiet.
She seemed to look oddly out of place, hiking through the wilderness like this while dressed in a suit. He had to wonder if that got hot, but then quickly realized how silly the thought was. They were not alive, heat was no factor here anymore.
But, that still left the question as to why she was wearing a suit like that. Maybe some small talk would help calm him down. Demons, angels, and the corruptibility of weak spirits like him. And, he was about to meet big G God. It was all just too much. He needed something to ground him a little here.
“So, uhh… Haraiel.” He cautiously spoke and, without really even slowing her pace, the guardian angel of death tilted her ear toward him. “I was just wondering… why are you dressed like that?”
“Hm? Oh, you mean to ask why I am dressed as one who would protect the leader of your nation?” She asked. “It is the tradition of the angels of death. We carry the garb of those who defend the kings and rulers of the nation to which a departed soul belongs. It is something we do to represent the importance we place upon the safety of those we defend. Every individual soul, regardless of their station in life, bears the importance of a king and we will defend them as such.”
“Uhh… ah-huh.” Daren responded. “And, so, why are we going to heaven across a mountain road anyway? Isn’t it supposed to be a dark tunnel with a light at the end of it and all that?”
“Hmm…” Haraiel nods. “That is merely a screen we put up for those who visit this realm without being truly dead. The spiritual realm holds a corrupting influence, as I described to you before. Even a brief exposure can permanently alter a person in a way that will make them more susceptible to demonic attack. This is the reason we do not allow spirits such as yourself to reincarnate until your memories have completely decayed on their own. The ability to remember this place makes you susceptible to attack. For one who will soon return to their body, we must protect them from perceiving anything at all in this place outside of the kingdom where an area is set aside for them to meet their ancestors in order to sooth them until it is time for them to return.
“Those operations are always a rather massive undertaking. Dozens of angels of death are mobilized just to maintain the screen. The ‘tunnel’ as you call it. The spirit of the freshly departed can manipulate spirit energy very easily when they still remember their time among the living. This is doubly so for those who are still partially attached to life. Any stray thought from them would annihilate the screen if it were maintained by only one of us.”
Daren was already starting to feel far less apprehensive just by exchanging some words with Haraiel, making small talk and asking questions about how heaven and the spiritual world worked. She stated she was actually a member of the twelve tribes of Israel in her life. The tribe of Asher, she said. It was apparently a rather honored group of people in heaven, effectively making her something like nobility there.
Daren hoped that didn’t mean there was corruptible social hierarchy in heaven as well. It would remain to be seen.