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View Full Version : Rebirth in Sand (Warning: 18+)



Kuro
December 31st, 2013, 04:29 PM
I've been working on this story and I've finally finished my first chapter. I'll end up changing some stuff later(especially my plot summary, which just doesn't look right to me), but it feels like an improvement over stuff I've written before. I'm sure it's far from perfect, so constructive criticism is certainly welcome.

Anyway, this is intended for adults. There's nothing too vulgar in it just yet, but there is still some minor cussing and other stuff not suitable for a younger reader.

A young man finds himself in a harsh world of never ending sand. His name is one of many things he can't remember, yet he remembers most of his old life clearly. Most clearly of all, he remembers dying.
The moment he opened his dark green eyes, he knew something was wrong. He'd normally awake in a queen sized bed to a cool, air conditioned room, but today he woke in a cheap bed filled with straw, surrounded by hot, stagnant air. Dull red robes clung to his body thanks to his sweat and white stone walls surrounded him on every side. Save for a young girl lying unconscious in a nearby bed, he seemed to be alone.

Yet most surprising of all was the large city of the same white stone lying beyond the window. Intense rays of sunlight shone brightly on the streets below and, in the distance, he could see towers standing as tall as the building he was in now. The streets made of sand were littered with men in dull robes roaming the streets. Tall stone walls separated this city and its inhabitants from an endless sea of sand.

Confused, he tried to think of how he got here. He couldn't remember any names or faces, yet he remembered his old life clearly. He remembered being a young man of 20, growing up in a small town surrounded by lush green forest. His family all had the same black hair and pale skin that he did, though he couldn't remember the color of their eyes. He had a girlfriend two years younger than himself with burgundy hair and flawless white skin, who had a knack for crafting and sometimes made him gifts.

And he also remembered... “shit,” he murmured. He also remembered dying. He had been driving to his girlfriends house when a large truck plowed headfirst into his car. He hadn't died on the spot, so he remembered lying in the hospital. His girlfriend stayed by his side the entire time, but eventually everything just faded away.

Growing frustrated, he jumped out of bed.“Where the hell am I?!” he yelled out. He didn't think anyone would answer, nor did he care. “Where am I?!”

As if on cue, an older man entered the room. “I see you are finally awake,” the man said, gazing at him with piercing blue eyes. His dull gray robes seemed almost to match his long, graying hair. “Welcome to the afterlife.”

What a creepy old man. “Very funny. Seriously, where am I?”

“Like I said, we believe this is the afterlife,” the old man responded, now rubbing his eyes in frustration. “Every single person in this city can remember their death.”

Not sure how to respond, he sat back down on the bed. He didn't want to believe it, but this old man was right. He didn't just remember dying, he remembered experiencing it. He remembered the pain so great it had made him vomit. Even though he couldn't remember her face, he knew his girlfriend had a drained, empty look in her eyes when the doctors told her he wasn't going to make it. He remembered feeling afraid as his consciousness faded away and sad knowing those he loved would miss him.

Yet as agonizing as his death was, he needed to know where he was. “And what city would that be?”

“The great city of Sundas. Quite possibly the only settlement in this world,” the old man responded. He sounded almost sarcastic when he called it 'the great city'. “Do you remember your name, boy?”

“No...” he sighed. It was bad enough waking up in a strange place, but even worse when he couldn't remember his own name.

“I figured as much,” the old man smirked. “You won't remember. No-one does. Most of us just name ourselves.”

“What should I call you?” the young man asked, turning his gaze upon him.

“Xing,” he responded. He began walking towards the door, but stopped for a moment before leaving. “You may stay here until you get settled.”

With that he was left alone, save for the young girl lying on her bed.

Like him she was wearing dull robes, hers colored blue. Yet now that he was getting a better look, he could see the girl was actually quite beautiful. Her dark skin and black hair told him she would have been a foreigner once, but that didn't matter to him now. This girl was in the same situation as him.

Lost in thought, he put his hand on the girl's leg. She felt warm and soft... she felt real, just like every other girl he had touched before. Considering he's supposed to be dead, it seemed like a lot of things felt real.

So real that he had to wonder, could he die here? What would happen if someone died in the afterlife?

“Get... your hands... off me!” he heard a girl growl.

Just as he realized what was happening, the young girl that had been unconscious mere moments before was punching him in the face. Caught by surprise he fell backwards, clenching his nose which was now bleeding profusely. The young girl, looking just as confused as he was, ran out of the room.

In the other room, she found Xing sitting at a small wooden table sipping away at a drink in a large white cup. He noticed her presence, but kept his eyes on a book lying open before him.

“I wouldn't leave if I were you,” he said, turning a page of his book. “You don't even know where you are.”

“Then where the fuck am I?” the girl snapped. “What is going on here?!”

“Calm down,” he responded. Putting his book down, he turned towards the girl.

“Don't tell me to calm down,” the girl snapped, tears forming in her eyes. “I need to go home. Now.”

“Try to think, girl,” he said, looking straight into her brown eyes. “You can't remember your name, not even your own face. But you do remember one thing. You remember dying.”

The girl stopped dead in her tracks. Of course she remembered. She remembered dying so clearly she would never forget.

“I... please where am I?” the girl sobbed.

Just as Xing was about to speak, the young man with the broken nose walked through the door. Seeing him clutching a nose soaked in blood, he turned to him.

“What happened to you boy?”

“Ask her,” he said, glaring at the girl.

“He was touching me,” the girl snapped, returning the boys glare. “He's a pervert.”

“I'm not a freaking perv-”

“You can argue about this later,” Xing interrupted, his eyes showing the impatience he felt for the two. “Girl look, you're dead. We're all dead.”

“Then this is the afterlife?” the girl asked, feeling puzzled. “I always thought it would be a better place...”

“Well unfortunately it is not,” he said. As he took another swig of his drink, anger took root in his cold blue eyes. “The city is full of slavers, murderers, thieves, and rapists. Beyond the walls is nothing but sand and within them people are starving.”

“Is there nothing beyond the desert?” the young man asked. When he first laid his eyes on the desert beyond, he saw only an endless sea of sand. But that didn't mean sand was truly all there was to this world. Maybe most died trying to escape, but some could have succeeded.

“No-one knows,” Xing responded. He stared off into the distance for a moment, before taking another drink and setting his cup to the side. “Most stupid enough to leave never return, but those that do come back aren't the same. The sands drive men insane.”

They sat in silence for a while, before Xing interrupted it. “Have either of you thought up a new name for yourselves?”

“What are some common names?” the young man asked. He didn't need anything fancy, he just needed a name.

“Oh there's many,” the old man replied. “Yunji, Davaris, and Sameth are a few common men's names. Katarina, Alayah, and Mei are some common names for women.”

“Davaris will work,” the young man replied, glad to hear a name he liked so quickly.

“Call me Katalia,” the girl smiled. Davaris was shooting her a quizzical look. “What? Some of us are actually creative.” He was now scowling, but she ignored it.

“Then it's decided,” Xing said as he stood up. Putting his hands on their shoulders, he led the two to the staircase. “I suggest you stay in this house for now. You're lucky Alistair found you and not slavers.”

“Alistair?” Davaris asked. The old man had walked back towards the table, leaving the two by the staircase.

Picking up his book, the old man sat back down at the table. When he looked up at the young boy, the annoyance he felt was reflected clearly in his harsh blue eyes. “You'll meet him later. Now leave me be.”

Leaving the old man alone, the two walked down a long, curving stairway made of aging wood. It seemed to go on and on, but eventually they found a door at the bottom of the tower and wound up in what looked like a living room. A fireplace stood at a wall, with an old-looking recliner situated in front of it and an old red couch situated at a nearby wall. Bookcases filled to the brim littered the room and a large, square red rug was sitting on the floor.

Davaris was browsing the books, before the girl began to speak. “Hey, um...”

After waiting a while and not hearing her say another word, he decided to just ask. “Did you need something?”

“Look, I'm sorry for hitting you,” the girl said. A look of embarrassment washed over her face. “I... overreacted.”

“I probably shouldn't have touched your leg.”

“Shut up, I'm trying to apologize,” the girl said, looking irritated. Not sure how to respond, he decided to heed her advice.

Pluralized
December 31st, 2013, 09:33 PM
Hey there - thanks for sharing your work! I think you have a great deal of emotion wrapped up in the drama here, which is a good thing, but some of the impact is watered down by the verbosity. Every time you have an opportunity to be concise, you should. Rather than overuse adjectives and modifiers and adverbs, just tell the story. Overall though, not too bad. I enjoyed the concept of the afterlife and a deep desert, which always makes for good stasis.

The girl in the room precludes loneliness - something discordant about describing him as "alone" except for her presence. I would suspect her presence to prove intriguing enough to sort of dilute the feeling of being alone.


Yet most surprising of all was the large city of the same white stone lying beyond the window.

You almost had me - this shows a lot of promise, but the description feels passive and backwards. Perhaps consider describing the white stone buildings outside the window, and save the description of the "large city" for a more zoomed-out scene. It's hard to wrap my head around the scenery in this, the way you've portrayed it. Make sense?

I started trying to pick this thing apart bit by bit, but I don't think that's what is going to help you the most. I think this story has a lot of potential, and you display a competence about where it's trying to go. I'd recommend scraping through the entire thing for word economy and doing away with as much fill as possible. There are so many places where you can remove words and actually strengthen the narrative, such as:


As if on cue, an older man entered the room. “I see you are finally awake,” the man said, gazing at him with piercing blue eyes. His dull gray robes seemed almost to match his long, graying hair. “Welcome to the afterlife.”

What a creepy old man. “Very funny. Seriously, where am I?”

“Like I said, we believe this is the afterlife,” the old man responded, now rubbing his eyes in frustration. “Every single person in this city can remember their death.”
So many opportunities to cut out words. It seems sacrilegious, I know, cutting words. You will shorten your word count, which sucks. However, you will open up avenues for strengthening your story and growing the areas that need to be expanded. I'd cut "As if on cue," and the bit about piercing blue eyes, which means nothing, and the almost matching, and the Very funny, and rubbing the eyes, and any word that doesn't serve your purpose, such as "single" when used in the phrase "Every single person..." Just go at this with a hatchet and you'll see your writing tighten, strengthen, and become something concise and strong.

Same thing holds true in the speech tags. When you're tempted to end a bit of dialogue with "she chuckled," or "he guffawed," or "she screeched," or "he bellowed," ... just don't. Use said, or asked, if you must. It detracts almost every time, to add those funky descriptors.

You've got the bones of a strong premise, and a couple of decent characters. I'd try shaving away some of the fat and see what you're left with. I bet you'll find it to be much more satisfying.

Hope something here helps!

Kuro
January 1st, 2014, 12:20 AM
Thanks for the advice. I had already removed quite a few words before posting, but it does look like there's still plenty I can get rid of.

I'll have to work on that as well as the other things you mentioned and see what I think of the end result.

Kuro
January 6th, 2014, 12:02 AM
After thinking it over, I decided to merge chapter 1 and chapter 2. I also changed how the story began a little bit and updated my plot summary. I ended up with a much longer chapter, but I like the way it looks.

I'm going to leave the original divided chapters here, in case for whatever reason I wish to look them over later.
A young man wakes up in a harsh world of never ending sand. His name is one of many things he can't remember, yet he remembers most of his old life clearly. Most clearly of all, he remembers dying.

Thinking he's in the afterlife, he names himself Davaris and tries to settle into this new world. Yet the more he learns about it, the crazier it seems to get. With gang wars and forces at work that transcend humanity itself, he may be in over his head.


Rebirth


As he stared out the tower window, he could see intense rays of sunlight shining brightly on a white city of stone. The flat rooftops reached far into the distance, some standing taller than others, and he could see the occasional tower towering above buildings nearby. Men in robes walked the sandy streets below, though from here they looked like nothing more than ants. Tall stone walls separated this city and its inhabitants from an endless sea of sand.

Apart from a girl lying unconscious in a nearby bed, he seemed to be alone in this tower of stone.

He didn't know how he had gotten here. All he remembered was waking up in this place that wasn't his home. He couldn't remember his name, not even his own face. He couldn't remember the name's or faces of his family, though he did remember they all had black hair and pale skin like himself. He couldn't even remember his girlfriend's face. The same girlfriend he loved so much he had planned to propose.

Despite that, he could remember most of his old life clearly. He remembered being a young man of 20, born in a small town whose name he couldn't remember. It was a peaceful town surrounded by lush green forest and fertile soil. He was no farmer himself, but much of the land had been cultivated and he remembered his neighbor ploughed his field every day.

And he also remembered... “shit,” he murmured. He also remembered dying. He had been driving to his girlfriends house when a large truck plowed headfirst into his car. He hadn't died on the spot, so he remembered lying in the hospital with his girlfriend by his side. Yet eventually everything just faded away.

He was dead.

Some may have become depressed by this revelation, but for whatever reason that isn't what happened. He became angry. Angry that he was in a strange place and angry that there was so much he couldn't remember. He was angry that he may never get to see his girlfriend again.

"Where the hell am I?!” he yelled. Sauntering over to a nearby bed, he flipped it over and started kicking a now broken post. The wood had left crude cuts on his bare foot, but he continued. “Where the fuck am I?!”

An older man entered the room. His dull gray robes seemed almost to match his long, graying hair. Seeing the man angrily kicking a bed, he chose his next words carefully. “I see you are finally awake. Please calm down.”

Seeing he was no longer alone, he stopped kicking the bed. “Where am I?”

“We believe this is the afterlife,” the old man said. Seeing he had calmed down a little, he continued. “Every person in this city can remember their death.”

He didn't want to believe it, but he didn't just remember dying: he remembered experiencing it. He remembered the pain so great it had made him vomit. He remembered his girlfriend had a drained, empty look in her eyes when the doctors told her he wasn't going to make it. He remembered feeling afraid as his consciousness faded away and sad knowing that those he loved would miss him.

Yet as agonizing as his death was, he needed to know where he was. “And what city would that be?”

“The great city of Sundas. Quite possibly the only settlement in this world,” the old man said. He sounded almost sarcastic when he called it 'the great city'. “Do you remember your name?”

“No...” he sighed. It was bad enough waking up in a strange place, but even worse when he couldn't remember his own name.

“I figured as much,” the old man said. “You won't remember, no-one does. Most of us just name ourselves.”

“What should I call you?” the young man asked, turning his gaze upon him.

“Xing,” he responded. He began walking towards the door, but stopped for a moment before leaving. “You may stay here until you get settled... but please don't break anything else.”

With that he was left alone. Alone save for the young girl lying unconscious.

Like him she was wearing dull robes, hers colored blue. Yet now that he was getting a better look, he could see the girl was actually quite beautiful. Her dark skin and black hair told him she would have been a foreigner once, but that didn't matter to him now.

Lost in thought, he put his hand on the girl's leg. She felt warm and soft... she felt real, just like every other girl he had touched before. Considering he's supposed to be dead, a lot of things felt real.

So real that he had to wonder, could he die here? What would happen if someone died in the afterlife?

“Get... your hands... off me!” he heard a girl growl.

Suddenly the young girl that had been unconscious mere moments before was punching him in the face. He fell onto his back, clenching his nose which was now bleeding profusely. The young girl, looking just as confused as he was, ran out of the room with her robe flapping behind her.

In the other room she found Xing sitting at a small wooden table, sipping away at a drink in a large white cup. Noticing her presence, he turned his gaze to her.

“I wouldn't leave if I were you,” he said. “You don't even know where you are.”

“Then where the fuck am I?” the girl snapped. “What is going on here?!”

“Calm down,” he responded.

“Don't tell me to calm down,” the girl said, tears forming in her eyes. “I need to go home. Now.”

“I'm afraid you won't be able to,” he said, looking straight into her sad brown eyes. “You remember dying, don't you?”

The girl stopped dead in her tracks. Of course she remembered. She remembered so clearly she would never forget.

“I... please where am I?” the girl said. The tears she had been holding back now ran freely down her cheeks.

Just as Xing was about to speak, the young man walked through the door. Seeing him clutching a nose soaked in blood, he turned to him.

“What happened to you?”

“Ask her,” he said, glaring at the girl.

“He was touching me,” the girl snapped. She returned the boys glare. “He's a pervert.”

“I'm not a freaking perv-”

“You can argue about this later,” Xing interrupted. His eyes reflected the impatience he felt for the two. “Don't you get it? You're both dead.”

“Then this is the afterlife?” the girl asked. “I always thought it would be a better place...”

“Well unfortunately it is not,” he said. As he took another sip of his drink, anger took root in his cold blue eyes. “The city is full of slavers, murderers, thieves, and rapists. Beyond the walls is nothing but sand and within them people are starving.”

“Is there nothing beyond the desert?” the young man asked. When he first laid his eyes on the desert beyond, he saw only an endless sea of sand. But that didn't mean sand was truly all there was to this world. Maybe most died trying to escape, but some could have succeeded.

“No-one knows,” Xing said. He stared off into the distance for a moment, before taking another drink and setting his cup to the side. “Most stupid enough to leave never return, but those that do come back aren't the same. The sands drive men insane.”

They sat in silence a while, before Xing spoke again. “Have either of you thought up a new name for yourselves?”

“What are some common names?” the young man asked. He didn't need anything fancy, he just needed a name.

“Oh there's many,” the old man replied. “Yunji, Davaris, and Sameth are a few common men's names. Katarina, Alayah, and Mei are some common names for women.”

“Davaris will work,” the young man replied. He was glad to hear a name he liked so quickly.

“Call me Katalia,” the girl smiled. Davaris was shooting her a quizzical look. “What? Some of us are actually creative.” He was now scowling, but she ignored it.

“Then it's decided,” Xing said as he stood up. Putting his hands on their shoulders, he led the two to the staircase. “You'll find living quarters downstairs. I suggest you stay in this house for now... you're lucky Alistair found you and not slavers.”

“Alistair?” Davaris asked. The old man had walked back towards the table, leaving the two by the staircase.

The old man had sat back down at the table. “You'll meet him later. Now leave me be.”

Leaving the old man alone, the two walked down a long, curving stairway made of aging wood. It seemed to go on and on, but eventually they found a door at the bottom of the tower. When they entered, they wound up in what looked like a living room. A fireplace was built into the wall, with an old-looking recliner situated in front of it and an old red couch sitting at a nearby wall. Bookcases filled to the brim littered the room and a large, square red rug was sitting on the floor. Unlike the tower above, there were no windows in the white stone walls.

Davaris had begun browsing the books, before the girl began to speak. “Hey, um...”

After waiting a while and not hearing another word, he decided to just ask. “Did you need something?”

“Look, I'm sorry for hitting you,” the girl said. A look of embarrassment washed over her face. “I... overreacted.”

“I probably shouldn't have touched your leg.”

“Shut up, I'm trying to apologize,” she said, lowering her eyes in embarrassment.

"Well... apology accepted," he said, smiling. His nose still hurt, but he felt he could understand. The girl responded by walking out of the room.

Now alone, Davaris decided to return to the bookshelf he had been browsing before. He searched through the books, reading their plot summary's before moving on to the next one. He kept this up for a while, before he finally found a book that caught his interest. He sat down on the couch and began reading.

He read the book for an hour, maybe two, but because there were no windows he had no way of knowing just how much time had passed. He wondered briefly why there were no windows, but quickly decided that wasn't important and returned to his book. Just as he was reading a particularly interesting part, the front door swung wide open.

"Hey he's cute," an unfamiliar woman's voice said. Looking up, he saw a woman wearing red robes and a turban that concealed her identity. As she pulled the turban off, she revealed long red hair, plump lips, and a deep cut in her robe that showed off some cleavage. She was giving him a very suggestive look when she said, "Let's go have some fun."

"Now Natalya, don't tease the guy," another voice said, this one belonging to a man. He then noticed a brown-haired man in white robes standing behind her. Like her he appeared to be carrying a turban at his side. He projected an air of confidence... or perhaps it was arrogance. He couldn't quite tell which.

"Come on Alistair," Natalya responded. "You know I'm not teasing. He looks like fun."

Wait, did she just say Alistair? Realizing it must be the man that found him, he asked, "Are you the one that found me?"

"Xing mentioned me," the man laughed. "I found a cute girl too. Where is she?"

"Right here," Katalia said. She smiled as she walked into the room. The embarrassment she had shown earlier was now gone without a trace.

Alistair took a seat on the recliner, leaning back and getting comfortable while Katalia remained standing. Natalya decided to sit next to Davaris on the couch and shot a smile his way. Even though he was trying not to look, he found his eyes occasionally glancing down at her cleavage. Giggling, she started rubbing his leg.

"Um, uh..." Davaris muttered. He was trying to ignore the woman rubbing his leg. "Um, Alistair. Why were we unconscious?"

"I suppose you do deserve an explanation," he said. "People can come into this world in one of two ways. Most of us are born through pregnancy. In fact, that's how I know Xing – he is my father in this world."

It made sense now that he thought about it. He was about to speak, but was interrupted by Alistair.

"However, every once in a while someone just winds up in this world unconscious. No-one knows why, but it happens."

Seeing he wasn't going to talk more about himself, Davaris asked, "How did you know that is what happened with us?"

"No-one is born into this world clothed, so it was kind of obvious. The girl is especially lucky I'm the one that found you two."

"You found me naked?!" Katalia squeaked. Her face flushed red with embarrassment.

"Don't worry, I didn't do anything," he responded, laughing at her response. She didn't look at all comforted by that statement.

As the four sat there conversing, Alistair explained a great many things about this world that the two didn't know. He explained how the city had no king, but there were rival gangs that controlled the districts of the city. The district they were in now, known as the Song district, was controlled by a gang known as the Peacekeepers. While it still had its problems, it was one of the safer parts of the city.

There wasn't much he could tell them of the desert, which was known by most as the Eternal Sands. However, those that had left Sundas and lived to tell about it claimed monsters lives under the sand. One man even claimed to have seen a dragon with spikes on its tail as long as his arms, but whether those monsters were anything more than the delusions of mad men remained to be seen.

As the conversation came to a close, Alistair was lost in thought. Those two were lucky to be born into this district. Even luckier that he was the one to find them, as his father could provide them shelter. But they needed to know how to survive. They needed a way to get food and they needed to know how to stay out of trouble.

"Davaris," Alistair said, standing up. He would teach the girl some day, but it was far easier to keep track of one person. "Follow me. I'll teach you about this world."

Turning he said, "Natalya, stay here with Katalia." Katalia started to protest, but after promising he'd teach her another day she gave up and sat on the couch. Alistair placed his white turban over his head, before opening the large wooden door and leading Davaris into the outside world.

Davaris was greeted by hot, dry air and intense rays of light that seemed to burn straight into his skin. The occasional gust of wind sent dirt flying through the air. White buildings loomed in every direction, some standing two stories and some even higher than that. The air rippled with heat, distorting the buildings and the people in the distance.

"First thing's first," Alistair said as he tossed him a big, round canteen. He almost dropped it, but managed to catch it by its strap. "Luckily for us, Sundas has plenty of water. But make sure to drink often, even if you don't feel thirsty. If you're not careful, you will collapse from dehydration."

Nodding, Davaris took a drink of water and awaited further instruction. Reaching into his robes, Alistair pulled out a red turban. Handing it to him, he said, "You'll want that as well. Not only will it hide your face, but it will help protect against the sun."

"Why would I want to hide my identity?"

Alistair chuckled in response, but didn't answer. Davaris was tempted to press the matter further, but decided to let it go.

As Davaris followed him down the sandy streets, he passed men and occasionally women or children. Every person he passed had a sullen look on their face, including the children watching those around them with suspicion. Whenever their eyes met, most quickly averted their gaze.

Eventually they stopped in front of a large building. The worn, wooden sign hanging above the door said "Genroy's" in big letters. Following Alistair into the building, he found himself inside a pub. Men were sitting at tables throughout the room, some sitting at the bar being served by an older man. Alistair walked up to the bar and took a seat. Davaris did the same.

When the barkeep noticed Alistair, it became clear very quickly that the two knew each other. The barkeep was Genroy, the owner, and he talked with Alistair the way he would with an old friend. As the two conversed, Davaris remained quiet.

Suddenly noticing his presence, Genroy asked, "Who's he? Ne'er seen him with you before."

"His name's Davaris," Alistair responded. "I'm showing him how things work around here."

"Gonna make him one of us?"

"Only if he wants to," Alistair responded. "Can you show us to the back room?"

Genroy raised his eyebrows in surprise and said, "You sure about that? He's not a member of our club ya know."

"I'm sure," Alistair said. "Take us there."

When Genroy led the two into a room behind the bar, Davaris saw only a storage room with wine racks lining the walls and some stacked crates sitting in the corners. However when Genroy approached and pushed on a specific bottle of wine, the wine rack pushed itself into the wall with a click, before sliding to the left and revealing a staircase leading into the depths below. Davaris's eyes went wide in astonishment.

After being lead down the stairs and through one more door, he soon found himself in a huge stone room. Chairs, couches, bookshelves and other pieces of furniture were strewn about, each chair set up in pairs near a couch. In the center of the room men and women sat at a long, oval table made of aging wood. When they saw Alistair enter with Davaris, some of them scowled.

"Alistair you fool. What are you thinking bringing a stranger before the council?" a scowling woman said. "You put us all in danger you oaf!"

"He won't harm us," Alistair responded. The scowl remained plastered on the woman's face. "Come on, when have I ever been wrong?"

An older man stood. "I won't deny your value as a recruiter, nor your impeccable ability to tell what kind of person a man is. But we don't even let most of our order in here. To bring an outsider to this place is just foolish."

Another man at the table shrugged, saying, "Maybe he can be trusted. Alistair has never been wrong before."

Davaris looked on hopelessly as the table was consumed by angry bickering. Some were supporting Alistair's decision to bring him here, while others were saying it was a foolish decision that put them all in danger. Some were even saying Alistair should be punished for treason.

The arguing went on for more than half an hour, with neither side making any leeway. Yet the arguing was soon silenced by a dark haired man at the head of the table, slamming his hands down on the aging wood before standing. Everyone went silent.

After a few moments of silence, he spoke. "What Alistair did was indeed foolish and he will be punished," the man looked around the room before continuing, "But what is done is done. This man stands before me, the leader of the Peacekeepers, possibly as a new recruit. I know not who he is, but I trust Alistair's instincts."

The man sat back down, now gazing directly at Davaris with piercing amber eyes. "Young man, I won't force you to join us. But if you betray my trust, I will crush you."

Davaris was sweating profusely. He felt small before this man's presence, but he refused to make a hasty decision. Looking into the mans eyes, he said, "Tell me about the different gangs first. I'll choose who I want to join then."

The leader of the Peacekeepers started laughing. Some of the others at the table tried faking laughter as well, though they weren't very convincing. "Ha! This guy has guts. Tell me, what is your name?"

"Davaris... sir," he said. He gulped down some air, averting his gaze.

"A good name," he said, looking Davaris over with scrutinizing eyes. "I am Bahn Qon, leader of the Peacekeepers. Most would agree that we are the best choice, because we work to make Sundas a better place."

"What other gangs are there?"

"There are many, but the worst would have to be the Oathless," he answered. His eyes grew dark when he mentioned the name. "Only the Oathless and their slaves live in their districts. Those foolish enough to wander in are impaled on long steel spikes and displayed on the streets. Those not killed right away are tortured for days, sometimes even weeks, before being put out of their misery."

Davaris shuddered at the description. Hatred could be seen on the faces of those sitting at the table, some more obvious than others. Alistair cracked his knuckles, his face taking on a stern look.

"The New Dynasty isn't too bad. They wish to improve Sundas, but the fools think they can do so while keeping slaves," he continued. "There are other gangs, but they're all small time troublemakers. Bunch of slavers and bandits really."

Seeing he was finished, Davaris asked, "What about the Peacekeepers?"

Hearing the question, Bahn grinned. "We steal from other gangs and we kill when we need to, but that's it. We won't make true allies through terror and slavery. Furthermore," he stopped for a moment, before continuing," we currently occupy the palace. Because of that, we have the most resources and thus the most power."

After thinking about it for a few minutes, Davaris spoke. "I'll join you, but I won't go on reckless missions."

"I don't expect you to," said Bahn. "You need to swear loyalty to our gang before you're in."

Sighing, Davaris said, "I swear I will remain loyal to the Peacekeepers. I will never betray you or or your secrets."

Bahn smiled. "Very good. You're in."







Rebirth


The moment he opened his dark green eyes, he knew something was wrong. He'd normally awake in a queen sized bed to a cool, air conditioned room. But today he woke in a cheap bed filled with straw, surrounded by hot, stagnant air. Dull red robes clung to his body thanks to his sweat and white stone walls surrounded him on every side. Save for a young girl lying unconscious in a nearby bed, he seemed to be alone.

Yet most surprising was what lied beyond the window. Intense rays of sunlight shone brightly on a white city of stone, the flat rooftops reaching far into the distance. He could see the occasional tower and men in robes walked the sandy streets below. Tall stone walls separated this city and its inhabitants from an endless sea of sand.

Confused, he tried to think of how he got here. He couldn't remember any names or faces, yet he remembered his old life clearly. He remembered being a young man of 20, growing up in a small town surrounded by lush green forest. His family all had the same black hair and pale skin that he did, though he couldn't remember the color of their eyes. He had a girlfriend two years younger than himself. She had a knack for crafting and would sometimes make him gifts.

And he also remembered... “shit,” he murmured. He also remembered dying. He had been driving to his girlfriends house when a large truck plowed headfirst into his car. He hadn't died on the spot, so he remembered lying in the hospital with his girlfriend by his side. Yet eventually everything just faded away.

Growing frustrated, he jumped out of bed.“Where the hell am I?!” he yelled out. He didn't think anyone would answer, nor did he care. “Where am I?!”

An older man entered the room. “I see you are finally awake,” the man said. His dull gray robes seemed almost to match his long, graying hair. “Welcome to the afterlife.”

What a creepy old man, he thought. “Seriously, where am I?”

“Like I said, we believe this is the afterlife,” the old man said. His face showed a look of frustration at having to repeat himself. “Every person in this city can remember their death.”

Not sure how to respond, he sat back down on the bed. He didn't want to believe it, but this old man was right. He didn't just remember dying, he remembered experiencing it. He remembered the pain so great it had made him vomit. He knew his girlfriend had a drained, empty look in her eyes when the doctors told her he wasn't going to make it. He remembered feeling afraid as his consciousness faded away and sad knowing those he loved would miss him.

Yet as agonizing as his death was, he needed to know where he was. “And what city would that be?”

“The great city of Sundas. Quite possibly the only settlement in this world,” the old man said. He sounded almost sarcastic when he called it 'the great city'. “Do you remember your name, boy?”

“No...” he sighed. It was bad enough waking up in a strange place, but even worse when he couldn't remember his own name.

“I figured as much,” the old man said. As if laughing at an unknown joke, he smirked before continuing. “You won't remember. No-one does. Most of us just name ourselves.”

“What should I call you?” the young man asked, turning his gaze upon him.

“Xing,” he responded. He began walking towards the door, but stopped for a moment before leaving. “You may stay here until you get settled.”

With that he was left alone. Alone save for the young girl lying in bed.

Like him she was wearing dull robes, hers colored blue. Yet now that he was getting a better look, he could see the girl was actually quite beautiful. Her dark skin and black hair told him she would have been a foreigner once, but that didn't matter to him now.

Lost in thought, he put his hand on the girl's leg. She felt warm and soft... she felt real, just like every other girl he had touched before. Considering he's supposed to be dead, a lot of things felt real.

So real that he had to wonder, could he die here? What would happen if someone died in the afterlife?

“Get... your hands... off me!” he heard a girl growl.

Suddenly the young girl that had been unconscious mere moments before was punching him in the face. He fell onto his back, clenching his nose which was now bleeding profusely. The young girl, looking just as confused as he was, ran out of the room, her robe flapping behind her as she left.

In the other room she found Xing sitting at a small wooden table, sipping away at a drink in a large white cup. He noticed her presence, but kept his eyes on a book lying open before him.

“I wouldn't leave if I were you,” he said, turning a page of his book. “You don't even know where you are.”

“Then where the fuck am I?” the girl snapped. “What is going on here?!”

“Calm down,” he responded. Putting his book down, he turned towards the girl.

“Don't tell me to calm down,” the girl said, tears forming in her eyes. “I need to go home. Now.”

“Try to think, girl,” he said, looking straight into her brown eyes. “You can't remember your name, not even your own face. But you do remember dying.”

The girl stopped dead in her tracks. Of course she remembered. She remembered so clearly would never forget.

“I... please where am I?” the girl sobbed.

Just as Xing was about to speak, the young man walked through the door. Seeing him clutching a nose soaked in blood, he turned to him.

“What happened to you boy?”

“Ask her,” he said, glaring at the girl.

“He was touching me,” the girl snapped. She returned the boys glare. “He's a pervert.”

“I'm not a freaking perv-”

“You can argue about this later,” Xing interrupted. His eyes reflected the impatience he felt for the two. “Girl look, you're dead. We're all dead.”

“Then this is the afterlife?” the girl asked. “I always thought it would be a better place...”

“Well unfortunately it is not,” he said. As he took another swig of his drink, anger took root in his cold blue eyes. “The city is full of slavers, murderers, thieves, and rapists. Beyond the walls is nothing but sand and within them people are starving.”

“Is there nothing beyond the desert?” the young man asked. When he first laid his eyes on the desert beyond, he saw only an endless sea of sand. But that didn't mean sand was truly all there was to this world. Maybe most died trying to escape, but some could have succeeded.

“No-one knows,” Xing said. He stared off into the distance for a moment, before taking another drink and setting his cup to the side. “Most stupid enough to leave never return, but those that do come back aren't the same. The sands drive men insane.”

They sat in silence a while, before Xing interrupted it. “Have either of you thought up a new name for yourselves?”

“What are some common names?” the young man asked. He didn't need anything fancy, he just needed a name.

“Oh there's many,” the old man replied. “Yunji, Davaris, and Sameth are a few common men's names. Katarina, Alayah, and Mei are some common names for women.”

“Davaris will work,” the young man replied. He was glad to hear a name he liked so quickly.

“Call me Katalia,” the girl smiled. Davaris was shooting her a quizzical look. “What? Some of us are actually creative.” He was now scowling, but she ignored it.

“Then it's decided,” Xing said as he stood up. Putting his hands on their shoulders, he led the two to the staircase. “I suggest you stay in this house for now. You're lucky Alistair found you and not slavers.”

“Alistair?” Davaris asked. The old man had walked back towards the table, leaving the two by the staircase.

Picking up his book, the old man sat back down at the table. When he looked up at the young man, the annoyance he felt was reflected clearly in his harsh eyes. “You'll meet him later. Now leave me be.”

Leaving the old man alone, the two walked down a long, curving stairway made of aging wood. It seemed to go on and on, but eventually they found a door at the bottom of the tower. When they walked through it, they wound up in what looked like a living room. A fireplace stood at a wall, with an old-looking recliner situated in front of it and an old red couch sitting at a nearby wall. Bookcases filled to the brim littered the room and a large, square red rug was sitting on the floor. Unlike the tower above, there were no windows in the white stone walls.

Davaris had begun browsing the books, before the girl began to speak. “Hey, um...”

After waiting a while and not hearing another word, he decided to just ask. “Did you need something?”

“Look, I'm sorry for hitting you,” the girl said. A look of embarrassment washed over her face. “I... overreacted.”

“I probably shouldn't have touched your leg.”

“Shut up, I'm trying to apologize,” the girl said, looking irritated. Not sure how to respond, he decided to heed her advice and returned to the bookshelf.


The Peacekeepers


Davaris was reading an interesting book on the couch. It kept him entertained for an hour, maybe two, but because there were no windows he had no way of knowing. Just as he was reading a particularly interesting part, the front door swung wide open.

"Hey he's cute," an unfamiliar woman's voice said. Looking up, he saw a woman wearing red robes. As she pulled off the turban concealing her identity, she revealed long red hair, plump lips, and a deep cut in her robe that showed off some cleavage. She was giving him a very suggestive look when she said, "Let's go have some fun."

"Now Natalya, don't tease the guy," another voice said, this one belonging to a man. He then noticed a brown-haired man in white robes standing behind her. Like her he appeared to be carrying a turban at his side. He projected an air of confidence... or perhaps it was arrogance. He couldn't quite tell which.

"Come on Alistair," Natalya responded. "You know I'm not teasing. He looks like fun."

Wait, did she just say Alistair? Realizing it must be the man that found him, he asked, "Are you the one that found me?"

"Xing mentioned me," the man laughed. "I found a cute girl too. Where is she?"

"Right here," Katalia said. She smiled as she walked into the room.

Alistair took a seat on the recliner, leaning back and getting comfortable. Natalya decided to sit next to Davaris on the couch, shooting a smile his way. Even though he was trying not to look, he found his eyes occasionally glancing down at her cleavage. Giggling, she started rubbing his leg.

"Um, uh..." Davaris muttered. He was trying to ignore the woman rubbing his leg. "Um, Alistair. Why were we unconscious?"

"I suppose you do deserve an explanation," he said. "People can come into this world in one of two ways. Most of us are born through pregnancy. In fact, Xing is my father... at least in this world."

Davaris's eyes went wide. It made sense now that he thought about it, but that didn't make it any less surprising. He was about to speak, but was interrupted by Alistair.

"However, every once in a while someone just winds up in this world unconscious. No-one knows why, but it happens."

Seeing he wasn't going to talk more about himself, Davaris asked, "How did you know that is what happened with us?"

"No-one is born into this world clothed, so it was kind of obvious. The girl is especially lucky I'm the one that found you two."

"You found me naked?!" Katalia squeaked. Her face flushed red with embarrassment.

"Don't worry, I didn't do anything," he responded, laughing at her response. She didn't look at all comforted by that statement.

As the four sat there conversing, Alistair explained a great many things about this world that the two didn't know. He explained how the city had no king, but there were rival gangs that controlled the districts of the city. The district they were in now, known as the Song district, was controlled by a gang known as the Peacekeepers. While it still had its problems, it was one of the safer parts of the city.

There wasn't much he could tell them of the desert, which was known by most as the Eternal Sands. However, those that had left Sundas and lived to tell about it claimed monsters lives under the sand. One man even claimed to have seen a dragon with spikes on its tail as long as his arms, but whether those monsters were anything more than the delusions of mad men remained to be seen.

As the conversation came to a close, Alistair was lost in thought. Those two were lucky to be born into this district. Even luckier that he was the one to find them, as his father could provide them shelter. But they needed to know how to survive. They needed a way to get food and they needed to know how to stay out of trouble.

"Davaris," Alistair said, standing up. He would teach the girl some day, but it was far easier to keep track of one person. "Follow me. I'll teach you about this world."

Turning he said, "Natalya, stay here with Katalia." Katalia started to protest, but after promising he'd teach her another day she gave up and sat on the couch. Alistair placed his white turban over his head, before opening the large wooden door and leading Davaris into the outside world.

Davaris was greeted by hot, dry air and intense rays of light that seemed to burn straight into his skin. The occasional gust of wind sent dirt flying through the air. White buildings loomed in every direction, some standing two stories and some even higher than that. The air rippled with heat, distorting the buildings and the people in the distance.

"First thing's first," Alistair said as he tossed him a big, round canteen. He almost dropped it, but managed to catch it by its strap. "Luckily for us, Sundas has plenty of water. But make sure to drink often, even if you don't feel thirsty. If you're not careful, you will collapse from dehydration."

Nodding, Davaris took a drink of water and awaited further instruction. Reaching into his robes, Alistair pulled out a red turban. Handing it to him, he said, "You'll want that as well. Not only will it hide your face, but it will help protect against the sun."

"Why would I want to hide my identity?"

Alistair chuckled in response, but didn't answer. Davaris was tempted to press the matter further, but decided to let it go.

As Davaris followed him down the sandy streets, he passed men and occasionally women or children. Every person he passed had a sullen look on their face, including the children watching those around them with suspicion. Whenever their eyes met, most quickly averted their gaze.

Eventually they stopped in front of a large building. The worn, wooden sign hanging above the door said "Genroy's" in big letters. Following Alistair into the building, he found himself inside a pub. Men were sitting at tables throughout the room, some sitting at the bar being served by an older man. Alistair walked up to the bar and took a seat. Davaris did the same.

When the barkeep noticed Alistair, it became clear very quickly that the two knew each other. The barkeep was Genroy, the owner, and he talked with Alistair the way he would with an old friend. As the two conversed, Davaris remained quiet.

Suddenly noticing his presence, Genroy asked, "Who's he? Ne'er seen him with you before."

"His name's Davaris," Alistair responded. "I'm showing him how things work around here."

"Gonna make him one of us?"

"Only if he wants to," Alistair responded. "Can you show us to the back room?"

Genroy raised his eyebrows in surprise and said, "You sure about that? He's not a member of our club ya know."

"I'm sure," Alistair said. "Take us there."

When Genroy led the two into a room behind the bar, Davaris saw only a storage room with wine racks lining the walls and some stacked crates sitting in the corners. However when Genroy approached and pushed on a specific bottle of wine, the wine rack pushed itself into the wall with a click, before sliding to the left and revealing a staircase leading into the depths below. Davaris's eyes went wide in astonishment.

After being lead down the stairs and through one more door, he soon found himself in a huge stone room. Chairs, couches, bookshelves and other pieces of furniture were strewn about, each chair set up in pairs near a couch. In the center of the room men and women sat at a long, oval table made of aging wood. When they saw Alistair enter with Davaris, some of them scowled.

"Alistair you fool. What are you thinking bringing a stranger before the council?" a scowling woman said. "You're putting us all in danger you oaf!"

"I've spent the day with him and I know he won't harm us," Alistair responded. The scowl remained plastered on the woman's face. "Come on, when have I ever been wrong?"

An older man stood. "I won't deny your value as a recruiter, nor your impeccable ability to tell what kind of person a man is. But we don't even let most of our order in here. To bring an outside to this place is just foolish."

Another man at the table shrugged, saying, "Maybe he can be trusted. Alistair has never been wrong before."

Davaris looked on hopelessly as the table was consumed by angry bickering. Some were supporting Alistair's decision to bring him here, while others were saying it was a foolish decision that put them all in danger. Some were even saying Alistair should be punished for treason.

The arguing went on for more than half an hour, neither side making any leeway. Yet the arguing was soon silenced by a dark haired man at the head of the table, slamming his hands down on the aging wood before standing. Everyone went silent.

After a few moments of silence, he spoke. "What Alistair did was indeed foolish and he will be punished," the man looked around the room before continuing, "But what is done is done. This man stands before me, the leader of the Peacekeepers, possibly as a new recruit. I know not who he is, but I trust Alistair's instincts."

The man sat back down, now gazing directly at Davaris with piercing amber eyes. "Young man, I won't force you to join us. But if you betray my trust, I will crush you."

Davaris was sweating profusely. He felt small before this man's presence, but he refused to make a hasty decision. Looking into the mans eyes, he said, "Tell me about the different gangs first. I'll choose who I want to join then."

The leader of the Peacekeepers started laughing. Some of the others at the table tried faking laughter as well, though they weren't very convincing. "Ha! This guy has guts. Tell me, what is your name?"

"Davaris... sir," he said. He gulped down some air, averting his gaze.

"A good name," he said, looking Davaris over with scrutinizing eyes. "I am Bahn Qon, leader of the Peacekeepers. Most would agree that we are the best choice, because we work to make Sundas a better place."

"What other gangs are there?"

"There are many, but the worst would have to be the Oathless," he answered. His eyes grew dark when he mentioned the name. "Only the Oathless and their slaves live in their districts. Those foolish enough to wander in are impaled on long steel spikes and displayed on the streets. Those not killed right away are tortured for days, sometimes even weeks, before being put out of their misery."

Davaris shuddered at the description. Hatred could be seen on the faces of those sitting at the table, some more obvious than others. Alistair cracked his knuckles, his face taking on a stern look.

"The New Dynasty isn't too bad. They wish to improve Sundas, but the fools think they can do so while keeping slaves," he continued. "There are other gangs, but they're all small time troublemakers. Bunch of slavers and bandits really."

Seeing he was finished, Davaris asked, "What about the Peacekeepers?"

Hearing the question, Bahn grinned. "We steal from other gangs and we kill when we need to, but that's it. We won't make true allies through terror and slavery."

After thinking about it for a few minutes, Davaris spoke. "I'll join you, but I'm not a soldier."

"I don't expect you to be," said Bahn. "You need to swear loyalty to our gang before you're in."

Sighing, Davaris said, "I swear I will remain loyal to the Peacekeepers. I will never betray you or or your secrets."

Bahn smiled. "Very good. You're in."