Mar 11, 2024, 4:13:13 AM

Layers of fog parted as they cut through the murky waters until Natsumi could see the hint of land -- more of a grayish strip sitting along the distant horizon growing ever larger and more present as it became less obscured.

"We have arrived," announced the Ferrywoman.

"Great! Where... are we?" Natsumi inquired, her curiosity piqued by their new surroundings.

"The mouth of the misty wood and the watchtower," the Ferrywoman explained, indicating the landscape before them.

So, this was it. This was the land beyond the Mortal Realm, a land that should be impossible by all accounts and yet somehow it was apart of the seemingly natural order of things. As the last veil of atmosphere disbursed around them, the distant shore solidified.

For a land beyond the mortal plane, it certainly didn't look any different. Natsumi made out the land -- a strip of gray for the beach and dark hues of green for a thick and ancient looking forest further inland. To the left of Natsumi, as they approached, she made note of a tall cliff where the sea waves crashed against. Up on the clifftop stood an A-frame cabin. This must have been the watchtower the Ferrywoman referred too. A large tree fanned its leaves out in front of it obscuring part of the home.

Natsumi's stomach gurgled and she rubbed her midsection.

"Cool," Natsumi said, her tone dismissive. "You got snacks? I'm surprisingly... hungry? Should I be hungry? Do I still have human bits?" Natsumi wondered aloud. Did newly minted gods who defined judgment, destiny, and mortality still require food? She didn't mind the idea of eating. She quite enjoyed it! It just seemed beneath the nature of an immortal being to need to snack between manifesting their divine essence, or whatever it was gods were supposed to do.

The Ferrywoman guided the gondola right up to the pier set at the base of the cliff. She fetched the rope and tied it to the closest wooden stump. Natsumi with all her unlady-like grace gained purchase on the gondola's edge and hoisted herself up onto the wooden pier. She rolled onto it and clambered to her feet. She patted her fluffy dress and shook out any dirt or debris that may have gotten onto the garment. She swished the puffy dress side to side and admired the lacy petticoats that peeked through from under the hem. She had never worn something so opulent in her life. It was a far cry from her simple clothes, but if she was turning a new leaf maybe a wardrobe change was in line too. Maybe? She didn't even know if she looked good in this yet.

A set of long fingers extended towards her. The Ferrywoman stood on the gondola holding out the lantern that had guided their ship across the sea. The green light had gone out -- Natsumi didn't even notice when it had gone. The pup that emitted it curled into a tiny bean snoozing away. She took the lantern's handle and admired the skull and the glass orb that held the sleeping puppy.

The Ferrywoman, despite her size, made a much more graceful exit of the gondola.

"Perhaps that is an echo of thy mortal form." She was picking up their conversation about the cookies again, but this time with a more serious tone. "A longing not yet excised from thine own mind," the Ferrywoman mused.

"Okay, but... You have cookies?" Natsumi asked again, just to double-check.

It was hard to tell what the Ferrywoman looked at since the black orbs of her eyes seemed to suggest that she fixated on everything or nothing at all. It was an unsettling nine-thousand yard stare, but in this instance she tipped her chin up and gave it a little thought before responding with, "In the cupboard, yes."

Natsumi upturned her gaze to the top of the cliff. Okay, so they were going to have to trudge up the cliff. At least there were stairs? It seemed funny that someone like the Ferrywoman needed steps to ascend to her home. Unless, it was steps meant for people like Natsumi. Well, like other souls.

She set her sights towards the forest. It was dense and stretched an indefinable distance towards the horizon. It was spooky, and certainly as the Ferrywoman suggested earlier, covered in a fine mist that veiled how deep it went. In the heavier clouds she saw large figures roaming ponderously between the trees, but maybe, maybe it was only her imagination.

"Is this the Eternal Realm?" Natsumi asked.


"Looks dreary." And damp. The air was heavy with vapor and a strong musk wafting down from the trees.

"'Tis not so bad, mayhap thou shall come to like it."

"We'll see about that," Natsumi said turning back to the Ferrywoman.

And as she said the words and glanced up at her, Natsumi saw it off in the distance.

Crap on a stick.

It was Eyeballs.

The ophanim that has harassed them on the shore of the mortal realm was back. He had floated after them and would certainly be more annoying than he was. Natsumi squinted.

This was ever worse.

"Look who's back. Oh, and with friends," Natsumi remarked. Yippee.

Behind him were winged creatures. Birds? No... Even Natsumi could guess what the Kingdom referred too. If that was an ophanim then those things were probably angels of some kind. She doubted that they were of the friendly sort. She doubted she had six guardian angels.

"I see now," the Ferrywoman said. Even in her usual dispassionate and stoic tone, Natsumi could get a glimpse of defeat. When she glanced up at her, her profile said it all.

"This isn't going to go good for me, is it?" Natsumi asked. They would have to fight. Could she take on Eyeballs? A flock of angels? Or whatever a bunch of them were called.

"The Kingdom has decided this is an overstep of my authority," the Ferrywoman said.

"I thought you were the authority?" Natsumi retorted.

The Ferrywoman's frown deepened. "'Tis a notion the stewards need reminding," she said.

Natsumi turned back to Heaven's delegates and realized she might not get those cookies after all. And man, it sucked fighting on an empty stomach.

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