His soul drifted in darkness, no sound or motion to help anchor him to a time or place. At first it was restful, but soon he began to feel impatient; this was the afterlife, this…nothingness? He knew well enough what they had been told to expect; he had counseled the faithful on that point often enough, but this was certainly never mentioned.
Having no alternative, he composed himself to be patient. His mind drifted back to his last memories; looking up from his bed, his family gathered nearby, their faces drawn with grief. His children and grandchildren, and even the newest addition, his great grandson and namesake in his mother's arms. And of course, sitting by his bedside clasping his hand, his wife, his beautiful, beloved Merena, her green eyes filled with tears. He had known it was time to go and had reconciled himself to that knowledge, but leaving them was hard. Leaving her was doubly so. He sighed, it was a comfort to remember that they would be reunited eventually.
Or they should be, if he could ever move from this blasted nothingness. The first seeds of doubt were just beginning to plant themselves in his thoughts when he felt a familiar touch on his mind. He shivered and braced himself; as a favored servant of this god, he had felt his god's touch before. Although always grateful for the honor, he invariably found the experience more frightening and awe-inspiring than joyful.
He felt the crushing weight of his god's regard. "WELCOME, MY SERVANT."
"My lord;" he stammered, "I am honored by your presence."
"BUT BEWILDERED BY IT AS WELL. FEAR NOT, YOUR JOURNEY WILL CONTINUE SOON."
"Thank you, my lord," he said in heartfelt relief, "I was beginning to wonder."
"YOUR SERVICE HAS PLEASED ME, AND YOU MAY JOIN ME SOON IF YOU WISH."
If I wish? He thought in confusion. Why would I not?
"I HAVE BROUGHT YOU TO THIS PLACE OUT OF TIME," the god continued, "TO ASK A…BOON OF YOU."
"A…a boon?" he repeated incredulously. What kind of boon could he offer a god? "Of…of course, whatever my lord wishes."
"WAIT. HEAR ME. YOU MUST UNDERSTAND WHAT I ASK OF YOU."
"Yes, my lord," he murmured contritely.
"THERE IS ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER WORLD, QUITE DIFFERENT FROM YOUR OWN. MY FOLLOWERS THERE ARE FEW IN NUMBER BUT STRONG IN FAITH."
The god's voice fell, no less powerful but less overwhelming, "THEIR WORLD IS BESET BY EVILS, SOME NOT UNLIKE THOSE YOU HAVE FACED ALL YOUR LIFE. THEY HAVE PRAYED FOR A…CHAMPION TO HELP COMBAT THOSE EVILS."
"I…see," he replied, though he didn't really. What did this have to do with him?
"YOU COULD BE THAT CHAMPION, IF YOU CHOOSE."
There was a stunned silence. "Me? You wish me to forgo my reward, my place with you?" he whispered in dismay.
"NO, YOUR PLACE BY MY SIDE IN ASSURED," the god said with comforting finality. "YOUR REWARD WOULD BE DELAYED, NOT DENIED."
Reassured, he replied, "I see, my lord. If I may ask, why me?"
"THEY PRAYED FOR A CHAMPION…A HOLY KNIGHT."
So naturally, I came to mind, he thought with some asperity, realizing too late that the god could almost certainly hear his thoughts.
"My lord, how would it work? My body is…" his body had served him long and well, but even before his death was in no longer in any condition to champion a cause.
"IF YOU DO THIS, YOU WOULD BE REBORN IN THIS NEW WORLD, AND WILL REMEMBER NOTHING OF THE LIFE YOU JUST LEFT. BUT ANY WISDOM YOU HAVE GAINED FROM YOUR EXPERIENCES WILL BE RETAINED."
Well, that was a relief. He shuddered at the memory of himself at twenty; he wouldn't recommend that troubled, angry young man as anyone's champion. Nor did he feel an urge to relive those years. But to his astonishment, he found himself seriously considering his god's request. When he had retired from active service some years before he assumed he would never have the desire—or the ability—to take on such a role again. However, the prospect of being young and strong once more, and fighting evil in the name of his god was surprisingly appealing. That had been his life, and with Merena at his side it had been a good life, in many ways a blessed life, despite its inauspicious beginnings. Might it be again?
A thought struck him and he gasped in dismay, "My lord, what of Merena? As it is I will see her again soon enough, but if I do as you request, must we wait another lifetime to be reunited?"
There was a brief pause before his god spoke again, almost as if he were weighing the options, "IT IS NO SMALL THING I ASK OF YOU, SO IF YOU AGREE I WILL OFFER YOUR LADY A SIMILAR CHOICE. SHE CAN JOIN YOU AND BE REBORN IN THIS NEW WORLD WITH YOU, OR BE TAKEN OUT OF TIME TO WAIT UNTIL YOU HAVE COMPLETED YOUR TASK. BUT IT MUST BE HER CHOICE. I CAN DO NO MORE."
That seemed fair, and more than fair, he thought, surely his beloved would want to join him! Excitement filled him, and he felt quite ready for another adventure. "My lord, I…I will do it," he cried, fervently hoping he wasn't being impetuous.
"GOOD," was the reply, and he could feel his god's approval wash over him. "OF COURSE, IF SHE CHOOSES TO JOIN YOU, YOU WILL HAVE TO FIND HER…BUT SO BE IT."
He just had time to think, Wait…What? before he knew no more.