Cold. Intense, unshakable cold. Everything felt like it was freezing, but Maelys didn’t even have the strength to curl up. He had been spending all he had trying to breathe. Why was breathing suddenly so hard?
He could barely even keep his eyes open, and his vision swam. Rozire was there, then he wasn’t. In his place was the mirage of trees and leaves, flowing like a river in the sky as he lie there in the grass.
He faded in and out. Time passed, and the forest grew quiet. Only the breeze kept him company. Breathing was still nearly impossible, and if anything, it was getting more difficult. He had to do something, but what?
Eventually, Rozire returned. He knelt down and inspected Maelys, but didn’t seem keen on being near him. The figure left, and he started to wonder if it was really Rozire that had come back for him. Perhaps it was some forest spirit, or maybe Aenias himself, here to guide him out of the realm of the living.
His suspicions were confirmed when the figure pulled him to his feet. Maelys could not stand on his own, but Aenias was understandably strong and didn’t seem to struggle with his weight very much. It did, however, seem strange that God only had two arms. Where were the other three? And shouldn’t Aenias have the power to restore Maelys’ strength so he could walk on his own?
It was hard to hold on to consciousness, but Maelys doubted he needed to be awake for his final journey. Perhaps he could regain some strength leaning on The Maker itself while they traversed through the trees.
The next thing he knew, Aenias was speaking. Maelys had expected a soft, regal voice. Something eloquent and benign. Instead, the voice was loud and demanding. Aenias was still holding Maelys up, though at this point he might as well have been a corpse. Perhaps he was, in a way.
He tried to focus on his surroundings. The forest was no more. Instead, they were surrounded by stone walls in every direction. The buildings were larger than anything he had ever seen before, and they were so close together. Tales told of the Maker’s Palace of Stone deep inside the planet. He had never thought to see it with his own eyes, bleary as they still were.
It was unfair how he was still in so much pain. It was freezing, and breathing was still difficult. It was as if something was caught in his throat. Wasn’t all suffering supposed to cease when you died?
Maelys tried to speak, to beg the Maker to ease his pain, but the words strung together into a wet cough.
More figures approached the two of them, and Aenias all but pushed Maelys off towards them. Without the strength to stand, he fell, but hands caught him and he was laid down onto the floor. Then, the very ground beneath him lifted and he was moving again. What awesome power The Maker had to command the earth itself. Just like the thing he and Rozire had been running from.
A jolt of panic. Rozire.
Maelys shot upright and looked around. Few people milled about the streets as dawn approached. All the ones he could see wore armor, and many were staring back at him. Closest to him was a young woman, whose worried expression became alert and guarded as she took a step away from him. They pulled their swords out as he realized he was holding a staff. He had always been holding it, he realized. Rozire’s staff. And it was engulfed in flame.
The litter he had been lying in came crashing back down to the ground as the soldiers carrying him dropped it to defend themselves. He felt a dull pain as he was dropped, and with a sharp inhale, his body convulsed and he coughed. Blood. Blood everywhere.
The cold, dark void returned as the adrenaline faded as quickly as it had come.