24

Sweat dripped. Muscles ached and burned. But the movement didn’t stop. Because if it stopped then the thoughts would rush in and thinking right now was deadly.

If asked she wouldn’t be able to explain how she knew that only that she did. So she didn’t question it, didn’t stop moving. Just kept going because it was the only option she had in this desolate wasteland that was at once familiar and unrecognizable. She ran and ran, searching for a landmark, for a spark of hope, for a magickal signature that felt familiar enough to be safe, for a spark of life in a World that felt dead in a way the Worlds themselves hadn’t for eons.

Because she had been there just after the Beginning. Had been there when the gods still walked the Earth with Their Children. Had been there the last time the Balance of All Things had failed and then died. Had been there when hope was something no one believed in because they had watched as their gods turned Their backs and left. The Seven Worlds and the races that lived within them had lost their precious hope because if even the gods Themselves turned away, then Their mortal Children couldn’t possibly stand a chance on their own.

She’d been there so she remembered. As much as she didn’t want to, she did. And so here, in this place that was so similar to that time and yet was wholly different, in this World that was so much like the one of her first lifetime, she ran. She ran and she searched and she prayed. Prayed because she remembered the last time the gods she had worshiped had walked the Worlds. Remembered what it had been like not knowing what was going to happen and not just because Fate had taken a vacation with its fellows. Remembered what it was like to be Imènian-blind not because of a curse or a punishment but out of necessity, out of survival instinct. Because using one’s magick risked a death so complete, one wouldn’t even see the River let alone the Cliffs or the After.

She ran and she searched and she prayed because she remembered how things had changed the day Rhyshladlyn had been born. Remembered how hope had sprung like a fresh candle flame struggling against a persistent breeze the day the Soullessly Heartfelt had sat on the Worlds Throne in the Forest of Dreams and Darkness and Spoken to Maestrx Azhuriel. Remembered how the first time she’d ever believed the god of Justice and Judgment’s words of a better time, a better life for the Worlds as a whole, was the day Rhyshladlyn had walked away from a burning orphanage and turned the Nameless’ eyes on the crowd working to save the young trapped inside instead of his own. But most importantly, she remembered how fear she hadn’t felt since before her first death had cascaded down her spine the day the Faceless had shown up just before the ring of icy fire had settled heavily around all of their necks.

So even though sweat stung her eyes, even though her muscles cramped and burned in protest of her loping stride, she didn’t stop moving. She didn’t stop long enough to let the thoughts rush in, didn’t acknowledge the Silence that had been steadily gaining ground on her. And she prayed to her gods, the gods of old, those who hadn’t been seen or heard of or spoken of in eons, prayed for safety and hope and the kind of salvation one only found at the hands of one’s Patrons.

Because she was almost to safety, she could feel it on the outer edges of her awareness like the teasing sigh of a lover’s breath along her spine. She was nearly there, so close she could almost taste it.

Just… a little…

Farther!

Shadi?”

If everything in her didn’t hurt, she’d have laughed at the incredulity that filled that voice as she stared down at her hands where they held her weight braced, where they kept her from falling forward. She didn’t remember falling at all, let alone to her knees. But it didn’t matter because she’d found him. She’d found her hope and nothing else mattered but that. My , I found you at last. Opening her eyes, not even trying to fight off the smile that no doubt showed all of her teeth, she looked up at the owner of the voice she’d know anywhere.

But the face that her ‘s voice had came from wasn’t Rhyshladlyn. It was something else and it took far too long for that to sink in.

She didn’t even have time to scream.

8 thoughts on “24

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