Your skin is choked in dirt and grime and what feels like layers and layers of sweat. The blazing heat pounds against you. The air is thick and soupy as you make your way to the apothecary. You don’t know these roads, but a part of you feels like you’re being dragged. It’s all instinct. Anthea, you understand, is dragging your mind towards hers. It’s stronger than before. More desperate.
You are compelled toward the apothecary. Your legs are throbbing, yet nearly numb. It doesn’t feel like you’re the one moving them. It’s almost like you’re falling sideways, toward Anthea and Clarissant.
You don’t quite remember entering the apothecary. Everything is coming in fragments. It’s too much to take in. The room is disheveled. Disemboweled. Sheets and straw and feathers splayed everywhere. You think you see spiders, too. But you don’t have time to stop and check.
(It was supposed to be different, you’d said. You were going to save everyone. How times change, eh?)
Anthea has pushed up, feet knocking together on the edge of her cot. “We need to go,” she rasps. “We have to get out of here now!”
“The whole village is burning, Anthea!” Clarissant is saying. Her hands wring her crossbow. “Your Father is still out there, we can’t just–”
You’re only half-listening. Because you’ve sensed something, haven’t you? Something bubbling under Anthea, wreathed in fear and anger and hurt. It struggles against its bonds. It has something to show you, doesn’t it? Don’t I? Do you see me?
I worm my way through Anthea’s tangle of emotions. You can see it happening, I know. I can sense you looking it the way you might notice a pair of eyes staring at you from behind. Slowly, methodically, I uncoil the smallest piece of myself from around the bands of rage she’s in which she’s shrouded me.
(I have something to tell you, Peter.)
I know that you’re distantly aware of her arguing with Clarissant. I can hear it, too, muted. Underwater-sounding as I wriggle up and up and up. Anthea notices, then, as this fractional shard of my Being squirms through her. She tries to turn her frustration on me, tries to use it to lash me back down. Confine me. She thinks I’ll burn her up. But this piece of me is but an ember.
By the time I’ve slid free of frustration, she’s primed a cage banded in grief and sealed in sorrow–but too late. By the time she’s manifested, I’m already spilling into her throat, sizzling up and out:
I make her voice louder, lower, stronger than the rasp she can usually manage. It’s both her voice and not. And in it, she says, “Virengar to the northwest has deposed their Imperium overlords. There are yet physicians behind their walls with skill in healing, and yet more who understand the rules of Ambient energies. They may yet extract the Higher Power. Anthea may yet live. And the King in the Mountain may yet have forces he may rally to his call. It begins with Virengar. It cannot be so without Virengar. You will go to there. You must go there. You will leave now, else Lord Ath will take you all in flame and storm.”
That shard of me Being fizzles out of her mouth. Anthea’s whole body convulses, and you reach out to steady her–careful of your still-unsheathed sword.
“What are we waiting for?” Clarissant asks. “Let’s go.”
You blink. “What?”
“We have to go to Virengar right now. It’s urgent.”
“You were just saying–you know what? Never mind.”
You know what it is I’ve done, don’t you, One-Eye? We Higher Powers don’t often speak, for we can only convey what must be done. And all who hear must do it, too. Clarissant couldn’t avoid the power of a Prophecy unless she wanted Lord Ath’s flame and Swarm to consume her.
(Do excuse my Peter. I’ll try to keep myself out of your story, when I can.)
So you rush them out, and Anthea wraps your Ambient around her own internal power. You know the latticework of roads. Every turn and bend now lit with heat and light. Swarm are stirring, clicking and scuttling up burning walls.
Every now and again, one of them makes a grab at you. You flail wildly with your blade, when you can. Enough to convince them you’re not worth bothering.
You try some of your old forms when you can: The Thrush Knocks. Wind Down the Mountain. Breaking the Clouds. All of them are pale imitations. You’re body isn’t used to this yet, see? You haven’t picked up a sword in five years.
(Technically, this body has never picked up a sword.)
Sometimes your edge alignment is off. Others have the timing wrong, or you’re bending your wrist too far. Or you haven’t got the right stance. Your fundemanetals are all wrong. But you’re capable enough, and when you’ve shown the Swarm you’re enough of a threat, they scamper off in search of easier pray.
(You knuckle your eyes and tell yourself the tears are just the smoke.)
All the running has flowered pain in your side. Every step makes it flare. You can hear stomping boots behind you. Someone following down the back streets where the Swarm have thinned out. You cannot chance to look back as you tear down a bend. You hear Clarissant shout, “We’re almost out!”
You can see a back gate at the end of this road. Huts here are sparse and run-down. You’re surprised that there are no Swarm to guard the exit.
The moment your sneakers crunch down on the soft earth below the back gate, you feel heavier. Anthea’s amped up the force of her power. Dragging you bodily forward. “Have to hurry,” she gasps. “He’s following us.”
You check over your shoulder to see a man with shiny black hair and a thick purple robe, almost gliding towards you.
“Don’t look!” Anthea snaps. “We have to keep moving.”
“Both of you!” Clarissant huffs, “This way!” She seized tufts of cloak in either hand and tears you into a hard right. You realize, belatedly, that whoever’s following you is gliding. He’s surfing on the Ambient that your footsteps have made.
You don’t have time to consider this, though, as you hear a low grinding sound from deep in the earth. Has her hands between your shoulderblades, almost pushing you forward. “Go go go go go!” she hisses.
Thick, gray walls of stone stone hisses from the earth behind you, belching dust and grinding on rock with heavy showers of sparks. The last thing you see of your pursuer is him releasing the Ambient and slowing to a halt in front of the massive structure climbing into the sky, stone letting out a bloody wail as a line of jagged spires line the terrain behind you for miles in either direction.
You wonder if anyone remembered to pack supplies.