You don’t remember when you left. Sometime in the night. You were dazed. Confused. You needed to clear your head.
You’re stumbling out of the lavatory into the cold nighttime air. Crickets are chirping and sand and dirt crunches beneath your boots. There are strange sounds, far and away. Like grinding rocks and showering sparks.
“A mountain just crumbled. You should be resting,” someone tells you. A woman’s voice. From above. You crane your neck for a better look.
You’re staring at a gleaming golden statue. The figure has a horned helmet and a bandage around one eye.
One-Eye, you realize.
It’s you. You from before with golden hair that tickled the small of your back.
You, with a knotted beard that hooks in a loop at the end, over your novel.
You, when you were forty; depicting you in gilded gold your leathered skin, your embossed shield, your blade whose name you still can’t recall.
And in the crook of your statue’s shield arm, a woman sits on your folded elbow, resting her head just under your shoulder, boots propped up on the edge of your shield. She’s got a crossbow strapped over one shoulder that rests in her lap. She doesn’t reach for it when she addresses you.
You’re not sure if you should be offended.
“Do you remember me, Peter?” she asks. “I’m the reason you’re here,” she says. “From a certain point of view.”
You reach for the iron banded about your statue’s boots and pull. Your muscles burn from the exertion. There was a time when you could have made the climb with next to no effort. But that was a long, long time ago. “Clarissant,” you huff. “You’re the geomist.”
“The lookout, now,” she chuckles. “For all the good it’ll do us, if Ath descends on us with a horde of Swarm.”
“Any chance you can help me up there?” you ask.
“I’m not sure how I’d do that,” she admits. She’s a bigger woman. You’re not quite sure how she got up there. Though you assume she must’ve learned a thing or two to survive in that changing earth out there.
“What are you even doing up in that statue?”
“There’s a nice view of the Ever-Changing Land from here.” She sighs. Her gaze is lost on the horizon. Absent-mindedly, she adds, “You’re taking in the fact that you have a statue surprisingly well.”
“Oh believe me, I’m floored,” you tell her.
(This is a lie. You think. Maybe?)
“You earned it,” she says. “You saved the world. Defeated the Great Evil and all that.” She frowns. “Some would say you destroyed the world, given what followed.”
“I’m sorry,” you tell her. “For what it’s worth.”
Clarissant turns her attention back to the horizon. Hot flashes of lightning erupt in some far off town. You see it, just barely. “I can’t say your apology is worth much,” she says.
That stings. And when the stinging melts away you’re left with anger. You’re angry she’d say that, and you’re angry that you’re not as angry about it as you should be.
(Should you be angry? You’re not sure.)
You’re confused. Tired. You slump against your statue’s boots. “How many of these have you seen?”
She closes her eyes. You can hear her softly muttering. Counting. “One in every town,” she tells you. “All across the Ever-Changing Land. You’re worshipped, Peter. It’s Imperial law. They built an entire religion around you.”
Of course, you’re thinking. Why the fuck not? They might as well have done that. That may as well happen. My life (lives?) is already so goddamn weird. But you say, “I want to stop it.”
Clarissant looks at you, suddenly serious. She adjusts the position of her crossbow. You’re not sure if it’s to make herself more comfortable, or–does she plan to use it on you? All she says is, “Stop what?” There’s a guarded edge to her voice, and her face remains placid.
You gesture out to the town. “This? I guess?” You slouch. “That’s not very helpful, is it?”
“Not at all.”
You don’t realize you were holding your breath until you exhale. “The Imperium. The allied nations I brought under one banner. It’s my mess. I should clean it up.”
Clarissant sweeps her legs off of your statue’s shield so that they dangle over your forearm. She’s much more dexterous than she looks. She throws her crossbow over her shoulder and scampers down the length of your statue, using every crevice like a hand or foothold. She’s down to your level in seconds. “You’re right,” she says.
It stings. You swallow whatever’s bubbling up in your throat. You’re not going to cry. Not here. Not now.
(Not in front of her.)
“I’ll fix it,” you say. “I will fix it. I’ll fix it.” You climb to your feet, and a wave of vertigo slams into you upon the realization of the responsibility you’ve just accepted. You stumble, and Clarissant reaches out to steady you.
You aren’t expecting her hands to be so rough. “Easy!” There’s force behind it. Not so much comfort as a command. It’s about as helpful as you’d expect a woman shouting at you to relax would be. But then: “You don’t have to do it alone.”
You blink your surprise.
She nods, seeming to understand. “You’d need a guide in the Ever-Changing Land. Someone who knows how to get to the next stillzone.”
What? you think. “What?” you say. Your head’s still spinning. This is all your fault, Peter. All your fault.
Statues in every town. Forced worship. Barred travel. And disobeying the kingdoms you helped to align has turned countless men into monsters and more.
(Not you, though. You’re a monster for completely different reasons.)
You realize, abruptly, that you are not the cause of your vertigo. “Anthea!” Her name stumbles out of your mouth. She’s doing something to you. You must go to her. There’s no questioning this. You know that you need to get back to her the same way you know that tonight’s cold air stings your cheeks. Anthea’s pulling your consciousness toward herself, you realize. And you understand one more thing, too:
“Lord Ath–” you grip Clarissant’s shoulders. There’s something wild speckling your eyes. “–He’s here.”
Down, down, down.