My skin is choked in dirt and grime and what feels like layers and layers of sweat. The blazing heat pounds against me. The air is thick and soupy as I make my way to the apothecary. I don’t know these roads, but a part of me feels like I’m being dragged. It’s all instinct. Anthea, I understand, is dragging my mind towards hers. It’s stronger than before. More desperate.
I am compelled toward the apothecary. My legs are throbbing, yet nearly numb. It doesn’t feel like I’m the one moving them. It’s almost like I’m falling sideways, toward Anthea and Clarissant.
I 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. I think I see spiders, too. But I don’t have time to stop and check.
(It was supposed to be different, I had said. I was 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–”
I’m only half-listening. Because I’ve sensed something. Something bubbling under Anthea, wreathed in fear and anger and hurt. It struggles against its bonds. It has something to show me, doesn’t it? Don’t I? Is that?
The Higher Power.
It worms its way through Anthea’s tangle of emotions. I can see it happening, It knows that I know. It can sense me looking at it the way I might notice a pair of eyes staring at the back of my head. Slowly, methodically, it uncoil the smallest piece of itself from around the bands of rage she’s in which she’s shrouded it.
It have something to tell me, I understand.
It seems to know know that you’re distantly aware of her arguing with Clarissant. You wonder if it can can hear them, too, muted. Underwater-sounding as it wriggle up and up and up. Anthea notices, then, as this fractional shard of the Higher Power’s Being squirms through her. She tries to turn her frustration on it, tries to use it to lash it back down. Confine it. She thinks it’ll burn her up. But this piece of it is but an ember.
By the time the mote of Higher Power has 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 it, the Higher Power is already spilling into her throat, sizzling up and out:
It makes 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 I reach out to steady her–careful of my still-unsheathed sword.
“What are we waiting for?” Clarissant asks. “Let’s go.”
I blink. “What?”
“We have to go to Virengar right now. It’s urgent.”
“You were just saying–you know what? Never mind.”
I know what it is the Higher Power has done. They don’t often speak, I know, for they 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.
So I rush them out, and Anthea wraps my Ambient around her own internal power. I 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 me. I flail wildly with my blade, when I can. Enough to convince them I’m not worth bothering.
I try some of my old forms when I can: The Thrush Knocks. Wind Down the Mountain. Breaking the Clouds. All of them are pale imitations. My body isn’t used to this yet, see? I haven’t picked up a sword in five years.
(Technically, this body has never picked up a sword.)
Sometimes my edge alignment is off. Others have the timing wrong, or I’m bending my wrist too far forward. Or I haven’t got the right stance. My fundemanetals are all wrong. But I’m capable enough, and when I’ve shown the Swarm I’m enough of a threat, they scamper off in search of easier pray.
(I knuckle my eyes and tell myself that the tears are just the smoke.)
All the running has flowered pain in my side. Every step makes it flare. I can hear stomping boots behind me. Someone following down the back streets where the Swarm have thinned out. I cannot chance to look back as I tear down a bend. I hear Clarissant shout, “We’re almost out!”
I can see a back gate at the end of this road. Huts here are sparse and run-down. I’m surprised that there are no Swarm to guard the exit.
The moment my sneakers crunch down on the soft earth below the back gate, I feel heavier. Anthea’s amped up the force of her power. Dragging me bodily forward. “Have to hurry,” she gasps. “He’s following us.”
I check over my shoulder to see a man with shiny black hair and a thick purple robe, almost gliding towards us.
“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 me into a hard right. I realize, belatedly, that whoever’s following us is gliding. He’s surfing on the Ambient that our footsteps have made.
I don’t have time to consider this, though, as I hear a low grinding sound from deep in the earth. Clarissant has her hands between my shoulder blades, almost pushing me forward. “Go go go go go!” she hisses.
Thick, gray walls of stone stone hisses from the earth behind me, belching dust and grinding on rock with heavy showers of sparks. The last thing I see of our 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 us for miles in either direction.
I wonder if anyone remembered to pack supplies.