I don’t remember when I left. Sometime in the night. I was dazed. Confused. I needed to clear my head.
I’m stumbling out of the lavatory into the cold nighttime air. Crickets are chirping and sand and dirt crunches beneath my boots. There are strange sounds, far and away. Like grinding rocks and showering sparks.
“A mountain just crumbled. You should be resting,” someone tells me. A woman’s voice. From above. I crane my neck for a better look.
I’m staring at a gleaming golden statue. The figure has a horned helmet and a bandage around one eye.
One Eye, I realize. That’s me.
Me from before with golden hair that tickles the small of my back. Was it really that long?
Me, with a knotted beard that hooks in a loop at the end, over my navel.
Me, when I was forty; depicting in gilded gold my leathered skin, my embossed shield, my blade whose name I still can’t recall.
And in the crook of my statue’s shield arm, a woman sits on my folded elbow, resting her head just under my shoulder, boots propped up on the edge of my shield. She’s got a crossbow strapped over one shoulder that rests in her lap. She doesn’t reach for it when she addresses me.
I’m not sure if I 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.”
I reach for the iron banded about my statue’s boots and pull. My muscles burn from the exertion. There was a time when I could have made the climb with next to no effort. But that was a long, long time ago. “Clarissant,” I 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?” I ask.
“I’m not sure how I’d do that,” she admits. She’s a bigger woman. I’m not quite sure how she got up there. Though I 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,” I tell her.
(This is a lie. I 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,” I 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. I see it, just barely. “I can’t say your apology is worth much,” she says.
That stings. And when the stinging melts away I’m left with anger. I’m angry she’d say that, and I’m angry that I’m not as angry about it as I should be.
(Should I be angry? I’m not sure.)
I’m confused. Tired. I slump against my statue’s boots. “How many of these have you seen?”
She closes her eyes. I can hear her softly muttering. Counting. “One in every town,” she tells me. “All across the Ever-Changing Land. You’re worshipped, Peter. It’s Imperial law. They built an entire religion around you.”
Of course, I think. 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 I say, “I want to stop it.”
Clarissant looks at me, suddenly serious. She adjusts the position of her crossbow. I’m not sure if it’s to make herself more comfortable, or–does she plan to use it on me? All she says is, “Stop what?” There’s a guarded edge to her voice, and her face remains placid.
I gesture out to the town. “This? I guess?” I slouch. “That’s not very helpful, is it?”
“Not at all.”
I don’t realize I’m were holding my breath until I 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 my statue’s shield so that they dangle over my forearm. She’s much more dexterous than she looks. She throws her crossbow over her shoulder and scampers down the length of my statue, using every crevice like a hand or foothold. She’s down to my level in seconds. “You’re right,” she says.
It stings. I swallow whatever’s bubbling up in my throat. I’m not going to cry. Not here. Not now.
(Not in front of her.)
“I’ll fix it,” I say. “I will fix it. I’ll fix it.” I climb to my feet, and a wave of vertigo slams into me upon the realization of the responsibility I’ve just accepted. I stumble, and Clarissant reaches out to steady me.
I’m not 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 I’d expect a woman shouting at you to relax would be. But then: “You don’t have to do it alone.”
I blink my 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? I think. “What?” I say. My 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 I helped to align has turned countless men into monsters and more.
(Not me, though. I’m a monster for completely different reasons.)
I realize, abruptly, that someone else is forcing this vertigo on me. “Anthea!” Her name stumbles out of my mouth. She’s doing something to me. I must go to her. There’s no questioning this. I know that I need to get back to her the same way I know that tonight’s cold air stings my cheeks. Anthea’s pulling your consciousness toward herself, I realize. And I understand one more thing, too:
“Lord Ath–” I grip Clarissant’s shoulders. There’s something wild speckling my eyes. “–He’s here.”
Down, down, down.