Departure

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Dreams are memories brought from another plane; the product of a soul that has reached out and plucked from a cosmic orchard [...] divine truths which our waking minds are too fragile to grasp in their entirety...
- Miqol the Sorcerer, On Dreams

The night went on.

The storm raged, blew, pummeled, rattled and shook, hammered the roof of Jorge's place with a million watery nails, gripped its walls and threatened to heave it free.

The men in the common room curled tightly into themselves, muttered oaths, kissed three fingers. Dawn would come, they knew; but for now, the world was a black hell.

Upstairs, Cray pressed his cheek against the hard reed pillow and squeezed his eyelids shut. Sleep, he knew, would not come easily tonight, though his body screamed for it. A deep ache had settled into his bones of late, a dull throbbing of the joints and sinews. The pain had become so familiar that he scarce noticed it except at night.

The shutters of his window clacked and snapped, as if wanting to leap from their bearings and attack. Rain pounded against them, and an errant droplet found its way through the flimsy barricade and struck the side of Cray's face. He grunted and wiped it clean with a dismissive flick of the hand.

Yes, sleep would be a hard-won battle this night. And if it came, the dreams would come with it. But sleep he must, if he were to have any strength to face the coming day.

Cray sucked air into his lungs, then exhaled, forcing his body to relax itself muscle by muscle as he had been taught. Unclench the jaw, loosen the neck... unbind the chest, the arms, the legs. Breathe, feel the beating of the heart... let the air out the nose. And pray.

And pray he did, the old words coming back to him in scraps, revealing themselves for a shining moment, then sinking back into the depths of memory like a man drowning at sea:

...Protect us, our homes, our wives, our lives...

...Fall, o thunder, cry out, o heavens...

...For beasts... THE AXE!...

Cray's face was a mask of stone, but just behind his rusted eyes, the prayers danced. There was one for every forgotten face, one for every lost life, one for every regret.

More than anything, Cray prayed for sleep.

* * *

Setka lay on his back, his hat and mask set down carefully on the floor beside him. His legs were laid out before him, and his hands were folded across his heart. His eyes were shut, and his chest rose and fell in a slow, measured rhythm. His body was perfectly still, but his mind was flying over black plains and forests, borne by a wind alien to that which blew from the north. Bathed in the pure light of the kind moon, he flew east, to the Spire.

He beheld it in the distance and stopped his flight short, standing in the open air far above the world of men. The plague could not reach him here; nothing could reach him here.

Hi-yo, my love. It is good to see you again.

The Spire addressed him in a woman's voice, as it had since he was a child. Her edges gleamed white with soulfire.

Oh, Setka. My sweet child. What do you hope to find in Jysene?

But Setka knew where this question would lead; he had held this same conversation a thousand times before.

I do not know, my love. I only know that I am not ready to die yet... and if there is any chance, any last desperate dream, I must stay alive to witness it. To die with hope in my heart... that is my only remaining wish.

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