Chapter 13

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Nothing seemed real anymore. He walked at a steady pace, his heart hammering against his chest. He projected calm and humility outward as much as possible, yet his hands wouldn't hold off on their sleight tremor. His guards had accompanied him and Leo, who closely followed behind, to a big room in City Hall that was usually reserved for extraordinary festivities only. However, before he entered through the doors, they did a thing they had never done before. The guards bowed ever so slightly, stepped in front of Leo to block his way and signalled for him to go on by himself. Dyson had dreaded this day ever since he found out it was a possibility. He knew with every fibre in his body that whatever would happen next, would change the course of his life forever. There was no coming back from this. He knew he should waver, mourn his humanity and all the things he would lose with it, but when he stepped through the door, he felt none of those things. Instead there was only numbness.

Light greeted Dyson, followed by a storm of cheers and applause. The room was packed with Arcadians of all ranks and abilities, yet there was no sign of any of his recruits or humans in general. He supposed they couldn't possibly let them witness a ritual so sacred to Velcry culture, there was no physical proof or historic account of it ever happening before. At least none he could find.

The people made way for him as he seemingly floated in slow motion towards the huge cauldron in the centre of the gathering. Whatever was inside of it, he couldn't discern, but he was drawn towards the black slick mass nonetheless. There were speeches held, his merits praised among the community. Citizens he couldn't remember ever having met before spoke fondly of his character and strength. To them he was family now, one of their own, should he be able to pass this final threshold. Their words barely registered as his eyes remained glued to the black goo. It almost seemed to have a life of its own, swaying from one edge to the other, glistening under the scrutiny of the bright overhead lights.

There was a ladder next to the cauldron and a stoic looking woman standing beside it. Dyson knew that there were still people talking about him, what this moment meant for him and Velcry history, but when he looked into the woman's hazel eyes, they must have seen the resolve in him. She extended her hand for him to hold as he climbed the stairs. A gasp went through the audience, utter silence followed it. He could have taken off his clothes, but none of it mattered the moment he took his last step and entered the black mass.

It was cold. So very cold. During none of the scenarios going through his head had he ever expected the experience to be this chilling. Dyson felt his body sink, all the light from the surface gone by now. It wasn't possible. He had seen the cauldron and it had barely been his height, but impossible things kept happening in Arcadia and so he kept sinking. Breathing would soon become an issue, but the mass kept clinging to the entire surface that was him. It seeped through Dyson's skin and entangled itself with his body like a second set of veins until it pierced his heart.

There was pain and there was nothing. An endless sea of darkness as his consciousness started to slip away.

"This is the moment", he thought. "This is the moment I die and everything was for nought."

An image of Kasia flashed through his mind. Of course, she would be the last thing he would see before it all ended. He wanted to reach out to her, reach out to his bracelet, but the black had immobilized him completely. He fought with whatever he had left, but the darkness wouldn't budge, so he held on to her in his heart. If he couldn't be with her now, he would wait for her in whatever waited for him past this life, past this world. He just knew he could not let go of her, he probably shouldn't have let go of her and their plans to reunite earlier either.

A ripple went through him and with it through the blackness that surrounded him. His last act of resistance had sparked a change in the mass that he thought likely to be his grave. Where there was ice before, he was now filled with fire. The warmth that radiated off of him chased the darkness away. His cells felt light and strong as he drifted back towards the surface, barely holding on to the last bit of air in his lungs. He could have cried with relief, when his fingers felt the edge of the cauldron and he pulled himself up.

Several sets of hands helped him out and steadied him as the last bits of goo granted him his freedom. He opened his eyes and immediately felt people shy away from him. There was something wrong. He wanted nothing more than a friendly and familiar face in the crowd, but all that greeted him was a blur of light and so many colours. They were bright and peculiar, he had no words to describe them. Nauseated by these overwhelming new sensations, he held onto the closest person for support. Why couldn't he see? What was happening? Either no one answered him, or he simply couldn't hear them. A stabbing pain filled his head and he could feel tears running down his face, when a warm hand landed on his shoulder.

"It's going to be okay," Alaya's soft voice found its way to him before his knees gave in and he passed out.

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