Darkness was falling as I lay on my side, watching my blood form rivulets and pools on the uneven floor. It can't take long, I told myself, I've lost too much blood already. I tried to find comfort in that thought, but couldn't.
I woke up on the beach, the light as bright as ever. I sat up and looked around. Except for the seagulls and the seals there wasn't a living thing in sight. I got up and began to walk along the shore, wondering whether this was death. What if I was trapped here forever? What was this place, anyway?
I stumbled and fell, ending up face-down on the moist sand. When I looked up the old woman was there, looking at me. "Go away," she said. "You have a job to do."
"I'm sorry." Then a wave of cold, salty seawater washed over me and I could say no more.
I was shivering with cold, and the smell of my own blood was making me nauseous. For a moment I thought I was going to vomit, but the urge passed. Breathing was becoming more and more difficult. Please let it end, I thought. Please.
Cool, green grass under my bare feet. I looked around, and recognised the secluded meadow where Rhiana and I used to meet before we were married. Then I heard a sound and I turned around. Rhiana was there, laughing.
I walked up to her and drew her close. She wrapped her arms around me, still laughing.
"What's so funny?" I asked her.
"It's so wonderful to be here with you." She had stopped laughing, and her eyes filled with tears. "I miss you terribly."
"Yes," I said. And then we just held each other for a while.
Eventually, she gave me one final kiss and pushed me away. "You must go now," she told me.
"I have nowhere to go."
"Yes, you do. Please go, while I can still bear to let you go."
The room was almost dark, now. The discomfort had passed, and I couldn't feel my body anymore. I closed my eyes. Go, I thought. Go where?
We were back on the snow-covered mountain path. It was a bright and beautiful day, and the air was cold and crisp. Agromas was facing me.
I couldn't speak. He, and countless others like him, had died a cruel and needless death because of me. The grief and remorse were so strong I thought they would tear me apart, and yet, anything that I was feeling now seemed irrelevant compared to the suffering that I had caused.
"I've done such terrible things," I finally said. I couldn't bring myself to ask him to forgive me, since I had lost the right to ask or expect anything from my fellow humans.
"Yes, you have." We were quiet for a while.
"I can't go on," I said then.
"I know. But if you die now, it will just be one more needless death."
"At least I'll do no more harm when I'm gone."
He shook his head. "You don't understand. There's an evil walking this world that will destroy us all if we don't stop it. We can't stand by and do nothing. You must choose. You must act."
"Agromas, for twenty years I thought storytellers and healers were evil, and I've done my utmost to destroy every last one of them. You want me to go back to that?"
"The path you must follow is difficult and dangerous. But there's hope. You have gifts, and allies."
"I can't." I looked away. "I've cut my wrists and I'm dying, or maybe I'm already dead. I'm sorry."
I awoke with a start, unsure of how long I had been unconscious. Noise was coming in from the corridor, and I could hear voices and the sound of footsteps.
"Help me," I whispered.
Someone was trying to open the door.
"Don't give up," my son told me.
"Jorden? Is that you?" I swallowed. "I remember now, and I'm so sorry about everything."
"Father, please. Hold on."
And then the door, and the bed and the couch that I had used to barricade it with, all came crashing down, and a blinding light filled the room.
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