The light was gone, and all that was left was the dull pain throbbing inside me.
"It's so dark," I said, my voice a mere whisper.
"Yes." The voice seemed familiar, though I couldn't quite place it.
"Cold." The sound of my voice drifted off into the darkness. There was no reply.
"Be that way, then."
I willed my body to relax, allowing the pain to flow through me, offering no resistance. After a while I began to feel pleasantly numb, my body floating in space, moving with the ebb and flow of the ache in my core. Don't think, I told myself. Let it go.
My head was lifted and something cold and moist touched my lips. Greedily I began to suck, relishing the sensation of the cold drops on my tongue.
"That's right, Jared told me, as the first drops made their way down my parchment-dry throat. "Nice and easy."
Cold, I thought. Silver. My thoughts drifted to my journey through the water, to where the old woman had been. Maybe I should try to find her again. Maybe this time she would tell me what to do with the blood-red jewel she had given me, what I had to do to make all the suffering and all the pain go away. I reckoned I could use any help I could get.
"The important thing is the willingness to make the sacrifice. From that, all else will follow."
A male voice, and a voice that I knew. I realised that I was used to hearing this voice, that I knew what it would sound like when the speaker was bored, or annoyed, or what his laughter would be like. And yet, I still couldn't place it. "Who are you?"
"That doesn't matter. I am you. I am what you may become."
"I don't understand."
"That is irrelevant. All that matters is that you will do what is necessary."
"But I don't know what to do. Please, can't you help me?"
I knew there wouldn't be a reply, even before I asked the question. And I was right, there wasn't. All there was, was the darkness and the silence around me.
I am you, the voice had said. I wondered whether that could be true. The voice could have been mine and yet it sounded different from my voice as I was used to hearing it - maybe this was what other heard when they heard me speak, or what my voice would be like in ten or twenty year's time.
Somewhere, off in the distance, a voice was calling my name.
No, I thought, let me stay a while. Give me a chance to find some answers.
"You've heard all that you needed to hear," he - I? - said. "Now, wake up."
"Jorden, wake up," Jared told me, shaking me by the shoulder. Yes, I thought. I will. I must.
I opened my eyes .
"I'm alright," I told him. "I'm ready."
He began to laugh. "Well, that's good news, then."
I tried to sit up, and immediately fell back into the soft pillows. Well, maybe not so ready then, I thought. I wondered whether I had been asleep, or unconscious, and how long it had been.
"I'm sorry," Jared told me, "but I need you up and about."
"That's alright," I muttered, "just give me a minute."
I lay back and looked around the room, squinting against the late afternoon light that came in through the window. My bedroom, I realised. An eternity ago I had woken up here after a good night's sleep, feeling clean and rested, ready for what I thought would be my final confrontation with the King.
The King. A wave of nausea washed over me as I remembered the time of blood and madness that the old man and I had shared in the throne room.
"Is he still alive?" I found I could hardly get the words out.
Jared seemed surprised. "Rodan? He's fine." He tried to sound casual, but beneath the surface I could hear the tension in his voice. "He's resting now."
I looked away, no longer able to face him. "The King," I said. "I may have killed him." I shuddered, feeling the pasty skin break again under my groping fingers.
"What on earth makes you think that?" His surprise sounded genuine.
"He's still alive, then?"
"Yes, of course he is. In fact, he's invited us to have dinner with him tonight."
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