I drifted between waking and sleeping, weightless, timeless and at peace.
Rhiana looked down on me, as I lay with my head in her lap. "I'm sorry," she said as she stroked my hair. "You need to wake up now. There's someone to see you."
I looked up, noticing she was wearing the same red gown she had worn the night before. "You look beautiful," I said.
She laughed. "That's not important right now."
"Yes it is," I told her, as I always had. "This may be the last day of our lives. Imagine that." I had always told her that, and we had always laughed. Now we just looked at each other, at a loss for words.
After a while she looked up, with anguish in her eyes. "What is this place?" she whispered. "What am I doing here?"
I thought of Azeara, and how she had been trapped in her cave of illusions. Was my wife trapped here, in the palace, forever wearing her rich red velvet gown? The thought filled me with anger. My wife had done nothing to deserve that. I sat up and reached out, wanting to hold her, to comfort her, to feel my wife's body once more in my arms again. But my hands touched nothing but thin air, and I lost my balance and fell.
Wake up, I told myself. Get out of that place. I began to struggle against the darkness that was drawing me under, but in vain.
I opened my eyes. I was lying face-down on a rocky mountain path. The left side of my face and my left arm and shoulder hurt, since they had taken the worst of my fall.
"Get up," Agromas told me.
"What?" This is wrong, I thought. You shouldn't be here.
I looked up, black spots dancing in front of my eyes. I could see him standing in front of me, motionless, his frame even more gaunt than when I had last seen him, his storyteller's cloak in tatters. I looked away, unable to meet his gaze.
"Has it all been in vain, then?" He spoke so softly that I could hardly hear him.
"What do you mean?" I got up on my hands and knees, and a wave of nausea washed over me. For a moment I just sat there, watching the blood drops from a gash in my left eyebrow make damp spots on the stony underground. Maybe it was all in vain, I thought. Maybe I should just give up.
"Have you learned nothing at all?"
"Agromas, I'm trying, believe me. Just tell me what to do." The response came as automatically as when he had first taught me, as it had come many times before as my younger self grappled with concepts alien to his mind, and with discipline he hadn't been ready to accept. I began to laugh, wincing when pain shot through my side.
I felt my body stir, and I knew I was close to waking up.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I wish I had been a better student." The world around me began to fade, and I wasn't sure he had even heard me.
I sat up, rubbing my face, squinting in the bright sunlight that streamed in through a gap between the curtains. Have I learned nothing, I mused. Maybe not.
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