The voices were at it again.
Gerrik could hear them arguing in the back of his head. They’d kept him awake every night since he fled the city, and he was tired. They made no effort to whisper, and by the sound of it, sleep would not be a possibility anytime in the near future. It was like they were keeping him up on purpose.
Would you knock it off already? He grumbled.
The voices took a moment to sound chagrined, then resumed their argument at a slightly lower volume.
It would have to do. At least they weren’t involving him this time. Usually he tried to avoid their notice, but right now he was too tired to care.
Sleep fell on him in a fury, a raging river battering him on spears of jagged memory. He reached for one, any one, in his panic, and he was standing on a city street.
It was night, and the sky was clear. Stars lit the city, brighter than a million candles, and a hundred times more beautiful. He was in a park, and he could see every tree, every flower, in perfect detail, except that they seemed washed out, faded, as if even color slept this night.
He jumped. He was not alone.
He turned, and she was there, brows furrowed, a hand laid gently on his arm. All of her colors were awake. The rich green of her eyes, hair the color of rich red clay. Her skin, warm and smooth as honey, vibrant and alive.
“Are you okay?”
“You were about to say something, and you stopped,” she said. “Are you okay?”
He looked down, and there was a ring in his palm. He’d spent weeks carving the intricate lily design, her favorite flower, out of the soft white wood. Tears sprung to his eyes.
“I love you so much,” he whispered.
He could hear her smile without looking up. He loved that about her. So expressive, her emotions affected everyone around her. It wasn’t magic; it was her. Just her.
He was afraid to look up.
“Will you marry me?” he asked tentatively.
She smiled again. “Of course I will, silly!” she said, just like she had that night.
He finally looked up.
Blood pulsed from a gash in her throat, soaking the white sheet that wrapped her body. Her eyes were hurt, accusing.
“You said you’d protect me, Gerrik. You promised.”
He opened his mouth to apologize, and water filled his mouth. He was drowning. The river pulled him under. It was noiseless, and it was deafening. It was dark. So dark… He couldn’t see the surface. He knew it was there, just out of reach, but the current beat at him from every angle. He stretched out a hand, reaching for something, anything to hold on to, but it was useless, so useless.
He was useless.
He tried to scream, and suddenly he was awake, gasping. The voices sounded like they were trying not to sound vindicated.
You guys could have warned me, Gerrik grumbled. You know my head better than I do.
The voices shrugged.