Cold

Cold.

That is my first thought as consciousness slowly finds me. I am surely made of shards of ice and not of flesh. Tiny spears of raindrops hit my exposed skin, further contributing to the unbelieveable pain. Every minute motion is torture. My hands clench against the pain, dirt gathering under my fingernails, and that too causes great anguish, like every particle of soil was actually a knife.

That I feel anything at all is a bit surprising. Death, in my experience, is painless. To be sure, dying had been agony, but death is absent of any physical sensation at all. Even emotion is dampered, replaced with a vague awareness of how I might have felt if I had been alive. At least, that’s how it was for me; who’s to say if death is the same for us all.

Being restored to life is very much like sitting in a pitch-dark room that is then filled with the sun itself. Until my skin, my muscles, adapted to having feeling again, it was too much for me to move. The blood in my veins feels like iron too long out of the coals, but I am not able to stoke the fire needed to make the metal workable again and I am carried away back into the smoke of unconsciousness.

The scene plays out in my mind, but shrouded in a haze that wasn’t there when it happened. Two women, one ruthless, one helpless. Me, in the middle, fulfilling this insatiable desperation to ensure not another person is harmed by my idleness. A flighty halfling, not worth his weight in ingots. Some might call it chivalry or bravery or heroism, but really it is just overwhelming guilt. Not that it matters.

I couldn’t save her.

All hope of help gone, my last act was in vain; my courage (desperation) failed at the worst moment and I was held fast by magic that should have been easily avoided, unable to move even a single eyelash. It is not often women are the physical aggressors. Watching horrible things happen and not taking any action to stop them is a terrible feeling, but wanting to take action and being unable to is much worse.

I watch the rest of the scene play out, much as I had in real life, unable to move, to speak, and knowing - but without truly knowing - what my fate would be, except this time the church was filled with thick smoke that seemed to be thinning out as time moved on. It took several armored men to carry my stone-still body down the stairs to a chapel and lay me prone on the altar; the smell of the blood of those who had gone before me perverted the clean aroma of the stone. The flash of a knife as it is raised and again as it brought back towards the earth.

Except this time there was no division of flesh from flesh, or soul from body, just a bright light - I squeeze my eyes tight shut to block it out - and the buzz of muffled voices….

As I peek between eyelids of a single eye, a creepy, craggy, toothy grin reveals itself right above me.

“I make sun man kill you dead again. King’s orders. Need you make all the dwarfs learn be less gross.” Reta Bigbad lets out a high pitched giggle, amused at her own joke.

Reta, leave Dana be so he can rest.”

The creepy goblin straddling my chest looks at the door, huffs, pinches me, and hops off the bed onto a nearby chair. “Its King Reta to you, sparkly man”.

“Indeed.” Geoffrey Diamonds, famed author, strides majestically through the doorframe. “There is still a demon queen to eliminate and we need all the forces we can muster. Why not recruit your new subjects to our cause?”

“Dungeon goblins weak and scared. Not want fight - scared of death, not like King Reta”. She shrugs. Refusing the king could very well have meant death for the goblins of Huge Red, but I know Reta is content, for the moment, to be King of Goblins in name, if not in viciousness. Of everything I know about her, she is ambitious and arrogant, but not stupid.

“There are worse things to be afraid of than death, but who better to instill in them the courage they need to fight the scourge of the demon queen than The One True King Reta Bigbad, Dog Hater, Centaur’s Bane, The Nightmare Jockey?”

“Not you, shiny head, too many big words. Make goblin uncomfortable.” She fidgets on her chair.

I open both eyes to take a proper look at my friends. Unshakeable, thrill-seeking Reta looks the same as I remember, and Geoffrey has always been good at putting on a brave face. My voice sounds like coarse grit caught between the teeth of dwarven-crafted cogs. “How long?”

“Four days for Baelfjord to return and twelve days since.”

“A fortnight… ” I closed my eyes again. “What happened”.

Reta and Geoffrey proceeded to describe to me the events of the past two weeks. The goblin gleefully relives the chaos of the hunt while Geoffrey relays everything that doesn’t relate directly to bloodshed. I cannot tell if they know of any part I played in calling the Hunt that fell upon my friends and, ashamed, I am not about to enlighten them to my true role in it.

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