The healer must have done something to me.
Curled onto a ball, I can smell it even if I can't feel it: flesh incinerated by impossibly hot flames, the incense and the oil seeped and burning into the woodwork to send me off to the new world. The roar of the crowd in my ears has died into the roar of the flames. There is no hurt, simply numbness. A resolute finality settles within me, as well as the tears that have dried up, knowing this is how I'll go.
Knowing, that perhaps there was one person, a stranger that exists in this world who wanted to save me from pain.
My lungs are full of cloudy smoke. I breath in, slowly suffocating. My body slackens, limbs rock, like I'm sinking into still waters. I wonder if this too, is what she intended. I wonder if the others were like this when they survived baptism by fire: Were they quiet like me, or still angry till the end?
I'm sleepy, the closest to peace I've ever known. Eyelids heavy, I sink, deeper, and deeper until I'm falling. The heaviness that was in my heart fades away. I am falling, and I am free. What hate there was, seems inconsequential.
Falling, and then not.
I wake up screaming.
My skin is burning. I can feel it, a dull feeling sinking deep into flesh all the way to broken bones. So hot I feel cold. Am I still in the flames? There is no cold sweat. Am I dead?
I can hear voices in the distance.
I try to call out to them, but I can't speak, I realize. I'm suffocating, but there's no smoke or fire I can see. My limbs--are they still whole?--are trapped under a wreckage of weight, and when I move trying to free myself I can hear myself cry out an ugly, moaning sound, lungs dragging. Every motion is an effort; every breath is pained.
Are these my last moments? To be in indescribable pain, unable to--
I don't expect the smooth coolness that slides onto my forehead. At once, as though I have been numbed in ice, I feel no pain.
My eyes, that I've never opened, remain squeezed shut. My breathing settles, only to hitch uncontrollably.
I'm sobbing with relief. I hear, rather than feel, the weight above me be lifted off and be flung into the distance. The ground shakes when it lands far away.
"You are alive," a voice, low and rumbly, sounds. It's as if I don't really hear it, as if it is a quiet whisper in my head. "Though you have not much time left." The same cool feeling caressing my cheeks slides down to curl a heavy weight atop my neck. "I will end it for you."
My lips part, but I feel faint. The words catch up to me. It takes me a moment to realize that I’m crying. I can't move my arms to grab at them--I don't have half an arm, I barely have fingers--but I don't want to die.
I don't want to die. Please let me live.
"Then," the voice says in my head, "we will speak again."
The heaviness lifts from my throat.
I hear next the cry of what could only be a monster. It is a large roar, more fearful and commanding than that of wild animals and predators, superior among them all, that echoes in the air. It summons to it the cries of other beasts.
The air is filled with the shrieking, piercing cries of loyalty, the flaps of wings, the heaviness of feet and hooves that arrive in all directions.
A pressure threatens to crush me, until it disappears just as quickly.
"Take this human," the voice says to them. It's different than in my head: it's lower, deeper, and it belongs to something bigger than a human. How strong is this creature? How powerful? "Ensure it survives."
"Yes, lord," responds a multitude of voices.
Arms--are they arms?--gather me into them. They are hard and bony, but slim. It feels as if I'm being wrapped into the chest cavity of a skeleton and ribs are growing around me, encircling me.