Storytellers, he said, and suddenly I felt sick. Who was he? What did he know about me?
I heard him move in front of me and then his hand was on my knee, his body heat seeping through my clothes. "Touch my face," he told me, guiding my hand. My fingers touched his skin and I recoiled at its strangeness - the surface uneven in some places and unnaturally smooth in others.
Flames. My mind lodged in another's body. Thoughts, but not mine. Pain and anger, but not mine.
"They're mine," the other man said.
"I got burned. That's obvious, isn't?"
Of course. Scar tissue.
"We've met before, haven't we?" I asked him.
"Stillwater. The meeting." He hadn't trusted me, and I had ended up spending the night in jail.
I felt I stood naked before him, all the lies stripped away. He knew I wasn't Merran, and he knew about my history.
"You were right not to trust me," I said.
"Maybe. Maybe not."
Was he playing with me?
He was still holding my arm, my fingers touching his face and his breath hot on my wrist. "Please, let me go," I said but instead he tightened his grip, sending a flash of pain through my arm.
"Jared, what are you doing?" Rodan asked as I gasped.
"It's alright," I said, as I relaxed my arm and I felt the other man loosening his grip somewhat.
"Sure," he said. "We were just sharing some old memories, that's all."
"Please, tell me what you want from me," I said.
"I'm here. I'm listening."
I felt a slight tremor in his hand, like he was tiring of holding my fingers to his face, and I let my arm become heavier, allowing it to start drifting down. Though he didn't let go of my arm, he didn't stop me either. When my arm had come to rest on my lap I realised I had been holding my breath and I breathed out, and I thought I could hear him doing the same.
Breathe, I told myself. Feel yourself from the inside. Feel your weight. Find your centre. Feel the mass of the earth under your feet. Find its centre. Connect.
I sat. None of us spoke.
Find him, I thought. Feel yourselves as equals, standing as men between the earth and the heavens.
"Thank you," he said.
I kept silent.
"There was a fire," I said then. "Not yours. My fire. My wife and son…" I couldn't go on - there were no words left in the world.
I did. I started by telling him how happy I'd been with Rhiana, how we had loved Jorden beyond all else. My words went faster and faster, and as I relived the good times the images came, Rhiana hanging up the laundry… Jorden taking wobbly baby steps toward me, laughing, his chubby arms reaching out to be picked up… And then there was him. "I know," Jared said, immersed in my memories now, "I know him quite well. Come, we'll face him together."
Hand in hand we stepped into the fire and through the flames we watched it all - the death of my family, him taking possession of my soul, my corruption and downfall. I relived it all and spared him no horror and yet, there was comfort in his presence next to me.
"We must go back," he told me as the flames died down.
I didn't understand what he was talking about. "Go where?"
"We must go back," he repeated, and all was dark and quiet.
"Where am I?"
"You're safe," Rodan said. "Are you alright?"
"Yes," I said. I felt the bed under me, the floor under my feet, and through the open window I could hear the wind in the trees. I was alright.
"We'll need to leave soon," Jared told me.
"Leave? Where are we going?"
"To the King."
"Why are you doing this?"
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