Nothing seemed real. Nothing at all. I watched from the skies as more rebels and heretics swarmed the temple, preparing for some dark ritual—I hoped I was wrong, but it looked like they were going to sacrifice all those people. I could see the troops of the city guards and local militia closing in on the temple. I wanted to help—I had to warn them—
I heard a cry from below me, and looked down. I had only been gone a few moments to survey the land from the air, but already the demons were here.
They were swarming all around Kane. He fought, but I knew he would lose without help. I was the only one who could save him. It didn’t matter to me that he was little more than a stranger. I knew he was a good man, and I believed if it were me down there, he would save me. His life was in my hands. I didn’t think—I just dived. I spiraled down through the air as I had done a million times before, and reached my arms down to sweep him out of their clutches.
He reached up to me. A moment before my hand grasped his, he let out a cry, and he was sucked down out of my view, demons blocking the only hope I had of reaching him. Suddenly, a great pain erupted in my chest and in my right wing. Blood spattered my feathers and sprayed through the air. I careened toward the stone-paved street. My body struck it with a great smack.
Then, as if I had been startled awake from a nightmare, I was gasping in the darkness.
I stood. I was not alone—there were other shapes in the dark, of other races, other peoples. I shivered and put my arms around my body. I was so cold… and so confused. Why was I naked? Where was I? I looked toward the only source of light. It was shining from a tall gate; a group of people were gathering around it. I felt drawn toward the light, captivated by it and by the man slowly walking toward us from out of its cold blue depths.
I maneuvered my way closer, standing between humans and fey and other creatures I had never before encountered. The man in the light began to speak. I looked at his face, at his frigid blue eyes which stared back at us without feeling.
He was Death.
My spine shivered and my feathers and hairs all raised up in fear. I… I died?
No. This… This couldn’t be right… I couldn’t…
I couldn’t have died. I was Mythia Cross! I couldn’t have died. I was only twenty years old. I was only trying to save Kane. I was only trying to save my city—my temple—my friends—my family. Teonas, my mother, how could this have happened?
Tears rushed up to my eyes and I hugged myself tighter. I thought of all the things I had left behind. All the things I had wanted in the future. My life had barely begun. What now?
That’s when Death offered us a deal. If we fetched an item for him… if we went through the trial of the requiem… he would grant us back our lives. If we failed, we would be taken into the underworld. If we refused, we would be taken into the underworld. No one before us had been able to succeed. But Death had faith that we could.
If there was any chance I could be home again, any chance I could save my city and my temple and my family from the demons, then I would take it. What else did I have to lose? I had already lost my life.
I looked into Death’s eyes again, and when he asked me if I was willing to undergo the requiem, I said unflinchingly, “Yes.”
The others around me also accepted Death’s offer unanimously.
Then in a blink, just as it had happened when I died, I was again startled awake in a completely different place. Dark saltwater flowed all around, closing me in like a grave. Cold blue light filtered in above me, shining from the sun. I reached up, struggling for the sunlight and the air. My head and arms and wings breached the surface of the water and I inhaled sharply, water streaming from my sinuses. I wiped my face and eyes to see, bobbing along with the movement of the waves. A coastline was dead ahead.
All around me, other heads started popping up, too, and we all flailed closer to shore. Finally, when the water was shallow enough, and my feet could touch the sandy bottom of the beach, I stretched out my wings and glided the rest of the way to the beach.
The rest of them washed ashore around me. All of us were still naked, but I found that I didn’t particularly care. I wasn’t embarrassed. I had no reason to be. My body was beautiful; I had nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hide. Besides, the sunlight and the breeze on my skin was most refreshing.
For the first time, I got a good look at my companions. There were races I had never seen before. Two fey, and a half-giant with a goblin on his shoulder, and a woman that looked like a fish, and a woman that looked like a cat, and—Kane! Oh, praise Teonas! I felt my heart leap with happiness. I could hardly believe he was still alive—well—not alive, I guess that’s the wrong word, but I could hardly believe that he was here, wherever here was, and that we both had a chance to redeem ourselves!
Our little band exchanged names, and hatched a plan to explore our new island for shelter and clothing and food.
I flew out up into the sky, soaring past the cliff that blocked the beach from the main land, and began to survey the ground below. It looked like it was covered in heavy forest, completely uninhabited. Far beyond in the distance, there was a great, towering mountain with clouds ripping across its top. I made that my landmark, and headed for it.