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Cahden Joudaar was dead. That was his assumption based on his current experiences. He had been enveloped by the turbulent embrace of dark clouds. He had passed through lightening and felt thunder shake him to his core. He had soared to the face of the sun and then plunged deep into its core.

Most holy texts spoke of such a journey. One where limbs lost all feeling, senses exploded into new life and lowly mortals ascended to salvation. Or descended into damnation. Nonsense. It must be concussion or delirium caused by malnutrition or dehydration. Probably torture.

His cynicism abated, Joudaar hoped he was headed for the former. Damnation doesn’t sit well. Then cold, hard and uncompromising logic set in. Joudaar scoured the recesses of his mind trying to remember the events of the preceding days. He had a vague recollection of a forest on a cool morning and a confrontation with something. He shook his head and muttered. Memories of a cramped and uncomfortable carriage ride formed like wisps of smoke during a hurricane. Joudaar then recalled a smattering of his more gruesome deeds and just like that, hope faded. Lost to him as always.

Grey clouds formed. Greyer than any he had ever seen and thicker, more sturdy than clouds had any right to be. Soon he found himself standing on them. The moment of arm flailing panic where he thought he would plummet to his second death had passed. It was so full of embarrassment and that Joudaar shot furtive glances to his left and right trying to see if he had been spotted in the act.

‘Welcome, friend.’ The voice came from everywhere and nowhere at once. For all Joudaar could see, he was alone on this cloud. ‘You handled that better than most,’ there almost seemed to be a hint of amusement to it now. ‘Yet worse than others.’

Scratching at his head, Joudaar responded in that manner that felt most appropriate. ‘Thank you,’ he made a polite bow. Best to feign civility. If this is all dreamed up by one of those imbecilic Inquisitors, then I’d better play along until I get my bearings. He blinked rapidly and shook his head trying to focus. It all looks bloody grey!

Thunder boomed and an overwhelmed Joudaar fell to his knees. ‘Bearings will come. Your eyes will adjust soon enough.’

As though on cue, a small woman with straight, dark hair and a steely calm winked into being. She was like a painting that had been ruined by the weather, but Joudaar knew she was there and she was real. She was gone before he could make a noise denoting startled surprise, let alone make it to his feet.

‘Where in the cold hells am I?’

This time he saw the lightening that accompanied the thunder. It blinded him of what little vision he had regained.

‘Very amusing,’ the voice seemed to be coming from a nearby shadow. Joudaar did his best to stand. He rubbed at his eyes and began grasping wildly at hope.

‘This is the other side of the Veil.’ With that his stomach emptied. It was loud and messy, but devoid of smell or even the burning sensation in his throat. The instant the sick came into contact with the cloud, it vaporised.

Cahden Joudaan was dead. That was his understanding based on his current experiences.

CW SY 2013