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The smell of flowers filled his head and suddenly he was walking again. Cahden Joudaar looked at his torn clothes, shredded and bloodstained. His confusion intermingled with shock and understanding. I died.

A trail of ruby red rose petals formed ahead of him. The recognition of the petals battled with his inability to recall their name. The howling, barking and cawing of the flaming birds restarted. They should have a name. He stuck his tongue out and worked it silently over his lips in thought. The taste of blood, iron and dirt baffled him. ‘What in the cold hells is going on?’

‘This is not your hell,’ a voice boomed like thunder. Not expecting an answer, he jumped back utterly startled and soon found himself with a aching backside.

‘You didn’t answer my question,’ Joudaar muttered rubbing his now throbbing wrist. With that, silence returned. Well silence if you count the maddening sound of birds made of fire and bad memories.

He did his best to carry on walking and from time to time, his host would grace him with a few words. ‘Over here,’ it would boom. ‘Not that way. Unless you wish to die,’ it seemed almost amused by his lack of sense of direction. As they edged closer to their unknown destination, the landscape would illuminate momentarily before being plunged into the sullen grey darkness.

This must be what it feels like to be in a thundercloud, the thought was more factual than sardonic, but held hints of both.

‘Not far off,’ the voice boomed and it was punctuated with a blinding flash of light. In that instant Joudaar caught fleeting glimpses of various people and scenes.

He saw an young man being mauled by a bear, or was it a wolf? Either way, the young man looked calm and even serene as the vicious beast tore at his innards. An old woman winked into being. Joudaar could not help but think that he had seen her before. Her almond-shaped eyes were filled with a resolute anger as small, horse-like creatures pounced about her like playful kittens. A young girl, scars all across her innocent face, screamed. Her body shook and contorted with power and transparent beings surrounded her. They were of different ages, but they all had the same scars on their faces.

They all seemed to be there, all occupying the same space. All behind opaque glass. Their beings shielded and out of reach. He wondered if they could see him. Do they see a broken, old man surrounded by a flock of fire and talons?

Overwhelmed, exhausted and no longer able to see anything, Joudaar allowed himself a momentary reprieve. He sat, legs crossed with his head in hands. A huge sigh burst forth and all logic and reason began to dissipate from his being.

An impossibly large man calmly stepped out of the shadows. ‘We are here,’ he hefted a large axe onto his shoulder as easily as a lesser man would lift a stick. At his hip was an empty quiver. It was of the most dazzling gold that Joudaar had ever seen. His voice was thunder and honey. Agony and misery openly battled across his scarred face. His hair was more grey than the dark blonde of his beard. A crown of small red roses decorated his head.

From what Joudaar could see, the man was naked save for his weapons and crown. Clothing flitted in and out of existence like smoke in a hurricane. Clothing of different styles and colours, each appearing and vanishing impossibly fast. The after-image of the clothes lingered momentarily. Nauseatingly.

The cawing and hissing of the flaming flock abated. The smallest of all the birds lazily made its way down to Joudaar’s shoulder. His flesh warmed and then began to burn, but he did not care. He could not care.

‘The Heartsblood rose,’ Joudaar felt some joy at recalling the name of the flower and having not emptied his stomach. ‘And you shall mark him by the blood on his brow,’ he quoted a scripture that he had long forgotten. ‘And the Naiyrr in his grasp. And by the life at his hands. And the thunder in his laugh.’ He coughed and became aware of the dull pain in his shoulder. A small bird, made more of fire than feathers winked out of being. ‘My god,’ was all Cahden Joudaar could mutter.

‘One in the same,’ the voice was all thunder and honey. For that is what the Lifefather sounds like.

CW SY 2013

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