The Void closed in on him. At first, the spark was but a tickle in the back of his mind. But it grew exponentially, overwhelming him, as his awareness unfolded into the aether. A voracious inferno shot through his veins, consuming him from the inside. Threatening to erupt, though he struggled to keep it within.
The aether. The hunger. The agony he knew so well from his previous life. It had returned.
And all the things that once kept it in check – the advancements and infusions and injections – there was none of that in this world to fall back on. This was so, so much worse than he could imagine.
Why? Why had he chosen to return? Why had he not just embraced the inevitable in the Tower?
It felt as if his form was buckling under the energy, pieces of him shattering and drifting into the Void. Somewhere within the darkness, a deep laughter resounded. Midgardsormr. He sounded satisfied.
It was too much – even the vast pride of Amon of Allag could be broken. A wretched, agonized cry frothed from his lips as he crumpled to his knees. It rang across the Void, perhaps the most human sound of despair he’d uttered in so very, very long.
Echoing with it came the sound of many voices. Voices in torment and prolonged anguish, their misery mingling with his own. For a split moment, he could see them – specters of his past. Faces of countless victims. Those sacrificed for his ideal of the greater good.
Back then, he didn’t think of them as victims. Now, he knew better.
Amon clutched his head, trying to blot the faces out of his vision. Trying to drown the mournful chorus that cried out for retribution. He couldn’t give it to them. It was so far beyond him, even his death could not balance the scales of his sins.
Then, from the welling of chaos and horror he saw… a light.
A voice. A soft voice. It called his name… and where the sound drew across the surface of the Void, the gristly images of the past rippled and parted like oil on water.
He felt a touch on his shoulder. Then another.
And with a shuddering jolt, he found himself doubled over on the mangled metal platform, the gaping maw of the Keeper of the Lake leering down at him from above. Midgardsormr’s corpse almost seemed to smile.
“Amon!” Koh shook him, concern written on her face. “What happened? Are you hurt?”
“He doesn’t look hurt,” Zuri’s voice came from behind. “But the way he shouted…”
They’d heard his scream. It’d passed from the mind-void into the waking world and drew them to him. And now they hovered over him in worry.
Panic added to the welling of pain, which still shot through his body from moment to moment. They had no idea what had just awakened.
Amon wanted to shrug off their hands, to do anything to drive them away from him. But the flames that seethed within him seemed to calm at their presence. As if they were the only things keeping him together at the moment.
“I’m fine,” the Elezen wheezed.
“There was a bright light,” Mocho noted. “What was that?”
“A trap,” Amon half lied. “I sprung a trap. I was careless.”
“We need to get you back to the house so I can check you over,” Koh said, helping to hoist him to his feet on one side.
He wanted to protest as he stood shakily. He could visibly see the aether energies swimming around him, like sharks waiting for him to put a toe in the water.
But Zuri held fast to his other arm, helping him along. “We’ll take it slow.”
Step by step, they walked him down the planks. The world dipped and blurred, as if he was viewing an image of the world imprinted upon another world, neither of which he could decipher was really there. It was all he could do to keep his balance.
Somewhere, from the corner of his eye he saw it. A tiny winged form flitting among the aether-tinged wreckage. Perhaps… a dragon.
But when Amon turned to look, the vision was gone. Instead, it was replaced with images of the new life he’d attempted to build, now shattering and falling apart between his cursed hands.