Panic washed over Seoc in waves. His mind was racing too fast to form a comprehensible thought. There was, however, a consistent theme to the mental fragments spinning about his head: that of complete and utter terror.
Through the chaos of his thoughts, a strange awareness settled within him, an awareness of a new, vaguely familiar sensation. His mind began to calm, distracted for the moment by the task of identifying the feeling, which was characterized by a delicate, tingling warmth on his skin. But what could be causing it?
The cart came to a halt, and he heard voices.
“Who goes there?”
“I be Marka, sir. I taking de deads a de crey-mat-orium.”
A renewed jolt of alarm ran up Seoc’s spine, and suddenly he could move again. His eyes flew open and he tried to sit up, but he was too weak even to raise himself up an inch. He fell back again, squeezing his eyes shut against the harsh white light that had flooded in. Misshapen, colored spots drifted across the insides of his eyelids.
“Hold! That one’s not dead!”
A chill of relief came over Seoc like a pleasant breeze. The mistake had been recognized. He wouldn’t be taken to the crematorium. He wouldn’t be burned alive.
“But sir,” the slave protested. “He be dead! Sometime, de deads twitch like dat—!”
The guard paid no mind to the protestations. “This one’s alive! Close the gates!”
Abruptly, the voice of the Aechyed slave dropped by half an octave, reverting to a distinct South Brysail accent in the process.
“Mother of bloody fucking Rezyn!”
This surprised Seoc so entirely that he opened his eyes again, just in time to see one of the Aechyed’s knee-high, black leather boots connect with the gate-guard’s metal breastplate. Unless Seoc was very much mistaken, this particular merrow wasn’t female, and wasn’t a slave, either. How odd. Then again, this whole scene was probably just an extravagant fever dream anyway. It had that sleeplike quality wherein nothing quite adds up.
By turning his head slightly, Seoc could see that the gate was ajar. It seemed warped and strangely out of perspective, as if it were underwater.
There was a sudden jolt, and then Seoc found himself rising, lifted out of the corpse-cart by a pair of large, strong hands. Then he experienced a moment of perceived freefall as his disguised rescuer threw him over his shoulder, and the world went dark.