You don’t remember much. Though you never do. Remembering is not easy.
The light flickers above your head in erratic sympathy to the Essence pulsing through your chest, leaking out of your fingertips as you jam them into the locking mechanism and pull. The pain is momentary, passing; you take a moment to revel at the wonderment of feeling when Iahzir shifts on your back, coughing a line of dark blood onto your shoulder. It beads and slips down your chest, so red against your pale skin.
Red. Red is an interesting color, the color of life and death, birth and suffering, community and war. This red is the deep crimson-black of hearts-blood. Prana would probably drink it. His grin appears before you, stained with demon ichor. He takes what he can get.
“They can’t know,” Iahzir murmurs, and you aren’t sure to whom he’s talking. Maybe to himself, though that’s silly. You continue fiddling with the door. “It was supposed to be for everyone, Dream, everyone!”
The lock pops open with a hiss of compressed air, blowing the blood in a dark splash across your neck. You feel it congeal as the lights flicker and fade above you; this room is cold against your skin. You activate a light and heft Iahzir into the room, laying him on a table. His wound is still bleeding deep red. His chest heaves. You are not a doctor – that was always her specialty. If you close your eyes, you can see Serenity bending over her patients, lovingly caressing them with the pins and scalpels and grafts of her panoply.
You can hear the screams of her patients, too. Now those: Those are easy to remember.
Metal and clay are transient, easier to fix than flesh. You watch as Iahzir’s chest heaves up and down, the blood flowing in gleams of color and wetness. “Dream,” he says, his voice thick with clots, “this wasn’t your fault.”
Of course it wasn’t. You know that. Why does he feel the need to reassure you?
He moves, groans, and sits up, supported by your arm, breathing heavy. “Maker forgive me, but I thought I could do it better. They were getting out of hand, using the world like their plaything – All of them, irrevocably tainted with some sort of madness. Like I am, Dream. I’m no different.” He laughs, looking down at his chest and the weeping claw marks there. “Foolish, making a city out of a demon. Demons never forget. I should have known.”
Iahzir stumbles to his feet, places his hands against the wall until they glow with red-gold light. It throws strange shadows on the wall, and his hands leave red marks wherever they touch, streaking the wall as the panels slide aside. “They’ve all gone away now, back to that city of lies. But you, Dream, you will be safe here, far away from that place. You must survive. You must, for my sake. You are the only one left now.”
It’s true. Shifting Prana of Enlightenment was first, torn to pieces quicker than he could shift between his myriad of forms; Puissant Khesar next, his speeches and proclamations no match for the honeyed words of his enemies. After him was Swiftly Shattering Arrow and Eyeless Iron Tiger, both trying to save the other and losing everything in the process. Finally Serenity in Silence was caught in her own chirgury, hands wet with oil and ichor and nothing able to stop her from plunging the scalpel into her own gleaming starmetal neck. You are all that remains of the Assembly now, and soon you will be gone, too.
Things are hazy now. There is a chair, huge and hissing that beckons you forward while Iahzir mutters to himself. Madness awaits you there, and also freedom, from this time before time and into a lesser world. But lesser worlds mean lesser evils.
Iahzar pulls the veil down over your face. You watch as the last life leaks out of his wounds and onto the floor. You will not be awake much longer. Embrace it.