I had all the symptoms. Not only the constant darkness, but I fell back inside myself. The world retreated. Sometimes I’d have to ask Ash to repeat something three or four times, his voice all tinny and remote. Like he spoke through water. I didn’t taste food. I didn’t feel the famous ocean wind at all, it became a kind of series of whispers I couldn’t quite make out. I lay awake trying to puzzle out what they were. The names of all the men I’d commanded to their deaths. My dead husband’s name, endearments, promises I had not kept. Reminders of every time I’d gotten it all wrong.
Because I couldn’t sleep at night, I nodded off constantly during the day. Sometimes Ash would make me get up and walk about the encampment. I leaned on his arm. I told him it was so my army of the dead would see that I was only sick. I would not lead them to despair.
But truth was, it felt like I was always falling. That’s what I would think, sitting out there on the cliff in the hours just before the sickly light of dawn. You bastards, I would say to the waves and all the fish beneath them. Truth is I couldn’t fall far enough. Stripped to the bone, all awareness gone, I’d still bear responsibility. My husband wouldn’t live. The crewmen of the broken, burning hulls of ships would not climb back up out of Thaeron’s atmosphere. They didn’t get an exit. Why should I? Who did I think I was?
Still, I would lean forward. Mesmerized, I watched the waves churn, imagined my body crashing there, on those rocks, or there, on that sandy spit, or there, among those waves. Would I hit the cliffs on the way down? Or would I make it out far enough to just plunge below the surface? Would I scream? In my mind the whole thing happened without any sound at all, just a smooth and silent plummeting, elegant like the divers in the Academy gymnasium. Then slip, and I would go. Forever.
Suriel came to visit me, of course. Sometimes he was his familiar golden self. Other times he was dark, matte black, devoid of light, polluted by swirling, corrupting clouds of nightwind – or was it blackbrain? – or worse? Those were the times when I would not speak to him.
“You must/go down,” he said one night, when he was his usual shining self. “They/will/have been coming soon.”