Walter blinked and stared down at the broad, silver blade as it drove clean through him. The attack had been expected, it was only a matter of time before Mordrinacht severed the lifeline of his chief opponent, Bjorn, and that meant cutting through Walter himself. What had not been expected was the lethality of the blow, the bitter pulsing hatred of the beast for all that Walter was, or the sheer intensity of the pain as the sword clove through his abdomen. So great was the agony that Walter didn’t even feel the chief Silverhide’s jaws closing over his shoulder or the blade cutting across his chest once again. By the time Mordrinacht lifted the man over his head, the pain was gone, replaced by a brutal chill and Walter’s mind began working again.
He knew he was dead. The cold meant his lifeblood had left him. The fact that he was about to be thrown off the edge of the tower to fall a thousand feet to the ground was irrelevant. What mattered was what could be done about it. The answer was, of course, nothing; and that terrified Walter Barnabas Derleth more than absolutely anything.
Death wasn’t the problem. Walter would be happy to die, after the experiences he’d had. The trick was dying at the right time. That time was not now. Life was immaterial compared to the eternal ever after. His soul was still in jeopardy.
His mind was still racing as he began to fall. The voice was screaming in his head, but Walter forced it down and back, to the top of his spine. He didn’t do this consciously; that had always been impossible, but the spasms of his psyche as his brain began randomly shutting down forced him to play witness to the tragedy of his life.
He saw the dilapidated, run down house of his childhood. He played again in the cold dark waters that flooded the basement, watching the ripples of light his splashes cast on the walls. Now those ripples made him recoil mentally in a way the water’s chill never had.
He examined again the angles and architecture of the buildings around him. He ducked again into one of those corners and cloaked himself in darkness while the strangers walked from the waves.
He saw an object of strangely whorled silver. He ran the stolen crown through his fingers and cast a glance back, considering the long miles he had fled.
He delighted again in the happy times of the University. He trained again as an adept, mathematician, and scholar. The Professor’s face swimming strongly through his vision, though it no longer gave him comfort as the twists in his mind gave Lorrimor the body of a hairless cat.
He saw a book on the bottom shelf of a darkly shadowed corner. His mind instinctively jerked back, away from the tome, from the whispers that echoed through him. His remorse was incredible. If only he could take that book from here. If only he had read it more thoroughly. He couldn’t, it was too late.
He journeyed again to Absalom. The island loomed large as they gave it wide berth.
He saw again in sequence the crypts and temples and labyrinths he had explored. He wandered the streets of the city by night, following and pursued by a small dark shape. A shape that clung to his flesh even as Walter fell.
And then he fell again and the terror became pure. It consumed him entirely and he felt it shred through his very soul as deep black waters enveloped him. That was when his mind shut down, refusing to go further. The world shuddered and twisted, jerking sideways even as he plummeted. There was a tremendous crack from somewhere far off.
When he came to, Jenkin was staring him in the face. Walter felt a flood of absolute relief. Somehow, he was still alive. The creature must have opened a door as they fell, twisted the planes into the proper alignment, reversed the effects of gravity by shunting them through probably through the ethereal and then reemerging into the material world. The only question was why. Why would a beast drenched in Walter’s darkest dreads save him?
So consumed was he by the question, Elk Runner’s words barely resounded in his ears. Walter’s legs had shattered and were useless. His other wounds had been healed enough to halt his end before the soul had wholly left the body, but the damage to his limbs was beyond any of their abilities. It was decided to conduct the ritual to contact Desna herself and see what she could do. Perhaps, her favor could be earned and she would see fit to aid Walter with both his problems.
It did not matter, Walter realized as he twisted space and drifted into the air, his useless appendages dangling like the limp tentacles of an octopus lifted from the water. He had another chance. He could still seek salvation!