Chapter 1 Awakenings
Fire and Water
I awoke with a start. Even as the memory faded, the terror and despair of my vision lingered, haunting my waking life. My body ached. My arms and torso were lacerated and bleeding, physical evidence of the night’s dream. My fingers were bloody, bits of flesh still hanging from my fingernails. Some of the wounds were deeper, laced with bits of rock. I had rolled around and clawed at my skin in a vain attempt to put out the illusory flames. A long shallow cut adorned my chest bisecting my torso. Bruised and torn, I cursed. Was it not enough that my nights were tormented by my sins but that my days must be filled with agony as well?
As if in answer to my unvoiced question, the ground behind me exploded. My attention shifted to my surroundings. Looking around, I felt new fear. When I woke I had thought that my dreams had felt so very real, but now my senses showed that they had indeed gained substance. All round me the world was aflame. Beneath me the ground was hot and smouldering. Wisps of smoke rose from the blackened land, rising to merge with the dark miasma above. Smoke and ash filled the air, creating a false night. Around me I saw the impossible. Glowing rivers traced paths through the land, devouring the ever-widening shore. Turning around, a vast lake came into view. Viscous and luminescent, it was unlike any I had seen before. In the centre of this strange lake sat a fountain of gold, rising high into the sky before darkening, stained by the soot, and falling back into the lake. Where the fluid from the lake splashed, new rock was formed amidst a torrent of smoke and steam. Had the sun descended, burning away the water and giving birth to a new land? The thought filled me with awe. I was honoured to be witness, to watch as the gods repeated the miracle that began the world.
I soon began to doubt that I was experiencing an honour, but instead another elaborate punishment sent by the gods. The clouded air began to burn my lungs. Breathing had become difficult. I was forced to choose between suffocation above, or searing my hands and knees below. I dropped down to my knees and began to crawl away from the lake. Urging me forward, the lake began to spill over and snaked towards me. As I crawled I realized that I had not been amidst a plain like I had thought, rather I had woken atop a shallow hill. I rushed forward until I found myself blocked in by the fiery ooze. The rivers I had seen atop the hill had joined and cut off my escape. The heat emanating from the streams quashed any idea of wading through. I had no choice but to try and leap across the narrowest portion. I took a deep breath and rose. I backed up and then dashed forward as far as I could before jumping. At the apex of my leap I felt air rushing upward, lifting me. I would have been grateful for this assistance had it not seared my skin. A million needles of hot air stabbed at my exposed skin. Making it across, I breathed a sigh of relief, or I tried to. Beyond the molten barrier, the air was no clearer than within. I dropped back to my knees and crawled even farther.
The farther I crawled the cooler the ground and the clearer the air became. When I had placed a fair distance between myself and the molten water I saw clearly for the first time. I found that I was on an island. The island itself was small, befitting its newborn status, perhaps several hundred paces across. As such, exploring the island did not take long. The colour blue enveloped the island both above, in the sky, and below, in the sea. I had awoken in the centre of the island. This appeared to be the source of the smoke, ash, and glowing fluid. The molten rivers flowed down one side of the hill down straight to the sea where they spawned vast columns of steam. Opposite to this the sea was calm and the sky was clear. Standing upon the shore I could see for many leagues. It was on this shore that I spotted another land. Stretching across the horizon a thin line of brown rose out of the water. Now I had a real dilemma. How was I to cross the ocean? The island was barren with scorched earth being the dominant landscape and I couldn’t swim.
Trying to swim across was the most difficult task I had ever encountered. It took me a long time to even float. I don’t think that my body was designed to be submerged. Even then I found that the current would not drag me into the ocean. The ocean was quite perilous. In stark contrast to the island, the ocean was dreadfully cold. As I swam towards the land on the horizon a cool breeze blew me back toward the island. I felt as if I had entered the gods’ battlefield. On one hand the sun had birthed a new land and had given it an eternal flame to protect itself. On the other hand the ocean and the sea conspired to quench this flame, to smother it with the icy waters, to blow it out with the chill breeze. Nevertheless, I fought these obstacles as best I could. With each stroke I saw the opposite shore get closer, but even as it got closer I grew more fatigued. The cold was seeping into my skin and penetrating into my muscles. Water invaded every pore, every orifice. Soon, not only had swimming become a trial, but breathing as well. Before long, I had stopped trying, allowing the current to guide me whichever way. As my consciousness began to fade, I wished upon the wind that I would find myself ashore the continent and not back on the island.