I arrive, whistling a tune. I am clean, something that most of the Destiners aren't. In fact, my side of the people -- the rebels -- have bathed to show their disapproval of King Torr. It is the day of revolution, the day that is bound to change our way of life.
The square is adorned with startlingly bright banners, cheering on the protest. Already the king's men are tearing down the posters, shredding them with their claws.
"Jeran!" Rencia is dashing toward me, looking very much the same from the day we met, except for a few more alterations on her face and the shininess of her skin - the skin that will soon become hide.
"I know. It is time for the strike. Take this." Rencia hands me a picket with a flimsy piece of cardboard attached to it. As I observe the others' signs, I realize mine is the biggest, most colorful one.
"You are the face of the rebellion, Jeran. That is why you are the most noticeable," she says, supplying me with an answer.
"I-I suppose," I breath, lifting it into the air.
She beams. "Good."
For at least an hour, we march, though after a while, the guards scatter, heading toward the direction of the castle, where King Torr resides. An elderly Destiner whispers to me in a shaky voice that our plan is working.
There is no break for us, just marching. We go through town, traveling several miles, telling our opposition to the people. Some look at us in disgust. Some stare at us with blank, hopeless eyes. Some smile, cheer, and even join. Our notion is slowly, but undoubtedly, being pulled off.
Then out of nowhere, something fires. It is loud, crackly and sounds like my worst fear. Screams and shouts fill the air, some of approval, some of fear. As I turn, I come face to face with a guard, shakily pointing a weapon at me. He gasps and tries to keep his hands steady, tail involuntarily lashing out.
The weapon is shiny and black, seemingly crafted of . . . metal? Realization pours over my body as I finally know what King Torr's intentions are. He took the metal for death. He took it to protect himself, to make an impenetrable shield of violence and hate, things that would protect him while others toiled. It interests me, but scares me at the same time.
This weapon is ancient knowledge. As I observe it more, I see there is a hole at the end, and something is . . .
The guard is ready to shoot. How can I be such a fool, thinking that the weapon isn't going to hurt me?
I jump out of the way just in time, and all of a sudden, the coldness between our two groups, rebel and supporter, break out. Everyone fights and clashes, and those who don't are trampled underfoot. Hides are broken, great rivers of blood streaming out. I want to cry, which would be considered unworthy, but I can't. My tears are blocked by an unknown force, and I start to wonder whether the Ascendance is finally taking its toll on me.
"Run, Jeran!" Someone's cries are lost in the waves of battle, but I know it's Rencia's. She is caught between them, sandwiched, about to be crushed by the pressure. But then her spasms come again, and a roar rips through the crowd.
An enormous light swallows her up and I know she is going through the final step of the Ascendance. I can hear the thud of her knees against the ground, the shrieks of the Destiners backing away from the terrifyingly awesome sight. I fear that without the true leader of the rebellion -- Rencia -- it will fail.
Shots ring in the air. Guards shout and start to chase after me -- me, who seems like the spark of this controversy. Amidst all the chaos, I spin around and run the opposite direction. My legs burn and scream as they pound the ground, but they don't stop.
I try to turn and look back, but whoever calls my name is lost in the sea of frightened Destiners.
"Jeran!" the person calls again. "Jeran!" It sounds vaguely familiar, creaky and shaky, but confident. I know that voice, I think suddenly.
"Forenzo!" I yell at the top of my lungs. "Where are you?"
"Up here lad!" I stare ahead of me, eyes up, all the while never ceasing my jog. The guards are close, and they know sooner or later they'll achieve their goal.
Forenzo, the old monk at the monastery, is standing on a balcony wavering five feet above me. His whole body is shaking and his wrinkled hand beckons me up. "Come, Jeran! I need to tell you something!"
I open my mouth to speak -- how can I get up? -- but Forenzo answers my question by tossing down a frayed piece of rope almost too short to climb onto. It's coming closer, and closer, and closer . . . At the right moment, I grab on and swing away like Dora the Explorer, one of those old human cartoons always broadcasting on the television. Roars of outrage emit behind me, and as I look back, I notice Ultor is in the crowd of guards, pointing a very unattractive finger at my head.
I manage to steady my feet on the edge of the balcony, almost tipping back due to the balance. My fingers intertwine with the rope, though I'm about to slip down into the mob of guards again. They stand under, swearing and cursing, showing dirty hand signals at me. One particular Destiner uses his weapon and aims at my head. Ultor has obviously told him to shoot me there.
His scaly right arm cocks out a bit as he pulls the trigger, set in a precise angle. Forenzo grunts and heaves me up just in time before I fall. Fortunately, the bullet -- or whatever comes out of the hole -- misses and cracks the wall, bits of white plaster raining down onto the heads of the warriors.
Forenzo hustles inside and I follow him. As soon as I step in, I see that it's the temple where he often prays to the Time and Space. In the back of my brain, I suddenly realize that there is no second floor in the temple.
"Forenzo . . ."
"There isn't a second floor here."