Self-awareness slowly returned. Something had brought him back to life. Something had awakened him after…how long?
It was difficult to think. His brain was foggy. His vision was equally clouded. The world was either filled with silence, or he had lost his sense of hearing.
All he knew for certain was that he’d finally awakened after thousands of years of sleep. He couldn’t explain how he knew it had been that long. It was as if the gods had placed that information inside his head.
When Minbar had given him the draught, a feeling of lassitude had slowly oozed through him. It had coated his abused muscles, taking away the pain and allowing him to breathe again. It also made him drowsy. He’d never suspected that he’d been cursed, condemned to live throughout eternity in stone.
His body twitched in pain as fire spread through nerves kept too long dormant, from staying in this one position the entire time. Muscles spasmed, and he grunted as agony washed over him.
Slowly, ponderously, Garenth pulled himself through the softened layers of disturbed silt. His brain vaguely realized the significance of his actions. Like his body, it had spent eons asleep. Coming fully awake would take time, as well.
A faint thought brightened. A questioning. A wondering seeking reasoning.
Why had he awakened? What had brought him back to life, such as it was in this new form?
He lifted his clawed hands to his face, and immediately he knew why. His hands were empty. The vial that had given him freedom from pain as it condemned him to be this.
Hours passed. Making his way to the surface was exhausting. Despite the loose dirt, a lot of it still covered him. With his wings a-spread, plowing through it to the surface was not going to be easy. His thoughts remained half-muddy as he pulled the huge appendages in against his body. Grit left a thin layer between the wings and his back, but the irritation helped to center him.
He dug his talons into the loam to try and tunnel an escape route. The sandy grains easily gave way, but there was too much of it. White anger flared in his chest. Giving a muffled roar of frustration, he flexed his muscles as it tried to stand. Dirt flew everywhere as his head and wings suddenly broke free. And for the first time in many millennium, he breathed air.
The world had changed. Differences wafted on the wind—some pleasant, some not so pleasant. After another long moment, the newly revived figure extradited himself from the pit. Overhead the moon was a barely discernable sliver of white. The new moon would come back in another couple of nights. The new moon was the perfect time to begin his search. In the meantime, he had to adjust to this unfamiliar world and unfamiliar time.
He looked over the organized disarray surrounding him. Someone had been digging. Several someones, he determined. They had been searching, which had disturbed his resting place. More so, someone had found the talisman, setting off the chain of events that had resulted in him being pulled from his eternal sleep.
He raised his enormous wings, and with a heavy, downward thrust, he lifted into the air. He continued to head upward until he was far enough above the earth to catch the air currents. The wind was colder up there, but he reveled in the sensation because it meant he was alive again. Brought back among the living for a purpose. For a reason. For a cause.
For the talisman.
There was no reason to search for the artifact amid the excavation. He knew it had been taken from its resting place. From his grasp. From him. His cursed purpose now was to find the talisman and make sure it was in a safe place, in safe hands. And if it wasn’t, to find a new home for it and him to rest since their old home was no longer suitable.
Cities passed below him. Maps of light he didn’t recognize. Areas that had been piles of sand during his lifetime had given way to humanity.
The creature frowned. So much time had passed. Too much had changed. It might make his search more difficult. Yet the artifact called to him, beckoned to him like the lonely wail of a night bird. He was winging westward, over the vast ocean, and it was a true beacon. That which he sought had crossed the wide, rolling waves, and lay in the distance.
It would take him a journey of thousands of miles to find it. Once he did, he would have to decide where to hide it again. Only then could he go back to sleep for another thousand or more years. Back to sleep...and blissful oblivion.
So he wouldn’t have to remember.
Garenth gritted his teeth. They ground together, stone on stone, and echoed loudly in his head. His mouth was full of grit, and no amount of spitting could rid him of it. He needed water. He needed to drink. He needed something in his belly. After all these years, his body was returning to normal, regardless of the long sleep, and in spite of his new form.
He followed the night, his enormous wings beating tirelessly for hours on end. At some point he knew his lack of humanity would kick him where it would hurt the worst, but there was nothing he could do to prepare him for that moment. It was as if the curse had strengthened his new body to feel nothing except what was contained inside. Inside his heart and his mind, especially. His body resembled nothing of the man he’d been. But his emotions...that was the hell he had to live with for the rest of eternity.
Sunlight began to trickle over him. The day was dawning faster than he could fly. No matter. Day or night, it wouldn’t affect how he looked or lived. It wasn’t as if he was some were-beast doomed to a half-life of animalistic behavior in the darkness, yet retaining a semblance of his real self once dawn broke. No, not in this case. He had been placed under a solid curse by a priestess well-versed in the darkest arts by one of the most feared of all gods, and there was no way of breaking it.
The waves rolled a few hundred feet below him as he kept due west, heading into territory more surreal than the time period he’d awakened in. Every now and then he would glimpse a vessel in the distance. Enclosed boats, most of them. Much larger than any ship or boat he had been on when he had lived.
Lived. A feeble grunt of humor escaped him. He had lived. Once. He had been human. Once. What would he call himself now?
He wasn’t tiring. He doubted if he would ever feel tired again. If he would feel the soreness of over-worked muscles when he finally landed. It was possible that part of humanity was no longer allowed to be experienced by him. He had lost so much when he’d been cursed. So much sensation. So much feeling and depth of emotion. So much.
So much. He shook his head, aware that his heart remained shrouded in sorrow at the memory. Memory was all he had left of the man who had been Garenth bin Al-Emin. Memory of what it was like to do, or to see, or to feel.
Yes, the air surrounding him was cold. If he was human, he would have shivered. Yes, the air was thin, but a real man would have been gasping for every breath.
Real men didn’t have skin of stone. Or enormous wings like thin sheets of nearly transparent alabaster. Or hands and feet bearing huge talons. Or a face that would terrify even the most depraved soul.
Real men could breathe, and dream, and love. Every heartbeat meant another step closer to death. Every breath was one less that would be drawn in his lifetime. Death at this point would be a redemption, but it was an event he believed he would never be granted. Not anymore.
The curse was final and absolute. Eternity was his foe and his master. And closing his eyes only brought back scenes from the past that ate at his gut.
Keeping to his course, the creature who had once been a man wondered what he would find when he arrived at his destination.