Bethes sighed as he breathed in the steam from the bowl in front of him. Every time he said it would be the last time, but then it happened again.
Bethes could feel the steam do its work as it spread through his airways, and then seeped into his bloodstream. The scent of the leaves were what brought people to stick their head over a bowl of Ulog leaves, the kick they got through the oil was what brought them back.
Bethes picked up the stick by the side of the bowl and gave it a stir. He could just about see the oil floating on top the water. His vision was starting to go, a sign that the oil was doing the trick. Soon he would be suspended, between this world and the future world –
Bethes found himself standing on a rock, surrounded by the sea.
The waves crashed around him, swirling white foam chopped at the bottom of his feet. He felt the wind batter his skin, slicing away whatever warmth his body produced.
Alone, in the middle of the sea.
This bit wasn’t new. He had seen it before, many times before. But he had never had enough of the Ulog leaves to stay here for more than a few seconds.
He wanted to see what happened next.
The rocky outcrop spread out in front of him for a few meters. He noticed the pools of water lying between the sharp edges of the rock, inside of which strange creatures scuttled in the dim moonlight.
Out of nowhere, the wind died. Ulog stumbled as he was bracing himself against nothing now, with no wind pushing him forwards. He slipped, catching his hand on the rocky outcrop. The skin split and blood began to dribble down his fingers.
Bethes ignored it. He was waiting for Cacetra to emerge from the depths. The monster that was summoned by the Verg, the storm at the end of the world. Cacetra would be the destroyer, the hammer to the Verg’s swing, that would destroy all known life.
If, of course, Bethes couldn’t find a way to kill it first.
The water stilled around him, but the sky stayed a heavy grey. It was unnatural, as unnatural as this dream state the Ulog leaves had put him in.
A clawed limb burst from the water, slamming down onto the rocky outcrop. Talons as long as Bethes’ arm flexed as another limb burst forth, clutching at the rock for support. From here, Bethes could see the huge wings of Cacetra lift out of the water. It reminded Bethes of the wings of a bat, but these wings were strung together with seaweed and living crustaceans instead of skin.
“I suppose,” a voice growled from below the lip of the rocky outcrop, “you are here to see me?”
Cacetra pulled herself out of the water. A huge, long face that looked almost reptilian rose from the leeside of the rocky outcrop. Seaweed laced in between the bones of dead wales and other animals that had sunk to the depths, some hang down between Cacetra’s jaws like the jowls of a snarling dog.
“Yes,” Bethes replied. He was surprised he could even speak a word. His whole body was shaking with fear.
Cacetra chuckled, pulling her hulking body out of the ocean, rising above Bethes by almost four stories. And yet, even from that distance, Bethes could still make out the enormous ruby eyes that glared down at him from above.
“And what would you have me do, Bethes of the Nvetr?” Cacetra said, lowing her head towards Bethes and opening her jaws wide, “would you deny me my birthright? The Verg is coming, and your species shall perish along with the rest of life. It is time for a new balance to be struck between the living and the natural forced.”
“You were defeated before,” Bethes said, staring up at Cacetra, “and you will be again.”
“Oh, you foolish human,” Cacetra said, bringing her head down to Bethes’ level, “did you not think that I just let them win?”
Bethes didn’t have a chance to react as Cacetra opened her jaws and lunged towards him, closing her teeth around-
Bethes drew back from the bowl, breathing heavily. He grabbed the wooden disc on his lap, the symbol of the Beforgath, clutching it tightly in his hand.
“It was not real,” Bethes said to himself. He forced his breathing to slow, watching the steam drift upwards from the Ulog leaves. It was the future, an aspect of a future that could happen. It wasn’t real.
It was then that Bethes noticed the throbbing in his hand. He unfurled his fingers to reveal blood smeared all over the inside of his palm and over his wooden disc. The injury from the dream.
“Not real,” Bethes repeated, closing his fist again.
But he could not ignore the throbbing pain, nor the thought that he might be wrong.
That it was real.
And that Cacetra could not be defeated.
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