This is how it ends, with fanfare and applause. A spectacle of light and dance and things that don't quite make sense, never syncing with the noises in his head. The parade float rumbles on, on, on, and he keeps his balance, boots planted wide on hastily-painted gray board. Somewhere out there, his friends are drawing targets on his head.
That's what they're trained to do, isn't it? Hunt down the enemy?
(When did he become the enemy? When did they become the hunters? This is wrong, somehow, backwards, and he doesn't know how to fix it.)
He feels her moving at his back, shifting in her gilded throne. He does not want to turn around, he does not know what he will see.
She says his name, a single word, enough to bring his back ramrod-straight. He tilts his head, and he catches a glimpse of shine. A spell? Or a reflection from a dancer's impossible costume?
There are no bodies to hinder the parade, and he relaxes by millimeters. The road before them continues on, on. Deling's arch stretches a million stories into the sky.
Look at them, she says, and her voice is honey on fire, burning him up from the inside out.
He is looking, it's been drilled into him to memorize every detail. He looks again, though, and sees a monster with horns, a girl with wings, a beast stalking through the crowds with a mane and claws that go click-click-click.
Look at them.
When he looks again, the monsters are gone, the crowd is screaming. The lamplights cast a smear of light on the road in front of them, and for a second it tinges red.
(It's just a dream, his mother whispers, just a dream, it's just us here.)
He bows his golden head, he leans his corpse on a quicksilver blade.
(It is only us, and them.)