The first thing Sorey was aware of was pain--blinding white and terrible. It sizzled through his veins like lightening and paralyzed him with the heavy pressure of fear. There was not a part of him that did not scream in terror, trapped in the agony of dying. Sorey had not a single care as to what was going on, only that it should stop and leave him in peace. Not a thought existed beyond the confines of experience and not a hope persisted more than a wish for release.
"Hold on," a voice called, muffled and strange, distant and unwelcomed all the same.
Sorey felt something thick pause over his lips and tasted the cloyingly sweet flavor of grape as the substance forced its way down his throat at the behest of strange fingers clawing at his jaw. The taste made him gag almost as certainly as the viscus goo that flooded his mouth to the point of choking him. He swallowed to breathe, coughing endlessly, chest screaming in pain. And then it didn't hurt so much anymore. It didn't feel like death or dying. Sorey took several deep breaths then allowed the hands to feed him again, surrendering to them as they gently poured more gel down his raw throat.
"That's it," the voice said again, no longer distant but still echoing despite the person being right there. His hands supported Sorey's head and softly attended to his pain, meaningless caresses lightly stroking across his face in an attempt to comfort. "There's no rush," he promised. "Sleep and heal. I've got you now."
Sorey opened his eyes but found they focused on nothing. Giving in, he fell achingly back into sleep's numb arms.
The next time he was conscious enough to feel, Sorey only noticed the softness of a bed and the cool rustle of a fragrant breeze. His eyes opened to spy the revolving blades of a fan overhead while music played in the distance and pain was but a memory. Overall, his senses felt dull with a haze surrounding everything. Light blurred and sounds mottled. He took his time, trying to remember what had occurred, trying to piece together what events had brought him here. He could think of nothing, though. There were no memories outside the moment he'd embraced his long sleep, nothing which called out to him as an excuse for an end to his slumber. The closest thing he had was a sense of revulsion with no clear source. His heart felt heavy with a panic in his pulse but there was nothing left to explain just why.
The room itself was small but strange with a desk covered in an assortment of... things... which looked like nothing Sorey had ever seen before. They were shiny like metal with decals of colors, some of which looked illuminated from within. He wanted very much to sit up and inspect the strange objects closer, but found only his head obeyed. His arms, his chest, his legs, not a one of them answered his call for motion. A new form of panic bloomed behind his ribs just as the room's sole door slowly opened, admitting a man backing into the room with a tray balanced in his hands.
Sorey didn't know him. His hair was black and he wore thick rimmed glasses, a jade teardrop earring hanging from one ear. He looked a little older than Sorey though his youthfulness existed only in his smile. He looked pleased to see Sorey awake and set the tray down on the bedside table.
"You certainly do like your sleep," he joked, his voice only familiar in so much as Sorey knew he had heard it before--the stranger who had tended to his pain in the blindness of his morning.
The man came to his side, hand pressing tenderly to his forehead as he seemed to check for fever under the sway of his sweaty bangs.
"Much improved," he announced, sounding genuinely relieved before squatting down to cradle Sorey's head as he held him up for the offering of a drink. "We'll have you good as new in no time," he promised as he pressed the edge of the glass to Sorey's lips without wording his intentions.
Not that it mattered. Sorey was wont to drown himself in the offered water with all the greed of his immense thirst. The man would not let him drink too fast, however, pulling back to force him to take a moment to breathe before supplying the cool reprise Sorey's throat and stomach begged for. It felt so good to fill himself. It refreshed him to his core. Sorey felt the rivers of water pouring out the corners of his lips due to his uncoordinated efforts but only rejoiced in the cool sensation as it continued its trail down his neck.
The man took the glass away and set is aside, carefully setting Sorey's head back down into the soft cloud of his pillow. Sorey almost felt drunk, his head spinning with satisfaction. That was water. His stomach grumbled with the demand now for food.
The stranger chuckled as he smoothed the blankets over Sorey's motionless form. "In a minute. Let's give your stomach a chance to suss out the water first. You don't want to overdue it and end up throwing up after all."
Sorey licked his lips, managing a weak nod. He had no choice but to trust the strange man. Circumstances had given him no other option but to sleep. "I--" his voice crackled with disuse, pain raking down his throat where the water had once soothed it.
"Shh," the stranger warned. "No need for that. Let your voice rest too, for now. Just leave the talking to me and focus instead on getting well. You've been through hell and you're lucky to be alive."
It was hard to feel lucky when the only thing he knew for certain was that he wasn't where he was supposed to be. Sorey certainly didn't remember this room in Artorius' Throne. Getting well seemed secondary to so many other concerns he had.
The stranger sat at his bedside, his smile almost as bright as the sunlight that obscured his eyes from behind his lenses. "My name is Joseph Medraut. I'm a student at Pendrago University," he explained. It answered at least one question anyway. "This is my home in Gwenhwyfar which I don't expect existed in your time. It sits in the foothills of the Aroundight mountains just outside Ladylake's city limits. Camlann's not far at all to the north. Still, I'm amazed that I found you. And alive."
Sorey wasn't sure if he should be amazed as well or not. It seemed to him in a blink, so much of the world had changed.
Joseph continued smiling at him, grabbing from the tray he'd brought in a small bowl of soggy oats and a spoon. "Of course, I know who you are. You're Shepherd Sorey. I think I've read just about every story ever written about you. I had a couple acquaintances that went on to be Squires who just about worshiped you as a god. They'd go mental if they could see me now, feeding humanity's venerated hero while he recovers in my bed." With that, he pressed a spoonful of bland oats to Sorey's lips which he obliged with a further grumble from his gut.
It turned out Joseph was quite the talker. He carefully fed Sorey both sustenance and information, painting the new world in a vibrancy of words that left a myriad of things to the former Shepherd's imagination. Things like radios and telephones, vehicles than ran without animals and the recess of nature in the spread of humanity. It all sounded like a dream but rather drove home the passage of time. Almost a thousand years, Joseph had told him. The nine hundred and sixty-third celebration of the Shepherd's Path was an annual event scheduled for two months out.
"And you don't look a day over seven hundred," Joseph joked, scraping the last bite from the bowl onto the spoon. "Human bodies aren't really designed to just stay still for great lengths of time and not fall prey to the ravages of entropy, though. I shouldn't promise you'll have the ability to move again but I think, despite the circumstances, you'll be alright given time. I mean, humans aren't supposed to live to be almost a thousand years old either. If anyone could recover from this, it'd be you. So let's not push too hard but let's certainly give things a good try. And if things don't improve, we'll consider moving you to an actual hospital. I just really don't think you want to deal with that level of celebrity right now which is why I've taken you in instead."
Sorey nodded in agreement then accepted one final bite of the honestly disgusting meal. It was still worlds better than the overpowering flavors of the grape gel from before. He just had forgotten that food could taste like laundry sometimes. Mikleo's certainly never did.
Mikleo. And Lailah. Edna and Zavied. His friends. His friends would be out there somewhere, living in this strange world as they had before with every other era that passed. He wondered if they all looked the same still. Did Zavied start wearing a shirt? Had Edna grown any taller? Was Lailah still working as a Prime Lord? And Mikleo...
"You're lucky I was out for a walk. Never in a million years did I think I'd stumble upon Camlann. I mean, isn't that place supposed to be sealed off? Protected and all that? I mean, you read about how they took great care to ensure your sleep wouldn't be disturbed. And now here you are. I mean, you'd be dead if I hadn't found you. The hell happened to you? Do you know?"
Sorey shook his head, dismissing pleasant thoughts for further concerns. The roads the Camlann were open? In the short time in which they'd spoken about their plan, the seraphim had all agreed it best to renew the seal and keep everyone out so long as Maotelus needed to purify. What had once been Zenrus' burden fell to them to ensure and renew. It wasn't like them at all to let such an important thing slide. If not just because they cared for him, they valued the fate of the world as well. How long had the roads been open? Since when had he been left vulnerable to curiosity and attack?
It was too much to verbalize and his savior was not likely to know the answers either way. It was hard to tell if another human had resonance without something there to be proven able to see. But Sorey could not feel Maotelus's blessing. There was every reason to worry and to hurry back to Artorius' Throne.
Joseph sighed loudly, stacking empty dishes along his tray as he packed up to carry it back out. "I guess I should let you rest now. If you want, though, I seem to remember reading you were quite a fan of books. I recently bought a few old copies of some ancient texts in Ladylake. Since you can't really hold one or flip the pages, I could read to you from them for a while if it'll help you relax."
It was one of the kinder things anyone had ever offered to do for him--which was perhaps a bit of an odd reflection on his priorities given the man had saved his life. It made Sorey flush slightly, though, with memories of his guardian reading aloud to him and Mikleo made fresh with the embarrassment of age. Trapped in his own body and doing his best not to think about the multitude of things he was currently unable to pursue, a story to drive his thoughts to distraction seemed like a most welcome gift. He nodded slowly, curious as to what sorts of texts they'd be. Ancient to Joseph could possibly be contemporary for himself. Either way, the content would be sure to soothe rather than pull at the inquisitive strings of his mind.
Joseph smiled and hurried out with the finished tray, returning shortly with a small stack of books of which the pages had almost all decayed to yellow. All but one, at least, and its wellkempt status went beyond the page color to the careful reconstruction of the book's leather spine and reinforcements on the book's outward corners. There were notes peaking out of it and hand written scribbles peaking out along spare sheets of paper trapped within. It was a book Sorey could almost recognize by smell, a tome he knew cover to cover; the most important book he'd ever held in his hands. The Celestial Record sat topmost in Joseph's stack.
It wasn't just any copy of the Celestial Record, though--it was his copy. The stains on page tops from where he'd accidentally spilled his supper, the handmade tabs to mark out his favorite tales. It had obviously undergone repairs since he'd last held it in his hands but Sorey knew those smudges along the leather cover intimately. That was definitely his copy, the one he'd given to Mikleo for safe keeping. The one his Mikleo would never ever let out of his sight. Yet there it was, in the hands of a stranger, sitting atop a small pile of lesser books.
If he hadn't known it before, he knew it for certain now. The seal to Camlann broken, his book in another's hands; something was most definitely wrong and it extended far greater than to only what had happened to himself. Something had happened to Mikleo. There was nothing more horrifying than that.