The city of Farwall stood on the horizon, completely dominating the barren landscape. As a child, I had been told many things about the land beyond the wall. It was supposedly cursed and crawling with bandits. The few people who could survive in the wasteland were roving mad or empty shells of people. The stories had been true, except for the bandits. Not enough people dared to step foot in the wasteland for bandits to be able to make a living.
It was a truly godless world, though. The sun was merciless and there wasn't a single drop of moisture in the air. Despite the heat of the sun, the sky was a dull gray color all the time, as if it were perpetually overcast even though no rain ever fell. But that didn't matter to me; gods have no thirst. It felt weird thinking of myself as a god, and I never quite got used to it. I didn't feel any different despite my lack of hunger, thirst, and fatigue.
I had made a vow never to return to Farwall, but that didn't matter either. It had simply been an empty promise I had made to myself in the heat of the moment. It was also weird to know that I wasn't going to die after all, and after I had accepted it so graciously as well. It seemed like such a waste. At least I had gotten a chance to feel what dying was like before stepping into the everlasting abyss of immortality.
When night fell, my humanity returned. I nearly collapsed from the intensity of my hunger and thirst, by I forced myself to keep going. If I continued on through the night, I would reach Farwall by morning. That's what I would have liked to have done, but combined with my hunger and thirst, the effort of walking on the shifting sand was too much. Within just a few minutes, I had collapsed, and within another few minutes I had fallen asleep.
When the sun rose again, my strength had returned and I felt well rested. I made sure that the few things I had on me—a knife, and empty gun, and a crumpled letter from my sister—were all in order before setting off again. By the time the sun had reached its zenith, I had arrived at the towering wall that surrounded Farwall. Before entering, I cut off my hair so that it stood up awkwardly rather than falling down around my ears and smeared a handful of dirt onto my face so that I wouldn't be recognized as easily. I was a criminal in this city, after all.
Once I was finished, I entered the city of Farwall, the one green oasis amongst the desolate wastelands. Farwall only existed because of the massive aquifer that it had been built on top of. The water of the city was drawn from a government-maintained well and every house was given a weekly water ration. People bathed in public bathhouses every other day and the crops were watered every other day as well. The only reason the system worked was because Farwall was a relatively small city. The closest thing they had to a military was the Empress's royal guards, which had probably been disbanded or repurposed since I left.
I made my way down Main Street and into the housing district. My feet fell into a familiar rhythm as I approached my mother's apartment. I knew that visiting her was probably the most foolish thing I could do, but I wanted her to know that I was still alive; that she didn't have to grieve. I knocked on the door twice and waited.
A few seconds later, she answered. Her hair was tied up in a loose bun and her face was covered in streaks of flour. The smell of cherry pie filled the small apartment and it made me feel comfortably warm inside. She was holding a tin cup full of tea which she immediately dropped when she saw me. I thought she would embrace me or at least be happy to know that her only son wasn't rotting away in the wasteland, but I was wrong. She looked fearful; like she didn't want me to be there.
"What are you doing here?" she hissed, taking a step back.
"I just wanted to see you one last time, mother," I said, not understanding why she wasn't happy. "Aren't you glad that I'm here?"
"Of course I am," she said, sighing heavily. "But the things they've been saying…I just…I just don't know what to think."
"Lies," I said, suddenly angry. "They're all lies. You don't actually believe them, do you?"
"No…I…of course I don't," she said. I narrowed my eyes and she turned away, unable to meet them. "But you still shouldn't be here. What if they find out?"
"It'll just be for one night. After that, I'll leave you alone for good, okay?" After some though she reluctantly nodded.
"All right. But just for one night."
"Thank you, mother," I said gratefully.
When I woke up it was still dark outside. The air was heavy and sultry, and outside, crickets sung their lonely songs. I wasn't quite sure what had awoken me, but I shrugged it off and tried to get some more sleep. My eyes were closed for merely a second before a loud crash sounded from somewhere in the apartment. I jumped out of bed and threw on my old clothes—the ones with the large bloodstain on the front, and grabbed my knife and the candle on the table next to my bed.
I rushed into the living room expecting the worst. In the glow cast by the candle, I could see my mother being held by a guard holding a sword to her throat. Her face was pale in the dim light and sweat ran down her face in glistening trickles. I took a step forward, brandishing my knife and trying my best to look at least somewhat threatening.
As soon as I moved, two more guards grabbed my arms and the knife and candle clattered noisily to the floor. The flame of the candle was extinguished, but a fourth guard lit a small oil lamp. The fourth guard was holding my empty gun.
"So, the traitor was hiding here after all," said the guard with my gun, snickering. "And look, he has an illegal firearm too. We'll probably get promotions for this, boys!"
"Illegal?" I growled. "Since when?"
"Since you shot the Empress, you upstart little brat!" the guard holding my right wrist growled aggressively.
"Liar!" I shrieked, yanking my wrist free of his grasp. I took a swing at his throat, but he dodged out of the way before kicking me in the groin. I fell to my knees, gasping in pain.
"You'll pay for that little outburst, maggot!" the guard growled. "Emerich, slit the bitch's throat then deal with the traitor. Be sure to make them suffer.
"No!" I shouted. My voice seemed to be coming from far away. I felt a strange warmth building inside me. It wasn't unlike the intense heat that I had felt when Skah had touched my forehead, but this was different. Then, as the guard holding my mother pulled back his sword, readying to drive it through her abdomen, something changed in the room. There were two blinding pulses of light followed by a deafening explosion. The guards were knocked off their feet, their bodies slamming against the wall violently. They didn't even get a chance to scream.
The entire building shook with the force of the explosion. Chunks of wood rained down on me from overhead. When it was over, I found that my body was shaking uncontrollably. The room had been reduced to charred piles of rubble and one of the walls had collapsed. Suddenly, I felt horribly dizzy. The room spun sickeningly before I collapsed.