Full moons meant monsters crawled out of the depths. None of us could hear them. Or maybe the others could, but the rain and burned offerings from the priests muddled the senses. Only my markings let me see what was going on. The spawn were out there alright, fighting Rangers. Ducky’d joined them. Hardwood and Obsidian and all the others trial takers were playing their parts, except me. There I plodded along with the wagons.
What bothered me the most was not pulling my weight. Yet I also knew that if I left these wagons, there’d be no one else but the mourners.
Chills arched up my arm from the hand with blackened fingertips. They were covered by the gloves, dbut I suspected they swirled with the bubble-like mixture that occasionally reflected other colors. The sensations intensified as I lifted my hand to point toward the large cat. My hand could sense the stronger monsters, like the Wildlings. I still didn’t entirely understand how the marking worked.
Poss blubbered away at her deceased friend. I stood there, unsure how to be more than a quiet support. I worked to ignore the flashbacks of my own trip and focused on the battles. They may not be getting close, but watching would help me learn.
For all my watching, I’d seen plenty but little that applied to my own markings. Ash’s weapons were something I’d be able to copy if given the right inks. Figuring out how to trigger the rainbow drop while holding a staff would help me get range. I wondered if the random effect would carry over to bullets.
Testing that during our few days of downtime would have been a better idea. I’d been using solely the blade in one hand and letting it light up with at least six different effects, each a separate color.
An explosive strength like Ducky’s might be useful. Unending brutality like Neb’s ax might work as well. The girl with her blue frost had potential. The gang member male ran around and acted as a lure, which were not a stratagem I liked for myself. They each had different marks from my own. Each choice of marking would bring me to closer to another race.
Thorns formed green briar patches upon the ground. They glowed brightly then surged across the landscape, seeking monsters and pinning them down. Hardwood shot them shortly after. She used two guns.
I couldn’t tell what Obsidian did. He stood like a silent watcher, all blacks and dark. His body would change locations around the battlefield like a blink dog’s, then one hand would touch a monster. Entire swaths of active ink, or whatever lay inside the creatures, shriveled up and perished.
Ducky staggered back up the hill toward us. He shook with each step. Blood trickled down his face from a scalp wound. Most of the Rangers were spread out farther away. They had been fighting for while I walked leisurely along.
“Mute?” His head bobbed and arm throbbed with colors that pulsed like blood.
I’d been getting better at cycling through different filters on my sight. Not good enough to use them all at once, but using the two marks to allow me darkness sight and that ink wiring were perfect.
“Why do you call him that?” Poss asked. She had moved at some point to get closer. I hadn’t realized she’d changed position. Her head hung limply over the wagon’s side.
“Go. I’ll watch here,” he said.
I shook my head. The fingers on my hand tingled more than ever.
“Seriously? We’re all working out there. I listened to Hardwood because fighting the monsters keeps them safe.” Ducky shook his head. “Never mind. It’s just like at the mines. You get all the easy assignments and someone will stick up for you again.”
Ducky tore others down based on what made him look good. In his mind, I’d been given the best slots and got to bring back barrels. Never mind that I worked my ass off and hadn’t skimmed like Ducky.
I sniffed. The rain had been pouring, making everything that much worse. My eyesight were a mess, and without these markings, I would have been blind and lost.
The giant cat charged in our direction with an ear-pounding yowl. Obsidian’s shadow body turned, and vines chasing a lesser monster, from Hardwood’s outstretched hand, shifted toward the fleeing cat. The beast breezed past two humans, Rangers of a sort, and straight for our cart. In three bounds, it had cleared the distance. I searched for any other Ranger who might intercept it, but they were too far behind.
“Ducky!” my voice broke with a shout.
Poss gave a confused mumble. The war horse carrying her carriage neighed loudly and dropped a fresh steaming road apple. I pushed Ducky to the side with one hand and leveled Daddy’s gun with the other.
“What—” The rest of his words were lost under the crack of all six barrels firing in succession.
My face drenched in an instant sweat. The bullets glowed with alternating colors that stretched long lines behind them. Two missed and drove off into the sky. One hit a tree. The other three hit the leaping cat.
Its path veered to the side. Spider web spots spread across its black skin. The horse of nightmare neighed and reared. Poss screamed as her carriage jerked. I fumbled for more bullets while Ducky swore.
The cat crawled out from behind the bush where it’d landed. Large black eyes swam with darkness so thick it outweighed a moonless night. They were deep enough to swallow a man’s soul. My mouth hung open as fear made my legs wobble.
It roared. Ducky’s continued rolling to the side, but I couldn’t tear my gaze away from those huge eyes.
“Look away!” someone shouted. Their words registered but shook.
My hand holding the gun burned. The other felt chilled. A dozen frightened moments rolled across me, summoned forth by the cat. I remembered seeing my daddy dead and on a carriage two people had brought to our doorstep. His body limp and parts missing. Momma cried.
I signed up for a shift at Wellbrook Mines. The first time I went in, snake-like monsters crawled out of one of the walls. I’d stared in confusion before one of the Jeffs showed up to save me. That night, I cried in bed, terrified of being so close to death.
The next day, I’d gone back up. Momma had cried all the louder as I told her we had no other way to make money.
Her howling sobs filled my eyes as the moment vanished. Moments later, the great bear that had chased me down in the deep mines flashed forth.
Even crippling fear hadn’t been enough to stop my steady loading of bullets. The great cat blinked, the spell broke, and my arm rose, holding a freshly loaded gun. Its hammer cracked six more times. Each bullet streaked with a different color for a split second, then slammed into the cat’s head.
I stepped over to the broken cat and shook with memories of those fearsome moments. I were no longer a little boy. I’d become a man. I’d stared death in the eye and survived.
The gun got reloaded, and I once again fired into the creature’s face. It’d already been dead after my latest attack, and the third round of bullets served as overkill. Its face became mush.
“Mute?” someone said.
I didn’t register who, but I turned and pointed the empty gun. Ducky put up both hands and shied away. His cowardice confirmed, I turned to take in the surroundings.
The creature might have been a warped cougar or some other mountain cat. Ink had made it become a dozen times larger than any simple house pet. Its hind legs were a mess of colors. Red markings lingered, leaving behind charred fur. Steam rose off a crackling part laced with smelly green rot.
I lowered the gun and tucked it away. My fingers jerked with growing urgency and I pulled off the glove. My rainbow drop marking had grown bigger than before and wove an array of colors up my hands.
Now I knew that any weapon in my hand could be infused by seemingly random types of ink. Blades were rimmed with energy. Bullets came out with deadly extra effects. I could find my own ground against any ink creature, like the other Rangers had theirs.
Footsteps came from multiple sources. I tightened up and got ready to fight other beasts. Ducky sat at the edge of my sight, subdued with a creased forehead. Obsidian and Hardwood entered from slightly different directions. She had a finger pressed to her chest where that damn rose tattoo had been inked. She tapped it twice then sniffed the air.
“Finally,” Obsidian said then snorted. He coughed and wiped his mouth with a long sleeve. “Been chasing that bugger for six months. The longer lived ones are tough, been feasting on the younger ones. Though you made a mess of it. We’ll be lucky to get the heart out.”
Heart Seeker. The word echoed in my mind. I could hear Ducky’s father speaking with a mixture of reverence and disgust. Wildlings knew of the marking and spoke of it in such a way that no common tattoo could compare.
Why? I asked myself.
“Well, I weakened it,” Ducky said. “And all the others.”
I nodded slowly. They had been fighting the monster for a long time before it broke through. There were signs of other damage on the creature’s back and rear which hadn’t come from my bullets.
“Runt.” Hardwood’s sudden intrusion made my head sway. “What’s the recoil on that marking?”
My confusion must have been obvious. The world blurred as lights from a nearby torch brightened. One of the robed clerics stood a few yards away, head bowed until his eyes were covered. The fire brightened, and I thought my control over one of the Eyes of a Man might be slipping.
“The price. Every marking has a price. What’s yours? The way I see it, eighteen shots should be a heavy one. You won’t be much use…” Her words became distant.
Tin rang in an ear. I couldn’t breathe. My chest felt tight, and wiggling under my skin made a rib pop. Throat muscles constricted, and my tongue felt too large to swallow past. Dark tendrils crisscrossed my vision. The wormy crawling feeling came with a chill. I lifted my Rainbow-drop-covered hand to glare at it. The last few times, there’d been an answer from that marking, a balancing of hot and cold.
Only the cold remained, and as I fought for air, the world finished transforming to pure black. I thought I screamed. Maybe I kept screaming. Both ears popped, but the sound of metal ringing continued to drown out everything else.
Everything ached. My toes strained to move but shot pain up one leg as the muscles tightened. My toes were solid blocks. Someone pressed against my scalp. The pressure on my head hurt.
It got me, I thought, remembering the mangled bear.
Something twisted inside me. Then I felt nothing.
I felt my body on a solid plain before fully registering anything else. Moving sent pain lancing up every limb. I twisted to one side and pushed back, still processing the sights in this space.
There were smooth marble floors. Two desks sat by a door. The window to my left had glass over it and no signs of a latch. Light streamed into the room through the window, creating a colorful square upon the ground. White walls took on a multicolored hue.
I squinted and worked to shut out my vision. Lances of other colors obscured laced through my sight as a result of the markings on my back. A string of purple wiggled through, and when I looked at it, I felt uncomfortably aroused.
A slow series of footsteps came in the room. I pushed back to a wall and sat. Green pierced through my eyesight, and I remembered two facts: when I was a boy, I’d wanted a puppy for years, and I could smell the tea leaves Momma used to drink each morning.
Ink feeds off mental images and physical actions. Focus. They’re afterimages. None of them are real.
I had to believe those bolts of color were tied to overusing the rainbow drop. That splattering from the heart of The Mountain hitting my hand shouldn’t have formed a stable marking. The cat’s eyes had somehow filled me with horror-inducing images.
All those bullets had used up one marking, which had somehow let the others run rampant. The hot and cold might be balanced. Their inverted colors might be balanced. I’d have to figure it out.
“Chase?” a man asked. His voice were too loud.
The footsteps of two people behind the man were also annoying. I blinked and took a short breath that shuddered on the way out. I pushed aside the thoughts of my markings and focused on the people arriving. Ducky stood nervously in the back while Neb and the girl who’d used ice were up front.
“You’re tough,” Neb said.
I glared at him and ignored the overalls and dumb grin.
“Son of a bitch,” the woman responded. “Thought for sure you’d overloaded. I’ve seen good girls go that way.” Her head shook. “It ain’t pretty.”
The woman, whose name still escaped me, walked out of the room while rubbing her head. I took a steadying breath then pushed myself up to a more proper position. Both legs ached and protested at being stretched.
Ducky’s eyebrow rose. “Had to see it myself. Your mark’s like mine—wild, doesn’t fit one color. And I’ve come close to overloading, where you just sailed right on by the limit.”
I hadn’t intended to.
Ducky shook his head, patted Neb on the arm, then walked out the door.
Neb’s smile were tired and worn. He sniffed and wiped his nose with a forearm. “Storm’s gone. We made it up the hill. The other Rangers will be in here soon. They’re talking about you. Mister Obsidian says you did good defending the line. Mister Ash don’t like you though. Like my aunt. Thinks people loafing around while she works can’t be trusted.”
I tapped my forearm and winced. Neb wouldn’t know what the gesture meant, so I made up for it by asking, “How long was I out?”
“Uhhh. You slept through the night and most of the day. The full moon’s tonight, and the Rangers—that’s Miss Hardwood, Mister Ash, and Mister Wan—say all Rangers will have to be at the summit. Even us. But maybe not you.”
“Where’s the green guy?”
“He didn’t make it,” Neb said while casting his eyes to the ground. The perpetual smile transformed into a large dopey frown.
Neb left as well. The three had popped in to see if I lived then exited just as quickly. I would have been offended, but we didn’t really know each other. Seven days of running hadn’t left time to socialize. We were physically pushed to our limits and often too tired for talk, except for Neb. He must have used that bull-like power of his again. It turned him from a blabbermouth to a quiet star-gazer.
I struggled to stand. It took a few minutes before my feet were steady enough. Memories from years ago stuck me, and it felt strange to see how everything in the temple had shrunk.
My clothes were a mess. The bed they’d left me on barely amounted to wooden slats. There were no signs of ink on it or me. I was pleased there hadn’t been any contamination from that powerful monster.
Going into the mines without a single tattoo meant being bundled under layers of cloth and thick gloves. Ranger Hardwood had held the monster bear’s heart without flinching. Either having markings helped, or they’d built up immunities. Tawny and Obsidian had said something along those lines, that no Ranger dared in their first six months.
Or maybe Rangers are another type of being, I thought.
The idea scared me. If Rangers were other beings, then they’d have to risk the change Tattooist Cassandra had spoken of. A crossroads.
I shuffled toward the sound of voices. There were a few rooms around the corner, a small privy that were in use, and a kitchen that couldn’t have cooked more than a few meals at a time. Ranger Ash stood in next doorway over, picking at his nails with a grim look.
“You, young Mister Craig, are the spitting image of your father,” he said while shaking a knife blade at me.
My eyebrow lifted. I didn’t believe our short time together could give Ranger Ash that impression. Daddy had been hard working and away from home for days. He’d worked at the mines.
Or that’s what I’d believed.
Ranger Ash stared at me. I didn’t rise to his bait and continued down the hallway in search of another door or exit.
“You did nothing with the regulars. Then had to show off when the big one broke through. Like you knew that it’d be needed.” Ash frowned at me then glanced at my hands. “Because Hardwood just had to bring you to hunt that bear. Do you even understand what’s been done?”
I shook my head. It weren’t that I didn’t know what’d happened, but the whys were escaping me.
“You wouldn’t have over drafted like that if you’d come out to fight the weaker ones. We could have cleared them faster then killed the big bad as a group.”
You told me to stay with Poss, I thought.
His words were logical, sure, but annoying. I couldn’t say why for sure, but I didn’t care what Ash had to say anymore. It might have been being called Hound by all those clerics. They clearly knew what Cassandra had titled me. But I felt as if there’d be a future for me, even if I never became a proper Ranger. I didn’t know if this potential other path might earn me the same money Rangers got for their hunting. It might tie me to The Mountain even more than being inked a dozen times over with battle markings.
Then there were the idea that my daddy had almost been a Hound. Would it be good to succeed where he hadn’t? To follow in the footsteps of my granddaddy? I didn’t know.
I stopped and rubbed my eyes with one hand. My stomach felt twisted into knots and the room kept tilting. Questions went through my mind and came out in pieces that made no sense.
One task at a time. Just like working the mines. The returning of bodies to The Mountain on a full moon took precedence over worrying about my future. I’d been one of the grieving who ventured up, and on that note Ash had been right. We needed to show this situation the respect it deserved. It had meant the world to me as a boy. It had left wounds that would never heal.
By God, I’d make sure I didn’t ruin other people’s last moments with their loved ones by brooding.
Ash mus thave said his peace because he turned away. His footsteps padded softly down the hall. I listened until he shut a door somewhere else in the building, then I started moving again. Louder voices came from around another bend.
I planned on finding an unoccupied washroom or outdoor spigot and cleaning up. Up here there should be a few. They’d pump water from a reservoir or used a mixture of blue and green to gather and purify rainwater.
My steps dragged. The hallway spun, and I flashed to the last time I’d ventured here. All at once, I felt young and lost. The people around me a mixture of strangers and distant neighbors. A dozen souls who escorted empty shells of loved ones.
“Chase!” someone shouted.
I turned to look at another doorway. My eyes still blurred together illusions cast by the ink’s over usage. There stood a cleric, dressed in a multicolored robe. The light behind him were overcast, but at the same time showed daylight. My vision distorted briefly, showing the same image from a shorter height. I remembered being a younger man in this very hall.
One of my hands went up to block the wavering backdrop of light.
“It’s the sickness. Come on. We must prepare.” The man’s words rang like thunder and threatened to call down fire if I didn’t act quickly.
“Kenneth?” I asked the familiar voice.
“Come on!” his voice echoed. “We got to get you washed up and ready for a baptism!”
What? My feet moved before it fully registered he had the same tone Cassandra had used on me. The rainbow colors might have been a clue, since the tattooist had the same swirls and had been equally beguiling.
“Not a moment to waste.”
Two sets of arms came up on either side of me. They lifted me as easily as one might pick up a baby.
“I am a lowly servant of The Mountain. And servants need no names.” He shook a finger at me and walked forward.
I struggled to remember everything I’d ever heard about the clerics on The Mountain. The people below rarely spoke of their ventures up here. Even I’d stayed button-lipped about my own trip.
The two carried me into another room. The air there was heavy and thick. After the first breath, I felt dizzy. By the third, I felt heavy. After that, hardly anything mattered. They undressed me, washed my face, and redressed me in garbs that weren’t my daddy’s.
Absently, I plucked at the threading of the new robe. They’d put work into the coloring. The way it spiraled outward acted as a continuation of my rainbow drop marking. One side continued the spiral of red, blue, and greens outward from my sleeve.
It seemed wrong, but I couldn’t figure out why. The other side started black and bubbled out. They reminded me of the markings on either hand. I wondered if the Eyes of a Man were somehow represented on the back.
When I turned to look over my shoulder, a hand gently pushed me back. I couldn’t fight it and found myself breathing in the thick air. They continued to move my limbs about, inspecting something. My eyelids fluttered as I tried to understand. None of it made sense. I thought I saw Opal working on my leg, but that might have been a fever dream brought about by the over usage of my ink or whatever they’d put in the air.
“I’m sorry,” I said to her.
The woman who might have been Opal smiled. It were sad and twisted her eyes into tight, nearly vanishing ovals. “I’m sorry,” she said.
That made no sense. I shook my head to explain. The words didn’t come. I lifted an arm to push her out of the way and worked to get to the door, but someone simply held me in place until the idea faded.
Eventually they finished with me and I flew like a bird toward the exit, only I had no wings. It were a wrong thought. There were two bodies on either side and they carried me. We went down the hall, around a corner out the door, and two lights became blindingly apparent.
The Mountain’s core had bubbled to the surface. Funny how such a deep hole in the ground looked like a simple lake during the full moon. The ink swirled, bubbling with blacks and every color imaginable. While our proceeding continued, I searched for the elusive silver.
Above the pool of risen ink sat the full moon. It were larger here, at the top, than I’d ever seen before. It called me to gaze upon its surface. It pulled with unblemished purity. I groaned with the need for sweet release from all life’s worries.
On the small platform for mourners to lower their dead stood a man wearing a multicolored robe. He faced a large crowd and waved as if gesturing to all life’s creatures.
My head felt heavy. There’d been something in the fog, a heavy scent reminding me of flowers, that burned the insides of my nostrils. I shook my head to clear the sensation but couldn’t get the muddy feeling to leave. It confounded everything.
“Rangers, take the outside circle and stand against the night. See us through the darkness as is your duty!” the man on the platform roared.
I moved to go to my spot, but the two men on either side of me held me back.
“Clerics, assume the inside. Watch over The Mountain’s heart and keep it safe from those who would do it harm. Bear witness to these souls here to do right by their loved ones.” He gestured to either side.
I felt a bit more level-headed, but not much. The world swam, and his words hung for longer than they should have. As each cleric got into position, they started a low hum that echoed softly across the lake of ink.
“And you.” The man wearing a rainbow-colored robe pointed in my direction. “You stand here.”
The two people picked me up and carried me into position. They pushed me down until I knelt by his side, on the small outcropping that looked across the pool of rolling ink. I turned my head, but the man ignored me. I squinted to see his face, but the wrapping around his eyes, like every other cleric’s, prevented his features from being clear.
What does this mean? What’s going on? Am I a Ranger?
“Let the first be brought to the edge,” the cleric next to me boomed.
The clerics still hummed, and the note picked up and gained a bobbing rhythm that made me sway. I wanted to stop but couldn’t find the strength.
I’m not hard enough, I thought. I failed to help them fight the horde of monsters. Ducky would make a better Ranger.
It were strange how I’d started having second thoughts. The process worried me, but this had been what I’d fought for. Being a Ranger was the first step toward freedom. I couldn’t let doubt shake me now.
“And ever be mindful that your loved one’s soul has risen up! For that belongs to the Lord for judgment.” His hand shook in the air. The book in his other hand waved back and forth, but I couldn’t think clearly enough to place it.
The clerics hummed as their leader continued. They used the same notes from our pilgrimage along the path. It sounded like a choir group warming up for a big song and dance. Their bodies might be enhanced by ink because my body vibrated with the sound.
“And his body shall go down. For there is no waste in God’s plan and we must all return to our roots!”
I blinked repeatedly and attempted to activate the eye that let me see ink markings. The pool glowed, but nothing else stood out. It were as if my abilities were muted.
“Let the next be brought to the ledge,” the man who might be Kenneth said. I felt certain that under that mask, the padre from church would be found.
I just wanted to be a Ranger, I thought. What was happening to me couldn’t possibly be part of the trials. It made no sense. Why would they put me in a robe, drug me, and make me sit with my knees folded under me in front of the pool of ink?
The clerics hummed while their leader continued to call out the names of the dead being sent down. Poss stepped up, carrying a dead Feline under a fancy linen. She stepped onto the dock. I watched her. She had a shiny, wet face. The colors of the ink were bright enough to reflect off her tears. She set her friend, or housemaid, or lover, into a body basket then slowly lowered it into the false water. A familiar female Feline went back to The Mountain.
“And her body shall go down!” the head cleric shouted. His words rang in my ears.
The Feline vanished entirely as Poss tugged the platform rope. Her face twisted then collapsed into a sobbing wreck. She backed away as another body were called forth.
They continued through a dozen names. Each person took a handful of minutes with their loved ones. The man or woman escorting the dead whispered, cried, or screamed in outrage. But in the end, all who had passed had their bodies returned to The Mountain.
I swayed and struggled to understand. Those people weren’t simply from Chandler’s Field. They came from farther than Bell Town. Each one went back to the temple. There they’d wait until the Rangers cleared The Mountain of monsters.
“And now, tonight marks a new beginning. A hound has been named!” he said, spouting fire with every word.
The Rangers and clerics were silent. I squinted and tilted my head up.
“As is our duty, we will maintain our vigil as he is tested,” Kenneth roared while pointing at the swirling lake which had swallowed a dozen bodies.
Something felt wrong. I heard the words Kenneth said, but they weren’t fully registering. I shook my head and attempted to blow away the fog once more.
Pressure on my back made me groan. My body tipped forward, right into the lake. Energy shot through me. Panic, coupled with the feeling of bathing in a warm bathtub, fought in a battle to lull me to sleep but somehow keep me alive. I slipped under, then came up sputtering for air and flailing for the lake’s edge. I’d never swum in anything so deep.
“I’m not dead!” I shouted.
“You ain’t yet lived either, boy!” their leader said. His voice sounded softer.
I lost the will to move for only a moment as his words sank in. Once again, I slipped under the water and fought my way back to the surface. My mouth tasted everything. Sour, sweet, like oil and cow shit, then cool fresh water from a stream.
The Rangers stood and stared. They made no move to help. My head dipped under again, but I saw Ducky and Neb, still as statues. I spun in the ink, searching for the nearest shore.
Under again I went, and once I’d fought my way back up, I’d somehow made it to a ledge. I pulled myself up a little bit. The robe they’d put me in was heavy with ink and my body shook.
Hardwood stared down her nose at me. She snorted. Her husband, Tawny, stood nearby, shaking his head sadly. He drew himself up and stood as tall as he could.
He’d warned me.
The pool of ink dropped from beneath me. My body felt weaker than ever, and the side of the inkwell threatened to crumble under my unsupported weight. I hung on and stared over the edge. One arm fumbled to find more purchase.
My heart hammered. Blood rushed in both ears. The clerics’ singing sounded like madness and I couldn’t breathe right. The wall burned my toes and sank through the robe. I could feel my chest crawling with emotions spawned from Rainbow ink.
Letting go could mean death. I clawed on the side, ignoring the ink stains that would surely leave me a wrecked husk. No amount of twisting would be worse than what were about to happen.
Finally, I saw one friendly face in the crowd of silent judges.
I couldn’t tell if I wanted her to help or run away from these madmen. It didn’t matter. My fingers lost their strength and down I went.
Jenn reached the edge. Her top half leaned over the ledge after me. I saw people holding her from leaping in after me.
“Chase!” she shouted.
I stared at her soft ears and wondered without focus. Ink wormed its way into those thoughts, flashing a dozen images of our life together. Those were pushed to one side as realization of my current situation settled in.
“Jenn!” I yelled while falling.
My body twisted and spun end over end. The pool of bright colors swirled beneath me. I swore upon the grave of every angel in God’s army that the Delvers were singing a single tunnel away.
“Way down he’ll go…” they sang. Those words merged with the hymn above. “To join his daddy below, low, low, low, low.”
My head hit the side of The Mountain’s heart. Colors brightened and flared to life, blinding me.
The Delvers’ song continued on a final line, “Till all he knows is woe.”
Then I felt nothing.