Rewind

The arrow struck him square in the chest, and then, nothing.

Iracos cursed under his breath, or what little of it remained. He should’ve known to take the west split of the alley, but the guards had been too close behind for such a straight path. Of course they’d have sent archers onto the rooftops!

The bag of glittering coins dropped from Iracos’s cloak, spilling onto the rough cobblestones. He could see the moonlight reflected in their polished faces, and he could hear the guards, who were very close now. His dagger, still dripping fresh blood, fell from his limp hand.

As Iracos collapsed behind a rusty drainpipe, the world went dark. After a few moments, Iracos found that he was still conscious, and that he could still move without too much difficulty. He tentatively stood up, stretched, and opened his eyes, after which he almost collapsed again.

The world had literally disappeared around him, and had been replaced by an endless starry void, surrounding him on all sides. Trying to wrap his mind around this, Iracos noticed that the arrow was still protruding from his chest, and the wound was still oozing blood. He thought about pulling it out, but then he timidly checked his pulse. Nothing.

Iracos began to sweat profusely, unsure of what was next. He had never really been devout, and had always laughed at the idea of a heaven or hell. But on the other hand, this looked rather ominous. No sun, no moon, no planets… just a wide expanse of stars.

A whisper of a voice, barely loud enough to hear and far too quiet to understand, sounded behind Iracos. Too dead to be shocked, he turned around to find what looked like a dimly-lit sheet of glass stretching across the void. He couldn’t quite gauge its distance or size, but Iracos figured that it probably didn’t matter much at this point.

Without warning, the glass was suddenly filled with wildly flickering images, which would’ve given Iracos a heart attack were it not for the redundancy. After staring at the whirling colors for a moment, Iracos was certain that he could make out some vaguely-familiar shapes. The glass stopped flickering, and an image of a small cottage filled Iracos’s vision. He recognized it instantly as his childhood home, and his heart sank.

So this is what it’s like to see your life flash before your eyes… he thought, his mind involuntarily digging up childhood memories.

The glass shifted to a view of the house’s interior, and Iracos knew the exact date. Worse yet, he knew what was about to happen… he had never forgotten it. Failing to repress the thought, Iracos helplessly watched the soldiers storm into his house and slay his mother and father. Raw fear clouded his mind, and he remembered everything in horrifying detail: he saw an eight-year old version of himself hiding behind an overturned desk, he heard his father’s pleas for mercy, and he heard his mother’s dying scream.

Thankfully, the vision passed, leaving Iracos drenched with sweat and clutching his heart, gasping for air he no longer needed.

The glass began to flicker through more scenes from his life. First job, first love, first scars… all terribly uninteresting to Iracos now. He watched a younger version of himself take up the almost clichéd life of crime, picking pockets and pulling small heists. He even found time to laugh at some of the more pathetic dolts he'd stolen from, before the memories flashed out of his mind like strands of quicksilver.

Iracos glanced again at the arrow stuck in his chest, and he almost laughed at the sight. It had ceased to hurt, and the blood had stopped flowing.

The visions in the glass began to darken, and for a moment, Iracos thought they might fade away completely. But the images continued to whirl by, and Iracos could now pick out more recent events. He saw himself track down the nobleman who killed his parents, and saw himself break into his home on a dark summer night. Iracos grinned, waiting for the moment he had longed for since he had watched his parents perish. The images on the glass sharpened a bit, and it slowed down as the memory sprang forth from Iracos’s mind. He watched himself sneak past the guards, break down the door to the nobleman’s bedchamber, stride into his bedroom and hold a dagger to his throat. He recalled every word exchanged in that tense moment, and could have retold his speech about revenge from memory (he had spent years planning it, after all). Pure hatred welled up in his mind, and he could scarcely wait to see the light fade from the bastard’s eyes again…

But in the light of the glass, Iracos noticed something for the first time. He saw the nobleman’s face, thin and emaciated, as if the life had already left it long ago. And in the image before him, Iracos watched himself lower the dagger.

This isn’t right, thought Iracos. I slit the dolt’s throat.

The pain from the arrow in his chest returned in a sudden rush, but he was too busy watching the screen to care. His head began to throb painfully as he watched himself steal the man’s money and flee the house, while the poor old fool collapsed in a faint.

He remembered the fresh blood on his hands. He knew he had done it, and he knew that this was wrong. He twitched a few times, unable to reconcile the images with his memories.

Soon the pain in Iracos’s chest returned with a vengeance, even stronger than before. Soon, he couldn’t think straight anymore, and the images in the glass began to flicker. Then the visions of someone else’s past dissolved in a cloud of light, and Iracos felt himself fall away from the screen and into the starry void.


---

Iracos awoke to the sound of a mule-driven cart in the distance. He lifted his face from the cold cobblestones, and hauled himself up off the ground. The crisp moonlight spilled into the narrow alley, reflecting in a few puddles and silhouetting the rooftops around him. For some reason, he could feel a dull pain in his chest. I must’ve tripped or something, Iracos thought.

He pulled out the bag of gold coins, and quickly checked their authenticity by scratching them with his dagger. They seemed real enough, and he put them back in his cloak.

Looking at the clean blade in the moonlight, Iracos began to think that something was amiss. Something in his head didn’t quite match up with the present, but he put it down to the bump he must’ve gotten when he hit the cobblestones. He was just glad that nobody had robbed him of his spoils while he was unconscious.

As Iracos started walking back towards the marketplace, he slid the dagger back into his cloak, hoping that he would never need to draw blood with it.