“I appreciate the help, lass. Really, without you, who knows how long I would’ve wandered that bloody field — you said I was wandering in a daze, right? My head’s still fuzzy on what happened.” Mercer scratched his beard and toddled along after the priest who was leading him by the hand.

At least, Mercer thought she was a priest. She looked familiar, and she was dressed as one, besides.

“Do I know you?” Mercer asked. “You look familiar.”

“I should hope so!” she said, suddenly angry. “You came by the shrine enough times. Did you forget my name already?”

“Uh, no, of course I didn’t forget,” said Mercer. “But could you maybe give me a little hint?”

The woman stopped in her tracks and dropped Mercer’s hand. He stumbled forward, unable to control his momentum.

“Hey, I was just attacked by a lot of very angry spirits for something I had nothing to do with — something you people, your people did something with — I’m just saying that a little help from you would be really appreciated right now. I mean, while you’re helping me and all. Still helping. Keep helping.”

Mercer stopped talking after the priest slapped him across the face. It took him a moment to realize what happened, actually, and she hit him again after he stopped. He just stared at her, unsure if she was angry or upset. He thought she was, but he couldn’t tell by looking at her. His face hurt, and he knew it was because she’d hit him, but everything beyond that was shrouded in a thick, heavy fog.

“Ouch,” he said slowly.

The stinging pain was a constant, he furrowed his brow and focused on it. Each moment, he felt, took a very long time to happen, and he felt like he was swimming against a fast-moving river that was pushing him away from what he was supposed to be doing.

“I lost something,” he said, unsure of himself.

She slapped him again. “You were supposed to help us save people! You were supposed to help me save them!” Mercer could feel her words echoing in his ears. They sounded familiar. He could remember a promise he made, and he could remember failing it. It was too late to help them. Too late.

His face hurt. Valare made to slap him again, and he asked her not to. She slapped him again anyway. She shouted at him and called him useless. She called him a liar. He could feel himself slipping back down the stream, being pulled away by the rushing water.

“I have to go back to Chaika,” he said. “They need me.”

Valare spat on him, and cursed his name. “There is nothing you can do. I should have left you to wander in that field. Let the spirits take you.”

Mercer found himself alone again.