Kell woke up slowly. Awareness filtered back to him in pieces. Rough wood under his palms. The warmth of the sun on his skin. The low, tumbling murmur of gathered people. Something weighing hot and heavy against his ribcage. The scent of fresh baking and old sweat mixing on his tongue. He wrinkled his nose and blinked his eyes open.
He was lying on a platform near the middle of town, judging by the smell and the noise. That wasn’t necessarily troubling in and of itself. But the sky …
It was blue, yes, and the sun was midmorning high and bright enough to make his eyes water. But there were stars speckling the sky all above him, little pink pinpricks of light dusting what should have been a solid-blue backdrop. Kell stared at them hard for a long moment, then closed his eyes again.
Weren’t dreams supposed to end when you woke up? What was this, a dream within a dream?
Whatever it was, he didn’t feel up to dealing with it right now.
Apparently the world wasn’t going to give him a choice. Someone nudged at his leg, gently at first but with increasing insistence.
Someone, Kell thought, with perhaps an edge of bubbling hysteria, or something. He giggled a little, biting his lip to keep the sound in. God, what is with me?
Maybe he had heat stroke. It was unusually warm out now for only being March.
What had happened last night? Fuck it. He didn’t remember getting drunk enough to pass out in the middle of the street. He didn’t remember planning on drinking at all.
A throat cleared above him, polite but impatient. Oh, well. Time for him to get up anyway before he got cited for public drunkenness or whatever. Kell made an effort to lift his head, but it was hard, and he was tired, and staying here a little longer couldn’t hurt, right?
Was public drunkenness even a real crime?
“Oh for the love of Skuache …” someone muttered, and then Kell found himself being gripped firmly on either side and hauled upwards. He let out a yelp of surprise, flailing around as strong arms did their best to hold him steady. The world spun as he opened his eyes, and it took a moment to get his feet under him. He staggered a bit, keeping his eyes trained on his feet for balance until he felt he wouldn’t fall over at any moment. Not that his rescuers had any intention of letting him go any time soon, with the way they held onto his arms just this side of too tight.
Shouldn’t have wished for the cops last night if this is where it gets me.
“Really, goddess,” the person continued to mutter. They sounded close. And important in a kind of college professor way. The kind used to lecturing and looking down on failing students. Kell dubbed him Professor Throat Clearer and entertained a brief image of a stuffy man in tweed giving lectures on how to properly interrupt conversation with discreet noises. It sounded like a fun class. Kell would have taken it.
“I have faith in your efforts, I truly do,” Professor Throat Clearer continued, speaking low and to himself. “But I swear, these Chosen get worse every time.”