Consciousness returns gradually.Sounds strike me first: the roar of the water, much softer than in the mountain, almost lyrical. Slowly, my eyes flutter open. I'm staring up at stars, drifting along on my back. Luck or my body's natural defenses? I don't know. I don't care. I'm alive!
The current isn't strong here. I could easily swim to the bank, pull myself to safety, and begin the trip back to Vampire Mountain, which I see in the distance. Except I don't have the strength. I try rolling over to swim - can't. My legs and arms are like dead blocks of wood. I've survived the ride through the mountain, but the cost has been high. I'm completely limp and helpless.
I study the landscape while the stream sweeps me further away from Vampire Mountain. It's rugged and unspectacular, but beautiful after the darkness. Anything would seem beautiful after the darkness. I'll never take the countryside for granted again.
Am I dying? I could be - no feeling, no control, at the mercy of the stream. Maybe I'm dead already and just haven't realized it. No! Not dead. Water splashes up my nose and I splutter: proof I'm still alive. I won't give up, not after all I've been through. I have to find strength to make it to the bank. I can't drift along like this forever: the longer it drags on, the harder it will be.
I try willing energy into my exhausted limbs. I think about dying young and what a waste it would be, but that doesn't give me strength. I think about the vampires and the threat they face from Kurda and the vampaneze, but that doesn't work either. Finally, an old vampire myth succeeds in spreading a burst of fire through my icy bones: I recall the myth that a vampire who dies in running water is doomed to stick around as a ghost - no journey to Paradise for those who die in rivers or streams.
Strangely (as I never believed the myth), the thought spurs me into action. I raise a weak arm and flap feebly for the bank. The action doesn't do much, apart from spin me around a little, but the fact that I'm able to move at all fills me with hope.
Gritting my teeth, I face the bank and force my legs up behind me. They respond sluggishly, but they do respond. I try to swim freestyle - can't. I roll over onto my back, kick weakly with my feet, and guide myself with gentle hand motions. I slowly pull toward the bank. It takes a long time, and I'm swept much further away from Vampire Mountain, but finally I'm in shallow water, out of the current.
I half rise to my knees, then collapse. Lying facedown, I turn my head sideways, splutter, then get back on my knees. I crawl out of the water onto the snowy bank, where I collapse again. My eyes close. I weep silently into the snow.
I want to lie here and freeze: simpler than moving. But my feet are still in the water and I don't like the feel of them drifting behind me, so I pull them out. The effort goads me into further action. Groaning, I brace myself, then rise slowly and painfully to my feet.
Standing, I stare around as if I'm on an alien planet. Everything looks different. Day is breaking, but stars and the moon still shine lightly in the sky. After so long inside the mountain, I'd forgotten what daylight looks like. It's wonderful. I could stand here all day and just stare, except that wouldn't get me anywhere, and soon I'd fall, into the stream or the snow, and freeze.
Sighing, obeying some insistent inner instinct, I drag my feet forward a few steps, pause, shake my head, straighten up, and lurch away from the stream, which froths and hisses angrily behind me - cheated of its victim.