He awoke to cold dampness. He wondered if perhaps he had drooled on his pillow while he slept. Eyes still closed, he slid his head to the side a bit, but did not feel the silk texture, nor any dry spot for that matter. His eyes opened reluctantly, heavily, to find his vision mostly blocked by mud and leaves. He was on the ground of a forest, his face planted firmly in the wet ground and his limbs sprawled haphazardly in the roots and dead leaves that covered the forest floor. Why was he here, he wondered. Only a moment or so before he was sitting before a fire, the voice of his sister whispering stories of dragons and knights in his ear. Or was he at the Fist, laughing and dining with the other trainees? His thoughts were hazy and indistinct, running into each other and melding oddly into dreamy concoctions of his mind. It took him a few moments to sort out the processes of his mind and focus his thoughts enough to remember. What had happened? Why did he feel so alone? What was this sinking feeling in the center of his chest, this…overwhelming sadness? At first the memories were vague, hazy and indistinct. Then he remembered, the sensations and memories coming back in a flood; his father was dead, his brothers dead, and, after last night, Serys, his men, his friends…They were all gone.
He moaned in pain as he tried to push up from the ground with burning sore arms. His arms shook and his armor creaked in protest as he put all of his energy into extricating himself from the mud, his sword clattering against his hip loudly, the sound seeming to bounce around the inside of his skull, banging, amplified. He hoisted himself up onto his knees awkwardly and twisted his torso enough to set himself down at the spongy, mossy base of the closest tree. He rested his sore back against the mossy trunk, and let his arms go limp at his sides. He knocked the back of his head against the scaly trunk. Then again and again and again until the skin at the back of his head went numb, and he felt a warm liquid on the nape of his neck. He could not cry out, wail, scream as he so badly wanted to. He would not. He would not stain their memories by getting himself killed wailing for them like a babe. So many were already lost. He stopped hitting his head against the trunk and chastised himself for acting like a child, his head now throbbing even more violently from his emotional stupidity.
He eventually came to the realization that he had no idea where he was, although in his current state, that fact did not really register too terribly much emotionally. He began looking about, searching for an indicator of where he was on the island, although he had little hope for anything. He had lived in the central islands of Talias all of his life. The Durstan islands, including this one he currently sat upon, were utterly foreign to him. Hell, he thought, was it not for the him-sized indent in the mud that he had found himself in when he woke, he would not even know what direction he came from. Above him, massive trees seemed to go on endlessly into the sky, which was so obstructed from clear view by a thick canopy of broad leaves and reaching branches that he could not tell what time of day it was, if it even was day anymore. The branches of the trees intertwined and weaved to the point where no one, save the trees themselves, could tell where one tree ended and the next began. At his level, the trunks were massive, equivalent to six men thick at the smallest, covered in moss and fungus that varied in color from sea green to a blinding orange that seemed to glow in the shadows. The one he was resting against had a blood-red color, which he dearly hoped was the true color of the moss and not the true color of his insides spilling out from a wound. He was so tired, but, he thought, he was alive, and he would prefer to stay that way for at least a little longer. He calmed his mind, and closed his eyes.
Pentos Mairi had taught him this. He blocked that thought from his mind with some effort, the memory of the stick-thin old man stubbornly swimming through his head until he forced it out. His mind was empty but for the sound of his own breathing. He focused on his breath, then on his own heartbeat, the rhythm of blood pulsing through his body. He turned his mind inward, to the rhythms and sensations of his inner organs.
His heartbeat was as strong as ever, if a bit fast. His muscle tissues were overly fatigued and his sternum was aching from hard breathing, which he had known already, but he felt what could be a sprain in his right ankle. His right hip was badly bruised, and the bone had chipped a little bit from a blow he had received during the battle. It would impede his walking for a while, but might heal by itself if he held the leg straight for a few days, even after running on it as much as he had. That would prove to be a difficult task, he thought, considering how far into enemy territory he was. Besides those injuries, he only had a few cuts on his left calf from a close call with the business end of a mace, and a few cuts on his face from running through low tree branches. Then of course, there was the self –inflicted bruise and cut on the back of his head now, but that had not caused any damage beyond the purely cosmetic, fortunately.
He took a deep breath, then turned his senses outward, ignoring his own body now, and experiencing the outer world. He heard the rustle of leaves in the upper canopy from a thin breeze, and the faint chirping of birds that must be far above him. So it was day, he thought absently. He searched for a cricket in the forest’s orchestra, and sure enough there was one. The chirps were quick and faint, but he could tell from the speed of them that it was nearing twilight. The chirps stopped abruptly, and he heard a faint hiss and a crunch. A tarantula. Closer to him there was a skittering sound, probably from one of the closer trees from his estimation. A squirrel, although the lack of chatter from it was worrisome. He searched for the culprit with his ears. Ants scurried underfoot, large enough to move the leaves and dirt just slightly as they went, and he heard the faint flutter of bird wings in the upper canopy. Then he caught the scent of blood not his own. And from what he could tell, it was not animal either. It had a human tang to it. Then he heard the crunching of leaves and twigs, and the clink of metal on metal, although it was faint. Someone was coming.
He took a deep breath and opened his eyes. Suddenly everything seemed so bright, but then again, it was always like that when he came out of his Focus. Now, he thought, I can get up and fight them with the slight chance that I may die fighting, or sit here and wait for them and hope they don’t notice me in my bright gold armor, sitting like a child’s target practice dummy. Choices, choices…
He slowly eased himself up, pushing against the tree as ache in his hip and sternum threatened to topple him. He forced himself to ignore his screaming muscles, instead searching for that sound again to judge how much time he had to prepare for this possible threat. He steadied himself against the thick trunk, and wiped the mud from his brow to clear his vision. His normally golden hair stuck stubbornly to his face in a mass of mud and leaves.
He caught the sound again, now much closer and more distinct, but slightly slower now, and the rhythm of steps told him enough to prepare accordingly. From the pattern of steps, he knew that only two unburdened and lightly armored people were coming. He heard only minimal clinking of metal; probably a belt and sword, some buckles at the most. He cursed his armor. He could not move without making a sound. Now they were close enough that they might be alerted by the sound of him raising his arm, let alone unsheathing a sword. The weight was no object; he had worn heavier suits in his endurance training at the Fist. This armor was simply noisy. When his brothers in arms had insisted he wear this armor as a symbol of authority; he had blindly accepted. Yet another blunder of his, but who could blame him, he thought. Who would say no to a mob of advisers fussing and pleading and demanding that he take on another useless mark of his rank. Not only did the gilded steel clang noisily at the joints, but it creaked mightily where a second-rate blacksmith had “adjusted” the armor to fit him better. He would have been happy with the mail by itself, a chainmail so fine that it felt like cold silk at times. Unfortunately, mail was only an underlayer for royalty and it simply would not have done for a member of the royal family to run about in underwear, no matter how useless the plate was or how good those underclothes were.
The footsteps continued to come ever closer, until he was certain that they were only on the other side of the tree. He gripped the hilt of his sword, and began to go back into Focus. He slowed his breathing, closed his eyes, and cleared his mind. He focused only on the footsteps for a moment, then he opened his thoughts to the Red. Memories flooded back, taking over his thoughts and senses. Blood and pain and screaming. His mouth tasted that echo of the sickly sweet coppery taste on the tip of his tongue, and it brought his focus to a sharp, bloody point. His eyes snapped open, his aches and pains gone. The footsteps came closer. He heard them approach on his right, and he tensed his now warm muscles. His senses had not lied. In one heartbeat, the tip of an exposed blade peeked around the trunk of the tree, cold steel that shone even in the shadow of this dark forest. In the next heartbeat, the face of the swords owner appeared in profile from behind the tree, and he moved his muscles into action.
He swung down, knocking the blade out of the way, and in the next beat he swung back up with all of his strength, aiming directly for the unprotected head. All he saw in his Red haze was a target, not a man.. He saw a meatsack to be ripped open. The meatsacks sharp features contorted into a shocked, silent scream as the blade came at it, faster than its muscles could move.
Then, from nowhere, a blade swung out, swinging faster than man or meatsack could register, and his blade met it with a clash and a jolt through his amrs. The force knocked his blade high, making it skim over the meatsacks head instead of through his neck. The second assailant, he saw, was hooded and helmed. And the hood was quick. The hood darted backward, sword at the ready, a fearsome black blade with a curve to it. The meatsack dropped to the ground and rolled backward, away from his and the hood’s reach, finding refuge behind the closest tree, where it would no doubt regain its composure and change its pants. He grinned, holding his sword at the ready, pointed directly at the hood.
He lunged. The hood parried, leaped gracefully to the side, and returned a quick jab. He blocked. He attacked, the hood blocked. They met each other blow for blow, barely escaping injury until he made contact. The hood grunted as his sword slashed through the leather armor on the hoods arm, leaving a gash and a growing stain. The hood looked from its new wound to him, and then back. He smiled, and the hood grinned back, a new fierceness behind the helm.
That marked a turn in the fight. The hood slashed, rolled, dealt sweeping attacks, and as he dodged and blocked frantically, he began to realize that their “fight” had only been play for the hood: it had been toying with him. His rage reignited and the Red grew stronger as he increased the strength of his blows, and the speed.
He faintly heard a noise in the background, and he could see in his periphery the meatsack, now out from behind its tree, waving its hands at he and the hood, shouting loudly, urgently. He could tell that the hood was listening, turning its head toward the meatsack and then looking back at him, face unreadable. The hood was still easily meeting his blows, but the hoods attacks slowed and hit with less force. He forced the Red to fade slightly, enough that he could hear what the meatsack was saying.
“No! Alistair stop! It’s me! Dammit, Logan, don’t…He doesn’t realize-!”
That was all he heard. Suddenly, the hood spun, and he lost sight of it. Looking about, he did not see the hilt of the black sword until just before it met with his head.