I was standing in darkness, it was absolute, soul-crushing darkness. A thick fog swirled around me, enveloping my lower body. The plate mail I wore was dirty and pitted, as was my short sword. My sword arm ached and my shield was missing, there was no sign of it anywhere.
I could hear the sounds of a forest. Not these quiet northern forests, but the rich and full of life southern forests I grew up in. It was so familiar, so comforting. And I was terrified.
Cautiously, I started forward through the fog. It parted slowly, revealing thick green foliage beyond. The forest even smelled like home, with the scent of fresh moss and the blossoms of spring. A full moon, albeit in a cloudy night sky, was visible between the branches overhead. I swept my sword before me as I walked, my eyes trying to see into the dark woods around me. As I stepped over a fallen log I tripped over something hidden in the still-receding fog, I barely caught myself before falling face-first into the undergrowth. Glancing back I could see something I recognized right away. A boot. Not just any boot, Mitchyll’s boot.
My heart leapt into my throat as I turned in circles, my eyes scanning the forest until I saw it. He was only a dozen paces away, half hidden in the lee of a nearby boulder. His boot wasn’t the only thing missing. His sword was nowhere to be found, along with his shoulder bag. As I drew closer I could see the blood in the darkness. Mitchyll’s throat was a ragged wound, the front of his leather jerkin was soaked in crimson. I fell to my knees before his body, unable to take my eyes from his placid, ghost-white face. He is too young to be dead, I thought lamely, this cannot be true.
Suddenly, there was a heavy rustling of leaves behind me.
I spun on my heel, my sword flashing out as I did - just as I had been taught - and I felt the sudden impact in my arm as my sword found its mark. The clouds parted, allowing enough moonlight for me to see my victim’s face. I recoiled in horror, tried to let go of my sword but my hand was frozen. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t feel my heart beating in my chest. The forest was suddenly silent, as if the world had known what I had just done.
I looked down on the small, feminine figure impaled on my blade. She was so small, so frail. Her head slowly, haltingly lifted and looked up at me. Her eyes focused on mine, her mouth opened just as slowly. Words came out, words I couldn’t understand. And then, suddenly, she was silent.
My mouth opened. I screamed. I didn’t stop. The fog swirled around me again, coming from all around. It smothered me, choked me, my scream became a wretched cough. I couldn’t breathe again, and I knew this was the end. But I fought it anyway, pushing through the mist, gasping for breath-
-as I sat up abruptly, knocking off the blanket that had been draped over me. I gasped and heaved for a moment as my mind cleared and my memory slowly returned. The road. The bandits. The forest.
The memories flooded back to me, and with them a dull, throbbing pain in my side. I ignored it for the nonce as I took in my surroundings. I wasn’t dead, yet, apparently. I was in some sort of camp, in a small cave, with an equally small fire burning close by. My armor is missing, as are my weapons, but if someone had wanted me dead they would have had ample opportunity by now.
Turning my head, I can make out another figure sitting by the cave’s entrance. I try to move, but the dull pain flares into a blazing fire burning into my side. I lower myself back onto the rough ground, eyes screwed shut against the pain. When I open them again, my vision is swirling and I can feel what little strength I had fading. I’m not sure what’s happened, but I know I’m alive. Perhaps by morning I’ll have the strength to stay awake.