Nameless is fast asleep when his dreams take a vivid, disturbing turn.
…Where am I?
These past few days, as I’d been marched to exhaustion, I’d sometimes thought that I was somewhere else. That I was searching for something. That I was tall and powerful and in control.
Wishes, I suppose.
The green-tinted sky was visible through the canopy as I lay against Scary Horse. I was worried for her. She hadn’t gotten up since we were put in here yesterday. I can’t say I wasn’t grateful for the meager comfort she provided. The march here was swift and hard. Stopping for only minutes at a time for rest. Were these the creatures that Goldie hated so much? The demons of the North? Why were they here?
I tried to think about it, to figure it out, but my mind always wandered back to my own regret. We had been just about to cross the threshold to the grove when I was taken. No doubt they planted the seed without her. Not much of a chance that I’d have the opportunity to witness it again. Especially not now.
I lifted my injured, seeping leg up to rest on Scary Horse’s shoulder with my back against her flank. She only turned her head to look at me a moment before resuming her sleep. Or whatever it was she was doing. I reached out to pet her side. She seemed to like that. I reached lazily for the blistering heat of my new Pact or the fresh-air of Vulcani, but even my empowerment was suppressed.
That was the worst part. I was well used to working through the night, but I was always empowered. I hadn’t stayed awake for so long without it since my slave days.
My line of thought derailed when the buzzing, clattering noise that signaled the creature’s approach paused near the gate that held us in this pseudo stable. I’d heard what happened to whoever was in the stall nearby yesterday afternoon, and I tried to come to grips with that fate, but I couldn’t. I had just lost everything, only to be given back an opportunity to gain even more. I couldn’t cope with the idea of dying.
Scary Horse was moving, shifting in a way that forced me to scoot away from her. I stared at the door. What was taking so long?
I probably shouldn’t have asked that question, even in my head. Why was I so impatient all the time? This, this I could wait for.
I didn’t have to wait long.
Two of the creatures opened the door, and with it came a wave of Dragon magic that was so oppressive I nearly fell asleep. It was hard to breath, let alone gain the strength to fight them, which was likely the point.
I felt, more than saw, them enter. I managed to sit up, and heard Scary Horse scream before I saw the thing reaching for me. I instinctively put a hand up to block it, but it was a feeble attempt to save myself.
It didn’t even have a weapon, or a tool of any kind, but its fingers dug into my shoulder like knives and it pulled off my gloves, then my goggles. Blinding light made me turn away, feeling naked without them.
I kept trying to push it away, prying at its nasty, biting fingers, and was rewarded with a blow to the face that shredded the leather wind guard. It would have left me disfigured for life had it not been present. Then it put its chitinous palm on my face and tore the wind guard off entirely, snapping the strap from the pressure on the back of my neck.
It had no mouth. What was it? What did it want?
Without any emotion that I could perceive, it continued to remove my clothes. Scary Horse was screaming in protest. I twisted around to see her being tied to the ground with a thin rope that tore into her flesh when she struggled.
I hadn’t changed any of my bandages or removed my leathers since the last time I’d seen Arkh, and I could feel the heat of my tears running down my cheeks when it peeled off the scabs that had grown attached to the material. When it removed my boots, shredding the straps with its fingers and pulling them off with clinical indifference, I couldn’t stop from crying out. If the gash in my leg opened again, I didn’t think I had enough blood to survive it. They wouldn’t let me reach my magic to replace it any more quickly.
I fought. I kicked and bit and screamed at it. I was an echo of Scary Horse, who’d fought the whole time. It wasn’t expecting me to hurt it, and the crack of its finger breaking as I slammed my fist into it was incredibly satisfying. It recoiled, looking at my face for the first time.
It regarded me for a moment, then it tore off the last of my favorite hand-made leather flying suit.
Despite the blood that spilled freely now, despite my fear and nakedness, my heart broke when I remembered that.
My zeppelin was gone. Dead.
I’d never fly again. I’d never see his delighted face again. I’d never figure out what a beastman really looked like, or what a netherbeard was. I’d never get the chance to be a part of that.
To belong somewhere.
I’d never fly again.
I couldn’t fight it anymore. My head spun with grief and pain and blood loss and I felt I could accept whatever torment it inflicted on me as long as I kept that in mind. If I could remember it as if I was still there.
I turned over to empty the meager contents of my stomach. My hand hit something that made a soft noise and I looked over to find the bell. It must have fallen out of my glove. She said that she was coming for me. I reached out and grabbed it. I didn’t know who she was, or if she was capable of stopping this, but it was something.
Despite its earlier roughness, the creature wrapped its long, sharp hands gently around my torso and picked me up. I remained limp. Even Scary Horse was quiet now.
I was surprised when I felt her vast, prickly warmth against my back. I opened my eyes to see the creatures busily tying knots to stakes in the ground. One of them paused as it clattered by, suddenly noticing the red-stained grass.
They don’t even walk… they have swords for legs.
It moved closer and said something, then it took out a long, curved needle and began to jab at my leg, Holding it down at the thigh. Pulling away only caused more pain. I thought I might pass out soon if they didn’t stop.
As quickly as it started, it left. my leg aching more than ever. Crude, awful stitches making Arkh’s original work look like the seam of a fine gown.
I couldn’t understand. They didn’t ask any questions, they didn’t demand me to do anything, and they didn’t just kill me. What did they want?
After Scary Horse was secured, they lashed me down as well. They didn’t tie me to the ground, but directly to the horse. The thin rope cut deep if I tried to move against it, but it was hard to breath. Everything hurt.
I’d never fly again.