A dream changes everything
The white hot rage burning inside him had driven him forward, as he cut a swath through the enemy. He hadn’t cared how far his advance had taken him from his allies, he’d only wanted to kill. He didn’t know how many he felled before he’d found their leader. The battle had been intense, perhaps the hardest of his life. Now, the orc brute lay where he belong, a foul smelling patch of green ichor pooling around his broken body.
He fell to his knees, vision blurring. The end of the orc’s spear still jutted out from his side. The haft had been shattered, but the blade was lodged firmly in his flesh. He slumped, a soft metallic thump heard as his back hit the trunk of a tree, his armor mercifully padding him.
The pain was intense, blossoming out like fire from his side, tongue of flame licking the edges of his torn flesh. This was hardly the first time he’d felt pain like this, his lost eye a testament to that, but that made it no easier to bear. Everything was hot, sweltering. His armor felt like an oven. He tried to shift, to get up. His only chance was to make it back to the line. If he stayed here they’d never find him. It had been foolish to rush away. A wall of pain hit him as he tried to move. Blood, forced out by the motion, oozed like lava from the wound.
He fell back, dizzy and gasping for air. He didn’t dare try to remove the spear tip. It was the only thing keeping him alive right now. The rough bark of the tree was little comfort for his head, but he simply couldn’t hold it up any more. His one good eye stared up at the canopy above. His vision blurred, everything blobs of green and grey. This was the end.
The sweltering heat and pain took him. Everything around him was hot, and bright. The forest changed from it’s familiar greens and browns to a riot of colors swirling around him. The blurry outlines shifted, as if alive, dancing in the light of an invisible candle flame. It was like a painting of a forest he’d once seen, but all the colors were running together.
He was walking. He didn’t know how he’d gotten up. Willing his shaking vision down he saw the spear still lodged in his side. How was he walking? There was no ground, no sky, no horizon. The only sound was some far distant thrum. The faint heartbeat of this place. Every now and again he swore he could hear distant whispers, and screams.
There was a figure in the distance. Unlike the world around him it seemed sharp, real. Silver flashed like a beacon and he stumbled toward it, fighting the feeling that his legs were stuck in mud. The world around him shook suddenly, the ground jerking under his feet. He reeled, and by some miracle managed to catch himself. He didn’t think he’d be able to get up again if he fell. Rumbles and shifts followed him the rest of the way.
He could feel his strength slowly giving out, sapped away by the pulsing heat. He feared he would never reach the silver figure. As he got closer that fear was replaced by who he saw standing there.
Up close her platemail still shone silver, undamaged, unblemished. Her blonde hair was cropped short, just like the last time he’d seen her her. Her pale skin was grimy, but when she saw him she flashed him a grin, her blue eyes full of life.
“You made it! I was hoping you’d find me.” She seemed utterly unconcerned about where they were.
“Laleh. I don’t understand. What are you doing here?” He was sure his eyes were wide as saucers. His wife only smile that self assured smile he’d always loved so much.
“I’m here to see you, of course. Why else would I be here?”
As she spoke the ground under them lurched again. He only just managed to keep his feet, while Laleh stood as if the rumble had not occurred. The colors around them shifted, and he felt suddenly heavy. He fought to stay on his feet.
“All these years…” His voice caught in his throat. “All these years and I’ve never seen you.” He wanted to reach out and touch her, but fear stilled his hand. He was terrified she would disappear if he did.
His wife’s face became serious.
“You are walking an ever more dangerous path, Seibel.” She lifted her arm, pointing directly at his missing left eye. As she did a gust of chill wind whipped through his hair, and distant whispers sipped into his ears.
“You gave your eye. Now this,” she said, her arm shifting down to point at the spear still jutting from his stomach. As she spoke a new gout of flame erupted in his side, pulling a cry from his throat. He was disoriented, panting, and when he looked back up his wife was standing directly in front of him. She’d always been taller than he was, and she practically seemed to loom over him now.
“What’s next? Here?” She jabbed her finger toward his chest, over his heart, her voice cutting. “If you keep walking this path you might live to see tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be alive. You are hardly the gentle man I married.”
Her words slammed into him as much as a fist might have. The ground shifted and swayed again, and he looked up at her, desperate.
“It’s not enough!” His voice was rough, and he felt tears welling up. “They killed you! They took you away from me!”
The single word was like walking into a brick wall. He gaped up at her.
“No one took me away from you. I took up the sword. I chose to fight to protect those I love. And yes, I fell. But I fell knowing I was leaving behind a better world for you, and our sons. We both knew one day it might happen. I do not regret my sacrifice.”
“Nor do I!” He tried to counter, part of him not wanting to see reason. The ground rumbled and quaked, and ghostly voices muttered and gibbered, before being lost on the wind. “I am just as willing to give my life.”
“No, my love, you must live.”
The ground shook, and the ever color shifting landscape seemed to crack. Hurry now… careful… The wound… don’t know if… The voice came from nowhere, and everywhere, vibrating through his very bones. He couldn’t see the speaker, but at the moment he didn’t care, focused on the woman in front of him. She seemed unconcerned by all the ruckus.
“I never wanted you to be a warrior. That’s why I fought, to protect you from that. Live not by the sword. You have another path. Go and seek it. One day you and I will be reunited, but I do not want it to be this way.”
Her words were almost drowned out by a great crack. The ground gave one final, tectonic, shift below him, pitching him off his feet. The riot of colors began to fade, as did the oppressive heat. Everything went grey and soft around the edges. Laleh’s face hovered over him, a sweet mile on her lips.
“Live, you silly man.”
He let out a breath and closed his eye.
The world returned slowly. It was warm, but not oppressive. Birdsong flitted on the air, and faint laughter followed on the wind. He cracked his eye open, and soft light greeted his vision.
A face still hovered over him, but the woman looking down at him had dark hair, and very pale skin. She was old, for an elf, but her dark eyes glinted with pleasure.
“Ah, so you do live.” Her voice was warm and soothing, like a welcoming hearth after a long journey.
“W-where am I?” His voice felt like gravel scraping along his throat.
“Atlasan. The great temple of Ilinir. I am Head Priestess Nystra.”
The temple? His people must have found him, brought him here. Part of him tried to sit up, arms grasping for the spear tip that was on longer there. He drew in a hissing breath as every part of his body protested. The old elf’s hands were surprisingly strong as they pressed him back down into bed.
“Where do you think you’re going? With a wound and a fever like that, you were on death’s door. If your men hadn’t brought you to us you never would have woken up.”
“I- I don’t know.”
“Well, you’ve nowhere to be for some time now. There is no war here, young man. Only healing. Stay, rest. And if I find you out of bed I’ll tie you down to it myself.”
His eyes went a bit wide, and though the older elf chuckled he couldn’t honestly tell if she was joking with him or not. He decided it best not to test her.
“Thank you for saving my life, priestess.”
“Think nothing of it. Ilinir grants his grace to all, and we hope only spread that light. Now rest, I’ll send some broth up soon.”
Seibel gave in, pressing his one good eye closed. The images from his fever dream, if that was truly what it had been, returned, playing in the dark of his mind. He felt a soft caress move over his forehead and cheeks. It might have been the wind through the open window but it felt, more than anything, like strong but gentle, calloused hands.
He let out a breath. One he’d been holding for years.
Perhaps he would stay for awhile. The war could wait. The bloodlust had left him, bled out on the tip of a spear.
“Laleh, thank you.”