Nightmares and Doubt

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Nightmares and Doubt

Post by Wiltheia on Fri Jan 29, 2016 5:34 pm

Wiltheia stumbled through the undergrowth, blindly clawing a path for her desperate escape. The branches twisted and curled back with whip like cracks behind her, the rustle of disturbed leaves like a constant downpour of rain around her. The path behind her closed as quickly as she could open one ahead of herself, and every step brought with it a new scratch or cut as the woodlands sought to arrest her flight.

Wiltheia didn't know why she ran. She had simply been running for as long as she could remember, and knew without knowing why that to stop was to give in to the most horrible fate she could imagine. The scout could hear it behind her, crashing through the undergrowth, snapping whole tree's that got between it and it's prey. She could hear the ragged snarling and panting of the thing, just as surely as she knew it could hear her own desperate heart beat and wanted nothing more than to tear it from her already aching chest.

Despite herself, she looked back. She could not see her pursuer itself, but Wiltheia saw its shadow, the enveloping darkness of it's approach. She still ran, but the moment's distraction cost her as a low branch caught her leg and took it out from beneath her.

She hit the ground hard, feeling the breath knocked from her lungs. Desperately Wiltheia reached ahead, trying to pull herself further away from it, trying to get to her feet, fear clouding her mind and making her think of nothing else but escape. The branches and leaves scratched and clawed at her hands, tearing away and giving her no traction. Fear rising even higher still, Wiltheia turned her head and saw it coming closer, racing at her like a elekk at full charge.

She had barely begun to scream when it reached her, icy claws thrusting out of the darkness, aimed straight for her heart-

* * *

Wiltheia awoke, bolted upright, and immediately knew the bitter taste of regret.

Despite the care of no less than four healers, despite not a mark remaining of the injury, Wiltheia felt the burden of it in her chest. The dull, leaden weight of it hung there and, aggravated by her sudden movement, she felt it protest with fiery lances of pain. Almost immediately she doubled over, arms wrapping around herself as if to protect her body from any more pain as a shuddering cough escaped her.

It took several minutes for the pain to pass, and as it faded so too did her drum like heart beat and the violent pounding in her ears. Silvery eyes slowly opened, focusing on nothing. The nightmare was past, but reality was not much comfort to Wiltheia.

The scout was in the medical hall of the Tide's fortress, as safe and as alone as when she'd been left there. The torches were nearly all out, providing only the most meager of light to see by, but Wiltheia's kind had been born in the night. Her eyes could pick out the details of the room far better than a human could in perfect lighting; the way the bed across from her was precisely folded, the spatter of blood on the next one's frame from its last occupant, the discarded vial that had long since dribbled its contents out and stained the floor beneath the table. She could, if she turned her head, see and read the titles on all thirty four volumes that lined one book shelf, or counted the boards in the ceiling above. She knew this without looking, for it was far from her first time being alone in this room.

The scout finally sat up, moving slowly as if afraid of disturbing the room around her. Pale, slender shoulders rose and fell as she tried to work the stiffness from them, eyes closing in a grimace. Long past was the waifish girl who had sought her place in the world, replaced by a tall, lanky woman who often times wondered if her body had outpaced her mind. With limbs that now bore subtle but strong muscles, a body that was not curved in a sickening manner that displayed the bones beneath, and a face that now looked long and thin instead of drawn and gaunt, Wiltheia looked quite like any other woman of her age. A little lanky, perhaps, but certainly healthy and fit.

Pulling the blankets aside she turned on the mattress and lowered her feet to the ground, ignoring the chill of the stone beneath her feet as she stood up. Wiltheia wore a thin gown, the sort given to patients when their own clothing was unsuitable for their stay in the hall, the sort that only just reached past her knee's. It had a sash that tied it shut like a bathrobe and hid her bandaged body beneath, but did little for the chill she felt. She tucked her hands under her armpits as she shuffled towards the washbasin, trying to force some warmth back into her bones as she moved. Even injured and feeling weak her training took priority in her subconscious mind, each step feather light and almost silent in the still air.

Reaching the basin Wiltheia stooped down, reluctantly pulling her hands free of the warmth and dipping them into the chilled water. She brought up a handful and splashed her face, dampening the short blue bangs that fell just above her brow. Wiltheia repeated the action a few more times before running her hands up and down, lifting her head to look at herself in the mirror.

Wiltheia found herself tracing the marks, the twin, curved tattoos of violet ink that crossed over her eyes. Once, they had been her pride, the culmination of back breaking training and relentless aspirations to prove herself more than a child defying what others said out of petulant spite. Now, the dagger like markings seemed to taunt her, as if this latest injury was only further proof that it had been a mistake to brand her with them.

On the edge of the mirror Wiltheia caught sight of her armor, neatly folded and set on a table alongside her weapons. Her tabard, another once-source of pride for the scout, had been draped over it all to await her. The scorched and tattered sigil of the Tide, the compass that (she felt) represented the four corners of the world they were to uncover, had changed with it's damage. It now looked like an angry eye, dark and hateful at the shameful bearer who had allowed it to be desecrated so.

Wiltheia shook her head and reached back into the basin. She'd just brought her cupped hands free of the water when she heard it outside the door; the rain like rustling, the scrape of claws against stone, the echoing thud of something too large striking the wall or floor.

It was here. It was a impossible thing, a nightmare clawing its way out of the landscape of her dream to stalk her waking moments, but it was happening. Wiltheia could hear it coming for her, the prey that escaped, to drag her back to its lair of nightmare and torment. The pounding of her own heart beat sounded in her ears and made the spot of her injury ache, but over that she heard it coming closer, step by step.

Wiltheia's eyes darted to her armor and weapons, trying not to meet the accusing eye. Her blades, her knives, her pistol; all of them were there, only a few feet from her. It was the simplest thing to step to them and arm herself, to make a good account of herself before she fell, but she could not find the strength. Wiltheia's body was frozen, fear arresting her movements and the baleful dark gaze of the eye pinning her like a butterfly in some nobleman's collection. Was this her penance then? To have shamed the Tide so, this thing now wanted her punished and the very sigil of the Tide itself would ensure she could not escape?

Wiltheia tried to move, tried to formulate a plan, tried to think of a way out. A hundred and more thoughts raced through her head, but all in pieces, too fragmented by terror to make sense of. Through it all the sound came closer and closer, nearly upon the door, and she silently urged her body to break through the shell of horror that enveloped her so fully. It refused, the pounding of her heart only serving to aggravate the memory ache of her injuries and make the muscles throb.

The door swung open, and the sudden movement lessened the eyes hold on her for a single heart beat. It was enough; the water she'd held in trembling hands splashed back into the basin and floor as she spun around, a wordless cry forming in her mouth. There, silhouetted in the doorway by the lights beyond it stood. Just as before, it's form was indistinct, made all the larger and more intimidating by the shadows that hide it from her. Then, with a wicker-crack of combustion the torches in the room sprang into life, causing Wiltheia to yelp and shield her eyes.

Doom did not find it's way to her. Rather, she heard a soft, almost bemused chuckle, markedly kinder than the terrifying beast growls of her dream. A silver glow entered the room briefly, easing the pain she felt and returning some measure of serenity to her. Feeling some control of her limbs accompany this, Wiltheia forced her shaking hand down, eyes cautiously opening to peer at her tormentor.

The silver glow faded back to its source, the figure's staff. The weapon was topped with axe blades in the form of curved wings, with orbs of shadowy magic orbiting one another in the space between the wings. A heavy robe covered the figure, thick with padded cloth and hung with moon and star icons hung with fine silver chain, rustling with each movement. From beneath the hem on the figure's left side emerged silver talons where toes might be, the machined seams and bolts that held the facsimile together immaculately built by the loving hand of a master.

But what Wiltheia truly found herself looking at was the face. Older and rounded, bearing silver markings of flowers in bloom over a face that was never far from exhaustion or a playful smile, it was one of the closest faces to her own in the world. One that she had once revered, now thought of with spite and vile despite all that had been offered from it.

Altheira Snowsong smiled, then inclined her head towards the half cowering woman.

“Good evening, Wiltheia,” the priestess said in a calm voice, lifting her head to meet the scout's gaze once more. “I believe it is long past time we speak once more.”
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Wiltheia

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