Author's Note: This interlude is an experiment with a different writing style. I don't know if it works or if it just looks like I've gone crazy. (If it helps, remember part of it's from the perspective of someone badly injured and having a panic attack, so the bizarre punctuation, spacing and random italics/bold letters are intentional.)
Interlude 1: Recalled to Life
I've lived a little bit and I've died a little more
I know that I've asked it before
But please let the scale tip here in my favour
- Sleeping at Last, Aperture
The forest at night was never truly quiet. Everything in it tried to cloak itself in silence. The prey hid from the predator, the predator concealed itself from the prey. Even the deadest silence was always broken – by a hunting cry, by a shriek from captured prey, by the rustle of animals moving through the undergrowth. The forest's inhabitants knew all these noises. Nothing in them was truly frightening.
Yet tonight a different noise filled the forest. A noise that few of the creatures recognised and none understood. All of them fled from it to the furthest parts of the wood, in fear and trembling of this unfamiliar invader.
The noise wasn't an animal's call. It wasn't a human voice. It wasn't branches creaking or leaves rustling. It was a screech, high like an injured animal and harsh like a human's yell, that bounced off the trees and echoed back until it sounded from every direction. When the screech faded the sound of something very large and heavy crashing through the trees took its place. But the screech always returned, and all other sounds disappeared into the background.
Something making so much noise would normally make itself a target for every predator within twenty miles. But there was something so unnatural about the noise that no animal dared get near its source.
No animal dared. But animals were not the forest's only inhabitants.
Water. Water. Where was the– Burning in his chest, his throat, his legs. Can't see, can't hear... Stop making that noise! They'd find– His thought broke off, half-formed, and whirled away into a confused blur of ideas. Moonlight on stone, smell of blood, fire in the distance, burningburningburning... Looking down at the world from a great height. Teeth tearing through warm flesh. Warm, warm, yet everything was so cold s never be warm again cold as–
In his wild, blind flight through the forest he fell over a tree root. The shock briefly chased all his disordered thoughts out of his head and replaced them with clarity.
Stop it! Don't panic. Find the river. Nearly there.
He could hear the water nearby. How near ho hownear? His sense of distance and almost all his other senses were overwhelmed by the flood of terror and agony. The loss of the blood pouring out of his wounds made the world around him seem suddenly very cloudy and far away.
Stay calm. I can't die.
It was no use his mind trying to tell him that when his body was screaming a different story with every excruciating step. Already his thoughts lost their grip on coherence and flew off to events of ages before.
Sunlight glinting on armour sand in his hair smoke in his mouth he couldn't breathe didn't need to breathe food made him sick whatwashappening– No. Too long ago. He'd buried those memories and never thought of them for years. Why would he think of them now?
Bloo never touch him again fascinating to watch the light disappear to know he'd caused this he. had. this. power. no one else...
He found the river. He found it by almost falling into it. The ground fell away beneath his feet, and below him the river churned sluggishly. All the frantic terror disappeared in a heartbeat. He fell to his knees, his mind clearer than it had been since the knife had plunged deep into his chest. He sat silent for a long time, listening for pursuit. He was safe. The river marked the boundary of both the forest and his land. No one would think of looking for him here, so far away from his home. He was safe. He could clean his wounds and wash the blood away. He was safe.
A twig snapped in the forest.
If he had been stronger he would have jumped to his feet. Now he froze in place, not even blinking. The smell of his blood filled the air. It was already trickling down the riverbank and staining the water below him a dull red. A mortal would have been dead by now. He knew he couldn't die, knew it as well as his own name.
But he knew only too well he could be injured.
Nothing moved in the forest. His skin crawled with the sensation of eyes staring at him. These weren't the eyes of his attackers. They belonged to the beings that lurked on his land, staying out of his way when he was strong enough to fight them off. Now he was injured and exhausted. His head ached with his tangled thoughts. His body ached with the stab wounds in his chest and back. He had already lost one fight tonight. Another one would be a disaster.
He stood up, as quickly and steadily as he could, and stepped off the riverbank. The water lapped at his legs. It covered his ankles at first, then his knees. At the deepest part it reached almost to his waist. The opposite bank was far enough away that nothing could jump across, and the forest's denizens disliked running water. He wasn't overly fond of it himself, truth be told, but he needed to get out of their reach.
On the other bank he lay down and waited. Slowly, painfully, his injuries knitted themselves closed. He didn't go to sleep. He stared up at the tree boughs and the sky above them, listening for the faintest whisper of movement.
The approaching dawn stained the horizon a faint grey. The animals, reassured now the noise had stopped, crept back to their homes. Endless rustlings and squeaks filled the air, practically inaudible to anyone who wasn't listening with all their might and main. An owl glided overhead. The cold wind rustled through the leaves. Nothing came near the figure lying on the river bank.
Finally he stood up. His wounds had healed as much as they would here, and there was no reason to stay any longer. He knew where his attackers were; in his home, pawing through his belongings, waiting for him to return like a fly blundering straight into a web.
Well, he wouldn't give them the satisfaction. He would vanish, disappear without a clue to his whereabouts, leave them wondering if they had managed to kill him after all. And when they thought they were safe, he would hunt them down.
No matter where they were.