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The Road To Hell

by P L Nunn




Seiji heard Sai's cry. Spun before Kento or Charlotte had registered it and saw Rowan tumbling haphazardly from the ice bridge, clutching his stupid long bow instead of grasping after purchase like any rational being. Foolish, foolish archer.

He hit the water backwards, going under and disappearing in one fell swoop. Then his head broke surface a moment before he was swept into a jutting finger of ice.

Sai grabbed his arm, shoved the pack he'd been carrying into Seiji's arms and pointed down river towards the opposite shore. "There. Pull us out there."


But Sai was cutting through the frigid air, a smooth, far reaching dive that sent him a good distance out from the bridge, that had him slicing into the dark water like a slim edged knife and coming up with strong, steady strokes that took him towards Rowan, who wasn't swimming, who was somehow still floating, being carried down stream by the currents.

"I'm going too." Kento thrust his staff at Seiji. Seiji snarled and thrust it back.

"You're not, fool. You swim worse than Rowan. I can't haul all three of you out of there. Come on."

"They'll not survive that. The cold will kill them." Charlotte said.

"Shut up, woman." Seiji brushed past her, focusing on balance and not slipping and trying to hurry at the same time on a narrow icy path that had already spilled one of his friends.

If they didn't come out -- if the river claimed them --- no, that was not a thing he would allow himself to think. Trust Sai -- who swam like a fish -- to get the both of them out.

He reached the far side, leapt over a jutting edge of ice slick rock and scrambled along the shore. Steep, unscalable shore mostly, but downstream it had crumbled. That's where Sai had pointed. He heard Kento coming behind him, cursing. Not as fast or as graceful as Seiji, he was lucky he didn't spill himself into the river.

Seiji caught sight of Sai's head, and Sai's arm around Rowan's neck, fighting through the current towards the shore. There were slabs of ice sheeted rock out into the current. Seiji jumped to one, preying his footing would hold. Left foot slipped and he went down to one knee, the other leg immersed in the freezing water. It was a shock to have that small a part of him in the water. He stretched out a hand and screamed Sai's name.

Sai saw him, tried to reach out with his free arm and just missed, swept past.

No. Seiji would not allow it. He flopped down on his belly, stretching out and making a desperate grab for anything. He caught the back of Sai's oversized shirt. Was almost pulled off his rock by the greedy river, who would happily have devoured all of them. But such a mindless thing as a river would not best him. He ground his teeth against cold and opposing current, and dragged Sai and Rowan in, swinging them towards the shore, where Sai could find footing and they might be within reach of Kento's long arms.

Kento caught hold of them, pulling them out of Seiji's grasp. He righted himself, made the leap back to shore and this time was shaky enough to smash his knee and get the other leg wet. He ignored both the cold and the pain, helping Kento fish Sai and Rowan out of the water. He caught hold of Rowan's shirt, caught him under the arms and hauled him backwards. Kento had Sai, who was babbling something weak and incoherent, shaking so hard Kento could barely keep his arms about him. Rowan wasn't shaking at all. Rowan was still and pale, lips blue from cold, skin all but freezing to the touch. A trickle of blood ran down his jaw from some hidden damage in his hair. Seiji wasn't certain he was breathing. Perhaps that was what Sai was sobbing about.

Seiji put his cheek against Rowan's, desperately trying to feel for the warmth of breath against his skin. Nothing.

Goddamnit! He would not loose both Ryo and Rowan to this place. With sharp, business-like motion, he flipped Rowan over, forcing water out of his lungs. Cold liquid dribbled out of Rowan's slack lips.

"Oh, god, is he breathing?" Kento was asking, giving up on holding a frantic Sai.

Stupid question, considering what Seiji was doing. He didn't have the time or the inclination to answer it. And Sai was determined on getting in his way, but shaking too badly from cold to be of any help.

"Back off, Sai!" he cried, trying to hold onto his own frayed nerves. He got Rowan turned over, got his mouth open and forced some of his own life's breath down the other's throat. Did it again and again, until Rowan's body convulsed, and his throat spasmed, then Seiji got back quick as water and bile came up. Rowan curled onto his side, coughing, sudden waves of tremors overwhelming his body. Hypothermia on top of near drowning. Wonderful.

"Charlotte." He found her staring down at them almost distrustfully. "The blankets in our packs."

Both he and Kento had thrown their packs down as soon as they'd left the bridge.

"Get them out of the cold and those clothes first. No use soaking the blankets."

He glared at her, about to repeat the command in a more vehement tone. She cut him off with a jerk of her thumb. "Cold doesn't extend much further on this side than it did the other. Just bring them up the path."

She was snatching up the packs and starting that way, not waiting for argument. Seiji held back a curse, met Kento's dark look over Sai's head.

"Help me get Rowan up."

Kento did, Sai hovering close by, arms wrapped about himself, shaking so hard, his teeth made audible sounds.

"I got Rowan." Kento grunted and just swung a dazed Rowan up into his arms and started after Charlotte. Seiji put an arm around Sai, felt the bone deep tremors through the contact, the abysmal cold that seeped into him like a virus. He shivered, left side going goosepimply, his sleeve soaking up the damp.

"S--s-sorry." Sai tried to smile at him. "S-s-so cold. R-rowan's ok-k-kay, right?"

"Rowan's fine." He wrapped his other arm around Sai, started them up the bank after Kento and the damned piratess. "Sorry I snapped at you." He said softly, because things like that just couldn't be left unsaid to Sai. God knew why it was so damned hard with Ryo.

"S'okay. Y-y-you got him br-breathing again. Th-that's all that matters."

Thirty yards out and the cold just ceased. The frost dissipated. The rocks that rose out of the earth were no longer coated with ice. It was rocky on this side of the river. The beginnings a mountainous upheaval that there had been no sign of on the other side. How did one just miss a mountain range? Kento had stopped in a little chasm of sorts. A rocky gully spotted with small nooks and crannies. Not the most defensible of places, but they had little choice what with Rowan and probably Sai suffering from hypothermia.

Charlotte had the blankets out of the packs, she was helping Kento pull the wet clothes off of Rowan. They had him wrapped in a blanket and propped against a rock, by the time Seiji, with Sai's fumbling, numb-fingered help, got him in similar state. Then Kento went looking for fuel for a fire, while Charlotte stood staring down with barely contained disapproval on the two shivering, huddled forms.

"Stupid." She said. "You should have let him go. He'd have turned up sooner or later. The ones that die here always do, unless the lythos get you."

Sai glared at her, pressing as close to Rowan as he could. Rowan's head was listing, his hands having a hard time keeping the blanket closed.

"We don't abandon anyone." Seiji said quietly. "We'd even have gone after you."

She sniffed. "You're all fools then. But I already suspected that from this fool's quest you're going on."

She stood there, as if expecting him to offer argument and scowled when he refused her baiting. But she lost interest soon enough, her attention drawn the tall walls of the canyon that surrounded them.

"Its close by -- somewhere." She shivered.

"What?" Seiji had to ask. There were too many unpalatable possibilities in this place not to.

"Whatever power it is that's prisoned here."

He hesitated, expanding his senses. He had a knack for picking up subtle shades of mood and power. Perhaps there was something--- a heady undertone of energy in the air. Quite -- alluring actually. He blinked, clearing the sensation of it from his mind. It wanted to cling.

"Where do you think?" he asked, though only to confirm his own feeling that it was up the ragged side of the canyon hidden on one of the innumerable dark openings along its facade.

"Up there somewhere." She shrugged. "Don't much care."

"I want to see it."

She swung astonished eyes towards him. "Are you daft?"

No reason to answer that. He sat there, looking up the cliff face thoughtfully. A power of hell had been responsible for bringing Ryo and subsequently all of them here. He found he had an unquenchable curiosity about a thing that one of those powers of hell found threatening.

There was something on the moors besides Ryo. Oh, sure, there were bogs and patches of quicksand and marshes where the bugs were so thick they formed black swarms. And snakes --- he had almost died -- just keeled over and died of terror -shock- revulsion -- when as he was wading across a thigh high section of marsh to reach what looked to be solid ground on the other side, a school/herd/swarm -- whatever it was you called a group of sinuous, black water vipers -- came skating across the top of the water towards him. Not just normal water snakes. No, these were hellish water snakes, with red slitted eyes and gaping, sharp fanged mouths. If he hadn't been a few steps from the shore and hadn't practically leapt straight up out of the water to reach it, they'd have been all over him. As it was they slithered up out of the water after him, hissing and coiling and he'd just blindly run, not caring how cowardly it was, or how stupid, in this place where the wrong step could send a body into a bottomless bog. Tulpa was one thing. An army of undead warriors was one thing. Snakes were another. He could not deal with snakes coherently. Especially water snakes.

So he avoided sloshing through the water. It was hard to do. Water was everywhere. Foul, stagnant, putrid water. And mist. The fog clung to the ground, so thick in places that the bent black trees were barely visible even when he was a few feet from them. The moors might have gone on forever and he'd never know, for the mist obscured everything. Distance was meaningless. The great bulk of the fortress had been hidden barely a hundred yards from its walls. He heard the sound of men and horses early on, but the fog had worked for him and against pursuers. The never saw him. He slipped away, swallowed by the moors.

He had no idea where he was going, or what he might be going to. Anything was better than being a relief to Tulpa's boredom. Well -- maybe not a pit of water vipers. That would be infinitely more horrifying. Half the roots poking up from the ground made him skittish. Hanging vines totally freaked him out. Rowan would die laughing if he could see Ryo jumping at sticks. Which thought depressed him-- thinking that he might be stuck in hell forever with unsettled matters between him and Rowan and him and Seiji. He didn't want to die with Seiji annoyed at him -- as if Seiji had a good reason -- and Rowan blaming him for something he just could not accept responsibility for. He ought to be damned angry at Rowan for even thinking it -- for that little display the other night. But, Ryo didn't hold grudges well. And Rowan, he thought, had been very drunk and very upset over something and -- well, he just forgave him. Just like he forgave Seiji his little moodswings. He could not entertain bad feelings against people he loved. It just wasn't something he was capable of. Flashes of anger that came and went were more his style. Vent the emotion the moment it entered his head and he was done with it. No more grudge. No more resentment. Which was why Seiji drove him bonkers. Seiji could silently perceive an injustice and chew on it for days without a person ever knowing what he'd done. And even then he'd never rant or rave or do any of the things a normal person did to relieve tension. Just cold accusation and the unshakable belief that he was right and anyone else foolish enough to argue against him was wrong.

He missed Seiji.

Something hissed at him out of the fog. He skip jumped to the side, heart trying to find a new home in his throat. He padded on a little more carefully, trying to keep his mind from wondering from the very important task of snake watching.

Which was when the other something out in the fog made him aware of its existence. He saw the shape of it skimming along out in the mists, across a fetid pool of bug infested water. Low to the ground, it glided; smooth and powerful in its movements. All he caught was the vague shape of it, long body, sloped shoulders, low hanging, angular head and eyes that glinted orange through the gray. He took out his sword, hackles rising as they hadn't for the snakes. The snakes were a personal phobia -- whatever was out there was dangerous in another way.

He leapt a shallow gully of water, landed badly in mud and felt his ankle wrench. With a curse he paused, shaking out the foot, refusing to acknowledge the twinges of discomfort that ran up his calf. Wonderful. Just what he needed. He rotated the foot. It wasn't too bad. Just a little bit of a pulled muscle. He'd operated with more severe wounds than that before. 'Course the armor helped. The armor gave a body strength and stamina that a body didn't normally have. If he had it now, the snakes probably wouldn't even bother him.

Not much anyway.

A shape shifted towards him out of the mists. He brought the sword up threateningly and whatever it was backed off. Maybe the same thing that had been pacing him earlier. It was big enough. Hip high. But there was another of them now.

He swallowed, making himself move again, thinking of what the servant had said about packs of things roaming the moors, waiting for victims. Things that destroyed souls.

Something splashed through water with the gait of a dog or a wolf. Several somethings. Ryo warily moved from island to island, straining to pierce the veil of fog and see what was out there. What had the servant called them? Lythos? Was that what was stalking him?

He lost track of time. His body moved automatically, painstakingly trained to ignore the urges of physical exhaustion. He ached, but he ignored that too. He tossed the leather helmet into a thatch of marsh grass, wiping sweat dampened hair back from his face. He wished he had a thong to tie it back. It never annoyed him save when it clung to his face and neck.

The light changed marginally. It grew distinctly purplish and the shadows deepened, the mists grew more opaque. Oh, god, he did not want to be in this place in the dark. But it did not grow darker. The shadows never reached the point of pitch. He could just see where he stepped, though more and more he miscalculated his footing. That was exhaustion demanding to be noticed. The thought of actually closing his eyes and sleeping here was terrifying enough to send adrenaline pumping through his veins.

An eerie whistling of wind that stirred the fog, making it curl in tendrils here and there. A not too distant howl joined the sound of wind. Deep and sonorous, first one voice, then another and another until there were a chorus of canine throats working to disturb the silence of the moors.

Ryo stood frozen, boots sinking into the mud, knuckles bone white on the hilt of the sword. It came from behind him --- no, to the right -- or were those merely echoes? He glanced upward at a sky that the wind had cleared momentarily of cloud cover. Dark violet, solid seeming almost. It curved strangely down, as if it were a dome that covered the marsh and not open sky. He drew his brows in confusion, looking behind him where the purplish sky rose in a high curving arch. It was a dome of sorts and he was approaching the edge of it. He could only hope reaching the edge would mean escape and not an end to his flight.

Please, please, please don't make me walk back through this mess. He moved on. And through the mists, he heard the padding gait of many feet pacing him.

It was raining. To top off a miserable, hellish -- and he meant that literally -- day, it started raining. Rowan wished he were dead. Or at least comatose somewhere warm and dry and most definitely not in a plane of the abyss. He was still cold. He could feel the ice pumping through his veins, forming inside his bones. He could sense it behind his eyes. That and the water and the panic of not being able to breath, all of it pulsing with incredible disharmony in his temples. Or perhaps that was just the bump on the head he'd taken when he'd slammed up against the damn rock in the river.

And he'd lost his bow. The bow Robin hood had given him. Treasured, treasured item and it was somewhere at the bottom of the icy river. Which was where he should have been if it weren't for Sai. Wonderful, beautiful -- far too good for him -- Sai, who had foolishly plunged in after him and saved him from a frozen, watery grave.

Rowan sniffled, and painstakingly lifted a hand to wipe his nose. His head was mostly buried under a blanket. There were warm arms around him and warm flesh pressed up against his.

"You okay?" A soft whisper against his ear, soft breath that tickled the skin of his jaw.

"Los' mah bow." His voice sounded slurred, drunken. The arms tightened around him.

"You've got a better one at home."

He half laughed at that, but it turned into a gusty sigh. They were holed up in a coffin sized niche not too far from where the remains of Kento's fire lay wet and dead. Kento and Seiji and Charlotte the Red were similarly ensconced within nooks and crannies, fighting to keep dry.

Perhaps not a completely miserable day -- he was skin to skin with Sai in relative privacy, as close as they had been in -- too long. He turned his cheek against Sai's shoulder wishing for the thousandth time that nothing had ever happened to scar Sai's trust in him -- in anyone who touched him. He had never wanted to kill a living thing as much as he -- in retrospect -- wanted to kill the monster than had hurt his lover. Moot point, of course. Seiji had beat him to it. And at the time it had been nothing more than pure defensive reflex when the bastard had come at him with the same dagger he'd used to cut up Sai.

Sai still bore those scars. He could feel them along the lean ribs under his fingers. Fading quickly though. They all had the tendency to heal fast. It was the armor. In another month they'd be gone. Rowan wasn't so certain about the mental scarring.

That was what drove him to distraction. That was what had had him so wound up -- so desperate to find and place a blame that had no home other than a dead man-- that he'd lost his mind for a little span of time and attacked Ryo. Not just attacked -- but almost done to him what the monster had tried to do to Sai. That guilt had been badgering him for almost a week now. He wanted to tell Sai so bad it hurt -- and was equally afraid he'd be condemned for his slip. He wanted to tell Ryo he was sorry. He wanted absolution from Sai. He wanted to tell Seiji to mind his own business -- only Ryo was Seiji's business, just like Sai was his -- and he was only protecting his territory. He was just doing it Seiji-fashion, which was grating as hell on Rowan's nerves.


The rain made a pattern outside. It was lulling -- the warmth seeping out of Sai's body was.


"I did something stupid." Small voice. He had to garner the courage to continue and when he did it came out in a rush of words that left him breathless. He lay there expectantly, shutting his eyes in misery when Sai went a little stiff and pulled back just a touch. Not far to go in this tiny cave.

"Rowan -- you didn't." A little aghast. A little alarmed. "I asked you. How could you not tell me something like that?"

Rowan felt his teeth start to chatter. Felt tremors of what the cold had done to him not too long ago began to seep back over his body now that Sai's warmth had left him. He wrapped his arms around himself and muttered forlornly.

"I was scared."

"You were ----? Rowan?"

"I thought y-you'd hate me for it. I was so fucked up that night. I didn't mean it. I swear I didn't."

"Did you tell that to Ryo?"

He shook his head miserably. Sai sighed. Sai settled back down and pulled Rowan's quaking, unhappy self into his arms. Sai kissed his temple. Then the trembling lid of one closed eye.

"I will never, ever hate you. No matter what." That soft utterance made Rowan's heart skip a beat. Made it soar a little in unabashed relief.

"You can be exasperating at times." Sai murmured against his mouth and there was enough humor in the tone of his voice to force a smile out of Rowan. "How cold are you, still?"

"Damn cold." Rowan answered.

Sai's hands ran up his back, palms flat, exerting gentle pressure. "Let me warm you, then."

Warm lips moved over his own. Teeth took his bottom lip, drew it in and sucked it. Sai's tongue flicked at the inside of his mouth. Rowan unfolded his arms, snaking them around Sai's back, pressing their stomachs together, the hard heat of their sex rubbing against each other. That heat spread like molten lava up the branching network of his nerves. Melting the ice. Chasing the cold away.

Legs entangled, body's writhing in desperate need, the kiss turned so deep that Rowan thought he could taste Sai's soul. And if he felt desperate urgency after so long without the relief of Sai's body and his touch -- then Sai was frantic. Sai was singularly demanding, as if he were attempting to purge the fear and the trauma that had caused it from himself once and for all.

Sai's mouth traveled down Rowan's neck, hot, wet tongue on his pulse while his hands kneaded Rowan's buttocks, while the smooth flesh of his lower belly rubbed against Rowan's rigid member and his own twitching sex grazed Rowan's thighs.

"Please, Rowan -- may I ---?" Hoarse whisper against his throat. Ever so polite, his Sai. Ever so considerate. Rowan hardly ever remembered to ask at all, taking willingness for granted.

He nodded, voiceless, spreading his legs for Sai to settle between them. There wasn't much room for creativity in the niche. They were both too desperate to be anything but elementary. Sai pushed his knees forward, hooking an arm under one to position himself. Rowan shut his eyes, relaxing himself, shivering in something other than cold when he felt the silken tip of Sai's sex press against his opening. Felt Sai's gentle invasion, bit by bit and wished Sai would just push into him all at once, rough and forceful. Pain be damned, he wanted -- wanted this closure. This beautiful joining that would heal the wounds. He thrust his hips up, forcing the issue and Sai gasped even as he did with the pleasure/pain of it.

It had to be Sai who initiated this, he realized in a part of his mind detached from the sensation. Had to be Sai who played the dominate role in his own healing. Otherwise he'd never get his courage back. Or the trust. Rowan was deliriously happy to lay back and let Sai control the rhythm, let Sai release his frustrations and his demons. Rowan was more than content to take himself in his own hands, working his throbbing sex in time with Sai's thrusts, while Sai's fingers bit into his thigh and the back of his knee and Sai's tear streaked face loomed over his, taught with passion.

Sai came, and Rowan did a moment later. Then Sai was collapsing on top him, limp sex pulling out, followed by a warm trickle of semen.

"I'm sorry, Rowan." Sai's voice was all trembly with emotion. "I wasn't thinking of you at all towards the end. I was terribly selfish."

Rowan grinned, hugging Sai close. "Gawd, I hope you weren't thinking of anybody else."

"That's not what I mean. I forgot to -- you know -- pleasure you. You had to do it by yourself."

"Sai -- love -- you pleasured me. Believe me, you did. You're crying."

"I can't help it." Sai sniffled. "It felt so good and I missed you so much."

"I haven't been anywhere. And neither have you."

"You know what I mean, Rowan. Do you want to -- do it again? And this time we focus on satisfying you?"

Oh god, Rowan thought and almost felt like he was going to cry himself. All I had to do was half drown, freeze and admit my sins and it brought Sai back to me. I should have thought of this earlier.

Out of the mists, they came at an unexpected angle. From above, leaping down from a root snarled, tangled overhang. The sudden, silent appearance of lean, bristly furred bodies.

Ryo wouldn't have seen them at all, save for some sixth sense that urged him to look up -- that screamed that there was danger that way. He had the sword out before they cleared the crumbling lip of the overhang. Slashed in an arc upwards, and thought mistake -- mistake -- when the blade lodged. It wasn't one of his katana's. Its edge just wasn't sharp enough to cut through flesh and bone. The body hit the ground and refusing to let go the hilt, Ryo went with it, forced around and down to one knee while he wrenched the blade out of the mid-section of what might have been a wolf. He didn't have the time to scrutinize it. It hadn't been alone.

He whirled and slashed the blade across the face of a beast. It screamed - not the cry of a canine -- but a strangely human sounding howl of agony as its eyes were destroyed. It rushed at him blindly, mad from pain, and he kicked it hard in the chest. It staggered away, whimpering.

Orange eyes glared down at him from the top of the overhang. A half dozen sets. Just watching. Waiting. Swallowing back panic, Ryo backed away. He was afraid to take his eyes from them. They'd been pacing him -- growing ever bolder -- for the last hour. They were smart about it. They knew what they were doing and where they were driving him. They'd chosen this spot. They'd worked out an ambush. No other explanation for them being here before he was. Lying in wait. Wolves didn't lie in wait.

Lythos apparently did.

He staggered into water up to his chest and floundered, almost loosing the sword. He had to take his attention away from them then, worried about what else was in the water with him. Not far to the other side of this gully. No other way around. He started splashing towards the far shore. Reached it without getting stuck in a bog or bitten by a snake and scrambled up the other side. He wiped strands of long, wet hair from his cheeks and neck. Pushed his bangs back from his eyes and searched the shadows and the fog behind him. Nothing.

Unnerving, because he knew they hadn't given up. Ahead of him, a patch of the fog cleared and beyond it -- was a shimmering haze of -- something. Static looking, swirling energy maybe. The end of the unimaginably large dome that he had caught a glimpse of earlier. Beyond it he could make out the vague outlines of trees. Not the bent, crippled trees that lived on the moors, but straight, healthier versions, as if the marsh just stopped at the barrier and turned into another type of region altogether. He would be more than happy to travel that other landscape.

Only the lythos did not want to let him. He made a move towards the shimmering barrier and a low, gray shape came at him from the side, out of the fog. He snarled and thrust the sword at it, impaling it through its broad chest and for a second his blade and his arm was trapped. There was no avoiding the one that leapt on his back.

Down to the soggy earth, the breath knocked out of his lungs, sharp nailed claws the width of a man's palm planted in his back, hot breath on his neck, then teeth latching onto his shoulder, clamping down, breaking through leather and skin and wrenching him back.

He cried out, pain and fire lancing inwards from the bite. Tried to buck the thing off, tried to grasp after the lost sword and other jaws closed in on his forearm. Too much weight to dislodge, too much shock and hurt to gather his wits to think of a way to escape.

The claws ripped through the leather armor on his back, the teeth raked a path down his shoulder. The one on his arm let go and tried for the profusely bleeding shoulder the other one had momentarily let go off.

Greed was the only thing that saved him. The one snapped violently at the other. Growling and snarling the two of them forgot their victim for a moment as they dove into a furious fight for dominance. There were other, lesser members of the pack lurking in the distance. The ones that knew not to intrude upon the Alpha male's kill.

Ryo rolled, clutching his arm to his chest, saw the sword and made a grab for it with his left hand. Left hand was the weak one. And this blade was heavier than a katana. But he had more a mind to run than fight. He scrambled ungracefully to his feet, staggered a step as dizziness hit him. Nausea rolled about in his gut. He didn't know if he could hold onto the sword with the uninjured arm, he felt so weak of a sudden.

He whirled and ran. Forced his feet to carry him towards the shimmery barrier. Heard the growls stop behind him, and the muffled pads of lythos behind him.

He felt the heat of breath at his back. Felt the swipe of teeth at his calf and then he was plunging through the violet curtain and the fog was gone and the muddy ground, and the howling chorus of the lythos was a distant, muffled threat.

His foot caught on something -- or maybe he was just that weak -- and he stumbled. Lost the sword going down and only barely managed not to fall flat on his face. With a sob, he twisted onto his back, scrambling backwards to ward off the pursuit. Only there was none. He could see the barrier. Very clearly from this side. It rose like a smooth, violet arc into the sky, it was all foggy and indistinct on the other side. He could just make out the pacing forms of the pack beyond it. They refused to cross.

He laughed. Tasted salt in his mouth and didn't know whether it was blood or tears. He lifted a hand to see and pain shot through him. Everything went dark around the edges. He fell back against the grass, dizzy, disoriented -- terrified as he thought about what the Servant had said about the bite of a lythos. Poisoned. Soul poisoned. How did a soul feel when it was dying? He knew how a body felt. It felt like it now, trembly, with intermittent flashes of hot and cold.

It was tears he tasted. They ran down his temples into his hair now. He couldn't stop them. He hurt too much, and he was too afraid of a death he didn't understand. Then the dizziness overwhelmed him and granted him the boon of not having to worry about it. The only thing he thought as he was going under -- was to wonder if he would ever wake up.



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