Grave Awakening

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Chapter One

Crippled, fatigued, alone, and, above all, a pariah. Word would spread about Nick, if it hadn’t already. He wouldn’t be able to show his face anywhere, and could not stay in any place for too long. Bound to run and move on until he couldn’t anymore, but there would be no rest for him. Not ever again. So he savored the rest he could get now, respite in that muck-filled stable, indulging in that which he no longer needed but will truly miss when he could no longer have it.

His mind, though, did not know the meaning of rest. It plagued him with questions, with unease, playing every outcome. None of them, not a single one out of the thousands it flashed before his eyes, ended up happy. Then again, there would be no such thing as a happy ending anymore. There would always be a knife to his back, a blade to his throat just waiting for the chance to cut it. That feeling was nothing new, but now he knew that they were capable of it. They wanted to do it, desired it.

There was only one person he could trust now, and he sent her off for her own safety. He knew his life was over, but knew she still had a chance. As Rylo stated, she went home, so there was no way she could have saved him. It must have been another rogue Reyla, one that was tired of the way things were and freed him as a result. Naiyala couldn’t have been the only one... right? Though he wondered how long they would keep up the chase. He couldn’t imagine they would go that far, not without horses themselves, but, thanks to Nick’s contributions, they were clean out of those.

That was one scenario that plagued him the most. What if they came to check on the horses while he slept, checked the back stall, and found him slumped over in there? He wondered if he would wake back up on his personal cross, or if he would wake up at all, his mind forced to wander the aether for the rest of existence. Maybe he was already dead, the stillness of rest, the depths of death his final gift.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case. He awoke, and saw the last few rays of day shining through the boards, quickly stealing away into dusk. His body didn’t hurt as much as it did, but it still throbbed and bled. It felt like a stone, any exertion like kicking sand. Even raising his arm to look at his hand was a test of endurance, seeing how the pinkies were scabbed over. His tongue felt like a ten-pound rod, fighting so hard to remain latched to the roof of his mouth, but he managed to free it long enough to feel along his gums, under the hole, finding them pretty much sealed. Prodding his lip brought forth a drop of blood, but nothing more.

It was his toes, though, those obstinate little things, that refused to seal. They continued to trickle into the dung and mess around, poked, prodded, cut by the stone as he fled from that town. It would be a miracle in its own right that they didn’t end up infected, if they weren’t already. But that was their problem, not his. They would have to suck it up and worry about rotting away as they made their escape.

To where, though, was the question that still haunted Nick’s mind. Again, thousands of scenarios, north, west, south, east, up, down, left, right: it didn’t matter, as all of them ended up in pain, suffering, indignity, and, ultimately, death. East would mean returning through Leyshun, but that was also the shortest trip he could take before meeting his end. There was no way Rylo wouldn’t be patrolling it, sniffing out for his blood, so why make it easy on him. West would mean new villages, uncharted territory, but, like with Bren, they could simply be waiting for him, hiding their true intentions until it was the perfect time to strike. North was vast emptiness, and he would be seen before he made it too far there- and, even if he did, whatever city he came to same scenario as west.

That only left south again, to those mountains, but not to the mountain-dwellers. It was a long shot, the hardest path to tread, but it also meant the highest probability of survival. Bren let it slip when she talked about her ex, but it appeared there might be a way to traverse those mountains. He could get over that ashen wall and away from their clutches, as they would sooner die than try to follow. However, that was, also, the risk he was taking.

He was running to the dregsao.

Nick never even met them, never even saw one, not even a reference or a painting, and their very thought still brought a chill to his spine. The Reyla, though backwards at times (by human standards), were at least self-sufficient, interdependent on their own kind. What did he know of the dregsao? They raided, they pillaged and rapined the lands of the Reyla to the point that those that lived closest to the mountains sought sanctuary and life under it. They were known to be so hostile, so common at doing so, that just mentioning it was enough to garner sympathy and trust.

Then again, that was coming from the Reyla, people who have shown just how bloodthirsty they could be if you don’t agree. They were a culture rife with hypocrisy, but that didn’t soothe his mind on his plan. If anything, that only made it worse for, if they were that bad, how much worse could the dregsao be... Regardless. He needed to get moving, or at least stand up.

Pain shot through him, screaming at him as he started to move, to remove the stony shackles that had fallen into place. Every part demanded he ceased at once, but when was he known to listen to good advice. Even from himself. It was slow-going, legs shaking, ready to buckle if he even moved too far or up the wall too fast. His feet slid in the muck, freshened by his blood into a nasty slurry that gripped and slurped at his toes.

He fell a few times, but that only helped to shake his bonds free until, at last, he could stand on his own two feet. It took the last of the light to do so, but he did it. Now, the fun part: walking. His legs were already quaking from simply standing; the idea of lifting one, of having his whole weight forced on the other, made his head spin a little. But he needed to do it, he needed to try and fail and try again. If he didn’t, he would never, so he accepted the first few face-plants into that slop. He was too determined (and tired) to gag on it, and went nose-blind to it hours ago; didn’t mean he wanted it on his face or in his hair. It was either he stank to high heaven or die... He was still weighing his options.

It only became more significant as he made his way passed the stalls. Those openings, housing for the horses, were perilous journeys on their own. The final hurdle was the worst, easily two stables wide before the wall and opening to the outside. That, also, meant going outside, where there were no walls, but at least he could bring a hoe, a muck rake, or a crude shovel to lean on. He would bring the ho, but he just sent her packing a few hours ago. It wasn’t even a contest; the muck rake was the best choice, since it could also double as a weapon. Those tips at the end, though only sharpened bone, had years of filth and disease just waiting to make whatever it strikes septic. Not only that, the six points meant his weight was split a bit easier, meaning it won’t snap as he leaned on it as hard as he could. If only his real friends could have been as reliable he wouldn’t be there to begin with.

But it wasn’t the time to reminisce. It was time to step out into the world and begin his pilgrimage while the going was good. Come morning, it would be a lot more dangerous, but, as night stole across the realm, he could at least be safe in its cool em-

“Hello, Nick.”

He gasped, and barely had time to bring up the rake, cracking against the haft of Rylo’s spear. Rylo pulled back, swinging, clacking once more against the rake. Nick wavered on his feet, knees giving with each crack, slumping him down as tried so desperately to hold onto it. Rylo didn’t stop his assault, didn’t relent, until Nick was down on his knees, holding that rake above him for dear life. He spun his spear, and roared as he brought it down, splitting the rake in two, the tip towards Nick’s head. He missed, but Nick wasn’t exactly in a better position, staring down that haft as it sunk into the dirt in between his legs, just before a certain set of nuisances.

Rylo pulled the spear free, readying to stab- but gasped, dropping it as he looked down at his gut. Nick let go of the head of the rake, stuck in Rylo’s gut. His blood shined white in the pale blue moonlight, dribbling down five of the six teeth, quivering with his shaking breath. Rylo ripped it free and tossed it aside, but it turned out Nick had more strength than he lead on. He leaped to his feet, and used the other, shattered end of the rake, thrusting it into his face. Rylo screamed, recoiling, and was silenced as his own spear was thrust through his chest.

“This time stay dead,” Nick said, panting, and gave the spear a twist before pulling free. He stabbed it through Rylo’s head, knocking away the broken rake, and did so four more times for good measure, before digging the tip into the dirt and steadying himself. The world spun again, though it never really stopped did it? It only spun faster for him as he continued to drift in and out of this world, head lighter than ever before. It felt so... free, so empty, as if he could debate politics and actually choose a side or say one religion or skin tone was better than another just because of pigment. He felt as though he couldn’t be wrong about anything since he didn’t know anything, but that couldn’t be further from the truth at that moment. Rylo knew he was there. They knew he was there, and it seemed their hate was enough to break their diurnal habit. He would be chased every step of the way.

And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“’Silence, Legion, and stay out of my way.’” He huffed, shaking his head, and started for the road. It was going to be a long journey to the mountain, but he knew either salvation or true damnation waited there. Who was he to let it down? He was a man of his word, after all, and always got the job done. He was already a monster; why not see what this world’s monsters truly were?

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