The smell of salt and brine was overpowering, almost burning the back of Gangrel's throat as he breathed. It was very surreal to be back on the docks of Valm—a complete paradox of when he'd visited as a pirate's slave. The landscape hadn't changed a bit: the sloping roofs of the town to the rear, the high masts of ships lining the horizon.
The Shepherds walked in one large mass down the docks, the Exalt and his entourage at the head, looking for the ship they had chartered, the one that would take them across the sea to Regna Ferox. Gangrel was surrounded on all sides, unable to escape the group. He kept his eyes on the ground, refusing to look at anyone. The Mad King didn't even realize that the crowd had stopped until he crashed into someone. Stepping back, the trickster looked around to see what was causing the holdup, and noticed the Chrom was was pointing at a ship. It was an old design, the rigging fraying, sails a bit tattered, the hull encrusted with barnacles.
"I am not getting on that thing."
The words slipped out before the Mad King had even completed the thought. Chrom turned around and fixed his eyes on the Plegian, brow furrowed. Maribelle's haughty voice rang out in the unnatural silence.
"And why do you think that is even an option?"
"That thing—" Gangrel replied venomously, refusing to grant the vessel the title 'boat', "—has about as much a chance of crossing the ocean as Emmeryn has of ever regaining her memory. One storm, we're all dead."
"You don't have a choice," Maribelle snapped.
"I am not boarding it," the trickster repeated, folding his arms.
Apparently, I was misinformed, he thought bitterly as the ship creaked beneath him.
Four days into their journey, the old boat was handling better than the Mad King cared to admit. Of course, it was only because the tactician had enough foresight to bring along copious amounts of extra rope for the rigging, and new fabric for the sails. All the same, Gangrel didn't feel safe on board; far too much chance that a leak could occur in the dead of night.
The wind blew fiercely, unnaturally chilly for the middle of the day. The waves had risen in height within the last few hours, but nobody seemed to notice aside from him. Everyone else was far too busy with their own personal pursuits, whatever they might be. Even as he observed the increasing danger in the water, Miriel and Laurent were taking measurements of something while attempting to keep their overlarge hats securely on their heads. None of the other Shepherds were on deck, taking shelter from the wind and sudden drop of temperatures. Probably holed up in the galley, eating more food than they could afford.
The trickster jumped as he heard his name. Turning, he saw Miriel watching him, a calculating expression on her face.
"You seem disquieted," she remarked briskly. "Given your experience upon ships, you would naturally be the first to detect a quandary with the ship's operation. I must inquire as to the details of what has disturbed you."
Gangrel understood about a third of the words that had left her mouth. His expression must have displayed his lack of comprehension, because Laurent immediately translated.
"In layman's terms, what is wrong?"
"What do you care?" he snapped, irritation returning with his understanding. The bookworm and her son glanced at one another in an exasperated sort of way.
"As you are one of the Shepherds, it is a natural response to wonder about the relative stability of the so-called 'brothers-in-arms' and to inquire as to the nature of—"
"Can you speak any normal languages?" the red-haired man grumbled. Miriel seemed to take offense at this, because she positively swelled with indignation, looking as though she were preparing the words for a vicious tongue-lashing. Her son lightly touched her shoulder, and she deflated slightly, though her expression remained haughty.
"We ask if there is anything wrong," Laurent explained patiently, "because the meteorological measurements we have taken—the changes we've observed about the weather—are concerning. All our experience and knowledge points to the conclusion that a powerful storm is coming this way. Mother was merely trying to ask if you had noticed this instinctively because you have spent a large amount of time at sea before."
Even in the simpler words, it still took a few moments before the Mad King really grasped what the young man was trying to say. After deciphering it, he felt the slightest bit impressed: so they had noticed, in their egghead way. These two, at least, weren’t stupid.
"Yeah, it's coming," he admitted, turning to look back at the sea. "In a few hours, the waves will be high enough to come on deck, and the wind will unravel the rigging."
"Is it possible for the ship to sink in such conditions?"
Gangrel did not answer with words; instead he stared at the two geniuses intently, his expression deadly serious. They did not need to articulate a reply either: their faces told him that they understood perfectly, and they were now aware of their impending doom.
This was not his idea. It could never be his idea. This was the worst idea he had ever heard! But it didn't matter what he said: it was happening anyway.
Even through the wall, the trickster could hear the loud voices protesting to the idea as well. Chrom's was the most prominent:
"NO! Miriel, do you understand the word 'no' at all?! It's out of the question! Absolutely out of the question!"
"It is the only logical course of action." Miriel was saying, her voice raised so she could be heard over the din.
The red-haired Plegian outside in the hall personally had to agree with the Exalt: there was no way, in the name of the seven hells, that he would be captaining the ship through the oncoming storm.
When it had begun to rain lightly on deck, Miriel and her son had both vanished below, and Gangrel had assumed that they were saving their precious notes from the precipitation. When the drizzle became a miniature downpour, the Mad King had followed their example, taking shelter in the ship. Never had he expected in a thousand years that he would find Miriel addressing the army in the galley, informing them that a terrible storm was coming, and that the only way they could survive would be to turn control of the ship to one with experience navigating such treacherous conditions—specifically, the Mad King.
Whatever expletive Chrom had been about to say was lost as the tactician's voice sounded, cutting through the noise with no effort, silencing those who had been speaking before.
"Miriel, what exactly are we facing here?"
"If only I could say, Nisha," the mage responded, sounding immensely frustrated. "My experience in this area is limited."
"What we're facing is a storm powerful enough that the winds alone will tear the sails apart."
Gangrel was just as surprised as anyone else in the room that he had actually said those words, much less entered the galley to say them. Every eye was on him, a sudden silence filling the empty space, oppressive and stifling.
"Gangrel?" he heard Henry say from the back of the room, his tone uncharacteristically high with surprise.
"In less than two hours, the waves will be high enough to crash on the deck," the trickster continued, in the same flat, toneless voice as before. "The rigging will come undone. The ship will be at complete mercy to the elements."
The silence returned, just as uncomfortable, but colder too, as if the Shepherd's apparent fear were physically manifesting itself. Gangrel looked over the crowd. Lon'qu, Gauis, Olivia, Yarne, Virion, Severa...he knew them all by name. And in a matter of hours, they might only exist as memories, legends, and myth. In a matter of hours, all the people standing before him might cease to exist. And he would join them.
"What do you need us to do?"
One voice came through the crowd. The only voice he didn't want to hear. Because if she asked for help, he could not deny her.
"The only thing you can do is listen to me, follow my lead without question," the Mad King replied, his hollow voice gaining volume. "I know what to do, but I can't be everywhere. If anyone on this ship is going to survive, you will have to trust me."
Sully's incredulous comment was echoed in the expressions he saw passing through the assembled ranks. Of course they wouldn't trust him: he was the Mad King of Plegia. How could he have forgotten? It was the only thing the Shepherds seemed capable of remembering.
"I won't make you," he stated matter-of-factly. "Your options are this: trust me, or watch as the ship goes down."
There it was: the simple truth of their combined predicament. The silence wasn't just stifling now: it was overpowering, an almost tangible weight in the air. It took all Gangrel's willpower not to quail, to just stand there. Finally, Chrom stepped forward, running his hand through his vibrant blue hair.
"I don't like it," he said in a low grumble, "but we don't have a choice."
Gangrel watched the Exalt apathetically. So, he didn't want to die at any rate. How many would follow his lead?
As it would turn out, all thirty-seven other Shepherds wanted to live as well. It was a bit of a disappointment actually: no one really willing to submit themselves to the storm, to give it all up to fate. Perhaps he was being unrealistic: Chrom didn't believe in fate. Neither did Basilio, Walhart, or any of the other figureheads. It was only right that a group should parrot the beliefs of their beloved leader. Not that he'd ever had much luck, but still.
In any case, the Mad King been expecting Yarne to say yes immediately—which he had—but he was surprised at how easily the rest accepted the change in command with an unusual lack of grumbling—token resistance was the worst he'd faced. Of course, once he'd taken charge of the situation, Gangrel had been enraged to learn that there were only three Shepherds who could tie a decent knot (Donnel, Gaius, and Frederick). So now they were wasting valuable time on instruction when they could have been preparing themselves from the storm.
"I'm surrounded by idiots," the trickster grumbled to himself as Owain managed to helplessly ensnare himself in his own bowline knot. He immediately glanced away from the young myrmidon as the tactician drew near to free him. Perfect as usual, she had picked up the five basic knots within minutes and was now spending her time helping others figure out at least one. Her talents could be put to better use.
"Tactician," he called, forcing his voice to be level. Nisha looked up as she finished extricating Owain, her expression inquisitive. Gangrel gestured for her to come closer, and she did, but no more than a few steps. The Mad King knew he wasn't going to get her any nearer, and decided to settle for the space between them rather than force her.
"I need you to organize the army," he said curtly. "Three groups of equal size."
"What for?" she asked. Gangrel folded his arms.
"For shifts. One group will be on deck, the other two waiting in the galley. It'll give them a chance to dry off, rest, eat something."
Nisha gave him a look he couldn't quite decipher, but nodded and returned to the cluster of Shepherds she had just left, resuming her former work it seemed. The red-haired Plegian turned and exited the galley, mounting the steps leading to the deck. When he cleared the door, it was as if a bucket had been turned over his head. Shaking wet hair from his eyes, Gangrel stepped out onto the deck, squinting up at the sky.
It was pitch black everywhere he looked; the only light came from the brilliant lightning that set the clouds aflame. The waves were higher than he had expected, the wind stronger. They were out of time.
Slipping a little on the wet wooden planks, Gangrel charged back belowdecks. When he entered the galley again, a hush fell over the room, all eyes on him.
"Nisha, get the first group ready," he ordered, brushing back his sopping wet bangs. "It's right on top of us."
Nothing more needed to be said: moving only as an army could, the first shift clustered near the door and followed the Mad King up into the deluge. As the group emerged, Gangrel handed Donnel a long coil of ropes, instructing him to secure the lifelines of each person to the mast as tightly as he could.
"Why do we need a lifeline?" Ricken called, clutching his ridiculous hat tighter on his head. Gangrel—annoyed at both the unnecessarily large hat and the question—hollered back, "So when I get frustrated and throw you overboard, there's a slight chance you can make it back onto the ship!" He paused. "Any other stupid, time-wasting questions?!"
Nothing more was necessary. They set to work.
They were blind and virtually deaf: the eternal thunder swallowed up all words shouted from farther than a few feet away. The water pouring from the sky was endless, and the waves added even more to the already treacherously slippery deck. Ricken's hat had flown away within minutes, but nobody had been too concerned: it was just a hat, after all. Gangrel yelled orders as loudly as he could, and though the Shepherds did their best, he was still holding the ship together mostly on his own. The only help was the reliable farm boy Donnel, who had volunteered to scale to the crow's nest and attend to the securing of the mainsail. If it had been anyone else, Gangrel would have said no, but the young, pot-wearing man had proven himself to be trustworthy, so he allowed it. Not even ten minutes later, when Cynthia had slipped right over the railing and overboard, Gangrel didn't have the chance to say "I told you so" because the next shift had arrived as they were hauling the young pegasus knight back up.
And so did the hours pass: every hour, a fresh group of Shepherds came up on deck, secured their lifelines, and began working. After the first four hours, they began to get used to the work, not needing so much help. But still the rain pounded on, endlessly spattering them with water, drenching every person on deck to the skin. Of all of them, Gangrel was the only one who hadn't yet taken a break: his hands were red where he pulled on the rope, a permanent chill had settled into his bones, and a deep ache invaded his muscles with every movement. But it was still storming, and he was determined not to rest until the weather did. No matter how much it hurt, he would endure.
An eternity passed. Little signs showed that the waves were calming: a break from the gusting wind, a lapse in the hard raindrops. Gangrel looked up and saw the clouds had faded from black to a hundred shades of gray. The danger had passed—for now.
When the Mad King walked into the galley, exhausted and dripping wet, he was met at the door by Miriel, who promptly cast some spell that dried him. The mage nodded in satisfaction.
"Cherche prepared soup," she informed him, flicking a speck of imaginary dust off herself. "I recommend that you take some and eat it; you're dead on your feet. Oh and can you straighten your cloak? It isn't straight."
Gangrel left her without a word, approaching the wyvern rider who ladled out piping hot stew into bowls and passed them to a waiting line. As he walked, the Shepherds parted around him, whether out of respect or intimidation he couldn't be sure. And then one of the crowd stepped out.
It was Emmeryn. Smiling widely, the former Exalt took Gangrel's wrist in her gentle hands and pulled him to a table, wordlessly insisting he sit. He obeyed. Emmeryn nodded happily, then floated away in her usual graceful manner. The Mad King turned to glance over his shoulder and saw many heads turn away as he glanced in their direction. Everywhere he looked, the Shepherds were quickly avoiding his gaze. Facing the table again, he absentmindedly tapped the wood.
It had been a long time since he'd been the center of attention like this: he'd almost forgotten how he could feel each set of eyes staring at his back, each person's gaze light a pinprick of light focused on him. He didn't care why they were staring, but the longer it lasted, the more uncomfortable it was to just sit there.
A bowl of steaming stew was set before him. Emmeryn had returned—Gangrel could feel her join him on the bench.
"Eat it...please," she struggled to say.
Gangrel picked up his spoon and scooped up some of the stew. As he reluctantly swallowed the first bite, a jolt of hunger ran through him, and suddenly the trickster was starving. The spoon clattered to the table as he picked the bowl up and drained the stew from it in several mouthfuls. His tongue and throat blistered, but he didn't care: all that mattered was eating this stew as quickly as possible, to ward off the oppressive hunger. When the stew was gone, Gangrel replaced the bowl on the table, panting a little from the sudden heat in his chest.
"Good," Emmeryn said, nodding in a pleased way. She then picked up the empty bowl and went to refill it. As the former king devoured the second bowlful, she said, "You...deserve...a break."
"It won't last," he reminded her, scraping up the last spoonful of stew. As part of their instruction, Gangrel had warned the Shepherds that storms had the potential of being two-sided, with a lull between two dangerous regions. "I should probably go back up and keep an eye on the weather."
"No...you rest...someone else...will go."
It was closest thing to an order Emmeryn had ever said to him. And he had no inclination to obey her whatsoever. As quickly as he's entered, the Mad King left the galley, mounting the steps to the deck once more.
The wind was blowing lightly, carrying light flecks of water. Leaning against the mast, arms folded, Gangrel looked to where the wind was blowing from and his search was met with a wall of darkness.
"No rest for the weary," he muttered to himself as a heavy raindrop landed onto his head
It was freezing now, and darker than ever: night must have fallen. Gangrel lost track of the shifts, unable to see more than a few feet in any direction. Occasionally, lightning illuminated the entire ship for a single, electrified moment before the blackness returned, leaving everyone blind as the thunder shook the world. Everyone was soaked to the skin, chilled by the wind, their feet and fingers equally unfeeling.
Gangrel was securing the lifelines of the new shift as the other Shepherds staggered belowdeck for some relief. It was eerie how exhausted even the fittest of the Shepherds became after only an hour of hard labor, their determined movements reduced to feeble half-attempts. Gangrel knew he should be just as tired, but adrenaline was pulsing through him at every step, blocking out any sense of weariness and any pain he might have been able to feel through the numbness.
As another strike of lightning forked across the clouds, someone shouted, "The mainsail!" Gangrel twisted to look upward and saw the distant imprint of the white fabric against the obsidian sky. The ropes had broken.
Instinctively, the trickster seized a long coil of fresh rope and ran to the main mast—pausing at the bottom to swallow the sudden nausea that engulfed him—seized the woven ladder, and began to ascend.
The wind was strong enough to blow him off like an insect and carry him into the sea. The only things stopping it from doing just that were the tight grip of his fingers and the safety line at his waist. He felt so small up there: a speck against the immense clouds that swallowed the endless sky. He wondered for a moment if this was how it felt to be a scrap of duct on the wind, alone and completely at the mercy of everything larger. Lightning flashed, searing across his vision, and Gangrel immediately turned away from the sudden light, continuing his climb blindly.
Squinting against the flashing imprint of the lightning bolt, he could make out the sail whipping through the wind. Automatically, he swung off the rope ladder and crouched on the crossbeam where the sail had been secured. Taking the coil of new rope, his hands worked without direction, drawing the struggling sail up and tightening securing it safely. Then, still in a half-crouch, the trickster walked across the round log to the other side, securing the other half of the mainsail.
The ship suddenly lurched and Gangrel felt his boots slip on the slick wood. Before he was really aware of what was happening, the Mad King found himself dangling from the crossbeam. Wild panic gripped his heart and sent a chill colder than the pounding rain through his veins. Focusing all his energy on his fingers, he struggled to shift his grip so he could better pull himself up, but his hands were numb, and he could only feel his stiff fingers sliding off the smooth crossbeam.
One hand slipped, then the other. Gangrel found himself in free fall, arms outstretched for a savior that wasn't there. In that fraction of a moment, before gravity really took its hold, one thought was emblazoned across his mind:
I'm going to die.
It was a simple fact, and he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he could do nothing to change it. The Mad King had experienced nightmares about dying this way, falling an endless distance until he hit the unforgiving ground. But those had only been dreams, wanderings of his mind in the dead of night. This time it was real. When he hit that deck, he wasn't going to wake up. He would never wake up again.
And then a strong hand snatched his arm in a steel grip. He didn't know who it was and in that moment, he frankly didn't care. The moment his feet made contact with the wood and the hand released him, the Plegian staggered back towards the mast, grabbing the rope ladder as support, and fighting against the sudden urge to vomit. He was shaking—not from the cold rain and wind, but from the sheer relief that he was alive and the terror of what he had just faced.
It felt like an eternity, but slowly, his chest stopped heaving and the pulse roaring in his ears faded. Still trembling, Gangrel turned his head to see who had saved him.
Frederick was crouched on the crossbeam, finishing an elaborate knot to keep the sail in place. When the Great Knight finished, he stood and calmly approached the Mad King.
"Perhaps I should be in charge of securing the sails," he suggested, unruffled by the chaos surrounding them. "It would not do to lose such a valuable asset."
Oh how he wanted to snap back! To make a sarcastic comment! Anything! But he was still too shaken to think of an appropriate insult. Giving up he merely scowled and began to descend the rope ladder, refusing to breathe until his feet were firmly back on deck. Still consumed with nausea, Gangrel leaned against the mast for a moment, wiping away a few stray beads of sweat. Then, gritting his teeth, the red-haired man forced himself upright and crossed the deck to join Kjelle's efforts in re-securing one of the longboats.
It could have been eternity, but just as suddenly as the rain had begun pouring down, the floods slowed, then stopped altogether. As the Shepherds on deck let out cheers, Gangrel stared blearily at the sky. Yes, those clouds certainly looked lighter now, and when he looked out at the horizon, he could see a distant dawn in the East. It was over
The Shepherds had all retreated belowdecks for a well-earned rest. All except the Mad King, who was still making double and triple checks that everything was still safely in place. Someone had to do it, after all.
He had just finished tying up the ropes on the last longboat when he heard footsteps splashing across the sopping deck. Twisting, the trickster saw a familiar dark cloak and back ponytail.
"What are you doing, tactician?" he asked apathetically, returning his attention to the ropes. Her voice answered calmly after a moment's pause.
"I came to see if you were still up here. You haven't come down in hours."
"There's still work to be done," he replied mechanically. "Who better to do it than me."
Gangrel turned on his heel and strode past the tactician, determined to get back to work. He was surprised when Nisha's strong fingers caught his arm and forced him to a halt. Slowly, he turned back around to face her.
Her brow was furrowed in a frustrated way, but for the first time is weeks, she did not tremble at his proximity, displayed no fear at his presence. If anything, she looked far angrier than he'd ever had the misfortune of seeing her.
"Don't you dare," she said in a heated voice, "say there's more work to do. The storm is past and we all need to rest."
"No buts!" The force of her voice was like a whiplash, and Gangrel almost flinched. "You're going to kill yourself if you keep this up! Just look at your hands!"
Unthinking, he obeyed and saw that his palms weren't just burned from handling the rope, but rubbed raw, an angry red streak running along the center of both his hands. How hadn't he felt this? No, it didn't matter.
"There is more do be done," he stubbornly repeated. With a jerk, he wrenched himself free of her grip and stalked away, determined to make sure that everything was tightly secure.
But as he took a step, his legs suddenly failed to support him and he collapsed to the deck. Or at least, he would have collapsed to the deck if Nisha hadn't surged forward and caught him, her arms wrapped around him as if in an embrace.
"I told you," she said, placing his arm around her shoulder and helping him stand. "C'mon."
Half-guiding, half-carrying him, the tactician took the Mad King belowdecks, but not to the galley as he expected. Instead, she took him to a small room with a bed. After leading him to the bed, she released his arm and dashed out of the room as he seated himself. Gangrel clasped his aching hands and was surprised to feel them trembling. Sudden exhaustion crashed over him, and he realized for the first time how hard he had pushed himself during the storm: every muscle hurt and his body felt weak, ready to betray him.
Nisha reentered the room, carrying a towel over one arm, a bundle of clothes tucked under the other. She placed the clothes next to him on the bed, but dropped the towel on his head.
"Go ahead and dry yourself off," she instructed. "And get into these dry clothes while you're at it. They might be a bit big because I borrowed them from Kellam, but better than nothing, right?"
The trickster didn't move, staring blankly at the towel draped in front of his face. He could see Nisha's shadow, hovering uncertainly in the little light that bled into the room. After a weighty silence, the tactician's figure vanished from view. He heard the door hinges squealing, and then Nisha's voice before the door swung completely shut.
"I'll come back in a little bit with some soup."
Gangrel pulled the towel off his face and lethargically began drying his hair. By the time he was passably dry, the towel was dripping, and his clothes were still damp from the rain. He stripped the wet tunic and breeches off himself and replaced them with the warm, dry ones waiting on the bedside, leaving the wet towel and clothes on the floor. Just as Nisha had said, they were a little too big, but they fit better than he'd initially thought; Kellam must be smaller than he looked under all that armor.
It hurt to stand, to stretch his muscles after so much labor. When he was dressed, the Mad King suppressed a shiver. Even in dry clothes, he was still cold. Tossing back the covers, Gangrel laid down in the bed and surrounded himself with warm blankets. He shivered again, feeling the imprint of chilled gold against his chest, where his cursed pendant rested as always. And then there was no more feeling: exhaustion claimed him, and he fell into a sudden and deep sleep.
It was so warm, so comfortable. Sunlight streamed into the room through large windows. It reminded him of a Plegian summer.
He laid stretched out on a large bed, atop rumpled silk sheets. He was so comfortable, his bare chest warmed by the sun, his shoeless feet tangled in a pile of blankets. Lazily, the Mad King opened his eyes.
The ceiling, framed by four posters spewing long graceful curtains, was high, arching and magnificent. Of course it was; every room in his castle was breathtaking. Gangrel's gaze wandered over the regalia around him, then stopped when he saw someone standing at the bedside.
It was Nisha: her hood down, her black hair slung over her shoulder and looking as beautiful and regal as a queen, even though no crown rested upon her brow. Gangrel propped himself up on one elbow and reached out to her with his free hand, his fingers taking hold upon the inside edge of her cloak. He studied the embroidered patterns there, stroking the golden border over and over. A smirk slid across his lips and he looked up, into her deep, dark eyes.
She smiled back, and stepped closer, bending down as Gangrel raised himself up. Their lips met.
The world faded into a tapestry of gold. Without removing his hand from her cloak, Gangrel pulled her closer, deepening the kiss. His other hand cupped her cheek before sliding back to tangle into her raven hair. A heat quite different from the warm sunlight rose inside him, spreading through his veins and skin like nothing he had ever known.
And then the heat changed: he was no longer warm, but stiflingly hot— he was burning, but somehow cold too. Nisha's warmth did not change, but retreated as they broke from the kiss. The world twisted sideways and Gangrel was lying down on the bed again. But the bed had shifted as well, silk sheets replaced with cotton, the size reduced by over half. He realized his eyes were closed and opened them to discover that gone too was the bright sunlight: the room was dark, with only a single beam of light to see by. The only thing left of that beautiful world was the edge of Nisha's cloak, which he clung to so tightly his fingers ached, afraid that it too would vanish.
Nisha's figure was little more than a shadow. The trickster couldn't see her face, and he wished she would step into the light so he could see how she regarded him, whether she was angry or afraid.
Fingers, slim but strong, coiled around his fist, freeing the cloak's decorated fabric from his grasp. He strained to touch the cloak, but his hands were weak in comparison to hers, and she guided his hand to rest atop the blankets.
"It's alright," her gentle voice murmured in his ear. "You're safe. Go back to sleep."
He believed her. His eyes slid shut and he breathed deeply, his panic fading as he gave heed to the tiredness that weighed him down. He felt Nisha's hand on his and felt her spread his fingers open, then close them in a fist around something small. Before he could wonder what it was, his mind left reality once more.
The first thing Gangrel was really aware of was how thirsty he was. He automatically swallowed and when that did nothing to bring relief to his sore throat, he cracked his eyes open to glance around the room.
It was day, but he could tell nothing else. His wet clothes had mysteriously vanished from the floor and his sore muscles didn't hurt nearly as much as they had...how long ago had it been?
The door creaked open as Gangrel threw back the blankets and seated himself on the edge of the bed. Brady walked in, precariously balancing a plate of food in one hand and a bottle of medicine in the other. When he saw the Plegian already awake, he hastily came forward and offered the plate to Gangrel, who took it without thinking.
"I didn' know you were awake," Brady said as the trickster immediately downed the water glass in a single gulp. Then he muttered to himself, "Sure took you long enough."
"How long was I asleep?" the Mad King asked, tearing into the bread the instant the words were out. Brady shrugged.
"You've been out for...'bout four days now."
Gangrel dropped the bite of bread he'd been about to take.
"Four days?!" he repeated incredulously. Brady nodded.
"Ya came down with a fever," the young healer explained. "Right after the storm was over. Nisha was takin' care of ya, but then she got sick, so I took her place."
Gangrel stared at his hands, one closed in a loose fist, the other still open after dropping his food. The raw skin on his palm had almost completely healed. He then remembered his dream with a jolt, and his gaze shifted from his open palm to his fist. He tightened his grip and felt something small resting there. So it hadn't all been a dream...
"Yes," he said, more to himself than Brady. Then he tore his eyes from his hand and instead glared at the wall, forcing venom into his voice. "Well, as you can see, I'm perfectly alright, and don't need anyone looking after me. You may go."
"But—" Brady shut up when the trickster glared at him spitefully and immediately made to leave the room. The door hadn't even finished closing when Gangrel opened his hand to see what laid there.
It was a small fold of paper. Keeping one eye on the door, he slowly unfolded it until he saw that it was a full sheet, the entire surface filled with words. He glanced at the first line.
'The only name I have ever known is Nisha.'
The paper fell to the floor as the Mad King suddenly released his grip, as if it burned him. He wouldn't look at it. Never. He glanced around the room and saw a lone candle burning faintly. He bent and picked up the letter without looking at it and crossed the room. As the paper hovered over the flame, he imagined how it would look to see those words, those petty apologies, rise into ashes.A minute passed. Then two. And still, Gangrel did not lower the paper into the flame. He didn't know what was stopping him, but his arm was frozen, unable to do the deed. Sighing with defeat, he dropped his arm down to his side, the paper still clenched in his fist. After another long moment of staring at the tiny flame on the candle's wick, he folded up the letter again, keeping it clenched in his fist.