I sprinted through the forest full-tilt, the anger and adrenaline coursing through my body pushing me past my pain. It was like my body was fading away with every step, the aches and wounds unravelling and leaving just my soul exposed. I hurdled fallen branches, pushed off of jutting rocks, wove between trees lightly and powerfully and nimbly. I felt faster than the river, lighter than the air. I didn’t just feel free, I felt capable.
The bearskins were faster, more desperate, more afraid, and they scrambled haphazardly through the trees towards some unknown destination. They plunged ahead, skidding and stumbling, but only ever went a few dozen metres before pausing to see if I was still following. Their pale, vile eyes flickered white in the failing light. They snapped and snarled at one another as they fought to get away but still I kept running.
I knew it was there, the fire between my fingers, the little black vortex churning ceaselessly within my chest. It was driving me on, pushing me through every twinge of pain or weak muscle. I wanted to rip into those bearskins, burn them alive for what they’d done, and the thought of finding their little hidey hole, where obviously there was something important to them, filled me with a dangerous hunger.
Steady, the wind seemed to croon as it twisted around my body. Steady.
I was more than this anger burning beneath my ribs. I was more than the blindness and the pain and the fear. I was more than loss and isolation and desperate risks. I was alive and powerful and I was not stopping for anything.
I leapt up on a rotting stump, planted my boot against its wood, pushed off and hit the ground running, kicking up leaf mulch and pebbles. My breath thundered in my ears. I wanted to go faster.
But rising above me was a steep ridge, lying across the forest floor like a bony spine beneath the grass and leaves. The bearskins’ claws raked deep gouges in the dirt as they frantically clambered up the incline and threw themselves over the other side.
I sped up, kicking hard as I fought gravity and my own heavy body. I grabbed shrubs, thick tufts of grass, anything within reach that could help pull me to the top. And there I stood at the crest of the forest’s backbone. My chest heaved. My legs shook. The aches and pains came coursing back.
I turned, looked behind me. Smoke curled up from the ground where liquid handfuls of flame had scorched the dead leaves. You could see the deep orange trail of smouldering forest tracing my steps hundreds of metres back into the darkness. That was me. That was me passing through the forest, as powerful and unstoppable as I was, and leaving my ugly black mark on it.
That damage was my fault.
My ribs shuddered as I fought to normalize my breathing and I slowly turned again, looking back ahead of me on the other side of the ridge.
There it was. Their hidey hole.
Bearskins swarmed like ants in the little hollow in the middle of the forest, their greasy pelts catching the moonlight, their pallid eyes reflecting white daggers in the darkness. They churned around their dingy camp, between piles of rotting meat and hoarded junk. The bearskins I’d been chasing flooded into the hollow, stirring the others to run faster and more erratically, until they were a chaotic, senseless mass.
I scanned the mass of seething bear pelts, searching for any tiny sign of anything that might be a clue. There was nothing. No sign of Faith, no sign of any gypsies, no sign of anything that meant anything to me. What had I expected anyways? That these brainless monsters would really be hiding anything important?
The swarming bearskins had started to slow, not quite as frenzied as they’d been when I first arrived, and I watched them with a curled lip. They were horrible creatures, monsters that preyed on emotional weakness, that inspired the same fear they thrived off of, and here they were in front of me. Afraid of me. So what did that say about me?
Maybe I belonged here.
I half slid, half clambered down the side of the ridge, tiptoeing around animal carcasses and rusted metal until I stood in the centre of their camp. They instinctively moved away from me, surrounding me in a circle that spun and bristled and pulsed constantly. The faint moonlight rode like a serpent on their backs. Their continuous motion was dizzying and infuriating and I wanted them to stop.
“Where are they?” I snarled at the beasts, and a low growl passed through the pack. A few of them swerved out of the circle to snap their jaws at me and a flicker of fear sparked in my chest. These monsters could kill me if they wanted to and it was their fear of a magic that wasn’t really mine–that I couldn’t really control–that kept me safe. If they decided they weren’t afraid of me anymore…?
The spark of fear flared hotter and now the bearskins were dodging in and out at me, snapping and snarling, made hungry by my worry but still cautious in the glow of the fire dripping from my fingers. The fear in my chest kicked harder, spiraling into something big and fierce, and my efforts to contain it only seemed to compress it into something sharper. The bearskins slowed, scraped their claws, turned inwards to glare at me. A few of them stepped towards me, threatening and huge.
The anger flared defensively, using the fear as ignition to make it burn hot and unwavering, and the bearskins leapt back from it. I sent them into a maddening dance, pulled like a magnet by their obsession with my fear, repulsed forcefully by the heat of my anger. They didn’t know how to respond, they didn’t know how to treat me, and we stood in a tense stalemate.
I swallowed tightly. Balancing the fear and anger like a pendulum where my heart should be, I took a step towards the bearskin directly in front of me. It immediately retreated, but I let out some of my fear, drawing it back, then held it there with a flash of anger. It felt scalding and nauseating in my throat, the potent emotional cocktail, but it held the bearskin transfixed as I took another step, and then another. I was standing a breath away, our eyes locked. My heart pounded, fury stretched taut across my shoulders, as the monster and I faced each other with ruthless respect.
It was a respect caked in dread and hostility, but it was respect.
My breath steamed hot and restless.
“Find them,” I snarled softly, baring my teeth in the darkness.
The bearskin growled lowly, pale eyes flickering, and then it took off into the night.
*collapses into an exhausted heap*
This was an effort to write. But it is done and hey, look, it’s the 15th. I’m sort of not really on schedule.
I have things I would like to do and a direction I would like to pursue and a whole lot of vague thoughts and aspirations but I have no promises for when any of that will happen. For now, I am tired.