Daniel hadn't thought that it were possible to be in so much pain. It felt as if he were being turned inside out and flayed simultaneously. He wondered if this were hell, if the Shadow had seized him in the last instant before he and Alexander tumbled through the portal and vengeance was now being wrecked upon him by the countless dead, a sweet little girl and a mad old man.
He couldn't see Alexander. They had been wrested apart by the energies of the gateway as soon as they had fallen in. He had heard his name being called, whether in fury or pain he could not tell, and then the eerie silence of the void before his own screams filled it as the pain took hold.
I'm glad, he thought through his tears, I hope he never gets home. If I am damned, let him be even more so. He thought of Agrippa, dropped in the ensuing struggle as Alexander tried to prevent Daniel from setting the corpse free. He was now lying forgotten in the halls of Brenneberg; doomed for an eternity to silence and darkness and living death. I'm sorry, Daniel tried to form the words but could no longer feel his lips, wondered if he even had a mouth anymore. I'm so so sorry, I never meant to break my promise to you. Not after everything you did for me. It was his last thought as the agony of his body increased and his consciousness slipped away.
Sunlight pierced through the frail protection of his eyelids, into his very skull. He rolled over, trying to escape it and got a mouthful of sand for his efforts. Coughing, he rose up on his elbows, disoriented. There was sand as far as he could see and for one confused moment he thought he must be back in Algeria, that Brennenberg and its horrors had been nothing more than a dream. The heat was all wrong though, there was scare any to be had. The sun in Africa had beat down upon him mercilessly. This temperature though… it was like standing in a sunny spot in England in the summer; it could get uncomfortable if you stood still for too long, but was tolerable none the less. How very odd.
He tried to rise to his feet, but could manage no more than a crouch before the world started spinning. He sat down with a graceless thump. Memory caught up to him. Not just the fight with Alexander but the long hours leading up to it, on the run from monstrosities, the scrapes and bruises gained from flight and hiding, the luckless moments when a claw would graze him when he stumbled… No wonder his every breath pained him. And that awful awful fall. Which brought up a very good point: where in hell was he?
Had Brennenberg fallen and this wasteland was what had replaced it? Was he somehow transported to somewhere else? But no place on Earth had a desert so agreeable, none that he knew of at least. He played with the idea that he had gone mad, but dismissed it. He had already been insane once, his old self that was, and though his time in his life before his amnesia potion seemed as dim as a dream, he could still remember the sharp textures of madness, the hard angles of it in his mind. No, he didn't have the luxury of insanity this time around.
Drawing his knees up to his chest, he pressed his face against them. He didn't know what to do. He was lost, hurt, exhausted…not to mention naked. Had he braved the perils of Brennenberg, escaped the Shadow, fought off a mad baron and the even madder echoes of his former self just to die of starvation in an unknown wilderness? It seemed horribly ignoble. But maybe it was fitting. He had crimes to pay for. They were half remembered, but it was still his hand, this body, that had committed those atrocities. Blood will out.
The world spun again and he squeezed his eyes shut harder, trying his hardest not to give into hysterics. He had survived so much, endured so much, and would not unman himself at the end of his life.
A sound behind him of sand being unsettled. It came again. Footsteps? His mind conjured a monstrosity come to devour him. That would be a fitting end indeed. Maybe a more welcome one instead of the long agony of starvation and dehydration. He struggled to turn, to face his death with some remnants of dignity.
A man was staring at him, confusion evident on his face. That makes two of us then, Daniel thought. The man was dressed oddly, tight breeches that looked to be of some scaled material, a shirt that would have been billowing if it had not been tied down by bits of string and sashes in a pattern that looked haphazard. He had long hair that appeared white in the sunlight. Daniel assumed it must be a light blond in color for the man's face was young and unlined, maybe a few years older than Daniel himself.
"Hello." His voice was cracked and dry. He attempted a smile.
The man's face darkened. He snapped something in a language Daniel had never heard before, had never heard anything that could have been its relation before. It was fluid and rapid with odd sibilant hisses punctuated throughout. When Daniel only shook his head, the man's expression grew angry and another long stream of incomprehensible words was thrown at him.
Daniel only shook his head again and smiled. "I'm sorry, I don't understand." He spread out his hands in a placating gesture. "Can you speak French?" he asked, switching to that language. The man only stopped talking to draw breath for another angry tirade. "No, then. How about Arabic? German?" His German was horrible but he felt he could make himself passable in it. The man stared at him, sullen. Daniel sighed and then did a flurry of inquires in every classical language he knew as a lark. Well, the man didn't look angry anymore. He just looked more confused than when he had first appeared with uneasiness now thrown into the mixture.
Another pretty stream of words that ended in an upward lilt and Daniel assumed a question had been asked. He shook his head and smiled, trying to appear harmless and friendly and probably just managing to look daft. The man's shoulders rose and fell in a sigh, he looked upward to the heavens as if asking for guidance or patience. His gaze fell back on Daniel. He frowned, and then held out a hand palm up; he raised it in a sharp gesture. Daniel tilted his head to the side. Another sigh. He took a step closer to Daniel's prone form and repeated the gesture, starting at the height of Daniel's head and raising it to the height of his own.
"Oh, you want me to stand! I tried that earlier, I am afraid I wasn't very successful." He tried again though to appease the increasingly frustrated man who might turn out to be his increasingly frustrated rescuer. He didn't even make it as far as his knees before the world turned grey and he felt as if his blood were being replaced with ice water. The man was leaning down and peering at him intently. It was Daniel's turn to sigh.
After a few moments of hesitation, the man extended a hand then the other. "Yes, that might work." Daniel took hold of the offered hands, noting they were slightly calloused. He gritted his teeth as he was pulled upright…and promptly fainted.
His body was being gently rocked from side to side. It was like being in a boat… or on a horse. He opened his eyes, stirred against the firmness at his back. The firmness stirred back. He was being held by someone. He realized that there was an arm around his waist which tightened its grip when he began to stir. Daniel let himself go limp to show that he had enough sense not to struggle and pitch them from the beast they were on. He opened his eyes and met a pair staring down intently at him. What a remarkable color, he thought, mind still a bit muzzy.
He was sitting side saddle across the other man's lap, the arm not around him was behind his shoulders propping him up. The man had also taken off his unusual shirt to reveal a snugger fitting undershirt of the same color. The feel of cloth against his battered skin solved that little mystery. The man had draped his shirt over Daniel. Without the fastenings, the shirt was loose enough to do a fair job of hiding his nakedness. Daniel smiled and hoped the man could read the thank you in it. He pulled the shirt around him more tightly and tried to rise up into a more seated position, the effort exhausted him and he was soon falling back. The man said something that sounded soothing. Daniel closed his eyes and turned, cheek pressed against the man's chest.
A strange wickering cry came out of the horse and Daniel turned his head and opened his eyes once more. Not a horse. Most definitely not a horse. It had horns. Strange, long, evil looking things that protruded from either side of its great head. Daniel looked back at the man who didn't seem at all concerned about his mount. "What is that?" Daniel asked pointing at it.
The man's only response was to glance down at him and then back up in the direction they were heading in. "I don't like it!" A fair amount of panic was entering his voice. The man heard it too. The arm behind him moved to lean him closer. A hand was brushed over his face and tightened around his chin. The man said something firm. Get a hold of yourself, probably.
"But I don't." Daniel mumbled, petulant. The man smiled. His teeth looked very very sharp, the canines and their match on the bottom jaw were pronounced and pointed. Daniel couldn't help but shudder. The man said something that sounded at once mocking and placating. The hand left his face and pointed into the distance. Daniel followed the elegant line of the arm to where it was extended.
Not another castle, was his first thought. Then he fully took in what he was seeing. It shouldn't be able to stand, was his second thought. The architecture was impossible. It started off almost needle thin on the bottom and rose up into a blocky structure with wings and towers that shot off from it in defiance of gravity. It looked familiar… A blue glow flashed up from his memory, an orb in the darkness and a hand that was at once his own and not daring to touch the untouchable…and then his mind had been assaulted with visions from another world.
"No. No no no." He kept repeating the word and began to struggle against the other man's hold. The portal, that damnable portal. The man said something sharp, the beast halted as its master tried to restrain Daniel. "You don't understand! I'm not supposed to be here! It took the wrong one!" His pleas weren't understood. The man cursed and a grip as firm as iron was around his wrists. The man shook him and Daniel let his head loll back, not having the strength anymore to hold it up. The portal had worked after all, a gateway to another world. But it had brought the wrong person home. This was the world of Alexander. It had to be. "It took the wrong one." He mumbled, eyes squeezing shut.
The blankets stifled him and he kicked them off. There was an angry voice and they were pulled once more over him. Daniel again thrashed against them. A weight was over him, pressing him down into the mattress he laid upon. His wrists were roughly seized and held fast above his head. It was a struggle to open his eyes and when he did he found the odd eyes of his rescuer looking back at him. The man was practically straddling him, trying to keep him still. Daniel tossed his head, the only thing he could move and moaned. He felt hot, too hot, and sweat ran down his face in trickles.
"I feel ill." He whispered.
A question was asked, but he didn't know how to respond to it. The man slowly let go of one of his wrists and touched Daniel's throat. Again the same question and the man touched his chapped lips. Was he thirsty? Or hungry? 'Yes' to the former but the mere thought of the later made his stomach heave. He decided to take a chance and nodded. Apparently the gesture was another thing that didn't translate for the man continued to stare at him, fingers still against his mouth. Daniel smiled and repeated his nod. "Yes, water please."
The man snatched his hand back as Daniel's lips fluttered against his fingertips as he spoke. He slid off of him and stomped off with a rustle of fabric.
Daniel rolled over onto his side and drew himself up into a ball. He hurt. Everything hurt. And he felt so dry inside, as if he had taken all the heat the desert had lacked and stored it inside himself. The man came back bearing a container. The shape was wrong, alien, but the liquid that was poured from it and pressed to his lips was familiar and welcome. He wasn't allowed to gulp it, the man would draw it back after a few sips and the feeble grip Daniel had on his wrist was not enough to stop his withdrawal. The man sat on the bed and slowly let Daniel drink in this fashion. When Daniel began to cough on it, the glass was put aside.
He lay back, realizing for the first time that pillows were piled up behind him. The simple act of drinking had exhausted him. "Thank you, my friend," he remembered to say before falling back asleep.
Daniel awoke, shivering and drenched, feeling weak as a kitten and foul. He rolled over and shrieked, his side ignited in agony. He had to remain hunched into a ball, trying his best not to dissolve into sobs, for several minutes. A cool hand on his brow roused him and he opened his eyes again, ashamed that tears were streaming from them.
"Ah, my rescuer." His voice was cracked and small. He wondered if the man could hear him, then remembered that it did not matter; the man could not understand him no matter how loud or soft he spoke.
The man appeared to be in more casual dress, a robe made of some black material that shimmered slightly when he moved and which was cinched in at the waist with a number of complicated looking belts. Daniel could not tell if he was wearing shoes, then wondered why that seemed important to know. "Am I dying?" A quick, bird-like tilt of the head was his only reply. "I feel like I am dying." He rolled onto his back, more careful to mind his side this time.
He ran a hand cautiously down his body, starting from his throat and ending at the mass of bandages that encased him just above his hips. "What happened?"
Apparently his rescuer was curious about that point too, for a stream of very pretty words that ended with an upward lilt met him. It was Daniel's turn to turn his head to the side. The man sighed and sat on the edge of the bed. He extended his hand until it hovered over Daniel's injury and asked the same thing again.
Daniel frowned. "I'm sorry, I don' t know the answer to that either. Wait." A memory was stirring, one that seemed out of place in the warm room with the blazing fire and the comfort of a mattress against his back. Could it really have been-? He cursed the laudanum for being so adapt at dulling the senses. "I was attacked. In the water. I didn't know the damn thing was even there until it-" he made a clawing gesture at his wound. "You don't understand a word of this." Daniel thought a moment. There had been a name for that ghastly creature, Alexander had written it out, but how to pronounce it… He tried different combinations of sounds and intonations until he seemingly stumbled across the right one.
"Kaernk?" The man straightened and even seated Daniel could tell he was very tall. He was looking at Daniel as if he were a madman. He spoke and it was a reproach.
"You don't believe me. Well, I'm no liar. What kind of world you must live in where monstrosities like that can exist."
A question was asked, the man's face stern.
Daniel could only shake his head. "I'm sorry. I have no idea what-"
He was cut off with a single, violent slashing motion. The man was silent for a moment, eyes distant, and then they focused on Daniel with such intensity that Daniel found himself cringing back. The question was repeated but this time accompanied with a finger that moved in a circle around the room. This place? This area? The man then moved his hand in a fluid up and down gesture. Ah, water. Again the circle and then a violent slash. No water here? "Kaernk." He said followed by the sign for water.
"Yes, they did seem to only hound me in the submerged areas, thank God. Hm." Daniel pointed to his side. "Kaernk." He mimed a wave. "Water." Then empathetically pointed away and then away again. "A long long away from here, my friend."
The man looked puzzled and a bit wary. Daniel still hadn't convinced him it seemed. He wondered if this place had a version of Bedlam and if so, if it would soon become his new address. "I am telling the truth."
His host blinked, and then glowered. He pointed at a long gash that ran down his arm. "Kaernk?" Sarcasm was apparently universal.
Daniel gave a tired smile and shook his head. "No. Another monster. I do not know their proper title if they ever had one. Nightmares given flesh." He shuddered. "I don't want to talk about this anymore."
He was persistent though. A raw and abraded wound on his ankle was prodded. "?" And suddenly Daniel was in the dark again, cowering as the walls themselves seemed to quell as the Shadow howled for him, reality twisting into red webs of decayed flesh, a strand falling against his ankle, burning, devouring.
He jerked his leg away. "I told you, I am done with this topic!" He rolled over, back to the man. Was he truly safe, now? Had running to another world really been the only option? Alexander had seemed to think so, but Alexander had been a liar. And Alexander had also feared that Daniel would have carried the taint no matter where he fled.
His heart seemed to be skipping every other beat, it made breathing hard, made each gasp a chore. He felt sweat break out on his forehead, but his flesh was so cold, too cold. The room grew dark, shadows springing to life and reaching for him to drag him down into blackness before he could voice a scream.
I hate beginnings. They are so hard to write in a way I am satisfied with. As always, critiques, comments and what have yous are very welcome!