His hands clenched the dirt where he laid sprawled. Sandor stared unblinking up into the morose sky. Past the flies that droned and swarmed in the shade of the trees that surrounded. What sunlight there was filtered through the leaves, casting an eerie fern green glow to all surroundings. He rolled his eyes across what he could make up of the sky, seeing the birds soar overhead, the unyielding strata of ominous cloud, and fragments of the sun. All marred by the spittle of rain that came and went. The scent of sweet rot clung to him, enticing insects to sting at him, biting into his flesh.

It was all relentless. The fever swept over him and pain rolled like the tide. All wasted, he thought to himself, bitterly.

Frustration filled him as a crow croaked overhead, his eyes made contact with the ink black smear of animal perched upon a cracked and splintered bough. The creature peered back at him, black eyes shining like wet pearls in its cruel, stupid head. He desired to crush it between his hands each time it croaked at him. Like laughter. The strength to sit up, let alone rage, had fled long ago. The crow became an unwanted companion. He stared back at it, and watched as it dove into the brush and waddled out with a dull orange snake snapped up in its beak. The serpent's tail flailed about searching and slowly began to curl around the crow's body. A sharp crack split through the air and the snake's head fell to the ground, separated from its body. The crow looked at Sandor, working its beak open and close as though silently laughing.

Sandor breathed in and felt fluid bubble up from his lungs frothing into his mouth, and he dissolved into paroxysms of cough. Spots of frenzied color began to crowd his vision; the effort was exhausting and summoned a blazing web of agony in his wounded body. His awareness began to fragment, and darkness poured through and drowned out the frenzy of color. And the darkness ebbed all about him, lapping at his body. Sandor heard his own ragged breath. Felt the head of flame graze his body and retreat, leaving a chill to plunge into flesh and bone. He ran his tongue over the dry and cracked flesh of his lips. There was no relief from the thirst, he craved the taste of water more than he had ever wanted strong wine or beer in his life. Fool he was to refuse water before. Now he could only open his mouth to catch some of the rain water, it was not nearly enough.

Somewhere in the periphery of his senses, he heard the crackle of twigs snapping, and the squelch of mud. His flesh screamed; he could feel each nerve overflow and sing. He heard its voice. Low murmuring. And somewhere a voice high, soft and sweet… His heart pounded in his chest, like a sword striking against a shield in war. Egging on the dance of life and death. The clamor ebbed through his body and visions began to dance before his unseeing eyes.

He breathed in.

Smoke began to pervade the air; he could taste the overwhelming presence of it on his tongue. It built up and up, filling what little space was free of fluid the infection and sickness wrought. And so Sandor lay with smoke swirling within him, no longer aware of the damp earth beneath him, the drizzling rain upon his skin, or the insects feasting on gangrenous flesh. He was beyond the scent of rot.

The crow had long settled back on its perch, the serpent's blood trickling from its beak and stringy flesh dangling. It rustled its feathers and tucked into itself, eyes fixed upon the scene below. Overhead other crows circled, patient but intent upon the scent of sweet decay and blood, yet would not dare to breach through the canopy of leaf and wood. Only the wind dared to disturb the tree branches, casting shadows upon shadows. Shadows that ought not be disturbed in their slow progression across the earth.

And a shadow fell upon Sandor, and the faintest outline of a face emerged from the fog of smoke swirling within Sandor. The face, at first formless, engendered and gained character. The gray smoke billowed forth then retracted gradually. Like nearing footsteps, heat surged within Sandor incrementally. Heat that built upon itself, yet would not smother itself as a fire would. The face acquired features as it came nearer, and finally much to Sandor's anguished horror, Gregor's cruel countenance hovered over him. And again Sandor was corned and helpless, as he once had been. Fearful….no, terrified in fact. Suddenly a sick bite of heat began devouring the side of his face. Skin, muscle and bone yielding.

The hound did not yell, the fog swirled about Gregor and tore him back but the pain lingered, and Sandor felt he might die. Finally as he was waiting for. Yet, as he lay in silence and devouring pain a small voice sang through the darkness, through the void. And he listened until only the voice remained and blue eyes.