This was her punishment, she was sure of it. Going out alone, avoiding the others, trying to push herself to a point of exhaustion, all of it. It served no purpose but to prove herself, to at least look like she could handle this just like years before. But that was it: It wasn’t the Brink. It was the Far Shiverpeaks. To think it was the same, to think the Peaks were gentle compared to the jungle, it was foolish. This was new, and it was cruel.

And the land made her remember it.

Gal stops at the top of a hill and leans against a tree, wrapping an arm around her body as she lets out a sharp cough. Her body struggled, the muscles and skin twisting and sending alarms through her. It almost takes her to her knees, but the grip on the tree is tight and she lets it ride through. When it’s gone, the hand on the tree loosens and she blinks away tears and tries to regain some stability.

It had been several hours already: The trees were sparse here now, and below she was beginning to see the top of the Keep’s buildings and its gates. The fires were visible from here, and oh how they beckoned to her. Yes, she can be there soon.

The skies were dark above her. The clouds had settled and the wind and snow had returned. It whistled past her, filling her ears with the nose of creaking trees and moans from the land. The furs get pulled up, but even with her ears covered it still screams in her ears. It was so loud, she swears she can’t hear her own heart in her chest.

But she does here a soft whistle.

The arrow flies by and sinks deep into the tree beside her, scratching her cheek with its rough barb. Gal lets out a shout and steps out of the way, the feet slipping on a few rocks and it sends her back against the hard earth. It bumps into her ribs, and she can’t help but scream as a new wave of pain rolls through. She tries to look towards the direction of where the arrow came, but between the pain and snow now whipping around, she can only see a figure nearby. They raise something, and in her direction.

Another flies. The whistling of the air through the feathers comes to her first, giving enough time to roll out of the way before the arrow sank into the earth. She then falls still, trying at least to work through the pain running through her to at least get a glimpse of this stranger. What didn’t help was how big the form was. Each step brought up clouds of snow up, and with the wind it covered them fully as it a perfect mask. Just about the only thing she could see in this mess of snow and spinning world was his furs and skull, and a longbow that was ready to fire.

Gal crawls back to the tree, wedging herself into its roots to gain some shelter as well as get the world to at least steady. The snow and wind was still roaring around her, but here she could at least get a break. But only from nature, as she soon sees another arrow fly and hit a root next to her leg, causing her to curl up tightly in the spot.

Followed. They have been following her. She doesn’t know for how long, or why, but she knew they had followed long enough to know she was injured and alone. How perfect of a target.

As a break from the wind comes in, Gal is able to peek out and get a look around. Some feet away was her blade in the snow, near but required a good sprint to get to. She murmured a soft “shit”, then shifted in her place as slowly as she could so she was on the balls of her feet. The snow was still flying, and she could hear the figure walking, looking for her behind each item and getting another arrow ready. Just for her.

As the footsteps grew closer, Gal shifts in place once more and reaches down to her armor. Her fingers wrap around the straps and she pulls, tightening the plates on her side. She has to bite down hard so to remain quiet, so hard that she brings blood from her lower lip. Another round of spasms go through her, and she sees the world spin slightly. But once she could steady herself, she nods and begins to stand to make a run for her weapon.

And just as she did, he appeared from the tree. She froze.

A scout. Son of Svanir. The skin cracked and chipped, showing off the teeth and mouth beneath and how it was rotting. Dead eyes glare from their bear skull covered in fur and snow. Ice jutting from his chest and wrapping the arm. No breath to tease the air and no pulse to show a former presence. His bow dragged in the snow and lead a trail behind him. Snow danced around him still, but without the wind he was so noticeable. And dead.

How he didn’t see her was a wonder, but it was worth it for her. He was small and thin in Norn terms, and if she fought well he could go down fast. But with her wounds it could go either way, and she didn’t like that idea. She had no other plan though, unless she could sprint fast enough.

Gal slips back into the spot and falls still, eyes darting in thought. She needed to get away from him, in some way or form. Worst case, they fight. Best case, she rolls down the hill and gets to the Keep. If she had backup, this choice would be easier. If she had backup, she wouldn’t be here. Just that thought alone makes her sigh.

“Point proven.”

Just as the murmur leaves her mouth, a short-sword swings down and slams into the roots, catching her arm in the process. Blood flew from the new wound and she had to jump out with her hand clasped over it and teeth clenched. Gal was speaking fast, trying to remember a shield spell as a plan came to her mind: Run.

She can hear his hollow laugh and the creak of wood as he pulled out the weapon and followed with a haunting look. She tries to keep distance, dipping and twisting up to where her blade was laying. Blood trailed behind her, staining the snow and leading right to her. Another arrow flies, going past her ear and landing deep into the earth. Another chant and she quickens, reaching her blade before another arrow comes at her.

She gets to the weapon and brings it up just as another arrow comes flying and ricochets off the side. Gal stares at it for a brief moment, muttering “How are you this fast”. But it’s then as her attention returns does she see him leave the ground and dive towards her with short-sword drawn and aiming at her.

Gal buries the tip of the sheath into the snow and shoves it down, pulling the sword out and spinning on the ball of the heel in one motion. Just as the blade came up and guarded her face, his own sword made contact and the sound of metal rang through the air. The force sends them back several feet, but both stay up and locked.

His eyes burned a sickly white. His smile was wide, the edges cracking the wider it became. His fingers were a pitch black color, and felt sickly against her own hand. Her body burned from the force, and she could see the blood running down the arm. No, she had to power through. This Norn wasn’t going to take her this way. Not without a damn fight.

Just as the Norn leans over, laughing and forcing her to a knee, Gal steadies her position and drops her blade. He stumbles, leaving his chest open, and she sends the blade to cut him across the torso from hip to collarbone. Blood flies, he lets out a roaring laugh, and stumbles back small enough. Seeing the opening, she brings the blade up again and charges forward, sending the blade down into his arm.

More blood falls, this cut forming down his side almost to the crotch. The scout howls out, still wearing his smile but faltering at the damage. Gal tries to hit him again, but this time he sees her opening and juts the short-sword forward, catching her in the side of the broken ribs. He cuts deep and goes up, cutting away the armor and exposing her whole side. More of her blood covers the snow below, and she screams out in pain. He sees her fumble and laughs as he takes another swipe, slamming his body and sword into her arm. The blow makes her spin and she falls back, the world spinning and ringing as she hits earth again.

The scout only laughs at his victim that lays before him, the bow going to his back and the sword remaining out. She can see that smile still on the face, the way it twists and contorts the dead skin. She could see the dark magic behind it that fueled it, that fueled him. It sent a chill through her, so strong enough that she tried to flee, but the pain kept her curled on the ground immobilized.

His hand came down while she struggled and wrapped around her throat, slamming her down first then in one fluid motion throws her back into the trees. The sword falls from her, too far to grab. She bounces hard against one of the trunks, resulting in splinters shooting into her back and causing another wave of pain. This blurred the corners of her sight, and now white was coming in, almost sending her unconscious. That would have been a blessing here.

He’s back on her, and so was the sword. He swung, and the weapon hits her arm again, going through it and almost pinning the arm to the trunk. The pain burst in her head, but he had taken her by surprise to the point of her scream getting caught in her throat. Her eyes cross, and she fights to keep them open just long enough even as the world started to fade around them. 

Focus. Focus dammit! You need to live, you need to protect.

Through the pain and disorientation Gal was at least able to focus on the Norns face again. His skin was still cracking, the smile growing far more than a person should have the power to do. His laughs were growing, but she can’t focus on it. Instead, the eyes move and she sees his bow. Yes, his bow: It was close enough and strong enough to do at least some damage. She just needed to gain a hold of it…Yes, she could do that, she just needs an upper hand.

Thank above she had one.

As the Norn kept laughing, the voice now sounding disjointed and somehow backed by several more voices, she began a new chant. He continued with growing joy even as her eyes began to shift from normal to being filled with a blue hue that soon covered the whole eye and even sent tears down her stained skin. Tendrils danced around her hands and she waited, oh how she waited for that falter. When it occurred when the laugh stopped and he withdrew the blade, she struck.

A hand slams into one of the wounds on her arm and the other grabs for his skull. Then, with the whole body protesting, she pulls herself off the ground and pushes off the tree to get a leg around his body. Another push of magic and she’s on his back, the arm now around the neck and her other hand going for his bow. It slips from the holster and she brings it down, the arm moving to grab the other side and soon the bow is around his neck and she’s pulling it back. Hard.

The scout lets out a gurgled laugh followed by a roar, grabbing back at her and trying to pull her off his back. He even stabs at her again, the sword cutting her other arm but not as deep this time. She won’t budge. The other leg wraps around him and she keeps pulling back, trying her best to get him to his knees and at least end him. But it then hits: He’s not breathing. How could strangling work if he has no breath and thus, nothing inside that body that was his own. 

Fine. Plan B.

As the Norn struggles and spins to try and throw her off, Gal continues her chants and climbs higher on his back. One of her legs becomes undone on his back and she buries the heel into the small of his back. He lets out a sharp yell but she ignores it, instead focusing on adjusting the hands on the bow. They move down to one end, gripping it hard and pulling it against his skin. She sees drops of blood forming on the string, and slowly her lips curl into a snarl.

It’s a burst of energy, magic backing her injured body just enough. The bow twists, and she pushes off with the foot in his back. Her body comes down and she hits the ground on her knees, taking him down, and his neck twists violently. Her sight blurs again, and all she can do is listen as there is a loud CRACK and he spasms. Then, there’s nothing.

He drops like a rock, and just as the body falls she lets go of the bow and falls back into the stained snow. Just as he lay there, so did Gal. Her wounds had stayed closed for the time being, but with that last move it not only opened the cuts but also shifted the ribs to the point of her gasping for air. Her body was screaming in every way and she forces her eyes shut to keep herself from losing her mind.

Yep, this was her reward for her stupidity. Pain and dying. Oh how this was going to go well with her group on top of her partners.

It takes her a moment, but soon she is able to gather the remainder of the magic still in her body and rest a hand over the worst of the wounds and begin to heal. Slow, but steady enough. She’ll make it, she’s sure of it, but she’ll need help. That rested in the Keep…She should be thinking of finding a sled. 

Minutes pass and she’s able to open her eyes again and at least get herself on an elbow to look around. The body was still there. The sky was dark, but she can see a light beginning to come from the east.

Dawn.

Gal can only frown and let out a groan before letting herself fall back into the snow, still working on her healing. Soon she closes her eyes again and rests as the world moves on and nature goes on without her.

This was going to be a wonderful conversation with everyone when she got back.

Author MaddAce
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