Cressida staggered down the dirt road, clutching her arm to her. The burning in her side had become worse and her head swam through the air with every deafening step. She swallowed painfully and opened her cracked mouth for more air, the scratches on her face wrinkle painfully; she had several of them. For a brief instance, Cressida pulled her hand away from her arm and touched a particularly painful gash just above her temple. Her world swayed dangerously, and she closed her eyes, trying desperately to fight the burning of her eyes and the horrid choking feeling in her throat.
The clouds overhead let out a menacing growl, the after effect of some brilliant flash of light somewhere. She opened her eyes and bent over to recover her balance. She held her arm again, breathing the harsh feelings away.
Cressida was a strong woman. She was smart, she was brave, she was the great captain of the Reyachh People and yet, somehow, she felt incredibly…small. She felt like she was twelve, watching with a pouty face as her mother and eldest sister went off to fight with the kingdom of labron over some silly little spat. She remembered that day, oh yes, like it was yesterday.
Cressida had thrown a horrible tantrum; she’d screamed for hours. She could still recall the look her mother gave her. It was a look of cool civility and disapproval; she’d told Cressida as she’d left the village that day, that she was ashamed to have such a weak daughter. Her mother never came back that day, killed by the horrific men of labron, back when women were scarce in their kingdom. Cressida never was even allowed to see her body.
Another flash of lightning ripped through the atmosphere and Cressida looked over in its direction, the area was fuzzy—in fact, it seemed to run right at her, and then zip miles away.
Cressida closed her eyes again, breathing hard. What was wrong with her? Was it not enough that she’d lost everything? Was it not enough that she’d lost all trace of hope? Did she have to be losing her sight too!? The feeling behind her eyes returned full force, and she grit her teeth. “I will not…cry…” she rasped and then let out a hoarse cough from deep within her chest.
She could smell the stench of rotted meat and smoky fire circlets, she was near a village, one that may have been abandoned. She coughed a little harder now, turning her head to her barren shoulder as she did so. Her skull buzzed and her skin was covered in tiny bumps.
She shivered. Her head swimming even more, now that the wind was biting at her tattered rags—no…they weren’t fit to call rags, they merely covered what was needed. Her long top, which usually would have come to her mid thigh, hung near her belly button and her skirt reached where her long top would usually reach—to her thighs. She glanced down at her scraps of clothing and scoffed.
"Look at you, Cressida. Look at you now." She thought bitterly, shaking her head. "Once, you were part of the greatest village of the whole Reyachh, and for a while…their
leader. How had it all gone so wrong?" Cressida gave a grave chuckle, but it felt something like sand paper scrubbing against her throat. She was hurled into another braying fit of coughs. This time, she doubled over, falling to her knees.
Pain shot through her leg. Cressida yelled, grabbing at her leg with her good hand and ground her teeth together, spying the swollen bite on her calf. When had she received this!? She trembled and rested against the dry dirt of the road. She let out a harsh breath, coughing again. When her fit had subsided, Cressida shivered again, but fell still against the ground.
The air was still rather humid and the familiar smell of rain filled the air. She felt a wet droplet pelt her face. Her eyes opened blearily to gaze upon the dark sky—so dark, it almost seemed near nighttime. When had it gotten this bad? Another drop fell beside her face, it startled her. She hadn’t even seen it. That’s how it began. Slowly, steadily, but over the next two minutes it poured. Buckets of freezing water splashed down upon her by the minute and her coughing increased. She couldn’t see how it could get any worse.
Using her good arm, she pushed herself up; the ground was becoming soft. She reached her feet and took more painful footsteps down the road.
Smoke was rising from the other side of the hill, and there, she was sure she’d find a village. She walked in a strange way; it was strange, because she could not tell what her feet were doing, but she knew that her pathway was no longer straight. It was raining even harder now—if that was possible. Cressida was constantly shaking her head, and after a while it created a most dreadful headache. Her long ebony hair was plastered to her head and her lip trembled slightly. “Be…strong Cressa.” She tried to lift her foot and was surprised when a strong hand clutched it and pulled it back down. She yelped in surprise, her eyes searched the ground in alarm, but she saw no hand. She only found a large mound of sticky mud enveloping her foot. She tried again to pull her foot from the mud and this time she succeeded. Her other foot however, wouldn’t even lift. Cressida wrenched her foot a couple times and then she stumbled as it came free. She put her arms out to catch her self and gasped at the pain. Cressida wouldn’t give up. She couldn’t! She had to make it to that village! She pushed herself back up, using her good arm to keep her stable.
Cressida forced her leg forward, and pulled her second foot out with fierce determination. “C’mon…” she muttered, gripping her hand in a fist, “Come on!” She began to climb the hill, it wasn’t very steep, but it was difficult to see over in her state. She gasped for a few more rattling breaths and then as she reached the top of the hill, she stumbled, falling on her arm. She cried out, curling into a ball, but it didn’t stop her body. She continued to tumble down the road—down the hill, knocking against the muddy road as she did so. She came to a stop at the base of the hill, coated with mud; she lay on her side.
At the bottom of the hill, Cressida let out a startled laugh, and then it turned to a violent, barking cough. She coughed for a long time, hardly straining to draw breath. She began to retch. She was able to lift her head and vomit up what little sustenance was left in her body. Her frail form trembled and she curled up into a ball.
Again the burning came behind her eyes and the thoughts of weakness pestered her but this time, she didn’t have the strength, or the will, to stop herself. Great yells of frustration came from her huddled form, followed by coughing and more retching. She sobbed and closed her eyes. Tears ran down from her eyes sideways and dripped off into the mud.
Cressida wanted to die. She couldn’t go on anymore. There was nothing to live for. There was no one left. It was all over. Her life. Her dreams. Her revenge. All for nothing. It had all been for nothing. She continued to sob, drenched by the rain, her mind slipping away from her. The sound of her beating heart reached her ears and she listened to it slow as she cried.
The remaining sounds were the heavy beating of the rain against the muddy land and the howling of the wind, disguising her moans as a simple melody it had brought with it. She was not familiar with these lands…but it did not seem the rain would slow any time soon. Her eyes could no longer focus. Her breathing was harsh and dry, even though water dripped into her mouth. She licked her lips hungrily. She’d fallen silent now, waiting to die. Praying to die. She only wished the end would come soon.
The rain continued to fall in dismal sheets of icy daggers, but Cressida’s unfocused eyes lingered on the muddy road, heart aching. She hadn’t heard the thunderous pounding of horse’s hooves as they approached. She could barely lift her eyes to see a dark black shape pulling to a stop behind her, its head hanging above her. The blurry blob let out a low whinny.
Cressida smiled weakly. That was a horse, and sounded a lot like Arcturus. It couldn’t be though, and besides, all horses sounded alike. She released a half whispered laugh. Her puffy eyes closed as the rain continued to pelt her; she was shivering like mad.
“Oh my…”the voice was faraway, distant as the sun and yet so near like the mud beneath her cheek. “What have—” He was speaking in the language of the Labronians. His deep voice was coarse and worn, as if he’d been shouting. His footsteps clomped clumsily in the mud, she almost heard it spattering on his clothing, but it didn’t 'ting' like she’d hoped. He spoke again. “I’ll get you to an inn, come on.” Something moved beneath her legs, she felt them lift off the ground. Then an arm lifted behind her back and she was hoisted into the air. Her head fell against his muscular chest and she deliriously listened to the traitorous beating of his rampant heart. He was heaving great breaths. Had he rushed here? She instantly felt warmer and with her good hand, clutched a handful of his shirt, which was surprisingly dry. No matter. The rain would not allow such treachery for long. She shivered again and erupted into more coughing, pressing against his chest with a subconscious need to keep warm.
Then Cressida’s sight disappeared altogether, no longer did she see the broken sky, as it ripped apart with light. She no longer heard the furious roars of thunder like the great yaguara of the Reyachh. In fact, she didn’t recall anything at all. The world melted away and left her far, far behind.