Amir stumbled along behind the captain, bound with an improvised leash, struggling to keep up. The pair had trudged along the Cliffs for the better part of a day until they had reached the verdant edge of the Thickets. Though he was an injured prisoner, other thoughts dwelt upon Amir’s mind. As far as he knew, no one had ever returned from a venture beyond the Sticks. Whether they had succumbed to the Sick, or something else altogether was anyone’s guess.
The captain jerked her leash, jolting Amir forward and redirecting his eyes to the bitter viridian glow of the woods. The boundless greenery, along with the fresh breeze swirling around his lungs kept Amir enthralled. It was only as the cut on his cheek began to bleed that he was reminded of the peril of his situation. He wished his brother could see the charm of the forest, the beauty of healthy life—anything other than the ailing melancholy of the Sticks.
“Enough of the sentimental. Your brother will be fine until we return. You should be more concerned about the Sick. This forest has unusual dragonfire. It isn’t enough to keep even a small person like you alive.” Amir stopped, canting his head toward the captain. She turned about, returning his gaze only briefly. “It’s of no concern to you.” She yanked his leash, dragging him on.
They continued through the dense forest, Amir watching the captain follow some sort of trail like a trained hound. He tried to find a kind of clue as to what she was following, or where she was going, but could see no indication of either. Though the pulse of dragonfire weakened in his blood, he remained fascinated with the scampers and skitters of wild life, and the small pools of clear, clean water throughout the forest bed. He whistled an old tune as they trampled through the marshes. “A mute that likes to whistle. Aren’t you interest—”
Amir continued whistling his song, stumbling into the captain who remained frozen in place. He backed up a moment, staring at her, waiting for some reaction. He walked around her, looking into her eyes. Though a shimmering emerald hue, they seemed dull—vacant. He nudged her, knocking her off balance. He tried to catch her, but only managed to pull the leash causing her to fall face-first into a small pool of water.
Amir dropped to his knees beside the captain, rolling her with his shoulder. With her now on her back, he took a breath trying to figure out what happened. She remained lying on the ground, expressionless. He continued trying to find ways to help her as he heard the approach of heavy footsteps, followed by a snort growing louder behind him. He turned his head to a furry piggish-creature glaring at him. Before he realized what was going on, the animal charged.
Amir threw himself over the captain, shielding her as the piggish-creature rammed into them. The impact threw Amir onto the ground, the leash dragging the captain along with him. Watching the creature circle around, Amir winced as he struggled to lift himself, shifting his bound hands back and forth until he reached the captain. Again he covered her, and again the creature rammed itself into him.
Amir drew labored breaths, unable to pick himself up a third time. He remained on the ground with a mud-stained face, staring into the semi-lit sky. Blazing clouds drifted by overhead. He cracked a wry smile, letting out a small whistle. Hopefully the animal would notice. Hopefully it would only kill him. He listened as the creature charged once more.
Bracing for the impact, he jerked as his side stung with a dull-burning stickiness. Beyond that, a wretched death-squeal echoed out. He looked down to the pig-creature’s tusk disappearing within his own skin, while the piggish thing itself lay disemboweled by a rapier. The light dimmed as a figure towered over them with the leash in hand. The captain fell upon him, her fingers clenching tightly at his throat. “We warned you! You tried to murder us!” Unable to defend himself, Amir met her with a breathless gaze.
“Wait—that wasn’t…” she slowly released her grip. Looking up, he could see her eyes were no longer tarnished, dull emeralds. They were, behind the rage, something that could almost be mistaken for tender. The captain glanced around before releasing him. She shook her head as she examined his abdomen, the boar-tusk still protruding. The captain drew a wicked knife from her side, sawing the large tooth from the piggish-creature. She bandaged the remaining part of the tusk in place to prevent further bleeding.
No longer bound to the violent carcass, Amir tried to rise. As he did so, he found pain in his side rivaled only by overwhelming nausea. His thoughts became less organized, coalescing into a thick, murky haze. “Dammit! The Sick.” The captain sheathed her weapons and pulled him from the ground. She shifted his weight around as she hoisted him up, pulling his arms onto her shoulders. The last thing Amir could recall was the captain hauling him off toward what looked like a blurry lake filled with angels.