Searching for Dawn

Fifth
Inspired by madness

I find myself slipping into consciousness, again. There are sounds around me. Sounds of confused people afraid, not knowing where they are, nor how they got here. A light appears high in the air, on many reflective objects, high in several trees, high on the cliffs, in the distance. A distant wind howls through the high treetops, and the sound of a clashing of blades and armor. Until now, I didn’t realize there were trees or cliffs anywhere this place. There is confusion, fear, and near panic growing.

I try to sit up, but feel uneasy about the unstable, soft spongy surface beneath me. Steadying myself with my hands, and slowly shifting my weight, I am able to look out, across this rotting fen. A snake slithers by. The croak of a thousand frogs is deafening to my ears. Flying, biting insects fill the air. My right hand reaches to my left forearm, finding the impaled crossbow bolt there. Being unable to break the steel bolt, I decide to peel the fletching off, which delivers excruciating pain, upsetting the wound. I work slower and gentler on peeling the fletching away. The process was made more difficult by the insects, some of them quite large, trying to make a feast of my body. Then the realization that I must remove the bolt. Taking a deep breath, closing my eyes, and grasping the bolt’s shaft just below the head, I give a quick pull. I can’t contain myself…I let out a loud growling scream. To my horror, the shaft had only moved a fraction of its length. I feel the warm stream of blood exiting the wound, and dripping from my elbow. I remove my belt and fashion a tourniquet above the wound, pulling it tightly, between my teeth. Grabbing the bolt again, pulling with all my remaining strength, the projectile is freed from my profusely bleeding arm. I fall over onto my side, the island of spongy ground making a splashing sound in the water around it. My shouts are louder than before, and I’m now crying. Blood on my face and likely elsewhere, I tear the sleeve of my shirt and create a bandage, moving the belt over the bandage, applying pressure to both sides of the wound. The pain is sickening. I call out for help. I am answered by silence. A light shines upon me from above, as if from some bright firefly. There are now multiple lights, moving, circling over me. I’m afraid. I call out, in tears, “What do you want from me? I need help, please! Please help me. I’m wounded and have lost my way. I don’t know how I arrived in this miserable place. I’m looking for…”

The lights went out. A disembodied voice announced, “You have all been brought here as a test of your mettle. Success is defined by your survival…ALL OF YOU…and to accomplish the challenges set before you. Upon your success will your worth be considered to participate in the Great Quests. You will find that each of you is tired, frightened, disoriented, and uncomfortable. This hardship is intentional, and may be defeated only together. Your first challenge has been shown to you, but in two parts. The first part may seem obvious to you. The second part is awkward, which will be known to each of you soon enough. You must learn to conquer your fear. You must learn to trust each other. You will not deceive one another. You represent a unique mixture of personalities, backgrounds, races, occupations, beliefs and desires.”

A gust of wind swept across this bog, granting relief from the agony of the constant irritation of pests. A light appeared overhead, followed by several more, giving detail to the surrounding area. More lights, and a wider area is covered in a dim light. I see faces in the surrounding water, looking around and at me. I call out, “The grace of Leira is with me! I beg of you, be my friends and save me! I have been wounded and haven’t the strength to escape this revolting prison.”

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Fourth
Welcome to the swamp

A symphony of sound strikes, making the realization that I as unconscious, unbeknownst to me. My eyes open into the pale grey of a different place. This place is warm, mossy, and just then, I realize that I’m in the middle of a swamp. The sounds I hear are those of countless insects, frogs, and the other creatures of the night. I feel around me, welcoming the touch of a solid surface. But just where am I? I have no memory of how I came to be in this predicament. Feeling around, I have no clothing, tools, weapons, food nor fresh water. Tired, dirty, angry, sore and wet, I thank the warmth of the swamp over the cold, damp dark of the caverns I had been in….for what seemed like an eternity. Straining, I catch some movement over what appears to be a hill, but my tired eyes can’t see it; my ears can’t hear it. I lose consciousness again.

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Third
The fall

….a faint voice from the darkness, cries out, after first unintelligibly, then one word rang out. But before I was able to respond, I began to fall. I entered what felt like a tunnel, then stopped in a foul-smelling shallow body of water. Still dark, I was terrified. Sniffing and growling noises approached. I got up on my feet and felt around me, for some sort of wall, door, or source of light. A piercing pain shot through my arm, and to much my surprise and horror, a crossbow bolt had been shot through my left forearm. The bolt’s head had made its way through my arm, with about half of the length of the shaft. I can hear the familiar sound of the drawing and locking mechanism of a crossbow, and the setting of another bolt. A blinding flash of light appeared, a sudden, muffled scream, a second crossbow bolt is fired, but bounces off of some distant object. A low voice calls out and implores me to close my eyes. I suddenly feel weightless, and have the sensation of flying at a high rate of speed. The loss of blood is taking its toll on me, and I pass out at some point in this unintended mode of travel. I fall in and out of consciousness, remembering only flashes of light, shapes, only vague shades of grey, in this inky darkness. I’m too tired to be afraid, anymore. I’m a limp corpse, being propelled by some unknown force. I don’t know how long this went on, as any sense of time was lost long before I found myself in this void.

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Second
Awakened and battered

I wake up feeling like someone kicked my head ten times. Disoriented, confused, with ringing in my ears, I can make out a different sound in the distance. It’s a scratching sound, like a soft stone being dragged across a harder stone. It sounds like someone writing in runes, not the flowing script of an elegant writer. I try to call out, but I make the frightening discovery that I can’t emit sound from my throat. Just before I fade into unconsciousness again, I see a faint outline of something moving in the darkness.

My memory is vague, I can’t tell what’s real, I don’t know if I’m awake. I lose all comprehension of time. I am terrified. Where am I? How did I get here? Who is holding me here, and why? What do they want? Is there anybody…out there? I reach out to touch anything, but soon realize that I’m not touching anything. I’m not lying on any surface. Panic sets in. I struggle, attempt to scream, to no avail. I begin to sob. I beg for release. I don’t know what I did to be trapped in this place.

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The first go...
The cave

I wake, finding myself on the floor of a dark and dank room. It’s a cavernous room, which feels subterranean. Musty smells and the echoes of dripping water in the distance, giving some sense of space in this unfamiliar place. Fear sets in. I feel around in the darkness until I hear a distinctive click, followed by the sound of a heavy object sliding. Many feet running toward me, something hits me over the…

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