An expeditious retreat from a very real and present danger left Akara teetering on the edge of death. Luckily for her, as it was, she had lost so much blood that the trail had thinned significantly, throwing her persuers off her trail and giving her some much needed respite. She found her spot at the base of a large pile of stones that seemed to have fallen from the much larger mountains to the north. Several rocks, weighing more than a ton individually, were stacked like a haphazard pyramid, and she collapsed near one, laying her back into one of the beige sandstone boulders and sliding down to her butt with a show of teeth and a reserved, tired grimace of pain.
Her hand reached downward along her body and each inch of touch was a century of anguish for Akara. She felt a trail of pain that lead along fields of flayed skin and alongside forests of broken ribs to the immense canyon of flesh where an axe had managed to dig out its pound of flesh. She braced herself as she forced her dirty fingers to sink into the wound to test its depth. When her fingers found no purchase of bottom, she removed them with a growl and looked dwn to find them covered in dark almost-black blood. She knew what a deep wound in that place would mean for a mortal like her. She looked around for a moment, cursing her final view. All around her was stagnant wasteland with barely a thing rising above ground level. She sat at the foot of the Mountains of Jersaal in an area that was known to be nothing more than dead ground due to the quarantined Desdelen just a few miles south.
“I should have been more careful.” she said with a weak laugh. “Now I have to die lookng at this shit.”
Her joke quickly died into silence as the noonday sun poured its heat onto her. If it weren’t for the fact that she was already sunburnt and dehydrated, the warmth might have been godsend for her cooling veins. When she heard the sound of smal rocks falling nearby, she tried to move. She wanted to rise to her feet and draw her sword so that she could at least defend herself from the terror that had inevitably come to finish his work. Adrenaline shot through her veins like broken glass, but all it allowed her to do was to place her hand on the hilt of her sword.
“Who’s there?” Akara demanded.”Show yourself!”
She gripped the hilt with what little strength she had remaining, but couldn’t see anyone in what little area of vision she had. As she waited, her jagged breathing was heavy and quick and her broken ribs ground against each other like the sound of moving gravel.
“It seems you’ve gotten yourself into quite a pickle, haven’t you Akara of Ashthorne?” came another voice from behind Akara, just over her left shoulder. It was a melodic, female voice that had a nuance of amusement alongside.
“Come out!” Akara weakly demanded.
“Oh, Akara.” the voice said as Akara could see a foot stepping down from above on the periphery of her vision. It was a small foot, one might even call it dainty. It was of Kharoshtan complexion. Sun-kissed, but smooth. The voice continued, still amused. “Here I am.”
Akara couldn’t see much of her, as the woman stayed on her periphery, but from what Akara could make out is that the woman was darkly complected and wore some kind of white gown. She hadn’t been wearing shoes, either. Given that this kind of terrain would bloody feet like the woman’s, Akara could only surmise that she was dying. This woman was naught but a spirit, come to take her off to the Halls of the Dead. Maybe an ancestor of hers. Maybe even Hæl, herself.
Some time passed before wither of them spoke, and Akara had only done so for fear that before too long, she wouldn’t have any breath left to speak, “Who are you?” she managed. “What do you want?”
The woman sat down beside her, and Akara could feel something powerful radiating from her skin. It felt warm so near to her own fading body. Or something like warmth, anyway. It was a kind of power that Akara had never felt before. She had felt the power of the Fated, the Quicksilvers and ever the energies of the Small Gods but never anything like this.
“Am I going to die?” Akra asked, her bravery waning with the realization.
“Oh, darling Akara. Not if I have anything to say about it.”