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Haunted

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The night is silent and clouded, not a single star in the sky; for a daylight creature, there would hardly be a difference between closing one’s eyes and keeping them open.
The river is dark, darker almost than the sky itself. Neilar watches the swaying surface; the glow of his eyes is the only reflection in the water, and even it is very faint.

There is something hypnotizing about the sight; the air is cold, and he feels the warmth sip out of his body with every passing second, yet he cannot bring himself to get up or move at all, just staring, staring at the darkness.

A hazy recollection of a story comes up in his thoughts - a tale of a demon that would lure its prey exactly so. Travelers would stumble upon an empty camp, a cozy cabin, an abandoned meadow and linger there, intrigued; slowly, they would grow tired, and eventually collapse, unconscious. Then the demon would come and devour its sleeping victims.

But a demon would never choose to set trap in a place like this, he thinks; nobody in their right mind would want to linger in a place so dark and cold, with the ink-black river almost intimidating in its lifelessness. No, no demon is responsible for his lack of desire to move; he is simply very, very tired.

Another story - this one he can almost hear being told in Keeper Deshanna’s voice to a crackling of a nonexistent campfire, - tells of a cursed lake, even a drop of whose waters would turn people into stone. He remembers dreaming of the place, a child’s nightmare, wandering through the barren lakeside littered with human-shaped rocks, some broken into pieces.

Already stiff from the chilly wind and heavy with exhaustion, he relates to this story somewhat more than the previous one. Neilar glances at an odd-shaped rock formation across the river and wonders briefly if these were once people, if he had found the place from his nightmares and the Keeper was just mistaken when she called it a lake instead of a river.

He wraps his arm around his knees, pushed up to his chest, and allows his head to drop down; his hair, grown out over the last few weeks, immediately gets in his eyes, but he does not mind. He closes his eyes.

It’s warmer this way, huddled inside himself, and for a moment, he is able to escape the heaviness. For a moment, he hears a chatter of voices behind his back and the rustling of a tent going up, and feels the Anchor stinging his arm; at any second now there will be footsteps behind him, and the black water will glow with the reflection of magelight as Dorian’s voice makes some witty remark -

He opens his eyes at once, breathing out sharply; his breath forms a small white cloud around his mouth as he lifts his head up. Neilar stares as it dissipates, confused, and only then notices the frost that has began collecting on his coat. It… must be colder than he thought, then.

He doesn’t feel much different, however, certainly not as if he’s freezing to death; he’s had the experience, and tonight is nothing like it. It puzzles him, but not for long; he hasn’t been feeling pain or heat as much lately, so it only makes sense cold would follow. Slowly, the spirits are taking away everything that might slow down their vessel’s journey to… where, he still doesn’t know; the Sorrows do not even bother with answering his pleads anymore.

Forth, they whisper when he asks. Further and further. Do not stray. Do not wander. As if he could do any of this, with the Sorrows taking control as soon as he tries, to right the course at once. They allow him to take the steps himself most of the time, and to hunt and forage as well - though sometimes he can swear there is a streak of green magic guiding the animals into his awkward, one-handedly built, traps.

He misses Dagna’s gift dearly, but he had no idea how to repair it when it broke down, and the Sorrows commanded: discard. It has been a dead weight, quite literally - and a danger ever since the others somehow managed to track him using it.

This has all become a routine by now, and so he no longer wonders, and no longer struggles. Maybe, when he completes the journey, the Sorrows will let him go; they reward him with an hour of silence sometimes when he does well, just like now. He usually uses this time to sleep. He probably should sleep now as well, before the voices come back and the dreams become loud and confusing.

Neilar closes his eyes again, but behind his eyelids he still sees the black stripe of the river, with thin ridges of light on the surface; sometimes his own gaze, sometimes a campfire, and sometimes the glow of magic.