Friday, 7 October 2016

Artel - Alone

Millon felt lost. He had never felt quite so lost in all his short life, and he hated it. He didn't like most things, but compared to this everything else seemed like a holiday. He had failed. Completely, totally, and utterly. It would barely be possible for anyone to fail as spectacularly as he had, yet he had managed it. Stupid, stupid Millon, useless, bumbling fool. He cursed himself over and over again as he plodded through the never ending trees.
It had been three days since Artel had disappeared, swallowed up by the ground, as if he had never been there at all. Millon had heard his cry and had turned to see the knights tousled head disappearing into the ground, but when he had reached the spot where he had disappeared he had been unable to find any sign of a hole, pit or pathway that could have swallowed him. He had spent hours walking over the same patch of ground, backwards and forwards until he had trodden the grass flat and created a small clearing between the bushes. Confusion had addled his brain, in his understanding of the world people didn't just disappear into the ground with no conceivable explanation. Eventually he had sat down, deciding to wait until Artel reappeared, which surely he would have to at some point. Maybe he was playing a cruel joke on Millon? Maybe he had finally had enough of the smaller man and had given him the slip? Maybe a dangerous forest creature had sprung out of the undergrowth and gobbled him down whole before slithering back to wherever it came from? The last thought made Millon shiver, he had never been the bravest of men, and as the light between the trees slowly started to fade he began to contemplate whether he would survive the night alone in the forest. His mind slipped back to the shadow creature that had plagued them before and he felt a cold stab of fear in his chest. If the creature came back while he was alone he wouldn't stand a chance.
The small man huddled against the thick base of a tree trunk next to the clearing he had made, watching the forest around him grow darker and darker. The temperature began to drop and Millon thought about making a fire, but he desperately didn't want to attract attention to himself, so he pulled his cloak tighter about his shoulders and hugged his pack to his chest.
In the darkness the forest came alive, buzzing and ticking and screeching around the frightened Millon, who soon found that without a fire he could barely see past the end of his nose. He sat very still, listening to the strange night noises and trying to pretend he wasn't really there. At one point he heard the footfalls and snuffling of a large beast moving nearby him. A million possibilities flashed through his mind as he imagined what kind of creature it could be, and he held his breath until it had passed, trying harder than ever not to move a muscle.
Eventually he slept, and when he woke the now familiar squawking of the birds high up in the branches above him filled the air, and the scene around him was lit with the soft glow of early morning sunshine. He pulled himself to his feet groggily, wincing as he discovered the crick in his neck, and looked around. The forest looked exactly the same as it had the day before, and there was still no sign of Artel. He took a few steps towards the bushes next to him, shaking life into his dead legs, and relieved himself onto their dark green leaves. Then he turned and stared at the trampled grass clearing he had made, completely at a loss as to what he should do.

Millon stood in the clearing for a long time. He felt confused, and lost, and couldn't decide whether he should leave or stay. Now that Artel was gone he knew he would not be able to complete the quest alone, he wasn't quest material, he was no knight, no warrior with bravery on his side. He was just a poor, bumbling fool who'd happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when Artel was assigned a companion. It occurred to him that he probably wouldn't make it home either. He was no rugged man of the wilds, he had little experience of living outside of community, and he could neither hunt nor fish successfully. He probably wouldn't even make it out of the forest.
The sun rose, brightening the forest, and Millon dawdled in his small clearing. Every so often he would take a step in one direction or the other, then he would stop and dawdle some more before reversing the step. The indecision weighed on him like an ocean and he felt as if he were drowning in it. Around him the calls of the birds changed and other noises came and went as life moved on with itself, ignoring the alien presence in its midst. Millon watched a small creature, not unlike a mouse or a squirrel, scurry across the ground in front of him, pausing now and then sniff at the grass and dig at the dirt beneath it. He wondered absently what it was like to be that squirrel-mouse, was it an easy life, was it happy, did it even know what happiness or decisions were? He decided that it didn't, and fervently wished he could have been born a squirrel-mouse, able to happily scurry across the forest floor, unaware of the many trials and tribulations that affected the world of man.

Eventually the hunger in his belly pushed Millon to move forwards. Somewhere in his heart he knew Artel wasn't going to magically reappear and that he ought to at least try and find his way out of the forest, even if he didn't really know where he was going.
For the next two days he had wandered through the trees, not knowing which direction he should be going in, and eating berries he picked from the bushes he passed. At night he curled up at the base of whichever tree was nearest, he didn't make a fire, and he slept fitfully. The morning light was a relief, bringing with it some semblance of safety, he had yet to meet something dangerous during the day.
He knew he was completely lost, and he had no expectation of finding his way out. Thoughts of his failure plagued his mind, even if he did find his way home what would say, that he had lost Artel, that he had failed his quest?
The thoughts buzzed in circles through his mind and he knew that no matter what happened he couldn't return home alone.

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