The Cold

The cold winter air was the first thing he felt.

The second was pain.

The gladiator took in a sharp breath as he came to his senses. He was lying on a fur blanket, staring up at a rickety wooden ceiling.

Something moved in his peripheral vision.

Squeee… THUD.

Pain shot up and down the gladiator’s spine as he rolled to his right and leaped to his feet. His reaction was instant and automatic, and despite landing on his feet, his sore muscles were quick to complain as the small rush of adrenaline wore off as rapidly as it had come. He lowered to one knee, thrust his buckler-arm out in front of himself, and braced for impact.

Squeee… THUD.

But the only thing that hit the gladiator was another blast of freezing air.

His vision was swamped in the mire of a migraine, and his helmet always interfered with his senses more than he liked to admit, so it took him a minute to adjust to his surroundings.

He was inside a tiny wooden shack, smaller like the ones in Wolf’s Hearth. No more than 5 meters square, with a small table and stool crammed into one corner. This one seemed abandoned, though. Nature had already begun reclaiming the structure, with rot and holes dotting the walls and ceiling. He identified the source of the creaking to be the front door. The wind was trying its hardest to push the poor door off its hinges, and every time it gusted, the door slammed into a collection of planks that once might have been a proper chair.

Squeee… THUD.

The gladiator stood, slowly, as to not strain himself again. Once he had mastered the art of balancing on two feet, he tried to put one foot in front of the other. He hobbled over to the door, and stilled its constant whining. The wind continued to howl in protest, but aside from that, all was silent.

I’m alone.

He tried to piece together what had happened to him, and how he had gotten here. The gladiator wasn’t the brightest torch at the best of times, but he still knew how to put two and two together in a headlock. He had followed Number One and Kamati out of Wolf’s Hearth to kill some bad guys. They had found the bad guy hideout in the forest not far from the village, and confronted them. That’s where his memory got spotty — he remembered the bad guys were more prepared than he thought they’d be, and used some sneaky tricks, like traps and magic. The gladiator shook his head and grimaced just thinking about it. Dirty spellcasters.

He didn’t like that he wasn’t able to remember the end of the fight. He had probably been knocked out. Sure, the fact that he was alive probably meant they had won the fight, but he couldn’t help but feel like he had lost. It left a bitter aftertaste, and it irritated him more than the constant groaning of his aching muscles. The fur blanket that lay on the floor called to him, but the nagging feeling of loss is what eventually pushed him out the door.

That feeling only grew stronger when he saw the massive pillars of smoke rising through the distant sky.

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