In the flickering light of the neglected fire within the hearth, the more subtle details of the woman atop him were difficult to discern. Given the situation, his mind was preoccupied, if not entirely removed from its regular, functioning condition. Still, he liked to imagine that her eyes were closed and, perhaps, there was even the faintest of smiles upon her lips. Again, that failing fire was responsible for the majority of the noises within the cool room with a population of two.
A sharp breath, a creak of the tired bed or an unexpected, pleasured moan or murmur. Her body was full figured, but pleasing to behold. A shorter stature than that of the soldier she straddled, though the woman was very likely ten years his elder. His warm, calloused hands rested on her ample hips, while they gently rocked. Her skin was far darker than his own and, in the struggling firelight, the beads of sweat that trickled from her small breasts to where her abdomen seemed to blend into his, made her glow. The entire spectacle made her impressive to behold and, though he had enjoyed every moment of it, his expression was barely more than solemn.
She was a gift, after all and he knew, when she had satisfied his needs and he drifted to sleep, she would not be there when he awoke. The woman was a prostitute, working the parlor of the inn where this soldier and the other men of his detachment had purchased rooms for the night. They had seen battle in the early hours of the same day and this very same soldier had been given command of a smaller group of his comrades, a responsibility which he took to successfully. For his triumph he, like his commanding officer, was given his own room and a woman with which to share his bed. It was not the first occurrence and he had grown accustomed to the preferential treatment.
Varian had been asleep for what must have been hours and it was a welcome rest. His every muscle ached, though he did what he could to mask this fact. He had bled that day, he had sweat and he had killed. For a man of not yet thirty years, he carried the war-worn weight of a seasoned veteran and all the exhaustion that came with the endless march of a warrior. However, at that moment, he slept like a corpse.
His deep slumber may have been to blame for just how startled he was, when he awoke. He felt the cool night air against his skin and it did well to clear the haze from his mind and eyes. Outside? He was no longer in the room at the inn, but so far beyond its walls that he could not see the light of its windows within his surroundings. There were other details, more urgent and alarming, the least of which was that he was still nude.
He felt a pressure on his throat; a hand. His throat was being crushed with a force he could not defend himself against. His right arms was pinned behind him and the opposite radiated with pain. He struggled, tried to speak and kicked his feet to gain ground. Ground. There was no ground. His back was against the thick trunk of a tree and his head begun to swim as he realized he was nowhere near the floor of this pitch black forest. In his ear, he heard laughing. A taunting, wicked laughter of whomever, whatever it was that had placed him in this impossible position.
"I am going to be murdered." It was a viable thought and the first clear one to enter his mind, before a torrent of motives and perpetrators were reasoned through. At his core, he understood it, rationalized that it was the way of things. He and his men had slain hundreds, if not thousands of men within this foreign land. Husbands, fathers and sons. He had trusted the innkeeper, they all had. They had made a mistake and this was their penance.
Varian tensed his muscles and lifted his chin, struggled to speak. The creature that held him in place leaned in closer and whispered something in a language the soldier did not speak. It made Varian sneer and grind his teeth. Every word seemed foul and venomous, even without translation. He imagined its meaning, "You will die for what you have done." Then, the grip on his throat relaxed and air flooded Varian's lungs. The rush dizzied his brain and made his eyes water, through it all he could mutter only, "Wait." He choked on the dryness of his throat and the man, the creature that was so close to his naked body seemed amused at the display.
The young soldier turned toward the sound of the man, only then did he realize how cold his touch was. "Who are you?," Varian urged, though he expected no response he could understand. And instead of reply, the man just laughed that hollow laugh once more. That cold hand moved upward, along Varian's throat and clutched it tight again, this time just below his jaw. His head was twisted to such an angle, with such force that he expected it would snap like a twig.
There was new pain, then. A pain that Varian had never known before, unlike any he had become so familiar with in his years as a swordsman. The other man's mouth was on his throat, locked there like some ravenous, wild cat. It radiated through his shoulder, into his chest. Varian felt his body grow colder, weaker and ... empty. His eyes widened and adrenaline poured into his veins, into every muscle. The heat of rage replaced that coldness with the urgency or survival. His arm, the one that had been crushed beneath his own weight, worked itself free and grabbed at the hair of his attacker, his face, his throat, anything he could manage to tear at. His eyes. "Tear out his eyes!," his mind screamed in agonized panic.
The man, that creature screamed in pain and Varian fell. He was thoughtless, filled with fear and panic, it made his fall feel like miles. His body struck the forest floor like a boulder. He struggled against broken limbs and useless muscles. He screamed out for help, but knew it was a pointless effort. The creature was already there, as near now as it had been in the air. "Impossible," he told himself while he swung wildly in the dark. The creature was on him in an instant. Varian's strikes were feathers against steel as the monster locked his jaws upon his throat once more.
"I'm finished," his mind told him as it urged his body to relent, to surrender to the monster's appetite.
Varian's unbroken arm was defiant. It searched fervently along the cold, hard ground until it found what it had hoped for. He clutched a heavy, rigid stone and used the remnants of his strength to plant it firmly against the creature's skull. The desperate action paid off with a satisfying snap that sent the monster reeling and away. Varian caught his breath and imagined his assailant, broken like he was, clutching its face, somewhere in the darkness. He could hear its pain and anger. It screamed something monstrous in that unknown language and then, it was gone.
The young soldier lay broken, drained of strength and blood. His heart shuddered in his chest, struggling to simply continue to beat. For the second time that day, Varian was victorious, but this time with a reward far more dire. He was alone, broken and bloodied somewhere in a forest as black as pitch. He was dying.