Power in Stories

“There's power in stories, though. That's all history is: the best tales. The ones that last. Might as well be mine.” – Varric Tethras

A Mask of Truth – Consciousness

The heavy mask slipped from numb fingers and sent a harsh metallic ring racing through the air, breaking the silence that permeated it for a mere moment before that emptiness returned full force – and perhaps even a little greater than before.

A cough broke the silence next and a hunched over figure was suddenly visible in the dusky light that broke through the darkness from a tall window stumbled forward a step, one arm dangling uselessly with heavy armor weighing it down even further, while the other fumbled at an equally armored throat. Gloved fingers searched blindly for space between padded metal and skin, desperately trying to allow for another breath to be drawn in through a parched throat. A mere second before unconsciousness loomed darkly, one leather covered finger brushed across a raised indentation and with a series of clicks the armored collar popped free.

Sucking in a lungful of musty air, the figure made to move forward and stumbled but managed to come up hard against a wall instead of falling to the floor. Struggling with a pin wheeling feeling of continuously falling, the armored figure lifted its head and slowly opened its eyes.

Consciousness resumed.

Leaning heavily against the wall, the figure looked around in confusion, blinking to clear vision blurred by exhaustion and blood trickling from a vicious looking forehead gash. The dusky darkness around them took shape after a moment and became the ledge of a downward spiraling stone stairwell. As the surroundings came into focus, the walls that were coated in patches of moss and vines creeping in from the narrow windows set up high became visible. And as sight returned, so did hearing.

What was heard from above in the stairwell and through the high windows was the crashing clash of steel against iron and the screams of the living as well as the dying.

They were the sounds of battle.

The occasional cheer burst through the other cacophony of sounds and gave tell to a grave matter. One of the sides in the battle above was losing and the end was coming near.

Tilting back their head, the figure glanced back up the stairwell they had obviously just descended then started to turn to move back towards it. At the motion, pain tore through their side and an agonized scream rang off of the stones in response. The figure stumbled again and clung to the wall, turning against it with the scraping sound of metal against stone so their back was to it, then lifted the arm that would respond to their side. Gloved fingers met armor first then, sliding along it, found where the…what was it?

Breastplate. The term came back easily and fingers slid on to the edge of it where it ended and left a gap the width of a man’s hand between it and the back plate. In the gap between, the…hauberk, that was it…could be felt where it was secured underneath the armor and fell to the hip. But the…

A startled hiss was drawn from the figure’s lips as the shattered links of the hauberk were discovered. Low in the side and there…a dagger, buried to the hilt. Now that it had been found the pain was flaring up with screaming agony and the mind became aware of it. The blade was buried deep into the innards and pulling it out could have disastrous effects if it had hit something vital – or if there was a hook on the blade that would tear open the wound even further upon withdrawing it. Besides the blade itself, there was the dull sensation of a few of the mail rings digging into the skin around the wound where they had been pulled through the hole in the thick doublet underneath it. And then there was the blood. It caked the doublet around the wound to the skin and made the hauberk cling as well, staining the iron red.

The blood also dripped from the end of the hauberk every so often, leaving a spatter of black against the dark gray surface of the stones. A trail.

A trail for a tracker to follow.

A trail for…the person that tried to kill me? The thought came with slow clarity and then the fear slammed home as there was realization. But why? I did nothing. Or…

The figure looked down at their own attire, taking in the blood spattered across the stylized breastplate as well as the mail covering the legs – chausses supplied a part of the mind – and the armor shielding the shins and feet – greaves and sabatons. Numbly, eyes raked across the rest of what they wore. There was a heavy belt cinching the hauberk in tight underneath the edge of the breastplate which carried an empty longsword scabbard on the left and one for a shorter, curved blade…a cutlass on the right. Over all of this a cloak was hooked to the shoulders underneath heavy pauldrons that appeared to be stylized like…paws?

Looking again to the breastplate and its stylized design, it became clear that it had the effect of thick fur around the throat descending to the center of the chest where it became muscle. Blinking eyes as they blurred with confusion and another trickle of blood, the figure turned its head slightly and looked down at the stone ledge beneath their feet as memory returned.

…harsh metallic ring racing through the air…

From the floor, the metal mask stylized with the visage of a snarling wolf glared back at the blurred gaze. Reaching up with a now shaking gloved hand to wipe away the blood, the figure winced as pain came snarling through their head from the vicious head wound. Gingerly touching the edges of it, the blurry eyes continued to stare at the lupine mask.

What did I do?

Who am I?

A crash from above in the stairwell sent all thought scattering from the mind. Shouts – angry, bloodthirsty voices ringed with steel and fire – began to echo downward to the figure and the flight reflex kicked in even as the flicker of fight reared its head. Confusion reigned, however, in the mind of the figure and so flight won over fight.

Pushing away from the wall, they turned to begin the further descent downward. As one foot hovered over the next step, they stopped and looked back over a cloaked shoulder at the mask. It glared at the darkness above it and the light from a sky that had turned red, staining the stairwell in the same light. Turning back and leaning over carefully, gloved fingers grasped the edge of the heavy mask and lifted it.

As the shouts from above in the stairwell came a little closer, the lupine mask was tucked under the usable arm and a gloved hand pressed around where the dagger pierced flesh. Like that, the figure began to descend downward, confused as to just what was going on and who exactly they even were.

Would the end of the stairs give an answer?

Or would there never be an answer to either question?

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