flASH fiction: Volume 5: Out of the Fire (12)

Out of the Fire
By
Jason Pere

Aaron Luckworth found himself running fast and free through a great field of grass that was still damp with morning dew. He knew that what he was experiencing at this moment was not real in the traditional sense of the concept. The man’s greatest vexation came from being unable to determine if what he was presently enraptured in was a dream or a memory. It was a familiar feeling, one that Aaron had experienced many times in his life though not since the days of his youth. In fact, as he looked at what lay beyond the field he found the unmistakable skyline of Rayward’s keeps and castles greeting his eyes as they had when his was a boy.

The solider abandon his inner brooding and gave into the gentle warmth of the moment. He ran as fast as he could, delighting in the sensation of fresh grass under his bare feet. His heart pounded in his breast and he took great joy in feeling his blood race from the exertion found in simple play and not from the fearful heat that came on the back of combat. Aaron took in a deep breath as he ran and reveled in the fresh aroma of mist and recently silenced thunder. He found his body cleansed of the rank stench of fire and blood that had dauntlessly plagued him during his years of service to Rayward’s violent crusade against the dragoon. The sun on his face, the wind on his skin and the serenity of the world he had known before war took hold of him like a mother would embrace her child and he laughed out loud as he ran. He knew it was impossible but if he could have he would have spent the rest of every last moment he had in existence within this phantom sanctuary.

His inner peace was robed from him like a sword cutting straight to his heart. Ahead of him, in the field he saw his armor suspended in the air. It was shined and polished to a glinting perfection. Aaron had never seen his armor look as fine as it did in this precise moment. It shown as a terrible gold and silver beacon of a nation’s martial hubris. Aaron tried to divert his headlong sprint from the armor but he found his feet unable to obey his own will. The Rayward knight was inexorably drawn to the armor like a man drowning in the depths of the Bone Sea. He knew now that whatever this peculiar state of being was it was neither memory nor dream, a nightmare was the only word that could properly describe the moment.

The armor started to lose its sickly perfect sheen. The breastplate and helm no longer sparkled with a dance of reflected light. Instead an eerie red hue began to spread over the armor as if the husk of steel were bleeding. The scarlet trail started from the core of the cuirass and jutted in all directions. In a few moments the whole of the armor was awash in a new bloody color. Aaron’s laughter had fallen silent and now it turned to frightened screaming as his body held him hostage and continued to deliver him towards the gruesome article. The red armor wordlessly accused him of every foul thing he had done in the name of Rayward and its vermillion tint had become a physical representation of blood spilled for the vanity of mankind. As he neared within arm’s reach of the horrific token of metal he smelled smoke on the breeze and felt the lash of fire upon his back. Right as the nightmare was one the precipice of its traumatic climax, all became still and Aaron awoke.

The Rayward Lance Commander sat up before he was fully conscious. It was as if his body had continued the reckless dash that it had been locked into during his dream state. Aaron drew in a half a breath of panicked disorientation but his wits came back to him by the time his eyes has adjusted to his new soundings. His panic quickly morphed into confusion. His last memory was that of Sia of Red looming over him and lingering on the verge of dousing him in a breath of fire. Now, he found himself experienced what could only be described as comfort, perhaps even luxury.

Aaron’s hands went down to his sides and grasped two full fists of soft spun cloth sheets. His gaze fell down to confirm what his sense of touch had implied and he shook his head in disbelief as his vison found himself laying on a bed. Aaron lost his wind as he submitted to the delightful shock of being in a bed, a proper bed. He had only ever known simple straw mats on the floor as a boy and the military cots of the Rayward Army as a man. Never in his wildest dreams had he every though he might spend the night in a real bed.

After a few taxing moments pulling his stare away from the hand carved decorations adorning the bed frame and layers upon layers of wondrously thick blankets Aaron was able to bring himself to scan the rest of the room with a cautious fighting man’s eye. It was a modest enclosure. Apart from the bed, small sitting area and a plain wash basin the room was unadorned. Some kind of smoothed volcanic stones served as the floor, ceiling and walls of the room. The smoky charcoal grey stones were warm to the touch, unlike the granite and limestone of the walls Aaron had known back in Rayward’s citadels. He noted the room had no windows so it was most likely buried inside the deeper parts of a larger structure. There was precious little wind flow that passed through the room and all sounds from beyond his present chamber were muted. Wherever he was, the Lance Commander knew that he was a captive. The absence of a handle or lock on the lone door of the room laid to rest any notions that he was not a captive. The room was indeed a cell, though admittedly a comfortable one.

Aaron felt the sheets fall away from his chest as he sat up in the bed. He saw the irresistible soft cloth reveal a bevy of fresh white bandages wrapping the cuts and wounds that adorned his exposed flesh. He realized that despite the beating he had taken in the conflict against the mighty red winged wyrm, he felt virtually no pain. His battered bones and torn skin had been expertly cared for by someone possessed of medical acumen that would be the undoubted envy of any healer in the Rayward army. The only hint of physical discomfort that Aaron was aware of was the realization that he was profoundly ravenous. As if his apatite had heightened his sense of smell he picked up the aroma of cooked and spiced meat from nearby.

The Rayward knight found his clothing cleaned and neatly folded at the foot of the bed. He dressed himself amid thoughts and quires of who had disrobed him. His cheeks had only a moment to turn an embarrassed red hue before a rumbling in his stomach quelled any thoughts of impropriety and spurred Aaron over to investigate the sitting area. The hungry man discovered a bowl filled to the brim with steaming hunks of medium rare meat.

Aaron wanted to give to his urge to fill his belly to bursting with the delectably fragrant contents of the bowl but he stayed his impulse. He understood that he was a prisoner and things may not necessarily be as simple as they seemed. Aaron then came to rest on the realization that, if his captors wished him harm, it would likely come at the point of a blade and not in a thoughtfully prepared and seasoned meal. He tore into the bowl of meat with gusto before his belly could begin to rumble once more. He had swallowed two large chunks of the culinary offering before he even tasted it on his tongue. It was when Aaron picked up the buttery rich flavor of meat seared just enough to get a black crispy edge while keeping a juicy red center that her realized he was in trouble. This was the best food that he had ever eaten. He was clearly being kept alive and treated well for a reason though he did not know for what reason. His ignorance of his value to his imposed hosts was what terrified him. At least the Lance Commander did not have time to dwell in his anxiety. Aaron Luckworth had at a minimum three servings of warm savory perfection to distract himself with and distract himself he did, until his stomach could do nothing but gurgle in defeat.