The Dragon Between

Cold Camp

The sky above wheels slowly along through night above Droaam, stars and moons arcing slowly, majestically along their courses. Wrapped beneath the heavy blanket of his bedroll, Viktor clutches tightly at the clasp of his cloak, the dragon-skull symbol of his faith, eyes closed in fervent prayer. The weather is not too harsh for the season, even without the comforting warmth of a fire in this cold camp, and he is used to the biting chill of winters in Karrnath. Even so, Viktor shivers violently now and then, chilled from within.

He can feel it—black icy tendrils of corruption winding through his veins, leeching away at the warmth of his lifeblood, replacing it slowly, little by little, with a cold, unforgiving hunger.

“Saerun Road…” Viktor whispers to himself, shaking his head angrily at his own lapse in prayer, though his shivering has broken his concentration several times by now. His memory drifts back to that moment on the periphery of the Battle of Saerun Road… the Emerald Claw agent, a pale, skeletal woman and her minions… and a dying curse, propelled by her necromantic powers, hurled at him just before the Mourning consumed Cyre…

What has held it back so far? My fortitude? My faith? And is one faltering now?

Certainly not his faith, for it has carried him through times just as trying. His own resilience has won him through battle after battle, yet something in the sickening miasma of the corrupted temple to the Eight—or perhaps something more direct from the ravening creatures within, or the necromancer with them—has awoken this creeping sickness within him, like the ache of shrapnel deep in a healed-over wound.

Viktor shivers again, even more violently this time, and snarls in frustration, grinding his teeth—then stiffens, falling still despite the icy cold stealing through him. The points of his teeth are razor sharp, seeming more prominent than ever, and for a moment his senses are overwhelmed by hunger… the warmth of those in his party around him, resting fitfully… the slow thudding of their heartbeats… the bitter tang of dried blood in the crevices of armor and weapons alike… and the ever-growing temptation to seek out the heat of fresh blood and the life force it carries, like hot mulled wine on a blizzard-shrouded winter night in Karrnath.

“I will not…!” he whispers to himself. If I have been cursed, corrupted, I will turn it upon those who bestowed it to me. Not those who trust me.

Shivering yet again, so violently the chainmail joints of his armor jingles, he bends his head, closing both hands around the brooch, redoubling his fervent prayers.

“May I find the strength of the Divine Within. May it guide me in times of trial. May I seek the true path. For the Blood is Life…”

Blood is of life… the call whispers, in formless hints, leaving only the barest sense that words can scarcely convey in his thoughts. Blood is not life itself. Look deeper. Look within, and without…"

Just briefly, his shivering eases as… something… shrouds his heart, warding the core of him against the cold that moves into him, folding protectively around him, like a cloak, like a mantle, like great wings. He falls still, never slackening his grip on the brooch, continuing to marshal himself against this strangeness, before finally drifting into a fitful rest of his own…

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Zsander

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