They were running. All of them. They wanted to catch me, and I was slowing down. I could hear my heartbeat race through my veins and into my ears; the -tu-thump….tu-thump…- faster than the one before. I could hear their footsteps closing in distance and splashing into the drenched grass. The thunder was loud and with every crack of lightning, the skies were painted light blue and for an instant, I was blind. Four men in the distance. One of them yelled a command and his pet bear dashed towards me. I was surrounded, there was nowhere to go. They all kept running towards me, circling me like vultures hungry for corpses.
I stopped running when there was no reason to keep going and one of the men tackled me from behind. I landed on my face, water spattering across the area and I was turned on my back with strength. The man pinned me to the ground and the others stood over me, laughing and grinning evilly, waiting for me to get hurt. The man on top of me stared into my eyes, his own dark beads eating my thoughts, his breath so close to my skin I could smell the fish he had eaten not too long ago. “Give me your shoes!” He spat at me.
“Give me your shoes!” He repeated. The men around us started to chant in odd rhythm. “Give us your shoes. Give us your shoes. Gives us your shoes.” “Why do you want my shoes? Take them! Leave me alone!” I begged them. The man on top of me kept laughing and insanely asked to give him my shoes. “Give me your shoes!” Again. And over again. I could feel the pressure of his own body on me and I couldn’t move. “Vainard! Help!” I kept screaming for him, but the stupid-head never came. “Please Vainard, help me!“. Then the bear padded towards me and snuck his nuzzle on my ear. “Give him your shoes.” He groaned. “What? How? Did this bear just talk?” And just as I was asking, it proceeded to lick my face. “Stop it! Don’t eat me!” I closed my eyes tightly and screamed, screamed and screamed until I couldn’t scream anymore. And the bear said “Snap out of it!”
And then my cheek stung. And my eyes opened.
Vainard was standing over me, his left hand pinning me down and his right striking my cheek lightly. Not enough to hurt badly, but enough to sting. Halfear was licking my feet where Vainard had struck. “Seriously, snap out of it!” My breath was scattered in small hiccups. Was I crying? Looking back, I’m not sure anymore. But what I know is that too much salvaging shoes will give you nightmares. I sat up after Vainard released his grip on me and placed a hand to my cheek. “Why did you hit me?” I asked, puzzled by the events. “You fell asleep while salvaging scraps and you kept asking me for my shoes. Then you fell on the ground and was screaming my name. Seriously, what did you eat to have nightmares so bad you couldn’t wake up?” I shrugged.
Standing up, I realized we were still in Beetletun. At the picnic table. And residents were staring. I don’t blame them; I probably looked like someone who exaggerated on the amount of glittering dust they could indulge in. I sat back down at the table and two plates were waiting. An empty one and another filled with some rice and a type of fish I couldn’t make out. “Is this for me?” I asked and Vainard nodded as he sat down in front of me. “You slept for a while, I had time to finish salvaging everything along with your scraps and buy us some food. It was getting cold so I decided to eat mine.” He stared at me as I grabbed the fork and pushed some of the food around in my plate. “Honestly, how did you even pay attention in class?”
I don’t think I ever did unless it had anything to do with attunements.
When I failed to answer him, he slipped a bag out to me. “What’s this?” He motioned to the bag with his head. “Open it, you’ll see.” Placing the fork back down on my plate, I looked inside the bag. Eight compartments were defined by a sturdy separator made of leather. One of those compartments contained something so I pulled it out. As I unfolded the soft material, I was surprised to see what he was gifting me with; an elegant jacket made of leather and jute, red and light cream in color. Blue stones decorated the centre of it and the collar built into it. In another compartment of the bag was a mask to match the jacket. “Did you make this?” He nodded. “With the materials we salvaged and those we found during battles. You’d be surprised to know how many vials of blood it takes to make just the outlines of this jacket.”
“It’s beautiful, Vainard! Thank you!”
“That’s not for you, it’s for me.” He said and I looked to him with a puzzled look. “I’m teasing! Oh gods, you’re so easy to fool, Naveen!” I rolled my eyes and stood up, grabbing the bag. “I’m gonna put this on.” I slipped the bag over my shoulder. “You do that,” he continued. “We have a long night ahead of us.”
“There’s a troll I want you to meet.”