There was a faintly sweet odor on the breeze as it brushed across Sean's face. His eyes slowly opened and color returned to the world. Searing pain ran through his chest with each breath.
His arms and legs were numb. With a little effort they moved grudgingly to his will. On hands and knees he stared at his hands, making sure his limbs were all still there.
Raising his neck, pain disappeared from his mind. Everything was different. In front of him were mountains where none should have been. Huge snowcapped peaks thrust up against the sky going against everything Sean knew.
Frantically, he looked for something familiar. The cabin, the field, everything was missing. He struggled to remember how he got there, and where 'there' was. It was in vain though, a thick fog clouded his memory.
The only thing he knew was that he was far from home. The towering mountains were not the only signs of that truth. It was colder than it should be. Sean found himself shivering unconsciously. The trees were all pines and evergreens where he was familiar with deciduous ones.
All he had on was a windbreaker that seemed to only hold in the cold air. He still felt like he was walking in a dream, but the frigid air and frozen ground felt real enough against his skin. His mind reeled. How could any of it be real?
"Matt? Ashley?" he called weakly hoping to find his friends and be comforted. No answer came except for the wind's shriek. The gusts were gradually becoming stronger and bitterer.
The sky was uniformly gray. The air smelled sweet like it normally did before rain. A shiver swept through him as the wind caressed him in its icy embrace. There was no shelter nearby and it looked as if a storm was soon to arrive.
Climbing to his feet Sean brushed off his jeans. He started to walk forward but his foot caught on something. A moment later he was on his knees again, the breath knocked from his lungs. Rolling aside, Sean looked for what he had tripped on.
Lying across the ground was a long sword. Its blade was slightly curved and gleamed with the sky's reflection. He had never seen one like it outside of movies. Carefully he wrapped his hand around the wooden hilt. Carved onto it were words and symbols he didn't recognize.
On one side was carved a small triangle, with a star hanging above it. Courage, Truth and Heart. The words exploded from a forgotten corner of his mind. He wasn't sure how, but he was sure that was what it meant.
Sean realized he was lucky he hadn't fallen on it and split himself down the middle. The blade was razor sharp, lacking blemish or knick of any kind. There was no scabbard with it. If he decided to take it, he would have to be careful.
After thinking a few moments Sean chose to take it. He had no idea how long it would be till he reached a town or house and thought it might come in handy, even though he wasn't a hunter by any stretch of the meaning.
Suddenly the fog over his mind was blown away. Memory rushed back and slammed into him like a fist. The Knight. Matt and Ashley. He had to find them. Had to make sure they were safe. Was that even a real memory? Had he been dreaming, and if so, was he still?
Maybe he'd drunk too much at the party. Maybe Ashley had gotten him to try some of the 'special gifts' her friends had brought. Sean shivered. Could those kinds of things do this to the mind?
He soon realized he was getting nowhere sitting around in the middle of the wilderness. It would be better if he started walking, he decided. It was the first time he had ever been truly lost, and despite whatever he'd heard, he wasn't going to just sit around and hope to be found.
Sean stood up cautiously and stretched his joints. He tried to will warmth into his legs, but there was no change. His skin felt like it had changed to porcelain and the slightest bump would cause him to shatter.
He started walking, his back toward the mountains. With them out of his sight he could almost ignore the sinking feeling that he had no idea where he was. Almost.
Sparse groves of pines were scattered across the ground. Sean wasn't an outdoorsman. He'd stayed inside most of his life. The few times he did go outside were at night to stare up at the stars.
He tried to focus on other things than where he was. Nothing struck him as extraordinary while he was walking. There were no animals to be seen. A light drizzle began, conforming to his mood perfectly. Sean guessed it was still slightly above freezing. The wind must have been what made him so cold.
When he topped the crest of a small hill, Sean grinned. There was a narrow dirt path that wound its way across the terrain. The tracks looked unfamiliar to him, but any sign of humanity was welcome just then. After flipping an imaginary coin, he headed left down the path.
The light dimmed as the hours passed. Sean was glad when the rain ended, but it grew only colder as night approached. He spotted a small ravine close-by and stepped off the path into it. It looked like it would protect him from the bitter wind. Doubting he'd have much better luck farther down the path, Sean decided to spend the night there. He rolled up into a tight ball, the sword a few feet away where he wouldn't accidentally roll onto it.
His stomach growled softly, but he ignored it. Thirst had dried his throat, but there was nothing he could do. Sean lay awake for a few hours, staring up at the sky. Slowly the clouds parted, letting the stars shine through. At least they still look the same, he thought before drifting into sleep.
Strange dreams filled his mind during the night. In all of them he was running from something unseen. He couldn't see what at first, but he knew his life counted on it. Roots grew up from the ground, tangling themselves around his ankles. He fell as the roots twined around his arms, holding him down.
His silent stalker came into view. It was the sword, humming softly and pulsing with a faint glow. Somehow the roots forced his hand to open. The hilt floated down and rested on his palm. He convulsed in pain. The world erupted into blinding light. His insides felt like they were freezing. The sword was steeling away his life slowly.
Suddenly it ended. The sword and light vanished. He sat in a large chamber that looked like it came straight out of a fairy tale. The floor was made of brilliant marble, the walls of polished granite. All around him hung spears, axes, shields, swords, every weapon he could imagine hung in the room.
There was a small case on the side of the one wall. It was set back farther than the other items. Inside it hung a full suit of armor, black as midnight. Sean shivered when he saw the familiar sword hanging alongside the armor. It seemed lifeless now, though, so he approached the case warily. The same triangle symbol was engraved on the breastplate of the armor.
He reached out and brushed a hand across the black steel. Images flooded his mind. Blood, pain, death, sickness, evil. It was tainted so thickly with death. He recoiled. The same draining feel the sword had on him emanated from the armor.
"Prophecy is such a strange thing, young one."
Sean wheeled to face a young woman dressed in a dark purple robe. She moved elegantly across the room towards him, but her eyes were locked upon the armor.
"Don't you agree?" She asked, a slight smile spreading across her lips.
"I'm not sure I know what you mean." Sean tried to look into her eyes, but they were so deep, almost pulling him in and drowning him. She looked older than he had first thought.
"It is so objective. So many ways to go about completing it. Who is to know which is the right path?" She stopped beside Sean, he eyes still focussed on the wall.
"Who are you?"
"You have known me in the past."
"I think I would remember someone such as you." She had an aura of authority about her, he tried his best not to appear foolish.
"I guess I should have expected you would have forgotten."
"What do you mean?"
"It's of little importance right now."
Sean didn't know what to say. He stood staring at her for a moment. She didn't appear as if she'd be done gazing at the armor anytime soon.
"What is this place?" he asked softly.
"The Temple of the Elders in Ekiel."