By Greatest Thief
I woke in a field of war, sword in hand, blood running down my chest. I did not remember where I was, let alone who. Before me stood a horde of men – dressed in bloodied armor and rags alike, all in various stages of decay – some without limbs; some without life. A single warrior approached me from the middle of the pack, a broken blade clutched firmly in his left hand.
He stared at me with a mix of shock and horror, his breath was ragged, but there was an undeniable malice about it.
“Why won't you die?”
I stared at him, unfazed by his words. For I knew not the gravity of the situation before me, but if nothing else, I sensed their hostility oozing into the air. The sword in my hand is bloodstained and chipped. But I have no recollection of ever using it, despite its worn down looks and the blood fresh along its surface.
The man before me continued to stare, and I answered his question with one of my own. “Where am I?”
A heavyset man walked out from a gathering of corpses, his once white armor was painted a dark crimson – which was slowly beginning to rust away. He grunted out words in a voice unmatching of his figure – almost like he was but a child, swallowed by a beast. “Not this again. He asks the same damn question every time.”
I asked them yet another question. “Are you here to kill me?”
The first man spoke up. “You're wanted for treason.”
Treason. That word sounded familiar, but I could not place it to anything I had ever known. But I knew that the scene before me meant one thing. What I had done caused all of this.
As I stepped closer, a hundred swords pointed in my direction, but each and every one of them wavered in their conviction. They were afraid of me. And if the bloodied scene before me meant anything – they had a good reason to.
I gripped my sword tightly, and although I had no memories of war and bloodshed, I felt a strange confidence when I held it out before me. The men around me had an obligation to see to my death, but not the courage to act on it.
There was no further fighting. All the men parted as I approached, as if united by an unseen command, or united by that same primal fear of death itself. I continued off into the horizon and dared not look back, for fear that they would chase me. Because even if what I thought at that time was true – I still felt that death had dominion over me too.
The township slowly dwindled away as I walked, and the civilians that made their gazes upon me fled at the sight of what I was. A bloodstained man, a sword by his side.
I made rest by a riverbed in a forest unknown. The water did little to parch my thirst, and my stomach grumbled with every sip I took. I questioned at that time if nourishment was really something I needed, but it helped alleviate both the pains of thirst and the pangs of hunger. And so I feasted on all manner of sticks and stones and leaves, desperately trying to quell the torment rendered my attempts at sleep futile. And so, with a belly full of the contents of the forest floor, I made rest below a canopy of bushes, and had my first of many sleeps.
When I woke, the sun had long since risen, and I heard the sweet symphony of birdsong for the first time in my life – or at least, the life I could remember. The men I had faced off the other day did not find me in my sleep, but I feared it would only be a matter of time until they found me once again.
Passing the contents of my stomach was less than pleasant, due to the inedibility of the things I digested in the night prior. I wondered what would become of me as I wandered around the forest, walking along the riverside – further away from the troubles I was trying to avoid.
In those days I experimented with all manner of sticks and stones, making marks and bleeds upon my own flesh – and without fail, every time, my skin undid its destruction and returned to what it once was. I wondered what would happen should my wound prove fatal – but in the back of my mind, I already knew.
I learned that certain bushes bore edible fruit in many different shapes and colors. My favorite was always a small purple one, born from a vine that would strangle the very life out of the trees it grew upon. It had a tough skin, but the insides were sweet; and far more delicious than the rocks I had on my first night.
Soon, I learned the lay of the land I had found myself in. The township which I had departed from to enter that forest was long since behind me, and would take more than a week to make my way back to.
In those days, I thought that my life would stay that way forever, until I met her. If nothing else, it was a day like any other. The sun had just risen over the canopy of trees and hung low in the sky. And I was eating blackberries off the vines without a care in the world.
From behind me came a voice, which startled me more than I would like to admit.
“You can't eat those! They're poisonous!”
I spun around to face a woman, with a mouth full of berries, and if ignoring her words, I continued to stare at her while shoveling more into my gaping maw. She was a tall, slender woman, with flowing blonde hair that went well past her waist – tied up into a ponytail with what looked like a bundle of vines. But her most striking feature was her glowing eyes.
She approached me with a thunderous gait and swatted the berries out of my hands. I stared at her, dumbfounded, as she rummaged inside a bag at her side. Within moments, she pulled out a small glass vial, a red liquid swirling inside it.
“Drink this, it's not an antidote. But it should stop you from dying-”
“I've been eating these berries for weeks.”
She stepped back from me out of disbelief. “No, no, that's impossible. If you've been eating murderberries for weeks, you'd be dead.”
“They're actually pretty good, did you want to try them?”
That time, she jumped back, her face aghast. “No!”
Taking that as my chance to continue my meal, I plucked several more berries off the vines and shoved them into my mouth.
“See? Fine.” I spoke through a mouthful of food.
She reached out her arm, and grasped tightly between her fingers was the red vial from before. “Can you please, just drink this?”
Reluctantly, I took it from her hands and removed the cork fastened tightly upon it. I had no reservations towards drinking it, considering my presumed immortality.
I sculled it back in a single swig. “What does it do?”
“It makes you throw up.”
“Throw up? What does that-”
I never managed to finish my line of thought, for the concoction had made its way into the confines of my stomach and unleashed all manner of hell upon my body. I felt an uneasy feeling rise from the pits of my bowels, and without the foresight of what was about to happen – I let all manner of bile and berries spray all over the vicinity, and coated the forest floor in a ghastly shade of brownish-purple. The unexpected feeling left me with no strength in my legs, and so I collapsed to the forest floor, clutching at my stomach, as if it had just betrayed me. But the source of betrayal came not from my own being, but the knife-eared woman beside me, who was now rummaging in nearby bushes, perhaps looking for a replacement for her vile brew.
I spluttered out more of the ghoulish remains of my stomach, and raised a question through my raspy voice. “What was that?”
She turned to face me. “You've never thrown up before?”
“Throw what? Did you just poison me?”
“No, I expelled-”
The insides of my mouth felt wrong, like a fuzzy creature had crawled into my mouth in that moment of weakness taken up refuge inside. Mustering what little strength I had left, I rose up and returned to the vine which I was at just moments prior. I proceeded to shovel berries in my mouth once again, eager to rid myself of that unpleasant feeling.
She let out an exasperated sigh. “Are you seriously kidding me right now?”
I pushed a berry through my closed lips. “What? I'm hungry.”