| Running. Running again, running for his life. As his feet pounded the unyielding earth, he wondered why it was always for his life. It would be nice, just once, if he could run for pleasure. His lungs burned with each stinging breath. The pain wouldn’t be so terrible if he knew that he could stop any time he wanted, if he didn’t stand the chance of being impaled by someone’s broadsword or dragged off to be beaten in an alley somewhere. If he could stop any time he wanted, it would have been five minutes ago, when his ankles began their pitiful moaning.
He didn’t even know who was chasing him this time. He was ambling through the town center, minding his own business, when two men rounded a corner shouting ‘That’s him!’ and made for him. Running was instinct and off he went. Of course, it was entirely possible that they had the wrong man. Perhaps he should stop and try to straighten all this out.
“Stop, Hassett!” a ragged voice called out.
“You rotten bastard!” a second, equally breathless voice followed.
"Well, so much for that thought." he grumbled. He didn’t have a clue who they were, but they were obviously acquainted with him. Luckily, they sounded as weary as he felt. Not long now, the edge of the forest was nearing. He could definitely lose them in there. He bounded past saplings and brush into the thick of the woods. The only sound was the pounding of his heart and the crackling of twigs and leaves. He pushed his body to the limit, then just a bit further before he allowed himself to slow and glance behind him. He was alone, gloriously alone.
“Ha!” he barked. “Still got it.”
Thanking the powers that be, he slowed to a clumsy jog and sucked in a long, painful breath. His boot caught the edge of a rock, sending him flying forward and crumbling to the ground. The force knocked the wind from his lungs. He gasped and coughed, tasting blood. “Okay, so I don‘t still have it.” Every fiber of his being was wracked with bright, blinding pain. His head spun with it. Suddenly, the cold, rocky ground looked like the best place in the world for a long nap. His eyes rolled back and he allowed himself to be swallowed by the encroaching blackness.
The first thing he noticed was the lack of green in the forest. Someone has stolen all the trees, he dazedly mused. The second thing he noticed was that the forest wasn’t a forest at all. It had turned into a tiny, dank room. Sitting up, he reached a hand out, willing the room to stop spinning. Balance and senses regained, he walked to the door and tried the handle. Not surprisingly, he found it locked. Panic welled up in him and he fought to choke it back.
“Okay, remain calm… one… two… three…” he closed his eyes, “… four… oh… ” He fell wholeheartedly into panic. “Hello!? Is anyone out there?” His fists hammered the door. “Help...” he whispered against the door. He forced himself to be still, and he remained there, forehead pressed to the door, recouping his wits. It was then that he heard footsteps.
The door shook as someone unlatched it. His feet carried him several steps backward. As the door swung open, a tall silhouette filled the dark doorway.
“Sleep well, Mr. Hassett?” the figure asked, arms folded.
“Where am I?” he asked, quietly sizing up the large man blocking his exit.
“Why, you’re in a guest room of my palatial estate, Neil!” The man laughed bitterly. “Don’t be daft. You’re in a closet in my hovel. No extravagant manor for me, made sure of that, didn‘t you?”
Neil searched his mind. To say that certain people were unhappy with him was a gross understatement. Some wanted him dead. “Sorry, I don’t mean to sound trite, but who are you?”
“You wound me.” the man gasped mockingly as he stepped colose. “You can’t tell me you don’t remember me? Well, if not me, surely you recall my sister, Elysia.”
He swallowed hard. “Tabor.” He stared unbelievingly at the man in front of him. “You look… well.” 'He looks awful… and wrong, somehow', he thought. “Been a long time. What have you been up to?” he asked tensely.
Tabor stepped closer. “Oh, this and that, looking for you mostly.” The tall man’s eyes glittered dangerously.
Neil laughed nervously. “Really? Why, not like we’re family any more.”
Tabor laughed heartily. “No, we’re not. Not any more.” His laughter subsided. “I’m very glad you’re here, Neil.”
“You know that what happened was an accident. I did everything I could.” he replied stiffly.
“What I know is that you’re going to pay for everything now.”
“Come off it, Tabor,” he said as smoothly as he could, “you wouldn’t hurt me, would you?”
“Oh yes, I would. And I will. Then I’m going to kill you.” He grinned toothily.
Neil‘s mouth was suddenly dry. He noticed that his hands were shaking, too. “Would it help if I begged?”
“No, afraid not.”
“Just as well. Wasn’t planning on it anyway.” With that, he charged.