Maybe there was some point. Some fathomable reason.

Maybe, when all was Ash, this’d all happened ’cause it had to. After all, many cling to Fate like a Lifeline, one which they’d drown without. Maybe that was the point; to accept what you’re handed.

Or, maybe the God’s got a twisted sense of humor.

It didn’t really matter.

“Bring him.”

He couldn’t stand, so they dragged him; through mud, and piss, and shit. It was all familiar, this trench. Here he’d been exactly what the old bitch wanted; a showman, and a killer. Now, he wasn’t useful to her. She’d taken him in, conditioned him for her games, and now it was time to put the mad dog down.

She waddled toward him, then lifted his head for a good look.


“Bitch,” he snapped.

“I expected more, Kell. I expected much more.”

Never before had he wanted to kill someone as much as he did her. It’d be easy. She was old, and damnably frail. He could’ve snapped her neck like stepping on a twig.

But for all his talent, she held the Power between them.

“This dog isn’t fit to live among us,” she said. “He’s rabid, unclean, touched by La Fey; a mongrel.”

As she spoke, Rand came with the brand, a poker of iron, heated ’til white-hot.

“I invoke the Old God’s name,” the Crone spat. “I call on Him, on He that is Beyond.”

Rand grabbed a handful of his hair and tugged it back, while others held his arms. He felt the brand’s heat in the seconds before the iron seared his flesh.

He screamed.

“I mark you. I spit on you.”

He felt the fire spread, shocking his nerves. He couldn’t breath from the pain. He felt his skin bubbling and ripping.

Even when the brand was taken away, the pain stayed.

“You’re already dead.”

They left him there without further ceremony. Not a one looked back.

It was another hour before he managed to even crawl; and crawl he did, as if he could escape the stink of his own, burned flesh.

“Get up,” he snarled into the mud. “Get up, get up.”

He shook violently with the effort.

Get up!

It was slow. First, he managed to prop himself up, then he slid himself unto his knees. He pulled himself to the yard’s walls, and used them for support. His cheek seethed, bled, and burned.

He stumbled, and fell.

The ground was soft, almost welcoming, like a lover’s embrace.

He could’ve stayed there. He’d seen it before, from the other side of things. He’d watched the Condemned give-up; he’d seen that infinitesimal spark in their eyes go dark. It would be easy. Just wait for Death to come, and steal him away from this.

It was his Fate, after all. His doom.

Just die. Just let it happen. Ain’t like the World’s gonna care.

“Fuck that.”

He pushed himself from the ground again, spitting mud.

“I’m already dead” – he smiled – “Nothin’ new, that.”

He hugged the wall ’til, and still shaking, he stood. His legs screamed, but he ignored them.

He took a step.

Then another.

Slowly, he walked out of that yard, down through the Wide, where her denizens walked. A few dared to look at him, but most pretended he didn’t exist; he was a breath of wind, a geist beneath their notice. Even the Wide’s beggars wouldn’t meet his eye.

He walked, and walked, ’til his legs ached. By then the Wide was a mile or so behind, and the World ahead.

He rested against a tree, on Lovely Laurelyne’s edge.

He’d be hunted, now. He knew that; knew it like he knew his name. Hell, he’d done it before. He knew this Game, again, from the other side.

He was utterly alone.

He couldn’t say when he decided to live; when he’d crawled from the yard, or when he’d reached the forest’s edge; but he did.

He’d survive, just as he always did, out of spite.

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