To Seoc, the world seemed to stop. Time settled heavily about his ears, and they began to ring. The edges of his vision began to bend inwards. He felt that he was suffocating.
He had to get out.
And so he bolted.
His uncle, crumpled on the floor but still conscious, made a grab for his ankle as he passed, but Seoc was too quick for him.
He was of half a mind to obey his sister’s command; thus, he tried to bring himself to a halt and press forward simultaneously, an issue which was resolved by tripping over his own feet and nearly falling on his face. Luckily, he broke his fall with his hands, sacrificing several layers of skin to the rough stone floor. He scrambled to his feet, noted that the Alt-Mage was picking himself up off the ground at the same time, and made up his mind.
“Seoc, wait! Come back here, you impetuous bastard! SEOC!”
Fiona could shout as much as she liked. He wasn’t coming back.
Pressing his stinging palms into the fabric of his tunic, he sprinted down the stairs—the same staircase that had sent Henry, who had been tearing through the castle in a remarkably similar mindset, sprawling, a little over a week before. Seoc was more fortunate than he had been—or perhaps a bit less clumsy—and remained on his feet.
The walls of the corridor flew backwards in a blur. Tapestries, mounted weapons, and suits of armor slipped past in his peripheral vision. All he could hear was the ringing in his ears and the clatter of his own footsteps.
Wooden soles, damn those wooden soles.
He shot through the door like a bolt from a crossbow, his momentum carrying him over the steps on the other side and directly onto the dirt path. The crumbling earth slid out from under his feet as he made contact, and he fell on his rear. His hands automatically rushed out to save him again, and sharp grains of decomposed rock forced themselves into the already-bloodied flesh of his palms.
This time, he didn’t try to get up. Just sat there.
He noticed that it had snowed. Not enough to stick to the path, but there was a crisp dusting on the grass. He noticed too that it was quite cold out, and that frigid dampness was working its way from the dirt into the fabric at the seat of his trousers.
The rush of energy that had run through his bloodstream had dissipated.
He was exhausted.
He could see his own breath.
He wondered if he might freeze to death if he sat there long enough. Probably.
This option suddenly seemed an attractive one. Not entirely painless, sure, but a hell of a lot more pleasant than drowning or starving or being stabbed or jumping off a building. No blood. No broken bones. No weeks of suffering. No choking. Just cold.
Seoc didn’t mind cold.
Sure, it would begin to hurt after a while. But after the pain, after the numbness, there would be warmth. Such was the way of hypothermia. He knew this. He had read his father’s medical books in his spare time.
And then it would be over.
No more fear.
No more pain.
No more waking nightmares.
Presently, it began to snow again. Seoc scarcely noticed. Flakes stuck in his hair and on his clothing before vanishing in the warmth of his body. Water dripped down his face, soaked through his tunic. He did not move.
He wanted to die.