Almonihah had thought he had been traveling as fast as possible before. Now, as he turned back north, he knew he’d only been traveling as fast as was safe. But safety now lay in getting out of the Madlands as fast as possible, for if he ran out of supplies before getting out…
It seemed the Madlands themselves recognized his peril, and fought to keep him trapped within them. Everything—land, vegetation, and animal life, conspired to slow his progress, but somehow the Ranger pressed on, driven on by urgency. He rationed his supplies as much as he dared, but he knew that he needed his strength to survive the journey, so he dared not ration too much.
His water was the first thing to run out. He hated to drink straight from the streams in the Madlands, but he had no choice. At least he had gotten far enough that they flowed in from outside the Madlands… or so he hoped. He wasn’t eating very much, but he could survive for longer on little food than no water.
The worst part was, he had no idea how far he had to go. The land itself was different from when he’d come this way—the landmarks were different, even the terrain was different. It made it hard to feel like he was making progress. He knew how many days he’d been traveling in each direction, but there were times he almost wondered if the stars themselves were different in this place, and if that was so, how was he sure he was even headed north…?
The worst part, though, is that he knew the Madlands were starting to affect him. He could swear sometimes that he could almost understand voices in the wind, and he was starting to feel like something was always watching him. Sometimes a Javni’Tolkhrah was, of course, but even when there wasn’t anything else moving around him, Almonihah could swear something was watching.
His food ran out. He kept going, hoping that he was near the edge of the Madlands, but he could feel himself getting weaker. Eventually, he knew he would have to eat something. He killed an animal that seemed to not be too badly changed by the Madlands, and ate.
That night, as he slept, he dreamed. It was a fitful, uneasy dream at first, but then it resolved into something… more. It was the sound of the wind… except this time he could understand a voice in it.
It was calling his name.
“I will give you what you have always wanted, Almonihah…” The voice chilled him to the bone.
Before he could respond, the half-dragon felt an agonizing pain shoot through him. He cried out, unsure if he was awake or asleep. He wasn’t sure how long it lasted, but when at last it subsided, he felt an odd… weight on his back. Stumbling to his feet, sure now he was awake, he looked in a nearby pond… and saw a pair of draconic wings on his back.
“This is just the beginning…” Even awake, he could understand the voice in the wind. And he knew whose it was.
Roaring out his defiance, Almonihah starting running to the north. But that was too slow. He spread his wings and took to the air, flapping furiously to try to get more speed.
“You cannot escape me, Almonihah…”
Almonihah didn’t know how long he flew. He only knew that he had to get away, get far, far away from the Voice, to where he couldn’t hear it any more. He was conscious of nothing else, not his fading strength, nor how the tops of the trees below were getting closer. Not until he clipped a branch with a wing and went crashing down through the canopy to the ground below did he notice how low he had gotten, and by then, it was too late.
The last thing he could remember before he drifted into unconsciousness was hearing mad laughter on the wind.
Whoops, I guess I was wrong. Almonihah does die.
Okay, no he didn’t. But it’s a cliffhanger! Oh, no! What are you going to do if I suddenly get busy and don’t write for another month? Ok, I’m not going to do that. But yes, this is why Almonihah has wings later in his life despite not being born with them. It also explains some other things about him and his wings, that you will see shortly.