The wind slammed into the trees, shrieking between them and flattening anything that got in the way. In the distance, there was a massive groan as a tree was uprooted and toppled by a particularly violent gust, and a crash and crack of splintering branches as it hit the ground, stripping bark and branches from its neighbours as it went down.
Aurae ran out from behind the tree that had been sheltering her, and was nearly knocked over sideways by the wind as it hit her body, driving the breath from her lungs and tearing at her cloak and hair. Pitching forward into a sprint diagonally into the wind, she threw herself towards the tree in front of her. She would have hit it face-first if the wind hadn’t caught her and blown her slightly to the side of it, depositing her on a heap on the ground behind it, out of the full force of the wind. She crawled towards it and pressed her back into the bark as she caught her breath, gasp by gasp.
The original purpose of this outing had been hunting, but this gale had caught her by surprise, sending any potential prey into hiding and threatening to snatch away any arrow she might try to shoot. She had been warned about the unnatural storms in this area, winds strong enough to flatten forests, unpredictable as anything, but she hadn’t believed them. The old house couldn’t be far from here, she thought. She was camped in some kind of abandoned mansion, in desperate need of repair but still a serviceable shelter from the elements.
She played with the idea of taking off her cloak – if she kept it on it would only get caught by the wind and slow her down, but the wind was freezing and taking it off would leave her exposed. She decided she would take it off just for this next dash to the nearest tree. She attempted to restore order to her tangled hair, but gave up quickly, and took her cloak off, folding it up under one arm, before throwing herself back out into the raging wind.
Eight trees later, the woods came to an abrupt end and the misshapen outline of the house was visible against the darkening sky. Aurae breathed a sigh of relief, and prepared her body for one final sprint. It was further than the distance between any of the trees, but she was sure she could make it. Taking a deep breath, she plunged out into the wind for the last time, labouring towards the house.
Almost as soon as she set off she realised she wasn’t going to make it – she was too far left of the door, and the wind howling from the right was too strong for her to be able to correct her course. But she had to keep going. She needed to be out of the storm, even if it meant sheltering behind the house instead of in it. She adjusted her direction so that she would end up with the huge, decrepit structure between her and the wind. Despite its state of disrepair, it seemed to be holding its own against the furious blasts with the strength of a mountain. It must have seen a few of these storms before…she hoped this one wouldn’t be the one to finish it off.
The pressure of the wind stopped abruptly as she passed into the protection of the stone wall, and she stumbled and sprawled onto the cold earth. She lay there, waiting for her breathing to slow down and become regular again, wondering what to do. The house loomed above her, its rough, ivied walls seeming to leer down at her. The idea that she might be able to climb them drifted by her, making her tired limbs feel like liquid. This was worsened by the sinking of her stomach as she realised an unsuccessful hunt meant no meal tonight.
She groaned as she pushed herself up from the ground and wrapped her cloak around herself. Looking up, she could see a narrow ledge that must be on the same level as the first floor, and, sitting above that, a dark rectangle that looked vaguely like a smashed window. Maybe her mind was tricking her, trying to plant some false hope in her heart, but maybe she could get through there into the house? The prospect of warm blankets and some light seemed almost too good to be true. Her horse was in there – the front door had easily been big enough to allow him in – along with all her belongings, including a light travel blanket aand a lamp.
She looked up at the window, the height seeming a little shorter than before. If she didn’t try this she would definitely be sleeping outside, but if she did there would also be a possibility that she wouldn’t. She approached the wall and grasped the ivy with both hands, silently hoping it wouldn’t be torn from the wall by her weight. She lifted herself off the ground, pushing her feet through the ivy in search of footholds in the form of cracks in the wall, of which there were plenty. Higher and higher, step by step, she ascended the wall, trying to ignore the feeling that her limbs were about to give way, until her hand knocked against something jutting out of the wall that wasn’t ivy.
The ledge! She’d made it! She looked up to see the window, not completely smashed but laced with cracks like a spider’s web. I wouldn’t be hard to break. She hauled herself up onto the ledge, only just wide enough to stand on, gripping the ivy above with renewed determination. She reached down with one hand and drew her sword from its sheath, then began to batter the glass with the hilt. It broke easily, and soon there was a big enough gap for her to fit though. After a moment’s rest, she edged along the ledge and slipped through the window.
The carpet she landed on was a moth-eaten, dusty reddish-brown, sprinkled with bits of broken glass. Aurae had been lucky to get away with nothing but small cuts on her arms where she had smashed the window and her knees where she had landed. The room was gloomy, and as her eyes adjusted she could see a huge four-poster bed and some looming, thickset cupboards lining the walls, as well as a heavy looking wooden door set into the far wall.
She got up and crossed the room, pushing gently on the handle. Something about the quietness in here, undisturbed by the raging chaos outside, made her feel as though she had to make as little noise as possible. The noise she knew she had made smashing the window made her feel somehow uncomfortable, and the more she dwelled on this feeling it was joined by a kind of creeping unease, as if she wasn’t alone in this place. As she pushed the door open onto a long, dark corridor with several other doors and what looked like stairs leading down at the end, sword still drawn in her other hand, willing it not to creak, the unease grew. She was sure there was someone else here with her.
Holding his prize, if that's what it could be called, beneath his left leg, the teal-eyed man leaned up against the trunk of a gnarl-trunked tree. He wasn't certain what the real name for such a trunk was, but he was fairly certain that now was not the best time to worry about it. The storm had descended onto the forest like a hawk onto a fat squirrel. It was mostly wind with a little hail, but oh, what a wind it was! It ripped between the trees, tearing off twigs and leaves with such ferocity that the forest made a sound like it was screaming.
The wind whipped the man's black hair about so that it stung his eyes while he worked, hunched over his own feet. He worked as calmly and as quickly as he was able, affixing a pair of metal cleats to the soles of his boots. With these, he would be able to press his way through the forest, against the wind, without worrying about whether his feet would slip from the ground beneath him. The ground itself had no such guarantee, but at this point... he'd take what he could get.
A particularly violent gust came up from the other side of the tree just as the last latch of his right cleat snapped to the side of his boot. The tree groaned sharply, cracked loudly from its roots, and came up out of the ground. This was no longer a good place to take cover. The wind buffeted the man's red cloak and hauled against him. Not forgetting its importance for a second, he scooped his prize up from beneath his leg and threw himself to the side with as much haste as he could muster. Just as he did, the tree came down again, stripping bark and branches from its neighbors.
Orienting himself by the stars that peaked out from between the quickly passing clouds overhead, with his cloak flapping behind him violently and his precious cargo secured between his left arm and his body, Omentus leaned into the wind and headed for the house in the distance. With his cleats on and more than a little effort, he made good time. There wasn't truly a lot of distance between himself and the old mansion, but had he needed to duck between trees or crawl along the ground as a less prepared individual, it may have taken him twenty minutes to travel what instead took him six.
Just before the house, there was an abrupt break in tree line. At its edge, the trees were twisted and stunted, forming densely matted bushes where they were bold enough to grow at all. The wind there had made the line too difficult for trees to truly grow upon. This, he did know the word for. It was a krummholz formation, a particular type of tree line. As he crossed the krummholz line, the unabated wind rose up and struck Omentus like a wall. He stumbled backward, planted his right foot into the ground behind him, and pushed himself toward the doors.
They were heavy. It was as much as blessing as a curse, but he'd come knowing what to expect. They fought him opening, tried to throw themselves wide once they had opened, fought him closing, and then slammed close with thunderous finality, echoing into the derelict estate.
As soon as the door closed, a large receiving room greeted him. There were two floors to address here: the ground floor on which he stood, and the second floor above. Staircases led up to landings that overlooked the entryway. A few doors led off from different sides of the entryway and the landings to other areas of the house. The flooring was all hardwood, with ancient reddish-brown carpeting everywhere but near the walls. To the side of the room, someone had torn up the carpet, brought in a bed of rocks and dirt from outside, and created a place for a fire pit. The remains of a fire were there now, only a few hours old. On the other side of the room, there was a horse.
Omentus stopped looking around, regarding the horse for a few moments. In return, the horse regarded him, and he felt somehow uncomfortable now. He coughed lightly, and began taking off his cloak. He found a closet to hang it in, and then delivered his furry consignment to the other side of the firepit, beside a chair. Seeing no point in waiting for warmth, he immediately looked about for dry wood, and then reset the fire.
Just as his firewood began to catch and the tinder began to wither, he heard a glassy crash in one of the rooms above. He glanced at the horse, then at the fox he'd laid down by the other chair. He sighed, and did his best to fix the ruined mess of his hair.