Hourglass

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“Will you give up?” they ask. “Or will you try again?”

Light explodes into my dreams, ethereal and blinding.

It’s time to wake up.

*          *          *

I opened my eyes to the familiar wooden rafters arching over me as the light diminished into the grey glow of dawn.

Morning. I stretched and yawned, the unyielding mattress beneath me barely sinking as I sat up, fully-clothed, to leave last night’s nightmares on the pillow where they belong. 

It didn’t take me long to get ready. My blade, shield and bow were – thank the Spirits – at the end of the bed. I slung the equipment over my shoulder and strapped it tight with a belt across the chest, feeling immediately comforted by the weight of the metal on my back. Not so reassuring was the hip-satchel I fixed around my waist, which felt suspiciously light.Empty.

I would have to re-supply. Leaving the little lodger’s room behind me, I darted down the stairs and slipped out of the main entrance before the vulture-like lady behind the desk had the chance to persuade me into paying for another night’s stay.

Outside, it was still. An unnerving quiet had infected the abandoned town since the majority of its inhabitants had fled, seeping through the cobbled stones of the streets and spreading from house to house. The silence permeated the very air, dark and quivering as it was beneath the overcast heavens. The sun would be high in the sky now, but I knew I’d feel no glimmer of it upon my skin. A storm was coming.

I traced the route back to the old shopkeeper. A veteran perhaps, now hiding in shadows behind a counter with ill-gotten wares. I filled my satchel with anything I could lay hands on. Medicine, food, knives, arrows, poison. I threw him some coins in return.

I pulled my journal from my pocket one last time as I exited the shop, just to check, just to make sure that I had no other options. No. It was time. It was time to ascend the tower.

The tower stood in the centre square, an unnaturally dark shard jutting out from the very foundations of the earth, from the black, diseased heart of the town. It stretched upwards, defiant and unmoving in its magnitude, casting its malevolent shadow across me as I approached the entrance. I could see the gnarled wooden door, and I knew exactly what I needed to do.

I pulled a small, ornately decorated hourglass from the inside of my tunic, tipping it so the sand collected in the bottom. As I pushed it into the small alcove to the right of the entrance, a clicking mechanism was triggered, and the wooden door began to inch open. It moved so slowly that time itself felt suspended, even as sand fell like water in the glass next to me.

Eventually, I entered. A dimly-lit staircase spiralled away from me, but I chased the steps, one, two, three at a time. Up, up, up. I knew what awaited me at the top.

The stairs led me straight out onto the level rooftop of the tower, and as I emerged into the night a single streak of lightning slashed across the sky. I peered through the ensuing darkness and the droplets of rain that began to fall before my vision, trying to distinguish the writhing black mass forming on the far end of the platform.

“You have come, as we knew you would,” a thousand voices hissed.

I drew my sword in reply.

“All is lost. You cannot win.” The voices laughed, joining together in a hysterical crescendo as thunder roared around us. The dark mass began to take shape, growing larger and larger until it stood hunched on four clawed legs, swinging a tail that could easily wrap itself around the perimeter of the entire rooftop. Two burning lamps blinked above its flaring nostrils, fixated on the small figure standing before it. I raised my shield.

Burning blue flame burst around the edges of my metal defence. Without thinking, I dived and rolled, bringing up my blade just in time to counter the swipe of a claw with a clash of steel on black bone. Dancing away and sheathing my sword, I drew my bow and began to let fly arrow after arrow as I backed away from the creature, vainly attempting to send one through an unnatural, burning eye.

A lurching sensation gripped my stomach as my next step backwards landed on thin air. After teetering on the edge of the platform, I threw myself forwards onto solid ground, swallowing the sickening crunch as my head hit the stone and claws closed around my body.

I could feel myself being lifted into the air. Through a fading haze, I was face to face with the dragon.

“I will enjoy this.”

The end came quickly.

*          *          *

Nothingness. Music and nothingness. An hourglass turn will bid me once again return.

“Will you give up?” they ask. “Or will you try again?”

Light explodes into my dreams, ethereal and blinding.

It’s time to wake up.

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