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With a start he swiveled on his stool to
face the closed door of his tower. The feeling had been growing, almost like a
low buzz, heard, yet not heard, that grows imperceptibly louder over time.
Lately, it had become a constant ache in his old bones, one that he had
willingly attributed to his age. But this was different... as if a gust of air
had slapped him in the face.
Moving as quickly as he could, he rose, and went outside. His tower stood atop a
hill looking down over the city, with an almost undisrupted view of the harbour
beyond. 'Tower' was something of a misnomer. Squat, only two stories, it was
built long ago by his order. Behind the tower, in what was once hallowed ground,
lay an old cemetery; now, obviously untended. Legend had it that the tower, and
his office, were both created to watch over the graveyard. He had let that duty,
along with others more mundane, slip away with the passing of years. Maybe he
should not have.
He took a few steps down the street, and then hesitated. The sun was going down,
and as darkness came, safety in these streets fled. He could remember a time, as
a child, and in his youth, when that wasn't so. Later, as he came into his
strength, and while his office still seemed to mean something, he could still go
about, his person sacrosanct. Most of his generation had long since passed on,
and now few called him by his title, few cared. Now, he was most commonly
referred to, without affection, as the old man, or other titles much more
Again the feeling of something imminent came over him, and shaking his head, he
forced himself down the street as the sun continued its plunge towards the
The anchor cable paid out, the dry screech evidence of the considerable passage
of time since last it was let go. Along the spars and yards of the brig, and in
the rigging, the crew were making their final efforts at gathering in the canvas
against a backdrop of, in one direction, the huge fiery globe of day sinking,
hissing, into the sea, and in the other, the strengthening shades of gray as the
dark returned to claim its due.
He stood at the quarter-deck rail and shivered. With delight he surveyed the
bustle below him, and above. They had been so long together, now, that they
really did not take notice of his presence any more, though, to be sure, they
still kept their distance. To them he remained, instinctively, someone to stay
clear of, while still not understanding exactly why.
Grinning, he raised his gaze to the objective of his voyage, now so close.
There, across the expanse of the harbour stood the warehouses and Inns, and
higher up, the residences of the haves and the have-nots. All, soon, to be equal
in the gloom.
Most had probably forgotten his existence,
or at the very least, discounted the
veracity of the tales... . Those who had not said he would never
return, could not in fact. As the disappearing sun proclaimed, light only owned
half of time. Never, as they would soon remember, is much more finite then they
All of the sheets were in, with activity now centered in the starboard well as
effort was given to putting the boats out before light died completely. It was
He crossed to the larboard ladder and went down its few rungs to the main deck.
Quickly to the rail, and pause to glare about, ensuring no eyes marked his
passage. They would have their chance to view him again. He untied the cloak
draped over his shoulders and before it could pool at his feet, he was over the
side, hanging for a moment outboard, and then... not.
With the first touch of the brine, it was an ecstasy of agony, exploding to
envelope him as he was immersed. At first, but only for a moment, he savoured it
as his fleshy guise peeled and drifted away. But then, almost frantic in pain
and delight, with all the pent up anticipation of ages behind him, he dug, and
clawed, and scraped, and tore at the extant skin, flinging pieces into the murk.
His mind freewheeled with no coherent pattern as he sank. Such that the
momentary discomfort of exchanging gas for liquid within his chest went by
Eventually his feet clawed at the muck of the harbour bottom, and then his hands
as well. Slowly, the scrape of his nails brought order back to his thoughts.
Swiveling his head, he took in the darkness about him. The bottom of the harbour
contained the expected collection of wrecks, garbage, and weeds. He drew a deep
breath of the water, past his teeth and over his tongue, seeking the correct
direction towards the next step in his redemption. With all of the refuse
surrounding him, it was difficult sensing his relative location. He moved, half
crawling, half swimming, towards the shore. Eventually he tasted that which he
was looking for. One moment he was clawing his way through the muck, and the
next his talons were scraping solid stone. Walls of rock, hung about with
clinging seaweed rose on both sides as he again began a descent. He moved into a
passage cut into the harbour floor, not quite natural, yet assuredly not
Above, a freshening offshore breeze was bringing an unpleasant chop to the
harbour surface. The sun had made its final exit, and it's sister had not yet
arisen. In that period of darkness the crew of the brig decided to wait until
morning before heading to shore. Fortune?
He stood on the end of the wharf. Perhaps (hopefully?) he was mistaken. Looking
about the harbour, nothing appeared amiss. He turned to begin the long trek back
to his tower. As he took his first step away, he suddenly clutched at his chest,
doubling over in his pain. Though the docks were crowded, no one came to offer
assistance; he was just an old man. On his knees, doubled almost upon himself,
he faced the harbour again, and he knew. He just knew. The faith of his youth,
long asleep, almost dead in the face of all of the obstacles and indifference he
had seen, rekindled in his soul, and he knew.
The pain in his chest was pushed, with effort, to the background, and he started
a stumbling run, as best he could manage, back up the hill. Throughout the
tortured passage he cried out warnings, and begged for assistance. No one
listened. At least no one hindered him. Small blessings.
He continued, restraining his haste; there
was little need for it now. The liquid he moved through became heavier, more
viscous. The taste he was following more definite. Small fingers of growth, some
sentient, most less so, grappled at this wake through this eternal night. Those
that could, he allowed to cling to him. If they had lasted this long, they
certainly deserved his forbearance.
The decline of his passage leveled, then began the long ascent. Much more
quickly than expected his head broke the surface. There was no chop here, other
than what his movement created. He paused as this time he was forced to notice
the adjustment back to an air breathing environment. He sucked in a huge breath,
delighting in the acrid, sulphurous fumes. Pleased, he noted that he could still
taste it, even airborne as it was.
Again he set out, and time passed, but not
too much. He stood free of the liquid, in a cavern whose dimensions were not
easily measured, pressed as it was below the immense weight of the rock above.
The darkness was not quite complete, with pools of molten stone giving off a
ruddy, bloody light in the recesses. Against this backdrop he saw movement. He
sensed others, some in the darkness above him. The shadows moved towards
him, tentatively at first, but with more haste as they began to recognize who,
what, he was.
Rejoicing, as a term, would not normally be used to describe an emotion of these
denizens, and yet he had to acknowledge what was occurring around him. As the
final freedom approached, for all, he allowed them this moment.
Staggering, breathless, the old man paused
at the gate to his tower grounds. The journey had become more difficult as the
weather had deteriorated around him. He found himself looking up at the coat of
arms above the door, a crossed battleaxe and broadsword, over a staff. All were
relics stored within. In his youth he had practiced with and wielded both of the
weapons, but they were beyond his strength now.
As his breath began to return, his gaze was drawn to the door as it opened. The
child, a young girl, stood there staring questioningly at him. He had found her
a few years ago, an orphan of the streets, and taken her in. She had been the
only one interested in what he had to say, and had listened attentively to the
old stories. Now she was his apprentice. Now it was too late.
Seeing his condition, she ran to him, "Father, may I help?"
With her assistance he moved into the tower, and went to the ancient arms
closet. Removing the staff, made of oak, and topped with crystal, he turned
towards his apprentice. He could feel the press of time, both of that lost, and
the little remaining. She had a firm look of resolution on her face, and an
almost unearthly understanding.
Supported by his apprentice, he moved out of, and around the tower to the
cemetery. Still breathless, and now fighting the wind, he stood at the graveyard
gate. An old man, a young child, and a wooden staff. It wasn't enough. Gathering
his strength, he planted the staff in the ground at his feet and grasped it with
both hands below the crystal. A feeble light began to flicker.
For the first time in eons, he spread his pinions. His glance was drawn directly
above him to the passage, through the roof of this place, an unnatural chimney,
perfect for carrying the smoke of this place, the sparks, and now, finally, the
With a snap of his wings he started up. At the apex of the chimney he hovered
below the capstone. Delicately he placed his palm against the stone, his talons
clicking quietly. Every time in the past this would be where he would have been
stopped. This time, as he extended his senses through the rock, he noted that
the chains holding it in place were more rust than metal. A final casting about
noted the lack of any watchers. He had known that would be the case, however, a
final caution was excusable. His lips pulled back from his teeth, in a parody of
that earlier grin, and, flexing his fingers, he snapped a blow against the
capstone. It shattered.
Quickly he moved up, through the now gaping hole, and settled on the floor
above. He was in an enclosure made entirely of stone. The corners were thick
with cobwebs. It was obvious that nothing had moved here in some time. Too much
time for some.
He approached the opening, barred for the moment by an iron reinforced, stone
wedge. It was time, caution was consciously cast aside, as he slammed both fists
into the block. It exploded outward.
One more pace and he was outside once again. The passage was over. Time, so long
held in abeyance, could now continue. Above him, through patches in the dark
clouds that the now gale force winds were delivering, he could see the bold
fullness of the moon. About him were other structures, similar to, yet much
younger than the one he had just exited. He glanced around, and noted the tower
glowering over this place, and then he saw movement in the rubble he had just
made of the gate. An ancient human was dragging himself to his feet, his robes
and skin ripped and bloody. The human lifted a staff and planted it in the
ground between them. As he did, a flickering, feeble light appeared at the head
of the shaft.
Trouble? Not likely, not from this one. He started to laugh, and he called to
those awaiting his permission to exit the chimney. Now was time to spread the
The old man barely retained consciousness. The blow had been more than just
physical. He wasn't sure why the destruction of the vault door hadn't ended him
as well. As he staggered to his feet again, he scrabbled for the staff. Using it
as a brace, he again planted himself for what he was sure would be the last
time. He took a grip on the staff, and looked up, into the face of a nightmare.
The Nightmare. He quailed at the reality before him, and would have fled.
He would have fled, but for the child. His apprentice, that young orphaned girl
who had been his only companion for the last number of years, gripped his elbow
with one hand, and said "Father, I will help you." She reached for the staff.
As the hordes behind him began to exit the vault, laughing, he turned back to
the insignificance barring his way. The old man was shaking, but there was
someone else there. A youth. He could see the youth say something, though over
the shriek of the wind, he couldn't hear what. She held onto the old man, and
reached out to grip the staff. As her hand touched the wooden haft, the feeble
light from the crystal blazed out. Strong. Blinding.
Perhaps it wasn't quite time?
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