It was sweltering when I awoke, and dark, so very dark; yet, the world was not benight; I was beneath the newly arisen spire, which cast a deep shadow and blotted out the sun. A spire really had been raised; a horror had been born.
Here, every piece of the world was warped by the Tessect’s work.
Grand, vein-like protrusions reached for the top of the spire and made interlocking terraces before crumbling away in the wind. The bowels of what once was a mountain, bled. Ore and rock blistered and burst all across the spire, throwing blood across the charred lands. The metals, stones, and even dust had turned perverse at their touch, and now these materials acted in warped ways. Water held eyes within its body, circling the spire as a serpent, and dirt rearranged itself into shapes perplexed with so many angles and edges that it pained me to comprehend them in the dying sunlight. And it seemed it put just as much strain on the materials to hold such shapes, as the dirt, or rock all the same, would burst into a shower of scarlet after keeping the angles in place for too long.
Perhaps it was some god’s attempt at a jape.
Even with the main of the mountain taken into its mass, the spire continually grew fat at its base, whilst a chasm spread outwards from its feet as more of the world was pulled away in spiraling threads. To add that much more foulness to its damning design; so it could reach a new height. Ever higher. Soon enough, the stars themselves could reach out and touch it. And, as it grew, its shadow reached for the sea, leaving a band of night staining the day.
It grew before it would… Gods, what was it again? It would…
But instead of trying to uncover this thought in full, I gazed upon the spire intently; although, it was more exact to say that my sight was recalled to the spire, anchored on its form, and without any effort on my part. That reason had left me, could it have been because of this?
No, the answers were here, as long as I possessed eyes enough to see. Veins marked the sky. Rising before tumbling, dancing to the wrongness. Showering colors unseen. Showing us all a thing most unclean.
I ripped my sight from it, shaking as a whole. Gods, even my thoughts were being pulled into the Tessect’s work. This thing. As if madness had a physical form. Unsightly.
Still, I was alive, and the sight alone was not unlike a dream, so I poked my hand to check which world I was within. The cuts in my palm were scabbed and sore; it was as real as I could imagine it to be. But, wouldn’t that be evidence for this world about me being but a dream? A reality composed of illusions? Yet, how could it be realer than my own imagination, at any rate? Was there some sort of limit to the detail, the realness? These organs here, weren’t they my limits, regardless of this world about me? Even still, if there were limits, then this spire would have surely broken all such things before it had even rose up from the materials that should have never amounted to its sickly whole.
My head was wracked and pained. I held it still, as it seemed to be spinning; and that was yet another fake part of this experience that seemed so real to me that I puked all over myself.
Even the fake can disturb me? What is this? Where am I now, if not within a dream? No. Enough. This was the spire at work; still, damn these thoughts all the same. I had to stay calm.
Oft in dreams, a finger will slip through a palm easy as one would part water; I tried it, focusing on nothing but this task, but the jab only made my throbbing hand sorer. Didn’t pass though, not even slightly. Which would mean that I was awake. Yet, why was this a problem that I worried over in the first place, especially given this situation? Why did it matter to me?
Again, these eyes wandered off, bringing my sight to search the spire for something left behind. An answer could lie there, buried…
“You’re still alive,” said a guardian beside me. “Even if it’s hard to believe so.”
His words were muffled, as if my ears were stuffed with wax enough for a candle each. The sensation was strange enough, and when I reached for them I found bandages covering both. Stranger still. Bandages, but for what purpose?
“We did all we could. Doesn’t look bad, but it will feel terrible for some time. You’ll probably hear a ringing too. But that, well, it may not stop, even if it does heal fully. Can’t be certain. After all, no one has been that close to a spire and lived. One thing’s for certain: you’re lucky to be here at all.”
Lucky, huh? That’s one way to put it.
With my attention pulled from the structure jutting above us, I remembered that there was a world beyond the spire. It was sickening how inviting it felt to watch its ghastly form. Down here, all around me, were figures moving about.
A group of guardians shuffled about our meager spot in the ash. They were setting up tents where the ground had been cleared, with faces and garbs smeared black with soot. Doubt it would do us any good. But the spirit, was he here? No. Shugokrur was nowhere to be seen. The spire would have caught his attention, no doubt. He never wandered far, at any rate.
Couldn’t be rid of him in the first place.
But a spire? Why was that so familiar? It was not the vespede’s towers, but the perverse thing that grew from the disemboweled husk of Mt. Grav that was familiar in some way. Something was calling out to me, beckoning me from some corner of my mind. A spire was set far apart from a mere tower. Yes, a spire was something you’d never want to see for yourself. Though, hadn’t the world been shaped by their ilk for some time now? Everywhere you looked, there you had it: evidence of their labors.
This spire… Gods, this was… It hit me, starting in the mind first before spreading as a disease; till it had me in its grips, talons and all. Drawing blood.
A brooding thing of unease clawed its way into my body as I remembered, giving me a coughing fit. I choked on it, gagged. The realization alone, it made this flesh sick: weaken in anticipation for the coming of thoughts, thought to be far off, though they were thoughts no longer, I thought, as it would be coming with a speed too great for things of flesh to escape for any longer than it took for the events to come and take what they had come for: our lives, of course.
We were in grave danger; disaster was around the bend. They had to be warned. It was a spire. A real one. Damn, damn, damn! It was right there. Too damn close, right there where you could see it. You could even taste it upon the airs. But it wouldn’t matter for long, since we were all going to be killed.
Without a warning, that was true, but, if I gave one, it could change. Maybe. I had to try, had to speak. Damn this, why couldn’t I do so? I tried, but my throat was so parched that words were caught up in the cracking passage. What did escape was but a faint wheeze, like the last exhale of an old, shriveled up man that had nursed a pipe for far too many years. Its walls crumbling, I choked upon my own throat. Even speaking of the spire was going to end my life.
With proper timing, the guardian handed me a pouch of water and helped to lift it to my lips. Taking in moisture, quenching that yearning for water, it was enough to bring me to stand, or so I thought. What had happened was more akin to a lurch, or a fish flopping about. I could not stand.
“What?” I managed to say, trying again before failing again. “Shit.”
Nothing and no one held me down, nor were there any broken bones on the mend or limbs missing; at least, none that I could tell. Still, I was fucked, and could not move myself as I had so often done in life. Something I had once been attuned to, somehow, someway, had been taken from me. As if the puppet strings I manipulated in order to move this body were frayed, else severed completely.
I was heavy now. Weighted without weights about myself. Anchored.
And the guardian watched me struggle with his head shaking.
“Bastard,” I said. “Don’t look at me like that. Pity yourself. I’ll be up in no time.”
“Take it easy,” the guardian said while lowering me back onto the bedroll. “You shouldn’t try to stand just yet. They took a lot from you. Even with our mending, it will take some time to replace it completely, if at all. Pray your luck holds that long, outsider.”
He gestured to my torso, which was bandaged just as heavily as my ears were. Despite being padded thicker than a fist, the bandages were not hot; instead, a chill laid there in my chest. A hole might have opened up below the bandages. A doorway to another plane, just like the Tessect’s own slits in the sky. No point in trying to stand with this in mind. He was right, even if I hated the facts.
“How did I even get here?” I asked.
“We’ve been carrying you the whole way. You and Sofir were near corpses by the time we found the both of you. A miracle indeed that you remained at all, truth be told. Havel’s spirit guided you, it seems.”
“How far are we from it? How many days are we away? Do you know when—”
“Slow down,” he said, cutting me off. “You’ll ne’er recover like that.”
I nodded. “Sure, whatever, but of the distance…”
“Five, maybe six day’s march. Hard to tell just where it lies. But we’ve set up to wait for night. No use running in this heat,” he said, eyeing the spire. “That damn thing is cooking us. Been getting more so each night, feels like. Could be the march’s own toll that gives me the impression too.” He stood up and sighed, seeing that there was more work to be done to set up camp. “Even we guardians have our limits.”
Why had I not said it earlier? It began after the heat; once the nightmares incubated long enough, they would come. And they would be hungry. Gods, they would be starving.
“Don’t leave yet,” I said, tugging on the guardian’s cloak. “They’ll be here soon. Are you listening?”
“Yes, I hear you.” He crouched beside me, narrowing his eyes as if searching for something within my own. “Who is coming, exactly?” His breath smelled faintly of the spire, wrought of stuff rotten, but his vocal cords vibrated true. “Come now, I am listening, outsider. Explain what is to come.”
“Creatures never seen before. Things that have existed only in dreams and idle thoughts till now. What will undoubtedly come from the spire, as surely as water arrives from clouds and how heat follows a flame. A repeated thing will come about once more, and I should know. It happened back then, in Pelce.”
“From the spire? And did you just say Pelce? Ah, wait, I think I understand you now. You must mean the legends. We’ve heard tell of them as well, but the true records are spotty. Gods, it only happened right as the Guild itself was born, so there is little in the way of truth in it. Even the Guildmaster was absent then…” He paused, mouthing something. “Where did you hear this from? Is there someplace where it is still recounted, outside of our libraries?”
Yes, the Guild was just a start then. A small force. Generations ago, back before I was… No, that couldn’t be right. Not possible, but correct in this head of mine. I mean…
“Outsider, are you alright? ”
“Ah, I’m fine. Just an overflow of thoughts is all. But, that spire rose that long ago, for true? There is no doubt?”
“Assuredly. The Guildmaster would not lie in this.”
“Well, then I must be mistaken. Here I had thought it to be my own memory. Like I was there myself as a child. Though I must have heard it elsewhere, surely, from some skilled storyteller. Yes, that must be it…”
He gazed upon me for a moment longer, perhaps contemplating my sanity. “It must be fatigue that muddles your mind. Pray, rest for a while longer and leave those thoughts behind. Beasts or no, we will continue our watch, and with extra caution.” He looked to the spire, disgusted. “None of us are at ease with this monstrosity looming so. Be certain of that, outsider.”
He picked up his spear and left for the outer reaches of the camp, but not with the haste that I knew anyone should have with this knowledge in mind. Should have been moving at full speed, shouting and screaming. But no, not a sound.
I had failed.
Yet, communicating such a vast and grotesque concept to them, and with words alone? Undoable. For me, at least, it was such. And so, we would sit and wait when we should have been running like madmen haunted by the wind’s touch. Away from here.
Anywhere but here.
“We’re dead, Shugokrur,” I muttered to myself, searching for the spirit. “Come back so I can talk with you… One last time.”
When they come, when the spire looses its horrors upon this world, the guardians will realize, once again, how small they truly are. And I will be left behind as before. But this time I’ll be … Eaten alive. Torn apart between several starving beasts. Gods, the spire would be our undoing here. It was so close. So damn close.
I knew that much. Still…
How did I remember those events? There had not been enough years between myself and seven score generations to bridge that gap. I should not have been born by then, but I knew it from experience, not from retellings. Everything was founded upon memories. For me, it was all true: Pelce on that day and all of those leading up to it. Certainly, I had lived there. But, then, how was it possible?
It couldn’t. Plain as that. Either everyone else was wrong, or this head of mine wasn’t set straight. Despite all of that, even if it was one delusion, it was so detailed, so real. And it all lined up with reality, filled in the gaps of history, aside from my being there.
And an explanation, this was not. Each thought was yet another cut to my faith in my own self, that I could at least trust what I had seen to be true, if nothing else. Now, I could not even trust myself. What else was false? This body? My scars? The Tessect’s very own work that grew here before me?
Gods, there it was, but something was set wrongly about it: there, in this brain.
“Tell me the truth,” I asked it, pleading for an answer that I knew would not come. “Or is that yet another thing that I wrongly assumed to exist? Tell me,” I pleaded, weeping all at once.
Yet I cared no longer about which response would come; questions and concerns melted as I watched the spire. Maybe even I melted some. Warmth: it lulled all. Embraced by it, things were summoned up from within, and all was at ease.
Exploding guts and crystal marked the sun-burnt horizon. Colors beyond scarlet flowed from orifices chiseled out of alluvial crags, and feathered branches wriggled from the weeping spire to release light; precious specks, reminiscent of the blight’s spores, drifted on the winds moving around the spire; until, they were swept up in a sudden burst of blood, bloating the speck into a mass of unstable dreams, which quickly unraveled itself as it moved to escape the spire’s influence.
After some time, I swore their screams had reached me on the winds. What was it they were trying to say? Simply voicing anguish, or perhaps it was something more than even that. Another purpose beneath it all, same as the spire’s strangeness.
Glowing, pulsing with heat, the spire formed lithe mouths about its surface, and smiled at me.
Rust. The air smelled like it was beginning to rust. Metallic and pungent, it brought me coughing from my sleep before the sun had risen. Eyes watering, I searched for Shugokrur in the dark, but night was here in full, and my sight was not adjusted to even make out the tents that laid mere paces ahead. Only darkness.
Yet, to think that I would sleep soundly under the watch of this foul thing; it was disgusting. Still, I had not been taken during my dreams. They weren’t here… yet.
The Tessect’s argent spheres were gone, and the only lights were those of the stars. Rue, the star of true North, brightest of them all, had changed for a moment as I marveled at the firmament: an ill omen; it had flickered, faltered for some reason. All its brethren went scarlet in turn as a pulse of ruin came from Rue.
A grand ripping of flesh tore apart the night.
The spire fell.
It was coming.
“Shit,” I muttered while straining to stand. With legs tingling and arms near dead weight, I gave up on walking and instead pulled myself along with shaky arms. The spire’s heat had lost its edge, but the stench of rust, eating away thousands of armaments, grated against my nose and made snot run thick. Gave it my all, though that found me only a few paces from where I had started.
Then, a sound of rushing water. It was far off, but it grew quickly. Was the river sent off course again?
“Abandon camp!” someone shouted. “Make for higher ground!”
Magic burst into existence and lit up a tent just out of reach from me. The guardian controlling the light grabbed me up and threw me over his shoulder.
“I’ve the survivor! Make haste!” he yelled as he ran. Lights were all around us as we ran. They were all guardians, each with their own ball of burning light to show the way.
It was roaring.
“I’ll meet you beside Unnce!”
The sound of water rose to drown out all the shouting, swearing, and everyone not swift enough. One light went out, then another, another five, ten more, and it took moments for the flood to strike us from behind.
Our light went out as well.
“You have returned,” Shugokrur said.
Water was rushing past… somewhere. Though it was close enough to have a constant spray wet my skin and warm my body; but why was it so hot? Maybe the sun was out again, and I was slowly being roasted as a fish hung out to dry. I had to get up and get out of here as swiftly as possible. Just get to my feet and start walking.
Yeah, easy as that.
I was laying on a jagged, painfully uncomfortable rock, but it was better than drowning. Beaten and bruised, I wiped the stinging water from my eyes and rolled myself over. I had almost died, had my lungs filled with water and body upturned and floating downstream. But I had lived. I was still here.
Aveyas be damned.
I reached out towards the sky to check my tingling hands over. Felt pretty banged up, mangled, even. Red. It was all awash in red: dripping with blood. “Better not be mine,” I muttered, checking for cuts somewhere on my body. “There’s so much of it.”
“Of course there is,” Shugokrur said. “I pulled you out of it.” He was pointing behind me, towards the sound of the rapids. “Can’t you see?”
It was all blood. There was no water rushing down the remnants of Mt. Grav; there was no rusting of the air. A foamy flood washed the black from the land and drenched it a blinding scarlet. “Impossible…” I said, in awe of the sheer volume of it crashing down the mountain. There was no end to it.
“The evidence is undeniable,” he said, before gesturing to a pile of bodies. “They were caught in it as well.”
Guardians, dead or sleeping, were limp about the ground a mere stone’s throw from me.
“Only five are alive, for now. We need more, but your kind are too fragile. Severed spines, crushed organs, internal bleeding; I checked recently; all dead. They would never consider these as allies, knowing that they are so weak. So weak, they’ll be eaten before even hearing of the Gate. This happening though, it is more exaggerated than the last instance, but similar. Don’t you remember? Another time of eating, a time when the Abaters were in hiding, before that which never sleeps arose.”
He was rambling on, lost, but… What he was saying was…
The venators appeared that day, when Pelce was split open. The armored fiends ate their way out the spire; they tore away the beating membrane that had incubated them and shredded the spire’s arteries so that it crumpled and crushed hundreds of the newly spawned fiends beneath its weight. They had cannibalized their mother without hesitation. Once they had their fill, they waded through fields swamped with stinking, curdled blood.
“I feel it, somewhere here,” he said, pointing at my head. “You also remember things you should not. A distant past.”
“Whatever,” I said, “just get us out of here.”
His halo shimmered. “I can only exist now. Space must be changed. Please hold on.”
He was fucking gone.
“Gods, just stay there then. I’ll rummage through the dead and wake as many of them as I can.”
“As you say.”
‘Pitifully meager’ is how I would describe what we scraped together. Like Shugokrur had said, there were only five survivors amongst the bodies. But there was even less in the way of weapons; two swords pilfered off the pile and a pike found lodged in the rapids were all we had amongst the seven of us.
And Shugokrur himself would be unable to help.
We left the dead where they lay and came to rest upon the overlooking peak of this makeshift island. The weapons were split between the guardians, and a plan was discussed: swords at the flanks, pike in the front, and two to cast magic from behind. There was no real place for me in the formation, they said, nor was there any way I could help more than I had by rousing them. Idiots.
“Leave the rest to us,” said the guardian who had weathered the Tessect’s wind with me inside the stump.
“Cut the shit,” I said, and grabbed him by his shoulders. “Listen to me, and I mean all of you.” They scrubbed the blood from their bodies as I continued, with faces forlorn and voices silent. “We won’t live through this if we stay. Something’s swimming through these flows, in numbers unimaginable, to come anddrag us screaming into this blood. They’ll squeeze every last drop from us and ride on the tides of our own blood all the way to Jubei.” I released the guardian and walked into the circle of crouched guardians. “If you’ve any way off this rock in one piece, spill it. If you’ve got something that could save us and keep it hidden until the last moment like some damned last resort, I’ll personally aid the Tessect’s creations in killing you. This is it, do something now or we’re dead. By the time they reach us it will be too late.”
Once I finished, I noticed my hands had been trembling and my abdomen was ready to give out, convulsing as if the muscles had been reduced to waning strips through years of bed rest. But I would not kneel; they had to listen, else we were already lost.
“You’re quite the lively one,” one said, smiling faintly.
“I liked her better when she was out cold,” another said, scratching his nose that was bent queerly. Like a hook. “Too damn noisy now, my love. Keep it down, I’m trying to think.”
“But she’s right. Our time’s nearly up, and I believe it’s obvious to you all as well.”
“If the void stone would work right, we’d have been gone by now,” one man with an enormous beard caked with dried blood remarked. “Seems we could try swimming.”
“You’re wrong, the stone is active, but it has turned strange since the Tessect appeared. It does not react to my touch as easily as it once had.”
“That,” I said, “does me as much good as a bag of riddles.”
“Sofir means the Tessect fucked us real bad,” the hook-nosed man said. “There’s only five of us left out of two whole squads. We’re babes to the slaughter, naked in the North, and stuck in Drein. You know, all that cheery stuff.” He glanced at his comrades, but no one would laugh but him. “Suit yourselves all the same. But you, pray for Havel’s blessing, or kiss my ass, whatever suits you best. Will aid us about the same, the way I see it.” He picked a dried wad of blood from his ear and smiled. “Yes, my lovely, we’re rightly screwed here.”
The guardian in charge of the lot, the same that I met in the fog, revealed a plain looking gem to us. “This is it, outsider. I cannot explain to you how it works in such little time, or why the Tessect’s meddling would affect it, but I know that it is our best hope. Our only hope, as it were. With this place having been changed so, I’m afraid that it will—”
“Shorten it a bit, will ya?” the hook-nosed man said, unsteadily rising to his feet. He took the gem in his grimy hands and brought it close to my face, turning it around with a smile. He smelled of blood and sweat. “Just huddle around this thing long enough for the old man to get it singing again. That’s it. Wait around and pray it opens up to us before we’re all opened up, right like our boys down there.” The gem returned to Sofir and the hook-nosed man went back to grooming himself.
And so, we waited.
It was when the sun had risen its highest, when the falling tides blinded us with reflections of its burning visage, that something, finally, appeared.
At first I had thought it was mere debris, but it was not. Shaped like a crescent mask and sectioned as one would layer plating, the thing was so strange that I thought to go down to fish it out and take it for my own. The idea lasted but a moment.
Bobbing atop the currents, the mask opened. It split down the middle, with each plate pulling back independently, and a mass of tentacles poured out from within. Plump and veiny, they raked against the air, grasping for something in our direction; I feared it was our scent.
They were here, newly spawned abominations on the same level as venators: the damned kings of death. Wait or jump, simple as that. Hold out for a stone, perhaps die, or learn how to swim.
Death, death, and death.
It sped towards the bank with a burst of speed and erupted from the scarlet river, pulling nearly its entire body out in one go. What was connected to the mask-like face was even more intimidating: a serpentine body bristling with spines longer than a man’s arm. When it raised its head, it was damn near the height of two men stacked atop one another.
“Hundreds,” I said. “There are hundreds, thousands of these… things. Havel guide us.”
The hook man’s face was leaking sweat from every pore as he tested his grip upon the pike’s shaft. A wild smile crept onto his face, and he spat as he left the formation, descending to meet the beast. His approach knocked stones loose, sending them skipping down the boulder.
It was going to notice him! Suicidal bastard!
“Stand your damned ground!” Sofir shouted. “That’s an order!” Our flanks ran after him, but stopped dead as Sofir yelled, “Leave him. Don’t go sharing graves.” His gaze shifted from the creature to the gem in his palm “Work, by the gods, you had better work.”
“It’s only one,” the left flank said, joining the hook-nosed man in marching to the creature, which had moved on to the pile of bodies. Its tentacles ripped limb from limb and shredded flesh from bone. Pitiful strips were dragged into its maw as the rest of the appendages prepared the other bodies for the same fate. Never had I seen something eat with such speed; a whole body had been picked clean before the two guardians ever reached it. But they were near it, forty, maybe thirty strides from it, and it hadn’t, as far as I could tell, seen them approaching.
This was it.
They ran with weapons aimed for its neck, steel glinting, and ready to bury itself deep into the grey flesh of the beast. It was a mistake; the creature, slimy and shining with gore, moved its head sharply in our direction as it released a throaty hiss.
Just a hiss. That’s all it took.
The pike dropped from the hook man’s hands, rolled past the beast, and dropped into the blood. He was grasping his neck, gasping between gut-wrenching gurgles. Though brutal, it was quick. He fell to the ground stiffly, struck dead. The other dropped to his knees, screaming. A spike was sticking out the backside of his thigh. And as another emerged from the back of his head, he too dropped dead.
I dropped down and the others quickly did the same. Didn’t want to get dropped by that shit.
“That damn thing can spit death,” the bearded guardian said. “Steel is no use against something as fierce as that.”
The creature continued to gorge itself off the pile, sending pieces of scalp and bone skittering across the waves. We were simply a nuisance to it.
The appointed right flank passed her sword to me. “Keep it safe for me,” she said before slowly standing up. Again, the creature did not react, opting to fill its stomach. The woman exhaled, extended a palm towards it, and summoned a sphere of magic. It stretched, whined, and wobbled, before running off as a stream, straight into the creature.
Cut in half, the beast’s body thrashed about while the severed head wailed, with tentacles tearing into anything they could grab a hold of. But the magic, still beaming out from the woman’s hand, did not cease; instead, it grew wild, caught more of the creature in its path and erased it from existence. Blood popped, blackened, and smoked.
“Get away from me,” the woman screamed. “Run, you fools!”
There was neither time nor space to move away.
Cracks spread out along the boulder, tracing the path of the magic that raced above, splitting apart before curling in on itself, turning from purple to grey as its own voice became a whimper.
The woman screamed, arms shriveling into twigs while her legs crumbled away. She was pulled apart into spiraling threads. Then, in an instant without sound nor color, the ghoulish figure she had become was gone. Aside from the scarred rock, there was no evidence she had even existed.
We had managed to live, though we skirted the edge of destruction. A bit closer and we’d be…
“Aveyas’ breath,” I said, “what just happened?”
“This space has changed,” Shugokrur said, “our enemies are capable of this. We should hide rather than fight.”
Nowhere to hide, you shit!
“Byre,” the bearded man said with eyes wild, “she’s gone. Not even Havel’s gift works here, Sofir. We’ve got to jump, now.” His voice strained, and there was fear in this guardian’s heart. I would jump with him if it wasn’t a sure suicide. Even if I was a swimmer, the currents would toss you against rocks and knock you into oblivion. Plain suicide, yet all options looked the same.
I had to choose as well.
“Just hold on a little longer,” Sofir said, his face beading with sweat. “I’ve almost got it.”
“There’s no more time.” A grim expression took over the guardian’s face as he mouthed words and traced the Guild’s sigil atop his breast. “It’s all over, just look at them all.”
Hundreds of the beasts were converging on us, hissing, and breaking through the waves with their crescent heads. The currents were of no concern to them: spines flattened, muscles propelled, and faces split to taste our scent upon the winds.
Soon they’d be upon us.
“I’m not dying today, not like Byre and Wien,” the guardian shouted, ripping his clothes off. The stout, pale-assed man franticly went down the boulder a short way, breathing quick and heavy all the while, before making a run at the peak’s ledge.
“Don’t do it,” Sofir yelled, but the man’s eyes, which had been filled with fear, were now bursting with release: hope; a hope that if one tried hard enough, they could fly away from it all.
“Would he fly?”
“Look closely, since—”
“—he only gets one try.”
He missed a step before his leap, twisted his leg beneath his mass, and fell from the boulder, head first and screaming all the way. The guardian resurfaced, with his hairy, unsightly ass upturned, while floating calmly downstream as a piece of driftwood.
They were still coming.
Too close, too fast, too many. I could jump; maybe survive, maybe not; wait here, or use this blade. That’s right. The sword. I could run it through my gut, or make a pass through my neck. What would be quickest? Arm, gut, or neck?
Any is better than being eaten!
“Don’t you even think about it,” Sofir said. “We’re not dying today. Trust me, this will work.”
No, I had to die before they got to us, before they eat us; before they eat me. Just one slice through the neck, one long cut would do the trick, but what if I don’t die soon enough? What if it only makes the death worse? Then I should jump, but from where? Up here?
No. Right, now I just had to…
“They move quickly to reach a meal,” Shugokrur said.
The creatures had already reached that point on the boulder: half-way. They were half-way to eating us alive. Oh gods, gods, what could we do? I will jump. It’s the only way out of here. I’m leaving now. Yes, just take one more step into oblivion, through the doorway over this ledge. It must be done.
“By Aveyas, don’t you move!”
Hisses and shrieks. Tentacles reaching out for me.
What a pleasant wind. The world is flying by, running off in streaks…