Guardian’s Curse to Cotton Hope

Why is it always when I have coffee?

And I’ve had so many plans for it. It could have been any of them! But they all failed. Sometimes fate just won’t even let me pretend that it’s my puppet.

Two and a half months after seeing that temple, it finally happened. Ten weeks of searching ceaselessly, anxious fervor, relentless failure, and whatever other sad and frustrating thing. Nothing. The whole time. Nothing.

Good thing I’m a writer, though. I just promised my editor I had some magic in the works. I didn’t, but he bought it. Until he didn’t and suggested I do away with whatever it was consuming me.

Do away with it? If that’s your suggestion, then you don’t understand. Ha! Good thing I didn’t do away, because it finally happened. But when it did, it was wrong. So horribly wrong. Tears and disgust still hit me just thinking about it–I’m no soft daisy, I was in the war. I’ve toured the harsh desert, the thick jungles, and the places I’m still not allowed to speak of, all soaked in blood. I’ve seen more life leaked from mankind than a thousand others my age will see in their entire lives. I have seen hard enough things for my eyes to swallow. This was worse.

Anyway, I couldn’t control this. The Flickering, I mean. So…

Whether the world was coming to me or I to it, I couldn’t say, all I could say was that when the aroma of blood and rot rub hard against your nose, it leaves an impression.

Salt, metal, must, mint, the stinging stink of marsh, the waste of some once alive thing, and the smell of grief strangled my olfactory glands. I heard it too. Grief’s cry, I mean. Her lonely wail, stricken with no other truth than the hardest ones in life to bear, was more ceaseless and more determined than even my wanderings to find the gate. I could even hear the grief in the wind as the land itself mourned this catastrophe.

The once alive thing, it was giant, it was armored, and it was slain. Best I could picture, it was hope ravished. The hints of what was before–it had the looks of a colossal, half-mechanical, half-stone flesh, guardian, but now it was dead along with all those it failed to save–still lingered. But only just. The rest of this realm was blackened by time, death, corruption, and all the other masters of cruelty and chaos. But not just these masters. It looked and smelled of the flame. I looked to it without blinking. Burned down, razed for what purpose? I couldn’t make a single guess.

Mountains of crumbled towers, no longer smoldering, laid in a waste so thick that cities could fit inside. Corpses, rotted to half mush, accented the air with a nearly ineffable aroma. All life was ruined. Evil won here.

As my unsuspecting eyes remembered all I had known in our world’s wars, reconciling it with this place, silence hung. It sharply entered the air, the wail of the wind ceasing abruptly. But that silence soon diminished under something else; my single guess. Suddenly those whispers from long ago, the one that started all this, crept through the silence, awakening something within me. “Mikolai,” was the whisper, and I along with it.

My brow tensed, drawing down over my eyes, furrowed over my clenched jaw. I will find you.

Then the Flickering. I’ll be brief about it. The sun changed hue twenty five times or so, in a flash, before setting on amber once again. The clouds reconstructed themselves, like some sort of cotton set of Legos, until they formed a castle in the sky.

While that amazed me, I noted the ground was now wet, and my shoes–yes, the cognac ones, my favorites–were dunzo. Ruined as the land I just come from. That place left a scar. At least it was only my shoes, and not me. Worth it this time. I didn’t care about my favorite shoes or losing my coffee, because the Flickering did not take me home, no. It took me here, to this new place. Two places in one day? What was here?

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