The muscles in my legs burned as I climbed. The exertion did little to keep my mind off of the two men that lay dead below me. As I neared the top, instead of large boulders, the terrain became smoother and began to level out. Black stars marred my vision. I closed my eyes every so often. Stopping to rest, I gagged as exhaustion and thirst assaulted my core. Then, I continued on my ascent and wondered why the reptile was not calling for me.
I reached the top, which was relatively flat and overlooked the smaller mountains in the distance. I collapsed to my knees, panting and crying. Dauvit’s last gaze had seared his hatred for me into my memory forever, but my heart would forever mourn Jonathan’s sacrifice. Even the hazy, pink sunset offered no consolation with its surreal beauty. I arose on my ruined legs and drank in the fantastical scenery, longing for any ounce of hope or healing. In my usual naivety, I expected something to happen as I stood at last on the mountaintop.
Terrible scratching against the rock startled me. Chains rattled and a large, dark form arose from the rocks. I stood in frozen disgust as I looked upon the morbid scene in front of me. Chains and bindings stretched taught as a four-legged beast stood to its full height. I gagged as the large creature’s breath escaped from its open mouth. Its pupil-less grey eyes stared at me and then I took in the rest of it. It was as muscular as a horse, but about the size of what I imagined a hyena would be. Spikes as sharp as swords covered its back. Its larger upper body sloped down to narrower hips and shorter legs. It was far from the dragon-like reptile that I imagined. It was a true monster.
“You called for me, even in my dreams.”
It blinked. It opened its broad, yellow-fanged mouth and screamed. I covered my ears with my hands and screamed with it.
“Stop!” I cried.
It pulled in vain against its bindings. That was when I noticed the red pool underneath it, fed from a wound on its back. One of the spikes was a sword. I stepped toward it and it screamed again.
“I am going to help you. Hush now.”
It bared its teeth at me, but held its peace as I inched closer. I felt a sense of belonging with it.
“You are mine. My wild pet. Calm down and I will take the sword out. I will free you.”
Its long black tongue dangled from its mouth as it panted; it watched the movement of my hands as I stood only a foot away. I slowly extended my hand. The beast’s nostrils flared as it took in my scent. It bowed, and for a moment, I wondered if that was its killing stance, but it remained fixed in its position.
“Were you calling for me to help you?” I asked it gently.
I took a deep breath and felt my hand encircle the hilt of the sword that rested deep in its strong body. I pulled on it as hard as I could. I held back the urge to vomit as the entire length of the blade emerged from the beast. I stepped away and set down the bloody weapon. The beast remained quiet and still. I placed a hand on its muzzle. It closed its eyes as its flesh shifted unnaturally. I drew my hand back, feeling my skin crawl as its fur melted away to reveal muscles and veins before its entire body transformed into a smoky cloud. The plume of grey fog rose to the sky in pursuit of the pastel clouds.
Confusion, loss, and fatigue formed a powerful surge that rose from the pit of my stomach and screamed out of my mouth like caustic acid. I fought so hard and for so long only to end up alone on the peak of a mountain in a world that should not have existed. I took a deep breath of the clean air and took in the magnificent shades of purple and pink before my eyes. I ran to to the edge without slowing down. I pushed both of my feet off the edge and leaped into the open air, crying out as I fell to the rocky terrain below.
In a whisper, soft cotton caressed my skin. I sat up, yelling in between my desperate gasps for air. I was in my own bed dressed in my nightgown. I leaped from my bed I packed everything that I could into one suitcase and left a short note on the table with one month’s rent in cash for my landlord. I went as fast as I could into town, stopping when I reached the laboratory. I ran inside, out of breath, and found the doctor first. His perplexed frown made me cringe. The last thing I wanted was another fight.
“Zara, where have you been?” he asked. “You were absent yesterday. I knocked on your door and you did not answer. I am not sure what I should do about this.”
“I am very sorry, but I must leave.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You’re leaving town?”
“I must. I’m sorry. Tell Bekka that I wish her well.”
“I have to go. This is me. I can never stay anywhere too long. I have experienced too much of this place. Forgive me.”
I ran away from the formaldehyde-filled air and took a deep breath outside for a moment. I studied my smooth wrists that were free from any scars. It was not all my imagination. I felt those cuts. Throwing a decent career away should have worried me more than the world that I had either imagined or escaped from. Walking to the core of town to catch a cab to the train station, a kindly driver stopped for me and helped me with my suitcase. I settled myself into the soft seat, at last able to gather my thoughts and process everything that happened.
Staring outside of the window, a fancier carriage pulled by an equally fancy ebony horse caught my eye. My heart slammed into my rib cage at the sight of those cunning hazel eyes peering out the window at me. I blinked several times. It had to be someone else, but it was not. It was him. He ordered his driver to stop.
“Did you enjoy yourself?” asked Dauvit with a strange grin.
I could not find the words that I wanted to say. All I could do was stare at him with unanswered questions yelling at the back of my mind. My driver urged his horse to move us forward. Dauvit’s eyes narrowed into slits.
“Stab me deeper next time.”
(Photo Source: http://www.everystockphoto.com “purple.mountain.japan”)