Heavens roared. The windows rattled and walls trembled. Falcon was sure he’d slept a good eight hours, but morning was nowhere to be seen.
Some unholy and furious darkness had swallowed the dawn. And now it rampaged through the streets, engulfing everything, devouring the city. Not, he hoped, literally.
Falcon approached the window, peering intently in hopes of making out something, anything. But there was only a swirling morass, reminding him of the sandstorms he’d weathered on his long trek here. All that sand he’d washed out of his pores in last night’s bath. And now the memory of all those grains returned, vividly enough to make him itch. But the churning maelstrom outside was denser, darker and uglier.
Falcon pressed his face to the pane and looked up at dirty skies. The rattling glass pummelled his cheek while shadows battled high overhead.
And his mind redrew them as identifiable shapes and forms: fierce raking claws, writhing serpent tails, ferocious dragons’ maws, spinning and snapping at each other in some celestial duel.
A filthy blot slapped the glass. Falcon jumped back from the window.
The heavens had started slinging mud.
More blots splatted the window and the walls shook under a thudding barrage. Something punched through the ceiling and splashed messily over the floorboards. Other mudballs followed, raining in through the hole and exploding over the room.
Falcon ducked aside. Danced this way and that until he’d manoeuvred himself to the bedside. He thought about diving under the bed for shelter, but reckoned he’d be safer downstairs.
Grabbing articles of clothing, he threw and pulled them on and wrestled into them. He yanked on his boots and stamped about some to make them snug, between hopping and skipping to avoid the onslaught of mud missiles puncturing the ceiling and slapdashing the floorboards. Finally, he buckled his sword belt and raced out.
The staircase and landing were exposed under a perforated ceiling. Mud hammered and pelted the stairs. Falcon did his best to trot down them, dodging left and right in a slalom. Until he gave that up, hopped on the banister and rode the rail for the last few stairs.
Panicked shouts mixed with the din down on the ground floor. Falcon, arm up in a token effort to shield himself, battled his way across the bar area, homing in on the voices. The room’s ceiling was intact and the bar itself relatively clear. The front window had smashed and thick mud had pancaked over a sizeable section of floor, congealing around the broken remains of table and three chairs.
Terrible winds blew more mudballs in, from pellets to bombs, piling on the original puddle with plops and violent splashes.
Falcon ignored the wind at his back and the few stray bullets of filth that splattered his cloak. He tried not to think about last night’s wasted bath.
He fought his way over towards the kitchens.
Mud thud mud thud mud thud.
Dirt drummed the building into submission.
An almighty crash buried the shouting voices. Blasted through the kitchen door and knocked Falcon on his behind. The ceiling shook and creaked and quaked and groaned under the punishing blows.
Mud thud! Mud thud! Mud thud!
Hauling himself onto his knees, Falcon crawled the short distance to the kitchen door. He pushed it with an outstretched hand. It budged an inch at best before thumping against something. Falcon pressed a shoulder to it, leaned his full weight into it. The blockage shifted and a narrow gap opened between door and frame.
A gap into Hell.
The entire place looked to have caved in, with a couple of upstairs rooms having dropped in on top of the stove and counter tops. Open to the skies, the heaped hillock of debris was being beaten and smothered by raining mud. As though some angry god slapped fistfuls of dirty brown clay onto the first attempt at a mountain.
Amid the wreck and ruin of furniture and pots and pans and slurry, bodies lay. Still and silent as the dead while the heavens chucked dirt into their open grave.
An arm jutted from the debris nearby. The sleeve was mottled with muddy splotches. The limb was lifeless as a protruding table leg.
Until the fingers twitched.
Emulating a claw, scratching empty air close to Falcon’s face.
Falcon scrabbled backwards.
Above the grasping hand, eyes opened in the depths of the wreckage. Wide with terror, they searched and begged.
Falcon crawled slowly forward. Lips parted in the bloodied and muddied visage. Teeth revealed themselves in the grubby beard. The man’s mouth moved.
Falcon grabbed the hand, if only to cease its unnerving clutching. He inched further forward, straining to hear words under the ongoing bombardment.
He tilted an ear towards the man. He’d finally recognised the face as that of the landlord and he was frankly a bit more comfortable not looking into those eyes.
A cracked whisper escaped the mouth and found its way into Falcon’s waiting ear.
“Saviour,” it said. “Save us. You must – save us – all. Ishmed. Please. Find – Ishmed.”
Saviour? What? Falcon was no saviour.
He let go the hand. The fingers clutched at nothing. Then fell still. Empty.
Falcon backed away. His gaze explored the burial mound. And settled like a carrion crow on a battlefield. Coming to rest on another protruding arm. This one dirty and bare and cruelly broken. Unmoving, it ended in a small hand.
Falcon nodded shakily.
He had found Ishmed.
[To Be Continued…]