Ivonshill. A dark city with a wall as tall as some of its skyscrapers with their twisted, grime-lined heights and its breath of smoke. At night, little sounds emerged here and there. Clues to secrets or the noises of clopping horse hooves or the jangle of armor or the whip of a cloak or the singing of a dagger. No children laughed at night, nor their parents. They slept tight in their apartments, safe from horrors without. For now.
John opened his eyes. His room reflected the city outside: gloomy, dark, and a luring invitation to sleep until the safe dawn. The putrid smell of the city wafted through his door. He sighed and breathed in, chest expanding, and absently turned his head over to his open door. There was dim lighting from a streetlamp outside the cracked hallway window. No wonder it stank.
He was too tired to bother closing it, so instead he shut his eyes with a disgusted frown. His right eye stung suddenly. His lids snapped open and he hissed while trying to rub away the eyelash. John paused and looked at the doorway as something caught the corner of his watering eye, and his whole body went cold and rigid.
A short, black figure sat crouched in the doorway. It didn't move, nor did it make a sound. It was rounded on top. He squinted, reaching for the ball pistol on his nightstand. John couldn't say what the thing was, but it would go away fast.
His fingers twitched over the grip of the gun, but did not close. Something told him not to shoot. Something told him that it would be no use. John's frown tightened, and he swung his legs out of bed.
Come with me.
He jumped and blinked at the notion.
Come with me.
John jerked again when two glowing white eyes appeared on the face of the creature, highlighting a smooth pate of obsidian hair along the creature's wide snout. Just a dog. John let out a breath of stale air and stood.
“Wut, then, your master let ya out too soon?” he snapped. “Make yeself scant, cur.”
John shook his head, clenching his hands into fists, and the dog stood, its long tail drooping. He felt a burst of satisfaction when the mutt turned and dragged its feet into the hallway. The light revealed the silhouette of a bony, loathsome creature not even fit for eating.
Come, John. Come and see.
The man ground his teeth against the hateful thought. He wouldn't spend the night chasing this walking bone bag. Yet...as with his pistol, he decided to obey anyway, snatching up and belting his robe as he strode out the door.
The pitiful gait of the dog led them down the hall and stairs to the entryway of the small apartment building. The roads were wet from a passing storm, and the electric lamps were spread far from each other. The dog chose the widest road, long, ragged claws scraping across the cobble. John cursed himself for not slipping on shoes and considered himself mad for coming out here in the cold and damp. This had to be a dream.
But his eye still stung, and he rubbed at it and hugged himself with the other arm. His breath steamed and passed over his tousled hair as he eyed the monoliths of ancient architecture warily.
“Where we goin', hey?” he demanded irritably.
Come and see, was the answer. He peered at the dark alleys located safely from the yellow lamps, some hidden behind billboards covered in faded graffiti of archaic death runes and magic symbols of ill-fortune. You will see.
“I see nuttin'.”
The dog stopped before a broad window of an abandoned bakery. John stomped his feet to a stop, hating the feeling of slimy grime against his toes. This city was all one giant garbage dump. He wanted out, would get out if he could, for all its strangeness and bemusement...now including this dog. John finally averted his eyes to the window when the dog sat before it wearily, white eyes casting an eery glow across the glass.
He waited for more thoughts from the dog, but after a minute he slapped his leg and was ready to start yelling at the mutt for his misery when something in the window moved. His mouth opened slightly, eyes narrowed, as he watched a scene play out like a reflection on a rippling pond.
John saw himself dancing with a woman, and at their feet hopped a pair of twin boys. He smiled slightly at the happy scene. He always wanted to have a family, if this thrice-cursed dump didn't prevent him from finding a decent woman to marry. The scene changed to a house, their house. A lump formed in his throat. It was right in the heart of this rotting metropolis. People walked by, throwing garbage on the steps and smoking by the walls, and a group of teenage boys spray-painted the left side with a conflagration of rude drawings not so different from the graffiti he had seen. His wife came out and chased them away with a broom before she was knocked down by a pedestrian.
“Ungrateful, mollet-faced ––“ John began before the picture moved again.
It was night over Ivonshill, but the night brought a new horror besides mystery. Shadows swooped across the twinkling stars, opened toothy mouths, and belched out reeking, writhing balls of flame. They ate up the metal structures easily and turned glass into slag and burst wood into pieces. The monsters rammed through structures and carried off struggling people who had left their safe holes in the walls to discover the disturbance. The entire city was soon engulfed in a strange, red fire, and then it crumbled to ashes in the pale, gray and pink morning. No one was left. John stood dumbly as the window became dark with dusty shelves and crooked racks behind it.
Did you see?
“Of course I saw,” he muttered, looking down and folding his arms again.
That's your future here. Death.
“Who're you to know death, dog?”
I know death. Death is on my tongue. Death is in my eyes.
John shivered and took a second look at the creature as it stood and plodded away. This time there was no encouragement or desire to follow.
You saw, John. Remember. Death.
“Keep yer tail goin', cur!” he shouted after the dog. “I don't have to stay 'ere!”
It paused, turning its heavy head to gaze at him with leering white eyes. No more thoughts came from its ugly figure, and it swung its awful head back around and melted into the darkness. John looked around quickly and found an old wood box sitting beside the door. He took in all the things he had seen in that window, the joy and the pain, the laughter and screams, the beautiful day and the crimson night, and bore his teeth angrily. He lifted the wood crate threw it at the window.here ...