The Courage of Lions [v]

TCOLB5-B

A haunting metronome clicking ran deep through Othneil’s jugular, down his lungs and through to the quivering edge of his bowel. It sounded like a timepiece without the precise regularity, as if Othneil could tell when the cogs and gears were rattled about. Melting into the spot where he stood, he tried to ascertain a pattern beyond the standard ticking of time in his paralysis – yes, yes, this was a clock, but one that might tilt slightly every other tick… as if were limping, the way some of his patients used to hobble with timepieces that shook and ticked irregularly. Yes… this clock was walking towards him.

But the noise came from above, and descended with every tick-and-a-half. Somehow the clock was not walking to him horizontally, or even floating down smoothly, but staggering through vertical space. He could not dare himself to look up. He was too beside himself with the possibility that the Reaper, who had trusted him with a claw pedant for safety in his earlier return to Anvil, had returned once more to take the pedant and his life, disappointed by whichever decisions had led him to this forsaken part of the Labyrinth. His fingers snapped at him in little spasms and he realised his arms and shoulders had become numb from hunching, trying to hold his head down.

The ticking became unbearable and a great shadow loomed over him. In strands at first, the darkness fragmented and oozed back together in waves, become the legs of a spider, legs dripping in self-lavishing venom. Eventually the darkness consumed all of Othneil and all he could hear was the ticking against the straining of his jawline projecting deafening silence.

‘Sorry, bro,’ said the first voice Othneil had heard in what could be years. ‘I had to keep you from running from me somehow and that was the only way I know.’

Suddenly there was light back in the space he occupied. It was uncanny. He didn’t feel blinded, or even distressed. One moment it was all black, the next thing the scape had returned to the blotching crimson and sulphur that he remembered. Standing… sitting? Standing before him was something every inch of him told him to run from, but it was talking to him, and calling him bro, whatever that was, so anchored him either by some necromancy or curiosity. Most of its eyeline was covered by fraught black hair, tied together by something reminiscent of copper. What was visible of the eyes looked chemically weakened, paled yellow like a Draughir’s, or like someone who had worked in the Apocathary for too long. Where there should have been a nose there was not one; where there should have been a mouth the lips were insufficient, giving away for dominating fangs which levitated above something Othneil assumed was a throat and more fangs. Below this stood the clock Othneil had heard, now ominously still. Spiders legs, or a cobweb at least, finished the creation. The beast introduced itself as Akamere.

‘By the look on your face you’re not used to my kind. In which case, you’ll have no idea what I’ve just done to you, really.’ She sighed a deep sigh; her voice had remained clear and feminine throughout their conversation until then, apparently coming out of the hollow vacuum of their gullet. The sigh however came from somewhere much deeper within, the darker space of the clock which had enraptured Othneil.

‘I just put you into a forced nightmare. Part of what happened to you in the past few moments, if you remember it, didn’t happen. So that bit’s ok, bro. What might not be so chill is that I’ll be putting you back into one for what I need to do next.’

It occurred to Othneil, then, that he still could not move. He pondered from what she was saying that Akamere had made this one ongoing, mocking trap, and that he was still in a nightmare, and she was just saying this for the dramatic effect of his world turning black again, and her cooing softly, ‘Try not to blame me if you can. Blame the winged beasts from which I came.’

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