The shadows followed.
It had dropped me, the Darkness, Its strength not yet great enough to hold me.
But I had climbed to my feet, the dark unbelievably dark, my ankles stained by the moist heat as I tripped and then stumbled and, tumbling down the hill, ran.
She was on the ground, Mother, oblivious, the dirt against her cheek, her hands buried in the earth, the shadow rolling and twisting around her as It ate her whispers, her sighs, her tears.
And now I sprinted toward the city under the glare of a bright sun as It chased me, churning and turning and whipping in the dust.
My heart pounded in my ears as the rocks cut my feet, the Darkness’s desire for me inflamed by the blood staining the ground.
The city drew near, the thick walls and heavy gates in sight.
In the quiet calm of morning she had urged me to leave the city with her. Had insisted on passing through the gate to climb the small hill so we could speak away from those who would see, our secrets unknown to those who would hear.
She had lied, my Mother.
I stumbled and fell.
The heat was on me, the moist fingers wrapped around my ankle, my calf burning in the heat, the flesh raw under Its touch.
I kicked It free as I crawled, my hands pawing at the dirt as I climbed to my feet to run again.
It reared back, the shadow lunging forward like a snake before It followed, the Dark rolling on the ground like a wave.
I was close, so close, to the city. To safety.
What if the Darkness followed me beyond the gates?, I suddenly thought as my heart beat in my ears. What’s to stop It were it to slip into the city and torment me there? Is there anything to keep It from swallowing me while I sleep?
What if this monstrosity were inescapable?
The guards recognized me, the brawny men in a rush to open the gates for the Almost King.
I darted through.
The Darkness followed.
I felt It on my heels, my calves, the back of my thighs, my back, my neck, the fingers around my skull as I ran and ran, the pain a constant sting, the burn excruciating as the Darkness took hold of me.
I had lost.