Saraf opened his eyes suddenly. He was lying on his back and felt the stone slabs of the street pressing his ribs. The sky was clear and the wind was barely blowing. Numb, he rose and remained speechless when he saw hiswhereabouts. He was in one of the towns on Aora, but could not tell for sure which one, as not a single house was standing. There wereruins all over the place. Small fires were burning among the debris, and dead Aorians cluttered the streets.
He stood up, trying to come to his senses and understand what had happened. The last thing he remembered washim going to sleep in his bed. Without giving it much thought, he realized he was dreaming.
He sighed in relief, then glanced around. Tens of bodies were scattered on the street; they had typical Aorian whitecloaks stained with blood. Most bodies had deep wounds, cuts and missing limbs.
To his right, a body was leaning on a house wall. It had three large wounds: one at its neck, one on the chest and oneabove the navel. The eyes were staring blankly to the right hand that still held a sword. Saraf headed that direction,carefully studying its wounds and trying to understand what had caused them. To the left of the corpse, three cuts had beenmade onto the house wall. It was obvious that the weapon that had killed the Aorian had also left the traces on the house.
Saraf knelt down in front of the lifeless body and placed his hand on the Aorian’s chest. The wounds seemed to havebeen inflicted by some animal’s claws, but there was only one species on Aora that could cause such a disaster: the Nymph, the gigantic bird with four wings and four limbs, armed with sharp claws and a beak to match them. The dreamseemed to have taken Saraf somewhere, sometime after a battle between the Aorians and the Nymphs, which would havebeen hard to believe in the real world, since the Nymphs, despite their physiognomy, were sharp creatures that communicated with the Aorians telepathically, and the relations between the two dominating species on Aora had been peaceful since thebeginning of the time, even though they used to keep their distance. But what could have led to such conflict?
‘Well’ Saraf sighed, standing up and scratching his forehead. ‘It is only a dream.’
Having had enough of the macabre vision, Saraf tried to wake up. Failing to do so, he pinched his arm. He felt the pain as ifit had been real, but failed to wake up. Annoyed, he slapped himself strongly. The pain seemed real again, his cheek was stillnumb and his jaw ached.
‘It is a vision…’
He looked around and felt appalled. It was the first time ever he had had a vision in a dream. Usually, there wereglimpses of the future or a larger package of information he received while awake, which were followed by a terribleheadache, but what he was experiencing at the moment was totally different. Suddenly, his mind gave a more terrifyinginterpretation of that macabre scene. That was bound to happen!
‘Pandora!’ he cried, but received no answer.
He started walking fast on the street, careful not to tread on the corpses or detached limbs.
‘Pandora, are you here?’ he shouted again… still no answer.
He was certain the vision was carrying a message for him, an ending. He could not get out of it on his own, as he was nolonger in control in that world.
He started to run trying to understand where he was, or, better said, where he was heading. A run-down house drew hisattention as he saw a huge body collapsed among the rubble. Reaching it, he realized it was a Nymph. On its back, as if riding,there was an Aorian whose face had been mutilated and who was still holding a sword. The terror he had felt in his last minuteswas printed on his face. Stepping further among the debris, he noticed that half of the Nymph’s body had had the same fate:the feathers had burnt and what had once been some glorious wings were now bare bones with some flesh still attached to them.Saraf could not understand what was happening.
Nothing made sense. The Nymphs could not control fire, let alone use it as a weapon. Only few gifted Aorians with athirst for knowledge had learnt that technique.
He heard a noise to his right, as if somebody were dragging their feet. Saraf left the house and ran it thatdirection. He heard the noise again, slightly muffled by Saraf’s heavy steps. Going round the corner of the house he shoutedagain:
‘Pandora, is that y…’
He did not finish his sentence because he realized that was not the person he was looking for. About 20 meters away infront of him, he saw the back of a skinny, dark-skinned humanoid creature. The scene was different too: everything wasdarker on that alley, around the creature, like a dark mist that absorbed all the surrounding energy, turning the little street ofthe Aorian city into a gruesome scene.
Hearing Saraf’s voice, the creature turned around slowly. His eyes were reddish, injected with blood, three hornswere growing on its forehead and bending towards the back, and the wide-opened mouth had sharp teeth among which ablack viscous fluid was coming out, dripping on the stone slabs. The creature was holding an Aorian’s corpse by the neck.
It approached Saraf slowly. It seemed very weak, barely standing up, but despite its dying look, it was still draggingthe corpse, hissing through its widely-open mouth with every step.
The sound it made gave Saraf the shivers. It stopped in front of him and with outstanding force threw the lifeless body tothe feet of the frozen Aorian. Saraf looked down to the corpse: it was none other than Afaris, his youngest son.
A massive headache stroke him out of the blue. He fell to his knees next to his son’s body, screaming in pain. Anenormous volume of information was finding its way into his mind out of nowhere, putting him to great torment. When, finally, all thoughts settled down, he stood up. The creature was motionless, scrutinizing him.
Saraf put his hand to his nose, as he felt some fluid was running down. He wiped it with his hand. It was blood.The heavy flow had stained his cloak. He was too concerned to notice this minor detail, so he looked up at the creature. He thenrealized what the vision meant or, at least, the most important part of it.
The creature took one step towards Saraf, then another one, faster. It started running towards Saraf at an incrediblespeed, account taken of its deplorable state condition. Its fingers, similar to claws, were ready to grab him. Saraf stoodstill, watching the scene cold-bloodedly. When only a few metres away from him, the creature darted forward, ready tocharge at full strength.
The danger activated all of Saraf’s senses. His hands and feet became stronger, ready to fight, his mind was sharp,and time seemed to be his ally, as it flowed more and more slowly until it nearly froze. The creature was sliding through the airslowly, approaching Saraf’s face; Saraf frowned and looked at it worriedly. When it was a few centimetres away, he couldfeel its terrible reek. It smelt like death itself.
Looking deep into the creature’s eyes, Saraf said: ‘So, it has begun…