It was past noon by the time Warder Cotes realised something was amiss.
Leaving with his companions from the refugee area had proceeded normally with, perhaps, a little less input than he usually gave. They walked through the city without a quiver of danger, arriving at the marketplace, with Elizabeth showing an interest in some pottery wares – a side he hadn’t seen of her before. He thought to comment. Nothing came out.
It felt… Tiring. Laboured, and as he tried again to speak, time seemed to speed up. He drifted from place to place with Elizabeth, Liam and Judith, with a curious, out-of-body sensation, looking down at his own form from slightly above and behind, not able or particularly inclined to deliberately say or choose anything. A sense of unease began to tingle through his uncooperative bones.
The day sped past, coming up to the blur that was dinner. He became aware of seeing a… figure. Featureless, black, and largely transparent, but growing increasingly clearer, just seen out of the corner of his eye. Only he seemed able to see it, until they were seated at the table, eating.
It was much clearer, gazing through the window, a black shadow in the dark night. Liam’s head whipped around, all of a sudden, and he stared at the window, a frown growing on his brow as his bracelet whipped into the familiar bow. Judith was quicker, rising swiftly from the table and striding towards the window. Then the creature drifted in.
It was terrifying; a massive black ghost, as thick as fog but as real as an ogre. As it raised its arms, its gaze lifted and met Warder’s; burning blue eyes seared a path to a forgotten, primal part of him, as a chaotic fear burst into flames and ran like wildfire through his mind. All else faded from his sight but the creature; nothing else mattered, at that moment. It burned; it burned with a cold the like of which he had never felt before, and, for the first time in his adult life, he let out a whimper; a futile plea.
As he turned and ran through endless corridors and shattered battlefields, the thing gave chase, hunting him down with the terror of the inevitable fate of all things.
He knew he was going to die.
He would be consumed by the Nightmare Child.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~Warder fell without a sound at the dinner table. As his fork froze, halfway to his mouth, the slightest flicker of darkness – a peripheral shadow – flitted near the window, and Warder’s petrified eyes shone with a look of growing, nightmarish terror. Just the previous day, he and the group had hacked a path to safety for the Teranthian crown prince, gaining both his favour and a lift to citizenship – the yellow Tier 1 of Sanctum Agregas. They’d wandered parts of the city and found their current accommodation; a small apartment above the local blacksmith. A market trip later, they sat down for their fateful meal, full of wary hope for the days ahead. All first attempts to shake Warder out of his condition failed – he remained unresponsive, his eyes showing a growing, tangible fear. The panicked scene was soon broken, however, by a pounding on a door.
To be continued… (If anyone is inspired, they may add in chunks of the story)