A/N: This is my entry for Rune Haven's June theme, "recurrence". I missed the last one, so hopefully this makes up for it, even though it is rather short.
It's the same every night, Kyle muses, after he wakes up yet again in the middle of the night, breathless with the sheets sticking to him like a second skin. He peels them off in a rush, because he's burning, it feels like he's on fire. But as the dream fades from his vision and his bedroom comes into view, he quickly realizes that no, he is in bed and taking shaky gulps of air that don't scorch his throat, so he needs to calm himself down, before his heart thunders out of his chest. Leaning forward to cup his face in his hands, he does the only thing he can do—try to rationalize it. It isn't as incredibly terrifying now, while he's conscious, but it never fails to wake him up in a panic, heart pounding and blood rushing in his ears.
The dream always starts out the same. He's in a cave he doesn't recognize, and while there's a chill to the air, it's not blustery and icy like Padova Mountains, nor is it warm enough to be Messhina Valley. The walls are smooth like ice, but not nearly as cold, as if they're made of polished marble. He remembers running his hands along it; anchoring himself to the slick coolness. The floor is similar in texture, and he has to fight to keep his balance on the slippery stone. Although, to be truthful, he isn't sure what kind of stone it really is—he just imagines that it's marble. He doesn't know what it really is because it's always pitch dark, the kind of inky darkness that cuts out all light, curling its dark tendrils around him and choking every breath. He clings to the slippery wall, too afraid to leave the only solid thing he can discern through the dark.
The loss of his sight isn't the only thing that bothers him about this room. In fact, it's not even close to the top of his list of things about that place that make shivers run down his spine. It's the smell that bothers him the most. It's suffocating; it makes his throat burn and his eyes water, and covering his mouth and nose does nothing as it permeates everything. He has never smelled anything quite like it, but it still makes his stomach churn with the wrongness of it; there is something absolutely repulsive about it that he cannot place no matter how hard he tries. It reminds him vaguely of the smell of meat cooking over an open flame, but it just isn't quite it—the stench is rotten, not quite right, and it nearly makes him sick with every inhale.
It's then, always then, when he has gotten over the initial shock of being plunged into darkness and forced his lunch back down with the hopes that it wouldn't decide it wanted to come back up again, that he hears a noise.
It's low, quiet, and he almost misses it; would have missed it if he hadn't been listening so intently to combat his blindness. Like the smell, he can't quite place what it is—he knows that it's a sound he recognizes, the adrenaline that suddenly starts pumping through his veins like acid and the impact of memory that is almost there but not can attest to that. But just what it is is lost on him. He has the uncanny feeling that it's not good, though, settling in his gut like a rock.
He freezes, standing stock still, hand resting firmly on the stone wall. Listening. The silence is unbearable now, because the only thing he can hear is the sound of his rapid breathing and the thump thump thump of his heart. It's only after an excruciatingly long time (that's most likely only a few seconds, but it feels like hours there frozen in fear in the dark) standing there that he manages to hear it again, the nearly indiscernible sound of something shuffling against the stone, and that's when he realizes what he's hearing.
The click of claws, the sound of scales slithering over the polished floor, a heavy fluttering sound. There's a monster in his midst, and it's big.
He's quick to react—he pulls out his staff, quickly casting a Fireball in the monster's general direction on instinct. He doesn't shoot to hit—he has no real idea on where it is—but to light up the room, so he can get some sort of bearing, so he can survive in this blackness with a monster the hairs on the back of his neck and that strange sense of familiarity are telling him is far out of his league.
And then suddenly it's like the world has dropped out below him, as his gaze finally settles on those eyes. They flicker yellow, red, and orange, like fire and brimstone and destruction, like hell itself, pupils long and dilated to impossible size. The dragon scrutinizes him for only a moment, and then the Fireball dies out, casting him yet again in darkness.
He can't move, he can't breathe, he can't do anything, and then he's bathed in white hot heat; heat so hot it scorches his skin in an instant, burning and melting and he can't breathe, every gulp of air scorches all the way to his lungs and he chokes, knees buckling under him. The floor, once so bitter with cold, is now a searing griddle, blistering and searing and it hurts, oh god it hurts, and he can't get away, he can't breathe, he can't think, there's just the pain and the fire and the burn of the bile rising in his throat and scalding hot air going back down it.
The last thing he remembers is the sound of claws against stone, the fluttering of wings, and a voice like a cascade of pebbles on granite.
The end is near. Are you ready, Earthmate?
And then he's back in his room at the farm, shaking and clutching to himself, the smell of burning flesh lingering in his nose as he wonders just what it means.
He hopes he never finds out.