Far below him, the village burned.
Eron’s right foot clanged down on the next dusty step, and the rest of his body paused. He closed his eyes, and with mouth closed, took in a deep breath through his nose. A pungent stench of leather, salty-sweat, and blood, rippled through his nostrils, and the bouquet caused a minute wrinkling of his nose and furling of his brow.
He turned his head to look over his shoulder, and the strap of the cracked worn, brown, roman-style leather helm scraped along his jawline. His shoulder-length, sweat-drenched, raven colored hair swung around his neck.
Plumes of acrid gray and black smoke billowed up from the valley below, and though Eron could not see over the rocks, he knew they came from the huts below. Eron sighed. A falcon rode invisible air geysers past and above his head, and the wake of his light brought an agonized wail from far below that pierced his ears, and caused a shiver in spite of the heat of the beating sun.
In one smooth motion, Eron swung his head back, inclined his gaze up the dusty stone stairs, and raised his left foot up to take the next riser.
He slowly and methodically ascended the flight, leather boots disturbing the dust and dirt as his footfalls pounded on each step as he climbed. As he climbed, the sun seemed to come down closer to him from the sky, and as he crested the landing, sweat dripped from beneath his armor, down his legs, and onto the ground.
Eron took a short rest on the broad break between the two sets of stairs. Not seeing any danger, he lowered the shield strapped to his left forearm, as well as the gladius in his right that he had held at the ready as he ascended. His chest heaved deeply, and then slowed, as he regained his breath and cooled. A scarlet rivulet snaked down his right arm, wormed under his gauntlet, then spiraled down the hilt of his sword, before flowing down the blade, finally ending in rust colored drips that landed silently in the dust.
Eron stomped one foot, then the other, the tinkling of chain mail rustling beneath the leather plate clashed sharply with the silence near the top of the mountain. The shrill cry of the falcon carried through the air, and Eron’s eyes found it gliding through the blue sky high in the air above the peak. Eron pounded the shield against his thigh, steeling himself for the climb before him.
The peak was further than he imagined. When he had compared it to the elevation of the falcon, it seemed a mere nine or ten more flights. But the direction by which he would ascend had taken several switch backs, and Eron found himself hauling himself up what seemed ten times his expectation.
With the creeping slowness of a turtle, Eron willed his exhausted, wounded body up the steps to the final threshold. He turned to the left at the top, and before him was a village square-sized flat section of pale-yellow rock rimmed at the edges with small rust and copper colored boulders.
Eron felt a small gust of wind blow across the area, and he sank to his knees, the chain mail again eerily chiming in the silence. The weight of anguish overwhelmed him, pressing his back forward, and forcing his body to the ground. There, Eron lay, drifting in and out of consciousness as the events of earlier in the day from the village replayed in his head.
After a time, Eron became aware of a cooling on the air around him. He knew not how long he had lain prone on the ground, but he knew that he must rise, and finish his intended task. He drew his head up, and gazed at the four pillars carved into the mountaintop, then focused his gaze at the opening in their center.
He knew what waited for him in the depths beyond the pillars. He had fought valiantly, but the beast had terrorized the villagers. He had done everything that he could, but the monster had run rampant through the square and the houses and huts. He had watched his friends and compatriots scream and plead as they were hunted down by the wretch. He had taken his blows and parried with as much dexterity as he could as the behemoth went wild. The horror had torn apart his home, and he had done so for the last time, Eron was resolute, that this would be the end of the monster.
Eron propped himself on his sword, and pushed off of the ground. Slowly, painfully, he pulled his body from the ground. His muscles ached as he took his first, agonizing step towards the pillars. Blood dripped from his arm, and from a new cut on his forehead, as his throbbing legs carried him forward.
When he reached the entrance, he could see through the fading sunlight, a long dim hallway extending directly back from the opening. Further down the hall, he could see pale firelight. As he continued, he noted intermittent sconces, set with torches, that, in shadowy form lit the way.
After a long, slow drag down the stone hallway, Eron could sense an opening a short distance away. He paused, and knowing what was near, drew in a deep breath, then unleashed a pained battle cry down the remainder of the hall. It echoed in the space before him at the end of the hallway, and in return, Eron heard the rumblings of a beastly growl.
Eron reached the end of the hallway, and a large, empty, featureless, circular room awaited him. Directly in front of him, at the farthest end of his perception, an unknown object caught the light of one of the flickering torches and shined briefly.
“SHOW YOURSELF,” Eron bellowed!
Nothing moved or made sound.
Eron turned, and walked down the hall to the closest torch, snatching it off of the wall. He marched toward the open room, waving the torch in front of him as he traversed the expansive floor. As he drew near, the glimmer from the object reflected more and more brightly.
“I AM HERE TO PUT AN END TO THIS,” Eron shouted.
He closed the distance as the shine intensified.
Eron limped forward, sword raised, shield in front with his left hand carrying the torch. When he was close to the object he raised the torch high above his head, as his sword arm dropped to his side.
Before him, was not the snarling demon he expected, but a giant silver disc, and his own reflection.