The ancient Argonian strode toward Matius then, screeching in some guttural tongue. It was two heads taller than an average Saxhleel, with golden scales, bright feathers of red and purple and green, and great curving horns. Over its head was a mask of gold carved in the visage of a bird. It wore feathered robes and golden bangles, and when it spread its arms it appeared to have wings. Matius could hardly tell where the creature ended and its ornamentation began.
He had no time to ponder it, as the golden terror raked at him with painted talons. It roared a curse, though Matius could only translate three of its words: Sun, Fire, Death.
Matius staggered back, unable to draw his sword as the creature bore down on him. It was clawing desperately at the yellow gemstone around his neck. Matius fell backward and managed to pull out his sword just as the bird-lizard fell atop him, screeching. He stabbed blindly at it with one hand while pressing against the creature's throat with the other, trying desperately to keep its claws from shredding him. Again and again it scratched at the amulet, trying to tear it from his neck.
Matius heard the gemstone break. Yellow dust floated through the air.
The Argonian was very still then. Matius breathed a sigh of relief that he had killed it at last. His arm was tired.
Suddenly, it moved again with blinding speed. Clawed hands shot out and cupped his face. He half expected to hear the snapping of his own neck, but it just held him in a vice grip. The golden mask slipped from one side of the creature's face.
Now it was not a bird or a lizard, but a snake. He saw that its scales were not gold but painted, and the mask had worn away some of the paint. The scales were black and white and mottled, falling away from a dead thing. Its eyes were hollow sockets, but the dust flowed into them until they were yellow.
Out of fear or courage, Matius struck once more, plunging his sword into the snake. At the same time, the golden mask slipped off and clanged to the floor. There was blood on the inside. Matius saw the snake's face was changing over and over again. Twelve times it changed before it was a snake again.
He had forgotten about killing this creature, forgotten about fighting for his own life, even forgotten why he had come to Black Marsh in the first place. All Matius knew then was terror.
He was falling, then flying. The world rushed up to meet him, all fire and glory and madness. He felt a current on wings he did not remember having and he soared. He flew over cities of gold and cities of black stone. They were endless, like the Hist that cradled them. The sky was aflame and the sun was a pit. Still he flew, for he had not the strength to do more than let the current carry him.
He came upon a tower. It was tall and vast and many trees grew from its many layers of marsh. Creatures lived and died without ever knowing of a world outside the tower. At its top was a tree that bled fire. Other winged things that looked like him circled it. They cried out in words he understood but didn't know. He felt a deep sadness as the tower fell away.
He looked up and saw other worlds and other towers. They were spinning wheels and they crashed into each other, and their spokes got tangled up and they broke each other. And he saw that his world was breaking, too, but quick as a snake a shadow came and swallowed up the roots of the tower so they would not break.
Still he flew. There was only fire and darkness then, and so much noise, but he was too tired to be afraid. And so Matius slept, and drifted away into a black sun.
|Lost Tales of the Famed Explorer|
|Lost Tales of the Famed Explorer: Fragment V||Lost Tales of the Famed Explorer: Fragment VI|