The man stirred. Dim light shone through the stone arch window. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. Looking to the sky, he saw the glow of dawn or dusk near the horizon. The moon was a sickle suspended in the air.
Where is this? Is the day starting, or ending? His mind felt blanketed by a dark, smothering fog. He turned his eyes back into the room itself. It was made of cut stone, the doorway was filled by a sturdy oak and iron-banded door.
He stood up from the low bed he had been sleeping on. It was small, but comfortable. In the corner was a pile of clothing, armor, and equipment, including a mighty, ornately decorated hammer. One glance told the man it wasn’t for driving nails. He looked upon himself and saw unfamiliar trousers.
Are these mine? The man went to the corner and picked up the hammer. It was hefty, but well balanced. It felt natural in his hand. There was an inscription, “Tyrant’s Bane,” he said quietly to himself. Is this my weapon? Am I a fighter? Am I… Terror took hold of him with a chilling realization. “Who am I?” He strained to remember his name, strained to remember anything before he had awoken. But he could not. The fog seemed impenetrable.
“Get a hold over yourself, whoever you are.” His hand went out to the door handle. To his surprise, it was unlocked. Hefting the hammer, he opened it gingerly.
Sitting on the floor just outside was a plate. There was bacon, toast, and hard-boiled eggs. A stein with a foamy head sat next to it. He grabbed the plate and stein hungrily and devoured the meal. How long since he’d eaten? Well, at least it’s not a prison, jailers usually lock their doors.
Now that he was less concerned about needing to escape, the man turned his attention back to the room itself. The walls were bare, except for crude markings on their surface. He leaned in to read them in the thin light. They were hash marks. Lots of them.
He followed the marks backwards until he found their source behind the bed. The man shoved it out of the way. Carved into the stone surface were two names. Lord Enmoray, and Dakor, which had been circled and underlined. The man thought he recognized it. Dakor was a name that projected vitality and commanded respect. Just repeating it in his mind made him feel proud, powerful.
“I am Dakor?” He was uncertain, but it felt right. “I am Dakor.” His confidence grew. The fog was pierced. Images started trickling to him then. A burning village. Ravaged crops. A woman’s face streaked with tears, and blood. “Ella.”
Standing over it all, a looming figure wielding terrible powers. Turning town’s people on each other. Commanding animals of the forest into battle against simple farmers and shepherds. Even raising the broken bodies of fallen neighbors to strike at their former comrades.
That was Dakor’s task, to slay the Tyrant. He set to work quickly, donning armor, helm, and belt. He rummaged through his pack, looking for…
For what? He set the pack down, wondering whose it was. Maybe his was somewhere else in the room. He turned to look, but kicked over the stein, spilling what was left of the amber liquid on the floor.
Had I left that there? The fog crept back in. “No! I must complete my mission. Lives depend on me.”
Dakor looked back to the names on the wall, feeling the darkness envelop his mind again. Lord Enmo… who was that? It seemed really important. “Dakor. I am Dakor.” He repeated it like a chant, trying to focus his mind. “I am Dakor. I…am Dakor?”
The man felt his awareness spiraling as down a drain. He screamed out in frustration, a long, chilling cry. Outside, a wolf answered. Trying to hold out, the man reached back to the pack in the corner and found a dagger in its sheath. He drew it and slid to the end of the marks in the wall.
“I must try again tomorrow,” he said resolutely. But as he put the dagger to the stone, he realized the tip was dull and rounded. There were already so many marks. He shouted in rage as he scratched furiously at the rock.
By the time he was finished, he couldn’t remember why he’d been shouting.
Across the hall, Lord Enmoray awoke to the pleasing sounds of a failed hero’s screams. A servant stood at the foot of his bed, holding a tea set.
“Good morning, Sire.”
“Good morning, Nigel.”
“Will you have tea or coffee this morning, Sire?”
“Coffee, if you please.” Nigel busied himself preparing a cup of coffee, three spoons of sugar, splash of cream.
“What’s on the agenda today?” asked the dark lord.
“Merikamph is late in their tribute payment, Sire. Their tax collector is in the basement levels awaiting your… motivation.”
“Excellent.” The dark lord smiled. He ever so enjoyed motivating tax collectors.
Nigel passed the steaming cup. “Sire, a question?”
“Of course, Nigel. You know I maintain an open-door policy.”
“When will you finally kill that poor wretch across the hall?”
“Kill him? I wouldn’t dream of it. He’s the most reliable alarm clock I’ve ever owned. I don’t even have to remember to wind him up.”
“How efficient of you, Sire.”
“Oh, but do remember to sharpen the poor man’s dagger. He’s having the devil’s own time carving his little hash marks with a blunted blade.”
“Very good, Sire.”
Patrick S. Tomlinson lives in Wisconsin, where he is hard at work writing his first novel. In addition to trying to claw his way up the publishing ladder, Patrick also helps edit stories for Apex Magazine. Time not writing is spent training for triathlons, maintaining a stable of Ford Mustangs, and snuggling with his unnaturally supportive wife.