A Shroud

An old man's dreams of past glories turn into something more sinister. Based on the MMORPG Runescape, an entry for their competition.

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1. The Shroud

The old man sighed and filled his cup one more time, sidling closer to the fire and quaffing the wine in a single gulp. He closed his eyes and dreamt.

    He was seven again, running through the markets of Al Kharid. The desert heat beating down on him and the dust swirling through the cobbled streets. He stole an apple from a market stall covered in smoke, munching it as he sauntered back home.

    He was twenty-two now, in a dark foreboding place, he felt the weight of steel in his hand and the tingling rush of adrenaline in his belly. Beside him were friends, great adventurers and warriors and in front of him stood his foe. In the corner of his eye, a dark figure flashed in and out of view.

   His vision faded again, now he held the maiden he had loved in his arms, the old man smiled, but when he looked again he saw a shroud, the shadow of the woman he knew. She was a stranger, a mystery. The old man tried to utter her name, but found he had forgotten, he had forgotten everything, she was less than a memory now. The shroud lifted it's head and the man cried.

"Who are you?" He asked. The shroud regarded him, it's featureless face revealing nothing. The  man returned the gaze, praying for an answer, but none came. The shroud just stared. The man collapsed in despair.

   The world melted like hot candle-wax and the man found himself in a gleaming white hall, the four pointed star of Saradomin hung at it's end, wrought in silver and gleaming ethereally. The man looked at his feet and realised he was in armour. On his left stood a small creature with a bent back, wearing a large robe, the hood pulled across it's head and face, to his right stood himself, seven years old. On his waist hung a silver sword with a hilt in the shape of serpent.  The man smiled at his younger self reassuringly, but was ignored. Instead, the child skipped towards the star, the crooked creature shuffled after him and the man, seeing no other course of action, followed.

    When they reached the end of the hall, the shroud appeared again. The child ran towards it, the man rushed out to stop him, but the child danced out of his grip, giggling, and embraced it. The shroud began to cover the child until he disappeared completely. The man screamed hoarsely, the thing to his left chuckled to itself. The man turned to face it, but it paid him no heed, just as the child had not. It's laughter became louder and louder until it finally turned on the man, at this point cackling maniacally. It took a step towards him. The man, without thinking, drew his sword and cut down the creature, little rubies of blood spurted from the thing but even as it fell it laughed. It writhed on the floor, but the joke was completely lost on the man.

"Stop it!" Screamed the man "Please! Shut up!" He was begging now, but even as the man plunged the sword into the thing's belly it screamed with hysterical laughter. The man wailed, he tore the hood off the creature to reveal a wrinkled face, smirking back at him, a familiar wrinkled face. The man looked into it's eyes and realised they were his own.

    The old man woke up with a start. His face was wet with tears as he breathed a sigh of relief.

"Her name was Anthea." He murmured.

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