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Apocalypse Again

The end of the world AGAIN? At least the apocalypse could have waited until I changed out of my pajamas, but that’s never how it works, is it? Saving the world while wearing fuzzy pajamas covered in elephants, camels, and zebras? All in a night’s work, I guess. And now you see why I don’t sleep nude. And do sleep with a sword under my pillow. I, well, don’t have many overnight guests, and rarely the same one more than once. The sword is sheathed and everything. Some people. 

The portal glowed in a color I liked to call octarine. Kind of an orange-purple-red, well, some color you didn’t see anywhere else except around a portal. I jammed my feet into the boots that always sat right beside my bed, where my feet would go if I were getting up in a hurry. I sleep in socks too, obviously. The portal was half a step from the edge of the bed, barely far enough that it didn’t cut off the boot toes. I grabbed the satchel that sat next to my boots in one hand, sword in the other, and stepped thru.

One of the many things I hate about portals is that you can’t see thru them before you step in. All you get is octarine glow and distorted reflections of whatever is behind you. I never know if I should unsheathe my sword first (you didn’t think I’d have a bare blade under my pillow?), or if that might be a problem. The sword equivalent of friendly fire is clearly tripping through a portal and accidentally stabbing someone on your side, but there’s also the risk of stepping into a crowd of giant bat-things or something equally venomous and angry. (Done that.) So I compromise by holding the sword in two hands, one properly on the hilt, and the other ready to pull the sheath off if necessary. The satchel didn’t get in the way when I practiced, but of course it tangled half the time when I did it for real. Okay, not half the time, because I’m still alive to tell this story, but more than I’d like. 

This time, it wasn’t a concern, because the portal dropped me onto an empty staircase heading down. It’s good that I’m steady on my feet, because it was just stairs. No wall, no railing, no bannister. Stairs. Dark empty space to the left. Even darker empty space to the right. You know how you can feel when you’re in an open or a closed space? That. Open. And a breeze, too. It smelled of wet grass and unfamiliar flowers, and an odd note of decay. Definitely creepy, but I had no idea why I was here.  To save the world, as usual, but which world? And from what? I couldn’t even see my own hands.

Oh. Probably whatever made that terrible yowl. I twisted around, trying to see anything in the darkness, trying to figure out what the creature might be. I didn’t recognize the cry, but it was definitely something unhappy. And large. Definitely something large. Although probably someday I’d end up trying to save a world menaced by slugs or something. I should add a container of salt to my satchel. 

I continued slowly down the stairs into the darkness. Did I mention yet that the stairs were glowing faintly? Probably glowing octarine too, but it was really faint, just enough to keep me from plummeting to certain death off the edge of the stairs. If I looked back, I could still see the portal waiting for me at the top. Unfortunately, experience had taught me that it wouldn’t let me through until I accomplished whatever I was there for, no matter how much I just wanted to go back to bed. At least the pay was good, good enough that I didn’t have to explain to a regular boss why I had to literally vanish from work now and then, or why there was a sword in the umbrella stand. I didn’t have health insurance, obviously, but I did have Major Magical Medical. (That was a joke, but it’s a really good plan nonetheless.)

Descending through the darkness on glowing stairs, unholy yowling now coming from all sides. Whatever it was, either there were lots of really upset demon-creatures or one really fast one. I’m not sure which one would be better for me. Neither option really sounded great. I was mostly watching my feet on the glowing steps instead of staring into the featureless darkness around me and imagining that the speckles in my vision were real things, so I noticed that the steps vanished half a beat before I stepped into a cute little mountain lake, mirror-smooth and surrounded by flowers. Good thing, too, because these boots take forever to dry if I actually get them full of water.

And if I could see the lakeshore, the lights were on. I looked down at my now-visible hands in relief. The red cord spliced around my left wrist was still there, as it always was and always would be, and I could distinguish the white bead from the black bead. Every time I meet someone, I look at their wrists, but so far I’ve never found anyone with the symbol of our calling, even though I know there must be other guardians. I’d like to be able to talk to someone who doesn’t think I’m delusional, but that doesn’t seem to be how it works. There have to be other people like me, people who are on call to save the world? People who know what, and how, and why? Money appears in my bank account. If I go to sleep injured or ill, I’m fine in the morning. Portals randomly appear at any time and any place. I go through, and usually I kill things. 

The yowl sounded right behind me. I spun, sliding my sword free and swinging it around in one smooth motion, right through the neck of the creature lunging at me. I’d been waiting for that. Reptilian, scaly, green blood. I didn’t even get any on my pajamas. I stared across the lake for a few minutes, wondering if that was all. The valley was quiet, though, so I trudged back up the stairs. 

The portal let me through, so I was indeed done. I wiped down my sword and oiled it, then crawled back into bed for a few more hours of sleep. I would never know where I had been, or why I had needed to kill the yowler. Someday the wyvern or the kraken or the sentient plant would kill me instead, or injure me badly enough that I couldn’t get back through the portal. I hoped that before then I’d meet someone who could tell me why.

First twitter flash of 2021! Prompts from:
@notmoro – CAMELS
@PrinceJvstin – A stairway that descends into a tarn.
@evilrooster – Two bone beads, one dark, one light.

As always, written immediately and unedited. I hope you enjoyed it anyway.

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