The Stone Key

At first, the mud hisses with a hungry greed. And then it begins to burn. His boots clap against the ground with blackened soot, and the mud boils beneath him. He walks with clenched fists, and as soon as the first thorny claws reach for his face, he throws an arm over his head and fiery tendrils snake up into the trees with a howl of smoke.

The air fills with the putrid smell of burning, and the rain hisses into steam before it can touch him. He reaches an impenetrable thicket, but he is deathly silent as his anger stores itself in the pounding of his heart.

He turns and begins to trudge along the ground where the slope pulls itself tiredly upward. He walks now on needles, and his energy is saved as his boots kick the dirt and his arms swing lightly at his side. His breathing is heavy and his stride fierce.

Stone ruins materialize through the mist, and he raises his head as he approaches the top of the hill. There is a rumble as he steps into the entrance way of the ruins, and he places his hands on the two opposing columns. He closes his eyes tightly for a moment and then opens them.

A creature is standing in front of him with red eyes in a skull of black. The man remains still, his hands on the stone columns and his feet planted squarely on the ground. The creature opens its cloak and removes a key. It holds it in the air, and motions for him to approach.

He does not move. "What key is this?" he asks.

The creature makes a squealing noise and beckons fervently.

He remains cold and still. "What key do you hold?" he repeats.

The creature lowers the key, and he follows its gaze. There is a small key hole in the stone floor with a golden clock painted around its dark groove.

"At last," he breathes. He reaches out his hand. "If your master wishes to speak, then hand me the key."

The creature squeals again, but it is pinned under his glaring eyes. It bows low, places the key on the ground and then reveals two black wings that lift it into the oblivion of the sky.

The man walks forward, stoops for the key, and carefully lifts it with a gloved hand. He inserts it into the mountain itself, and gives it a jerk with clenched teeth. It turns heavily, and the ground rumbles in response.

The man stands and takes a few steps back as the ground opens at his feet. And then, with a grim expression, he descends into the darkness of the lair.

The End

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