The Architect by Nick Serido

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SUMMARY: A man wanders into a ruined fortress, searching for something. He soon discovers that he's been followed.

A cold wind filtered through the spacious hall, spilling in from the remains of a window that was shattered long ago. Time and wind had done their work on the shards of glass that remained in the frame; the once-jagged edges were as smooth as the intact panes had ever been. Beyond the opening came the sound of waves crashing onto a rocky coast. There were no crying gulls, no screeching sea hawks, no life at all. Only the breaking waves and the intermittent silence, always rushing back to reclaim its hold over the land.

The shadow stood at the end of the hall, just beyond an opening that had once been a doorway. The folds of his gray cloak fluttered weakly as the air pulled at the cloth, shifting the darkness that clung to him like a disease. The light of the hall seemed to bend away from him, as if in an effort to hide his features from the world. What flesh was visible was as pale as the stone walls, and just as lively. If the hall was cold, the touch of the shadow's hand was frigid. No living man should feel as he did. No living man should see the things he'd seen.

The shadow knew what he was- he'd long ago flung away the illusion of righteousness and heroism. His efforts would never be hailed as noble, or brave. There would be no great memorial for his existence. None would mourn his passing, should he fail. All this, the shadow knew, and knew well.

He couldn't bring himself to care.

There was no sound as the shadow walked across the tiles of stone, only the small clouds of rising dust that had been too stubborn to blow away with the daily wind. A fallen candelabra lay in his path, eaten away by centuries of rust. Of the candles it once held, there was no sign. The shadow stepped over it and continued on until he reached the window. There he paused to stare outside at the dark skies that loomed above the dark land and the dark sea.

The fields that surrounded the fortress were barren. There was no greenery. The trees that had once stood proudly were now jagged, decrepit things, bare of leaves and fruit. As lifeless as they were, they lacked the strength even to fall away and die. They were doomed to stand as mockeries of their former selves for as long as the world still turned. Around them were the remains of civilization. The workings of man had proven no more durable than nature, it seemed. Dust and grime had taken up residence in the buildings; the evidence of age was everywhere the shadow looked. Only careful construction and the quality of their material kept the dwellings upright. The road that had once been so well-traveled had disappeared entirely.

The shadow turned away. He half-expected to feel a pang of regret, but was not surprised when the emptiness persisted. Emotion was becoming harder and harder for him to summon. Sometimes he wondered if he would ever again feel happiness or pain, sadness or fear, anger or jealousy. Perhaps it was a price he'd had to pay; another knife plunged through the heart of his former humanity. God knew he'd given that up willingly enough.

The room at the other end of the hall was circular and tall.

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