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A loud thump startled him out of sleep. Not loud enough to relieve the darkness of his dreams with waking fears, but more to give a kind of substance to their stalking, nameless shapes. A sound of heavy treading, a clomp upon a stair.

He tensed, his heart beginning to race, but the sound faded even as he sought to identify it.

It was gone. No one had come. It mattered little. He had nothing to offer.

He began to drift, downward, deeper, beneath the sightless rock pools to shelter from the shadow walkers. They circled him, and began to merge. He smelled the dank green moss beneath his hands. He felt the cool breath of the beginnings of despair. And the sound came again, this time with a shriek, and a roar that drowned all dreaming.

It was the wind, he realized, coming awake, a storm wind lurching in fierce gusts from across forever. It beat the crumbling keep with angry fists, careened shrieking around corners and through cracks in the stone, roared overhead like a great beast with a cymbal-crash of battering wings.

A moment of respite, a settling, and then another gust slammed the wall, crushing the mortar like an enormous boulder from God’s own catapult, if such a thing could exist.

The surface against which he pressed himself, he could feel it shake, and heard a quiet voice nearby, almost a whisper, as if in prayer.

He thought himself awake at last, but the darkness remained as it had been. Except for the shadow stalker, which had either vanished or come fully upon him, in tides of pressure that squeezed and bent and twisted him, to flatten, mold or break him; unrelenting as the wind in all its myriad shapes.

All that sound, compressed in his head. Wind crashing skirl…silence.

No sound of whispered prayer. No one there, at all.

Only a grating and grinding behind his heart, the swells of wind, and the cancerous pressure of darkness.

Something about it…he had been here before. He had a decision to make, and quickly. To yield, or to fight it. To brace, or allow it to embrace and crush him.

But not to name it. Absolutely, no.

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