My eyes flick open and I watch the ceiling of my lair for several long moments. The shallow breaths I take freeze upon contact with the icy atmosphere and the created crystals slowly float away.
They are beautiful and forebode my death. I didn't expect to wake up another time after I went to sleep. That means that this world gave me another chance to survive.
I move and my bones creak as I stand up. How can it be that I feel so old? Ah, but I am old. Now I remember.
A long time ago this world was warm and full of life. Then the sun dimmed and the ice came. My people hid deep inside the earth. But with time the cold followed us even there. I watched them slowly wither away.
Some were taken by the ice, but most fell to time. There is no greater foe than time. Death can be defeated, but time keeps creeping forward regardless of what you do. And when you attempt to stop it, everything you achieve is that you stop together with it.
I stand up from my resting place and a thin layer of white frost falls from the rags which are covering my body. They are the only thing which offers some protection against my environment.
My eyes scan my small cave for one last time, but there is nothing left which could aide my survival. No food, nothing which could be burned. The last water reserve is frozen and useless.
Small and silent steps take me to a wall where a fissure appeared. It's small, but I feel cold air entering through it. It's always like this. It follows you until the day comes when you won't wake up from going to sleep.
I turn and push the circular stone aside which sealed the entrance to my cave. It creates some unwanted noise, but it can't be helped. The stone sealed my lair airtight against the outside.
The corridor in front of my lair is clean and I can't sense any presences. So I turn and walk the path which leads me upwards. Towards the cold. The urge to go deeper is strong. Down to the last remnants of warmth.
But I know that down there are things... unspeakable terrors which are able to kill me. And there is a certain end to that path. A point at which you can't go any deeper where the cold will eventually get to you.
So I choose to flee upwards. One last time. I hobble forward while pulling my bad leg after me. It's been useless since a long time ago. But I decided to keep it, thinking that there may come a time when I feel hungry enough to...
A sound makes me stop. Something is coming down my path. I step into a nearby crevice to hide myself and concentrate, to regulate my breathing to a bare minimum. The entrance to my lair lies in this particular part of the cave system for exactly this reason. The walls are riddled with clefts and fissures which make it easy to hide.
Three pale figures rush past me. A hunting group. They've been on my trail for weeks now. I don't know when they first appeared, but they seem to be degenerated versions of my people. Though they have adapted to the cold.
They are gone as fast as they came. But I keep lingering in my hiding spot. My senses tell me that there is another one. A slow one. I lick over my lips and wait. It passes by and my hand shoots out from my hiding place, grabbing the straggler at his windpipe and squeezing it shut.
Not a sound escapes as I pull it into shadows inside the crevice. It struggles, but the limbs keep flailing around meaninglessly. My fingers dig into its flesh and eyes with a shred of intelligence flick towards mine.
I read fear, hate and madness in them. A whole set of emotions. I don't care about it as I drain the puny amount of life force from the thing. It's eyes turn glassy and I drop the dead body to the ground.
With a part of my strength restored I continue on my path. In the past I disposed of all dead bodies which were too close to my cave, but I don't intend to return, so it doesn't matter now.
A little further ahead I choose the left path where the corridor splits. The cave gets narrower and narrower from that point on.
Finally it's just a tiny mine shaft which leads steeply upwards. I get to my knees and start crawling and climbing with the practice of many years. The bad leg and the two missing fingers on my right hand are hindering me, but I've learned to cope with it.
After a small eternity I reach my destination. It's a flat dome close to the surface. The floor is perfectly smooth and riddled with small lines and symbols. They are filled with my frozen blood.
I stay on all fours while I search the entire floor for any damage to my magical circle. But there is none. Just a few pebbles which fell from the ceiling. They are easily removed and I place myself in the centre of the circle.
Then I start to meditate like the day before and the day before that... so many failures. I wish to escape this world, which is at the end of its lifespan. The will to survive has driven me to great lengths.
I even tried to teleport away. Though I soon had to admit that there is no use in teleportation if you don't know where you want to go. So I resorted to summoning magic. If the people of my world can summon servants from somewhere else, then there may be other places to which you can get summoned.
The trick lies in answering to such a summoning ceremony. Or in intercepting one. So I clear my mind and start to listen to the tune which calls for beings from far away. I am looking for the same tune everyday. It's strong and full of life, so I wish to go there.
It calls out to the universe almost every day. But I never managed to synchronize myself with it. Today it's all or nothing.
Hours pass and nothing happens. When I try to move I realize that it isn't possible. I reach for my feet and realize that they are frozen. The cold claims everything at one point or the other and I made up my mind on the path I'll take. Seems like I won't survive.
So I close my eyes again and listen while I'm slowly drifting off to sleep. Somehow I know that I won't wake up this time.
A beat! I feel it! The strong beat of life is calling from far away! I release all my mana and pour it into the magic circle under my feet. With desperation and hope I reach for the tune of life which calls out to the universe! Though I feel something else answering the same call, I still cling to it with all my might.
And then I feel myself floating! An old and wrinkled body is under me, it sinks down and a final breath escapes from its mouth. Is that me? Did I just die?
I have no time to think. An unbelievable force pulls me away from my world and the stars blur as they pass by! Stars? How long has it been since I watched them?
I open my eyes and find myself on a rocky plain. Everything is grey and white. Is this the afterlife? So the summoning failed? Or did the other one manage to answer the summoning first?
My wrinkled old hands and my body are still the same. I am even wearing the rags I am accustomed to. Didn't I leave my body behind? Or is this some kind of dream world where you look like the image you have of yourself?
Something snarls behind me and I turn. What I find there is a strange creature. It's red and has two horns on its head. The face is a hideous mess and sharp teeth emerge from its mouth. The hands are too long and have four deadly looking claws. A long tail is curling behind it and its legs are bent backwards, ending in strange hooves. It's naked and a uselessly large weapon is dangling between its legs.
“You! Intercepted! My! Summoning!”
The thing barks at me. How pitiful. This mutant can't even speak normally.
“I won't! Let you steal! My prize away! From me! This world! Is mine! To take!”
It barks again and jumps at me. So slow. Maybe I should end its pain? What point is there in life if you are that weak?
My body jerks out of the path of the clawed hand which strikes at me. The poor thing is simply too slow. Back in the depths of my world were much faster hunters.
One of my shaky hands reaches forward and grabs the claw to twist it. The finger snaps and the poor monster howls. My body moves past the thing and I reach for its tail.
A fast jerk detaches the tail from its owner while I kick the monster's shin. The thing falls while it continues to howl.
The detached tail finds its way around the poor mutant's neck and I step on one end while I pull with my right hand on the other.
“How? On this plane! Counts only! The will! Of the individual! How can you! Be that strong!”
The thing continues to bark meaningless things while I'm reaching down and disarm it. An unbelievable howl with a high pitch pains my ears, so I stuff the monster's weapon down it's throat to shut it up.
Finally the poor thing stops twitching. It lived longer than I expected from such a deformed creature. I wish I had been able to end its miserable life in a less painful way, but it attacked me. And I don't like being attacked.
Then I feel myself being pulled away before I am able to take a closer look at the thing. The world blurs around me as I am pulled to another place far away.