It was still early morning when Rohl finally awoke. The bright rays of morning light that peeked through his window signalled that it was time to get started with the day’s work.
“Hmm, seems like they’ve left for the market already,” Rohl muttered to himself as he noticed the quiet around him. There was no other movement in the house, only Rohl as he got dressed for the day ahead and gently nibbled on the slice of bread and cheese that had been left on his dresser.
“Let’s get started then,” he sighed as he mentally prepared himself for the day’s tasks.
“Shoes check, coat check, ukatar check,” Rohl muttered as he double-checked everything he might need for the day. His ukatar was more of a hindrance than useful when it came to his chores but he was hesitant to leave it behind. On the odd occasion, he would perform for the villagers, who usually rewarded him with some free food.
It was a win-win situation. He would get a little bit of money, food, and practice whilst the villagers got some much-needed entertainment. There was not a lot to do in small farming settlements like these.
With his ukatar shrunk and stored safely within his knapsack, the tired Rohl began his chores for the day. Feeding the chickens came first, then some garden work.
“She must have left it out back again,” Rohl muttered after fruitfully searching for the coop key. Sami was not the most organised of people and this was not the first time she had misplaced the key.
With a mutter of annoyance at his sister, Rohl made his way out the back door. He paused shortly after. Every time he stepped out of his house, he liked to take a little time to admire the pleasant view. The trees, the calm blue sky and the roofs of houses could all be seen in the distance giving a peaceful idyllic view of the quaint village.
“Huh, that’s weird. The bells aren’t ringing.”
At eight am, the village bells would ring to signal the start of the day. The noise always gave Rohl a much-needed wake-up jolt in the mornings. Without them, he was finding it awfully quiet. Too quiet as he was now beginning to realise. It wasn’t just the lack of bells, but the lack of all other noises. He couldn’t hear anything, no birds, no animals, no villagers, nothing. Just dead silence.
A state that every man, woman, and child had come to fear.
“No, no, no,” Rohl said in unfiltered panic and horror. The realization of what was happening had begun to sink in. “It can’t be, not here…. Anything but that,” he muttered, a tremble clear in his words.
The Endless Sleep, one of the seven sacrilegious beasts. A monster feared by so many, for no one had ever survived its call. Little was known about the creature, but one truth was clear. Pure harrowed silence heralded its arrival, and the bodies of the dead signalled its departure.
Terror and fear had seeped their way into Rohl’s heart at the mere thought of the beast. And only one thing snapped him into action. One thing that allowed him to run into what was most likely his death.
To Rohl, nothing mattered more than getting to his family. He would not and could not lose them. With a crushing fear in his heart, Rohl began to move.
The food in his hands fell to the floor, the sound of it impacting the floor became muffled as Rohl’s steps pounded down the small dirt path away from his house. Without hesitation, he lept over the small stream and took off at a full sprint towards the village.
With his mind solely focused on reaching the village, he ignored the bodies of dead birds that littered the path. Ignored the despair that clung to the air and ignored his own ever-increasing dread.
Only the hope of finding his family allowed him to keep running, to keep putting one foot ahead of the other as he made his way towards the village. Each step he took was shadowed by how heavy and fast his breathing had become. The sprint had exhausted him, made his side ache as he ran. Still, he pushed past the pain and kept running.
Sweat soaked his face and his eyes shone with desperation, panic and fear.
Only when Rohl stormed past the windmill on the outskirts of town did he begin to truly hear it. A hallowing sound, a dreadful silence. A silence that felt like the weight of the world was exerting its pressure through it. A sound so terrible that it almost made him fall unconscious moments after hearing it.
Instead, he fell to his knees, unable to stand against the crushing silence. Only the adrenaline and panic coursing through had kept him from succumbing to unconsciousness. A part of him was glad he’d remained conscious, otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to find his family. However, another part wanted to submit to the silence, to make it stop, to make the crushing pain stop.
No matter what Rohl tried, he couldn’t make it stop. Covering his ears proved fruitless, nor could he drown it out through his screams. Nothing seemed to work.
“Make it stop, make it stop,” he screamed from his knees, agony clear on his face. His body shook back and forth uncontrollably as the sound seemed to tear away at his soul. He had never felt such incredible pain in his life, and it horrified him.
The pain brought him to the brink, he was so tempted to end it all. The urge to give in flooded through him uncontrollably, it was as if he was in a storm of pain and emotions. But every storm has its end.
Only now when Rohl had almost given up did he feel something, something to give him hope, something to give him the strength to fight on.
A pull, a desire, a drive. Something deep down from within him. A fight that he did not know he had and with it, he knew he could not just lay down and die.
His legs would not respond, and this left Rohl with only one choice, to drive away the silence and the beast that had created it. He knew that if he could do that, then he may just survive this. His initial thoughts drew him to pull out the ukatar, to play a small nonsensical tune. A tune on which he could focus his mind and outlast the crushing silence.
A slow strumming was all he could manage, his desperate state prevented him from doing anything else. The sound seemed to ease his pain a little, offering a tiny escape, a tiny glimmer of hope.
As time drew on, even the small relief he had found seemed to fail. The tiny piece of music could not push back the silence. And once again, horror began to overtake him as his mind began to shatter.
In a fit of desperation, Rohl attempted one last thing, a last-ditch attempt. With nothing else to try, he began to think of everything that could give him the strength to carry on fighting against the silence. Almost subconsciously, he began to repeat the same phrases over and over as if drawing strength and hope from them. Phrases whispered rhythmically along with the music.
“I must get through this.”
“I must get through this for me.”
“I must get through this for them.”
The almost incoherent muttering gave him the strength to hold on, to not succumb to at least try and outlast the silence. Perhaps, it would tire of him if he held out long enough. With every second Rohl resisted, he could feel the spark of hope grow within him. He knew he couldn’t win against the Endless Sleep, but maybe he could outlast it.
It was far from an easy fight even with the small comforting music and the hope-filled mutters. Every second was a raging battle as he fought to stop his mind from being crushed, fought to prevent the fear and dread from taking hold. It was a drawn-out struggle but one where Rohl was holding his own against a beast that seemed to be wholly intent on ending him. From the outside, it would have made an odd sight, a young man crushed to his knees muttering desperately as if the very air around him was hostile.
With every second he resisted, the hope within grew. Hope that he would fight this, that he would make it to his family in time. Hope bolstered by the images that began to flood Rohl’s vision. Images of better times, playing tag with Sami, working in the fields with his father, his mother teaching him and Sami to read when they were young. Simpler times.
The desperate mutterings that Rohl had clung to had begun to change with his new hope. No longer filled with dread but hope and righteous anger. “I will get through this, I will survive, they will survive.”
Rohl did not know how long he had spent crushed on his knees. How long he had suffered. Seconds, minutes or even hours for all he knew. But eventually, tears of relief began to flow as the debilitating pressure faded. Timid, withdrawn movements soon followed as Rohl attempted to return to his feet. His whole body was on edge, ready to retreat should the sound return.
He had no idea if this was a cruel ploy to strike at him with his guard down or if his hope and resilience had driven the beast off. Maybe the creature had a hatred of any sound or emotion that was not filled with fear. He would even gladly accept knowing that the creature had just gotten bored and left.
But all Rohl did know, was that the sound had faded into almost nothing and with every relief filled every second that passed was a second where Rohl felt stronger, felt his spirit return.
It was not a victory, but he was at least alive. Alive and completely drained.
Every movement or slightest twitch filled in an aching body with pain. Exhaustion gripped his body. But despite all this, Rohl refused to stop playing and did not dare to stop repeating the phrases over and over again.
If he got caught unawares again, then he knew it would be over. As much as Rohl wished to lie down and let sleep overcome him, he knew he could not. Those he loved still needed him.
With that thought, Rohl pushed on towards town, each step made harder by both physical and mental exhaustion. He truly hoped beyond all that his interference had spared his family from the beast's ire, that his distraction had won them their lives. This was the only thing that gave him the strength to push on.
“Hold on, I’m coming, just a little bit longer, please be okay.”
After many more tiresome steps, bodies began to appear. The first two were strewn along the path. Local farmhands on their way to work. As much as he wanted to make sure they were okay, he couldn’t, not yet, not until he had found his family.
More bodies soon appeared as he entered the town, the blacksmith hunkered over his workbench, Mr. Honberry collapsed in front of a fruit stall. It was as if the whole town had just fallen where they stood, not even given the chance to run or cower in fear, including Rohl’s family. His mother and sister laid unmoving on the ground, passed out by a stall, shopping still in hand.
“Please be okay, please be okay.” Rohl rushed to them with fevered desperation. His rushed steps almost caused him to trip on the bodies of fallen townsmen. With unsteady feet and shaking hands, he finally made it to his family’s side.
"Oh thank the gods, thank the gods, thank the gods," repeated Rohl. His voice was full of relief, his hands less shaky and his heart, less worried. They were still alive.
“Thank the gods, thank the gods, thank the gods” he cried as the bodies of those he loved, slowly rose and fell as they breathed.
The Endless Sleep had failed. And with that beautiful realisation, the shock and exhaustion caught up to him. With one huge rush of exhaustion and emotion, Rohl collapsed alongside his family.