By K. M. Small
Aedus hated it when his hourglass talked. The majority of its speech was apocalyptic prophecy, and he would have given anything for it to be wrong. Just once.
Stones cut through the soles of Aedus’s shoes as he sprinted down the hill, dragging a stretcher behind him. He winced as his burden banged against the knee-high stone arches that littered the rocky wasteland. The arrival of Nothing had chased them right into the Riddled Plains.
“Hurry, moronic human, if you want to live!”
Of course, the rest of Hourglass’s speech had to be abuse. Aedus cast a quick glare over his shoulder. His younger brother, Rand, lay in the stretcher behind him, gripping the side with one pale hand while his legs flopped around uselessly. His other hand clasped it.
Hourglass’s sand vibrated as it screamed again in a gravelly voice. “Onward! Are you blind?”
Aedus swerved around an arch, stumbling. He sucked in a breath, dust clinging to his throat like needles. Then, he saw it. He heard it. The snap-snap-snap of Nothing swallowing up the world behind them and leaving only blue sky in its wake. Aedus had always thought the end of the world would come all at once, but it turned out the local prophetess was wrong. And now dead.
At the bottom of the hill, a cluster of stone huts lay directly in Nothing’s path. But the town would be safe, according to Hourglass the fortune god.
“You think that’s a run? Your cadaverous kin here could do better!”
“Shut up, or I’ll give you to Nothing!” Rand snapped from behind.
Aedus gripped the stretcher tighter, speeding up. He had to get to the town before Rand went through with his threat. Ever since his accident, Rand had accused Hourglass of being an apocalyptic god that brought disasters upon them. But being warned in advance of the world’s destruction was good fortune. Hourglass couldn’t possibly be the cause of all this.
The ground cracked, sending a clump of arches spiking into Aedus’s path. He cut to the side, dragging the stretcher around them. Several dozen yards to his left, towers of dust howled closer, swirling violently as Nothing devoured the world.
Hourglass screamed. “Curse you worthless human slugs! Faster!”
“That’s it!” Rand shouted. “I’m gonna throw it.”
“No!” Aedus dropped the stretcher, whirled around, and snatched Hourglass from his brother. A chill knifed down his spine and he gripped Hourglass tightly. “Kill a fortune god? Hourglass warned us about the consequences!”
Rand slammed a hand against the stretcher. “It’s not—”
“Quiet,” Aedus snapped. His fingers shook as he tucked Hourglass under his arm and took up the stretcher again. A sand tornado whipped across the plain between him and the town. Blast, it was so far away.
Hourglass vibrated, and Aedus glimpsed the sand slipping through its upper compartment, only a handful of grains left. Maybe he shouldn’t have refilled it after Rand’s accident, but the thing had promised to kill him if he didn’t. Good fortune was on the way, Hourglass had said, and he’d believed it.
Two weeks later, Hourglass had announced the world was ending in five minutes. And that was three minutes ago.
“Aedus!” Rand’s whine cut over the wind. “It’s an apocalyptic god. Smashing it will stop Nothing!”
“Shut up, blasphemous boy. I am a great and mighty fortune god!” Hourglass hopped in Aedus’s grip, the only movement it seemed capable of. “Keep running, moronic human!”
Aedus slowed a little to adjust his grip on Hourglass. The bulky thing kept slipping. How fast would it strike him dead if he dropped it or harmed it? If Aedus died, Rand would never stand a chance at making it to the town.
Trust the thing that had threatened him. Trust the thing that had predicted the death of his parents, his brother’s accident, and the end of the world. Trust a talking hourglass over his brother.
Shut up and run.
Squeezing Hourglass to his side, Aedus sprinted faster. Dust obscured his vision of the town ahead. The snap-snap-snap grew deafening.
A stone arch jammed into his shin. He tripped, and Hourglass rolled away, screaming. Aedus sucked in a breath and dragged himself forward. Pain pulsed through his leg, and sand tore his eyes. Where was Rand?
His hand bumped something.
“Run!” Hourglass screamed.
Aedus twisted around. Rand. He couldn’t.
“Leave him and run!”
Heat curled in Aedus’s chest as he glared at Hourglass. “He’s my brother!”
He picked up Hourglass, straining against the whirling, raging storm that blinded him. Rand was gone. The world was ending. What did it matter now if he killed a heartless fortune god?
The roar deafened Aedus as he raised Hourglass above a stone. Three grains slipped toward the neck of the hourglass. The thing screamed.
“For Rand!” Aedus yelled as he slammed it against the rock.
Glass exploded, slicing Aedus’s skin. He squeezed his eyes shut. Nothing swirled closer, and—
The dust storm died. Aedus’s ears rang as he looked up. Piles of sand lay between the stone arches around him. Behind him, a cliff fell downward into endless blue, as though the sky had stolen the underworld.
Aedus gripped the shattered top half Hourglass so hard the wood cut his hands.
“Told you so,” a wheezy voice said from beside the rock. Rand propped himself up on an elbow, flicking away a piece of glass. “Apocalyptic god.”
Aedus gasped for breath and threw his handful of Hourglass’s remains into oblivion. “I might have to agree with you.”
Rand rolled his eyes, a glimmer of humor finally appearing. “Might? You just don’t want to admit I was right all along. Hourglass was a moronic liar.”
Observing the surviving land, Aedus smiled faintly. “Maybe, but it didn’t lie about one thing: the town is still standing.”
Rand threw the remaining piece of Hourglass at him.