“Welcome to the Abyss,” Clyde chimed. “Care to make a donation?”
The young woman blinked several times, eyes adjusting to the lighting of the sparsely furnished lobby. “You . . . have to pay?” she said at last.
Clyde gestured to a jar labelled Tips. It was empty “Never hurts to ask. You ready?”
“I guess so?”
An unusually insouciant response. “Right,” Clyde said, hoisting himself up. “Through here.” He opened the door at the back of the room and gestured for the visitor to enter.
She stepped into the large empty room, saw the Abyss at its center. “This is it?”
Clyde nodded. “Enjoy,” he said, letting the door shut behind her.”
He returned to the desk shaking his head. Maybe he should have tried to warn the kid what she was in for. Maybe a decade ago, he would have. But no one who came to the Abyss was really prepared. There was a reason repeat visitors were so rare. Sometimes it was better just to let people have the experience.
The girl emerged ten minutes later wearing an expression Clyde knew well. Trembling, eyes wide, she crossed to the desk and dropped a handful of bills into the tip jar.
The tower’s columns soared as high as an eagle, a masterpiece of both architectural and magical construction. Still it shook when the dragon alighted on its pinnacle.
“Madame?” the servant said uncertainly. “There’s no time left. We must–“
“Must?” the mage answered sharply. “The only thing we must do is face death. You may do that now, or if you wish you must postpone it.”
The servant glanced upward, nodded, and dashed for the stairs.
Ignoring his retreat, the mage stepped to the balcony. “Beast!” she called out. “I’ve been waiting.”
A large, scaled head descended, the monster’s large yellow eye peering down at her. “Your bravado is wasted, witch,” the dragon’s voice rumbled. “No boasts nor screams nor pleas for mercy shall stay my fire. I will consume you, crush your tower, incinerate even the memory of your name.”
She smiled. “All are forgotten eventually. All comes to dust in the end. Even you.”
The dragon snorted, a cascade of smoke and sparks.
“Piteous,” she sighed, “that a creature of ruin would be too afraid to face the darkness that awaits us all.” With that, she turned her back.