Khalid awoke with a start, his heart felt as though it would burst out of his throat. The darkness was absolute. He thought that it must have been his own heartbeat had woken him.
A floorboard creaked in the hall outside.
Khalid sat up slowly. Another creaking floorboard halted the mans breath. He had thought to call out to his guard, to berate him for making noise in the night; but never had the floor made such noise, and nor should such expensive timbers give under the weight of a man, or even several. His ears burned in the silence, his lungs ached for another breath. Fear was suffocating him.
He sat, staring, terrified for no reason.
Then the reasons came to him. His guards had raised no alarm. The dogs had not barked. There were no torches burning outside. The woman that lay next to him had not stirred. Yet here, just outside his bedroom, in the center of his compound, the floor was creaking.
And something was scratching at the wall. Khalid gripped at his sheet. It was a knife. No, there was more than one, and they were not knives. Another creak and the scratching moved to the door. Down the jamb and to the floor.
Tears slid down Khalid's face. The sound came from claws.
“Go away!!” The breath burst out of the man's lungs and he fell out of the bed. Scrambling across the floor, he was sure that the was a glint of light moving under the door.
The scratching became rabid tearing at the wood. Splinters broke off of the door. A low, rumbling growl rolled across the room. A loud thud and sickening crunch as the door was lifted and shattered against the ceiling.
Deep, inconceivable panic took hold of Khalid. Whereas he had been trying to reach the window, he stopped and curled into a ball. He clenched his eyes shut and put his hands over his ears. “Go away!” the full grown man screamed like a child. In the darkness, with his eyes closed, he could feel the beast bearing down on him. “No!” In his mind flashed an image, it was a dragon, or something worse, more ancient, more terrifying.
For an eternity, he lay there on the floor, clutching his ears and crying. His cries softened to moans. Eventually his moans ceased and his breathing became normal. His heart began to slow. Timidly, he opened his eyes, he could see the floor in the dim torchlight. A wave of relief, a nightmare. Khalid rolled onto his back.
His next scream gurgled into nothingness before it left his throat. The light that had so comforted the man stared at him through two burning eyes.
“So there is no indication of why he died?” Khalid's son was finally alone with the family's healer. His father's body lay covered by a sheet, save for its head. 'His heart burstt for no reason in the night?'
“Actually, my lord. I know exactly why he died.” the healer took Khalid's son by the hand and placed it over his father's eyes. With his mind, the healer looked into the eyes of the dead man and brought this vision to the son.
The young man snatched his hand away and reeled, trying to rub away the image burned into his father's retinas. Three letters charred into the delicate tissues, where only a healer could see. Three letters that every prominent man in this part of the world feared. Three letters left as a signature.
(Mechanical pencil on vellum. Background and color added in Photoshop.)