The clock struck twelve as the guard stood at the great gate of the Court. It was a night of revelry as lords and ministers entered the grand building, their faces covered by masks of masquerade.
The guard stood there as he watched people passing by. The figures flickered before his eyes. It was a moonless night.
How long had it been?
The clock strikes eleven as the guard stands at the great gate of the Court. It is a great day as people cheer, and as the Ambassador enters the grand building. It bears no mask, its high heels clicking against the marble floor.
The guard stands there as he watches the Ambassador passing by. He does not see it walking. The sun is absent.
The guard wonders how long he has been standing here.
The clock will strike ten as the guard stands at the great gate of the Court. A parade will be coming as people step on the body of their former Lord. It will be the one of the black crown, its mask broken and in pain.
The guard will be standing there as the mob drags the twisted body to the King. It will be a big, endless parade. The black stars will be shining.
He will always be a guard, he will always be remembering to be one, standing there still and proud, watching people passing by, and going through the great gate.
But no. He is not, and will not be proud. He will always be powerless, as he can but only watch.
The clock is striking nine as the guard stands at the great gate of the Court. A lost traveler is running in panic as if to escape from unknown horror. It smells of decay and revelry, as the crowd closes up on the poor soul.
The guard is standing there as the traveler stumbles towards the gate. The traveler is misguided and confused, marching towards the most evil corner. He hears vaguely laughter of crows, coming from the star-shaped holes in the sky.
He is standing here, he is always standing here. But he also remembers other places, the times when he has not yet been a guard. He is standing there as the sun shines, he is standing there as they tell him to come to the castle, he is standing there as he marches towards the palace in excitement and horror, to become a guard of the great gate.
He is standing there, as he is given the mask, and marked by the Dragon. His King is watching from his forever throne.
The clock has struck eight as the guard stood at the great gate of the Court. The street has been empty for a while now, as the Ambassador's laughter came from the Court. It has been arrogant and poisonous, as if sharp teeth clutching together.
The guard has been standing there as the traveler's screams echoed and twisted. There has been no one around, except for those of the Court. The black stars have been moving and shifting.
He has not been remembering, but he knew, he knew that as he has been standing here, something else has happened. He has been standing here as the riot broke out, as the King was dragged out of the castle, as he was beaten and injured. He has been standing here as his ribs were broken and his head was cut off.
He has been standing there, as he was dying, then dead, as he saw the mark of the dragon. But that was before the King started to shriek.
The clock was striking seven, six, five, four, three, two, as the guard stood at the great gate of the Court. But there was no more gate and no more Court. Shrieking and yelping can be heard from deep beneath, as if beasts were feasting and rejoicing.
The guard was standing there as the ground disappeared, as the city became alive and ate its citizens, as blood poured and they all cheered and applauded. The black stars were trembling and screaming.
He was standing there as the King shrieked and shrieked, as the King crawled back to his throne with maggots and decaying flesh, as the King was offered their blood by the jester, and as the King dropped the cup. The jester was laughing, the Court was laughing, the crowds were laughing, the crows were laughing, and he was laughing with them.
The Dragon was laughing in his brass prison, and he witnessed his mark.
The clock has been striking one again and again, as the guard stood at the great gate of the Court. But he has been standing on no ground but fractured ruins; he has been watching no gate but a hole, in the shape of an absent god.
The Guard has been standing there, his body of mere bones, his mask bloodied and broken, and his soul long been snatched by the King's gripping claws. The black stars have not been there.
He has been standing there, in the city, when it was upside down and inside out, and everything was twisted and remade. The dead have been walking and parading all this time, and the abominations have been ruling this twisted land.
But he has been standing there, as he saw things he should not, as he faced the blood river and the absence of god, and looked into the madness of the Dragon.
The clock shall strike zero, and the guard and the gate shall no longer be there. The King shall be hanged dead and the Dragon shall emerge again. The clock shall point to zero, and all shall end.