He couldn’t have left it well alone. Of all the screw ups in his life, Jupp was pretty sure that this one topped them all. Scratch that. He was absolutely positive, that this moment, standing on this hill, staring at what little was left of the city he’d grown up in, was the most screwed up, screw up he’d ever had the misfortune to be part of.
He should have know better than to release something that could survive for centuries in a sealed container. He should have know better than to go rooting through the back room of Old Man Iron’s workshop when he should have been anywhere but there. He should have know better than to steal the jar that quite clearly stated it wasn’t to be opened under any circumstances lest great tragedy and doom befall the land.
Jupp was an idiot and he realised that fully.
‘Well the temple is still standing at least, perhaps the gods are with us.’ Gamin pointed towards the slightly singed marble structure near the outskirts of the city. Ringed by the Omas river, the temple stood apart from the slums surrounding it and had been spared from the worst of the fires. Jupp wasn’t convinced that its survival had anything to do with the gods, more likely it the universe’s black humour, keeping the only place more depressing and miserable that the city itself standing, while the rest was burnt or turned to rubble.
‘We should do something.’ What that something was Jupp wasn’t sure but looking down at the ruins from a hill outside the city wasn’t doing anyone any good.
‘And how exactly do you propose we help?’ asked Gamin. ‘You read that urn, once the creature takes hold of someone he’s in them until that vessel dies. There’s no way to get him back in that jar now the seal has been broken and there’s no way to stop an ancient entity capable of destroying cities within an hour. You and I my friend should be thinking about getting as far away from here as possible, as quickly as possible.’
‘What if it follows us?’
‘That is quite possible I’ll admit, but it doesn’t change the fact that staying here will get us killed. Unlike you I’m keen to try and prolong my life as much as possible so while you guilt-trip over this lost cause, I’m heading for the Amarth border and seeing if I can sneak across it while no one is looking.’
Jupp shook his head. ‘They’ll kill you on sight. Amarth hates druids, even halflings.’
‘Then I better find myself a disguise,’ Gamin snorted. ‘It’s not like you have a better plan.’
‘Perhaps,’ said Jupp quietly. The weight in his jacket pocket seemed to burn.
‘What? Ask this creature nicely if it would mind leaving the world alone and going back into the jar that it spent the last millennium trapped in? You are mad.’
Jupp bit his lip and stayed quiet.
‘We should run, the sooner the better,’ said Gamin. ‘The longer we stand around the less chance we have of getting away from this chaos.’
‘Gamin.’ Jupp put his hand in his pocket and pulled out the pocket watch that had been next to the jar in Old Man Iron’s workshop and flinched at Gamin sucked in a sharp breath.
‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no.’ Gamin shook his head violently and retreated from the object. ‘No way am I messing with one of those. They’re temperamental at the best of times and if you got that where I think you got it then I don’t want to imagine what nonsense is protecting it from tampering. My eyebrows Jupp, my beautiful eyebrows! And that was just because I touched the edge of that jar.’
‘You said yourself that those sort of things wear off after time.’
‘Which is why I’m not dead!’
‘Well the same might be true for this,’ said Jupp holding the pocket watch out. ‘It’s probably harmless even if a spell was cast on it, and we don’t have much of a choice.’
‘Yes we do. There are always choices Jupp, we can ignore all of this and run, that is a very real, very viable choice. Using that and trying to go back in time is a very dangerous, not so viable choice.’
‘We could save the city.’
‘It’s not saving if you were the one who caused it in the first place!’
‘Please,’ said Jupp. ‘Please Gamin, I need your help with this.’
Gamin opened his mouth to protest but instead he crumpled. ‘Fine. But if I end up three hundred years in the past then I’m going to feed you to the King’s menagerie.’ He took the pocket watch gingerly, holding the chain between his finger and thumb. ‘Try not to screw up this time.’
He touched the centre of the watch and muttered a sentence that Jupp couldn’t quite hear.
‘Is it working?’ he asked, leaning in closer to see what Gamin was up to.
The centre of the watch began to glow, and the glow grew until the whole watch was alight.
‘Stand back,’ Gamin warned, ‘this could be-‘
The watch exploded and Jupp flew back, his head connecting with the ground with a crack. For a split second pain blossomed, and then everything went black.
A boot connected with Jupp’s rib, echoing the sharp pain shooting around his skull from the back of his head.
‘What do you think your doing outside my shop eh?’
Jupp peeled open his eyelids and groaned at the light. Above him a blurry figure glowered at him, the colours wavering as he continued to yell.
‘Get up you lazy sod. Get out of here! You’re messing up the sidewalk.’
Jupp scrambled to his feet, trying to piece together what had happened. Gamin, the city, destruction. The world was still swaying but he could see a little clearer and he realised that the man yelling at him was Old Man Iron.
‘You deaf or something!’ snapped the old man. ‘Off with you!’
Trying to mumble an apology, Jupp stumbled away from him, falling into the wall as he went. He clung to the wall for balance and angled himself for what looked like it might be a road to the city’s main square.
Gamin did it he thought. They saved the city.
His stomach threaten to work it’s way up his throat and Jupp doubled up, retching onto the pavement.
They saved the city, he reminded himself. He helped save the city.
‘He should have known better than to release something that could survive for centuries in a sealed container.’