The only thing in his mind. The only thing he seemed sure of anymore.
He heard them scrambling into the corridor, fighting, howling to be the first to enter the dim hallway. Clawing, hissing, biting at each other as they came for him.
The air was close and stale. It had been trapped between the thick stone walls for time untold, and it wanted to get out. It didn’t like this intruder who had dared to breach its aged fortress. It would force him out to his pursuers. It swirled and disturbed the fetid dust from its rest. It tried to escape around the door.
But it couldn’t. Not yet. He had sealed the heavy door behind him and sat with his back against it. It would hold the air in — for now.
Not that it would matter, once they found it.
He glanced down at the ground beside him. The remains of a candle lay at his feet, silently keeping him company in the dark chamber. A fragile wisp of smoke still curled up from the charred wick. He had put out the infant flame before he had heard them coming. There was no need to give them a light to follow, when they could smell his path in the dark.
The scratching and growling grew louder. He heard them outside the door, snorting and hissing and sniffing just outside the door, just ten inches from his reluctantly beating heart.
There was a hard thump as one of them struck at the door. He heard wood creak and splinter on the other side.
It almost seemed to be smiling at him, welcoming him into its cold embrace.
He wondered how long it would take. How long he would last before he pleaded for the end. How long after that before they would finally give it.
He heard another thump. A piece of the rough wood fell from the door and into his lap.
There was a moment of eager growling and whining as the rest of them realized that the door was giving way. The sound of his low, steady breathing synced with the relentless pounding as they all joined the attack.
A crack split the wood behind him. Some of the air escaped while it could.
The scent of his lingering life maddened them. Hisses and shrieks blended into a howling rage and wafted through the widening crack.
Blood from the wound in his side seeped through his tunic. It trickled down to the floor and pooled in a dark, calm circle on the cold stone. He made no move to stem its flow. He had hoped to bleed to death before they found the corridor.
So much for hope.
One more loud thump, and the door shattered down the middle. Cool air burst in from the outside corridor — and so did they.
He could hear their eager screams rush through the opening just before they did.
He closed his eyes.