Editor's note: The following story is a standalone, but also a teaser of sorts for upcoming series, so don't worry if you're a bit confused. If you really want details, observe it carefully... if you're not in any big hurry, though, don't worry; you won't miss anything that won't be restated later. Happy reading!
“Close your eyes.”
I take a deep breath as I obey the instruction.
This is it. If I can't reach the dreamworld, everything I've worked for will have been a waste. Not to mention that it would devastate my family. We haven't had a dreamwalker in sixty years; if we don’t get one soon, we will become just another once great clan tossed by the wayside.
“Now, prepare yourself.”
I grit my teeth and wait for the cold touch of the dreamholder’s fingers on my forehead. A few seconds pass in silence, and then his skin brushes against mine. Suddenly I’m falling back and upward into a dream.
Here we go.
When I arrive, I quickly take stock of the situation. It's a fairly normal dream: I'm in my house, my brother and sister are sitting at a table playing some sort of game, and despite the few quirks that always show up in dreams — my mother appears to be juggling geese while washing the dishes — everything looks just as it does in reality.
Everything except one very, very important line of purple light that hovers about six inches above the ground a few feet to my left. The dreampath. I've seen it every night of my life, but I haven't ever been allowed to touch it. Until now.
The dreamholder appears close by and gives me a curt nod. I bite my lip, hesitating for one moment. Then I reach out and take hold of the purple cord.
As soon as my fingers wrap around it, I'm being turned inside out — a disgusting feeling I know quite well from my shapeshifting experience — and sucked upward at the same time. Something grabs me before I rise too high, and trails along behind me, slowing my progress somewhat.
A few seconds later, all of my body parts return to their proper places, and a huge empty plane appears around me. I stop with a jerk and fall the few feet back down to the ground, where I am quickly joined by the dreamholder. He glances around, then turns to me.
“Congratulations,” he says. “You are a dreamwalker.”
Elation bubbles up inside of me, and, as if in response, dozens of golden fountains begin gushing up from the ground all around. The dreamholder, however, begins speaking again before I have time to examine them.
“Before we return, let me remind you that as entering the Second Level for the first time is dangerous, it is unadvisable to—”
He is cut off as he suddenly disappears. I let out a startled cry and leap forward, grabbing the empty air where he'd been a moment before.
I stand for a moment, frozen, before dropping my hand back to my side. I’ve never heard of a dreamwalker vanishing during a test. If it was my fault, somehow… I’d better travel back down, wake up, and find out what happened. But as I turn to grab the dreampath again, a jolt of panic stabs through me.
Nothing in my training has prepared me for this. Dreamholders don’t disappear at random, and the dreampath never leaves a dreamwalker’s side.
I start to wonder if the whole thing is simply a rather elaborate, but altogether normal, dream. Perhaps my test has not even started. Encouraged by that thought, I begin to look around again. The golden fountains are gone, replaced by what look like rain clouds in the distance. The ground below me, I notice for the first time, is a silvery-black, reflective substance. Marble or jade, perhaps.
Thunder claps in the distance. I look up and see the clouds — now huge thunderheads — rolling in at an incredible speed. Alarmed, I turn to look for shelter, but as I do, my foot catches on something and I fall to the ground. I put my arms out to catch myself, but instead of hitting hard stone, they slide right through the ground, followed by the rest of my body.
A moment later, I’m lying on my back in a green field, blinking up into a blue, sunlit sky. Soon my eyes adjust, and I stare up at the sky for several minutes, enjoying the mid-morning sun on my face, until I hear light footfalls approaching. Quickly turning over and scrambling to my feet, I see a beautiful girl, dressed in white and wearing a wreath of yellow flowers in her hair. She smiles and waves as she draws nearer, her golden eyes flashing in the sunlight.
I find myself smiling back. I don’t really know her, but this feels… right, somehow. When she reaches me, her charming smile widens and she holds out her hand. I take it without hesitation, and--
I’m standing on a dais, before a huge crowd. The girl — now a woman — is again standing before me, our hands still clasped. I gaze into her radiant face, barely aware of anything around me, until someone approaches and hands us both one end of an elaborately braided rope.
Instinctively, as if I’ve always known what I was supposed to do next, I help her tie a knot around our hands. Cheering erupts from the crowd, and I step forward--
But now I’m lying on a bed, surrounded by a crowd of young men and women and a few very small children. Glancing to my right, I see my wife. She’s old, but as beautiful as ever. I offer her a smile, and then--
I’m flying. Soaring above the seas, watching the continents flash by beneath me… Sabine… Tenebris — a shiver passes through me as pass over that dark island… Thebel… Vanya… and then I’m not flying through space, but something different… I watch as wars begin and end, kingdoms rise and fall, seas advance and recede.
The images become so quick and blurred that I can no longer decipher what I’m seeing, until suddenly, without warning, it stops. I’m now standing on a dark plain. Everything around me is black; the trees, the flowers, the grass. It hasn’t been burnt, though; there’s no ash. It’s all simply… dead.
Could there possibly be a place in Ildathore this dismal? Tenebris, perhaps, but something tells me I’m on Vanya. I have to know, though… looking up, I see the red sun shining hazily through a thick cloud of dust. Hoping I’m correct in thinking that it is afternoon, I start off in the direction I determine to be east.
I don’t know how long I walk, but the scene never truly changes. Plants, rivers, animals; all dead and dry. It might have been minutes, it might have been months, but finally I reach my destination: the great river. I’ve heard it said that the river of Vanya would not run dry until the ocean was drained. But when I arrive, it’s just the same as all the other rivers I’ve seen: a bone-dry bed of dirt and dust.
Straining my eyes toward the north, I make out what used to be an island. I walk along the bank until I draw even with it and then cross the riverbed. Only when I set foot on the island do I realize that it was once a city; there are enormous buildings, expansive mansions, and intricate statues. All is covered in a thick layer of dust.
A sense of dread builds in my chest as I work my way deeper into the city. Unless I am much mistaken, this is Erith, the capital of Vanya, perhaps the greatest city in the world. Something truly horrific must have happened for it to be abandoned like this.
When I reach the center of the city, I stop. Before me is a great tree, its huge branches spreading high into the sky. It must have been beautiful once, but now it is black and dead like everything else. But no, even more so; huge cracks run up its trunk and along the branches, and it is slanted, a few of its roots sticking up out of the ground. I hope that whatever man or beast had the strength to shift such a tree is no longer nearby.
But from the look of things, I don’t need to worry. There can’t have been anyone in this city for fifty years at the least.
I begin to turn away, but am suddenly filled with an overpowering sorrow, coupled with an urge to touch the tree. I hesitate, but slowly start towards it, as though moved by some unseen force. As I draw close, my hand rises to meet the bark. I take another step, and another, and my finger brushes the dead wood.
A wind like a hurricane picks me up and throws me backward toward the ground. I again feel the strange sensation, like flying, but the space around me as I travel is more dense, somehow, than air. After an indeterminate length of time, I hit the hard ground. I lay there for a moment, eyes closed, pain stabbing through every part of my body. I strain to push myself to my feet, but pause as a light begins to grow somewhere behind my closed eyelids. It is not the hazy red color of before, though, but a warm, yellow, living sunlight.
With tremendous effort, I force my eyes open, and see--
The dreamholder, along with my father and mother, standing over me.
My mother gasps a sigh of relief and seizes my hand. “Son, what happened?”
I stare into her violet eyes, blinking slowly, trying to process the question. When it finally sinks in, I open my mouth to speak, but no words come. Where can I begin?
Written by Elia Tyson
Edited by The Flabbits
Copyright © 2019 by The Flabbit Room
Welcome to The Flabbit Blog! Here you will find writings by the many members of The Flabbit Room, most of which will be set in the world of Ildathore.