Nightmare Chapter 6

By Kris Kramer

A Rise of Cithria story

 

Chapter 6 (of 6)

Read – Chapter 1Chapter 2 – Chapter 3 – Chapter 4 – Chapter 5

Alayna stepped quickly through the tall grass, fate driving her through a distant, lightly-trod forest path blanketed in darkness. Clouds covered the sky, blocking out the moonlight and the stars, giving them cover as they’d crossed the river and began their trek to the castle’s secret entrance. A good omen, she thought, although, not without its problems. The men in front her, Centnar Sevris and Decnar Joah, were little more than black silhouettes bobbing left and right through the unseen brush, navigating the path with ease. Alayna stumbled occasionally on a branch or a rock, but she handled it much better than Gunnar, who seemed to trip on something every third step. After a while, she’d taken to holding his arm to help steady him.

Twenty-four soldiers followed the two priests, walking in a single file line as they left the protection of the forest and approached the small millhouse nestled at the base of the wide hill ahead. Alayna had seen the place a hundred times in her youth. The stonework marked it as Thandaran, as did the long, crumbling wall in front that stretched out along the northern base of the hill – the remains of the actual breakwall the town was named after. Legend told that the wall had once circled the entire hill, built as a defense by the Thandaran general Verterax against the native Anduains over five hundred years ago. With that wall, the Thandarans held off wave after wave of Anduain savages in a battle that lasted an entire summer. Their victory helped secure a foothold in Andua, and led to the rebirth of the island as Caldera.

She had no idea that mill, a fixture of her childhood and a source of pride for Breakwall, sat on top of a secret tunnel leading into the castle. A tunnel that, according to Gunnar, had been built to allow former lords of Breakwall to ferry secret consorts in and out. It somehow cheapened the city’s history.

A wide creek wove along the side of the hill which was funneled into a narrow, man-made ravine that pushed the water underneath the mill, driving the slow-moving wheels that at one time ground flour and cut wood. The water still flowed, but the wheels were in disrepair, as all of the mill’s operations had long since moved into the town along the river bank. No one lived or worked in that place anymore, and hadn’t for hundreds of years. Which, as Gunnar had explained, made it a fantastic secret entrance.

They entered through the front door, which creaked loudly upon opening. Once inside, Sevris motioned everyone to stay where they were as he fashioned a torch, then stepped into the storeroom and crouched down next to the back wall. He reached his hand into what looked like a large mouse hole on the floor. A twist of his arm produced a loud click, followed a moment later by the middle of the floor dropping away. Alayna gasped as a dark hole appeared only a few feet in front of her. Sevris stuck his torch into the hole and peered over. After a quick check, he lowered his legs into the abyss, and then climbed down on an unseen ladder.

Joah followed, and then Gunnar. Alayna went next, doing her best to ignore the slippery residue on the rungs. The ladder went down a few dozen steps before depositing her onto a damp, rocky floor amidst the others. Water from the creek seeped down the walls, disappearing into recesses below she couldn’t even imagine. Sevris had already moved down a narrow tunnel, lighting torches that lined the walls. Gunnar followed, motioning Alayna to do the same.

“You go ahead,” Joah said, giving her a gentle nudge on her shoulder. “I’m staying behind to make sure the rest of these ladies follow us to our doom.”

He grinned, and she forced a wan smile in return before following the sentinel into the long tunnel. The air was warm and thick with moisture, making it hard to breathe. Sweat beaded up all over her skin and she constantly wiped the sleeve of her robe across her forehead as the stepped gingerly on the slick floor. Every sound carried from one end of the tunnel to other. It struck Alayna as odd that no footstep, grunt, cough, or whisper went unheard. She supposed secret didn’t have to mean quiet.

She marveled at how fate had led her here. She was sneaking into Breakwall Castle, to kidnap the Lady of Breakwall, a woman who had once been as close to her as a sister. Alayna’s father had been the town’s dock master, but both her parents had died when she was young and Lord Morgantin took her in. She’d always assumed he’d done it mostly to give his daughter an extra plaything, but she never held that against him. She’d enjoyed growing up in the castle, her and Violet running through the opulent halls at night, handmaidens chasing after them with threats of whippings, or worse. Violet never let her forget that she was essentially a princess and Alayna only an orphaned dock master’s daughter, but they were young and carefree and she never took the insult seriously.

That changed once they became teenagers, and Violet took on more of her courtly responsibilities. They grew apart quickly, wanting different things and taking wildly different routes to get them. But she still cared for Violet. She still thought of her as a sister, if an estranged one. And she had to wonder, how much of this was her own fault? If she hadn’t fought that creature so harshly back in the caves, he could have taken her instead of Violet, and Breakwall wouldn’t have suffered. She’d have gladly sacrificed herself for her people. That was her responsibility as a war priest, and it was doubly so as a citizen of Breakwall. She only wished she’d known at the time what was at stake, because she might not get another chance.

Eventually, a brick wall blocked their way, with a narrow iron grate in the center. Sevris waited as the rest of his ragtag army caught up, then lifted a thick latch set in the grate. It clinked loudly, echoing far down the tunnel and then back again, and Alayna winced. No one else seemed to be nervous, though, so she forced herself to be calm.

They stepped through the grate and into a room with stone walls that matched the build of the castle above. Sevris led them through a door at the far end and down a hallway that ended at a circular stairwell that looped up a good forty feet before disappearing through the ceiling. The centnar held a finger to his lips and carefully climbed to the top.

Alayna held her breath as her own steps brought her closer to the castle proper, where bustling servants and curious guards could be found around every corner. Would they have to fight to get to Violet’s room? Would they have to kill or hurt anyone who accidently stumbled upon their little army? She hoped not. She prayed silently to the Goddess, begging Her to get them through this with as little bloodshed as possible.

The ladder ended in another storeroom with wide, barren shelves, save for small trails of grain and flour. Sevris had already opened the door and Alayna almost didn’t recognize the kitchens beyond. They were empty and lifeless, devoid not only of people, but also of food, barrels, and cooking utensils. A stark contrast to the lively, bustling place she remembered as a child.

The men congregated near the storeroom as they came up the ladder, although Sevris sent a few to monitor the three doors leading out to two hallways and the dining chamber. Each one indicated with a shake of their head that no one was near. Once everyone had reached the kitchen, Sevris motioned to Joah.

“Take your men and bar all the outer doors. I don’t want to be surprised by a night watchman or a servant who might be wandering the halls. Once you do that, set up patrols to watch the halls between here and the back stairs, to cover our escape. When we leave, I want to do it fast. And quiet.”

Joah motioned to some of the soldiers nearby and hurried off. Alayna watched with some trepidation as he disappeared through one of the doors, taking half the men with him. She suddenly felt naked, wandering about the castle in the middle of the night, like a thief, with only ten men to watch her instead of over twenty.

The rest of them filed into one of the halls, their pace quickening until they reached a wide, stone staircase at the back of the castle that led to the bedchambers above. They moved up to the third floor, where Sevris again signaled them to stop.

“We split up here,” he whispered to his waiting men. “Dirk, take five men and check the Lady’s old room. I’ll take the rest and go to the lord’s chambers. She could be in either one, but if you find her, make sure you keep her tied up and gagged and then bring her here. We rally here with the Lady, and then we make a run for the tunnel.”

Dirk nodded and left with his men, splitting the number in half once again. Alayna and Gunnar followed Sevris and his remaining four soldiers toward the lord’s chambers, the floors and walls bare and bereft of any adornment. Again, nothing like what she remembered. Her heart thudded in her chest as they approached the double door leading to the lord’s chambers. Except for that horrible dream, she hadn’t seen Violet in over six years. Would she still have some semblance of her old self? Would she even look the same? The creature’s true form, revealed to her in that original nightmare back in the caves, sent a chill down her spine. Even more so because she’d seen Violet herself morph into the creature. That image suddenly seemed far too fitting.

Sevris paused at the door, gathering his men to charge in without any hesitation. He opened the door and rushed inside, followed by the other four soldiers. Alayna and Gunnar went in last, only to stop at the sight of an empty room, dust outlines on the walls and floors signaling where furniture had once been. A single, half-melted candle sat on the center of the floor, it and Sevris’s torch providing the only buffer against the all-encompassing darkness.

“She’s not here,” Alayna said. She let out the breath she’d been holding, and the tension eased from her shoulders. Dirk and his men would have to do the hard part of taking Violet by force, tying her up, and dragging back to the meeting point. Alayna was quietly grateful for that.

“Maybe you aren’t looking hard enough.”

Alayna spun to see a female figure standing in the doorway leading to the sitting room. The woman stepped through with purpose, the candlelight quickly revealing the pale skin, black hair, and calculating smile of Lady Violet. She wore riding clothes under a thick, red coat, along with leather boots and gloves. They hadn’t caught her sleeping. They’d caught her just about to leave.

“Violet,” Alayna whispered. “Is that… you?”

Violet pretended to look offended.

“Who else would it be, dear? Don’t you recognize me?”

Alayna’s heart went cold. She recognized exactly who she was speaking to.

Sevris stepped to the front. “If it is you, Lady Violet, then you wouldn’t object to joining us in Corendar, where the Church can make sure of that.”

Violet’s smile faded, and she eyed the men in the room like a snake sizing up mice for dinner.

“This place reminds me of my home.” She stepped deliberately to the center of the room, throwing a dissatisfied glance across the empty walls. “If not for the light from the candle and your torch, we’d be standing here in near total blackness, unable to see each other, our minds racing to imagine the worst horrors possible stalking us in the dark. But that torch, or a single candle on the floor,” she leaned over to pick it up, holding it close to her face, “illuminates everything, casting aside the horrors we imagine for those we can no longer deny.”

The smile returned.

“Let’s not pretend anymore, shall we? I know what you’ve been told by Alayna and Gunnar, and I know how much you want to believe in their words. That makes this so much easier for you, doesn’t it? It gives you a reason to act against me, without sacrificing your honor, or turning you into outright brigands.”

She held out her arms.

“Well, if it makes you feel better, then it’s all true. I am far more than just Lady Violet, the lord of Breakwall. I am the ruler of a realm none of you feeble, weak-minded beasts can even fathom. Where I come from, I am a god, and I have every intention of making that true here.” She examined her fingernails, as if bored by the conversation. “It’s already happening. The longer I stay in this realm, the stronger I become in it. The more I can make it mine, just as I do to your dreams.”

Gunnar coughed. “No more of that, my Lady. The Church sentinels and inquisitors will be busy for some time investigating your claims, which you can tell them all about in person.”

Violet glared at the sentinel, then sniffed.

“You.” She pointed at the man at the far left. “Your name is Alec. You have a wife here in the city who begged you to see reason when you questioned her desire to serve me. She’s carrying your first child, and you want nothing more than to find her and drag her out of here. You only serve this man,” she motioned to Sevris, “as long as you think he can help you with that. Otherwise, you’d have done the same to her as you’re about to do to me.”

Alec’s eyes darted back and forth between Violet and Sevris.

“She’s lying.”

Violet frowned. “Alec, you let me into your dreams eight days ago, and you never pushed me out. I see everything inside of you now. More than that, I own everything inside of you.” She pointed at the soldier standing next to Alec. “Kill him, Alec, and I’ll return you to your wife.”

Alec slowly drew his sword, but his hand shook. Sweat poured down his face. Alayna couldn’t tell if he was fighting Violet, or himself.

Sevris dropped his torch to the floor and pulled his own sword. “Don’t do it, Alec.” The rest of the men followed suit, all of them turning to surround the suddenly isolated Alec.

“I… I can’t…”

“Alec,” Violet said, reprimanding him, “I’m not convinced you want to see your wife at all.”

Alec’s expression went blank, as if he were seeing something in his mind. Suddenly, his face twisted into horror and he charged the man next to him, who defended himself just as furiously. The others came to his aid, while Gunnar grabbed Alayna’s arm and pulled her out of the fray. Within moments, the rest of the men had disarmed Alec, and two held his arms tightly while he struggled against them like a rabid dog.

“You. Richard.” Violet pointed at another of the men. “Do the same. Kill the others.”

Richard looked at Sevris and the other soldiers, his eyes wide with fear as he pointed his sword at them.

“Stop it!” Alayna shouted. Violet turned to her, and Richard froze.

“Are you impressed, Alayna? I couldn’t do this when we first met. Now, it’s almost too easy. It makes me yearn for the days when some of you actually stood up to me.”

Alayna stepped forward, shrugging off Gunnar’s attempts to hold her back. “Violet! I know you’re in there. I know you can hear me. You have to fight this monster that’s controlling you. It’s doing terrible things in your name, but you can cast it out, just like I did. I know you’re strong enough!”

Violet smirked. “It’s not about strength anymore, my lovely. It’s about desire. Violet is getting everything she ever wanted. She will be the face of a goddess. Remembered forever as the woman who united all the peoples of this world into one. In fact,” Violet raised a hand, pointing at Gunnar, “she’s eager to get this over with.”

Gunnar’s eyes bulged and he cried out in terror at some unseen being before him. It lasted only a moment before he crumpled to the ground, cradling himself and moaning. Richard, held at bay by Violet’s speech, leapt into the fray, attacking the two prone soldiers, before Sevris cut him off. Alayna ignored the fighting and ran to Gunnar. She couldn’t get into his head to help. She had no skill with Domination, yet, only healing. So in a panic she did the only thing she could do. She cast a healing spell to soothe the sentinel. His agitation seemed to lessen but he was still unresponsive to anything she said.

Alayna glanced back to see that Sevris had disarmed Richard, and was pinning him to the ground.

“Sevris!” she called out. The centnar glanced at her, only barely looking away from Richard, who still struggled mightily. “We need to get her before she hurts anyone else!”

Violet laughed. “Get me? You have this all backward, my dear. I know everything that’s happened in this castle tonight, or in your caves this morning. I was in Gunnar’s head the entire time, listening to every word as you planned your attack. I’ve been waiting here all night for you to show up, just so I can tie off every last loose thread from this little adventure. You won’t be getting me. I will be getting you.”

She glanced at Sevris, who blinked a few times, as if just remembering where he was. Without warning, he plunged his sword into Richard’s chest, who squealed like a stuck pig. Alayna cried out in horror, but it made no difference as the centnar turned to the other soldiers and attacked. Distracted as they all were, he cut them down easily. Killing each man with simple, precise strikes. Once they were dead, Alayna watched in horror as the bloodied warrior turned to face her.

“Now the sentinel,” Violet commanded. “Leave the girl.”

Sevris stepped toward them, and Alayna moved to stand in front of Gunnar, heedless of the danger.

“Don’t listen to her! She’s controlling you!”

Sevris paused, his eyes narrowing.

“Do it now,” Violet said, a hint of annoyance in her voice.

“Be strong,” Alayna said. “Remember who you are, what you care about. Think of your honor.”

Sevris remained still. He stared at Alayna, but it wasn’t her he saw. He’d retreated back into his mind. He was fighting the nightmare. Alayna froze, silently praying to the Goddess that he was winning.

“No!” Sevris suddenly shouted. He turned and charged across the room, reaching Violet in four long strides. He grabbed her, then spun around behind, clutching her with one arm and holding his sword to her throat with the other. Violet dropped the candle, which rolled across the floor and settled in the corner. For the first time tonight, her face showed true fear.

“You’re coming with us, my Lady,” Sevris growled.

Violet squirmed in his iron grip, finding no recourse. She went still, and locked her eyes on Alayna, who felt a deathly chill in her bones.

“Ilsan,” Violet said calmly. “I need you.”

A man appeared from the sitting room, having hidden there this entire time. He wore loose, black clothing that covered every part of him, including a hood wrapped over the top of his head and a facemask that revealed only his cold, dark eyes.

He darted out from the doorway and Alayna caught a flash of steel in his hands as he charged straight at Sevris. The centnar turned, trying to use Violet as a shield but Ilsan was too fast. The black-clad man ducked around the lady and jabbed his blades into Sevris’ side. Sevris cried out, pushing Violet away so he could face his attacker properly, but it was already too late. Ilsan darted in again, his hands moving faster than Alayna thought possible. A moment later, he retreated from the centnar, who stared down at his bloody torso in shock.

“Aron?” she said.

Sevris’ mouth fell open, but no words came out. He looked up, his face wrenched with pain, and pointed his sword straight out. He managed a single shaky step toward Ilsan, who regarded the soldier coolly. Before he could take a second, though, he dropped to his knees, his sword clanging to the floor.

“No!” Alayna cried out. Sevris’ eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he toppled to the ground, moments from death.

Violet calmly adjusted her coat. “Now the sentinel.”

Ilsan moved toward Gunnar. Alayna ran to stop him but a quick punch to her gut dropped her to the floor, struggling to catch her breath. By the time she looked up, Ilsan had already cut Gunnar’s throat.

She tried to scream, but there was nothing left in her lungs. Instead, she coughed and sputtered, wheezing to get some air.

“Hold her.” Violet’s voice. “Don’t hurt her.”

Ilsan’s iron hand clamped down on the back of her neck, pinning her to the floor with incredible strength. She struggled at first, before giving up entirely. What else was there to do? Violet approached her slowly, then leaned over and grabbed Alayna’s chin, lifting it up to look her in the eyes.

“It was a valiant effort, my friend. You continue to not let me down. But your fight is over. I’m leaving now. I don’t know where, yet, but it will be somewhere quiet. Out of the way. Without an oppressive king or church looking over my shoulder. When I find that place, I will start over. My new followers will build me a home, a home that will grow along with my power over the minds of men. My home will turn into a kingdom, and then an empire. When I return to this island – and I will return – it will be at the head of an army of millions. I will be more than a god. I will be the God. I will rule this world. And then… I will abandon it for a new pleasure.”

Violet stroked her old friend’s hair.

“I want you to know that I won’t kill you, Alayna. I respect you. I have since the very beginning. So much so that I’ve chosen you to bear the responsibility of knowing that I will cover this world like a blight, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”

Violet leaned in close to whisper in Alayna’s ear.

“What good is a nightmare, if no one is left to suffer it?”

Violet let go of her, and Alayna’s head dropped in defeat. The Lady of Breakwall left, followed by the silent Ilsan. Alayna sat on the barren floor, hunched over, weeping, as their footsteps echoed softly through the hallway, eventually fading away entirely. Only then did she dare to move from her spot, crawling over to Gunnar’s body and cradling his head in her lap.

She cried for some time.

Finally, she rose, her tears spent, and she ventured out of the room, Sevris’ torch in one hand, his sword in the other. She wandered the castle, tentative at first, waiting for another nightmare to spring out from the darkness. But none came. Emboldened, she explored, finding only empty hallways and bare rooms, the only sound her own footsteps. She found more dead soldiers, men Sevris had sent off. She didn’t find all of them – Joah was missing, along with a few others – but she found enough.

She went to the courtyard, and then through the open gate. The town below was dark and lifeless. The streets were empty. The houses abandoned. Nothing was left. No one remained save for two dogs that watched her curiously from the door of the tailor’s shop.

She went to the dock and looked downriver, seeing only the faint glow of light from a distant boat, just before it disappeared around the bend. That was the ship that carried Violet – her body if not her mind – off to some unknown land, where she would cultivate the terrible power inside her.

Until the moment she came back to terrorize them all.

There were no stars, and Alayna remember how she’d thought that was a good omen when they first set out that night. Now, it only added to her crushing loneliness. She sat down on the dock and stared at nothing, losing herself in the still, silent darkness that surrounded her.

Her nightmare had only just begun.

 

***

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Nightmare Chapter 1

By Kris Kramer

A Rise of Cithria story

 

Chapter 1 (of 6)

I see everything now.

For eons, I ruled a domain void of light and color, consigned by my jailers to a place where darkness bred horrors too twisted to imagine. I knew no peace, because my subjects screamed and wailed in terror, begging for release from their hellish existence. I felt no warmth, for there was none to be had in a realm without soul.

My world was dark. Lonely. But it was my home.

My life.

My prison.

Then the lights appeared. They came to me like distant stars twinkling through the veil of a night sky, a comparison I’d forgotten until a short time ago. They never lasted long, many times winking out of existence before I could reach them with my clumsy and overeager hands. But still I sprang at each new light, desperate to discover what treasures lay hidden beyond. Occasionally, I found one that lingered long enough for me to finally see what I’d so long been denied.

A glimpse into another world.

I exulted at the chance to stare through these windows into the minds of creatures who lived and breathed and died under clear blue skies, walking on soft green grass, surrounded by others of their kind. They laughed by roaring fires, the light gleaming off of their metal clothes and tools. They ate hot food and drank frothy cold drinks with each other, praying, crying, touching each other’s warm skin. They stopped to watch water running through a brook, or down a waterfall. They smelled colorful flowers and danced to cheerful music. They stared at the distant horizon, or gazed at the night sky, which reminded me too much of my own world, but also gave me a sense of camaraderie with people I did not know.

Through these windows I watched, and heard, and felt, and experienced what it was like to be part of this beautiful new world.

And I envied them all.

They call them dreams. As they slumber, they imagine their own world in their minds, but with a twist. Some things are less, others are more. They describe it as a warped mirror, an imitation of their own reality. Others believe them to be visions of the future, or lessons from the past.

For me, dreams are unadulterated joy.

I slip into those dreams, and I look around in awe, like a child watching a prism. But just like a child, I start to touch things, and when I touch things, they change. They grow black, diseased. They crumble. They twist into something that induces terror in the dreamer’s mind, and delight in mine. When I do this to their dream, they give it a different name.

Nightmare.

*

I was clumsy in my first attempts, but after some time I knew what to look for, and I slipped from dream to dream with practiced movements and effortless grace. But still, they faded away so quickly that I never managed to truly know the people of this world.

But then, something changed. Thousands of new dreamers appeared to me, all at once, and they didn’t wink away after a few moments. I’ve learned much about these new dreamers. They come from all corners of an island called Caldera, though a few have different names for it. Andua. Sudmark. Elegant names, and fiercely espoused by the people who live there. I know the island well. I’ve seen its great cities – Corendar, Tan Arbrel, Casuuld – as well as its villages, where people live and work and farm. Some train their bodies to use weapons, so that they can slay their enemies. Others tap into The Remains, which they call magic, and they use it to reshape their reality, just as I reshape their dreams. But one thing common to them all is war. They prepare for it, fear it, embrace it, despise it.

These are not their dreams, though. Not dreams of their own making. Merely a facet of their thoughts that works to keep them docile in their reality. An interesting trick, and one I make sure to remember.

Some of them use their magic to create dreams for others, keeping them imprisoned in their own minds. They call themselves Nameless, although many of them have a name, a holdover from the laws of their gods who, strangely enough, do not dream. Ever. These Nameless learned the magic from an outsider, a trick called Domination, and they’ve cultivated it ever since.

I care little for their motivations, only that they are successful.

They do not understand the pleasure they’ve given me. I visit each one, careful not to touch anything. I only observe, searching for the handhold that lets me grab on and stay. The strong ones can throw me out of their dream, no matter how much I hold on. The weaker ones submit to my touch, but only if I come to them in a form they can accept. Then, I can do what I want, and stay as long as I choose, and the longer I stay, the more I learn.

At first, I wanted only to join them, to live amongst them in a world full of light and color. But would I have power in their realm? In their dreams, I can do as I wish. Would I be as powerful if I had substance? I did not know the truth of this question, though I suspected the answer to be promising. I needed to find a way into their world, and I would have to do so through the dreams. But people only dream when they’re asleep, or unmoving. Useless to me in my endeavor. But I did not give up, and after much searching, my persistence was rewarded.

I discovered a way to stay with them, even after the dream ended.

*

Her name was Alayna. She was the last one I tested before finding my true way into their world.

My journey had taken me through a large number of soldiers and their holy men, Calderans who called themselves Esteran mostly. Some of them were priests who worshipped a goddess with no name, and learned magic that let them heal and strengthen their fellow warriors. They came from other areas, lands with names like the Red Hills, Venria, Brinwall.

Alayna was a priest from a place called Breakwall, the name for both a town and the castle that lorded over it, in a county called Artora. Breakwall was close to Corendar, the gleaming white city I’d seen in so many other dreams, the city that lured me like a moth to a flame. Alayna had visited there, and she dreamed of it again when I found her. That’s what drew me to her initially, the chance to revel in the glory of Caldera’s magnificent capitol city.

But it was Breakwall that made me stay.

“You’ll never amount to much out there. The Didachs will treat you like a commoner.”

The words of Alayna’s friend, Violet. She was angry, and she showed it through insults and derision. A common trait of these people. In her dream, Alayna walked through a garden in Corendar with her friend, sharing last words before leaving to join the Church that was ever-present in the dreams of many Calderans.

“How I’m treated doesn’t matter to me as much as how I treat others. That is the way of the Church and its healers.”

“Pathetic.” Violet’s anger grew. She craved power, and control. Alayna did not. Perhaps that’s why I was intrigued by her. “The Church is the refuge of peasants and lesser born. Why would you associate with that?”

“Because I enjoy helping people.”

Alayna blamed the other girl for her troubles. They were friends once, but no longer. Violet had become distant and petty once the carefree days of childhood left her. Alayna, meanwhile, had seen the horrors of the world and wanted to mend the scars her people scratched upon it. The enmity between them drove Alayna away from their home, to this cavern, where she healed the soldiers fighting their war against Andua and a place called Bergmark.  I reached out with my hand, caressing the tension between the two girls as it writhed between my fingers.

“Helping yourself, I think.”

“Violet! How can you say that?”

“Who’s really benefitting from this, Alayna? People who deserve to die already, or you, who gets to think she’s saving the world? The Goddess Reborn.”

Alayna’s eyes somehow grew larger, and she saw her friend in a new light, one that revealed every dark spot in Violet’s heart. Something about that look intrigued me, and in my race to understand it, I became Violet. I wanted to see Alayna’s eyes on me, and feel her wretched disgust with what her friend had turned into. Humans despise that feeling, but to me, every emotion they experience is the sweetest dessert.

“Who are you?”

At first, I think she’s asking the question of Violet. But then I realize the truth. My touch has corrupted the vision, and Violet is now something less than human. Alayna has seen through the illusion. Few people are so quick to sense my intrusion. She’s much stronger than I thought.

I am Violet, I told her. I am your friend. Love me, as you do her, and you will see the truth.

Alayna backed away, and the garden around her disappeared. Suddenly, she was back in that cave, only now the torches on the walls rage, spewing torrents of flame all around us.

“No,” she says, reaching for the sword that suddenly appeared at her side. “You’re lying. You’re not Violet.”

My touch is now toxic for her. Stone rises from the floor between us as her will pushed me away. She’s exceptionally strong in this realm. I break it apart as fast as it comes, but we both know the effort of taking her is too much. Not when there are so many who will embrace me far more willingly. The image of Violet fades away, and as I drift off to my realm, I show her my true form. Her panic is palpable.

“You’re a-a-a monster!” she screamed. “A nightmare!”

Yes. Nightmare. That is not my true name, but it is a name I embrace, for you have given it to me. You and your people, who perform for me, and provide the only light in my world, have bestowed upon me a title reserved only for the most fearsome of things.

That is what you think of me. Therefore, that is what I will be when I find my way through the dreams and into your world. Where I will stay. And where you will know me as a new god.

“No! You’re not real. Your words are lies!”

I am not real. But your fear is. The terror that claws its way into your heart is no less true than my words. I am not in your world, but I will be. All I must do is find a suitable host. And now I have.

“What?” she asked. “What does that mean?!”

I left her, retreating back into my domain slowly, so I could hear her screams as she begged to know who I would take next.

She would figure it out soon. But by then, she would be too late.

 

*****

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