(Reed’s Song of the Day: Dead Man’s Party, by Oingo Boingo)
Finally, y’all. Thanks to two very helpful alpha readers and a disgusting amount of looking at four pages of writing, I can bring you this.
(It’s not even the full chapter. It’s just the first half.)
A warm mist obscured the dreamscape in every direction. It blanketed the ground like a dirty silver snowfall, never rising above knee height, perpetually shifting and flowing. It seemed to have a sort of sentience in its movement as it wormed through the young woman’s legs like a stream between logs.
The woman, barely more than a girl, inaled dead air and observed her surroundings. In the timeless and occluded place known as Draumir, there were few landmarks by which a person could get their bearings; of these, she only cared for one – not the floating semi-illusory Temples in the sky to her left, nor the Ruined City behind, but the border in front of her. At a point several days’ ride away, the mist ascended towards the moon, dragging up dust and dirt as it went. It bisected the dreamscape completely, an infinite waterfall pouring up instead of down.
The girl leaned forward to let her fingertips skim the pale outer perimeter of her aura. A soft sphere extending outside her in all directions for a few feet, it shimmered occasionally when the light caught it but was otherwise invisible. However, as she pressed her fingers against it, there was a minor disturbance; the whole thing pulsed and became opaque.
Her fingers curled around the aura and she felt a sort of pressure against her grip. She brought her other hand to join the first, both of them facing away from each other. The mist border beckoned to her.
She pulled her aura apart.
It wasn’t a single movement – more a struggle. As she wrenched her hands away from each other, a small hole opened up in the center of her aura. Stray flecks of light bounced from it at odd angles, causing it to sparkle and waver. Through the hole she could more clearly see the mist border rising steadily into the air.
She pulled harder on her aura, widening the hole to a crack. The aura resisted her straining arms, sparking almost angrily at the perturbation. Still, its inertia couldn’t best her tenacity and it continued to open. At the point where it was wide enough for her to wiggle through sideways, she did so; a small sigh of relief left her as she let the aura go. After a moment, it reformed around her.
She’d travelled a great distance in a single warp. Whereas before the mist border had been visible in its entirety, she now could not see the top even if she craned her neck. It stood massive as a thunderhead and twice as dark, casting a pall over the land for a distance too vast to comprehend; now that she was close, she could see dust particles from the other side mingling with the mist and tinting it to dusk.
Her heart beat a rhythm in her chest. She stepped closer to the mist until the silvery brown curtain was inches from her face. As her aura came into contact with the border, it dimmed and flickered like a guttering candle, and for a moment the girl’s breath caught in her throat.
After a long moment of struggle, the aura seemed to solidify a bit more and it pushed back the mist, carving a dent into the mist wall and allowing her to see a tiny bit into the space beyond.
The girl breathed out a sigh of relief. So her aura would work here, though the dimness was concerning.
She took one last look around, behind her, where the dreamscape beckoned with promises if not of comfort then at least of safety. She could just barely see the outer wall of the Ruined City if she squinted.
Squaring her shoulders, she turned back to the border and stepped all the way through into the Fallowland.
She was astonished to find that, aside from the dust, it was remarkably similar to the dreamscape. Slimy patches of graygrass grew underfoot, squelching as her boots trod on them. She could hear the sluggish flow of streams trickling through the land, many of them probably leading outside to feed the rivulets of water that crisscrossed the dreamscape. And there was the occasional scuttering dash of a rabbit or the vibration of a kidra den off in the distance.
She could sense all these things, but her vision was limited to perhaps ten feet in front of her aura before the dust drew curtains over it. Unlike the mists of the dreamscape, this dust did not move, and stood as though petrified in time. It spun in eddies when she moved through it, only to reform behind in complete stillness. It enveloped absolutely everything, softer than a floodstorm and yet just as oppressive.
Enough gawking, the girl chided herself; she had a mission to accomplish. She set off across the lumpy, uneven ground, constantly slipping on the slick grass or dropping her foot into a warm hidden stream. Her aura was still recovering from the last warp, and it would be another minute or so before she could do so again. Still, as she walked through the Fallowland, she couldn’t help but feel that she had no sense of direction or purpose.
She stopped, and felt something watching her.
A shadow appeared in the dust to her right, moving more quickly than she would have expected, its arms held out low to either side. As it parted the dust between them, its blurred figure resolved into something both solid and shifting.
A hulking mass of dark flesh, vaguely anthrid in form, but with fingers that ended in curled claws. Its whole body seemed to be steaming, letting off a thick black smoke that overpowered the dust all around it. And it had an aura, a translucent black sphere that sparked and hissed where it came in contact with her own.
The incubus – and clearly, now, it was an incubus – stepped forward amid more crackling of auras, raising one hand towards the girl. Its claws extended fully with the sound of stone grating on stone. Behind that outstretched arm the girl could see a head just slightly too angular to be anthrid and two eyes filled with a flame so dark, so full of hatred and evil, they seemed to draw in light.
She’d trained for this. She’d known what to expect here. So why did she freeze in fear like a peelee facing down a wolf? Why did her muscles suddenly betray her?
The incubus observed her for a second, head cocked to one side as though trying to understand her. Then it raised its claws high above her head and brought them down to end her.
And that was when her body returned to her control.
She was off like a marsh hare, darting through the mist, refusing to even look behind her as she ran. She had no idea what direction she was going, if she was moving out of the Fallowland or further in, but it didn’t matter. Any distance she put between herself and the incubus was another breath of life.
Try as she might, she couldn’t block out the sound of it behind her; its thudding footsteps shook the ground ever so slightly as they landed. She could feel her spine tensing in anticipation of the rending claws in her back. But they never came, and she started to relax just barely enough to take stock of the situation.
There was only one way she could survive this. The girl gathered up her aura again, tearing at it with both hands. The little crack in the center was like a beacon of hope to her.
She stumbled over a hidden vine and lost concentration. Though she managed to keep her footing, she had to start again with her aura. The labored breaths of the incubus came from behind her, slow and heavy.
“Shite,” she muttered, bringing her aura back around and starting the process of warping again. “Shite, come on, you stupid thing.”
A claw raked her back, drawing a line of fiery pain, and her heart nearly leapt into her mouth. Somehow, she managed to keep her concentration. A cry of relief escaped her as her aura opened.
She wiggled sideways through and was treated to one last nightmarish glimpse of the incubus reaching for her from the other side, its eyes glowing dark.
Then she was somewhere else.
Though her mind tried to take stock of her situation and remain alert, her legs betrayed her. They crumpled and she fell into a sitting position, her tights growing damp with the permanent moisture of the Fallowland. She put her palms against her eyes, stifling tears that threatened to overwhelm her.
What had she been doing here? What had she thought she would accomplish? A stupid, scared little girl thinking she could crack the secrets of Draumir on her own. She’d nearly been killed, and now she was hopelessly lost.
She sniffled a bit, wishing there was someone here with her. Someone who could tell her what to do.
And then it happened.
She wasn’t quite sure how she knew – perhaps a nearly imperceptible change in the air, or a little sound as the incubus warped into place behind her. She whirled around, fists clenched. At the very least, she wasn’t going to freeze up this time.
The incubus moved with startling agility. When its aura came into contact with hers, they clashed, dark and light sparks flying as they pushed against one another. The incubus reached forward, its arm pushing into her aura so that it flexed like a bubble. To the girl it was as if she was being attacked in exaggeratedly slow motion.
She realized she might be able to run again, if her aura could slow down the incubus this much.
And then her aura disappeared.
The incubus overpowered her even as the Fallowland dust seeped into her eyes, her hair, her mouth. It was warm as she breathed it in.
The incubus lay a single claw on her forehead, and Draumir disappeared around her.
The girl saw something – something far beyond herself. A glimpse of a truth so deep and resonant that it ached to experience in this shortest of moments.
This… can’t be….
She collapsed to the ground and surrendered to unconsciousness.
Hope you enjoyed! Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Yours, relishing the rain,