Part One: Seer
She opened her eyes to green.
All around her was dark, a shade of pitch that seemed to swallow up the light. Beneath her bare feet was cold stone, and above her head was unending darkness broken only occasionally by jagged stalactites piercing the darkness like claws. She could only just make out a natural stone wall a mere arm-length to her left. To her right was a chasm, deep enough to cause vertigo as she leaned to peer into its depths. There, at the very bottom, was the source of that pervasive green glow that tinged her vision, even when she closed her eyes; a river of thick fog that undulated as if it were alive.
This was a dream, she realized. The knowledge came to her unbidden. She wasn’t sure how or why the realization struck, but she was sure beyond any shadow of a doubt that she was dreaming. It had all the hallmarks of a dream; an otherworldly place that seemed just real enough, the contrast between hyper-focused details and vague suggestions of things in the background, the suddenness of her presence combined with the sensation of having been here all along. But the clarity of her thoughts told her this was no ordinary dream. She looked down at her hand, marveled at the way the contours of her skin shifted and flickered as if it could not decide on a singular form, as if she was the projection of a person rather than flesh and blood.
“Dream-walk,” she murmured, her own voice catching her by surprise. There were layers to her words, beyond the simple echo of a cavern, whispers not her own that spoke in a cacophony of tongues. It was only more evidence to further her belief. This was her oregaté; her image, her shadow, her spirit — the method by which the n̥ajapode seers of her people would commune with the spirits for guidance and wisdom.
And approaching her now with perfect timing was one such spirit that appeared before her as a humanoid form with a distinctly male essence, his outline as impermanent as her own. She had little idea of what to expect from such a meeting. Though she was to be a dain̥ai, she knew only of the songs and tales of the spirit world. It was a place beyond sight where the elemental forces of life clustered and the remnants of the dead wandered on the path to the afterlife. The n̥ajapode were said to peer into it as they slept, and would bring back omens for good or ill.
However, this particular spirit seemed lost. His many voices spoke words that she did not know but somehow intrinsically understood, yet the only message he brought was one of confusion. He offered no knowledge or warning and he appeared to be just as in the dark, metaphorically and literally, as she. Though conversation was a dead end, there was still a physical path before them in the stone outcropping that vanished into the dark, sandwiched between impenetrable wall on one side and unwelcoming cliff on the other. The two lost souls started down the path together with no real purpose beyond seeing where it might take them.
Perhaps, she mused as they walked, this spirit was one of the recently deceased, still coming to terms with his passing. Her people knew ways of guiding the dead along the path to the afterlife, though those ways were more symbolic and less in-person than what she found herself doing now.
She did not have long to ponder. The path narrowed precariously, and the slick mossy stone proved too difficult to navigate. The spirit slipped, and for a brief moment she could recognize an expression of panic on his face despite there being no identifiable face for such a thing. Before she could even reach out, the spirit tumbled over the edge and into the green below. What followed would prove to be a recurring image in many restless dreams to come, though those would be the non-mystical nightmare kind.
As the spirit fell into the swirling mist, he screamed. This was no mere cry of pain. Just as with his words from before, the meaning forced its way into her mind. Though his suffering was unimaginable, that word no longer held relevance. The fog seeped in with every breath, eating away at him from the inside like acid. His flesh, if it could be called that, sagged and oozed, dripping off of his bones slowly like the wax of a candle. His blood boiled within his veins. His scream carried with it an agony that went beyond words, and the true meaning of that pain seared itself into her mind as if it were her own body that was melting. Most insidious was the inherent slowness of it all. Some clinical, detached portion of her mind recognized that something was off. As quickly as the fog assaulted his body, and as human as his response felt to her, he should have been dead already. Even his continued screams should have been cut off by the acid devouring his lungs, and yet his tortured screams continued unabated. It was as if the fog was purposefully keeping him alive, toying with him as a cat might torment a mouse, destroying him in the longest and most painful manner possible.
After far, far too long, the cavern fell silent once again, save for her hushed sobs. It was more time still before she found the strength to push herself to her feet. She could not remember at what point she ended up curled on the stone in the fetal position. She was still in a daze as she stumbled forward along the path, practically plastered to the stone wall as far from the edge as she could possibly be. She could think of nothing but getting out of this terrible nightmare.
The nightmare had yet to end. The path ahead widened, only to reveal a collection of man-sized teardrop shapes in clutters scattered around a room large enough that its edges were lost to the dark. The shapes could have only been eggs, though magnitudes larger than any she’d seen, with slick shells that glistened even in the dim green light provided by the mists below. With hesitant, trembling steps, she approached the nearest of the sickly-colored eggs, reaching out slowly to place a hand upon its shell as if reassuring herself she wasn’t imagining it.
A sickle-shaped blade, as long as a sword and no less as sharp, pierced through the egg from the inside parallel to her arm. She jerked backwards, stumbling in her haste. A second blade emerged as something writhed inside the egg’s confines, trying to free itself. In her mindless terror, all she could manage was a single quaking step in the opposite direction before the creature burst out of its shell, wet with afterbirth and shrilling loudly like the newborn it was. It was vaguely insectoid, with far too many legs and forelimbs like mantis claws, but its head was oddly canine. An extended muzzle with a wide mouth that housed a multitude of tiny, serrated teeth opened as it wailed and snapped closed with an audible clack.
It was that noise that shook her from her stupor. She was face-to-face with a monster born of her people’s myths, tales told to scare children into behaving. She turned to flee, dashing down the stone path, her previous caution thrown to the wind. The creature, catching her movement, gave chase. Its steps were unsteady, its legs were untested, but it was a born predator and instinct kicked in. As fast as she ran, the creature closed the distance. It was coming for her. Her lungs burned in her chest as she threw herself forward in an all-out sprint, but even still she could feel it gaining on her, hear its clattering movement a mere heartbeat behind. Her foot slipped and she fell hard against the stone. She heard the creature’s bloodthirsty shriek of triumph, moments away from slicing into her flesh.
And then Kaari’n̥ai woke. With a gasp like a drowning woman, she shot up off of the table she’d been slumped over, head darting from side-to-side in her haze as she tried to find the imminent threat but found only the quiet confines of the bar, empty save for herself. Crickets chirped outside, suggesting a late hour, and she rubbed at her eyes as she tried to calm her rapidly beating heart. It had just been a dream, she told herself. The fanciful superstitions of her childhood were just that; a tribal people’s attempts to make sense of a senseless world. She’d come far from those days in every meaning of the word. The knowledge she’d accrued in her years had by necessity included a certain amount of learning about the fundamental laws and building blocks of nature. The world wasn’t powered by the whims of imagined beings, of omnipotent birds that would bring disease if you spoke of them during the wrong season. She comforted herself with those thoughts, managing to even keep herself from jumping in fear as the bell over the door rang.
Constantine walked in, looking more haggard than she could ever remember seeing him, and dropped himself down onto a stool. He still managed to give her a smile, he always did somehow, but his cheer was only skin deep. The medic instinct in her was too strong not to ask what was wrong, but his response chilled her down to her bones. “Ah, just this nightmare I had. I was in this cave with a green river, and I fell in and died. Heh, can you believe that?”
Last edited by a moderator: