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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?”
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“What is the song of the Karayidi?” Queried a wizened old man who towered over his pupil despite the curl of age in his spine. The wrinkles in his face nearly outnumbered the many colorful feathers woven into the long braids of his hair, such that it looked as if his own back had sprouted wings.

The girl, hardly more than a toddler with her own midnight-black hair just reaching her shoulders, stared at her reflection in the river. Eager, inquisitive eyes and bronzed skin stared back, but she looked through herself to what lay beneath. Beyond that mirrored image, she caught sight of the looming paddle-shaped form and blood-red scales of a fish twice her size or more lazily drifting along the current.

“The river fish of fire,” she answered with youthful exuberance. “Long ago, he swam the ocean. But he feared to be small and was hunted by many. So one day when the sun fell, he gobbled it up to grow big. He grew and grew, but the sun burned him to be free again, and he will for all time carry that burn.” She paused for a moment to receive an encouraging nod from her mentor before continuing. “He hides now in the shadows of rivers so the sun does not find him. His song is of ambition and defiance. His spirit is called for stomach pain or nausea, to ask him for the strength he showed in swallowing the sun for so long. His meat is eaten for chieftains to be bold and his skin is for burns from the cooking fire.”

“Mm.” The old man wove his way along the riverbank, through the dense foliage of the forest. The land itself lived and breathed as every square inch of space was fought over by a dozen different plants and creatures, yet somehow none of it seemed to impede his progress in the slightest. His bare skin never touched the densely packed undergrowth, nor did his feet tread upon a single ant. Despite the precision and care of his steps, the lesson continued. “There is another reason Karayidi lives in rivers now. You see how he digs into the mud of the riverbed, how he crawls along the ground like a snake.”

“He did this in the ocean too, Greatfather?” The girl followed her elder’s trail of logic just as she followed his trail through the jungle.

“He did. Before, he was the color of the mud. But the sun’s burn gave him the color of blood, and the ocean is home to many who would feed upon it.”

“The-” The girl caught herself before speaking aloud the name of their nemesis. Even though it was not taboo, she was far too young to risk such attention of a powerful spirit. After a moment’s consideration, she finished her thought with a cautiously vague, “-many-toothed one.”

“Not only the Hungerer,” her elder corrected her in a knowing tone. A shaman as old as he had little fear of I’roo-i’s curses and could freely speak the foul name. “The ocean is endless and grows only darker. Within the darkness hides U’aase-na-i, the Many. Like the stars pierce the night sky, the eyes of the Many glitter in the dark of the deep.” Many of the elder’s tales held a strong air of caution, but in this story there was an undercurrent of dread. “They are like the insects of land, but more-so. They devour all that pass beyond the light and leave not even bone in their wake. They feed on the scraps left from the Hungerer.”

“ .. and they hunted Karayidi? Because he digs?” The girl prompted after her mentor had fallen silent, perhaps in memory.

“Mm. The sun was no longer friend to him. The Many also hate the sun, but that is another story. They hide under the mud, under the sand, under the rocks. In the deep, in caves, and in other places the light can not reach. Some nights, when the moon is gone, they try to leave the deep and come to land to steal away what they can carry and take it to their nest. If a member of the tribe goes missing on a moonless night, the n̥ajapode may call to the Many to return them, but rare are the nights these spirits will listen.”

The girl’s gaze drifted down to the river once more, offering the massive fish within a sympathetic gaze. Being eaten alive by a swarm of massive bugs was not a fate to be envied. “What must I do if they come for me, Daihsnái?”

The old man’s response was hardly encouraging. “Only a Dreamer knows..”


Kaari’n̥ai awoke, the vestiges of the dream clinging to her mind like cobwebs. Her people had many tales about dreams and those with power over them, superstitious nonsense the young woman had long grown out of. Dreams were involuntary images - random neurons firing as the brain processed the day’s events and recharged its glycogen levels. They were a bodily function like any other, with quantifiable chemistry and biology behind them. She had studied the electroencephalographic results of brain activity, even assisted at times with the occasional craniotomy. She was no neurosurgeon, but the science she had been taught - the basic rules of how the world and its natural processes worked - could not have been clearer.

Dreams could not tell you what you did not already know. Dreams could not be shared any more than a passing thought could be plucked from another’s mind. They had no deeper meaning beyond a potential look into one’s subconscious concerns. Dreams had no magic or mysticism about them.

Kaari’n̥ai rubbed the sleep from her eyes and dropped down from the highest branches of the tree she’d been sleeping in. The people here had assigned her a room with a bed but she felt far from safe in such cramped quarters, and her continued refusal to use the room bothered the straw-haired one for reasons she’d yet to work out. Just as she had yet to work out what had happened to her. To Constantine.

It wasn’t possible, and yet it had happened. A shared dream, shared experiences. The feeling of the damp stone cavern beneath her bare feet was just as vivid in her mind days after the event, and the memory of Constantine’s prolonged suffering even more-so. Her knowledge of biology was lacking, she would be the first to admit that, but everything she had learned of science failed to reconcile this dream phenomenon. Perhaps the answers were simply beyond her meager knowledge. Discovered by the doctors of the past and now lost again, living only in a textbook. Or perhaps the true answers were a mystery even to the mighty pre-Oculorubrus societies.

Her hand reached up to her many dangling necklaces of carved bone and dull stone beads. Her thoughts wandered back to the dreams of her people and their beliefs. Beliefs she only mildly believed in, herself, after years of rigid lecture and education disabused her of such notions. Curses and chanting. Spirits and songs. She had never entirely written off the lessons of her ancestors, but it was difficult to believe sweet-talking river fish would help soothe a stomach ache when bismuth subsalicylate was an option. Still, her people had long and storied traditions of dreams and the creatures that might inhabit them. After having lived through such a nightmare herself, Kaari’n̥ai began to wonder.

What if they were right?


She opened her eyes to green.

Again, she was lost in a cavernous darkness with only the sickly green chasm to light her way. Again, her physical form wavered and shifted like the reflection upon a rippling pond. Again, she was caught in this otherworldly nightmare. The only difference being that, this time, she was ready.

There was another spirit here, a male with features impossible to identify just as before. He was not Constantine, so far as she could determine, but he seemed just as lost and confused. She would find no answers from this one, but she would not stray far from his side. The memory of the pain she’d intrinsically felt from Constantine’s fall into the swirling mists below still sent a chill down her spine.

Together, the lost spirits navigated the dream caves, across rickety wooden bridges and through thin crevasses in the slick stone walls. As they walked, she searched for some clue or thread of meaning, something that would help her to understand how or why they had been taken. The answer she found raised only more questions.

An echoing laughter heralded the appearance of a ghostly figure. It took the form of a woman with an overly large smile that did not reach her eyes - piercing eyes the color of twilight. It spoke in mocking riddles and vague half-truths. It spoke of tragedies of the past that would soon return again. It spoke of the dangers locked in this cave, an apparently real location that housed horrific monstrosities soon to break free and consume all.

Night-eye, she named the spirit, for it had offered no name of its own. Night-eye’s portents were troubling, but exploring the dream cavern in their own wanderings had shown its words to be true enough, if anything in this dream could be believed. The cavern was crawling with man-sized insects bursting free from uncountable eggs. They had fled the sight and were now hiding within a side-passage laden with gemstones.

She was reminded again of the dreamwalkers of her people. Seers would speak of ominous portents from the dead or from friendly spirits, and these warnings were heeded religiously. The seers held the respect of every man, woman, and child for they were wise beyond their years and could lead the tribe to safety. She was decidedly not a n̥ajapode. In this place, she felt quite the opposite of wise. She felt insignificant and ignorant, over her head by such a magnitude that she could not even see the surface.

And yet, she had been chosen. If this was to be the will of the spirits, then so be it. Her resolve hardened like the stone surrounding her and she dug deeply within herself, to the teachings of her ancestors. Every story and song, every myth and memory of her people was held within her. An entire culture lost but not forgotten. It was not her eyes that locked onto a brilliant gemstone on the cavern floor. It was the eyes of every Yoote Ayo’r-e that had come before.

Kaari’n̥ai awoke back in the Monroe bar. The man from the dream, her fellow spirit, was also there. He was a man named Nikolai she knew only as having as much trouble with the spoken English as she. He would be even less help in the waking world than he was in the dream. He was afraid. Fearful from the nightmare, from the breaking of reality and conventional sense, from the impending demise that had been promised upon them. But she held no such fear.

For in her hand, she held a precious stone the color of the dream itself - taken from the dream itself. But the real prize she had returned with was inside her; a determination she’d not known since her earliest years. She had a higher purpose, and proof now that the beliefs of her tribe were not simple superstition to be buried alongside them.

The spirit Night-eye may have locked her in a nightmare, but it had awakened something far more dangerous.