My sleep was short. I saw something, it made me want to wake up but kept me asleep. I was a hostage in my own mind, my thoughts no longer my own, uncontrolled and twisted. I felt like screaming, yelling at the top of my lungs, trying to make a sound.
It was all fruitless. I couldn’t escape, not until something pulled me out of the dreamscape. I heard a faint voice calling me and I reached for it, trying to get out of the nightmare. I thrashed about, punching and kicking the air.
When I woke up, I threw a punch upwards, making a large hole in the tents and forcing some cloth to fly very far away. My punch had too much force behind it, if somebody was there, they would be blown away.
When I open my eyes, I see that Mercissa is looking at me. My head is actually on her lap, her hands brushing my hair. My body is covered in frost and small frozen droplets. Through out my transformation, my body has become so monstrous, that instead of a fever or a cold giving me a few degrees difference in temperature, the difference becomes a hundred or so degrees. If I had a fever, I would probably set the tent on fire.
For a moment after I wake up, I feel relaxed, feeling a familiar presence. But then I hear Meriden, her voice coming from my side. Looking in her direction, I see he looking at me and her eyes unnerve me. They black pupils remind me of something, some void too deep for me to understand. I don’t know what it is, but I am scared to look into her eyes. I look away, trying not to think about the eyes.
Meriden notices this and she is somewhat bemused by my reaction.
“Zern, what happened?”
I can’t speak properly.
“Zern, what is it?”
“Please, don’t look at me.”
“What? Why? Zern please tell me what happened?”
“I don’t know, but I can’t look into your eyes. They scare me. I am scared.”
Meriden doesn’t know how to reply. All this time I seemed like a single bravest person, never relenting or kneeling before my adversaries, yet now I am scared.
While the girl states quiet, it’s the dragon girl that talks next.
“Lord Zern, what happened out there. I am worried that Flaer won’t wake up. Did you turn her and is she one of us now?”
Strange question considering all the circumstances. We are in a middle of a war zone, danger left and right, monsters, anomalies, the darkness… And all Mercissa asks is if I have used her immature niece’s body.
“No, she isn’t. I had to give her my blood to save her, her wounds were too grievous.”
“Ok. Lord Zern, tell us what happened. Regios had asked the others who arrived with you, but they only know bits and pieces. Brother asked me to get you to talk when you wake up. He needs to know what happened.”
“Hah. Well, no point beating around the bush. Let’s go.”
I get up, stretching my muscles. My mind is hazy, I still haven’t recovered yet and my sleep was restless, not letting me restore any energy. I look at Meriden, but once she lifts her gaze I turn away. I can’t take her gaze on myself. I am scared of being watched. Of something watching me…
As we walk out of the tent, I see people looking at me. I see their eyes staring at me, the black of their pupils trying to uncover me. The void in that darkness is looking right at me. I shiver uncontrollably and quickly walk back into the tent. Anything is better than that.
“Zern, what’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. I am scared of their gaze. Of their eyes. Something makes me cringe on the inside, it is making me panic. I can’t look into people’s eyes.”
Meriden is confused by my words. She doesn’t understand what happened. Walking out she calls for Regios to come in but tells him not to look at me and then she goes to use the whisper stone to talk with Aedim. Our one smart person might be able to help.
While they girl talked, Regios came in. He tried to look away and I was thankful. Right now I could only withstand Mercissa looking at me as her eyes lacked pupils, like mine.
We talked. I told him about how we entered, about the first monster we killed. Then I told him about the anomaly and the artifact. I turned into my demon form and showed it to him, still shivering when his eyes looked at me.
I recounted my tale all the way down to my return to the camp. It was an easy conclusion, I was the reason for the Release and for so many deaths. It was obvious, once Regios said that the shape of the Zone changed from circular to an ellipse, stretched towards where I was and where my position was.
Regios tried to say otherwise, but I denied his words. I was responsible for what happened. It stung me to have people die because of me, but the guilt wasn’t unbearable. But the fear was. I was afraid for my fated, for Flaer, for everyone I cared about. And also, the eyes. They scared me.
We waited. Regios would talk about what happened. He spoke about how the wards were breached and how monsters attacked. The power of that last Release was massive, birthing many monsters and anomalies from the darkness. By the time we returned, many of them were dealt with, thanks to two of my wives.
While we discussed what happened, a light shone close to me and Aedim appeared from it. She used a port stone which would teleport her right to me, even if I lost mine. She looked at me and her eyes were completely white. She must have changed them before coming here.
I looked back at her and thanked her. She was considerate of me. While I was sitting down, I felt terrified, even if there was nothing to scare me. My mind wasn’t truly mine right now, something happened to me. I told Regios about blacking out, but I didn’t remember what happened then.
Aedim came over to me and hugged. She held me close and comforted me. Meriden came in as well, but she avoided looking at me, not wanting to scare me. I felt bad for pushing her away at the moment, but I couldn’t fight it. Something was making me feel like this.
With Aedim here, I once again repeated my whole story. She listened to it, trying to decipher the mystery before her. She spoke very little, only asking me questions if something wasn’t clearly understood. Only when I was done speaking that she herself talked.
“When the you absorbed the darkness from Flaer, you passed out. Was it like what happened during Lilith’s trial?”
“Not exactly. Back then it was Gargoyle’s dormant power that tried taking over my soul which then formed into a light inside me. This time, it was just attacking my soul, trying to kill me. If it wasn’t for the sphere,I would have died.”
Aedim knew almost everything about me, she was curious about my inner working and asked a lot of questions before. I never thought that I should keep any secrets from her.
“I don’t know what happened yet, but I have a general idea. Let me scan you to understand what happened.”
Aedim needed to see inside me to know my condition. I laid down on some soft cloth and let Aedim do her magic. While I was immune to any direct magical influence, I could allow a person to use magic on me if I opened my soul to him or her. Aedim was the only one who had such permission right now. In theory, she could kill me using magic, but she wouldn’t so that.
The scan took a bit of time. Aedim was an excellent Mage, but my soul was something else entirely. It had thousands of lifetimes worth of memories. Throughout the procedure, Aedim got a complicated expression, both confused and worried. She didn’t tell me what it was, only saying that she stumbled onto something that was irrelevant to the present day.
I actually wanted her to scan me and tell me of my previous lives, but every time when I wanted to ask her, I stopped myself, because if I ever needed to know anything from my past, the information would surface and reveal itself to me.
When she was done, she said nothing, only moving to where Flaer was and scanning her. Seeing as she was out of my tent, I waited patiently. When she returned, she had a hypothesis on what happened.
“I am almost sure that whatever happened to you also happened to Flaer. The darkness weakens the soul and takes over the body, transforming it. That was what happened to the lamia and the minotaur, as well as what was supposed to happen to Flaer. However, since you absorbed the darkness from her, it couldn’t do anything but lock the Flaer in the illusion. I believe you took the main force of the mental attack when you blacked out. Back then you forgot it and it was suppressed as being irrelevant. However, now that you are out of danger, it is seeping out from wherever it is suppressed.”
“But isn’t master Zern immune to magic and illusions? How could something like that happen?”
Meriden asked the right question.
“Zern wasn’t attacked by magic but by whatever entity the darkness belongs to. It was like with the Gargoyle, his power connected with Zern and they communicated. But this time, instead of inheriting memories and powers, Zern was directly connected to whatever the entity was and whatever he felt, it was his own feelings. It also seems that he spent a long time there. Flaer has been locked in the illusion, but to her it is simply a dream, it hasn’t got the same impact. You on the other hand took the majority of the strike.”
“So, what can we do now? Both I and Flaer are suffering from this. How can we help her and how can we stop this fear?”
“I believe that the two problems are connected. I think that if your memory surfaces and you remember what happened, you should be able to deal with it. And I believe the illusion that Flaer is facing is the same that you saw. We connect you two and you should be able to solve this problem. By facing the illusion, you will be able to save you both.”
I knew where this was going. I had to face my fear. I didn’t know what it was, but if it affected me this much, I might not be able to overcome it. The visions that I saw, they must have been grand to make me feel this. I feel like my spirit has been broken, like I gave up fighting. Knowing myself, there is nothing that I know of that would make me give up, nothing short of loosing my loved ones. Even then, I will keep on going to have my revenge and to destroy whatever took them from me.
“Whatever the mental attack was, it affected each of you the same way, trying to break you. If it wasn’t for Zern’s strong soul, he might have been converted as well.”
“I must say, I don’t like what I need to do to. The fear, I haven’t felt anything like it my whole life. Even when I was about to be executed I wasn’t afraid.”
“The reason why you are scared is because you don’t know what it is you are scared of. You fear the unknown. I can’ tell you what was it that you saw, you have to experience that for yourself. But I know that if you face it, you will be able to overcome it.”
Aedim really is smart. Is it my knowledge or is it her own wisdom. It’s like she read books on psychology and has a proper education with it. I really need to thank her more.
“So, when should we go dream exploring?”
“The sooner the better. While Flaer is not in danger within illusion, it is still going to be hard to pull her out. For some time she was in contact with the entity and if her body was getting slowly transformed by the time you got to her, she must have be n close to breaking. The faster we wake her up the less time we will have to spend treating her soul.”
“How long is it going to take?”
“I don’t know. Depends on both of you. If you can face your fears and if she is able to recognize you and to understand that she is in the illusion, it might be as fast as a couple of hours. Otherwise, a couple of days or even longer may pass.”
I nodded at her words. I shouldn’t wait for too long. Meriden and Regios were here as well as Mercissa. The dragon girl was looking at me with pleading eyes, hoping I would save her niece as fast as possible. I had to do it now.
“Ok, let’s do this. Bring her here, I can’t come out right now.”
Hearing my words, Regios smiled slightly and left to get his niece. Mercissa also smiled and hugged me close. I patted her on the back and kissed her cheek. Then I went and hugged Meriden and thanked her for putting up with me. She smiled at me as well. Then I thanked Aedim for her help. I don’t know why I got so emotional, it wasn’t like I was about to die. It would only be a slight separation right now. Still, I had to thank them for helping me.
When Regios came in, he put Flaer on the animal furs gently. Aedim instructed me to lie down and next to her with our heads touching. When we were in position, she began to work her magic. I felt sleepy, my eye lids becoming heavy and my vision blurring. Slowly, I fell asleep, entering the mind of a certain small dragon girl.