Zera works to protect the dreams of the living. Dreamwalking can be a dangerous profession
Lost in a Reverie
The whistling grew louder as Zera stepped down the street. She glanced at her partner, Lancel, who gave an imperceptible nod and followed. The street around them shivered and breathed, and each step they took seemed to swallow them into something older and living. The building folded in on them, windows like eyes.
“Jesus,” Lancel whispered. He glanced around him. His finger tapped along the long rod he held, which sparked an electric and angry blue.
Zera ignored him. She’d seen worse. Lancel was relatively new to the Reverie Seal. He would be easily impressed. He stuck close to her, their shoulders grazing, as the alleyway they walked elongated. Teeth stuck out in odd ends at the corners of reality, giving the illusion that they were walking into a massive maw.
“You’re feeding into the reality, Lance,” she said. “Remember. Our emotions control reality around us. Maras do enough without our help. Get hold of yourself.”
The young man visibly shook himself. He cleared his voice and squeezed the baton tighter. “Okay.”
Zera offered her hand. “Let me control the shift this time.”
He hesitated before closing his hand around hers. The world around them shifted and became more solid as soon as their skin touched. The eyes in the buildings’ windows closed. She concentrated. The end of the alley was now a door.
“This should lead us to the level where the Mara is,” she said. She gave his hand a squeeze. “It’s relatively weak. Just a mòra.”
He didn’t say anything. She reached out and touched the door. It moved beneath her fingertips like a thing made living. It was warm. One hand held tight to Lance so they would not be separated in the consciousness levels as she stepped through. Her other hand clutched the electric baton tightly.
“What is this place?” Lance whispered as their eyesight cleared. The room was mostly blank, devoid of detail and surface. The walls were slick and reflected the electrified light of their weapons back at them.
“It must have run out of imagination,” Zera said. Her eyesight caught movement in the back of the room. A broken sort of movement, of something old and lost. “Stay here,” she whispered.
Each step she took echoed in the strange sort of nothing of the room. Movement caught her eye again. It was a weathered, beaten thing, and it looked at her with holes that served as eyes. Zera was reminded of a scarecrow that was set up unfinished. It gave her a half, lopsided smile. “Greetings, Dreamwalker.”
The Mara laughed, long and slow. “I make my human’s life interesting. What will she use for inspiration, once I’m gone?”
Zera didn’t answer. With a thought, her weapon sparked to life. She touched it to the creature. It screamed once before reality shredded away and left a hole where it once was. She looked back to where Lacel stood. “It’s done. Let’s go.”
The land ripped its way out from under Zera, tearing fragments into a realm that existed between reality and fantasy. Colors that Zera had never seen glimmered in innumerable crystals. Things moved amongst those crystals, chittering and laughing.
Come to us.
Zera started awake. For a moment, she’d forgotten where she was. For a moment, she was stuck in the inbetween.
What the fuck was that? she thought. She sat up from the bed she laid on and detached herself from the various machines she was plugged up to.
“What was that last bit?” Melanie’s voice buzzed through the intercom above her head. “We lost you for about two minutes before you woke up.”
Zera cleared her voice. “Not sure.” She stood and walked over to the other bed where her partner still slept. She shook his shoulder. “Lancel.”
He didn’t move. Zera frowned.
No response. She waved her hand toward the window that overlooked the sleep bay. “Lancel’s stuck in the inbetween again. Send someone in to get him.”
“We’ll send next shift in to get him.”
Zera stepped out of the room and up the stairs to the room that overlooked the sleep bay.
The sleep bay was large, with a half dozen queen sized, comfortable beds arranged in a half circle. Each bed had its own hookups and screen above the headboard. The room itself was windowless with white noise. The only light provided would be from the lamps at the bedsides.
There used to be a lot more in the Reverie Seal. Zera remembered when each of the beds were full for every shift. She remembered when people actually paid for their services. She remembered when people believed Maras existed.
But, that was a long time ago. She was one of the few of the old folk that remembered the times before. When magic was real and touched the lives of everyone. Then it was swallowed up in secrecy and spells to remove it from the memory of humanity.
Zera was one of the few true Dreamwalkers left. Others used technology to enter the dreaming realm, but she could walk between the two worlds at will. It was a secret she kept close to heart. The Maras would love to get a hold of her, rip her apart, just to see what made her tick.
Melanie looked up from where she was watching the next round of Walkers hook up and prepare to enter the dream worlds. “Anywhere they need to look in particular?”
Zera shook her head. “Either the Maras are rarer than they used to be, or they are getting better at hiding. Lance and I found a mòra, but she was weak. It barely took a static shock to break her thoughts apart.”
Melanie nodded her head. She pushed the button. “Walk around and wander. And, for God’s sake, someone get the new guy out of the inbetween.”
Something uncomfortable itched at Zera’s shoulders. The vaguest memories of something beyond the dream--of crystalline colors and squirming things--itched in her head. “Melanie, something was wrong before I woke up.”
Melanie gave her a look. “What do you mean?”
Zera thought about the feelings she got each time she walked outside of her body and how easily the few Maras she’d found had given in. Things hadn’t been right for a while now.
Come to us.
“There was something,” Zera whispered. She thought hard, trying to remember what she’d seen in the inbetween. “Something in the inbetween.”
She bit her lip. “I need to dreamwalk. But...this one needs to be off record. I’m going to stay in the inbetween.”
Melanie frowned. “I don’t like that idea. True Dreamwalkers are defenseless there. Maras have all the advantage, and all the reality control.”
She gave a small smile. “I’ll be okay. I’ll stay in here. You can wake me if things get too weird.”
“The inbetween can affect this reality. If something too strange happens there, you’ll know it here. Just wake me up.”
“Okay.” Melanie’s voice was clearly hesitant and disapproving. “Don’t be long, okay?”
Zera didn’t answer and closed her eyes. There was a moment of weightlessness and vertigo, but she didn’t let herself get her bearings before she held her breath and paused, placing a hand between the worlds of fantasy and reality.
She stepped forward.
The world she stepped in was completely devoid of color. White. Pristine. Unbroken. She stepped on a hard, cool surface. She could see her breath misting in front of her.
Colors of impossible hues reflected against an empty wall ahead of her, almost out of sight. She tried to jog to it, but found that each step she took toward it put her further away. Small, despondent laughter chittered at her. Zera bit her lip, taking a step backward. Each step was a step closer to the wall in front of her. As she got closer, she realized the lights were reflectected from prisms. Inside those prisms were shifting figures.
Zera narrowed her eyes, trying to make out what the images were. Something cold slid down her throat and settled into her chest as she realized that each crystal held a sleeping human. So many humans, in various stages of age, death, and decay. All asleep.
How do you think Maras are created? It whispered along her skin. Zera tried to step forward, but found that she was enclosed in a tight, clear container. She spun in it, realizing she was suspended. Lights reflected behind her from the prism that held her prisoner.
Sleep, our sleeping beauty. Sleep, and dream us all into creation.
Zera felt a heaviness in her limbs as the spell took over. She realized that all the humans were like her--Dreamwalkers. The Maras found them, trapped them, and used them to create more.
Zera beat against the quartz wall in feeble attempts to break free as she felt the heaviness of sleep close in around her. Dreams waited on the horizon. Nightmares and creatures, dreamed and breathed into life.
Word Count: 1,500
Submitted to: Fantasy Unraveledhttps://www.writing.com/main/forums/item_id/2240621-Fantasy-Unraveled (entered:1/18/21).
Submitted to: Thriller Short Story Contesthttps://www.writing.com/main/forums/item_id/2227341-Thriller-Short-Story-Contest... (entered:1/18/21).