I awoke to the smell of ash, and the taste of rot, and the whispers of nightmares. At the foot of the bed was a shriveled corpse, with a blue jacket laid over it.
“Well, did it work?” came a voice from the walls.
I pushed off the blanket and it slid onto the floor. Next to me, by my head, the window blinds covered up a sight I was sure I did not want to see. I focused on my center and spoke in a calm, collected voice.
“Yes, it seems like it. The connection’s not great, but I can move around.”
“Good. Get her then.”
I nodded, and when I realized he could not see it, I gave a confirmative grunt.
My feet felt wobbly when I stepped onto the floor. With the contact, the carpet shimmered and rippled. A few paces in front of me, a door popped into existence.
“Seems like she wants out, at least subconsciously,” I said.
“Well, do you blame her?” came the wall’s reply.
“Not at all—this place is awful.”
I turned the knob and felt it melt in my hands. The whole door followed suit, exposing another room, mirroring the one in which I awoke.
And in the bed was a girl. A teenage girl, with sunken eyes that looked at me.
When I took a step into her room, the ceiling above cracked, just a hair, but enough to put me on edge. I took another step.
“Hey,” I said to the girl. She didn’t blink and gestured toward the old corpse sitting on the chair. White hair covered its decaying head.
“Hey, look, I know this is a little weird. But can you come with me?”
She raised an eyebrow. And gestured again.
“No, no, I get that. I know what it means. You need to come with me though.”
Her voice was hoarse and strained. Like a scratching nail. “Why would I do that?”
“Because this is just a dream. A deep one, but a dream.”
She shook her head. “No, it’s not. It’s a dark cave. It’s The Dark Cave…for heretics.”
A tear sprang from her eye and ran down her cheek. More joined it in short order.
“Like me,” she added.
I frowned. Not the first time I’d dealt with this.
“I promise you it’s not all that. You fell asleep during a conjuring chant. It’s common for younger mages like yourself. I can wake you up, take you out of it.”
The ceiling cracked open, and a growl echoed into the room from the windows. The smell of ash grew strong. She looked toward the window, her body shaking and her pupils wide.
“She’s coming again. Mother’s coming again. To punish me for using magic.”
Survival cut through the sadness quick and her panicked and tearful eyes gave me full attention.
“Can you stop her from hurting me?”
“Yes, I can. Take my hand. But we need to hurry.”
Special thanks to: Bob Gerkin, Collin Pearman, Dylan Alexander, Jerry Banfield, Michael The Comic Nerd, Pulsatilla Pratensis, and Thomas J. West.
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