He stood in a cobblestoned plaza surrounded by white-washed buildings that baked in the afternoon sun. Home. He was barefoot and barechested, his breeches patched and tattered. His green vest, however, was intact, a badge of office for the Blood Brothers. He had worn it every day for five years, and yet for a breath it had seemed entirely strange and alien. It should be….red? That made no sense.
A delighted smile spread across olive-toned cheeks as he touched the dagger at his waist. He had lifted it just that morning from beneath a portly merchant’s nose, then used it to cut an apple as he talked to the man’s guard. Light, but that had been a fantastic chase! Once he made it back to the Rahad he had laughed about it with his guildmates even as he showed off the beautiful rippled steel of the curved blade. Watari. He didn’t recognize the word, but it echoed oddly in his mind when he looked at the weapon, as if he had known of it his entire life.
The wiry young thief turned on his heel, intending on finding food. He paused when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Uncertainty bloomed in his stomach, quickly shifting to dread as he saw a flicker in the other eye as well. He turned toward the first flicker, and saw a shadow moving toward him down a narrow passage between two buildings. Turned the opposite direction, and saw another. Around in circles he turned, the feeling of dread welling higher and higher. He started to move toward the nearest wall, but froze as the shadowy figure in front of him stepped into the light.
Pale skin, pale hair, pale eyes….she caught the sunlight and glowed like a beacon. Her dress, blue and red with lightning down the sides, rippled in an unworldly wind, and she held some sort of silver circlet in her hands. No, not a circlet. A collar, with a leash. “I am Regann,” she said. She reached for him and he fell back, panting, then turned to run. He found himself facing another fair-haired woman in blue. “If you breathe my name, I will cut out your tongue,” she said, reaching forward with the collar. He turned in place, eyes getting wider and wider as he realized he was surrounded by a circle of women, each with the same face, the same dress, the same metal circle in her hands. “It does no good to run, Shaeya,” they said in unison. “You will never get away from me.”
He stood in the center of a plaza that baked in the Altaran summer sun. As the circle of women closed around him, he realized he was screaming.
Jaryd flew upright in bed, his hoarse cry muffled by fingers around his throat. He thrashed for a moment, unseeing, lost in horrified panic, before realizing that his own hands had a death grip on his neck. A smooth, bare expanse of skin met his seeking touch; no collar to be found. Shaking, unsteady, thoughts tumbling in chaos, the Altaran slowly forced his arms down and away from his chest. Light!
Eyes still squeezed shut, he let himself fall back to the pillow and reached for Kaia. Nothing. His hand moved over the bed, seeking with blind desperation, and still found nothing but sheets and coverlet. Creator help me!
His heart lurched and his eyes flew open into soft golden light. His gaze fixed on the deep brown of the drapes that hung over the bed, then slowly dragged down the enormous posts that supported the heavy fabric. Every detail mattered in that endless moment; vines, leaves, and fanciful flowers spiraled around the arm-thick lengths of wood, carved with a master’s fine attention to detail. Down the posts, over the wine-red coverlet, jarred by the white expanse of tousled sheets and pillows. Nothing.
He could hear water dripping. Not the steady sound of rainfall, but the random plink of water droplets slowly falling from the edge of a high surface, and rippling splashes. That couldn’t be right. Where am I?
Suddenly the bedclothes were suffocating, holding him down, preventing him from moving. They stuck to him, dragging him toward a shadowy place he did not wish to be. He struggled against their grip, all coordination and rational thought lost, until finally he pulled free and threw himself off the bed. He stumbled toward the opposite wall, spinning when he reached it to press back and palms against cool marble. He stared back the way he had come with wild eyes. A small teacup sat on a table near the bed, and it drew his attention like a beacon. He had….drunk from that cup. It had made him sleep. Kaia had? No. A trap, it’s all a trap. Nothing is real.
He walked to the table, picked up the cup, and threw it as hard as he could. The splashing sound stopped as porcelain shattered against marble, and he froze momentarily, head turning to face the door where the noise had originated from. She’s coming! He dropped to a crouch behind the bed and pushed backward into the drapes, struggling to control the panic-stricken heaving of his chest as he waited. I cannot...I cannot…Light help me I am not strong enough...