Haradeth was dreaming of the forest.
It was night in his dream. Even though he remembered the forest best in the daytime, with the sun streaming through the leaves in narrow shafts that illuminated the shrubs and flowers below with beams of light, in his dreams it was always night. The domain of owls that watched from their trees, hooting softly to each other and waiting for some unlucky rodent to dare leave its burrow and venture out for food. The kingdom of the great cats that stalked the dusk, seeking the deer when they were growing drowsy from a day of feeding in relative safety. The realm ruled by the serpents that awaited hares hurrying back to their burrows.
The days had been full of light and life and energy. The constant chirping of the birds seeking mates or to warn away those that would impose on their territory. The rustling of the bears foraging for berries. The humming of the bees flying from blossom to blossom, spreading the pollen and ensuring another generation of flowers would be born to fill the world with color. That had been what his mother had ruled, the realm of sunlight and warmth and peace.
His name, in the old tongue of the ancient Alohym, meant “Moon-Kissed.” He’d been born under a shaft of moonlight. His mother had told him it was like he had waited for that beam of light, refusing to enter this world until the sun had set and the night held dominion.
There was no moon in the dream. There were lights in the sky, but they were too numerous to count – a ring of broken stones that encircled the sky, enclosing the world and creeping back beyond the horizon in both directions. The remnants of the moon shattered by some cataclysm of unimaginable proportions.
In his hammock safely in the Sylvani lands, Haradeth stirred. Had anyone been watching him restlessly toss, they would have seen his forehead furrow and his hands clenched at his side in his sleep.
In the dream those moon remnants were beginning to turn, spinning faster and faster with every passing second until they no longer resembled stones, but orbs of pure light – too bright to be stars.
Haradeth knew what came next. He’d had this dream before. He’d had it over and over since his birth.
The first orb’s glow began to dim until it went black, then began to draw in nearby light, warping it around its spin. Soon it was giving off a negative glow, pulling the surrounding light in on itself. Unlight. Haradeth knew that word, though he once had no phrase to describe it. He knew that word like he had once known these woods.
The unlight stone streaked from the heavens. Its entry into the air caused it to burst into flames, flames that were subsumed by the unlight and turned into flickering fragments of darkness, a trail that annihilated all light it passed forming behind the stone as it plummeted towards the forest.
“No,” Haradeth murmured, rolling over in his sleep. “No, no, no.” The word became a chant, a mystic incantation of denial, as if the word itself would ward away the dream.
Or the reality.
In the dream, the unlight stone struck at the heart of the forest. Haradeth wanted to flee what happened, but in the strange logic of dreams he found himself running towards the thing he feared, his feet crushing leaves and beetles as he passed.
In the dream, time had slowed. To his right flickered a dragonfly, each beat of its wings visible to the naked eye. To the left was an owl, descending on an unlucky lizard with the vicious speed of flowing molasses. The lizard saw the owl coming, and it wasn’t trying to flee. It had turned to face its death with a mouth opened wide in some kind of hiss too high pitched to be heard in the slowed reality of the dream.
Ahead of him, a light was forming. True light, not unlight. Like a sun was rising in the forest ahead, where no sun should be able to form.
Shards of wood reached his dream skin at the same moment as the low rumble, a sound that shook him to his very core. In reality, the sound had been harsh and fast, even though the layers of earth that had separated him from the source of the burst. In the dream, it happened so slowly it sounded more like distant thunder than the explosion.
Haradeth’s dream form was lifted from the ground by a shockwave as his real body began to sweat with fear. The dream-self didn’t feel the impact, except as a dull awareness.
The owl burned. The lizard burned. The dragonfly did not but looked at Haradeth with eyes suddenly human and screamed with lips that should not be.
Haradeth awoke with a scream of terror, sitting bolt upright. Lights began to glow in the room the Sylvani had provided him, casting reality into sharp relief.
It was just a dream, Haradeth told himself, but the words sounded hollow even within the confines of his own head. It was just a dream, but it was one that he’d had before the Alohym had even come, before their weapons had lanced from the sky to destroy all that was beneath them. A godling’s dreams often had the touch of prophesy to them, and he’d been certain this was one of those.
It was a prophecy he’d thought fulfilled with Nicandros had returned, bearing the half-dragon princess, and the Alohym had destroyed his mother’s forest as punishment. The dream had stopped that night and had not returned since.
He’d been certain that was the end of it. He’d foreseen the destruction of their home, and now the future was unwritten before him.
But he’d just had it again.
Which meant it was now a thing that still might come to be. It was something to guard against. It was a pending death, and not the literal destruction of his home.
Or it’s just a dream, you fool, Haradeth chided himself. He sighed and stood up, stretching his back. It was just a dream, or it was so symbolic it would be meaningless to him until it had passed. Either way he would accomplish nothing by worrying over it.
A gentle rapping came at his door, startling him out of his reflection. “Open,” he said.
Lorathor peered in, blinking away sleep. “Haradeth? I thought I heard a scream.”
“Just a bad dream, my friend,” Haradeth said, shaking his head.
“Must have been a dream thrice-damned to Shadow, from the way you were going on.” Lorathor’s forehead crinkled slightly with the faintest hint of amusement. Their last conversation with the Tarnished One – Bix, Haradeth reminded himself – had seemed to help the Sylvani regain some of his levity. “What was it?”
Haradeth shrugged. “An old friend of a dream, to be honest. One I’d thought I’d left behind with the illusions of childhood.”
“Such dreams – like those illusions – rarely truly vanish.” Lorathor shrugged. “At least, that’s how it works for my people. We retain most of what we absorb as children.”
“And for mine,” Haradeth said. He bit his cheek in thought. Something didn’t add up – Lorathor should have not been able to notice the scream, not as far as his room was from Haradeth’s. “Why were you even here to hear?”
“Bix contacted me.” Lorathor’s eyes did sparkle now, their wavy pupils alive with life, and his cheeks broadened with a smile. “She got the portal stones working. Well, she’s still calling them boogers, but…”
Haradeth nodded, his heart leaping with excitement. Finally, after all this time, they’d be able to re-enter the fray – and with a powerful weapon the Alohym could not predict. If only they could find the other stones, they’d have a network that would change the course of the war. “Let’s go see her, then.”
“You might want to get dressed first,” Lorathor said, eyeing Haradeth up and down. “The less skin to tempt her knife with.”
Haradeth was so happy to have progress, he didn’t even bother to blush at the reminder. Hurriedly, he prepared himself.
Bix was waiting, and with that psychotic little automaton was a different dream.