On the world of Shakazhan, dreams can come true. Not just good ones. The people have incorporated what they call Dream Warriors to fight in the dangerous Dreamscape. It’s not for the faint hearted, because to die in a dream means real death. The War Lord’s daughter, Mariah, and her betrothed, Leo, walk in the Dreamscape every night, fighting against the evil there. Seasoned adult warriors in a dream, Leo and Mariah are, in reality, less than five years old.
“What do we face tonight, love?” Leo asked softly, resting his cheek on her hair, kissing her curls gently.
“Another siege takes place,” she replied, turning to face the landscape below. “The Picidaem are holed up in a cave about thirty clix to the north. Dreamers have them surrounded, but can’t seem to penetrate their defenses.”
He chuckled, hugging her. He imagined a pair of powerful binoculars and gazed steadily at the horizon. He could have thought himself there easily enough, but preferred a long distance inspection before he popped into the middle of a mess.
“See anything significant?” Mariah asked. Leo shook his dark, curly head. “May I?”
He handed her the binoculars. She pointed to the northwest.
“Something’s over there, a shadow.”
Leo dreamed another pair of binoculars, gazing off in the direction she indicated. It was indeed like a gigantic shadow, formless, amorphous, seething evil. Mariah shuddered slightly as she looked at it.
Beside her, Leo drew a deep breath through his teeth, hissing slightly as he tasted the air. Spitting abruptly, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I don’t like it, Myah,” he said, using his childish name for her. “The air is tainted.”
She nodded sharply, meeting his gaze steadily with her own. “Yes, it’s a trap. That shadow is not obvious from the position of the dreamers. It is above and behind them.”
“They can’t see it in any case,” he clarified. “We can see it, they can’t.”
Shrugging, he shook his head. “No idea and don’t ask how I know, I can’t explain.” Smiling shyly, he ducked his head away from her as if she would reprimand him.
“You know I trust your instincts as much as my father’s, Leo. If you tell me they don’t see it, I believe you. We must warn them, something terrible is about to happen.”
As she spoke, a command building sprung up around them, fully manned and complete with war room and communications equipment. It was to this console she strode purposefully.
A concise message sent to the commander of the Dreamer forces and she stood back to watch the shadow on the long range monitor. The shadowy form had moved lower in the sky, dropping behind the ground units. Having been warned, the army turned to face their foe, but it was obvious they still couldn’t see it.
Suddenly, the bottom of the shadow split open, dollops of black goo slurped to the ground, landing with a sickly sploot. Each glob grew, rising to an upright position. Two long legs sprouted from the bottom of a squat, rectangular torso. Instead of a head, an irregular geometric shape gurgled upward. Three antennae bounced in sickly counterpoint to their jerky and hesitant movement. As one, the black bodies moved toward the forces of the light.
“We still can’t see them, Commander,” the squad leaders reported.
“Hold your position,” Leo told them. “When I tell you to, fire.” He let the black warriors advance a few more steps, then gave the command. “Fire directly ahead of you, a tight, horizontal arc!”
Each dream warrior opened up on thin air, puzzled by the command. As ordered, they swept their weapons from side to side. Their slugs had little effect on the encroaching darkness.
“Fall back! Regroup on the far side of the fort. I’ll meet you there.” With a pop, Leo transported himself to the rally point.
Mariah watched the dark warriors. They didn’t seem perturbed by the incident. In fact, they were unaffected by the attack and retreat. They continued to advance, neither faster nor slower, than before. Beneath their feet, there was a black, formless nothing. The ground didn’t show, the gray absorbed or eradicated by the army’s passing. Shuddering, Mariah reported this phenomenon to Leo.
“What is it?” Fortuvaze, a Fellician squad leader asked.
“No idea, Fort. I’m going to test a theory. Have the troops withdraw further, out of their path. I want to see if they follow us.”
With a sharp salute, Fortuvaze carried out his order. The army moved further away to the southwest. The path of the darkness didn’t alter but continued steadily to the west.
Leo dreamed up some drone bots, sending them toward the nothingness. For a moment, they sparked brightly, then were gone. Nothing remained, not even debris. It was as if they had never been.
“What’re they doing?” Mariah wondered. “This is bizarre!”
“It’s like they are making the Dreamscape disappear. Let me try something.”
Concentrating, Leo imagined the land back. He filled in the black nothing behind the warriors, only to have it fizzle and disappear. The edges of the horizon curled in, following the path of the black things, the Dreamscape sucked into the nothingness.
“It’s no good, I can’t bring it back. Everyone, leave! Evacuate this Dreamscape immediately! Dreamers, retreat to Yktobo’s stronghold! Now, dammit!”
In a mass exodus, the dream warriors popped out of the Dreamscape. Leo watched them all leave, until only he and his squad leaders were left.
“We have to go, Leo,” Fortuvaze urged him.
“I want to study this some more, Fort. Just a moment.”
“We don’t have a moment, Leo. Come now!” Jerking sharply on his friend’s sleeve, he dragged him to safety as the blackness closed around them.
© 2019 Dellani Oakes
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