Protectors: Shared Dreams
Art by nut862
Through a crack in the sunlit clouds, the lavender-clad Air Faerie looked down upon her city. She looked with pride at the strong walls that ringed it and the life-bringing aqueduct atop them that was responsible for the greenery spilling from the grounds and courtyards. She stared at the ocean and watched for specks of ships that marked the good relations between her city and those of other rulers, other guardians. Seen from the clouds, the city was only a tiny wheel on the great green path surrounding it, but it was making its journey. Psellia was happy to have the honor of being one of those who steered it in its growth.
The Air Faerie cast a glance around her, at the towering mounds of clouds lit orange by the setting sun. She smiled at the peaks and valleys formed in the ground of the sky. If Altador was her city, these clouds were her kingdom.
Yet Altador was not her city alone. All eleven of them had shaped it, all eleven had watched it grow and flourish into a land of peace. It was their city.
Psellia watched the sun setting over her city, sinking below her golden kingdom and shining bright on Altador’s waters. She settled herself in her bed of clouds, resting her head on her slender arms, and shut her eyes, with the sunset warm on her face. She did not see night come, for darkness had already come to her when she closed her eyes in sleep.
* * * * *
It was lost.
Psellia walked about uncertainly in the darkness, feeling a pressing sense that she had forgotten something. She searched in vain for it, but she could find nothing in this dark. What was she looking for?
Her hand touched a cool slab of stone, a shelf. She put her hand on it, groping along in the darkness. Her hand touched something dry, and she felt along it until she realized with a sick feeling that it was a bone. She knew suddenly that she was in a tomb... the tomb, the tomb where she had left behind this thing she sought. The bone, she was certain, was not that thing.
She took the bone in hand and tried to use it to probe the darkness, but stubbed it against a wall and found it shattering into pieces in her hand. The sharp bone fragments stabbed her skin.
“Are you looking for someone?” came a cold voice behind her.
Psellia turned in astonishment, recognizing a voice she hadn’t heard in years. Her eyes were met with the cold shock of more darkness; the speaker, like everything else, was hidden in the darkness. Perhaps the speaker intended it that way; likely, she had created the darkness.
“You are one of us,” Psellia cried. In her own mind, she corrected herself: You were one of us. One of the eleven... no, of the twelve! She had almost forgotten; for years she had not been counting the twelfth. How could you count a traitor among your friends?
“Once, but you are no longer one of me,” the voice of darkness replied coldly. “I see you’ve forgotten me. You did not need me to raise up the city I helped build. You were free to leave me to this tomb, to the dust and jelly and bones, to my darkness.”
Twelve had shaped the city... eleven had watched it grow.
“I watched, too,” whispered the icy dark. “My eyes see beyond this tomb. I have a future yet, much as you would rather I’d sunk into darkness forever.”
Twelve... there were still twelve. Twelve who claimed the city for their own.
* * * * *
“Lady Psellia! Awake, m’Lady!”
Fitfully, the Air Faerie stirred from her dream, stretching her arms as if still groping. She was grateful to see the light of day when she opened her eyes, and sat up quickly, leaving breaks in the clouds where her sleeping body had applied faint pressure to the gases.
A Faerie Meerca stood in front of her, grinning. “The Sleeper is awake, I presume?”
The Sleeper... the words sent chills down Psellia’s spine. The title of the betrayer, the twelfth who was never more spoken of in the high council. It would mean nothing normally, but after that dream... Psellia shook herself and forced a smile at the cheerful Meerca. “Yes, Rochesser. Thanks to you. I’ve been deep in dreams.” She straightened, finding she still moved slowly, blindly, as if in darkness.
“Glad to help, Dreamer,” the Meerca said cheerfully, now calling her by her official title. “If you don’t show your face more at the Council, they may think you’re spending all your time daydreaming up in these clouds.”
“I doubt they’d complain if I was daydreaming about new plans for the city,” Psellia said with a smile. Many of Altador’s innovations had been her design. She was especially proud of the water plant, whose complex wheels and levers held back an enormous store of good, clean water.
“Then maybe you’d better get down to the Hall and tell the king of your magnificent daydreams... m’Lady,” Rochesser added with a teasing grin. “See you there!” He waved and jumped off the edge of the cloud.
Instinctively Psellia leaped to dive after him, but stopped as she watched the Meerca flap his wings and flutter off towards the city below. She laughed to herself. Her habit of catching pets that fell from high places was getting a little too routine.
She paused, thinking about the Meerca’s appearance. Had the king sent him? Or had he simply been stopping by? Either way, Psellia figured she’d follow his advice; she took a graceful leap from the cloud and set off towards the city on gauzy wings. Altador might want to know about her dream.
* * * * *
“The meeting of the Council will come to attention!” the regal white Lupe bellowed. “Gordos, perhaps you can begin by telling us how the treasury is. Still profiting? Can we afford some of the new ventures we’ve been considering?”
Psellia sat drowsily in her usual seat, her head leaning against the back of the chair as she took in the sounds around her. Her sleep last night must have been restless indeed for her to be this tired the next morning. She listened to the distant voice of the treasurer as he began reading from long scrolls, records of things bought and sold. This would go on for a long time.
Not long enough.
“You thought to imprison me forever,” came the darkness’s sneering voice. “Forever was not long enough.”
The darkness took a form, and Psellia saw the glaring eyes of the twelfth. “You were not imprisoned forever after all,” she said, and was surprised to hear fear in her own voice. “There must be a mistake...”
“There was,” said the Sleeper. “But it was on your side. The magic was flawed. It was supposed to be timeless, but over the years it slowly lost power, and so lost the ability to hold me for eternity. I’ve waited long for it to disintegrate completely. Now the barrier is almost broken.”
“You can’t,” Psellia said helplessly, feeling the darkness weighing heavy on her.
Fire flared in the darkness. “Is that how you greet your long-lost ally when she’s about to finally return to power? I hope you have something better when the time really comes!”
“The Dreamer sleeps!”
Psellia woke with a start and looked around. The ten other faces of the Council were staring at her. Ten... counting her, eleven. Only eleven...
A white winged ball bounced up beside her, grinning. Subconsciously she counted, Twelve, and then realized who she was looking at. She smiled with a flush of embarrassment and said, “That’s the second time you’ve had to wake me today, Rochesser.”
“Psellia,” King Altador addressed her. “Our Rochesser tells me you have dreams you want to share.”
Psellia saw the smile twitching at his aged mouth, but she looked at him seriously. “It isn’t good, I am afraid.”
Altador grew somber. “I had thought you’d been dreaming of more for the city.”
“No, I’ve had real dreams. Just now, I had another one.” She explained nervously what she had seen.
Rochesser’s usual smile had faded. “M’lady, do you think the Sleeper has broken out of her tomb?”
“No,” Psellia said quickly. “That is... I hope not.”
“We can’t know for sure unless we check,” King Altador said gravely. “If these dreams are warnings, there may still be time. But if our betrayer herself is giving you these images... she may well already be free.”
“I’ll go to the tomb immediately,” Psellia said, rising. “We can’t afford to not know.” Her dreams instilled in her a sense of urgency.
“Take Rochesser with you,” Altador said. He winked and said, “You may need him to wake you up again.”
* * * * *
“We’re almost there.”
Faerie and Meerca flitted up the side of a rocky cliff, at the top of which stood a large white building. Its great white pillars rooted it firmly to the ground, holding it still and silent as the death it was meant to hold. This tomb stood out of the way, beyond the boundaries of the jewel city, forgotten and left to die from Altador’s thoughts. Yet the tomb was but a prison, holding its occupant alive.
Psellia felt a sense of dread as she and Rochesser landed among the trees growing atop the cliff and began making their way towards the back of the silent tomb that overlooked the city outskirts. In just a few short minutes, she would be close enough to feel the strong magic that should be sealing the doors to the tomb. Would she feel it as she had the day the bar was dropped across the double doors, never again to opened? Or would she find the vicinity of the tomb as empty of magic as the air she walked in now?
That alone should be a warning that the Sleeper’s words were true, Psellia realized uneasily. From this distance and farther, she should have been able to feel magic as strong as that which sealed the tomb door. Psellia was consternated that in all the years that tomb had stood, none of the Council had checked to see if the locks were holding up to the test of time. They had trusted that it would be sealed for eternity, and cleansed the thought of their betrayer from their minds till it was as if she had never existed.
There was no doubt that the magic had weakened drastically. The question was whether there was yet a thin thread of enchantment holding the doors closed, that they might have time to reseal them properly, or if it was too late.
“It’s too late for forgiveness. You can’t make up for the years you treated me as dead, left out of your plans and thoughts.”
Once again, Psellia was inside the tomb, listening to that cold voice. This time there was no darkness; she could clearly see the icy stone walls adorned with bones, the cracking rat holes dug out of crumbling rock, the tomb where a thousand lonely years had been passed with thoughts of revenge. And Psellia could clearly see the bat-winged figure of a Dark Faerie crouched before the door of the tomb, staring at the blank gates she could not pass.
If Psellia could see her this clearly, did that mean the betrayer also had shaken the tomb’s binding darkness from her sight?
“There, I see the doors!” came Rochesser’s voice.
Psellia gasped and blinked; she found herself several paces behind the Meerca. Dreams overtook her even while she walked. She stumbled forward to catch up, looking at the foreboding tomb and wondered if the Dark Faerie sat behind the doors now, looking at them through newly opened eyes.
“M’lady, you sleepwalk,” Rochesser said, realizing what had happened. His voice was concerned. “More dreams?”
“The tomb,” Psellia gasped. “Get to the tomb. We haven’t time.” She broke into a run, sweeping across the grass as wind. She searched the air for the feel of the magic barrier, the assurance that it wasn’t yet too late.
Psellia felt the magic she was searching for, felt that it hung by a trembling strand. She must do something, anything to prolong the spell for just a little longer. Enchantment locks were not something to be crafted in but a few seconds, but the Air Faerie tried, frantically bringing to mind the words of any relevant spells she could remember.
But she had no time to cast them. It was too late. Psellia felt the weakened magic crack and fall away, and she knew the Sleeper had felt it too.
She felt the Dark Faerie coming up swiftly behind her, ready to shoot through the opened passage she had waited so long for. Psellia cried out to her, if only to try to buy time, “Why?” she continued desperately. “Why do you invade my dreams? Do you want the Council to have warning of you?”
“Not at all,” said the Dark Faerie, her voice filled with exultant triumph. “In coming to you, I proved to myself that the seal was about to break. The mere fact that I could again reach a being outside of the tomb meant that the magic keeping me in was almost gone. The clearer I saw you, the closer the barrier was to breaking. I used you to measure the time I had left to wait.”
Psellia wasn’t listening; she was trying to complete her spell. But the force of the Dark Faerie’s newly unbounded magic overwhelmed hers, and Psellia crumpled to the floor as a whirl of cold darkness swept by her and was gone.
Devoid of magic, deserted of life, the tomb was empty. That emptiness was all Psellia felt.
The Dark Faerie’s voice returned, from far away. “For a thousand years, my only dream was to escape this tomb. It seems we have the same dream, no? And it has come true for both of us.”
Grass came before the faerie’s eyes, and Psellia found herself lying on the ground. She saw the bases of the tomb’s white pillars ahead, and knew she was lying in a heap before that prison. Emptiness filled her, as empty as the air was of magic.
“Lady Psellia!” There was urgent dismay in the Meerca’s voice. “The tomb...”
“Is empty,” Psellia finished softly. “I know.”
She rose to her feet and stood looking at the tomb. The double doors were flung wide open, exposing a thousand years’ of blind air to sunlight, and the wooden bar that had held them shut lay broken in two upon the ground.