The Dream Traveller

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Logline or Premise
In a Realm where privileged individuals can create material reality in their sleep. A powerful Dream Traveller finds a way to release his imaginings into the Waking World.
First 10 Pages

Chapter 1

Perched upon the sturdy sycamore branch, Hazel’s legs dangled freely, while her restless thoughts danced like shifting shadows. The moonlight dappled across the gnarled boughs, drawing her gaze into the trees. As she sat there, enveloped by her slumbering tribe nestled in their scattered tree huts, the ancient forest held its breath, alive with the occasional hoot of an owl and the rustling of badgers. Whispers from fellow watchers dotted the camp, connecting them in a silent kinship.

It had been nearly two decades since their last fateful clash with the highlanders, a tumultuous conflict that existed only as distant storytelling in her mind. Hazel possessed no personal recollection, save for the rigorous training in tracking, tireless patrols, and the skill of archery. These duties were etched into her very being, remnants of a history she yearned to understand.

A snap broke the silence from below. She froze, scanning for a stray deer, considering the possibility of catching it as a prize for her father, given the meagre results of the daytime hunt. With caution, she raised her feet and squatted on the branch. What was it? It was hard to see but resembled a hulking shadow. The form moved, sniffing the air like a bear emerging from its cave. She pulled an arrow to her cheek, searching for its head. Whatever it was, it surpassed any animal she had encountered. Would an arrow bring it down? What if it attacked her? Relaxing the bowstring, she waited and observed. The figure shifted, revealing two gleaming red eyes. She caught her breath, praying it wouldn’t notice her amidst the mesh of leaves and branches.

Heavy footsteps faded into the night, and she waited momentarily, heart pounding. Descending from the tree, she felt exposed on the ground, hurrying toward a distant campfire. Voices grew louder as she approached. Her father, Faygon, the tribe’s chieftain, stood when he saw her come into the light.

‘You still up?’ He waved a hand in the tribe’s direction. ‘Take your bed, before sunrise greets us.’

‘Father,’ she interjected.

‘What is it?’

‘I saw something. Something is out there. I think we should wake the tribe.’

One of the foresters around the campfire spoke in the old tongue, and then laughed. She knew Killian well, recognising that red feather in his hair anywhere. She was fluent in the old tongue, and the language of towns and cities.

Faygon glared at the man for scolding his daughter and then turned back to her. ‘Perhaps it was a bear?’

Killian spoke again, and all eyes shifted to him. His expression transformed from mirth to a vacant stare as his head slowly drooped to his chest. A polished black talon, the length of a short sword, pierced through Killian’s chest. The forester beside him was suddenly yanked back into the darkness.

Faygon grabbed a burning stick and waved it in front of him. The others stumbled back, drawing daggers and nocking arrows. Two red eyes approached, swaying above a glinting, bulky mass. It leapt across the fire, swinging an arm. A head soared over the flames, blood splattering Hazel’s cheek.

Hazel and her father, side by side, retreated from the campfire, with the remaining foresters flanking them. Disturbing sounds echoed from the forest. Something darted toward their left, heading for the tribe.

Faygon seized Hazel’s arm. ‘Go! Wake everyone! Run!’

Hazel sprinted through the forest, back toward the tribe, her heart racing. She heard screams ahead and a horn blowing from the north side of the encampment. Fire erupted among the trees, illuminating distorted and menacing forms, faces so abhorrent they seemed straight out of a nightmare.

Suddenly, something struck her, causing her to fall. Her bow disappeared into the darkness. Rising to her knees, she expected a fatal blow but heard a voice instead. An apology. A hand. A stricken face. The hand helped her up and then left her behind. Bowless, she sought refuge at the base of a tree, pressing her back against the trunk. An ominous shape passed in front of her, tendrils of smoke rising from its cheeks as it sniffed the air, searching for archers in the birch canopy above. Hazel stiffened, praying its fiery, hellish eyes wouldn’t discover her. It leapt upward, roaring.

Counting to ten, she finally ran, sprinting toward the Mothers Hut where the babies slept. Smoke stung her eyes as she witnessed the dead and dying scattered on the ground while shadowy figures descended upon them like swooping buzzards, dragging their bodies into the night.

Just then, the moon revealed a towering figure, distinguishable from the rest. Clad in red, glinting armour, its hideous, jagged helmet obscured its grotesque face. Its height nearly reached the first looping branch, about eight feet above the ground. With a sudden leap, it vaulted into the trees; cries of infants filled the air. Hazel felt the urge to follow, to fight and save the young, but her survival instinct held her back. Some guilt-competing urge for self-preservation. She pressed herself against the trunk, her chest heaving, while the creature rustled through the branches above. Then it dropped, landing in front of her. Slowly, it turned, cradling infants in its armoured forearms.

As her slender back touched the tree trunk, a protruding wooden knot pressed against her pelvis. She reached behind, turned the handle and opened the small low-level door, greeted by the scent of harvested fruit. Swiftly, she ducked into the storage trunk, waiting silently, her eyes stinging from the stuffiness and stench. The creature remained silent. Was it waiting for her to leave the storage trunk? Closing in on her? She edged closer to the door, tilting her face to peer out. Other creatures joined the first, forming a pack. The pounding in her ears subsided, sharpening the sound of their voices.

‘How many are left?’ sounded a voice like wind over grass.

‘Two,’ snarled a reply. ‘Wait, one,’ it corrected as a forester was brought before the group.

Hazel bit her lip to stifle a sound when she saw her father. Blood streamed down the left side of his face, staining his tooth necklace, worn by all chieftains. As he turned, she couldn’t believe her eyes. His left arm was torn off, reduced to a fleshy stub of bare bone, muscle, and tendons. He begged for death.

‘Are you sure?’ the first voice hissed. ‘One more?’

A deeper voice rumbled, evoking ancient evil. ‘It is true; I sense its puny heart beating nearby. I want them all for my feed.’

The terror of knowing they were discussing her made Hazel’s stomach churn. Yet, a surge of determination followed. Come and find me, she thought, and I will die fighting. Gripping a hunting knife, she readied herself at the door. But nothing happened. She held her breath, wiping away streaming tears.

‘Fight me! Give me a sword, and I will fight you to the death!’

She saw her father’s eyes darting toward the tree base. Could he sense her? He had always possessed an uncanny gift for detecting others in the dark. Even now, captured and injured, he protected her location, displaying courage to his last breath.

It was difficult to see, but Hazel caught sight of the first speaker, a figure draped in purple robes.

‘No. Let the one in hiding go. We’re finished here.’

‘But, master, when have we ever let one escape?’

‘Today, I show mercy. Isn’t it time we take credit for our work?’

‘What about this one? Shall we keep him for feeding?’

Hazel strained her eyes. Her father knelt before them.

‘Curse you!’ he spat defiantly.

A pointing finger emerged from a shaded sleeve. ‘He possesses skills. Take him for alteration.’

A sudden gust swept through the forest camp, howling like wailing widows. The group stood still, waiting for it to pass. For a moment, the repugnant stench of their bodies infiltrated the storage trunk, causing Hazel to gag. Then, a flickering frame of blue fire erupted nearby, crackling and hovering. A moment later, the light and the group were gone.

Chapter 2

Fifty leagues away, in Rathnell City, Girvyn lay on his bed, desperate for some sleep. Clearing his mind from the day’s stress was never easy; it lingered, jostling jumbled memories. At barely fourteen, he felt flooded with reminiscences like an old man sitting on a decaying veranda chair.

Suddenly, amidst his juvenile anguish, he was gone. Instead of lying in bed, he stood in an infinite white space. No sound, no uncle - just white.

What was this? A hallucination? Had he died? Was it a dream? It didn’t feel like any dream he remembered. Dream memories are formed upon waking, and he was sure he was awake. Taking a step forward, he felt the rustle of his clothes – the brown tunic and loose grey trousers from the day. Who had dressed him? He wore a white vest before bed. No shoes, either. Did he not need them?

In the middle distance, a large rotating, horizontal window appeared, drawing closer; his hair moved in its breeze, scentless and temperate. The window kept turning, captivating his attention - a towering structure, barely visible in the window’s darkness. Lightning flashed, briefly illuminating the vast structure before it faded to black.

Accompanying the familiarity of being him was an unwelcome feeling, felt many times before: anxiety. It churned in his stomach, spreading to his chest and engulfing his being. Another sensation joined it - a tingling, prickling across his skin. But this sensation wasn’t coming from him; it reached out from the window, drawing him in.

Standing in the darkness, he found himself inside the scene within the window - an outline of murky, towering contours rising in the gloom. He looked back for the white space that embodied safety, but the window shrank to a dot and vanished.

His heart pounded as he drew a shallow breath, feeling lightheaded. He tried the deep breathing technique his uncle had taught him to fend off faintness. How could he return home? That was all that mattered now - getting back to bed. Even enduring uncomfortable memories would be a welcome relief compared to this imposing gloom.

The outline of withering rock and dripping walls became visible. Was it a cavern? His eyes adjusted to the ceiling, revealing the gleam of stalactites. Far below, he heard dripping water.

The sheer terror of moving forward sent a shiver up his spine. But perhaps that was what he needed to do to return home - go forward to go back. Pebbles crunched as he stepped out of the cavern, noticing the entrance walls leaking; water trickling like tears of pain.

A single straight track led into the dark. Although he could see a few steps ahead, he couldn’t discern what lit the path. Moaning emanated from the obscurity. He froze, staring at either side of him. Something moved, whispering at the edges of words. When he stopped, the sound stopped. Shadows peeled back, revealing clenching and unclenching hands rising from the ground - the undead.

He ran as fast as he could, charging down the track. He paid no attention to the shooting pain in his bare feet, heart hammering, sweat pouring down his face and neck. All he could think about was escaping those grasping hands. He tried to distract himself, thinking about pleasant things like the smell of roasted nuts in the castle kitchens, playing chase with his friends, or a forest track at sunrise.

Ahead, rising through the gloom, an ominous building barely outlined against the black sky. He dug his thumbnail into his palm, feeling real pain that wasn’t just a distorted dream. Was this lucid dreaming? He thought that by conjuring pleasant thoughts, he could alter the script. But who would subject themselves to such an ominous and fearful experience? Perhaps the answers he sought were inside that building, a potential path back to his bedroom. He stepped towards it, convincing himself it was better than the grasping hands.

The walls towered higher than anything he had ever seen or imagined. Black and smooth, blending seamlessly with the night. Ominous towering doors reflecting nothing. If those doors could speak, would their rumblings echo like an ancient force, primordial and forgotten?

The door swung open, revealing a shadowy passage lit by eerie torches. A new sense of unease replaced the previous disquiet. Trying to steady himself, he took a deep breath and ventured forward, losing all sense of time and place. He desperately tried to wake up, but it was futile.

Finally, he reached the next room and stopped, unable to believe what he saw. He found himself in a colossal hollow dome, vast as the sky itself. Thousands of glinting lights - stars or something else - sprouted from the blackness, rising from the ground to the unreachable apex. To see the breadth and depth of it would cause unbearable neck pain. The nearest lights were to his left, seemingly the easiest to reach. Could they offer an escape, a doorway back to his bedroom? He needed to know, to see, or risk being trapped forever.

As he approached, a sinking feeling transformed into a panic. The lights originated from glass pods, each containing grotesque monsters of various forms. Some had spindly, insect-like bodies, while others appeared powerful; a bull standing on two legs with red and yellow horns turned to observe him. Metal plates adorned its polished black chest and bulging forearms, shimmering within the pod’s light.

Suddenly, a pungent smell blasted his face; something was happening: a rising heat, vibration in the air. He ran, seeking safety in the shadows that now felt comforting. A bright light pierced through, pushing back the dark. Girvyn scrambled between disused pods, lying prone on the floor.

Slowly, he gazed at the radiant light - a flaming blue door crackling with sparks and heat. Through the door’s opening, he witnessed a forest consumed by fire, illuminating shapes of creatures. A massive beast with a wolf’s head stepped into the hangar. Following it, clicking spiders carried foresters in hairy back legs.

Girvyn fixated on a wounded man, his attention drawn to him amidst the chaos. The man’s battle injuries were severe - his right hand dislocated at the wrist; his left arm torn from the shoulder. He pleaded fervently, but Girvyn couldn’t comprehend his foreign tongue. A hooded figure pushed the man towards the pods while the crackling doorway trailed behind like a loyal pet. ‘Take them to the processing plant. Not him! Keep him here for alteration.’

Terrified, the man continued to plead, but his voice was drowned out by rattling and shaking pods as their occupants grew increasingly deranged - except for one. Isolated in its stillness. Dormant.

The hooded figure pointed a bony black finger at the glass door. ‘Open it.’

The door hissed open, revealing an indistinct mass twitching with suckers covering its body. The suckers jerked towards the forester, its slimy fleshy lips oozing with anticipation. Slowly, the form uncurled in the dim light, initially resembling a human but growing into something far from it. No eyes, only a single sucker for a mouth - a reaching tentacle. It thrashed about, sensing the air, lashing with excitement. The cloaked figure forcibly pushed the forester into the creature, and the sucker enveloped his face. The man gagged, attempting to speak, but his voice was muffled. Girvyn watched in horror as a viscous liquid passed from inside the monster through the sucker into the man. He went to fall but was held aloft, dangling, then screamed, spasmed, his body distorting. His skin bubbled like lava, revealing a new muscular limb growing from his fleshy shoulder. Girvyn crawled backwards, his mouth agape in a silent scream. The forester had become one of them - jet-black eyes impervious to light, taller and more powerful, a twisted face, veins outside his skin. How could this be a dream? The thought echoed in Girvyn’s mind, trembling with fear. Panicking, he slipped, slapping the hard floor with a loud clap.

The portal moved towards him, rising to illuminate his motionless body. The figure loomed over him; silhouettes of creatures followed. ‘So, now we finally meet, Rosein’s son, and in the shadows of my Realm, you are thoroughly disappointing.’

The creature with the sucking mouth appeared in the portal’s light, its tentacle thrashing in anticipation. But then, it abruptly stopped, struggling against an invisible force, something inexplicable. Girvyn realised another presence was there - a man with an outstretched hand. Unlike the blazing portal arrivals, this man had flickered into existence. A golden haze radiated from his skin as if he carried an inner sun. With a snap of his fingers, the creature was propelled across the chamber and disappeared.

The hooded figure stepped back, pointing in repugnance. ‘You!’

Ignoring the figure’s reaction, the stranger extended a glowing hand towards Girvyn. ‘Take it,’ he urged.

Girvyn couldn’t discern if they made contact, for the hand appeared luminous and ethereal.

In an instant, they found themselves back in the white expanse.

‘Finally, I created something to save me!’ Girvyn exclaimed, relieved. ‘What was that place? Who are you?’

‘Girvyn, be cautious when entering,’ the stranger warned. Something familiar in his voice compelled Girvyn to listen and trust. ‘Always be wary of the beckoning of open windows. No matter how enticing they may be, you are always vulnerable within another author’s construct.’

‘I don’t understand,’ Girvyn replied, frowning.

‘You will in time,’ the stranger assured. ‘That man you saw in the purple robe tonight, his name is Crane. Stay away from him in both dimensions.’

‘Who are you?’

‘A friend.’

‘What was that place?’

But the man had vanished.

Girvyn lifted his head, surveying his bedroom with blinking eyes. The scent of bitter wood smoke filled his nostrils. His room, even in its cold and damp form, now welcoming and safe. He couldn’t hear his uncle; he must be asleep. But he was back, awake.

Girvyn settled his head back on the straw pillow. The mysteries of the ominous building, the nightmarish creatures, and the enigmatic encounter with the rescuer lingered in Girvyn’s mind for a while. Though he couldn’t comprehend their full meaning, he couldn’t shake off the unsettling feeling that it was something more than mere dreams.