Something Cold, Something Dark, Something Borrowed, Something Red

Alice became aware of a cold dampness – she was lying in something that felt like shallow water. Sitting up, she realised the water was deep, and that she was lying on the surface of a dark lake, so deep that whatever bottom existed wasn’t visible. This lake, this dark and glassy sea, stretched from horizon to horizon, under a clear night sky, mottled by stars and dominated by a wickedly red moon.

Great, she thought, another weird dream.

“There is a dark door in your mind,” said a twisting, turning, familiar voice.

Oh gods,” Alice replied, “not you again.”

The supposed facet of her stood nearby, on the surface of the lake, watching her.

“You entreat closer to your Truth,” it replied. It still had eyes. It still had mouths, it still had noses, ears. It still had no face.

“Yeah, yeah,” she groaned, “you’re here to offer me the wonders of whatever demonic possession thingie you’re offering, while claiming to be some deeper part of me or something, when you’re probably some creep that snuck into my brain before Hatred in Crimson closed the door for me.”

“The gates are closed. I must be internal – nothing can enter, nothing can leave.”

She flopped back, splashing into a supine position on the water’s surface. “But what if you came here and then didn’t leave, so you were still here when Hatred arrived, so you’re shut in. What about that?”

“The fae nobile that even now hangs ominous above your dream?” it gestured upwards at the sanguine moon. “It would have ventured down and plucked me out like a wayward eye, were I not part of your mind, or beneath your thought.”

“Yeah, well, that’s an explanation, sure, but not really verifiable.”

“Believe it, or do not. The darkness will wait for you to drink of it, for it has waited since before the Real.”

“Really selling it to me, aren’t you.” She considered rolling over, facing away from it, but she wasn’t sure about this whole ‘lying on water’ thing, and didn’t want to chance it.

After a pause, it spoke again, a different tone in its coiling voice. “I will show you. A taste of the power you will feel, would you merely take hold of it.”

“Hey! Wait just a se-” she began to object, but it was already looming over her, a dark and brackish liquid dripping from all the holes it didn’t have in its face.

– – –

A dream, a vision, between this dream and the next.

Alice laughed, a hollow, devouring sound, as the darkness poured from her mouth between sharpening teeth.

With an exquisite agony, she felt horns grow from either side of her head, curling slowly upwards before, just as they were about to touch and fuse into a full circular halo, the ends shattered, broken pieces floating around her two new, long and curved horns.

Beneath her mortal flesh, her bones yet turned and twisted, singing a song of hunger and thirst, all-devouring. Her form shone with darkness, shone with hunger and light unknowable.

Her smile grew wider, new teeth slotting into the edges, sharp as knives and darker than coal. Around her, wings of night unfurled, shimmering with teeth, smiles upon smiles stretching from horizon to horizon.

She didn’t need eyes. Not anymore. As they melted and flowed down her face, dripping from her chin, she still laughed.

Alice laughed.

She-

– – –

With a screech, the vision stopped. She ‘awoke’ from the nightmarish dream-within-a-dream spluttering and coughing, still lying on the surface of a cold lake. Distantly, she heard splashing and scuffling, the muffled sounds of struggle, and once she was fully combobulated, she sat up and looked around in confusion.

Looking didn’t really help clarify things. She saw that weird malicious version of herself, locked in combat with a familiar person, so out of place that she had no idea who he was for a few seconds. Not helping this, he was flickering, moving too fast to see, and to some extent, very hard to keep her eyes focused on.

Was that the nameless Walker?

With a grunt of effort, he got his clawed foot on the creepy-her’s throat, and forced its head underwater, where it bubbled far longer than it reasonably should, weakly flailing its arms.

“Right,” he said, “seems I came at the right time.”

She squinted at him for a few seconds, and everything was quiet, barring the splashing as the possible evil-her attempted to claw itself out from under his foot. With a sigh, he let up, and the thing scrambled back to its feet, spluttering indignantly.

“You aren’t supposed to be here!” it hissed.

“Yeah, well,” the Walker replied, “you’re hardly an invited guest, either. Now shoo, you weird brain gremlin-flea.”

The faceless thing hissed and spluttered, but the Walker stared levelly at it until it turned on its heel and stalked off.

“Mmm,” he said, “I don’t think we’ve seen the last of that. I’ll be quick.” He paused a moment, as she continued to stare at him. “What?”

“You’re not part of my dream, are you?”

He shrugged. “What else would I be?”

“Then how are you here?” She pointed up at the glowering moon. “Hatred in Crimson blocks the way. How’re you here, if you’re not one of my dreams?”

“I’m a Walker,” he said, as if that explained anything.

“What?”

“You know, a Sidereal Elf.”

“That doesn’t make it less confusing, mate. You’re here, and you shouldn’t be able to astrally project into my dreams or whatever.”

“Look,” he said, exasperated, “I’m a Walker. I’m not ‘astrally projecting’ – I’m actually here.”

“Eh?”

“You’re not the ‘true’ you – you’re a dream projection of yourself, wandering your Dreamlands in the Outer Void, where all dreams take place. I’m physically here, because I Walked here.”

Right…” She thought for a few seconds. “Wait, do you know what that me-thing is?”

“Some kinda id, I think. They don’t normally brutalise their parent personalities like that, but it’s kinda a dream-construct that wants to do things you can’t admit to wanting or something. Or that you want, but aren’t acceptable to want. I dunno, maybe you should talk to a therapist or something. Er, I’m getting distracted.” He glanced nervously upwards, and she followed his gaze. Was the angry red light of the false moon getting brighter?

“Look,” he continued, slightly frantic, “I came here to give you some information. Here.”

He passed her a small sphere made of a glimmering metal.

“Er, what?”

“Imagine that this is a… ball of compressed information. Just add water, and it’ll spring back out into stuff you need.”

She frowned at him harder. “Why?

“Because you’re… kinda half-possessed?”

“Um.”

“Well. Um. That sounds bad, and it kinda is? But-”

“I’m possessed?

“Not quite.”

Not quite,” she said flatly.

“I can explain?”

Please do.”

He grimaced, shifting his weight awkwardly from one foot to the other. “There’s some kind of dark thing – I think I know its name, but I won’t say it – stuck to your… soul, for want of a better word. It’s some fragment of a broken thing sticking around like a bad smell – I think the interaction with that’s causing the id thing to be quite so annoying. It’s trying to encourage you to embrace it, which would be… dangerous. Now, that’s where this-” he indicated the little glimmering ball – “comes in. It’s the right information, to be released at the right time, and that’ll hopefully make all the difference.”

Alice was about to answer – to ask for some verification, or to ask what the heck he meant about half these things – but her attention was drawn upwards as a red light fell on them, like a spotlight being turned on. The burning red star at the pinnacle of the dark sky was growing larger, visibly now. The light felt… curious and cruel, like she was on a microscope slide, being examined by a being so far beyond her comprehension that she could only catch glimpses, looking at her like she was a bacterium. Under the red light, the temperature dropped precipitously, the inscrutable gaze upon them feeling like an arctic wind. Around Alice and the Walker, the water started to freeze and fall away, the tattered tapestry of dream swept away by the pressure of this thing’s attention.

In minutes that felt like hours that felt like seconds, it had drawn close enough for her to discern detail. A cratered planet of red crystal, covered in canyons, cracks and glittering facets that seemed to shift when she didn’t look directly at them. It dominated the sky, hanging so close she could have reached out and touched it. It filled her sphere of vision between each missing horizon, an upside-down sky filled with cold and crystalline menace.

And then it spoke, in a voice so metaphorically loud that she didn’t so much hear it as feel it, an unbearable pressure on her flesh and form. If she hadn’t been dreaming, she was sure, she’d have simply ruptured under the titanic noise of… of this planet of crystal.

INTRUDER.

Alice’s only response was a croak of pain. Her imaginary ears weren’t bleeding, but they wished they were.

As the noise subsided, the Nameless Walker caught her eye, winked, and then… wasn’t there anymore.

The thing, the crimson planet started to speak again, and it was just too much. She couldn’t lose consciousness, here in the dream, but everything went dark.

If the dreams continued beyond then, she didn’t remember them when she woke.

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