A Visionary Nightmare
"Hmm…that explains so much. I never knew that was possible. Its no wonder Arthur’s had the same recurring nightmare for a whole week. Could it be that his adeptness in psychic magic might be affecting his dreams too?”
Clara sat on the side of her bed, eyes glued to her book, drawing her finger across the letters as she read the passages. It was late at night; the world around her was almost deathly silent, save for the sound of her breathing and the occasional creaking as the wind weaved against the outer walls of the home. For a moment she turned her attention away from the book, taking in the freshness of the air around her as a gentle breeze seeped into her room.
The young blue Acara found comfort in the warmth radiating from her lantern and the many candles that adorned the room. The room was bathed in a bright, flickering golden-orange glow lighting up her simple wooden desk all the way to her bedroom door. She closed the book, setting it aside on the nightstand and then rested her head on the mattress.
Despite the radiance of the well-lit room, she lay awake for a long time that night. She stirred, peering outside the window; the outside world was bleak, rain clouds closed in from the horizon, shrouding the moon and the landscape in almost pitch-black darkness. The luscious evergreen trees and woodlands that adorned the countryside and the snowy hilltops of Terror Mountain that would normally just barely be visible far off into the distance were now concealed within a shadowy void.
She shuddered, quickly looking away. She closed her eyes and took deep, controlled breaths, the fresh, cool air from outside aiding in her comfort as she eventually drifted off to sleep.
Some time later, Clara’s eyes slid open after what felt like only a couple of hours. She lifted her head almost lazily when her vision began to clear. She was alarmed, the room was dimmer than it was before, the candles almost completely melted, with the cold blue tint of moonlight shining through the bedroom window as the only light source preventing the room from being completely shrouded in darkness.
She rolled to the side, keeping her vision away from the shadows, staring out the window. The moon, peeking out from behind a rolling cloud, gleamed with a soft radiance in the outside world; bathing the landscape and the room in serene blue hues, it’s calming presence easing her anxiety. She closed her eyes, waiting to fall asleep again.
Suddenly her eyes bolted open, she gasped at the sudden sound that ringed in her ears.
She stirred, again rolling to the side, gazing down the barely illuminated room; the noise came from right outside her door. It was the sound of something sharp clattering against wood. She rolled her eyes; perhaps Parlebb’s pet Morkou had wandered out of his cage again.
But it was not the sound of tiny nails; she quickly realized, it was that of large claws, a noise that was all too familiar to her. Memories of the dark, decrepit cavern raced to the front of her mind, she remembered the beast that snuck up behind her in the archives, it’s pale eyes gazing straight back at her and the scraping of it’s claws against the ground as it moved.
She lay still in her bed, being careful not to make a single sound. She knew that as long as she kept quiet, she’d be safe. Then she gasped, her mouth ajar, her anxiety reached a new peak when a sudden realization pierced her mind.
She didn’t lock the door!
Her heart started pounding and a chill ran down her spine.
Slowly, gently, she pulled back her blanket and climbed out of bed. She lay her feet on the cold wooden floor, walking cautiously as her weary limbs lazily obeyed her will. The scratching rose in frequency, growing louder as she came closer to the door. Clara’s heart began to beat faster, her breath becoming more and more frantic.
She tried as best she could to hold back her fears, but the constant scratching, the frigid air and the absence of light did not help. She began to tremble uncontrollably, just barely forcing herself to move forward.
She reached out with her arm, aiming for the doorknob. The scratching abruptly stopped and the handle turned with a click. Clara wrenched her hand away as she jumped back in shock.
She quickly took cover beside the door as it slowly swerved open. She stood there, frozen in fear, clutching her heart, trying to calm her nerves, expecting whatever was on the other side to burst into the room.
Several moments passed. Nothing. The room was still.
Dumbfounded, she made her way around the door, holding onto both sides of the doorframe as she leaned over to look; the hallway was completely dark, not a single candle or lantern was lit in the entire home. She closed her eyes and listened closely for any noises that might give away the creature’s presence.
Not a single sound was made, not even the sound of footprints or the nefarious scratching, an eerie silence filled the air.
Clara shuddered, confusion coursed through her mind. What was that thing scratching at her door? Where could it have gone?
Maybe it was just her imagination? Perhaps a rodent had crawled in through an open window somewhere in the house and skittered away when she reached the door.
She then took several steps back, breathing a sigh of relief. Her heart rate stabilized as her fears subsided.
She was about to close and lock the door when there was a sudden creak, then a loud crack. Clara’s eyes bolted wide in surprise and her heart rate spiked. She looked back, the bedroom window began to crack open with fissures spread all across the glass, tearing the material apart as if a massive unseen force was breaking through. The window shattered, she gasped as a freezing gale blasted through the room, chilling her to the very bone and the flames on the candles sputtered like mad. The wind rivaled that of a hurricane, knocking Clara off her feet and sent her flying across her room into the hallway. There was a loud, terrible crash; her trusty lantern fell off the dresser and hit the floor, the glass smashed to bits. Within seconds the lights flickered out of existence and the room went dark.
She could feel all her nerves stretch as she found herself shrouded in shadow. Almost at once she jumped back on her feet.
An even stronger chilling sensation coursed through her when her feet met the floor. The ground beneath her had felt colder and rougher than usual. She was flabbergasted as she quickly realized that she wasn’t standing on wooden floorboards, but stone.
Clara’s heart raced, she started to run, making a dash for the door. She reached out with her arms, expecting to grab the doorknob just a few feet away, only for her hands to feel the cold touch of rock.
She felt all around the wall, trying to find the door, but to no avail. Her movements became more and more frantic; she kept her hands to the wall as she ran, desperate to find a way out. There was none.
At that moment, Clara trembled; this was all starting to feel very familiar, the claustrophobia inducing narrow space, blinding pitch-black darkness and the freezing cold air.
She fell to her knees, hands clasped over her ears. She began to panic, clutching her heart. Her room, her home, had just vanished. Here she was, stuck in a dark, cold cave out in the middle of who knows where, her family nowhere to be found.
She could barely control herself. Her brothers would no doubt soon realize that their little sister was missing, but even then, how would they be able to find her? She was completely alone, trapped, doomed to wander aimlessly in the shadows, blind and isolated, away from her siblings and her home, lost in a maze.
What is happening? she thought, her mind spiraling into a panic, I can’t see! Where is everyone? It’s so cold! No, this isn’t…this can’t be real!
Her panicked thoughts came to a sudden stop, when off the corner of her eye she caught something glinting far off in the distance. It was dim, bright orange in color and appeared to be flickering. Suddenly her eyes widened, it was a light source!
She stood up, staring into the speck of light. Almost immediately her nerves seemed to calm. She started moving towards it, her body caught in a trance. The light intensified, growing brighter as she neared.
Eventually the light grew bright enough to cast away the surrounding shadows. A few feet away a torch lay on the ground, the flame very much intact. She came to an abrupt halt as she spotted a pair of pale lights flare up from within the void. The lights flashed for a brief moment, before scurrying away into the shadows. Clara’s eyes adjusted to the darkness, she gasped when she suddenly realized that they were not lights, but eyes.
Moments of dead silence passed. This time the firelight could offer her no comfort. Clara stood still, breathing heavily through her nose, her anxiety back at its peak. She was not alone here.
Her ears perked, she picked up a faint noise in the distance, far off into the shadows. Was it clicking? No, scratching, and it was getting louder with every passing second, coming closer.
She wanted to run. She made a motion to move, but her limbs would not obey her will. Alarm surged through her; she realized that she was frozen in place, paralyzed in pure fright. Her eyes widened in terror and her heat sank as the shadows crawled up behind her. Clara winced, unable to move, overwhelmed with fear.
The familiar scratching got louder and louder, the grating noise echoed off the cavern walls, forcing her to grit her teeth in agitation. Suddenly a pair of sharp, jagged claws emerged from the darkness, followed by an ear-piercing shriek and a pair of wide, bulbous eyes rushing straight for her.
Clara screamed. She crouched, shielding her face as the creature lunged towards her, gasping, trembling in fear with each agonizing moment, waiting for the sharp claws to tear at her any second.
But it never came. Her eyes slid open and she lowered her arms, the creature was gone.
Clara was dumbstruck. She couldn’t have been imagining it. She looked all around the cave; it was nowhere to be seen.
Even so, wherever it was, she was not willing to stand there and let it find her again. She snatched up the torch on the ground, its radiant light illuminating the dark corridor as she ran, blindly into the darkness, sparks and embers scattering into the air.
She didn’t have to run very far. Clara’s ears perked, she skidded to a halt as a faint whistling echoed from deep within the corridor. The whistling turned to howling, followed by a gale-force wind blasting through the tunnel. She braced herself, the torchlight was quickly extinguished and the darkness closed in around her. She caught a brief glimpse of movement from within the shadows before her eyes strained from the absence of light.
Seconds later her vision adjusted, her eyes caught sight of a dim red light glinting in the dark. A cloaked figure stood in front of her, its features concealed in shadow, save for a pair of large ears and a feather tipped tail coated in a harsh red glow. She squinted as the source of the cerise light caught her eye; it was an intricate amulet, decorated in pure gold with a flawless ruby encrusted in the center.
The figure raised its head, revealing a long snout, keeping its face hidden underneath the shroud. Clara recoiled as she saw his lips stretch into a wry smile baring a set of sharp fangs. An arm slipped out of the cloak, raised and outstretched, his hand consisted of sharp, large claws that could easily tear through stone. The figure curled all but one of his fingers, pointing in her direction. The glowing crimson light radiating off the talisman grew brighter than ever as fiery sparks emitted from the tip of the silhouetted figure’s claw.
There was a flash of light. Clara couldn’t hear her scream above the sound of crackling plasma as she felt a powerful jolt course through her. In an instant the figure and the whole cave vanished, turning to pitch-black darkness and then…
Clara bolted awake with a start, letting out a frightened gasp. She was breathing heavily and shivering like mad; she clutched her heart, her body was cold and mist stemmed from her every breath.
She lay still for several moments, too shocked to even dare move an inch. She forced herself to look around only through the corner of her eyes; she was back in her own room. Several candles lit the room in a soft warm glow, flickering in the nightly ambience.
She shivered again as another freezing gust whisked past her. She stirred, leaning to her side; the window was wide open, the curtains swaying in the wind from the raging rainstorm outside.
Despite her fear and confusion, she collected the courage to move, sitting upright on the bed. She reached out and quickly closed the window shut, breaking the draft of cold air. She closed her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief as she lay back down, waiting for her heart to relax with the sound of her own breathing as her only guide. In time her heart was tranquil and she could finally breathe normally again.
Flashes of the nightmare played in her mind; the closeness of the cave walls, the cold, damp air and the overwhelming feeling of dread and disorientation. It had been quite some time since she and her brothers had set foot into the eerie, crumbling cavern within the Haunted Woods, but to her, it felt like it was just yesterday.
Even worse, the nightmare felt all too real; the touch of the stone walls, the cold air, the sound of the scratching and the reach of the shadows creeping up on her. All of these visions, stirred from her newfound fears, manifested from the deepest corners of her subconscious mind. The horrors may all vanish the very moment she woke up, but even then, the mind was not always so resilient.
“Relax, Clara, its only a nightmare,” she muttered aloud, “All just a dream.”
At least, that is what she would tell herself every time. In the end, it worked; her mind eventually calmed and her fear slipped away, the well-lit room aiding in her comfort, the radiant, burning light kept the darkness at bay while she fell back into a deep sleep. It wasn’t long before the memories of the haunted cavern seemed to recede back into the very corners of her subconscious mind.
But it was only temporary, for as the night lingered, memories of the desolation, the engulfing darkness, the horror, all gnawed at the back of her mind, waiting for the proper moment to strike, to turn her precious dreams into horrible nightmares.***
The next morning…
Arthur set out on his way to the kitchen to prepare a quick filling meal. He came to a stop when he spotted his sister, Clara, reading at the dining room table.
Arthur smirked. He bent his knees, taking very slow, cautious steps, being careful not to make too much noise as he walked on the wooden floorboards. Luckily for him, she was far too focused on her book to even take notice of her brother.
“MORNING, BOOKWORM!” Arthur’s voice boomed right into her ears, clasping his hands on her shoulders.
“YAAAARGH!” Clara let out a loud startled yelp, almost jumping out of the chair.
The red Zafara giggled at his sister’s reaction, only to meet the side of Clara’s fist, receiving a firm punch in the temple, almost knocking him off his feet. He gripped his hand over his left eye as his head throbbed from the impact.
“Arthur! Don’t scare me like that! You’re so lucky I didn’t have anything sharp in my hands just now!” she exclaimed, taking shallow breaths and clutching her heart.
Arthur regained his composure, staring back at his sister, who stood in a fighting stance with her arms outstretched, knees bent and one foot in front of the other. It didn’t take him long to quickly realize what he had done wrong.
“Oh! Clara, I…I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you! I forgot that you’ve been a little jumpy ever since that cave—”
“No, it’s okay Arthur. Just promise me you won’t do that again, please.” Clara said. She took a few deep breaths as her nerves calmed, sitting back down on the chair. Arthur stared at her for a few moments. Then went on his way.
As Arthur passed her by, she noticed that he had a satchel wrapped around his left arm. She raised an eyebrow; it was not like her brother to be in such a hurry, especially so early in the morning.
“Arthur?” she asked.
“Are you going somewhere?”
“I am, yes.” Arthur replied. He walked over to her, “I was actually hoping to get this thing appraised.” He reached into his satchel, producing a talisman.
Clara’s eyes widened, the trinket was coated in the purest of gold with a circular shape the size of Arthur’s hand. There were strange symbols carved around the outside that she could not recognize, surrounding a large flawless ruby fixed in the center. Her eyes were drawn to the delicate ruby encrusted on the trinket; she noticed a strong ethereal red glow emanating from the jewel, almost as if a scorching, raging fire burned within the very crystal.
“Hey, isn’t this is the one you found—?”
“Yes, Clara, that very one.” Arthur interjected. He tried to be as careful as possible not to mention the dark cavern in the Haunted Woods in front of her again, whether she wanted to bring it up or not. He knew that she hadn’t been sleeping too well lately, not since that day.
Clara turned her attention away from the trinket, eyeing her brother, “How long will you be gone?” she asked.
“I’m not really sure, might be a couple of days, maybe almost a week, there’s quite a few places I need to travel to.”
She stared at her brother with a look of surprise, “A week?”
“Well, I shouldn’t be away for too long, I’ll be back before you know it. Besides, Parlebb will be here to look after you while I’m gone.” Arthur placed a hand on her shoulder, reassuring her.
She raised her head, “Just promise me you’ll be safe, ok?”
“Aww, Clara,” Arthur hugged her, “You worry too much. You know I’m always careful.”
“Please, just for good luck?” she replied, hugging him back.
“Okay, I promise.” he said with a wink.
Clara’s eyes followed her brother as he walked into the kitchen, prepared a meal and packed several more for his trip. She turned her attention back to her book, continuing from where she left off.
All of a sudden she jumped, almost yelping in fright at the ear-piercing sound of something sharp grating against stone. It was Arthur; he had accidentally scraped the stone counter as he chopped some vegetables.
He noticed her reaction, “Sorry, Clara!” he said, grinning.
Clara just stared at him. She sighed and returned to her reading.
“Okay, I’m off! Take care, sis’!”
Clara flinched as she heard the front door slam, the impact shaking the walls of the home. Her heart sank a little as the whole house fell into an empty silence, almost as if the house was completely vacant. She paused for a moment and took a deep breath.
After a while she slammed the book shut, “Blast it! I was sure this book would have better material on alleviating nightmares, but it’s all speculation,” she let out an exasperated sigh, “Nope, this isn’t going to work, I’ll have to find another book.”
She stood up from her chair, holding the book to her side.
She suddenly stopped in her tracks. One image rushed to the front of her mind; the silhouetted figure hidden in shadow and the mystical amulet that hung around his neck.
That amulet… she thought, recalling her dream the night before. It was the very same one that Arthur had in his possession, painted in gold with a flawless ruby in the center surrounded by those strange symbols. Suddenly her eyes widened and she perked up, for a brief moment she could have sworn she had seen it give off a harsh red glow as Arthur held out the amulet in front of her, that very same cerise glow from the one the cloaked figure had worn.
Clara rushed out of the dining room, dashing through the foyer and burst through the front door, expecting to find her brother close by. She had to tell him about her dream!
But her heart sank, as she realized she was too late, he was nowhere nearby. He must have already made his way to the marketplace and reached the stagecoaches by now, boarding the first trip to wherever it was he was headed.
Discouraged, she returned to the dining room and recoiled in her chair, anxious. Her mind resisted every attempt to shake away the nightmare.
Sure, she realized that her dreams were influenced by her newfound fear of darkness and the underground, but what did it all mean? Who was that stranger in the cloak? Why did he possess the very same amulet that Arthur now has? What was his purpose? Was it a premonition of things to come, like with her brother Arthur and his recurring dream? Was the same thing about to happen to her, perhaps something worse?
Or, perhaps it was just a nightmare and nothing more? After all, not all dreams and nightmares come true, right? Then again, how could she know for sure?
She knew deep down that something was definitely amiss. The sinking feeling in her heart grew stronger by the second, her thoughts troubled by the memories of the haunted cavern and all the fears she had experienced, the memories still fresh in her mind; the claustrophobic, narrow cavern walls and the suffocating depths leading deep underground into parts unknown. Not to mention the nefarious scratching, the horrifying creature that chased her down the tunnels and how close she was to being caught in its grasp. While she and her brothers may have covered much ground when they set foot in the abandoned grotto, she remembered the maze-like nature of the series of tunnels and warrens stretching far into the depths of the world. They did not see everything. Surely there were many more places that were undiscovered, lying in wait, anticipating the next unfortunate batch of unsuspecting travelers to stumble upon the many secrets of the ancient underground city. Could it be perhaps, that the mystery of the ancient cavern is somehow connected to that mystical amulet?
She shook away the thoughts. No. There was absolutely no way they were ever going to have any reason to go back down there. Once was one time too many.
Clara gazed outside the window; in the distance storm clouds blocked the sun, casting a gloomy haze over the landscape.
The shadows stretched all across the land, the storm was brewing and the darkness was coming.