As we continued to walk, Leech and I, side by side with the massive form of Darien in his true, Draconic state, a terrible rumble shook the firmament and massive cracks formed at our feet. Leech nearly got swept into a newly formed fissure, searing white light flowing upward from some unknown depths below. Darien swept his right wing forward to scoop Leech back from the brink, admonishing ‘the fool’ for his sloppy footwork. Leech was astonished that Darien thought to try to save him, and though I would not admit it, the gesture was just as strange and confusing to me. Darien had nothing to gain in doing so. If the looming shadows in this part of his subconscious represented the darkness pervading his soul, perhaps these white fissures were symbolic of whatever good remained within him (if ever there was any to begin with).
- After Darien made his uncharacteristically noble gesture, he, too, stepped awkwardly, and it became apparent that there was some potent will behind the growth and depth of these spreading fissures of white energy. Darien stumbled forward and his right arm sunk deep into the light, which sloshed like water at his touch and brought a tremendous scream of agony barreling outward from his panicked lungs. Leech moved to help him, but I held the lad back. It was far more important to see how this played out. Perhaps the answers we sought were here before us, embedded in symbolism. Adon remarked that, symbolic though it may be, the pain was quite real. Darien was screaming in body as well as in mind.
- As Darien reared back from the fissure, the scales of his arm and the right side of his chest began to bubble and blister, peeling away in sheets to reveal what looked like human skin beneath. He shrieked in fear, and Leech knelt to vomit from the sight of it. This was a nightmare neither Leech nor I was quite prepared to face. I steeled myself, but I couldn’t help but feel some pity for Darien, even despite all his wrongs. The damage spread like fire across his body, left, up, and down, and all the while his body shrunk and contorted and shook, all the while his shrieks grew thinner and more pathetic, all the while his Draconic nature was torn from him against his will, left in tattered, wind-blown shreds all around his naked, vulnerable, shivering human body.
“No,” he exclaimed, first hoarsely, then again with mounting rage and ferocity. “NO! Not again! Not this!”
“This happened to you,” I asked. “Your Draconic nature was taken from you. Painfully.”
“By your father,” I guessed. He nodded, climbing up from his hands and knees and watching as the last vestiges of his former greatness fluttered like clumps of dust into the wind and, finally, vanished completely.
“Yes, but also once before,” called a great, thundering voice in the distance. We all looked in the direction from whence the words came, and we were stunned to see the very sky itself being rendered in twain by a bolt of white lightning, a pair of clawed hands ripping apart the horizon as one would a drape to welcome the morning sun. “Do you remember, Darien?”
“How could I forget,” Darien said… a sullen scowl forming on his face.
“Lord Thoron, I presume,” I said, offering a wide and purposeful vow to the fallen King of Dragons. Darien grunted, likely frustrated that I would show his predecessor any courtesy that I would deny him.
“Isn’t Thoron the Dragon you and Laurence came to Infernia to kill,” Leech asked. I tried to hush him, but it was a moot effort. Thoron didn’t seem to have any interest in me at all.
“This is Thoron as he once was,” I explained in a quieted tone. “The beast we stalk is but a shadow of Thoron. It shares his flesh, but not his spirit. It is Stendhal, now, for Thoron is no more.”
“Except here, in my mind,” Darien said, “The Draconic Divinity was entrusted to me decades ago. Whatever remained of Thoron’s soul must thus reside within me… and I never knew it…”
Thoron’s steely gaze would bring the bravest of men to their knees, but Darien was no mere man. He stood as tall and proud as he could manage, stared defiantly toward the titanic Dragon, and let out a mighty roar that shook the heavens above and rattled the earth at our feet…
- I asked what reason Thoron would have had to strip Darien of his draconic nature, and Darien seemed reluctant to answer. As if anticipating that he would never admit it, even within the confines of his own mind, Thoron slammed a mighty fist down alongside Darien, whose long black hair whipped in tangled strands with the wind in the wake of Thoron’s tremendous forearm. Thoron bade him answer the question, and Darien’s bravado held firm, but only for a moment. His eyes darted away from Thoron’s gaze. He could no longer hold him in his view, so potent was his… shame?
- “Tell them,” Thoron’s voice beckoned; Leech and I clasped our palms to our eardrums.
- “I… attempted to usurp Thoron’s rule,” Darien admitted.
- “I took you in,” Thoron said, softer, but the depth of bass in his voice, the low, ever-present rumble of his throat made it impossible to part my hands from my ears. In fact, I pressed harder, and found myself stumbling and struggling to stay myself from fainting dead away. “I married your mother and took you under my wing, into my lair, as a father would a wayward son.”
- “And he betrayed your trust,” I managed to say, gaining both Darien and Thoron’s attention. “Just as his own son Jaden betrayed his own.”
- “Perhaps treachery runs thick in the blood of Silas Vale,” Thoron said with a sneer. Darien shot Thoron a look.
- “You represent guilt? What a joke,” Darien scoffed. “I harbor no guilt over what happened between us. I was a far better king than you, and I’ll yet be a better god to our people.”
- “We shall see,” Thoron said, rearing back, inhaling deeply, and loosing a blinding, painful flash of light against us. Darien let out a dreadful scream, and suddenly it was as if the world had changed. Darien tore up from silken sheets, screaming ‘no’ and shrinking back to the headboard of an ornate bed in a panic. Leech and I took a moment to recognize it, but this was no longer a vision given by Thoron. Darien was not in control of these events, but was a victim to them. Darien had no recollection of this place, an exquisite mansion boudoir, and he sought answers from me as to where we were and how we came to be here. I confessed to have no such knowledge. If this was not Thoron’s doing, nor Darien’s own memories, then it had to be something else buried deeply within Darien’s subconscious…
Meanwhile, Deep Within the Blackzone of Glyph…
T’saira, Borgamat, and Cade flew into the unforgiving darkness of Glyph’s central boroughs, an area blanketed in an impermeable darkness that made the going treacherous and fraught with a sense of ill omen. Cade used his ability to bend and manipulate light, creating an orb of luminescence ahead of the trio as they swept carefully through the cityscape. The surface of these streets once glistened in the dim, yet constant glow of great blue magical orbs held in the grip of massive stone clawed hands reaching up from the ground at nearly every street corner and market square. Now, as far as the eye could see between here and the northernmost edge of the city, all below and above was utter and complete blackness…
- Realizing that the way ahead was far too treacherous to continue much further, T’saira called for a brief rest and reconnoiter of the area. Cade manipulated the orb of light to the ground level, where they could make out the relatively still shapes of zombies, skeletons, and other undead. They were standing in near perfect patterns, as if they were a trained military force awaiting orders, but they had no life in them. They were like statues.
- The nearest of the massive orbs was visible from here as well. The stone claw-like perch was intact, but the orb was shattered into great shards of broken glass, some of which had obviously slashed and gutted the very zombies who destroyed it. It seemed that they devoted themselves to destroying that orb… and then they just stopped.
Elosian, in the guise of Lord Niska, accompanied Daegys and Cackle west to the city’s outer perimeter, where tens of thousands of harried refugees were packed tightly in the streets. They had gone under Laurence’s orders to gain the support and active control of the Glyph military while scouting for the proper supplies and locations to plant explosive charges, which in the worst-case scenario could be used to destroy Glyph to prevent the zombie plague from spreading outward and ravaging all of Infernia.
- As they arrived, Elosian (as Niska) was greeted by General Ozlokh of the Fourth Armored Infantry Unit. He informed “Lord Niska” that the massive congestion of refugees were being prevented from fleeing the city in order that he could perform a thorough investigation as to the cause of this horrible plague, and uncover the culprits responsible. “Niska” was furious, saying that he’s sentencing these people to death, which will only add to the zombie army’s numbers. He demoted General Ozlokh to Colonel and made Daegys the General of 4-AIU.
- While Daegys executed his first major order, a requisition of explosive munitions from as many viable storehouses as possible, a thunderous roar came echoing from the west, beyond Glyph’s outer walls. A flash of lightning tore skyward from beyond the nearby mountainous region. Elosian was about to ask, but he didn’t have to. Cackle took it upon himself to blink in that direction and take a look around. He was back almost before he left.
“There’s guys! GUYS”
“Calm down, Cac…,” Daegys began.
“Okay, but how many guys? Is it an army? The Legion? The Restoration Army? Wha…”
Before he could protest, Cackle grabbed Daegys by his sleeve and blinked him out to see for himself. There was a tremendous force of arms on approach heading toward the city of Glyph, about a day’s march to the west, and showing no sign of slowing down. Before he could properly plead to be brought back, Daegys was in Glyph again, breathing heavily, pale as a ghost and soaked with nervous sweat.
“GUYS!” Cackle said. “Right Daegys?”
After catching his breath, Daegys replied “Yes. Lots of guys. Good work, Cackle.”
“Hee hee hee,” Cackle giggled and rolled over, then tackled the nearest demon soldier and stared him down. “I did good! That means treats! Daegys, make this guy give me treats.”
“You,” Daegys said to the soldier. “Go… go grab him a bone or something.”
“Yes, General, sir!”
“So,” Elosian said in a hushed, yet stern voice. “What are we looking at?”
“In 24 hours, the Legion Army will be at our throats, with the Fiendrakken Stendhal leading the way.”
The Inner Sanctum of Darien Vale
Darien threw off the blankets, shivering and naked, and ran to the window near where Leech and I now stood. He gazed from the window and down to the courtyard outside. He was shaking, his eyes darting around like those of a caged animal…
- “Do you know where we are, Darien,” I asked. He stared at the ornate carved wainscoting and shook his head, then sniffed loudly. His gaze moved to the double-hung doors, a pair of tall, lavishly detailed hardwood panels with precious gemstones embedded within the central, depressed areas. He moved to the doors, tilting his head slightly as if he was trying to hear something from the area beyond, and pushed the doors apart. We walked out onto a suspended landing, like an indoor balcony, and Darien leaned against a polished heartwood balustrade lining the edge of the landing.
- Below was an exquisitely decorated foyer with a series of thirty-foot-tall lavender-colored glass windows flanking a pair of equally tall and equally exquisite entry doors. The doors swung widely open with a ferocious blast of magical fire, and in the brilliant light, the figure stepping into view was almost supernaturally large and intimidating, his silhouette perhaps betraying the greatness he would one-day aspire to. However, as he moved into the foyer, it could be seen that this man was carrying a beautiful young woman with raven black hair and dazzling green eyes. She seemed listless, as if she were injured or drugged. A servant dashed toward the man, who kicked him away and put his boot to the servant’s throat.
- “I have need of your master’s bed,” the man said. Darien was transfixed. “It would be in his best interest to leave. Gather him and begone.” The servant scrambled away, clutching his throat, and ran deeper into the mansion. It was at this point when Darien came to the realization that the woman was his mother, the Black Dragon, Blight.
- Darien leapt over the balustrade and to the floor below, rushing to the aid of his mother. The man carrying her saw him coming and used a magical barrier spell to protect himself from Darien’s attack. Darien then froze in shock as he looked the man in the eyes, and knew that this was his father, Silas Vale. Silas, too, froze upon sight of Darien. Blight looked at her son with confusion in her eyes, as if she had no idea who Darien was supposed to be. Darien weakly called out to her, “Mother…” when an arrow pierced Silas Vale in the back and through his chest.
- The servant gathered his master, who saw that Silas Vale was distracted and used the opportunity to slay the intruder. Darien shrieked and went to cradle Silas Vale’s dead body in his arms, screaming, “Father! My father! You’ve taken my father away!”
- As Darien closed his eyes and felt hot tears stream in sheets down his cheeks, he felt the world slip away beneath him. When he opened his eyes again, he was sitting in a booth at a tavern, his arms folded in front of him, his head planted face-first into the nest made of his arms. As he came to, Leech and I found ourselves sitting across from him in the same booth. I was fascinated. I have never seen a person with a subconscious so frenzied and out-of-control. Darien Vale was a victim of his own mind. I almost felt pity, but I reminded myself of what he had done, and of what must now be done as a result.
- There was a halfling sitting at the bar across from our table, and he occasionally glanced over at us. We had to look quite strange to him. I was a Weren, Leech a Tiefling, and Darien, while apparently human, was naked. The halfling leaned across the bar to whisper to the barmaid a lovely human woman in her late forties, to get her thoughts on the strange folks in booth 4. A dazzlingly beautiful elven woman moved next to him and placed her hand on his shoulder, then leaned in to ask the barmaid, Melaena, for a drink. At the far end of the tavern, a small pair of girl’s feet could be seen from beneath an unoccupied table, a little human girl playing with a tiny, white kitten.
- Darien saw the name of the tavern on the door as it swung open with the entrance of a new customer. Drogyn’s Bar. His eyes widened. He glanced at the little girl, then stood up and began to walk toward her, calling out her name, “Caerdwyn?”
- The halfling, Tarrik Broadleaf, dove from his stool and darted across the top of the bar to jump down between the crazed, naked human moving toward little Caerdwyn. I got up to try to calm the situation down, but the elven woman… obviously Rynn, placed a hand on my chest and told me to relax. I fell into my seat, full of bliss and peaceful relaxation. Leech, not knowing what to do, stayed seated. Tarrik Broadleaf, the namesake of Tarrik Martok, brought a pair of short swords to bear in defense of Caerdwyn. He bellowed to Darien, “Stay away from her, you freak!”
- The kitten Caerdwyn was playing with got frightened by Darien’s sudden approach and let out a vicious hiss. Darien responded with a hiss of his own, which made the cat run out the door in fear. Caerdwyn got incredibly angry, screaming, “NO! You fool! You scared her away!” Caerdwyn transformed into a young dragonling, the table above her smashing into countless tattered shards, and she let loose a tremendous roar of anger toward Darien. He weakly pleaded her her to know him, to remember him, not to be angry with him, but she snarled, huffed, and blew out a gust of fiery breath that wrapped around Darien’s body and set him ablaze. He screamed in agony and ran out the front door, but instead of appearing outside, he appeared in the chamber of Lord Niska’s Manse, where he had recently completed his father’s task and unleashed this zombie apocalypse upon Glyph.
- There were two Darien Vale’s here, one with us, and one nearing a pedestal upon which stood a small glass orb clutched in a stone clawed hand. It was nearly identical to the glowing orbs found on street corners throughout the city of Glyph. This was it. This was how we would determine what happened to allow the undead to rise beneath our feet and potentially vanquish an entire city, if not eventually the whole of Infernia.
- We moved into the room, our Darien naked and badly burned, and watched as the other Darien moved into position and placed the palms of his hands against the surface of the glass orb. Black, smoky tendrils of magical energy poured forth from Darien’s outstretched palms and within the orb, where they began to take the form of a spectral humanoid wraith with a crude scythe-like shape emanating from one of its smoke-formed arms. I moved closer to the orb, and I saw something within the orb, sharing the space with this spectral invader, writhing and trying futilely to keep away from the intruding, black, amorphous shape. Leech and I recognized what it was… a sliver! It was a shred of a soul, and one which had been locked away in a hidden chamber of Lord Niska’s mansion.
- With a violent strike of the scythe, the sliver glowed brightly, then seemed to become enveloped by the shape. It was obviously a fragment of the God of Death, and what was in that orb, a Sliver, an Infernal soul, was somehow taken from this realm and brought to Arcadia. The black shape shot skyward, phasing through the ceiling and likely taking the sliver directly to the waiting arms of the God of Death. With that, the ground erupted beneath our feet, and Darien was pulled beneath the floor by hundreds of savage, clasping, skeletal arms. He let out a scream, crying out, “What have I done,” and then he awoke in Amducias’ apartment, free from his nightmarish trek through his Inner Sanctum.
A Strategy Brave, Bold, and Insane
Laurence, or rather, Wrath, gathered us all together once we rejoined one another from our individual missions. We all shared the information we had attained, and the patterns added up to a dire situation before us:
- The zombie invasion was triggered by the reaping of a soul sliver by the God of Death. The God of Death has no right to that sliver, and in removing it from its resting place within Niska’s manse, Veil unleashed a weapon of mass destruction against Infernia. In Wrath’s eyes, this was an act of war.
- Since the start of the zombie invasion, they have been pushing outward from the center of the city at a rapidly increasing rate. As they gain ground, they destroy the glowing orbs found throughout the city, blanketing their conquered territories in total darkness.
- The zombies in these darkened areas seem to line up in near perfect military ranks and simply cease all activity, leaving the continued devastation to the zombies closest to the front.
- Speaking of the front, within less than two hours, this apartment building would be right in the middle of the fighting.
- The city cannot be evacuated because of the approach of the Legion of Asmous, who would likely exterminate any fleeing refugees on the off-chance that they are infected in some way. It does not appear that this zombie threat is an infectious disease, but a magical phenomenon, but there is no way for the Legion to know that, and no way to inform them effectively.
- The Legion Army will reach the city border within 24 hours. At that time, they will likely attempt to destroy the entire city and everyone in it to prevent the plague from spreading any further.
- Stendhal, whose extermination was the entire original purpose of our trek into Infernia, is leading the Legion Army, and will be here within less than a day’s time.
Wrath took a deep breath inward, and told everyone other than myself, T’saira, Cade, Daegys, Leech, and Elosian to leave the room. Once he had us alone, he informed us of his intentions…
“This all started when Darien Vale helped his father to commit a theft in the heart of this city. Veil may be the God of Death, but he has no right to any soul of Infernia. He took that sliver, and created this mess we find ourselves in. I plan on going to Arcadia and taking back what was stolen.”
“Laurence,” I protested, “You can’t possibly believe you can accomplish this. We only have 24 hours…”
“Then stop wasting my time, Khulvos,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I was going to do this if I didn’t think it could be done. I am going to need help from you… from all of you. This is not a journey I can make lightly, and certainly not one I want to make alone.”
“You’re never alone,” T’saira said, taking Laurence’s hand. Laurence smiled at her and nodded. “Right, guys?”
“Right,” Cade said.
“I owe you this,” Daegys replied. “I owe you everything. If you’re marching into Heaven, I’ll be there at your side, ready for anything.”
“Me too,” said Elosian.
“Very well,” I relented. “I am, as always, humbled by the valor of our allies. How do you plan on getting there?”
“I have a theory,” he said. “I think I’ll need Darien’s help.”
“I believe you will find him less resistant to aid you, now,” I said. “His eyes were opened to a great many facets of his subconscious. Our journey through his Inner Sanctum was a… humbling experience.”
“For all of us, I think,” Leech added. I nodded in agreement. “What about me, Wrath. Am I coming to Arcadia, too?”
“No, Leech,” Laurence said. “I need you to get these people ready for evacuation. If I’m correct, the time difference between Arcadia and Infernia will make it seem as if we never even left, but just in case…”
“I gotcha,” Leech said. “I’ll hold down the fort, or burn it down, if that’s what it comes to.”
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Chapter 1: The Dreamers in… Hellbound
Chapter 2: The Dreamers in… Life In The Cauldron
Chapter 3: The Dreamers in… The Waking Nightmare
Chapter 4: The Dreamers
Chapter 5: The Dreamers in… Escaping The Cauldron
Chapter 6: The Dreamers in… Wrath of the Beholder
Chapter 7: The Dreamers in… Hounds of Hell
Chapter 8: The Dreamers in… Hideous Laughter
Chapter 9: The Dreamers in… The Tomb of Caenus Graymane
Chapter 10: The Dreamers in… Allure of the Wispwaters
Chapter 11: The Dreamers in… Goodbye, Impy
Chapter 12: The Dreamers in… Sole Survivor
Chapter 13: The Dreamers in… The Iron Fist
Chapter 14: The Dreamers in… Battle at the Ancient Wall
Chapter 15: The Dreamers in… The Long, Hard Road
Chapter 16: The Dreamers in… Hunted
Chapter 17: The Dreamers in… On Fields of Ancient Dead
Chapter 18: The Dreamers in… The Woods of Woe
Chapter 19: The Dreamers in… Divine Intervention
Chapter 20: The Dreamers in… The Standing Stones
Chapter 21: The Dreamers in… Cherished Memories
Chapter 22: The Dreamers in… Hero of the Night Sword
Chapter 23: The Dreamers in… Well of Slivered Souls
Chapter 24: The Dreamers in… Dreams of a Lost World
Chapter 25: The Dreamers in… What Might Have Been (Part 1 of 2)
Chapter 26: The Dreamers in… What Might Have Been (Part 2 of 2)
Chapter 27: The Dreamers in… Shimekiri Sankatte (Part 1 of 2)
Chapter 28: The Dreamers in… Shimekiri Sankatte (Part 2 of 2)
Chapter 29: The Dreamers in… A Long Black Day
Chapter 30: The Dreamers in… No Justice In Hell
Chapter 31: The Dreamers in… The Soothsayer’s Tower
Chapter 32: The Dreamers in… Harrowing Revelations
Chapter 33: The Dreamers in… Tonight We Dine In Hell
Chapter 34: The Dreamers in… The Dead Rise To Claim Us
Chapter 35: The Dreamers in… Wrath
Chapter 36: The Dreamers in… Shadows in the Distance
Chapter 37: The Dreamers in… Through the Gates and Into Heaven