Chapter 23Where He Dreams

The moment was still warm and precious, a unity that I can't even remember ever feeling with someone else. Deirdre and I got the clothes from the bed and folded them before laying them on the desk. I put my old clothes in the chest as I wouldn't be needing them for a while. We just stayed in towels, it was just easier and neither of us felt the need for anything else. At least I knew I didn't and Deirdre gave no indication of it either. Though we made her bed as well, she surprised me a little.

"I'd like to sleep next to you."

The thought had been playing on my mind as well, but I didn't exactly want to ask for it. It felt better to give her space, but... I would be stupid to object. "I'd be very happy with that."

We both walked to the bed together, dropping the towels and getting underneath the blanket. It was incredibly nice to feel her warm, soft body against me. Nothing really happened, I just wrapped one arm around her as I laid against her back. Happy to feel her close by in the most natural way possible. Sleep came fast and gentle, pulling me with it in a river of relaxation. The bath had done me good.

I dreamed.

I was in the forest, deeper than anywhere I could remember. The sun might have shone high above the trees, but it was completely obstructed by the branches and leaves, creating a palpable darkness down here. The colours were all washed out, nothing but deep shades of brown and green, as if brightness had hidden in my presence, beautiful flowers that would show only their face once I was gone.

Twigs snagged beneath my feet. I could feel them. No shoes. The ground was not as bad as I expected, mostly mossy with autumn leaves and dry twigs everywhere that stung just a little if I wasn't careful. Smells in the air were wet and thick, almost compost like, with a subtle hint of ashes. It was strange, as I didn't see anything burned or burning. Sounds were muffled as well, no creatures, just the thick silence of the deep forest where everything alive is hidden from view as you pass.

Then there was a sound. Further on there was the voice of a girl. It felt as if she'd been humming all along, but I only just heard it. It wasn't far. When I got near and walked through some shrubbery, I found the little girl, dressed in a cute summers dress, white with various flowers. Her light blond hair was braided in a single tail and shone in the subtle light. Her humming didn't sound familiar, at all. Though it sounded vaguely like a children's rhyme or some folk music, perhaps something from another area. There was a patch of earth in front of her, and it looked like she was using a stick to draw something, but it was hard to see from here, but I didn't want to walk closer yet.

She looked up at me, her voice clear and friendly. "Hello, why are you here?"

I blinked. It was then I realized I was in a dream... Or rather, that I was supposed to be in a dream. But everything was so much more intense than any dream I could remember. It was as if I was literally somewhere else, but not somewhere entirely real. What was I supposed to say to her? I tried the truth..

"I think I'm dreaming?"

She cocked her head sideways. "You're a dreamer? But you look so lost!" Her voice was very cheerful and full of life, such a contrast with the gloomy forest.

I smiled at her. "Well, I suppose you could say I'm lost. I am Taran, who are you?"

She smiled back. "I'm not sure I have a name, the last one called me Alice."

The first thing that came to mind was to ask her about the last one, but somehow it felt dangerous to do so. It was better to move to another subject. "Are you drawing something?"

She nodded, her voice still sweet. "I'm trying, but it's not working. Every time I'm almost finished, the light comes."

I blinked. "What light?"

She looked back at the ground. "You'll see, it will happen again soon."

I smiled. "Can I look at it?"

"Sure!" She almost sounded happy that someone wanted to look.

While she got back to drawing again, I stepped closer, walking around her to see the drawing the right way up. I also realized I was wrong, she wasn't drawing in sand, she was drawing in ashes. While the rest of the forest was either tree, bushes or moss, there was a small patch of ash there, with sharp lines where she'd drawn. She was drawing strange shapes, almost spiral in nature, that appeared to move when you looked at them. Almost like a landscape, or the view of a landscape, from a different world. As I watched, the lines etched themselves in my mind, glowing not on the ground, but in my eyes.

I realized that the girl was starting to glow as well, small, almost invisible flames emanating from her body. She looked quite comfortable, completely unhindered by the ethereal fire. In fact, it looked like she was pleased with them, as if they belonged with her. There was a heat coming from her as well, growing stronger by the moment.

She looked at me and spoke in a tone that was more suggestion than question. "Run?"

I realized that I should be running, and ran. As fast as my legs would carry me, I ran away from her, feeling the heat behind me. Everywhere around me was fire, it burned my back, burned the trees around me. Everything was light, intense and blinding. I couldn't see anything anymore, feel anything anymore, my nerves numbed by the pain of fire. I felt myself turn to ashes.

I woke.