I felt, rather than heard, the scream tearing from my throat. All went dark, and I found myself unable to breathe, unable to move. My fingertips felt like they were being pricked with needles, and the feeling spread inward. Under my skin, I felt those needles. I felt them in my lungs. There was no escape from this pain!
I was being shaken by someone. My eyes opened, seeing only darkness, and I flung my arms at whatever was touching me. My fist connected solidly with a man’s jaw.
“Ugh!” he grunted, but held my shoulders still. “Wake up.”
My eyes focused in the dark, and I vaguely saw the man who had shaken me from my nightmare. “Who am I?” I asked, fear overtaking me.
He sighed and let go of me. “You’ll figure it out. It’s always like this, you know. Every time you wake up from one of those damn things, you forget everything.”
I tried to slow my breathing and my racing heart. I stared at him as he got up. The clatter of armor made me jump.
“Here.” He grabbed my hand and hauled me up. “We need to move. They’re after us, and if we stay here for too long, they’ll catch up.”
“Who?” I asked, feeling tears prick my eyes.
He grunted. “Usually it wears off faster than this. Must have been a really intense dream.”
I gulped, recalling the full extent of the pain. I focused on running. I couldn’t see in this darkness, still, so he continued to lead me.
I heard a voice in my head. Aneen. I looked around.
“You coming around?” He spoke and breathed remarkably well for someone who was sprinting.
“My name is Aneen.” I stated.
“Yep.” He said, tugging me along. “I’m gonna have to carry you if you don’t speed up.”
I yelped and tried to catch up. “You.”
He made a noise. “Me? What about me?” He sounded playful.
He made an aggravated noise. He stopped, turned, and picked me up, holding me to his chest, an arm under my legs and the other under my back. He continued sprinting like I was not even there.
“How about I speed things up, a bit. Okay, Aneen?”
I nodded, still unable to see his face in the dark.
“I am Malice.” He took a long breath, and I realized I really was affecting his running speed and stamina.
“You’ve been protecting me.” I said, and he nodded, letting his breath out as steadily as he could. “How much farther do we have to go?”
“That’s much more like it.” He stopped. “Can you remember how to run like normal?”
I gave him a befuddled look and he sighed. “You can’t see me, either. That dream really screwed you up…” He put me down. “Think for a second. Does something feel out-of-place in there?”
I paused, and tried to comprehend what he was saying. I felt something there, come to think of it.
“That enables you to do things that you can’t do in your dreams. That is what makes you real.” He continued walking on, and I followed. “You’re thinking with your dream-mind. You need to stop that, and join me in the real world, here.”
I felt something click, and I smiled. “Okay. I got it. Sorry for taking so long, there.”
Now that I could somehow see, I stared at his back as he shrugged. Malice motioned for me to follow him, and then he resumed his sprint. I followed, feeling a small shock that I could move so fast when, in my dreams, I was always so slow and feeble.
I maintained my breathing and followed Malice closely. I began thinking back, making sure there were no more holes in my memory.
We had just escaped from our captors, who had taken us for reasons we didn’t know. We stopped to eat and rest, and in the process, I suppose I fell asleep. We were able to go days at a time without resting, even though in dreams, we seem to have to rest all the time. I pinched myself while I ran after Malice. Nothing. I smiled. In the real world, pain only applies to certain things. That’s why we are able to use our muscles to do things that we can only wish for in our dreams.
However, that only applies to dreams. Nightmares almost never happen when we dream—when they do, though… anything can happen. It is a world without reality, without sense—without boundaries.
That is why we have these great things—talismans—that we keep when we sleep that allow us to wake up before we are killed in the Nightmare. Our problem is that our talismans were stolen when we were captured.
“I think I’m back, Malice.”
“Good. I think we’re getting closer to the outside world.”
“Let’s hurry, then. I don’t want to be in this place. And we’re gonna have to fight our way out of the town, in any case.”
“Why did you mention fighting?” He asked, distressed. “You jinxed us. Arm up!” He yelled. A figure approached us from ahead, and I watched as Malice grabbed the air in front of him, and his trademark weapons materialized in his hands: dual Chinese scimitars. Well, that’s what they were called in my dreams. Here we call them ‘ceasers.’
I reached out, and felt the air change in my hands. A long rod extended, and I took care to keep the sickle blade away from Malice.
Malice attacked the guy, and I just stood there, holding my scythe. That was our basic formation. He did everything he could to keep me from having to use my scythe—but if more people joined in, I would unleash my full potential, as would he.
As it was, I could tell Malice was having fun slicing at the guard’s weapon. The guy was pretty good at guarding, but he was losing ground. Eventually, Malice became tired of playing around and knocked the guy back. He lost his balance, and Malice shoved him down. We raced past, and I regretfully put my scythe away.
The corridors we were running through echoed with our followers’ shouts.
“They’re ahead of us, too!” he groaned, slowing his pace. “We gotta get out now.”
I looked up at him. “But…”
“I know. It’s dangerous without a talisman, but we have to. You know where to go?”
“To the place where we met.” I answered.
He nodded. “I’ll see you there.”
We turned away from each other and then opened our arms to the rushing of air around us. Everything seemed to get all fuzzy… and then I felt myself fall backwards. The field. The trees. The stream. It was a place I trusted. It was something that felt right. The sun glared, pounding against my eyelids—
—I opened my eyes. Darkness greeted me, and I rolled over in my bed, pulling the covers over my face, inadvertently punching myself. I groaned as I rolled out of bed. It was weird; at first, I didn’t know who I was. Who else could I be but Zaiyo? I went into my kitchen to look at the only working clock in the house. Yep. I had been asleep for 30 minutes. I grumbled to myself and crawled back into bed.
I lay back down, turning on my stereo by my bed. I listened to the melody of some dark and angry song, and fell into it. My head felt dizzy. For some reason, when I closed my eyes, everything seemed too bright. I groaned and pressed a pillow to my face.
I urged myself to go back to slee—
—urged myself to wake back up. The sun had gone down, and I could no longer hear the stream. I realized that I felt numb, and, upon opening my eyes and adjusting to having woken up, I realized that I was being carried again.