Unreality [DawnsLight]

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  1. Arms and legs pumped. Muscles burned, and heart labored. Lungs ached in his chest. His pulse pumped in his ears, accompanying the muted thump of his bootheels to the broken pavement. Even the sound of his labored breathing sounded distant to his own ears. Sweat made his shirt cold and clammy, and it clung to his lean frame. He chanced a glance upwards from the broken pavement, and his sanity rocked. His heart skipped a beat, and he stumbled, careening into what had once been a brick wall. It exploded away from him, muted and grey, as if it had been struck by a wrecking ball.

    With a grimace, the Survivor spat the dust of sapped bricks from his mouth, and staggered to his feet once more. He couldn't shake that moment's glance from his mind. It wasn't that he couldn't see the sun. It was that the sky was gone. No sun. No moon. No stars. No clouds. But he could see. There was this impossible sort of un-light that seemed to follow him, casting his own shadow before him like a hole in the existence. The world was devoid of color. Of pleasure. Of substance. The last human the Survivor had seen was a week gone, consumed by the unreality. Now, there would be nothing left. Not even bones.

    Steeling his resolve, the survivor bit at the inside of his lip, 'till the sharp thread of pain, and the vividly alive flavor of copper brought his mind back to the present. Madness was bliss. Uncaring. But down that path also waited more than just death. Unmaking. Suddenly, something that should have been innocuous drew his attention like iron to a lodestone. The Survivor had never thought brown could be so colorful. So real.

    He redoubled his efforts, the familiar weight of his old bolt-action rifle weighing down on his shoulder, and adding a sense of security to his hopeful flight from the unseen, unnatural thing that had chased him through that dead world of his.

    The Survivor slowed as he reached the door. It was set in a crumbling building, and it looked entirely out of place. Thick, hearty wood with heavy hinges, and a well-polished brass handle. One calloused hand extended to grasp the handle, and he was equal-parts pleased and shocked at the sensational feedback. The cool, smooth metal was like a balm to his slowly breaking mind. A shiver ran down his spine, and the Survivor knew that the unreality had spotted him again. Without further hesitation, he slammed through the doorway, panting and perspiring.

    He stared agape at the scene before him.
  2. A thin veil of gauzy mist crept low to the forest floor, not yet burned away by the light of morning. The trill of birdsong echoed throughout the trees and the honey-colored light of the rising sun filtered through their leaves, making an ever-shifting dappled brown and green and gold mosaic of the ground. Somewhere, cold water bubbled clean and quick over smooth stones. Somewhere, hooves beat the ground in a desperate attempt at escape. Somewhere, the hunt was afoot.

    She tore through the underbrush, panting with the exertion of vaulting fallen trees and avoiding snarls of briars during her chase. Catching a flash of white to her left she spun, bow at the ready and struggling to keep her ragged breath silent. It was there, just beyond the brush. Her quarry. The legendary white stag.

    With cautious footfalls in the underbrush, the woman slipped behind the wide trunk of an oak. Beads of sweat glinted on her brow and she was thankful for the diaphanous fabric of her hunting dress to keep her cool. That same fabric was also painfully visible in these surroundings. She struggled to slow the pounding of her heart and listen for the footfalls of the stag. Eyes closed, she listened to the telltale rustle of fallen leaves. The beast must truly think himself safe if he was making that much noise.

    A slow smile spread over her lips while she knocked her arrow. She would only have this one chance.

    In a blur of motion the woman rounded the oak and stood in a shaft of sunlight, drawing her bow in one smooth motion but for some reason not loosing the arrow. Upturned hazel eyes were wide in shock as she stared at the stranger and how out of place he was.

    There was a man in her woods.
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  3. It had been so long since he'd seen living wood. Trees, and leaves, all shades of green and brown. How long had it been since last he'd felt the cool dampness of mist? Tasted the very air itself? The Survivor let out a shaken breath, and he wondered if perhaps this was his mind fracturing. Inventing an almost-forgotten haven for him to spend his last moments in, as unreality closed in. He took a step forward, and although there were no dry twigs to snap loudly underfoot, or dried leaves to rustle, he made noise enough to be picked out by a hunter.

    The Survivor wasn't an exceptionally tall man. He might have been considered winsome by women, if he were absent the look of a harried man. His eyes had deep circles beneath them, although they were bright and clear. Atop his head, he had an unkempt mop of brown hair that looked as if it would curl if it got any longer, and few days stubble had built up along his jaw. Over his shoulder was slung a battered old rifle. A bolt-action. His attire was damp with sweat, and dark with dust and grime. The original colors would be difficult to discern. About his hips was slung a toolbelt with all sorts of adornments, from a hatchet, to a length of twine, as well as other sundry items that ranged from the useful to the absurd.

    And he was quick. When a woman rounded the thick trunk of an oak with weapon in hand, it startled the survivor out of his shocked silence. He threw himself off towards the nearest available cover, although the pickings were slim. A fallen trunk served as partial cover, as he began to wrap his brain around what was happening. "Are you real?" He called, his voice hoarse and harsh to his own ears.
  4. He looks so worn, so very tired, and so out of place here. Is that a rifle? She thought, taking a step backwards and pressing her back against the rough bark of the tree behind her.

    "Of course I'm real. As real as you must be. Come out here, I promise I'm friendly despite appearances." She tried to keep her tone light and calm, despite the alarm that still fluttered in her chest. There was something here that spoke of wrongness, a break in the usual flow of proceedings. The woman stepped away from the tree cautiously and peered into the underbrush; the bow was no longer in her hand.

    Although she was presently dressed like the Diana of Greek myth, the gauzy folds of her hunting dress reshaped to fit her body in new ways as she moved. Even the subtle action of her breathing seemed to smooth the fabric across her chest while the swing of her arm solidified a sleeve about her shoulder. The hem flowed like waves breaking over sand down her legs, leaving them clad in nothing more notable than simple denim.

    Carefully, she picked her way around the clearing although this time no dry rustle telegraphed the moment of her feet along the ground. The woman was young, with a subtle athleticism apparent in the movement of her muscles as she walked. No delicate beauty, she was was handsome and dark. Olive skin and thick dark hair falling about her shoulders in combination with her upturned eyes gave her exoticism, while her mundane clothing and easy, open manner seemed to make her accessible.

    She stood stock still as she stranger rose into view once more and her heart hammered against her ribs as if it meant to break free of them. She inhaled sharply and took a single alarmed step forward, her dark brows knit in concern.

    "Heaven on earth- what happened to you?"
  5. The Survivor's breaths began to slow. He hadn't realized how heavily he'd been breathing in his flight from the unreality. The adrenaline coursing through his system was going to come crashing down soon, he knew, and he'd be all shaking hands and chattering teeth when it did. As if to punctuate the conclusion, his digits trembled as he placed a palm flat on the fallen bole of the tree, and pushed himself to his booted feet. He didn't look anything like a hunter. He didn't move like a woodsman. When he stepped, he didn't check for dried leaves, or twigs underfoot. The Survivor was out of his element.

    "Reality is increasingly relative." He murmured, although he made no move to retrieve the rifle slung from his shoulders. Stopped, he looked somewhat gaunt, like a man who hadn't had enough to eat for quite some time. Those sharp, green eyes ran the woman up and down ponderously. "My mind has become most inventive in it's fragility, illusion." He said, stepping cautiously over the fallen tree. "I am quite certain I have never seen you before. Which is impossible."

    With the gracelessness of exhaustion guiding his motions, he sat rather abruptly on the trunk of the tree. "As impossible as this forest. Trees don't exist any more." That drawn face twisted into a scowl before the Survivor let his head fall into his hands. "People don't exist any more. I'm not positive whether I exist. But if I'm hallucinating, I can't be unmade yet. Perhaps I've died, and it just hasn't reached the afterlife yet. Tell me, Illusion; do you know if I am dead? Would you tell me, if you did?" His monologue trailed off, and he pulled his face from his hands to regard the huntress.
  6. She cocked her head to the side as he spoke, trying to decipher the meaning behind the riddle. The all-too bright green eyes in his drawn face made her nervous when they were on her. She moved closer still, cautiously, as one might approach a strange animal. He made no move for the rifle, she reassured herself; and his hands, how they shook. As puzzled as she was by his strange speech, her heart went out to this man who seemed so very lost.

    She cried out softly as he seemed to all but fall onto the toppled tree trunk; she thought he had fainted for a moment. This mystery grew more troubling by the moment and the things this stranger said, the pure and utter nonsense of it, was weighing on her heavily. People did in fact exist, millions just where she was from alone. Forests as well, here and there. A frown tugged at the corners of her full lips and at last she strode toward this man with purpose.

    Kneeling before him, she placed a firm but not unkind hand on his forearm: "I've never seen you before either, Stranger. But if anyone is doing the inventing, it must be me." she murmured. "You feel real enough to me." she tried to sound reassuring, "And I have never seen a dead man gasp for breath like that, so you can't be dead. People do exist, exist in droves, and trees as well. What subconscious worries I must be having for a dream to bring up such questions..."

    She turned warm hazel eyes to meet his luminous green, an unspoken question in them. She was dreaming, wasn't she?
  7. The Survivor watched the woman draw near. He didn't shy away, and he didn't tense. When she laid a hand on his forearm, it was nearly enough to bring tears to his eyes. The warmth, the reality of human contact seemed so utterly alien, so impossibly tangible that his heart wrenched. Hope twined with despair, and a knot rose in his throat, tight and stubborn.

    She's real. Real enough to be felt. Real enough to be unmade. The bitterness in the though the thought surprised the Survivor, and he pulled his eyes away guiltily. "I don't know how I've come to be here, Illusion. There was a door..." He craned his neck around to peer through the misty wood. There was no door. No broken, twisted pavement. No shattered brick. The canopy above was too thick to see whether or not the sky was still there, but the lighting of the forest seemed more real than any light he'd seen in nearly a year. He stopped peering around, and the sudden rush of sensation caught up to him.

    The Survivor's eyes stung, and tears ran unbidden down his face. Pride and shame had both long abandoned the gaunt man, and a rattling sigh escaped his chest. "I-" He didn't know what to say. Those hazel eyes, that warm touch, the slap of cold mist, the smells of the forest around him. It was all more beautiful than anything in his world. And if the unreality followed him, it would shatter and fade all the same.

    A calloused hand rose to scrub the dampness from his cheeks, as the Survivor gave his head a shake. "It's been so long. Have you any food? Water?" He asked, his voice tight and coarse.
  8. She watched the tears well in his eyes and roll downward to be caught up in his stubble and then wiped away, her own expression solemn in response to this Stranger's suffering. With a final reassuring squeeze of his arm, she stood and dusted off her knees before offering him a hand up.

    "I heard a stream in this direction. We'll find it and see what else is around it as far as food goes. Can you walk alright, Stranger?"

    As they passed between the trunks of yew and oak and ash, she studied him more than the quick and troubled glances of their meeting. They were almost the same height, she noted with some surprise; it helped to put her at ease in his company. Even if it was her own dream, she couldn't shake the feeling that things were drastically different now. Was this how lucid dreaming worked? She couldn't decide with any certainty right now.

    The woman tried without success to start conversation several times, but could get no further than a half-thought and slightly parted lips. Finally, her gaze settled on the tool belt about his hips and the items thereon. It was a strange assortment of the practical and the sentimental and she wondered not for the first time about this Stranger's journey. Before she could ask, they came upon the rushing stream, its water clear and cold as it flowed over the rounded stones of the streambed.

    Turning to her companion, she spoke softly; "It should be clean enough for drinking, and you can wash if you like while I try to find food. Can you make a fire with anything in there?" she gestured to his belt. Turning back to the woods, she began to jog off, calling over her shoulder "Don't go anywhere, I'll be back soon!"

    The bow was in her hand again.
  9. The Survivor's gaze rose at the reassurance of the woman's touch, and when she offered a hand to help him to his feet, he took it gladly. The tremors running through his fingers were lessening, and his breaths were very nearly normal. On his feet, he tucked a thumb into the leather strap holding his rifle tight to his back.

    "I can walk," He assured his kind companion, illusory though she might be.

    Again, his eyes swept the forest for the door he'd taken to arrive. The door was gone. Gone like a dream. His gaze ran across the huntress once again, looking for some sort of inconsistency in her. Some impossibility beyond her presence. A number of times, she looked as if she might broach some sort of conversation, but he was just as glad to find that words failed her time and again. Social grace had abandoned the Survivor along with his pride.

    He kept an easy stride alongside the huntress. His feet weren't quiet, but he didn't stumble over raised roots, or uneven ground. As the sound of running water reached his ears, his eyes widened, and his heart skipped a beat. When they were in sight of the stream, it took him a few moments to realize that the woman was speaking to him. Blinking the haze from his mind, the Survivor refocused his gaze on the huntress as he tried to recall precisely what she'd said.

    "I can make a fire," He agreed.

    When the bow appeared in the huntress's hand, it didn't trigger any alarms. Nothing felt off, or unreal about it. The survivor simply turned to the water's edge, and dropped to his hands and knees. He drank greedily from the stream, and spent a moment simply submerging his face in the cool, clear stream, before tossing his head back, and setting about preparing a fire.

    While the huntress was gone, he tended to building the fire into a merry little crackling blaze perhaps a foot high, with branches cut nearby to make it larger if they were needed. He'd also stripped of his dirty, sweat-stained shirt, pants, socks, and undergarments to wash them in the stream. When he'd finished, he hung all of them up on cut branches propped between stones near the fire, and set to washing the rest of himself. His belt too, lay nearby.
  10. As she stepped carefully through the underbrush back in the direction of the pale smoke of a campfire, the woman adjusted the makeshift sack slung over her shoulder. The nearer she came, her louder she made her footfalls; snapping branches from trees to telegraph her approach to her guest. Guest! In her own dream! What a fascinating one this was turning out to be. However, that thought seemed wrong to her on a visceral level. This is much more vivid than any dream she could remember having had before. She chewed her bottom lip absently, rolling the thought about in her mind. At any rate, it never hurt to be hospitable.

    She entered the clearing by the stream and was greeted by a well-laid and merry fire and the Stranger in a state of undress. She tried to hide the moment of surprise, and ducked her flushing face to the game in her bag, busying herself with its preparation.

    As she set it over the fire to roast, she chanced a furtive glance at her companion. He looked a bit better now that he was clean, but she couldn't help feeling a pang of profound sadness at his emaciated state. Casting her eyes back down almost shyly, she spoke.

    "I'm Aria, by the way."
  11. The Survivor relished the chill in the water. The way it made his skin slick, and smooth to the touch. The way it dampened his hair to his brow. Only the huntress's footfalls intruded on his peace of mind, and even those were a balm to his aching psyche. It took him a moment to realize what the woman's arrival meant, and by then it was too late to re-don his sopping undergarments without exposing himself further.

    But then, why should I be embarrassed to reveal myself to a figment of my imagination?
    He wondered silently.

    Back to the fire he returned, and he snatched his still-damp underthings from the stick they'd been hung from, and he ambled off behind a broad tree anyhow. Even if the woman was a figment of his imagination, it was still nice to fall into some semblance of propriety. He grimaced at the chill of his undergarments as they returned to him, before ambling back around the tree, and into the merry light of the fire.

    "Aria," He said, as if testing the name on his tongue. In the light of the fire, and absent all the dirt and grim, he looked like a man of twenty-five, though his gauntness and malnutrition likely added a few years to his face. "Strange. A lovely name, but strange all the same. I thought you'd be a Samantha." He eased himself to the ground cross-legged beside his rifle, and he laid it across his knees. He set about the task of maintaining it, producing gun-oils from his belt. "My name -for what it's worth- is Flinne." Bright, green eyes rose from the gun for a moment to meet his host's own, but they flicked away almost as quickly. "I think perhaps my time away from humanity has left me barren of social grace. I am sorry."
  12. She sat across from her companion in the same manner and studied him as his hands worked on cleaning and oiling the rifle that he held; they moved with an ease of grace that belied their earlier tremors. She spun the morsels of game to cook them evenly, their savory juices sizzling on the hot stones below them. He wasn't as old as she had initially thought.

    She wrinkled her nose and couldn't help the low chuckle that escaped her throat. "Samantha, really? That's the first time I've heard that one. But thank you." Aria smiled, still watching his hands and beginning to relax. When he spoke his name, she couldn't help looking up covertly from under her lashes.

    "Flinne... It reminds me of Errol Flynn, even if you don't exactly seem the swashbuckling type." A little smile played at the corners of her mouth and she leaned forward, plucking a steaming cut of meat from its place by the fire and moving to pass it to him before his words gave her pause. Her chest tightened as the idea of this thin, mild man so haunted by this ghost of bleak isolation. She could scarcely understand the concept, but the look on his face was so sincere. Realizing that her pause had lasted too long, she could only stammer: "N-no. Nothing to apologize for. You're just fine, understand? Here, eat up."

    "You're not alone anymore, Flinne." She tried once more to reassure him, but again the wrongness gnawed at her. If one of them was dreaming this, what happened when they woke up?
  13. Flinne knew the weapon intimately. If Aria was at all familiar with the weapons of World War Two, she'd recognize the rifle as a Mosin Nagant, a Russian bolt action. This model was an original model, rather than a Finnish remake, which suggested that if Flinne were NOT in fact just a dream, that his world had at least a fair similarity to Aria's own. He pulled out the bolt, and opened the trapdoor at the bottom of the gun to release it's munitions into his palm, to clean the ammunition chamber.

    "It makes sense," He mused. "Samantha's what I would have named my daughter. If I'd had one. The most prominent female name in my mind. It goes to follow that if you were a figment of my imagination, that would have been the name you'd chosen. Or I'd chosen for you." He glanced up from the rifle, before looking back to reassemble it. "But I'm rambling. The sound of my own voice is all that's kept me functional in the past month. I don't know if I can justify that I'm entirely sane."

    He let out a sigh, and set the rifle aside once he'd reassembled it. "Errol Flynn..." He said, frowning. The name sounded familiar. While he thought, he accepted the cooked meat in ginger fingers. He ate, and watched the merrily crackling flames.

    At Aria's reassurance, he smiled for the first time in what seemed years. It felt bitter, and cynical. "You are kind. And for now I am not alone, true. But I will be again. I will wake up. Or I will become lucid. Or you will die. Or I will die. Then, I'll be alone again." Suddenly, he didn't feel hungry any longer. He made himself finish what he'd been given anyhow. "Where are we?"
  14. Aria shifted her position to recline upon the fallen leaves, propping herself up on her elbows and watching Flinne's face and shoulders now. Her brows knit and she chewed at her bottom lip in thought, mulling over the man's words.

    "We've established that I'm not an invention of your mind, but you might still be an invention of mine. But then again, I don't know that I'm creative enough to have dreamed you up, Flinne. How can you tell?" She got to her knees and moved closer to him, skirting the stone-lined edge of the campfire and peering at him as though she could divine his secrets through sheer force of her gaze. "I touched you and I felt you. I could stand in this fire and not get burned and I know that. But I can't predict anything about you. You don't feel like a part of me." Aria inhaled sharply. "I don't know where we are; the forest? The forest... behind where I lived as a child, I think."

    She sat back on her heels and sighed, slumping forward and running a hand through the glossy waves of her dark hair in frustration, her face a mask of defeat. "I just feel so lost and so clueless about you. And Flinne... just what does happen when we wake up? I don't know how much time we've got."
  15. Flinne considered the woman's question, as she moved nearer. "Could you?" He asked, uncertainly. "This place feels real to me. More real than..." Than what? Than my own world? Am I even IN a different world? "Than where I was." He decided on. "The food tastes real. It fills my stomach. I feel heat from the fire, and I am certain it would singe me if I got too close. My clothing is wet, and cold, and I feel... Fatigue." He frowned more deeply, and pushed himself to his feet.

    It was all so confusing! And exhausting. He moved to his semi-dry clothing, and began to re-don the rest of it. "I haven't a clue as to what will happen to me when you wake up. I walked through a door in the middle of a city to get here. If this is your dream..." He trailed off, grimacing.

    If I am in this poor woman's dream, then the walls of my reality are nearly gone entirely. Unreality will follow me.

    He stiffened abruptly, and bent to fetch his rifle from the ground, slinging it once again over his shoulder. "I can't stay. I've got to go. YOU have to go. Wake up if you can, Aria. Don't dawdle, and if the shadows look wrong, don't stare at them. That's how it finds you." He cast his intense gaze about the campsite once again, to make sure he wasn't forgetting anything. "Don't follow me." He insisted.

    And then he was gone. He hadn't run, and not so much as a dripping from his damp clothing remained at the campsite. He had simply vanished.
  16. "Wait..."

    Aria woke with the single word on her lips, her legs twisted in the cool cotton of her sheets while her clammy fists clutched her pillow, white-knuckled. With a groan she rolled onto her back and sat up, resting her head in her hands and her elbows on her knees. Her chest felt tight; but the tension began to lessen as she took in the familiar surroundings of her bedroom. Light filtered through the blinds and was diffused by the sheer curtains to a pleasant glow. She couldn't tell what time it was. She didn't much care.

    As she rose from the bed and stumbled, yawning, into the bathroom she grasped as the last vestiges of a dream of such vividness that she could almost smell the woodsmoke. Flinne. His parting words came rushing back to the fore of her memory and she turned on the bathroom light as quickly as she could. With a start, she stared at the groggy young woman in the mirror, standing in her panties and camisole as her tousled hair fell around her face in a snarled mess. She was going to be jumping at shadows all day long, thanks to him.

    Him. He was just a dream-person, a figment of her subconscious mind's nocturnal wanderings. At least, that was what she kept telling herself over and over like a mantra while she tried not to worry about a person who for all intents and purposes should not exist.
  17. Flinne blinked. The forest was gone. The beautiful woman was gone. The warm fire, and the cool mist was gone. The only remnant of that bliss was the clammy chill of his damp clothing, and that was a pale sort of consolation in comparison to the food and the conversation that had so dearly held him. How he'd gone from the dream, he didn't know. Nor did he know -in fact- where he was.

    Around him, a neighborhood sprawled. It might have been nice once. There were once-white picket fences, now splotched with grey dust, and they felt... Not rotten. Rotten would have meant some sort of micro-organism was feeding on them. They simply felt pale. Like watered-down juice, only without the flavor. None of the houses had roofs, although the occasional bit of detritus would fall... upwards, and into the nothingness. Flinne tried not to look too closely whenever motion dragged his attention.

    His eyes flicked to the house numbers, and his stomach twisted, threatening to spill the precious nutrients he'd gotten from the Dreamer. That he was still full meant something, although he didn't precisely know what. More importantly perhaps, the house-numbers didn't mean anything any more. Not that their shapes had changed, only that they lacked the fundamental laws to hold significance. Quickly, Flinne touched digits to his thumb. Was it his mind? No. Four fingers and an opposable thumb on each hand. Two nostrils, two eyes. Nine divided by three was still three. The implications redoubled his urge to vomit.

    Tearing his gaze away from the numbers, he turned those intense green eyes of his to his feet. With a start, he realized that he wasn't facing his shadow. He'd been running into his shadow for days. It was the easiest way to keep his eyes off the others. Unbidden, his gaze bounced towards the lines of picket fencing. Impossibly, each shadow-point cast by the fence was pointing directly at him. A chill ran down his spine as if he'd been chewing on aluminum foil, and he took off in a sprint towards his own shadow, which stretched before him like a gaping pit.
  18. Aria stepped onto the rain-slicked curb from the bus, flipping the hood of her sweatshirt up over her head against the downpour and cradling the plastic shopping bag to her chest as she jogged down the quiet street to her apartment; the susurrus of falling water nearly drowning out the squelch of her sneakers.

    Dashing inside, she locked the door once more behind her and peeled off her soaked shoes and socks, hanging her hoodie on a peg by the door. Flinging herself onto the weathered sofa, Aria leaned over to flick on a lamp and to turn on the television. The evening anchors droned on, background noise against her true agenda. She slipped her hand into the plastic bag and drew out the books from within. A dream dictionary, a book on lucid dreaming, and a journal. For the entirety of the day, she couldn't get the strangeness of last night's dream out of her thoughts. The vague gnawing worry, the realness of the man in that made-up wood troubled her. To say nothing of an entire day spent looking askance at any perceived movement within the shadows. Thank goodness she didn't have to work today, Aria thought with a mental groan. She would have been utterly useless.

    After reading for some time, the words began to run together; her chin dropping again and again to her chest before her eyes would snap open. Somewhere in her mind, a little voice laughed that this must be irony. Shaking her head as if to clear it, Aria set the book aside and contemplated getting up to make herself a cup of tea. She never made it; in that small space the regular rhythm of the rain beating on her window and the monotone of the television dragged her into slumber where she lay.
  19. Flinne gasped as he fled from the vivid reality of a dream. Aria wasn't the only dreamer who's mind had slipped into unreality, and Flinne had been playing cat-and-mouse with his pursuer throughout the minds of men. Sometimes the unreality found him. Sometimes it sent the nightmares. Sometimes Flinne had the tense anticipation that warned him of the impending danger, and allowed him to escape even before unreality became aware of his presence. For now however, he ran back through his world in some eastern country.

    The festive colors and banners that should have been were tatters, rags, and dust. And they were all the more tragic for it. Today however, Flinne's pursuit wasn't silent. A chittering, hysterical laugh rang out behind him as he darted through the warrens of narrow streets, and chicken-cages barren of even so much as a feather. Fruit stands were empty. He even passed a dock, where boats were dangling from tethers like so many executed prisoners in a sea barren of water.

    His eyes skipped over his surroundings, in search of the vivid liveliness that signified the entrance to a dream. He cradled his rifle in his arms, and he tried to ignore the sticky warmth seeping down the arm of his shirt. He was bleeding he knew, and it made him sick to think of leaving even so much as a drop of his blood to be devoured by the unreality. That was irrational he knew, but it sickened him all the same. And then he saw it. A single bright-red lantern, hung in a second-story window. He grimaced, and shouldered his way through a door that -in it's prime- likely would have stopped him dead. He slowed on his way up the stairs, and he tried not to notice the way that maniacal laugh grew closer.

    He could have screamed in frustration when his boot went through the stair second from the top. Gritting his teeth, he reached down with a hand to unfasten his boot, now stuck in the weakened wood. He could have pulled the entire thing free, but that risked plummeting him through the staircase, and -likely- into the basement. That would be his grave, he was sure. Out came his besocked foot, and he hurried to the top of the stairs in time to see a mop of unruly straw-like hair sticking out pin-straight from a face with the pallor of death. The nightmare turned it's wretched face up the stairs on a too-long neck that lead around the corner of the landing and -blissfully- out of sight. It's mouth opened in a yellow-toothed grin, and spittle dropped from it's mouth.

    In a smooth, practiced motion, Flinne shouldered his rifle, and the clarion crack of his rifle's report heralded a neat little hole right between the creature's eyes, accompanied by a not-so-neat splatter of grey sludge on the wall behind it as it slumped to the ground. Pausing only long enough to be sure that the creature wouldn't follow him into the dream, the Survivor reached out to take the lantern in hand.

    As soon as his digits brushed the paper, he was elsewhere.
  20. Music rang through the cobblestoned square, the sweeping quick-tempo waltz seeming to come from all sides and the musicians were nowhere to be seen. Phantom violins and percussion and wind instruments blending into melodic perfection and amplified between the stately brick and stucco walls surrounding the square. At its center a fountain of copper sea nymphs splashed merrily, its green patina seeming to glow in the light of multiple strings of bare bulbs stretched across the square.

    It was not quite dark, the sky a palate of dusky violet and navy shot through with coral and signaling that twilight had just passed. The first impatient stars took their places. A balmy breeze blew across the festive scene in the square, stirring awnings and banners above the multitude of shops that lined it, the lights of sleepy cafes adding to the collective glow. The scents of strong coffee and toasted bread mingled with night jasmine and perfumed the scene.

    The sounds of conversations occasionally peppered with laughter joined the din. Figures moved about the square, richly dressed but indistinct; save but one.

    Aria spun with another figure around the plaza, her eyes closed as she drank in the other sensations of the celebration. Her cotton dress swirled about her knees as she moved, the crimson of the fabric accentuating the tone of her skin; the cut of the garment accentuating the curve of her hips and breasts. She pushed an untamed mass of dark waves from her face and tucked it behind her ear, still lost in the dance.

    The trance was broken in short order by that feeling of wrongness, of other, creeping from the pit of her stomach to her chest. Her steps slowed. Hazel eyes scanned the anonymous crowd, checking doorways and the mouths of alleyways as she continued to spin slowly around her partner.
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