A Tale from the Realm of Dreams by R.M. Duchene

 

Part I: The Dream King

Towering pillars of sparkling crystal rose up on either side of Abigale as she entered the palace. She stopped in the doorway and looked across the great hall. The pillars were spaced out in even intervals from one end of the hall to the other – wide slats of blue crystal began at her feet and cut a pathway through the center of the hall. Divided into ameba-shaped sections, each individual plate lit up in different colors when she stepped on them.

Cautiously, she continued walking, never taking her eyes from the large crystal throne. It appeared to have been grown rather than forged – Crystals both large and small jutted up from the sparkling floor in all directions, leaving just enough space in the center for the Dream King to sit. The Dream King saw her enter and watched patiently as she slowly approached the foot of the throne. When she finally stood before him, he stood and extended his hands.

A shutter ran up Abigail’s spine. The flesh of The Dream King’s face was a tangle of overlapping wrinkles and scars. At the tips of his crooked fingers, green-yellow fingernails extended at least four inches. She knelt, eyes closed, her head pointing toward the floor. Her stomach lurched when she felt his hand upon the back of her head. She tried not to think of those yellow nails and ancient appearing hands.

“Rise my child,” he commanded.

She stood as he commanded and forced herself to look up at his face again. His eyes mesmerized her. They didn’t seem to match the rest of him. Icy-blue orbs floating in a bright white sea, they appeared much younger than the rest of him did. He sat back down on his throne with a sigh and bade her to come forward. When she did, he lifted her small frame up onto his lap.

“How old are you, child?” He asked.

“Six,” she responded.

“Six,” he said, thoughtfully. “I was just past my seventh year when I became the guardian of the Realm of Dreams. That was…oh I guess ten or so years ago.”

He noticed her trying to do the math in her head and smiled warmly, his wrinkled face pulling up in the gruesome mask of a century old man.

“It’s no easy task to guard the Realm of Dreams, Demons flow through the dream world and it is now your job to stop them. We age much faster than others do under the weight of so much responsibility. And, I cannot count the amount of scars I’ve received from the Demons that I’ve encountered. Sure, I’ve managed to push most of them back, but at great cost to my body. In the end, the sacrifice is worth it. To allow Demons into the dreams of mankind is to open the door to the vilest of the vile. It cannot be allowed. Do you understand, child?”

She nodded.

“You are ready then.”  He kissed her gently on the forehead and then faded from existence, leaving her sitting on the throne.

“Wait,” she cried after he vanished. “I don’t know what to do.”

As if in answer to her question, a child’s cry echoed through her mind. She lifted her hands to cover her ears, but her palms ignited and became engulfed in white fire before she could bring them to her head. The child’s scream came again and, on pure instinct, Abigail brought her hands down quickly. There was a bright flash of light, and then she was gone.

Part II: The Dream Queen

Her fractured childhood occupied her thoughts; the little part that she had been allowed to have and the latter half, the half that she had sacrificed. Is it really a sacrifice if I had no choice? She thought.  She stared down at her wrinkled and scarred hands – not the hands of a teenager, but of someone much older. She shivered and shifted her weight on the throne, which was nearly as cold as the blue ice that it so closely resembled. Her bright pink gown was thin, but the Dream Queen – Abigail, she thought, my name was Abigail – hardly notices the cold anymore.

In the years following her ascension, her palace had grown darker with every passing day. Long shadows stretched across the crystal pillars, seeming to reach toward the throne with dark ghostly fingers – creeping, inch by inch. Abigail saw the darkness coming and welcomed it. It had been too long since the last battle – too long since she fought back Azrael and closed the rift. But, closed or not, she knew that it was still there, waiting to be opened again. From somewhere deep inside, she could feel pressure building – not drifting in like a slow-moving wave, but a thrumming like the bass of a drum that began beating far away, but continued to grow ever closer.

Her small frame took up half of the space that the crystal throne offered, but still far more than it did a few years before. I was a child, she thought – but not anymore. Since then, I’ve been through so many battles, fought off so many demons – pushed back Alps and Mårts alike. She stared at her reflection in the blue crystal throne, turned her face to better see the long scar that ran from her right eye to the bottom of her delicate appearing neck. I’ve done nothing – the real war is coming. A hundred yards away the double-doors of the palace swung inward, spilling bright light onto the crystal pathway. A small boy entered the large hall and began along the path to the throne. It can’t be, Abigail thought. It’s too soon. Besides, I didn’t mark him.

The child was dressed in ordinary human clothes, a pair of blue-jeans and a heavy red and black jacket. He approached the foot of the throne with his head down and knelt at Abigail’s feet.

“Rise child,” she said. “How have you come to this plane?”

The child stood and slowly raised his eyes to meet hers. Abigail gasped at the boys gaze. Where the whites should be were black bottomless pits surrounding irises that were violent-red spinning whirlpools of hate. Her breath held inside her chest and her mind was suddenly burdened with the knowledge that if she looked close enough into the demon’s eyes, she would see thousands of tiny fists beating against the back of its irises – thousands of tiny mouths crying out to her with soundless voices, “Save me – oh God please, save me.” Abigail’s hands flashed hot white as she stood and held them out towards the demon.

“What’s your business here, demon?”

The demon grinned. The image sent shivers up Abigail’s spine. She had seen plenty of demons smile before, but never affixed to the face of a child.

“I’ve brought you a message, Her Grace,” the demon said, “from my master.” Even as it spoke, its body began to elongate like an image in a funhouse mirror, stretching upward until, not being able to contain the massively growing figure within, the human flesh tore free at the top and slithered down the moist, putrid-grey body, landing in a bulky circle around its feet. Its face was the shape of a triangle with the points rounded. Three horns adorned its head – one protruded from each cheek and one, slightly smaller, poked out from the tip of its long chin. Set in the center of its face, its wide mouth maintained the same grin as before.

“Forgive the intrusion, Her Grace, but my master sends his regards and offers unto you a hand of eternal peace.”

“There’s no peace when it comes to your kind,” Abagail said and thrust her right hand towards the demon – a small ball of white fire shot from the palm of her hand and struck the crystal floor at the beast’s hooved feet, the front of which were black and cleft. “Tell me what you came to say.”

The demon bowed slightly.

“Very well, Her Grace – my master, the Alp King wants to avoid another long battle, as with your predecessor and all who came before him.  He offers you time beyond measure, beauty beyond comparison, and the wisdom of the ages. All he asks in return is that you step aside and give us the human realm.”

When the demon finished speaking, Abagail broke into a fit of tear-inducing laughter. The demon wasn’t amused.

“Did I say something amusing, Her Grace?” The demon asked – its hairless brows creased inward in an expression of annoyance.

“Nothing that hasn’t been said before,” Abigail chuckled. “You and all those like you, demons, liars, soul-stealers – I have no use for your empty promises, or your presence. Just looking at your disgusting face makes me sick. Be gone, demon – we’ll meet again soon enough.” Then, in an act that infuriated the demon more than her laughter did, she turned her back on him.

“Her Grace,” the demon said, “look at your face. Look at the condition of your body.”

Abagail could see her reflection in the crystal throne and as the demon talked, she studied the scar that marred the right side of her face.

“My master can make that ugly scar disappear,” the demon said. “It will be as if it was never there. Just look at yourself, Her Grace – twelve years old and you look like you’re thirty. I’m offering you eternal life and beauty. What is your God offering – suffering, disfigurement, death? The choice is an easy one.”

Abigail studied her scarred face, her sunk-in eyes. She did look much older than she was. She thought about all of the time she had missed, fighting demons and protecting the land of dreams while other children her age were playing with their friends and going to school. She missed the life she should have had. The image of the last Dream King filled her mind’s eye. She saw him clearly, standing beside her bed when she was barely two years old, a smoldering demon’s body at his feet. That was the night that he marked her – that was the night that he chose her, cursed her. A few years later when Abigail was six years old, she’d been drawn to him. He had looked much older than he should have after only four years – his face hidden by wrinkles and scars, his eyes sunken and tired. I never wanted this, she thought.

“The choice is an easy one,” She said, still staring at her reflection in the blue crystal. She spun around, firing white-hot light from her hands as she turned, but the demon vanished before the stream of light passed the spot where he was standing. When he reappeared, he was at her side. He grabbed her and threw her backwards against the throne, his ghastly face mere inches from her own.

“You’ve made a poor decision, Her Grace,” the demon said. He raised one clawed hand and slashed it downward, laying open the left side of Abigail’s face. She screamed out in pain and a pulse of white light that blotted out the entire throne-room emanated from her like an atomic explosion.

In a flash of light and terrible wind, the portal opened and Abigail fell through it.

“Help me!” she heard a child’s cry from far off. Abigail looked towards the direction that the sound came from, her mind barely registering the Farris wheel, the small roller-coaster, or the cotton candy hut. I’m coming, sweetheart, she thought. Oh God, I’m coming. She ran towards the child’s screams, hoping that she would make it in time. She knew that it was through dreams that demons scarred children. She knew that it was easy for them to attack the young in the dream-world, to frighten them into submission. Not on my watch, she thought.

When she arrived at the circus tent, a small girl with bright red hair and clad in pink pajamas was cowering by the entrance. The demon from the palace was trying to push her through the two hanging flaps.

“Come on, sweetheart,” the demon said. “Just a few more feet and all of your fears will disappear. “

“No!” The girl screamed! I want my mommy! You’re a bad man! I want my mommy!”

“Your mommy can’t help you now, piglet…” the demon, his voice taking on a gravelly, growling tone said. Abigail grabbed him and threw him to the ground. Before the demon could react, she was straddled on top of him, chanting her banishing prayer.

“Return ye to the depths of hell, for I protect this child with a sacred spell. The land of dreams is meant for man, not for …” There was more to the prayer, but she couldn’t finish speaking the words. Long, iron-strong fingers encircled her throat.

The demon lifted her into the air and slammed her, back-first onto the cement floor. Her breath escaped her lungs, rushing from her mouth so fast that it was impossible for her to catch it. In an instant, the beast’s eyes were peering down at her – and at such a close range, she could see that there were small fists trying to beat their ways out of them.  She turned her face from the horror of the demon’s gaze, from his foul breath.

“You should have taken my offer, Her Grace,” the demon spat at her. Revolted, Abigail grimaced and turned her head as tendrils of hot drool landed on her face. “I would’ve kept my word…this time.”

Abigail closed her eyes tight and waited for the end to come. She didn’t dare open them – didn’t dare look into those red, bottomless eyes – not even when she felt the beast’s claws tear away the flesh from the left side of her neck.

“Look at me!” the demon screamed into her face.

Abigail pinched her eyes shut even harder.

“Look at me, bitch!” The demon screamed. “You’re nothing! How could you protect them? Your God has set you up for failure!”

There was a sudden flash of light, so bright that even with her eyes closed, Abigail thought that it might blind her.  The weight of the demon vanished from on top of her and she scrambled to her feet, ready to fight. But, there was no demon standing before her – only a five year old girl, staring down at her own hands – hands that seemed to be made of light.

“Did I do that?” The girl asked.

***

Five years – it’s been five years since Jessica took out the Alp demon, Baku, she thought his name was…it sounded right. Still, after five years, Jessica would be ten… much older than Abigail was when she ascended to the throne.  Where is she? Abigail thought – did I do something wrong? Perhaps not mark her the way that I was supposed to? She looked at her seventeen year old reflection in the crystal throne. Jesus…I look older than I remember my grandmother looking. Her face was unrecognizable. Over the past five years, dozens of demons had left their marks and torn away large pieces of her flesh. She held them off though, each and every one of them. Tired, she thought as she looked at her severely scarred and wrinkled face – so tired.  Please God…I’m ready – take me now.

Just then, the large double –doors of the crystal palace swung inward and a girl of about ten years old stepped onto the path. Her hair was fiery red, her gown heavenly white.

Abigail stood and extended her welcoming hands.

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Part III: The Alp King

A large whirlpool of smoke swirled along the walls of the chamber, misty faces rising up, mouths opening in silent screams before being pulled back into the slow-moving vortex. At the center of the room, a thin creature sat upon a skull adorned rusty throne with his face clasped in his open hands.

From the swirling ring of blackness a puff of black mist billowed out towards the throne and materialized into a short demon with moist, grey skin and a single horn protruding from the center of his forehead. When it bowed before the slumping figure of the Alp King, metallic tips at the bottom corners of his black overcoat sent tiny sparks scattering across the stone floor.

“I bring news of Aldergard, His Grace,” the small demon said.

“Why didn’t he bring the news himself?” The Alp King said, his face still cradled in his hands. Before the small demon could answer, The Alp King realized that the creature had said news of Aldergard and not news from Aldergard. He stood and looked upon the small demon for the first time. “She destroyed him?” He asked. “She dared to destroy him?” How many times have I played this game? How many times have I offered my friendship, only to have my generosity balked at?

The small demon fell to his knees and lowered his face until it was nearly touching the stone floor.

“She isn’t afraid like the others were, His Grace! She doesn’t follow the rules of courtesy either. Aldergard gave her your offer and she…well she just vanquished him without a word. I would’ve tried to help him – but then, who would have brought you the news of our demise?”

The Alp King turned his back on his groveling servant and studied one of the skulls that were mounted on the throne, the one of his predecessor. He found no wisdom in the vacant hollow sockets that stared back at him. If only we could have ruled together. But, that’s not our way, is it?

“Always thinking of others, eh Putridus?” He said, turning back to his servant, “rise.”

Putridus stood as commanded but kept his eyes to the floor.

“Watch her, study her. I want to know everything she does.”

“Yes, His Grace.”

“This one seems more powerful than the others, but everything has a weakness. Perhaps you’ll find it. Maybe we’ll even find a way to send her to the Realm of Bliss before she selects a successor.”

“Yes, His Grace.”

“We ruled the Realm of Dreams before it was stolen by the first Dream King – If this new queen – Jessica, is it?”

“Yes, His Grace.”

“If this Jessica fails to find a successor before she is dethroned, the Realm of Dreams will be ours again.”

“Yes, His Grace.”

“Go.”

“Yes, His Grace,” Putridus said one final time. He bowed and chanced a quick look at his king before disappearing in a puff of black smoke. A small cloud of dark vapor rested just above where his feet had stood seconds earlier and then slithered back into the spinning whirlpool that served as both, a gateway and a prison.

***

After three weeks, Putridus returned to the chamber.

“I’ve found an unusual pattern.”

The Alp King leaned forward on his throne, interested.

“Pattern?”

“When she helps the kids, she is lured to them by their screams, but she’s been going into the Realm of Dreams on her own accord…without being called.”

“Interesting,” The Alp King said.

“Very,” Putridus said, visually excited to be bringing good news to his master for a change. “Once a week on this very day, she enters the Realm of Dreams just before midnight and returns not long after.”

“Every week?”

“Yes, His Grace. She’ll be going again shortly.”

The Alp King stood up and walked to his servant, placed both of his hands on the small demon’s shoulders, and pulled him into a tight embrace.

“You’ve done more for our cause than any other has been able to do in over a millennium,” he said. “When this is done, I will make you the governor of the Alp Realm – my number one general.”

Putridus fell to his knees and grabbed handfuls of the silky red material that made up the Alp King’s robe.

“You honor me, His Grace,” he sobbed. “Thank you.”

The Alp King placed his hand upon his servant’s head.

“No, Putridus. It is you who honors yourself.”

***

The demon’s portal to the Realm of Dreams only allows one of demon to enter and occupy the Realm at a time. This rule was established by the powerful Magalar, the first of the Dream Kings. It is a spell that has never been broken. If the Alps or Mårts could somehow manage to take control of the throne, then the power would be shifted to the successor and all previous decrees would be useless. The Alp King would be able to set new rules, allowing as many demons into the Realm of Dreams as he wished – mankind would be enslaved, at least in their sleeping minds.

On the Alp King’s orders, Putridus entered into the Realm of Dreams through the demon portal whenever the Dream Queen would go on her own accord. Once inside, he began to search for her. The Alp king continued to send demons to the Realm during other times to torment children and leave those emotional marks that they would carry with them into adulthood. The marks were the most important part of the Alps’ mission – the deeper they were, the easier it was to persuade and control the child when they became adults. After a few months, Putridus came back to the Alp King with the knowledge that he had learned.

“A child,” the Alp King said after Putridus told him who the Dream Queen was visiting – “Is she marking a new successor?”

“I don’t think so, His Grace,” Putridus said. “I believe that the boy is her brother. They play together and laugh out loud – it’s all pretty disturbing to behold.”

The Alp King stroked his chin.

“You’ve done well, Putridus. You’re almost a general, my conniving little friend. One more job is necessary to seal the deal, and your future.”

“What will you have me do, His Grace?”

“The next time she enters the Realm of Dreams, kill her in front of the child. Then, we’ll be rid of her and leave a large mark on his soul.”

Putridus smiled at his King.

“As you command, His Grace.”

***

The playground contained a swing-set, a slide, and a merry-go-round. When Putridus appeared near the swing set, the small boy saw him at once and began crying out for his sister. Seeing the boy sitting alone on the swing, Putridus was at first confused, then horrified when he realized that Jessica had not shown up yet, the boy was merely waiting for her. Reflected movement in the boy’s wide eyes caught Putridus’s attention and he spun around just in time to see the two balls of white fire leave the palms of the Dream Queen’s hands.

“I failed you, Master!” he screamed out just before the balls of fire struck him and sent him back to the underworld.

After the demon disappeared, Jessica rushed to her little brother.

“Are you okay?” She asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “Do it again!”

“Oh, we don’t want to do that again,” she said. She kneeled down on one knee and took her little brother’s hand. “I’m not going to be able to come play with you for a while.”

“Why not?”

“Because the bad guys know that I’ve been meeting you here and they’ll try and hurt us.”

The boy lowered his eyes and small tears began rolling down his chubby cheeks.

“Hey,” Jessica said, wiping away his tears and lifting his chin – “It’s just for a few weeks. Then, we’ll find somewhere else to play, okay?”

“Okay…” he said. “Mommy and daddy don’t believe me that we play together.”

A tear of her own began to form in her eyes at the mention of her parents. Jessica embraced her little brother.

“I love you, Tommy,” she said.

“I love you too, Jessica.” Tommy said. He raised his finger, touched the top of the wide scar that began just below her right eye and trailed his finger-tip down to where it ended, just above her chin. Then, as he had for weeks, he studied the light wrinkles around her eyes and tried to smooth them out with his hands. “Why do you look old like mommy?”

Jessica chuckled and took her little brother’s hands in her own.

“Maybe I’ll tell you sometime, but now I have to go, okay?”

“Okay,” he said.

Jessica stood and raised her hands towards the sky.

“I’ll see you soon,” she said and brought her arms down. Before she disappeared in a bright flash of light, she heard Tommy say, “Sometimes mommy cries in your room.” She was happy that she left the Realm of Dreams before her brother could see the tears that his comment brought on. When she reappeared inside the Eternal Hall, the first thing she saw was the beautiful, smooth face of Druden, The Alp King.

The long blade of his rusty dagger was inside her before she could react. It penetrated through her gown and flesh with ease and then slid upward into her heart. She fell back and he caught her. Cradling her in his arms, he carried her limp and dying body to the crystal throne, where he sat with her still in his embrace. Her beauty amazed him. As she began to slip away, he stared down at her bright red hair, the small freckles that were lightly scattered across her nose and cheeks.

“It didn’t have to end this way,” he said, running his fingers through her hair. “The Realm of Dreams is the gateway to the minds of men. That’s my domain, not yours. “We could have made peace, ruled together.”

Jessica smiled up at him, her perfect teeth stained red.

“Be careful what you wish for,” she said. “My mom always said that.”

“Either way,” Druden said, “It’s mine now.”

“Enjoy it while you can, demon,” Jessica said, and then she disappeared, leaving an empty blood-soaked gown draped across the Alp-King’s lap.”

***

Three years, Druden thought. I’ve been the King of the Realm of Dreams for three years and still, it’s not really mine. The Realm is flooded with Alps and Mårts, but none of them will follow my commands.

“Why did I desire this so,” he said. He turned his head and gazed at his reflection in the crystal throne. His eyes appeared not three, but thirty years older – deep wrinkles covered both sides of his face. “Why am I aging like they do?”

“It’s the price of the crystal throne,” he heard his predecessor’s voice say in his mind. “The weight of responsibility takes its toll on all things. It’s the sacrifice that you made. I would’ve told you the cost, but you destroyed me long before I had the chance.”

“I brought the realms together under one rule!” Druden shouted. “What other king can boast the same?” He stood and peered down the long walk-way that led past the blue crystal pillars to the large double doors. The hall was empty except for him. “They’ve all abandoned me… their king.”

The terrible laughter of his predecessor echoed through his mind.

“Oh, Druden,” the voice said. “You didn’t bring the realms together. You haven’t been the king of the Alps for three years. You’re the Dream King now…for now.”

Bright light flooded the pathway as the large double-doors swung open. A small figure stepped inside the hall and walked up the path to the throne, looking up at the blue crystal pillars as it passed between them. A child, Druden thought. Why would a child come here? How?

The child was wearing a dark brown woven robe with a hood that hung down and blocked its face. It stepped up to the foot of the throne, bowed slightly, and then pulled back the hood, exposing the bright red hair and handsome face of an eight year old boy.

“Before I destroy you boy,” Druden began, “tell me why you have come here to my palace.”

Tommy extended his palms out to his sides and smiled at the demon as his palms ignited in bright white fire.

“You’re sitting in my chair,” he said.

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