(as part of a broader character creation project, I’ve been writing dream sequences for several main characters in my stories, and then contrasting them with their waking lives. This particular segment is for Krewt from High Empty, high fantasy in a world that parallels early early 20th century & Interwar Europe–think Tuchman’s Proud Tower and The Guns of August, and into the rise of fascism.)
A familiar room. One he’d almost forgotten.
That was a lie. It was the one he’d never forget.
Dead of night, no candles or lamps. High up in the highest tower of Inshanah Keep. Bare stones, no windows. Outside, a storm raged. Rain came down in sheets, flying sideways through the narrow openings on the eastern side of the room. Screams could be heard over the noise from the sky, cries for mercy, cries to keep fighting.
Cries of a name that blurred when spoken.
That part was the dream.
He was standing tall, taller than he thought he could. Funny, that. At his feet, a black carpet, long and narrow, with thick gold thread on either side, gold and red gauntleted fists in a repeating pattern. At the end of it was a figure, sitting on a throne. They were leaning back, legs spread, wearing a dress as black as the carpet, soaked through by the rain. Their face was obscured by shadow, but it had sharp features. Hard, cruel, but beautiful in their own way, a certain—
Krewt shook those thoughts out of his head. He knew why he was here—at least, he assumed he did. Time had a way of obscuring things, obscuring motivations and stripping away exact recollections.
He felt that familiar buzz and prickle. It made his hair stand on end.
Krewt shifted his stance. He’d need his footing. Knowing it was going to happen never made it easier.
Lightning flashed, and, quicker than a heartbeat, thunder cracked. A terrible sound, one that nearly knocked Krewt down. It pounded his chest, made his ears ring, almost made him drop his weapon. Still, he stood his ground, and tightened his grip again.
A laugh came from the throne. “Kshhsshshskkshshshskshsk—” the figure said, simply a stream of white noise. It laughed again, and then there was another flash of lightning.
Now he was looking straight at it, and the crack of white revealed—
Something akin to an barely begun sketch. The features on its right side, the beginnings of an eye, a nose, and a mouth, and nothing else. Simply a blank, flat expanse where a face should have been.
“My loyalty is to the Crown and naught else,” he said. Ah, so he was simply experiencing it.
“Kshsshhhhshshskskkhsksshks…kshsshskskshhhshhshsshshkkk.” Then, something like a sob.
“I would never betray my country, Brenna.”
“Everything can be spent, Brenna, exchanged for something. You should know that, reading your books and filling the people’s heads with ideas,” Krewt said. He could detect a sneering disgust in his words. “This ends here, whether you live or die.” A tear, obscured by the rain and darkness.
The figure—Brenna—stood. She stood straighter and taller than he had ever seen, more than the head of her usual bearing. Her shoulders were broad, arms sinewy and muscled, her sleeves long since gone. “Hshkshk, hskshks.” Her left arm glowed blue, and then there was a flash. Her veins were now crackling with electricity, and a blade of lightning was in her hand. “Shshsssk,” she said.
Krewt lifted his weapon—a plain steel bar with a leather wrapped grip—and further shifted his feet to a fighting stance, taking care to note the slickness of the stones. “A coin to spend, Brenna.”
She lifted her unfinished face, chin held high. “Do not hold back then, love.”
They charged one another as a bolt of lightning split the sky.
Krewt was shocked into waking, forced back into his body.
Time made fools of every man. It was a statement so true it bore no repeating—for even if a man lived his entire life wisely, never a wrong decision, with piety and grace, with love and honesty, never faltering or wavering, free of indulgence or sinful acts, never trespassing against others, never taking personal pleasure in frivolities or base desires, a man still ended up dead.
And only a fool would live such a life.