By Rusty Priske
Edited by Fred Wan
He blinked his eyes hard, twice. The rocky outcropping was familiar, yet he could not recall seeing it before or where it was. He sniffed the air and it smelled… good. The grass covering most of the hill was a perfect green and moved slightly in the warm breeze. A plum tree grew nearby and the fruit were full and lush. A bird perched on an extended branch and sang a lovely song that reminded him of something that he could not quite place.
Movement at the base of the hill caught his eye. He saw another nezumi, garbed in a beautiful green kimono. This newcomer walked through the grass, stopping every few feet to examine something on the ground. After a few tries he found what he was looking for and stood erect, teeth flashing with joy as he brandished a freshly picked yellow flower.
The Nezumi on the hill exulted. He recognized the one down there! It was Te’tik’kir! He had believed him dead!
He tried to call out but found that he was unable to speak. Puzzled he called out again, but still no sound emerged.
In a panic he waved until Te’tik’kir noticed him. The Rememberer smiled and called up to him, “Hello. Why don’t you come down here?”
The Nezumi on the hill found himself standing in front of Te’tik’kir, though he did not recall moving. “It is hard to speak, sometimes. You always have this trouble. Just concentrate and things will become easier.”
He did as he was bade and tried to speak again. “Where… am… I?”
Te’tik’kir smiled again. “You are home. Don’t you recognize it?” With that, he gestured with his paw and the other Nezumi turned to see what he referred to. Air rushed from his lungs as he looked past the hill to see the most beautiful sight he had ever seen.
There, in the middle of a plain, stood a glorious city. It was larger than any of the human cities and its spires were much higher. The walls gleamed in silver and gold and the buildings had openings, but no doors. The city had no walls, as if those that built it had no fear of attack or infiltration. No roads led to it, but neither did anything block access. Even at this great distance, he could see other Nezumi milling about the paths inside and the plains around this wonder.
Te’tik’kir clasped the other nezumi by the forearm. “As I said, friend. It is home. Come, let me show you again.”
First ‘always’ and now ‘again’? “Again?”
“Oh, you have been here before. Many times.”
The two of them walked across the field towards the grand city. As they got closer, the Nezumi could feel a warmth building inside him to equal the wonderful warm air currents that played across his whiskers. The warmth inside was not heat, exactly, but a glow from his heart that he could not explain. Could Te’tik’kir be right? Could this really be home? Even the den where he was raised as a pup did not feel as welcoming and natural as this grand city.
Another Nezumi waved as they approached. It was Chithith! He had fallen to a pack of goblins many seasons ago, yet here he was!
He finally recognized the warmth for what it was. It was joy. He had not felt this truly happy since he was a pup. This was everything he had wished for, though he never knew he was wishing. This was what the Nezumi deserved… all Nezumi.
He looked up at the gleaming walls and towers and…
The city shimmered and then vibrated, like an earthquake, though the ground under his feet did not also shake. He looked quickly at Te’tik’kir and the Rememberer appeared shocked. He had seen it as well. It wasn’t just the city. The hill and plains had moved. The forest had moved. Yet they felt nothing.
Nezumi ran from the city. They were scared and moved away from the walls of gold and silver that they loved so much. Te’tik’kir scanned the horizon in every direction and the Nezumi from the hill followed suit. Away to the right, past the gleaming city and far from the hill where he first saw the Rememberer, he saw a haze. It looked somewhat like the air above a rock on a very hot day, but there was also a movement within it that looked less natural. Just past the haze was an old wood that looked to have stood for many yesterdays.
Then it was gone.
It was not destroyed. It just dissolved, as if it had never been. The leaves and branches fell apart, but by bit, but nothing was left behind. As the pieces fell, they turned into smoke, which was absorbed into the haze rolling over it and enveloping it. The land itself was turning to heat and smoke, yet there was no fire.
Now, all the Nezumi had seen the haze and watched as the plain was slowly eaten away.
“This… cannot… be… real.”
Te’tik’kir turned to him and said. “This is the end of all things. We are undone. The land itself is falling apart.”
Both Nezumi turned back to the haze and saw something that was not there before. Eyes, glowing with unnatural intensity, had appeared in the mist and steam. Behind the eyes formed a great head, scaled and terrible to behold. The mouth was filled with jagged teeth and its lips curled back in a snarl. A long body formed from the destruction, covered in scales of blue and white and some more translucent than solid. Great clawed feet appeared underneath the long body and everywhere they stepped, the land fell away.
“What… is… it?”
“They are dragons.”
For indeed it was they. More eyes were appearing as more of the land dissolved. The second creature was red and flame erupted from its nostrils. The third was green and dripped with kelp and algae.
Past the ferocious creatures formed two humans, though much grander in size than the ones he had seen before. One was very large and glowed a light much more intense than anything he had ever seen. The light was warm at first, but then it intensified so that heat flooded the plains all around the city. The other human also glowed, but the light was much less intense. It was this light that the Nezumi feared more as it carried the memory of something dark and terrible.
Te’tik’kir grabbed the other nezumi and spun him around so he could stare deep into his eyes. “We cannot stop this. Do you understand? We cannot stop this. You need to remember.”
“Re… member. I… must… remember.”
“Yes, you must remember, or all is lost.”
Kan’ok’tichek scrambled to his feet and shook the last vestiges of sleep from his brain. “Remember.”
His eyes darted around the cave, looking for something to mark with as he could feel the dream falling away. He tossed his belongings every which way, trying to find what he needed.
He called out, “Get in here!”
He found a small knife and tried to cut into the stone wall, but it was not hard enough. He upended a bowl of water onto the floor and tried to make mud to draw in, but the ground was too dry and it absorbed the water too slowly. He had to hurry of he was to remember anything from his dream.
The white rat pulled a piece of wood from the remains of a small cooking fire and started to scrawl an image on the wall with the charcoal. He barely got two lines out when the blackened tip of the wood crumbled under his strong and violent strokes.
Mak’irtch ran into the cave. “Chief, what is wrong?”
Kan’ok’tichek’s was frantic as he tried to find something to replace the charcoal. “I have to remember! The dream was important! Tomorrow is here and we have to…” He trailed off.
Mak’irtch’s nose twitched. “What is it? What was it?”
Kan’ok’tichek shook his head slowly. “I don’t know.” His eyes fell. “I don’t know,” he repeated. “It is gone.”
Mak’irtch frowned and cast her eyes on the marks her Chief had left on the wall. The lines were slanted inwards towards each other as if they…
Mak’irtch turned away and moved across the room, trying to get a different perspective. She looked back at the marks. Were they eyes?
Kan’ok’tichek sat, resting on his haunches, in front of a small fire. Mak’irtch mirrored him on the other side. “Think of nothing,” said Mak’irtch. “Be at peace. This is very powerful magic and it comes with great danger. I am going to lend my Name to yours and together we can find what you were trying to remember.”
The Chief could see past Mak’irtch’s confident tone. She was scared. “What is the danger?”
Mak’irtch’s face darkened. “My Name could be lost. Or yours could. You need to trust me, Chief, or we should not do this.”
Kan’ok’tichek looked into Mak’irtch’s eyes. The latter Nezumi had come to the One Tribe from the Stained Paw. There was still some distrust as the other Nezumi remembered what the Stained Paw had been and whom they had served.
The dream was gone but the importance remained. He could still feel the threat. He had felt it only once before, when he held the Hourglass brought back from the Tomb where the nezumi fought beside the humans. Mak’irtch left the choice to him but there was no choice. “Do what needs to be done, Mak’irtch. You have my trust.”
She repeated her earlier words. “Think of nothing. Relax your mind. Do not resist.”
Kan’ok’tichek could feel something at the edge of his perception. It was frightening, as if something were trying to force its will upon him. Mak’irtch’s Name was not as strong as his own was, but it was still forcing his down. He pushed back, almost by instinct.
He heard a voice say, “Do not fight it. If you fight it, I will fail. Your Name is too strong, Chief of Chiefs. You must allow this or I will not be able to help. I will likely die.”
Letting his Name be subservient to another’s was frightening. His instincts screamed to push her away. If he let her, she could destroy him and leave him with no Name. It could be a trick by the Stained Paw to gain control of the One Tribe and leadership of the nezumi. He could not allow that!
He pushed back his fear. He had sensed no deception on her. She did not stink of deceit or anger. It was only his fear that made him think like this. He could not allow his fear to hurt one who was trying to help. Kan’ok’tichek released his defences and felt Mak’irtch’s Name flood in an envelop his own. He felt humbled and weak beside the enormity of the intruder.
Then there was a flash.
Horrible glowing eyes.
Another… sharp teeth, gnashing in anger.
Fire billowing from serpent nostrils.
A great city threatened.
Then Mak’irtch’s Name was gone and Kan’ok’tichek could see her lying on the floor past the fire. He rushed to her and prodded her shoulder. She had mentioned the danger to her Name. Had she been able to recover her Name? Was she…?
She stirred and then looked up at her Chief. “We were wrong. Tomorrow doesn’t come for us. It comes for our dreams. Tomorrow does not threaten us. It threatens the Transcendents.”
Kan’ok’tichek pulled himself to his full height. “What we saw… those creatures were destroying the land of dreams. Our greatest will be destroyed forever. Our last memories will be lost. We must stop it. We must face Tomorrow.”
To be Concluded Exclusively in the Imperial Herald!
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