PrologueMature

When Ashe Brandser becomes unwittingly trapped in the Dreamscape, little does she expect to aide a convicted traitor in escaping his own kind - that of the Nightmares, the most feared beings in the land. Now they, together with a colorful cast of characters met along the way, must journey to the Edge of the World - the fabled gateway to the Otherworld, and Ashe's home. But when plans go awry, Ashe is thrust into a chain of events unlike anything the Dreamscape has ever known.

Therophas was running for his life.

It had been nearly six hours since he last saw the gates of Ragnothar. It was midday then, but now it was nightfall, and it was very dark. And very cold. The ancient scrub forest was hushed and still, his rapid footfalls the only sound. A feeling of unease was growing in him. It was not his people he was afraid of now. It was something else. Something far worse.

The frigid air burned his throat, and his lungs ached, but he did not stop. He could not. In his arms was a slender, canvas-wrapped object, and he grasped it with all his might. He knew everything depended on it. Never in all his life did he believe it would come to this. He pushed himself until his legs refused to go any further. That was a bad sign. They might be close. They were aware of him, and he knew it. He stabled himself against a tree as he caught his breath, covering his mouth to muffle a cough from the dry air, a pair of fine fangs revealing themselves in a subtle, white glint. But a faint noise struck his ears, the sound of a snapped twig, and he froze. His heart raced, almost loudly. Fear was taking hold of him. They were closer now, for that was one of their many effects. Crippling fear. Increased heart rate. Labored breathing. Paralysis of the legs. Their signature weapon induced complete paralysis of the body, if you were to be struck with it. But that was easy. They could be right on you and a spear through your chest before you even knew what hit you.

With a thrust of his shoulders, he adjusted his cloak and slipped over his hood, his silvery hair still visible around his ashen, scarred face. His brilliant citrine eyes, a luminous welding of gold and orange, seemed nearly aglow on his dark skin. The cloak he bore was not his first choice. It was unfortunately similar to that of his pursuers, but it would at least aid him against the bitter cold. It wasn't good for much else, not even for staying hidden. You could not hide from them. You could not outrun them. They would always find their quarry without fail.

He could use the object he carried if he so desired. He had more than the skill, but he would not risk losing it to them. His people had wrenched it from their possession long ago. Should his foes gain it back, it would never be seen again. Everything would be lost.

Therophas composed himself and started onward again, his warm breath visible in the icy, night air. He could not stay here, though running was not going to save him either. They would find him, and he would surely face them. He had spent most of his life in training for such an encounter; fear might take him for a moment, but he could resist it. For a time.

At his side he carried his own favored weapon - a long-blade he had crafted for himself in ages past. If nothing else, it might mean the difference between capture and escape. Or at least buy him time. It would not kill them. No one could. No soul possessed a weapon that could kill these fiends.

Suddenly an overwhelming sensation of terror swept over him, causing his heart to throb sharply in pain. His legs gave out from underneath him, and he fell to his knees. Quickly, he secured his wrapped cargo, and drew his blade. For all the training in the world, nothing could truly prepare anyone for such a moment. As he tried to gather the strength to stand, he spun around to look behind him. There was nothing.

They're toying with me, he thought to himself.

Then all around him, there was the pitter-patter sound of footsteps through the trees, accompanied by ominous grunts and growls. They could have assumed any form. Still crouched in the dust, Therophas held his ground, his fangs clenched, his citrine-golden eyes emblazoned with defiance. In his mind, he tried to turn his fear into anger, trying to regain his strength and will to fight, for it was being drained from him.

Although dark, he saw a brief movement flash across the trees, then another. The howls and snarls grew louder and more raucous, joined now by a beastly cackle. His breathing intensified, a white, misty vapor seething from his mouth. Then, as if the sound itself were magnified, he heard footsteps. Hard, heavy, deliberate footsteps that slowly approached him. He no longer felt the wind behind him. Instead, something sharp teasingly graced across his back. With his trembling hand tightly clasping the hilt of his blade, Therophas took in a shallow breath, uttered a prayer through his quivering lips, and he turned to face them.

The End

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