Asa knew he was dreaming because he had both arms, and even his dreaming self had started to grow accustomed to the fact that his left arm was gone. There was a great deal of pain in the limb, enough to almost jostle him awake, but his elbow bent and his fingers moved when so desired.
He was in darkness, lost between one safe place and the next, and didn't recognize anything. Indeed, there was nothing around to recognize. He stepped carefully, trying to feel his way through the dark with his feet — bare, bleeding, studded with thorns.
Asa didn't know this darkness, and he realized with a rush of panic that it wasn't his. It was thick and swirling now, unfamiliar as the patterns of another person's mind trying to squeeze its way into his. He wanted to wake up but couldn't find his way through the nothingness.
From the darkness, something glowed. Blue eyes and marble-white features. A man's shape, but too tall, bald as a rock, smiling wickedly to expose pointed teeth dripping saliva.
Trapped in a dream that didn't belong to him, Asa screamed.
Dela's bed was soft and warm, but Dela herself couldn't get comfortable. She'd had difficulty sleeping for a while — really, as long as she could remember — though if she thought too hard about how long that was, it never seemed as long as she guessed it should be.
But tonight was different. Dela was asleep, she was sure of it, but nothing about it was restful. The pain in the bottom of her foot from the thorn that stabbed through her too-thin shoes yesterday was lancing its way up her leg, and her head pounded like she'd worked in the field all day under a summer sun without a single sip of water.
The pain in her head wasn't meant for her. Dela had never slaved away in a field, had never worked a day in the blazing summer sun. Her father was one of Killeglen's wealthiest and most influential men, second only to Lord Gautvin himself. She was practically a princess. Certainly more important and influential than Lord Gautvin's shut-in daughter.
And yet, here she was, in a field she didn't recognize, a large, flat space that didn't exist in the hilly, river-fed village of Killeglen. Her back was bent, and her head throbbed. She looked up, trying to ease the aches in her muscles, and saw someone at the side of the field watching her.
A man — at least, an entity shaped like a man. He had glowing blue eyes and shockingly pale skin. Not a fair complexion like Dela tried to maintain, but like the blood beneath his skin wasn't even red. He looked carved from marble, with fierce blue fires for eyes. When he saw her, his face twisted into a smile that could only be called so by the shape of his mouth. It held no humor or pleasure, no feeling or expression. It was just … nothing. Teeth gleamed from behind his marble lips.
In her bed just two doors down from the home of Lord Gautvin himself, Dela screamed.
Alf's head hurt from the day laboring in the field. He didn't know where he was or even recognize his own self. Blood oozed from his left shoulder and spilled down his side. Bones protruded through the ragged flesh where his left arm should've been. Pain nearly shocked him awake.
He didn't know how he'd lost his arm. He could feel the scrape of teeth and shredding of claws on his ribboned skin, but he couldn't see or remember what sort of beast had attacked him.
Even more disturbing were his surroundings. Large rocks, taller than they were wide. He counted them, hoping to distract himself from the pain. Twelve. A perfect dozen, set in a perfect circle around him. The blood smeared across each and every stone was his own. The stench of raw meat and warm copper clung to his nostrils.
It didn't make sense, fit like a square peg jammed into a round hole — small enough to go in, but not without scraping the sides.
This wasn't somewhere he'd ever been, somewhere he'd never seen.
Standing near him in the center of the circle was a strange and hideous creature. Man-shaped and bald, with glowing blue eyes and smooth white skin.
Broader than the rocks and just as tall, it could almost be mistaken for a statue â€” until the beast looked at him and smiled.
Napping under a tree after a hard day's work, Alf screamed.
Gautvin had blood on his hands.
He held them in the moving water of the Kille, scrubbing them together until the skin on his knuckles was shiny and red. But the blood wouldn't come off. He kept sensing motion at the edge of his vision, a sinister presence watching and waiting for its chance to leap on him and tear into his flesh, but whenever Gautvin turned his head, he saw only woods.
Unfamiliar, unnatural woods, full of trees dead and dripping with blood, branches ripped off, haphazardly shredded, then reattached to their trunks in places they weren't meant to go.
Blood bubbled up from the ground and stained the river water with red.
He felt the presence watching him again and turned. This time, there was someone there.
Only he wasn't the same as Gautvin had seen before. He was taller, bigger than he'd ever been, and his eyes were glowing. Unlike everything else around him, he was not covered in blood. His skin seemed to glow white, brighter than the sun, shocking against the blood-red trees.
Gautvin started toward him, hands raised like a supplicant, dripping blood and water from fingertips and elbows. “Please,” he whispered, “speak to me.”
But the angel only smiled. His teeth were sharp.
In her bed, Imma slept soundly, unmolested by nightmares.