The Healer in the Mist

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Love is the Greatest of Dreams, and Yet the Worst of Nightmares

Althea turned from the sound of the unnatural river and walked away from it towards the ending of the Woods. She would have no part in that nightmare tonight, she thought. “This river in sleep cannot harm me,” was all she told herself as she walked toward the sunlight and out of the wood.

However, as she passed the final tree at the edge of this unnatural forest, she found herself surrounded by stone walls and fine tapestries. The place was dimly lit and seemed beautiful for a moment. She could see tall candles inlaid in gold and satin coverings around the furniture. Then she recognized the pieces of elements that made up the room, she could even recognize the feel of the air and the smell on the satin, and realized with a blood-chilling fear where she now found herself.

“I found you.”

The voice was deep again, without melody, without compassion. It was predatory coming from somewhere behind her in the black to hunt her.

Every muscle in her body cried to run, she was desperate to get herself far away, but she was frozen in place unable to move a single muscle, as is often in dreams. But this dream felt so vivid and real, she could smell him behind her, feel the air of his breath on her neck, and she was aware of sensations sharp and lucid. How could she not wake being this aware?

“Durai.”

His hands pushed back her flowing hair from her neck, and she could feel his lips on the skin of her neck. They were like ice, and his touch pierced like needle pricks. Her hair stood up in the sensation she could feel as clear and solid as life. He stroked the top of her head like a master to his pet. His long, slender fingers reveled in the sensation of every inch he felt of her. Why couldn’t she move?

“I’ve missed you so very much,” he whispered into her ear. She felt his hands from behind her still travel now further down her back and encircled her waist. His fingers spread wide to cover as much of her as he could grasp.

“This is a dream. This is only a dream.” Her voice seemed more desperately pleading than in confidence.

“You know better than that,” he replied behind a faint laugh. Then he squeezed into her even tighter and she could hear his pleasured moan in her ears. “I’ve been searching for you in sleep for a long time, Dove. You forget how much Magic I have at my command. Though somehow, you’ve been hard to track. But your mind was so brightly clear tonight. Why is that?” She felt him continue press himself tightly against her as she closed her eyes, desperate to wake up. “Is it that you’ve decided to come back? Are you on your way back to me?”

Althea tried so hard to move away or disappear, but she her muscles refused to obey. And she knew that it wasn’t the dream, it was him. He had done this somehow. Something he had done to her in sleep was holding her in place unable to move. She was helpless to do anything but stand there and accept every invading touch.

“I’m coming back, but not for you. I feel nothing for you,” she lied. “I’m coming back to stop all this.”

“Ah,” he said with sinister delight in his tone. “So, you did get my invitation.”

Even in sleep, she could feel the blood drain from her body in the most mortified terror she had yet felt. “Then it is true. You did this. The Mist, the Immortuos, it was you. And it was no mistake.”

Durai’s hands started to travel upwards from her waist making Althea sick with disgust at the touch that once set her on fire. “How else was I going to get you back?” He released her and turned her to face him. For the first time in over a year, she saw his face distinct and clear. The face she had been running from had pulled her back and was unavoidably close now. “You ran away from me. Very naughty, Dove.” He raised a single finger to her in reprimand. How she wished she could wake! “There are dark and buried books that I had studied for a long time. I guess I somehow knew I would need the knowledge someday. And I knew just the right curse that your noble heart couldn’t help but try to fix. And why shouldn’t you try? You made me do it, after all.”

“No,” Althea stuttered and faltered in her feeble protest. Try as she might, her lungs seemed insufficient to keep giving her enough air. She started breathing harder and shallower in panic.

“You can’t fool me. You’ve known it since it came. You heard where it started, you heard what it did; deep down, you always knew this was because of you.”

Althea broke with tears that choked in her throat. Yes, she had felt this. Yes, she had known this was because of her. What use was there now in denial? It wouldn’t stop her from doing what she could to set it right, no matter how heavy her guilt weighed on her.

“If this is how you show affection, you are deranged.”

“Oh, Dove, we are well past that. I’ve already given you all of my heart. This I did to punish you for running away. Very naughty indeed.”

Durai stopped his speech and ran his fingers down her cheek and neck before brushing past her breasts. He took in a sharp breath in his ache to touch her further. But he would wait. Soon he would be satisfied. “And so you’ll come back because that’s what you do. My noble little Healer, my peaceful Dove. You’ll be mine again.”

Althea couldn’t even raise her hands to push herself back from him. He moved in so closely that she could feel his lips brush hers as he spoke.

“Never yours. Not ever again.”

“How will you stop me?” he laughed as his eyes began to glow again. There was darkness like a smoke now. It was surrounding them both. She felt the darkness start to make her heavy and pull her down. “You will be here, and you will be mine. Because this time...”

At his pause, flames of brilliant green seemed to come from the glow in his eyes. The entire room was light from the fire in his eyes. And always the piercing green that sent the very breath from her chest. The darkness closed in tightly around her like bonds holding her down. She couldn’t breathe; she was choking!

“No!”

….......

Althea’s eyes opened to the site of the stars in the night sky and felt the cool, outdoor air. But she still felt arms circled around her, holding her. Had her waking pulled him back with her? Was she still in danger?

In a reaction of panic and terror she cried out and pulled away, crawling along the ground beneath her. Her fingers dug into the earth as she scrambled to break away from the arms around her. She felt the cold air chilling her already cold sweat from all over her body as she finally came to her senses and realized that she was no longer in her dream, no longer in that room, and no longer in his spell.

She looked behind her to see it was Galen that had held her, not Durai. She was safe on the hill with him. She had only been in a nightmare. It seemed now she was always in a nightmare.

Galen looked at her with worry, confusion, and fright. He had heard her whimpering in her sleep, and then she started to cry. This time, though, he wouldn’t let her be alone with the demons in her sleep. He turned to lay against her and held onto her in some attempt to protect her as she trembled. Seeing how she woke, he could only imagine the monsters she had been fighting.

With the realization that she was safe, that she had not truly been there, that she was still so far away, she felt relieved. But her relief was instantly crushed when she realized that she HAD been there. Her spirit or mind had somehow been taken there, and could probably do so at any time. No matter where she was, he could now find her. Somehow, he had made that possible. She would never be safe, not even in sleep.

She covered her mouth and screamed with all she had within her. Though the sound was muffled into her hands, Galen could tell that it was a damned scream of a tortured soul that had been broken. And she screamed again, and again.

She screamed so long and so hard that she finally passed out.

She was in total darkness now. In this darkness, she was alone. Nothing was reaching her here. No light, no sound, no sensation. She thought that at last, now, she could be free. Just like she always wanted.

Right?

As the darkness surrounded her longer, she realized that this wasn’t what she wanted. Deep down in her heart she may be afraid, she may always have the instinct to run from the terrors of her past, but more than anything else, she wanted to fight. It became more than a promise to her mother, it became more than her duty as a Healer; she wanted to fight for herself. She wanted to fight because she knew she deserved better. Someone recently had helped to remind her of that.

“Althea, please wake up.”

Althea opened her eyes finally laying in Galen’s arms. He looked pale and frightened, and she felt his hold of her tight and trembling. As soon as he saw her eyes open, he pulled her into his chest in a relieved and grateful embrace. “Oh God,” he said into her hair, “I thought...you weren’t waking up.”

Althea tried to lift her arms to return his embrace, but found her arms heavy and stiff. She fought through it anyway to hold him back. “I’m ok. I’m sorry I scared you. I’m ok now.”

…........

Fear no more the frown o’ th’ great;

⁠Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke;

Care no more to clothe and eat;

⁠To thee the reed is as the oak:

The scepter, learning, physic, must

All follow this and come to dust.

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