The clash of metal on metal all but drowned out the sickening thud of metal on flesh. With each thud the terrible screams of men and horses rang out eerily over the plains. Cassie stood, seemingly invisible, as the battle raged around her. She knew, for some reason, that she had to get through. If she didn’t something terrible would happen.
Suddenly she broke past two fighting bodies and saw him. Time seemed to slow almost to the point of stopping. She felt as if she were enclosed in a bubble, everything outside it muted and dimmed. Cassie began to walk forwards, but she barely took these things in. Nothing else seemed to matter except reaching him.
He lay on the ground, blood flowing freely from a deep gash in his leg. Above him stood a figure, cloaked in cruel intent. Cassie knew she had to do something. She had to save the young man’s life. As she hesitated, the young man’s eyes met hers, and a shock as powerful as a lightning bolt ran through her. Astonishment showed on his face, too, quickly melting into fear as the figure tensed to bring the terrible weapon down. It flashed blood red in the setting sun.
Lurching forwards, Cassie screamed and woke. She was back in her bed, sweating with fear but relieved it had only been a dream. She got out of bed and tiptoed silently to sit on the edge of the open window. Breathing deeply she let the cool night air calm her nerves. Looking down on the street below her, she frowned. It had seemed so real. Cassie tried to recall the face of the man she had so desperately needed to help but even as she struggled to remember, the image faded. Every other detail except that remained terrifyingly clear. Frustrated, she beat her small hand against the windowsill, then stopped. It seemed strange to be so distressed over a dream, but a lingering memory rose in her mind.
Her grandmother had once told her about something called a True Dream. A dream that showed a small window in time. A short sight of what would or could happen in the future. No one was ever able to tell how far ahead in time their vision was, but sometimes people were able to alter what they saw. This could result in the outcomes being changed. Sometimes it was a good change, sometimes it just made things worse. Cassie shook her head. Perhaps she would ask her grandmother tomorrow. This thought having entered her young mind, Cassie returned to bed smiling. Tomorrow, her family was celebrating her tenth birthday.
As Cassie fell back into an untroubled sleep, with the ease only a child can possess, another young girl lay awake in a place far distant. She too had woken in the night, forced out of sleep by the oppressive heat which blanketed the city she called home. Slipping silently through the passages she crept outside and was welcomed by the tantalising whisper of the garden.
Stillness and silence reigned. Even the crickets which normally chirruped on summer nights were quiet. Her red hair shone silver and muted gold in the moonlight and her green eyes widened as they fell upon an unexpected sight. A single rose blossomed in the corner of the garden. It was coloured rich as blood and flame and yet was cool as water when she touched it. She looked at the rose and in its crimson petals she saw fire and blood and pain, but she also saw beauty. She saw life.
A noise came from within the stone walls of her home and the enchantment that had seemed to embrace the garden, in that moment, was gone. The girl crept back inside. Behind her, the rose began to wilt and, by morning, was gone. As if it had never existed.
Later, on the outskirts of that same city a boy sat on the edge of the river. His feet dangled in the water which flowed past him, all the way to the Northern harbour and the open sea. Other boys further downstream swam in the water, revelling in the escape from the summer heat. Sweat made his shirt cling to his body like a second skin but he did not enter the water.
Though years had passed he remembered, with vivid clarity, the first time he had immersed himself in the river. As the water had closed over his head an overwhelming terror had gripped him. His feet had pushed instinctively off the bottom of the shallow riverbed and he had exploded out of the water. Dragging himself with panicked strokes towards the bank he gasped wildly for air, though he had only been under for a moment.
He had never been in danger of drowning, and this was not what frightened him. It was that split second, when the water met above him and formed a barrier, however thin, between him and the open air that he feared.
Simply remembering the feeling of being cut off made his heart thud within his chest, but he breathed deeply to calm himself. It seemed to him that, despite the balmy atmosphere, the air still had a purity and sweetness to it. The back of his neck tingled as if touched by an intangibly soft breeze and he sensed the end of summer was finally nearing.
Throughout the city, hemmed in by its tall walls, many people slept troubled by dreams and longing for the cool of autumn. But there were many who did not sleep. Wreathed in shadows, figures passed unseen and unheard amongst the tangled streets. Above them all, tucked away into the darkest darkness upon the walls, a figure stood watching the city. Watching the people below. Yellow eyes glowed brighter than a cat’s and they were filled with knowledge and an intensity that was rivalled by few. Someone standing on the street might look up and glimpse, for a moment, a lean silhouette. But then, as quickly as a heartbeat, it was no more and they found themselves wondering if it had ever really been.