Mariea didn’t know where she was. She didn’t recognize her surroundings at all, and she couldn’t remember how she had ended up there. All she knew was that it was very, very dark, and the air was heavy with moisture and a metallic sent she couldn’t place. She shivered, hugging her arms to her body to fight away the cold that seemed much more than just the temperature. It seemed to seep into her soul, chilling her deep inside. She wanted to leave. Desperately so. But with no idea how or where to go, she found herself paralyzed by the fear.
When she heard a noise behind her, she jumped, certain it would be some sort of beast coming to end her. But when she turned, she saw a man who she didn’t recognize. He simply stared at her, something about his gaze unnerving her. It just looked…off. He was looking right at her, but not really seeing, his eyes slightly glazed over. He was only visible to her because of the faint glow of his aura that surrounded him. It cast erratic shadows as it flickered and shifted, partially obscuring her vision.
Deciding there was a chance the gloomy place wouldn’t be so bad if she could see better, she brought her own aura to light, surrounding herself in the familiar aqua blue glow. She gathered some in her hand and raised it, and it grew brighter, turning white as she muttered a simple word to turn it into a spell. The orb floated just above her head, illuminating her surroundings.
Suddenly, she wished desperately for the darkness as she looked around her. There were bodies, everywhere, in a thousand different states of decay and dismemberment. Some were quite fresh. That was the smell. Blood. She began shaking violently, her breath rattling through her body as her hands slowly raised to cover her mouth. She glanced back to the man, wanting to see his reaction, and wondering if that was why his expression was so blank.
“Mariea, don’t!” A voice yelled behind her. She glanced back, noticing Bracken approaching her through the sea of bodies. His face was ashen—clearly he hadn’t missed their surroundings—but he fought to reach her anyway.
“But, what about him?” She wondered, turning back to the man slowly.
“Don’t, it’s dangerous!” Bracken called. It, not him. What could he possibly mean by that?
When she faced the stranger again, she realized he had moved several steps closer while she had been distracted. The harsh white light of her spell cast away the shadows that had previously hidden his face, yet none of it reflected in his eyes. He was sickly pale, like he belonged with the corpses at their feet more so than the living. When he reached out a hand towards Mariea, she took an uncertain step back, but something crunched under foot. She flinched forward again, certain she had just stepped on a human bone.
“Mariea!” Bracken called. She looked back to him. He hadn’t made any progress towards reaching her. She desperately wished he was by her side. She glanced around, not sure where to go, but the stranger was moving closer. His hands were mysteriously dark. She absentmindedly wondered why as she searched for a way out. The floor was disappearing under a sea of blood rising up to claim the victims’ remains. It seeped towards her, darkening everything in its path.
Then her gaze snapped back to the man. That was why his hands were dark. They were covered in blood. He had killed all those people. And she realized now there was a high chance she was supposed to be his next victim.
Letting out a small squeal of fear, she turned turned to run, determined to find a way to Bracken and out of that horrid place, but a hand closed around her shoulder from behind, yanking her back. She screamed as she was engulfed in an unholy pain.
Mariea shot upwards, gasping for air as she tried to escape the pain. It faded, and her bleary gaze made out her room. Was…that a dream? She wondered as her disoriented brain realized she was sitting in her bed, her blankets pushed off her and tangled around her feet. It was a dream. She was cold because they were gone, and her mind crafted strange images to explain it. Strangely morbid images, to be specific.
She just wouldn’t question why the pain lingered for a moment after she woke up.
Shuddering, she decided she couldn’t stay in bed any longer. She still had an hour until her alarm went off, but she knew she wouldn’t be sleeping. She glanced over to her side at Bracken to make sure she hadn’t woke him. Thankfully, he was still resting peacefully, blissfully unaware of the scene she had just witnessed. Quietly, she slipped to the restroom and began preparing for the day.
Once she was finished, she headed out into the main room of their home. The small two bedroom house had a clean, modern design, with a large, open kitchen and living room combined. The bedroom door opened into a small hallway that led to the restroom to her left and front door to her right. Stepping through the archway let her into the light colored sitting area, which faced the great windows along the back wall. Cutting across the space, she made her way to the kitchen, which lined the opposite wall, lit well by the windows. Just on the other side was the alcove where their dining table was, and the door to their small study.
Glancing around the kitchen, she mentally took stock of what they had on hand, and then glanced at her watch again. “I’ve got time,” she muttered, before she started pulling breakfast ingredients from the fridge.
By the time Bracken was up and dressed, she had cooked them each pancakes, a eggs, and bacon. She was pouring orange juice when he stepped into the room, running a hand through his short, dark brown hair in an attempt to flatten the slight curl. He shuffled to the fridge as Mareia called, “Good morning.”
He turned to her to return the greeting, and then noticed the table was set. “What’s this?” he asked.
“Breakfast,” she replied smiling slightly at the humor of him asking such an obvious question.
He immediately perked up, clearly excited. “I guess I mean, what’s the occasion?” He wondered, moving towards the table.
Mariea shrugged. “Do I need an occasion to spoil my husband?” She wondered, stepping towards him.
He smiled. “Oh, I’m definitely down for that idea.”
She chuckled, and then he pulled her into a hug. When she closed her eyes, briefly, the images from her dream returned, and she suddenly felt immensely relieved to feel his embrace. She tightened her grip slightly, lingering a bit longer than she figured he had expected.
As if sensing something wasn’t quite right, he held her, gently tracing circles on her back with one hand. “You okay?” He muttered after a moment.
“Yeah, I just…had a weird dream last night. Made me grateful I have
you,” she told him as she finally stepped back.
He gave her a sympathetic smile. “I hate dreams like that. You want to talk about it?”
“No, I’d rather forget. And eat these eggs, they’re going to get cold,” she decided.
He nodded. “Don’t have to tell me twice. Man, I miss breakfasts like this,” he told her as his smile returned and he moved for the table.
She couldn’t help but brighten at his enthusiasm. “I know, it seems we never have time for this sort of stuff.”
“Well, there’s no reason why I can’t get my lazy bones out of bed sooner and help. So I shouldn’t complain,” he told her with a shrug. Mariea smiled slightly, deciding not to dissuade him from his rest. Bracken was a terrible cook. His brain just functioned too much like a spell—it needed exactness, and cooking was way too much of an art for him to manage it.
They ate their breakfast with companionable small talk, and soon, Mariea found the nightmare fading into memory. When they were finished, they cleaned up, and then Mariea had to head to work. She gathered her things, kissed Bracken goodbye, and headed for the door.
Outside, the city of Verndale sprawled out below her, and in the distance the ocean stretched beyond Raidenya’s shores like a protective barrier around the island. She loved Raidenya in spring, and despite how she had lived on the island for fifteen years, she still couldn’t get over how beautiful it was. It was still only February, but the snow never lingered long, and the first signs of life returning to the island were beginning to show. Though New York had its charms, she didn’t regret leaving it behind. It just couldn’t compare to where she was now.
And she was certain part of the difference could be blamed on the magic the people of Raidenya used. The rest of the world knew nothing of the island, and the Auraes were careful to keep it that way so they could practice their gifts without trouble. Their power—which came from their auras—was often hated and feared by those who did not possess it. Raidenya was a safe haven, and because of what it offered, the people treasured it.
It was only a ten-minute drive from her home to the academy where she taught. She made her way down the hillside, passing from the suburban streets of her neighborhood into bustling downtown. Verndale wasn’t a huge city, but even in the years she had lived on the island, it had grown considerably.
About a block from the city center was the Aurae Academy, a sprawling campus with accommodations for education from six years old and up. She parked in the faculty parking lot behind the main building, which housed most of the advanced classes, as well as the dormitories for those students who chose to live there. Most of the students who did were adults, but the academy also reserved some rooms for younger students who didn’t have anywhere else to go, like those in the rare situation where they had just discovered their magical gifts and had come to the island seeking safety from the outside world. Mariea had once stayed there herself, when she had first discovered her power.
The main building was called Rybolov Hall, after the Aurae family who had once owned Raidenya but who had chosen to open their island home to others in need of a safe place to practice their magic in peace. The hall was built to mimic his old manor. Over the years, the building had undergone several remodels to update its facilities, though it maintained the classical architecture and theme as much as possible.
Mariea’s classroom was on the second floor. It was a large, rectangular space, with a wall of windows opposite the door and a whiteboard dominating the wall in between. Rows of tables allowed the students to easily work together. Mariea had a desk tucked in the corner against one of the windows. She placed her purse and other belongings in one of the drawers before hanging her jacket on the back of her desk chair.
For the past five years, she had taught at the academy, helping to introduce the new generation of Auraes to their auras. Her focus was the Elemental Magics, a group of magics that manipulated the four base elements of water, earth, fire, and air. After only a little time learning to master her own aura, she had found a preference in them, and had devoted her time to mastering them. The magic she taught was usually introduced to students in their teens, though on rare occasion there were those that were older who had been brought to the island at an older age.
As another class gathered, she felt the last of her worries from that morning melt away, replaced by a slight excitement that never failed to amaze her; it didn’t matter how many times she introduced the Elemental Magics to another group of students; it simply never got old. And since they had begun a new semester in February, they were just starting to get into handling the elements again.
Moving to the front of the room, Mariea leaned against the long cabinet there and waited for the class’s attention to turn to her. As they settled down, she smiled slightly. “Today is the day you’ve all been waiting for,” she announced to start the class. “Over the past few weeks I’ve introduced the concept of and prepared you for handling the first of the Elemental Magics, fire. Now, it’s time we show you just what this magic can accomplish and allow you to handle it yourself.”
Excitement rippled through the class, making her smile grow. Her aura came to view around her hands, its aqua glow adding an extra splash of color to the classroom. She drew only a minimal amount of power from it, meaning it only barely showed, instead of encasing her entirely as it did when she drew on its full strength.
“Fire is a dangerous element, but when used correctly, it can also be of great benefit,” she stated as she raised her palm before them. Fire sparked to life just above her hand as she continued. “When you use this magic, you are literally using the pure energy of your aura to light the fire, meaning the strength of your fire is directly connected to that of your aura. Because of this, this magic follows a much simpler process than other magics—you simply imagine the flame, will it to be, and then supply the energy of your aura. It takes time, and at first, even a small flame will cost a great amount of energy, but as you familiarize yourself with the magic and your aura grows, it will come more naturally.
“To start off with, it’s easier to bring a flame to light with a natural fuel; hence the matches on the tables. You’ll start with those today,” she finished. “Any questions before we get started?” A few were voiced, and she explained further. When they came to an end, she invited, “Alright, now you try it. Remember the spells we learned earlier in the class to protect you if the flame should get out of hand. You’ll want to use these every day before handling the flames, until you’re confident in your control.”
Auras blinked to life around the room in a variety of hues and shades as the students reached for the matches and began the necessary spells. Then the room fell silent as the students turned their concentration to the magic at hand. She watched them carefully, waiting for them to discover the power of their auras.
From one side of the room, a girl gasped as a small flame flickered to life on the end of the match she held. It died as quickly as it appeared, to her disappointment. Mariea approached her with another match. “Good job,” she congratulated quietly. “Try giving it a little more power this time.”
As the classroom continued, fire blinked to life across the room in small flickers as one by one the students managed to light their matches. Eventually, she called for them to finish up. “This is only the beginning of fire. Throughout the rest of the semester, we’ll explore its limits, and see just what your auras are capable of,” she informed them.
The class filed out as one hour ended and the next began. The room filled with an older group this time, who were working on learning water, the third elemental class she taught. She began explaining their final prep exam they were all required to take before handling a new element as the class began.
The rest of the day flew by, and eventually Mareia found herself home again, ready for a good night’s sleep. Her mind briefly strayed to the nightmare again, but she quickly pushed it away, knowing dwelling on it would only freak her out again, and cause her to have another nightmare. She was determined to put it behind her.
It was a week later when the next nightmare happened. This time, the same morbid stranger followed her through the streets of Verndale, never getting too close. He would appear in the corner of her eye and then disappear when she turned to him, like a shadow she couldn’t quite shake. But every time she turned around to continue her desperate attempt to escape him, she’d find another person she loved, dead at her feet, almost as if she had somehow murdered them.
That dream, and the one before, were the start of a new, terrifying pattern in her life, one she couldn’t even being to understand—every week, for the entire month of February, she would have a nightmare, and after, something would always linger—a feeling of pain, or temperature, or the textures around her. And with each passing one, she found it harder and harder to shake the overwhelming feeling something was coming, even when she was awake.
Bracken began to notice as well. When she woke from the second nightmare in the first week of March, he sat up to comfort her. “I’m really starting to hate seeing you this way. What’s causing all these nightmares?” He muttered as her breathing slowed and her heart rate slowly returned to normal.
She shook her head, not sure how to answer. “I’m sorry I keep waking
you. This is ridiculous,” she muttered, feeling childish. She just couldn’t understand why her mind seemed fixed on dwelling on such macabre scenes.
As if deciding neither of them would be sleeping soon, Bracken leaned over and turned the lamp on his nightstand on. “You’re not bothering me. I’m worried about you. This just isn’t natura. You must be exhausted after so many nights without sleep.”
“It is becoming a bit of a nuisance,” she reluctantly admitted. The consistent pattern and the lingering emotions were what upset her the most. The longer they went on, the clearer it became ot her that these weren’t regular nightmares. “I’m…beginning to think there’s more to them.”
“There has to be something triggering them,” he agreed with a nod.
Mariea shrugged, realizing Bracken hadn’t entirely caught on to her meaning, but she went with it. “I’ve been trying to figure that out, but there’s literally nothing I’m dealing with to cause it. I’m not overly stressed or worried about anything in particular, nothing out of the ordinary. I don’t know.”
“Could it be that what stress you are dealing with is finally starting to take its toll?” Bracken asked. “There has been a lot of changes recently, it wouldn’t be that surprising.” She knew he was referring to her recent election to chancellor of the governing council of Raidenya, a position she hadn’t expected to receive and felt slightly unqualified for, but she couldn’t see the connection herself.
“It can’t be that simple,” she muttered, her gaze on the wall across the room.
“Then what could it be? It’s weird to continually have nightmares for no reason,” Bracken mused, looking stumped.
“Yeah,” she muttered. After a pause, she glanced up to him and cautiously ventured, “Would…you find it crazy if I told you I thought they were a warning of some kind?”
He considered that for a moment, his head tilted slightly to one side as he thought. “Not necessarily crazy. There’s a lot of things about this world we simply don’t understand. I don’t doubt it could be possible. Is that what you’re thinking they are?”
“I’m starting to,” she confirmed with a small nod. She paused a moment to collect her thoughts. “They’re too consistent. And normal nightmares don’t leave me this rattled. The emotions I feel…tend to linger. I’m left grieving a death that hasn’t happened, terrified of events that seem highly unlikely, and no matter how much I tell myself it’s just a dream it doesn’t stick. They…” As she finally met Bracken’s gaze, she felt the dark worry overwhelm her again even as she spoke of it. “Every time they fill me with dread. Of what, I don’t know, but I can’t shake it. As crazy as it sounds, I…I think there’s something coming, something I should be afraid of, but I don’t know what.”
Bracken held her gaze for a moment in silence, and then let out a long, heavy sigh. “Which leaves us with little idea what to do about it.”
Mariea nodded in agreement, feeling a little relieved he believed her. “That’s the most frustrating part. They leave me with no clues as to what’s happening. I just…” her hands tightened into fists in the blankets as the image of Bracken’s death from the dream that night came to mind. “I can’t allow what happens in those dreams to become reality.”
Bracken wrapped an arm around her shoulders, making her realize how tense she had become, and how uncomfortably close she was to tears. Quickly, she blinked them away as she fought to gain control of her emotions.
“We’ll figure it out. I trust you,” he told her with a bittersweet smile. She nodded, hoping he was right. After a pause, he added, “Maybe it would be good to start writing these dreams down. If we could compare them, we might find a pattern of some sort or something that could give us a hint into where they’re coming from or why.”
“I’ll try it,” she agreed, deciding any sort of plan, as weak as it was, was better than doing nothing.
He nodded. Then he stifled a yawn, clearly trying not to let on how tired he was. Of course, he would be exhausted too, waking up as often as he did. She tried not to bother him, but there was nothing she could do when she started screaming in her sleep, or desperately grasping at him as if trying to claw her way out of a pit. But he hadn’t once complained, just did his best to comfort her.
“Let’s go back to sleep,” she muttered.
“If you want,” he decided.
She glanced at the clock. “Yeah, it’s only midnight.”
He nodded and settled back against his pillow, gesturing for her to join him. She curled close, grateful for his presence. She had to fight the urge to ask to leave the light on. All her life, she had never been afraid of the dark, but now, at twenty-four, she couldn’t list anything she was more afraid of.