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Dawn of Dreams

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Summary

Two strangers, one terrifying monster, no answers and a world of questions in the year 2073. What could go wrong? Jaden and Kayla’s lives couldn’t be more different. It’s 2073 and the two strangers are living worlds apart. Then something strange and terrifying brings them together. No one can see the hideous, malevolent creature but them. As if that wasn’t enough, the two discover that the beast stalking them isn’t the only thing they have in common. Venturing further down the path they have been forced onto, they join forces with strange and unusual comrades, suffer attacks from enemies beyond their imagination and begin unraveling the complex mystery of their mission. But discovering the answers to their questions comes with a price. Their lives will be forever changed. In a world on the verge of destruction, can this unlikely couple find a way to save it, all while trying to make sense of this inexplicable connection they feel for each other?

Genre:
Scifi / Fantasy
Author:
Bronwyn Leroux
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
11
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
13+

Chapter One

Rasping, discordant, ominous. The squealing scoured Jaden’s ears, drilled into his skull and grated painfully against the sensitive nerve endings transmitting the signals to his brain. Microscopic hairs on the back of his neck prickled upward, spitefully scratching the soft lining of his thermal jacket. The squealing intensified, becoming a more nerve-racking shrieking. Unrelenting, the clamor continued, overwhelming his senses, melting his bones.

Jaden stumbled, dimly aware that although he had never heard the sound before, it was as if he had spent his entire life waiting to hear it. Fear snaked down his spine. Rivulets of panic-driven sweat erupted, following the same path. Slapping his hands over his ears, he hoped to drown out the sound, but the relief was minimal. Frantically, Jaden searched the faces of his fellow hikers, confused as to why they were all still serenely striding forward. Didn’t any of them hear it? But the cacophony appeared to be for his ears alone. His friends were oblivious, all intent on putting one foot in front of the other.

Abruptly, mercifully, the scraping ceased. Shaken, Jaden dropped his hands from his head, tempted to collapse onto the snow. In the crisp mountain air, his ears eagerly acknowledged other sounds. The crunch of crusty snow as it protested the countless snowshoes crushing and reshaping its crystalline surface. The fatigued panting of his friends as the frigid weather fanged their lungs, forcing them to fight for every gulp of the rarified air. The reverberating, gunshot crack as a distant branch broke under the burden of bulky spring snow. Each sound accentuated by the abnormal absence of the drone of air traffic. 2073 it might be, but there were still some places that barred the passage of overhead traffic. And the Shadow Mountains prided themselves on being one such area.

Shivering against the chill, Jaden studied his friends through the locks of dark blonde hair - badly in need of a trim - that had fallen over his slightly-tilted cobalt eyes. The group had chosen today to honor their yearly tradition of hiking the mountains that towered over their complex. The six of them had been hiking the mountain since they were kids, normally with their families. But today was the first time they had been allowed to hike the mountain without parental oversight. And they had reveled in the idea of exploring the heights alone.

Although the mountain’s lofty peaks doomed their community to extended afternoon shadows and essentially isolated them from the rest of the Meridian complex, the raw beauty surrounding them more than compensated. Today was no exception. Majestically tall, spectacularly decked with lush, emerald forests below, and capped by a mantle of blazing white, the Shadow Mountains commanded attention.

But Jaden’s attention was elsewhere. The squealing had returned. What was it? The screeching was worse than a shiny nail being dragged down a protesting piece of metal. Why could his friends not hear it? Peering into the gloom of the pines and firs up ahead, he tried pinpointing the source of the sound; but the shadows were deep and the sun was obnoxiously bright. Raising his hand to shade his eyes, he scanned the murky depths. Without warning, a gigantic shape lifted off a tree up ahead.

Startled, Jaden fell backward into Tarise with a strangled yelp. Hearing the sound, the others stopped, turning inquiring gazes on him.

“You okay?” Tarise questioned, frowning.

Jaden shook his head, struggling up. Wordlessly, he pointed toward the dark silhouette of some monstrous beast flapping just above the tree line. Huge and like nothing he had ever seen before, its neck was disproportionately long for something that should be a bird. Not only was the neck too long, but it also appeared to have some sort of scaly armor sticking out at odd angles along its length. And the tail…the tail was not the tail of a bird, but what appeared to be the hard-shelled stinger of a scorpion. It had to be a trick of the light. Surely his eyes were deceiving him! Appalled, Jaden gaped.

His friends stared in the direction indicated by his shaky index finger. Then, without exception, they turned bland faces toward him and eyed him suspiciously.

“What?” Markov wheezed.

“You don’t see that?” Jaden croaked, his eyes glued to the gargantuan outline shrinking rapidly as the creature flailed ungainly wings and streaked away.

For the second time, his friends turned and studied the designated area.

Whatever the apparition was, it had now diminished to a dark spot on the otherwise shining horizon; a black blemish that clearly didn’t belong there. The shape was an almost imperceptible point in the sky when his friends rounded on him, shaking their heads.

“Maybe we should take a break,” Stovan muttered, dropping his pack, and then himself, onto the hard-packed snow.

“Excellent idea,” Markov muttered, following suit.

Thankful sighs sounded as the rest of the group relieved themselves of their hefty packs and took a few minutes to catch their breath. Although they could’ve opted for the more modern, trendier and significantly lighter anti-gravity sacks for carting their supplies, the group remained attached to their old-fashioned backpacks, touting the benefits of the strenuous exercise, but invariably regretting their choice at some point in the hike.

“Seriously, none of you saw that?” Jaden pressed. He could not have been the only one to have seen such an atrocity.

“Bro, I think the altitude’s getting to you. Chill. Grab some rays. Refuel,” Markov chided.

Jaden fumed. He was not suffering from some altitude related malady! But studying the others, he irritably concluded that pressing the point would be futile. They were all as calm as sheep before the slaughter; completely unaware they had been so close to danger. He shook his head disbelievingly. How could they all have missed it? He had heard it. He had seen it.

Frustrated, he delved in his pack and retrieved his water bottle, crushing it to his lips and tipping his head back, allowing the cool water to trickle down his throat. Light-headedness smashed into him like a freight train. Reeling from the dizziness, Jaden slowly lowered the water bottle and then his head, waiting for the world to equalize. Maybe he was tired.

Reaching into his pack again, Jaden grabbed a bag of trail mix. Flopping onto the snow to give his wobbly legs a break, he absently chewed through the contents. When the bag was empty, he sighed and flipped onto his back. Emptying his mind, he closed his eyes, allowing the sun to shine red through his eyelids as it warmed him. The babble of his friends’ conversations washed over him, a soothing lullaby. Gradually, his tense muscles unwound. But relaxation was short-lived.

“Time to press on,” Stovan urged, hoisting his pack.

Bree groaned. “Already? Five more minutes…please?”

Grinning, Stovan pulled Bree to her feet. “No such luck. I’m on a mission to get to the top so I can eat the awesome lunch I packed.”

“We could just eat here,” Bree offered hopefully.

Stovan laughed. “And miss the great views up there? I think not!” Rebuking the others, still lounging on the trail, he said, “Come on, up you all get!”

With grunts and groans, they complied. Soon, the trail’s compacted foundation gave way to the softer surface of less traveled paths. Nearing the end of the trail and the lake that marked their lunch site, Jaden grew edgy. It was as though something - or someone - was watching him. Darting a glance behind him, he caught Tarise staring.

She flushed, color rising up her neck and suffusing her cheeks, exposing her embarrassment at having been caught. “Sorry,” she stammered, “you don’t look so hot.”

“I’m okay,” he snapped, focusing on his feet. It hadn’t escaped his attention that the others had been relieved when Tarise had offered to bring up the rear as they had resumed their hike. Clearly, they were concerned about his little…episode. Maybe he was paranoid. Forcing some slow, deep breaths, he berated himself. Calm down, stop panicking. There’s nothing there. Loosen up. Enjoy this time with your friends.

He surveyed the group once more. They had been together since entering Life Training; a much-needed revision of the old education system where every kid had been made to progress through every subject, regardless of interest or ability. In Life Training, education zeroed in on each child’s natural talents, gauging their abilities from a young age and then placing them into the appropriate life stream. It was a sweet system; you loved everything you learned.

Regrettably, the cliques that had formed in the old system still persisted at the learning centers (or LC’s), circumventing the educational evolution. Social groups still revolved around the sports stars, the academes, the cheerleaders and the “popular” kids, with the vast majority still not neatly fitting into any particular niche. And the groups still sparred with one another. But even these tensions had not torn their friendships asunder. Instead, their little group had banded together, stepping out of their naturally assigned cliques and supporting one another against the inevitable ragging that went on, forging unbreakable bonds between them.

Although this could’ve been the predictable result of the numerous activities their families had shared over the years outside of the LC. This annual spring hike together had always been one of the highlights. He smiled, remembering the various ambushes their parents had set for them when they were younger, until one incident specifically, where “the kids” had raced on ahead and climbed onto one of the rocks overlooking the path to reverse the normal order of things. They had waited in hushed anticipation for the adults to catch up, shoving the snow off the rock ledge onto their unsuspecting parents at the precise moment they had passed underneath. It had been a first-rate attack, with their prey ignorant until the snow had piled down on top of them. The backlash from that had been memorable, but it had been worth every minute to see their parents’ shocked faces. Consequently, their parents had been more cautious after that about future attacks, realizing their offspring were now of an age where they could retaliate effectively.

Lingering over the memory, Jaden glanced at each of his friends in turn while they marched on in silence. Markov, in front of him, was the oldest, although only by a few months. Tall and well-built, he was a rising star on the gridpost team…and handsome to boot. Jaden sighed, glancing down at his own gangly frame and wondering whether he would ever fill out and look more normal. With long arms and long legs, he felt like his body was betraying him at every turn, making it deliberately more difficult to move without being clumsy and seemingly weaker than he had been before the growth spurt. His mother kept assuring him he would grow into his limbs; only, that required him to stop growing.

Giving up on his self-analysis, he considered Tarise, directly behind him. She was a year younger than he and Markov, and the solemn, studious type. The quietest one in the group, she was observant. If you didn’t know her, you could be forgiven for wondering whether she ever laughed or if she simply stared at the world with her huge, soulful, blue eyes. Her polar opposite, Shianna, the nature-lover, was way out in front, as usual, rushing around looking at everything as though it might become extinct before she had a chance to study it. Nicely-rounded Briley had fallen behind again, and was now in her customary second to last position, huffing and puffing along. If it weren’t for stocky Stovan who had eased his own pace and was good-naturedly pushing Bree along, Bree might have been lost after the first few turns on the trail.

“Nearly there,” Shianna called out, bounding over the snow pack like a mountain goat.

“Thank goodness!” Bree exclaimed, looking as though she might pass out at any second.

Stovan grinned, giving her a gentle shove.

“Looking forward to the cookies I baked?” she asked.

“Can’t wait,” Stovan replied, and then added, “We might even have to test them before lunch if they’re as fabulous as the last ones you made.”

Bree chuckled. “Aren’t you sorry now you made me walk all this way? You could’ve already been sampling them!”

“Quit talking about food. I’m already hungry enough to eat two meals,” Jaden grunted and the group sniggered. Although perpetually hungry, food never seemed to go anywhere with him. Only an hour after leveling a huge breakfast, he was hungry again. Sometimes, Jaden felt like he spent his entire day eating.

“Don’t know how you stay so thin, dude,” Markov quipped.

More jibes followed about the vast quantities Jaden consumed. He took the teasing in stride. After all, it was true. And it made the day so much more entertaining; well, when he wasn’t the one being teased. It was time for him to do some teasing of his own.

They finally rounded the last turn on the barely visible trail. Sapphire Pool appeared, gleaming blue ice and breathtakingly beautiful. The overhanging glacier that fed the ever-present waters lurking beneath glittered in the sunlight, reflecting gleeful rays of sunshine that danced over their group in welcome.

Spreading out over the rocks along the pool’s edge, the six of them jockeyed for better positions on flatter rocks or places with less snow to rest their weary bones. When they had settled, they opened their packs and shared out their food whilst they chattered about their upcoming summer vacation plans.

Jaden leaned back against a supporting boulder as he listened. He had scarcely relaxed when he felt it; an evil presence, skulking on the periphery. His danger level spiked to DEFCON ONE. He jerked upright. A claustrophobic cloak of imminent doom descended, suffocating him, a weighty warning of something terrible to come. Sitting with every muscle tensed for flight, nothing happened. And after a few minutes, still nothing. Sheesh, he was going to have to get over this ridiculous obsession.

Deliberately leaning back again, he sipped from the energy drink he had brought with him. He forced himself to concentrate on the group’s conversation, now a lively debate about whether the LC’s cafeteria food would finally improve after several students had done a nutritional analysis and proven that they were practically eating cardboard. The educational system may have changed, but it seemed some things never would.

“Well, it’s good-tasting cardboard,” Stovan stated, in a misguided attempt at placating Shianna.

“Yeah – and doing nothing for you or your body. In fact, all those things that make it so tasty are what actually make it worse for you!”

“Do you think they’ll ever change the food they dish out?” Jaden interrupted mildly, instantly getting an accusing glare from Shianna.

She tossed her head. “Have you not been listening at all?”

“Nope, sorry, tuned out to take in the view,” he said pleasantly.

Shianna’s tirade stalled as she took a few seconds to process the tone of Jaden’s words. Then she reached over and slapped him on the arm. The tension eased as everyone chuckled.

“Guess we’ll have to admire the view and forget about the cardboard,” Stovan concluded, and the conversation veered towards Lattes versus Frappuccinos when Bree produced a flask of coffee.

Who would have thought there were so many things to say about coffee? Jaden’s eyes closed once more as his friends’ voices buzzed around him like merry bees.

It hit him. The pain, sharp and insistent, pierced his closed eyelids. He bolted up, eyes flying open. Blinded by the hot light searing his retinas, he almost fell off the rock he was so precariously balanced upon. Attempting to avert his eyes, it squeezed him even tighter in its optical grip, driving him to face it. Jaden looked up in desperation. The light dimmed instantly. As his eyes adjusted, he focused on the dark shape. It lacked any discernible color and dwarfed the branches overhanging the rocks near the water’s sheet-ice edge.

Closer now than it had been before, Jaden gasped at its enormity; its main body easily five times the size of an eagle. But its wings were tatty things, hardly strong enough to support a sparrow’s weight, let alone this massive specimen. Jaden’s eyes were inexorably drawn to the beak. Viciously sharp, unbelievably long and curved like a scimitar, it glinted wickedly in the limited sunlight filtering through to the tree’s depths. The beak’s menacing length ran to almost midway down the creature’s abnormally long neck. Jaden had never seen anything more hideous. It was like something out of a horror movie, like some animal experiment gone wrong. If he were into classifying living things like Shianna, he wouldn’t even know where to begin.

Thinking she might be able to help, he eased over to her, hoping the brute wouldn’t disappear again. Tapping Shianna on the shoulder, he spoke softly. “Do you see that thing in the trees over there, about two o’clock?”

She squinted, examining the trees. “No, I don’t see anything, except for some darker patches.”

Exasperated, Jaden hissed more precise directions. When this failed to produce results, he appealed to Stovan. To his disgust, Stovan concurred with Shianna.

“What’s all the whispering about?” Markov interrupted.

“Jaden thinks there’s something in the trees, over there,” Shianna replied, indicating the general area of the search.

Markov swiveled, craning his neck as he probed the murky shadows. Finding nothing unusual, he rocked forward onto his feet and picked his way over the rocks to get a better view. After several seconds, he still hadn’t said a word.

“Well?” Jaden demanded.

“Dude, I don’t know what you’re seeing, but I can’t find a thing.”

Adamant they should acknowledge the existence of the apparition, Jaden leaped up and crashed over the boulders toward the tree, shouting and waving his hands in the air. If he could scare the thing, it would launch itself, and they would finally believe.

Vaguely aware of his friends’ snorts of amusement following him, he continued regardless. Almost to the base of the tree, he felt the animal’s wrathful eyes and began to doubt it would do what he wanted. It seemed capable of reading his mind, knowing what he was after, but like a belligerent child was determined to do the opposite. Stopping just short of crashing into the tree, he was losing hope fast and breathing hard. He and the beast glared at one another.

Now so close Jaden could smell the fetid air rolling off the beast, he began to truly comprehend its immensity. And for the first time since his irrational decision to charge, he realized how foolish he’d been. What if it meant to do him harm? He wasn’t more than thirty feet from it!

Before he could consider his options, the monstrosity stretched out its scraggly wings. Colossal, they measured roughly twelve feet on each side, black as midnight and an even darker shade than the rest of its body. As the wings clicked open, Jaden perceived each wing wasn’t a whole piece; but rather four fingers of countless metallic feathers, each finger separate and distinct. No wonder they looked strange. How on earth could it fly with wings like that?

The beast leaned forward. Jaden took an involuntary step back as it glowered at him through enormous, luminescent amber eyes. For an instant, Jaden feared attack when it fell off the branches toward him. But with powerful strokes, the fingers on its wings each rotated up and then down, in turn, lifting the creature away from him.

Jaden took another precautionary step backward, his eyes never leaving the aberration as it ascended into the cloudless azure sky. He only relaxed when he was certain the beast wouldn’t come crashing back down again. Delighted it had finally taken flight, he yelled, “Look, look!” He faced his friends, enthusiasm brightening his face. But it quickly disappeared when he noted their expressions.

“Hey man, are you sure you’re not feeling the altitude today?” Stovan’s concern was obvious.

Shianna bounced the few steps necessary to reach him and stretched out a hand to his forehead. Realizing she intended checking whether he was feverish, Jaden thrust her outstretched hand away.

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the feathered fiend etching lazy circles on the blank, blue canvas overhead. Jaden angled his face upward for a better view. Hard to tell at this distance, but it appeared to be smirking at him! Annoyed, he rasped, “None of you can see that, that thing, cart-wheeling up there?”

More blank faces and worried looks. Jaden’s mind worked furiously, factoring the possibilities. Clearly, the monster was up there, but irrationally, only he could see it. He knew he had not imagined the sense of doom he had felt earlier. But then again, could that have been a product of his overactive imagination? Add to that the dizziness he had experienced on their break. And the undeniable fact that he had never seen anything that remotely resembled this beast anywhere, even in the extensive library of the Life Training Center. His reluctant conclusion was that it was possible he had imagined things.

Deciding it would be wise to drop the matter before his worried friends dialed emergency services, he grimaced. “Okay, so I’m seeing things. I’ll drink more water. I’ll even agree to go back down if you want.”

The group exhibited a mixture of relief and continued concern. But the conversation was now muted, and Jaden perceived how they all kept staring at him as they solemnly packed up the remnants of their lunch. Feeling guilty, he figured some clowning might help restore their earlier camaraderie.

Grateful for the dated “Chatty Catty” app he had streamed to his personal access line (or PAL), only the previous evening, he tapped the CC link on his wrist that connected him to his PAL. His virtual screen popped up, and he launched the app. He had played with it a little last night and it was hilarious. Basically, whatever you said, it recorded and played back. Only the playback was altered so the voice sounded like Alvin the Chipmunk – not that any of his friends would know who Alvin was. Jaden was the only one in their group who enjoyed past-gen movies, which were so outdated that, to watch them, you had to actively search for them. But he had a penchant for the old cartoons, finding their witty humor enormously appealing. Consequently, he spent hours trolling for them online, paid small fortunes for them when he was able to wheedle one away from someone, and then enjoyed endless hours watching the movies repeatedly.

Perching on a rock within earshot of his friends, he hunched over his virtual screen, pretending to talk to it. He grinned inwardly when he spotted Markov raising his eyebrows toward Shianna as they noticed what he was up to. Setting the app to play, he whined into the mike, “They think I’m cra-zy.”

Immediately the ridiculous voice squeaked back, “They think I’m cra-zy.”

“No, that’s what I said,” Jaden replied and the tinny voice again repeated his words back to him.

Shianna and Markov stood there, open-mouthed at first, not sure what was happening. It only took one more line for them to register it was a prank and both started hooting with pleasure, scrambling over to where Jaden sat. The rest of the crew, attracted by the sudden commotion, crowded closer.

When “Catty” picked up on Bree’s throaty chuckle and threw it back, they all erupted. The group’s anxiety melted away as naturally as the snow around them soon would. The screen was tossed around and the hysterics continued. Relieved Jaden seemed to be back to normal, Bree brought out her mouthwatering cookies and they continued playing with the app. Surreptitiously, they all kept a cautious eye on Jaden. There was an unspoken agreement that if he showed any further signs of possible altitude sickness, they would leave.

Thankfully, Jaden continued to behave normally. Time ebbed away, packed with casual conversations, snowball fights, laser tag games in the trees surrounding the pool, and more food. Toward late afternoon, the air assumed a fierce, frosty edge and the group grudgingly prepared for the return trip, making sure they cleaned the area they had used before departing. Jaden spared only a brief glance upward when they left the frozen pool, reassured to find that smudges of wispy cirrus clouds were the only decorations on the otherwise empty sky.

The hike to the bottom was definitely their favorite part of the trip. More accurately, it was a slide to the bottom. Using the specially marked sections of the trail, they plunked themselves down on their rear ends and let gravity suck them down on the slick fabric of their snow pants. This of course led to the inevitable collisions with one other and the odd, painful encounters with an out-of-place rock. Shrieking and shouting, the group hurtled their way to the bottom of the trail until they arrived back where they had started, their faces flushed red from the cold, their noses streaming and their bodies frozen to the bone.

Stovan’s family’s shiny, silver terraporter waited for them in the guest parking berths. Roomy enough to accommodate the entire group, with all the amenities of a home on wheels, and hooked up to the AutoNav system, it not only meant they could travel independently as teens but also that they could kick back and relax while they were auto-piloted home. The terraporter was fired up and the heater set to max blast while they stripped their soggy outer layers, replacing them with warm sweaters, fleecy sweatpants and thick, dry socks. Wet clothes were dumped in trash bags which were thrown in the storage hatch, and then they settled in for the ride. Jaden smiled as Tarise slipped into a seat beside him.

“Am I still not looking so hot?” he teased.

“Well, considering your face is beet red now instead of chalk white like it was on the mountain, I’d say you look significantly hotter,” she quipped.

Jaden laughed as the terraporter slid from its berth. Looking out the window back toward the mountain they had just descended, he detected nothing unusual, nothing out of place. But despite his reasoning earlier that whatever he had seen had to have been a result of the altitude, he still couldn’t shake the sensation that something was out there. And it was waiting.

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Mamie: Although the writing was good, I find that I am sad to read that the humans in the story act so despicably. I would hope for a better outcome, so it made me sad to read and uncomfortable to be human.

Jennifer: I totally liked the whole series and read every single one of them. You are a really good author and you like to keep your readers in suspense. I couldn't keep the books down to seeing what happens next. Can't wait to read chapter 14 but while I'm working I'll look forward to reading your other...

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Jazmine: This is a great book. Wish it was a little more detailed, but the author did say English isn't their first languageIt'd be insane for me to expect collage level grammar English when the majority of my country (the US) has the grammar of a 5th grader

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