My blood screamed at me.
Unrelenting. I was back. Stuck in this dream. Not the same dream exactly, but the same inhuman form. The one where I wore their skin. I looked down at the pale, shimmering body, glittering like scales but smooth and taut like that of a human. My limbs were lithe, long and fast. My pale, silver hair whipped in my face as I ran, jumping and leaping nimbly over stones, fallen trees, and a dirty ground. I’ve seen this body before in other dreams. My eyes were large and bright and I had an abnormally appealing appearance. My strange skin wasn’t the only unusual attribute, nor my long limbs, but my ears stood tall, peeking through my long hair and ending in a nice pointed tip. I had found, throughout my dreams, that speed and stealth were not the only features of this form. I could sense things that no human had the benefit of. I also had…abilities. Though to explain them without example is beyond my capability. While my speed was unfathomable, so was that of the creature chasing me. I have seen this beast before. He had the body of a wolf though it was triple the size of any wolf I have ever seen. It’s razor sharp claws were huge and in its mouth was a double set of drooling, shredding teeth. Although it was massive, it’s speed was a match for my own. Thankfully my ability to move swiftly and easily and my size currently won me the advantage. Though my lungs held, unlike in my human form, I had to wonder how the beast compared as he did not appear to be giving up any time soon. I had to find a way to lose him or a place to take shelter until I figured this out. Unfortunately, the myth about pinching yourself to wake up from a dream is just that – a myth. I am unwilling to find out if the other saying, about dying in your dreams doesn’t mean you die in reality, is a myth or not.
Just as I started to run out of ideas and began panicking, I remembered what a creature had told me in a dream long ago. Being nymph came with an ability to walk between veils within the world that others either could not see or simply could not pass. It just took a bit of focus and in my case, a lot of hope that the creature on my heels couldn’t pass among the veils. With grim determination I look around me, sifting through the darkness for a ripple, a glistening, something to tell me that there was something beyond what I was currently seeing.
I saw a quick flash of a ripple effect. It was as if the world in front of in one area were made of water, calmly flowing around a bend. I made a sharp turn to my left before lifting myself onto a rock and pushing from it with all of my might, jumping straight through, hopefully not into, the shimmering tree. I braced myself and landed hard into a grassy meadow. My guess was good and apparently the creature was out of luck, unable to follow through. Here the sun shone and wildflowers bloomed. A complete opposite to the dark and damp forest I just flew out of. It looked pretty and peaceful, but throughout my dreams I quickly learned that things are not always as they seem. For me, dreaming is like another life. It started a year ago, on my sixteenth birthday. Now, every time I sleep I dream. I am always a nymph but I am never in the same place twice. I have figured that it is all one realm, just multiple parts of the realm. I am always constant, as is a large black horse that I find watching me from time to time. He runs if I get too close. He isn’t mean, I assume he is just curious. Strange that we are the only two things that seemingly remain the same.
I still don’t know why or how this started happening. I haven’t told a soul in my reality, though I have asked questions within the dream realm. It’s hard to begin to know who you can trust and approach in this realm, especially since I never meet the same…creatures, more than once. Many of the creatures I have spoken with have not been warm and welcoming. Revolting and violent seems to be a main theme here. The ones called Goblins are the worst. The first dream where I faced a Goblin, I almost lost my virginity and my life in one ten second conversation. They claimed nymphs welcomed sexual release and they were all too willing to help. I, on the other hand, was not. That was the first time I saw the massive black horse. I heard his hoof stomp once and before I knew it, the Goblins ran off muttering something about not being worth the the trouble.
As I stood and brushed at my flowing trousers, I looked up to see the horse was gone. I was alone. Now I just had to sit and wait for my real self to snap out of it and wake up. I saw a spot in the meadow with a large boulder where I thought I could rest. My heart was still racing from the adventure with that wolf beast. As I sat down and leaned my head against the boulder I closed my eyes. It wasn’t even two minutes before I felt something watching me. My hair bristled on my arms and my blood sped up in my veins. I feigned nonchalance as I thought up a plan. I didn’t have a weapon but I had some abilities that I knew of. They were not strong or elaborate by any means, but something as simple as calling a rock to throw at someone would buy me some time. Just as I was finishing devising my plan, I felt ropes lace up and down my body all at once. Flinging my eyes open, I tried to leap away but it was a moment too late and I got tangled in the ropes, landing in a heap on my face in the grass. Redcaps. I was surrounded by hundreds. Tiny creatures but pure evil. They were much worse than Goblins though it wasn’t until this point that I had ever had the displeasure of meeting them. Strange, the meadow was far from their type of territory. From my year of dreams I had learned to beware of these villains though they tend to hang around distasteful ruins and territories of decay. What were they doing here?
“You let me go you vermin!”
I announced as I righted myself to my knees. They stopped for a moment before laughing hysterically and throwing another rope over my head to pull me back down. All I could see was hundreds and hundreds of caps drenched in blood. That looks fresh, I thought to myself. I am so screwed. I yelped as one of the disgusting creatures licked my cheek. I tried to twist and break free of the blasted rope but it held firm. Their band of misfits were small but they knew what they were doing. They hunt humans after all, they know how to take them down.
“WHAT DO YOU WANT?”
I yelled, losing my composure. I was tired. This dream had been nothing short of a nightmare the entire time I’d been in it and I was ready to wake up out of it. I was furious, growing tired, and I was quickly becoming scared. I couldn’t draw on any ability, not even to cut the rope. I felt hot tears prick my eyes and struggled to keep them in. I did not want to give the Redcaps more ammunition or see them relish my humiliation. Slowly the crowd of Redcaps parted. I craned my head to look up at a much larger Redcap, smiling with razor sharp teeth. Their ringleader.
“My, my boys. Looks like we caught ourselves a nymph. And not just any nymph…” The Redcap leader started to walk around to stand in front of my face. “You know what they say about those nymphs boys. They’re obsessed with things of a…sexual nature.”
The Redcap’s grin grew as his gang laughed loudly and I felt my cheeks heat. I clenched my teeth together and repeated to the leaders, “I said, what do you want?” He stepped closer and for a moment his grin faltered before he stepped back.
“My, this is an even greater treat than I expected.” The leader turned to his gang. “Boys, we have a very special guest in our hands. This is no ordinary nymph. This one here, I do believe, is heir to the Erlking.”
“The who?” I turned to get a better look at the leader. “I am not really even a nymph!”
“My dear” the Redcap leader turned back to face me, “What is your name?” Unsure of what he was after, I eyed his gang before settling back on him.
I lifted my chin, defiant, and asked, “What is yours?”
The leader smiled before relinquishing, “Very well. I will say mine if you give me yours.” My heartbeat quickened and I nodded. “I am Rosco, leader of the Redcap Gang.” He mocked a bow.
I rolled my eyes. “Fine. My name is AnDryad.” I bit out curtly.
smiled that wide smile again and simply replied “At last” before his
gang was upon me, lifting me up onto their backs like little ants
carrying their dinner. Great.
All I had to do was wake up but I couldn’t even do that apparently. I don’t know how far the Redcaps carried me, but every now and again I would feel one reach for me trying to grope or lick me. They were disgusting and I had to find a way to come loose. Whatever they wanted with me, it couldn’t be good. Rosco finally told them to halt, somewhere in the middle of yet another, dank and damp forest. Muttering among themselves, I heard the Redcaps asking when they could eat me and mentioning things they wanted to do that were so revolting I am not even sure I had heard correctly. One started laughing at another telling them about a rampage he had with an elf the other day and how it had gotten so violent she broke her neck. The Redcap said he was almost finished so he continued long after the female elf had died and then he ate her. I tried to keep the horror and disbelief from my face when I felt it again. Someone was watching. Suddenly a loud whiny cut through the laughter of the evil Redcaps and there, behind me I could feel it. That massive black horse. He was going to crush me. He would crush the Redcaps, thank goodness, and then he would stomp on me and pick my bones clean. I began to wonder more about the myth of how dying in your dreams does not mean you die in reality. The Redcaps began backing away, sputtering apologies for which I had no idea. I wanted to shut my eyes but I couldn’t. I kept trying to look at the horse still at my back. He snorted and whinnied again as he stood on his hind legs, casting a large shadow in front of me. I did shut my eyes then, preparing myself for the impact of those giant hooves. Just as the horses front feet were coming back to the ground, I felt a shift in the air and the Redcaps bowed as their leader strode to the front, also taking a knee.
“We meant no harm Your Highness, we had no idea who she was…what she was – to you that is,” Rosco didn’t look up and I tried again to shift and face what was behind me but I couldn’t. A voice boomed from my back and I was sure that the horse was replaced with something, someone, else.
“I find that difficult to believe Redcap seen how you keep yourself very well informed.” The voice was male, deep and dangerous, dripping with authority. “I suggest you untie her immediately.”
The Redcap rushed his gang to undo the ropes binding me, and though I sat up and brushed the dirt and leaves from my hair, I still did not face the owner of that chillingly beautiful voice. The Redcaps stood, cowering behind their leader. Rosco glared at the voice behind me but he did not move nor did he cower. Finally, the voice simply and firmly commanded “Leave.” The Redcaps looked to their leader as he ever so slightly cocked his head in a light bow, turned, and left, his gang trailing behind muttering about losing their dinner and fun. My blood quickened, my heart was racing, and I could feel the presence behind me. I tried to muster the courage to stand and turn to him, but I was afraid of what I could find. I cleared my throat, and nearly whispered “Thank you” but got no response. I waited for a beat before swiveling around, still on the ground, to find nothing, no one, behind me. I pulled myself to my feet and looked around, but I couldn’t see much in the near black forest. When I found my voice I called out “Please. Please show yourself.” I waited but nothing happened. “I just want to thank you.”
Silence. Eerie silence. I let out a huff before turning around and running smack into something solid.
“You shouldn’t be here.” Growled that dark, dangerously beautiful voice. I shook myself out of the stupor and realized I had ran right into the strangers’ chest. Very solid chest in fact. I lingered for a moment before I raised my eyes to the tall, dark stranger in front of me. His eyes were a bright, shining green rimmed with thick dark lashes and his nearly black hair was tied back in a long ponytail. He was dressed in leathers with a strange sword hanging from his hip. A band of gold was placed in the center of his brow with an emerald in the center, matching his clear eyes. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t fathom where he came from. What happened to the horse? Who was this man? Finally I found a part of my voice and stutter, “Wh-who are y-you?”
His expression didn’t change he just continued to look down at me before he said, “Don’t stutter Princess. It isn’t becoming of you.” He sidestepped me and began walking the opposite direction the Redcaps had fled. “We need to go.”
I blinked then ran after him, “Go? Go where? You don’t understand, I-“
“I understand. I understand perfectly.” I grabbed his arm to slow him down and turn him to face me. He stopped and looked at my arm relentlessly but I pushed on and held on. “You don’t. I can’t just ‘go’. I’m not…I’m not from here. Exactly.” I struggled to find the words to explain.He shook his arms and it caused my hold on him to falter before I finally let go.
“I know you think that. But you are from here. You just can’t be here. Not now. You need to wake up. You need to leave the mortal world.” I stared at those emerald eyes and folded my arms across my chest.
“Who are you?” The stranger straightened and looked at me levelly.
“I am Prince Aiden, Heir to Second Half Season Court. Your betrothed.”
My jaw dropped and my arms fell to my sides. Did I hear anything correctly just now? He is some kind of a prince, that’s fitting. Betrothed? Like, to be married? Oh man, wake up!
The stranger, Aiden, sighed. “I understand you are confused, you don’t remember anything. I did that. Do you have any idea who you are? What the Second Half Season Court planned from your birth? AnDryad,” He knew my name! “I had to keep you safe. They plan to kill you. They planned to have me kill you.”
Faith Ellis is the creator and writer for Ladies, Lattes, and Lifting. She aspires to help women on their fitness and health journey and provide them with real and safe ways to reach their weight loss goals. In her free time, Faith enjoys writing fantasy novels, meal prepping, and spending time with her husband and two furbabies in their home in North Carolina.