Freebie Mondays: Where the Wind Takes You (Story 5 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Freebie Mondays: Where the Wind Takes You (Story 5 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Since I write roughly 22 stories every year, I thought it might be fun to do a project for 2022.

In 2022, the 22 shorts I write for my blog will be taken from prompts related to the 31 stories in 31 days project from January of 2022. Each will relate to the multiverse that all of my stories take place in, and I will try to keep the main characters that appear on my blog to the background (unless I get a super cool idea). This time, one of my main characters does appear in the short. But he isn’t narrating and is just kind of in the background, so I figure that fits the ‘rule’ (loose though it is).

I’ve written each of these stories on stream. If you want to witness this installment as it was crafted, the VOD is on youtube!

The prompt for this one was: a swirling tunnel of wind sweeps the character away.

This prompt takes place in the same universe as my Aruvalia Chronicles (modern fantasy setting) – the novels I’ve been working on during my streams. For more of the 22 Stories in 2022 project, click here!
. . .

Clara had never been one to fear the night. Quite the opposite; she enjoyed the gentle arms of oblivion and the far reaches to which that flowing river carried her. For she always awakened in the morning with some new thought in her mind, some new world to which she had traveled or some new tidbit she wished to jot into her journal.

Her encounter with Domerin changed all that.

Far from pulling the magic out of those late night experiences, her time in Aruvalia pulled back the veil shrouding her experiences, allowing her to appreciate just how many may have contained seeds of truth.

This provided her with a healthy sense of caution whenever she settled into bed for the night, and injected those early morning experiences with more than a little terror.

Once she closed her eyes, she lost control. She had yet to become lodged in another world the way she had with Aruvalia, but that did not mean it couldn’t happen again.

Anything that happened once seemed even more likely to repeat, despite that old adage about lightning never striking twice.

But she had to sleep. And Rose made a good point when she said it might be better to learn the ins and outs of her abilities, if only so that she could regain the control she lost when she submitted to night’s shades.

She had taken to holding a singular image in her mind every time she fell asleep, in hopes it would grant her some small amount of leeway when it came to navigating the rivers that flowed through night’s hidden realm.

That image centered around a cafe, one of her favorite places in the city. On mornings when she didn’t work, she would order breakfast there and nurse the largest cup of coffee available on the menu. She liked to people watch from the table in the corner of the patio, which made it easy to observe most of the cafe’s other customers.

In the past, she used that place to hunt for character quirks or lines of dialogue that might make a good central focus for interesting scenes. But now it served as something of a haven, a familiar place she could easily identify.

More importantly, it was a place she knew well enough to recognize in a moment if something was off. From out of place patrons to floating silverware, Clara was familiar enough with what should be happening to identify instantly when something impossible had taken place. Thus she could tell in a matter of moments whether or not she was dreaming.

A totem, Rose had called this, though the queen suggested she find an object rather than a place to serve in the long term.

The first several times Clara successfully identified something odd about her nighttime cafe, she jerked awake to find herself flailing against the blankets on her bed. But as time went on and she grew used to the strange otherworldly atmosphere of her recreation, those moments of wonder failed to spill her from her nightly perch.

Now she thought of it as something like a hub, the place she went to prepare for her journeys and the place to which she returned when she was ready to call it quits for the night.

A sense of anticipation filled the air as Clara lifted the too-large mug from which she sipped coffee in her dreams. She scanned the cafe’s patrons, identifying magical races from several of the worlds she had visited. Elves and dwarves were the most prominent, in part because they were what her mind conjured whenever she worked on one of her fantasy stories. But there were fae creatures here as well now with gossamer wings sprouting from their backs as they flitted between tables.

Sometimes she wondered if the people who visited this place weren’t actually gathered from the other worlds where her dreams had drawn her. But according to Rose, the magic wasn’t actually supposed to work that way.

She moved between dreams, not the other way around. So for her night cafe to be crowded with other actual souls, she would have to find some sort of sleeping hive mind – not the most pleasant of prospects.

She was only half finished with her first scan of her surroundings when she felt the odd sense of power surging. Having experienced real magic first hand in Aruvalia, she recognized the snap and crackle of static electricity across the sensitive skin on the back of her neck. But she barely had a chance to define it as the gathering of a wave before it broke over her.

At first, she always tensed when she experienced this sensation, as if tightening every muscle in her body would anchor her to her point of origin. But she had long since learned to relax and move with the flow.

It was going to happen whether she really wanted it to or not.

It seemed to her that tendrils of wind formed around her chair, their pale fingers forming the skeletal figure of a whirlwind not unlike the one that carried Dorothy to Oz in one of her favorite childhood tales.

The force of the wind drew her to her feet and she set the mug she had been drinking from back on the table, marveling in the fact that it clattered just the way a real mug might had she been setting it on her kitchen counter.

Then she felt herself drawn into the insistent swirl of the building magic until, at last, it swept her away.

It was a dizzying, disorienting sensation, not unlike the teleportation she experienced while she was visiting Domerin’s world. But it came without the sickening drop of the stomach when she returned to physical space, even if it took her mind a moment to catch up.

She found herself in a forest. A thick carpet of grass spread beneath her feet and moisture choked the air, forming thick, heavy droplets on all the nearby vegetation. It was cool and dark beneath the forest canopy. When she glanced up, the tree’s branches were nearly lost to evening shadows, so tall were their great trunks. She almost felt as though she stood in a vast, vaulted corridor, choked with green vines and colored blossoms.

Faerie lights blinked and shimmered within the vegetation, and Clara wondered idly if they were fireflies or actual faeries.

Wind caused the distant branches to sway and set the grass around her ankles dancing, splattering her with water as the stalks shook free of their burdens.

She inhaled, and her nostrils filled with damp earth, a distant sense of mossy must and the sweet aroma of open blossoms. This was an idealic space, the kind she might like to capture in one of her works, so she wrote the details within her mind as clearly as she could. There was always a haze of fuzz attached to these spaces when she woke, which meant that she had to pay special attention if she wanted to properly record the sites and sensations later.

There was also the possibility of a catch; her dreams rarely carried her to spaces without trouble lurking in some nearby shadow. And as she stretched her senses to include sound, she heard the sharp thump of heavy feet tromping through the near distance. As the sound grew closer, it was accompanied by shouts.

It was hard to tell if the shouts were joyful or fearful. It could be a group of revelers on their way to the clearing to enjoy the crisp, cool air of the evening.

But then something heavy shot out of the shadows and whistled as it whizzed past her ear. Its point embedded in the tree behind her, and the haft wavered as it came to rest.

She identified it as a spear even as something crashed just beyond where it had come from. This time, the stomping thud was accompanied by the rending of wood, and one of the trees forming the high canopy tilted awkwardly on its axis before slamming into its nearest neighbor.

The lights which had been winding lazily among the distant foliage formed a swarm so thick that it illuminated the empty space, revealing a creature that was at least twenty feet tall and, she was fairly certain, ten feet wide. It walked on four legs and was plated by a series of rigid armor sections that ended in spikes running along its back.

Her initial thought was dinosaur, but it could just as likely be a dragon.

Its sharp growl gave way to shouts and whoops, and several spears like the one that had whizzed past her began bouncing off the creature’s armored plates.

Fear welled within Clara’s chest. It tried to form a scream, but the sound got stuck in her throat. She found herself longing for the force that brought her here, recalling how it felt as it scooped her into its swirling embrace.

She had never before been able to fling herself anywhere aside from home. But even as she imagined those thin tendrils forming around her within the cafe, the wind flicked to life.

She thought it might only be the beast howling or, worse, reinforcements arriving. But then she once again felt herself scooped from her feet into some odd non-space. Then the trees rushed away as quickly as they had arrived.

This time, it took several more seconds for Clara’s head to clear and her eyes to focus on her new surroundings, and she wondered if she would ever get used to that rapid traveling sensation.

It was dark still, but the air was dry and the ground beneath her hands and feet was gritty. Sand clung to her palms as she lifted them, and she brushed them against her pants to dislodge the particles.

In the dim light, flat ground spread out around her. About six feet from her position, it dropped away suddenly, revealing the multicolored rock formation of some ancient fault.

At the base of this cliff spread yet more sand, but it was folded into ridges of rock that stretched as far as her eyes could see. It reminded her of pictures she had seen of Arizona desert or, perhaps, the Grand Canyon.

After a tense moment to scan the rest of her surroundings, Clara relaxed, for she could see far enough in every direction that she should be aware if some great beast were on the rampage nearby. There was still some slight possibility that something unseen could sweep from the sky or rise from the deep shadows cast by the nearby ridges, but the night was so still and peaceful, she doubted anything would dare shatter it.

At last, she breathed a soft sigh of relief. She might be alone in this strange, unknown space, but at least she was safe. She even began to enjoy the vistas spreading beneath her, though most of their color and features were shrouded by night’s shadows.

A gentle breeze caressed her skin, carrying a hint of an icy chill, and she wrapped her arms around herself, trying to stave it off. At first glance, there was nowhere nearby to seek shelter, though she assumed whoever had ventured out here would have some kind of tent or camping gear to help them survive the desert night.

Finding nothing on the edges of her vision, she at last turned to check the rest of the plateau behind her. Here, at last, she found a series of scattered objects, including what appeared to be a backpack.

She knelt next to it, gently sweeping a thick layer of sand away from the base of it so that she could peruse its contents. It seemed lodged within the grit, as if it had been occupying the same space for some time.

At last, Clara gave it one great tug, hoping to free the base of the bag from its mooring.

It came free with such speed, she fell backward, her fall padded by the thick sand in which the pack had been laying. She took a moment to catch her breath before she lifted the bag free of her chest, realizing only then that something appeared to be stuck to one of the backpack straps.

What she took at first to be rope almost appeared to glow moon white in the darkness. It took awhile for the small shapes to resolve not into bends and knots of twine, but something that might once have resembled a human hand.

She followed the straight white line all the way back to the sand and found an open jaw hanging askew beside her. Like the backpack, it was half-covered in the soft grey grit that coated the ground, but unlike the bag it was truly terrifying to behold.

The bag must have been hanging out on this vista for far longer than Clara initially thought if its original owner’s skin had long since vanished. Either that or some carrion scavengers had stripped the body bare, leaving only the bone behind.

Either way, Clara shrieked and tossed the backpack away from her as she struggled to roll back to her feet. It landed with a heavy thud in the middle of the half-buried ribcage, but she did not pause to survey the potential damage. She kept rolling until she felt the edge of the cliff face beneath her arm.

She was tempted to just keep rolling right into the oblivion that waited over that edge. That, at least, was likely to wake her.

Why was it that none of the people she encountered in these strange places were ever on a quest to simply experience the beauty of the world without peril lurking around every bend?

But before she could realize her hope to return to the waking world, the wind picked up, sweeping the desert, carrying a fresh coating of grit over the skeleton that shared her high perch. It swept her from the edge of the vista and up over the desert below until her vision blurred and she once again felt herself deposited elsewhere.

This time, the sensation of motion did not subside, and she was half-afraid to open her eyes and find what might be waiting for her. Slowly, she spread two fingers and peeked between them.

She was three for three in darkness and shadow this time. Except there was a bright source of light hovering somewhere above her right shoulder this time, illuminating the area immediately surrounding her.

She was crouched on something hard. Not rock or pavement. When she tested it beneath her fingers, it felt like plastic, but she got the distinct impression the plastic rested on something harder.

This odd ground shifted beneath her and she threw her arm to one side for balance. Her fingers closed over cold steel, causing her to jerk her head further upward.

A great black rectangle spread before her, resolving into the deep bed of a large truck. When she glanced higher, she could not see the sky. Instead, a series of ridges moved above her. It took some time to peer past the rapid motion and identify the structures as stalactites.

Other rock formations whipped past the truck as it continued to plow through this ridge in the earth. Some of them might have been entrances to other portions of the cavern. It must have been massive to accommodate the bulk of the truck that sped through it, but she had no idea how to judge the scale without some sort of external reference.

When she finally managed to regain her balance, she took a moment to scan her surroundings. Half a dozen other figures also huddled in the back of the truck, offering some idea of how large it truly was. Three were poised near the far end of the truck bed with rifles braced against their shoulders.

Even as she tried to gain her bearings, a series of shots rang out. Then two of the shooters shuffled backward to reload while two more darted forward to fill the defensive gap.

A figure rose beside her. He kept his head low, but moved with lithe grace across the truck bed. His skin was dark, and his long, midnight hair was bound in a braid at the base of his neck.

Blinking, Clara gasped. The figure beside her could not be the man she assumed. She had never seen him dress in a long black trench coat, and the weapons he carried while she traveled with him had been far more modern. But he half-turned at the sound of her gasp, and there was the familiar cross-shaped scar that made his identity undeniable.

“Domerin?” she hissed.

He arched an eyebrow, tilting his head to one side as he regarded her. It was hard to say if he was surprised or curious. But one thing was clear: he did not recognize her.

So this was not her Domerin, the one that guided her through a similarly massive underground ruin.

It almost never was.

There came a sharp screech from behind the truck. It swerved and the front bumper bounced off a rock formation ahead.

As the occupants in the rear attempted to recover from the jolt, two dark figures skittered over the edge of the truck bed. Someone swept their rifle into the first figure, knocking it back, but the other lunged toward Clara.

Domerin lifted his gun and fired without hesitation, dropping the creature mere inches from her huddled figure. She blinked at it, then blinked again at Domerin, but he had already turned to fire into the darkness.

She shuddered as cold fingers wrapped around her, and it took a moment to identify the wind that seemed to sweep her between destinations.

Take me home, she prayed silently. I’ve had more than enough for one night.

Rose promised her that one day she would be able to reach into the heart of those tremors and direct them where she wanted them to carry her. It might never be an exact science; she would never know the identities of all the dreamers out there in the universe, but it would at least be less daunting than this.

She didn’t have the strength yet, though, nor the understanding to change the wind tunnel’s trajectory. It swept her from the back of the truck and deposited her on a beach beside a choppy, storm-swept ocean.

She barely had time to take in this scene before the tendrils formed around her again. She spent the next several minutes shifting with such rapidity, she barely had a chance to take in her surroundings before they vanished.

She stood on the corner of a busy street in the middle of some rain-drenched city one second, then she stood in a bright, open field with some odd stone formation rising in the near distance. It almost seemed to melt in on itself, and then she was wandering between bookshelves in a library that smelled of dust and old pages. That, too, lasted only for a moment and then, at long last, she was back in her cafe, lifting the nearly empty coffee mug to her lips.

She did not wait to see what else the dream might have in store for her. She utilized the one aspect of her dreamwalking she had managed to master.

She found the thread that lay at the heart of her, the one that connected back to her distant body, and she jerked herself along it.

Two heartbeats later, she woke with a gasp. She knew she occupied the proper world because she checked several of the objects she had laid on her nightstand, watching them in the shadowed stillness for several long minutes to make sure they didn’t do anything they weren’t supposed to.

Then, with a sigh, she rolled over and rubbed her eyes. It was early enough in the night that she would probably have to submit to sleep at least once more. But she hoped when she did it would be dreamless.

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