As sleep envelops me, I begin to dream.
In my dream, I’m initially blind to my own form, but I can see my hair, shockingly silver, flowing around me. A throbbing source of mana emanates from my forehead, a sensation both foreign and familiar.
As I reach up to touch, my body convulses with the feeling of a thousand pins and needles emanating from my horns, overwhelming and startling. It’s only then that it dawns on me - the horns are a part of me.
Another source of mana pulses from my lower lip to my chin. I trace the line, feeling its energy under my fingertips. “What the frack is going on!?” I exclaim, confusion and awe mingling in my voice.
Frack, it’s cold!
I trudge through the snow, my legs sinking deeper into the drifts with each step. Suddenly, I lose my footing and fall to my knees, struggling to prop myself upright.
A shadow looms over me, and I look up to see a man in a light blue, fur-lined trench coat. His long, white hair cascades down his back, and his cold blue eyes with black sclera peer down at me. I crown of icicles hovers above his head, sparkling prismatically as if by magic.
His frosty gaze seems to pierce through me, sending a chill that’s more than just the cold.
This guy looks intense. What’s with that crown?
“I’ve finally found you, Varr Sither,” he says, his voice sending shivers down my spine.
I eye him warily. “Who are you?”
“Lockren,” he replies. I glance around, feeling disoriented. “Where is this place?”
Lockren’s eyes slide shut, as if recalling a memory. “In the north of the Vakara mountains. Where no man can travel safely.”
“Well, I showed up apparently,” I retort.
Explain that, buddy.
A smirk plays on Lockren’s lips. “You are no mere man, Varr Sither.”
“Why are you calling me by that name?” I furrow my brows.
Seriously, who do you think I am, guy?
“That is your title—you are the Varr Sither. You always were, and you will always be—even in this life, you are he,” Lockren declares.
A wave of nostalgia washes over me, my mind swirling with memories and glimpses of a place I somehow recall. I can’t figure out if I’ve been there or not, but it seems so painfully familiar. Like I can’t put my finger on it.
Ethereal beings with white and gold wings, towering giants, and a city shining like a beacon, reminiscent of a Romanesque utopia governed by magic, dance throughout my thoughts.
Gripping the sides of my head, my face contorts into a pained grimace. “I don’t… remember….”
Lockren kneels beside me, studying my reaction. “It will not come clearly yet. First, your mana must awaken.”
My breath comes in ragged pants. Despite the surrounding cold, my body begins to perspire, heat spreading through my limbs. I squeeze my eyes shut, gasping.
Frack! I’m burning up!
Lockren reaches out with a gentle touch, his hand crystallizing with frost as it envelops my shoulder, soothing my burning skin.
Sighing with relief, I feel the heat ebb away, leaving a lingering chill. Exhaustion crept into my bones as my body felt heavy.
“You are not ready yet….” Lockren releases my shoulder, his voice grave. “But the day will come when you cease the Dream Walking and return home.”
I furrow my brows. “Dream Walking? Home? What the frack are you talking about? Stop fracking talking in riddles, guy!”
“Return to the Dream Walking, Varr Sither.” Lockren’s voice grows distant as my consciousness begins to waver. I close my eyes and fall back.
Waking with a start, my body trembles, and my eyes snap open. It’s like my lungs are filled with ice. I cough out a frosty breath, clutching my throat, struggling to breathe.
My vision blurs, the edges of my world fraying like an old photograph. Choking out a grunt, I find my voice elusive.
Dragging my towering frame out of bed, I stagger toward the bathroom, my talons clacking against the floor.
The mirror reflects a stranger—my normally vibrant crimson irises extinguished, leaving only the endless black of my sclera.
Fumbling, I open the cabinet. My eyes lock onto the jar of mana drops—my only hope of pulling out of this mana flux induced haze. My clawed fingers twitch, aiming to grasp it, but my coordination betrays me.
The jar slips from my grasp, crashing to the floor, scattering its contents like a burst of fallen stars. I can only stare at them helplessly as they fall and scatter, the sound of beads hitting the floor reaching my ears moments later.
As I continue to gasp icy breaths, Lil Manx scurries over, chirping. “CHIIP!!”
I close my eyes, bending to reach blindly for one of the fallen orbs when a shadow falls over both me and Lil Manx.
“Chiiiip!” Lil Manx growls.
A reddish-black mechanical left arm stretches out beside me, reaching down for the closest mana drop.
“Easy does it, Mr. Bags,” a deep voice comes from my left. A familiar stranger with long silver hair and gold horns—both gradient into crimson tips, a black line down his lower lip and chin, and a goatee—kneels next to me. My eyes, through sheer stubborn will, fixate on him for a couple of seconds before blurring again.
Why do I want to call him Raylen? Who is this guy?
I try to steady myself and my grip on the ground, but my world spins, and I find myself sprawling on the floor. I glare up at Raylen, the horned man who somehow managed to get into my bathroom undetected.
What the frack is going on?
Raylen’s body is marked with a constellation of golden scars, visible through his open vest, each one shimmering as if his blood were molten gold—especially the prominent mark adorning his right eye.
“That’s why I said, easy does it.” Raylen’s deep voice fills the air, resonating with a familiarity of my own voice, yet each syllable vibrates at a deeper octave.
He quickly grabs a mana drop and places it on my tongue, holding me securely to prevent me from sprawling fully onto my face. “Just breathe and take in the mana,” Raylen says gently.
I find myself staring blankly at his face.
“Chiip!” Lil Manx chirps worriedly, nuzzling a pile of more mana drops near my hand.
A little boy, who I hadn’t noticed before, with long white hair, gray cat-ears, wearing a purple froggie onesie, and with a glowing blue mana pom on his forehead, holds up a handful of the blue orbs. “Master, master!”
The corners of my vision darken, turning Raylen and the little boy into ethereal figures floating in a murky void.
“Don’t worry about us. Worry about yourself before you kill over. Sheesh,” Raylen says with a smirk.
Cheeky fracking guy.
My body quivers on the ground, a sudden spike of mana making my muscles twitch uncontrollably. Just as I feel myself tipping over, Raylen’s firm grip steadies me, preventing a complete collapse.
Raylen’s voice sounds distant, echoing as if through a tunnel. “You’ve got this, Kayden. Just a few more drops.”
My body trembles, then starts to shift. I can feel myself shrinking, growing smaller, almost half my size. My body feels younger, weaker, frailer. In Raylen’s arms, I become an adolescent, caught as I slump forward.
“Oh, frack. This episode hit us harder than before,” Raylen says, holding me as I pant. “We can’t have you little like this right now.” He furrows his brow with concern.