Hello everyone! While we’re still putting together our final full length Tale of Tellest, we’re going to continue to bring you great shorts from the world. Today, we’re beginning the story of a man who had a tragic end after As Darkness Falls. This is the first short story that happens directly after the original trilogy, so I hope it manages to really interest people who have read it! Without any further adieu, here is Dream No More:
Dream No More
His ears caught the sound of the nearby brook, and his eyes fluttered open. Tall trees towered above him, the canopy hanging overhead. It did little to stifle the bright blue sky.
The man sat up, a subtle throb upon the back of his head eliciting a wince. The verdant surroundings distracted him from that slight pain.
All around him, the world seemed refreshed. Green hills rolled toward him on the opposite side of the brook. Far in the distance, great mountains went exposed by the opening curtain of trees.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” a serene voice behind him cooed.
With haste he stood, shifting about to see who had spoken. When he focused on her, his legs wobbled and nearly toppled him to the ground once more.
“Hello, Randall,” the woman said through grinning lips.
“Ivy,” he whispered.
The woman smiled at the mention of her name. “You seem surprised to see me,” she offered, approaching him seductively.
“Shouldn’t I?” he wondered. She looked just as he remembered. Her long brown hair hung just past her shoulders, only a little less voluminous than on those hot summer days. Her eyes and skin were clear, nary a blemish or wrinkle upon her. “You died in my arms all those years ago.”
Ivy stopped just inches from him, arching her eyebrows. “We knew then we’d meet again.”
“What’s going on here?” Randall demanded. “Is this some kind of trick?”
The woman he once knew reached forward, touching his face with her smooth skin. “This is real, my love.”
His eyes grew wide, and he looked up, past his wife. He swallowed hard, shaking his head. “Back in Atalatha,” he muttered. “Blacklehn attacked. I fought their war chief and I… Am I dead?”
“What is the last thing you remember?” Ivy asked, slipping behind her husband.
Randall closed his eyes, focusing on those final moments on that ill-fated night. He winced again, for the throbbing pain in his head returned. “I fell,” he said. “I fell and then everything went dark.”
“You traveled through the Nexus, my dear,” she cooed. “It is a world between worlds. And then you arrived here, in our own private paradise.”
“But I’ve seen this place before,” he said. He turned around and opened his mouth to speak but was surprised by the sight before him. Ivy stood upon the water of the brook as though it had more substance. “What is this?”
His wife offered her hand. “Come and see.”
With his brow furled, he accepted that touch once more. His fingers wrapped around hers, and his concern seemed to melt away.
Randall stepped forward and splashed into the brook. He looked down at his boots, fully submerged by then. Ivy couldn’t suppress a giggle.
“You don’t have to adhere to the rules of the old world,” she said. “Here, anything is possible if you just believe.”
He sighed. “Walking on water isn’t believable.”
“Always clinging to the truth,” she replied, the smile never leaving her face. “Think of it this way. Whatever we’ve experienced in our old lives is just there to give us context. You know what stepping into a puddle is like, but you also know what firm ground feels like beneath your feet. Cast your preconceptions aside and give new meaning to whatever you see.”
“So, what?” Randall asked, lifting his foot from the water. “I’m just supposed to believe that when I put my foot down…” His words ceased to leave his mouth when the surface of the water refused to allow his foot past.
“That’s… I expected this lesson to take longer,” Ivy said. For the first time, her expression seemed more bewildered than amused. “When I first arrived here, it took me days to do something like that.”
“I had a very good teacher,” Randall insisted. “I’ve always trusted you. Who am I to think you’d tell me a lie?”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “Let’s try something a little more challenging. You’ve still got one boot in the water. Let’s see if you can lift it out.”
“Of course I can lift it out. It’s just –” His foot fell through the surface of the water, nearly spilling him forward.
Ivy failed to suppress a chortle then, covering her lips with her hand. “Maybe you should try stepping completely out of the brook. It’s not the easiest thing to force your mind into believing our lifelong convictions are false.”
Shaking his head, Randall focused on his feet. “If you say it’s possible, who am I to argue?”
Again, he brought one foot up through the water and placed it back down upon it as if covered by a clear layer of ice. Breathing out, he began lifting his opposite leg. His limb slipped through the surface then, and when he landed fully upon it, he appeared as vibrant as ever.
“Remarkable,” she said.
Randall grinned at her praise, but when he looked up, the sunlight shining down upon the place obscured her features. He saw another familiar face there for a moment – one he had left behind.
“What of our children, Ivy?” he asked. “Zoe and Garrett, I’ve left them alone now. What will happen to them now that I’m not there?”
For the first time since their reconciliation, her exuberance seemed to diminish. A slight sigh dropped her shoulders, and she reached out to her husband. As their fingers intertwined, she led him down the river. They walked atop it like a glass road toward where the trees framed the distant mountains.
“What happened to you when I was gone?” she inquired.
He looked away, toward the hills to the west. His gaze followed them up toward the trees there.
“For a long while, it was as though you had just left. You were just off visiting some distant relative. I couldn’t understand why our babies were always crying. And then, months later, when our son and daughter had finally grown to accept the loss, I knew I didn’t have to be strong anymore.
“I don’t even remember where I was,” he continued. “I know I was alone. It was cold and quiet, and I…” He looked down their path, aware then of how close they were to the small waterfall at the end of the brook. “It was here,” he exclaimed. “I had come back here, to our favorite place, as if I might find you here.
“That was when I knew you were truly gone,” he lamented. “I howled like the wolves of Grey Isle… so alone, so lost. I remember digging into the dirt upon those hills.” Randall shook his head. “I don’t know why. I know you wouldn’t be there, but I was so desperate. I needed you to be there.
“By the time I had finally accepted the truth, my fingernails had bent and tore. My hands were bloodier than you could imagine. I came down here, to the water, and I put my fingers in, and it all just washed away.”
They stood on the edge of the brook, where the water rolled down the rocks beneath. Ivy squeezed her husband’s hand and looked at him.
“Do you remember all the times you told me you wished we could travel to those mountains?” she asked.
“Every time we went there, they never looked the same,” he conceded. “No, I wanted to fly there like the elves of Cefenediel.”
Ivy took a single step forward, her gaze never leaving her husband. It took several moments for Randall to notice she was floating on the air.
“Now is your chance, my love.” She let her fingers slip from his. Ivy drifted back and into the open air, as if a strong wind had carried her like a kite.
“How?” Randall asked. “It’s not like standing on water.”
As those words left his mouth, she shook her head and snickered. “Consider your words,” she teased. “Before today, nothing was like standing on water. You must give yourself the means to reach the sky. You can rise up like the airships of Argos, or you can imagine wings like the elves you grew up with summoned.”
He stared at her for several moments before nodding. He breathed out a quiet sigh and closed his eyes. “Do you remember that summer we traveled to Adengard, before we had Zoe? Garrett was just a pup then, and we thought he’d sink like a stone if we put him in the pond.
“I remember how he hung onto the rocks on the outset, clinging for dear life. And then, when he knew you were there to catch him…” he continued, bending his knees. “He took a leap.” Randall sprang off of the surface of the water, bursting into the air.
Randall waved his arms and kicked his legs like he was swimming. Above him, Ivy rose higher and higher, until she passed the canopy of the trees.
“See if you can keep up,” she pressed. “Maybe you shouldn’t be changing the rules of your surroundings. Perhaps you should be changing yourself!”
His momentum slowed as he considered her advice. At once, he shot forth, crossing the sky like a comet. A jubilant cry left his lips as he chased his wife, and laughter filled the air high above the river, the trees, and the mountains.
After a series of flips and rolls, Ivy came to a stationary position halfway between the ground and the clouds. Randall sped toward her and almost passed her. She gripped him firmly, pulling him close.
“Is something wrong?” he asked.
“Tell me of our children,” Ivy pleaded. “What has become of them?”
He tilted his head at that notion. “Surely you know what we’ve done. You knew everything that transpired before I arrived.”
“Only just,” she whispered. The woman averted her gaze, and her eyebrows drooped as the depth of her plight became apparent. “I dare not spend my days here looking at you or them. This place may be paradise, but every moment without you here has been my personal hell.
“You can’t change time here,” she went on, her voice breaking at the crescendo of her promise. “I’ve tried. Somehow it always rights itself. I spend most of my days looking backward at those memories we’ve made.”
The sight of tears fighting toward the surface of her eyes wounded him. He grabbed her close, wrapping her in a tight embrace. He cradled the back of her head and kissed her temple.
They were there for a long while, floating in the sky, spinning in slow circles. He nodded as the dance continued.
“Zoe is growing up a fine young lady,” he whispered. “She’s never told a malicious lie and wouldn’t hurt a bug if she could help it. I think… I think she’s found someone who makes her feel the way you made me feel. And before all this happened, I…”
A subtle shrug lifted his shoulders. His eyebrows rose as he considered the same distance from his children that his wife had endured. A resigned sigh forced its way from his lips as he stroked Ivy’s hair.
“Garrett may be a little worse for wear,” he continued. “He’s loved and lost and grown cynical of the whole thing. Says it’s the curse of the broken Hart – a cruel twist on the family name.”
“And what do you think?” she wondered.
“Oh, my heart truly broke when you were gone,” he said, pressing her away to arm’s length. “But I’d never risk trading that pain away if it meant losing the time we had together. Our son may have been unlucky in love, but he didn’t leave empty-handed. You have a granddaughter, Rhianne.”
Her lips curled upward as she bowed her head. She worked at stifling a sniffle, but she had been found.
Randall grabbed her wrist to pull her close once more. His fingers slipped from her, though, and he dropped several dozen feet. A pronounced cry echoed out, stopping abruptly as he found himself firmly in place again. “What just happened?” he demanded.
Swallowing hard, Ivy lowered herself until she was before him again. She closed her eyes and bowed her head. “This isn’t your place yet.” She slowly looked up, meeting his gaze. “You’re only visiting.”
His wife slid around in the air until she halted beside him. Reaching out, she extended her index finger and traced a large circle in the air. Once the circuit had been made, an image began taking shape.
“When you fell in your encounter with the war chief, you still fought on,” Ivy said. “Your consciousness… your soul, it transcended to this place, and it lingers. But it is not yet your time.”
Within the circle, Randall could see the land of the living. His daughter sat beside his body, holding his hand. A cleric placed his fingers to his chest, a faint glow resonating outward. He watched as he blinked his eyes.
He tumbled another dozen feet, stopping even more abruptly than before.
“Please, Ivy. Please!” he cried. “Don’t let me go. Don’t let me lose you again.”
A tear dropped from her eye, but she drew no closer to him.
“I know you’ll find this place again, my dear,” she sobbed. “But you have to go back. Give our children something to believe in. Help them find their way here. Make our family whole again.”
“Ivy!” he bellowed.
Randall was falling before he called out to her. His voice never faltered until the moment he struck the ground below.