The sensation of sinking is always unsettling. Gone are the little round windows of the quaint cottage. The two children and their sick mother have vanished from my sight, but not from my thoughts. I know what I need to do here, in the dream world.
That is what this place is: a world of dreams inside of the mother’s imagination. Almost everyone has dreams. Every dreamer stands on the doorstep of the infinite. That said, not all dreams are equal. Some are more in touch with their dreams than others. Some have big dreams while others have little dreams. All these things are reflected in the world that manifests itself inside the mind. Most have no control over their dreams and wander aimlessly.
I am an exception. Dreams are my domain. Nothing here is outside of my influence.
I am not the only exception though. There is another being here with power. The ignorant refer to something like this as a nightmare, but Morosia is more than that: it is a curse. Those afflicted are doomed to be consumed by a cunning parasite that preys upon their inner turmoil. When left unchecked, the victim will suffer and sleep until thirst or starvation claim their due. Any attempts to intervene through material means are hopeless. The only way to cure Morosia is to remove the parasite. That is what I am here for. My prize.
The sinking sensation stops, and I open my eyes to a cold world devoid of any sort of color. Surrounded by dismal houses and buildings, obscured by thick mist – could this be Hithe? It is hard for me to tell; after all, while in the waking world, my eyes can only see magic. The earth rumbles beneath me, signaling that the game is about to begin.
“Athos!” I call out and snap my fingers. A handful of falling feathers announce the arrival of my familiar: The Three-Eyed Raven, Athos. The vibrant violet sheen of his rich plumage provides a stark contrast against the dream world’s ubiquitous grayscale. I can feel three sets of talons dig into my skin, but I do not wince or cry out because I am familiar with pain and its purpose.
“At your service, my Queen.” Athos responds with his trademark orotund, gentlemanly tone as he settles onto my shoulder. Colors mix with the scarlet ink drawn from his talons before sweeping down to dye my clothes back to their original sky blue and cloud gray hues. The cobblestone street beneath my feet remains ashen and flat. Again, the earth grumbles impatiently and I infer that the mother has little time left alive.
“Keep your eyes peeled. I can feel it nearby.” I punctuate my statement by drawing my katana. The weapon introduces itself to the world with its telltale chime. The steel blade glistens and begins to pulsate iridescence as I tuck the scabbard into my sash. Holding my sword with both hands, I begin to walk down the street one careful step at a time, ready for the resident of this realm to reveal itself and attack. All is silent save for the soft plodding of my sandals against the road as building after non-descript building pass us by.
A cat meows. I stop walking and sweep the empty streets with an attentive gaze. I see nothing. Athos ruffles his feathers and remains silent. We stand and wait. Another meow, faint and yet still distinct, beckons us towards a tall building in front of us. The building is in the center of a square and looms head and shoulders above the others. Judging by its size, I guess it to be the town hall, or perhaps a court of law, if they were not one in the same. The cat call sounds again, more urgent this time. I glance at Athos out of the corner of my eye.
“What do you think?” I ask him. He ruffles his feathers and makes a clicking sound with his beak.
“I believe it is inside, my Queen.” He responds, then adds. “Be careful.” I nod in response and we slowly approach the massive wooden double doors of the town hall. I swipe my sword to the side and the doors swing inward as a sudden squall nearly rips them off their hinges. There is no hesitation on my part as I stride past the threshold with quiet confidence. We are greeted by a large, empty room filled with vacant benches facing a central altar. Perched atop the podium is a black cat leisurely flicking its tail, with its back turned towards us.
“It is as you think, my Queen.” Athos identifies the unassuming feline as the source of the corruption. I point my sword at the parasite.
“There are two ways we can go about this, but they both end up with you as my pet.” As I speak, my voice begins to swell in volume until it reverberates throughout the entire hall. The feline seems unperturbed and does not respond. I march forward, staring the parasite down behind the length of my weapon. The earth begins to shake again and this time it does not stop.
“Submit to my power!” My shout rips through the hall and the windowpanes crack. The cat cocks its head back to stare at me with eyes that smolder like burning coal. Its lips peel back nonsensically wide and reveal not one, but four rows of stained black teeth.
“What power?” The cat’s fiendish smile remains fixed in place as a rasping, guttural voice booms throughout the hall. It hisses at us now, and as it does, it undergoes a monstrous growth spurt. The grinding of bone against bone fills my ears as the cat’s limbs elongate and contort one after another, then its chest swells like a balloon. The wooden altar soon collapses under the weight of the now enormous feline fiend. The demon turns to face me and its eyes ignite into a pair of bright orange flames. Stripes of fire send smoke signals up from its black pelt and its teeth click together as it chomps the empty air with its maw. My eyes narrow as I tilt my head back to meet the fiend’s gaze with a glare of my own, unperturbed.
“Goblin Cat.” I murmur to myself in a matter-of-fact tone. I recalled the name from a story Trent had read to me once about a wandering medicine vendor. Athos clicks his beak twice to signal his agreement: it is a Goblin Cat.
“My master told me you would come… too bad you and that squawking retch are barely a meal!” The parasite growls and the faintly perceptible tremors of the earth grow into a steady quaking. The roof of the town hall vanishes, revealing an inky, starless sky overhead. Next, the walls melt away, replaced by sheets of flame. I now find myself standing inside a towering ring of fire: a fitting arena. The tip of my katana points towards the floor as I assume a low guard.
“You’re about to have a new master, furball.” I challenge back with a smirk. That sets it off; it begins to hiss, enraged, and I can see a light glowing from inside of its open maw. I recognize it as fire just before a massive tongue of flame erupts from behind its rows of razor-sharp fangs. My sword carves a semi-circle in the air before me and a shimmering sheet of ice springs up from the ground below, shielding us from the burst of fire without issue. The tip of my blade dances high over my head before it falls in a graceful stroke, shattering the wall of ice into little knives and propelling them towards the Goblin Cat.
“Pathetic!” The Goblin Cat leers back and swipes one massive paw through the air, leaving a lingering trail of fire in its wake. The ice fragments melt before they reach their target. Now the fiend plants both of its front paws against the ground and the circle of fire surrounding us flares up. A bead of sweat drips down my brow as the temperature climbs and I recognize that the walls of the arena are constricting. This is turning out to be a fun game.
“My Queen, the ground!” Athos cries out in warning. Lava. The ground beneath the Goblin Cat’s paws melts into molten lava and begins to creeps towards my feet. Time is running out. I raise my sword overhead now, assuming a high guard, ready to bring it down with all of my strength. The Goblin Cat does not try to close the gap but instead maintains the distance between us, eyeing the iridescent blade wearily. Interesting. It must know the secret of my sword. Fortunately, I have many more.
“Ascend, Athos!” My command is issued. With a burst of purple feathers, Athos and his wings expand outwards, suddenly reaching several arm’s lengths away on each side. Warmth envelopes me as his talons fuse into my shoulder. I crouch down, and as the molten cobblestone is about to entrap us, we take off into the air with several powerful gusts from Athos’ wings. We’re not out of the clear yet – as we soar higher and higher with each flap, the wall of flames surrounding us seems to grow taller. I continue to ascend straight up into the sky, piercing the ink’s dim veil. Higher and higher still, until finally…
“The Moon.” There it is. A full moon, glowing boldly above the parasite’s miasma. I outstretch my hand and it begins to grow larger, not because we are continuing to fly higher, but because I am pulling the moon towards us. The Goblin Cat’s howls grow faint, blotted out by a new sound: the rush of flowing water. I look down from our lofty perch in the sky, glaring at the dot of fire burning in the darkness below. Dreams are my domain, you worm.
“Drown.” My lips part to utter a single word that shakes the entire world. The moonlight illuminates an amorphous mass surging far beneath us: a tidal wave sweeping the land below, large enough to be seen from thousands of feet above. The waters dwarf the pitiful ring of fire and the Goblin Cat’s frightened yowls are dashed asunder as the tsunami breaks and crashes. The water spreads and soon there is no earth beneath us; only calm waters reflecting the light of the moon back into the sky. I remove my scabbard from my belt and hold it with one hand as I hold my katana in the other.
“Release.” I issue my order to Athos. My wings disappear and I so I plummet. I let gravity pull me down, headfirst towards the water’s surface. The wind whips about me and as I fall, I shed my clothes like a snake shedding old skin. I press my legs together as they fuse into a tail complete with two iridescent fins and matching scales. My lungs grow gills. Not a moment after my transformation is complete, I pierce the water’s surface with the tip of my katana and slide into the icy depths, now a mermaid with sword and scabbard in hand.
“Find it.” I issue my command to Athos by speaking directly to his mind. Moments later, a pillar of illumination penetrates the deeps. Propelled by my powerful new tail and fins, I dart through the water towards the light like a shark approaching prey. Then I see it come into view – the Goblin Cat, floundering helplessly in the depths of this all-encompassing ocean. Gone are its stripes of fire and its eyes, once burning with malice, are now wide and fearful.
“It’ll be over soon.” I taunt the terrified parasite. Its head snaps towards me as it frantically claws at the water, trying desperately to mount a defense. A futile gesture; as I hurdle past the parasite, I cleave its outstretched paw clean from its forearm. Crimson blossoms from the wound, dissipating into the water, and a mass of bubbles erupt from the Goblin Cat’s maw as it cries out in pain. No longer able to hold its breath, it begins to inhale the icy water and drown. The blade of my katana, once iridescent, now begins to turn blood red. I turn, facing the Goblin Cat once more and pointing the opening of my empty scabbard towards it, concentrating. The blade of my katana is now a bright, burning crimson color. It enjoys the taste of magic.
“You’re mine now.” With those words, the Goblin Cat begins to shrink as it is pulled towards me by the undeniable force that is my will. It continues to paw the water helplessly until its silhouette deteriorates into a dark, shapeless cloud of malevolent intent. The spirit is drawn into the sheath of my sword much like a helpless ship caught in an epic whirlpool. Once the Goblin Cat is inside, I slam my sword back into its sheath.
A blinding light causes me to squint and glare: the setting sun. I’m back in the cottage now, staring down at the golden mirror resting on my lap. I blink twice before I look up to meet the gaze of the little boy and the little girl who had implored me for help. I take a deep breath and taste the crisp, autumn air. A pang of regret as I realize I no longer have gills, scales, or a tail. This is quickly washed away by the sight of the mother, now sitting upright in bed, gasping for air. The two children immediately rush the bedside and throw themselves on top of her, smothering her with affection. I allow myself a small smile as I look upon the reunited family with a melancholic gaze.
“So that is what a happy family looks like…” I murmur to myself.
“Yes, my Queen. Your magnificence is unlimited.” I can hear the voice of Athos addressing me using our mental link now and I chuckle inwardly. While a bit corny at times, Athos is certainly a marvelous retainer fit for a queen. I look down at the mirror in my lap and nod. For a brief moment, I see the shape of a bird as the light catches upon its surface. Then, I see the shape of a small cat beside it. That’s right. I have a new pet. A new pet needs a name, too. After all, Goblin Cat is not very catchy.
“You as well, Athos. Please introduce yourself to our new companion, Aramis.” I think, then stifle a yawn. I look up at the reunited family with tired eyes.
“Do you mind if I take a nap?” I ask, my eyes growing heavier by the second. Without realizing it, I find myself drifting off into a deep slumber of my own. Perhaps I will have a better dream this time.
A BLACK CAT AND A BAD DREAM, PT. II
Written by Jungle.
© 2021, all rights reserved.