The Holder Wars

The following is an excerpt from The Holder Wars, a work in progress by Melissa Rogers.

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I settled into the chair and shut my eyes. At first, nothing happened. I didn’t know where the dream world was. When I found it, though, it swallowed me and I was somewhere else. Searching for Tevrin was a strange endeavor. It was like drifting between thoughts. I found many different people, some of whom were sleeping and I nearly stumbled into their heads. That would be awkward.

I tried to stay close to the town and then work my way outward. I didn’t know how I knew where the town was, but I did. I drifted through the Other and looked for Tevrin.
As I flew along, or walked, or swam, or whatever I was doing, I wondered if Alec had managed to follow Tevrin and stay with him. Maybe Alec had already caught up with him and forced him to change somehow. Maybe all this would be for nothing and I would have wasted a lot of time and energy I could have spent in my own dreams.

As I ruminated on the injustices of the world, and the dream world for that matter, I stumbled over a sleeping mind, someone who had just entered sleep. I didn’t have time to avoid the mind and I fell in..

Everything went black as I wallowed in someone else’s dreamless sleep. I didn’t know which way was up and which way was down. Kara hadn’t told me about this sort of situation, when someone wasn’t even dreaming. She made it seem as if everyone dreamed, even if they didn’t know they were. So where was the dream? I didn’t know where to stand, where to put my feet. There had to be a dream for there to be an up, a down, and a floor.
Suddenly, I felt a whoosh as I was pulled in one direction and my backside hit a solid surface.
“Ouch,” I said to my suddenly brighter surroundings. They were still very dark, but I could make out trees. A forest. The ground under me was hard and cold and uneven, slanted a bit as if I was on a hillside. I felt pebbles. I felt bruises forming. Just great.

I stood up and looked around. I couldn’t see much. There were trees on one side of me and not on the other. Was I at the edge of this dreamworld’s forest? I peered into the grey gloom and took a step forward.
My foot met air. I gave an embarrassingly high pitched scream as I wavered, arms flailing in what was probably a comical, lame/drunk bird-like fashion, on the edge of the highest cliff I could have possibly imagined. Higher even.

The mist below faded for a moment to reveal forests and fields so far below me that it looked like I could have crushed whole forests with the foot that hung suspended over them.
I wondered if I could die in the dreamworld. This cliffside felt so real and if I didn’t remind myself that it wasn’t while I was falling, I might very well turn into a pile of blood and bones quite suddenly in Jemma’s clean, little library.
All these thoughts and senses registered in the long moment that I teetered between the safety of the cliff’s edge behind me and the open air in front of me.

Then something grabbed the edge of my shirt from behind and yanked me backwards. I sat down hard again and my already sore behind protested the excessively unkind treatment.
“Ouch,” I said again, only a little less demonstratively. I was still thinking about the fall I had nearly experienced. My heart thudded painfully and I breathed slowly for a moment, reassuring myself that I was on firm, if dream-built ground.
Then I remembered that I had been rescued and I turned to address whoever’s head it was that I had fallen into.

“Now, look,” I said, as I turned. “What idiocy possessed you to dream up a cliff that steep? I mean, really—”
I was staring at a wolf.
The wolf sat, looking back at me with a disgusted expression that was all too familiar.
“Alec?” I demanded. “This is your head? Your dream? Really?”
I peered over the edge of the cliff for a moment and then drew further back, feeling nauseated. “Yikes.”

The Alec wolf stood and paced, looking at me with a mixture of confusion and annoyance on his lupine face.
“Look, Alec,” I said. I figured he must have fallen asleep while in that form, so he was stuck in it here. “I was trying to find Tevrin. If I found you, he must be nearby. I’ve got to get out of here so I can look for him. If he’s asleep, I might be able to get in his head and convince him to change. So… which way is out?”

One thing Kara had taught me was that I had to exit the dreamworld not simply by wishing it, but by finding an exit. I would sense it, she said. And then I could build myself a door and leave.
The Alec wolf gave me another annoyed look and glanced at the cliff’s edge. Then he said,

“Mikaela, why are you here?”
I blinked in surprise. “You can talk?”
“It is a dream.”
“But you’re still a wolf.”
“I’m still me,” he said. “Why did you come here?”
“It was an accident!” I explained, miffed. He sounded so accusing, as if I had specifically picked his head so that I could bother him even more. “You fell asleep right in my way and I fell in.”

“Of course. Only you,” was his reply. He sat back on his haunches.
The forest behind him suddenly shifted, blurred, and began to fade. The ground under my feet felt like a feather stuffed mattress. I wavered, struggling to stand.
“What are you doing?”
“Dreaming,” he said, looking at me as if I was that stupid.

I stumbled a little further away from the cliff. IT hadn’t moved. My feet slid, carrying me toward the edge. I shrieked. Alec sighed and came over, nipping the hem of my shirt and dragging me up and away again. I was too grateful to protest the cavalier treatment.
“So why don’t you just wake up so I can get out of here and and we can both go find Tevrin?” I suggested.

He shook his head. “No, I’ve been running for hours. I need to sleep. And if I wake up, you’ll still be in my dream world. It’ll just be dark until I fall asleep again or you change something. Just get out of my head and go look for him yourself.”
“I would,” I said. “Believe me, I don’t want to be in your head. It’s just…” I coughed. “I don’t know really know the way out…. of here… is all.”
“You don’t know how to get out?” he barked, sounding like a frightened lapdog.
“Kara told me that I could find a door if I just focused hard enough,” I retorted.
“Kara,” Alec exploded, sounding much more like a scary wolf.
“Um, yes, the Fae who’s on our side, apparently?” I reminded him.

It was not a very nice situation to be in, coming into a secret war in the middle when everyone had already chosen sides and everyone knew everyone else’s allegiances and personal grudges and such. I hadn’t had a chance to develop any. Well, except for Alec’s apparent personal gudge against me.

“Kara is not trustworthy,” Alec growled.
“Because she’s a Fae?”
“Because she’s… her,” Alec explained.
“Ah, well, in that case I will be sure never to trust her again.”

Alec gave up, swishing his brush-like tail as he turned to examine his dreamworld. Kara had told me that my presence would give the dreamworld a stronger feeling of reality as long as I maintained control. I had absolutely no idea if I was doing that. But it definitely didn’t feel like your usual dream that made little or no sense. The woods kept shifting and changing colors and size. The cliff’s edge stayed disturbingly still.

Alec turned, probably about to say something else cutting and unnecessarily cruel, but a deep, gutteral growl interrupted him. Out of the shifting woods sprung a familiar, and yet not familiar creature.

“Tevrin?”

Tevrin was the same, but not. His fur was golden brown, but shaggier. He was about three times as big as the Tevrin cat I had seen. His fangs curved down from his muzzle, but were twice as long, which was ridiculous and couldn’t have been terribly practicel since they nearly reached his chest. His claws extended so far and curved with serrated edges that gleamed unnaturally bright. It was Tevrin, but not Tevrin. It was a much, much scarier Tevrin. And did I mention that its fangs and claws were drenched in dark, red gooiness? The red shade was matched by his demonic red eyes. It was an evil Tevrin cat.
I scooted away. What had happened to him.

Alec was backing away, his tail lowered and his head down. He looked… well, he looked scared, actually.
Was Tevrin in Alec’s dream? Had he dreamwalked while Shifted? The possibilities were suddenly horrific.
“You have to get out of here,” Alec said.
I was momentarily touched. Alec was concerned for my safety.
“What about Tevrin?” I demanded. Maybe I could still help or something. The demonic creature gave a low snarl. Or not.

“It’s not Tevrin,” Alec told me, his voice rough and wavering.
“What?”
“It’s a nightmare,” Alec explained.

The monster slinked closer, moving quickly despite the long claws that would have made moving nearly impossible in the waking world. Blood literally dripped from its fangs in an endless stream. And then it spoke.
With Tevrin’s voice.

“Hello, Alec.”
“Mikaela, you need to find the way out now,” Alec said urgently.
The monster crept closer. “Please, Alec, you’re supposed to help me.”

I was fascinated. The little boy’s voice was so out of place coming from the huge monster’s mouth. Nothing with fangs that big or bloody should have a voice that small and sweet.
“Mikaela, find the way out or it’s going to kill me!” Alec shouted, leaping back as the Tevrin monster took a swipe at him.
“It’s just a dream, Alec,” I reminded him. I had had dreams like this, the scary ones that felt really real, that had me breathing hard and fast when I woke up. They had started to involve pitchforks, recently…

A searing hot pain slice across my arm.
“Ow!”
I stared in shocked horror at the pitchfork. The huge black pitchfork… with a single green eye at its wooden base. It laughed at me.

“Did I make that happen?” I asked blankly.
It came at me again. I dodged, barely avoiding being gutted by the pitchfork.
Alec was fading in and out of the shifting woods with the Tevrin monster close behind him, pleading in the creepy Tevrin voice for Alec to stop running, to save him.
It was the worst nightmare I could possibly have chosen to fall into. My arm was bleeding from the cut, bleeding badly. It was a real cut, a really real cut. I knew somehow that when I woke up I would have that cut on my arm and it would probably need to be stitched up as well.

It was real…
Real…
Oh no…

I turned as horrified realization hit me in an instant. I was making this dream real. I was giving this dream a solidity that it wouldn’t have had. Without me, Alec would be running from a phantom, something that would plague him until he fought his way awake.
But if I stayed in the dream world with him, and the Tevrin thing caught him, he would actually die. And I probably would die with him.

Oh dear.

The pitchfork was stalking me. It was creeping up to my right, though how a pitchfork could creep, I can’t quite describe.
I kept my eye on it while frantically throwing out every glimmer of a hint of magical sense in all directions, trying to find the way out of Alec’s dream. If he hadn’t fallen asleep in my way in the first place, I’m fairly sure that none of this would have happened, but of course he wouldn’t see it that way.

I should’ve known that Alec’s head would be a scary place to be.
The pitchfork made a lunge for me. I leaped, not very gracefull, out of the way. The ground billowed underneath me, like water, only solid… sort of. I glided over the surface.
I slid to a halt right at the edge of that cliff that would not go away. Clouds drifted beneath my nose. The landscape was a strange mix of greens and browns and blues. It was so real.
My magic gave me a nudge.

So did the pitchfork. I felt a new painful cut in my side as the pitchfork decided whether to continue toying with me or to end me swiftly.
My magic nudged me again. Alec was yelling at me from behind. The Tevrin monster crooned soft, sweet words as it snapped its grotesque teeth at him. I glanced over my shoulder. Alec was curled up under an overhanging rock as the Tevrin monster stalked back and forth, watching him.
My magic gave me an impatient poke.
I followed it, turning and staring out into the open air beyond the cliff… I stared and stared. And stared.

Yes, my magic said with a nod. Yes, that’s where it is.
Where what is? I asked plaintively. I didn’t want to know the answer. I really didn’t.
The exit, you idiot, my magic informed me. Great, even my magic was making fun of me.
I climbed unsteadily to my feet, carefully leaning away from the precipice. The pitchfork had disappeared for the time behind. Maybe it had served its purpose in proving that I could create nightmares out of recent traumas and an unhealthily overactive imagination.
I heard a roar of agony. The monster had taken a swipe at Alec. He lay on his side, his blood sinking into the ground and disappearing. The monster giggled.

I turned and focused my magic, trying to narrow the area where I could build a door and get out. I found it. Oh yes, I did.
It was an invisible area floating out beyond the edge of the cliff. And about twice as far as I could conceivably have jumped.
“Mikaela, please get out of here,” Alec said. He had pressed himself as far back against the rock as he could. If he’d been human he would have looked pale. As it was, he looked weak and tired and… scared. The Tevrin creature licked blood off one of his lengthy claws and contemplated another swipe.

I concentrated on the exit and built a door. It was a very shabby door. I knew a carpenter back home who would have cried at the sight of it. But that wasn’t what made me want to cry. I had to jump. Into a door that was twice as far as I knew I could jump on the best of days. And the pitchfork had appeared right in front of it. I think it was laughing at me.

“GO, Mikaela! Go!”
“Ummmm….”

I’m not a hero. I’m not heroic. I’m not brave and daring and dashing and good at thinking on my feet. Or on my backside as the case may be. I tend to freeze in highly stressful situations.
But when the Tevrin monster began laughing again in that high, sweet way that reminded me of the little boy that I was supposed to be saving, I thought that maybe I could do something heroic for once. Just maybe.

I contemplated the cliff, the nothingness beyond it, the pitchfork… and the door that would free us both.
Then I thought, what if there was a bridge between me and the door?
Brilliant, if I do say so myself. A bridge instantly appeared.
It was made of woven ropes and waved gently in the breeze. A rope bridge? Really? How about stone?

No, the rope bridge was quite settled. Alec was howling. He was running again. The woods were shifting rapidly around him. I took a step onto the bridge.
It waggled under me. There were massive gaps through which I could see what were probably entire countries.

Oh yes, did I mention that my bridge didn’t come with any sort of railings. Oh no. It was hardly a bridge. It was more of a woven rope pathway tied on one end to a cliff and on the other to a magical floating door.

Yeah, I felt safe.

The bridge twisted slightly and I wavered, resisting the urge to drop to my knees and crawl. The pitchfork began to slink toward me, as catlike as I think a pitchfork could possibly be. It blinked nastily at me. I glared. It was going to be either me or the pitchfork. One of us would fall to our doom.

The epic battle began with the pitchfork lunging for me. I don’t know how I dodged it. I ended up on my knees but managed to get back to my feet before it came at me again. I made a run for the door.
Rope bridges are not made for running. I saw the world stretched out beneath me and my arms flailed wildly. I turned to see if my nemesis was still after me. The pitchfork had retreated to the edge of the cliff. Its eye was staring at me and it was bouncing up and down on its four sharp spines as if excited to watch me fall. Sadist.

But then I realized what it was doing. It was severing the cords of my bridge. Rope strand after rope strand was fraying and snapping. In a moment the bridge would be no more.
The door was close. I took five wobbly steps and reached for the doorframe. The bridge gave a shudder and then suddenly gave way beneath me. I clutched the frame and felt splinters gouging my palms as I slide down the sides and ended up hanging from the bottom with my feet dangling freely over, well, absolutely nothing. Hundreds of miles of nothing.

I climbed up onto the edge of the doorframe. The door was shut. “Please don’t be locked,” I begged it. It was, after all, my door.
I took one last look at Alec’s dream world. I couldn’t see him or the Tevrin creature. The pitchfork was lurking along the edge of the cliff looking vexed and thwarted. That was kind of satisfying. I heard a distant roar.

I turned the knob. It gave beneath my hand and the door swung open.
I breathed a sigh of relief and prepared to step through. Except… there was nothing on the other side. Nothing except more nothing. I mean, it looked the same on the other side as it did behind me. Empty space and a distant world below spread out beyond the door.
Did I fail? My magic was buzzing in my ears, insisting that this was the door and I was about to step back through into the dreamworld and out of Alec’s dream. I would be safe. Alec would be safe.

All I had to do was fall into nothing.
So I shut my eyes and jumped into the air.

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