Repetition made anything tedious eventually—even nightmares. Varajas was back in Ulek. Still in Ulek? In the strange not-logic of dreams, it felt as though he’d never left.

He backed out of the guardhouse, into the castle’s main courtyard. The walls towered high around him, with the main gate to his left. Above that gate, hanging just above the parapets, a body swung from a rotting rope. Varajas turned away. He didn’t have to look at the body to know it was Derian.

Once again, he felt like he’d somehow traded nightmares with Ádan. Derian’s death didn’t haunt Varajas. They hadn’t been close, by any measure. Varajas had respected Derian, and liked him well enough, but there were greater ghosts to be summoned from his past if his mind wanted to truly punish him.

As if that thought had summoned them, shadows started to fill the courtyard. A greater darkness than the rest of the dream. Varajas reached for his sword with one hand and the other went reflexively to the cross beneath his shirt. “Just a dream,” he muttered, as the shadows writhed and condensed into almost human shapes, began to move around him.

Thick around him, like a freezing fog as they brushed past and through him. They didn’t seem to know he was there. They were moving towards the outer wall, pressing close, trying to climb up to the ramparts.

Varajas’s vision went dark. For a moment, he couldn’t breathe as one of the shadows was inside him. As it moved on, he gasped in a breath, then scrabbled backwards.

Into another one. His limbs slowed, finding resistance, like the time he’d fallen into a frozen river, pushing against a current. He struggled, desperately trying to draw in air.

Then he was out, stumbling. He barely avoided falling into a third, catching his balance and turning aside before it moved through him.

He had to get away from here.

A sudden, sharp bark echoed through the courtyard, hollow and strange. Like it came from underwater. Varajas looked around, but couldn’t see anything but the swarming shadows.

Then another voice. Distorted, again, but not enough Varajas didn’t recognize it. “Wait!”

Speaking of greater ghosts from his past.

Varajas had no more interest in whatever else this nightmare wanted to throw at him. He dove through the shadows, avoiding all he could, gritting his teeth and holding his breath through the ones he couldn’t. Until he was across the courtyard, at the gate to the inner courtyard that would lead him into the castle proper.

Here, the nightmare seemed to be cooperating with him. The gate was open. The inner courtyard was empty.

Varajas ran through and threw himself at the lever that would close the gate behind him.

A note from Barbara J Webb

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About the author

Barbara J Webb


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