Word Count: Roughly 1000
Origin: This story came from a magic system my husband thought up and explained to me a few weeks ago.
Premise: A man with the ability to create constructs in his dreams attempts to rescue a kidnapped woman.
Aldo placed the bulbous end of the beetle’s abdomen between his lips. The spiny, hair-like structures protruding from the bug poked the skin inside his mouth, but he was used to that irritation. He bit down and winced as the acrid flavor of the fluid the insect produced overpowered his taste buds. He spat out the chitinous remains after he’d sucked out all it contained. The prismatic exoskeleton caught the light and bent it into dizzying rainbows.
The hallucinogenic compound numbed the nerves in his mouth and moved outward in a slow wave. When the numbness encompassed his entire head, he heard a strange humming. The deadened sensation expanded further, and he gasped when the compound reached his heart.
He dropped into the Dream.
Dark colors swirled around him in a riot of motion. The circling clouds embodied his emotions, so he concentrated on quieting his rising sense of panic. His apprentice had been taken and she was in danger. He quelled the chaos around him by will alone.
Aldo imagined a pride of lions. The ferocious grace of each lithe body, and their strength as they hunted together. He considered the details of each claw, each whisker until there was a palpable tension in the swirling mists surrounding him. The clouds coalesced, taking the shape of lions and then solidifying into corporeal form.
He willed himself out of the Dream and woke in the real world. His limbs felt heavy as he drew a tortured breath. He pushed himself up and rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand. The black fluid that remained after the compound dissolved into his blood came away on his hand, burning his skin. The inside of his mouth prickled as if he’d eaten something much too spicy.
Around him, the lions shimmered into view. At first, there was only the vague impression of their shapes, but they became gradually more solid. Ten pairs of black eyes focused on him. He wondered, not for the first time, why their eyes were always black, no matter how he imagined them.
He sent a wordless command to his creations to protect him. A bit of the power drained away, passing through his skin with a faint tingle and out into the air around him.
Aldo shook his head to clear away the muzzy feeling and then headed in the direction of the keep. The lions surrounded him and moved without sound. The cobblestone path he followed curved upward toward the heart of the city.
His lions overpowered a group of guards at the portcullis of the keep. Inside, Calla lay unmoving in the courtyard, her hands bound behind her back and her golden hair a tangled mess. His breath caught and he rushed forward.
Too late he felt the echo of power that meant she Dreamt. He fell to his knees when she dispersed his constructs. The lions winked from existence with an audible pop.
Guards rushed around him, pulling him upright and shoving neutralizing agent into his mouth before he could recover. The neutralizer counteracted the compound in his blood with dizzying speed; all the power faded from him within seconds.
Calla’s eyes came open and her lips quirked in an impish grin.
He slumped forward as the extent of her betrayal sunk in. His throat ached. “How could you?”
“I was never the sweet girl you believed me to be.” She nodded to one of the men and he helped her to her feet. “Take him to the Waking Room.”
He wouldn’t come out of the Waking Room the same man. The Royals would break him and then use him for their amusement, or worse, their schemes. He struggled as the guards removed his bracer. The defiance earned him a punch in the gut. When he regained his breath he said, “Why would you do this?”
She held her hand out for the bracer. The guard passed it to her. After extricating one of the beetles from the webbing, she held it up in front of her face, turning it so it caught the light. “Only the Royals know where these come from. They offered me an endless supply.”
“So it’s all about greed then?”
“No, it’s about power.” She slid the beetle back into place. “With you imprisoned, I’m the only Dream Caster.”
He couldn’t hide the wry smile that pulled at his mouth. “You’re not.”
She had been turning away from him, but now she pivoted back, scowling at him. “You said you were the only one left alive.”
“Who else?” She stared into his face and her mouth took on an angry twist.
“I won’t ever tell you.”
“We’ll see about that.” She pulled a beetle free of his bracer and bit it in half. Closing the distance between them, she spat the abdomen into his face along with a tiny amount of fluid. What little compound there was on his skin allowed her to pull him into the Dream.
The clouds whirling around them were a reflection of her anger. Calla brought a dozen long knives into being around them. The sharp edges reflected a strange pattern of red light. “Tell me or I’ll carve you up. I know you don’t need all your fingers for what they have planned.”
Sadness overcame him. He’d held to the hope that he might convince her somehow, but the sadistic glee on her face convinced him that there was nothing left to salvage.
“Dear child, you should have paid more attention to your lessons. I don’t need compound here.” He closed his eyes and willed the knives to rush forward, impaling them both. Calla made a strangled sound. Pain lanced through him, but he smiled as he felt the Dream pulling him under.
He wasn’t sure what would happen now, but it didn’t matter. Neither of them would wake. Calla’s sister would be safe, and the Royals would never use either of them again.
Beetle Juice by Coral Moore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.