Only Power Chapter 6: Vrykolakas

“…it means vampire.”

“Vampire?” Hadrian balked. “Why on earth is he named vampire?”

“It is a fascinating tale, how he got his name… and as fortune would have it, I was there to witness the birth of it.”

only power 4

Aesthetic by my lovely friend Acnara. 

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Only Power: Chapter 4

The recently tailored robes fit, but Hadrian felt a stranger in them.

He’d stared at his reflection for a long time after initially donning the white, examining the boy in the polished silver who was no longer a boy at all, but a man.

Men in Ostium were considered mature enough to vote at the age of fifteen, and to serve in nearly any position of power by the age of seventeen. At eighteen years old, Hadrian was expected to fulfill his role as Senator, and to perform as aptly as his father had.

But Hadrian was not his father.

That much was clear by his appearance alone. Hadrian had contemplated this at length when he’d first put on the official robes, the clothing which all Senators wore to distinguish themselves from the commoners. His were white with green stitching, and fastened above his heart was his family’s sigil—a gleaming, silver serpent coiled around itself.

It may have been the same fabric which had once been draped around his father’s shoulders, but Hadrian Horatius could not have looked more different than Manius Horatius.

Manius had been tall and olive-skinned, a handsome man with smooth, auburn hair, broad shoulders, and a confidence that radiated about him. He was personable and friendly, an excellent speaker. Even those who despised him could not deny that he was charismatic, and probably hated him all the more for it.

Hadrian had inherited none of these traits.

He was nearly as short as his mother, with a thin frame and Lucia’s porcelain skin. His black hair was riddled with cowlicks, causing it to stick up on unevenly and giving one the impression that he had permanently just stepped out of a windstorm.

And all of this, perhaps, could have been tolerable. Hadrian might not have been so concerned with his appearance if the abnormalities ceased there… but then there were his eyes.

One was brown, a normal and benign hue. The other was not.

Hadrian’s right eye was a mixture of mottled colors, golden-orange near the center and a vivid, emerald green along the perimeter. His mother always said they reminded her of sunflowers and clover fields, or marigolds thriving within their foliage.

This iris alone was the single feature Hadrian had inherited from his father.


Excerpt from a continuing story of mine, Only Power. 

Only Power: 2

The history of Ostium was ancient, fascinating, and full of bloodshed.

Hadrian had been told the tale time and time again as a child born into the elite. The great Ostinite empire, its reach greater than any kingdom to ever hold power…

It all began with a chasm.

This is a snippet from the second chapter of a story which I am posting here:

Only Power

Only Power

 

Don’t tell me I’m lost at sea, good man! Don’t tell me I’m lost at sea! For the water’s my wife, my home and my life…”

A dramatic pause in which all the singers closed their eyes, their stringed instruments still in their hands. The small crowd of people, tightly packed into the bar, cat-called and cheered. Hadrian whistled loudly amongst them.

The performers looked up and raised their hands. The audience sang the last line with them, loud and mirthful.

I’m right where I’m meant to be!”

They strummed out a final tune and everyone applauded. The performers bowed graciously.

“Thank you!” the lead singer called, holding his lyre above his head. “Thank you, lovely citizens of Latria! There’s a reason you’re our favorite city!”

Everyone cheered more emphatically at that. “But don’t tell those arrogant Ostinites we’ve said as much!” another different musician called, and the crowd laughed.

Hadrian laughed louder than them all, as he technically was an Ostinite—but he’d left Ostium behind for many reasons, and he didn’t exactly tell people where he was from.

He hated the capital. He despised the suffocating stone structures which absorbed the heat of the sun, the ridiculous amounts of people, and, most of all, the politics. If Hadrian could go the rest of his life without hearing about another scandal of some lewd patrician slandering his opponent, then he might just die happy.

Latria was the antithesis of Ostium. The city on the water was cool and open, a place where music, culture, and art thrived…

Hadrian had only lived in Latvia for two years, but he knew at once that he belonged in the city dedicated to the water Goddess. Unlike in Ostium, where Hadrian had been ridiculed as a child by his elitist peers for his… peculiarities, here, such uniqueness was celebrated. Latvia was progressive where the rest of the country was conservative, tolerant rather than oppressive.

Hadrian had joined an artist’s guild upon arrival. He had learned how to paint with pigments made of oil on wood, and he had even dabbled in poetry and music. His painting was progressing decently enough, but he had nowhere near the skills of the musicians who had been playing their entire lives.

“Hadrian!” One of those skilled musicians called to him now, pushing past a few people in the crowd and offering him a ceramic mug. He was a member of the band which had just performed—a cithara player, and one of Hadrian’s good friends. “Another ale, since you bought the last round.”

Hadrian smiled as he accepted it. He probably didn’t need another beer—he felt unsteady as it was—but then again, such knowledge had never stopped him before. “To your fine future.”

“To your fine future,” Simon parroted back, clinking his cup to Hadrian’s before they both drank. Hadrian was amazed at how much he’d grown to like the taste of ale—in Ostium, the elites considered it a barbaric beverage, only for the common people. Wine was the drink of choice, there.

Hadrian would admit that he didn’t care for it at first. Now, however, the ale tasted almost sweet on his tongue. Refreshing, even.

The two were nearly shoved into each other, the crowd suddenly rowdy and clamoring for the bar now that the music had stopped. Hadrian adored it all. The ale, his eccentric and artistic friends, the atmosphere of this public place where the middle class gathered—a place which any of the elite in the capital would cringe at the mere notion of.

Especially if they knew he, Hadrian Horatius, was partaking. He could sense his parents’ displeased eyes and resigned sighs even now. Hadrian’s father had given him his blessing to travel once he’d turned sixteen, on the assumption that Hadrian would come back home quite quickly on his own.

Some traveling shall do you well. You shall realize how great the splendor of the capital really is, once you no longer have it.’

This had not been the case.

Hadrian laughed as Simon began belting out another well-known song, corralling the rest of the merry drunks into singing back to him as though the performance had not yet ended. “She is the fairest maiden of the land!” he called, and the crowd, as well as Hadrian, responded at once:

But she’s not of the land, you brute!”

Aye, too true, she’s of the sea!” Simon answered, and they all finished together:

My Goddess, the glorious Mystute!”

Everyone clapped again. Hadrian took another drink of his ale, feeling cheerful and wondering if he should buy another round soon. He probably shouldn’t. He probably would.

“Hadrian!”

Someone from the far side of the bar was called out to him. Hadrian frowned, wondering if, perhaps he had misheard the shrill cry of his name from the entryway.

He hadn’t. “Hadrian! Hadrian Horatius!”

Hadrian dropped his cup. Simon looked at him questionably, but Hadrian ignored both him and the broken porcelain, quickly moving towards the source of stranger shouting his name—his full name!—in this place. He swore under his breath as he forced his way through the crowd, eager to prevent whoever it was from shouting it to the world again.

He found him easily enough. A man in a grey tunic, the garments of a messenger. He blinked at Hadrian for a second before saying, “Are you—?”

“Yes,” Hadrian hissed, grabbing the man by the shoulder and dragging him outside, away from the people. “What is it?”

The man paused, taking a long moment to examine Hadrian’s face and look into his eyes as though for confirmation—first one, then the other. Hadrian had to resist the urge to close one eye out of spite. He hated when people did that.

Though he supposed it was a simple way to identify him. “I have a letter for you,” the messenger finally answered, looking appeased. He withdrew a small, sealed scroll. The Horatius family’s insignia of a serpent was engraved into the wax, long and undulating.

“It’s from your mother.”

Hadrian’s first reaction was annoyance. His mother wrote him all the time, long messages informing him of every little thing that was happening in the capital, and, with increasing tones of concern, beseeching him to come home. Hadrian took the letter and shoved it in his pocket. “Thanks,” he muttered. “I’ll read it later. Now, if you don’t mind—”

“Sir, she instructed me to make sure you read this letter right away, and that I leave with a response.”

The glower slid from Hadrian’s face. It only just now occurred to him how odd of an incidence this was: a letter delivered to him by an individual who must have hunted him down to this precise location, rather than by regular delivery.

And to require a direct response? Right away?

Hadrian’s mouth went suddenly dry. The sounds of laughter and raucous shouting from within the bar seemed to fade away. Hadrian pulled the scroll back out and broke the wax seal, anxiety pooling in his stomach.

The letter was short.

.

Hadrian,

Your father has died.

Please come home at once.

Please.

.

Hadrian stared at the second line in complete shock. He felt like his mind was floating somewhere outside of his body, suspended in a state of disbelief.

“…Sir?”

The messenger’s voice startled him so badly that Hadrian dropped the scroll. He fumbled when he bent to pick it up, lightheaded, dizzy, nauseous.

“Your response?” he prompted, looking expectant. “A verbal answer will suffice, I’m to return straight to her…”

Hadrian answered with a sense of surreal detachment. There was only one answer.

“Tell her I’m coming,” he said with a voice that sounded like someone else’s. Hadrian placed the creased letter back in his pocket.

“Tell her I’m coming home.”

 


So this is a new (long) story I’m starting, with this as the summary:

They were adored by the masses, they were famous, they were glorified… but gladiators were still slaves. He knew nothing good could come from falling in love with a killer, least of all one with a silver smile constrained by golden shackles. Shame that Hadrian never was very rational. 

It’s a fictional, ancient society based on Rome. So if you feel like reading more, I may keep posting it on here, but I’m definitely writing it on fictionpress, if you’d like to follow it.

https://www.fictionpress.com/s/3303580/1/Only-Power

🙂

Lovely Treasure: Part III

This is the third part of a story that I am going to continure, from here on out, on my Fiction Press account. You can follow it here, if you’re interested:

https://www.fictionpress.com/s/3292638/1/Treasure

🙂


The captive of the crying castle put on a brave face.

His interactions with the dragon had been few and far between, thus far. And always very…tense. The creature would peer in through the window whenever it felt like it, murmuring disquieting things that were a bit like a psychopath’s sweet nothings… And then when he, the prisoner, attempted to ask it questions, the beast would ignore him entirely. Or laugh. Or tell him what a pretty treasure he was.

…Infuriating.

Also, terrifying.

Because the creature was terrifying. The dragon was large enough that it could bite him in half if it wanted, with its gigantic jaw and long, sharp teeth. And…could it breathe fire? Probably, the captive recalled that as being true, about dragons…though he’d never actually witnessed one doing it. For good reason, too. Very few people lived to tell the tale of having seen a dragon breathe fire in person.

Though the captive supposed that he was in no immediate danger of being eaten or incinerated by this dragon in particular. That would defeat the purpose of having kidnapped him, if it were to just kill him in his tower.

…Somehow, this fact was of little comfort to the prisoner.

The soft sounds of the dragon’s talons against the stones was getting louder. The captive took a deep breath, forcing himself into a calm that he did not actually feel.

“Treasure…”

He should have expected that greeting, but no matter how many times he heard it, the dragon’s rumbling voice never failed to make him shudder. Its eye appeared in the window a moment later—a scarlet iris with a slit, black pupil.

The prisoner focused his attention just above the window. He didn’t want to get lost in that stare and be lulled into some unnatural, hazy trance.

“H…Hi.”

He cleared his throat, blushing. That probably was not the most impressive way to begin a conversation with a dragon. Then again, he thought, there really was no formal etiquette for this kind of situation. Most human-dragon interactions probably involved a lot more screaming and running than anything else.

The creature said nothing to his single, muttered word, only stared. The captive continued to look somewhere directly above the window. “Has anyone come looking for me? …While I’ve been asleep, I mean. To try and save me.” The dragon’s eye narrowed. It pulled its head away to fully gaze at him, seemingly wary. “Unless you made that up,” the captive went on, shrugging. “And I’m not anyone special, after all. A pretty lame treasure, if that’s the case.”

There was a long pause in which the creature merely analyzed him. The prisoner resolutely did not make eye contact.

“…Yes,” the dragon finally answered.

“Really!?” the prisoner yelped, but then quickly shook his head and composed himself. “I mean…just one person, huh? That’s not so impressive.”

“Three people,” the monster elaborated. It grinned crookedly before adding, quite smugly, “…knights.”

“Y-yeah?” The captive tried not to sound affected by that. So there seriously were knights in shining armor trying to save him… Or there had been at some point, at least.

“How long ago was that?” he inquired lightly.

“Over a year ago.”

The captive’s face drained of color. He swallowed thickly before forcing himself to ask the question he really didn’t want to put into words. “And…and what did you do to them?”

“I burned them.”

Well, that shouldn’t have been a surprising answer, but the captive still felt nauseous. The beast laughed, a deep and gravelly sound.

“I…guess that makes you a very powerful dragon, then,” the prisoner said, cautious with his flattery.

It worked better than he thought it would. The creature’s reptilian grin widened, and its low voice was a satisfied purr when it spoke next. “Yes,” it agreed, preening. “I am the most powerful being in the world. The largest and strongest of my siblings… I have never lost a treasure.”

“Siblings?” the captive asked, genuinely distracted and curious. “I didn’t think dragons had siblings. You’re not born from other dragons, are you?”

He was fairly certain he already knew the answer, some odd recollection that was not tied to a specific person or place, but the creature explained, anyway. “No. Dragons are immortal. We do not mate and reproduce like lesser creatures… We are born from the land. The center of the world breathes its fire and life into us, and when the Mother Earth decides the world should be graced with another dragon, it pushes us to the surface. We are born in a cascade of fire from a mountain top, painting the landscape with our lava and brimstone…”

The prisoner gaped. He couldn’t help but be a bit caught up in its words; this was easily the most the dragon had ever said to him.

He also couldn’t help but let his attention flicker to the monster’s red, glowing gaze. It really was quite lovely, wasn’t it? With its shiny scales and those bright, mesmerizing eyes…

The captive gasped, snapping his eyes shut. “Stop that!” he yelled. “Quit doing that, that creepy, entrancing thing with your eyes. You’ve already got me here, in your tower, haven’t you? There’s no need to…to subdue me any more than you already have.”

The dragon laughed, promising nothing.

“Unless…there is a reason to subdue me,” the prisoner continued. His tone was hedged, as he knew he could, potentially, be treading into dangerous territory with these words. “Unless I really am some kind of God…and you’re afraid of me.”

I am afraid of nothing!”

The reaction was instant and vicious. The captive recoiled at the furious snarl, retreating towards the back of his small room in the tower until his back was flush against the sticky, weeping walls. The dragon’s eyes, which had been alight with a gentle, soothing glow moments before, were suddenly a fierce, bloody red. “You were taken by me! You are mine, now!”

“O-o-okay,” the captive stammered. His heart raced in his chest under the monster’s glare, which was definitely not trying to make him feel safe or calm, now. He put his hands up defensively, where they visibly trembled. “I-I’m sorry, I j-just… I don’t know, how great a-and powerful you are, what you did when you t-took me, because I d-don’t remember.” He took a few quick, shaky breaths. The dragon’s glower softened slightly at his prisoner’s obvious terror and small compliment, so he quickly went on. “I have no idea how cunning and destructive you were, or even why it would b-be impressive, to have caught me… You made me forget all of that.”

There was a long stretch of silence as the dragon contemplated this. Its eyes darted over its captive’s trembling body, and it was clearly pleased at how frightened he was. Its smug expression returned, though its eyes remained the same threatening, bloody hue. “I melted gold and reduced walls of stone to ashes for you,” it said proudly. “They tried to hide you, under the jade floors… But I found you…”

The prisoner shuddered. “Why me?” he gasped. It was a question he had tried asking the dragon before, of course, but never in such a terrified whisper. People had tried to hide him, people who must have cared for him…

People who were surely dead, now…

The dragon’s intense stare lightened, becoming deceptive and alluring once more. The prisoner was too shaken to think to look away in time. He felt suddenly lost in it, entranced, and his muscles relaxed… He stopped shaking, and why was it, exactly, that he had been afraid? This creature was so beautiful, so kind… It would never hurt him…

“Because they cherished you…” the dragon crooned. “Because they called you Lord, because they worshipped you…”

“I… They did?” the captive breathed. His body had begun to feel very heavy, and he knew it, in the far recesses of his mind, that he was being forced into slumber again. He desperately tried to resist. “But…why?”

“Because you were their master, their God…” it said. “And now you are mine, beautiful treasure.”

“Stop, please,” he said, his limbs growing heavier by the second. “I don’t want…”

The dragon chuckled in amusement at the captive’s feeble attempts to remain standing. He sunk to the floor, racking his brains as he tried to think of what he could say that would stop the dragon from putting him back to sleep again. Begging had never worked before…

So he tried a new, potentially very stupid tactic.

“Coward.”

The dragon’s eyes widened, and the prisoner swiftly continued before he lost his nerve. “I bet you’re not very powerful, that it’s all you can do to keep me in here. And that’s why you keep making me sleep.”

The dragon’s glare returned with a swift vengeance. The drowsiness dissipated entirely, and the rush of adrenaline that exploded in the captive’s veins made him instantly lucid. “I am more powerful than you could ever comprehend, human!” it snarled, dragging its talons along the outside of the bricks and making a horrible scraping sound reverberate in the cell. The hostage jumped to his feet and stood in the middle of the room, feeling surrounded. “I am an indestructible force, I am fire incarnate! I could incinerate an entire kingdom in a single breath!”

Then, to the captive’s utter terror yet undeniable fascination, the dragon reared its head back, roaring as it turned to look away from the tower, and—

The fire that it exhaled was horrible, magnificent. Ferociously glorious.

Even though it was pointed in the opposite direction, the heat wave made the air feel suddenly warmer than the hottest summer day. A steady stream of flames in violet and indigo shot across the colorless sky, an impossible conflagration that surely would have put the stars and moon to shame, had it been night.

It lasted only a moment, but witnessing a dragon breathing fire and crying out towards the heavens had him dumbstruck. When the creature fixed its murderous gaze on him again, he felt too numb with awe to be properly afraid.

“That was incredible.” The words rushed out of the prisoner’s mouth, reverent and whispered. And though they’d been spoken without any thoughtful intent, they had a very welcome effect.

The dragon blinked once, surprised at the unexpected compliment, but then its vicious demeanor vanished. It was preening again, looking very self-satisfied at how impressed its prisoner was at such a display of power. “That was nothing,” it said. “I could fill the entire sky with my flames, if I wanted.”

The captive swallowed audibly at that, equal parts amazed and, now, frightened. Which must have been the epitome of everything the dragon liked to see in its hostage, for it smiled crookedly. The prisoner decided to go with it—anything to avoid falling asleep for another long stretch of time. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said, his voice shaking slightly. “I’ve never seen a dragon breathe fire or… Or fly,” he added suddenly, as an idea came to him. He craned his neck in an obvious attempt to see the beast’s body better, though the window was so small that this was difficult.

To his pleasant surprise, the dragon actually shifted when it saw that it was being examined. It moved so that more of its long, shimming body was exposed through the opening in the castle wall. The prisoner hardly stopped himself from smirking. This really was a very proud, vain creature. “You are so beautiful,” he gushed, and though it felt strange to call a murderous monster this, the dragon obviously enjoyed the attention. “Your scales are stunning, like obsidian gems. I imagine that it must be such a magical sight, to see your wings stretched wide, soaring through the air…”

But although the dragon clearly relished his flattery, it was not stupid. “Cunning human,” it said. “I will not leave this tower, just to grace you with the vision of my magnificent flight. I am staying right here, curled around my fortress and protecting you…my beautiful prize.”

The captive masked his feeling of disappointment. Well, he thought, it had been worth a shot. “I w-wasn’t thinking about that,” he lied, regardless. “But…you just called me human.”

The dragon’s gaze narrowed, and the prisoner jumped, suddenly remembering not to look directly into its eyes. “You called me a human,” the hostage repeated. Which was, of course, what he knew he was, he had to be, but…

“I thought you said I was a God.”

“…Yes,” the dragon answered vaguely.

“So, which is it then? Am I a man, or a God?”

“You were…many things.”

“Ah. Well. That clears that up, then,” the captive muttered sarcastically.

The dragon hissed wordlessly in response; a chilling, warning sound. The prisoner’s eyes snapped up to the beast’s at the noise despite himself. “…Dragons do not often covet humans, you know. I now see why. Treasures should not be able to talk.”

And then those scarlet eyes darkened, glowing gently. The captive nearly swayed as the drowsiness washed over him, much stronger than before.

“Wait, wait,” he gasped, though his knees had already buckled. “I…want to know… Please, tell me my name.”

The weight of sleep lessened slightly. The dragon looked confused at the request. “My name,” the prisoner quickly went on. “A God, a man, whatever… What’s my name? Who am I?”

The dragon tilted its head to one side, appearing genuinely thoughtful…but then it laughed again. “You no longer need a name,” it said. “You are my treasure now. And that is all you ever will be, forever. Mine.”

“Aw, come on,” the prisoner groaned. “What harm is there in my knowing my name? It’s not like there’s anyone I can tell…” He gestured around to the bleeding walls, frowning.

“Precisely,” the dragon agreed. “You have no one to talk to, and therefore no need of something as useless as a name.”

“I take it that you don’t have a name either, then.”

“I have a name,” the dragon responded casually. “I was born with three others…and so we have names for each other.”

The prisoner’s brows shot up at that, incredulous. “Well what is it, then? I mean, if you’re planning on keeping me here for all of time, we should at least be on a first name basis, don’t you think?”

“No,” the monster answered. “For there will be no more discussions between you and I, my precious prize.”

The exhaustion began to crash over him again. The hostage shook his head, trying to fight it off. “But…but don’t you get lonely?” he said. “Making me sleep seems like…like a wasted opportunity to…” he paused, unable to stifle a long yawn, but he persisted afterwards. “To have someone witness your power, and your beauty… Such a tragedy, to be alone, down there…”

The dragon’s gaze, which was pulsating with such a mesmerizing warmth, flickered. For a split second, the prisoner thought that maybe it would work, that maybe the monster would allow him to remain awake…but then his eyelids became far too heavy to keep open, and his muscles relaxed against his will, making him slump forward and fall to the floor completely.

“Don’t… Wait…” he gasped, reaching forward with the last of his swiftly vanishing strength. But he could sense the presence of the dragon there, peering in through the window with its enthralling gaze still fixed on him as he drifted off to sleep…

“…Gold,” the beast murmured, its voice deep and quiet. The captive clung to the sound, even as the darkness rose up to consume him.

“Your name is Gold.”

red eye

Purple Water and Fireflies

He was drowning, gasping, desperate for air.

Waves of water that were not arresting and cold, but surprisingly temperate. Strange. He thought that death would be cold and horrific.

But he was warm, despite his inability to breath.

Maybe it was just that he was drugged. That could explain everything, he mused, as he was pulled under the sea of purple water. And really, now that he really thought about it, this outlandish sea of violet could not possibly be a natural hue.

Damn. So it was the drugs, again.

He exhaled as forcibly as he could, pushing air out of his body through water that he was fairly certain was not actually there. Instead of bubbles, fireflies came fluttering from his lips, lighting up in synchronized patterns.

Yep. Definitely drugs.

He internally groaned. He hated this, these experiments. These crazy, messed-up hallucinations that he would have to endure until he would, inevitably, be brought back to the the brutal clarity of reality. To be forced to realize, once again, that real life was nothing but white walls, sharp needles, and harsh lights, for him.

He knew that was what was going to happen.

He knew it, and he hated it. He hated this existence, his existence, with every fiber of his being. And when he woke up, he swore to do it swinging and kicking, fighting for freedom…defiant, resilient, persistent, just like he always was…

But until then, he would drink in the purple water and exhale fireflies.

Lovely Treasure: Part II

This is the second part to a new project/obsession of mine…so don’t read this until you’ve read ‘Lovely Treasure’, the post right before this one. 🙂

For an impressive amount of time, the prisoner of the crying castle tried with all his might, one more, to remember.

A God? A God? How could he possibly be a God? He furrowed his brows, desperate in his attempts to recall some meaningful insight from his previous life…

He was just considering doing something he had never done before, had never wanted to do before—calling for the dragon to come back—when the drowsiness washed over him.

Definitely magic, he thought sourly, as the unnatural wave of fatigue made it difficult to remain standing, let alone think properly…though he did try. He trudged towards the window, sluggish in his movements as he looked up towards it, one arm raised…

“Come…back…” His voice was feeble and shaky. The exhaustion pulled at him, like slumber was an actual, cognizant being, and it was physically dragging him down beneath its currents whether he liked it or not.

“…Come…”

It was no use. The captive’s knees buckled, and he fell to the cold, stone floor. Despite his best efforts, his eyelids, which now felt as though they were made of iron, fell shut. Unconsciousness rose up to claim him, and he was swept away into dreams…the sound of rumbling laughter echoing in the back of his mind.

His dreams were the antithesis of his reality.

In the waking world, the prisoner knew nothing but disturbing, bleeding walls and a desirous monster.

But in his dreams… His dream world was vibrant and full of life, landscapes of impossible colors and brilliant skies.

Currently, he was by the sea.

The captive wandered along on a beach of pristine, white sand next to an endless expanse of glistening waves. It felt familiar to him, but only vaguely. Maybe he had visited this place before.

That would hardly be surprising, he mused. It was absolutely stunning, a literal paradise. He smiled as he relished the feel of the sand beneath his bare feet, the soft, grainy texture between his toes. The sun was still high in the sky, warming his skin in a way that he deeply missed in reality.

He continued at a leisurely pace for a long time. Hours maybe, perhaps longer. Dreams were strange. Sometimes they felt as though they lasted only minutes before shifting to a different vision, and he would have multiple dreams before he woke up again. Other times, he would dream of being in a single place for a much longer stretch of time. Occasionally, it would feel like he had been asleep for mere seconds—only for him to blink his eyes open and see that it was autumn when he awoke…though it had been summer when he’d fallen asleep.

And so he never knew quite what to expect when he drifted off into his enchanted slumbers. Only that his dreams would be stunning, and that he wanted them to be real so desperately that it made his heart ache with yearning.

Especially in a place like this, on the beach. The prisoner focused on keeping it there, on remaining in this paradise. Maybe he could learn to control his dreams, he thought. Maybe he could decide on where and how he would spend his time while asleep…

He sighed, exhaling a long, low breath as he did. The sun was beginning to set. It was an exquisite sight, the way the light scattered across the gently rolling waves. The colors of the sky were impossibly brilliant, and he couldn’t help but wonder if the real world had actually been this lovely, or if it was simply his own mind which invented such deeply saturated hues. He watched the transition from day into night with rapt fascination… The way in which the blue became gold until it was touched by a blush of bright pink, the subtle shift of crimson into violet and then indigo, when pinpricks of light eventually proclaimed the presence of the first stars…

Feeling bold, he decided to walk out into the water. The captive had been tempted to do it earlier. But he was wary that it may be cold, and he was feeling an aversion to all things chilly, at the moment. It had been winter when he’d fallen asleep, after all.

But his anxiety was for naught. The water was surprisingly warm, like a freshly drawn bath. Grinning, he looked down at his own feet through the crystal-clear water. He pulled off his shirt and tossed it behind him onto the beach, willing this dream to last long enough for him to swim in this temperate sea.

Just as he was about to lunge forward, a sharp gasp sounded from behind him. He turned, confused, to find himself looking at…someone else.

Never before had he dreamt of another person. It was always just beautiful places and exotic creatures…never people. He was therefore quite surprised to see a young man standing before him, with brown, windswept hair and tan skin…and he was holding his shirt. Evidently, the dreaming captive had thrown his discarded shirt right at this stranger, and he’d caught it.

When they made eye contact, the brown-haired man’s eyes went wide with shock, looking quite like he was staring at a ghost rather than another person.

“Hello,” the prisoner said cautiously. The unknown man didn’t answer, though his mouth formed into a tiny, perfect ‘o’ in surprise, and he dropped the shirt. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to toss that at you. I didn’t see you.”

The brunette continued to look thunderstruck, either unable or unwilling to speak. The captive smiled in what he hoped was an encouraging manner. “The water is lovely, if you feel like swimming,” he offered up. He turned to glance back towards the sunset. “And you can’t beat the view. So—”

But when he turned back around, the man was gone.

Strange, the prisoner thought forlornly. The tide swept up towards the sand, catching the sleeve of his shirt and pulling it back with it into the water. He didn’t bother trying to catch it or fish it out. For as excited as he had been just moments before, to dive into the sea, he now felt a bit melancholy about it all.

It would have been nice, to have company.

When he awoke, it was to find that it was still winter.

The air was chilly against the exposed skin of his face, but the rest of his body was covered in thick, soft blankets. When his eyes fluttered open, he saw that he was somehow, inexplicably, under the covers on his giant bed. Hadn’t he passed out on the floor, before?

Groggily, he sat up. Winter. The odorless, viscous substance on the walls confirmed it…which meant that he had not been asleep very long this time. Or, he thought with a thrill of terror, he had been asleep much longer than usual, and an entire year had passed.

He shuddered at the thought. What if he had family or friends out there that he could not currently recall? How long had he been away from them? Were there people searching for him, worrying about him?

He didn’t know. He tried not to linger on those fears, lest he unintentionally magic himself right back to sleep again.

Forcing himself to be brave, the captive stood. He gathered one of the blankets around his shoulders like a cape for warmth. He then approached the window, wishing not for the first time that it was both lower and larger.

Down below, he could see his monstrous captor, its long tail curled around the base of the tower protectively. It was difficult to tell, from so high up, whether it was asleep or not. Did dragons sleep? He pondered that, biting his lower lip as he did. No, he didn’t think so. Dragons were immortal, after all, all magical creatures were. They only died if they were slain, and that was no easy feat, to slay a dragon. They did not age, nor did they eat…so it was also unlikely that they slept.

Then again, he’d also thought that dragons were incredibly intelligent. If that was the case, this one had yet to prove it. It had hardly said anything to him at all thus far, other than croon at him like he was some pretty little trinket. Which he supposed he was, to the dragon.

But there was no denying that it was a very powerful being, the weeping walls surrounding him made that clear. This was complex magic being cast on him, deeply complicated enchantments which kept his mind numb and forced him into slumber.

What else did he know about dragons? He willed his hazy mind to focus. Powerful beings, yes, and very smart… Proud, too. They took great pride in their treasures. That was, perhaps, why this dragon had finally given him the one, meagre scrap of information that it had.

A God

Well, that seemed far-fetched, but maybe he could get the creature to elaborate. If it really believed that it had kidnapped a God, than it was probably itching to show off, to talk about how devious and cunning it was, to have coveted such a rare person…

Maybe it would let slip something pertinent that would help him escape. Or, at the very least, learn who he was.

The captive cleared his throat, apprehension crawling across his skin. And then, before he could over think it and change his mind, he leaned towards the window and shouted down to his imprisoner.

“Dragon,” he called, his voice surprisingly steady. The obsidian entity lifted its head, fixing him with those scarlet eyes that glowed like embers. He tried to focus on its body instead, not wanting to get trapped in that mesmeric gaze.

“…Come talk with me.”

For a long moment, the monster did nothing, only peered up at him with its terrifying yet lovely face tilted to one side as though considering him. He waited on baited breath, fully expecting it to ignore him and go back to its obsessive monitoring of the landscape.

But then it shifted its weight, pushing itself to its feet and curling its body around the tower. The captive’s heart leapt in his throat at his unexpected success. He backed away from the window and pulled the blanket more tightly around his shoulders, like a thick, fabric shield.

It had listened, it was actually going to come talk to him… He swallowed thickly, hoping that he hadn’t just made a very regrettable mistake. But there was no taking back his invitation, now. He could hear it scaling the weeping walls, its talons clicking against the stones…

And so he steeled himself to have a conversation with a monster.

red eye