Dust Of Dreams
Guardians of Light, Book 4
by Renee Wildes
eBook ISBN: 978-1-60928-138-0
Mingling with other races is forbidden. Dream faerie Pryseis has no choice. A goblin child suffers dangerous nightmares. Cure him and return. Now prisoner of a goblin sorcerer, Pryseis despairs that anyone will save her. Her only comfort—the memory of an elven man she can only touch in her dreams.
What to do when nightmares become real?
Kneeling on the damp, stony ground, Pryseis took a deep, shuddering breath of frosty mountain air and stared at her sunlit reflection in the shimmering pool. She ran a hand through her hair, watched the long, iridescent strands slide through her fingers in the streaming sunbeams. Light which made her wings tingle as they absorbed energy directly from the sun’s rays. The fading glow warned her the end of the day fast approached. Dread seized her at the thought of sleep. Every night the same small, scared voice in the dark haunted her dreams. “Help me…save me…” She’d added her magic to her sister faeries’ to ease his suffering. But the group’s spirit-nets had no effect on the child. Now he’d faded from their senses and singled her out. None other still heard his cries. His anguish was in her head, in her heart.
And she couldn’t get him out.
Somewhere down below the barren mountain, in the Shadowlands, a goblin child needed help. He called to her. Just to her. Drew her to him with bits of nightmares, fear and anxiety. Pryseis ached to go to him, ease his suffering. Dreams were her especial realm. She never failed. The certainty had grown for days. She could help him…if she could find him.
There was the crux. Thanks to their need for the pool’s elixir, faeries never left Crystal Mountain. One cupped handful of the renewing waters every seven sunrises to stay strong and immortal. Just one had ever tried—her grandmother Shallan—and she’d failed, nearly died.
Pryseis’ sisters would never let her go.
She squared her shoulders and strode toward the shining crystalline palace where the council chambers were housed. This lad’s nightmares differed. They affected everyone around him. Something ominous stirred below the mountain. The traditional methods, gentle influence of the many, failed. Time for a new way. Light against darkness. One-on-one, she and the lad. Who would prove stronger? Who would prevail?
The council would capitulate. They must.
Dax met her on the rocky path connecting the pool to the palace. She stared up at her grown nephew, who stood a full head and shoulders above her. Halfling son of her dead brother—half dream faerie, half forest troll. Both. Neither.
“Good morning, Lady Aunt.” His voice was deeper than her brother’s, rough-edged.
Lursa, that title turned her into a doddering oldster! “Good morning, Dax. I go to address the council. Care to walk with me?”
He fell in one step behind her, deep brown eyes downcast. Pryseis wanted to scream at his deference. Why did he never look her in the face? What expression would he show? What did he feel, think of all this? “I’m requesting you as a bodyguard,” she announced.
Dax froze. “What?”
Her small wings fluttered with agitation in the cold light of the setting sun. They prickled as they wrung the last bit of energy from the waning sunlight. “You heard me.” He was the only one she trusted to stand with her in the upcoming confrontation with the council.
Dax grunted and resumed walking. He took troll stoicism to new heights.
Pryseis stared at the crystal palace, glittering with icy radiance against the stark grandeur of the barren mountaintop. Home of the faeries for millennia. Creatures of air and fire, bound to water, stuck on earth. High atop Crystal Mountain, she touched sun and sky, that glorious cold streaming light. The dreams and secrets of the world swirled around her, carried on the wind.
What lurked in the darkness below, so far from the light of the sun?
Yet the darkness drew her, spun from the child below.
Please let the council see the light of truth.
A massive rock troll named Braxx greeted her at the palace entrance. Twice as tall and broad as Dax, the armed sentry bowed, a mountain unto himself. Rough, bark-like skin stretched taut across bulging layers of muscle. “Lady Pryseis, I was about to summon you. Lady Maeve orders your presence.”
Pryseis shivered. Maeve had watched her these past few days, ever since the nightmares ensnared her. Maeve could be her staunchest ally or fiercest opponent in the next few minutes. “Best not keep her waiting.”
Braxx moved to block Dax. “Just council members.”
“Dax is with me.” Pryseis stared down the immense troll as if he didn’t tower over her.
Braxx yielded, lowering his gaze. “As you wish, Lady Pryseis.”
Pryseis raised her head, squared her shoulders and swept into the council chambers, Dax in her wake. “You called for me, sisters?”
Silence greeted her inquiry. Maeve, council Prime and strongest of the golden hope faeries, recovered first. She straightened in her ornate thronelike chair. “We worry for you, Councilor.”
Not good news when they addressed by title rather than name.
She stared across the round, wooden table at her sisters’ tense, worried faces. Golden hope faeries, pale blue wish faeries and fellow dream faeries with their shimmering iridescence, as changeable as the dreams they crafted and countered.
Maeve, the eldest, glared through narrowed amber eyes. “I’ve heard unsettling rumors of your intentions.”
Pryseis shook her head. “Maeve, you of all should be above idle gossip.”
“You’ve voiced dissatisfaction with our ways.”
Tauni, the youngest of the blue wish faeries present and newest council member, spoke up. “We keep the world safe and at peace with our ways, our nets.”
Behind Pryseis, Dax snorted. Pryseis decided to address Tauni’s misconception. “The world ever teeters on the brink of war. We but keep it contained—don’t presume to declare peace. Have you forgotten what brought the trolls to us in the first place?”
“They saw bloodshed wasn’t the way and came to their senses, renouncing violence.”
Maeve’s righteous, condescending tone grated on Pryseis’ one remaining nerve. “You need to leave your tower more often, sister. You’ve no idea what’s happening below.”
Maeve’s pinched golden face darkened. “How dare you.”
Pryseis’ own temper flared. “Have you forgotten the Battle of Enoka Pass? The goblins fled the field, left the trolls to face the wrath of the elves alone. The trolls were decimated in that conflict! If Dax hadn’t struck down their young prince, the elves never would have retreated. Our protectors barely escaped with their lives.”
Nightmares still haunted her nephew. Pryseis felt his regret at the elven youth’s death.
Dax hated goblins for starting that war—and for abandoning his people to slaughter.
Time to bring all together for a final, lasting peace—troll, goblin, dwarf, elf and faerie. The battles had gone on long enough.
“Death is the terrible price of war. That’s why we avoid it,” Tauni commented, shuffling her feet on the pale pink carpet under the table.
“Whilst we avoid it, the world around us roils with it,” Pryseis snapped, leaning forward on her fists against the round wooden council table. “Our ways aren’t working anymore. We must try something else.” She took a deep, steadying breath. “A new threat rises in the south.”
Maeve snorted and crossed her arms. “Then why have we not sensed it?”
Pryseis had no answer for that. Had the lad given up, or focused on the softest heart? Why did he torment her and her alone, night after night?
Hallar, a fellow dream faerie, turned her troubled lavender gaze on Pryseis. “You speak of the goblin child’s nightmares again? All children have them. Dark dreams are natural and do no lasting harm.”
“These are persistent,” Pryseis admitted, “and they worsen.”
“All the more reason for us to combine our talents and try harder,” Maeve argued. She turned to Pryseis. “Would you weaken our nets with your absence?”
“This isn’t a vague problem. ’Tis very specific. His nightmares are different. We can’t help him from here. He’s targeted me, and I must intervene directly.” With her involuntary connection to the child, Pryseis feared she was the only one who could. It just felt right to leave.
“You’re as rebellious as your brother!” Maeve snapped.
Dax went rigid, baring sharpened lower tusks in a parody of a smile. “Leave my father out of this, I warn you.”
“Sister, ’tis selfish to place one life above all,” Tauni remonstrated.
“What say you? An individual child doesn’t matter? A single life has no value, is but a drop of dew in the pond?” Such fundamental difference in viewpoint. This was where the irreparable fracture started. “You believe that, sisters? We matter not? You, me, Dax, the child? What we think or feel counts for naught? Then it shouldn’t matter if I leave.”
Tauni faltered. “That’s not what I meant.”
“I think ’twas.” Unshed tears stung as Pryseis engaged each council member’s gaze in turn. “Deep down, I think that’s what you believe. Why you don’t mingle with the world. You hold the world at a distance. If you saw that child as an individual, if you were moved to help him, then you must help his neighbor, his rival, his enemy. If you helped goblins, then you must also help trolls. They’d be equals, not servants. What of your faerie superiority then?” Pryseis wavered betwixt contempt and disappointment. “I don’t ken whether your denial is naivety or callous disregard. I pity your hearts are so blind.”
“Don’t call us blind by parading your delusions afore us. You and you alone can help him?” Maeve challenged. Her lips thinned. “What is it with your kin? Rebels all. That’s not how we do things. We can’t afford to trade one soul for many. We haven’t the strength to go one-on-one with all in need. Compromise is what’s kept us going this long. We lose a battle to win the war.”
“Don’t go,” Hallar begged. “’Tis dangerous. Stay here where ’tis safe.”
“Safe for how long?” Pryseis challenged. “How long until the goblins unite and storm the mountain? What if our trolls can’t hold them back? If we die, what happens to the world then?”
Tauni looked uncertain. Hallar tugged at a shimmering strand of iridescent hair and swallowed hard.
“This lad isn’t a battle. I think this time he may be the war. ’Tis different this time. You can’t feel the menace lurking behind his fear. The one way we’re safe is for war to end. Who kens but helping one child could move his kin, his people, to gratitude? One act of compassion to show a better way.” Pryseis waited.
“See yourself a martyr, sister?” Maeve asked with silky venom. She picked up her crystal goblet of wine and leaned back in her chair. “The great savior of all?”
“Nay. I’m but a simple faerie who’s no longer content to sit by spinning webs whilst the world below tears itself apart by war. I can’t watch elves and dwarves and goblins slaughtering each other in countless battles. I can’t ignore a sobbing child in the dark, haunted and begging for help I can provide. If I have the power to help then I have the responsibility, the duty to help.”
Maeve drew herself up. “If you go, don’t come back.”
Dax stiffened. “If she goes, I go with her.”
“I request Dax as a bodyguard.” Pryseis’ tone was not a request. “Fitting to keep rebel kin together, don’t you think?”
“Granted,” Maeve replied.
Tauni stifled a gasp with her hand. “Maeve, we’re not murderers! If you banish her from the pool, she’ll die! We’ll be as bad as the goblins!”
“Remember what happened to Shallan when she tried to travel to Poshnari-Unai with that elven mage Anika?” Hallar said. “Shallan scoffed at the pool legend, and when Anika brought her back, she was barely alive. You can’t leave, Pryseis. It’ll kill you.”
Maeve’s voice was implacable. “Pryseis, I give you Dax so you’ll have someone to carry you back when you fall prey to the same weakness your grandmother discovered. I warn you—you won’t be banished from the pool or the mountain, but you’ll no longer be part of the council and shall be barred from the palace.” Her gaze pinned each council member in turn. “To you, she’ll cease to exist. If she speaks, you won’t hear.”
Analahamme. Maeve would declare an ostracism so complete it turned her into the walking dead, a non-person? Pryseis hadn’t kenned the depths of Maeve’s anger to be so extreme. Maeve’s face blurred in the rush of hot tears. “You’d do that to your own sister? When did the price of compassion become death? When did your hearts turn to stone?”
“If you’d decry and turn your back on our ways, then you don’t belong here.” Maeve slammed her goblet on the table. Golden wine sloshed over the lip onto the smooth surface of the tabletop. “Let the lad go. We can’t save everyone.”
“I can’t. If he goes I fear he takes me with him,” Pryseis replied. “We’re that bound.”
“We’ve never lost one of our own, for all the deaths we miss,” Maeve retorted. “You’re wrong. Search your heart, sister. We need you. Shall you face the dark alone?”
“She won’t be alone.” Dax spoke up. He moved closer, to place a large, reassuring hand against her back. “Wherever she goes, I go with her.”
His declaration warmed Pryseis’ cold-seared heart. “Dax, son of that brother of mine who disturbs you so—my real kin supports me.”
Hallar’s voice trembled like the chime of icicles in winter. “Kin also stand together.”
“You’re not my kin,” Pryseis spat.
Hallar visibly flinched and paled.
“Don’t do this, Pryseis,” Tauni begged.
“Sleep on it,” Maeve repeated. “We’ll hear your decision come sunrise.”
Pryseis stumbled from the chambers, numb with disbelief. Dax caught her elbow and steadied her as she made her way down the long glittering hallway to her rooms.
“You needn’t do this,” he stated.
She turned to him. “A child needs my help.”
“A goblin lad,” he snarled. “He’s not worth your life.”
She faltered at the depths of his rage. Fierce and bitter. ’Twas the true Dax. His deference was but a mask. “What makes my life more worthy than his?” Pryseis challenged. “Goblin, troll or faerie, a child is still entitled to grow up without harm or fear.”
“And what about your need for sunlight?” Dax clenched his square jaw and traced the edge of one of her wings with his finger. “You’ve never gone without direct radiance for more than a night afore. I don’t want you to end up like Shallar. You’re all I’ve got.”
She felt her smile wobble. “I love you too. I’ll be fine. We’ll be back afore anything happens.” Did she try to reassure him, or herself?
Concern flickered in his eyes. “It could be a trap. You can’t trust the goblins.”
Which troubled her more—the direction Dax’s mind wandered, or the part of her suspecting he might be right? Was there more to the lad’s calling? There must be a better way than suspicion, accusation and conflict. Pgah, she tired of it all!
“’Tis a suffering lad. He’s in my head and in my heart. I must help…or I’ll go mad.”
He raised a heavy brow, but stepped aside at the door. “Try to get some sleep.” Matted coils of brown hair swung about his broad shoulders as he strode away. The confident stalk of a predator, long-legged and full of lethal grace. At least his troll blood negated a faerie’s need for the pool. Dax never craved the waters, never faded from their lack.
Unlike Pryseis, who soaked the sun in through her wings and drank from the pool to sustain herself.
Pryseis slipped into her rooms and poured herself a cup of sweet golden wine, laced with anise and fragrant valerian root. A nightmare preventative, it soothed her nerves even if it didn’t block the lad. If she left, she had seven sunrises afore the weakness struck, leaching away her strength. ’Twas madness to leave. When she returned, her isolation would be complete. Analahamme. Eternity without a word from another living soul.
Was one child worth it?
She might not even succeed. The goblins might kill her outright. Dax would be destroyed right along with her. What right had she to orchestrate his doom?
She sipped her herbed wine and paced the violet-carpeted floor. Was Maeve right? Was it her duty to stay, spinning webs with her sisters? Was it delusion of grandeur, her conviction she alone could help? No faerie had ever done what she proposed. ’Twas unheard of to retry. Shallan had almost died. Dare she risk the many for the one? What made one child more important than the rest?
“My lady!” Her maid entered with an armload of clean laundry. “Care for a bath?”
“That would be lovely, Cilla.” Pryseis stretched until her spine cracked, then followed Cilla into the bedroom. She settled into a velvet-cushioned chair and watched the maid prepare a lavender bath. “You’ve been a loyal companion, Cilla,” she began. “’Tis appreciated.”
Cilla looked troubled as she turned to Pryseis. “My lady?”
She kenned. Palace gossip traveled fast even to the mundane faerie servants.
“I’ve thinking to do,” Pryseis admitted. “When the clothes are put away, you’re excused. Enjoy your evening.”
Cilla began to protest, then bowed her head. “Try and get some sleep, my lady.”
There was the crux, wasn’t it? Sleep with nightmares. Some days she envied the green faeries their lack of arcane powers. How much simpler life must be for them. Pryseis slipped into the hot, soothing water as the maid took her leave. She swam in water; somewhere else, a lad swam alone in a sea of rage, doubt, despair. An inescapable quagmire lethal as a tar pit. He fought, brave lad, but ’twas just a matter of time afore he went under.
He was too far away for her to dull the pain, lighten the darkness. “Where are you?” she whispered. His call was faint, coming from under a great depth of earth and rock. Underground.
Pryseis shuddered. No sun dwelt beneath the earth. How would she bear it, all that crushing darkness? Washing quickly, Pryseis prepared for bed and curled up on the feather mattress. With the aid of the herbed wine, she drifted off.
Never had she felt more alone. If only someone could help her…
Autumn squirrels. Clouded crystals. To her surprise, an elven male appeared in her dreams, tall and lean-muscled, like a cat, with long hair the pale shine of winter sunlight and slanted, compassionate sky blue eyes—and not a stitch of clothes on him. His soul touched hers. Peace filled her. His touch reflected the four elven elements. Water, earth, and fire ruled by air.
“Lady?” The whisper of his smooth voice in her mind sent an involuntary jolt of need down her spine. Where had he come from?
“’Tis just a dream,” she reminded herself. As dreams went, this was a good dream, a welcome respite. “Make me forget. Just for a time, let me forget.”
Magnificent, so handsome she almost forgot to breathe, he reached out to brush the hair from her suddenly bare shoulder. She sighed at the strength and gentleness of his hand, and shivered as he trailed the backs of his fingers down the curve of her neck. “Easy, beauty,” he murmured.
Pryseis stepped closer, tilted her face up for his kiss. His lips were warm and firm and drew an answering heat from deep within her. She’d forgotten how cold she’d become, until he warmed her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and gave herself over to him, parting her lips under his, stroking his tongue with her own, tasting heat and dark male need.
He groaned. Deepening the kiss still further, he reached one hand around her breast, circling her nipple with his work-calloused thumb whilst cupping her backside with his other hand. His long fingers delved betwixt her legs, trailed over her folds. She widened her stance and choked down a whimper as her whole body came alive at his touch. Her breasts tingled, nipples stiffened against the hard planes of his chest. He drew back, bent down to take one nipple in his mouth, teasing her with just the wet velvet tip of his tongue. She didn’t even ken his name, but he kenned her. Kenned how she liked to be kissed, just where she liked to be touched, and how.
She tangled her fingers in his hair, arching into his mouth as he drew long and hard on her breast. She cried out as his deft fingers found the sensitive bud betwixt her thighs. Every stroke made her tremble and tighten. He switched to her other breast, suckling hard, and her entire body shook as she moved on his hand. She raced toward completion without him. “Please,” she gasped, sliding her hands over the sculpted planes of his body. Hot skin over hard muscle. He was no sedentary healer. She cupped him in her hand, and he shuddered as she curled her fingers tight around his shaft. Hot, huge, pulsing almost with a life of its own.
He raised his head, his face tight with passion. He gripped her backside with both hands and raised her up. Lursa, he was strong! “Wrap your legs around me, beauty.” His voice was hoarse and dark with need.
She did, and he seated her on himself, sliding deep. She stretched over him, around him. It felt real, almost as if ’twas more than a dream; then he moved, and she couldn’t think at all. Her world spiraled into pure sensation, thrust and pull, as she sucked him back into her body again and again, tightening around him every time he threatened to withdraw. She pulled his face to hers, for a voracious tongue-tangling kiss. She shook in his arms, her body straining and tightening until the splendor crashed over her. Over him. She felt him finish with her, spurting deep within her body.
In her dream, she opened her eyes. Mist swirled around them. Suddenly shy, she didn’t ken whether to apologize or thank him, and traced his lips with her fingers. “What’s your name?”
“Benilo.” He kissed her fingers, eased her back onto her feet with visible reluctance. “Where are you, Pryseis?”
He kenned her name? “Shadowlands. I need your help.”
Benilo nodded. “With the lad. The nightmares.” He trailed his fingers down her cheek, lingered on the amulet dangling betwixt her breasts—a crystal butterfly with amethyst wings. “Sleep, Pryseis. Watch for me. I shall see you soon.” He faded away, into the mists, and she sank into oblivion.
Dream time and real time weren’t the same. A knock sounded at the door. ’Twas not yet dawn. Pryseis half-fell out of bed; a twinge betwixt her legs made her stagger. It had been just a dream…hadn’t it? She felt as if she’d not slept at all. She slid her gossamer night rail from her body, shivering in the coolness, and donned a slit-backed woolen tunic and breeches in lieu of a gown. She grabbed a heavy winter cloak, but didn’t put it on. She wanted her wings to catch as much sunlight as possible along the way. Plants below the mountain meant sunlight had to exist down there, as well. The need for elixir was the real problem. She couldn’t take it with her—its living power faded if contained in a vessel. “Enter,” she called.
Dax nodded at her traveling attire and held out a half-filled pack. “I left room for your things.”
She tossed him her blanket from the bed, then flung open her wardrobe and started grabbing clothes. “Dax, promise me something.”
His lips thinned as he folded the blanket. “What?”
“If aught goes wrong, if I’m captured or disappear, promise to seek aid from the elves.”
Dax looked appalled. “What?”
“Ask for their spirit healer. Tell him of my dreams. He’ll ken your meaning.”
“That’s it. You go nowhere.”
“What? I must go.” Pryseis stuffed her clothes into the pack.
“They can sing the lad a lullaby. You’re not going.” He glowered. “Anyone who goes into battle planning to fall shall find a way to make it happen.”
“I’m not planning on failure. We must be prepared…in case things don’t…” Pryseis couldn’t even finish that statement. “Just promise you’ll go.”
He nodded, clearly not happy.
Pryseis reached behind her neck, unclasped the silver chain holding her amulet—the iridescent crystal butterfly. She held it out to him. “Here. I want you to wear this.”
“It belongs to you.”
“It does. Therefore whoever wears it also belongs to me.”
Dax put it around his neck.
“Remember your promise, nephew.”
A pained look crossed his broad, dusky face.
“I hold you to it.” Pryseis grabbed her walking stick and stepped into the predawn chill.
The entire council awaited them outside, a sea of anguished faces and fluttering colors. Long hair and silken robes flapped in the breeze. “So, this is your decision, then,” Maeve stated.
Pryseis nodded, noting the satisfaction in the Prime’s tone. “It is. I’ve no choice.”
Hallar moved, as if to speak. Her lavender gaze met Pryseis’ for a moment afore she looked away, but she held herself in silence.
“Then neither do we. Sisters?” Maeve spun on her heel. One by one, the council members turned their backs to Pryseis. All she saw was a wall of rigid shoulders and fluttering wings.
Tears threatened. “So be it.” She barely managed a whisper around the lump in her throat. Slipping past them, she stopped at the pool for one last drink and started down the mountain, the sun on her wings and Dax in her wake.
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