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By Mike Christopher A tale of Moonlands

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Tryn was dreaming. She must have been... for there was a crashing roar, like that of ocean surf as the tide came to tear at the eastern shores of Naroom. It would build and build, tearing over and through itself in wave upon wave of sound and then break suddenly upon unseen shorelines. Tryn waited for the spray to dampen her skin, but there was no spray.

She struggled to open her eyes.

Pain! LightColorCrashingThunderousSmellColorUnseenFingersTearingThroughHerHair... PAIN!!!

She squeezed her eyes tightly shut, her mind unable to cope with that single glimpse. The sound remained, but the colors, scents and sensations faded. As the pain receded, she began to take stock of the rest of her body. She was lying face down on a rough, yet yielding, surface of some kind. It felt like spongy moss covered in scratchy barl hide. Around her, the sound of crashing surf continued to roll across, over and through her. The surface she lay upon seemed to quiver with each grand crescendo of sound as the unseen surf crashed upon the unseen shore. There seemed to be no motion to the air, however. It was perfectly still. With her eyes closed, she detected no trace of scent—even though her face was pressed closely to whatever strange material she was lying upon. She couldn’t even determine a temperature—both the air around her and the surface beneath her seemed to be neither warm nor cool, hot or cold. Just... nothing.

Tryn to tried to think... to remember. She had been at the Crossroads, heading for the boat dock when suddenly... what? She just couldn’t remember clearly. She had a vague sense of trying to summon her new Flame Rudwot, but couldn’t remember what had happened. Rubbing her fingers together, she determined that her ring was not upon her finger. Cautiously, slowly, she lifted her arm to feel along her side—careful to keep her eyes shut. There! The pouch containing her other rings was still there, safely attached by a sturdy thong to her belt. She could feel the rings clattering together in the soft leather pouch.

So, now what? she wondered. Struggling to a sitting position, she felt the air around her resist slightly, as if she were underwater. Unable to stand it any longer, she carefully opened one eye. LightColorCrashingThunderousSmellColorUnseenFingersTearingThroughHerHair

NoiseWindRoarBlastingBlazingInfernoColorsClawsRakingHerFleshReekingThunderouslyInHerEars

PAIN!!!

Tryn screamed... and screamed.

PAIN!!! LightColorCrashing

Her normal tough-girl attitude vanished under the impossible assault on her senses.

BlastingBlazingInfernoColorsClawsRaking

She screamed until her voice became ragged and torn and finally broke.

UnseenFingersTearingThroughHerEars

ColorReekingThunderouslyInHerEyes... PAIN!!!

And still she screamed on, not making much sound now, but unable to stop.

Suddenly, large hands were covering her mouth, her eyes; cutting off her vision and choking off her hoarse scream. A warmth at her back drew closer, brushed the side of her hair, breathed in her ear... a low growl that was both commanding and surprisingly gentle filled her reeling mind with a sudden calm.

The confusion of lights, sounds and other sensations dissipated; replaced by the steady purr of this deep abiding growl. Tryn began to be able to think coherently again. She realized the growl should have frightened her, but it did not. The warmth of the presence surrounded her face, the gentle softness of the hands that shielded her vision and closed her mouth were like life preservers and she basked in the calming pressure.

"Keep your eyes closed, little one" the growl became soft words, the voice a rich and mellow bass. "Now, I am going to take away my hands. Do not scream, do not open your eyes. I will not leave you, I promise." Tryn nodded silently, her heart still racing, but reassured nonetheless.

The gentle hands moved away slowly, and the warmth at her back receded. "Can you walk?" the voice was full of concern, but a note of urgency had now entered it.

Tryn nodded, not trusting herself to speak, afraid she would begin screaming again and never stop. Questions bombarded her mind, but she was too frightened and confused to voice them just yet. She came to her feet, and held her hands out before her. A large hand—well, honestly it seemed more like a soft furry paw than a hand—wrapped around her own and pulled her gently.

"Come. Walk as fast as you can. The surface in this place is level, and I will not let you fall." The hand pulled her, gently at first, and then with increasing speed. Soon she was almost running to keep up. Then, came a series of popping sounds, and she felt as if she were passing through a series of hanging veils—the unseen filminess of the fabric sliding across her skin in fold after fold.

"You may stop now." The voice still held a trace of the growl she had first heard, the growl which had cleared her mind of the sensory onslaught. The sense of urgency was gone, at least for the moment. "Please stay here. I will not be far away. Do not be afraid."

"O... okay." Tryn’s voice waivered and cracked, but she no longer felt the urge to scream. She sensed the guiding presence moving away from her. "No! W... wait! What is happening? Where are we?"

The reply came from a short distance away, sounding as if the speaker were turned in the opposite direction. "Shhhh, little one. Time enough for questions in a moment. I, too, have questions." There were clattering sounds, as someone were searching through a trunk full of old junk. "Ah - here they are!"

The presence drew near again and suddenly something hard and cool was being placed over her eyes. She reached up to touch the object as the hands withdrew, but the voice stopped her. "Do not remove them, whatever you do. You may open your eyes now."

When she didn’t immediately comply, the voice prompted her, "Go on, little one. It is safe now. The goggles will help your mind make sense of what you see."

Tryn cautiously opened one eye. She was in a strange grayish-silver room. The colors were bland, but neither were they assaulting her senses as they had earlier. She opened the other eye. No roaring crash of sounds and light, no unseen fingers tearing at her hair and skin. She exhaled the breath she hadn’t known she was holding, relief washing over her. The room seemed to consist of walls made of flowing gauzy material. The walls rippled and swayed in some unfelt breeze. Scattered here and there were unusual objects of all shapes and sizes. Silver gray tables were piled high with books, bottles and scrolls. Several large armchairs were overflowing with rolls of parchment, more books and strange metal objects. Huge apparatus stood about the room, looming overhead in a series of metallic arches and arabesques—studded with coils and tubes and lenses. Beyond the strange artifacts, the ceiling appeared as a gradually thickening haze receding upward into nothingness.

A soft growl came from behind her. Tryn whirled to behold a tall magi - or creature - or something, watching her intently. Standing more than a full head taller than Tryn, the being was wrapped in soft woolen robes which flowed from its broad shoulders to trail upon the silvery floor tiles. Huge paw-like hands were held in a relaxed position at its side, covered in a fine pelt of mottled reddish-brown fur. Above the thick collar of the robe rose an undeniably majestic countenance—although definitely not magi. The face sported a blunt snout, not unlike that of a furok. The black nose glistened wetly above the softly furred jowls. Warm intelligence gleamed in large brown eyes set beneath heavy brows. Everything was covered in a fine mottled fur, even the short ears which sloped out and down from either side of the head. Surrounding all was a regal mane of long, fine fur—gleaming with health in the directionless light of the silver room.

Tryn’s eyes widened in wonder as she gazed upon her savior. The being, emitted an odd growling chuckle and then bowed formally and deeply, before the bewildered magi.

"I am called Dathka." The being rose to his full height once more. "And who are you, little one? How did you come to be here?"

"Umm... I? Tryn didn’t know where to start. "Uh, where am I, exactly?"

"Why, the Dream Plane, of course! This isn’t a place into which one just happens to stumble, surely you must recall how you came to be here!"

"The... wait, did you say Dream Plane?"

Dathka growled a chuckled again, and then settled himself into a nearby chair after casually swatting its contents to the floor. "Ahhh—I can see there will be no easy answers for this puzzle! But, please, be seated." Dathka gestured to another overloaded chair. The objects stacked upon the silver cushions suddenly flew up into the air and whirled about for a bit before settling into another lopsided pile in a far corner of the room. The chair slid across the smooth floor to halt at Tryn’s feet. Tryn’s eyes grew even wider. Such a casual use of kinetic magic was unheard of back home! She glanced back at Dathka with new respect.

Tryn sat, and suddenly she found herself facing a warm fire settled into a cozy stone hearth. A warmth in her right hand revealed itself to be a steaming mug of cider. She looked around, bewildered. The silver room was gone, although all the clutter seemed to remain. In place of the gauzy walls and silver tiles were sturdy timbers and planks, glowing gently in the soft firelight. "What?"

Dathka waved his hand dismissively. "I thought you might be more comfortable in this setting."

"But what happened to the other room? Did we leave?"

"No!" Dathka chuckled. "I merely... redecorated. Are you comfortable now?

Tryn nodded in reply, realizing she actually meant it. There was something about this odd... person... she found strangely comforting. She turned to her host, full of questions. "So how did I get into the Dream Plane? I didn’t even know it was really a real place!"

"Oh it’s very real, little one. Very real. But as to how you came to be here, I was hoping you were going to tell me."

"Oh!" Tryn searched her memory, trying to recall how she had gotten into this mess. She found her memories becoming clearer now that she was no longer so frightened. Haltingly, she began to recount her journey from Cald, although she tried very hard not to even think about the man she had left behind there. She told her strange host about heading for the boat at the crossroads. With sudden clarity she recalled the sweeping curtain of light that had caught her up in its embrace, even before she could summon her Flame Rudwot.

"This curtain of light... could you describe it better?"

"Um... well, it was all sparkly, sort of like when a dream creature is being invoked. But this was real big, and... and," Tryn groped for words to describe the phenomenon, "and it was sort of like every color all at once."

Dathka shook his head. He closed his eyes tightly and uttered a terrible growl. "This is terrible! Just terrible! It’s worse than I thought!"

"What is it?" asked Tryn, suddenly frightened by Dathka’s agitation. "What’s going on?"

Dathka whirled to face her. He lowered his furry face to gaze at her from eye level. His warm brown eyes were burning with a fiery golden light, and Tryn gasped in surprise.

"Something is causing rifts to appear between the Real world and the Dream world! Not long before you arrived, a terrible force tore its way through the Plane. I did not then know what it meant, but I’m afraid that now I do." He spun back to pace before the fire, but the glow of his eyes did not dissipate. Indeed, it seemed to grow brighter still. "This shouldn’t be possible! Not after all we went through! After all we lost!" Dathka’s voice had thickened with emotion.

"What? Who?" cried Tryn, completely at a loss.

Dathka grew very still, his back turned to her. His voice was low, but his words were clear. "Someone is attacking the Dream Plane from the other side," he said.

"But who would do that?" asked Tryn. "Not even the Core Magi are that powerful - no one on the Moon is!"

"Exactly, little one. No one on the Moon is powerful enough. But this attack isn’t coming from the Moon."

"Not coming from? Tryn was really confused now. "But where else is there?"

Dathka whirled and suddenly the light in his eyes flared to fill her vision. She saw a glowing sphere hanging amid a sea of stars. She recognized that purplish orb. She had seen it every night of her life, hanging in the sky over Naroom like a baleful eye.

"That... that’s the Homeworld!" she cried. "But no one lives there!"

"The Homeworld. El, we called it. Land of your ancestors, little one. Long abandoned, mostly forgotten by her children, alone and silent for so long. But not empty... not anymore."

"What do you mean? Who could be there? No one can get there!" Tryn was beginning to become very upset. This was nonsense. Every child in Naroom was taught about how their ancestors had made the Moon into a wonderful world - much better than their own, and then brought all their people to the Moon, and then sealed the great Dream Doors that had brought them here. Then, after the original settlers had passed on, no one could remember the secret to reopening the Doors, not that anyone had ever really wanted to try. Everyone knew the ancestors had left their world because it was ugly and dull - who would want to live there?

"Is that what you were taught? That you Moonlanders are the only people there are?" Dathka shook his head, the glow in his eyes flaring to a frightening crimson. "The universe is full of people, little one. All sorts and shapes and sizes. Your people are the only ones who cannot get there! The Dream Barrier has always seen to that!"

"Dream Barrier?"

"That which keeps you safe from harm, that which lets you sleep in peace and raise your children to be old men and women in their turn."

"I... just don’t understand. Please, you’re frightening me. I want to go home!" Tryn knew she was pouting, her inner warrior rebelled at this suddenly girlish side of her, but this whole situation was too far beyond her wildest dreams to keep up her tough gal act. With a growing sense of unease, she remembered a very old book Evu had once shown her when she was still very young. It showed pictures of the ancestors fleeing from some terrible monsters. Evu told her these monsters had chased their people to the Moon after conquering the Homeworld. Their ancestors had sealed the Doors in fear and intended that they never be opened. Until now, she had always thought the little old historian had been trying to scare her. Now she wasn’t so sure.

"I too wish for you to go home. I just don’t know for sure how to get you there. The walls between our worlds are supposedly impregnable to physical matter. You shouldn’t be here at all!" His voice was a wild growl. Tryn shrank away from his suddenly fearsome visage.

Dathka finally seemed to notice her fear. Realizing his fangs were bared, he relaxed his soft jowls, consciously smoothing away his snarling countenance. "Ah... I’m sorry, little one. It has been three thousand years since I’ve spoken to another of my kind. I forgot myself for a moment."

"Another of your kind?" Tryn asked, beginning to relax again as the wild glow faded from Dathka’s eyes, returning them to their previous soft brown color.

"Oh - I see!" Dathka seemed flustered now, glancing down at his fur covered hands self-consciously. "My appearance has... altered... somewhat since I first came here."

"You mean you’re a magi?" Tryn asked incredulously.

"Well, in a manner of speaking, yes. To be more precise, I am Eliwan."

Tryn’s eyes almost bulged out of her head. "An ancient!"

Dathka nodded in silent admission before admitting, "And feeling every century of it!"

"How long have you been here?"

Dathka growled to himself introspectively for a moment before replying. "Well, time can be a funny thing in the Dream Plane, but I’d reckon it has been more than three thousand years on the Moon."

"Three thousand! Whoa! You’ve been here this whole time? Wow, you must’ve seen everything!" Tryn was awed.

Dathka shook his head, his great mane flowing gracefully across his shoulders as he did so. "Actually, I’ve seen almost nothing at all! Most of my information comes from the dream creatures who are invoked into the Real world and then later return." His eyes flared gold once more, but only briefly. "I can see their memories... when they are patient enough to allow it, that is."

"You talk to the dream creatures?"

Dathka nodded. "Of course. It’s part of my task. I was sent here to keep watch over the small local area of the Dream Plane that is sealed by the Dream Barrier. I keep the creatures in order—or at least I try." He smiled a brief, private smile.

"But why do you look like... like I don’t know what. I thought the ancestors... er, the Eliwan... looked just like us magi, ‘cept taller."

"Yes they do - or rather, they did. Way back in the early days of exploration, our scouts discovered that any long term travel in the Dream Plane could have serious physical side-effects. You see, Dreams are more real here than Reality itself. Your inner mind, the part that does the dreaming, has the ability to change the way one looks, or even behaves, in this place. For me, I began sprouting fur and growing a snout not more than five weeks into my stay here." Dathka glanced at Tryn. She was gazing back in wonder.

"Well... it does have its benefits. This form is taken a bit more seriously by the tougher dream creatures than my former one!"

Tryn nodded appreciatively, even as her mind reeled with many more questions. She struggled to sort them all out and to decide which to ask first.

"I can see you still have many questions. Let me help." The great furred ancient leaned closer to Tryn, his eyes flaring with light once more. This time she beheld the great exodus of the Eliwan people to the Moon. Behind the fleeing throng, great cities were engulfed in towering flames. Horrible floating monstrosities were chasing the people down, pulling them screaming one-by-one from the crowd of refugees. "There was no time left, you see. The Invaders had destroyed all of our worlds and had finally come to El itself. Their mastery over the Dream Plane passages was unparalleled. No one could stop them from coming. The only hope remaining was to draw back to the Moon, whose surface had been prepared and hope to hold the Invaders at bay long enough to erect the Dream Barrier. But something went wrong?

Just then there came a terrible crashing boom, shaking the room violently. Dathka lunged toward Tryn and pulled her from her seat, clutching her tightly by the arms.

"It’s no longer safe here! Tell me, are you carrying any animite upon your person?"

Tryn was frightened all over again, and feeling very tired at the same time. "Um... well, I have my ring pouch here. What is it this time? What’s happening?" She tucked a hand into her pouch and grabbed a few rings, preparing to slip them on and summon her loyal creatures.

"No!" roared Dathka. "You mustn’t energize your rings here! The backlash of dream energy would surely destroy you!" Another huge crash shook the room. "It’s the animite they’re attracted to! We’ve got to get you out of here!"

"But? began Tryn.

"There’s no time! You will have to run as soon as the walls disappear. I am going to try to hold them off! Run in the direction of Green! Always head for the Green and don’t stop for anything, no matter what you see!"

"Green? What?" Another blow struck the room and the wooden walls began to flicker and shimmer.

Dathka waved his hand and the room disappeared. The vastness of the Dream Plane lay all about them now. Huge liquid shapes hovered only a few feet away. As Tryn struggled to make sense of the confusing forms, Dathka turned and shoved her away. "Now! Run!" Then he turned back toward the menacing shapes and issued a mighty roar. Tryn looked about fervently, not knowing what direction to take. Suddenly, in the far distance she noticed that the shifting vapors seemed to take on a greenish hue. Run in the direction of Green! That must be what Dathka had meant! As the sounds of a terrible magical battle began to issue from behind her, she began to run. She did not look back.

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