The woman's bare feet pounded on the damp leaf-strewn earth, her nightgown whipping around her ankles. Her hair caught on the low branches above her. It was fall; the ground grew wetter and the air colder as she neared the riverbank.
Desperation tore her breath from her throat. Someone was chasing after her. She flung herself into the boat at the edge, tearing away the tie to land, and all her life before then. She had to get away from the haunts, the dreams, the nightmares. Perhaps, in this quiet, she would find peace.
As she floated away, her pursuer, still clinging to the way things had been, stood on the shore. His mouth opened and closed, speaking words she could not hear, or perhaps no longer understood. It did not matter that she had gone mad; the boy's Kiss may have corrupted her mind, but it had freed her soul.
Sound recessed, and she drifted. Soft cushions padded her descent as she lay back, looking up at the sky. She grew numb as the blood turned to ice in her veins. To die by his Kiss is sweet indeed, she mused, just as her thoughts began to fall away...
He opened his eyes to an inferno. The fireplace burned bright in front of him, the flames licking at the stone. His eyes, lacking in irises but with black pupils rouughly the same size, contracted in the sudden light. He blinked twice to help in adjusting them, then lowered the hand his head had rested upon.
Vividly, he recalled the night terror he had just experienced. Impossible, he thought. I do not sleep. I cannot dream.
A shout from the nearby room set him on his feet. He threw open the door, muscles tensing for potential combat.
King Richard sat upright in bed, eyes wild. Sweat froze against his skin, the autumn chill biting at his flesh. He looked around frantically, attempting to get his bearings.
The nonhuman watched, fascinated. He had never seen a human react so strongly to seemingly nothing. "Are you all right?"
Richard's brown eyes were wide as they darted to his face. Still breathing heavily, he wiped at the beads of sweat on his brow with the back of his hand. "Yes, yes I'm fine. It was nothing. Only a nightmare."
The sight of him had a calming effect on the young king. At six feet, ten inches, the creature before him possessed superhuman strength, and cool, silver blood with strange properties that made his touch lethal to humans. He was a changeling, a fairy child exchanged for a human in infancy, and so bore the features of his race--including their magic abilities. He was a powerful being, but he was also his friend and protector.
The changeling's eyes glittered almost malevolently in the dark. "I see." He paused before continuing. "Did it involve your mother?"
Richard blinked. "What?"
"Your nightmare. Was it about the queen?"
"I--yes. It was about her..." He trailed off, his brow furrowing. "How did you know?"
The changeling moved away from the door, one hand clasping the opposite elbow, the other, fingers curled, hovering below his chin. "I had the same dream mere moments before you."
"But--you can't dream. You don't sleep."
"Correct." He halted at the other side of the king's bed and turned around, pacing. "What do you remember?"
"My mother--I dreamt of her death." He hesitated. "Exactly as it happened."
"Why did you cry out?"
Richard sighed. "My mother was dying right in front of me, and I couldn't do anything to stop it. I didn't know why it was happening, so I fought it." Sudden realization crossed his face, and quickly he added, "I'm sorry."
"I see no reason to apologize." The changeling replied in an apathetic tone--but Richard, with the years of experience he had in understanding his reactions, could see that his eyes narrowed slightly. The comment had struck something. "Perhaps you somehow managed to project your emotions onto me."
The king shook his head. "No, that's not possible. I don't have any magical abilities."
"It's not magic. There have been cases where extreme stress caused the emotions of one to be felt by others."
"I'm not stressed. My mother has been dead for years." He paused. "Maybe you're a telepath."
The changeling stopped, and his eyes darted to Richard's. He let his arms drop, but his shoulders tensed. He was very much bothered now. "I would prefer not to entertain such an idea."
"Why not? You may be more powerful than you think. Is that so terrible?"
He shifted. "More than you would understand." A pause. "It could have simply been a coincidence. A bizarre one, but one-time only."
The faint tonal changes in his voice were those of uneasiness. The king took note and rubbed his eyes lazily. "What time is it?"
He glanced at the window. Though the curtains were drawn, it was clearly still dark outside. "How long until sunrise?"
"An hour or so."
"Well, I don't think I'm going to be able to sleep now. Might as well get an early start." Richard dropped to his feet.
He paused. "Hm?"
The changeling had his head tilted to the side. "My observations had indicated that your kind are not so inclined to leave your rest early, if you can help it. It is most unusual that you would be enthusiastic about waking early."
"Are you saying that I'm lazy?"
He blinked, his head righting itself. "No. I apologize; I was making an assumption."
Richard snorted to himself. "Yet you still wonder why people like Sadon don't like you."
"The feeling is mutual, although he seems confident that I am incapable of feeling anything."
Was that snark? "Neither of you understands the another. You have opposing ideals." He paused, one boot on, the other off. "I couldn't go on without both of you."
Silence. The changeling's expression was stoic, sobered. "You said you were not under stress."
"I know, I know." Richard muttered, now standing fully dressed. "I just--I feel like something is bound to happen. Too many things are left unsaid, words unspoken. Something is happening, thing are changing, and I know it won't be good." He sighed. "That's the legacy Father left me. All of his unsolved problems and forgotten promises, now fallen on my shoulders."
"Your father was a warlord, not a king." The changeling's eyes opened slightly wider, his eyebrows rising. The effect somehow made him appear sympathetic, softening the harsh lines and angles. "History does not call him Aldous the Conqueror without reason; he had no greater achievement than waging war. You are not like him."
The young king looked up at his friend, brow furrowed. "What I feel... beginning... It isn't something Aldous was responsible for. It's something else. Something is wrong." His eyes narrowed in frustrated confusion. "I just don't know what."