The low thick cloulds looked dark and ominous, as if they contained something ancient and evil inside. I sensed there was a driving force or energy within them. You definitely knew if the worst of the coming rain was on it's way toward the city after exploring the cloulds. A little windy at times, and for the first time in his life, Hunter was afraid. Afraid of the creatures that lurked in the clouds above him. His memories only go as far back to his days slaying evil beasts in the dark pits of a brutal international underworld. Can you forgive yourself for your past, or are you forever damned? He'd done his part during the Shadow Wars to help defeat the deadliest evil threat to face mankind in modern history. The invasion of America has begun and the Shadow Lord's soldiers are willing to tear the country apart to find him.
Dark clouds had hidden the full moon as it was beginning to rise. The storm was growing, but I barely noticed it as I stalked across the ground, my hat pulled down to avoid the latecomers heading for shelter. My eyes were heavy as they drifted over the camp. Movement in my peripheral vision caught my attention. She was heading toward the nearest firepit, I waited, listening to the noise ebb and flow through the campsite. Her voice was only a whisper, though she tried to control the tremors. Causing a vague sense of panic to come over her, but she pushed the panic down, reminding herself it was just a dream. She turned toward Hunter, presenting a brief smile. Very few people are lucid dreamers, and I’ve never known anyone like you.” Hunter said to Sharokina. “So it really was just a dream,” she said. “None of it’s real.” “What makes a dream any less real?” he challenged. It was another few minutes when he looked up. What's up with you tonight? You okay?" Hunter asked. Noticing the faraway look in her eyes. "Yeah, I'm fine, just a lot on my mind." She said. She didn't know whether to trust the sense of danger she suddenly felt or to dismiss it as the after effect of being jolted by the cold rain. She senses the impending danger with nowhere to hide. Fear has frozen her, sapped her of her powers of the premonition of imminent disaster. She must choose her fate carefully. Carefully, for in her path, lies the destiny of the world. In the distance, the echoing cries of thunder tapered off. As the rain became heavier. The leaves rustled and the branches clicked together in the rushing wind. Clouds whirled and spun, weaving dark, ominous threads across the moon. Another burst of lightning illuminated two large men pushing against the wagon, apparently determined to gain shelter inside it. The flash of light faded, leaving only the dim lighting of the campfires and the flames flickering ominously.
~A Time To Exchange~
Dulin glanced up at the sky, heavy with clouds, the temperature dropping alarmingly. “Night’s going to come fast when it does,” he announced. “Maybe two hours to sunset. If we don’t want to camp up here on the side of the mountain, we’ve got to start down.” “You’re losing it, Violet, there’s nothing here.” Sharokina Sanders sank gracefully to the ground and drew up her knees as she regarded her sister with cool gray eyes. “Stop making yourself crazy and enjoy the view. It’s breathtaking up here. You’ve been in a frenzy for hours now.” Tipping her head back, she stared up at the sky. “We’ve been climbing forever. If you were going to find anything, you would have done so by now.” “I’m not losing my mind, Sharokina,” Violet insisted. “Or, truthfully, maybe I’ve already lost it.” There was a sudden silence. The wind paused. A hawk screamed as it missed its prey. Sharokina exchanged a long look with her brother. They both stared at their younger sister. She seemed focused entirely on the rock surface she was studying. “Well, that’s a relief,” Sharokina replied, laughing. “All this time I thought I was the abnormal one.” Violet let her breath out slowly. She knew she was acting crazy, almost out of control. What was she going to tell Sharokina and Dulin? That she really had lost her mind some weeks ago and this was a last-ditch effort to hold on to her sanity? That she wasn’t joking, and she belonged locked up somewhere on heavy medication?
~The Dark Reality~
Standing slack-jawed, staring up at the dark formation of clouds, stray strands of rain whip my face as the wind blows it around. Mirrored by an infinite sight of so many people walking around at once and saying such different things caused the alarm bells to sound for Hunter. As I waited for my strength to return,looking out at the vista below. The wind buffeted me, and I again grabbed at the stone for support. I was high, so high that even the buildings of city were tiny, the people like little ants. Letting out a heavy sigh, my brain races while struggling to think straight. So many questions without answers. So many worries, multiple fears. We are surrounded by a dark forces that continues to morph in front of our eyes. It makes me think we are tripping on something we inhaled while walking. Nagging me is the fact we wouldn’t all have the same hallucinations. None of us sound incoherent or slur our words. No one’s laughing, so if this is a trip, it’s a bad one. The clouds should be normal. Instead, they changed to look otherworldly. Nothing should have changed. I swear that every time I blink, there’s more transformation, more alien forms littering the horizon riding those dark clouds. Stunning, yet terrifying. How did our minds become cluttered with pointless information that nags us to change our minds or relinquish a thought? Basking in the darkness, we’ll scale down the cliffs and creep into the city on foot.
~Time to Plan~
Hunter snuggled down into the underbrush and lay in wait. He was going to capture them this time for sure. It was going to be easy, and he was going to make them take him to their leader. It had been a hard trudge here in the dark finding his way through the trees and the underbrush with just a small torch, but the sky had darkened with more black clouds approaching since he had settled in, and once the clouds started to hover over the horizon he knew they would come out. The first time he’d seen them he’d been sure it was some kind of flash back from the years ago when he’d had a run in with them. Such a thing wasn’t possible. Shadows weren’t people, or more important they weren't human. When the people had been lifted up off of the ground like released birds, Hunter had shut his eyes and shaken his head, sure that it was some hallucination or distortion in his brain. But when he’d opened them again there were no one in the area, only the dark clouds overhead. He’d remained transfixed and unmoving waiting until he could be sure what had happened to everyone. Hunter was watching their movements until, after an indeterminate amount of time, they’d had risen back up into the clouds and all that could be seen were darkness again. He’d waited a while and then slipped back into the forest, looking over his shoulder as he left the mountain range. From then on he had returned, randomly, covering a variety of times, and established they only came out of the clouds at dusk, and only for a few moments; that the window of their existence was short and if he was to capture evidence of them he had to be ready and waiting. As the bottom of the dark clouds rose above the hills on the horizon, the bottom of them lowered and the shadowss returned to search. There was no time because he dropped to the ground when a bunch of them swooped across and threw him up into the air, before another grasped him. It pulled him into the folds of its clouds and he was only aware of a upward motion as darkness surrounded him. He came to rest in a cave, and waited, his eyes unable to penetrate the darkness, his mind unable to calculate the passing of time. But nothing happened and no sounds reached him, and he began to wonder if they ever would. The last thing Hunter saw was the shapes of the clouds, their swirling twirling darkness as they spun round and round, their shadow-like tips caressing and strangling and choking. Lying on his back, Hunter viewed the darkness of sky he could see. It was dusky and moody tonight. The glow from the moon surrounding them lent it a dark blue hue. He turned over and pushed himself up to his feet, stretching, the tips of his fingers wiggling as though trying to touch the sky. He was ready to take them on now; he was motivated. It was always easier to do when the mind had some planning to get lost in.
Hunter had been at it for many years and managed to survive, but my back was aching; I needed to take a break. Hunter surveyed the clouds above him as they darkened the night sky. He’d been scoping this location out the last couple of days making sure it overlooked the campsite. Surveying the dark onmious clouds Hunter saw bright red glowing eyes shone into his, expressing a rage that made him cringe. He blinked his eyes several times, the creatures in the dark clouds confirming it was them even though the darkness hadn’t lifted. Within seconds his mind was crowded with the memories of the past wars. The images of the Shadow Warriors flashed in his mind and he flinched. Sometimes he wondered how much longer he could do this, and sometimes he knew it would never end. He watched as they reached the top of the mountain, hovering in the dark clouds as though debating direction, as paranoia crept at the edges of their thoughts. Hunter laid on the wet rocks from the pouring rain, so he could listen. It took a while, but soon he heard it. As he brought out the array of objects he could feel them coming closer, the sound increasing. Then more solid sounds were audible, in particular footfalls, or were they hoof falls? He wasn’t quite sure, but it didn’t matter. The crashing and breaking of foliage moved closer until an outline appeared in the dark. He was right , he had heard both. Looking back over his shoulder, seeing what he could in the clouds. He remained silent, but his eyes seen all he needed to know. He remained outside picking up each object and delivering its incantation until the chill bit into him. Then he returned back to the camp and moved in by the fire and continued examining the objects until the embers burned so low he could barely see. Eventually he went inside his tent, went to his cot and fell into a dreamless sleep, exhausted by his efforts.
~Lost in the Dream~
Gradually, the cloud-diffused sunlight sank toward the horizon, silhouetting the snowy peak. The mountain was filled with tricky paths that curved, the team was placing heat-detecting traps throughout the forest, and full dark settled as she made her way into camp. A thin moonlight penetrated the clouds, the darkness overhead grew no thinner, and night had come suddenly upon her. There was a fast running stream coming from the runoff of the melting snow higher up, just above the road. She quickly grew toasty sitting by the campfire, and after eating from the roasting spit, some ham, along with a stew, that had been cooked slowly, in a huge black iron pot, she was ready to lay down. As the firelight grew dim, Sazz spread out her sleeping bag and laid close to the warmth of the fire. When she crawled inside, the bag was stuffy, but it was better, than sleeping in a tent, with a bunch of snoring men. Soon her eyelids grew heavy. "SHH." She snapped awake and stiffened, clutching at her sleeping bag, unzipped it, and sit up. "HUSHH." A deep groan came from across the stream. All was quiet, except water tumbling from above onto the rocks, and the whispers. The murmurs continued; some of the men still sitting around the fire, drinking wine, as they talked quietly. There was a difference of opinion about the average number of thoughts a person had each day, with over three-fourths of them being negative, so in this effort maybe they became determined to energize their thinking in positive ways. They all have some thinking to do and positive actions to take. She wasn't ready to get up so soon and didn't want to deal with anyone, and she didn't want to explain why she was sleeping outside. Frigid air snaked in as she zipped the bag up and went back to sleep. Someone moaned. Now Sazz really wanted to leave. She must have slept for a little while, because the sky was dark and black, with a dusting of stars like snowflakes. Wind rattled tree limbs, but that wasn't the sound that had woken her up. "SHH." The whispers continued. Heart speeding, she lite a her torch and swung the light toward the gurgle of water on the rocks, twisted it until the beam began to penetrate the darkness, snow, dirt, and shadows, nothing unusual, except disembodied voices. As far as she knew, only a few creatures moved without being seen, Ja'Seth, The Evil One, sometimes called the Evil Shadow, Shadow Walker and Num Tums along with all his faceless shadow spawn crawling chaos creatures, know as the the Shadow Warriors. Sazz fled down the path, snow crunching under her boots and icy air shivering into her lungs. Moans became shrieks and laughter. While the heat on the back of her neck might have been terror-fueled imagination, the shadow spawns were gaining, she'd survive a graze of their burning touch, but anything more would kill her. There were ways to capture a shadow spawn, but there was no way to kill one. Sazz ducked behind a rock, and finally ran into the woods, as branches slapped her face and caught her coat in the thorns. She began pushing deeper into the forest with only the hissing that hinted at how close the shadow spawns were behind her. Freezing air stung her eyes, and her chest burned with cold and fear, a cramp stabbed at her sides. The shadow spawns gleamed like wind whistling in a storm, closer and closer. A tongue of invisible flame landed on her exposed cheek. She screamed and pushed harder into the forest, and the burn on her cheek stung. They formed a dark circle around her, and tendrils of blackness coiled toward her. She darted between the shadow creatures, a rush of heat on her face like leaning into an oven. They shrieked and pursued, but she could move faster through the trees, brush, fallen logs than they could move. Sazz dodged and jumped, fighting to keep her wits and thoughts together, focused on getting past the next obstacle rather than the snow and cold, or the fiery death that chased her. Perhaps she could lead them to one of the heat-traps placed by the team, but she didn't know where they were, and didn't know where she was after all the running in the forest. The shadow spawns moaned and wept, closing in as she avoided a snow covered rock, with heat billowing on the back of her neck. She hurtled over a log and skidded at the edge of a cliff overlooking the river. Snow slipped under her boots as she threw herself to her knees to stop before falling over the edge of the rim. Her torch wasn't so lucky. It clattered from her hands and plummeted into the river with a splash. Wind gusted up from the water as she climbed to her feet. The shadow spawns floated by the woods, ten or twelve of them, creatures twice her height that were made of shadows and fire and smoke. They glided forward, melting snow as they trapped her between them and the cliff edge over the river. Their cries were of anger and hopelessness, ever burning fire. She glanced over her shoulder, the woods a stretch of darkness and the river down below her and nothing from behind her. If there were rocks or chunks of ice, she couldn't see them. Drowning would be a better end than burning up in a shadow creatures fire forever. "You won't have me." Sazz had said, her scream echoed. Hunter looked over at her as she was just awaking up from a dream sleep of hers. "So you were able to find the Evil One and his creatures?" He asked. Sazz forced her eyelids open, and her heartbeat echoed in her ears, her thoughts grew icy and fragmented, maybe it was her awakened consciousness that made Hunter appear to smile at her. Then she was gone, lost in the dream. Foggy thoughts trapped her in this dream. Just as she began to drowse further into the dream, a deep voice beside her said, "Sazz." She held her breath, waiting for the dream to end. Her eyes snapped open as the situation crystallized. She sit up, tangled in the sleeping bag, and her elbow bumped a cup that Hunter was holding out to offer her. The fire seemed to close to her, and others gathered around them. Snow sparkled in Hunter's hair from the moonlight, as freezing air hit the back of her throat with each ragged breath. She clenched her jaw against her chattering teeth. Tremors racked through her as she reached for the steaming cup Hunter was holding. He didn't quite hide his shivers either, no coat or gloves meant he hadn't taken the extra time to dress for the cold before coming over to her. Perhaps his concerns was genuine after all, that he really did care about her, which seemed appealing now that she thought about it. Hunter reaching down, got a hold of the blanket and pulled it back up around her, wrapping her with it as best he could. Warmth was returning to her body again, another sign that she was safe now, but he was so disturbed by how the underworld had pulled her into the dream. He didn't think that was supposed to happen. She hadn't been there long, and exactly how he had gotten her back, he didn't know, but he knew it had been none too soon. The fire gave its soft red cast to the darken forest, and in the silence it seemed she was in a secure haven again. An illusion, she knew, as he held her and stroked her hair and rocked her gently for a long time. Something in the way she clung to him made him realize just how much he cared for her. Pushing herself off his shoulder, she sat up, embarrassed. The whole camp was watching her now. Hunter felt her eyes on him as he took the soup off the fire to let it cool a little. He put another piece of wood into the flames, sending sparks swirling up with the smoke. He turned from the fire to face her again. Hunter picked up the spoon while he thought, "I only have one spoon. We can share it." He took a spoonful of soup and blew on it before tasting it. "Not my best cooking, but it's better than some of the other guys cooking around here." That had the desired effect: she smiled. He gave her the spoon. He let her eat some of the soup before he went on. "So what happened during your dream?" Hunter had never heard of those dreams, but he didn't think it required an explanation. She nodded her agreement with a smile as he handed her the last of the soup. The fire crackled and popped. He could feel the tension leaving her, and he remained still to let her feel safe. Without looking at her, he put his hand on her arm, and she put her other hand over his. Sazz laughed, it was a good sound to hear. Sazz sat bold upright, clutching her chest. Hunter sat up with her. “You all right, babe?” “It was him again. He wants me to meet him.” Hunter rubbed her back. “Meet him? He doesn’t even exist!” Sazz shot him an angry glance. “Okay, he might exist in the ethereal sense, but he can’t manifest himself in the real world … can he?” She gave him a worried look. “I don’t know, but I have to go.” “Go where?” “The cave, midsummer's eve, at midnight.” “That’s tomorrow.” “I know.” Sazz shuddered. *** “What time is it?” Sazz whispered as they moved deeper into the woods. Hunter used the torch to look at his watch. “Twenty minutes to twelve. What’s that?” They saw a strange light coming through the foliage and headed towards it.