A pale blue light circled Emile’s uncovered feet. The moon had sailed behind thick clouds and the campfires had burned low, leaving her tent in total darkness. The orb was just bright enough to see the outline of her toes. She sat up a little to watch it, unconsciously matching her breathing to the slow pulse of its light. It floated higher and laughed with a sweet, childlike voice.
She reached out and felt the tingle of its energy on her finger. A kiss.
There was more laughter. Another orb appeared, smaller than the first and yellow.
Strange emotions pushed their way into her mind. Words came, in her own voice, to make sense of the feelings. Come dance with us.
She yawned and ran her finger over the smooth edge of the jade talisman. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll come.”
Sleep came quickly. She sat up, passing through the furs, and looked down at herself. A silvery cord ran from the navel of her spirit back to her sleeping body. Projection was getting easier.
The two orbs of light became tiny winged people. Both were naked – a man and a woman. They had long beautiful hair woven with vines and flowers. The faeries floated silently through the roof of the tent. Emile followed them. The ground pulled away quickly. She flew ever faster until the stars became bowls of light and vanished behind her, leaving her in darkness.
The faeries floated by her ears, whispering. She couldn’t hear them, but she felt their thoughts. Open your eyes. They were already open, but she knew what they meant. Emile opened them again. Another world appeared before her.
Suddenly, there was solid ground under her feet. Bonfires burned under a full moon, scattered across the grassy plain. Before her was a maypole. Men and women, slender and beautiful, with strange eyes and pastel skin held the ribbons. A smaller woman with rose vines for hair gave hers to Emile. She took it in both hands and curtsied.
The fiddler played, touching off the dance. Emile laughed as she circled the maypole to the sounds of the band. Faeries with the legs and faces of animals played wooden flutes, hand drums and fiddles. They radiated joy and love in a way she had never imagined.
The pole was half wrapped when the dancers froze and fell silent. Darkness drowned the distant bonfires, making them small. Emile turned in place. The terrified faeries were slack-jawed, staring into the night. They vanished one by one. “Hey, wait!” she called out, but still they fled.
Emile dropped the ribbon and backed away from the circle. She was the only one left. “Hello?” Tension ran through her arms and panic burned in her chest.
“I’ve been looking for you.” A young woman appeared behind her. Her tightly fit black robe was a shadow against her fair skin. Firelight reflected from her long blond hair.
Emile took a step back and looked around for a weapon, finding nothing. “Who are you?”
“Ingir,” she said. “You’re hard to find, Emile.”
“You know me?”
“We almost met. You’re as beautiful as Erland said.” Ingir took a threatening step forward.
“Wait, what do you want?” Emile kept backing up.
Ingir showed her teeth when she smiled, the same way Erland had. She waved her hand in an arc, and the world changed. The bonfires vanished, replaced with pools of blood.
Emile was suddenly bound to a pole. She was tied so tightly that it was hard to breathe. “Hey!” Her eyes were wild as she pulled against the ropes.
Ingir reached behind her back and revealed a double-edged arming sword. Runes were stamped into its side. They glowed with a ghostly green light. She stabbed it into the pile of wood that appeared around Emile’s feet. A smokeless blue flame jumped up, scorching her legs.
“When the hellfire takes you, the sword will be your home. There’s nothing to fear. It’s not so bad in there. Your soul will be free to dream.” Ingir vanished with a crack of thunder.
The flames licked her legs. The pain was unbearable. Her body trembled as she burned, while the sword held her gaze with an irresistible gravity.
“This isn’t real. This isn’t real!” The flames grew quickly, and with the pain, the sword pulled harder. “Winoc!” She begged. “Sebastian! Help me!”
Emile gritted her teeth and forced herself to think. She had opened her eyes once to get here; maybe she could open them again. “I’m just dreaming.” Her breath was ragged. The flames were up to her waist, but she forced her breathing to slow. She opened her eyes and found herself floating in darkness.
A faerie light hung in the void next to her, bathing her in bright green light. Its emotions entered her mind – run with me. The orb darted towards the ground, and Emile chased it, following the silver cord that led back to her body. Somehow the light was helping her fly faster.
The world appeared below. They dove through the clouds and night, until she could see the wagon circle beside the river. The silvery cord led back to her tent.
Ingir was here. She was diving, but not as quickly. Emile tensed and pushed with her will to gain speed. Ingir’s robes fluttered as she passed.
The sorceress drew a dagger. She spun and stabbed through the faerie light. It flickered and faded away.
“No!” cried Emile, but she didn’t stop. She dove through the roof of her tent and into her still sleeping body.
She gasped and sat up. “Hey, welcome back,” said Sebastian. Winoc, Seb, Alvaro the Halfling and a few other travelers were kneeling around her. She was wrapped in furs, but near the smoldering remains of a campfire instead of in her tent.
“She’s here,” whispered Emile.
“Hey, no one’s here.” Sebastian held her hand. “You’re safe.”
“We’ve been trying to wake you up for a long time. You were crying in your sleep,” said Winoc. “You’re okay now.”
“The woman in the sword, she was here,” said Emile. “She found me while I was dreaming and tried to take my body.”
Alvaro laughed and ribbed Winoc. “Guess you were right. The fucking thing is cursed.” He dropped the jade talisman on her and left. His huge bare feet kicked up dust as he walked.
Emile was sweating. She rested back on her hands and swallowed. “It was real.”
“I know,” said Seb.
“She’s coming,” said Emile.
“I know,” said Winoc.