Mist curled around the roots of the tree. She looked up to see the boughs strung with spiderwebs, lit with dewdrops that gleamed in the darkness. The tree groaned when she reached up to touch the bark. It had to be Gloamwood, and thus, she was in a dream.
After spending so much time within other people’s dreamways, it took her a moment to realize that she was alone. This was her dream.
She walked a few steps. Warm candlelight shone from a small round window. Peering inside, she knew the room—remembered it. The dream opened like a death rift.
The old woman dangles a macabre skeleton puppet from her hand, making it dance. The child sits on the floor and laughs, delighted. The little skeleton bobs its head and the lady makes giggling noises.
The woman hands the puppet to the child. “Now you do it.” The girl stretches her hand over the toy and wiggles her fingers, but the bones lie there in a heap. She pouts.
“Try again, child.” She encourages. “Feel the pretty purple threads? Pull them into your hands like water and let them come out of your fingers, just like I taught you. It’s easy. don’t worry.”
She tries again, this time she reaches for the power in the stones and walls. it’s everywhere. It comes to her hand, it flows out. The little skeleton twitches.
The dreamer stepped through the stone wall and wandered the halls of the old keep. The memory of murmuring women’s voices lingered, echoing along the high ceilings. In the old reading room the desks sat ready. Candles squat on the smooth wood, waiting to be lit.
She is safe and snug. She’s found a place on the floor between a reading desk and cabinet. No one can see her there. She hears voices approaching and wraps her arms around her knees, pressing her mouth against the grey cloth of her robe so they will not hear her breathe.
The old woman speaks, “…bastard or no, she’s still his blood. Just find her before Lady Geisa does. We need her alive.” She feels a tug in the center of her chest and deflates. She’s been found.
She passed through a window, insubstantial as the mist that covered the ground. She heard a child’s laughter and followed it as it danced between trees and stone.
The little skeleton will move when she wants it to. No one can see the strings. It follows her wherever she goes now. She’s given her a name: Rayna, her only friend. They play hide and seek among the gravestones. The spirits that flit about the place pay them no mind.
The girl’s laughter drifted away as the dream ran out like the tide.
She woke in the chapel. Rain fell, and the graveyard had gone dark and cold. She slipped inside the doorway with strands of grave-mist pulling at her heels. The candles had gone out. Scuffs in the dust on the floor told her that she was not the only one who had been here recently–not the only one watching for his return. Moving to the altar, she pried the ends of the candles out of their holders and replaced them carefully. She re-lit them with flames from her fingers, muttering soft spell-words in the chilled air.
She turned, putting the altar at her back. She stared at the empty sepulcher as if she could force the stone to answer, but she knew there would be only silence here. He would return only when he would return; there was nothing to be done to speed his journey. His absence pained her, left a void within her chest, a yearning she couldn’t name. This is not love and she knew that. Love was pain and betrayal, bitter ashes and vengeance. He offered her something more. The night led her back out to the graveyard; the full moon led her gaze into the sky.
An echo of the past called out to her from the grave stones. The ghostly child sat on the ground, playing a desultory game of knuckle bones while the risen skeleton of an infant child sat nearby. The little brown girl in a simple grey robe looked up at her and wiped a tear from her grubby face.
She felt the rush of swelling, stinging pain around her eyes as the tears rushed to brim at the edge of her eyelids.
She put her feet on the road and walked until the trees of the Gloamwood closed around her.