((Warning: Violence, Language, Domestic abuse.))
It wasn't a dark and stormy night. Those weren't scary. It was a normal night, and Daddy was home. Mama was scared. He could tell Mama was scared. Daddy was angry, so Mama was scared.
"You ruined the roast," Daddy said. Mama tensed. He could see her spine straighten even as her eyes filled with fear. Her right eye was rimmed with a bruise already. She had refused to go to the market today, instead sending him to get the cut of roast for dinner like Daddy liked. It wasn't the first time. Mama didn't like showing folks that Daddy hit her.
"I-" "Stuff it," Daddy growled. He picked his slab of roast off his plate with his fork, holding it up. "Do you see this? It's under-cooked." Daddy threw it on the ground. He stood and crossed the space in what felt like a heartbeat and dealt a blow across Mama's face so hard she fell to the floor. "You can't do anything right!" he screamed at her as the boy watched.
"I have to go away for weeks at a time to support you and the brat. I have to deal with all sorts of idiots trying to gyp me out of what I am due, all so that you can continue to live comfortably here. I work and struggle while you sit here in the lap of luxury! And how do you thank me? You fuck up the meal that you welcome me home with! Worthless bitch! I should have wedded your sister." Daddy stood over Mama, boots beside her shoulders, as she tried not to cry. His neck was red. The boy wished that they would stop screaming.
"I bet this one isn't even mine. I haven't fucked you in months." Daddy kicked at Mama's swollen stomach. She curled defensively, taking the kick on her side. The boy screamed, drawing Daddy's attention. Daddy grabbed the boy by the collar and hauled him from his seat. "Shut your yap, you little shit. You're worthless. Less than worthless. You cost me money." Daddy punched the boy, releasing his shirt and allowing the blow to drive the boy to the floor. Mama screamed at Daddy and struck him in the head with a hot pan. "He's yours, you monster, but this one isn't."
"He's yours...but this one isn't."
The words echoed in the silence. Daddy stood there, stunned into stillness and silence. When he finally moved again, his face was that of a beast. He roared at Mama, driving her to the floor and punching her face again and again. The boy wouldn't learn the meaning for the words he called her for long to come, but he could understand the intent. The boy's hand collided with the handle of a knife. It had been Daddy's from dinner. The boy stared at the knife. Another sickening thud, Mama stopped moving, and Daddy was still hitting her. The boy grabbed the knife and ran at Daddy, the knife held high.
Daddy spun and grabbed the boy by the throat.
That's not how it happened.
Daddy held the boy by the throat now, only now the boy was a man, and Daddy was taller, stronger. The man had pale skin and bloodshot eyes, but it had been that way since before he had the air taken from him. He was haggard, having worked for hours, days, nights, it didn't matter, he was so close. Mama's body was replaced by hers. She was dead, but still radiant. He had preserved her corpse because he was going to undo her death, but the mob had found out and they had come for him. The flames of the torches flickered off the walls and in through the windows.
Then it wasn't Daddy holding him, but a noose. His feet dangled on open air as he watched them burn her body as was tradition in this backwater town. He tried to scream, but he had no air, and his serum didn't work. He wasn't healing. He wasn't surviving. He was dying.
That's not how it happened.
Now he was in a grave and she was eating him alive. Her golden hair tickled his nose as her teeth ripped his lips from his face. Her perfect face was covered in his blood, and he couldn't scream because the noose was around his neck and his mouth filled with dirt and he couldn't even scream. He couldn't even scream.
That's not how it happened.
Then how did it happen?
You didn't die, for one.
How do you know?
Call it a hunch.
The dreamscape wavered. The grave was replaced with a cobblestone street. Old buildings came into place, their grey stone wet from the rain. In the gutter sat a frail girl with raven black hair and green eyes. Something about the shape of her eyes reminded the boy of himself. He caught a look at his own face in the reflection of a puddle, and realized that the shape was the same, even if the color had never been similar. The girl was pointing a knife at him. She had declared she was going to kill him if he didn't give her his coin purse. She didn't know about the knife under his sleeve, by his wrist. She wasn't worried.
And she couldn't see Daddy behind her.
He moved with an unnatural speed, and yet Daddy was faster. He was atop her in a moment, beating the little girl that could very well have been his sister if the eyes were telling the truth. Daddy was beating her to death like he had done Mama, and the ground had turned to tar and he couldn't save her.
He couldn't save his sister.
He couldn't save Mama.
He couldn't save HER.
Who is this "her"?
It was summer. The man was a teen. He was walking with her hand in his. Her golden hair fell to her waist and blew in the breeze, flowers interlaced. Her dress was white, then it bloomed red. Time stopped for him as she fell to the ground, an arrow sprouting from her back. When she hit the ground, the scene shifted and her head was being held up by Daddy, sitting on a pile of furs. Her dress had been ripped to shreds and she had been beaten, but the arrow was nowhere to be seen. The boy tried to go to her, but he couldn't. His legs and arms were tied to a post and there was fire burning beneath him. The fire leaped up and seared at his flesh, consuming him as Daddy broke her neck and threw her limp body to the wolves he was keeping chained in the corner. He could only watch as they tore her body to shreds, the pain of losing her worse than the pain of the flames eating him alive.
That seems close to the truth, but a lie again.
The dream stopped and a woman appeared. Her hair was long and straight, hanging to the middle of her back like a black shroud. She was naked, her alabaster skin almost as pale as his was in the vision with the girl. Her skin showed evidence of years of fighting, scars from blades and arrows and bolts of magic marring her flesh in so many places it looked like she had been intentionally allowing the wounds to scar. Among the scars were tattoos. Runes in some ancient language, tattooed in black and red and covering many of the scars, some woven into the scars. She looked at him, showing a face that was not typically beautiful, but a work of art in its own right. Intelligence brimmed from her fierce green eyes, eyes that seemed so much like his used to be, and yet still different. "You know we were warned of the risks of a battle in dreams, Inzema," she said, as if scolding. "You should have prepared for this." She gestured and brought back an image of Mama. She gestured again and an image of the girl from the street appeared beside her. She seemed to be studying it.
How...how are you...
"Shush, this is taking a lot of concentration, especially while I am dealing with my own nightmare." The woman gestured, and Mama's face seemed to age ten years in a single second. The woman tapped her finger against her cheek, assessing it, then waved again. Mama's face was rearranged, her jaw malformed, one eye blinded and looking in the wrong direction. An indentation formed above her blind eye. "Well I'll be damned. That's why."
"You already know. It will make sense when you wake up. Half siblings." She laughed and disappeared. Daddy replaced her, the image of Mama and the girl disappearing like fog. The fire burned at his legs as Daddy started stabbing him in the stomach with a jagged knife. Over. And Over. And Over.
In the forest, Qarosimae woke. Her own dream had been easy to deal with. Had she not been expecting it, she would have fallen for it immediately and as thoroughly as Inzema had, but her awareness broke the captivating spell of the dream as easily as a glass pane upon the cobbles. She stood and brushed her robes off, retrieved her glasses from where they had fallen, and replaced them on the bridge of her nose. She looked down at the thrashing form of Inzema, still trapped in his own dream. "I know your secret. Big brother, how distasteful."
A realization struck her, and she smacked her forehead. "Oh, frost, fire, and arcane. I was supposed to seek out Accalia in the dream!" She sighed and looked around the woods. "I suppose that I can just wait to guard the bodies from beasts..."