The Messenger heard her scream and reacted much faster than the red haired dreamer.

GO! He shouted, pointing with his good hand down over the river and towards the lake.

That the beast had penetrated their lands so far and so fast was disturbing, and the dreamer soon caught on. He was a clever boy, the Messenger knew, he'd caught enough of a glimpse into his waking life to know that.

They had moved fast, to find Guardians for the girl.

The Agents were dreaming bodies, some more likely than others to join the Messengers. More capable of understanding the fullness of what they were doing. Only Messengers could be Guardians, and both were incredibly rare commodities.

They were fortunate that she lived in a large city. There were many other Agents in her city, and while in other situations locality may not have been an issue, this was special.

This was a waking dreamer, one who could travel without moving. An Oneironaut.

At least one of her Guardians had to be near her physical body, one of them had to witness and watch her as she travelled through the world.

Their options had been limited, and the Messenger on the hill still had reservations about him. The red head had been one of them for years, his body was wasting away as sickness ravaged it, and so he spent more and more of his life in his dreams. The red head would guard her here.

-

The Red head tore through the tall grass, pushing the golden stalks out of the way as he swam through the field to the girl.

There was someone else with him, just ahead, another man, like him.

He knew this girl, and recognised her immediately. They'd been close once, and he remembered holding her, protecting her from something.

Something terrible...

She shouted at him and hit him in she chest.

I didn't do it!

He could see the hand of another man resting around his head height. The cuff of his sleeve was bloodied and the colour from his skin had drained.

He knew this man, he was certain of it. They had all been friends, all of them, even this other man with them. This field meant something; there was something familiar about it, something safe.

But not anymore.

The girl pushed them, not to hurt this time, but to urge. They needed to run.

Something had invaded their field, something had invaded it all.

They were near the Lake and he could feel the House, watching them quietly. There was nothing warm about the distant thoughts of the familiar area. He knew he should feel safe there, but that feeling had been shattered.

The beast was there...

Nothing was safe.

-

The Messenger crouched down at the top of the hill, and his eyes, which saw and knew more than any mere agents, understood everything that was occurring.

Changes were happening.

They had been lucky to discover the identity of the girl when they had. Her master had been arrogant, and taken her to his home, maybe he had simply been desperate. Usually he avoided it when she was with him, the Messengers were always waiting for him, and they would never give up on her.

She fought to remember them, he knew, she understood their language. She would listen.

The number of agents who were eligible for adoption into the group of Messengers was dwindling.

The bloody cuffed body lay draped over the grass, his chest a mess of pulp and exposed ribs. The others couldn't see the gore; they were too low to the ground. He was glad that they couldn't see it; already the girl's dreams were heavily influenced by the darkest of the voices and her waking life was haunted by his shadow.

Soon it would be time and she would be elevated, her powers to dream would spill into the waking world, and she would be their weapon, their tool.

The dead boy had been a good Agent, a good Messenger. The red head also. The dark haired boy, Elaina's physical guardian, the Messenger was unsure of. He belonged to no house; he'd rejected them all in turn, and seemed to remain an agent entirely through force of will.

He was rogue.

He was all there was, and the Messenger couldn't deny that the boy had talent. He knew more than he seemed, and caught on fast enough.

They just had to convert him.

The Messengers had to speak with her, they had to protect her.

Her two remaining Guardians would do that.

Philip and Joshua.

-

Elaina sat in the water, shocked into stillness by the sudden fall.

The woman's screams continued, despite Elaina's arrival.

Her mouth, thrown wide open in full voice, consumed her face.

Stop it. Elaina quietly instructed. There was a reassured self confidence in her voice, despite the unsettling feeling in her belly.

This was not right.

The screams faded and the woman fell silent.

As though the sound had influenced her other emotions, everything seemed to grow clearer and come into focus.

The woman was smiling now; her cries had served their purpose.

She had drawn Elaina to the water.

Her smile was too wide, as if the sides of her mouth had torn, and now exposed too many teeth.

The smile stayed and as time elapsed and her expression remained the same, she became more and more frightening.

This was the woman she'd come to save. Elaina knew that she was special, just like the boys who she'd seen earlier. Just like the man who's dead body was held aloft by the golden grass.

This woman was damaged.

Severely.

She was dressed in a pair of cotton briefs and her breasts were bare, though she seemed entirely unaware of her nakedness.

She simply continued to smile.

Her body was perfect.

Smooth cream coloured skin that invited you to touch it. Her hair was golden like the grass and shimmered as it fell over her shoulders.

She looked like a doll, or a puppet.

A dummy sitting on the lap of a masterful ventriloquist.

The woman was sitting on an enormous man who's chest was also bare. He was sitting low in the water, and his olive skin was slick with sweat. Despite the chill that had taken hold of Elaina, he looked like he was sitting in a hot bath.

The woman's pale bare thigh was pressed into his belly and he held her close to his round stomach. Deep inside his hairy belly was where he power lay.

He smiled at her, proud of the woman who sat with him.

Elaina's eyes were fixed on them. He had a power, a sordid kind of power that lay in the core of his gut, and resonated inside her own. He made her deeply uneasy.

His hair was black and greasy and he wore is swept to the side. He resembled a large Mediterranean man in a spa, but instead of a stereotypical golden medallion resting on his chest, he had a pale golden girl.

She was a far worthier charm for this sort of man.

Elaina hated this man, and her body ached in pain for the woman who sat on his knee. For though her face seemed frozen in grotesque smile, her eyes were her own, and her eyes were full of shame.

There was nothing in the world but the man and his belly and the woman and her eyes.

Elaina felt a hand wrap around hers, a thin hand, delicate and slim with well-manicured fingers. She knew it instantly, but though she tried to pull away from him, she was frozen to the spot. Her eyes widened in fright as she realised this and the man laughed, his belly shaking.

The woman simply stared, her smile still as huge as it had always been, her eyes would not meet Elaina's.

The arm that followed the hand emerged from the water next, as slim and smooth as the hand. Elaina stared down into the water, which must have been deeper than she'd first thought.

The women seemed to sit in a river shallower than the fat man, and it was from the fat man's river that this arm reached for her.

She waited for his face, knowing it so well in her heart and in her mind that she shivered before she even saw it.

His hair was longer than hers and black as jet, flowing around his smooth face. It came closer and closer until it broke the surface of the water and he was there.

Dino.

As was the right of any student learning a new language, he'd given himself an English name, and no matter how ridiculous she thought it was, Elaina would call him by it.

His thin arms wrapped around her and she became stone, her skin paling to the colour of alabaster and she was entirely unable to move.

The fat man couldn't stop laughing, his trap had worked perfectly.

Elaina couldn't move.

-

A pair of hands lifted her from the water.

For a long moment, her eyes wandered around, searching for a new focus. The world was suddenly huge again, and her attention came to rest on a face.

The man who had found her in the field. A safe face.

He had dark hair end clear eyes of a colour she couldn't define. Perhaps they were grey. Colour wasn't important now though, because his eyes were full of concern and he was real.

She smiled.

Then she kissed him.