The sky was black above the fields and hilltops of the landscape that never seemed to end. But, on occasion, a flash of white would dive from very high up, swoop along the bloodied meadow stretching miles and miles around, and disappear within the carnage that was the battlefield of the Demos Oneiron. Bodies littered the once clean, live space between two lines of hills, home now only to death and decomposition. The war was brutal and seemed as unending as the ground from which deadened weeds and trees, once living to bear fruits such as pomegranates, now disintegrated from the fires started by the warriors to flush out their enemies.

From above, a creature with white wings sprouting from a pale human form descended upon his enemy, a black-winged man with similar features and blood-drenched chestnut hair. The two brawled violently, aiming claws and swords and teeth at appendages and limbs and arteries. The white-winged creature tried his hardest, but his opponent's hunger for blood drove him to victory. The black-winged man sliced off his enemy's head with one vicious swing, sending the skull arcing across the field and to the feet of Dorian Banning.

Dorian, dressed in a pair of grey pinstripe pants and a damask vest, smiled as he rolled up the billowy white sleeves of his shirt and bent down to retrieve the head at his feet. The smile on his face never left, even as he assessed the bleeding head sullying his once clean black shoes, black globs of blood plopping onto the leather and laces. He made a noise in his throat at the head, amused by the twisted expression on the face, and then looked at it with a sudden disinterest. With a shrug, he dropped the head and swiftly kicked it back in the direction of the bloodied meadow.

He reached his hand up and removed his fedora, bringing it to his chest while bowing to the black-winged man in the sky several yards away. It was a mocking gesture that brought a snarl to the man's lips, but Dorian merely chuckled and faded away as a sword came rocketing toward him and lodged itself into the

dirt where he once stood.


It was too dark. She felt the crisp air around her move over her skin like a living, breathing creature. It unsettled her. The land beneath her feet was warm and soft, moist enough that she could draw pictures with her toes in the smooth dirt, but not so much that it would become mush in the crevices. It made her feel like a child again. The scent carried on the wind was so subtle and powerful all at once, the sweetness of something akin to vanilla swept through her senses. It stole control of her body. Her eyelids fluttered down until they were closed, and ever so slowly her skeleton disappeared. She was weightless, floating it felt like, but the dirt was still beneath her feet. She was invincible, incredible, insatiable. Nothing could hurt her. Nothing could bring her down. Nothing could give her enough of that smell!

Her legs collapsed beneath her, but she did not tumble to the ground. No, she swayed down as gracefully as a feather. The soft, warm dirt cushioned her knees and she wanted to lay in it. Never mind that she could not see, because she felt everything around her. The earth below her thrummed with life hiding in the soil, waiting for permission to sprout. Water rushed and whispered over mossy rocks at all sides, singing a series of melodies with the swish of the grass and the sighs of the mountains.

It all stretched on so far around her. She was at the focal point of a vast space. No, she was the focal point of an infinite space! Her fingers pressed into the ground, and she gasped when a surge of strength raced through the tender tips and moved directly into her blood. Her breath left her in a shaky, quivering exhale that the sweet air seemed to greedily accept.

An urge to stand suddenly took control of her limbs, and she rose to her feet in a single, elegant motion. It did not stop there, she learned, for her arms swung out to give her enough momentum. She spun, innocently twirling with immense power coursing through her body, again and again and again. Five times. Seven times. Ten times. One continuous movement of a body as light as a feather.

The dirt remained soft and pliable beneath her dancing feet, the air cool and sweet against her smiling face. She had no restraints, no pressure. Only ability and an inexplicable trust in the world around her which she could not even see. She finally, gradually, lost her momentum and stilled, feeling the crash of a waterfall reverberate through her body.

Something told her to open her eyes, to face the darkness she had seen surrounding her before, when she first arrived. She did not fight it for this feeling was too great to pass up, too enthralling to lose over something as trivial as saying, "No," to her own instinct.

The darkness that once dominated her vision was now a lie. Soft blue lights lit the smooth features of her face. It cast gentle shadows over her cheeks and made her pale skin glow as ethereally as the radiance originating from before her.

She felt her eyes sting from the brightness, but did not raise a hand to shield herself. She was drawn to the color which moved ahead of her, dancing on the wind like a dandelion seed, like a leaf, like a feather. It called out to her. She followed. She stepped forward and stretched out her hand, aimed for the light that had no shape or life but was beautiful and tragic. She had to reach it.

She broke out into a sprint, and each collision of her foot to the ground sent shocks through her limbs, draining her of the strength the precious earth had given to her only moments before. What felt like moments before, when she was twirling like a ballerina she had seen as a child, who she admired and labeled the most indestructible creature on the planet.

But each step tired her, placed weight on her limbs and heaviness on her eyes that did not belong in such a place as this. It was not right. It did not fit. She stopped. She was not breathing heavily, even though her lungs burned with the need for oxygen. Did this place have oxygen? What exactly was she breathing in, anyway?

She inhaled slowly, standing straight as she glanced around. Dirt stretched on for miles, leagues around her. She could not see the rivers she felt. She could not see any of the grass or the trees which had made such beautiful music with the water and the wind. She closed her eyes, willing those feelings back, wishing for the strength to flow through her blood once more.

She whispered, "Come back," with an urgency she did not realize she possessed. "Come back," she repeated. "Come back!"

The blue light disappeared, immersing her in darkness once again. The wind slammed against her skin, slithering along her legs and arms, which were suddenly more bare than she remembered. Her eyes snapped open and despite the black, she looked down at herself. She did not need vision to understand her clothes had vanished.

What happened to the sweater she had gone to sleep in? What happened to the pajama bottoms she had worn over her underwear? Why the hell was she wearing an undershirt? She tugged down the fabric as best she could, but it would not stay lower than her hips.

There was no anxiety inside of her, no embarrassment or shame from her lack of clothing. Something should have been there emotionally, but she felt nothing. She asked her body what was wrong with it, not expecting an answer and luckily not receiving one.

"This should be extremely embarrassing," she reminded herself, but nothing changed. "Maybe you should wake up now?"

She pinched her arm for good measure, but nothing changed. She looked around again, and suddenly the rivers she had heard earlier were only feet from either side of her. She nearly jumped backed, but strangely, she was still unaffected.

"What the hell is going on?" she muttered, taking a step closer to the river at her right.

It stretched on too far for her to consider crossing, and beyond it she saw a break of land, but the rushing of waves continued. She heard it distinctly at her back as well. The water traveled at varying speeds, and she could detect that not all the beds of the river supported water. She thought she smelled fire. Some of the paths carried a dangerous aura.

"How can I know all of that?" she asked herself, turning to see if what she thought she knew was actually true.

And in her sight was a river of blazing, smoldering fire. Flames exploded like fireworks into the air, snapping and spitting viciously. Molten lava bubbled as it crept its way down the riverbed, a thick mass of nothing but vibrant oranges and reds. Steam rolled in gargantuan waves into the midnight blue sky, rising in transparent columns until they dissipated at a level too high to be visible by the human eye.

Her first instinct was to step away from what her body recognized as an intense heat too overwhelming for the body to handle, but she felt nothing against her skin. No radiation from the calm cool river behind her, nor from the raging flames before her.

"Anna," a voice called out to her right, bringing with it the strong scent of sweet vanilla tobacco.

She twisted to face the speaker, and found nothing but black instead.

What felt like hours later, her vision returned, and before her stood a pair of horned gates that reached from the muddy ground high up into the sky. They gates were carved ornately, columns forming the tall passageway while spirals swirled around the stiff white material. The gates seemed to be attached to the very air and sky, the edges almost melting into the darkness and hiding the very fact that there were even edges at all.

She walked forward, her body lulled into a sense of peace as she neared the towering architectural beauty before her. Time escaped her when she finally reached the opening doors, and stepped into the brilliant white light that shined down on her and illuminated everything behind her for miles, though she could not see it.

Then blackness was upon her again, and this time when her vision returned, it was not the sight of the gates that met her gaze, but the carnage of a savage, war-devastated landscape. The gasp that passed her lips echoed throughout the meadow, and she slapped her hands over her mouth as a breeze ruffled her hair and the bloodied grains of the field before her, carrying the scent of pipe-smoked vanilla.

The sight of the mangled bodies, strewn about the meadow, crushing grains and seeping blood into the ground, was too much for her. She turned on her heel to run back through the gates and cried out when she saw the gates had disappeared to be replaced by a pale, half-clothed man with massive white wings. His body was stained with a red she could only assume was blood.

She stumbled back, placing her hands out in front of her to ward off the creature standing in front of her. He paid her hands no mind and took one large step forward, grasping them gently in his own hands. With a grand smile on his face, he pulled her to him and spun her around like a child.

"Welcome, Anna, to the Demos Oneiron," he greeted, and everything went black once again.


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