After being lectured by the nurse about the importance of safety when participating in sports, I thanked my brother and went to bed. The girls in the room lowered their voices to whispers and giggles when I entered, but that had stopped bothering me the first week I spent at Frailman's. I ignored the less-than-pleasant stares I was getting from my buddies and thought to myself, Don't look at them, don't look at them, don't look at them.

I climbed into the bottom bunk I had been assigned to by Marilyn, captain of the cheerleading squad, beauty queen extraordinaire, and self-appointed boss-of-everyone-who-doesn't-apply-three-layers-of-lipstick-a-day. Coach Johnson stuck her head in and called lights out, finally affording me some quiet. Kevin may not be the sharpest crayon in the box, but that punch did a number on me. I needed to sleep it off.

In my dream, I was in a damp, dark cave with walls of rough, gray stone. It was very barely three feet across, but it was so tall, I couldn't see the ceiling. The sand was cold and uncomfortable on my bare feet, but I walked for what seemed like hours through the dim passageway, feeling claustrophobic from the tight space.

Eventually, I reached a dead end. I stood with my hand pressed against the smooth, black stone wall like I expected it to move. The rock was extremely reflective- maybe it was obsidian. I was wearing strange clothes- a kind of tunic made of flimsy green material on top of a black form-fitting body suit and a belt with a knife scabbard around my waist. A bracelet of blue translucent beads on my left wrist pulsated with a soft glow.

After standing there for moment, I turned to leave when I heard a low rumbling sound beneath my feet. I tensed, not moving a muscle. It happened again, louder this time, followed by the sound of water rushing through the cave. A wave of water up to my knees hit the wall behind me and was absorbed into the sand. The rumbling noises continued, now constantly shaking the ground.

I started running in the other direction, hoping to find an exit. More water rushed into the cave in larger and larger waves until each wave was at least four feet tall. The water was up to my waist, but I kept pushing through the cave, desperately fighting the force of the waves. When the water became so powerful I was losing more distance than I gained, I realized I was too late. The water was up to my neck and the waves just kept coming, some going over my head. I pulled a silver dagger from the sheath at my side. How long had I had a silver dagger? I began to carve letters I didn't understand into the wall, barely able to stay on my feet. Each wave that hit me sent me farther into the cave, back towards the wall. One large wave was enough to knock me off my feet. I held onto my dagger, trying not to stab myself as I was carried back to the black wall.

When I finally reached it, I hit it with enough force to crack a rib. I yelped in pain, grabbing my side, struggling to keep my head above the water. The waves were hitting my face, and each one brought in another mouthful of salt-water. Every breath was agonizing as my lungs filled with water and my vision blurred from pain and lack of oxygen.

Suddenly, the wall behind me began to melt away. I mean, it was literally heating up until it scorched my back and rushing away with the water. I barely had time to cry out before I was slammed onto a cold, hard floor. The water sluiced away, leaving me coughing and sputtering on my stomach, unsure if I was even alive. I rolled over onto my back and stared at the ceiling. I thought I heard a soft hissing noise, but my ears were ringing already.

As my eyes adjusted, I realized I had been in this room before. I recognized the mural of past rulers glaring at me disapprovingly from the dome-shaped ceiling. Life-sized statues sculpted from blue-specked marble lined the walls, their pale pink glass eyes expressionless.

Countless torches lined the walls, but the eerie green light they cast seemed to sap the heat from the room. I slowly sat up, evaluating my injuries. The room was so cold, my body numbed and the pain faded away. An ominous presence drew my attention to the far wall.

Half-hidden in the shadows were two thrones of pale green quartz, padded with royal blue cushions. Moonlight filtered through a stained glass window high up on the wall. A tall dark figure reclined in the right throne. Suddenly, and inexplicably, I felt infuriated that this person was present in the throne room. They just seemed so… out of place. I forced myself to stand.

"Welcome, triya. I've been expecting you." His voice was low and reassuring, his accent mysterious and inviting, his tone warm and kind. I didn't know whether to trust him or not. Taking a few steps forward, I gathered my courage.

"Who are you?" I asked, cringing as my shaking voice echoed through the cavernous hall. Less loudly, I added, "Why did you bring me here? And why did you call me a tree?" The man laughed out loud in a way that, if he hadn't been making fun of me, would have made me want to join in.

"My dear Xyct," he purred. "You are about to be part of a glorious undertaking- the start of a new era!" I had no idea what he was talking about. What did he mean, a new era? What is a "Xyct"? Involuntarily, my hand grasped the hilt of the dagger. I saw something glint from the far corner. The hissing sound grew louder, and I saw something fall from the other throne with a heavy thud. I froze as a diamond-shaped head with glowing, red, slitted eyes emerged from the shadows, followed by the rest of its long, scaly body.

"Xyct," the man warned, "I wouldn't suggest trying anything… irrational. I can honestly say I despise any form of combat. I find it an unnecessarily messy business." The snake stopped advancing and slithered back to its master. I saw the stranger's thin, pale hands reach down and lift the beast onto his lap. I shuddered to think this man was so comfortable around any kind of reptile.

"Wh-what do you want with me?" I demanded, trying not to show how shaken I was. There is nothing scarier than snakes, especially big ones. Suddenly, the entire room shook violently. I stumbled and fell, smashing my head on the floor. Statues tipped over and shattered, tapestries fluttered down from the walls, the torches fell from their brackets and were instantly extinguished by the freezing cold black stone. Then, after what seemed like a few minutes, the tremors stopped. The only light came from the moon.

"Xyct." I sat up, my head reeling as blood trickled down the side of my face. "Our time here grows short. I cannot make me wait any longer." He stood, the snake hissing loudly as it hit the floor. As he stepped from the shadows, I gasped at his grotesquely misshapen face. Even with my vision blurred from the tremors, I could see his smashed-in nose, his yellow, sunken eyes, and his wide, thin-lipped mouth.

I unsteadily rose and tried to turn and run, but my feet stuck fast to the floor. He advanced slowly, limping as he favored his right leg. He wore heavy ancient Greek armor, like a hoplite. He stood a few feet away from me glaring at me with those creepy eyes.

"All I require," he rasped, suddenly sounding reptilian, "is the bracelet." I glanced down at the bracelet, which was now glowing brightly. I instinctively moved to take it off, and then hesitated,

"Why?" I demanded. "What do you want it for?" Another tremor shook the hall, but I remained standing due to my legs being frozen. He inched forward, reaching for it. I held it out of his reach, wondering why he wouldn't just take it himself.

"Give it to me!" he screeched, his voice losing all human likeness. Suddenly, the room lurched and began to fall. The man's eyes glowed red, and he vanished in a flash of green light. Now alone, my feet were freed from their confinement. I turned back towards the tunnel, but was shocked to see the wall had reformed somehow.

Trapped in the throne room I sprinted to the far wall, searching frantically for an exit. Then, the window broke, and mud began to pour through. As the last bit of moonlight was blotted out, I found myself stuck knee-deep in the mud as it rose and began to fill the room! I wriggled and twisted, but I couldn't break free. I was trapped.

I squinted in the darkness, trying to make out shapes, but there was no light except for the strange bracelet. Oxygen started to run out. Mud up to my neck constricted all movement save for craning my neck to avoid suffocation. Soon, the mud was packed so heavily, I could hardly breathe. Mud filled my mouth and eyes, and my world went black.