Note: this fanfic is inspired by the Dark Dice Podcast (a live play D&D horror podcast), that I’ve been listening to in recent months as I work towards the release of my second novel next week. They have a fanfic contest and here is my entry. I haven’t write a fanfic in more than 10 years, so this was quite an interesting activity.
Withour further ado here is the story.
Carved Dreams of Love & Sorrow.
By Ricardo Victoria
Under regular circumstances, sleep would be the best respite for the weary, but not for Soren Arkwright. His weary bones claimed for rest after the latest hunt, but his mind wasn’t that kind to go there. To the dreams. Then again a hunter deprived of sleep is of no help to anyone during the job. It’s a risk. And Soren preferred to minimize risk if possible. In his line of work, the hunter that manages to live to old age is the one that gets into the practice of managing risk. And he was not planning to die soon, even if he felt like he had been living for thousand years.
The barn that has been hosting him since his arrival to Ilmater’s Hope, while not exactly the best accommodation in the town, had something that the local inn didn’t have: privacy. For Soren’s dreams were not the kind to be shared by mumbling in his sleep. While he didn’t want to sleep, he would have to or he would collapse from exhaustion.
Soren took his equipment off, leaving it neatly accommodated in a corner near the improvised hay bed. Then there was the lamp. That accursed object that he has had for who knows how long. Really useful, utterly creepy, completely unsettling and cursed. And yet he couldn’t remember a day since he had become Soren, that he hadn’t have it by his side. The things it did to the souls of the dying or long dead was nothing but torture. But useful torture nonetheless for his line of work. He put it as far away as he could from his makeshift bed.
“No need to add fuel to the fire of the nightmares,” Soren muttered to himself, and the goats keeping him company. His best hope was for a dark void of dreamless sleep until the next morning. “Then again, I never get what I want.”
Soren looked at the makeshift hay bed. The owner of the barn had been kind enough to lend him a couple of threadbare blankets to use over the haystacks.
“I’ve seen worse,” he muttered. “I’ve had worse”.
It wasn’t the best bed in the world, but certainly beat sleeping in the cold floor, or worse, in the limits of the town, where the Dead Pines began. At this point in life, he would take this as an improvement. If only it meant that he could rest.
Soren lay upon the bed and staring at the ceiling of the barn, closed his eyes in an attempt to conjure a blank sleep.
This was one of those time he wished sleep had evaded him.
It always started the same way. Darkness, voices whispering the name of the “Carver of Dreams”, a temple lit by torches, a foul smell, his hand bloodied as he lifted a dagger from the open wound of a being he had sacrificed to It. To the god that had promised to return to him what he had lost. It was a weird experience to see himself from afar doing those acts, carving sentient beings with the help of his hooded followers. It was as if his body, his mind and his soul were separate entities now.
“Hahahahahaha!” Soren heard himself laughing. And his heart ached. The pain was so great that he dropped to his knees while grabbing his chest. As he struggled for air, gasping, the room twisted around him, rotating at incredible speed, as if he were at the eye of a small tornado.
Soren blinked a few times as his eyes accustomed themselves to the bright light of day. He was in a younger body, fitter, stronger, full of vitality.
“Soren!” a female voice called after him.
He knew Soren wasn’t his real name. Not in the dreams in any case. But he couldn’t remember his real, original name, if he ever had one. Thus in his dreams, he was Soren, as always.
Sitting under a tree, during a warm summer day after a hard day at helping repair the walls from the damage caused by the last monster attack, Soren was taking a needed break. Wearing only his leather pants and a white shirt, the young man was spreading avocado over a couple of toasted slices of bread.
“Soren! Soren! Where are you? Oh! There you are!”
Sored looked up to see who was calling for him and saw her. The woman that occupied his dreams and every free thought he had while awake. She smelled of raspberries. Her dark brown hair flowed freely as she ran towards him, carrying a small bunny in her delicate hands. Her most striking features were her eyes., Bright, full of hope and determination. Her voice was clear, melodic, sweet and but with a hint of hidden force. Soren couldn’t remember her name, as hard as he tried. But he knew his heart belonged to her since the first day he saw her at the castle.
Soren looked up to her.
“That is a nice bunny you have there.”
“Phillipus? Yes, he is. The only good thing from that meeting with another suitor. I hate those things. They are so vain, so boorish. They think that their riches make them better than anyone.
“Would you like to share an avocado toast m’lady?” Soren offered one of the toasts to her. “Maybe it will help erasing the bad taste said meeting left in your mouth.”
“That sounds delicious my gallant knight,” She sat next to him, set free Phillipus and took the toast.
They ate in silence for a few minutes. As Soren prepared a third toast, he looked at her and smiled.
“I don’t think your father would approve of you consorting with the likes of me, m’lady.”
“If I listened to my father,” she replied with a laugh. “I would be prancing around in silly dresses, blushing at the poor attempts of seduction from the entitled brats of the ruling families of this place. Luckily for us, I prefer to listen to my heart.”
“And what does your heart say, m’lady?” Soren looked at her eyes, making her blush.
“That I want to have a life outside this walls. To live a free life, next to a gallant knight,” she replied, staring wistfully to the few clouds in the otherwise fine day.
“Lofty dreams m’lady. But I don’t see how you plan to achieve that.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I have a good idea where to start, with the gallant knight,” She smiled this time. Her smile turning into a wide grin showcasing her pearl-like teeth. They made her eyes shine with greater intensity, like stars.
“Then allow me to offer you a helping hand,” Soren took her hand as he leaned to kiss her softly in the lips.
As he kissed her, the tornado engulfed them. Soren was transported once more to another time, another place.
He was tending to his horse as the sun set in the horizon. It had been a long week of combat and he barely made it alive. If he didn’t know better, he could swear that his liege was trying to get rid of him by sending him into increasingly dangerous missions. But that would mean that he found out about Soren and his daughter sleeping together several times.
Right in cue, as it is bound to happen in the dreamscape, she appeared, running towards him. Her face betrayed her increasing fear. She grabbed Soren’s hand and led him to his horse.
“He found about us. I’m not sure how. You have to escape. My father won’t let us stay together.”
Soren looked at her. He knew this was a possibility and had been running possible scenarios in his head. Maybe if he talked with the lord. Maybe he had earned the right to be a suitor of her by virtue of his skills at the battlefield. Surely he would prefer to have a son-in-law capable of defending his domains from attackers, instead of those spoiled brats. But deep down he knew that wouldn’t ever happen. No. she was right. Running away was the only option. But not without her.
“I can’t leave you. I will face him if I must. I will earn his approval one way or another,” Soren said, looking at her and kissing her hands, to reassure her that everything would be fine.
“The only thing you will earn is your death!” her father yelled across the stables, followed by his two most trusted bodyguards, the same men that had trained Soren for years and had made him the most lethal knight in the land.
“I don’t want to do this sir. You are my liege. I bound to serve you,” Soren said, trying to defuse the situation. To gain some time.
“And yet you disgraced said bond by besmirching the honor of my daughter!”
“He has more honor than any of your sycophants, father!” She replied, interposing her body between Soren and her father. But Soren gently set her aside with one hand, as he drew his sword with the other.
“Silence child! After I’m done with him, I will deal with you!”
“You won’t do anything of the sort,” Soren replied through gritted teeth. He knew how the lord dealt with his wife when she disobeyed. Soren wouldn’t allow him to put a hand on her. “To protect her, I will do what I must.”
“Attack! You filthy brigand!” the lord launched an attack that Soren parried with effort. The old man might had been a great fighter in decades past, but not anymore. Soren was more concerned about the two bodyguards. They would prove a tougher challenge.
“Stand aside,” the lord said to his bodyguards with seething voice. “Honor demands that he is mine.”
A great fighter, Soren thought, but not a smart one. The duel was quick, barely a couple of parries and attacks before Soren’s sword skewered the man through the heart, result of the age gap. A quick and painless death was better than the man had deserved, and Soren was regretful of doing it in front of her, but the dice were cast.
The bodyguards launched into an attack to avenge their lord, while Soren prepared for the battle of his life. As he raised his sword to block an attack, the tornado swallowed all of them, and everything went dark.
Soren’s body was aching, every bone in his body hurt, every cut throbbed. Bu the worst pain was that of his soul. If felt as if someone was carving his dreams for some nefarious purpose that eluded him. Soren opened his eyes once more. His body was older, as currently, bleeding from the left arm, as her, his wife was tending to his wounds. She smiled at him and Soren returned the smile. He looked around, they were sitting outside in the porch of their humble home, in the outskirts of the forest. They were wearing peasant clothes. Her hands were delicate no more. They had grown stronger and with calluses, the mark of hard labor. Her eyes were the same though, shining like stars.
“I’m sorry for having you dragged you into this life,” Soren said, breaking the silence.
“I have no need for material things. I don’t care if we have to sleep with the pigs during winter, and break our backs during harvest. As long as I have you at my side, I’m happy my dear Soren,” She replied with her sweet, melodic voice, barely changed by the years of hardship. “But I do wish you had left those soldiers alone. You are all bruised and you attracted more attention than needed.”
“I had to do what I was raised to do, protect others.”
“Always my gallant knight,” she said, as she kissed him in the forehead.
Noise of horses galloping in their direction broke the kiss. Both looked towards the road and saw a band of knights riding towards them. Soren stood up, looking for his sword, the only thing he hadn’t sold after escaping. The only thing left from his time as a knight. She took the pitchfork that was near the door and stood in front of him.
The riders stopped, and the leader of men, a man taller than Soren, decked in armor plater, with long, flowing hair kept away from his face by a silver circlet on his head, dismounted his warhorse and approached the couple, his hands raised in sign of peace.
“Soren Arkwright?” the man asked, with a deep voice and a thick accent.
“Who wants to know?” she asked.
“I’m not here to hurt you m’lady,” the man made a small curtesy towards her. “Or Soren. I’m here because I have an offer for you. From the king.”
“From the king you say?” She asked again.
“Yes. May I come in? I will leave my weapons outside, with my companions,” the man looked at the other riders, still on their saddles.
Soren and his wife looked at each other. Years of loving marriage under the stars had allowed them to develop the silent language that only soulmates can.
“Alright,” Soren said, looking at the man to the face, dropping his voice an octave. “But if you attempt anything or hurt her, you will see firsthand why I’m a wanted man.”
“That’s part of the reason why I’m here. I’m Commander Asphodel,” the man said, extending his hand to shake Soren’s. “Of the High Guard. The Darklands have become a very dangerous land.”
“Well,” Soren replied as he shook his hand and led him to the inside of the house “You can’t expect different from a land with such name.”
Soren, his wife and Asphodel took a seat at the wooden table that made the main piece of furniture in the room.
“Our King and the King of the Elves have been creating a pact with other forces that I’m not in liberty to disclose yet. With the aim to stop whatever is creating such perils.”
“And what does that have to do with me? With us?” Soren asked, confused.
“I’m under orders to put together a band of the best fighters, warriors, hunters on the region, to serve as strike force to destroy anyone or anything helping this source of evil in planned, secret and precise attacks while the Kings march to war. A covert team if you will. Of course I would like to have the fabled former knight Soren Arkwright in my team. Your skills at arms and as a tracker are the stuff of legends, even after this time.”
“It seems that what I’m not good is to keep hidden,” Sored replied, ruefully.
“No offense, but we knew where you and m´lady were staying since day one. Her father was after all, someone close to the crown. But the King is a romantic at heart so he ordered us to leave you alone as long as you keep your head down. Which you did until that bar fight. Was all that necessary?”
“Those guards were hurting the waitress. It was necessary,” Soren said with a tone of voice that left no room for further argument.
“Anyways,” Asphodel said, retaking the original topic of conversation, “The King wants you, like me, to join us in this effort.”
“And if I say no?” Soren asked, looking at his wife. “It’s a dangerous request. And I won’t leave my wife alone.”
“You will then be taken prisoner. Which really I don’t want. It will be a waste of resources.” Asphodel rubbed the back of his neck. “But if you say yes, and being aware of both the dangers and the need to keep safe your wife, the King has allowed me to offer you the following: just payment for every job you come with us, protection for your wife while you are away and within certain time, a royal pardon, freeing you from persecution from any past or recent crime. And after that probation time is done and the pardon granted, you are free to go. You could even take a few extra jobs of your choosing to get better payment. I think is a good offer.”
“What do you think my dear?” Soren asked to his wife.
“I don’t like the idea of being separated from you, or that you are risking your life.” She replied
“But it could free us.”
“Sigh,” She said, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Ok, take the offer, but only if you promise that once you get the pardon, you will stop.”
“Good,” Asphodel said, standing up. “We leave the day after tomorrow. I suggest you put your business in order.”
“The only business to order is spending the day with the love of my life.”
As Soren kissed his wife, the tornado grew again, transporting him to another time. Taking him away from his beloved wife.
“One last job my dear,” Soren said as he packed up his things.
“You always say that,” His wife replied, ruefully. “The King pardoned years ago and yet you keep taking jobs. You always promise that one last job and you break that promise. You have done it so many times by now that I don’t expect anything from you. It’s like you don’t want to be with me anymore.”
“Please, don’t say that.” “This is my last job, I swear. The payment I will get from helping to bring down that warlock and his cult will set us for the rest of our lives. I can finally give you what you deserve.”
“How many times I have to tell you that I don’t care for those things?”
“You say that. But I see you staring at the ladies in the town, and the dressed they buy, at their houses. I just want to give you the life you deserve”
“What about what I want?” She raised her voice.
“I swear. One last job and then I’m done for good. I will become a gardener here in town if you want.”
“If you exit that door, I can’t promise you I will be here when you return.”
“Yes you will. Because you love me as much as I do. And I always return to you and you know it.”
“I will see you soon my love.”
As soon as Soren crossed the door, darkness swallowed him.
“If you let me go, I will give you anything your heart desire. Riches beyond your imagination. Your own fiefdom.” The warlock said, begging for his life as he crawled away from Soren. They were alone, in the deepest part of the warlock’s hideout, a cave barely lit by torches. The fight had been long, as the warlock led a band of cultists dedicated to a god with no known name. Both sides had lost men, until Soren had managed to break the cult´s defenses and carved his way through them, chasing the warlock. A depraved man that had murdered countless as sacrifice for his eldritch deity.
“I don’t need anything of that. What I’m being paid to kill you is enough for me. And I already possess the most valuable thing I could want in this plane. And I’m going back to her as soon as I finish with you. Any last words?” Soren said, sarcasm dripping from every word he uttered.
“Ah, so you are one of those. A hopeless lover that regrets leaving who he loves behind every time someone hires you,” the warlock said, mocking Soren.
“Interesting last words you are saying,” Soren replied, pointing the tip of his sword to the chest of the man.
“Even love can be destroyed, fade away. People die. But if you let me go, I will give you that,” the warlock pointed to a lamp resting of a wooden table. “That lamp has the ability to bring back the souls of the deceased to their body.”
“They would remain dead anyways.”
“Not if you use the lit the lamp next to them right after their death. They will linger between life and death long enough for you to find someone to heal them.”
“You are lying.”
“I swear it is true. My god gave it to me. It never lies.”
“Well,” Soren smiled. “There is only one way to verify that, don’t you think?”
He pushed his sword through the heart of the warlock, and the air echoed with a preternatural scream.
Soren found himself walking under a fading snowfall, down the familiar road to his house. He smiled. His last job, and he meant it this time, had secured him a small fortune. Enough to take his wife away from exile at the edge of a forest and to a nicer house, with all the amenities she desired. As he walked, his smile faded away, for a column of smoke rose on the horizon, from the exact location where his house was. He dropped everything but his sword and the lamp and ran, as faster as he had ever run. Until his lungs hurt and his drumming heart was knocking the walls of his chest with force.
Soren arrived at what was left of his home. Everything was burned to ashes,
“No. No. No! Not again! Not this.”
He grabbed the lamp and placed it near her lifeless body. If what the depraved warlock had told him was true, it could bring her back to the land of the living, just long enough to find her a healer. To make a miracle work. He was Soren Arkwright after all, the hero that had made the impossible, possible. He had done that to serve others. Why he wouldn’t do that to serve himself?
Seconds, more akin to eons for him passed. As if hit by a bolt, her body trembled and she sit, screaming at the horror of her bloody wounds, at the churning pain caused by her broken body.
“What you have done my love? Why you are making me suffer like this?”
“I… I… I need you.” Soren replied as he hugged her, sobbing. “I don’t want to lose you. I can make this better. I can find someone to heal you. To bring you back.”
“It can’t be my love. I’m dead. I have to go.”
“No! Please don’t go. Don’t leave me.
“There is nothing you can do my sweet Soren. You can’t change the past. Your abandonment.”
“I know I could have done things better. I could have been a better husband. To pay you more attention… I know I can be better. I promise!”
“It is too late now. See, I’m dead now. A spirit about to cross to the beyond. You lost me, you lost us. You squandered our love. You are still alive. You have to return to the living, move on from here. It’s not healthy to remain trapped in this space..”
“No! Please let me stay a little bit longer. I promise I will never leave your side again. I will be a better husband!”
“It can’t be my love. I don’t belong to this plane of existence anymore.”
“Please I beg you! I will do anything!”
“Anything you say?” Her smile turned into a wide, wicked grin showcasing rows of sharp teeth, her eyes shapeshifted into two red orbs, with a third one appearing in her forehead. It wasn’t his wife anymore, but a creature made of… the very same matter that nightmares are made of. A mockery of a human being he once loved with all his heart.
“Yes!” Sore replied without doubt, tears running down his face
“I can give you want. More time with her. If you seek me once more,” the creature whispered with a voice that didn’t sound human.
“I don’t care; I just want to see you again. I will seek anyone that can help me to achieve that.”
“Do you seek him?” the creature whispered before disappearing as if it were a mirage.
The knocks on the door became louder as Soren stirred from his sleep. Pulled from the deep well of memory, regret and sorrow, his mind broke free as he opened his eyes. Groggy, he stood up and lit on the lamp near the barn’s door. His breathing was heavy, his chest hurt and there was this void in the mouth of his stomach. The dream eroded from his mind as he took a few steps towards the door. It was nothing but a distant, confusing memory now.
Soren opened the door just enough to see who was. In the darkness of the night he couldn’t see anyone in his line of sight. He blinked a few times to wake up properly.
“Down here,” a female voice called, startling him. There was something… familiar in that voice. Something that reminded him of the past, of the lady in his dreams, a fading memory.
But it can’t be, he thought, as his heart gave a jump.
He looked down and stared at his interlocutor. In front of him there was a woman, a dwarven paladin. Her soft features betrayed the strength of her heart and the worries currently running through her head. But her most striking features were her eyes. Her eyes had a spark Soren hadn’t seen in… who know how long. Those eyes full of hope and determination that rekindled Soren’s soul. A reminder of another soul, another time that he yearned for but now it was long gone, to never return.
“Are you Soren Arkwright, the Monster Hunter?” the dwarven paladin asked. Her voice was clear, melodic yet firm and forceful. His heart ached, as the woman continued. “I’m Sister Tsavorite Cavernsfall, I here because I have an urgent matter to discuss with you.”
Soren smiled. Monster Hunter was a better moniker than the other whispered in his nightmares. He smiled at Sister Cavernfall. Maybe she would like to share an avocado toast while they talked.