This vignette deals with the content in the Alternate Worlds post.
Simon stood on the deck of the small merchant, bracing himself against the wooden railing as the hull rocked in the wake of the massive junk that churned through the dark waters ahead of them. The Samaran merchant had barely fit within the golden arc of the Gate that bestrode the causeway to Rocassa.
Simon glanced back, but the jumbled red rooftops of the port city were long out of sight, lost on the other side of the Veil. The horizon has disappeared as well, the heavens completely obscured by a dense fog that crawled along the surface of the water but stopped just short of enveloping the ships.
A Sea Dragon with a head the size of a cow emerged quietly from the water ahead of Simon, its serpentine body undulating behind it, the scales glistening with their own light. Along with its fellow Navigator somewhere ahead of the vast bulk of the merchant, the Dragon had contracted to shepherd the Samaran to its destination. Suddenly the vessel shot ahead, driven by an invisible current called by the Navigators. In moments it was lost within the fog.
Simon’s vessel was too poor to hire the service of Navigators. Its captain and crew would have to rely on darker forces to pass through the dreaming seas of the Veil. As would Simon and the other passengers. Most of them huddled below decks, trying to hide from the toll that was coming. But Simon had made rough passage before, and he knew that there was no concealment from what was coming, nor any pattern to who was chosen to pay the price. So he stood on the slick planks of the deck, free from fetid air and the stink of fear that filled the hold.
He could not have said when the Dreamers first appeared. They rose from the depths of the sea, bulbous bodies and streaming tentacles illuminated by thousands of phosphorescent dots like brilliant, multi-colored stars. Patterns shimmered across their skin, hypnotic and soothing. One of them broke the surface in front of Simon and drifted before his eyes like a soap bubble. His knuckles white where he gripped the rail, he stood transfixed as it extended a lazy tentacle and eased it into his skull.
Disconnected sensations and snippets of past events flashed through his mind in a confused jumble as the Dreamer probed his memories, rifling through them as a thief might sift through a chest, seeking the rarest gems. At last it came to a decision and gave him a choice as to the tribute he would offer. He closed his eyes and bit down hard on his lip, then chose.
There was a terrible pain as if something deeply rooted in his head was being plucked out, then a sense of disorientation and loss, and then darkness.
When he awoke the sun of a new world was beating down on his face as he lay slumped on the damp timbers. Frantically he clutched at the purse hanging from his belt and loosed the drawstring, dumping its contents into his hand. He passed the little tokens and trinkets before his eyes, recalling the significance of each with a brief sigh of relief.
But then there was a single figurine, a small, crude carving of a girl with a terse inscription at the base. In Memory of Maria.
Simon leaned back, squeezing the figurine in his hand as if he could force some essential drop of the past to spill from it. But no memory came.
He heard the muffled pain of plaintive wails rising from below decks through the wood, only to be drowned out a moment later by the singing of the crew as they set about raising the sails to catch the sea breeze that chilled the tears on Simon's cheeks.
Copyright 2009 by Doug Sims