Aniziza came from the far North, through the dried-up earth of the Kalaman Wastes where kingdoms once stood proud and powerful, and passed the Seas of Sorrow where nothing else lived except the ghosts of those that died in countless battles. She was from a fallen city, a lost city that once was a mighty bastion of magic and lore.

Thelmane was once a city of great knowledge where many libraries were scattered all across the city’s seven districts. They were frequented by the many sorcerers that often stayed and resided within the city. Thelmane’s king and queen were sorcerers too, and they well wizened folks who treated everyone equally, from the lords who practiced magic, to the peasants who knew no magic at all. Everyone was loyal to their king and queen, and to Thelmane, and no other city in the North, whether large or small, stood to defy Thelmane and wage a meaningless war.

All of that was gone now. Thelmane, her home, was but a memory.

The red sun, that scorched atop a midday clear, was dying, as the wise old fellows of Chtuk realized earlier on. They predicted the sun would die in two years’ time. But as it was all predictions, none have come to fruition because the sun was still the sun, red and still dying even after several years had passed. It didn’t make a difference for the citizens of Chtuk though. They had already lost all hope in finding an answer to their dying world. The wise old folks didn’t seem so wise at all, even though they came from different parts of the world where different methods of thinking were practiced. Aniziza too had lost hope. She lived amongst the survivors whose homes were destroyed by the only world they had. The world went mad and unleashed its fury before the world started to calm and proceeded to die.

They were all outcasts, forced to travel far and live in the last oasis where a small lake was not dried up yet and the land was still fertile enough to grow small crops. They called this place Chtuk because it was the last word uttered by a madman who came with the first settlers. The sun fried his brain one day as they found him sprawled on the village outskirts. This was also the day that the first star began to disappear from the night sky.

Chtuk was not really a village of huts and houses. Rather, the villagers made their homes within caves that bore through the side of a mountain. They were crude apartments, a far cry from a lord’s lavish home yet suitable enough for a peasant’s lifestyle. There were no lords or peasants in Chtuk though. There were only survivors and death all around.

On days where there was nothing else to do, Anaziza would sit by the shade of an old oak and pass the time by knitting something for the children of Chtuk. The oak was one of two that still lived in the dead forest, but the she knew that it too would be like the others as the tree had thinned its leaves from its sore branches. She recalled the poetry of her land and spoke upon a poem that she heard when she was young. The wind listened and carried her voice. The children, who hid behind the dead trees, listened as she spoke with her soft voice, like an orator pleasing her audience.

The house of glass,

tall and splendid, that shone in colors of the sun

Of its people,

tall and proud, cried of to the world with praises of joy

And they sung to the sun that was their father,

He gave them warmth

And they sung praises to the earth, their mother,

She gave them love

So the house of glass lived for eons

Until such that time, the thief, sent her agent, death

And the house of glass crumbled,

But its people, through fearful true,

Accepted their fate

Knowing that such would send them to her –

The earth, their mother,

To be forever – eternal.

Aniziza wept. The wind mourned the passing of her people as it howled, moving the branches of the dead trees, creaking like the sound of a coffin’s door brought to a close. The children clasped their hands close to their hearts, as they were moved by the words true to the memory of a passing, and they realized the value of things and how fragile everything was.

“Aniziza,” said the voice of a child, “Your story has bothered me.”

Her thoughts were interrupted. Aniziza, with her long auburn hair that danced with the wind, turned to the little one and wiped the tears off the child’s face.

“I apologize, Skilda. If I knew you were back there, listening, I wouldn’t have orated something else. Something cheerful perhaps?”

“That’s okay,” said Skilda changing her tone to a more lively one. “We like your poems, that’s why we listen.”

The other children agreed as they came out of the shadows of the trees. Each a child from a different race: orcs, elves, dwarves and men. Each in awe of Aniziza who radiated a different aura. There was something about her and this intrigued the children of Chtuk. What was it like to be her? How was it like to live in a place of magic and wonder? These were questions the children’s parents told them never to ask her. They didn’t know Aniziza that well and were wary of her sorcerous heritage. The villagers knew of Thelmane, which was a place they only heard of in tales, and each tale was different as some were good while others were bad. Some depicted Thelmane as a city of snobbish lords and cruel sorcerers with secrets and agendas. Others pegged Thelmane as a city of hopes and miracles.. But the children didn’t care about these stories that were but trivial to them. They cared about the stories from the one who came from Thelmane itself! They were fond of Aniziza and the stories she told. Aniziza, on the other hand, rewarded them and gave more than a story – she gave them a glimpse of magic!

***

A dragon was seen circling Chtuk early that morning. The next was in the afternoon, and soon the village was in a panic. In the span of three days the dragon was seen circling, looking for something, flying off in the mornings, returning and disappearing in the afternoons. And then one day the visiting stopped. The dragon wasn’t seen for several days after.

Aniziza was bothered by this. Something at the back of her mind warned her of the dragon and the thought that maybe it was somewhat connected to her. After all, There were dragons in Thelmane, though she doesn’t recall an encounter with one. She was, after all, young when Thelmane fell and her memory of home was all hazy. She put all those thoughts aside and concentrated on the children, who listened to her weave another story of Thelmane (that was filled with half-truths, yet amazing nonetheless), beneath a dying oak in the middle of a hot day.

“Oh look, up there!” gasped one of the children.

The telling was interrupted as the children looked up towards the midday sky. The dragon ripped through the clouds making an appearance once again. The children’s fear of the dragon was gone and was replaced by awe and wonder. They clapped and cheered.

I found you! It is you! Do you hear me?

Who was that?

The voice was hoarse and almost non-human.

I am old and ancient, like you, like the death that creeps through this world. Our duel is still unfinished.

Aniziza was confused.

We will meet soon and our fates shall be decided.

Where?

Beyond the wastes. Back there where it all began.

The dragon vanished in the horizon.

“I can’t! There is nothing left to return to!” Aniziza screamed into the air asking the wind to carry her message to the fleeing wyrm. But she never got a reply from the dragon.

“You have spoken to it?” the children asked.

Aniziza nodded.

“Do you know the dragon?” asked one of the children.

“No…” she replied uncertain, “Maybe. I don’t know. I’m confused. I have a headache. No more stories this day children. Maybe tomorrow. I have to rest.”

***

There were whispers in the village that Aniziza spoke to a dragon. Of course, this story was supposed to be ignored because it came from children, as children were supposed to tell half-truths when it came to things spectacular, but a dragon was  circling the village and the elders could not brush-off such a thing. They sat behind a long table with Aniziza standing in front of them. The small make-shift hall was full with some of the villagers eagerly looking in from small round windows. Four pairs of old eyes inspected Aniziza. They scrutinized her, studied her from head to foot. She was different from everyone, that was evident enough, for those from Thelmane were tall creatures, lean and fair, with eyes bluer than the dried-up oceans, and hair redder than the freshest rose. Thelmanians were once humans, as the story goes, but their constant usage of magic whether for pleasure or business, warped their features to remain different ever since. Those were old stories and not even Thelmanians knew the truth of it. They just accepted things as they were.

When she first came to Chtuk, Aniziza was feared, not because of her appearance but because she was a creature of magic that most of them didn’t understand. Magic, after all, was feared more than respected in the in the world before everything fell to chaos. She was driven away and lived in the outskirts of the village, but as the world slowly died, the villagers became accustomed to her because she was useful. They eventually accepted her when she told them that she had no magic left and that magic, like everything else, was gone from the world. That acceptance was yesterday. Now, like before, she was once again feared. A dragon appeared, and that was a problem, because dragons were never seen from the world since ages ago and that a woman from great Thelmane had communicated it. Such an event could spell disaster to the village that was the only remnant of civilization left in the world. The old folks of Chtuk feared that something bad might happen to them. They had to act.

“We are old,” said an aged woman, the leader who everyone looked up to, and her name was Adelaise. “We are fearful,” she continued after clearing her throat, “And we are all that is left. Should we be afraid, mistress of Thelmane?”

“No,” Aniziza said softly.

“We don’t know you well, or your kind,” said another of the elders, who was a bearded thin man. “We have heard rumors that your kind speak to dragons and that once there were dragons in Thelmane.”

“Yes,” said Aniziza stoically, “I think.”

“Is that all you can say?” asked another, arrogantly, by another old man with thick spectacles.

“Calm yourself, Joparth,” said Adelaise who was quiet irritated of the old man. “Aniziza, though different from us, has been in this village since the world started to die. She is integral and has helped many of us here. If this situation with the dragon had not come, we would not have this meeting.”

“I understand your dilemma,” said Aniziza, “And I apologize if the matter at hand has caused distress amongst you. Though it pains me, I am leaving.”

There were murmurs among the crowd. The members of the village council looked upon each other and discussed.

“We did not mean to be disrespectful, Aniziza,” Adelaise finally said. “Please don’t take offense on our demeanor. It’s just that the talk of dragons, and one that has not been seen in a long while, showing up near our village, is something that truly unnerves us.”

“Worry not. The dragon calls for me and only me.”

“Where will you go? Where does it call you?” Adelaise pleaded.

She,” corrected Aniziza, “She calls me back to Thelmane.”

“But I thought Thelmane is no more?”

“Let her go back…” interrupted Joparth but was silenced after wicked stares from his peers.

“I will go back, old man, and I hope that it makes you happy that I may eventually end up meeting my doom.” Her eyes narrowed at Joparth. The old man crumbled back on his chair.

The children, who were listening with their elders, looked to each other and cried out wails of plea. Their restless feet moved them towards Aniziza, their storyteller, their muse, and their arms clamped on her thighs and waist with no intension of letting go.

“Hush children. Don’t cry.”

“But you are leaving,” cried one of the children. “There won’t be any more stories. There won’t be any more dreams!”

“Yes,” was all that Aniziza could say. Her words had suddenly left her mouth and her thoughts were blank. How could she not come back? The children needed her stories. The thought of her leaving tore her apart.

“Calm down children, let Aniziza go… she has to go now,” said Joparth, now composed with a wry grin.

The children noticed this and said: “You want her to go! You wicked old man! You want her to go!”

The parents of the children intervened seeing that the little ones were getting agitated. The old folks tried to pacify the children as well, but the young ones were adamant on protecting their storyteller. Their grips tightened at every pull, every hush that the adults tried, but in the end it was Aniziza herself who pleaded with her audience.

She knelt and said, “Be strong. Be brave. I know my stories are a way for you to block the nightmares that is happening to our world, but my stories will not always be there to give you comfort. Remember that I have only told you the good ones – the ones that will make you brave – but there are also the bad ones, and these will make you afraid. This is the truth of it and the reality is that there will always be bad things to counter the good. That is why you have to be strong for yourselves, for your parents and for Chtuk. This is the last place you will ever have. Live well and take heart my stories as I have cherished them since the first I heard of them. I’ll be going back to Thelmane. Don’t you want me to go back home?”

Sniffs. Sobs. They shook their heads.

“But the dragon?” said one who was the smallest.

“Remember, I come from Thelmane, and in Thelmane there is…”

“Magic!” cried the children in unison.

Aniziza nodded. “I am a storyteller, and in Thelmane, storytellers are the most powerful of all magic users.”

The children smiled. They were brave now, and strong, and they believed their Aniziza could do anything because she had her stories – she had her magic!

***

The candlelight flickered lightly. A light breeze passed. There was only darkness and the outline of the forest that looked menacing amid the emptiness that slowly tried to eat it. Aniziza pondered while she sat on her tree. She claimed it for herself, not that anybody minded, and the children gave her that tree that they called the storyteller’s tree.

“You are good at telling stories,” said Adelaise who emerged from the shadows. “Was this your trade in Thelmane – your magic, that is?”

Aniziza looked far before answering. “I don’t know,” was her answer. “I can’t remember.” She had long been chasing that memory, of who she was before Thelmane fell, but all she remembers were the happy ghosts of great magic and fantastic things that was the envy of the world.

“It seems that this emptiness that is eating everything is robbing you of your legacy,” said Adelaise with a somber tone. “Doom creeps upon us and it seems there is nowhere else to go. Are you really going back and face that dragon.”

Aniziza didn’t reply. Her silence spoke a million reasons not to, but her heart demanded that she face the dragon because her fearful heart said that she had to.

“You are without your magic,” said Adelaise while lifting her gaze towards an empty sky. “I should know. I am old and have heard many tales of the magical peoples of Thelmane. You cast no thaumaturgy when you recite your tales. How will you fight this dragon?”

“Again, I don’t… know.”

“If all is uncertain, then why go?”

“Because I have to.”

“I cannot sway you to stay and there are people in the village who wish you gone. But be as it may, I thankful for what you have done to the children. All of us here were once proud races who warred with each other to no end and because of this catastrophe we have found ourselves banded together in order to survive. As I said before, you were integral to our survival. Because of you, the new generation have learned to live with one another. Something that the kingdoms and the tribes of the old world haven’t done before. You have given the children stories, something that they dream upon every night and in the mornings they wake up hopeful. We owe you a debt of gratitude. Here, take this…”

Adelaise took Aniziza’s hand and placed a small amulet, which was a green rock bound to a leather string.

“This is my gift to you, Aniziza of Thelmane. It has been my mother’s, the Queen of Serndaya, the proud kingdom of the Southern Reaches. May it bring you fortune in your travel back to your home.”

The young Aniziza looked to the old Adelaise. Soft crystals started to trickle. She wrapped her arms around the old woman and started to cry.

“There, there, dear child. You poor thing.  If there was ever something that we could do, we could have done it, but this task is solely up to you. I feel… that in the end… everything will be alright…”

Adelaise started to cry as well. She knew of the weight of responsibility that had been pressed upon Aniziza’s shoulder. She too bore that weight when she came to this ragtag village of scared individuals with no leader. She took it upon herself to lead. She was, after all, a princess. Her kingdom was gone now, so was her title, but she had the ability to lead and thus the responsibility of Chtuk fell on her shoulders. She knew how hard it was to make dire decisions, to leave and never to come back. She saw if first hand when her mother had to go to war against opposing kingdoms. She feared for Aniziza.

“I don’t know why the dragon called for me or what awaits for me in Thelmane, but I feel that it is too important to ignore.”

“Go without hesitation,” said Adelaise pushing Aniziza at arms length. “Go without fear. The doom will catch up with us, but if you finish before it does, return and we will see the end together.”

Aniziza smiled. She wiped her tears, picked up the candle, and with the wizened old woman, she returned home to prepare for tomorrow.”

***

The red sun burned bright that day, brighter than any other day, like it was trying to live again! It burned through the empty wasteland where cities and towns once stood. The dry ground hissed with its dead skin crumbling and blown by the hot winds. Kalaman used to be a busy area of trade, where caravans would usually line up the wide dirt road that connected the different cities of the different kingdoms. Now it was flat, desolate, depressing. The kingdoms and its people simply were not there anymore.

She made her way through this deathly place once, a long time ago it seemed, and only now did the memory of that trek resurface in her mind. She questioned her sanity. Was it suicide to go back, now that her water was almost depleted and ration almost gone? How far was it to get to Thelmane? Twenty, fifty days? She was not sure anymore. The travel wore her down. The memory of the trade routes waned in her mind, like the memory of Thelmane and its peoples – like the many other things in the world both magical and mundane that have gone and disappeared from existence.

She sat on the hot ground, tired, exhausted, breathing heavily from the heat that not even her cloak could protect her from. It played tricks on her eyes. She thought she saw rows of caravans plow their way through heat and death. She thought she heard music and chatter, and singing and laughter, gliding with the wind that moaned.

Where are you headed?

To Urthunik, riches kingdom in all the west!

No, Otyunis is the richest kingdom! The most powerful with men that bear the thickest armor and the finest steel!

Ha! On Yammarin there be mounted riders – Wyrmlords that rule the skies!

No! Thelmane! In Thelmane there is magic, and stories – the greatest of all magic!

They laughed and they hurried on. They vanished along with the red light that slowly faded from the world.

***

Aniziza continued on after a few short stops. The starless night was an easier travel. The coldness was her burden during this time though, but it was far better than the daytime heat and the tricks that were played in an unforgiving environment. She held a lamp in the darkness. If it were not for its light she would be walking in total blackness. There was no noise except for the short murmurs of a cold restless breeze that stabbed through her clothing. Although her body ached in the journey, her mind slowly adapted, and soon she began telling herself that all will go well – at least before she faces the dragon.

A story! Yes, the travel wore her down so she needed a story to tell, and so she created one like she always does, when the stories of Thelmane were all but exhausted to the ears of the children, when new words wanted to be formed. This story was about a woman who traveled a wasteland towards her doom, and she told this herself, in several voices that were characters, and she listened to herself like a mad woman trekking in her crazy mind.

And she saw in the darkness, that emptiness that ate the world, a man that was ancient, who held a staff in his hand and a book in the other. This man she knew from the ages past, a powerful mentor who taught her magic, who taught her how to live in a world of men and their wars, of kingdoms and dragons and gods!

Gods… where were they now?

At that moment she heard the scuffling of feet that sang with the murmurs of the wind. There, at the edge of the light from her lantern, stepped an old man that emerged from the darkness. On one hand he held a staff and on the other a book.

“…But I just made you up!”

“And you did,” answered the old man, his voice low and firm. “That is your magic. Would you like me to accompany you on your journey?”

She nodded and they went off into the dead of the night.

“What is your name?” she asked.

“You should give me one,” he answered.

“But don’t you have a name?”

“That depends on you,” he answered with a smile. “Come, we should get going.”

“Where?”

“Home.”

Aniziza looked at the old man, studied him carefully, and found him familiar, like there was a connection between them. They walked in the darkness with but the glow of a lamplight lighting their way. She felt the uneasiness within her, with the hands of fear that slowly crept, clawing and inching its way to het heart. She tried to control it, pushed it back deeper into the recesses of her mind, further away from that part of herself that tried to understand.

“You didn’t bring anyone with you?” asked the old man who looked straight ahead. “You face the dragon without an army. Do you know that dragons need armies for them to fall?”

She was silent.

“Don’t you have questions to ask?”

“I do,” she replied hesitantly, “But if I ask them, will your answer be the truth?”

“Perhaps. Maybe after you name me. You are, after all, the storyteller.”

“If I name you, will you answer me truthfully?”

The old man nodded.

“Then I shall call you Anthonin, after the famous wizard of Thelmane.”

“But I am Anthonin.”

“No you’re not. Anthonin was real. You’re something I made up.”

“Isn’t that the same thing?”

Aniziza let go of the conversation realizing that she would not win against the old man’s reasoning.

They slept in the day and traveled through the night until they were in sight of a marvelous city that glowed with the red dawn. Thelmane! Yes Thelmane! City of wonder and awe. There it was, just as she remembered it, still marvelous – still standing? How could it be when she knew that Thelmane was no more? She was young when it fell… she just realized that she does not remember how Thelmane was destroyed.

“Impossible!”

“No, not really. The stars are gone from the night sky and that was possible.”

“How?”

“Ask yourself that.”

Aniziza looked back to Anthonin and to Thelmane.

“You left your fears here, and those fears ate away the dreams,” said the old man.

Thelmane, the Dreaming City, the heart of everything, lost its storyteller, and thus it crumbled, only to be revived every time the story is told, but the dreams could not sustain the universe if the stories were not continuously told. Aniziza finally remembered. She left because she was afraid that she could not tell the stories anymore, that her fears brought about nightmares that plagued the halls and streets of Thelmane – that she could wake up one day without a story to tell. That was her fear, and she left those fears in Thelmane believing that everything will be alright, that the heart of everything that ever existed in this dreaming world will survive without her. But she was wrong, and thus the fears took over the dreams and they became nightmares. The emptiness took over – that voracious beast that swallowed everything including the magic that sustained the world. People woke up to nothing, and that drove them mad, drove them to extinction until there was nothing more of them. And then she realized that they, the peoples and the places and events, were her stories, for it was the dreams of Thelmane that sustained the universe, and it were here that stories that made them real.

Anthonin sat on a outcrop and stared at Thelmane. The city glowed amid the darkness that surrounded it. He said nothing. He knew that Aniziza had grasped the reality of her situation. She remembered. Seeing Thelmane was the trigger. She must go back an revive the Dreaming City. She must go back and tell the stories. The wheels of life must turn again. The dreams will power this. Her stories will make life real.

Aniziza walked towards Thelmane alone. It was because she wanted to escape that made all the bad things happen. When was a storyteller never a storyteller? When a storyteller was afraid. She was afraid. Afraid of losing her voice. Afraid of losing her stories. Then she recalled the children. They liked her stories. They were stories too.

O fair Thelmane… I have wronged you!

Her whispers were again carried by the wind.

Thelmane rumbled. Thelmane shifted. The sleeping city started to stir.

***

If it were not for the children and the stories of Thelmane that she told, the city would have been gone, taken by the emptiness that was her fear. She would surmise that every time the great city would rise, the dragon would appear and destroy it. She realized now that she was the last of her kind because she was the only one. Because of her, many of the stories brought to life were lost, removed from existence, all because the storyteller didn’t want to tell stories anymore. The cycle was broken. Because of her fear she had forgotten who she was and the importance of her work. The Lady of Stories and the Dreaming City – one should never be without the other.

Thelmane greeted her with open arms. The return of a lover, a friend, and she felt its heavy breathing, asleep though awake, shifting in its restless sleep. She remembered the streets paved with dark cobble stones that once glistened beneath the radiance of the sun and reflected the light of the stars. Now they were black, reflecting nothing but the emptiness that slowly conquered the world. She stepped in and something filled inside of her. She felt whole again. At each passing step a memory returned.

Children playing in the streets gleefully chasing faeries.

Mounted knights on majestic horses that came in and out of the city.

Griffons and wyverns and phoenixes flew the majestic winds.

Wizards and sorcerers debating on the many issues regarding magic.

Herself sitting on a chair in the middle of a large hall where thousands of ears listened to her stories and thousands of eyes witnessed her magic.

They were gone now, lost somewhere, unable to return. She could weave new stories, but the old ones were lost. It was time for new magic and new dreams. The emptiness must be filled once more! But first she had to conquer the dragon and she didn’t now how too do that.

Down the main street she strode, into the largest and grandest of buildings that slowly crumbled away, and into the main hall she went where a simple wooden chair waited for her. She sat. It felt like old times. The ghost of the past watched her, but only for a moment, and then they were gone. She looked up to see the dome-shaped ceiling open. She knew that the main hall had a ceiling and was never open. Somehow, it was now, and someone left the door open for fear to enter.

The wings of rage flapped beyond the door, and it got louder and louder, screaming madness into her ears. Aniziza fell to her knees and covered her ears. The deafening curse brought her to wails!

The dragon landed in front of her. The marble floor gave way. The beast was bigger than the building now. An illusion perhaps? The hall was no more. Flame and fury surrounded them.

“I am here, dragon!” spat Aniziza trying to hide her fear. The dragon was not fooled though. She felt Aniziza’s heart beat faster and faster!

“Lady of Dreams, Daughter of Stories, this is your home and your graveyard. Welcome back!” Fire and fury hung in the air. “I have scoured the lands and the emptiness beyond where no one could reach and I have searched for you, yet you have eluded me well. I have brought the emptiness to everything in the hopes that you would come out. But no. And then I realized that you have forgotten, and because you have forgotten, you have neglected! Now there is no more.”

“There is still one! Chtuk still stands! Hope still resides in that small village.”

“But it will end after you have fallen. The emptiness will eat what is left of that part of the story. Then I too will fall – a marvelous death and it will be glorious!”

A realization struck Aniziza. She now knew what the dragon was.

“You are fear – my fear!” she told the dragon. The beast hissed. “You are the fear that one day my stories will lose its magic, that the dreams would someday become nightmares! You are the fear that I have of when I run out of stories to tell, that everything will be meaningless –empty. Yes, you are my fear, dragon, and now I remember why I left. I was afraid. It was my mistake and I am the reason for this emptiness that eats everything. I have seen the error that I have made and realized the importance of stories! I am sorry, Thelmane! Dragon, I created you, and I will conquer you!”

The dragon hissed and again spewed fire in the air. Her anger coursed through the ruins of old Thelmane making the whole city shake. And then the beast laughed in a maniacal tone.

“And how will you do that?” spat the winged behemoth. “How will you conquer me?”

“Stories…”

Aniziza began a new telling.

O dreams of fair Thelmane, rise from the ashes of your forgotten past! Rise from the mist of forevermore, from the dead that once was yet shall never be again. Behold the armies of ten thousand! The righteous creeds of lances and spears, of swords and shields weighed by the countless battles against hordes of fearsome foes. Rise, and let your stories be told once more!

From the ashes of a crumbled Thelmane came forth the armies of the forgotten, called once more by the Daughter of Stories to fight for the Dreaming City!

“Rise from the darkness that bound you!” Her voice pierced the dark emptiness. “Rise from the emptiness that has devoured you! Never again shall I forget. Never again shall I fear. I shall conquer you, Thelmane’s nightmare, my shadow!”

From the horizon clouds of fury gathered and marched. Thunder echoed anger; lightning displayed wrath. The rage of ten thousand furies gathered in chants, bolstering a shuddering presence that would bend the will of any opposition! But what they faced was no mere opponent. It was the essence of Aniziza’s fear itself. It was the shadow of dreams left behind by doubt. It would not fall so easily.

The armies of dreams, courageous and strong, sallied forth with maddened fury! Up their lances went. Up their spears came. Their swords held high. Their shields would protect them. Their armors would strengthen  them. The fire came down – the fire of fear – but the armies of the dream fell without a single scream. They were brave. Their fate was to die in battle, and so they did, as thousands were slain, melted, devoured by flame. And there, in the middle of it all, surrounded by the ruins of Thelmane, stood the Daughter of Stories, the Lady of Dreams, uttering words of power, the magic that was the story of the Great Battle of the Dreaming City where armies fought the beast that was fear.

She was herself again. She doubted herself before. If it were not for Chtuk and its children, she would have forgotten how it was to be a storyteller. She would have forgotten the stories. She thanked the children. They made her remember and forced her to tell the stories. They made her remember her magic – her worth.

Aniziza thought she was winning the battle. At one point, the dragon seemed to be losing, but suddenly the momentum shifted, and then the beast had the upper hand. The dragon fanned her wings and clawed her way out of the mob that tried to overwhelm her.

Aniziza’s armies thinned.

But all is not over. From the North they come, and they wield magic!

She spoke new words that formed new sentences, and eventually story came out. From the raging sky came bolts of lightning that crashed upon the dragon’s back. The beast shrieked and writhed. Her leathery wings sparked holes from the bolts of energy. The storm brought forth echoes that chanted spells. The rhythmic speech danced with each fireball cast and each lightning summoned. Anthonin brought his brothers of the order, risen from the ashes of the unremembered, to fight once again for their glorious Thelmane.

The smell of battle rose in the air. The smell of sweat and blood, of sulfur and iron, rose from the bowels of a pit where the dead piled one after the other. Aniziza’s men dwindled and her sorcerers almost spent, but alas the tremendous effort wore the dragon down, and soon she saw the beast weaken. Just as she thought the dragon would succumb, the last of her men fell. Again, the fear of losing stories to tell gripped her, for she knew if she lost the words to tell tales then she would be nothing, and then she saw the dragon regain strength. She realized she was the only one who could defeat the dragon. The dragon was her fear. She had to be brave.

She stepped on the blood-soaked earth and held the amulet that was given to her. There is a story here.  She whispered to the amulet and named it hope. She told its story, about how a simple rock gave hope to the world, in a time when the world was almost conquered by fear.

And she lifted the amulet that glowed green, then red, then blue, and then finally a blinding white light that took away the dragon’s sight. The beast flew towards Aniziza, blindly, in rage, but deep inside the dragon knew it had lost. Before the dragon got near Aniziza, the world trembled and the earth broke. From beneath, ten thousand hands of the forgotten rose from their fiery deaths and held on to the beast that was Aniziza’s fear. Ten thousand hands pulled the beast down amid deafening roars of anger and vengeance.

The beating of a heart stopped. Ten thousand hands tore the beast limb from limb. Vengeance! The dead cried out! There was no defiance from the dragon, no last hurrah or force of will that would make the beast crawl to the last of its breath for one final hurrah. The tale of the dragon story was over. The beast had been overcome and the dead went back to their fiery oblivion.

Aniziza fell to her knees surrounded by death. The bodies of the dead slowly vanished and ceased to exist. She looked up and spoke the stories of the stars. One by one they returned, but she was weak to continue on. Her armies, the soldiers of the forgotten, slowly faded away. Their worth had been used and fulfilled. Their stories had passed on into legend.

“Have we won?” asked a dying Anthonin.

“Yes we have,” Aniziza replied with deep sadness. She sat beside the old man and laid his head onto her lap. “It was a great battle! One that shall not be forgotten, at least in dreams.”

“I will pass into nothingness.  I will not be remembered save for you, that is for sure, but, promise me that the new stories you will tell will include someone like me. Perhaps a shadow of this old one – a master mage!”

She nodded as the mage disappeared.

Great Thelmane… I am home.

The universe would dream once more. It will be a new dream. There will be new stories in these new dreams, as the telling would begin anew with the old completely forgotten (or maybe renewed into some odd side story), except of course for Chtuk that stood as an anomaly, a mystery, a bridge between what once was and what would be. She faded from everything, as did Thelmane, and they returned home to where the Dreaming City would properly dream.

***

Skilda rose from her bed crying. She felt something inside her die. She tried to remember what she had dreamt, but that memory had already faded, and soon she realized she had forgotten what she cried for – who she cried for. Her grandmother consoled her, lifted her from her bed, and together they stepped out into the balcony of their earth-worked home. Up the sky they looked, together, and for both it was like looking at the world for the first time. The different constellations greeted them. Soon, more villagers came out from their homes, out from slumber and into the night. They have awakened for the first time in eons, and they looked to one another, at first like strangers, then as neighbors. All were accounted for, except for one, though they have forgotten who that one was.

“I dreamt of a lady,” said Skilda to her grandmother. “She was beautiful! She gave me this…” The little girl showed Adelaise a green rock bound to a leather string. “She told me it gave her luck. She told me it was called Hope. Can I keep it?”

Her grandmother nodded and smiled. Strange, that amulet looked very familiar. She could not remember where she had seen it before.

And all the little children told their mothers and fathers, their grandfathers and grandmothers, about the lady that appeared to them, and that she told them never to be afraid of anything even if there were dragons that lurked in the shadows of their dreams. They said that this lady went on to her city, which was a big and mighty kingdom, and there she disappeared to forever tell stories. That was all that, as the age began anew, and the universe dreamt once more.