((24 - Kameleon))
April 15th, 802 AT
As Zebra finally drifted off into sleep, curled up alone in a dead stranger's bed, her mind replayed the events of the day. She kept thinking of that strange creature, the larva, and how it had... entirely devoured the other beast. It had unsettled her at the time, and it continued to haunt her now. Finally, though, her eyes closed and sleep claimed her.
This dream was different, somehow, from any other she'd had. More concrete, more real. Zebra could feel the soft... something... under her feet, between her toes. Around her rose massive plants of strange sorts, overlapping and twisting together. They looked like the vines from home, only grown a hundred times larger. Light streamed down from between the leaves above, showering the winding half-seen path with dappled patterns. It felt almost like a dappled green cave.
Zebra began to move towards one of the vines, and found herself already there. She reached out and gently ran her hand over it, finding that it felt strangely like solid crystal. She pushed against, and it bent easily. Then it began to grow stalks rapidly, coiling around her fingers. She drew her hand back, looking around as the light from above began to slowly shift, changing from a soft yellow to a harsher red. Some of the vines had changed as well, no longer simply green but all of the hues of the rainbow.
Something rustled through the bushes nearby. Zebra stared at the bushes, waiting, and after a moment a glowing red eye peered out at her from between the leaves. The young woman took a step back, trying to put the vine between her and the eye, but something caught her foot and she tripped, falling back. Zebra was starting to become afraid. She looked down, trying to get rid of whatever had tripped her.
It was another plant, but it looked like it had fangs. Her foot was bleeding where it had... bitten her. She screamed, and scrambled to her feet, running off down the path into the jungle.
The path twisted, half-vanishing here and there, but always just followable. Plants flashed past, in all colors, shapes, and sizes. Among them were eyes, creatures, something, looking at her, never there when she looked back.
Suddenly she was out in the open. She whirled, looking for the jungle, but the plants had vanished entirely. The ground here was drier, and made of... some sort of small crumbly material, that got between her bare toes. Around her were strange cones, rising up from the ground, made of the same loose matter. They had little holes in them here and there, and came up about as high as her shoulders. Here and there, small structures made of purplish wood connected the cones.
The path continued through the structures, and up the other... side. It was far from eminently clear how the path continued so vertically, as the ground rose straight up like a wall, but the change in direction didn't seem to bother the cones, which continued to dot the ground.
Zebra slowly walked over to the small connecting pieces of wood and tested it, pressing gently down on it. It cracked, fragmented, then crumbled to dust. After a moment more, even the dust faded away. Throughout the area, various other connectors started to crack and fall as well. As they did, they seemed to bring down the cones, which melted away in showers of collapsing dust.
Zebra stood, watching as the structures collapsed, until she was left standing in an empty field, on a lonely path that stretched up before her. She bent down and picked up a handful of dust, letting it slide slowly through her fingers. After a moment, she let out a breath and began to walk forward on the path. Under her feet, it curved upwards, barely noticeable unless she looked behind her.
After a while, she began to see something up ahead. It looked like another structure of some sort, alongside a pool of murky orange water. She kept walking towards whatever it was, trying to make out what it was. She caught a glimpse of movement by the pool, though, and froze.
Whether or not she wanted to be, though, she was suddenly much closer to the pool, or it had come much closer to her. It bubbled and fizzed somewhat, changing colors from orange to ... a different orange, that kind of hurt her eyes to look at. The structure was low and round, with a roof made of various vines spiraling together for support. Zebra stepped back, shielding her eyes, but still glancing at the water often, as one looks toward the light while waiting for one's eyes to adjust.
A robed and cowled figure, very crooked but somehow also heavier or more solid than its surroundings, was swishing the liquid around with a long gafflike stick. It stood open-postured, as though it had already spotted Zebra, although its features were largely obscured. ((Michael Joseph Grant V))
Zebra stood and waited for for the figure to move, attempting to shield her eyes and still watch the figure. It probably looked pretty silly, but this didn't seem to be the time to be worrying about such things.
The sudden stillness in the air carried its voice over. It spoke with a sort of uneven rhythm, pausing in strange places and slurring words together. "What is iit? Has four legs in the morning, an artificing one? It doesnn't talk."
"Excuse me?" Zebra moved a bit closer.
"OoOh. It talks. What is it called?"
"It? You mean me? I'm Zebra." She stared right back at the figure, despite the fact that she wasn't really sure where its eyes were.
The figure's form shifted slightly, as though its gaze was moving inscrutably onto Zebra. As it did, various other less important aspects of the world seemed to fade away. Things like the path and the hut.
"No no no no no. I have zebran. You are not. A talker, a tool-maker. Eliad, maybe?"
"Zebra is my name. I am not 'Eliad'."
"Zeebra is your name. You are not Eliad? What is your name of what you are?" What looked like its head bobbed up and down briefly.
"What I am..? I..." Zebra paused for a moment. "I'm a blacksmith." Zebra didn't really know what's going on, and it showed.
The figure hummed ambivalently, as if to say, "Perhaps," and also, "I see," and also "Let me think about that," and "I am offended," all in one meandering tuneless sound. Or maybe it was just making a noise for the sake of making a noise. It stirred the orange water busily for a moment, its head tilting down again.
Zebra walked closer to the figure, now rather curious.
As she approached, it spoke again. "You do not birth here, blacksmifth Zebera. How is it that you have come to us?"
"My birthplace is gone." Zebra spoke firmly and calmly, but with undertones of anger, sadness, defiance, and all that good stuff.
A tense pause. "Do you seek a new birth here?"
"We who are here are born here. Except for... us... I. Exceptiiing I. And now Zeebera."
"I am already born. How can I be born again?"
The figure began stepping towards Zebra and dropped its stick, which slipped, hissing, into the orange water. "Iss simple, really, very. Just clear your mind and listen careful..."
Zebra stepped back one step before setting her shoulders and holding her ground. As the creature came closer, the outlines of the face under the hood became visible--humanoidal, but still distinctly inhuman--predatorial, in many ways, with a twisted beak and too many eyes.
Its eyes made contact with hers, those eyes, those eyes, glowing that bloody, sickening red--
She woke up.
Zebra lay there, staring at the ceiling, for a very long time.