I woke up in the middle of the night, breathing heavily. Sweat trickled down my forehead.
Another nightmare. But there was something else, something important. I could feel the memory of the dream slipping away so I clung to it as hard as I could. What was it about? Where did it happen?
Who did I meet?
My fists clenched around a handful of dirt. The ground was still moist from the rain, and since we’d lost everything in Chart, we’d spent the night on the bare earth under the open sky. The ground was cold, just like in the dream, but the marble floor had been colder.
The marble floor had been colder.
I remembered! The House of Wisdom, the dream had taken place in the house of wisdom. No, it wasn’t the House, at least not exactly.
The moon was out, but the trees blocked most of the moonlight such that it fell like a spotlight. Or a reading light.
A reading light!
The room! The room at the back of the library. I went there in my dream, or I dreamed I was there. And there were chairs, two armchairs. I sat in one and in the other…
Someone else, there was someone else there but I couldn’t remember who.
The answer came to me but my memories began to fly away. I rolled over and jabbed my finger into the ground, stubbing a nail. The pain made me lucid. I held onto the word echoing in my head, letting all my other memories about the dream fade away.
My finger traced the word on the ground. It was a name, a name I’d heard before, outside my dreams. I could feel my memories collapsing the way the House had collapsed.
The house collapsed? Was I thinking about the time Demetrius stole the House of Wisdom from me or when Villa Serenity collapsed in a big pile of mud? I couldn’t remember, but it was important. This was all I remembered from the bad dream, I’d held on to it with all my might.
Wait, what did I hold onto? The House? No, I lost that. I shouldn’t have lost it, but I did. Completely my fault, nobody else to blame. Not even the person I’d met in my nightmare.
My head hurt. My finger hurt too. I looked at it and found it was bleeding. I cursed and sat up. Did I hit my finger on a rock or something? There were drops of blood on the ground, but no rocks. There were grooves in the mud. Almost like a word or a name.
I squinted and in the bleak moonlight I read the word on the ground, “Static.”
The grooves had splotches of my blood in it. I’d written this, but I didn’t remember doing so. All I remembered was waking up from a nightmare with no recollection of it.
“Static,” I whispered under my breath.
“Oh, you’re up, Val?”
I turned around. “Elenor, you’re on watch?”
“Yeah. Why are you up though, had a bad dream?”
“I guess,” I glanced at the word on the ground. “But I can’t remember what it was about.”
“That’s how dreams work. They’re not real so they don’t deserve to be real in your head either.”
“I’m too groggy to tell if what you said was pure genius or pure crap.” I stood up.
“Probably a bit of both,” she said.
“I’m going to the stream but switch with me when I get back. You look like you could use some rest,” I said.
“I’m fine. Just have a lot on my mind, that’s all.”
“Let me guess, thinking about Moxy?”
“No, and I don’t want to talk about it.”
A stronger reply than I’d expected. She was probably thinking about Moxy, after all. I didn’t say anything else as I left the camp, making sure to step around Sally, Jerome, and Ben’s sleeping bodies. I also made sure to step over the word I’d scrawled on the ground, obscuring it with my footprints.
At the stream, I washed the blood and mud off my finger. Then I applied some Alver juice so it wouldn’t get infected. I’d used The Cannon while applying Alver juice to the others’ wounds, but I didn’t do that for myself. It was a tiny cut and I felt like I knew how to use the stuff myself by now.
I washed my face and gargled. The water was cool, clear, and drinkable, so I drank my fill. In the distance, I could make out the city of Devel, our next destination.
Sally made us camp at a distance so we’d stay hidden. Unlike the other cities, Devel’s Collar zone was also warded off, although not by walls, so we needed to sneak in regardless of which part of town we wanted to stay in. Squinting, I saw the large canal surrounding the city as well as two canals that branched out from it, dividing the city into three areas. Two bridges were visible from where I stood, one connected to the area with small, earthen houses and huts, the other to the middle area, which was better lit and had nicer buildings.
The only walls were around the first zone, which I assumed was where the Headers lived. If there was a bridge across the canal that led to that area, it was probably on the other side. Not that it mattered, since we wouldn’t be going there at all.
I was a little worried about Devel. So far, my experiences with cities in this world had not been pleasant. In Sett, I’d been attacked by blurry wolves that made things explode, and in Chart, I’d gotten caught up in political riots and almost died in a burning building.
Sally assured me there was nothing to worry about. Devel was her hometown, she knew it like the back of her hand. We were going to go in, grab some supplies, and get out as fast we could. We’d be out of the city in hours. Nothing could go wrong that quickly.
Under the moonlight, Devel seemed blurry, hazy, almost ethereal, like a mirage or a hallucination. Or perhaps a dream, a dream like the one I’d had that night.
I left the stream and took over the watch from Elenor. The rest of the night passed uneventfully, giving me ample time to mull over the word that I had scribbled in the ground. But even when the first signs of dawn appeared, and the others began to wake up, I was no closer to unraveling the mystery of Static.