The horns of Castle Britannia blasted at the hour of midnight, summoning the able to her steps. It’s call reached out across the Plains of Avarice, and the Straits of Woe, beckoning the faithful to the Palace of the Immortal Lord British. And it was there, in the Great Hall we gathered, awaiting the physician and her promised panacea.
The withered demoniac elucidated on the Councilor’s condition, cackling as she described the cure. Charlotte was trapped, bound within her subconscious. Something inside her, something buried deep in that eternal nightmare, would not let her free.
Her pale form lay broken upon the altar. Wisps of black hair draped across her face. It was as though part of her soul had been torn free, leaving her a desiccated husk. To free her, we would have to force ourselves inside her. To reduce ourselves to our base elements, our Prima Materia, and penetrate the dreamscape of her sleeping mind.
There we would find her soul.
We appeared in a realm of shadow, the entropic black of night stretching as far as the eye could see. Yet it was as though we would see forever. The ground shifted beneath our feet, as though it were a living thing. Dead trees, painted in various hues, stretched upwards like skeletal claws out of the murk. The laughter of thirsting gods met our ears. What was this place? As we hoisted each other to our feet, and searched the horizon, a bed materialized before us. A hearth, a rug. All the accoutrements of a young girls bedchamber.
“Charlotte…!” a voice called out.
A young girl stood in our midst, smiling. Not the Charlotte we knew, but the Charlotte she had once been. A girl, whose eyes still burned with the life long since stolen from her corporeal form. She beamed up at us, and turned, springing off into the nightmare.
“Do we follow?” one asked. “Do we have a choice?”
We followed her through the dark, through the bleak oblivion that threatened to consume our minds. The ground seemed to shift beneath us, the pungent aroma of blood overpowering. Trees and flowers in a rainbow of color bled before us. As we descended further, black fire seemed to leap out to lick our boots. And it was then that we saw it, bloodied knitting needles, bits of flesh, bandages and severed hands. Severed hands, everywhere.
“Has anyone seen Charlotte with her gloves off?” “No.”
A scream. We turned. Charlotte was gone. We rushed forward to catch up to her, weapons drawn, words of magic on our lips. Would our spells succeed in a world without mana? Would our Gods answer our prayers in the subconscious of Charlotte’s shattered mind?
We surrounded her as something approached. We could hear it, and even the stalwart amongst us were overcome with a feeling of dread. Not our dread. We were in her mind, sharing her feelings. And then, she appeared. Aurora, Matriarch of House Christianson. Charlotte’s Grandmother. And every nightmarish ounce of dread the little girl felt, we too experienced as if it were out own.
The desiccated crone’s tongue hung from her mouth. An eye seemed to fall out if it’s socket. Wisps of hair stuck out at odd angles. Her nails, blooded, seemed more like claws. And she clutched the stump of a severed hand in her own. Her malevolence was directed towards Charlotte, who ducked behind us for protection.
“Come to Grandma.”
The scream overpowered us, the wail of a banshee as she launched herself at us. Not one, but seven. She came at us, hacking, slashing, stabbing and cutting our limbs. A demoniac, who in this hellish dreamscape had taken on the qualities of a Greater Daemon. We shoved back, and she came again, biting, clawing, attempting to get at Charlotte.
One shove the Crone to the ground, his hammer coming down on her head. It exploded in a wet splash of bone and matter. “Kill them.”
Our numbers crashed to the floor of the Great Hall, bits of armor and bloodied weapons splashing across the marble floor. Groaning, we pushed ourselves to our feet, and saw the malevolence in the physicians eyes, an amused cackle echoing from the crones throat.
The second night, we followed Charlotte again. Into the domain of her fears. We watched as she stood over the coffin of a young man, Michael. “Are you dead?” Into his bedchambers, where she discovered the fear of his marriage to another. “No!”
Michael, her sweetheart, her lover, appeared before us, bloated, fat and inhuman. A vile, gibbering reimagining of himself in life. And when he screamed, it brought all to their knees as he launched himself at Charlotte.
Michael’s bleeding corpse on the ground, he seemed to change, to become how he imagined him. We turned to Charlotte.
“We must return.”
“I can’t. I am being held.” She held up her wrists, as though to indicate shackles. And we watched in horror as her hair greyed, her skin sagged, and she became the same desiccated image we had fought the first night. She had become her grandmother.
We stood again before the dais. A third night. “Her mind has had all it can handle. Her body will die if her soul is not retrieved.”
We stood again in that black realm. Charlotte, the imagine of innocence, had become a hag, dark and full of hate. “You will die, unmourned, unremembered…!”
“It is an illusion,” one called. It was her, but not her. It was the future, what she would become, the image of hatred that Aurora had been. How we knew that, no one knew. Perhaps her own subconscious thoughts were seeping into our own.
We managed to subdue the hag, and at last, she became the High Councilor.
“I am being held,” she held up her wrists again. “Something is attempting to tug me into the dark. I don’t know what it is. I…”
“Then you’re just going to have to learn to fight it, now, won’t you?”
She nodded. “I am going to attempt to stop it.”