870 words. Approximately 5 minutes reading time

Tamaya ran through the woods. She didn’t dare look away from her feet to find the source of the howls steadily approaching from behind. She focused her entire concentration on finding a safe path.

A moment of inattention. That’s all it took, and something snared her foot. She sprawled on the ground. The howls took on a triumphant tone. Her heart pounded in terror. Her ankle was in agony. She rolled over so she could at least watch her killer.

Tamaya’s vision faded, and the Guardian’s vision reasserted itself. It convulsed in pain as another nightmare flowed into its mind.

With a ragged breath, the Guardian focused its empty eye sockets on the Receiver. It hung, as always, from a chain piercing the front of its skull. A pool of blood was beneath it, too close and yet too far. The Guardian knew that the original blood had come from its body, long ago when it was a mortal. The rest was a slowly ticking clock counting down to the end of its torment.

As always when it woke up, the Guardian tried to look up towards its feet, bound far above on the ceiling. It failed, as usual. It knew the hopelessness of the attempt, but there was very little for it to do during its few moments of alertness.

Soon, the Guardian lost the fight with wakefulness and fell again into a pained sleep.

Exhaustion turned Tyler’s muscles to water. The smokey air choked him. He didn’t know how long it had been since he had last heard his sister’s dying scream, but he knew that he was not far behind. He should have found the door long ago, but the room’s layout seemed to have changed. He reached out his hand again, felt the foot of his bed. Had he turned around in the choking darkness?

Tyler’s mouth was dry, and sweat evaporated almost immediately after forming on his body. He turned again, to face towards where the bedroom’s window should have been. Was the smoke a little clearer in that direction? He crawled towards it.

There was an echoing CRACK and a sudden pain across Tyler’s back. A burning beam had landed on him, pinning him to the ground. All he knew was agony as the flames spread to his clothing.

Tyler’s agony flowed into the Guardian’s consciousness. How had it ever doubted the power of a Dreamcatcher? The Guardian absorbed the nightmare’s pain, while a few drops of blood dripped into the pool below. The punishment had long since lost its effectiveness. The Guardian could barely remember why it had been condemned to take in all the world’s nightmares.

There was a new trembling sensation coming from the Guardian’s feet. It tried, as usual, to turn up to see them, only to find that it could actually move. It looked quickly down at the blood level. Had it finally reached the Receiver? The angle made it difficult for the Guardian to see the height of the Receiver. Did it actually touch the blood? Was the punishment finally over?

Another tremble, and the Guardian’s feet were released from their bindings. After an eternity of being bound, it had no real control over its limbs. It fell face-first into the blood pool. Blood seeped into the gaps between its bones, slowly forming into the body it had lost so long ago.

Soon, the Guardian had control of its body and felt the need to breathe for the first time it could remember. The breaths came swift and deep, making up for generations without air. A heart beat in its chest, absorbing more of the blood from the pool. The level lowered, and the Guardian could see the ancient path that had once been used to take it to this prison. It got up on four limbs and started crawling along the path.

The blood level continued to lower, and the Guardian made an attempt to stand and walk on two feet. It saw a light in the distance, hurting eyes that had only now started to form in the sockets. The Receiver’s chain dropped from the Guardian’s face. The Receiver itself shattered when it hit the stone of the path.

The Guardian moved towards the light, stumbling with its newborn clumsiness. After what seemed like hours, the Guardian reached the light. It was a cave opening, and the scent of fresh air reached the Guardian’s nose.

The Guardian climbed out into the light and found that the opening was too small for it to go through. It tried to squeeze through and found itself stuck. The constriction put fresh pain onto new-formed lungs, causing a burning sensation. The more it struggled, the more it seemed to be trapped. Stone scraped its flesh raw, and blood started to flow back into the cave. The Guardian screamed, and found that it couldn’t fill its lungs afterwards.

The Guardian woke in agony, terror, and despair. It hung from the ceiling with the Receiver dangling from its face. The blood level was far below the level of the Receiver.

The Guardian tried to scream, but it had no lungs, no tongue, no real body. Just infinite pain and an eternal imprisonment.

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