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Who gets the Dreamers?
by Michael Bard
Michael Bard -- all rights reserved


"Scramble! Scramble! This is not a drill!"

The hollow oak thundered with tiny booted brownie feet and tiny shoed satyr and horse hooves, as the assault team leapt from their beds and ran down the hallway and whooped down the firepole into the launch area. Already tiny sprites had woken the wrens and saddled them up in preparation. Clicks and twitters echoed through the launch bay as saddle straps were tightened and equipment secured on. By the time the riders had secured their helmets, and ran through the system checks of the HUD systems, the wrens of Assault Team 18 were ready. Each rider was lifted up by a pair of sprites and others belted them onto the swift birds.

"Launch! Launch!"

With that, sidhe generated magics grabbed each bird and accelerated them through the launch tubes drilled into the trunk, firing them out into the clear air as the birds outstretched their wings and grabbed for lift. The helmet HUDs clicked on, linked to the ley lines, and the riders guided their swift mounts towards the target.

Jon had left his scooter back at the entrance and was walking along the shore path, enjoying the shade of the massive redwoods hanging over him. It was his vacation, a time to rest and recharge; a time to get away from cataloguing and ordering books; a time to dream his dreams and look for deer. The only sounds were the shush of waves on the graveled shoreline, the rustle of wind in the leaves far above, the twittering and whistling of birds, and the crunch of his booted feet on the path.

If only his feet were different and made a different sound.

His nostrils were drenched with the scent of salt, and he could faintly smell the decaying loam, some wildflowers growing along the path, but nothing else. His mind wandered, dreaming of what he wished he could smell.

If only--

BD, the satyr team leader, linked into the common frequency as he digested the prognosticator's reports. "Seems we have a Type A. Distance 18.3 kilometers," the fey had been forced to go metric when their European counterparts had switched over, "EDT 2.33 minutes."

"Zeus, type A?" muttered a tiny horse. "Haven't had one of those in years."

"Not since we lost that Anderson fellow to heaven."

There was a collective grumble.

"We were there first! They--"

"Shut up!" BD snapped. "We've got a mission, and failure is not an option! EDT is down to 1.87 minutes!"

The squadron of fey swiftly moved into a cone formation and sped on magic-aided wings towards their target.

The tree was old, old beyond human comprehension. Numbers existed to cover it, but they were numbers without meaning. The branch was nearly as old. Unlike the rest of the tree, it just hung there. No leaves burst from it, no tiny branches. Most of its bark was gone, broken or worn off revealing weather aged wood, gray with upraised grain. It was long dead, a weight on the tree. For years wind had pressed against it, swaying it back and forth, working and gnawing at its roots into the living wood.

The wood creaked and groaned. It swayed in wider and wider arcs as the wind touched upon its harmonic. The branch's massive weight dragged its tip lower and lower.

Jon stopped under a huge tree, its roots before him gnarled and twisted as they burst from the ground and swept up to the trunk that stood before him. The waves were faint now, all he could here was the shush of wind in the leaves, and the creak and groan of slowly swaying wood.

If only--

"Incoming seraphim! EDT .55 minutes! GET A MOVE ON!"

Tiny hooves and legs dug into the necks of their mounts as the squadron dove down to the tree cover. In the distance they could see the glowing blue of the sea; below them the eye-searing green of the forest canopy. As one they leaned, pressing their upper bodies against the quivering necks of their mounts to offer as little wind resistance as possible. The birds strained, hearts beating faster than could be measured, each beat pulsing through their necks and pressing against the chests of their riders.

As one they all willed more speed. More! More!

With a loud, long groan, almost a scream of pain, the branch swung lower and lower, the wind's patient work nearly complete. It no longer had enough strength and its fate was fast approaching. With a final scream, the wood tore, fibers ripping as gravity grabbed it and yanked it free, sending in plummeting down towards the forest floor.

Above something snapped, screaming out its final pain and Jon looked up just in time to see the branch plummeting towards him. It smashed into him, crushing muscles and snapping bone as it thudded into the ground, splattering flesh and blood all around. For an instant Jon shared its mind-searing pain, before it all went dark.

Team 18 dove through the leaves and scraps of bark that were still pattering down around the splatted form of the target human. With the skill of long practice they drew their willow wands and pointed and chanted. A deep humming grew, echoing through the woods as everything stopped to watch, energies pulsing along the faint ley lines. A dim form, graceful with cloven hooves and long face, was slowly drawn from the squashed corpse, like silk drawn from the tattered weaving of the insect.

The seraphim stopped, hovering above the wrens perched on the branch as the fey sang their song. Helpless, he watched Jon's soul being pulled out, and sent through a vortex towards Avalon.

"That one belonged to heaven!" the voice roared out with supernatural calm.

"And we got here first!" BD said, his glee smiling through his voice. It wasn't often they got to beat one of the high ranked ones.

"Someday HE will deal with your kind as you deserve to be dealt with for your petty thievery."

"He's tried already, and we're still here!"

"Go and play a harp!" shouted out the tiny black horse as the others laughed.

The seraphim just glared.

With that, Team 18 sheathed their wands and slapped their reins so that the wrens leapt into the air. Behind them, the seraphim gave them the finger, all he could do to assuage his rage.

The forest was quiet, lit with a silver glow as a horned moon drifted in the heavens above. The trees tinkled, dryads whispering sweet nothings to each other as the air swirled, glowing brighter and brighter, whirling as it condensed into a spinning mass of light. It pulsed, and then spit out Jon's soul which thumped to the ground, its weight pressing into the soft loam that carpeted the black earth.

For a second Jon sat there, new senses inhaling the air as his nostrils pulsed with each new glorious scent. Ears flicked back and forth, focusing on one sound after another. After a while, a timeless while, the new anthrodeer pressed itself to its dainty cloven feet, the body's weight pressing the hooves deep into the loam as it fought to keep its new balance, tiny tail flicking behind it.

Jon was home.


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Website Copyright 2004,2005 Michael Bard.  Please send any comments or questions to him at mwbard@transform.com