Nightmares were an enigma as far as Dilan was concerned. To him sleep ment shutting your eyes against the moonlight, dipping into a deeper darkness, then, the next time you opened your eyes, morning had arrived. As a child he had therefore felt shock and jealousy when he heard a classmate’s retelling her travels onboard a train driving across the sea, visiting a island where the palm-trees grew blueberries instead of coconuts and participating in aerial-battles with wizards riding geese.
His fascination had only grown after he found out about the things dreams made people do: mumble nonsense, take walks as if they were awake and hide socks, making them impossible to find them the next morning. Again he found himself an outcast. He had, once or twice, been awoken by a room-mate checking his pulse to make sure that he hadn't died in his sleep.
As he aged, child fancies diminished: his days being filled with more pressing things to fret, ponder and be concerned about. After ending up in the castle of Ansem the Wise, and finding his time there stretching out into years, he still remained a close observer to the phenomena, the darker part of it, as two of the other residents suffered nightmares like an affliction.
As if his project-upon-unneaglible-project-neglect of himself hadn’t contributed enough to the head-apprentice’s irregular sleeping patterns, the things Even saw once those around him managed to heatedly debate him into taking a nap, only served to make him more reluctant, to the point where collapsed-over-his-desk was not an unusual position to find him in. While in bed he would toss around, yammering, gnashing his teeth together: generally having as hard a time keeping quiet as during waking hours. Keeping the nightmares in check brought yet another row of emerald and maroon medicine-bottles and pill-packages to his bedside-table, and when they did not work as intended he greeted mornings with frowns, eyes protruding like they wished to escape his sweating skull, and hands clutching his mintgreen coffe-mug as if it was his life-saver on a shipwreck. He would tell the concerned observer that the nightmares weren’t terrifying at this point, only bone-wearily exhausting. Every night was the same, his mind’s affection for routine turning against him: a shadowy figure would chase him through the castle, a clock would count down towards midnight, - What would happen at midnight? Things would pull him down into the earth where under the horrors were enough to make the skin of his dream-self crawl off his body, or demon children wrestled him down and choked him with stubby hands like wracks around the throat.
( … Sometimes I see all of you there, though you’re useless: lounging in a coach, sipping tea, and not batting an eye while Ienzo strangles me on the carpet. ... Ienzo is? ... He has been the only child I’ve gotten to know properly. It makes sense that when my subconsciousness conjures one... ... Sure. … You have to admit that Ienzo showed a fair bit of unsettling behaviour while he was younger. Like the time he dissected a rat at eight. I was impressed, ofcourse, but the thought of that thousandyard-stare piercing through you like it is you he’s going to dissect … … Should you talk to Ienzo about this? … Splendid idea, because that would be an entirely unawkward conversation. )
The second one plagued by bad dreams, Xehanort, had refused to speak about the things which hunted him out of bed and into patrolling corridors from midnight to dawn, even when Ansem tried to convince that dreams were important pieces to the puzzle of figuring out the memories that the man had lost. An argument that was usually a sure-fire way to get him to agree to anything had not convinced Xehanort to break his silence. Perhaps for the best. Dilan had only needed to look into Xehanort’s eyes after a bad night, and all the jealousy that he had ever felt washed off him. Instead he reconsidered that he’d been blessed with a great fortune, especially after learning that if he wanted to see something like wizards riding geese he only needed to visit Wonderland.
To this day dreams remain a foreign concept to Dilan, however this story, one of many: there’s always a ton of ridiculous stuff going on in every world at every moment, - but this story begun when he wrongly assumed he was having his first nightmare.
Though lacking in direct experience, Dilan had listen to and red enough accounts of dreams to know that opening his eyes and seeing a bear-like monster leaning over his bedside, hot breath wafting over his face, was a classic among night-terrors. More so than the times when he’d woke up to somebody checking his pulse, he felt shock and summoned a whirlwind.
Wind and creature howled in unison as the storm swept it to the edge of the room, where the beast scrambled up to it’s paws and lunged for the bed, as quick as only a beast could be. The bed-sheets trapped Dilan like a net. Kicked wildly, he pushed himself upward, summoning a spear barely in time to stop claws, large as the curved blades of knives, from raking his chest. A great weight pressed him down and the bed creaked threateningly, as the beast slashed, barely kept away by him summoning more spears, creating a fence of iron poles and wind. Dilan screamed out against the vice upon his chest, the sound of his ribs like miniature logs breaking apart. Despite reasoning that the creature couldn’t literally hurt him, being a nightmare and all, fear gripped him like yet another set of claws. Again, he cried out.
At which the door to his chambers flew open, flinging of it’s hinges and crashing against the wall. Only one man in the castle could open a door that forcefully: his giant frame filling out the doorway, tomahawkhammer-crossbreed of a club ready in hand.
When Aeleus saw Dilan struggle against the beast his steely expression hardened further. With a bellowing that drowned out the beast’s roaring he rushed forward, swinging the club in an upward arc. It connected, propelling the creature into a wall as if it had been as light as a sheet. Groaning the beast slid down into a pile, black tendrils of smoke erupted from spots around it. Realising that it was trying to escape Aeleus spurted forward. Before he could get close enough to deliver a final blow, the same darkness that he himself, before regaining his humanity, had utilized many times as transportation, enveloped the beast in a tower of black, and dissipated, leaving no trace of the attacker apart from a crater in the wall. Huffing in frustration, Aeleus pushed the enemy out of his mind and turned towards the bed where Dilan was sitting up and letting his spears vanish.
– Are you alright? he rumbled.
– Fine, I’m fine, Dilan grumbled while pressing a hand to his swimming head, focusing on breathing and not letting dizziness topple him over.
Aeleus voice contained alarm and an arm, like a tree-trunk in both frame and constitution, appeared behind Dilan’s back, steadying him the moment his attempt at staying upright failed.
– What are you doing? he sneered and tried to push Aeleus away. How could a man that large move to his bedside without him noticing?
Instead of obeying, his arms fell down to the bedcover where they refused to budge. Puzzling. Dilan looked down and his mouth opened into a dawning “oh”. Meanwhile Aeleus tore off strips of bedsheets and pressed them against Dilan’t stomach, the white fabric soon turning crimson.
– Heal, Aeleus mumbled and green magic spurred to life beneath his fingers: a handful of glowing leaves spiraling into the air, like short-lived embers of a flame.
He furrowed his brow and removed the cloth for a second, revealing that the four gashes, proof that Dilan had been mistaken by a few inches when he thought that the beast had only almost managed to reach him, still bled profusely. Making a worried sound in the back of his throat, Aeleus once more applied pressure.
– What’s this? Dilan slurred. It might have sounded like he was struggling to comprehend the fact that he was bleeding out, - not so, he was adept at recognizing a seeping gut-wound when he saw one. Had his lips felt functional he would have elaborated: If this is a dream, shouldn’t pain be at the very least dulled, and if this is the point where the dreamer normally wakes up, how come darkness is creeping in the edges of my vision?
– Don’t tell me this is happening in reality, he slurred, before his eyes turned into his skull and his head fell backward.
– My bedroom has disappeared, Dilan observed.
The four people who guarded him jolted and turned their heads.
Ansem the wise shoot out his hand to grip the one belonging to his apprentice, having been sitting on a chair beside the medical-bed. Dilan grumbled and twisted his head from side to side, bleary eyes cracking open and shutting as if hurt by the light in the room.
– You’re in the infirmary, Ansem said. Something attacked you. We had one of the corridor-users bring Aerith here. She told us that you are going to pull through.
Mumbling incomprehensibly, Dilan shook off Ansem's hand and made a trembling attempt to rise, arms only managing to push him upward onto his pillow. His brow furrowed as if his weakness confused him, then he made a low growl, the pained sound of a badger stuck in a beartrap.
– Aeleus he … took that creature down.
At the sound of his name, Aeleus all but rushed up to Dilan’s side. Deep-blue irises, foggy with a feverish haze, set themselves onto the looming guard and Dilan’s face twisted in displeasure.
– Please tell me you did not.
Raising an eyebrow, Aeleus glanced at Ansem then turned around towards Even and Ienzo, none of them able to give any insight to what Dilan meant.
– How did you get me from my room to here? Dilan continued, slurring and reaching to massage his temple with a swaying hand that missed it’s mark and swept across his nose instead.
– Tell me I walked myself Aeleus, that it wasn’t like that time at the academy when I broke my leg and you lifted me in your arms like some bride carried out of the chapel. Did you know how much people teased me?
His flurry of words debouching into a gravely whine, Dilan managed with better accuracy to hide his face.
– Some of the painkillers I have given him are rather …, Even said, circling a finger in the air over his temple.
– Did he go away, or am I still dreaming? Dilan continued.
– I think I wasn’t dreaming. If I did you would be only a figment of my imagination Aeleus, sorry. Would you tell me if you are, or I suppose people in dreams don’t do that.
– It seems we won’t be able to interrogate him, Ansem sighted, then turned his head at the sound of steps.
Despite her disheveled appearance and the black bags slumping beneath her eyes, a soft smile lit up Aerith’s face as she entered the bay and heard the rambling.
– Has he awoken? Thank goodness, she said.
– What is the commitee-woman doing here? Dilan mumbled, glaring at the newcomer in a manner that came natural to him even in a state of half-lucidness.
– Her name is Aerith Gainsborough, be cordial, Ienzo said, while leveling his head with Dilan’s.
– Ansem just said that you have her to thank for treating you. With good old-fashioned surgery even, since your wound is rejecting all the magic that we try to apply.
– Does this mean he is here also? The beast? Don’t tell me he brought the teapot, Dilan drawled, turning to Ienzo. It will get you if you stand there dawdling, idiot. Can you imagine anything more horrific than having guts clawed out of you while piping hot tea pours over your face?
– Well …, Ienzo hesitated, apprehension and discomfort cast over his face and tensing body, looking like a mayfly nailed to a board by the manic scrutinization. … Being a coffee-person, I suppose…
– It’s not much use talking with him at the moment, Even argued, urging Ienzo back with a hand on his shoulder. I doubt he’s fully aware of what he’s saying, or that he will remember this conversation after sobering up.
– The amount of people crowding around could be stressing him, Aerith pointed out, having traversed the room and stopped a step away from Ansem’s chair, making him twist his entire body around as he addressed her.
– Then I have to ask why you came back here. After the exhausting procedure you had to handle, I thought I ordered you …
Here he paused, flinching when he heard the commanding royal in his voice.
– … Excuse me, I offered you to take a break, is what I should say.
– I did take one, Aerith responded in a way that brokered no argument against half-an hour being sufficient rest. Though as a healer I have never been able to take more than cat-naps until I am sure my patient has recovered. Even now I can help ease any discomfort he experiences. All I would need here is someone to decipher those numbers on the monitors you have hooked up.
She gestured to the vials used for providing blood-transfusion and other forms of substances, hard for her to identify, and kept her gaze at Ansem, knowing that he would be the one reaching a decision. While not the king of the Restoration-comitee, she knew him to still be the ruler of the scientists in the room with her.
– Let say two people, to be on the safe side, he relented with a sigh. Even and Ienzo, if you two would be okay with that.
– Not to beat down on Ienzo, but within the medical profession you still surpass him, master, Even pointed out, receiving an affirming nod from Ienzo. Any particular reason you would not be here to assist yourself?
– He should go, came muttering from Dilan before Ansem had time to respond.
Pursing his lips together with a darkening expression and the atmosphere in the room tensing, Ansem nodded.
– Yes, I suppose I’m not the person you are most comfortable having around, he responded, an impressive control over any acid in his tone, then, raising from his chair with a groan and creaking from his limbs:
– Though I have other reasons. The ruckus from the attack have likely woken up some of the guests staying here, and I should go tell them that they have nothing to worry about.
– Isn’t that a lie? Aerith pointed out, a steely glint to her green eyes. A creature, – you don’t know what, – attacked one of your own. Even if Aeleus wounded it you can’t predict if there’s more to come.
While she spoke, she sat down on the chair that Ansem had abandoned, extending a hand wrapped in soothing light towards Dilan, who was slipping back into a state of unconsciousness. Although doing nothing to the wound, it brought colour back to his face and calmed his breathing when she brushed her hand across his arm.
The criticism made Ansem’s face even more dour.
– That I’m aware of, and we’ll have to consider our response to this intrusion, but for now the protective barriers are up and I do not wish to spread panic at this late hour, he replied. To truly ensure that no-one else will be harmed …
He directed dark-amber eyes at Aeleus who found himself moving to stand in attention naturally.
– … I would have Aeleus help patrolling the perimiters tonight. The dusks and our two new helpers likely need the supervision.
He said the word helpers with a sprinkle of sarcasm, the tiniest of acknowledgements of the general opinion on the guards’ would-be recruits, to which Aeleus responded by huffing in agreement. With a last squeeze of Dilan’s shoulders he followed Ansem out of the room.
Outside they found Demyx doubled-over and snoring on the chair where he had been posted to keep anyone unauthorized from entering while Dilan was being treated. Leveling a sigh Aeleus strode over and lowered him down on the floor to sleep properly on his back. That way his body would not ache as terribly upon waking.
The three left in the medical-bay spent many minutes in quiet vigil, Aerith applying her magic while Even and Ienzo measured the drugs dripping into Dilan’s bloodstream. Those would have been extracted essence of elixirs normally, the kind of substance that could have a man be hit by a gummi-ship, then be up on his legs again within the hour, though, like spells, magic agents had been found to be ineffectual apart from revitalizing Dilan’s overworked and tense muscles. When he recovered Dilan would feel like a man born anew, apart from the discomfort of dealing with a scar on his stomach.
– Where is he?
The croaking words alerted them. Dilan’s dark eyes glowed with urgency and he squirmed as if finding himself strapped to the bed. Hushing, Aerith moved her hand up to his shoulder and he turned towards her, face showing surprise.
– Aerith, what are you doing here?
– I’m here to help, she said with the warm expression that had seen even creatures that did not speak human language, like horses and dogs with open wounds or bone-fractures, calm their lamenting. You were attacked, but are safe now.
– Safe and very lucky, Even added, noticing that speaking seemed to keep Dilan from working himself into a prelude of panic. With all the entities that come here to snatch hearts and take vessels you could have died in so many metaphorical ways, or ... you know, plain died.
Curling his lips, Dilan shook his head so that the unbound braids of hair rustled against the pillow.
– You should leave, or I’ll bring you down into the pit with me, he said thickly. Toppling the whole castle like a damming weight.
– How about you relax instead of speaking, Even said and joined Aerith in placing a hand on his shoulder.
One could see him concentrating to keep his touch at a normal body-temperature and not freeze Dilan’s increasingly sweat-damp camisole to his skin.
– Or do you want to talk? Aerith cut in, gazing at Dilan with pondering.
Blinking, Dilan furrowed his brow, before nodding.
– Yes, there’s something I need to tell you, he said, then paused as if he couldn’t remember what.
Angling a finger at him, a ball of light as tiny as a distant star sparkling at the tip, Aerith asked slowly:
– Why should we leave?
– Because you should not be so nice to me, Dilan replied slower, voice clearer. It is what I deserve, like the snake reaching around to bite it’s own tail. Remember that symbolic metaphor? It all comes around to bite you.
– Oh, you’re not so bad, Ienzo said, though Dilan did not seem to hear him.
– He is clearly too feverish to make any sense, Even interjected, shaking his head at Aerith.
– The spell that I’m performing right now should clear up the fog in his mind, she replied, nodding towards the glowing finger.
– The bloody hounds of karma’s hunting me. Some god above has cast his sentence on the criminal below, Dilan rambled, grimacing and spasming.
– We just need a spot of patience, Aerith responded when Even cast her a sceptical look.
– Should I write down what he is saying? Ienzo asked, pen hovering over his work-journal. I never knew Dilan could phrase himself this poetically.
Even passed him a recently much used look that translated into: Must I educate you in a little thing called social-tact, young man? Meanwhile Dilan continued spouting sentences with varying coherence and exuding solemn bitterness like a sullen sun-less day.
– Is he still here? he finally asked with some force before shutting his crusty eyes and exhaling.
– If you are talking about master Ansem, then no. You asked him to leave, Even said.
– Come now, there’s no need to start sobbing on us, Aerith provided gently from her side, prompting a scoff from Even.
– Dilan never cri…
Even froze to stare when Dilan reached up to his face to brush away a shimmer at the corner of his eyes, moving his hand down to stare at foreign substance.
– For crying out loud, Even said, gesturing outward with his free hand. How come you can down a bottle of rice-wine without it making you tipsy, yet average analgesic breaks your composure? Was immunity to inebriation your secret nobody-superpower?
– Has the beast showed up? Dilan said, then grimaced. That’s not right, he continued. Nothing is right to call him. A not-beast then.
He exhaled a single huff of dour amusement, eyes turning to Even.
– You of anyone should have gotten that one, with your love for riddelling, he grumbled, as if sour that none but him seemed to get the joke.
If Dilan’s mood had gone from lamenting to facetious suddenly, it was nothing compared to how quickly his eyes widened in alarm now. He shoot up from the bed. Even, the unlucky current receiver of Dilan’s undivided attention, found himself with a hand around his wrist, squeezing hard enough to bruise.
– What am I doing here? Dilan shouted with crystal-clear clarity and all the cobwebs evaporating from his eyes, like a man broken out of a state of hypnosis by the snap of a finger.
– I must hunt down the beast before he kills anyone, he continued, letting go of Even and swinging his legs over the side of the bunk, moving with an energy that had seemed impossible for him to obtain before.
The plastic tubings attached to his arm were pulled taut, the equipments attached toppling over, saved from bashing against the stone-floor by Even throwing himself forwards and barely catching them.
– I swear Dilan, lie down on the bed like any patient having suffered through blood-loss and shock by all logic should, or I am going to freeze you down to it, he shrieked while struggling to sort out what had landed in his arms.
Meanwhile Aerith was the one struggling to push the burly man back, that until Ienzo snapped out of his initial shock and stepped forward to tug at Dilan’s shoulders. Against the two of them the burst of activity that had gripped Dilan dissipated and inch by inch he let himself be forced onto his back, gray of face, and breathing heavily. Eventually, as Even had the equipment standing securely and all of them settled down, Dilan opened his mouth in between hoarse breaths.
– Did you bring me here after the attack?
Even nodded, while studying the frown that had appeared on Dilan’s face, one reminiscent of expressions he he would wear when he was at his full senses.
– I knew him, Dilan continued quietly, balling his hands into fists. Knew him and should have seen this coming. Like the opening paragraphs of a book chasing it’s own end.
Groaning, he closed his eyes like someone trying to block out a memory playing behind the eyelids, while Aerith and Even exchanged glances across the bed. Ienzo peeked to make sure Even had his attention turned away, then scribbled down the latest sentence. Opening of a book chasing it’s ending – Dilan had outdone himself with that one.
The spear hadn’t been summoned on impulse or when he’s been out of his mind with boiling rage. – What rage could be found in a nobody apart from the polluted coal left in the wake of a fire? – Her, Belle’s only crime had been teaching him to never dismiss the sharpness of a woman’s elbows, jabbing hers into his abdomen when he held her hostage. Doubling over, incapacitated from as much surprise as pain, he had been unable to stop her from prying out of his hands the casing that held the enchanted rose. What a carefully constructed dilemma it had been, taking the person the prince-turned-beast cherished in one hand and the artifact he could not bear to lose in the other.
– What should I leave? The girl or the rose?
When he saw her traipse across the bridge as quickly as her dainty feet could take her, the keyblade wielder, his companions and the beast rushing to meet her, he sent a spear at her back. Xaldin had seen that as fair, he had given just retribution to being humiliated, and what Dilan would feel about it later he had spared no thought.
The closest, Sora, had taken an inhumanly large leap forward and thrown the keyblade. It had intercepted the spear, though there had not been enough force in the throw, or the blade had been angled badly, while his aim had been as steady and true as ever. Only slightly pushed from it’s path the spearhead struck Belle in the shoulder. She cried out as it propelled her forward, and fell while still clinging to the casing, protecting it stubbornly as her body scraped against the frosty cobble.
The beast stopped in his tracks, frozen cold like the night. Horror dimmed his eyes, a flash of that vulnerable, then he rushed the rest of the way over to Belle, paws handling her with care when he picked her up, as to not jostle the spear. A gentleness that must have been tricky with those large claws of his. The casing clattered down on the ground and rolled away forgotten. Tilting her chin upward he looked at her slack face, then he turned his head toward Xaldin.
Was that hatred? No - The beast had hated him well before this moment. In the furnace glowing inside the monster’s eyes he found something stronger, striking and maddening.
When shadows covered the beast and the roar he released deepened into a guttural tremor in the earth, Xaldin had laughed and thought that if this had been all it took he had been a fool to not put a spear in the woman from the start.