The sky is an inferno.
Raging flames flicker across the firmament as meteors plummet down onto the city and spread the blaze everywhere. The heat is oppressive. Zenos chokes on wafts of smoke coming from the burning buildings.
Impossibly large figures draped in indistinct cloaks run past him. Though their attire and masks prevent Zenos from seeing their faces, it is clear they are in a state of panic. He should join them. It isn't right to walk so leisurely in the face of—of whatever this is, this cataclysm threatening to devour the world, but his legs won't move any faster.
Down the avenue he walks as the towering people soon leave him behind, all by himself inmidst the fiery city now. Embers from a collapsing building spray onto him. It hurts, but he can't scream, can't even try to beat out the fires on his clothes.
His skin chars where the flames touch it. He can feel his hair catch fire. He can't breathe, can't scream, can't—
He jolts upright in his bed.
The dream. Again.
Gasping for breath, he wipes his brow and pulls the blankets around himself. Contrary to the dream, he feels freezing cold now. Even so, the sensation of burning alive is all too present in his mind. He shivers.
A quick look to the chronometer on his nightstand reveals that it is the middle of the night. He needs to sleep. The festivities for his sixth birthday are tomorrow—or today, rather—and he will need to be awake for them. However, every time he closes his eyes, the vivid images and feelings of the dream surface once more. He can't sleep like this…
He bites his lip, then slips out of bed. He's not supposed to be out of bed at night, but he doesn't want to be alone right now. The door creaks softly as he pushes it open. Outside, a servant sits, illuminated by a single magitek light, ready to attend to his every need. She rises when she sees him emerge from his bedroom.
“I—I need to see Father,“ he says after a moment. He will get scolded for having Father roused for something like this, he knows that, but he doesn't know who else to ask for.
“Is aught amiss, Master Zenos?“ the servant asks.
“I'm fine. I just need to speak with him...“
The servant peers at him, then nods. “As you wish. It shall be done.“
She leaves the room. Zenos almost calls after her, to tell her not to leave him alone, but she's already gone, and it isn't something he's supposed to do either. She's a servant. Beneath him, that's what Father says. Asking her for comfort wasn't appropriate. He slinks onto the sofa that is meant to be used by visitors and tucks his legs under. He's not supposed to sit like this either, but he doesn't want to sit like Father always tells him to right now. This is more comforting.
The door slams open and crashes into the wall. Zenos jumps at the sound.
“What is it?“ Father says. Dark rings underline his eyes, and his hair is beyond dishevelled.
Zenos falters. Father already sounds displeased, and it won't get any better once he tells him. But it won't get any better if he stays silent either, so he gathers all his courage and says, “I had that dream again.“
Father groans and slumps down on a chair. “This is what you wake me for in the middle of the night?“ He runs a hand through his hair, though that only musses it up even worse. “You are too old to be scared by nightmares, boy.“
“But it hurt...“
“It was a dream, Zenos,“ Father sighs. He sounds exasperated. “It wasn't real. You need to grow up. A crown prince of Garlemald can't afford to be scared of petty things like this.“
Zenos opens his mouth. He wants to explain what it was like, what he felt during the dream, but the words won't come. How could he even begin to describe the feeling of his skin being seared off his flesh? The panic of wanting to run, but being unable to? Knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that he will die in this strange city?
And so he doesn't answer. Doesn't say anything at all; he simply fixes his gaze on the floor so Father won't see him rapidly blinking the tears away. He doesn't want to get yelled at over that as well.
“I'm going back to bed,“ Father finally says. “Next time this happens, I expect you to simply go back to sleep like a normal person. Don't have me roused like this again.“
“Yes, Father,“ Zenos whispers as his father leaves the room.
The servant enters a second later and resumes her seat by the magitek lamp. “Is there aught else you need, Master Zenos?“
Quietly, Zenos shakes his head. He doesn't want to go back to bed, but that isn't something she can do anything about. Father has spoken, and he will just have to obey, even if he doesn't like it.
He doesn't fall back asleep that night.
The next time he dreams of the burning city, a scant few days later, he presses his face into the pillow, pulls the blanket over his head and tries his best to forget the smell of burning hair until the sun rises.