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Birds made more of golden flame than feather winked in and out of being. They cawed and barked and howled all at once. Their flaming plumage crackled and hissed and their talons dripped butterflies encased in flame as they weaved above Cahden Joudaar’s head. He did his best to dodge the creatures. The first occasion that he came into contact with one, memories overwhelmed him. Vivid as a midsummer storm and twice as violent. Memories long forgotten.

‘Best avoid those,’ his ethereal host offered. Joudaar had attempted conversation, attempted and failed. His questions often went unanswered and when he did get an answer, it was impossible to comprehend.

Small creatures, all teeth and fur, erupted before him. He did his best not to jump backwards.

They won’t worry you,’ the voice bloomed from the very ground that he was walking on. This, of course, made it virtually impossible not to flinch. ‘They are not your memories, so they will not touch you.’

Joudaar stopped and began searching for this voice. His eyes had adjusted to the murky grey that surrounded him. He looked down and noticed that the small, vicious looking creatures were working just as hard to avoid him as he was to avoid them. He took a tentative step and watched as teeth and fur dived away from his foot. An instant later, they vanished with a hiss and a plume of smoke.

Unworried by where he was stepping, Joudaar continued searching for his host. This fruitless endeavour allowed him to notice that the landscape around him was non-existent. Not a tree nor shrub to be seen. No houses nor hillsides either. There were, however, a host of strange creatures, large and small.

A spider with an abdomen the size of a man walked unsteadily on hundreds of needle thin legs. It screamed and wailed in such a way that Joudaar was brought to his knees. It vanished with a loud crack and the hissing of forged steel drenched in cool water.

The ever present flock of flame parted and as Joudaar looked up, he saw why. Teeth. Row upon row of teeth attached to a black maw, stained with red. It descended rapidly towards him. Terror filled him as he threw his body flat to the ground. His heart raced as he smelled rotting flesh and the warmth of breath.

A deafening sound shook Joudaar to his core and the smell of death and decay was replaced with that of soil and wet earth. Daring to open his eyes, Joudaar was confused to see rose petals carelessly strewn across his chest.

A wolf howled and a bear grunted. A small cat, the colour of dead leaves and soil and freshly fallen snow began to grow before his eyes. It did not stop until it was standing taller than the largest horse Joudaar had ever seen. He began to scramble backwards in horrified retreat, only to bump his head and suddenly darkness battled the dull grey for supremacy of Joudaar’s senses. The ringing of screams, the warm caress of fire and the sound of flesh rending from bone overcame him. He was unsure if they were his screams or his flesh.

CW SY 2013