Viran’s long, slender fingers wrapped around the warm glow of magic. Strands of blue-black hair floated around her face, tickling her jaw, coiling around her ears. Three feet below her feet the soft violet grass swayed from the breeze she held.

Seasoning: the process that brought life to the dream world, that banished nightmares and filled the fields with light. The magic Viran cradled chased dark shadows from the crops where they’d taken refuge after the dreams had ended. One shadow became a masked man with a ski mask and a gun; as the wind from her hands touched it, the figure disintegrated. Another shadow coalesced into a giant woman with hands as large wagons, her face fixed in anger—that nightmare, too, broke up under the warm touch of Viran’s light.

Two ectoplasmic blobs and a zombie trundled out from the corn field. Children’s nightmares, she thought with a frown, kids these days watch too much TV. Zap, zap, zap, and they were gone.

When another burst of wind failed to rouse any more shadows, she lowered her hands, expecting that the fields were now clean and safe.

But before the pale gold light died from between her fingers, a flicker of red caught her eye. She looked back at the corn.

At the stirring, rustling corn. Corn no longer moved by her magic, and on a still day such as today, not touched by real wind, either.

A red glow slithered out from between the stalks. It shimmered with magic; instead of scales its skin consisted of flashes of chaotic color twisting liquidly over its surface. The flicking black tongue was snakelike, though.

Raising the golden power in her hands above her head, she imagined wind slicing the monster apart, poured her will into a blast of magic.

The magic whipped towards the snake—chopped into it—and disappeared.

“Pitfalls!” Viran snapped, backing up.

Too close, almost within striking distance, it hissed, inch-long fangs flashing.

This time she pictured a tornado to rip it to pieces, to fling it into the Dreamless Night. The magic drained out of her, flooding out through her hands until the world hazed and spotted. Corn flew into the air, innocent bystander of her attack, and a fence twenty feet away fell outward, pushed over.

That should be enough. She released the magic, stumbling back and feeling faint. The shredded stalks settled.

A hiss came from under a pile of mulch. The mulch shifted.

Viran stifled a gasp and staggered back. What twisted mind could summon a dream so strong it survived her cleanse? If she, the youngest of the great mages, couldn’t destroy it, could anyone?

A tongue flicked out into the air, followed by a blunt nose. The air around the center of the storm took on a crimson glow once more.

She needed help. She had nothing left.

There was no one nearby. Infected fields were too dangerous for farmers, and great mages didn’t typically take backup for simple cleansings.

The head swayed into the air. Viran held her breath, hoping against hope it was attracted to movement. If she survived she could at least run for help, get a few of the others to combine forces and attack it at once.

Her gut churned. Its eyes focused on her, and fangs flashed out.

No weapons, no magic, no backup. She was done for. Closing her eyes, she waited for the pain…

“Get down!” A man’s voice, deep, commanding. Viran dropped to the ground.

Something whistled past her ear. The creature screamed. A person screamed, too, a warrior’s cry that echoed across the field. Cracking her eyes open, Viran watched a man wearing a kilt stab the monster with his harpoon. Fish sprang out of the wound and swam away.

The snake shrieked and hissed, thrashed and collapsed to the dirt. Its red light coalesced around it and sucked inward, glowing brighter and brighter until it disappeared with a pop.

“Getting saved by a dreamer,” Viran muttered. “They’ll never let me live this down.”

“Are you all right, ma’am?”

With a rescue like that, especially considering the harpoon, she suspected an academic of some kind, or perhaps a member of the SCA. The black hair poking out from under his Roman-style helmet and the golden skin of his hands spoke of Waking World eastern ancestry, though his accent she immediately pegged as American.

“Thanks,” she said. “I would have figured something out, but thanks all the same.”

Her rescuer pulled off the Roman-style helmet and tossed it to the ground, where it turned into a set of bagpipes. His lips twisted down, his large dark eyes narrowing with irritation. “Modern gratitude. Leaves something to be desired.”

“He’s dreaming,” she reminded herself. “Don’t get too attached.”

She was a resident of the Dreamworld, and he of the Waking. She raised her voice and pointed in a random direction, rattling off the first nonsense that came to mind. “The blue chalice is in Lord Michael’s palace. The rebellion leaders are waiting for you.”

“My thanks. Have you seen my horse?”

“It’s under here. The monster attacked me because I was keeping it safe for you.” She knelt and pried up a nearby rock, pinching air and pulling. Usually a suggestion put the idea in the dreamer’s head and it therefore then happened. He nodded, but instead of a horse apparating between her fingers, a truck did. He swung himself onto a saddle on the top of the cap, the helmet reappearing, and flickered into non-existence, likely appearing in some castle somewhere without a word of good-bye.

Well, that was a dreamer for you. Flighty and apt to forget you the moment they moved on. “And never cleaning up after themselves,” she muttered, scowling at the bagpipes lying on the ground by her feet. With a shrug, she picked the instrument up and slung it over her shoulder. “Not much, but maybe I can scare a few nightmares away with this, if I run into any.”

Depleted of magic as she was, it would be a long walk back home.