Disclaimer: All characters, etc. belong to Alison Croggon.

Notes: This story is a companion to xLaramiex's "Lost in Croggon," so if you haven't read that, I suggest you do so, and all will be explained. This story starts at the same time but is behind "Lost in Croggon until I catch up.

For those of you who do not want to read LIC, which I cannot imagine why because it is wonderful, I'll summerize: Kayla, an ordinary young woman and Pellinor fanatic, is accidentally transported to Annar when Maerad literally drops in her bathroom. While this tale follows Maerad in our world, LIC covers Kayla's journey with Cadvan through Annar. CHAPTER TEN NOW UP!

Anyway, enjoy!

For almost as long as I could remember, I had been imprisoned behind walls. I was slave in Gilman's Cot, and mine was the barest of all existences: an endless cycle of drudgery and exhaustion and dull fear.

It was a small hamlet in the mountains, beyond the vast lands of Inner Annar, lands of which I could only dream of. Everyday was another war, another struggle overcome. When life becomes but a battleground, when everywhere in existence is but a compact settlement of barren fields forced to thrive and dreary tenements packed with hopeless and wearied slaves, there is not much to live for.

One, and only one single hope kept me alive, and that was my music. When I played, I could pour my soul into the music, ignoring the emptiness inside. Even when it was only the commonplace drinking ballads, it was more than the nothingness that had devoured all else from my life.

Sometimes, I would see brief flashes in my mind, flashes of another life hidden to me. If so, it was but a dream now; I was a slave, and no slave could ever know of such finery. It was my imagination, I was convinced, that and nothing else. Perhaps that kept me alive as well.

As I grew older, any hope of escape burned dimmer and dimmer, until all that remained was the dying embers of a past hope, faint, but not yet extinguished. Any longer, and they would turn to grey ashes, like everyone else in the Cot, existing in body, but never in spirit. Like withered leaves, they waited for winter to fall and bury them, removing them from all memory. I too waited for the storm, the final blizzard. With each day, the despair increased, blossoming in my chest like a plant that fed on fear.

When I awoke that day, I was certain that nothing good would come of it. As I bent down to splash some icy water on my face, I noted the change in the breeze. Looking up, I remembered that it was Springturn, the day where winter was chased away by the coming of spring, where everything would flourish and blossom. Maybe it was spring somewhere, but not for me. Never for me. I was alive and young, but my soul was withering inside.

The night before, the Thane had held one of his lively festivals, with plenty of chaos and drunken men. Although the Thane and his thugs celebrated it eagerly, it simply meant more work for all of the slaves. As I was the only musician, I had been forced to play for the men as they grew progressively less sober, until the last of them had finally passed out, allowing me a bare hour of sleep.

I hadn't always been alone. I had had a mother once, a mother named Milana, though I could scarcely remember her. She looked a bit like me, I thought, with her pale skin and sapphire eyes, and her tangled black hair. Oddly enough, those traits, thought to belong to witches, had saved me from being raped or killed or otherwise damaged. Or at least, they had protected me more than the others, who despised me for it. Just a year ere, some women had banded together to drown me. Being superstitious and believing my ghost would return to haunt him, Gilman himself saved me, and although I was beaten for my trouble later, my fate fared far better than the women.

I could curse people with my evil eye, as I had threatened to one particularly annoying thug, Lothar, this morning. Sometimes, they would simply trip. In worse cases, there would be some other misfortune, such as the man who had attempted to rape me, who went blind for three days.

Sighing, I made my way to the cowbyre, cursing that I had been stationed under Lothar, who would undoubtedly be irritated at me for the near encounter this morning. As I swung open the door, I glanced around, noticing the padlocked door to my right. I wasn't exactly sure where this went. Probably to some abandoned supply room or something ordinary like that. All I knew was that it was always locked tight. Except for today.

Thoughts swirled around in my head as I stared at the door, slightly ajar. Light was pouring through, like sunlight. It seemed a good omen, beaconing me forward. I dropped my milk pail and went forth to investigate. Perhaps this was a secret passage out of this place, the escape I had always dreamed of.

But no. I could not let myselfget caught up in fantasies, else I would only suffer disappointment when I realized it was simply a supply closet.

As I pushed open the door, a whole new world erupted in front of me. Startled, I let out a cry, raising my hands to my cheeks, and I stumbled on the strange tiled floor. This was no longer the cowbyre, nor some supply closet or a dark tunnel; not even close, it was a strange white room, filled with potions in bottles and unknown devices, all decorated in bright colors and made of shiny yet transparent materials.

Frantic, I rushed to the door, about to fling it open, when it opened automatically. I jumped back as I saw the blonde girl staring at me in equal shock. She was dressed in odd, masculine styled clothes and was clearly of some status to be so clean.

"What is this place?" I murmured, trembling. I knew I had to be brave, for who knew what she could do to me? Had she summoned me here with some magic?

"Who are you?" the girl asked, seemingly thoroughly shocked.

"Maerad," I answered slowly. "My name is Maerad." With a sudden burst of courage, I stood taller, and in a demanding tone continued, "And who are you? Have you spelled me?"

"Maerad?" she questioned, surprised. "You're Maerad?" She studied me as I shifted uncomfortably.

"What does my name mean to you?" I asked, faking authority. She knew my name. She had to be some enchantress. My voice trembled as I whispered, "I don't know you."

"I…er…never mind. Where did you come from?"

Shaking, I pointed to the strange cubical with a window of some sort that was lined with metal, like in Gilman's men's weapons. "I think I came through there."

The girl looked skeptical. "Through here?" Walking over to it, she opened the door, her mouth widening at what she saw. I tried to peek over her shoulder, but I only caught a brief glimse of the same old cowbyre. Curious, the girl stepped into the device. There was a jolt, and the door slammed shut as a bright light lit up the air, making me shield my eyes. When I dared to look back, the enchantress was gone. Crying out, I leapt at the door, opening it frantically, but inside, it was simply a plain, white stall. No cowbyre. No padlock. No nothing. Jumping in, I pounded on the walls, begging it to return me. When it became apparent that the device wouldn't work without the enchantress, I closed my eyes.

Suddenly, a thought floated to my mind. If the cowbyre was gone, if everything had vanished, did that mean I was… free?

Startled at my discovery, I turned my head slowly, facing the room with new interest. Rather than cursing me, had the enchantress given my greatest, if buried, wish? She had seemed benign, if strange. And now, in all likelihood, she was where I had been, a helpless slave.

As I gazed at the room, questions forming in my mind, another thought formed in my head. So much was strange here, so much was different… was this really all a dream? Or was it a nightmare?


Will this story linger in your dreams? Or was it a nightmare? In other words, review please!