Feeling an unusual heaviness, Greel slowly opened his aching eyes. He strained every muscle in an unsuccessful attempt to sit up. Panic raced within him when he realized that his eyes were the only things he could move. The strange heaviness held him fast to a cold, hard surface upon which he lay. Panic quickly grew into terror as a flicker of movement came into his range of sight, bringing a nightmare to life directly above him.
Greel squeezed his eyes shut, reluctantly remembering a time many years past at a place that people in his clan referred to as “the Old Country.” Many a story had been told about the restless spirits who roamed there, always seeking a way back to life. His brothers had challenged him to spend one night alone in the Old Country’s desert ruins. They had insisted it would prove his worthiness to join them on a mission.
After wasting most of that night jumping at every sound, he had finally fallen into a fitful sleep, only to be awakened by a swarm of lizards crawling and writhing over his skin, apparently seeking shelter in his body’s warmth. Greel remembered screaming till he had no voice and frantically plucking the repulsive things from underneath his clothing as he heedlessly fled the ruins. It was a miracle that he hadn’t bashed his brains out on one of the ancient stone monuments or fallen into a pit viper’s nest. Just about a kilometer out, he ran straight into his waiting brothers who had laughed till tears came to their eyes. No amount of derision, not even a direct order could get him to return for his gear. Never again could he stand the sight of a lizard. Even a still image on a hollosphere would bring back that dreadful feeling of them crawling on his skin.
And here, looming over him, stood his phantom fear in a perverse mockery of a man, human in size, wearing a sleek, golden tunic, and hissing words in a language eerily similar to his own…