Prologue

tearing lava devoured Druin’s flesh. His shrieks went unheard as the volcano convulsed and swallowed his body, liquifying his skin, muscles, tendons, and bones.

Eight years, I’ve waited for this.

Druin mustered every ounce of will he possessed to prevent his screams as his skin disintegrated off his carcass. Everything burst, burned, shredded, and melted as the lava crept over the ledge. It crawled up his legs, wrapped around his stomach, bound his arms, and cut his breath off at the neck.

My freedom has come at last.

A sudden screech in his brain had woken him from his slumber and led him here. He remained in a possessed, daydreamed state that enchanted him and guided him to his destined Power. Though aware of his thoughts and actions, he no longer controlled them. The comforting whispers bestowed upon him a warmth like that of the love he had found in the Power’s promise, and he never questioned or fought them.

The whispers led Druin out of his home in Liarda, and into the surrounding forest bordering Hillark. He stumbled blindly through the forest as the voices directed him to an outcropping that cradled a doorway within a tree. The voices silenced when he approached, but pulled him forward all the same.

Druin ducked underneath the trunk and followed the path beneath the roots. He spiraled underground, deep into the depths of the world, and eventually discovered the flowing river of fire.

Lava melted and twisted around him as he walked onto the platform at the foot of the stairwell. A fresh wave of heat eliminated the chill from the damp earth and sealed him in his fate.

A box rested on a ledge by the lava, as if it had been purposefully set there and forgotten. If the Power hadn’t led Druin here, he never would have found it. No one would have had the courage or patience to delve this deep into the earth, especially if unaware of its hidden treasures.

The ground rumbled and shook around Druin when he picked up the box. His senses urged him to run, but the Object forced him to stay and accept his destiny as it was. When he opened the box, the lava rose over the ledge and consumed him. As it wrapped around his feet, he hardly even noticed at first. The adrenaline from the strength blessed upon him seemed enough, and he closed his eyes and embraced it willingly.

When the lava reached his waist, his evaporating flesh replaced his ecstasy with fear. No one would have been able to hear his screams, even if they’d waited for him at the base of the tree. The liquefied fire swirled around him, and his death called forth the Power promised him all those years ago.

And now, it is my time to rise.

Chapter One:

The Condemning Dream

this bed’s too hot to touch.

The realization woke Donovan Carter. As he regained consciousness, he realized the tip of his right index finger blistered, almost like he had stuck it on the surface of a burning stovetop. A quick look revealed a vesicle, but when he brought his hand closer for a better examination, it disappeared.

Whoa. That was way too realistic for a dream.

Donovan sat up and eyed his room, mostly dark apart from the gentle glow of the street lamps bleeding through the cracks in the blinds. He and his girlfriend, Kaylee, had done laundry before they’d gone to bed, and both decided to wait until morning to put it all away. The remnants of their decision decorated the floor and briefly resembled the swirling lava he’d climbed out of in his subconscious.

Kaylee still lay sleeping next to him, her shoulders rising and falling to match her slow and gentle breathing. She rustled for more covers, as they’d fallen off of her when he sat up. Donovan threw his legs over the side of his bed, pulled the blankets over her, and gave her a gentle kiss before he went to the bathroom.

He flicked on the light as he shut the door, then leaned against the sink to analyze his reflection. His tousled brown hair stuck up in various clumps, sweat poured down his forehead, his brown eyes revealed his fear, and his eyebrows knitted down in worry. He’d gone a few days without shaving, and the dark rubble of his facial hair surrounded the frown framing his lips.

What just happened to me?

He spun the nozzle on the faucet and let the cold water rush into his hands before he splashed it on his face. Even after he was devoid of the sticky sweat that seeped through his pores, he felt hot.

Like I’m on fire.

Who was that Druin man? What sort of Power called to him like that, and how would it have been possible for him to survive? Even worse, why did he, Donovan, feel like he swam in the magma next to him?

Donovan put a hand, still cold from the water, against his forehead and heard a small sizzle.

“What the—?”

Donovan jumped as he pulled his hand away, convinced a thin trail of smoke followed his fingertips. With hesitation, he moved to the shower, turned it on, and took off his underpants as he jumped in. He kept the water cold, and swore his whole body made the same sizzling noise when he stood under the shower’s stream.

“Donovan?”

He jolted as Kaylee entered the bathroom with him, her hazel eyes barely open as she adjusted to the light. Sleepy knots tangled into her dirty-blond hair, and she tied her pink robe shut as she looked at him through the glass door of the shower.

Partially embarrassed and unsure what else to say, Donovan grunted, “Yeah?”

“What are you doing?”

“I just needed to take a shower.”

“It’s 3:38 in the morning.”

I can’t face you when all I see is swirls of red lava. This plague is not worth your worry.

“I had a nightmare.”

Kaylee walked to the side of the shower and opened the door. “Can you look at me?”

He obliged.

“What’s wrong?”

Donovan turned off the water and got out. Kaylee moved aside as he grabbed a towel and went back to the mirror. He touched his face again, and found his body back to its normal temperature.

“I had a weird dream, that’s all.”

“What happened?”

Donovan shrugged, and he didn’t take his eyes away from the mirror as he responded, “It’s dumb. It was just about some guy who got swallowed by a volcano.”

“Swallowed by a volcano? Wow, that would suck.”

He forced a slight smile. “Yeah. It did.”

Kaylee put a hand on his shoulder and gently rubbed it with her thumb. “Are you okay?”

Donovan looked at her again. He lost himself for a moment in her wide-eyed hazel stare. Her eyes always grew bigger when worry fueled her gaze. Her eyebrows scrunched together ever so gently, and her thin lips tautened as the edges of her mouth creased.

“I think so. It was just really weird. You know? Almost like I felt him burning.”

“Dreams can do that sometimes. Make you think they’re real. It’s just called a lucid dream, and sometimes they can be scary.”

“Yeah, well, aren’t they supposed to have meaning, too?”

“Of course they do, but this doesn’t have to be as bad as you think it does. Donovan, our lives have been a bit upside down recently. We just graduated from college, we can’t even do anything with our degrees yet, and we just moved in together. We are at that stage in life where we’re in a constant state of ‘what next?’ It’s rough. Therefore, logically, perhaps all of that makes you subconsciously feel like you’re being swallowed alive by a volcano. God knows I feel like that sometimes.”

Donovan smiled for real this time and leaned in to kiss Kaylee’s forehead. He grabbed her fingers before he pulled her in for a hug and kissed her on the neck. “You know, you truly are the most amazing girl in the world.”

Kaylee squirmed under his grip as she pulled him closer. “I’m not as amazing as you.”

They broke apart, and he put a finger under her chin to guide her lips to his. “I don’t want to start an argument at four in the morning, but I must say, you’re wrong.”

Kaylee giggled as she led him back to bed. “I think you know that I’m usually not wrong in most situations.”

Still walking backward, he kissed her again as he placed a hand along her jaw and let her escort him. “The keyword there was most, and, my love, I must say you are wrong in this case. You are a far superior human being than I, and you’re just going to have to deal with that.”

They laughed together as they fell back onto the bed and pulled each other closer. Kaylee rubbed her nose against Donovan’s and shut her eyes for a minute before she opened them and locked them back into his.

“I love you,” she whispered.

Donovan kissed her nose, her forehead, and her lips. “Nowhere near as much as I love you.”

Kaylee kissed him again, rolled over, snuggled further into his embrace, and said, “No more weird volcano dreams, okay?”

He pulled her hair away from her neck and kissed it again. “You got it.”

Obliging to Kaylee’s wishes turned out to be easier than Donovan thought, as he found sleeping was nowhere on his agenda for the rest of the night. He only lay there and held her, scared to see the burning flesh of Druin in his mind’s eye again. All he could think was, What kind of Power is worth that type of death?

The thoughts on figuring out what happened after the lava consumed Druin, coupled with the questions of why he had this dream in the first place — not to mention why it felt so real — clouded Donovan’s mind until sunlight graciously outlined their blinds and brightened up the room. Summer was long behind them, and the mid-October weather cooled as autumn took its place.

Donovan rose with the sun and headed for the kitchen to make breakfast. He admired the bricks that made up the walls in their living room for a moment as he turned on the stove to heat up the frying pan. He always enjoyed the color scheme of their apartment, with the red brick coinciding well with the green sills that bordered all the windows. The kitchen itself was made up of earthy tones, with silver appliances that made the apartment look equally old and new. A little bar acted as an island on the other side of the kitchen and looked out into their expansive living room, complete with a 3D television and enough seating for ten people.

Donovan pulled a box of eggs and a bag of bacon out of the fridge. Kaylee had work at eight a.m., he knew, and he wanted to have breakfast ready for her by the time she left for her shift. He knew he’d scared her, but that wasn’t his intention. It wasn’t as though the dream terrified him any less than it did her.

Kaylee awoke and entered the kitchen just as Donovan started to scramble the eggs. He flipped the bacon as she rubbed her eyes and said, “Morning.

“Good morning, beautiful.”

Kaylee headed to the coffee pot, which Donovan had already brewed for her, and poured herself a mug. After adding some French Vanilla creamer, she added, “Not that I’m complaining, but what’s this all about?”

“I felt guilty,” said Donovan as he dumped the whipped eggs into the skillet.

“For what?”

“Last night.”

Kaylee set her mug on the counter, walked over to him, grabbed the hand that pushed the eggs, and made eye contact before she said, “Honey, you had a nightmare. Why would you be sorry about that?”

“I didn’t mean to scare you. Or to wake you.”

Kaylee let go of his hand so he didn’t burn the breakfast. “Do you think I care about that?”

“No, because you’re incredible, but I do.”

Kaylee headed back to the counter to grab her coffee. “Would you like to talk about it some more?”

Donovan thought for a moment as the eggs finished cooking. He placed the bacon on a plate covered in a paper towel to catch the grease and split the eggs onto two separate plates. After he’d done the same to the bacon, he said, “I don’t know what to say.”

They sat at the table together, and Kaylee brought over the cup of coffee she’d poured for him. “Okay, well, was it just a guy burning in a volcano the whole time?”

Donovan took a bite of eggs and a sip of coffee. “Pretty much.”

“Donovan — are you okay? No offense, I know you just cooked me this huge breakfast and everything, but you do not seem like yourself right now. At all.

He looked again into her worried hazel eyes, and, after a breath to steady himself and an affirmation she was ready, he delved into the details of his dream about Druin. There wasn’t much to tell, of course, besides Druin thinking a swim in a river of lava attained some Power, which resulted in his excitement at being swallowed alive by the heart of the earth.

Kaylee had paled a little by the time he finished.

“And, so you… you saw him getting called by this Power, and then you… Burned with him?”

Donovan bit his bottom lip as he nodded. “Yeah. Sounds about right.”

“And your finger blistered but then healed over right away, and you’re convinced your body sizzled in the shower?”

Another swallow of coffee. “Sounds about as crazy as it felt.”

Kaylee drew in a deep breath and put her fork on the table while she wiped her mouth with a napkin. “Okay. Well, I can’t say I’d blame you for feeling a little bit weird after that.”

Donovan hung his head and shook it. “Yeah. I know.”

“Are you okay?”

“You keep asking me that.”

“I also keep fearing you’re not.”

He forced himself to look at her. Her eyebrows creased down ever so slightly, and her eyes narrowed in a way that seemed to hold back her tears.

“I think I’m just going to go to the library when you go to work. You know, get out of the house, do a bit of research on this Druin guy, see if maybe I can find any information?”

“Man getting swallowed by a volcano seems like something we’d have heard about, don’t you think? Especially if it was recent? You know how the media loves to stir up some fear-mongering. ”

“What if it wasn’t recent? I don’t know if its real, but if he does exist, maybe even just disappeared because he never made it out of the volcano… at least I’ll know I’m not making him up.”

“And what if you are making him up?”

“Then I need to figure out what the bloody hell is going on with my subconscious.”

Kaylee frowned, but nodded. “Fair enough.” She looked at her phone and stood from the table. “I’ve got to go to work. Do you need the car?”

“No, babe, you take it.”

Donovan remained seated, and she bent over and kissed his forehead.

“Don’t stress out too much. Go to the library, do some research, do whatever, but try to clear your head. Okay? It’s your day off today. Make the most of it.”

Searing lava devoured his skin my skin…

“Yeah. I’ll get my mind off of it, I’m sure.”

Kaylee kissed Donovan again and left. He sat still for a moment and let the dream play in his mind. He wished, more than she knew, that he could clear his head of its images. It wasn’t a dream, but how could he explain that? Or was he overanalyzing it as she thought? How couldn’t it have been reality when it seemed realer than his current waking state?

The library didn’t open until nine, but they only lived a few blocks from it. While he waited, Donovan cleaned the dishes, took another quick shower, tried to shake his mind clear, and grabbed all of his things before he headed into the cooling air.

The Pollard Memorial Library had always been Donovan’s favorite location in their little city of Lowell, Massachusetts. It was, in his opinion, the prettiest landmark they had to offer, outside of the first textile mill and the breathtaking cemetery. Every time he arrived, he stood outside for a moment and admired the castle-like shape of it. The smooth stones curved into a miniature tower by the front door, and the second floor of the tower was the only place in the front that didn’t have windows. Behind the windowless section rested his favorite spot in the entire library, where a small table sat beneath a large painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which fit along the whole curve.

Donovan ran up the steps and entered, immediately turning to his right to climb the massive red staircase. Little dust particles caught in the light as he ascended, and he basked in the scent of the books as soon as he entered. Having obtained his degree in English Literature, old books were among his favorite scents. He’d grown up in Lowell, and he used to come here as a child just to smell them. Since graduating and freeing up more of his time, he’d come here more often again. He hated being stuffed up in their house, especially when he was alone, and would have much rather sat in a familiar surrounding that brought him inspiration.

When he reached the top of the stairs, he breathed relief when he found his favorite spot vacant. He dropped his bag on the table and pulled out his laptop, connected to the WiFi, put on his headphones, and pulled up Google.

His fingers hovered over the keys, and he stared at the screen.

Where do I even begin?

“Man gets eaten by volcano.”

Only articles like, “Sulfur Mining in an Active Volcano,” and, “Man Dives Into An Active Volcano With a GoPro” showed up. He clicked on the one about the GoPro, just for fun, and even though the video caught a mild representation of what his dream felt like, it still gave him no answers.

Next, he simply typed in “Druin,” only to see he was primarily a character in a role-playing game.

He finished with “Liarda,” only to be shown a slough of French and Italian web pages.

Those are the only details I remember, and this doesn’t give me any leads.

Donovan spent a few hours scrolling through the different pages, just to see if there was something hidden somewhere, on one of these pages, something that wasn’t a popular search, or a frequently visited page…

Something…

When he’d given up on that, he checked the library database with the same keywords, just in case there was a book in there he hadn’t thought to check out.

Nothing. There’s nothing.

It was just a dream, another part of him said.

“How?” he found himself whispering aloud. “How could that not have been real?”

Do you honestly think you burned alive inside of a volcano last night?

“Well, of course I didn’t burn alive inside of a volcano last night, but…”

Donovan caught a few of the passersby giving him odd looks and realized he was talking to himself. With an awkward smile and a small wave at his gawkers, he grabbed his things and left the library. He raced down the stone steps and hung a left, avoiding the oncoming traffic and making his way to the Riverwalk. It laid on the outskirts of the city center, with the textile mill laying along one side, and the Merrimack River along the other. Whenever he wanted to get away from everything, Donovan came here.

And if I’m talking to myself, I need to do it as far away from listening ears as possible.

“There has to be something more to this,” he insisted aloud when he was sure he was safe.

Like what?

“Like what were those Powers he thought he was getting? Why were they so important to him? And why… Why did he enjoy the fact he was burning alive in a volcano?”

The argumentative voice stayed quiet for a moment.

Whatever it was, Donovan, it was just a dream. Shake it from your head, you’ll forget all about this tomorrow.

Donovan stopped at the beginning of the copper bridge that stared out into the river.

“Yeah. I sure hope so.”

For the following nine nights, Donovan did nothing but dream of Druin.