When the adult dreamed, he dreamed as a child.
He dreamed he was a toddler stood poised in the opening of a tunnel. Around the opening, quartz and marble and tile, once burnished, were now dirty with age and disuse. A small tree—no aspen, no oak, nothing the youngster had seen in his short life—grew out of the stone at the side of the cave mouth. The child’s nostrils twitched with the smell of damp rock and—blue eyes widened—the scent of cinnamon! Cinnamon and rock sugar on quith-pa—the child’s favorite afternoon treat. And he was hungry, tired of this day’s outing.
The mother’s voice called from a nearby thicket in the Grove, the sacred forested area near the center of Qualinost. The child stood, irresolute, at the tunnel’s opening, clutching a stuffed animal, a kodragon, in one fat hand. The cave had not been there the day before, the child thought, but it was there now. Anything is possible in a child’s world, and this child had never known fear.
A Presence beckoned from within. Perhaps the Presence would play with the toddler; his own big brothers were far too busy with big brother things. The mother called again, a note of fear creeping into her voice.
The toddler debated. Was it The Game, where baby hid and mother found him? What better place to hide than a pretty tunnel? Its quartz and marble and tile now shone as though some magical Presence had polished them between one moment and the next.
The mother demanded that the little boy come out of hiding. At once, young elf. Or else, she warned.
That decided the issue. The child darted into the cave. And in that instant, in that first uncertain pause in the darkening tunnel, the opening grew over. Vines shot up from the dank earth. Rocks tumbled and blocked the afternoon light. In seconds, the opening had disappeared.
The child stood, uncertain, at the pile of rubble that had been the cave’s door. He wanted out, but there was no Out anymore. There was no light, no scent of cinnamon.
There was only the tunnel.
The man awakened, whimpering.