Hero of Dreams - By Brian Lumley

Chapter One

First Meeting

Chapter One

It was evening and the uplands of dream were turning chilly. Spiked grasses nodded in a slight breeze, like hissing Gorgon heads, where they made silhouettes atop rocky rises. Soon the sun would be down and the stars would come out to blaze in the heavens of Earth's dreamland. David Hero did not know these parts, for his dreams had never before carried him here; he knew only that he did not like this place, where green plains gave way to scrub, stony slopes and sliding shale, and the crags cast gaunt shadows that would soon become threatening caves of blackness as night drew in.

He shivered a little and fondled the hilt of his curved sword where it hung at his hip, then turned up the hood of his brown cape a little-but not too much. He did not want to shut out the evening sounds of these uplands, for his ears were sensitive and would often tell him of a danger before the danger itself became visible. The breeze stiffened to a wind and moaned with an eerie insistence as he leaned forward up the slope, and high overhead a scud of gray clouds hurried into view as they crossed the peaks and headed south.

South .. .

Now why couldn't he have dreamed himself south? To Celephais, perhaps, where King Kuranes reigned, or sky-floating Serannian where the west wind flows into the sky? But no, he was here, wherever here was, and so must accept whichever dreams were his due this night. Whichever dreams ... or nightmares.

David Hero knew he was in the north of Earth's dreamland, but no more than that. These peaks above him could well be the ultimate range leading to Leng itself, whose plateau was home to some of dreamland's vilest inhabitants; or they might merely be the foothills of that far mightier escarpment, Kadath in the Cold Waste. Thoughts such as these had almost determined the dreamer to turn back and head for healthier lands when, on cresting a ridge, he came upon a scene which had him drawing his sword in a whisper of steel and falling automatically into a defensive crouch.

Below, a lone wanderer sought cover in crevices of rock; while ranged about him, a trio of six-legged spider-hounds hissed and snapped at his leather-clad legs, trying to secure a hold on him and pull him down. One of them awkwardly clutched a straight sword in a prehensile fore-paw, having doubtless snatched it from the frantically scrabbling, hoarsely panting object of their detestable torture.

David Hero knew some of the ways of spider-hounds from tales told to him by travelers and storytellers in dreamland's more civilized regions: how they would wear a man down with their vile hissing and leaping, then paralyze him with their poisonous stings and eat him alive, often making their meal last through several nights. Such was obviously the intention of this monstrous trio, and Hero could well understand the near-demented scrabbling of their victim as he sought to find some crevice in which to wedge himself, the better to make a stand against the horrors.

Without a thought to his own safety, the newcomer grit-led his teeth and went slithering and leaping in the gloom down the shale-covered slope. He waved his sword above his head as he ran at the hissing, scampering creatures, whistling and shouting like a madman. Still on the run, he snatched up a large lump of lava in his free hand and hurled it at the insect-like hounds, and had the satisfaction of seeing one of them leap high in the air with the shock of the impact as die missile struck home.

Then he was upon them, slicing with his sword and panting through clenched teeth and grimacing lips. By good fortune his singing blade took the jointed hind legs right off one of them-the one that held aloft the beleaguered stranger's sword-and in another moment the man had leaped forward to snatch back his weapon from the crippled spider-hound. Striking together, the two men put paid to that demented creature where it dragged its stinger uselessly behind it.

But now the other spider-hounds had realized that the balance of the game had evened up, and that therefore a quick end must be made of it. As at a single word of command they launched themselves at Hero, twisting their bodies in the air so that their stingers struck at his face. He ducked, impaled one of them on his sword, felt