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Mari Ness, in addition to her many other accomplishments, has appeared in Daily Science Fiction many times.

The dreams had become no less difficult to weave, no less painful. Her hands were already raw and sore each morning, burnt in places, sometimes still oozing a bit of blood, well before she reached for a strand of dream. By the time she stopped, she could hardly bear to move her hands; blood dripped from them into the dreams, moving between the strands. Her hands and back ached from working the vertical loom. The pain worked its way into her own sleep, waking her every few minutes; she could not remember the last time that she had slept long enough to have a chance at catching a dream herself. And yet each morning, she plunged her hands into the dream threads again, biting on her tongue to keep from crying out.
And now the loom was broken.
The frame--carved from dragon bone, tied together by unicorn hair and gut, had snapped, leaving the entire loom--and the half-finished dream on it--collapsed on the rough floor of her cave. She knelt to look. Beneath the loom and the dream, the dream threads twisted and crawled, turning in her stomach. She forced herself not to look, running her hand down the edge of the dragon bone, leaving drops of blood as she did.
It must have happened in the middle of the night, she thought, during one of her brief moments of actual sleep. Or perhaps during one of her moments of unrest: she slept as far away from the loom and the crawling dream threads as she could, but she might have walked while sleeping, or not sleeping, and simply forgotten it.
Or possibly her blood had cracked the bone. It could happen, she knew, if a dragon bone was fed enough blood.
For a moment, she rested her face in her painful hands.
It could be repaired, she thought. With new dragon bone, if she had it. She did not need to search her cave to know she did not. Griffin blood could bind dragon bone, perhaps, if the binding was strong enough to hold the weaving of a dream. Perhaps.
Or she could stop weaving.
She thought of everything that might happen, if she did.
Or she could trade her finished dreams for a new loom. Perhaps. She glanced over at the alcove where she had stacked them, not neatly. They shifted under her gaze. She knew, or had known, those who would pay for dreams.
She could almost hear their voices now.
Too much blood.
Too tangled.
Too painful.
You should have stopped years back. Back when you had what you called a skin.
You couldn't keep the blood out?
No wonder you shattered your loom.
I like the blood I like the blood I like the--
Hands still bleeding, she went back to the far corner of her cave, near the small trickle of water that was her only source for drinking and bathing, and the small box of badly tarnished silver she kept there. It hurt to open the box, and she had to pause to rinse her hands in the water, more than once, cursing as she did, cursing also that she had never taken the time to build a small pool to catch that water. But she had so many dreams to finish, and so few people came to this cave to see her, it had not seemed important. She would build it after she finished repairing the loom, she told herself. Slowly, over time, but she could take the time. A few minutes each day, before she went to sleep, perhaps. Doing something else might even help her sleep. Might help her remember the days when she, too, had dreams.
In an alcove on the other side of the cave, the dreams she had already woven twitched a little. She ignored that; she had learned to ignore those dreams years ago.
She still had a small flask of bright blue griffin's blood, and one--no, two--strands of unicorn hair. It would have to be enough. She sped back to the loom.
Holding the frame together so that she could attach the broken pieces would have been tricky enough with two people with uninjured hands. For her, it was impossible: in the end, she had to drop three precious drops of griffin blood on one piece of the shattered frame, and quickly move the other piece towards it, pushing them together as best she could. More of her blood dropped into the dragon bone. She felt the loom shake beneath her hands; she would have to be very careful, later. And fast; she did not know how much time she had spent, fixing the loom, but the light in her cave had shifted. It must have been hours. She bound the pieces again with the unicorn hair, then turned to the other side of the loom. The pieces here were in worse shape: instead of snapping into two, they had snapped into three, and with the other side of the loom already put together, it was hard to move the pieces back into place. The loom shook again. She refused to look at her hands. She drew out the flask, slowly tilted it over the pieces, ready to slam them together, hoping that the other side wouldn't fall apart--
She tapped the flask and tilted it again.
Still nothing.
In their alcove the woven dreams shifted again.
She could fix this. She would.
She grabbed a handful of threads meant to be woven into dreams, and shoved.
The threads shivered and moved against the black bone. She moved her fingers as swiftly as she could, tying, weaving, knitting a patch of dream that could hold that side of the loom together, at least for a time, so engrossed she did not feel bits of the thread entering her fingers, the palms of her hands, though she did feel the tremors in the dragon bone, the shaking of the floor, heard something whisper in the threads. She forced her hands to move faster. She could do this. She could do this. She could--
The loom crashed down around her. Two fragments of dragon bone landed in her legs, cutting deeply; she heard herself scream. Her hands, her face, were covered in the dream stuff that had still been on the loom, unfinished; it, too, was working its way under her skin, into her blood. She crawled away, turned back, forced herself to ignore the deep cuts in her legs as she studied the shattered loom, the broken dragon bone frame.
It is over, she told herself, over. Over.
She could not, would not look at the all too small pile of dreams in that alcove.
Her hands shook as the dragon bone pushed deeper into her skin.
When she could, when the bleeding had stopped just enough, she forced herself up, back to the tiny trickle of water in the back of the cave. She stood there for some time, letting the water pepper her skin with tiny drops. But she was still unclean when at last she moved to her bed, still covered in blood and the stuff of dreams.
Perhaps that was why, for the first time, she dreamed--dreamed of everything that might have been, of silk shattering in her hands, of fire raining down upon the sea, as dragons turned and fled.
Perhaps that was why, when she woke, her eyes immediately shifted to the bright entrance to the cave, where she saw it: dragon bone, five pieces, dark and shining, and below that, three diamond vials that would, she was certain, hold griffin's blood.
She found her diamond knife, touched the dragon bone, and began to carve a frame.
This time, when her fingers bled, she did not feel the pain.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, July 29th, 2016

Author Comments

I like dragons. Someday I hope to find a bit of dragon bone.

- Mari Ness
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