Dream Lord Wars - Chapter 3
BTS: Shirking my Superpower: Invisibility
Previously on Dream Lord Wars…
Teddie hides from her continued failure in her dream architecture and finds an unexpected guest. Dustman Ikari whisks her away and informs her that she’s somehow tapped into a much larger dream network; Dreamland. Meanwhile, Harley exhausts herself trying to fight the system she was born into by proving she has what it takes to be there. Until she receives a call she cannot ignore. Dreamland herself is screaming for help.
Grandmother Willow At All Views Point, Dreamland
“Okay!” Ikari said with a hand clap as she took the spot Lady Storm vacated. “Let’s get a few of those pesky questions out of the way, shall we?”
I wasn’t in the mood for “pesky questions.” If I was being put into an “academy,” it sounded like someone was stalling for time. Knowing this wasn’t Tony’s, Emily’s, or my dreamscape, I knew not to look for blue squares, pink squirrels, or lady bugs as the back doors to get me out of there.
So, what else was out of place?
A train whistle blew overhead and a copper train engine that looked a lot like Puffing Billy rolled to the left, hauling a long line of cars—
Only to appear out of nowhere and scream directly over our heads.
I stepped to the side to see what was going on. It was as if the train had found a door that opened a good city block away and closed directly above me with nothing in between.
Is that how the suburbs made sense? The egg city looked even further away now, though it was between me and the crooked city. But there were others.
A dark and twisted suburb seemed to rise from the shadows with twisted inky mushrooms for houses and weird structures that looked like bulbous nodding towers of refuse.
As I walked the perimeter, a garden straight out of Avatar gave off green, blue, and pink luminescence from a darkness that didn’t seem to touch the brightly lit brick buildings and cobbled streets below it.
I really wanted to see this code, but to do that, I needed access. So, I searched for a panel, or a display. Anything that would get me into the programming of this place, understanding it wouldn’t look like a computer screen. No one would be that dumb.
Hmm. Barry Brady was exactly that. He wasn’t a programmer or a dream architect like I was, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he’d throw me in like this and do exactly that; give me access to his coding so I could be enthralled by it.
“It’s a lot to take in,” Ikari said beside me.
I didn’t understand what I was taking in here. “Yeah, sure.”
“You can’t plane here, Teddie.”
“What do you mean, plane?” I demanded, turning on her. “What kind of lab are you working here?”
“Lab?” Ikari asked. “This is Dreamland.”
“Well, that’s not egotistical or anything.” The nerve of some CEO’s. Though, I had to admit, it was a great name.
“I think we’re confused.”
“Agreed. Where did you get this tech? Where’d you get your code?”
“There is no code.” Ikari blinked her ice blue lit eyes and sighed heavily. “Come. The classes will help explain things.”
“I don’t have time for classes. This… you’re stalling.”
“I don’t know! To keep me from advancing my work? Though, I don’t know why when you’re just going to come in and steal it anyway.”
“Steal your work?”
“Stop playing stupid.” I remembered going to sleep in my own lab. “Wait. You’re mobile?”
“Of course,” Ikari said, narrowing her eyes and adjusting herself so her body was diagonal to mine. “I’m a dustman. I can reach you wherever you are.”
“A dustman.” I snorted. “Don’t you mean a sandman?”
“No,” Ikari’s tone grew short. “Sandmen are the dream lords. They control dreams and nightmares. We only rule over our own dreamplanes.”
She seemed so sincere, as if she truly believed this. “How long have you been here?”
She shrugged. “Three hundred years.” Tipping her bald head to the side, she smiled. “I look good for my age, don’t I?”
“You sound pretty modern for someone who’s three hundred years old.”
She snorted and turned to walk slowly away. “I stay current by talking with my dreamers. Some of our dustman deal mostly with kids, but I deal a lot with adults. They need dreams, too. My dreamplane actually looks a lot like yours.”
She raised her dark eyebrows as she nodded with an intake of breath. “It’s actually why I couldn’t find you right away. I typically find my apprentice in the after realm, but you were…” She spun slowly while walking, her hands out at waist level as she took in our surroundings. “…here the entire time.”
She didn’t answer immediately.
I didn’t know what I wanted to hear her say, anyway. I didn’t buy the story she was feeding me. A pretend land of dreams? When I was creating a lab that harbored them? No. Coincidence didn’t ring like that.
“Go to class, Teddie,” she said gently. “Just listen to what they have to say. Something very odd is going on and we—” She gestured to the other dustmen dressed in varying degrees of similarity. “—need to figure out what that is.”
“I need to wake up.”
“And you will.” A frown flashed on her brow. She shook herself as if chasing away a thought. “But after class. We have to figure out how to teach the waking, and…” She closed her eyes as she came to a stop, folding her hands in front of her abdomen. “We’ll talk more after class.”
I was getting out of here as quickly as I could. “Yeah, okay. Whatever.”
“Teddie,” she said, putting her hand on my arm. “You need to know that what you’re doing is serious.”
“I know that.” But I didn’t know what she meant.
“You’ve created a dreamplane in Dreamland and you’re in the waking world. You’re not a dustman. You shouldn’t have access to this world.” Her piercing blue gaze shot through me with the sincerity of her words and stabbed me with what felt like truth.
“Okay.” I swallowed, fighting down the need to justify myself and what I was trying to do.
“This is dangerous.”
Her mouth fell open and she took her hand away. “I don’t know.” She looked away and shook her head. “I don’t know.”
So, it could be fine.
But something clicked and made sense.
People all over the world had stories about sandmen and the land of dreams. People studied dreams. Heck, I studied dreams. It was entirely possible that the dreaming reality was real in a collective consciousness way. It could be a bridging of reality and science through the workings of the brain. There was so much of the soul and the mind that couldn’t be fully measured. This could be something on the quantum level—something I could say with great credulity because I had the barest concept of what “quantum” even was. Theoretical. Basically, that’s all I understood.
The train that flew through the air, had disappeared sharply and reappeared overhead as if it’d gone through a split door.
That would make sense with quantum blah-blah-blah, right?
And I had tapped into it? This reality that most humans shared only when sleeping?
I allowed myself to be shepherded with the other people to a door with nothing around it or on the other side. It was like stepping into the Tardis.
Except this Tardis was shaped like a bubble in space. We were surrounded by darkness and it looked like stars all around us, one a little brighter below and to our left.
A man dressed in black stepped forward. He was tall, muscular, and his dark hair fell to just below his shoulders. His yellow slitted eyes seemed to glow in the darkness, and a scar split the skin over his right eye and another wrinkled his lips on the right side.
I swallowed in surprise. This was the face I’d seen when Joey’s dream had blipped.
“I am Nightmare Keme,” he said in a deep, clear voice. “You are standing inside my bubble. In here, I can create any type of dream I need, which will be much different than your planes.”
“We brought you here,” Kova said, coming to stand beside him, “to better show you how Dreamland works. We can show you in the safety of his control what might be otherwise dangerous out there.”
“It’s dangerous,” Keme continued, raising his chin, “because you are all still alive and in the waking world. This is also the only reason you’re allowed within my protection. I only serve the living.”
“But you’re a nightmare,” one of the people said, his lips not matching what he said. He looked like he was from somewhere in East Asia, but I wasn’t going to hazard a guess as to where. I didn’t know enough about any of their cultures. “Aren’t nightmares the bad guys?”
“If making you face your truths makes me the bad guy, then, yes,” Keme said, his tone lowering to nearly a growl, “I am a bad guy.”
“Are we able to understand each other as we’re speaking different languages?” I asked.
Keme met my gaze. “Yes.” He tipped his head as he frowned, his glowing yellow eyes narrowing. “That’s how Dreamland works. There are thousands of languages spoken here, but we always understand one another.”
“Why are we here?” another woman asked.
Keme turned his narrow-eyed gaze to Ikari.
“You’re here,” another dustman answered, her voice thin, “because you have the dustman spark.”
Ikari nodded once, glancing at me. When she saw that I was watching, she held my gaze and raised her chin.
“What’s that?” someone else asked.
I looked back at Keme and tipped my head in question. If this was Dreamland—the quantum equivalent to astral projection through dreams—then it was possible that this man had tapped into Joey’s dream. And if that was the case, then he was the glitch in my architecture.
His gaze lit with fire as he mimicked my position.
“Dreamland feeds the flames of hope in people,” one of the dustmen said proudly. “Through hope, we create better worlds, greater societies. With hope, we build a place for our children and our children’s children to thrive in.”
“Why keep nightmares, then,” a man asked. “To destroy that?”
“To show people how to build their own hope,” I answered, knowing my words were right.
Keme assessed me, a calmness overtaking him. “Correct.”
“There are a few things you need to know about how Dreamland works,” Ikari said. “Things are overly simple here, and incredibly complex. For instance.” She took a step back and gestured to Keme who flicked his fingers.
The space between us grew wider until we were practically out of shouting distance.
“Everything in Dreamland works on the Who. You can move through Place by following the Who. Like this.” Ikari touched her heart, closed her eyes and said, “Kova.” She disappeared from where she’d stood before and reappeared on the other side of the bubble, standing beside the other dustman.
Okay. That was neat. I reached with my mind and thought of Ikari’s name, trying it for myself. “Ikari.” I didn’t go anywhere.
I wasn’t the only one who’d given it a try. Several of us had.
“A Who,” Ikari said, watching us with approval, “is more than just a name. A name is what you are. A name is what others need you to be, have shaped you to be. A name is a mask you wear to hide yourself. Your Who is a mixture of your background, your interpretation of your life experiences, how you see the world, and the impact you have on it. Your Who will change with time, so even if you were to give me your Who today, I might be unable to follow you in a year depending on how much you’ve changed and grown.”
“So, how do we get that?” a man asked from the other side of the bubble from me, the light of the brighter sun shining weakly on his red sneakers.
“By listening.” Ikari met my gaze as Keme flicked his fingers, bringing her closer to me.
My heart raced as I watched her draw nearer, not quite sure what I was going to experience here. I wanted to take a step back, which was dumb because the only thing we were going to do was exchange names.
Except that, somehow, she’d learn who I was. Somehow she’d learn where I came from, what I’d done, how I’d destroyed my brother’s life. Would she still want me after that? I mean, there was the whole deal where I’d tapped into the planes or whatever done the blah-blah-blah with the “you’re still alive” thing, but would that be enough after she discovered what I’d done?
“See me,” she whispered, lightly touching my chest and latching onto my gaze with her own. “I’m Ikari.”
Visions washed over me faster than I could keep up with. She’d been an older sister once, living in England. Her brother had loved to play by the river. One day, while they were out doing work around the manor, he’d fallen in and drowned.
That event had tainted every living moment of the rest of her life. She’d fought harder to watch out for other kids. She’d watched over the other little boys with more diligence, wanting the other siblings to never feel what she’d felt.
Her guilt had shaped the adult she’d become, helping orphans live a better life in the new world. She never married, though she’d wanted to once. The man she’d chosen had wanted her to give up the orphanage to become his wife and take care of him and his children. Instead, she’d given birth to the child he’d left her with and had raised the boy as one of her many orphans.
They would later become the people who made the United States what it had become. She’d planted that hope. She’d helped them build their lives and the lives around them. That’s why she was chosen.
Dropping her hand, her blue eyes blazed brightly for a moment before dimming again. “That’s my Who, or at least one part of it. Now, your turn.”
I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to give a part of myself to anyone else. I didn’t want them to see me. I didn’t want her to see me. She was strong and capable, and looked like a dream warrior.
She took my hand and placed my fingertips on her breastplate.
The magenta leather was bubbled with raised symbols I hadn’t quite seen before. “I don’t want to,” I whispered.
She clasped my hand with both of hers and nodded understandingly. “Let me see you.”
I closed my eyes, tears threatening to rise. She’d had a brother who’d drowned in water, something that was understandable. She’d been small and alone. I’d raised my brother, been his rock ever since the day he’d been born. Then, as soon as a chance to get out had come along, I’d bailed on him.
She pushed back with an emotion wrapped in a thought that felt like a challenge, as if she was telling me that wasn’t what had happened. He’d applied to the school for me. I’d turned down several opportunities before this one.
That was true. But when I’d left, I’d felt… relief. I loved my brother, but it was so freeing to be away from him, to live my own life, to get up at my own time and do my own thing and not have to be ruled by the whims of a younger sibling. I’d had fun.
As he drowned in alcohol. He’d needed me.
And I’d been having fun.
That was why I was so committed to saving him, why the dream lab had to work. Why I couldn’t accept failure as he left rehab time after time and then fell right back into the habit. I hadn’t raised him to be strong enough to survive and then I’d left him to fail and drown.
That was who I was.
Ikari’s lips pressed in and rose on one side. “Today, maybe. But your Who will change.” She tapped the top of my hand with a down-turned smile. “I know it. Now, then, let’s practice, you and I. Follow my Who and come to me. Come on. We have a long night and we do not know when you will awaken.”
I stared at her in wonder. Did I want to leave? I wasn’t sure anymore.
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“Master Aldo,” Harley said again in exasperation. “I am telling you it was right here.”
“And I’m telling you,” he shouted in a tone that brooked no argument, “I would have known if a force like that breached my workshop.”
He slashed his hand through the air and glared at her, tipping his balding head to the side, the fluffy bits of white hair sticking out all around his up-raised goggles. “I know why you’re desperate, but to make something like that up isn’t where you need to go.”
Did he really believe that? “Have I ever lied?”
“Have you ever been faced with what’s coming?”
No. Her reality settled around her like a cage. When she failed—not if—she would watch as others did what she loved to do. “This isn’t me trying to get out—” She stopped herself. That was exactly what she was trying to do. “It was real, Aldo.”
He walked, heavily swaying from side to side, and slammed down his tool bag beside her metal workbench. He let his shoulders sag as he looked up at her. “If you can recreate it…”
“I can’t, but I can tell you that Dreamland was screaming in pain.”
“Dreamland. That’s a big scream.”
Which was the reason she didn’t understand why Master Aldo of all people hadn’t heard it. “Maybe she chose me. I am different.”
He hopped twice and pulled himself onto a stool using the table, then chewed on his grey mustache in thought, his blue eyes working back and forth as he worked it through. “That does make sense. Something’s brewin’. That much I know. But I also know that without some extreme intervention, you’re…” He stopped himself and shook his head. “I should never’ve took you on.”
“I’m glad you did.”
“You won’t be when the apprenticeship ends.”
Harley gripped her wrench in her hands and simply held on as if was the thing that would save her.
Aldo’s hot, small-fingered hand settled on her icy arm.
Harley looked down at him, meeting his ice blue eyes, wishing there was an answer in there.
“If she calls to you again,” he rumbled quietly, “you follow her. No matter where she leads. You hear me?”
Hope. Yes. Harley more than understood. “Thank you, Master Aldo.”
He closed his eyes and shook his head, his expression filled with the pain of understanding what they faced. “Never thank me for what I did, dear girl.” He picked up his next project and began working to fix the robotic snake. “Never that.”