Dream Lord Wars - Chapter 6
Previously on Dream Lord Wars…
Teddie has been kidnapped and is trapped inside someone else’s dream architecture. As she’s figuring out what’s going on, she fights to find a way to keep Dreamland safe. Meanwhile, Harley finds herself arrested by the master mechanics set on sending her to prison for dreaming.
Sea Of Dreams
I fought to keep my head above water. Riding a rising swell, I braced for it to crest and topple, pushing me under the water with a tumbling force. It carried me down and back toward the top again for a moment. When that motion stopped, I kicked, fighting my way to the surface again. The storm was pitch black above me. A wild array of lightning lit up the sky, turning the sea to a miraculous blue in spots.
I wasn’t going to last for long, but I had to hope I’d left Barry behind, that he couldn’t find me here.
What happened if I died here? Would I reawaken in his lab? Would I remain in a coma? Would I be trapped in some strange place of in between?
Something floated on a rolling wave not far away. It could have been a door, maybe? Floating debris of some kind?
Swimming toward it with powerful strokes, I reached for it.
And found myself in a scene reset.
Trees rushed in as if this was a video game loading up.
Relief settled my nerves as I took a moment to watch the new scape. At least I wasn’t drowning. This didn’t feel like Barry’s rather thin dreamscape, so I had to assume this was Dreamland. Somewhere. Somehow. I didn’t want to move around in it too much just in case Barry was able to watch me the same way I was able to record what happened in my dreams.
But I hadn’t been able to record anything in Dreamland. My video had blipped and had only shown the affects of what I’d experienced like the eye thing and, well, maybe the introduction of Lady Storm.
Okay. Okay. So, had that been Lady Storm? And was this a dreamplane? “Hello?”
Cool air pressed against me as I dripped water into the still-loading silent yellow grass. The branches swayed as if the trees had run in on their own, a swirl of fuzzy, orange-striped leaves dancing around me and falling to the ground. The grass shot up, turning brown but still looking healthy, large, yellow heads popping into even bigger blooms. The flowers near the base of the largest trees remained yellow while the blooms in the middle of the small and widening meadow were turquoise.
I shook my head and pushed my shoulders back, hating the feel of wet clothes.
As if on command, they were dry and now, the air caressing me was warmer.
Had Barry caught that? I so wished I had been monitoring this dream so I could have caught something, but I was in the wrong hands. He was probably still watching my brain scans. I couldn’t help that, and it was doubtful those scans would tell him a lot. There was just too much of the human brain’s inner workings we didn’t understand. But still, I didn’t want to give him any discoveries.
At least, not the kind he could use to invade with.
That thought hit me with a thread of terror. I didn’t know this place, but I did know humanity. We’d just waged a war because one side had wanted to imprison people for having been born and the other side had said they’d rather kill than be imprisoned. I didn’t see much hope for the human race finding a peaceful way to exist here.
Except through the ways that had survived for several millennium.
Stop. Pause. Think.
If this was Dreamland, then I’d messed up and somehow shown Barry how to get here. I wasn’t sure what he’d be able to see. His dream vid shouldn’t be working since it was my setup. That meant that all he had was brain scans.
And I didn’t want to give him too much there either. Did I want to travel in Dreamland and show him how that worked in my brain? Did I know how that worked my own self? No. Because I hadn’t taken the time to sit down with my assistants to study it because I didn’t know who to trust.
And now I did. Wanda had to be leak. Which meant I could have trusted Emily and Tony.
A vine grew beside me like a magic-infused beanstalk, the large leaves unfurling beside my head, a soft spiked scent of cinnamon curling around me as if priming me for action.
Well, if I couldn’t travel in Dreamland, I could at the very least study it while waiting to wake up.
What was the first thing I noticed?
The sound of water trickling nearby in what had to be a stream.
The feel of the water heavy air on my skin.
The use of colors was interesting with the orange foliage and the green stripes. It looked very alien, especially since the leaves were more bulbous than flat. The yellow flowers closest to me could represent warmth and creativity, while the turquoise could be making me feel calm.
Or not and this was just a recreation of an alien landscape thought up of by some dream architect far away.
And extremely powerful. I mean, come on. I’d been creating dreams for all of a year and understood just how hard it was. I didn’t have this level of depth, the sounds, the feels, the smells.
This dream design was advanced. I’d all but given up being able to incorporate smells into my dream architecture. If I could figure that out, then it might be easier to help Joey kick his addiction, which was the whole intent behind my dream design study. I could add the smell of alcohol into my brother’s dream sessions, triggering responses that we could then work through.
I reached up to study an orange-striped leaf in greater detail, wondering why someone would create something like this.
And found myself being slammed in the face with another wave. Water filled my lungs as I fought the water’s push to instead find the surface. My face broke through and I sucked in air only to choke on the water already in my lungs. Coughing while fighting to stay above the rolling waves wasn’t easy as the waters were even choppier than before. A wave rolled in, bringing me higher with it. I took in a breath, let it out as I found more water, took in a shallower breath, and then it was on me, pushing me into the darkness.
It was if the sea understood I was there and wanted me out.
Voices surrounded me as the water lit up. In answer to what I had thought? I remained in this brief low spot, trying to focus on the voices. Was there someone nearby? Was the water telling me something?
The voices didn’t sound urgent. They didn’t sound scared. It was if they were simply having conversations, one on top of another on top of another like I was in my media room with the wall of monitors and the sound turned on to each of the dream studies.
Was that bleed over from the lab or was this something here? How much bleed over was there when I was here? If my body was cold, would I be cold here? If my body was dying, would I be dying here?
Or was what I was hearing something of Dreamland?
I didn’t remember feeling or smelling or sensing anything from the lab before, so I had to assume this was Dreamland somehow. And if it seemed like I was listening to the dream vids in my lab, then this must be…
Dreamland’s video lab.
The brightness morphed like billowing clouds as the waters churned overhead and I could almost make out forms. A man bending over to pick up a kid? Maybe? A person holding a shoe? This was a game of pareidolia more than anything, seeing pictures where there were none.
But this could just as easily be apophenia. There might not be any meaning behind the water churn. It might simply be lightning in the water lighting up the movement of the water and I was losing my mind and hearing voices because the storm had put water on my ears.
My lungs burned. As my head broke through the surface, I stared into the inky rage-filled sky and realized that if this was a dream lab then the architect had to be from an advanced race, especially considering the fact that it’d been here since humanity could tell stories. He might know how to use water to magnify or store, somehow, the dream logs. Similar, in theory though maybe less practical, to using crystals.
Barry would only be able to see my brain scans, and there wasn’t much he could even glean from that. It wasn’t like my brain was going to offer him a road map to Dreamland. It might show him what parts of the brain needed to be activated, but it wouldn’t show him how or what I needed to think or do or wouldn’t give him a direct contact into what I was seeing or thinking.
And if this was a dream, then I really couldn’t die.
Except not all dream architects knew how to build that fail safe.
Except, this wasn’t Barry’s dreamscape. This was Dreamland and it’d been around for millennia, keeping people alive while putting them in some pretty harrowing situations.
Taking in another deep breath, I swam down, intent to listen and watch.
And pulled myself into the jungle landscape, which was fully loaded this time. Same orange-striped, fuzzy bulbous leaves. But this time, sunlight shot through the thick overhead canopy, giving the place a surreal look and feel. The scent of cinnamon was thick in the air as more and more of those large-leafed vines rose toward the tops of the trees.
I didn’t reach for anything as I dried myself off with a thought again. I didn’t even move my hands. That was a virtual control design flaw that I’d use to my advantage at some point but needed to learn how to control first.
I could call for Ikari. She’d probably have some answers for me, and that was tempting, but I didn’t want to be shuffled off to the dustman academy again. Not that it was bad. I was certain that learning how to do Dreamland things was a great idea, but not right then. I was still in Barry’s lab and that was still a dangerous thing. At some point, I needed to figure out how to get back to my body, wake myself up, and get myself out.
But Barry had the ability to keep me in an induced coma for the rest of my life as he attempted to glean my dreamwalking skills.
As neat as all this was, being behind the scenes and getting the backend tour of the workings of Dreamland, getting back had to be my main focus. Like with anything else, I needed it to be my fixated focus, my hyper focus, because with that particular gem of a superpower, I could—probably—find my solution.
So, I spun slowly, taking it all in, keeping my hands to myself.
The foliage was thick, reaching high into the sky. The trees walked slowly, groaning as their tentacle roots maneuvered over the hilly and rocky ground, moving the undergrowth with swishes and clicks. Birds cackled to each other. They didn’t sing. It was more like a chittering, almost, as if they were gossiping about something just outside of my understanding.
A deep voice rose into the sky, singing a single note. Another joined it, and another, and another until an entire chorus of voices filled the air, vibrating my skin with the intensity. It didn’t hurt my ears. It wasn’t that loud. It was just… powerful.
The details were amazing.
Two trees walked with lurching steps to my left, leaving leaves and motes of dust floating in the air behind them, revealing a flat-topped pyramid in the distance.
The architecture was brilliant. Keeping my hands firmly at my sides, I took a step toward the pyramid.
And took in a mouthful of water, the voices screaming at me now as the water engulfed me.
What are you doing? Run!
I reached for the surface, clawing my way to the top, but didn’t find myself back with the walking trees. Was the designer actively working on refining the design with me still in it? With as advanced as this place was, it did kind of make sense. That could be a problem, though. Any backdoor I found could be closed if I didn’t act fast enough.
I did, however, find air, which was good. The water was cold, making my fingers numb and my legs sluggish. The wind slapped stinging rain in my face, making it hard to breathe. I really felt like I was going to die.
Focus! I just needed to focus. I didn’t need to survive this. This was Dreamland, of all places. If I died here, I might wake up back in my body.
And then back into Barry’s architecture because my dreaming self couldn’t force my body to wake up.
Teddie, a female voice sing-songed.
I spun in the water, trying to see through the blinding rain and whipping water. I rose with a growing wave, the tip curling over me. I was going under again. I ignored the voice and kicked, trying to keep myself in the part of the wave that wouldn’t kill me.
Hands grabbed my ankles and tugged.
I let out a startled scream and choked it off to get in more air before the water swept over my head again.
You won’t take it. A woman’s face shot out of the darkness. Four white lanterns draped around her face like an angler fish, lighting her billowing green hair and reflecting in her moon-white eyes. You won’t take any of them!
The fight fled from me and was replaced with overwhelming peace. I knew I was going to die in her arms, and I was okay with that. I mean, I felt bad about Joey. I really did, but the fact was that he was an addict and that wasn’t my fault. He’d probably inherited that from our dad who’d killed himself while driving drunk. So, I mean, even if I could make this dream rehabilitation thing work, which was a bit of a stretch, it was doubtful I’d succeed in time.
To save my brother, and that was okay.
So, what was the point?
They’re mine to protect, the woman said.
She was so beautiful as she stared at me, her long green hair floating around me like a billowing cocoon. One of her tentacles wrapping around my arm as something punctured my skin. The gills on her cheeks and neck flared and fluttered.
Whoever her designer was, he was fantastic.
A hard, wooden hull sliced through the water, knocking her shoulder. She growled, revealing a mouth filled with sharp teeth as she flung herself out of the way, dragging me with her.
Whatever spell she’d put me under let up. I shook my head and pushed away from her, my lungs on fire, but I wasn’t working on full strength. She still held me with her tentacle, claws digging deeper where each of her suckers were. Even with the power of her gaze no longer directly on me, I was tired.
Several bodies shot into the water in shards of air bubbles, and arms circled around me, pulling me backwards.
Were they saving me? Helping me? Could I trust them?
The green-haired woman screamed in rage and let me go.
A rage the wind seemed to meet with answering force as soon as my head cleared the waves. People hauled me up the side of a massive ship, helping me over the rails and onto the deck.
What was all this? Never in all my studies of dreams did I encounter stories like this. Were these guys dustmen? Had Ikari somehow found me? Well, maybe I could illicit her help somehow. She was a dustman, after all, and dustmen had to have access to dreamers. So, maybe we could find a way to, I didn’t know, hijack a dreamer and save me?
That seemed almost impossible.
But so was this entire place.
I lay there, drenched in the continual downpour and stared up at the main mast, watching the blue feathers flutter on the sail.
My heart skipped a beat and my hand twitched, the muscles in my body tightening. My arm was on fire where the tentacle had pierced me.
Was this my body reacting in Barry’s lab? Was I having a bad reaction to whatever drug he’d given me? Or was this the mermaid—octomaid? Squidmaid? What was she even called?
A man in dark clothing walked quietly toward me with bare feet, and knelt. His dark gaze met mine and then he cupped the back of my head and shoved something in my mouth.
It tasted like death.
He held my mouth closed.
I clawed at him, trying to get a hold on anything that would get that vile taste out of my mouth.
But the man’s grip tightened, his dark eyes watching me closely.
He didn’t look like a dustman. His eyes weren’t the same, didn’t have the same glow. Was I in danger?
I clawed at the man’s hand, trying to break free.
But the world went dark before I could.
A cool hand landed on Master Evroul’s leather clad arm and a tall, lithe woman wearing a flowing blue dress stepped out of thin air. Her long white hair was straight and was clasped back with a wild crown of branches with varied leaves. “Be still, Evroul,” she said softly as a dog barked in the background.
He glanced at her, his expression twisted, and then did a double take, falling to one knee. “Dream Lord M’Alaena T’sai, please forgive me,” he said in his high-pitched voice. “I did not realize you were here.”
The sandman raised her chin, staring down at him through her darkly lidded eyes. “Hmm.”
Harley had never seen a dream lord before. She’d never realized sandmen were anything other than a myth. Well, of course they had to be more than a myth, but she didn’t think she would meet one.
“Harley Dreamcleaner,” the dream lord said, turning her gaze away from the master mechanic. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
Harley bristled at the name, but that was what she’d been born into. She bowed her head, not quite sure how to show her respect.
“Dream Lord, please,” Evroul said, loudly as he rose to his feet. “I was just pulling her—”
“Away from her duties?” Sandman M’Alaena asked. “I was quite aware.”
“I am merely adhering to the rules placed down by the dream lords, as you should know.”
“I do,” she said, turning to him more directly. “And as one who put these rules into place, I also know there were reasons for them. I also understand the need to change them.”
“Change is a dangerous thing, Sandman.”
“Failing to change is more dangerous still, Master.”
He grimaced as if she’d slapped him.
Harley swallowed, almost afraid to draw attention to herself.
“Dreamland,” Sandman M’Aleana said, turning her head slightly in Harley’s direction, “is in need of someone different.”
“She dreams, Lord,” he said as if saying Harley was diseased.
Sandman M’Aleana went still for a moment, closed her eyes momentarily and then opened them with a nod. “Not a true dream, Master, but a hope for a better tomorrow. That is an infection we allow our dreamers for very valid reasons.”
“Of advancement, Master, as you should well know.”
“That lead to destruction,” he said with conviction.
“Sometimes, Master Evroul, the lack of hope and advancement can also lead to destruction. That is what Dreamland faces now.” She turned to Harley and folded her hands. “We are in grave peril, Mechanic Harley.”
“Mecha—” Master Evroul choked. “She will never—”
“Be as small as you, I am aware.” Sandman M’Aleana sighed, pulling a silver token out of the air and offering it. “Take my boon and be in peace. Your place among the mechanics will not be stripped from you. You have my protection.”
Harley took the token the dream lord offered, her breath caught in her throat, afraid to blink to move to breathe. It was the badge of a mechanic.
“But you must help me save Dreamland.”
Harley swallowed, clasping the token to her chest and looked up.
“Before it’s all lost.”