Not One Road Leading Outward


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Scene Title Not One Road Leading Outward
Synopsis Angel reaches out again, pulling some new dreamers into her subconscious; somewhere, the mind behind the statue is in distress.
Date July 11, 2021

Countless gray cubicles create labyrinthine corridors. With each cubicle identical, each corridor identical, the lack of variation creates a stifling backdrop of monotony and conformity. Every turn seems like an exercise in futility; it’s impossible to sense if each step is making any progress at all, or if one is simply walking in circles.

How many steps will it take to make it through the maze of cubicles? It seems to go on forever. Underfoot, the gray carpet muffles the sound of footfalls, and while the space is vast, it somehow feels claustrophobic and oppressive.

The only object that gives any semblance of distance or space is a colossal hourglass that hangs suspended somewhere in the distance. It feels far away, despite the large size, but it doesn’t seem to grow closer. Instead of golden sand cascading through its narrow passage, a macabre substitute takes its place. Blood, crimson and viscous, trickles down, flowing from the top chamber to the bottom of the timepiece. It is a monument to the inexorability of time, and to the inevitability of it running out.

After a few moments in this dreamscape, however, even the gray monotony is broken when the entire scene seems to fritz – a split second of a sputtering static is accompanied by jagged lines of color around the periphery of one’s vision. The blood seeping through the hourglass becomes pixelated; the curved lines of the glass itself break down, then rebuild. Re-render.

July 11, 2021

The space is as intimately familiar to Wright as it is inexplicably alien. The copy/paste nature of some of the sectors of the Palace provide a similar feeling of horizontal vertigo, but this place isn't like a sector she's ever seen. The hourglass and its positional relativity raises her hackles, pixilates rather than scintillates. Immaterial and mutable, so like…

Perspective isn't hers here and, as such, important. This isn't the offices at the DOE. Where has she seen offices recently? Donna. Is she going to get shot? She pats down her armor, feels secure, remembers it's meaningless to Donna. It's just thin cotton. It's therefore gone, and she's at risk no matter what. How will she find Ames in all of this unprotected? How will she kill another father?

She stays low, eyes glancing over cubicles, looking into the identical spaces for something to map her passage. Ariadne's thread. Post-it notes. A chisel-tip Sharpie. She remains quite as death, as Elliot. She moves.

Erin Gordon doesn’t sleep often; a life on the force is an effort in preventing robbery and homicide, but the consequence is the robbery and homicide of pleasant dreams, of rest and relaxation. When she does sleep, it’s at odd and inconsistent hours, coaxed along by a shot of vodka or simply the body saying Enough. And in this dream, the world is on fire again, and she has just seen a prisoner turn into a tree, and she has just shot a body in such a way that it is no longer a body. But the body, rather than liquefying into glorified human hamburger as was the case in reality, warps, mirage-like, into a black hole. The black hole floats closer, closer, closer, until time slows and she is sucked beyond its event horizon.

The black hole spits Erin out again, this time into this strange gray monotone maze. She feels misshapen and distorted, as if parts of her body are weighed down by a gravity heavier than Earth’s, and others less. When she walks, there’s a lack of connection with the earth beneath her feet.

An intersection of the corridors connects Erin and Wright into the same space, along with a third party – the man’s height is abbreviated by a slight stoop of his head, as if the tall man is constantly used to ducking and never straightens to his full length. Pausing at the end of the row of cubicles, he uncaps a tube of lipstick to scrawl an arrow on the gray felt. The color is a muted berry – quite lovely, really.

“Kinda expect a little goblin to pop up and turn it around,” August admits to the two women. He seems to be taking the strange landscape in stride as well as the arrival of the two strangers he hasn’t met before – dreams rarely make sense, after all. He squints up at the hour glass, though, and frowns – it’s hard to ignore that foreboding symbol.

Wright’s search for items seems futile – these cubicles are spartan, their desktops clear of anything that might distinguish them from another. Computer monitors sit at each, turned to the same default screensaver, a gray spiral animation that moves in sync with every screen. Until Wright’s quick gaze catches a deviation – one that’s slightly off by a hair of a second. Looking that way, she can see the central dot isn’t a dot but a circle.

No, not a circle.

A zero.

Suddenly the screen, as if aware of Wright’s attention, fills with zeros. The cubicle grows, its shortened walls stretching upward and the gray felt fading into an institutional white. The open space where the entrance had just been suddenly becomes a door that slams shut, an 0 where a room number would be.

Every cubicle does the same, each a split second after one another, the staggering slams echoing enough that their hearts feel like their pounding.

Above head, the hourglass can no longer be seen as a ceiling has slammed into its place. Everything is clinical, institutional white. The only deviation is in the distance in any direction: NO EXIT signs in red.

Wright jams a finger into the monitor's power button, then staggers up and back from the cubicle into the aisle. She shudders as the walls close up and she's somewhere echoing a memory of a memory. She's not in a cell, which is good because she can't remember how Elliot and Tala and Yancy got out of theirs.

No exit is and isn't a problem. There aren't supposed to be any exits, otherwise Zero could leave if the Switchboard came unlocked and the Aquifer Overlook didn't distract it and it made its way through the Mall and Building 19 and the Ossuary and the Suburbs and the Church and the Group Home Annex and the Apartment Complex and the Mill. It's bad because Wright is stuck here and if Ames is here too she'll be funneled toward the choke point and killed like all of the other children.

At least she isn't here alone. An Erin is here, along with a man. "I like your lipstick," she tells him honestly, hoping nobody looks at the monitors. That nobody knows.

Erin blinks slowly, languidly, at Wright, and thinks to herself, at least this isn’t like the last Wright dream, that made me uncomfortable for days. She lifts one foot, stares at the sole of the shoe, and then the other. No gum. That’s good, her feet felt sticky, but it wasn’t sticky like old gum on an August sidewalk - more sticky as though the air is humid, and she is floating above it somehow even when her feet make that contact. Walking on water, in a way. And then, as an afterthought, she touches her hair – just speaking of sticky – and it is blessedly devoid of human chunks. In dreams, she never seems to get messy from daytime’s dirty work.

She is standing, or is she?, and this doesn’t feel like her usual brand of nightmare. She’s still wearing her armor, her face shield, everything from the day of the fire, and it is getting a little too hot for all of that. Shouldn’t dreams be temperature controlled? Had she ever seen exit signs in dreams before? Even in the flashbacks?

The doors slam, and she visibly jumps.

“When…did I become a desk jockey?”

August glances down at the lipstick, head tipping as if he’s unsure how he came to have it. “It’s not mine, but it was in my pocket. Maybe Kay’s.” Does he expect them to know who Kay is? It’s a dream – why not? He doesn’t know them, but that doesn’t seem any stranger than being in a maze of gray cubicles or a wasteland of white drywall and paint.

“White walls…white rabbit? I feel like we need to hurry, but I’m not sure where,” he says, an all-but-native New York accent tingeing his words.

He glances around, choosing to turn right, placing his right hand on the wall. “Right-hand rule works only if the maze is simple connected, but not if there’s loops, or you get caught in an infinite loop.” His words are uttered in the manner of a recitation of some precept he’d learned at some point, rather than an attempt at conversation. Without waiting for a reply, he begins to follow the corridor, hand on the wall to his right.

Erin’s thoughts become manifest, then, as the floor begins to stick beneath their feet. Looking down, the white linoleum grows stained in shades of red and brown and even bubble-gum pink, blood and viscera and literal bubble gum adhering to the soles of their shoes. The noise August’s feet make as he moves is like the sound a shoe makes peeling off of a movie theater floor that’s been coated in too-many years of spilled soda and popcorn butter.

The NO EXIT sign in the distance flashes in the distance, a strobe effect that throws an eerie red light across the white walls and the faces of the three dreamers.

Wright isn't sure how she feels about somebody mansplaining a labyrinth to her because it's a complicated subject. But shouldn't anybody here already know that she knows all that? "Unless the loops are just infinite-seeming," she says suspiciously. "There's a lot of utility in creating labyrinth ways that loop only a fixed number of times, where egress is determined by the number's relevance to the founder." That'll show him.

"Either way, 'No Exit' implies the goal is the center," she continues, "not the edge, so infinity doesn't matter. It's probably important to focus on staying, not leaving, or the mnemonic architecture will become hostile. The only way out is through."

Wright is distracted from her counter-mansplanation by the appearance of Erin's gore. "Ew," she says. Why would she bring that with her?

”What?” comes Erin’s exasperated response to the gum floor. Clearly she is less up on the intake, or in on the uptake, to the fact that this is a dreamscape - right now she’s just confused. “Wright? Are we - what the fuck, dude? Am I on acid?”

"That isn't what acid is like," Wright says with secondhand familiarity. "I think there's supposed to be fireworks."

August’s brow cocks upward at Wright’s reply, and his head tips slightly at the phrase mnemonic architecture. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to know what’s in the center, whatever that sign there does. Do you always do what signs tell you?” he wonders – there’s a reason he’s the criminal in this trio, probably.

“If you wanna go meet the goblin king or the minotaur or whatever it is, carry on,” he says, but he nods in agreement regarding acid. “Way more colors than this if you were on acid.”

The architecture, mnemonic or not, stutter-strobes again, becoming pixelated and flat for a moment rather than three-dimensional before breaking down entirely. For a moment, it’s as if they’re surrounded by code, floating letters and digits and punctuation marks in the stereotypical green on black.

August watches it for a moment, then shakes his head. “That’s just gibberish. Means nothing,” he replies, and reaches out to push through what seems to be a wall of falling code, as if it were a beaded curtain in a cheesy psychic’s shop. Behind lies a graveyard full of white statues – they look like common angel statues at a glance, and yet for some, there’s something familiar in the frozen countenances.

Wright is preparing something along the lines of, 'Yes, but you're not playing against the labyrinth, you're playing against its architect with all their assumptions and cognitive biases about user behavior,' but then the man reminds her about the minotaur and how they're all in terrible danger.

Aren't they? Everything shifts and they're surrounded by code that she can also see is meaningless because Elliot knows how to code. Everything is in flux, this isn't static. It isn't playing by the rules of the Palace, it's playing by the rules of a dream. The statues mean something but it's at the edge of comprehension. She's still terrified, they're too close either way. They need windows, light. Time for a change of scenery. She can already smell the mold.

"Coda," she says, attempting to exert her will over the environment with an Indexed memory.

There is a redhead kneeling in front of the angels, her face turned up to their marble features. Faces she knows in passing. Faces she doesn't know. Faces she once knew far better than she does nowadays. She's usually not snoozing this early in the evening, but between the days of the fire and now, there have been more and more reports of the potential for insurgent violence. And the stress of once more feeling that the world is about to go to hell in a handbasket – this time with her not just along for the ride, not just a sympathizer, but one of the hunted – has made her sleep difficult. So to find herself here, in front of a graveyard somehow didn't seem strange at all.

Pushing copper hair that is rapidly turning white in her day life out of her face, Megan turns to look over her shoulder as voices arrive in the graveyard. And now there's at least one more familiar face. She doesn't know Wright or Erin well, having only met the latter once and the former long ago and then recently again in a few group settings when she was Scott's guest, and she doesn't know August at all. But… they are at least familiar. And more importantly… they're not marble statues. She pushes upright on her knees and then to her feet, asking in a voice roughened by dismay that tightens her throat, "Is this what will be or what already is?" Because she honestly doesn't know. But this ain't her first rodeo with the Dream Teams.

“Oh. Megan. Hello.” Erin sounds far-away, distant. This is a very bizarre ending to a very bizarre day. She holds one hand in front of her face, flexes it, first all fingers and then one finger at a time. You can do anything in dreams, and this is what she chooses. How lame. Maybe a lucid dream, then. She looks at August, wondering if they’ve met before or if this is a dream creating an amalgam of a face out of all the ones she had seen that day, and then back to Megan.

“I think it’s what…already is.” Erin replies, dazed. “I mean. Because we’re in this moment. So it is, in that we are looking at it, right now, in the present. Or, like, is this the present? Am I dreaming? I feel like me in a dream never asks if I am in a dream, so something about this is weird, right? If it’s a dream, can I-”

She covers her face with her hands and thinks so, so hard about having big falcon wings.

“Very Dickensian of you,” August says to the newcomer into this dreamscape, and he lifts his face to look at the sky above the graveyard. It’s an ominous thing, gray clouds streaked with red, but even as he watches, it breaks apart like it’s an image on a computer screen with the graphics breaking down before it reconstitutes itself once again.

“Are we in a dream or in a computer simulation?” he muses, unaware of the struggles of the real people the statues represent. “It’s a bit nonsensical for a virtual reality so probably a dream.”

He crouches down, sitting back on his heels and reaches out to brush the dust and grime off of one of the tombstones. The name is in Cyrllic – Артём Милославский. He shakes his head. “I’ve heard you can’t really read in dreams. Can anyone read this? Is it nonsense or a name?”

As he speaks, Erin’s fingers over her face suddenly grow longer and thinner, softer and lighter as they shift into feathers – falcon feathers, tawny and dappled; her arms become the wings she had just thought of, manifesting the idea into being.

At the uttering of the word Coda, their surroundings suddenly become black, though an afterimage of the graveyard and statues can be seen in the walls, as if stuck on a computer display. For a moment they stand in what seems to be an utterly black field, devoid of any texture or light, though they can see one another clearly.

Slowly, as if coming through on a 1995 dial modem, an image begins to load – Elliot stands with a book in his hands – and they all can feel the texture of that book, rough between his fingers, cloth cover worn with a century's time and stained by days of rain.

"But I, being poor, have only my dreams;" he reads in the quiet of the library, "I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

“Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven,” supplies August. “Aedh’s a god of the underworld. Fitting for a graveyard.” Though the graveyard is gone now. “But mostly just a love poem.” He’s unaware that this is Wright’s will at work.

Elliot seems frozen in place, like an automaton who’s delivered that one line of poetry in some strange surreal Disneyland attraction.

Wright sighs in relief once everything makes sense, stepping toward Elliot with the compulsion to be standing where she was when this happened. She stops halfway there, it isn't necessary. Elliot isn't really here, but they're safe now that there's light; there are no windows in the Palace. "This is definitely a dream," she says with authority, abandoning the projection of her partner. She really registers the other people for the first time, smiling at the ones she knows. "Good to see you Megan and Harvey Birdwoman, attorney at law enforcement."

Moving toward the statues that clutter the combination library graveyard, she begins to see familiar faces in the stone. "I'm going out on a limb here and guessing this is Angel's doing," she says, then looks back toward the new guy. "I'm Wright, by the way, welcome to the dreamscape we keep being kidnapped into."

With a long sigh, Megan drags a hand through her hair and looks around. She can't look at the faces on those angels without her chest hurting. "Hi," she greets August and Erin, her nod to Wright in acknowledgement of the likelihood that this is the crazy angel. "I still can't get a handle on what all of this is about," she admits.

Watching Erin turn into a bird is disconcerting and alarming as hell. "Every one of these things is so surreal. She talked about missing pieces of herself – I've got my suspicions that we're dealing with a dreamwalker who might be hurt and/or in a coma. But for the life of me I can't sort out the why us part of all this. They're pulling some of the same people but not all each time, and we get new ones from time to time." Poor August.

Meg doesn't want to think about the other possibility that she's thought of – that the dreamwalker died while they were reaching out to someone's dreams and now they're just sucking in various people because it's how they're surviving… . God, quit it! That's macabre, she tells herself.

It does hit her then that they've missed a potential avenue to investigate. "Wright, when we wake up, we should see if we can plot where everyone who gets pulled in each time was located. Maybe there's a radius the person can reach and we're just the people inside it when they themselves are sleeping?"

Putting both hands on her hips as she looks around, she murmurs, "I've had about enough of this shit." She pulls in a breath and shouts across the graveyard, "Hello? Where are you?" Cuz the angel-looking one is probably around here somewhere.

As they speak the library begins to fill in around Elliot, as if slowly rewriting the background image of the graveyard. There are windows, cracked and grimy, but sunlight filtered through to create shards of light, motes of dust drifting through. One corner of the section The ground is littered with rubble and dead leaves, amid fallen books.

There’s no reply from Angel. Somewhere, a radio plays – it sounds like a newscast, in Russian.

“Hell yeah,” Erin says, using her new wings to test-fly herself onto the back of one of the cushioned library chairs that is now surrounding them. “I think this confirms dream, you know, since I don’t usually have these things, but I guess we’ve figured that out now.”

She stops, squints, listening to the newscast, as though her narrowed eyes will enhance the comprehension and volume. “I did grow up in Brighton Beach, and so I have a passing understanding of Russ-ish, but this doesn’t sound…quite…I don’t think this is Russian-Russian. It sounds kind of…slurred. Post-Soviet bloc, Russia-adjacent. Ukraine, maybe? Kazakhstan? Lithuania? I suppose it could be regular Russian, maybe the news just sounds weird here. Does that mean anything to any of you?”

Fluttering clumsily back down to the ground, she approaches the Elliot facsimile, apprehensive and seeking out any potential look of recognition on his part.

“Megan, it sounds like you’ve – been in something like this before? Is that accurate? Is this Angel a person who tries to tell you things? Should we be looking out for, I don’t know, symbolism?”

“Keep?” is August’s reply to Wright, for as noted by the others, he’s new to this nonsense. But he gives his name anyway, as propriety dictates. “August. I’d say nice to meet you but I don’t know if this qualifies as either nice or meeting, honestly.”

He moves closer to one of the bookshelves – reaching out to touch one of the books, and then his gaze moves upward, toward the damaged ceiling and windows. “Feels like it’s during the war…?” he asks Wright. “And not in Russia.”

There’s no radio visible, nor speakers nearby for it to be piped in. The windows outside show a desert for a split second before static eats away the imagery to what it had been, part of Wright’s memory, trees and foliage and a street in rubble outside.

"That's not actually Elliot," Wright says as an aside to Erin. "Just part of the memory." She doesn't seem phased by Erin's wings, flying through a dreamscape is second nature to her. She doesn't bother now, she's altered the landscape quite enough already. There's no telling what would happen if she pushed against the world while it's in such a state of flux. Rendering, almost.

"It was during the war," she confirms for August. She smells rain coming, not just what's left on the books. She runs her hand over the poetry books in front of Elliot, chosen to find the specific passage to create this little experiment. "Early days." She looks back to the shelf, curious if Millay's name was on any of the books there.

Wright elaborates on the matter at hand. "The possibly dislocated consciousnesses of an Expressive dreamer has been pulling people into tableaus of an unsettling nature and quoting Edna St. Vincent Millay at us, incorrectly, to give us clues" she says. "She is also rude. And likely in danger. SESA has been informed, a field agent was among the dream-napped. I'm in Washington KC right now, so our girl's ability has range."

Well shit. That's not good. Megan's brows pull down over her nose as she considers that new bit of information. "I'd say you just torched that theory straight in the ass, then," the redhead points out to Wright. "It can't just be range, it's got to be something about the people yanked in here that draws her attention to them."

She turns her gaze onto Erin and August, pursing her lips thoughtfully. "Megan," she offers her name to August because she cannot remember if she did that already. "I'm sorry you got pulled into all this with no warning. And yeah, it's not our first rodeo," she sighs as Wright explains it to August. "It's… She's coming across to me like she's very confused, possibly unconscious out there – if she's unconscious or comatose and reaching out for help instinctively with only her subconscious, she may not be able to speak plainly. The subconscious makes tricky as hell connections, and it doesn't have linear processes, if you get my meaning. It's why unless you're a lucid dreamer, things can get downright freaky in your dreams."

“No, that makes sense,” Erin replies, finally turning to face the others with more convictions. “The number of–” She was about to say odd dreams, but much like a pink elephant, if you imagine it, it will come, and so she does very good attempts to shut out anything other than the present, right here, right now. More visibly to the others, she shakes her head.

Back into cop mode, she questions, “so you know this person, then? Does she exist in, well, the normal plane of reality that the rest of us do, or is she someone stuck here? If she’s in our plane of reality, do you know where she might be? If this is old news, what happened here? Does it disrupt the fabric of this reality when we imagine new things to change the dreamscape? And last, do our bodies still exist where they were, or have we disappeared fully into here? I recognize that this is a lot of questions, but I’d rather be helpful here.”

At the mention of a SESA agent and Washington, KC, August gives Wright a wary sort of look, then chuckles at the thought he – or his sleeping consciousness, at least – would somehow be attractive to the dreamer.

“I’m not anyone likely to be able to help with that sort of thing, myself,” he says, though he’s quiet as Erin asks her litany of questions. He quiets, looking at the bookshelf and reaching for one of the books when the name Millay catches his eye on the spine. Pulling it out of its slot on the bookshelf, a displaced snake slithers out of view again, and August reels back as the movement startles him.

He opens the book, then, and instead of pages and words, it’s like he holds in his a book-shaped window – beyond a Manhattan skyline, perfect and complete, the skyline of memory, of a time before 2006.

“Fucking weird,” is all August has to say about this.

"It's possible it was just a matter of timing followed by familiarity," Wright posits to Megan. "Who happened to be dreaming at the time she reached out for help." She looks for a book of her own as something Megan said strikes a chord. It doesn't matter that she's in the wrong section, people put books on the wrong shelves all the time. She finds it, a book with the title framed by two snakes swallowing each other's tails.

"Our bodies are wherever we left them," she further assures Erin as she flips through familiar pages of alternating green and red text. "Our minds are the only thing here. We shouldn't be able to do any real harm to this place, though it is odd that she didn't fight back against the changes I already made." The Aquifer is immutable despite forming the scaffolding that allows for their dislocated minds to visit the place that Angel founded. She doesn't get into that, worrying about having said too much already.

"She should have more control over the 'scape," Wright says as she finds the passage she's looking for. "But she's forgetting. Losing herself."

That…. sounds like Wright knows a hell of a lot more about this kind of thing than Megan does, so she defers to the theory Wright posits. "Okay," she says slowly, her mind turning over that idea along with Erin's questions. "No, we don't know who or where she is," she replies slowly – that's already been answered but it's not surprising that someone's first yank into this would be confusing. The redhead glances first at the officer then at August as well. "But nothing you do in here has any bearing on reality, where your body is just sleeping like usual… you're just having a dream in someone else's head instead of your own, essentially. Everything we have so far is pretty much conjecture based on the first couple of times we were pulled in and the things that she said and showed us here. So it doesn't require knowledge of this kind of thing – it just requires an open mind toward ideas of how to locate someone who may or may not be purposefully pulling others into her dreams."

Turning her blue eyes back to Wright, Megan hesitates and asks, "If she should have more control – which makes sense if she knows what she is but she may not even realize she's doing it either because it's new or because she's trapped in her body somehow and in a constant dream state." A pause. "Which still would indicate that maybe she doesn't even realize that she's dreaming…., do you think she doesn't have that control right now because she's weakening?" Maybe dying. And what the fuck happens to all of us if she dies while we're all in here? It's not a thought she wants to linger on.

Erin has the same apprehension, vis-a-vis dying, but again tries to push it out of her mind for fear that it could happen. She looks around, willing for some sort of door to a Guide on how this all makes sense or how to help or even figure out who this poor girl is. Well, the only way to try is to try.

“Angel. ANGEL.”

A shrug, expecting nothing except for being the first one that the big bad takes out.

August shakes his head when Megan voices that worry.

“I think we’d be fine and just wake up, but she might stay in one of our minds, maybe. If she can sever her consciousness from her body. Or maybe she’d fracture into as many parts as sleepers she’s connecting.” Who doesn’t want a piece of Angel to take home in their minds?

He’s caught by the hypothetical, looking off in the distance, clearly mulling over the problem in his mind.

When Erin calls out Angel, the ground beneath them shudders suddenly and somewhere in the distance, beyond the walls of the library, a loud crack can be heard and felt at once.

It is the sound of a frozen lake splintering under too heavy a boot, and the feeling of creeping dread that foretells of the bitter, deathly cold to come.

The sound inches closer and closer until a split appears in the floor beneath them, instantly pulling the room into two halves, with Wright and August on one half and Erin and Megan on the other. The schism grows, and tiny cracks splinter off of the faultline through the floor beneath their feet, creating a web of shards.

The remaining windows shatter, and sand whips in from the outside on a hot desert wind, stinging their cheeks.

Wright busies herself in her book, glancing up without worry as the Nothing consumes Fantastica; it’s Relevant and only helps her in her goal. “I do know her name,” she says distractedly as she finds what she’s looking for and begins to read.

“Why do you need a new name to get well?”
“Only the right name gives beings and things their reality,” she said. “A wrong name makes everything unreal. That’s what lies do.”

Wright doesn’t know for sure that this will help at all. Angel’s dislocated consciousness might not have enough purchase here for it to matter anymore. She might be gone already, this dream her death rattle; a mindscape free of its founder and falling into the Aquifer. It’s sad and terrifying and she uses it, feeling everything. Only she, Wright, can do anything about it. She raises the book, paging forward to read aloud words about herself standing in this library.

Wright was unaware that there were tears running down her cheeks. Close to fainting, she suddenly cried out: “Gavriila Miloslavskaya!”

Whoa! What in the hell??! The world shakes and Megan puts a hand on a bookcase, looking around in alarm. Then Wright says she knows the girl's name. Blue eyes pivot to the blonde incredulously. "You learned her name and didn't say anything?!" Because they could have been searching for this poor girl or woman all this time! "Never mind," she breathes out immediately – because now it doesn't matter. And maybe she just missed something in a different dream she wasn't part of. She has certainly not been in all of them.

The line about a new name to get well, that resonates with the nurse. Why does she know that question? It's a long-buried memory of a childhood movie, triggered into a more full recollection at the sight of Wright reading from a book… about herself, reading from a book. The Neverending Story? What the actual fuck is going on in this dream world, and whose is it??? Desperately the redhead tries to remember the plot of that movie, but she only has the vaguest recollections of a boy reading a book in which he himself is the active participant building the world as he lives the story. Does that make Wright the boy – whose horse, she now remembers apropos of nothing, dies in the most horrible scene in movies she's ever seen – and if so…. Who is the princess in the tower? Whose name did the boy give that princess? Was it important?

Shit, she cannot remember! All she can do is watch from the sidelines, as fucking usual. There are days when she is quite certain she is too fucking old for this shit.

When the world shakes, Erin instinctively throws her wing out across Megan’s path as a mother does when slamming on brakes, and then withdraws when the danger has passed. She squats to look down into the chasm and then up at Megan, and around to the rest.

“Well, do we do the inadvisable and split the party, or do we cross and carry on together?”

As the crevice forms between them, August steps back, reaching out to pull Wright back a little when she doesn’t react except to read from the book. “I really wish I could will myself to wake up. No offense. You all seem nice, and all,” the man says, dragging a hand over his face before he too peers down into the crack, about a foot wide, that separates them.

Below is no concrete foundation, nor basement, nor dirt – nothing one would imagine under the thin and soiled carpet of the old library.

Instead, as they peer into the crack, it’s like peering into the night sky somewhere far from man-made lights and smog and all. The stars crowd the black canvas behind.

When Wright says the name, the cracking stops. Did it work?

“How are you here? I didn’t ask you here today.” The confused voice is Angel’s, but colored with an accent she never had in the past – Russian or something Slavic.

Then they feel it – mostly in their guts – as the floor falls away beneath their feet and they fall with it, suddenly hurtling downward at breakneck pace as they fall downward through a starry night sky.

Somewhere a clock begins strikes twelve.

"I don't know why we're here either," Wright admits, turning to look apologetically to Megan but not wanting to risk an explanation that separates her from the narrative she's using to hold this conversation together. For now the comforting blackness is enough to serve as the place the boy in the story arrived in the shattered realm to be given his grain of sand. "But you've been calling for a hero and I'm here now." She isn't Bastian, either of them, but she can pretend to be him to keep the story Relevant as long as possible.

Falling is a distraction, and as down is relative in zero gravity, she spends a moment trying to divorce the sensation of falling from the feeling of floating. She pulls her legs beneath her to sit face to face with the disembodied voice. "I want you to know that we found out who you are, and that there is a rescue operation underway," she says. Her link to Asi is long broken, but she tries to permeate this space with hope either way. "I know it's getting hard for you to hold things together any longer, but if you give me a grain of sand—the last fragment of your realm—I can try to wish for a new world, and I will spend this night in the forest dreaming with you until you finally awaken." Or pass on.

Holy SHIT is Megan's only thought when Wright's gamble seems to work. Why or how is just not important. Not right now. The copper-haired woman is actually familiar with the disorienting sensation of no gravity. Thank you eruption of powers she never had before! She only requires a moment to pull herself to a 'steady' state of floating here. And the information that a rescue attempt is already being made makes Megan breathe a little easier, though now her heart is breaking – the things she feared are exactly what Wright is intimating is happening. Their dreamer is in danger… and possibly dying.

She maintains distance only so as not to distract Wright. If their dreamer is weak, she's afraid now that movement might break their link. But one hand presses to her heart, as if to try to quell the aching there.

Erin flaps her wings a little, uncertain if the wings or the unreality are keeping herself afloat. Seeing Wright, she follows the cue and pulls them to her core, sitting cross-legged in nothing, making a mental note to meet back up with Wright the next day to see what on Earth she can do to help this poor, suffering person – if, indeed, Earth is even the target location. She attempts to catch August’s eye, having equal wishes to wake up, the out-of-place-and-timèdness, the vulnerability of being out of the loop, a growing discomfort by the second.

August flails, perhaps a little comedically, as he plummets, but as the other three defy gravity, it seems to stop his downward fall. He shakes his head a bit to clear it, then laughs, weakly. “Damn it, thought it might have woken me up. You know how when you fall in a dream and it wakes you? Hypnic jerks, that’s what those are called. The more you know.” He absolutely says that last bit in singsong.

The hourglass appears above their heads – large and ominous, and the last of its sands are draining out even as the last chime of the clock resonates. Suddenly it falls toward them, but as the distance dwindles, it grows not larger but smaller until it floats in front of Wright – the last grain of sand still in the upper chamber.

Ahead, a doorway made of light glows itself into existence. The dreamers know it’s not for them, but for Angel. Gavrilla. Gabriela. She appears within its frame – first as the Angel, and then the stone falls away, crumbling to reveal the woman within, green-eyed, golden haired. Her eyes are wide and frightened.


“I’m sorry.”

Those are the only words she has before the doorway flickers out, leaving them in the darkness, and then…

Marriott Downtown
Washington K.C.

Wright sucks in a breath that wakes her in the dark of her room. Her hand is still clutched shut as though the grain of sand might still be within, so she spins into a seat and holds it out before her. There's no power for her in the waking world, she was never so lucky. But she can hope, and she hopes that Gavriila and the others will be okay. She forms it into a wish and breathes it out.

Not wanting to leave it to chance, she also takes her phone from the nightstand to try to contact Asi.

Young Townhouse
New York Safe Zone

Surging awake on a sharp gasp, Megan finds herself bobbing against her ceiling. Again. Goddamn it. It takes her a long moment to pull herself fully awake enough to descend to the rumpled bed that she was sleeping in, now wide awake. Her brows pull together in small furrows of worry. Can their dreamer be saved? Jesus… where to even start. She rolls to the side to grab her phone and send a text out to the only person in the dream that she knew, to see if there's anything they might be able to do in the waking world to help the girl Angel became in the dream. Gabriela.

The Clinic
Staten Island, New York

August Yeats sits upright with a gasp, his office chair tipping precariously at the shift in direction. Argos, the lanky mutt, jumps up and barks once. It helps, ground August in this place and this time. "S'okay," he tells the dog, reaching out to give the dog some reassuring pats. "Just a dream."

It's said more for his benefit than Argos.

He reaches for the pill bottle on his desk, rattling out a couple of the pills within, and tossing them down with a chaser of a half-finished bottle of blue Gatorade.

The Watchtower
Red Hook, Brooklyn

With a violent flail Erin nearly rolls out of the cot in the nap room, catching herself on the edge just before falling out entirely. She uses the floor as leverage to push herself back up, awkwardly straining her triceps, and flumps onto her back, staring at the dim-but-never-dark ceiling. It is a moderate disappointment to have human arms back, she thinks, turning her right hand over in front of her face before it, too, meets human gravity and thunks onto the hard mattress. On the bedside table is her phone, nearly dead, and she grabs it to text Wright –

”What can I do from here?”


Dark lashes flutter against the pallid face of Gabriella like two half moons made of shadow. When her eyes finally open, dilated and wide, tiny white rectangles gleam in the black mirror of her pupils — a reflection of harsh fluorescent lights that shine from above. Alarms blare around her, discordant and disorienting.

A tear slides down one cheek. She repeats the words she just spoke in the dream.

"I'm sorry."

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