Therein Lay All Release
Scene Title Therein Lay All Release
Synopsis The dreamers play both prey and hunter, finding some answers and raising more questions.
Date May 29, 2021

Darkness comes first, followed by sound.

Heart pounding against the chest, the iambic rhythm fast, frantic. Frightened. Feet pounding on the ground, crunching the detritus of… what? It feels like leaves, pine needles. Roots and rocks trip up those feet and something — fingers? Branches? — grab at sleeves and skin.

It’s hard to breathe. The night is pitch black, like moist black velvet, smothering breath and blinding eyes. After running (why?), vision begins to acclimate to the darkness, taking in and making sense of dark shapes — trees, woods, people running alongside one another. There are others here, running together, but the feeling is one of isolation — solitude but not solace.

Lightning flashes.

The sky, illuminated by the arc of lighting, is filled completely with dark, menacing clouds rumbling above. Clouds and not clouds — five horses made of stormclouds, glowering down on the forest below, each with six red glowing eyes. In the split second of silvery light, those horses coalesce into a wolf.

Darkness again.

s_cooper_icon.gif s_elliot_icon.gif s_finch_icon.gif s_odessa_icon.gif s_seren_icon.gif

Elliot is on edge, wire-tight against the dread carried by the dream. The horse symbolism is the first thing to register as anomalous; the six red eyes put the next piece in place. He’s seen them most recently in the documentation provided by the DOE in preparation for his upcoming assignment. His suit won’t have them, perhaps in an effort to not fucking terrify every native they come across in the Root.

The parallel isolation of the runners in the woods is interesting in the way it’s trying to corral them, keep them feeling hunted. That directionless horror woven into the very fabric of the dream. He crouches for a moment in the darkness following the lightning. He uses the seconds to separate himself from the dream’s emotional component, feeling now just the lucid unease of being in a situation he still doesn’t understand and can’t control.

But he can start to try. No sense waiting, this time they aren’t afforded the luxury of a cabin to feel cut off from the nightmare they come from. Not starting off in the Incorrect Palace this time is a small mercy. “Everybody call out,” he shouts to any runners who may also be living dreamers. “This is Elliot Hitchens.”

"Fi— Eloise Finch," comes another, smaller voice, not heard or heard of in a little while now, but pulled back into the fray all the same.

She is unnerved, arms wrapped around herself where she's slowed to a halt. Though she begins to say something else, whatever it was finds itself stuck in her throat, her wide eyes locked on the darkness above as her feet begin to carry her slowly closer to the first voice heard.

It takes hearing the others for Seren to realize the nightmare isn't their own. Their breath is ragged, having tripped and fallen at some point— only a second ago??— and they look up to see the terrifying shapes in the sky. Their silver-limned eyes widen in observing the horse's combining into a wolfish figure.

Then there's friendless dark again.

They stumble to their feet. "Seren's here," they shout, the fairywings at their back fluttering but still kept nested between their shoulders in the end. Getting caught on a tree wouldn't do. With a breath to steel themself, they head forward to catch up and head in the direction of voices. "I'm coming!"

There is a stifled snort of laughter on the heels of Seren’s last statement, like the sound snuck up on the person before he could stop it. Honestly, it’s not hard to know who that is.

“Thomas Cooper,” a young voice exclaimed awkwardly, with an edge of apology.

Not a moment before he had been in an intense game of air hockey with Al, the owner of Al’s Arcade, and Cooper had been winning. Wearing a pink jersey with DonutKing written across the back and the numbers 69 below it, the light colors stood out under the black light.

He’s been on the verge of winning, only one more point. Thomas had just hit the puck when the lights went out. Standing there in the darkness, with the - what is that thing called? The hitting thingie? - still in his hand, he looks up at the cloudy steads and whispers softly, “Whooooa. Very wicked.”

Cooper’s voice lifts to call out to the demonic horses, “Hey… Metallica called, it wants its album cover back.” Despite the direness of the situation, he gives a self-appreciating chuckle at his own joke before looking around him.

“Angel!? Where you at?” Thomas calls out, looking for the dreamer.

Odessa Price’s response comes in the form of terrified shrieking as she tries to extricate herself from grasping fingers. Have they found her? The lightning, the horrible images in the sky… Is this what it’s like to be taken? It’s only when the other voices cut through the haze of her terror that the pieces slip into place and she understands where she is. There are no hands trying to drag her in, hold her back, only the spindly branches of barren trees.

The screaming quiets. “O!” she shouts instead to the others, realizing belatedly how that doesn’t sound like a name at all. “This is O!” It’s the smallest voice she starts moving toward first, shoving aside the offending foliage this time, snapping twigs with a particular sense of viciousness as she goes. “Hold on, Finch! I’m on my way!”

There is no answer to Cooper’s call for Angel, at least not for a moment. There is only the frantic breathing and the rustle and crackling of leaves beneath their feet as they try to find one another in the darkness.

Until there is an answer — of sorts.

Somewhere behind them, a wolf’s cry pierces the silence.


… says Cooper, unbidden, which seems like a perfectly appropriate and normal thing to say at the moment, but the look on his face makes it clear he didn’t plan to — for anyone close enough to see him in the thick veil of darkness.

cried my trickster heart,

…O says next, even as she tries to battle her way through the foliage to join Finch.

at every sheep it spied

…Seren follows, fairywings fluttering in time with the meter.

and roused the country-

Elliot starts the verse, but cuts off, through no plan of his own, before finishing the rhyming couplet. The wolf howls again, this time closer, somewhere to their left, and a young child’s giggle cuts the silence that follows — she sounds closer, but like the sing-song verses of other dreams, seems to come from everywhere, in surround sound.

“You all came back to see me! I prepared a game. Finish the verses or the wolf gets closer. Get it right, and you might win the game,” the little girl’s voice announces.

Elliot’s eyes dart between arrivals for a head count, giving Seren a nod of greeting as they emerge from the dark of the forest. He tries to keep an ear out for any straggling dreamers, but the newest round of puppeteer poetry makes it impossible.

He sighs in frustration when his turn is done, or mostly done. “Is the prize for winning your game to not be eaten by a wolf,” he asks the night, “Because I’m going to have to ask for an assurance firmer than might win the game for guessing correctly.” Even as he tries to barter for a surer outcome he’s patting himself down, hoping he carried something into this dream with him. His knife, or at least his phone for some light.

Once they're free again of influence, Seren rolls their jaw, uncertain what's going on, uncertain what's happening now. It feels downright… opposite of their first brush with Angel. She'd been a guardian, saving them from a nightmare. They're unsure that the child toying with them now is her, but neither do they want to leave themself at their mercy to find out.

And yet, they promised to try and help the trapped dreamer. Could they go back on that promise so easily?

Feeling their fear but stowing it away in the face of others' being unnerved, too, Seren hardens their resolve and lifts their hand, warm light casting brightly from it to cast away the shadows immediately around them. A creeping sense of deja vu curls up their spine. A different dream— a similar struggle. One that had ended in horror, too.

With a sudden frown, Seren lifts their hand high above their head, palm glowing again while they try to get their bearings. "Is everyone all right?" they call out. It's a question that dies almost as soon as it's shouted, turning instead to the sound of the voice. Unsettled, they slowly begin to lower their hand, though it loses none of its warm glow. The edges of their irises limn silver as their imagination starts to race.

The silver in their eyes is strong as they turn to the sound coming from everywhere and nowhere. "It's side!" Seren shouts clearly. "Countryside." They frown into the dark, looking for signs of clues to help guide them all by. "What did you do to Ange?"

As Odessa speaks, Finch's gaze lifts, searching. But just as she manages to find and turn toward the owner of the familiar voice, it is used to speak words that cause her to draw instinctively away.

She takes one step back, then two, the crunch of leaves below her. "I thought we were supposed to be helping," she says, abruptly, to everyone at once, her voice cracking with uncertainty as her shoulders hike up a little higher with fright. "But it's getting worse. Isn't it?"

“I knew I should have paid more attention in english class… or at least, you know… picked up a book now and then,” grumbles the youthful Cooper, looking around himself with a bit of a frown. “Sorry guys, I’m useless here,” he offers apologetically to the others. “More of a nerd trivia guy and not a scholar.”

Pressing lips into a fine line and hoping nothing comes out of his mouth again, Thomas squints into the darkness. “What the hell changed? I mean… I don’t believe she’d really hurt us,” mild glare at anyone suggesting she would, “… she’s just trying to scare us.” He seems pretty confident of that, as naive as it is. “But why go all the escape room on us?”

Cupping his hands around his mouth, Cooper half shouts out into the darkness, “Can’t we just… talk about this over a nice game of skeeball?”

“I didn’t say the wolf gets closer to you,” calls out the voice with a tittering laugh that echoes all around them. “But maybe it will. I don’t have any control over him, you know. If I did, he wouldn’t be running around free while I am…”

The voice cuts off, silence for a moment, before she speaks again. “Lost.”

They hear it before they feel it — the patter of rain against the thick leaves and needles of the canopy above head, but the drops make it through to dampen their own faces and clothes. It’s salty, like tears, on their lips.

“But, Yay! You got the answer right!”

The lightning flashes again: this time the sky is full of writhing snakes. The wolf howls in the distance, no closer than it was before.

“Maybe it’s working. Let’s try another,” calls out the voice.

"Wolf! Wolf!"

…begins Cooper this time. The girl’s giggle sounds again, high and almost flirtatious.

“You sound like a dog,” she says, breaking up the line of the poem. “Oops. Keep going.”

and up would start,

….Seren says next, lips parting of their own volition.

Good neighbours, using spade,

…Finch adds, her voice clearer and more confident with the forced recital.

And pitchfork to lend…

Elliot adds, stopping short of the final word.

“Finish the line and you’re past the halfway mark!” cries the girl’s voice, and the thunder that follows almost sounds like clapping hands.

Finch backs away from her and Odessa holds in place, slowly letting her outstretched hand fall back to her side. “Yes,” she agrees, unfazed by the way that it’s the younger woman this time who speaks the words not her own. “It seems to be getting worse. But I think… if we don’t try, it won’t get better.” She takes a step back, putting more distance between herself and the frightened young woman. How terrifying the world must be at her age without a power like Odessa had. Never mind this realm of dreams.

“Find the others,” Odessa instructs firmly. “Follow their voices or stay put and make them follow yours, but stay together.” Because she’s about to do the opposite. “I’m off to find the wolf.” After all, wolves are pack animals. And what is she if not one of the pack?

Breaking off into a run before any protest can be raised, Odessa chases after the howl, meaning to leave the voices of the other dreamers behind her, to let them fade into the distance. “Aid,” the blonde calls into the dark with confidence. “Good neighbors use spade and pitchfork to lend me aid.” The child’s aid will help to make clear the rhymes. An impactful piece, if indistinct in her mind, she doesn’t remember the words. She runs faster. This one isn’t committed to memory, even though it’s been combed over in her study of Edna Vincent St. Millay.

Odessa knows how this poem ends.

Elliot is comforted by the presence of his automatic knife in his pocket, but merely brushes his fingers over it and leaves it. This game makes no sense, and there appears to be no actual threat. It feels… fractured. Shattered. A situation made of context clues for which the creator itself has forgotten the context.

Which is eerie, in an uncomfortably familiar way. Best not to dwell on it, lest the dream suddenly throw in a door to the Incorrect Palace of his first nightmare on this tour. “Wright told you that I can help people remember things,” he calls out to the lost voice. “I’ve had success with this very recently. Do you want to try that? We’ve been trying to find meaning in all this noise, but it would be easier with your participation.”

“You showed us the masks of the Vanguard operatives. Is the wolf Fenris?” he asks. This is O’s guess, but she seems to be taking the direct approach to the wolf. “Does the name Carlisle Dreyfus mean anything to you? Ryazan? Is that where the poems are leading us?”

Seren's lips form wordless sound, stammering to find a rhyme. It finds direction quickly, leading for them to mutter, "Spade, spade… spade." By the time their mind comes around from the panicked question of what happens if they fail, their eyes shine with the light of an answer Odessa freely gives before taking off into the night.

"Miss Ourania!" they call into the night after her, worried for her safety. They hesitate on what they should do, but ultimately turn and reach for Finch to offer their non-glowing hand as support.

"Come on, then," Seren tells her in encouragement. "Stick close. Think on the rhymes. They're couplets. Even if we don't know the poem… we can try to help by rhyming."

Finch, hands now clasped over her mouth, nods in Odessa's direction. But as if she hadn't quite registered the words she's agreeing to yet, the next thing she does is perk up with a gasp to ask, "What about your safety?!"

Still, she does as she's told, head swiveling as she takes hurried steps over in Seren's direction. Their reaching hand finds Finch's wrist before she sidles up with her best attempt at a smile, shaken but trying. "Okay. Rhyming. I'm calm," she sniffles, the way calm people usually don't, but pushes her shoulders back and lifts her head up with a newly inspired bit of determination. "I can do rhyming."

Still, her eyes dart toward the direction of that howl.

Cooper is at a loss, looking around him trying to pinpoint the girl's voice, though there is a moment where he tosses a disapproving look at Elliot. He honestly felt utterly useless at what the girl wanted. Though something occurs to him. “Wait…” he whispers under his breath, because he could do something. So he takes steps towards the darkness, before taking a few steps another way. There is a growl of frustration from the young man, as he tries to make a decision in a direction.

Fidgeting for a moment, Cooper suddenly huffs out a resigned sigh and looks at the others. There was something in his eyes, a touch of fear and maybe a whole hell of a lot of determination. “Good luck,” Thomas suddenly says and bolts into the darkness, not in the way that O went. He wasn’t looking for wolves.

As the party splits up, the voice that comes from the sky and the earth can still be heard by all, answering the questions, if out of order, resonating around them, echoing back at a half second delay.

“Not the wolf. A wolf. Fenris is a wolf, and you are a hound — is that why I chose you? But one among you is also a sometimes-wolf. I haven’t forgotten anything but I don’t know everything to forget. Aid is correct. Well done there. Why would I lead you to Ryazan? I don’t know where he goes until he goes there, of course. But you are not horse, man, snake, and wolf, so we can rule you out, at least.”

In the distance, between the gaps of so many trees, Odessa can see a black wolf, but the shadows and the thick forest makes it hard to follow, as she has to zig and zag her own way between clawing branches, losing sight for seconds at at time before the movement catches her eyes again. But between the flashes interrupted by trees or branches obscuring her view, the dark figure isn’t always a wolf, but sometimes a man’s silhouette, a scarred black leather jacket instead of fur before it — he? — disappears when another tree branch blocks her eye line. The next time she glimpses her quarry, it’s a wolf again.

As Cooper moves away from the others, he suddenly realizes wherever he is, the trees are no longer trees, but tall headstones and statues. The engraved names seem faded, hard to read, and he realizes the letters are Cyrillic.

At length,

…Elliot begins, his mouth moving of its own volition.

my cry was known,

…Finch continues with the next line.

Therein lay all release,

…Seren follows.

I met the wolf alone,

…Odessa is too far away to be heard by the others.

And was devoured in…

…Cooper says, looking up into the eyes of an angel statue that isn’t Angel.

“Not the wolf,” Elliot says with frustration, watching Cooper depart with an exasperated shrug. The timing between Seren and Cooper’s lines suggest another, out of earshot. Which would break the pattern established by the first two verses. Which line needs to be rhymed?

Something occurs to him that he almost dismisses as useless as there isn’t a Vanguard operative with the name. But they’re working with slightly less than nothing here, so why not. “Are you talking about Loki and his children? Because his kids were Fenrir the wolf, Jörmungandr the world serpent, Hel the goddess of the dead, and an eight-legged horse.” Technically mother to the last.

Man, wolf, snake, ghost, horse. Worth a shot.

Separated from the others as she is, Odessa doesn’t hear the other portions of the poem. Just the terrible verse that’s pulled from her own lips and leaves her laughing shakily with her own adrenaline-fuelled anxiety. Still, the answer to the riddle is what she feels as she continues to give her chase. “Come here,” she growls. It’s been some time, but she hasn’t forgotten the thrill of it all. So often she’s been this creature before, a wolf among sheep, whether with the Vanguard or Humanis. How effortlessly she finds it to become the beast once more, the transformation so facile.

Claws dig into the dirt and she finds it easier to traverse the wood in this shape. Rippling muscle, honey fur with dustings of umber and streaks of snow, and gold eyes that pierce through the dark. She means to pin down her prey and discern the shape of him, to assess this threat to Ange.

The light in Seren's eyes shifts as it dawns on them everyone running means they take the various lines with them. The gap from Odessa being missing is notable. "Shit," they breathe out, eyes turning this way and that to look through the dark. They murmur their line and then the line they've heard in the distance by Cooper, but…


"Ourania!" they shout in a panic into the night. "You have to come back!"

Cooper had been trying to figure out what the stones said, when the poem words had burst forth again. The angel statue startled him, his heart thumping hard against his chest with hope, only to be disappointed.

Looking down at the script below the statue, Thomas’ fingers trail over the letters. Murmuring something under his breath, but at least until he says outloud….

“Peace…? Huh….”

He leans towards the cryptic lettering, brushing shaggy hair from his face and squints. “That has to say peace? Not that I know a lick of Russian…. Or whatever this is. Rest in Peace…” Cooper observes quitely, before turning vaguely in the direction he came from. “Hey guys! You gotta see this! I found a Russian graveyard! Check it out!” He looks around the ground and then at the not-angel statue. “No zombies okay, Angel? I’d rather not have the zombie of Ivan the Terrible coming at me.”

Ahead of Odessa, the scarred and worn leather jacket of the dark, shadowy figure she chases shifts in response to her own transformation. It seems to harden and grow bulkier in places, tapering in others; the head shifts, too, suddenly, into something too uniform in curve and shape to be organic — a helmet.

Beyond the now dark, armored thing, in the trees ahead, a shimmering triangle of light can be seen, and through it, four other dark shapes, somehow insectoid despite their bipedal, bi-brachial silhouettes. One turns, with six glowing red eyes. The Four Horsemen.

And this one, following, but separate.

As he nears the triangle, he turns suddenly; before she can even register the movement, she feels the white-hot pain blossoming in her shoulder; a knife hilt protrudes as the blade, a small sharp thing, has buried itself deep in the flesh.

“If you come looking for me,” the voice’s cadence is sickeningly familiar though the helmet and the dream obscure the true voice, “I will kill you.”

Odessa can hear the sound of a guitar strumming beneath the fuzzy hum of a scratchy record, even as the man steps through the triangle and it closes behind him, leaving nothing but forest behind. But then, there’s nothing but silence and the sound of her own breathing — until the forest around them all speaks again.

“Peace! Clever Cooper, even without hearing all of the poem,” the voice calls out. “Why are you always in a graveyard? Did I do that or did you?”

As he looks up at the stone angel that isn’t Angel, another steps up behind him, visible to the others several yards away. But for a moment, she too shifts, until she’s not made of stone. She’s a tall woman, perhaps 5’8”, with long blond hair that sways with the breeze.

“So close, clever Elliot. Would you like to buy a vowel?” the sky-and-forest asks, then giggles.

From the dark woods, there’s an unearthly howl that’s not quite beast and not quite human. Odessa slips to the ground, no longer a fearsome wolf but a scared young woman, robbed of her power and her agency. “You?” The intonation of surprise is sharp between gritted teeth, she rolls on to one side to attempt to gain some distance as well as find leverage to push back to her feet.

“You were hunting.” As Odessa makes her accusation, her head swims and she can’t tell if it’s the smoke or the pain. The nausea she blames on the present company and the music that fades. As she readies herself for a fight, there’s nothing — no one — there to defend herself against. No one there to bear the brunt of her aggression.

Where a hand should be pressing around her wound, it instead presses over her mouth, listening to the voice overhead as she cries as silently as she can manage.

“Maybe it’s both of us,” Cooper offers up as an answer to the voice's question, his eyes squinting at the not-Angel as if it might suddenly change to the more familiar vistage. “I almost died… so death might be at the back of my mind. “I dunno. What do….you….”

Thomas trails off as he feels it. That weird itch at his back like someone is watching him. Startled, he whips around to find that someone was behind him. Oh boy.


The teenaged Cooper stares at the woman with wide eyes and his mouth falling slack in surprise. “Hey,” he finally manages, his voice cracking in the middle. Clearing his throat he stands a bit taller, offering a crooked smile. “Hi, hello…. Uh…” He trails off, suddenly feeling awkward.

He can’t help but keep staring. A little thought nags at the back of his mind. “Are you…. her?” Cooper almost whispers the last bit, afraid of being wrong.

In the clearing, Seren remains torn on what precisely to do. Stay together, clearly, but which direction they go to retrieve their lost persons yet is another question entirely. Odessa isn't answering, even as Cooper calls them to the graveyard.

Worriedly, they look to Elliot. It's him the forest talked to, and it's his lead they'll follow.

"Sure," Elliot tells the forest as he keeps his attention on the funerary angel turned blonde woman. "Fuck it, how much does a vowel cost in this economy?" He's out of his element, not sure where he misstepped.

His attention turns quickly to Seren, trying to foster some amount of confidence. He looks past into the woods, the source of the howl, the scream, O. She seemed to have some plan, or at least some idea of what she was looking for out there. But she is separated by an unknown distance of dream space.

Seren has already exhibited some control of this space. Things Elliot looked for appeared in his pockets. And while the network has no real use here, he's familiar with nightmares. Familiar with slipping through the Palace, finding the hidden doors between one moment and the next. And if he looks at the branches of the tree closest, the tree behind, if he lets his eyes lose focus, he can see the arch of a door. Like the door from the Mill to the Apartment Complex. Like the door from the Apartment Complex to the Church. Like the door from the Church to the Mill.

He closes his eyes, reaches casually into the air and collapses there and here into a point. Into that door, that trick of perspective. Close enough to Odessa to get her through to where they need her. To where she needs them.

When Cooper’s gaze finds the woman who stands behind him, her green-gold eyes widen, and brows lift questioningly.

“Am I who?” she asks, tipping her head as if it’s a silly question.


It’s then that he knows the face. It belongs to a person he’s never met, but he’s seen her photograph attached to a SESA dossier, both on a computer screen and in a paper file. The wide-spaced green eyes, high cheekbones, and honey hair belong to one of the survivors of the strange plane crash and the even stranger medical phenomena suffered by those involved afterwards: Gabriella Milos.

Her voice is the same as Angel’s, though less ethereal in this human guise, he realizes.

Lightning jags across the sky in the distance; when the flash is over, Cooper finds himself looking at a statue — not Angel, but an angel, head down in sorrow.

The sky is silent.

She can’t stay here. The others are so far away, but yet she suddenly feels the pull of them so near. O drags herself to her feet, grasping hold of a nearby tree and hauling herself up with her good arm. Her breath hisses in and out through her teeth as she staggers her way toward the cacophony of emotions ahead of her.

Even that small distance is exhausting, leading the blonde to stumble into the graveyard, clutching her shoulder. Red life seeps between her fingers as she catches herself on a headstone and lets out a grunt of pain. She doesn’t let it stop her. “Did you find her? Did you find Ange?” Odessa gives her head a little shake. “I found the snake.”

Still pressing her hand to her injury, the hilt of that knife almost nestled against the curve where thumb connects to palm, connects to fingers, she slowly comes around toward where Cooper stands. Curiosity draws her to him, and to the statue he’s looking at. Her eyes widen with recognition. “I think I know her,” she breathes out before her knees buckle and she falls to them, letting herself list to the side until she comes to rest on the cold and hallowed ground. “I’m just gonna rest here for a minute…” Blue eyes stay open, her lips moving as she silently reads what she can of the headstones without any of it really sinking in, trying to distract herself from her pain.

Dreams are weird. One second it seems like they're far apart, like the group might not make it knitted back together again, and then suddenly they're all near. Seren blinks at it all, wondering why they were worried in the first place.

Odessa sinking down, apparently wounded, serves as immediate vindication for it. The wings on their back flutter in agitation. "Oh my god," they whisper, feet floating over ground as they near her with hands lifted to fret. "Please don't be hurt in real life."

“You are…!” There is an excitement to Cooper when he realizes it’s the normally stoney woman, he found her! But then after a moment it registers, “I know you!” He sounds really confused about that too. However, before he can ask anything of her, in a literal flash she’s gone again,


Thomas’ disappointment was palpable, like a teenager who’s Xbox just red ringer of deathed on him. With shoulders slump in defeat, he stares at the stone statue, silently willing her to come back. “I’m not sure she’s doing this…” Brows furrowed, he looked at the others. “But….”

The teens suddenly slaps at his own face and pinches his arm. “I need to wake up.” Cooper blurts out, looking around as if expecting a door to suddenly appear or something. “Come on. Wake up. I know who Angel… Wait…” Then what the injured woman says hits him and he whips around to see O on the ground. “You too?” He asks “O” directly, crouching to squint at her. Of course, it’s only really then that he sees her condition and hears what Seren is saying.

“Oh my god. What….?!?” Pulling off his jersey, leaving Thomas in just a tank, he moves to try and press it to the wound.

Elliot is momentarily stunned when O stumbles through the dreamscape shortcut he formed. He marvels at how jarring yet cool it is that it worked. “Holy shit,” he exclaims, then registers Ourania’s physical condition. “Holy shit.” A bit more attentive.

Do they have to worry about dream injuries following them back to the waking world? He doesn’t want to take the chance, and is surprised to have found a use for the network after all. He pulls Wright’s knowledge of field medicine across their link as he jukes forward to kneel beside Cooper. “I have combat medic experience,” he says as a simplification. “Don’t take the blade out, let me look at the wound.”

Not a moment to spare for two other dreamers’ recognition of the Angel. He pulls back the cloth along with Cooper’s hand before wrapping the shirt around the knife. He places his hand on both sides of the wound as well, nodding at his hands and saying, “Keep pressure here and here. I don’t think I have enough sway to imagine us an ER, or even sutures. It’s not life-threatening.”

“I’m okay,” the wounded woman insists in a thin voice, first to the concerned fae creature that is Seren, then to Cooper. Her hand lifts away so he can press the shirt in place and nodding to him for his quick instincts. “I’m okay,” she repeats now to Elliot. “It’s gonna be okay. It’s a short blade. I’m just— just tired.”

Her tongue darts between her lips, steeling herself for what she knows is coming and not liking it a bit. “Just like that, Cooper. You’re doing great. Now the trick is not to let up for anything. It’s called ‘no peek pressure.’ That means you hold it there, and you don’t look at it. You don’t lift up, you don’t look. Not unless Elliot or I tell you to. Okay?” She locks eyes with him and nods until she’s sure he understands her. After a hard swallow, she looks back to Elliot and gives him a shakier bob of her head to indicate she’s ready.

That’s when she tries to relax herself as much as possible, trying to reach through the dream with her sense and for the mind sleeping next to hers in the real world. To siphon the calm of better dreams. “Ace, wake me up,” she whispers, brow knotting as she struggles to keep her breathing even. “Ace, wake me up. Please, please…”

Cooper isn’t at all squeamish of what he’s doing, there is a seriousness… at least until O starts instructing him herself. Then he’s looking at her with amusement and curiosity. “You’re a doctor?!? I mean… all that stuff you threw at me now makes you sound like a doctor. I didn’t know you were a doctor. That’s so cool.”

A moment is taken to push dark curls out of his eyes with his forearm, before pushing against the wound as told, “But hey, don’t worry, one thing law enforcement is required to have is a First Aid cert. I don’t plan on letting you bleed out, Oreo.” That teenage kid flashes her a big confident smile.

On the opposite shoulder as the wound, Seren folds down to their knees and takes hold of Odessa's hand without thinking. Even though the wounds they received last fall were of an entirely different variety, someone had thought to do the same for them, and it had given them a faint point to anchor upon.

It's only then they look back up to the statue Cooper had been at— their stone Angel. Would they be able to save her?

For all Seren's brave insistence that the answer was yes, this all feels so beyond them. Thankfully Cooper and 'O' found something in this. "Hang in there," they plead to the statue as much as encourage Odessa.

With O's medical proficiency apparent and Cooper a willing pressure point, Elliot lets go of Wright's knowledge and stands. His eyes sweep the forest, the graveyard, the angel. Whoever she was for that one moment, she was unfamiliar to him.

He steps forward, inspecting the now static angel which was momentarily human. "Odd that this doesn't look like Angel," he says. "Makes me worry that wasn't her, just another snake." Angel had always said there were snakes.

Elliot wonders how much of this dream was Angel, how much of it her snake. Were their nightmares their own? Was it a trap that she pulled them from, or one she pulled them into? He'd like to think the Corrupted Palace was a figment of his dreaming mind. That nobody knew him well enough to pull that horror out and somehow make it worse, alien.

He sighs, and looks at the group. "I'll be on the server as soon as I wake up," he says, "Otherwise reach out to me if you need anything." If there's anything he can do other than stumble blindly through it with them. His eyes linger on Seren a touch longer than the others. They're both going to wake up alone, missing the same person. There's a sort of camaraderie there, if not comfort.

As they discuss waking, the dreamscape begins to crack and crumble, breaking away until there's nothing but darkness, first in the dream and then in their beds, behind their closed lids, until they open them to the waking darkness of the middle of the night.


Шар в парке
Tula, Tula Oblast

09:13 am Local Time

It’s been raining steadily for the past three days. This, coupled with the biting cold, has kept most people off the streets and especially out of public parks. A handful of crows on the concrete walkway leading to the center of the park fight over garbage spilling out of a split trash bag. They hop and dart, wings fluttering, crowing at one another as they pick the trash over. The park’s solitary human occupant gives the birds a wide berth, choosing to enter the park on the other side from them. He knows better than to meddle in the affairs of birds.

At the center of the park rests a dilapidated wireframe sphere covered in peeling layers of astroturf and synthetic fiber, styled to look like an astroturf model of planet earth. The model’s state of decay and disrepair makes it an all-too accurate model these days.

The man who intrudes on the affairs of birds straightens his wide-brimmed hat, keeping rain off of his shoulders. He shrugs his shoulders, shedding water from his poncho like a duck, then retrieves a cell phone from his inside jacket pocket to answer a call.

“Good morning,” he says with a look up at the sky. “No, I’m still in Russia. Not far now, though. It’s been a long hike from Beijing. A flight might have been easier, but you can’t be too safe right now, can you?”

The park’s visitor slowly turns, pacing through puddles of freezing rain as he listens to the voice on the other end of the line. “No, no. It’s been smooth, barring a few small disturbances. I should be on schedule, there’s not much more to go. Once I’m out of Russia we’ll coordinate for an extraction.”

The man turns, looking at the dilapidated globe, brows furrowed in through at the peeling layers of astroturf. “Just uphold your end of the bargain and we won’t have any issues.”

With a nod, mostly to himself, he ends the conversation. “Oh, you have nothing to fear there Mr. Kellar…”


“…I’m a survivor.”

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