Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Chapter 31

Lucy didn't know what it was that Malcolm had swallowed, nor why it should have the effect on him that it did.

His body stiffened momentarily, then quivered, and then he let out the loudest roar yet. Lucy was sure she would be deafened by it, but she couldn't tell whether it was a roar of triumph or despair, delight or pain. His attention seemed completely distracted, though, so Lucy took the opportunity to scoot over to where Gordon was recovering and trying to pull himself upright. She took his arm and helped him back farther into the crowd, behind a couple of large, petrified demons, where they could wait and watch from a bit of cover.

The roar faded out into the encompassing silence of the hall, and Malcolm's head, twenty feet above them, seemed to split across the top. A thin gray mist came out, slowly at first and then faster, spinning down in a spiral to encircle Malcolm's body. Within moments he was only a large, vague shadow in a giant column of gray. Then the mist began spinning faster and faster, until it took on the appearance of a stationary tornado. Gordon and Lucy thought they heard another roar beginning, then decided that they must have been mistaken, and that it was actually thunder. They cowered further behind their demon statues.

And then the tornado slowed, and the spinning mist began to clear. Behind it, the dinosaur demon was gone, and there stood a towering figure in a white robe, with an amulet suspended from a red cord around his neck. He had black hair that stuck out from his head at spiky angles, his face was thin and pale, and his eyes so very dark that they seemed to be composed of nothing but night.

He stood with his face and arms upturned for a moment, and then lowered them with a sigh that might have indicated relief or contentment, or both. When he looked down he saw Gordon and Lucy and began to walk towards them. As he walked he shrank, until he stood before them, the size of a normal adult man. His voice when he spoke was smooth and warm, and seemed to come from within each of them, soothing and relaxing them throughout their bodies.

"Thank you, Gordon Ross and Lucy Campbell," he said, nodding to each of them. "We have not the words, even here in the dreamlands, to properly express my gratitude."

"You… you're… welcome," stammered Lucy, as Gordon shook his head, thinking he must have been hit harder than he had thought. "But I'm not sure what we did. Or even who you are, now that you don't seem to be Malcolm anymore, at least."

"Whether you intended it or not," the man said, "you were instrumental in bringing events to this point, and for that I thank you. I am King of the Dreamlands, and you are honored guests of my realm."

Gordon and Lucy shuffled awkwardly a bit, then tried to bow and curtsy, but the Dream King waved them back up.

"There is no need for that here," he said. "Being King of the Dreamlands is really more like being a caretaker than a monarch, and I do not require strict subservience of my subjects."

"But, sir," Gordon asked, "what happened here? Where were you? What's going on?"

"I have spent the last year entrapped in the body of a minor demon," the Dream King explained, "known as Malcolm, as you are aware. Not only was my body not my own, but my mind and memories were stolen from me as well. Even now, some are still slowly making their way back to me from the far reaches of my realm.

"The one who calls himself a dream lord, and master of this castle, is but a villainous fiend. We had a dispute, and through trickery and stolen magic, he trapped me. I have been unable to fight back or free myself for these many months, until a chance accident gave me contact with your world. I did not understand this at the time, but it eventually led you to me. And you in turn were kind to me, and took me with you, and inspired in my small demon heart the bravery to fight for you. Your companion's amulet that the demon Bratch carried then provided the final catalyst for my transformation."

"That was Jaden's?" Gordon asked. "Where is he now? Is he okay? And were did Zoe disappear to? Did she just wake up?"

"So many questions…." The Dream King was silent for a moment, and his invisibly black eyes seemed focused on something beyond the normal senses.

"Jaden is in a duel for his life," he said. "Zoe was with him for a time, and may still be. I sense her slipping back and forth between worlds. They need our help, and we will go to them. But first I must release these creatures."

He went to one of the frozen demons that Gordon and Lucy had been hiding behind, and passed his hand in front of its face. The creature melted back into life, and stumbled slightly as its foot fell in completion of its interrupted step. It looked around, confused.

"Listen to me," the Dream King told it. "You and your kind are no longer under your master's command. You will return to your barracks, collect any belongings you may have, and disperse. Go, wake the others, and do as I bid you."

With a grunt, the demon slunk off and began seeking out the other soldiers in the crowd. Each one he touched was released from its paralysis. Gordon and Lucy watched nervously.

"There is nothing to worry about," the Dream King said, reassuringly. "They will not harm you against my wishes."

He then turned to a nearby elf, and released it in the same manner.

"You and the other guests of this hall may return to your homes and go about your business. We have no need to keep you here. Wake the others for me, and go."

The elf bowed elegantly, and floated off on light footsteps to carry out his task. The frozen crowd around them was gradually thawing and dispersing, with many of the creatures yawning and rubbing their eyes, or looking around confusedly as if having been awoken from a long nap. Gordon and Lucy watched in fascination, though they still kept close to the Dream King, who was given a respectful amount of space.

"And now we are ready," the Dream King said. "Let us find and rescue your companions."

He put a hand on each of their shoulders, and then everything around them seemed to wink out into blackness.


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