Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Chapter 32

As the split in the sky widened, Jaden could see the assembled audience disappearing. One by one they were vanishing. The dream lord had noticed this, too, and he looked worried about it now, though he still kept Jaden pressed to the ground with his scepter. The gap in the sky was edges with blinding light, but the interior was an even inkier black than the darkness around it.

And then out of the gap there stepped a figure in a white robe. He seemed only the size of an average man, but with one simple step he crossed from the gap in the sky to the ground, just a few yards from the combatants. Behind him stumbled the two Scottish kids, whose names Jaden had never gotten. They looked a bit disoriented, but seemed to be following the man of their own free will, which Jaden hoped was a good sign.

The dream lord had now stood up and was facing the white robed figure, on his guard. Jaden pulled himself up a little bit to watch, but tried not to draw any extra attention to himself. The man in the white robe spoke.

"Your games are over," he said. "Your demon army has been disbanded. These dreamers will now be free to go, and you will await my punishment."

"Is that so, your majesty?" the dream lord sneered. "And why should I? I might decide to simply lock you up in another useless little demon body again for a while. Or perhaps something you can't escape from so easily. And then I'll set myself up as King of the Dreamlands. I think we're about due for some changes around here, anyway."

As he spoke, though, Jaden noticed that the dream lord seemed to be weakening. His poise was beginning to falter. His voice, which had been so smooth and sinuous before was now becoming harsher, higher pitched, and jerky. He also seemed to be shrinking just slightly in relation to the Dream King.

"You will not," the Dream King said. "You know that you have failed in your one chance to depose me permanently, and already you are crumbling in your defeat. You cannot make such an offense against the laws of this realm and against its king without paying the price. In fact," he looked down at the shrinking figure that was now a full two feet shorter than him, "it appears that my personal revenge will be not only too late, but unnecessary."

The withering figure of the dream lord snarled and clenched a fist in the empty air, but the fist merely crumbled to dust and blew away on a small breeze that came out of nowhere. A strangled cry came from the twisted mouth and the hollow cheeks of his face.

"Go," said the Dream King calmly, "and may your next existence bring you more peace than this one has."

And he passed his hand in front of the crumbling form as he had done to free the frozen dream creatures in the Hall of Fear. But this time, the rest of the body crumbled and disintegrated, then vanished, leaving behind only a pile of dark robes, and a silver scepter on the ground.

"You may get up, Jaden," the Dream King said, and with a start Jaden realized he was still lying on the ground, jaw agape at the scene before him.

"Wha… what just happened?" he asked, getting unsteadily to his feet.

"Your opponent here was a villain, a scoundrel, and an imposter," the Dream King said. "I pray that you do not judge our land too harshly on his account. Now that I have returned, I will be seeking out any other such 'trophy hunters' that he may have corrupted, and they will be dealt with appropriately. You and your companions are, of course, free to return to your own world. Your dance partner has already awoken and is safe at home."

"Thank you," Jaden said. "But I'm not sure how to get home, actually. I'm not just dreaming, you see. One of the demons took the amulet that I needed to get back home."

"Us, too," Gordon chimed in. "Er, what I mean is, we got here sort of by accident. It was magic, but we didn't really know what we were doing. Are we going to be able to get home?"

"That will not be a problem," the Dream King said. "Come, stand before me."

Gordon and Lucy did so, and the King put a hand inside his robes.

"First, I feel as though I should return something to you," he said, and drew forth his hand, holding a small, stuffed toy kitten and offering it to Gordon.

"Is it safe?" Gordon asked, skeptically.

"Completely. Through one of your dreams a year ago, our late villain found this and used it to hold the magic that imprisoned me. Outside of the dreamlands, he thought it was safe from detection, but luckily for all of us, he was proved wrong. Now that I am whole again, that magic is dispersed, and this is once again a harmless toy. Take it home and do with it what you like."

Gordon took Ixy, and thanked the King, who now put a hand on both his and Lucy's heads.

"Close your eyes," he said, "and envision where you were just before you entered this land."

They did so, and Jaden saw them both fade, flicker, and vanish. The King turned back to Jaden.

"And as for you, Jaden," he said, "your amulet was the final catalyst that allowed me to regain my true form. I thank you for the loan of it."

He pulled the red cord from around his neck and offered it to Jaden, who now saw that at the end of it was the amulet Professor Oddbury had given him. The King pressed the amulet into Jaden's hand, pressing the button on it as he did so. Jaden's vision faded and flickered, as Gordon and Lucy had when he watched them disappear. Then everything was gone.

* * *

Professor Oddbury lay slumped and snoring in an arm chair, with the remains of his sixth cup of coffee on the desk nearby. He had desperately wanted to stay awake and on watch until Jaden came back, but he just couldn't handle the late nights anymore the way he used to.

The OneiroPorter was sitting quietly before him, a few small rows of lights winking on and off with a perfect regularity they had maintained since Jaden fell asleep several hours before. But now some of those lights began to speed up, and other, new ones joined in urgently. A valve clicked shut, cutting off the IV drip to Jaden's arm, and the machine began emitting a steady buzzing sound.

Oddburry shifted, murmured, and opened one eye reluctantly. Then both eyes shot open and he leapt to his feet, hurrying over to the machine, flipping switches and checking dials. On the bed inside, Jaden gave a gasp, and his eyes flickered. The purple dream field buzzing through the air was clearing, and Oddbury opened the machine to reach in and remove the needle from Jaden's arm. Jaden's eyes flickered again, and the professor laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Jaden? Jaden my boy? Are you alright? Can you wake up?"

Jaden shifted now, and groaned, but opened his eyes completely.

"Come along, let's get you out of there." The professor helped him out of the machine, and Jaden stumbled over to collapse in the chair that Oddbury had recently vacated.

"That," he said, "was about the least restful sleep I have ever had in my life. But I think I'd like to stay awake for a few days now, if I can. Have you got any more of that coffee?"

The End


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