Saturday, November 26, 2005

Twenty-sixth Day

I wrote this chapter in bits and pieces here at Lacey's apartment yesterday and today. So it may be kind of scattered.

Chapter 27

Jaden and Zoe came to a halt on the other side of the walls, stumbling slightly as they landed on the stone floors of the hallway. The music was fainter now, being on the other side of the thick walls, but they heard the waltz end in a dramatic flurry of notes and chords.

"They'll notice you're gone soon," said Zoe. "Since I'm actually dreaming, it's like I'm a part of the dreamlands, and they hardly notice me. But you're different, and they can sense that. Plus, everyone's looking to dance with you. They'll probably be out here after us any minute."

And indeed, when Jaden glanced down the hallway to his left, he realized that they had come out on the side of the Hall with the main entrance, and the two trolls on guard there had already spotted them from about ten yards away. One had just thrown open the door to sound the alarm in the hall, and the other was clearly struggling, in his tiny troll brain, between staying where he was or abandoning his post to chase the escapees on his short and stumpy legs.

Jaden and Zoe didn't wait for him to decide, but turned immediately and took off in the other direction. Behind them they heard the great doors crash open against the wall as the horde of dreamland dancers within burst forth to give chase.

They had no real idea of where to go at this point, so they simply ran as fast as they could, taking whatever turn seemed easiest at each juncture, to keep ahead of their pursuers. Then suddenly, coming around one turn, they nearly collided with two young teenagers, followed by a small dinosaur in a shirt. Both parties pulled up short in surprise. The boy noticed Jaden's right arm immediately.

"Hey! You're the guy who lost his arm!" he said, in a Scottish accent.

"Hey! You're…" Jaden started, "I haven't the foggiest idea who you are."

"But we're being chased right now by an entire ballroom of dream creatures," Zoe filled in, "so you two had better turn around and come with us."

"No good. We've got a pile of crazy demon soldier things on our heels."

The sounds of shouts and running feet were growing louder from each direction now. All four people looked frantically around and zeroed in on the one hallway branching off to the side.

"That way!" they said in unison, and took off, with Malcolm scampering to keep up.

Their head start was very slim by this point, but they heard the two pursuing contingents converge at the juncture behind them as they ran. Nearly the entire population of the castle was probably there by now, not to mention all the guests invited for the dance, and possibly the populations of some neighboring counties as well. Simply coordinating that many people, demons, fairies, trolls and other miscellaneous creatures to not over run each other and to head down the same corridor bought them a little bit of time. But soon the chase was in full force again, and there was nowhere to run but straight ahead.

A hand grabbed Jaden by the shoulder and he shouted in surprise, thinking they had already been overtaken. But then the hand clambered down his arm and he realized it was his own. It held on to his right bicep and swung its other end down to touch the empty elbow. Skin, bone and muscle fused together and suddenly, for the first time in two weeks, Jaden could feel his right hand again, and move it at will. He glanced over to the boy running next to him, who gestured at the now empty quiver on his back.

"We'd heard someone was missing a hand," he panted, "and we happened to come across it, so we picked it up." He slung the quiver off his back and tossed it aside.

"Thanks," Jaden panted back, and they kept on running.

Around the same time, they all began to notice that the corridor they were in was very unusual. It was getting extremely dark, and there was not a single door or hallway branching off of it anywhere. It simply seemed to keep going straight ahead, without turning, forever and ever. The stone walls seemed to echo in inconsistent ways, making their pursuers sometimes sound far off in the distance, and other times right on their heels, though if they looked back, they always appeared to be the same distance away. It's like a nightmare, Jaden thought.

And when he thought that, he realized where he was, and that it might literally be a nightmare. He looked around and the others appeared to have had a similar thought. Zoe nodded at him.

"It's a fear tunnel," she said, between breaths. "An awful lot of the buildings in the dreamlands have them. They're easy to get stuck in, hard to get out of."

And indeed, by this point Jaden was feeling as though he had been running forever, and as though he probably would continue to run forever, mindlessly fleeing a terrifying enemy that would never quite reach him, but never quite let him relax, either.

Gordon was beginning to notice a sensation of falling. He had had dreams like this before, endlessly falling through the blackness towards some unknown fate, struggling against thin air but unable to do anything effective. He could look down and see that his body was still running along a stone corridor and carrying a jeweled scimitar, but in his mind, he felt like he was falling.

Though Lucy's rational mind told her she was still running in a straight line, she felt as though she were frantically searching for a way out of a sealed, featureless room that was slowly shrinking in on her. It had been years since she had had that dream, and she thought it had been left behind in childhood. But now her mind was being overrun with that same old frantic obsession of trying desperately to find a way out of something that didn't exist.

Malcolm was reminded of being duct taped all around and locked in a shoe box, struggling fruitlessly to escape. He didn't like it one bit, and just kept running as fast as he could to get away from it.

Zoe was the only one of them who was truly dreaming, but because she was aware of that fact, it actually gave her an advantage over the others. She knew that she still had the most important part of herself back at home and safely in bed, and she could therefore step back a bit mentally and look at the situation more objectively than any of the others. Having had so many lucid dreams in her life, she was used to finding creative ways of dealing with nightmares, or with anything else unpleasant that appeared in her dreams. She knew there were other things going on here than usually happened in dreams, but she was also in more comfortable territory than her companions were.

"We've got to stop!" she called out to the others.

"What? Are you crazy?" came back the reply, from three separate mouths. "They'll catch us!"

"No, listen to me!" she went on. "We're in the dreamlands, right?"

"Right," said Jaden.

"Sure, if you say so," said Gordon.

"So this is a nightmare, right?"

"Sure seems like it."

"And when you have a nightmare like this, it basically never ends, right? You just keep running until you wake up."


"But we can't wake up now. Or rather, I could if I wanted to, but none of you can. So we have to get out of this in some other way. And what is it you never do in these endless chasing nightmares?"

"Stop running?"

"Exactly. You never stop running and turn to face the danger, so it pursues you forever. When you're aware that you're dreaming, though, you can take control. That's what we need to do."

"Alright," said Jaden. "I don't think any of us have a better plan, On three, then? One… two… three!"

Jaden, Zoe, Gordon and Lucy all stopped on a dime and spun around to face back down the corridor. Malcolm skittered on a little in confusion, then turned back to peer out from behind them.

The light seemed to be coming back to the corridor now, though they could find no source for it, and they saw a seemingly endless army of dream figures approaching them at a gallop. But then they began to slow down, as though a film were running on a projector with a dying battery. By the time they had approached within a dozen yards or so, they had slowed to a crawl, and they eventually froze entirely, just inches from where the refugees from the real world held their ground.

Jaden looked around nervously, and saw a confused, but slightly relieved, look on his companions' faces.

"Well, I guess that worked out," he said, hesitantly. "Thanks, Zoe. But now what?"

In answer, she simply gestured back towards the frozen crowd in front of them. From the middle of it arose one figure that still retained its freedom of movement. Tall and black robed it grew upwards until it towered over the others, and then began to glide forwards, passing through the mass of bodies like a fog.

It stopped before Jaden and looked down at him. The others simply watched, feeling as frozen as the opposing horde. A white face looked out from the black hood, and spoke in a voice that whispered through their minds louder than anything they had ever heard.

"My business is with this one," the voice said, "and does not concern the rest of you. You may wait here and I will deal with you later."

And with that, a section of ground beneath Jaden and the figure disappeared, and they were gone from view.