A/N: This was written for the 2010 Multifandom Crossover Fanfiction Exchange over on Livejournal (xover_exchange) for the recipient hobbit_eyes. This is a three-way crossover, using elements and characters from Inception, Merlin, and Narnia. Many thanks to my beta, Metonomia. Prompt is posted at in the end note.
last night I dreamed
that I dreamed that I awoke
a sleepless man writing about what
I dreamed last night.
- "Dream" by Skuasah Syahdan
The Subject was asleep when Ariadne entered the room. The blinds were pulled closed over the windows, the two bedside lamps the only source of light. Cobb was already in the room, opening the attaché case that held the Portable Automated Somnacin IntraVenous Device. Behind him was Alicia, a young woman dressed in a nurse's uniform; she was biting her lip and listening intently as Cobb went over his instructions yet again. Arthur was there too, drawing several chairs in a semicircle at the side of the bed, and before Ariadne could wonder where Eames could be, he appeared at her side.
"Never thought you'd be at it again, did you?" Eames chuckled softly, shaking his head.
Ariadne watched as Cobb began to unravel the wires. "No," she answered, quite truthfully, for although she'd hoped, she'd never really expected it. Cobb had meant it when he told her he was done with dream jobs, and she'd believed him. In the time that the team had been back together, she had not had the time to ask where the job came from or why Cobb had accepted it, although she had her suspicions on the latter.
Arthur had finished arranging the chairs and at his gesture, Ariadne followed Eames around to the far side of the bed. As she neared, she saw for the first time the head resting on the pillow in sedated sleep. The Subject was an old woman - old and wrinkled with white hair like the wispy remains of a cloud in an almost clear sky. She had laughter lines around her eyes, but there were other lines, too, crossing the forehead with forgotten sorrows. Ariadne had seen pictures of the woman before as preparation for this job, but only now did she realize how very old the woman was.
Maybe Cobb understood what she was thinking, or maybe the thought ran through his own mind, for as he sat down beside her, he murmured, "She'll be more spry in her dream, I expect."
Alicia appeared at Ariadne's shoulder and passed her one of the wires to the PASIV device. Ariadne tried not to wince as the needles pierced her skin, staring up instead at the landscape painting on the other wall. It was a depiction of a cliff, one that reminded Ariadne ever so slightly of the shoreline in Limbo. Hastily, she averted her eyes and tried not to think of it as an omen.
By this time, everyone had been hooked up, and all that remained was to turn on the device. Alicia was kneeling over the attaché case, just waiting for the go ahead.
"Remember," Cobb said, staring down at the Subject's liver-spotted hand, "This is the original architect. She will not be so easily fooled as most people. Stick to the plan." He waited long enough to catch everyone's eye to be sure they had understood before nodding to Alicia.
Ariadne watched Alicia's hand hover and took a deep breath.
The button was pushed.
Her vision clouded.
He felt it like a sudden jolt, a shock of psychic energy that left him doubled over on his knees. It had been a long time - such a very long time - since he had felt anything like this, and it took him a moment to rebuild his defenses.
When he had finished, he rose from the floor, preparing to investigate the source of the energy explosion. He already had his suspicions, and if they were correct it meant there was not the time to physically reach the problem. No, he would have to do it the other way.
Settling down on a nearby chair, he closed his eyes and tipped back his head. One word was whispered, and hung in the air as Merlin slipped into the dream.
PART ONE: THE FIRST LEVEL
Ariadne's first impression of the room is of the tall, mahogany bookshelves and floor-to-ceiling windows she designed. A fireplace, too, made of red brick and crowned with the portrait of a stern, mustached man. She does not remember deciding on a painting there, and wonders if this is a detail added by Eames or if it counts as a projection from the Subject's mind.
There are plenty of people in the room, all seated on the fine, Victorian furniture, all wearing expressions proclaiming sorrow and gloom. She spots familiar faces among these people - members of her team and people she recognizes from Arthur's research into the Subject's life. Others are new to her, and she wonders if they are real personalities somewhere, or just figments of the woman's imagination. She studies them with interest and accidentally catches the eye of a dark-haired youth in the corner, who appears just as interested in his surroundings as she is; as their eyes meet, he nods once, cordially, and turns his attention elsewhere. Ariadne follows the line of his sight but finds he is staring at nothing but the faded books on the shelves.
The man at the front of the room straightens, coughs, and begins to read from a sheaf of papers in front of him. Ariadne listens with interest and growing understanding as the legal terms clarify the situation. "The reading of a will," she whispers to Cobb, seated at her side, "But I didn't plan that. Is that the Subject's doing?"
"Gloomy mind, isn't it?" Cobb confirms, the corner of his mouth twitching with some private, amusing thought.
Ariadne glances over at the Subject across the room. The woman is just as old and frail as in reality, a sight nearly worthy of pity. Ariadne ignores the thought and turns to listen to the lawyer for anything that might be helpful for the job.
The man reaches the Subject's name and Ariadne watches with interest as she sees the youth in the corner perk up. iStrange/i, she thinks, but it is a dream, after all. "The Professor has left you the entire contents of his library," the lawyer reads, "in addition to the desk in his study, the upstairs wooden wardrobe, several-"
"Cobb," Ariadne whispers at a sudden thought, "How are we supposed to get to the next stage of the plan if no one is moving around?"
He scratches the side of his cheek absently, eyes firmly fixed on the painting over the lawyer's head. "The reading won't go on forever," he assures her. Ariadne opens her mouth to say more, but the boy in the corner is looking in her direction so she leans back and swallows her words.
She doesn't notice at first that Eames is gone. The people in the study are milling about by this time, discussing inconsequential topics in low voices. Cobb and Arthur have disappeared out the side door in order to prepare the next stage of the plan. Ariadne has been left behind to make sure the Subject does not leave the room.
A cheerful, "Excuse me," interrupts her thoughts, and Ariadne turns to find one of the projections - the dark-haired youth - at her side. She moves out of his path with a mumbled apology but the boy doesn't move. Rather, he eyes her with subtle curiosity before sticking out his hand.
"Hello, don't think we've met," he says quickly, and Ariadne takes his hand to shake because she can't think how to avoid it. She says some sort of greeting in response, while at the same time attempting to keep the Subject in her line of vision while not appearing to look at anything in particular.
"So how did you know the professor?" the boy asks, showing no sign of leaving her alone. "I thought that most of us gathered here today would be his closest friends."
Ariadne catches the implication that this boy is one of said friends, and that he knows that she isn't. "Distant family relative," she answers quickly, and wonders if the youth is some sort of dream-security the Subject has in place to question anyone who appears out of place.
But the boy just nods pleasantly and shifts position, temporarily obscuring her view of the Subject. Ariadne bites back her irritation and steps subtly to the right, hoping the boy won't notice that she's looking over his shoulder rather than at his face. She realizes then that he's just introduced himself to her, and automatically answers, "I'm Ari -" She cuts off as her mind catches up with her mouth and fakes a cough.
"It was nice meeting you, Ari," the boy tells her when her fake cough has subsided. He reaches out and catches her hand again, shaking it with a surprising enthusiasm.
She avoids his eyes, looking instead at the shelf of books at her side. iA History of Colonization/i is one title that catches her eye, and iDryad Awakening Rituals/i another. And then the boy has released her hand again, and she works her mind enough to say, "Nice to see you, too, Martin."
He gives her a silly, lopsided grin like she's said something funny and turns away, and Ariadne sags against the bookshelf with the horrid realization that she's gotten his name wrong, and she can't for the life of her remember what it really is.
"Ariadne," Arthur says, and she looks up at him in startled relief.
"Arthur," she whispers quickly, "That was Eames who led the Subject from the room, wasn't it? Because I couldn't be sure – I didn't want to follow and get caught-"
The corner of his mouth lifts in that familiar, slightly cocky way, and Ariadne stops in embarrassment. "That was Eames," he confirms, and adds with a laugh in his voice, "A much better look for him, wouldn't you agree?"
She finds a smile of her own growing across her mouth. "Much better," she echoes, and follows as Arthur slips out the side door into the hall.
The kitchen is at the other end of the corridor, and the rest of the team inside. Eames is there, in his own image once again, and the Subject asleep in one of the chairs. The PASIV device is open on the counter, wires stretching from it in all directions. Cobb nods at her as she steps through the doorway, and Ariadne knows from the expression on his face that he's feeling impatient already. Without a word, she and Arthur take their places around the counter.
This is Eames' dream and so it is Eames who must stay and watch over them. He waits until everyone is ready before lifting his hand over the large button. "Sweet dreams," he drawls with a wink, and lets his hand fall.
PART TWO: THE SECOND LEVEL
The train rattles loudly, gravity shifting as it rounds a bend in the track just a little too quickly. Ariadne throws out an arm to catch herself and finds herself looking into the sharp eyes of the Subject herself.
Or rather - it is the Subject, but not the Subject. Cobb had said the woman would be more spry in her dreams, but Ariadne had not realized it meant she would become physically younger as well. It isn't a large difference, though; the woman's face is still lined and world-weary, her sharp eyes betraying how tired she is. But her hair has colour now, iron-grey mixed with black that frames the woman's face with quiet sophistication.
The track straightens out, and Ariadne settles back into her seat again, looking down at her lap, at the ceiling, out the window - anywhere but the woman opposite her. There are trees dancing in the wind in the passing landscape, and when Ariadne looks closer, it seems almost as though she can make out human forms in the swirling leaves. iImpossible/i, she thinks, before remembering that this is a dream and nothing is truly impossible here.
Arthur is seated on her right, and she considers asking him if he thought of the dancing leaves, since he is the one whose dream this is, but the Subject is too close and Ariadne can't risk her hearing. Instead, she waits, and watches.
In the back of the carriage, she can see three children, all quite young, sitting together on the train seats. The eldest boy can be no older than twelve, the girl no younger than nine, and the other boy in the middle. They aren't doing anything in particular, just staring out the window with sad expressions as if going somewhere unpleasant, or leaving something precious behind.
"Do you know," says the Subject musingly, startling Ariadne into looking at her again, "that I swore to myself I would never get on a train again?"
Cobb looks up from the book in his lap with feigned disinterest. "And why is that?"
The woman casts her eyes out the window to the dancing trees. "Terrible things can happen," she replied, and pressed her lips together firmly.
Ariadne glances to Cobb anxiously, but he appears unaffected by the Subject's words. "I'm going to get a glass of water," she decides, certain that if she doesn't leave soon, the woman will guess everything just by taking one look at her face. She slides out into the aisle and begins the balancing journey toward the back of the train.
She passes the three sad children, but none of them look up at her, almost as if she doesn't even exist. Past them is an empty set of seats - only not completely empty after all, because Ariadne had not noticed until now the figure bent over in sleep, his head pressed against the window, his face obscured. She pauses, and when the person twitches she hurries on.
The water is cool and exactly what is needed to clear her mind. Ariadne finishes the draught and tosses the little paper cup into the trash. She takes one breath, two, and reminds herself that there is no way the Subject could have any inkling of what the team is up to.
Cobb is speaking of secrets when Ariadne returns to her seat. "I'd heard," he is saying, "that there is someone on this train who possesses some knowledge- a world changing knowledge. I'd heard," he says intently, and leans forward in his seat, "that the secrets are hidden in the safe located directly beneath your chair."
"You're heard that, have you?" the Subject responds with a wry smile. "And who told you that?"
Cobb shrugs and leans back, unfolding his book once more. "No one in particular," he chuckles, "It's just a story."
Ariadne glances at Arthur, who appears to still be looking out the window, as if there is nothing better to do. She wants to ask him if Cobb always does it like this, or if he's taking a gamble that might very well ruin the job. Then she remembers Cobb saying that it is doubt that will truly ruin a team, and with a deep breath she suppresses her worries.
There is a man with a cart coming along the aisle now. She can't see what it is he is selling - snacks, most likely. Everyone ignores the cart as it passes, and Ariadne watches only so her eyes don't drift back to the Subject again. As the man passes, she sees for the first time that he has strange, furry legs like a goat, and hooves instead of feet. Her mouth drops open at the sight, and then closes again rapidly before anyone can notice.
She watches as the cart and the goat-man make their slow way towards the end of the carriage. When it has drawn level with the three sad children, she slips from her seat again, ignoring Cobb's questioning look, and walks as quickly as she can down the swaying aisle.
"Excuse me," she calls, "Excuse me, sir!" The goat-man turns to face her, and she tries not to look down at his legs. "What do you have on your cart?"
He lists off several snacks she's never heard of, and she picks one at random. The goat-man hands the package and a napkin to her, and is about to continue when she says quickly and with some embarrassment, "I'm sorry, but - your legs?"
"What about them?" the goat-man asks, surprisingly cheery after being asked what she had thought was an incredibly personal question.
"They're - they're not..."
He glances down at his legs and back up to her in oblivious puzzlement. "They look all right to me," he tells her, and turns away with the cart.
"It's called a faun," says a gentle voice in her ear, and when she turns it is to find herself face to face with the man whom she'd last seen sleeping against the window. Now, suddenly, she realizes that this is no ordinary stranger, no ordinary projection. She's met this face before, in the library after the reading of the will.
"I'm sorry - what?"
"A faun," the youth repeats. "It's a mythical creature with the body of a man and the legs of a goat."
She turns to look after the faun. "If it's mythical, why is it here?"
He laughs at that. "A very good question." Then, before she can say anymore, or even think of anything to say, he turns and saunters back down the aisle.
She wants to tell Cobb about the youth and his strange words, but the Subject is still there when Ariadne returns to her seat. Arthur is gone though - more specifically, he is directly behind the Subject's seat, bent over the back of the safe. The front of the safe is beneath the woman's legs, a positioning that appears to give some security, but when the dream was designed, the safe had been modified. There is a hidden trigger on the corner of the little black box that, when pressed, allows the entire back panel to come loose, leaving any secrets within ready for the taking. It is up to Cobb to be sure the secret will be found in the safe.
"My siblings died on a train," the Subject tells Ariadne when she has sat down again. "My siblings and my parents. It was the great train wreck of 'fourty-nine - although I don't suppose you've heard of it?"
"Afraid not," Ariadne answers, although she does recall leaning that the Subject's family had all been killed in an accident many decades ago.
"I quite miss them," the woman continues thoughtfully. "Although I did manage to do quite a lot of things since then. I've had a full life."
Ariadne nods, wishing she could think of something, anything, to say. She's suddenly worried that the woman will remember, in her talking, about dreams. It could very well be disastrous.
Someone passes by in the aisle, pausing next to the row where Arthur is, close enough to quite easily see what it is that Arthur is doing, and Ariadne looks up in alarm to see that it is the youth again. Cobb nudges her with his elbow, and she leaps up yet again with a "Hello!" that is much too cheerful to be real.
The youth seems startled by her presence; he jumps a little as he turns around, so quick that for a moment she imagines that his eyes are gold, but when she looks again, they're the same muddy brown as before. "Excuse me," he says curtly, and brushes past her.
It's strange to reconcile this abrupt man with the friendly personality she had spoken to not five minutes before. Ariadne almost turns to go after him, but a sudden swear from behind the Subject's seat makes her pause.
Arthur rises with a solemn face. "The entire contents of the safe burst into flame when I tried to reach for them," he tells her in a whisper. "Every single paper."
"We need the next level?" Ariadne asks in reply.
"We need the next level."
As Arthur pushes past Cobb to return to his seat with the hushed "Level three," Ariadne glances once more at the Subject, and is surprised to see that the woman is staring quite intently at something at the front of the train. And she looks up and sees the youth staring back into the Subject's eyes, and behind him, a tall wooden cupboard.
And then Cobb jabs something into the back of her hand and everything goes dark.
PART THREE: THE THIRD LEVEL
Before anything else, Ariadne is aware of the music. It reminds her of the classical genre, because it consists only of pipes and stringed instruments, but it's much, much more wild. When she opens her eyes, it is to the chaos of whirling bodies and twirling skirts and spinning hair – she is in a ballroom, that much she recognizes, but it is like no ball she has ever before seen.
"A masquerade," Cobb mutters at her side. "Wonderful."
The song ends, and the dancers still, laughing and calling out to each other with unsuppressed joy. Ariadne sees now that they all wear masks and are dressed in strange costumes. It is indeed a masquerade ball, grander than any she would ever have expected.
"I thought this would be an ordinary sort of dance when I modeled the ballroom," she murmurs, taking in the silks and feathers. She realizes with a start that she is dressed in her own costume; it is a scarlet dress covered in lace and ribbons, and in her hand is the sort of feathered mask that only covers the top half of her face.
Cobb is dressed in black, with a large-brimmed hat overshadowing his eyes. She cannot tell what he is supposed to be, but many of the costumes around are just as vague. Only a few are made obvious, like the giggling peacock with the gentleman pirate in the corner.
"The dreamer can shape a lot, but finishing touches such as this are based on the projections of the Subject. And with a woman like the original architect, there will be even more changes than most dreams."
Ariadne can understand this, although it does unnerve her just a little. She follows Cobb into the crowd as the next musical selection begins, and finds she has to watch herself as pairs of dancers are suddenly moving once more. Cobb takes her arm and pulls her close, explaining in a low voice that it'll be easier to blend in if they join the dance.
"But I don't know the dance," Ariadne protests.
"I can show you," Cobb replies smoothly, and then they are spinning. Ariadne tries to watch for the Subject's face, but in a room full of masked personas, she is finding the task rather difficult.
"You don't think she did this on purpose?" she asks Cobb, "Putting masks on everyone in order to hide herself, I mean."
He considers her idea, and at that moment Ariadne spots dark hair and a much too familiar stance. "Him!" she cries in disbelief, and Cobb spins about to see who she means.
"It's the youth from the train," she explains, "And before that, the library. His name is – not Martin, but something similar. It starts the same."
"Martin?" Cobb repeats, and releases her waist. He shoots off into the crowd, leaving her behind in a sea of people.
This dream feels so big, bigger even than the snow peaks of the last third level dream she was in, even though the physical expanse of the ball room is much smaller. Perhaps it is the crush of people and the excess of sound that is so disorienting. Ariadne has never been claustrophobic, but she can understand what it might be like.
"If you aren't dancing, it might be a good idea to move to the edge of the room," suggests a voice from down below, and Ariadne looks down to see a ginger cat with a black bow tie around his neck. "Pardon me," he adds, and disappears around the back of her skirts.
She doesn't wait to process how bizarre the encounter was, but follows the cat's advice.
Cobb finds her at the side of the room, her back to the wall as she scans the people. "You didn't find him?" she asks when she catches sight of his face.
He sighs and shakes his head, turning to face the same way she is. "Did you notice," he asks, "that half the projections here are not even human?"
"It's a little hard not to," she answers, and a beat passes before she realizes what he is saying. "Is this not normal? Does this mean-?"
"Don't panic." He pulls from his pocket a spinning top and balances it between two fingers before sliding it back out of sight again. And then she sees his eyes sharpen at something to her right. "Found it," he says, and then they are pushing through the crowd once again.
She understands what he's aiming for when they are a little over halfway across the room. Situated and camouflaged in a little alcove stands proud a tall, wooden wardrobe. The door is carved with fantastical designs that seem to oddly mirror the projections of the ball. As Ariadne and Cobb draw closer, the details of the depictions become clearer, astonishing in their depth.
Cobb gets to it first, and tries the door, but hardly looks disappointed when it doesn't open. There is a keyhole below the handle, the metal scratched from use. "Can you pick it?" Ariadne asks.
Before Cobb can answer, there is a izip/i and a ithud/i and barely two inches from Ariadne's head vibrates the wooden shaft of an arrow.
She spins about to place her back to the wardrobe in sudden alarm, aware of Cobb doing the same at her side. And there, facing them in youthful glory and a golden lion costume, with a medieval bow drawn and an arrow aimed towards them, is the Subject.
"You have done better than I had first expected," the woman muses, her arms steady and face calm despite the loaded weapon she holds. "I thought you might give up once the documents proved unhelpful in the second level."
"You knew," Ariadne gasps, and then wonders how they could have not seen the signs.
"I did not get to be my age without picking up on certain things," the Subject replies calmly. "And I have reached a very great age."
At her side appears a young man with dark hair – the youth from the library and the train. "You're the mind's security system, then?" Cobb asks darkly.
The youth grins and shakes his head slyly. "Not at all. I'm just a very old friend."
"Very old," the Subject confirms, "Just like me."
"Merlin," the man introduces himself. "And you already know Susan."
Cobb does not take the bait to reply in turn, and so neither does Ariadne, as intimidating as the arrow might be. Intimidating, and yet, this is not a dream where death is a road straight to Limbo – all an arrow would do is wake her, although that is only if it is a direct kill.
"I am afraid," the Subject says, "that the contents of my safe are for my mind only. You will not be reading my secrets today, nor ever."
At the woman's gesture, both Cobb and Ariadne step away from the wardrobe. Ariadne feels heavy with defeat, the hope that Cobb has one last try fading rapidly. The projections of the ball are beginning to pay closer attention now, turning their heads as they pass to view the scene. Ariadne remembers how violent projections can get and suppresses a shudder.
And then from his pocket, Cobb pulls a revolver and trains it on the Subject. "Lower your bow," he demands. "I don't need to kill you to finish this job. One shot in the arm should be good."
"I would like to see you try," the Subject replies.
Ariadne cannot move, can barely breath. Never before has she seen anything so tense. The Subject's force of will is so strong that it appears for one instance that Cobb is about to lower his weapon and give in – and then a crack fills the air.
Cobb spins on his heel and shoots away the lock on the wardrobe door before Ariadne can even catch her breath. He is at the door in a second, gripping the handle tight; the door opens a crack and a gust of wind seems to come from within, blowing Cobb's suit and hat askew with the force of it.
"Cobb!" Ariadne shouts, and her warning has him release the handle and turn just in time to avoid the red feathered bolt that sticks into the wardrobe door. There is another arrow already loaded on the Subject's bowstring, a murderous look in her eyes.
Barely a foot from the Subject's arm hangs a single bullet in midair. Ariadne glances at Merlin and sees with a shock his eyes are golden again as he reaches for the bullet and plucks it from suspension. He tosses it to her with a wink, but no smile, and his eyes are brown again.
"I will not say this again," the Subject says firmly. "Leave now."
The thick paper held a thin and spiky script, precise despite the writer's frailties. Ariadne ran a finger over the letter, wondering how she dared to follow the instructions it contained. Come alone, it said, with a familiar address and name along the bottom. And Ariadne's curiosity had gotten the better of her, so that now she stood, heart pumping, on the walk outside the house.
With a gathering of courage, she re-folded the letter and walked briskly up to the front door before she could change her mind. She raised her hand to press the buzzer, but before she could, the door opened with eerie timing. And then she saw, framed in the open space, an easily recognizable face.
"You're not a projection!" she exclaimed, incriminating herself in the first sentence spoken. She looked away quickly, but the young man just laughed and opened the door wider.
"Come in," he invited. "Susan is waiting for you upstairs, Ari."
His use of her shortened name only served to confirm her suspicion that the man himself had been in the dream. With a beating heart, she followed him in over the threshold and through the hall.
"How did you-?" she asked abruptly, before biting her lip in chagrin.
"I have my methods," was all he said. He led her past several closed doors before halting at the foot of the stairs. She paused beside him, looking uncertainly up to the second floor.
"I believe you know where to go," he grinned, and gestured for her to continue on without him. Ariadne saw no point in delaying the inevitable. The stairs creaked as she climbed them, just as they had the first time she was here, barely two weeks before. When she reached the top, a sudden thought had her stop and turn back. "Is your name really Merlin?"
He just laughed in response.
The Subject, elderly Susan Clarke nee Pevensie , was awake when Ariadne entered the room. The curtains were open, the sunlight streaming into the room and across the bed. The woman was propped up on pillows, a pair of thin-rimmed reading glasses perched on her nose and a thick paperback in her hands. She didn't look up immediately as Ariadne hesitated, but said briskly, "There's a chair for you here."
Ariadne moved across the room to the chair the woman had referenced – although really, it was little more than a stool with the frame of a back. As she lowered herself down, she caught sight of the cover of the novel, a trashy romance that seemed to jar with the conservative furnishings of the room.
"I suppose you are surprised," Susan said sweetly, clearly understanding the cause of Ariadne's shock. "It isn't exactly the sort of literature women my age are expected to enjoy."
"True," Ariadne managed.
The woman folded the book closed with her fingers marking the page. "I'm not really one to follow the rules," she stated mildly, and then raised her chin a little to add, "I expect you have come in anticipation of a different sort of conversation than this."
"Yes," Ariadne managed, and twisted her fingers together in her lap. She had absolutely no idea what the woman might say, nor why she had been summoned.
"You were the architect of that dream." Old she might be, but it was clear that Susan Clarke never hesitated to reach her point. "You did a remarkable job, I must say. If it weren't for a few little warning signs, I might never have realized I was in a dream."
"If you don't mind," Ariadne began slowly, uncertain of how she was supposed to react to this unexpected praise, "How did you know?"
Susan reached beneath the covers of her bed and drew out an old, brass key. "My totem," she said simply, running her fingers along the uneven edge. "And I have a few other tricks up my sleeve." Her eyes twinkled as she added, "I may be old, but I'm just as sharp as ever."
Ariadne smiled at that.
"You know I was the original architect?" Susan continued, her fingers still absently playing with the key. "I worked with the creator of the PASIV device. It was the creator who first discovered how to enter dreams." She paused, sighed, and said softly, "A good man."
It was what appeared to be an incredibly personal moment, and Ariadne had to force herself not to shift uncomfortably.
"In any case, I was impressed with your architecture," the woman continued eventually. "Very unique, very detailed. You may have noticed some changes to the designs – that was due to my interference, and had nothing to do with a flaw in your work. Quite impressive." She closed her hand around the brass key and leaned forward; Ariadne did the same, and as Susan reached out her hand, Ariadne raised her own to meet it.
"You'll find what you are looking for in the next room," the woman whispered, and pressed her key into Ariadne's palm. Then, with another sigh, she fell back against the pillows again and called, "It is all right, Merlin. She's supposed to go in there."
The brass key was heavy, and warm from Susan's hand. Ariadne tried to give it back, but the woman just shook her head. "The room to the right of this one," she instructed, and reopened her trashy novel.
The conversation was clearly finished. Ariadne stood uncertainly from the chair and moved back towards the door of the room; Susan did not even bother to look up from her novel.
The next room over was completely empty except for a large, wooden wardrobe that took up the entire far wall. The mystical carvings on the wardrobe door were all too familiar to Ariadne; when she looked closer, it was clear that the brass key in her hand matched the lock beneath the handle.
She waited to open the wardrobe until after she had had a good look at the carvings – there were animals of all sorts, and winged horses and fauns and people that looked incredibly like trees. She traced her finger across the river that cut through the picture, and only then raised the key to the lock.
It was stiff, as though the wardrobe had not been opened in years. Ariadne had to remove the key and try a second time and then wiggle it about before it would turn. When it did, there was a dull click and the door felt suddenly heavy against her hand, as though it were ready to open.
She was all too willing to oblige. With eagerness balanced with reverence, Ariadne grasped the two handles and swung the doors open. And there, waiting for her in the large wooden safe, was Susan's secret.
Original Prompts: Masquerade balls; travelling; going undercover in a very formal situation
Ariadne/Susan (gen); Ariadne/Merlin (gen)
Inception/Narnia: The Dream Team does an extraction on someone who has been to Narnia