THE RAILWAY ENDS—CHAPTER FIFTEEN
"Gold, Matthew; that shall be the color of her hair. Golden hair and emerald eyes; an excellent combination, do you not agree?"
Matthew the raven looked at the dream that Daniel was shaping. The King of Dreams was holding a tuft of blond hair against the thing's head, stroking his chin in thought with his other hand.
"I suppose…so, uh, a woman today, huh?"
"Oh yes, Matthew; dreams and nightmares are of all kinds, as you well know," Dream replied as he pushed the hair into the girl's head with his thin fingers. He fingered his glowing emerald before long golden locks grew out of her head and down to her waist before halting.
"Whatever," Matthew sighed, "You just seem to be putting a lot of work into this one."
"It is a very special dream, Matthew," Daniel replied as he produced an ivory comb and carefully went through the girl's hair, "She will have a specific function in this realm."
Matthew didn't ask what that was—years spent in the service of the Dream King had taught him that asking more questions often led to less satisfaction then he had at the beginning of the conversation. Besides, he figured that if the Endless wanted to keep things secret then they had a damn good reason.
From his perch on a small table where Dream had laid out various items for his work, Matthew could see that all the attention that the Dream King had put into the new whatever-the-hell-it-was showed in the almost lifelike detail.
Physically, Matthew guessed that the dream was around sixteen years of age. Daniel had given her all the developments that a human girl would have around that age, except for some of the more…unpleasant things Matthew remembered from his days as a human. Like all newborns, she had been nude as Dream molded her; of course, not all newborns stood on a beach beside a shadowy waterscape for days on end while their parents tried to decide how sharp her teeth should be. Now, she was dressed in a pretty ornamented dress that Dream had conjured up some time ago while considering the girl's style of clothing. He still had not decided, and had put it off while he attended to other details.
Matthew had never claimed to be an expert on sculpting, which was the closest thing he could relate Daniel's work to. He had seen the David at some exhibit and later stared at what looked like three old car engines held together by goose-shit mounted on a mannequin's leg wearing a beaten-up high top at a function he was forced to attend as a lawyer. But the raven could notice many of the differences between something Dream slapped together in five minutes and another that he worried over for days; the eyes, aura, movements, and intelligence were all of a higher degree. Even the fingernails on those who took more than an hour to create seemed better.
Daniel suddenly clapped his hands together to shake off whatever might have gotten onto his porcelain fingers. It was something in the manner of a worker pleased with the progress of his labors.
"Let us go, Matthew," the Dreamweaver said, "We shall continue on this tomorrow."
"When you say 'we', you mean 'I—with my long fingers and opposable thumbs—shall continue on this tomorrow', don't you?"
Dream laughed, and Matthew alighted upon his shoulder as the Oneiromancer began walking into the Crystal Forest that bordered the Shores. He paused a few seconds into the forest and looked back, gazing at the dark waters, all sign of mirth gone.
"Something wrong, Danny?"
"Troubling signs, Matthew; do you see?"
The raven studied the water from his perch. It was rather calm that day, which was somewhat strange since the Big Scare—the one that Matthew heard was called "Second Bang" or something—had kept a storm of nightmare-stuff brewing somewhere around the dark sea, with waves slapping against the beach at several times per minute. Today, the surf lazily crept up the sand before withdrawing in a peaceful manner.
"Well, it's pretty quiet but…" Matthew stopped speaking as he realized that he was quoting half of a well known saying.
"Indeed," Dream's voice was a mere whisper in the back of Matthew's mind. He turned back into the forest and began walking with more strident steps, a frown on his statue-like face. Ducking branches and trees mechanically, Daniel finally stepped into a clearing. He put his thin fingers into the air and parted reality like a curtain, stepping through and emerging into a large chamber in the palace, where dozens of staircases crisscrossed leading into different parts of the building.
Striding purposefully down one staircase and turning onto another, Dream frowned thoughtfully, his usually starry eyes as dark and murky as a cloudy midnight sky.
"I know these signs, Matthew; the ripples of a small reality storm,"
The raven looked at Daniel's face in surprise; he had heard some stories of a "reality storm" from a few travelers who were passing through the Dreaming. He knew they occurred during times of cosmic significance, the last one being…
"Was…was there a death?"
Dream looked at Matthew, a star coming to life in his right eye.
"No; the death of one of my family would cause a greater storm than this. It is like…" Daniel paused and bit his lower lip, a rather human habit he displayed every now and then under stress, "…like comparing a spring shower to a typhoon, Matthew. However, the fact that this…reality storm, such as it is, exists at all is disturbing. I have seen it only once before."
If Matthew had eyebrows, he would have raised them, "You have—where?"
Dream stopped at a corner landing; he approached the marble railing and looked down and then upwards as if assuring their privacy. He then held up a white hand, a signal for Matthew to perch upon it.
"Long ago," Dream said softly, "In Judea—the land you know as Israel—a man was given back his life by the Scion of the Almighty,"
Matthew blinked; it took a few moments for the pieces of the puzzle to fall in place.
He had had no idea that his eyes could still widen in astonishment, and his beak fell open.
"Oh my God…y-you mean…?"
"Yes; it was a simple demonstration of divinity, one of many intended to teach His people. It created a reality storm—a small one, though larger than the one now brewing," Dream sounded wary as he said that, "It was, after all, one simple man. One soul taken from my sister's embrace, never to return; but even so, one soul returning to the mortal world in such a way is a matter of certain significance."
"So what's causing this one?"
The King of Dreams placed Matthew back on his shoulder before continuing his journey down another staircase.
"I do not know; this storm's source may be either in the past or future. However," Dream frowned again, "To judge from its size and appearance, I would say it is close to our place in time."
Walking out of the stair-tower, the two made their way through a hall lined with works that Leonardo da Vinci would have painted if he had lived another ten years.
"I have a task for you, Matthew,"
"Say the word, Danny,"
"…Very well. You shall go to Tokyo-3 and look around the city as best you can. See if there is anything out of the ordinary,"
"Uh…Danny, you know…"
"…Besides what the mortals are doing in their military agency there. You shall know what I need to discover when you see it."
"Fine," Matthew spread his wings and took off, flapping around Daniel's head, "Should I tell Shinji?"
"Unnecessary," Dream replied, a star blazing in his right eye as he spoke, "Go now,"
At Daniel's command, the raven soared past his shoulder and down the corridor, turning at a door and then through a window, fading into the distance on his way to the Waking.
"Of all the…"
"Can't believe I have to…"
The redhead snorted and adjusted her nun's habit while sending a withering glare toward Shinji, who was clad in the cassock of a Catholic Cardinal. They both stood on a walkway lining the interior of a large cathedral, looking down upon a congregation of strange, shadowy figures with only a small old woman with thick glasses resembling an actual human. The dreamer was glancing around fearfully at the crowd around her.
"What's with her?" Asuka asked, jerking her head towards the old lady.
Shinji narrowed his eyes in thought at the figure in question and shrugged, while still clasping his hands together in a priestly manner.
"She's in a nightmare, I guess; she looks scared enough."
"What kind of nightmare?" Asuka asked, leaning over the rail to see what was so scary.
Shinji shrugged and sighed, "I really don't know. The palace is where I spend most of my time; this place is pretty new to me."
The Cathedral that sat in the Grimm Mountains was a huge, gothic structure with thousands of gargoyles perched around the interior and exterior. A large dome topped by a golden winged figure sat where the building's four wings intersected. The whole thing was a breathtaking mixture of German, French, and Italian religious architecture.
Asuka turned and walked down a hallway lit by distant candles; she obviously expected Shinji to follow her. And he did.
Pulling out a pamphlet from his robes, Shinji attempted to fill the silence that threatened to dominate this night, "'The Cathedral's foundation was laid roughly around the time of the coronation of the first Christian Emperor. With the beginning of centuries of struggle between the Christian and Muslim worlds, the Cathedral grew out of the dreams of many Church leaders to finally establish their religion as the dominant faith in the world. Though the Crusades eventually failed to dislodge the Islamic grip on the Holy Lands, the Cathedral continues to expand with every century as events alter the dream of the Christian Faith.'"
The hall suddenly was lit up by the Dreaming's sun. The pathway now looked over what appeared to be a half completed abbey. Neatly built walls sat unfinished; beams rose and connected over a floor covered with stone bricks; sheets of rough cotton rustled with the wind; and scaffolds towered over cobwebbed strewn fire-pits.
A chilly wind came through the yawning gaps in the hall, causing the garments of the two teens to ripple.
"'In recent years, the erosion of faith has caused the Cathedral's construction to slow to a snail's pace. Entire construction zones have been abandoned as dwindling dreams have been concentrated on one addition at a time.'"
Shinji's rather gloomy quotation echoed through the abbey, disturbing a number of birds that suddenly fluttered about screeching in Attic Greek.
Unable to move forward, they looked out over the ghostly sight. The redhead looked at the boy.
"So that's it?"
Shinji blinked. He looked down at the pamphlet and was about to read from another section when Asuka snapped at him impatiently.
"So they just stopped building…they gave up?"
"Well," Shinji said uncomfortably, "People aren't b-believing anymore so why bother b-building?"
Asuka frowned and looked back out at the abandoned piles of hewn stone, layered with straw and dust.
"So? People don't believe and everything stops?"
"No…no…I don't think so anyway…"
Shinji looked down.
"What is it?"
"Huh?" Shinji looked up, appearing a little older, "Uh…I…"
Asuka gave him a look that could cut meat.
"Well…someone died here recently."
Asuka was taken aback; Shinji had always taken the injury of others hard. She couldn't imagine what he was feeling about someone dying in front of himself.
"He…he s-said something l-like you…th-that no one believed anymore, that no one cared…
"Lord Dream talked to me about it. He said that Odin dying was natural…that he did what many others did when their time came."
"Shinji…" she had never seen a look on the boy's face like that; he seemed…so relaxed to describe his new master. He seemed to be pleased to receive any sort of attention from this "Lord Dream", even if it wasn't completely positive.
"Tell me more about this…Dream guy…"
Shinji did so, with relish.
Asuka saw all the subtle differences.
Whenever Shinji had spoken of his father, he would often fold into himself—sometimes actually physically doing that—and his voice would lose all attempts to sound alive, his eyes moving elsewhere, not daring to look anyone else in the eye while discussing his male parent. When he described Dream, he spoke glowingly, happily, like a little boy talking about a comic-book superhero.
Asuka listened carefully to the boy's descriptions of the mysterious being's gentleness, wisdom, and sheer power.
"…and he just snapped his fingers and her doll leaped up and began this crazy little dance. He didn't say anything, but I think he was pretty happy to see her like that…"
Shinji's banter struck a cord in Asuka; she waited a few minutes until she gave the question voice.
"Shinji; why are you dead?"
The boy stopped so abruptly for a moment Asuka thought he would fall over. A nervous look came over his face.
"Uh…what do you mean?"
"Shinji…you've been dead for weeks…I—we want to know why."
The brochure fell to the floor, and Shinji began fiddling with his cross with shaking fingers. He swallowed, and his eyes fell to the side.
"I…that is…it's complicated…" he finally stuttered.
"'Complicated'?" Asuka yanked off her habit, shaking her red hair after doing so, "Why?"
Shinji bit his lip and moved away from her, looking down intently at the cross he was maneuvering through his fingers.
Asuka's tone finally brought a weak, defensive response.
"I had to…I was a—"
The girl wasn't able to hear what else Shinji had to say as a high pitched voice emanating from her clock-radio took her away to see the ceiling of her room.
UN Special Base TUMBLEWEED was located in the Arizona desert, isolated from most of civilization save for a single road. Helicopters—black venomous things slung with gun pods, rocket launchers, and guided missiles—squatted on the desert floor at various locations around the base in groups of four beside tents that housed their pilots. Cameras, motion detectors, heat sensors, webs of laser sensors, and prowling dogs roaming freely within a fenced area surrounding the complex made the place near impenetrable; this fact was backed by two battalions of UN ground troops.
The base was in an octagon shape, and consisted of barracks, laboratories, offices, an airfield, a large cafeteria, a huge long building that resembled a hanger, and a small nuclear power plant. Satellite dishes were planted in two neat rows, enabling the facility to keep up with all developments in the world.
In Alpha Laboratory, the most restricted section of the base, was a large chamber. The entire room was based around a collection of tubes that sat on a circular platform over a hole in the center of the room. Walkways leading to the platform covered pipes that curled out of square gaps on the platform and were plugged into the base of the tubes. Beneath the tube platform, dozens of hanging cables led to a metal dome at the bottom of a deep well filled with tubes and wires. Within the dome, inserted three days previously, was a core taken from the MP Eva assembly building on the base.
Surrounding the tube platform was a ring of computer stations which handled the flow of information that followed the complicated operations carried out here. A ten foot wide gap leading to a pair of large, air-tight doors allowed waiting medical technicians to retrieve the subject of whatever experiment was being carried out that day.
The man who was known as SEELE-8 to his comrades looked up at the Plexiglas tubes in the middle of the large room, a quiet wonder still filling him despite years spent watching similar operations being carried out.
It was a special thing to bring a new life into the world, though SEELE-8—also known as Gregory Hayes, head of a massive conglomerate that employed over two million people—was never a father. He had tried, but none of his four wives had been able to bear children. Hayes wasn't sure if it was luck; Sharon—was she the one he had sunk into the South Pacific or was that Mary—had taken pills to guard against pregnancy, he knew for sure.
Perhaps it was for the best; he had seen enough families with dead or deformed children—courtesy of his leaked chemicals—to decide that dealing with babies would be too much of a hassle.
In one tube was the body of Shinji Ikari, his skin still bearing the marks of the astonishingly intense autopsy that NERV's Commander had ordered. Three entire spools of white thread had reportedly been used to sew up the parts that were sliced open: the chest, interior of the arms, top of the legs, even the boy's skull had been pried open and the brain actually split to search for some sign of stroke or tumor.
Though the decay was light, the body was clearly unsuitable to house a soul. Thus the second tube contained a clone-body, one that resembled the boy in every way except for the lack of any body hair—the genetics were in the body for it to grow, but there hadn't been enough time to adequately cultivate the clone for anything to appear. And like all clones that had come so far since the science was started, young Ikari's clone was pale and had blood red eyes, now only half-open. The mouth was in the shape of a dreamy smile.
The old man turned to look at the middle-aged, brown-haired scientist holding a clipboard by his side.
"We're ready to begin, at your order, sir."
How quickly these people allowed themselves to be destroyed when you wave enough money in their faces, Hayes thought. His contempt for humanity had slowly increased over the years, especially after Second Impact.
"Very well; start immediately."
"…rather it was due to the efforts of your elders that we have come so far…"
Asuka Langley Sohryu leaned back in her chair and glanced out the window as the teacher began his lecture. She briefly considered playing Hangman with Hikari and the Stooges before remembering that her best friend was visiting an elderly relative who was entering her final days and without the Class Rep around Asuka could barely stand the two boys, who had managed to rebuild a form of buoyancy despite Shinji's death.
She had truly dreaded telling them about the grave robbing. Things were so different from Germany here that she had wondered if the desecration of a person's grave would spark some kind of posse. The Tokyo-3 Police had looked very grim about it before they were chased away by Section-2 agents—Gendo Ikari was quick to establish NERV's authority over the matter—and everyone who came up to Asuka asking for more information walked away with a shaken look on their face. Even the usually expressionless Section-2 agents were walking around with expressions of outrage.
In the end, the boys had taken the news very well, she thought; well, at least Touji had only bruised his fist after punching through a wall.
Rei had been bustled off by Gendo when he arrived at the cemetery with Section-2 agents in tow. Whatever he had tried to do didn't seem to help, as she was still upset and even a little angry when Asuka next saw her at headquarters.
Misato's reaction was the most surprising; when the redhead had released her, the major had turned on Ritsuko and shrieked out an accusation that the scientist had a hand in the grave robbing. It was all anyone could do to keep Misato from actually trying to torture the alleged knowledge of the body's whereabouts from the astonished Akagi. Kaji had to be called in to escort her home.
Asuka sighed and looked out at a bird perched down on a fence by the track; her feelings toward Kaji had changed dramatically since she had come to Japan. His reunion with Misato (and apparently Dr. Akagi) demonstrated again that her affections were not returned—and unwanted.
Perhaps…perhaps she was trying too hard; Asuka wanted very badly to appear mature, so much that doing so drained her emotional and mental strength. After years of trying, so far she hadn't made a dent in what other people saw. Letting go might be a relief…
It was then that Asuka noticed that the bird she was looking at was somewhat larger than most of the birds she had seen in Japan. She squinted in thought as the feathered creature snapped its head around in the manner that birds do. The German girl's eyes widened as she suddenly recognized the bird: it was a raven.
As if it knew she was watching it, the raven cocked its head toward her, gazing in her direction for a few moments before taking flight.
Matthew Cable, former Attorney-at-Law and present Raven of Dream of the Endless, flapped away from the school and took a course toward one of the large metal entrances to the Geofront he had sighted hours before on his first trip around the city. As a car drove in, Matthew dove into the tunnel that the guarded doors had revealed upon their opening.
The raven had never questioned how he could fly right past people without them seeing him; he figured it either had something to do with his being a dream or people were so absorbed in their own lives that they didn't notice him—or perhaps a combination of both.
Matthew flew past a blonde woman in a lab coat, quickly turning down another passageway and followed some strange instinct through the bowels of NERV as he reviewed what he knew.
First, something big had happened; something very serious, at the cemetery. The dark-suited thugs hanging around the school earlier in the day were shaking their heads in wonderment at it. Matthew had flown over the cemetery, seeing that the area was taped off and being guarded by some more dark-suited thugs. He perched on a nearby tombstone, doing his best to look like a dumb-as-shit crow or something while looking at the words on the grave marker the thugs were guarding.
His heart sank and a chill went down his spine as he saw whose grave had been desecrated. Bad experiences with the black arts in his former lifetime mixed with his present job to create any number of possibilities in his imagination, most of them gruesome enough to make a Nazi scientist vomit.
Now he came to a pair of heavy doors…which were closed. Probably locked.
No problem, though it always made him uncomfortable. He shut his eyes and aimed his beak for the crack between the doors. Matthew's body passed through the doors, as if they were only air.
The raven opened his eyes and found himself in a vast office, devoid of any decoration save two archaic design on the floor and ceiling. Before a massive window overlooking what the Waking humans called the Geofront were a rather simple desk and chair. A flat-screened computer sat at the seat's right hand. An old man stood before the seated person.
Matthew landed—still unseen—on the floor, watching them both.
The old man shook his head, "None. Police have interviewed the custodian and his staff; they spoke to people who live nearby. Nothing; no one saw or heard anything."
"How is that possible?" the bearded man said, his glasses flashing in the light as he looked up at the old man.
"Our guess is that they used ordinary shovels and a team of agents chosen for their burliness. They probably carried the coffin to a truck on the pavement and disguised it there. Then—somehow—they took it out of Tokyo-3."
The man at the desk sat silently for a moment. He leaned forward and crossed his hands in a manner Matthew found sinister before speaking.
"Have they checked the flight manifests over the past two days? Perhaps there is something we can use in the records."
"The thought occurred to me," the elder man said with a weary voice, "Section-2 is on it as we speak.
"However," he crossed his arms with a sigh, "I doubt we'll find anything. This—bizarre as it is—was a black operation. Ikari, you and I both know who is responsible for it."
"It makes no sense," Ikari growled, his brow furrowing, "why would the old men do such a thing? What could they gain?"
"I don't want to think about it," the old man replied, "whatever they're up to, it can hardly be any worse than the atrocities we commit every day."
Ikari did not speak. He looked at the other occupant of the office and silently dismissed him with a wave. His subordinate bowed and turned, briskly walking for the doors.
The commander waited a few moments after the doors closed before he opened a drawer and pulled out a bottle and a small, scratched glass. He poured a clear liquid into the glass and quickly drank it before slamming the glass down and leaning back, staring at the top of his desk.
"Wrong," he muttered, "all wrong…nothing is as it should be…"
Unseen, Matthew spread his wings and flew past Gendo into the glass, into the air, into the Dreaming.
A scream erupted out of a dark corner of Dream's Library.
Shinji winced as another seagull dove for the heroine's head. It was all so terrifyingly real, much more of a horror film than the movie in the Waking. He scratched his arm uncomfortably, shifted a little in his stuffed chair, and looked at his companions.
Mervyn leaned forward on a mop, chewing on a cigar, with his little bat-minions hanging off his head. In front of him, sitting on the ground with legs crossed and his chin cupped in his hands, was a boy with messy blonde hair that covered his eyes, a blue sweater vest, and a baseball cap. Lucian sat in a baroque armchair, his bony fingers clasped before him with his elbows propped up on the arms. They were all gathered around a white screen and a rattling film projector in a clear corner of the Film Section.
"The birds…" Shinji said nervously, Lucian's gaze turned toward him, "they look so…real…"
"Of course they do," Lucian said in a dignified manner, "every story in the Waking pales in comparison to their editions here in the library. The inspiration comes from here, after all."
Mervyn took a deep drag on his cigar, and smoke poured out of his eye and nose holes. He exhaled in a sort of sigh, and took out a pocket watch.
"Aw, hell, Daniel wanted me to set up those new tapestries in the Hall of Warriors. I gotta go…oh, hey, Shinji?"
The boy looked up.
"Where's that cart you checked out? I'm gonna need it,"
"Oh…uh, I left it in the Pendulum Garden with Amon. Go on downstairs, I'll get it,"
"Thanks, kid," Mervyn said, and placed his cigar back in his mouth as he turned to head for the exit.
Shinji stood and began to follow the scarecrow…
A Sea of Dirac—even a relatively small one—was a difficult thing to handle. SEELE's technology could create them, but their generation had to be immediately followed by a series of negative and positive charges precisely timed and patterned to stabilize the field, preventing the Sea from collapsing or expanding uncontrollably.
A stable Sea of Dirac was necessary before the ZEBEDEE system could be engaged. "Field is stable at eighty-five percent of generator's capability. First pulse, negative charge."
The operation's supervisor, Dr. Rueben Houser, turned to Hayes, who was sitting to his right at the main console.
"This is high priority, as you instructed sir; normally, seventy-five percent is acceptable since we get a fifty to sixty-two percent success rate at that level, but with this one we'll begin at about ninety percent, which will give us a higher rate of possible success."
"How much higher?"
"Oh, about seventy-eight," the doctor replied, "but I can't promise anything. Most of the subjects we've worked with haven't been deceased as long as this one. And there have been mixed results with insertion into clone bodies."
Hayes grunted in understanding. He wasn't really worried; Houser was one of his best scientists. Besides, it had been agreed that the process would be attempted at least five times until they would give up.
"Dr. Houser? Field is now at ninety percent and steady. ZEBEDEE system ready to engage."
The technician looked at Houser, Houser looked at Hayes.
The old man nodded, and the authorization code was typed in and confirmed.
Unseen within the sphere above the tubes, crackling blue colored energy whipped and snapped around the Sea of Dirac. After about five minutes, a bolt hit one point, and then another went to the same place. Soon, a steady stream of energy developed there, a web of power that crackled and hissed as ZEBEDEE focused its blasphemous technology on the soul it had detected.
"ZEBEDEE reports subject found!"
An iron stake smashed into Shinji's spine and he screamed, his eyes bulging out. He stumbled forward, a hand flailed out and caught the projector, smashing it to the ground, bouncing a little as Shinji's body hit the floor. The projection hit a face contorted sharply with pain, the image of crows on the attack against blue eyes intermittently closed tightly or open, brimming with tears.
Lucian had leaped over his chair and was on his knees by the teenager. He had to shout to be heard over Shinji's screams.
"Nod! Get Lord Dream! He's in the throne room!"
The shocked little boy nodded and ran for the exit. Lucian turned his attention fully to Shinji.
"Shinji…Shinji, can you hear me? Can you understand me?"
"Yes! Yes…oh, God! It hurts!"
The boy was in a fetal position, curling in tightly with his arms hugging his torso.
Lucian looked up at Mervyn and spoke, "Let's at least get him off the floor; we can't do anything else until our lord gets here,"
The scarecrow bent down at Shinji's feet and Lucian put his hands under the boy, who was reduced to sobbing moans. They began to lift…
Shinji's body slid through their fingers, the sensation reminiscent of dragging one's digits through sand at a beach. He impacted on the ground—thankfully they only had him about seven inches up—and grains of sand suddenly spread out from where his body met the floor. Lucian picked up a golden grain and held it up close to his glasses. His eyes flickered over to Mervyn's face, the expression of which was such that it could no longer hold the cigar in his mouth.
They both spoke at the same time.
Dream of the Endless sat on his throne in a darkened room, the only light coming from the tall stained glass windows behind him. He was completely in shadow, though the emerald around his neck gave a low light that highlighted the lower parts of his face and the chest visible through his robe.
"Danny? You there?"
Dream lifted his head and stars blazed in both his eyes.
"Hello, Matthew," said the Dreamweaver, and he lifted an ivory white hand for the raven to alight upon, "Do you have a report for me?"
Matthew landed and flapped his wings once as a nervous gesture.
"Listen, Danny; there's a lot of shit up there and they just keep tossing it through a fan,"
Dream frowned, and more stars became visible in the night sky that made up his eyes. Matthew was obviously very agitated.
"Then speak, Matthew,"
The raven told everything he had seen to Daniel, and when he was finished, the Oneiromancer's eyes had darkened and seemed to spread across his face as he looked down.
"This is disturbing news, Matthew; mortals have any number of reasons to disinter bodies—only a few of which are good."
"That's what I was thinking; but the kid's father isn't involved, that much I can guess,"
"It was unlikely he would," Dream lifted his head to gaze out over his throne room, "His is an existence of matter and formula."
"So, what now?"
"Now? I see no…"
The doors burst open, sending Matthew into the air in surprise; though he was almost as startled, Dream was more restrained in his emotions. A small figure huffed his way into the throne room toward where Dream sat.
The night sky returned to Dream's eyes as he stood.
"Nod?" Daniel asked in an authoritative voice, "What is the reason behind this…?"
Hayes looked at his watch and sighed.
"How long does it usually take?"
Dr. Houser looked up from the data on his screen, "It varies from case to case. But this is looking good. We should have him here within fifteen minutes."
Shinji's screams had drawn the attention of a large portion of the palace staff. Mervyn was doing crowd control while Lucian tended to Shinji, albeit his efforts were limited to trying to hold the young man's hand, which was feeling frightfully similar to bunched up sand. He tried to limit the boy's movement and his own when it connected with the boy; there was more of the mysterious sand appearing on the floor, and Shinji was looking thinner, taking on the appearance of a corpse.
There was a shift in the air that could barely be felt; reality shuddered to reveal Dream of the Endless in regal white robes, with Matthew orbiting his head. The Prince of Stories brought his gaze upon the Librarian and the former pilot, barraged by shouted, frightened questions; a fear of the kind not felt since the Kindly Ones' visit had the staff in its grip. Dream then looked over his shoulder at the faces (or other appendages) staring at him in expectation.
"Enough. Carry on with your duties."
The dreams still stared at him.
The stars in his eyes vanished, leaving only two emerald points of light, "…Now." Dream ordered coldly.
As his subjects stampeded for the doors, Daniel moved gracefully to Shinji's side and kneeled, his face impassive.
"He's in great pain, sire," Lucian explained, "And he appears to be dissolving, slowly; I've only seen it once before, when Lord Morpheus…"
"I know, Lucian,"
The Librarian looked down, a flash of sorrow briefly going through his eyes.
"Shinji?" Dream asked the boy, "Can you understand me?"
The young man gave a raspy cough and inhaled shakily; he had screamed so loudly and so long that his voice had given out under the strain. He managed a shaky reply before curling up, leaving a trail of sand from his body's former position.
"He is capable of comprehension," Dream stated, "A good sign,"
Matthew landed and inspected the boy's face, "A good sign? The kid looks like shit,"
"Matthew…" the Prince of Stories looked at the raven coolly; the bird closed his beak and flapped to his king's shoulder, "This requires a remedy of different origins."
Dream drew himself to his full height and looked over at Mervyn.
"See to his comfort as best as you can. Let no one else into the Library; seal the doors if you have to. This matter is to be kept within a very tight circle, do you understand?"
"Yessir, Boss, sir," Mervyn uttered, shakily lighting a cigar that shared his mouth with another. It takes a lot to unnerve a scarecrow, but it can be done.
"I will take note of your performance…Lucian,"
The Librarian looked up from beside Shinji.
"In my private study, there is a small chest of silver and wood; bring it down here."
"As you wish, my lord," Lucian replied.
In Dream's eye, star—acting as a pupil—moved to regard Matthew on his left shoulder.
"We must make a short journey, Matthew,"
"You want me to come along? Really?"
"What was it you said so long ago, little friend?" a smirk appeared on Daniel's white face, "'You're gonna need someone around to offer advice, bail you out when you're in trouble, all that.'"
Matthew gave a short cry of laughter as he and Dream vanished.
When the intercom came to life, announcing an unexpected change in the lunch menu, the old teacher had paused, swaying slightly, and then launched into his Second Impact lecture again, apparently having lost his place. Asuka rolled her eyes, and sat back with a sigh, feeling a nap coming on. She glanced over at Rei, who was staring off somewhere outside, and then looked back at the head of the classroom.
The droning of their aged teacher seemed to be weighed down with even more dullness now, and soon the writing on the little-used chalkboard behind the old man became blurry. Asuka blinked a few times, and the writing returned to normal for a few seconds before she felt her eyelids drooping again. Recalling a previous event in which she had suffered a rather severe bruise on her forehead after losing consciousness at her desk, she crossed her arms and laid her head down to rest her eyes…
It only seemed like a minute before she felt eyes upon her. The teacher's voice was gone, replaced by a silence that seemed to come right out of a horror film. Cautiously, she raised her head, ready to face a frowning sensei and students following the universal law that says all children stare at the subject of their teacher's ire.
The class stared forward, still and silent. The old man sat with his hands clasped before him, looking at the group of teenagers through his thick glasses.
Something like a ghost stood behind the old teacher, a mop of messy white hair covering his eyes; he wore a white button-down shirt that was opened down to his navel with white slacks. Standing out against all the snow-colored surroundings was a small emerald hanging from a leather strap around his neck. Perched on his shoulder was a large black bird, a raven.
Asuka was surprised, to say the least. She glanced around quickly, expecting to see her classmates stand up or at least start whispering to each other. But there were only the glazed, bored expressions of a common school day.
The ghostly figure casually approached her, actually brushing up against one girl in front of Asuka, with absolutely no reaction from the student. Finally, he stood over the red-haired German and lifted his head to reveal two eyes as black as night.
"A good day to you, Asuka Langley Sohryu," said a voice that echoed out of the back of her mind.
Asuka blinked and looked quickly around, looking for confirmation that she was not due for a visit to a padded room.
"Do not be concerned," the figure said in a rather bored fashion, "They can neither see nor hear us."
She narrowed her eyes, "I know you…"
"Yes, you do."
"The night that Shinji died…" Asuka's eyes widened, "You were there…mein gott, you're Dream, aren't you?"
"Give the little girl a big cigar," the raven suddenly uttered.
"I have a million names," Dream said, giving a harsh look at the bird, "Dream of the Endless, however, is always first among them."
Asuka stood up slowly, looking carefully at her classmates, who showed no reaction to her movement.
"What do you want?"
"You are needed in the Dreaming; Shinji…needs your help very badly,"
"Shinji? What happened to him?"
"All will be explained if you agree to come with me," Dream replied soothingly, "I am capable of dealing with this difficulty, but the matter will go more smoothly with your assistance."
Asuka looked down and bit her lip. After a moment she looked back up at the Oneiromancer's face.
"What do you want me to do?"
Dream of the Endless held up his left hand, with the index and middle finger pressed against the thumb. He flicked them toward her eyes, and a small sprinkle of golden sand flew from his fingers…
Lucian stood beside Shinji, clutching the chest he had been sent to fetch and looking down worriedly at the boy. He heard a footstep, looked up, and saw that his master had returned with a young red-headed girl. Matthew launched off of the Prince of Stories' shoulder and flapped over to Shinji's side; the girl followed the bird's movement.
"Shinji!" she ran over to the boy's side and got down on her knees, looking him over. The boy was still on his side, his face in a tight grimace. He opened one eye, but otherwise made little movement.
"Lucian, you have it?"
"Er, yes, my lord," said the librarian, turning his attention back to the King of Dreams and presenting the chest, "My lord, may I…?"
"She is a friend, Lucian," Dream replied, pulling a small silver key out of the air and inserting it into the small lock, "Her presence here will expedite matters…ah, yes…"
Dream had opened the chest, reached in with long white fingers, and carefully removed a sky-blue crystal the size of a baseball from within the chest. Inside the crystal was a blue fire that bloomed brightly and then almost faded into an ember before flaring up again, pulsing over and over like the beating of a human heart.
Daniel had turned his back on the girl and Shinji, clutching the crystal in his right hand hand while clasping his emerald lightly with the other. He said nothing, but his emerald began to glow even more brilliantly, with smoke-like tendrils of power radiating from within. His lips tugged downwards in a frown showing his concentration, meditating on the crystal in his hand before nodding slightly.
"I must leave again, Lucian," Dream finally said, turning back to his waiting servant and delicately replacing the crystal in the chest.
Startled, Lucian snapped his head around in a bird-like manner to see that the girl had stood up, the strange objects in her hair giving an even more demonic look to her angry glare.
"Where the fuck do you think you're going? You have to help him! You can't just leave!" she hissed dangerously, not unlike an unusually hostile cobra, "You have to help him!"
The librarian didn't know whether to be amused by the girl's behavior or fear for her; no one had yet spoken to Daniel like that since he had taken his office, but his predecessor didn't take insolence like that very well.
"The source of these troubles is not here, child," Dream replied calmly, "It is in the Waking, the mortal plane. I must go there to put an end to this foolishness. However, there is something to be done before I go…"
Daniel crouched by Shinji, beckoning the girl to do the same. Giving him a suspicious look, the redhead joined him at Shinji's side. To Lucian's surprise, Dream lifted the emerald and its strap from his neck. He then picked up Shinji's limp hand—the boy's body did not slip through his fingers as it did through those of the servants—and placed the emerald in the boy's palm.
"Your hand, Asuka Sohryu,"
Asuka wordlessly lifted her hand, which the Dream King took and pressed against Shinji's hand, which automatically grasped hers. He then took the hanging strap and wrapped it loosely around their gripping fingers. Holding the combined hands with both of his, he looked into Asuka's ocean-blue eyes with the two dark skies that were his own.
"Keep your hand with his, child," Dream said quietly, not quite an order but a command nonetheless, "The Dream Stone will alleviate the pain through direct distraction,"
"Distraction? What are you…"
Dream released, and a green light found its way through the cracks and holes in the two teenager's fingers. A fluid emerald cloud of light poured out from the hands, flowing around the two figures, creating something not unlike an aurora around Asuka and Shinji.
Lucian wove his fingers together into a nervous fist as he watched the emerald luminescence engulf the teenagers; a white hand landed on his arm and turned him to the Prince of Stories.
"My lord," Lucian began, "Do you know what is happening?"
"Arrogant fools, Lucian," Dream replied coldly, "Arrogant little mortals who are trying to take my servant from my castle, in the center of the Dreaming."
Dream turned, walked a few yards away from Lucian, and then pivoted to return to the librarian. As he did so, his casual outfit was changed to a white outfit outlined with chaotic gold designs and a cloak attached to his clothing by two emerald fastenings. Flames woven into the cloak rose and fell as if an inferno had been tailored into the Dream King's clothing. From his sash he pulled out a single gauntlet and pulled it onto his right hand. From the darkness of his cloak, he drew his Helm and placed it on his head. The bizarre thing, crafted from the bones of a goddess who once challenged Dream of the Endless for his kingdom, gave him a fearsome appearance.
And they must pay the price.
Between the idea and the reality…
It wasn't a luxurious train nor was it intolerable. It resembled, above all else, a rather clean subway-cabin, complete with abandoned newspapers and wrinkled advertisements beside the doors and above the windows. Blue cushions made up the seats and a thin dark blue carpet covered the floor.
Asuka opened her eyes and raised her head. In front of her was Shinji, his face buried in his hands. He sat quietly, rocking gently with the train's movement; his clothes were rumpled and dirty, and his hands were speckled with red stains. After a moment he lowered his hands and looked at Asuka with tired, haggard eyes.
The train rumbled through a dark tunnel, and when it came out, there was another man, holding on to a ceiling handgrip. He towered over them both, casting a shadow over the teenagers.
His skin was a milky white, contrasting sharply with his shaggy, raven black hair and dark clothing. The man gazed at them with eyes full of the midnight sky, out of a lined and careworn face.
For a moment, the teenagers stared at the mysterious stranger, and he back at them.
Shinji suddenly spoke, a brittle action that seemed to originate from a throat stripped of flesh and replaced with sandpaper.
"I know you…"
Between the motion and the act…
"Sir? It looks like we have company,"
Second Lieutenant Thomas Rockwell looked up from his map and turned to the sergeant behind him.
"What are you talking about, Pete?"
The sergeant gestured with his flashlight toward the security perimeter and Rockwell followed the beam. Lieutenant Rockwell raised his eyebrows when the light fell on something tall, white, and moving toward the mined and fenced off security perimeter.
Rockwell was pretty new to the base, but his commander had told him that from time to time either a wandering vagrant or a snooping conspiracy freak found their way into the restricted area. They all met a rather sad end, and it looked like it was time for Rockwell's turn to make one. He motioned for his troops to follow him and the desert floor was lit by dozens of flashlight beams as the soldiers walked towards the fence, maneuvering their sub-machine guns into a firing position as they moved.
"All right, Casper," Rockwell called out, "This here's government property. You'd best just move along."
The white figure just kept moving forward, a loose garment rippling in a breeze that had just begun moving through the area.
"Didn't you hear me, buddy?" the lieutenant yelled, "Don't come any closer or we'll fire!"
Rockwell shined his flashlight in the direction of the figure's head, and his mouth dropped open at the sight of an insect-like helmet with what looked like a spine sticking out of it.
"What the hell?" he pulled out his walkie-talkie, "Castle, this is Red Wolf in Zone-Seven; we got some sort of cult freak here or something."
Rockwell was perfectly capable of handling this himself, but if this was a cult member heading his way then there might be other crazies out there or back wherever the hell this guy came from, where he might be missed and lead to even more freaks trying to bring attention to the base.
"Red Wolf, this is Castle, our heat sensors aren't showing anything out there but you guys,"
"Castle, I'm looking right at him! He's…"
The figure had stopped and produced a small bag. He loosened a small cord holding its opening closed and held it out on an outstretched arm, pouring what looked like sand out of the small opening.
"…he's dumping sand out…a lot of it…"
The sand that fell to the desert floor began to swirl like a small tornado. The bizarre phenomena began to expand and grow; where once it was about the size of a basketball, it was now as large as a small bus in a matter of seconds. The wind had now picked up and was pulling at the men's uniforms, blasting sand into their eyes. Rockwell fished out a pair of goggles the troops kept in case of a windstorm and began shouting into the walkie-talkie.
"Angel! We got a fucking monster out here!"
"Red Wolf, we are not detecting anything out there, what the hell is…" the device then crackled and hissed before dying completely. Rockwell shook it, screamed at it for a few seconds, and then threw it in the dirt.
"Fall back!" Rockwell shouted into the night and the gathering storm, "Everybody fall back!" He seized his submachine gun and took aim at the figure in white, still visible through the whipping storm of dust and the fence. He fired a long burst, snapping some wires in the fence, which proved to be the only thing he was able to hit. The tornado grew to a roaring thing moving steadily toward Rockwell and his fleeing platoon. Fence posts were torn out of the ground, sending metal wires whipping through the air. Sand pelted Rockwell and his men, the impact of the particles feeling ten times their size with every hit.
It felt like a boulder glanced off Rockwell's helmet and he fell to the ground, covering his nose and mouth while curling up into a fetal position. Through the swirling dust, he saw the white figure advance, his clothes rippling in the wind but otherwise he was completely unaffected as he moved towards Rockwell's body…
Falls the shadow…
For Thine is the Kingdom
"I know you," Shinji said again.
"And yet I do not know you…strange…"
The man leaned forward, and though he had no visible pupils, the two teenagers somehow knew he was examining them with all the detached interest of a coroner plying his trade.
"Strange," he repeated, mostly to himself, "You come from far away, do you not? From another place on another world in another time,"
Blackness engulfed the group as they entered another tunnel.
Asuka and Shinji stood on a white balcony overlooking a sea of stars. There was a man and a woman there, in an amorous embrace.
The man was a green color and glowing brightly, his hair seemed to burn like a flame. The woman's skin was blue, and she had white hair.
A shadow fell over the two teenagers, and they turned as one to see the tall pale man, staring at the two lovers quietly, without the slightest hint of emotion. He turned his back and walked back into the palace from which the balcony stretched.
"I…I think he saw us."
Shinji and Asuka knew without turning that the other man had spoken.
"Why should that scare you? You are a sun." the woman replied.
"I am a sun. But he is Dream. They say Death is kinder than he is."
"What should we do?"
"I don't know."
"Don't leave me."
"I never shall."
Asuka and Shinji were compelled, pulled really, to follow the black-garbed figure down winding stairs and out into a magnificent garden. He paused to speak to a fat, nude woman sitting beside a red, burning man and then continued his walk down another set of steps and finally approached a strange person like Asuka had never seen before, a being who seemed to be both man and woman.
"Killalla of the Glow is with Sto-Oa," the man in black said in a calm cold voice.
"Yes," said the strange woman-man.
"They were kissing."
"They were," it replied, laughter in his voice, "They've gone far beyond that now. His hot fingers are already invading her soft curves and moist crevices—"
"Enough!" the man snapped, his voice like a short clap of thunder, "You find this funny?"
"Actually, yes," it said, with a toothy grin.
"I see. Then we are not friends, you and I, Sibling. Do not interfere further in my affairs."
He turned and walked off, still appearing calm and collected despite what transpired. Asuka and Shinji followed him as he approached two other flaming figures, one tall and female looking, colored an elegant blue; the other was short, gangly looking, and was a brilliant gold.
"Yes, sire," replied the blue flame-being.
"I have outstayed my welcome, and I shall be leaving now."
"The woman you brought with you…?"
"Will find her own way home. I imagine that Sto-Oa will transport her; they are going to the same place, after all."
The dark man turned to the smaller, golden boy-child and regarded him.
"You. Sol. Did I hear you say you planned to have some of your planets inhabited?"
With a nervous voice the being replied, "Well, I'd certainly like it. Obviously, it's up to the planets themselves. None of them have woken yet."
"Yes. Their dreams are very lonely, and beautiful."
"You know that? Oh. Of course you do. You know, sire, you are always welcome in my system."
"I know, Sol. One day…" and the man in black slowly faded into the air.
Then the palace faded and the sway of the train returned as they left the tunnel.
Before them stood the tall pale man again, grasping the same handgrip.
"Shinji?" Asuka asked warily. She hated not knowing what was going on, not being in control.
"Its Morpheus," the boy replied breathily to the girl, "You're Morpheus," he said to the pale figure.
"That name is applicable," Morpheus said dismissively, "If it is to your liking, I shall be Morpheus,"
"What are you doing here?" Shinji asked, apparently awestruck merely by the presence of this strange man in black.
"I…am going home," was the answer, "There is a great…disturbance there. I never should have left but I…it could not be avoided. Not without loss of honor."
The last words seemed more to be directed at Morpheus himself than a piece of conversation. He looked tired, and his voice was lined with growing exhaustion.
"They…say you're dead," Shinji murmured, "But no one has told me how, or why,"
"Dead?" Morpheus asked in a tone so cold Asuka grew goose bumps. He sounded as if he believed that Shinji was attempting a joke…and the dark being did not even remotely resemble someone who enjoyed a good laugh.
But the brief flash of anger that had crossed his face vanished, to be replaced by sad contemplation.
"Dead, you say? It is not impossible, nor unlikely, especially in this situation…"
He paused and regarded the two teenagers before speaking again.
"Forgive me, but your names are not known to me. Only those separated from the Dreaming are beyond my knowledge…and those persons are rare indeed."
"I-I'm Shinji Ikari,"
"Asuka Langely Sohryu," the redhead uttered with a cautious undertone to her voice.
"And so there are names to place with faces," Morpheus said good naturedly—as far as he could say anything good naturedly, anyway, "But it explains nothing…and I suppose it matters not in the long term,"
His last words seemed to echo in the blackness that fell upon them.
Between the conception and the creation…
Colonel William Long was leaning over the lieutenant's shoulder a little too closely for the younger man's taste, but Colonel Long had been chosen for his subservience to SEELE, not for such trivial things as popularity with the troops…or loyalty to them.
"The system's breaking down, sir; all the heat sensors are dead, the motion detectors are shutting down, and the laser webs are about to go," Lieutenant Sanchez reported.
"Dammit, I didn't ask for a fucking science report, I wanted you to fix the damn thing!"
Long's snarl echoed through the octagonal command center, and made the tension almost visible like a fog. Already the staff's activities were reduced to a crawl at the sight of monitors either hissing with static or half-filled with darkness, an indication of sand piling up in the camera scopes outside. More and more monitors were turning blank or filled with static.
It didn't help that reports from other buildings and troops were practically shrieking into their ears. Shouts like "My God, the walls are going" or "Who the hell are you?" were becoming less frequent, but there was still a lot of noise from around the complex.
The lights flickered, and Colonel Long looked up while barking an order for somebody to check the generators. A corporal with a pistol ran out the door as the lights buzzed out, leaving the room bathed in an eerie light from the monitors and smaller emergency lights as the command center's backup generator kicked in.
Long reached over and picked up the direct line to the Alpha Laboratory, "This is Colonel Long, we have a situation…yes, I know Mr. Hayes ordered that he not be disturbed but this is an emergency, the power is going under and weather conditions are at tornado Force-Five levels. Tell Hayes and the rest to make for the tunnels, I think that…"
The phone went dead. In the same second, the computers and monitors finally winked out and the lights went dark, one bulb exploding and raining glass on Long's head. The doors opened violently and banged against the walls, as if it were pinned there by the presence of the bizarre figure now calmly walking into the command center.
Long pulled out his Beretta and pointed it at the white-garbed foe that was now walking past him. His soldiers were all staring at his trembling gun and the man with the frightening head, too shocked to move.
"Stop right fucking there!" Long bellowed, his voice enhanced almost uncontrollably in fear. To his and everybody's surprise, the stranger stopped his progress and turned his grotesque head toward the colonel.
"You think you can just come here, pull this sorta shit? Who the fuck do you think you are?"
There was silence for a few seconds, then an icy voice seemed to crawl up the spines of the staff and echo through their minds.
I am Dream, William Foster Long, and my business is with your master.
Long's eyes bulged. So, the reports were true; an Angel…
His finger pulled the trigger, then again and again. All of the bullets were on target, but it didn't seem to matter.
That is enough.
A white hand rose and pointed at the colonel. The gun began unraveling, strips of metal unfolding off the gun and the stock falling out, sending bullets flying through the air and orbiting around the reshaping gun, which by now had twisted itself into the shape of a flower, the bullets remolding themselves as petals and attaching themselves to the metal stem.
Long dropped the beautiful and bizarre thing, staring in horror as the figure raised another white hand, this one filled with what looked like dust or sand, and moved it quickly in a wide arc around his body…
…and despite the dust and the growl of the powerful engine, the children crowd around his tank. They wave at him and smile, and he somehow smiles back, taking chocolate from within the huge vehicle and passing it down to the little ones.
"I'm sorry for what I did," he says to them, "Can you forgive me?"
"Of course we can," they reply, "Now come and play with us. There are many mysteries in the jungle to see."
Between the emotion and the response…
The huge chamber reminded Asuka of a cathedral she once visited in Germany. The pews had been removed for some maintenance work on the floors, and the sheer emptiness of the place had left a great impression on her.
It was a vast hall that she and Shinji stood in now. The room was lit mostly by flickering candles, mounted on large candelabra lining the chamber. At one end of the room was a large staircase; the other side led out onto a darkened balcony.
In the center of the room was a heptagonal table, lined with seven chairs…and seven occupants.
It was one of the strangest groups Asuka had ever seen. There was a relatively normal looking girl there, with pale skin and black hair; she looked to be only a few years older than Asuka.
But she and Morpheus seemed to be the only normal ones. A man wearing a dusty robe and a chain leading from his wrist to a book sat by the man-woman Asuka had seen earlier.
There was a squat, older looking woman who had placed the end of a hook mounted on her ring in her lip, tugging at it thoughtfully.
To Asuka's surprise, the freaky girl from the theme-park was at the table as well, dressed in torn peasant's clothing with her legs drawn up tight against her.
The final member of the group wasn't hard to miss; he was a huge red haired and bearded man, with a heavy sword buckled to his side. His huge hands were on the table, and he leaned toward it, biting his lip. It was obvious he had something on his mind.
"Who's he?" Shinji muttered questioningly, mostly to himself, gazing at the giant.
"How should I know?" Asuka replied waspishly; she despised being left in the dark, "I thought you knew these guys."
The boy shook his head and began pointing out the family members, "There's Destiny, Death, Despair, Desire, Delirium…nobody's ever told me about another brother,"
A deep, booming voice, colored with an Irish accent, cut off the conversation.
"I called this conclave for a very weighty reason, one that I have worried over for some time,"
The pale figures looked at him with a range of faces; detached interest, cold musing, nervous expectation, and apparent absolute disinterest.
"One of the responsibilities given to us," the giant said, "is the recognition of what is to be, the patterns and ripples of time and reality that begin within and without our realms and selves, and the understanding of the consequences that these patterns bring with them.
"Another of the responsibilities given us," he continued, "is to oversee the realization of these consequences, and the ripples they in turn create.
"Ever since the beginning, I—as you, my family—have fulfilled my functions as needed; and I have never and will never regret for a moment my labors of the past millennia."
The giant frowned and gave a weary sigh that echoed through the room.
"But I can no longer shoulder the responsibilities as I have. I cannot go on with my functions…and so, I have decided to quit my kingdom,"
The man-woman's eyes seemed to light up with an astonished, malicious glee. Death closed her eyes and inhaled deeply through her nose. The squat woman called Despair brought her hand down so violently she tore off a huge chunk of her lip.
Twin points of light blazed in Morpheus's eyes and his hands clutched the arms of his chair.
"Brother…this is most…unusual," he said in a tone of voice that revealed just how much he disliked "unusual" things happening.
"I know," the giant sighed, "But I feel it is necessary,"
"Necessary?" Despair said in a quiet but agitated voice, "Why is this so? Is there some fool challenging you like those arrogant rabble that made war on Dream?"
"No, my sister; nothing like that," he replied.
"Then why would you do such a thing, leaving the family?" she asked, her voice becoming a little frantic, "What has changed?"
"There is no such thing as a one-sided coin, my sister," he said kindly, producing a small golden disc out of seemingly nothing "And a coin given into the hands of our eldest brother, a coin sent up and rotates in the air, exists in chaos."
A thumb as thick as sausage flipped the coin into the air.
"The light it catches gives us a brief glimpse of what the side we wish for, what we want to happen," the coin whipped high up into the air and made its spinning descent, "But the light is also caught on the side we do not want to see. Each side is just as likely to face us as the other when the coin lands."
And land it did, with a sharp sound of metal hitting heavy wood. It made a few spins on the surface before lying flat, revealing a man's face on the side turned upwards.
"And I called 'tails'," the giant said with a rueful smile, which quickly faded, "There is a time coming when the coin shall be flipped again, when one side will face the light…but it is all too easy to forget that it has two sides, that turned away from our sight is another possibility. And a coin can always be flipped again."
Despair's dark little eyes flickered back between the coin and her huge brother. Out of all the beings there, she seemed to be the most upset. Dream was flustered; Death's eyes were still closed and there was a notable twitch beneath her left eye; Desire seemed pleased by what was going on, though her eyes had glazed over a little while the giant was talking; of Destiny little could be said, the shadow of his hood hid whatever reactions he may have made.
Delirium had taken a glass of wine and was curled into her chair like a grumpy cat, sipping at the glass and scowling as if her drink were sour. Her two differently-colored eyes betrayed nothing.
"There will come a time," the man said, "When my coin will be flipped and land, but there will be those who will wish to make the ones around them forget that the other side exists, and that it can be flipped again.
"Perhaps I am a coward. Perhaps I am being foolish. Perhaps I am many things…but I know, deep inside myself, that I cannot face that time when I must preside over the self-inflicted mutilation and death of a race. For the reality of change to be perverted in such a way…" he trailed off.
"I do not understand what you are saying,"Morpheus said to his huge brother, "We have always performed our function despite the actions of mortals."
"I know," he replied, "I did not think you would understand, my brother. You have always been the most conscientious of our family. I cannot imagine you taking the same paths I have walked, and that is to your credit."
This compliment did not deter his younger brother.
"You cannot simply walk away from your responsibilities, from your duties! Have you even considered the repercussions of your intentions?"
"I have, and that is what almost deterred me. But I have been away from my realm so many times and for so long that it can now care for itself. The stars will still burn; the lands will still shift, all without my intervention."
Despair pleaded, "Will you not reconsider?"
"No, I will not,"
The red-haired giant picked up his hat from his chair and held it in both hands, with a contemplative look on his face. He walked with great strides around the table and to the staircase. Before going up into the hidden chamber beyond, he paused. He turned back to his family, seemed to bite his lip, and then turned back, taking two stairs for every step he made.
There was silence for a moment in the room. Then a heavy voice came from the hooded Destiny.
"Our brother has made his choice. We will go on despite it.
"I thank you for your presence here. You may go."
As soon as he had finished speaking, Destiny's family evaporated into nothing. For a moment the hooded man did not move.
He came closer to the table. For the first time, his left hand left his book, stretching towards the gold coin on the table. Picking it up, he held the coin flat in his palm.
With his fingers, he maneuvered the coin under his thumb. His thumb snapped upwards with a small metallic ring, sending the gold spinning into the air. When it landed, he immediately closed his fist around it. After a moment, he opened his fingers.
Shinji and Asuka came closer to him, peering at the coin.
The side that had come up showed two crossed swords. It was tails.
In a move that sent the two teenagers reeling back, Destiny turned violently, sending dust flying from his cloak. He flung the coin into a large vase by the wall, shattering the beautiful object and sending hundreds of shards scattering across the floor.
The pieces of the vase caught the light, reminding Shinji of the sun's rays reflecting off the surf of a sea from long ago.
And then he realized that the shards had become surf and waves, and the floor they were scattered across had become an ocean seen through the window of the train.
Asuka had pursed her lips thoughtfully, her eyes showing some calculation of an unknown nature. Shinji, however, had given his full attention to Morpheus.
"That portrait—that was him, wasn't it? Your brother?"
The tall figure raised his eyebrows until they vanished into his black locks.
"You…speak of the one who left us, I'd hazard…"
Shinji nodded, "It's an empty frame, nothing but blackness. Why didn't you have a—a symbol for him?"
"The proper term is 'sigil', child," Morpheus said tiredly, "The Prodigal has no presence in my gallery because he has turned his back on the family. It was his wish for us to leave him be,"
"What was his name?" Asuka suddenly asked.
"Our kin have no names; he is called the Prodigal for his departure from our fold,"
The shadows in the cab stretched from their corners as the train entered the tunnel.
Falls the Shadow…
Life is very long
A young technician had just left the room for a bathroom break. He came rushing back in and hurried to Dr. Houser and Hayes at their console.
"Sir, we have a big problem."
"What is it, Warren?" Houser asked with a sigh. The operation was not going very well. The extraction process had suddenly stalled; he was currently running the calculations through the computer again.
"One of our security guys just told me that there's a huge sandstorm or tornado or something going on in the base right now and…"
Only a restricted number of security troops were allowed in some of the rooms in Alpha Laboratory, so the guard in question must have been waiting outside the door to the chamber.
"Calm down, Warren," Houser replied, more to calm the suddenly tense Hayes than Warren, "This building is reinforced with enough concrete and steel to handle anything Mother Nature can throw against us here."
"But sir, he told me that contact with the other buildings and the security troops have been lost. Colonel Long hasn't been heard from in almost five minutes and it looks like all the lights around the complex have gone out."
"Is it an attack?" Hayes asked, his eyes widening.
"Impossible," Houser replied, "If the sensors had detected anything we would have heard it. Alpha Laboratory has top priority."
"But is…" Hayes stopped in mid-sentence as the light flickered. It was only for a moment, but the color drained from the billionaire's face as he looked at Houser. The doctor had already picked up a dedicated line to the security center.
Between the desire and the spasm…
The sun was warm. High above the beach, white birds of an unseen nature orbited lazily calling to each other in loud squawks. A green, spotted snake slithered across the sand, avoiding the waves lightly lapping the shore.
Shinji and Asuka stood, looking out upon the waves and the clear blue sky that met the sea. The boy's eyes widened and he pointed.
There, at the beach's edge, his black hair wet and matted against his head, his face unshaven and careworn, lay a man's severed head. Torn shreds of flesh dripped from his neck; from the darkness of the neck, a piece of white bone, the remnants of the lost connection to his body, could be seen glistening in the sunlight.
The snake slowly made its way to the head and raised itself. It opened its mouth and hissed, baring fangs dripping venom.
A black leather boot with silver buckles landed on the snake's back, grinding the reptile into the sand for a moment before the creature turned and began slithering back up the beach.The head's eyes had fluttered open to reveal sensitive, deep blue orbs. He looked up at the tall black figure of Morpheus, who stared down at the head emotionlessly.
He leaned down from his great height and picked up the head with both hands, holding it at the level of a man's height, and turning to walk down the beach.
"You were unwise to seek favors of your aunt. But you have made your own errors. It was your own life.
"I have come to say goodbye. It seemed the proper thing to do."
The two approached a wall of rock, where nature had formed a small shelf of stone large enough for Morpheus to lay Orpheus's head upon.
"I have visited certain priests on this island, in their dreams. They will find you soon and will care for you.
"I will not see you again."
The head spoke, in a raspy voice from a rocky throat, "But father…"
"'Father'?"Morpheus replied softly, with a brief tinge of hurt in his voice, "Did you not say you were no longer my son?"
"Please. Father," the head began again, "Help me die. Help me to die."
"Your life is your own, Orpheus," Morpheus explained coolly, "Your death, likewise. Always and forever, your own. Farewell."
The dark figure turned and began to walk away, then stopped. He turned his face back to the head on the rock. One of the saddest looks the two Children had ever seen crossed his face as he spoke.
"We shall not meet again," and he returned to his path.
The voice of Orpheus rose again, half-choked by sobs, seeming to be carried by the air itself.
"Father! Come back! Please…" he choked, "Father…"
The black form of Morpheus simply kept walking slowly through the sand and foam, after a while vanishing into the air.
Asuka only blinked once and they were back in the train. She rubbed her eyes, which were aching after a forcible change from the bright Mediterranean sun to the artificial light rods of the car.
"You're just like him,"
The girl stopped at the whisper. She slowly lowered her hands and turned her eyes toward Shinji.
The boy stood before Morpheus, his face turned toward the ground, his fists clenched and trembling. His breathing was hard and shaky, strained by the weight of the emotions growing in his chest.
"I beg your pardon?" Morpheus asked, true confusion lining his words.
"You left him…all alone…a head…"
For a moment, the being's eyes widened. Then white eyelids sealed the two pools of night.
"Orpheus…" he murmured, his voice like a breeze moving through an old graveyard.
"All this time…people were…why did you do it?"
Morpheus turned from them and folded his arms, his tall body swaying with the train's movement.
"Orpheus…my son made…a number of poor choices. He…he would not hear my words. There was nothing I could do for him,"
"YOU LEFT HIM!" Shinji suddenly screamed at the back of the Dream Lord, tears falling off his face from the raising of his head, "YOU ABANDONED YOUR OWN SON, IN THE STREE—ON THE BEACH! YOU LEFT HIM CRYING ON A FUCKING ROCK! YOU'RE NO BETTER THAN HIM"
The only sound in the train was Shinji's heavy breathing. Morpheus was staring down at the floor, his shoulders tense and hunched up.
"Perhaps you are right," the being said, turning to regard the teenagers, "Perhaps there is little separating myself from the one who gave you such pain."
He sounded as if he were speaking from very far away. Not for the first time, he seemed very old and very tired, despite his youthful features.
"Orpheus was my son. I did what I thought was best for him," he paused and shook his head, "No. I did what I thought was best for the laws I have existed by for so long. And ultimately, I allowed the rules to dominate my feelings for my only son.
"A father should not have to choose between his duties and the welfare of his blood, but I did…and my son turned away from me and left, because I chose wrongly, because I chose the rules over my son, because I would not leave my palace to stand beside him and his petition. And finally, because I thought he did not understand, because I thought he had never listened to me."
Morpheus closed his eyes and tilted his head upwards.
"But it was I who did not understand. By then I was not young—if I ever was—and by then all my loves of the past had frustrated me and left me nothing but pain. I made the mistake all fathers are doomed to make—that their sons are no different from themselves. I believed Orpheus would overcome his pain; that he would move on.
"I could not understand then, but I see it now: he could no more move on from his love than I could from my duties. And so we both suffered those thousands of years."
The King of Dreams opened his eyes and looked at Shinji sorrowfully.
"I cannot see what gives you such pain and fear, young one. I do not know you, we have never met in dreams, and I wish we have so I had spoken to you before this.
"Yes, I left my son on an island, bodiless and without family beyond the priests I commissioned to watch over him. He had turned his back on me, scorned my counsel, and made foolish decisions.
"But Orpheus was my son…and no matter what he had done that angered me, in the end it was I who had done the greatest evil: I did not hear my child's call. I walked away. And there is nothing in my entire existence that I regret more."
Between the potency and the existence…
Alarmed by the shouts of their comrade, the guards looked up, some even beginning to stand from their kneeling positions. As they did so, a white figure emerged from the swirling clouds, a single white hand outstretched with a small golden cyclone storming in his hand. With another panicked shout, the guards hit their knees again and brought their weapons up to fire.
A blast of wind erupted from the storm, so strong it hurled the men closest to it back down the hall, one of them hitting another soldier causing that man's rifle to fire a short stream of bullets. A wave of unconsciousness hit the men, leaving them all asleep as Dream of the Endless swept past, his attention completely focused on the laboratory ahead. The storm followed a hundred yards behind him, making Dream's cloak flap violently in the wind.
The Dreamweaver coldly strode up to the chamber's entrance, halting the storm behind him. The doors were snapped open by his presence and when he had entered they closed forcefully, more secure than any lock could make them.
The technicians within stared at him in astonishment, one dropping a coffee cup, sending brown liquid and shards scattering. An old man in an expensive suit slowly stood up, his mouth moving like that of a fish out of water. A man in a white coat beside him stood up as well, paling as he beheld the bizarre sight of Dream in his helm.
What do you think you are doing?
The cold voice could have been that of the Grim Reaper for the effect it had on the people in the chamber. The scientists began slowly putting more distance between themselves, Dream and SEELE-8, which was not very easy to do, but being intelligent people they found a way.
The old man had stopped flapping his mouth and had straightened up.
"I'm bringing this boy back; we don't need you anymore,"
Oh? Dream sounded amused, gazing around at the trembling humans Without me, what would you be? Without Dream, what would any of you be?
"What the hell are you talking about?" SEELE-8 was honestly confused, a feeling he shoved aside, "Bah, what does it matter; you, your kind, and your God are obsolete now. When this boy is ours, we will…"
You will have nothing because you WILL NOT HAVE THIS BOY!
Dream of the Endless turned and pointed at the Sea of Dirac generation tank. The metal skin disintegrated, sending a downpour of metal dust onto the tubes below. The Sea of Dirac floated near the ceiling for a moment before blasting apart, sending shockwaves and energy ripples roaring through the chamber. SEELE-8 and Dr. Houser was hurled against the console behind him while sparks exploded from the computers in front of him. He collapsed to the ground amongst new chaos, screams and shouts hitting him from every angle. Dr. Houser crawled over him and tried to hide under another desk.
Panels had been blasted open by the shockwave and now wires and cables were dangling from the walls and ceiling. Small fires had erupted in various places around the chamber. The tubes had been shattered, sending the LCL-nutrient mix spilling all over the floor and the bodies tumbling down next to a terrified woman.
Hayes opened a blood covered eye to see the strange, white figure now hovering over him.
Gregory Vincent Hayes; you have attempted to violate not only the laws of my realm but those of my sister's. Your foolishness has endangered many lives and the stability of the Dreaming.
Dream reached out his hands, and a star seemed to blaze in one of the eyes of his helm.
It falls to me to pass judgment on you, and it is this: that you will know, now and forever, exactly who and what you are…and how LITTLE that means.
Between the essence and the descent…
In the darkness of a cold, quiet desert night, one voice could be heard:
"Our Father, who art in Heaven; hallowed by thy name…"
Falls the Shadow…
For Thine is the Kingdom
Reality rippled in the Library of Dreams, and the Prince of Stories appeared behind Lucian. The librarian turned and bowed to his lord, who slowly removed the helm from his head. The two teenagers were still hidden by a fog of glowing emerald light.
Without a word, Dream's helm vanished and he went over and reached through the light. His arms made a series of circular motions and he finally withdrew his hands, the fog fading as the Dreamstone left the joint grip of Shinji Ikari and Asuka Langely Sohryu.
For a moment, there was no movement, and then the redhead collapsed onto the unconscious Shinji's chest, apparently falling into a deep sleep (which is not impossible in the Dreaming). Dream waved a hand and the girl vanished. He nodded to Lucian and the tall bird-like man leaned down and picked up the boy, cradling him carefully and moving toward the doors.
The King of Dreams clasped his hands behind him, emerald hanging from between his fingers, and walked into the shadows of the book stacks, deep in thought …
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.