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20. Past and Present Dreaming

    Finding themselves in the Dreamland, that Rain visited while experimenting with Spiral Dust, the party decided to find out what was beyond the spiral staircase.  During a chance encounter with a slaving party, Peggy accidentally swaps bodies with the Lang she was fighting.  Opinions differed and in the end, Bruce took things into his own hands and knocked out the Lang, sending Peggy back into her own body.  

Furious with the whole group, Peggy had stormed off in the middle of enemy territory and the party were left wondering what to do with the mindless slaves they’ve inherited.


He was inside a white room, walls, ceiling and floor all white.  Opposite, the outline of a door with a small window was the only feature of the room.  Stepping forward he realised he was wearing a constrictive white jacket that pulled his arms around his body.  

I’m in a padded room. He thought, but slowly and was surprised at how foggy his thoughts felt.

From beyond the door, the jangle of keys could be heard.  Someone was coming, there was nowhere to hide.  The door swung open.

Rain blinked and found himself staring in the dead eyes of the mindless human slave he had snatched a memory from with Dream Thief.  Algernon stood nearby, and he told him what he’d discovered.

“So, this guy is in an insane asylum?” Algernon said more than asked.

“It’s a dream. It could be his reality right now,” Rain explained, “Or it could be a construct created by his mind to make sense of where he’s at.”  Rain stepped back from the creature devoid of life in front of him, a look of disgust on his face. “Wherever his mind is, it’s trapped and this thing is just a husk, another mannequin given life by the Strange.”

Bruce’s attention drew their attention to each of the slaves lower backs where the pattern of burns was clear,“I’ve seen burns like this before on building sites.  These people have been electrocuted.”

They looked at each of the slaves one more time.  None had the spiral eyes of dust users.  They couldn’t be freed and they couldn’t be returned to Earth.  These things were a dead end. Almost as one they turned away from them and glanced towards Peggy.

She had not calmed down from her fight with Bruce.  If anything, an intense stillness lay about her.  Rigid and unmoving though her body was, Peggy’s eyes darted back and forward, sparks of wild energy and even embers flew into the air around her, manifested by her current elemental nature.  She was a simmering, crackling  chaos of emotions, it was terrifying to witness and for a moment no one would dare go near her.

Quietly and slowly, Bruce moved a few steps closer.  The movement caught Peggy’s attention and her eyes locked with his, like a cornered creature.

“Are you okay?” He asked bending down to be more at her level, but well out of the way of her fiery eminations, “You look like you’re going to catch fire.  Did he do something to you?”  He dared a step closer.

Suddenly, Peggy was up on her feet.  Her hair, normally a mass of unkempt curl loosely bound up, was standing on end, sparks and embers flying.  Her eyes were wild darted around the group looking for an escape or from where the next attack would come.

“Don’t you come near me!  Don’t you dare with your words and your ropes.  You’re trying to destroy me…. trying to ruin me…”

Algernon jumped back, a shimmering field appeared in front of him.  Rain stepped forward, moved by her pain.  Bruce stood rock steady and facing the storm. 

“Do you want a cup of tea?” 

“No I do not want a cup of tea!” Peggy screamed and ran blindly into the ruins.

Bruce looked after her getting to his feet as the other stared on dumbly, “I’ll look after this.”  

“Don’t gaslight her, She’s had that all her life, she doesn’t need it from you.”  Rain yelled after him 


“Yes, telling her she’s shouldn’t feel the way she does, that what she’s experiencing is wrong. I don’t know who, but someone’s really done a number on her over a long time.”

She wasn’t alone.  She was out of breath and footsore from tripping through the ruins in a blind panic.  When she stopped to breathe she realised that someone, something was watching.  She scanned the grey landscape around her looking for the source of the feeling and at first saw nothing.  It wasn’t until she allowed her eyes to rest for a moment in one place that she saw it.  The outline of a cat.  

It was a small cat, a domestic tabby as grey as the world around it, and it looked at her with a mix of curiosity and…humour?  

“Bliic?  Hello there.” Said a voice in Peggy’s head and her anxiety overrode her natural curiosity.

“I can’t hear you, you’re not in my head…I’m not insane…” She whirled around scanning the ruins only to return back to the little grey cat sitting on a broken wall.

“It’s been interesting in the ruins in the last couple of weeks.”  The voice came again, soft and velvety, unconcerned with Peggy’s behaviour.  The cat jumped down from the wall and padded across to her,tail held in a question mark, supremely confident of its place in this ruined world.

“You’re….not…talking…you…can’t…be…”  Peggy fought her own emotional state to focus on one thought.

“Hmmm,” The cat purred self confidently and rubbed itself against her leg, “What brings you here?”  

The contact scared her more than the thought of voices in her head and she leapt away, very much like a startled cat.  

“They…trying to destroy me…we…we came together…and now…they want to stop me…tie me up…”

“Bliic! Who’s that then?  The Moonbeast? They’re really the only things that roam here.”

Peggy shook her head.  As much as it seemed to be a figment of her overactive anxiety, talking to this cat was helping her sort out her thoughts and feelings.

“No, my travelling companions.  I thought they were my friends.”

“Oh, that pair I met last week?” The cat sauntered over to another wall and leapt up to get a better view of Peggy, “Such an odd couple, one man with a ridiculous waxed moustache with a travelling companion…Noel was his name.  They looked like they were dressed as explorers.


Ten metres away, Bruce had found Peggy and had stopped, watching from a distance.  At first, he couldn’t see what had caught her eye.  As soon as the cat jumped down off the wall and brushed itself against her leg it seemed clear that she had been talking to the beast, though the only sound nearby was coming from Peggy.  He stood watching as her demeaner slowly calmed and her interactions with the cat were more coherent. 

“Hmmmm, yes, Noel I’m sure that was his name.  Tall.  They were both heading for Celephais.” The cat replied to a startled Peggy.

“The Tall one. Long face?  Glasses?”

“Hmmm, now that you mention it, yes.”

“Pointy noise…kind of sharp.”

“That’s him.” The cat swatted the air in celebration of confirming the identity.

“Where did he go…I have to find him…”

“They took the underground tunnels to the land across the sea.”

“Can you take me there?” Peggy pleaded.  The cat who turned away at his moment to start cleaning.

“No, but I’m sure you can find your own way.  There’s a big staircase, two giant lions stand guard above it.” A licked paw pointed the way to go, “You can’t miss it.”

It was then that Peggy noticed movement behind and saw Bruce for the first time.  He was standing well back and made no sound or gesture towards her.  She ignored his presence and turned back to the cat.

“I would like to catch up with these two, Noel and his friend.  What do you suggest?”

“Mooar…you could go over the sea, south-west to Celephais that would be more direct, the underground caverns can be a bit of a hike.”

“Come with me?” She begged not wanting to go alone.

“Wroor, No.” The cat replied simply showing no sympathy or remorse as cats will, “I have these ruins to watch over so I can’t go with you.”

“What do you do here?”

“Mooar…Keep an eye on the moonbeasts.  We cats won a great victory against them and we like to check on them and their slaves.”

“The Lang?”  Peggy was more confident on this subject and grabbed hold like it was a lifeline, “They enslave my kind.  What do you know about them?”

“The Children of Lang enslaved themselves to the moonbeast and now can never be free.  It is only natural that they would enslave others to serve their gods.”

“But what do they do with them?”

“Wroor.  They make gems.  Gems of pain, of souls.”

This was new information and completely unexpected.

“They make gems?  What do they look like?”

“Red. Bright Red Sapphire.”


“Wroor…they value them, I don’t know why.” The cat stretched out a back leg contemptuously and started the clean itself. “Maybe they give them to Nyarlathotep.”

“Nyarlathotep?”  This was a name that rung bells deep in Peggy’s anthropological past.  A god only worshipped and even studied by the fringes of many societies. Those who did study Nyarlathotep were surprised, much like Great Flood stories, that he would appear in forgotten pockets all over the world.  How such worship could be so widespread, yet hidden at the same time baffled the academics whose studies lead them down that path, as Peggy’s had.

She knew that practitioners smoked mixtures of herbs that allowed them to touch the dreamlands.  Some stories talked of individuals just disappearing while in such a state, never to return.  Could it be that these were the fabled lands?

“Any advice?”  She asked, now feeling a little more herself.

The cat pulled a damp paw over its head in thought before replying.

“Mooar.  Do not go near the giant’s  city for they are likely to think of you as a tasty morsel.” 

She thanked the cat (whose name she’d never asked and it had never given) and wished it luck in its guardianship. Now with a plan firmly fixed in her mind, she started in the direction the cat had pointed out. 

Bruce, saying nothing, followed.

Peggy’s panicked run from moments before had led her in a wide circle so that when she started moving in purposeful straight line, it lead straight past Algernon, Celia and Rain stand around the unconscious Lang they had tied up.  She paid them no attention, only focused on finding the lion statues, the stair and the underground passages that lead to Noel.  She didn’t hear Rain run-up until he touched her arm.  There was no mental contact, she had used that power to link with the Lang and it was spent for the time being.

“Tell me.”  He pleaded as she automatically swung wildly at him.  He stood his ground and her blows flew over his head.

“Let her go,” Bruce rushed up unsure how to expLang what he’d witnessed, “She’s been given some direction…by a cat…” 

“Wha…” Rain replied, “Bruce, she’s not herself.  She’s vulnerable to all sort of thoughts and delusions at this time.  She needs talking down.”

“Let go…no…” Peggy complained but only turned back in the direction she’d been given by the cat without trying to break free.

Bruce walked around in front of Peggy and without touching her, tried to gain her attention.  Rain dropped her arm. 

“Peggy listen.  I’m  sorry I hit it while you were in it.”  Bruce apologised clumsily, “I was worried, but I was wrong.”

Peggy focused her eyes on Bruce in front of her, and then her anger.

“They…you…tried to hurt me…did hurt me.  You tied me up, knocked me down….”

“Why did it swap mind with you?”

“I needed to know!” She responded with the last of her anger before turning and looking at Algernon. 

“I saw it respond to Algernon…to his mind-reading talent and…I needed to know.”

“Peggy.  We need you.  We need your smarts, you’re good in a pinch.”  Bruce now pleaded and everyone could see that now the pleas were getting through.

“Noel’s out there.  I have to find him.”  She turned back to her path.

“Noel…?” Rain started and was hushed by Bruce.

“Okay, we’ll go find Noel, but we have to deal with the Lang.  Peggy, what do you think we should do with it?”  Bruce offered her the choice, trying to focus her on the here and now.

“Do you want me to kill it?” Algernon suggested in his most helpful tone. Rain winced and looked from the creature back to Peggy.

“I don’t know…” She struggled to focus her attention on the wrapped bundle at Algernon’s feet, “If you leave it, it will be found and tell about us…or it will die a slow death…I don’t think killing it is right, but…”  

“Peggy, you have a friend?” Rain said quietly, stepping up beside her, “Don’t worry about the Lang, go find your friend, Noel.”

“Rain, what…” Bruce started but saw the seriousness of Rain’s face.

“Algernon and I will catch you up, go with her.” 

So, with Peggy leading, Bruce and Celia left Rain and Algernon alone with the brainless slaves and the unconscious Lang.

“I can do this, Rain.” Algernon said lifting the unresponsive body of the Lang with his teleknesis, “You don’t have to come.”

“No.” Rain followed, his voice adamant though his arms wrapped around his chest. “I’ll come.”

Algernon found a place well hidden from the main path through the ruins and lay the body down.  With one efficient movement, he pulled out the bowie knife that Rain had given him and plunged it in under the creature’s ear.  The death was silent and quick and left Rain no less horrorstruck.

As the knife was cleaned and carefully put away, the body of the Lang started shrivelling before their eyes. With one last gasp, the body coughed up a black gem very much like onyx.  Grabbing a glove from his labwork supplies, Algenon picked up the gem and examined it for a moment.

“Could be a good key to get back here?”  He mused lightly while Rain stared in awful curiosity.


“I’ll keep it safe.” He said and packed it away in a ziplock bag.

“Yeah, it’s worth a life.”

It didn’t take the boys long to catch up and the group were soon travelling together again through the empty wastes of Sarkomand.  The only sounds came from the wind through the husks of buildings and the occasional scavenger.  A splash of red caught the group’s attention.  Bloody, almost human footprints leading to the body of a Lang propped up against a crumbling wall.  As the blood pooled around its feet, it was clear it had only just been killed. Bruce examined the footprints. They were clearly not the cloven hooves of the Lang, but there was something extra, something clawed to the footprints that made them clearly not human. Algernon and Rain both looked around and spotted a face peeking out at them from behind a crumbling wall.  It seemed mostly human in features, but the skin was a sickly yellow colour and the nose was disturbingly missing from the face.  

Rain peered at the face as it darted away. He was sure, behind the dirt, disfigurement and illness, that he knew the man.

“Alfred?…It’s Jimmy.”  He called following after the figure as it loped off.   Naked, battered and scarred, the being walked hunched over, on clawed toes, almost supported itself on knuckled hands as it moved.  Rain followed.

The creature rounded the corner of a broken building and Rain gave chase, cutting through the building itself as the others quickened their pace and followed.  Cat-leaping broken masonry, punching up to climb and leaping through empty windows to land in front of the escaping Alfred.  

“Meep!” Alfred exclaimed as Bruce and Algernon appeared around the corner blocking off his escape.

“Alfred, it’s okay you’re safe with us.” Rain tried soothingly, “It’s Jimmy, remember, from the Last Shot?”

Alfred’s body language stilled to become more curious than fearful.  A look of recognition came over his face, but when he spoke, it was only in meeps and chittering nonsense.

“Is it language, do you think?” Rain asked Algernon who had been studying languages before they left Seattle to go to Halloween.  

Making sure Bruce was between him and Rain’s new friend, Algernon skimmed the creature’s thoughts. He was surprised to find coherent, though primitive, thoughts accompanying the sounds.  He repeated some of them back to Alfred in a simple sort of sentence.

“Hungry?  Food?  Want?” He offered the creature a sample of their rations which was greedily snatched by clawed hands and eaten.  

Rain sat and listened as Algernon teased sense out of the nonsense.  Using Algernon as a type of Rosetta stone, he built on Algernon’s work, making clear communication from Alfred’s meeping.  Slowly, Alfred calmed and sat on his haunches in front of Rain as they caught up, a parody of how they once chatted in the bar.

“You know this…thing?” Bruce asked once it was clear that some communication was occurring and the creature seemed to recognise Rain.

“His name is Alfred Yip and he often came into the bar in New York.  Eldin Lightfeather left him parcels.” Rain gave a look that needed no explanation .  A major figure in the Spiral Dust trade, Eldin Lightfeather was a dangerous character that they had all been lucky to escape from with their lives.

“And whose Jimmy?” Bruce asked, uncomfortable with all of Rain’s personas.

“Joosep Sallavarin, really.  But everyone called me Jimmy.”  He shrugged as if it were no matter.  He turned back to Alfred who seemed unable to make sense of the English he’d once spoke.

“Alfred, you are the last person I thought to find here.  How is that?”

“I used to come here all the time, Dream Walking on the herbs I got from Lightfeather.” Alfred confessed and the other could see for the first time the man behind the beast. “I used to travel the land at will, and then one day…I don’t know… must have got a bad batch of herbs or something, I was stuck here.”

“Herbs?”  Rain made a small vial of blue dust appear, “Not dust like this?” He shook it to show the pale blue-grey of the dust in the light.  Alfred shook his head.

“Nah, herbs and seeds and stuff.”  

“How did you take it?” Looking at Alfred’s eyes, Rain could not see the telltale pattern of spirals in the irises.

“Smoked it,” Alfred replied in his new language as if the answer was obvious.

Rain sat back and thought about this.  Initially, he assumed that ‘The Last Shot’ was also part of Lightfeather’s Spiral Dust operation, but Alfred’s experience, though leading to similar results, was by another drug altogether?

Bruce stood watching the meeping group.

“How long has he been here?” He asked, and Rain translated the question.

“I don’t know, it seems like a very long time,” Alfred confessed, which could well be true with time dilation between recursions.

“What was the last date you remember?”

Alfred quoted a date 18 months before, not long after Rain left ‘The Last Shot’ himself.

“How many people has he eaten?” Bruce asked. Rain ignored the judgement inherent in Bruce’s question and asked his own about the Lang they had found.

“Langs are not nice, that’s why I eat them when I come up to the surface.”  

“Surface?  You live underground?”  Rain described the spiral staircase from his dream.

“Yes, that’s where the colony lives.  I travel up the staircase to check what the Lang are up to every once in a while.” 

“The cat creatures, do you eat those as well?” Ask Algernon and Alfred looked at him confused.

“No cats.  The Lang, other things but no cats.”

“We killed one only an hour or so ago, would you like to take it back for the colony?”

A universally understandable nod of the head and the group decided to head back and collect the kill.  On the way, Alfred talked of hunting parties going out and taking large kills back to the colony.

“Makes sense, cooperation is what humans do.”  Rain acknowledged when he translated the conversation back to Bruce.

“Ex-human…like, they’re hardly human anymore are they.”  

Rain gave Bruce a hard stare, “You’re always so interested in how things look, aren’t you Bruce.” He said referring back to the altercation with Peggy.  Bruce said nothing and let the argument slide.

Walking past the body of the Lang, Algernon checked the body and found three cyphers that he quickly shared out.  A blackout that obscured an area, Darksight that allowed a person to pierce through darkness and a radiation spike which Bruce realised would fit his crossbow.

When they finally cleared the ruins and rediscovered the body of the Aurumuorax, Alfred was overjoyed by the prize he would be taking back.  With a little work, the group made a hand-pulled stretcher to place the body of the large beast on and they started dragging it back into town.  The travel back was faster as Alfred led the way directly to the spiral staircase.  The path between the two giant grey lion statues lay ahead as Bruce spotted something moving through the above the crumbling ruins.  

Totally white, it was a huge beast, the size of a rhinoceros in the body.  Where the neck and head should be was a writhing mass of tentacles that seemed to ‘taste’ the air around them. The creature ’walked’ through the air moving in their general direction.  Alfred pressed against the wall making himself as small a target as possible.  Algernon followed his good example

“What is that thing?”  Bruce asked from the middle of the road, dismissing Alfred’s attempt as hiding.

“A moonbeast, the Lang worship them and make themselves slaves to them,” Alfred replied in a low whisper.

“So they’re real beasts.  Can they be killed?”

“We have killed some, but they were very dangerous, very evil.”

Algernon shifted bringing his crossbow around to face the moonbeast.  Something about his movement attracted the animals and it turned, stalking towards him.  That was enough for Bruce.  In one movement, he pulled out the Radiation Spike, fitted it to his crossbow and launched it at the beast.  It hit, doing serious damage, but the beast kept going for Algernon.

Algernon could feel the pressure of a great force on his mind as the creature made a mental attack against him.  With an effort of will, he brushed the attack aside leaving him feeling disorientated.

“No, no, no!  Bruce, attack it!” Rain called seeing Algernon hit by some invisible force. Dropping his crossbow, Bruce pulled out his crowbar and swung around and hit it.  Algernon did the same with this crossbow, but the creature remained.  Now it could see its real threat, and lashed out at Bruce with its tentacles, smashing Bruce across the body and entangling him.  Bruce managed to scramble clear of the tentacles before the creature lifted him into the air, but the attack was vicious and Bruce did not look well.

“One more hit Bruce, you can do it!” Rain encouraged, unsure of the truth of his words.  Struggling to his feet, Bruce swung again and hit the moonbeast across the head and the huge creature fell from the air, dead.

Two grubby heads poked up from the staircase to see the moonbeast fall.  They, like Alfred, were sallow-skinned, undernourished and missing their noses.  

“Quick, quick! To the giant’s staircase.” They beckoned as Alfred celebrated the destruction of the Moonbeast.

“We will eat well tonight.  Your arrival will be celebrated with a feast!”

With the help of the other two, the group dragged the body of the moonbeast and Aurumuorax into the shadow of the stairs.  The trip down the steps was slow and laborious as each step was literally made for a giant’s larger gait.  The ghouls, that is what Alfred and his people chose to call themselves, had a process for climbing down the stairs, helping each other step by step.  In this way, the whole group and the two carcases made it down to the bottom of the staircase and to the hall of bones.

Rain looked around wide-eyed as he remembered the last time he saw the bones and was thrown out of the vision.  Bruce walked through the bones noting their relative sizes to each other. There were bones of various different beasts, including some humans, all with gnaw marks.

“This way, “ All the ghouls gestured eagerly as they navigated the dark room via pockets of small phosphorescent fungus. Soon the gloom revealed a number of individuals who welcomed the group and the food they brought with them.  Without butchering or cooking the group of ghouls descended on the carcasses and started eating.

“Don’t you want to cook that over a fire?” Bruce asked, a little disturbed by the ghoul’s behaviour.

“Fire?  What for?” Asked Alfred when the question was translated.

“Light for one.”  Rain replied and created one of his tiny suns placing it high in the cavern ceiling.

The whole group of ghouls stopped their feasting and turned to the sun with deep mistrust.

“Turn it off!  Take it away!”  Alfred begged Rain who instantly snuffed out the light. “We are safe in the colony if we don’t attract attention.”

Bruce was done in.  The fight with the moonbeast had been the last in a long day of near-death fights starting with the big cats.  Without another word, he found a quiet patch and lay himself down to rest.  With no answers for Bruce’s weakness, the puzzle box appeared in Rain’s hand.  Distracting himself he started moving through the group of ghouls looking for the familiar face of Melissa.

“She’s not here,” Bruce called over the group, guessing what Rain was looking for. “They’re not spiral dust people, Rain.  They didn’t use dust to get here.”

“I did, why couldn’t she?”  Rain replied, but he soon had to admit that Melissa was not part of the colony. 

As he did, something on the puzzle box clicked into place and another step unlocked.  Looking down into his open hands he noted the new configuration in wonder. It had never, ever in all the years he’d owned it moved in this way. Disappointment forgotten Rain poured all his concentration into this latest movement of the box.

“How long have you been able to do that?”  Bruce asked sometime later when Rain rejoined the group in Bruce’s corner.

“It clicked open just now.  I never knew it opened like that.”  Rain hunched over the box, looking at the new movement from as many different angles as possible.

“Were you found with your box in the forest?” Algernon asked, remembering the conversation from that morning.

Rain’s shoulder’s relaxed as he placed the puzzle box in his lap.  

“That is a story all to itself. The story of the puzzle box is one of the first and greatest things I remember from my childhood.  It marked a time after confusion, fear and unknowing and the start of a new life.”  The preamble had something of ritual storytelling about it.  Though the ghouls did not move closer, all sound petered out until the only voice was Rain’s echoing 

through the cavern.

“How old were you?”

“Seven.  I was seven years old as the world counts these things.  In another way I was newborn, only recently dragged out of the darkness, not even six months before.  I was alone, with barely any language in a land I did not know, when one old man who wasn’t expected to be there, took pity.”

Taking a breath, Rain paused collecting his thoughts and starting the story of his first Christmas.

Published by Miztres

I'd just like to say a few words... nee phtang! fribble

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