Repost: SG: The Dreamstrom #1

Frobozz frobozz at
Sat Nov 3 12:46:21 PDT 2007

    Man-oh-man, it's been a while getting from There to Here.

    Many long ages ago, I asked Mason Kramer for permission to dabble in
his sandbox. Amanda, Ray and Lyle were the results of this dabbling, and
judging from the reaction I received to these characters, the dabbling had 
been Good.

    And somehow, things snowballed from there. Mason and I started to
work on backstory for them. More about how they -- particularly Amanda -- 
were started to become clear to us. Soon it became clear that this 
backstory would make for a potentially cool couple of short series.

    Enter The Dreamstrom, which would launch the Dream Team's story. The
first issue came out in 1998 and plans were in motion! Games were afoot!
Nothing could stop this story from being told!

    ...except of course for a year of soul-deadening work at Value
Village, stress, depression, UFOs, a dramatic move from one country to 
another, Bigfoot and finally, an end to many of the stresses which were 
blocking me from writing (most of them, yes, centred around Bigfoot).

    The Dreaming reached out to me and wanted me to tell Amanda's story
once more. But it's been a long, long time since her tale's been heard. So
please, enjoy with my compliments, a reposting of the first three (and
one) parts of The Dreamstrom!

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

"A Dream Within A Dream"
-Edgar Allan Poe


                   Frobozz Magic Productions

                      In Association With

                      *The* Mason Kramer


                         The Dreamstrom

                    The First Volume (of Six)

                       "Dream of a Knight"


    The forest was dark and the desire it whispered amidst the dry rustling
of its leaves was to end her life. She knew little else about this woods,
but to these two facts she clung tightly as though they constituted a
lifeline. In some ways, small comfort was better than no comfort at all.
    The leaves underfoot were fragrant with the musk of rot and age, long
since turned their Fall colours and fallen from those trees which had once
given them life. Her bare feet sank into their cloying embrace as she
walked, attracting the odd leaf that clung to her skin for a few steps
before falling to the ground like aimless hitchhikers.
    Around her stood trees, not a one of which seemed possessed of the
ability to sustain the life of anything, be it a homeless cardinal or a
leaf struggling to catch the sun's favour. Each trunk was gnarled and
misshapen, its bark diseased and falling away like an unneeded scab, its
limbs creaking and groaning in the evening's wind. The forest through
which she walked was truly a dead one, and more than that. It was a forest
that found life offensive. Her life, in the particular.
    The forest was dark. Its greatest desire was to end her life. These two
things and nothing else, she knew.
    Suddenly the wind whipped around her, no longer a gentle companion but
an angry resident siding with the forest. Tree limbs swayed, cracked and
broke, their murmuring seeming to call her name... a thing of which she
had no recollection, but knew the shape of its sound. Startled, the woman
stumbled backwards, nearly falling over a twisted root in her haste to be
somewhere else, anywhere else. She fell to one knee which was not
cushioned in its fall by a bed of dead leaves; but rather pierced by the
tender mercies of a sharp rock that had lain in hidden waiting under the
dead greenery.
    Gasping in pain she struggled to stand, but every place on which she
placed her hands, they encountered angry thorns to prick her, raising
welts with abandon. She cried out only to hear her exclamation echoed by
the wind's moan. The moon looked down with a sickly, unsympathetic light,
offering only enough for her to see too late the brambles into which she
had stumbled. She tried to lever herself up by strength of her legs alone,
but found her mortified knee unequal to the task. She fell back to the
ground, knee and hands receiving a fresh stab of pain at the landing.
    A shadow fell over her; it was the outline of a man. Desperately she
craned around her head to make him out, but her hair fell across her eyes,
blocking her view.
    He was dark. He wished to end her life for the forest. That was all she
knew of this man; but it was enough. With a quiet hiss, his shadow drew
from its scabbard a long, serrated sword; presumably its twin did
likewise. Once more she struggled, pushing against the ground to stand;
once more she fell, the pain too great for her to rise. Sword's shadow did
rise and she knew that soon she would feel its sharp teeth bite into her
neck. Once again she struggled. Once again she fell.
    So too fell the sword, arcing down towards her neck. She shut her eyes
to block out the shadow, taking no comfort from this projection of her
fate. There came the sharp clang of metal meeting metal above her and she
dared open her eyes, feeling head still firmly attached to her neck. In
the shadowplay before her she saw a second figure had joined the first,
locking swords with him over her fallen body.
    For what seemed to be an eternity the two struggled, neither giving nor
gaining quarter. Then the newly come shadow forced up his opponent's bound
weapon and with a final exertion, knocked it from his hands. The shade of
her would-be executioner backed away from its adversary and then spurred
into a run, attempting to flee. Her saviour's shadow-sword thrust forward,
crossing with the image of the assassin which fell unmoving to the ground.
The new shadow turned to she whom it had saved.
    She held her breath... was this truly a saviour or merely a new chapter
in her torment? A gauntleted hand fell to her shoulder, clasping with
unfeigned gentleness before sliding down her arm, to take her hand.
Carefully to avoid aggravating the wound, the new come shadow drew his
lady to her feet, turning her so she could see him.
    He stood wearing the armour of a knight errant, dented and worn but
pierced through nowhere. He was covered head to toe in mail and his
viziard was closed fast, preventing her seeing his face. Attached to his
helmet was a token, perhaps a favour of some woman who had wished him well
on his quest: a beautiful yellow rose, fastened to his helmet grille. He
held no shield and bore no standard upon his breast. The knight knelt
before the lady, bowing head and taking her hand in his. There was
something unbearably familiar about him, as though he was a primal memory,
something which should be remembered on the same level as a mother
recalling the face of her newborn infant, or the memory of nameless,
groundless dread.
    The knight slowly stood, reaching up to unfasten the yellow rose from
his helmet. He reached out to the lady, binding the flower into her hair
with as much skill as he had bound his opponent's sword. He rose and bowed
to her before turning to walk back into the dark of the forest. The lady
stepped forward, a question dying stillborn on her lips... he had already

    Amanda awakened with a start, quickly reaching out a hand to find the
man who usually slept beside her, making absolutely sure that he was still
not there. As she knew he must be, Ray was gone, called out of town on a
business trip... an opportunity to begin a private investigation firm, as
he'd considered for some time now. He was off dreaming somewhere other
than in her Dreamscape, and so he was not at fault for her strange
nightmare. Barring another wedding or calamity in the Dreaming, it should
have been impossible for Amanda to have had her control wrested away. She
rolled over, embracing a pillow in lieu of Ray to fall asleep once more
and hope that her dreams would be her own. Amanda had just begun to close
her eyes when she felt something brush against herself.
    A yellow rose. That night, Amanda didn't close her eyes.
    One of the things which Amanda liked best about living at Stately Ward
Manor was the easy access she had to other people; and not only that, but
people who were rather sympathetic to the problems of the unusual. This
was a sharp change from her usual cocooned isolation prior to her arrival,
in which only Ray and occasionally her brother had sympathetic ears with
which to listen. However, when something was truly disturbing Amanda and
it seemed to involve dreams, there was really only one person to visit:
her sister, Samantha.
    Who, unless someone had broken in and replaced her with an exact
duplicate, would be puttering happily around her nursery in the hopes of
accomplishing a miracle, that being getting it exactly to her satisfaction
before the twins arrived. Amanda smiled a touch as she found the right
door, pausing to look at the picture of Winnie the Pooh that had been
painted upon it... she'd always loved children. She wondered what it would
be like to have two around the house, two whom she could call nieces.
Somehow, she knew it would be joyous. Amanda smiled slightly, knocking on
the door.
    There was a muffled "Come in!" that proved her powers of deduction had
not been wrong today, not to mention a faint tingle at the edge of her
perception that let her know when Samantha was around. Amanda pushed open
the door, taking a moment to look at the room that was becoming Samantha
and her husband Tim's magnum opus. Samantha was putting the final touches
to a paint job on the far wall, and was lightly sprinkled with green. The
furniture was currently pushed to the centre of the room, a tarp over the
whole, which was protecting it from the paint much better than Samantha
was protecting herself. "You've missed your chance, I'm afraid," Samantha
said, turning with a small smile. "This is the last coat."
    "Oh Samantha," Amanda chided, almost automatically, though she stared
around with great appreciation. "It's looking wonderful, but should you be
wearing yourself out like this?"
    Samantha grinned, with some amount of irony. "Woke up early, and
couldn't get back to sleep, and it needs to be done, and none of this is
helping reassure you is it?"
    "Not a bit, I'm afraid." Amanda grinned a little, stepping in. The
smell of paint made her light-headed for just a moment, before she
adjusted, shutting out the fumes. "I worry too much, I know..."
    "And you shouldn't," Samantha finished. "Tim worries more than enough
for both of you."
    "Do you know how hard it is to win an argument with a woman who's as
stubborn as you, Samantha?" Amanda asked, leaning against the doorframe.
"I think Sysiphus had a better chance with his rock."
    "I'll let you know when I meet one as stubborn as me. Mmm... You look
    Amanda let the fatigue fully reach her face, as Samantha had
demonstrated that hiding it was an exercise in futility. It was, in many
ways a relief. Most of her life had been spent bearing pain and hiding it,
so as not to be a constant reminder of misery to those around her. Now her
life was relatively pain-free, with certain exceptions, and letting it
reach her face was a luxury to which she was not sure she would ever
become accustomed. "I am... I had a... bad dream."
    Samantha froze at those words, knowing that Amanda had already been
through enough bad dreams to last several lifetimes. She'd managed to
master her Dreamscape, though, and it took something extreme to break that
control. Specifically, outside influence. Samantha set her brush down. She
could worry about the rest later. "Right. Talk to me."
    Amanda picked up a small doll from the dresser: a plush knight, wearing
comically soft armour. It had broken the mold, being female instead of the
typical male... its long, blonde hair and determined look had made her
fancy it resembling Samantha, though both she and Tim had been convinced
Amanda was high for thinking so. Besides... Samantha's armour was on her
spirit, not the corpus. She looked up, putting aside childish things for
now. "It was another dream where my identity was gone... I was in a
forest. Attacked from behind by I'm not sure what, it didn't show its
face. I couldn't get up or defend myself..."
    Samantha nodded, not wanting to interrupt. She slipped off the smock
she was wearing to protect her clothes (which, being jeans and an old
t-shirt, might have been an exercise in ridiculousness) as she listened,
then hugged her sister gently. Amanda let herself shiver slightly into the
hug, continuing as she dropped the doll to its resting place. "I was about
to be executed. I pushed against the dream... it wouldn't budge. It didn't
even feel like *something* was resisting me... it was like the dream was
just too... too strong for me to even start to affect." She quieted, then
her voice continued, almost too faintly to be heard. "A sword-stroke
nearly took my head... but someone saved me."
    Samantha pulled closer as her voice grew faint. "Who? Ray?"
    "No." The word was whispered, quiet... there was something behind it.
Something dark. "It was a knight, and I was sure I knew him... sure I
trusted him... I..." She trailed off, a memory choking the words.
    "Yes?" The prompt was nearly inaudible, but very firm. Samantha wasn't
asking just as a friend or sister, though both were in the question as
    The response came from someone afraid... wanting to confide but fearing
the result... "I don't know who he was... when I woke up, I found this...
" Amanda revealed a yellow rose in her hand, slightly crumbled from
transport. "I've... only felt this kind of instant connection once
    Samantha looked at the rose thoughtfully. "When?" she asked absently.
    "When I helped someone once..." Amanda looked reluctant to say much
more. "When I gave... everything." She took a deep breath. "But it wasn't
him. I know that... I'm sure of it."
    "All right, it wasn't him." Samantha paused, thinking. "Do you want me
to see if I can find out who, then?"
    "Yes... yes, I do. Not knowing's making me..." She paused, then
finished. "Crazy."
    "Then I think it's nap time, for me at least."
    "Is there anything I can do to help?"
    "I just need a light trance, really. I'll need to investigate your
Dreamscape, though. Do you want to be there?"
     Amanda nodded quietly. She didn't have to say a word to get across her
    "In that case, you go fix the warm milk, and I'll get the paint put
away..." Samantha hugged tightly for just a moment, then let go, looking
Amanda in the eye. "And we'll find out what's going on and see that it
doesn't happen again."
    Amanda smiled a little, moving off to comply. There was something
encouraging about having someone reassure her... for once, they weren't
her own words, repeated until she'd finally managed to convince herself of
their veracity.
    Samantha moved about the room a bit, cleaning up the paint in a
distracted manner. It was difficult to breach a Dreamer's defences, though
it could be done. But to do it in such a way that the Dreamer couldn't
fight back... "Speculations won't help," she said to herself. "So let's do
something that will." Closing the lid of the paint can, she went to join
    Steep exactly two minutes... let the steam rising from the pot slowly
transform into an aromatic smell... and you have liquid perfection, or so
the story goes. Amanda focused upon the menial task of preparing tea for
herself and her sister, keeping mind on the immediate for now. She carried
her tray out to the Manor's library, smiling a bit at Samantha, who'd just
awakened from investigating the strange dreams she'd been having.
    Samantha smiled slightly as Amanda entered, still a bit groggy from her
nap. Ever since she'd started working nights, waking up had become
difficult for her, especially after a short sleep like that. She accepted
the tea gratefully, taking a sip before saying anything. She considered
her words carefully, settling on what to say. "So." No, that wasn't it.
    "As bad as that?" asked Amanda, with an ironic smile. She had managed
to keep from getting her hopes too high at the moment, but she did feel a
slight chill of worry. If Samantha couldn't figure out what was wrong with
her... "Did you find anything I missed?"
    "Nothing. No signs of a Nightmare. Nothing indicating forced entry. As
far as I could tell... you were alone last night." She quickly added,
"Which just means we're missing something. Remember that lack of an
instruction manual." She smiled a bit wryly. "Tonight I'll make discrete
enquiries and find out how it's possible to enter a Dreamscape without
leaving a sign."
    "Thank you," Amanda replied, slightly wryly. "Do you know what this
most reminds me of, strangely enough?"
    "What's that?"
    "The time my house was burgled, and I was downstairs at the time..."
She shook her head slightly. "It wasn't really the violation that got to
me, though I did feel violated in spades. It was the fact that the thieves
were so brazen that they'd break into my own home while I was there...
like I didn't matter a bit in their worldview. I wasn't scared when I went
back upstairs and found that I'd had some things stolen... I was *furious*
that they'd been so close and I hadn't had a chance to do anything about
it. I wanted to find them and scream at the top of my lungs that I
deserved more respect than that... " Amanda sighed a bit. "Then and now,
yes, I was completely irrational about it."
    "You'll get your chance. I'm not going to sleep until... we... okay, I
*am* going to sleep until we figure this out." Samantha grinned, just
    "All right," Amanda replied, matching the grin. "Knowing that you're
working on it's certainly making me feel a little more calm about the
whole thing. Even if it does still stink of something rotten."
    "To high heavens. Hmmm... There *is* one other possibility I can think
of, but it's remote."
    "I'll grasp at any straw in a storm, if you don't mind me mixing
metaphors into a fine paste."
    Samantha hesitated, though whether to gather her thought or roll her
eyes at the metaphor would remain unknown. "If it's someone you invited in
at some point, there wouldn't *be* any signs of forced entry. Like me, or
Lyle. As examples, since neither of us would do anything like that..."
    Amanda paused, thinking that over... she invited in few enough people,
but with just a touch of lateral thinking... "What about people who have
invited me into their dreamscapes? Would they have any sort of back door,
or special key into my dreams?"
    Any sort of answer to that question was lost to history when Jenny
appeared in the middle of the room, her usual smiling, cheerful self.
"Sorry to burst in, girls, but phone for you Amanda!"
    Amanda glanced at her sister with the look of someone not expecting to
be called for any reason, then nodded to Jenny. "I'll take it on the
extension in here, thanks."
    "No problem!" Jenny enthused, vanishing. Amanda walked to the phone,
lifting it from its cradle, briefly wondering who this could be. She
hadn't had many -- make that any -- friends when she had lived in Canada,
and had failed to leave a forwarding address upon moving to the States.
    "Hello?" Amanda waited a moment for a reply, somehow convinced that
whoever it was would hang up suddenly, leaving her yet another enigma
unsolved today. To her great satisfaction, the voice on the other end of
the connection not only spoke immediately, but it was comfortably
    "Hello... Amanda, is that you? Oh of course it's you, I'd recognise
that smile anywhere, even over the phone... has anyone ever told you that
you have a smiling voice? No, probably not, no one ever notices these
things, do they? And never mind this old man's prattle right now. It's
Jeffrey Pearson speaking, also known as the man who passed out on your
doorstep. My calls have been forwarded through I don't know how many
links, but that last operator was downright friendly and cheerful, and
that's given me the strength to bear it the wait with as much aplomb as I
can muster."
    Amanda grinned a bit in spite of herself; the old man certainly hadn't
lost a bit of his character. Then she became a bit more serious as a
slight undertone registered in her ears. Pearson was obviously worried
about something, though he was doing his best to hide his concerns with
    "It's me, Jeffrey. What can I do for you? And how's Julie?"
    "Amanda, that's exactly why I'm calling you today. I might just be an
old man jumping at shadows, but when you find out there're things living
in those shadows sometimes, well you start to worry."
    Amanda's mood shifted as she felt herself slip into her professional
demeanour. "Tell me everything you can please."
    "Well, there's the problem in a nutshell, Amanda. I'll be jugged if I
can tell you much. Julie's been having dreams. Scary ones, ones that've
got me really worried."
    "So far it sounds like childhood trauma which... given what she went
through, she must have a lot of to work through."
    "Oh I agree and I've been giving her all the attention an old man with
plenty of time on his hands possibly can, but these aren't your ordinary,
run-of-the-mill bad dreams. Amanda? My little grand-daughter's had the
same dream every night for a month..." His voice hushed, and Amanda could
hear the pain in it. "She's afraid she's going to die again, Amanda.
That's just not right in a girl her age. She should be running and playing
and being happy, thinking about the future without having to worry that
she doesn't have one. The only thing I could think of was to call you,
since you knew about these dreams."
    "I'm very glad that you did, Jeffrey. Give me your address and I'll be
there as soon as I possibly can."
    "God bless you, Amanda. It still does my heart good to know there're
decent people in this world."
    Amanda took an address and hung up, then turned back to Samantha, who
considered a moment. "I've mentioned my views on coincidence in the past,
    Amanda returned to the sofa, sitting. "You have, yes. You don't believe
in it."
    "So you know how comfortable I feel saying that if this isn't related,
I'll eat my hat?"
    "I admit, it might be," Amanda said, spreading her hands helplessly.
"But these are people I've helped before. I didn't get the feeling they
meant me harm then and I still don't now."
    Samantha said quickly, "Oh, I don't think that... but... remember what
you asked a few minutes ago? The back door theory? *If* there's anything
to it, a Nightmare could have found it..." She shrugged. "I'm
wool-gathering, I know."
    "Is there anything I can do to protect myself? If that is the case?"
    "I'll have to find out. First, I'll have to find out if that's
possible. Hard to defend against something that isn't there."
    "Agreed." Amanda paused, looking down at her hands. "You'll have to
tell me what you find... I'll take along a communicator, I won't be out of
    Samantha looked at her for a long moment. "You aren't seriously
considering going alone, are you?"
    "Ray's going to be out of town for at least another day, Lyle's still
adjusting to being here, and you have your own commitments. There doesn't
seem to be anything else I can do."
    "Well, Tim could... utterly refuse to leave before the twins are
eighteen." Samantha grinned wryly. "You'll keep the comm with you at all
times? Check in with Jenny at least, so you don't have to worry about
waking anyone up?"
    Amanda raised two fingers in a mimicry of the Girl Scout's salute.
"Honour bright."
    "Right. You know why I'm not trying to talk you out of this, don't
    Samantha moved over and hugged Amanda. "Because I know that determined
look. I'd rather use my energy on 'be carefuls' than 'don't gos.'"
    Amanda returned it gently, careful of Samantha's condition. "I'll be as
careful as I possibly can be... " Her voice dropped slightly. "Thank you
for not trying to keep me here. I can't turn down people who need my
    "I know." Samantha smiled softly. "Runs in the family."

   Travel light... it's easier to run when you don't have much for which
you need to come back. Pack for every eventuality... that way you can deal
with anything that comes up, having the perfect tool for the job. Amanda
looked wryly at her suitcase. It shouldn't be this hard, should it? A few
changes of clothes, a book suitable for reading and swatting flies... and
she'd be set. Whatever happened, she wouldn't need the various equipment
that was running through her head to bring: mace, first-aid kits... it was
all superfluous. The sort of things she didn't need in her line of work.
Amanda's tools were her mind and her wits... so why was she dilly-dallying
on more?
    Simple. The prospect of going alone, out of the country to a place
where help might not be able to reach... she'd certainly done these things
alone before, so why was she worried about this one? The answer there was
equally obvious. She decided on a cream-coloured blouse and black slacks.
   Then came a short, staccato rap on the door, intruding on the decision
process. Amanda continued rifling her closet, murmuring a quick "Come
in..." as she did.
    Maria stepped in a moment later, opening the door carefully. She looked
at the bed, then Amanda's back. "You're still packing? Only took me five
    Amanda paused, turning to look at her in a bit of confusion. "Oh?
Where're you going?"
    "You know, I'm not sure? And I need to know if I'm going to file a
flight plan, too. That is... assuming you'd rather a private jet to a
commercial flight. And some company."
    Amanda opened her mouth to respond, then closed it again to look at
Maria. She smiled a bit, nodding. "Neither of the two, I'm going under my
own power. The second... would be greatly appreciated. As long as your
school can do without you for a day or two."
    Maria grinned a bit. "No tests before next week, and that's in Spanish.
Jenny said she'll take notes if I'm going. So I'm clear."
    "In that case, the only thing left is for you to answer a question of
monumental importance. Two, actually."
    Amanda held up her blouses. "Green or brown, and who's our leak so I'll
know who to thank?"
    Maria eyed the blouses critically. "Hmm... The green suits you better,
I think. And you've been here long enough to know who the leak is," she
said, nodding to an innocent-looking speaker nearby.
    "Know her, yes... remember her ways, not quite yet." Amanda smiled
slightly, folding both outfits into the suitcase. "And I'm ready."
    "As am I." Maria grabbed her suitcase from the hall, carefully.
    "Then let's see if I can do this without losing us somewhere in China,"
Amanda replied, concentrating. Slowly, she opened a pathway into the
Dreaming, mentally working through the procedure in slow motion.
    Maria watched, fascinated with the process. "China doesn't bother me.
Getting us lost sometime next month bothers me."
    Amanda opened her eyes, smiling as she realised that she'd at least
opened the doorway to the land of dreams and fables. She gestured for
Maria to preceded her, not terribly sure that the portal would stay open
should she go first. "But will you mind if it's last month, and you can
take your calculus exam over again?"
    Maria stepped through slowly. "Wouldn't help. I attend the only school
in the country with a paradox clause."
    Amanda rubbed her eyes wearily as she opened yet another portal,
peering outside. It was impossible for her to tell exactly how much time
she and Maria had spent flitting between the waking world and the
Dreaming... but Amanda swore that the next time she had to rely upon a
Dream-portal for transportation, she'd spend a good deal more time
practising first.
    "I don't believe it," she sighed with a slightly weary smile, looking
at the lonely country house in front of which they'd emerged. It was
single-level, green brick and looked old but well cared for and lavished
over. An ancient Chevrolet was parked in the driveway, and trees ringed
the house, providing even more privacy to a place that was already
secluded by its very isolation.
    Maria looked around, almost stunned to see something so... ordinary.
"This is the place?"
    "I know it's unbelievable after that trip... but it's the way he
described it. So I'm inclined to say yes."
    "Incredible. I'll reserve judgment until they answer the door." She
grinned slightly. "Shall we?"
    Amanda nodded, pushing her hair back into some semblance of its former
shape. She knocked lightly on the door, leaning while waiting for a
    The door was opened a moment later by a kindly but haggard looking
older man, who had the appearance of having jumped for the door the moment
he'd heard it. Slowly, a small smile spread across his face. "Well aren't
you a sight for sore eyes..." He paused a moment to look at the silvered
woman standing next to Amanda, then nodded to himself with the sagacity of
age. "Who's your friend?"
    Maria smiled a bit and waited to be introduced.
    "This is Maria Mendez," Amanda said, stepping back a touch to bring the
woman into better view. "Maria, Jeff Pearson. An old friend."
    "A pleasure, Mr. Pearson. I'm not quite so much an old friend, but I'm
working on it." She grinned a bit, carefully offering her hand.
    Jeffrey took the offered hand, shaking it with an equal care. If its
slick nature surprised him, that surprise never registered on his
weather-worn face. "I'm old and a friend, so I think I count. I dunno if I
can put those two descriptors together yet, but I'm working on that too.
Funny thing about that is, you've got to be patient and at my age that's
either the most natural thing in the world or the hardest you've ever
done. Please, come in, both of you."
    Jeffrey's kitchen was very typical of the rest of the Pearson
household. It was mostly neat and tidy, with just a few items out of
place. Never enough to constitute a full-fledged mess; it was merely
enough to make the house look lived-in by someone who wasn't compulsive
about cleanliness. The wallpaper's pattern was a melange of fruits, the
kitchen chairs were padded and white, the table was hand-built wood and
varnished just slightly sloppily. Sitting at the table was a tall woman,
with plain features that could very easily be pretty with just the
assistance of a smile, though that seemed not to be in rather short supply
at the moment; and a younger child of about twelve, with fair skin and
hair and a worldly look about her, despite her age. They drank coffee and
hot chocolate respectively.
    "Lindsey? Julie?" Jeffrey gestured to Amanda and Maria. "This is Amanda
and a friend... make them at home like a good host. They're here to help."
    The woman rose, extending a hand to both. Her eyes slipped over first
Maria, then Amanda before her lips compressed into a tight line. "Are
they." It was not a question.
    Maria took her hand carefully in turn, smiling softly. "We are," she
said, answering the statement that wasn't a question.
    Amanda nodded, shaking hands. Lindsey paused to look at her more
carefully. "I don't know you from Eve, but I'm supposed to trust you with
my Julie?"
    A hint of pain crossed Amanda's face at that; it was clear that a nerve
had been struck. She shook it off and assumed a level voice, meeting
Lindsey's eyes. "I only want to help her. We have a bit of a past
together, however short."
    Lindsey shook her head in negation, showing disbelief. "Julie is a
perfectly normal girl, what she needs is a therapist, counselling, she's
having bad dreams, that's _all_..."
    "It... isn't," Julie interjected. Lindsey sighed but put a hand
tenderly upon her shoulder, whispering to the girl. "I know you believe
that these are more than just bad dreams, dear..."
    "Uhm, ma'am?" Maria interjected. "Amanda *is* a therapist, specialising
in bad dreams. Her methods are unorthodox, but they work. And if it *is*
more than 'just' bad dreams... well, her methods *still* work."
    Lindsey's eyes hardened as she looked up at Maria, moving almost
protectively in front of Julie. "I don't have proof of that... does she
have a certificate I could see? Some sort of recommendation?"
    Amanda slowly shook her head to the first.
    "Well, she works with the Dreamqueen. Is that recommendation enough for
    "Oh please," Lindsey replied, though Maria could detect a slight crack
in her voice, possibly mirroring the one forming in her worldview. "Next
you'll tell me that Santa Claus is real."
    "Only if it was relevant. Tell me, ma'am. Did you have a dream... three
months ago? About a wedding?"
    "Well yes. Is it that uncommon to dream about weddings? I'm sure
everyone's done it at least once."
    Maria smiled a bit and nodded. "Yes. Everyone has." She looked past her
at Julie, smiling a bit more. "Did you? Tell us about it."
    Julie returned the look, her eyes confused and scared... seeing these
people fight was unsettling to the girl, and more than anything else, she
wanted to say something... anything that would get them to stop. Lindsay
paused a moment, then huffed slightly. "I don't see why I should say
anything to yo--"
    "Tell her, Linds," replied Jeffrey, quietly. "You've always been too
practical a girl. She took the clock apart when I told her that elves ran
it because she had to see it... precocious little thing, but too logical.
You won't believe a word your senile old man or this stranger says until
you have the proof of your own mind, so answer the girl."
    "...fine," she sighed, spreading her hands. "It was a big affair... one
of the gods was presiding, I thought that was a little strange..."
    Maria nodded, folding her arms in front of herself. "Can you describe
any of the wedding party?"
    Jeffrey escorted Amanda to a seat, gathering up Julie in his arms. He
didn't have words of comfort for her, but his embrace was enough for now.
Lindsey began to shake her head, then paused. "I think so... blonde woman
was the bride. Extremely beautiful... I don't remember the groom, I was
too busy staring at... " She snapped her fingers in memory. "Elvis. That's
it, I was dreaming of Elvis."
    "Anyone else? Attendants, maybe?"
   "It's been months, and I don't remember my dreams very we--" Lindsey
trailed off as her train of thought suddenly came to stop in an unexpected
station. She blinked, staring at Maria for a moment.
    Maria returned the look evenly, and quietly said, "Now that we've
established my credentials a bit, will you accept Amanda's?"
    Slowly, Lindsey nodded, shock on her face. She licked her lips and sat
at the table. "Tell them... tell them about your dream, honey," she
whispered, as her worldview took another blow. Julie nodded minimally,
glad that things seemed calmer. Her eyes were large, rounded and
bloodshot, a look which Amanda knew all too well.
    "I.. it's... " Julie swallowed, composing herself in a way that modern
children would never be seen doing. Julie was many things, but a modern
child she was not. She had been killed years past, become one with a
family's portion of the Dreaming and thus, their curse. Amanda had managed
to resurrect Julie from her twilight existence and she had been taken in
by Jeffrey, who had been the last recipient of said curse. It had been an
elegant solution, and by this point time had faded the stung to Amanda's
maternal instincts.
    "There is the place where I died," Julie continued, her voice flat,
like a child reciting her nursery stories. Which was exactly how she was
coping at the moment. What she had to relate was terrible when it happened
to her, but with a bit of distancing, it could just be a fairy story told
about a silly little girl who had wandered into the wrong place at the
wrong time. It was an easy way out, and hopefully carried only a light
price. "It is always there when I dream, though I had not dreamed of it
since Amanda recalled me to life. I walk by the water, and the very air
seems to watch my every move. I walk through this landscape for... for
hours, with no escape evident. Then I sight something, possibly salvation,
perhaps more of the same, but anything is better than where I am. So I run
towards it..."
    She broke off, and with a worried look Lindsey ran a hand down Julie's
arm, comforting. Amanda nodded, not pressing though she very much wanted
to hear the details of the nightmare. Details, especially the ones that
victims remembered, tended to reveal a good deal about the psychology of
any given nightmare. Plus, she had a sick sort of fascination with the
topic, one bordering on the morbid. Julie smiled gratefully at Lindsey,
then pressed on.
    "There however, sits a dragon... it does not see me, and for a moment I
believe it will remain a-bed. Quietly, ever so quietly, I begin to back
up... but then its nose twitches. It smells my scent. One eye opens... the
malevolence within that orb is beyond my ability to recount. It has no
reason... no need for food... sees me as no threat... and yet the only
light which can be seen within those eyes is focused upon me, its one goal
to mash me between sharp and powerful teeth. The other eye opens and then
I catch sight of both in my eyes. I cannot move. Pinned to the spot, the
dragon is free to do as it will, or do nothing at all... it chooses
nothing at first and so I grow more and more afraid with each passing
second as my heart hammers in my throat and I am sure it will burst until
finally the dragon... the dragon... it..."
    "That's all right, that's all you have to say," Amanda whispered,
looking up at Julie. The girl gulped down a lungful of air, recovering her
lost composure slightly. Amanda stood, offering a hand. "I think it's time
for us to go and look around. Let's go to your room... we should be
someplace safe and known to you."
    Julie nodded a little and took Amanda's hand, leading her away. Lindsey
watched them leave, her face an unreadable mask to Maria. Jeffrey shook
his head slightly, sitting back. "Have either of you girls heard the story
of my old neighbour Cletus, the man who tried to teach a horse to count?"
    Both women shook heads, and Jeffrey assumed a storyteller's pose, one
he clearly enjoyed taking and one to which he was very used. "Well then, I
should enlighten you. Cast your minds back not so long ago..."
    The unknown is often terrifying, but that terror can be easily
conquered if the person experiencing it is strong enough. There is,
however, a class of thing even more frightening than the unknown and that
is its opposite number: the familiar. A man awakens in the middle of the
night and sees his house cast in an unfamiliar light. Every long shadow is
transformed into something lurking, every creak which is normally masked
by the sounds of the day becomes a moan or a trespasser. A woman spots
someone who, for the briefest of moments resembles a friend, and freezes
to wonder why this person is here, out of their comfortable, familiar
    And a child's nightmare forms from the image of where she had been
killed... a place all too familiar to one consigned to haunt its
dream-representation. Overhead, a bright moon shone, as though jealous of
the sun. To Amanda's left burbled a brook. A stand of trees stood
thirstlessly to one side of the water and not a soul was within sight.
Julie turned and pressed her face against Amanda's side, hiding her eyes
from the sight. With a comforting hand, Amanda stroked the girl's hair as
her mouth compressed into a thin line. Nightmares were clever far too
often; painting the scene where Julie had spent ages in her dreaming-curse
would have a powerful effect upon the child's psyche.
    The only change which Amanda observed about Julie was a red rose that
had been woven into her hair. It was a very good thing that whatever
Nightmare or nightmare plagued Julie, it had not attempted to transform
her sleeping avatar into a dead thing. Amanda would have hated to get
excessively upset. That would not only compromise her professionalism and
confidence; but it might be unwarranted. Nightmares were not in of
themselves evil or even undesirable, though Amanda fully admitted that her
past with them made her slightly biased towards their utility. One even
served as her sister's advisor, and though it had taken a long while,
Amanda could now speak to Enigma without flinching away, or feeling the
urge to run in terror.
    But just as there were Dreamers who crossed the line from duty to
deviousness, there were those Nightmares too who sought a larger slice of
the pie. Boogey had been Amanda's own; a creature of nightmare who had
taken up residence in her Dreamscape and used her as a power-base in his
goal of frightening and claiming children to be his Boogey-men, those
creatures of the night who would crawl about the darkest places in the
world, spreading Boogie's influence. She and Ray had managed to finally
eliminate Boogie, but Amanda knew that there were still more creatures of
the Realm Nocturne who had been seduced by the allure of power, or twisted
to insanity through time and pressure. If they preyed upon the innocent,
then Amanda had made it her goal to see that they too had a predator
stalking them.
    Amanda's vow was reinforced by the young girl who now clung to her.
Occasional or even recurring nightmares were not a problem, and were
sometimes even a healthy way for the mind to relieve itself of baser urges
and hidden fears. But a plague of night terrors was torment. Amanda well
knew this, having spent her entire childhood and young adult life haunted
by a terrible spectre every time she went to sleep. Because of this early
torment, and the paths her mind had taken to avoid or circumvent it,
Amanda was never fully convinced of her sanity, but still she pressed on,
because she did not need to be fully stable in order to do her job.
    "It's all right," Amanda whispered to Julie, looking about the
Dreamscape in the hopes of uncovering some of the truth behind the
illusion. None was forthcoming, but sometimes it was a waiting game...
until something slipped up, just for a moment, revealing something on
which she could pounce. A fact around which she could suss the meaning of
the dream, or what was behind it... and possibly whether or not it was
benign or malevolent. "It's not going to get you. Not tonight and not any
    Julie nodded against Amanda's side, but didn't seem completely
reassured. Amanda couldn't blame her; against the power of a creature
using one's own psyche against them, words tended to be meaningless. But
actions could banish fear...
    ...just as they could cause it. The ground began to thrum with far-off
footsteps, far heavier than any sort of mundane animal's tread. Slowly,
mindful of the girl beside her, Amanda turned in the direction from which
she sensed the creature's approach. It was not attempting to mask its
presence, letting Amanda sense it long before she could even catch a
glimpse of whatever approached. If it wasn't hiding, it was either just a
dream image that didn't know better, or else the Nightmare was far cockier
than it had a right to be. Amanda sighed inwardly and began to wish for
the first to be true.
    "It's coming," whimpered Julie, pressing her face against Amanda all
the harder, almost trying to bury herself within her protector. "It's
going to kill me... it wishes to kill me... it tells me every night how
succulent I shall be, how my bones will crack between his teeth... please,
please, do not let me DIE AGAIN!"
    "I won't let _anything_ happen to you, Julie," replied Amanda, given
courage by the words of a child who had been unfairly taken out of time by
strange circumstance, and returned to it by Amanda's intervention. "There
are two of us and one of it. We have numbers, we're going to be just
fine." She hoped to high heaven that she sounded more reassuring than she
was feeling.
    "But its size... it's massive..."
    "In the Dreaming, that doesn't matter," whispered Amanda, soothingly.
"Size is just an illusion here, and if you don't believe in it, poof it
goes away."
    "What... does matter here, Amanda?"
    "Hope. Will. Character. Confidence. And most of all, belief. If you
believe in something, you can dream it. If you can dream it, it can exist
here. So if you don't believe in something, you take away so much of its
    "Then... why do people believe in the things that hurt them?"
    "Because life has taught them that those things are easier to believe
in than the things that don't. It's a sad lesson and not a very true one
either. Believe in us, Julie, not in the dragon. Don't help it. Help us."
    Julie nodded a little and moved away from Amanda, still clutching her
hand. She took a deep breath, looking very adult for a moment.
    "I'm ready," Childlike determination crossed her features, but so often
a child's will would lead the way when an adult's would break... like all
things, childrens' weakness and helplessness were things of illusion that
belief made into the real. Amanda squeezed the girl's hand, nodding. She
drew comfort from Julie's show of strength and tried to give the same
back. The two warriors were prepared for anything at all which could crawl
from the lowest recesses of Julie's subconscious.
    Then, accompanied by the loud cracking of branches being torn aside, a
gigantic lizardine head forced itself into view. It was like a giant
wedge, scaled and dotted by orifices. Its enormous maw dripped venomous
saliva as it stared at the two women who awaited it. Amanda stared at it
fearlessly, as she had a hundred rogue nightmares before.
    Then she convulsed in horror and doubled over, fighting to keep her
consciousness from slipping away.

[Continued In Part Three]
Date:         Tue, 07 Apr 1998 20:52:12 -0700 (PDT)
From:         Frobozz <frobozz at>
To:           Superguy <superguy at>
Subject:      SG: The Dreamstrom #1 - Dream of a Knight (Part Three of 

[Continued from Part Two]

    Lindsey laughed slightly at her father's joke, told as he poured more
lemonade for herself and Maria. The woman was clearly still on-edge,
starting like a mouse at the slightest sound or barked laugh. Still,
Lindsey had come quite some way from the abject distrust that she'd show
at the beginning.
    "Got to go freshen up, ladies," said Jeffrey, setting down the pitcher.
"Would you both do me the dubious pleasure of excusing me from your
wonderful company for just half a tick?"
    "How could I refuse such a gallant request?" asked Maria with a grin.
    Jeffrey grinned a bit and headed out of the kitchen, leaving Lindsey to
eye Maria. She seemed several times on the verge of excusing herself on
some hastily invented errand, but couldn't even work up that much courage.
    "Um... more... lemonade?" she asked, uncertainly.
    "Love some." She offered her glass, which she'd held since she managed
to get her hand around it. "Why are you nervous? I can make guesses,
    "Nervous?" Lindsey's reply was expelled almost like a rifle-shot. "I'm
not... nervous at all..."
    "Oh, okay. I thought it might be because some silver-skinned teenager
from a dream of yours was sitting in your kitchen. But if you're not
    Lindsey's silence was more damning than any reply could have been. She
fiddled with her napkin, twisting it into different shapes that reflected
her inner worries, dadaistic worry-beads. "All right, so I'm a little
    Maria smiled softly, going for reassuringly but unsure if it would make
it there. "There's really no reason to be, but understandable. Is there
anything I can do to help quiet those nerves?"
    "I don't know..." Lindsey began, staring at the bits of pulp that
swirled about in her lemonade. Her cheek twitched as though she was
developing a facial tic... and then somewhere deep inside, a floodgate
burst. "It's not you... I know sort of who you are, I've seen your sort of
people on the news... but it's Julie. Do you know what this is like for
me? I'm supposed to be her guardian, for God's sake, and all I can do is
sit here sucking down lemonade while some _witch_ who can bring the dead
back to life helps her! Is this the way it's always going to be? Am I
going to be sitting by while you heroes take care of every crisis that my
girl has, just because she's got a... a strange beginning? Do you know
what it's like to be completely helpless?"
    Maria looked down at her own lemonade at that. "Yeah... Yeah, I do. I
used to feel that way every morning. Still do, some days. But I have
friends that help me stop feeling that way." She looked back up. "And no,
that's not the way it's always going to be. You've got the hardest part to
take care of, someday, and it's something no hero, or as you say, witch,
can help you with."
    "I'm sorry if I'm insulting your friend," sighed Lindsey. "It's just...
do you know what it's like to live in this world as a normal person? How
am I supposed to feel knowing that I could send my girl off to school and
a horde of demons could just drop out of the sky? Or that someone with the
powers of... oh Hell(tm), plutonium might send a stray rad of radiation
her way? What if Hell(tm) itself opens up because I'm swearing on it too
often, and she makes a deal with the devil or... or all those things that
you take for granted because you have the power to deal with them instead
of just running away? What happens then?"
    "Then... you do your best. And if you need help, you call for it. As an
aside, I *was* a normal person for most of my life. Then something strange
happened, and I had to learn to adjust. It wasn't easy, but I was lucky
enough to meet other people in similar situations at the time..."
    "You've... got to think that I'm a terrible person," Lindsey replied,
as what she had been ranting over finally sank in. Her hands pulled apart,
tearing her napkin into shreds. "I don't know why I worry about this so
often, except..."
    Maria shook her head at the first. "Except you care about her?"
    "Yes," she replied. "I've always wanted a child, but I've never
married... I'm not very interested in men... and she's the first person
I've ever had to take care of. And I want to, but I keep wondering if I'm
    "You are. You've got the main qualification, in that you care for her."
Maria looked down at her glass again, stifling a sigh. "Don't let the
weirdness scare you off when she needs what stability she can get. My
parents did, and I know how much it sucks."
    "I'm sorry... I didn't know... if I had, I wouldn't have..."
    "Not your fault." She looked back up. "You're the right person to be
with her, though. Unless she seeks out the weirdness, it'll probably leave
her alone, most of the time. When it doesn't... Well, you don't have to
try to handle it alone, is all I'm saying."
    Lindsey nodded a bit, looking thoughtful, as Jeffrey reentered the
kitchen. He glanced at the two women, then questioningly at Maria.
    Maria shrugged a very tiny bit, then smiled. "Feeling fresher?"
    He nodded, placing whatever had happened while he was out within that
category all men reserve for 'girl talk'. "I am indeed, young lady. How've
you two been getting along?"
    "We've been talking a little, dad," Lindsey replied, absently. "Maria's
given me... a lot to think about."
    "I reckon that's a good thing."
    "I do too."
    Maria smiled a bit and sipped her lemonade. "Don't let it spread
around. Team bricks aren't supposed to be thinkers."
    Amanda froze. She didn't hesitate or pause before flying into action;
she merely stood in place, waiting for whatever fate would befall her. Her
words of comfort to Julie were impotent and forgotten. Her heart hammered
in her throat like Fortunato clawing at the cellar where death, not
Amontillado, awaited.
    Worst of all, Amanda didn't know why she froze. She merely did, and as
the dragon opened its mouth to devour her whole, realised that she would
die never knowing the secret of this dragon's power over her.
    The head, dangling at the end of a long snake-like neck, darted down
towards Amanda like a cobra striking, spittle falling from its mouth in
anticipation of a tender morsel to digest. She could not even summon the
will to close her eyes and spare herself a sight of the end... a sight of
those pearl-like teeth closing around her... then the darkness of the
wyrm's innards...
    The head surrounded her... then drew back and roared a scream of pain
to the skies, a cry that very nearly broke Amanda out of her trance. Her
heart skipped a beat as she saw the source of the dragon's cry: the Yellow
Rose Knight had thrust his sword between scales on the dragon's body, just
under its hindmost left leg. The creature turned to face the adversary
that bore a sting... leaving its easier meal in peace until it dealt with
an annoyance.
    The knight withdrew his sword, the drew it to his viziard in a salute
to the reddish-orange wyrm that reared up, towering over him. The dragon's
mouth opened wide and the stench of brimstone filled the air... Amanda was
positive she knew what would happen next, and wished that she could move
enough to hide her eyes. Sure enough, with a downward swing of its head,
the dragon exhaled a gout of flame towards the knight, who rolled to one
side with surprising stealth, missing being incinerated by inches. He
rolled to the rear of the dragon, using his superior mobility to
outmanoeuvre the creature, driving his sword into its back.
    Pained dragon-screams filled the air, a sound that set Amanda's teeth
on edge, evoking primal fear which made her wish to run to the safety of a
tree branch on which to outwait her predator... a tugging at her sleeve
gave Amanda the focus to look down to see the worried and terrified face
of Julie.
    "Manda..." Julie whispered, afraid to speak above a hush for fear that
the dragon would take note of her. Her fears were baseless, however, as
the knight was more than keeping wyrm occupied with a series of strikes
and dodges. The creature had taken several more glancing blows to its
scaly armour, a black ichor oozing from its myriad wounds. That time had
not been idle, however, as it was beginning to sound out the knight's
rhythm, anticipating his dodge and smashing aside the armoured foe with a
savage wing-slap. "'Manda, please help, please help, I'm so scared, please
why are you standing there, why?"
    "I..." Amanda began, but that was all that she could force from her
throat, which closed up in fear again. The knight faltered, and talons
raked across his breastplate, tearing its metal. Amanda trembled. The
knight fell to one knee, then was knocked back again by another slash.
    "Please..." the girl's plea was heartfelt, and she gripped Amanda's
hand tightly, trying to bring her back to reality. "Please... stop it...
if you don't... he'll get me next..."
    "I..." Amanda continued, finding no words. Her fear rose again and she
trembled, sure that she was about to faint. The knight's rally stopped
mid-strike, as though his reserves were suddenly drained; the dragon
pounced on this moment of opportunity, dripping fangs biting into the
knight's arm. Surprisingly, he uttered no cry of pain, pulling away from
the wyrm's fangs with one pull. The knight's arm hung dead at his side,
mortified and useless. One-handed, he hefted his bastard-sword, the weight
very nearly too much for him to raise, much less swing. Still he
persevered, clearly ready to fight for as long as there was strength left
in his body.
    "Manda, he isn't going to win, he can't," Julie whispered, her
breathing becoming laboured with fright. "It has to be you, it has to
    "I... I can't..." Amanda replied, her voice tremulous. "It's too
    "But... but... you said that didn't matter... Manda, you said that it
didn't *matter*..."
    "I don't know..." Amanda replied, shaking her head desperately, as the
knight's sword bounced from his opponent's scales. The dragon's tail
lashed out, scattering the knight to the ground in a helpless heap.
    "Yes you do! You have to, Manda! You're better than it! You can stop
it! You told me it didn't *matter* whether or not he was bigger! You can
stop it!"
    "Can I?" Amanda whispered doubtfully, as the dragon inhaled, filling
the woods with the stench of his fire being born. The knight struggled to
stand, but with only one arm it was clear he would not succeed before the
dragon could exhale.
    "YES! Manda, you found me! You didn't let me stay in the frightening
place! You won and you can win now! You're the only person who can, you
didn't let me stay dead and I trust you! You're not going to let me die
    The dragon's head shot forward, flame washing over its teeth,
superheating the air with a roar. The knight looked up, presumably to face
his fate as the flames seared towards him... be deflected away by a golden-hued shield, interposed between
himself and the conflagration. Unblinking, Amanda locked eyes with the
dragon as its flames parted around herself and the felled knight. Slowly,
the dreamshield grew hot but still she held until her fingers began to
blister. Still she held.
    "No, no you don't," she whispered to the dragon, as its flames ebbed
and then stopped. With relief she cast aside the slagged shield, feeling
her weltered fingers grow sore as they cooled. She couldn't treat them
yet, there was so much more to do... ignoring the pain, she drew from her
side a golden sword, pointing it at the dragon. "Your reign within this
child's Dream ends here. You made me afraid and I don't know how, but that
was your only weapon. Not fire. Not claws. Not your teeth. None of those
matter, because I don't believe in them... and I don't believe in _your_
    With that, Amanda turned her back on the dragon, offering a hand to the
knight, who reached his good hand up to take it. She drew the figure to
his feet, then turned to face the dragon.
    And felt their connection. Standing at the knight's side felt right...
good... completing. Separate, they were halves of a defence; together they
were an impregnable fortress.
    In silence there was communication; without a word, Amanda knew that
her task was to defend the knight while he attacked. He sprang at the
dragon, sword arcing through the air... a wing flapped forward, only to be
sliced by Amanda's auric sword; the knight's blade slipped under a scale
as a golden weapon kept claws at bay... the dragon shrieked its anger, but
still the combined attack was pressed.
    Both fell back for a moment as the dragon thrashed helplessly, to avoid
being crushed by its writhing bulk. As the dragon calmed,  both pointed
swords towards its eyes. The wyrm paused, realising that it had no
strength left for attack or defence... battle and a superior will had
drained it of its power... but perhaps there was still enough for flight.
Burning all of its reserves, the immense creature took to the air, nursing
its torn wing as it soared high above the three figures. It screamed once
more, promising fire and death... then coasted out of sight, vanishing
from the land and Dreamscape.
    Amanda paused for breath, lowering her weapon as her fingers began to
sing with pain. She dropped the sword and knelt by the brook, bathing her
hands in its cool water. Julie rushed to her side, looking at Amanda with
concern. Without a word, the girl dipped her handkerchief in the brook,
then slowly bound her saviour's hand. She blinked and searched for
another, but no more were to be found.
    Julie blinked again, seeing a pale yellow handkerchief hanging down
just above her. Slowly she looked up at the knight who held it out as a
gift. With a tiny nod Julie accepted the cloth, moistening it and binding
Amanda's remaining wound.
    "Who are you?" Amanda whispered once her injuries were treated,
standing and turning to the knight. But it was as though speaking had
broken a spell, jinxing whatever bond connected them. The feelings of
familiarity that Amanda had felt receded, only to be replaced by fear.
Fear over what strange tie could bind them together so strongly... fear
that she didn't know who lay beneath the armour... fear at her feelings of
completion... fear that the Dreaming was leading her towards another
betrayal. "Tell me!"
    The knight considered Amanda's face for a few moments, then turned and
knelt before Julie. With gentle hands he reached out, fingers
disentangling the flower stem that was within her hair. Gently he withdrew
the rose from the girl; and Amanda noted with some surprise that between
the seconds, it had changed hue from red to yellow. The knight fastened
his new rose to his viziard, in place of the one which he had given to
    Rising, the knight saluted Amanda and Julie with his sword, then turned
and walked into the woods. Amanda started forward, then stopped... she
knew the knight had just left Julie's Dreamscape, just as she'd known the
dragon had.
    "Who was that?" Julie gasped, staring wide-eyed up at Amanda.
    "I don't know," Amanda replied, resting one bandaged hand on Julie's
shoulder. "I think we'll be finding out sooner or later... but not
tonight. I'm too tired tonight..."
    Julie nodded to Amanda, then bit her lip in worry. "Will he be... able
to return?"
    "Which one?" Amanda asked.
    Julie considered, shivering slightly. She very neared asked after both.
"The dragon..."
    "No," Amanda replied, shaking her head. "I have his measure now. I can
lock your Dreamscape against him... he won't be able to return without
your permission."
    "Which I shall never give."
    "Good girl," Amanda whispered, staring at where the knight had
retreated. "I wish I knew where it came from..."
    Julie turned to look at Amanda. "Which one?" There was no reply.
    Amanda slowly moved from dreaming to wakefulness, feeling a fixed
reality assert itself around her senses. She smiled a little at Julie,
then hugged the girl tightly.
    "It doesn't matter," whispered Amanda, answering the sleep-asked
question which she had avoided answering in dreams. "Go see your mother.
Tell her everything... is going to be fine. Just fine..."
    Julie nodded eagerly, then rushed from the bedroom, making a bee-line
for the kitchen. Walking with haste, she darted over to her surprised
guardian, who paused and scooped her up just seconds before she would be
pounced upon.
    Julie nodded. "It's all going to be all right... she promised."
    "I'm so glad," Lindsey whispered, hugging back. If she had any doubts
over the promise, she kept them to herself. It was enough to see Julie's
smile again... and with that came her own, transforming her face from
plain into something more.
     Maria smiled a bit at the reunion, then turned her attention to the
door, waiting for Amanda. She appeared a few moments later, walking in
slightly unsteadily. Her hands were bandaged and seemed blistered, and her
face was paler than usual. Still, there was victory in her eyes rather
than retreat. Maria noticed that and relaxed, despite the worries raised
by Amanda's bandages.
    "Maria?" said Amanda, plopping down in a chair next to the silvered
woman. She leaned back, letting her head loll for a moment; a luxury, or
so it felt at this moment.
    "Yes? Lemonade? It's very good."
    "A drink was my first order of business... my second... let's call for
a pickup on the way home. I'm not up to opening a portal right now, and
even if I was, I don't think either of us wants to get as lost as we did
the last time."
    "You've got it." She reached to the small device on her chest and
tapped twice. "Hi, Jenny. Looks like we're ready to be picked up." She
listened for a moment, then shook her head. "No, after the trip we had
here, we're ready for a pickup."
    Jeffrey waited until Amanda had put away two glasses of lemonade before
speaking. "Thank you, both of you. Don't know how to thank you really
properly, except show just how much of a hick I can be." He opened a
cupboard and produced two mason jars filled with jam. "My special apricot
preserves... isn't much, but I didn't think money would do anyone any good
except by way of an insult. And besides, you gave an old family tradition
to us." He smiled a touch ironically, though there was only joy in his
voice. "Here's an old family tradition in return."
    "There's no thanks necessary," Amanda replied. "But we accept. Besides,
who am I to sneer at tradition?"
    Maria nodded to guardian and girl. "That's the thanks. But we'll take
the preserves, too."
    Amanda smiled, getting up and taking the jars, as they prepared to
leave. Julie turned her head away from Lindsey just long enough to smile
her thanks at Amanda, who returned it. Maria was right... there was the
    Still, she was looking forward to toast for a late breakfast.
"Walker Of The Fringes"
   Lathan Norhon, poet and seer to Good King Roland II

In tymes of strife and perile harsh,
When Fringe and Centre meet,
A walker midst the two will come,
Counselling kingdom's seat.

Fear ban'ed his power be,
Visions sought by spirits seiged,
An' 'twixt the Fringe and Kingdom builds,
A trestle for his liege

A quiet grace do know him by,
Powerful paradox doth mark him too,
A tide o' red he may abate,
If but you read him true.

- From _My Most True Recollections Of The World Of Dreams_
    "So... " Amanda began, looking through the steam of a hot mug of tea.
"Feel like an 'I told you so'?"
    "Maybe later. Right now, I'm just glad you're all right." Samantha
stirred her tea. "Mostly. And Roger should be able to help with the rest
when he gets home."
   "That would be appreciated," Amanda replied, ruefully looking at her
fingers. They'd swelled over the past few hours, until she was barely able
to lift her tea without an effort. The Nightmare's power had been rather
extreme to be able to superheat her shield, which did worry Amanda
somewhat. Still, the danger to Julie was passed and Amanda felt that she
could protect herself against any revenge that the Nightmare sought to
exact. "Though the wounds aren't bad at all... just annoying. Julie made
it through unscathed, or possibly with a little more confidence than she
started. The worst that could've happened didn't."
    Samantha nodded. "Very true. Hmm... A suggestion for next time?"
    "Of course, what's that?"
    "If you have reason to expect the worst, call me. I can use your tie to
your Dreamscape to follow you, as it were. Give you backup if it's
    Amanda nodded a bit, sipping her tea. "I suppose I'm just not much used
to having backup. It just didn't occur to me."
    "Understandable. So I'll keep drilling it into your head until it
does." Samantha grinned slightly and sipped her tea.
    "My head's hard," replied Amanda, smiling a touch. "You might have a
big job ahead of you."
    "I can be patient."
    "My scalp's already sore thinking about it. Hm... there's just one
thing that's been bothering me, though." Amanda paused as she thought back
over what she'd just said. "All right, several things. But one in
    "Which one?"
    "How did I synchronise so well with that yellow rose knight? It felt
like we'd fought together since... well, it felt completely natural. A
life-long thing. Why did he come out of nowhere when I needed him most?
Why did he take a rose from Julie... why can't I still get my questions
down to just one, even though I had plenty of time to think them over, and
fancy myself a reasonably educated woman who can pare down her curiosity?"
She chuckled a bit.
    "I don't know. Mmm... Taking the next to last first, did you ask Julie
why she gave him the rose?"
    "She didn't... she just didn't stop him taking it. But she said it felt
unforced to let him have it... as though stopping him wouldn't even occur
to her."
    Samantha nodded, then shrugged. "I think answers will likely have to
wait until you have a chance to actually talk to him. Which is another
reason to have me ready to join you."
    "He keeps slipping away before you can talk. He might not be able to
slip away from both of us."
    "Samantha?" Amanda said, almost reluctantly. "He also... might not have
the same hold on you."
    "That's also a possibility." Samantha sighed, then smiled a bit. "If
nothing else, it'll give us more opportunities for nocturnal chats."
    "At least something good will come of it," Amanda replied, wryly.
"Well, if I'm not being paranoid in thinking it's slightly eerie."
    "Oh, it's definitely that. I just hope it's merely eerie and not
something to worry about."
    "Me too," Amanda replied. She took another long, reflective draw on her
tea. "My dreamscape's still secure? No dragon hiding out in it anywhere?"
    "Not a one. And no knight, either."
    "Then I suppose all that's left is to wait," Amanda paused, then smiled
a little through her worries. "You know, Ray's going to absolutely panic
when he gets back and I tell him the news."
    "True. We need answers before then." Samantha matched the smile.
"Otherwise, you'll have another knight rushing to your defence..."
    "I won't complain about that... so much as him never being able to
stand down." She chuckled lightly. "When it comes to my defence, he's
really a Type-A."
    Samantha grinned a bit. "And good for him, too."
    "You're taking his side?" Amanda managed to sound lightly incredulous.
"I thought you'd side with the poor, overprotected woman."
    "Sorry. When I feel you're actually overprotected, I'll side with you."
Samantha winked, finishing her tea.
    "Oh thank you _so_ much," replied Amanda, but with a grin. Most of her
good-humour had been restored by the talk, and if she still had lingering
worries, then they were safely banished to the back of her mind for the
moment. "And I need to get some sleep, I think. I'm picking Ray up at the
airport tomorrow early, and I don't want to miss him."
    Samantha nodded, getting up and taking care of their cups. "Would you
like to join me at the Castle tonight?"
    Amanda smiled a little and nodded, standing to embrace her sister. "I'd
love to, Samantha... thank you."
    "'Course," replied Samantha, with a smile. She led the way upstairs.
"Let's get going."
    "I'm so glad to see her smiling again, dad," said Lindsey as she stood
at the house's picture window, watching Julie play in the yard. Jeffrey
walked slowly to the window, feeling the first twinges of arthritis in his
legs beginning to protest, and ignoring it. He'd be damned before letting
some human frailty keep him from watching his adopted granddaughter at
play. "It's like her whole face just lit back up after being dark all this
time. You don't really realise what there is to miss about a child's smile
until it's gone. It's so much a part of her."
    "It does my heart good to see that, Linds," Jeffrey replied, smiling as
Julie pranced about the garden. Though filled with the energy of youth,
the child was extraordinarily careful, and never stomped a flower either
accidentally or by design. "I'm going to head yonder into the kitchen and
fix her a pitcher of lemonade, since she'll be working up a powerful
thirst with all that play. She's really making up for lost time, isn't
she? Good kid... clever kid."
    "Thanks dad," Lindsey replied, smiling at her father, who returned the
look before turning to walk back towards the kitchen. And so, neither one
noticed the yellow rose that had sprung up in the garden under Julie's
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

"A Dream Within A Dream"
-Edgar Allan Poe

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