The important thing about dreams is that they’re often forgotten upon waking up. Most people didn’t know why this was important, but someone had just found out. He stopped to catch his breath and thanked a multitude of divine beings he still had some.
They’d stepped out of his dream.
It had started beautifully. There was a landscape. Not a woods exactly, but something like trees twisted up into the sky. That sky! A pale, light purple. Breathtaking in its subtle invitation. Alien and, at the same time, something that he very much wanted to become home. Purple sky, red grass, blue trees…, and four blurry figures. At first they were nothing, shapeless lumps in a much more interesting world.
But they got closer. Unbidden and unmoving. They started a long way off, but after a million years, there they were right in front of him. Beings of clay; soft, yielding and shaped like he was. Shaped like his thoughts suddenly thought they should be. A burly man with giant arms. A thin woman with a twist in her extra long torso. A smile. He couldn’t remember anything more than the smile, even though there had been a body, and the last clay thing wouldn’t accept a shape.
As long as the dream took, it took no time at all to end. But the dream didn’t fade from his memory. As Jack woke…, it woke with him. The purple sky hung in his mind and the clay figures stood there, at the end of his bed, staring at him.
For long moments, Jack just lay there, immobilized by terror. The clay things stood just as still, showing no hints of life. Then the clay woman let her head hang to one side in the most spine chilling way Jack had ever experienced and he threw himself out the window. If he’d stopped to think, he would have thought, ‘this is a third story window.’ But the things were fast. If he’d stopped to think, he would have been dead.
As it was, he was a wizard and spells to break a fall were, by design, very quick to cast. He hadn’t even realized he’d cast it until he hit the ground. Luckily…, softly. Now, after a brisk run, he finally stopped gulping in air and took in where he’d run to.
An old man sat on a bench outside a tavern. Being on the mage’s guild property, it was a tavern for wizards. Meaning, of course, the man sitting on the bench was a wizard. Plus he had the beard and the hat. Just for reassurance.
“What’s wrong?” The old mage asked.
“Attacked!” Jack managed, “by…, things. Golems maybe. They came out of my dream!”
“Hmm,” the old man stood up and took a hold of his staff. It had been a long time since Jack had seen a wizard use a staff. They weren’t strictly necessary and had fallen out of favor before he’ started learning, “that’s why I’m here.”
“Why you’re here?” Jack asked.
“This is a tavern. Lots of people asleep in it. She’s trying to come back.”
Before Jack could ask who, or any number of other questions, there was a crash from inside the building. Followed, unfortunately, by more crashes and shouting.
“Have you ever fired a pot?” The old man asked Jack, standing calmly while the commotion rose.
“No,” Jack replied, puzzled.
“If your joints were made of clay, you’d find them very hard to move after a good long sit in front of a fire.” The tip of the man’s staff flared a bright red.
“Oh,” Jack’s eyes went wide, “oh!”
He cupped his hands and called a spark forth. Just as he did, someone went flying through a window, followed quickly by a clay thing. Jack’s hands erupted as fire poured forth, baking the twisted clay thing inch by inch.
“That’s right,” the old man said, “you just follow me now.”
It was too softly spoken to be a command, really, but Jack found himself obeying, even if all his instincts told him he’d rather be anywhere else. The old man strode into the tavern, totally unconcerned with the state of current affairs; Jack trailing behind.
The young wizard threw a fireball to his left, connecting solidly with another clay golem, then clipped a second one on the shoulder, making one of its arms and its head unmovable. But that still meant it had another arm to throttle him with and legs to get there. It ran towards the fire’s source, but tripped as the old man’s staff got between it’s legs. A small gout of fire kept it from being able to get back up. It flailed helplessly with its one movable arm, but the limb was too soft to lift its weight and kept shifting with the effort.
“What are they?” Jack dared to ask.
“Unformed dreams,” the mage answered, heading up the stairs.
Jack sent a fireball up it and had to dodge at the landing as a golem fell and smashed with the sound of a dropped flower pot. The mage had simply floated up, then touched back down to resume his walking. Jack ran to catch up.
“They’re made unfinished so they can latch onto something from our world. When our minds finish them it keeps the connection from closing.”
Being a wizard himself, Jack knew a large number of esoteric concepts. Dream monsters made of clay was a new one.
“Because ‘she’ wants to come through?” He hazarded.
“Yes. But she can’t breath here. Not yet. You were lucky; you woke up. You weren’t supposed to. You were supposed to keep dreaming. When the clays bring enough dreamers together…, suddenly there are bits of her world in ours.”
“You mean she’s changing our world through our minds?”
“When you dream of a place, you’re there. But you’re here also,” the old man said, dodging a door as it swung open. Jack sprayed fire at it hastily.
The old man continued as he pushed the half baked thing backwards, where it fell with a wet thud. It’s stumpy legs moved slowly back and forth, unable to do anything other than push it further into the room, “mages long ago used it as a means of transportation. You have to be very disciplined to dream on purpose, but planting a suggestion of a dream in someone’s mind is very easy. When she almost made it through last time, we had to put up the barrier.”
“You mean, make it so people forget what they dream about?” Jack asked.
“Yes, close the door.”
“The clays were meant to spread the dreamscape after it protruded into our world. They were never meant to be an anchor. But now that people can only remember her world when they’re asleep, she needs to be more aggressive. She doesn’t have a lot of imagination, but we knew she’d figure it out eventually.”
The old mage stood over a sleeping couple in their bed. The innkeeper and his wife, if Jack’s memory was correct. They were big people and so needed a very big bed. The mage took his hand and placed it on the sleeping man’s face, then took Jack’s hand and placed it on the woman’s.
“Take a deep breath!”
Jack tried to breath in and ask why at the same time, which didn’t really work. His vision faded…, or grew, judging by the sensation, until all he could see was everything around him. But instead of a bed he stood in a red field of grass under a purple sky. That beautiful sky he remembered. It was still breathtaking…, but Jack found he was holding his breath. Rather urgently.
“You can breath out now,” the old man said. Jack did gratefully, in one huge puff, then sucked more air in greedily.
“We can breath here? I thought you said she couldn’t breath back home?”
“She can’t. We can’t breath here either. But we’re not really here. Your brain just thinks you have air in your lungs.”
“Which I don’t, in fact have?”
“Not here, because we’re still back home.”
There were no figures on the horizon this time, blurry or not. But the horizon was moving. Jack realized they were traveling as if through a dream, going from one place to another without the bother of going through the intervening space. Dream logic just needed you to be where you logically had to be, as far as it was concerned. Actual logic just got in the way and could take a flying leap. Everything made sense because it assured you it made sense. Until you woke up and realized you had no idea what happened.
“Mmm,” a voice purred.
Jack jumped and spun around. There was a woman behind him. A purple one. With red stripes. She was…, Jack didn’t want to use the word beautiful, because then ancient parts of himself would have to work out how he could court her and imagine a future together, which possibly involved children but definitely involved the process of making them. Even more ancient parts of his brain instead supplied ‘alluringly deadly’. They also told him to run away while simultaneously not moving, just in case she hadn’t seen him yet.
“You’ve gotten so old,” she said sulkily.
“It happens,” the old man said, sitting down on a tree stump which hadn’t been there a second before.
“But it’s only been mere minutes since we last sparred,” she smiled.
“Dreams happen in no time at all, but then our world is your dream, isn’t it? My life has gone past in a few of your seconds.”
“And now you are frail and slow where once you were strong and fast.”
“But now I’m patient and wise where once I was rash and impulsive.”
The old man laid his staff down on the pale red grass and took a pipe out of his pocket. He struck a match to light it, but no fire sprang from the tip. Instead, with no air to fuel it, he used the idea of fire and, with apparent reluctance, the pipe thought it was burning. Jack didn’t know how he knew what was happening, but he knew he could smell the thought of smoke as it did, but also didn’t pass under his nose.
“So…,” the achingly sensual woman grinned down on the just aching old man, “you used to dream of me. Then you showed me your world. Then you tried to kill me.”
“Only a little bit,” he replied.
“But you failed. How will you do it now then? Or are you just here for one more night with me before your world turns into mine?”
“I couldn’t kill you because I loved you,” the mage admitted, “but you get a different perspective on things when you’re older. When you’re weaker, you don’t wonder how you can kill your opponent, just how you can defeat your opponent. They only mean the same thing when you're strong.”
The purple woman snorted. Jack wondered if that was a good time to run. Maybe she wouldn’t chase him. Afterall, he wasn’t actually there, was he? But then again…, what if he was a part of the old man’s plan? Did he have a plan?
“Should we dance again?” The old man said, putting out his pipe and standing up.
“I doubt you could keep up with me now.”
The old man smiled, “maybe a slow dance then?” Jack blinked, surprised, when the woman not only let the old mage approach her, but took his hands in hers. He was even more surprised to find the old man not quite so old now. So was the woman.
The old man’s smile grew bigger, “so you did love me too. This is your dream after all. You want me to be young.
Jack was painfully aware the woman was naked. It was something he’d be aware of for years to come, he thought. But now the young old man was naked as well. Plus he was waltzing. On red grass, between blue trees under a purple sky. Jack was just watching. No, not just watching. He also wondered what the hell was going on.
“Is this how you plan to defeat me?” The purple lady asked, “by warming my heart and making me love you all over again? It won’t work. I need your world. This one is dying. I’ll always love myself more than I could ever love you.”
“No,” the waltzing mage said sadly, “I’m not going to defeat you.”
Jack started. He wasn’t going to defeat her? Was he just going to dance around while the world changed and they all suffocated to death? Well, Jack had to admit he’d just stand there while it happened. So, in retrospect, maybe dancing with the most beautiful woman in two worlds wasn’t the worst way to go. But it wasn’t very fair to Jack, that was certain.
“This is a dream. You’re going to wake up and forget all about me.”
The woman’s eyes went wide as the mage pinched her on the arm. She blinked…, and was gone. Then Jack was standing in the tavern, looking down at the fat innkeeper and his equally fat wife sleeping in a bed. He couldn’t remember…, what? He remembered why he was there. But there were no details; no specifics. He couldn’t see that sky anymore. What color had it been? It all drained away. Yes, something had happened, but it may as well have happened to someone else.
The Innkeeper woke with a snort, “what in the blazes?”
His wife slowly turned, opened her eyes to see Jack standing over her with his hand over her head, and shrieked.
For the second time that night, Jack found himself going out a window and breaking into a run, old men nowhere in sight.