In theory, Jin should have been back home for her winter’s break, spending time with family and friends in the few precious weeks between assignments. It would have taken a crisis of infinite proportions to keep her away from that.
Or the chance to spend a week in a cozy little ski resort with Way.
By design, Jin suspected Professor Haffrun’s design specifically, their latest assignments had both wrapped up around the same time and their mentors had bid them both adieu for a few weeks. It was about the most wonderful gift she could have imagine someone getting for her.
“You’re smiling again.” Way said, struggling to suppress a smile herself. When they’d checked into the resort they’d been so giggly and happy at being reunited that everyone they passed remarked on it. There’s a saying that laughter is infectious and that had proven to be literally true on this world. By the time the two of them woke up the next morning, the hotel had become “the happiest place on Earth” and was rapidly attracting more guests.
The answer to that problem had been a blizzard. Not unheard for the season, but the initial blast poured more snow onto the road than cars or trucks could drive through even if their owners had been brave enough to try. The only vehicle that had made it up the mountain was a misguided 18 wheeler that was carrying a month’s worth of supplies. Since the food would perish otherwise, the resort had taken ownership of it. It meant there was no danger of them running out of provisions, and the staff was delighted that the stream of new visitors had cut off exactly when they reached their maximum capacity.
“Sorry.” Jin said, fighting back the happy thoughts that buzzed through her head.
Way slipped into the hot tub beside Jin and kissed her on the nose.
“I didn’t say I minded.” Way teased her.
The remains of dinner were just starting to cool when their conversation drifted around to a more serious topic.
“Did I tell you about the evil twin of Pen’s that we ran across?” Jin asked as she nibbled on a chocolate covered strawberry.
“Was that the ‘really odd guy’ that you ran into out near the edge of oblivion?” Way asked.
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
“What was he like? I mean, apart from evil.”
“Clever and kind of a trickster. He’d laid a trap to capture the person who freed him – basically tried to stick me with being Gaia for a shadow world that I brought back.” Jin said.
“You brought back a shadow world?” Way asked.
They’d both studied planar cosmology and had learned the metaphysical traits that a dream walker could observe in the worlds they visited. “Shadow World” was a broad classification. It covered any world that had lost so much of its inherent reality that without an external party observing it, nothing changed. Dream walkers used shadow worlds for all sorts of things, but there was danger in that too. Having a world disintegrate around you could be traumatic and if the shadow world was close enough to Oblivion, the dream walker could find themselves losing their own reality if they stayed there too long.
Dream lords were a different order of being though. They could define what was real and what wasn’t. Including themselves.
“Yeah. I was just trying to get a look into it, but even that was enough to snare me.” Jin said.
“How did you escape?” Way asked, holding Jin a little tighter.
“Pen knew someone. I think she was a relative of his. I was able to turn the Gaia position over to her.” Jin said.
“And what about Pen’s evil twin?” Way asked.
“He and his sparkling white ensemble got away completely free from what we could see. Pen tried to track him, but we lost the trail pretty quickly.” Jin said.
“Wait, sparkling white ensemble? I ran into a guy like that too. I didn’t think about it but he even looked a like Professor Pen. Older though and with a goatee.” Way said.
“A goatee? Seriously? ” Jin asked.
“Yeah, his whole demeanor pretty much screamed ‘I’m the bad guy’, but I think he’d just egged the actual bad guys into launching their attack when they did,” Way said.
“That sounds like a page from a trickster’s playbook. What happened to him afterward?” Jin asked.
“He got away. Jess and I didn’t even have the chance to go looking for him because we needed to wrangle the new dreamweaver he’d woken up, aka the guy who was actually behind the attack.” Way said.
“I wonder how many other Pen’s there are out there?” Jin asked.
“Realized instances? As many as the world’s he’s visited right?” Way said, referring to the identities that dream lords created when they visited a world.
The people a dream lore became when they visited different worlds were real within the context of those worlds and could hang around there and keep doing things if the dream lord chose to (and could manage to) split their attention like that. It wasn’t a talent that either Jin or Way had a particular gift for so they mostly allowed the temporary identities to “disappear” when they left a world. Other dream lords that they knew were more adept at multitasking though and were capable of living dozens or hundreds of lives on different worlds all at once.
“No, not that. Pen said that before he wound up in his current state, he’d been connected to the cosmos on a grander scale than I can even imagine. Apparently, he didn’t like that in the end, so he broke apart into pieces. Dream lord sized pieces. Of which, he’s one and his evil twin is another.” Jin explained.
“So you think we’ll have trouble with more of them then?” Way asked.
“Maybe. But I’m also wondering if that might work in our favor.” Jin said.
“Just so long as it doesn’t interrupt this week.” Way said.
“Not for even a crisis of infinite proportions.” Jin promised.
Outside of the world Jin and Way were in, their mentors looked at the Dreamlit Barrier to spy on how their students were doing.
“Did you know they could make the barrier around an entire world opaque?” Pen asked Jessica.
“Did you know they could make it unbreakable? Seriously I’ve been looking for even the slightest crack we could slip in through and I’ve got nothing.” Jess said.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have given them three weeks off?” Pen asked.
“Or maybe we should have given the time off sooner!” Jess said.