The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 21

    The polite thing to do when you aren’t invited to someone’s home is to knock on the front door and ask if they can spare a moment of their time for whatever you need.

    “Knock knock.” I said as I rapped on the door to the monster-under-the-bed’s house. Of course when I say “knock” I mean slammed off it’s hinges and when I say “door” I mean “castle gate” and I should probably mention that I was in the form of a black dragon roughly the size of an Apatosaurus when I made my “polite” request.

    “GRAR!” was the greeting I received from a few hundred long fanged goblins. With poisoned spears and burning swords they charged at me in unison. Apparently when a dragon shows up the castle gates, the defenders take it as a sign that break time is done and they need to get serious about doing their jobs.

    If they’d been real creatures, the goblin charge would have been quite brave. Tactically stupid, but brave. Since they were only projections of the monster under the bed’s will rather than sapients in their own right, I reduced the force that was charging at me to ash with dragon fire and shouldered through the remains of the castle’s gate to enter the courtyard.

    The monster sent more troops at me. Archers on the parapets armed with flaming arrows. Dark wizards riding flying skeletons and wielding all sorts of eldritch power. Even a flight of dragons, each as large as I, with death burning in their eyes and lightning spewing from their mouths.

    Claw, claw, bite and some more dragon fire took care of them all. I was feeling somewhat vindictive, so I made sure each of my attacks wrecked a different bit of the castle. I had a thing for knocking over castles so it felt pleasingly correct to reduce the monster’s castle to large heaps of rubble. If I hadn’t been faced with more important matters to deal with I would have been tempted to fly off and let him repair it so I could come back and wreck it again. I had business to attend to though and time was not my ally.

    “Get out here.” I commanded. I could feel the monster cowering in the most secure room of the castle. In his defense, what I was doing to his realm was breaking all sorts of rules. He’d laid down the physical laws of reality here. Everything that happened occurred because he willed it to. It wasn’t possible for someone to assault his castle like I had. No one could challenge him in the very heart of the realm that he’d created.

    Or they couldn’t have until I showed up.

    Within a real world, I was bound, to some extent, by the limits of how that reality was defined. I could push at those limits and argue with them like I did on Earth Glass or I could shift around with them as I did on my homeworld. In the worst cases I could even try to change them or just flat out break the rules of reality and accept the consequences as terrible as they might be.

    That was when I was dealing with the real. The Dreamlit world and the Unreal that lay beyond it were another matter. The only rules that existed in the Dreamlit world where the ones I chose to acknowledge.

    I could have chosen to be bound by the monster-under-the-bed’s rules. I could have left the realm under his control and left it as his problem to deal with. If he wasn’t aggressive I probably would have done that. Managing dream realms can be a little annoying. They tend to fill up with every problem imaginable and the inhabitants then whine for help dealing with this issue or that night and day. If the poor monster had been sensible enough to avoid opening a rift to the real world he could have enjoyed his little nightmare world for as long as he wanted to.

    The foolish thing had over-reached himself though. He’d craved that little bit of extra juice the unreal get from tapping into an actual world. He wanted to be more than a figment of someone’s imagination. He wanted to be real.

    As someone who straddled that line myself, I can’t say I didn’t feel for him. I loved what I was, but there were subtle and important things that I’d lost in becoming partially unreal. It would have been against the Parliament’s general rules, but if he’d proven to be friendly enough I probably would have even allowed him to keep the rift in place. It would have attracted problems but there were lots of things that created problems in the world and rifts with friendly critters beyond them held some unusual opportunities that were occasionally worth the problems they brought.

    Unfortunately for him, the silly monster had attracted the attention of my sister and that I couldn’t let stand.

    I’d taken his realm from him the moment I’d entered it. I’m a dream lord. Ruling realms is second nature to us, even if I don’t often chose to indulge in that nature.

    I hadn’t changed anything at first. Peri was here and I didn’t want her to get spooked. Not yet anyways. I’d simply given it a name, “Bedlam”. Not particularly inspired or original, but it didn’t need to be. It was a crazy realm under the bed so the name fit and was something I could call it by. If another dream lord encountered the realm, they’d probably know it as “Jin’s Bedlam” since I’d claimed it in my own name. If they were smart that would give them some pause before they decided to try messing with it.

    “You’re a pretty reclusive guy there aren’t you?” I asked as I slammed my giant dragon arm through the castle to reach into where the monster-under-the-bed was hiding. As I did I felt a connection spark in my mind. “Reclusive Guy” seemed like a fine name for a monster under the bed.

    When I dragged him out, the monster was indeed in the form of a man. Sort of a skinny, long haired, fashion model type guy. His skin would normally have been a nice mocha color like Peri’s except that his face had turned a deep purple. I thought he was angry at first (due to the whole “I was smashing holes in his castle” thing) but then noticed that I was holding him ever-so-slightly too strongly and he couldn’t actually breathe.

    “Oops!” I said and placed him back on his throne. I’d been worried about Peri but that was no reason to go completely overboard on the nightmare-creature-from-beyond-time-and-space that had lured her away to a realm of madness.

    “Stay there.” I instructed him and froze him into a block of ice that covered his entire throne.

    He struggled against the ice and then struggled against the very body that he wore. As a creature of the unreal he wasn’t bound by a particular body anymore than I was. I watched as a look of dread passed over his frozen eyes.

    He couldn’t escape.

    He had been something that had few, in any limits, before and was discovering that his dearest wish had been granted. He was real at last! Solidly, inescapably real. “Reclusive Guy” had gained a beginning and an end and, unfortunately for him, he couldn’t imagine a way to escape them.

    “We’ll talk later.” I told him. Nightmare realm aside, I wasn’t sure that he was necessarily a bad guy and even if he was there were probably better uses I could put him to than “eternal ice sculpture”.

    For the time being though I had more critical matters to attend to. Namely Peri and Belle.

    When you control a dream real, you don’t need to perform “magic”. Whatever you wish simply “is”. I liked the theatrics though and they helped me remember that I was still partially real so I summoned forth a scrying crystal in the air between my outstretched claws and cast my sight over the land. Meta-awareness gave me a sense of where they both were but seeing them was helpful too.

    With the head start she had, Belle had made it deeper into Reclusive’s realm than Peri. The puppy dog was gone and in its place, Bell was in her full beast form. I watched as she fought through an ever regrowing and reconfiguring hedge maze that led up to the castle. The laws of the world prevented anyone from flying over it or teleporting past it. They also prevented anyone from getting through the maze (which was kind of a cheat on the monster’s part). I’d broken the teleportation law as soon as I got here and it looked like Belle was bending the “no getting through the maze” rule to the point of snapping it. I’m not sure which way it would count though because I suspected when she was done there wouldn’t be a maze left anymore..

    “I need you here Belle.” I said softly. My words drifted on the wind and caught her attention as she tore through a squad of seven Hedge Monsters that were seeking to protect one of the walls from her claws.

    “Jin? Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to take this long.” Belle said.

    “It is kind of a fun place isn’t it?” I said, admiring the design aesthetic the monster had come up with. It drew from a lot of classic sources but the pieces fit together nicely and the whole ambiance had a touch of class to it that was missing in nightmares that were focused on grossing you out.

    I whistled and the wind spun out to carry Belle from the Hedge Maze to the castle’s ruined gate.

    “Has something come up? Is Way ok?” Belle asked as she arrived.

    I dropped the dragon form and changed to my regular “uniform” of multi-layered white robes edged in pink. I admit to having been jealous of James and the actual “heroic costume” he wore as Aegis. That might have influenced my desire to retain the royal faerie queen robes that I’d won as my own “costume”, even though technically those robes were black and purple and scary. That none of my titles quite fit my chosen white and pink regalia was fine though. These were Jin’s clothes, not the Shadow Queen, the Oblivion Queen or any of the other titles I carried.

    “Way’s fine, I ran into a little bit of trouble, but nothing to be worried about there. Peri on the other hand, decided she wanted in on the fun too. She’s here.” I said.

    “What? But I left a barrier in place!” Belle objected.

    “Yeah, that kind of worries me too.” I admitted. “The key at this point though is to convince her to leave here on her own.”

    “I could go back and lead her out.” Belle offered.

    “I thought of that. The problem is, I think she’ll stay curious about this place if she doesn’t ‘complete it’.” I said.

    “What do you mean ‘complete it’?” Belle asked.

    “She was focused on the monster-under-the-bed before you went in here. I think she needs to beat him herself in order to feel safe enough to forget about this realm. If we try to take her out before that it’ll stick in her mind that there’s a nightmare world waiting for her in the dark corners that people tell her are safe.” I said.

    “Can she beat the monster though?” Belle asked.

    “With some encouragement? I think so.” I said.

    “What do you need me to do?”

    “Nothing yet. I might be wrong. I’m going to see if some gentle persuasion will be enough to convince her to go. If she’s not really that interested in this then I may be able to ‘talk’ her into leaving on her own.”

    “And if not? If you’re right that she’s focused on this realm?” Belle asked.

    “Then I’ll have to ask you to catch her when she falls.” I said.

    “What will you be doing?”

    “Pushing her.” I said with a smile. I hadn’t had siblings until my Mom married James’ Dad. We’d been old enough to get along at that point. I’d missed out on years of tormenting a younger sibling as a result. Peri was going to have so much fun!

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