“Unlikely allies” sums up most of the people I know. From my brother James, the honest-to-Greek-gods super powered hero, to Kari, the former tavern maid turned reality manipulator, to Way, the girl who managed to do the impossible in a realm where everything is possible. Together, with them and others, I’ve handled a lot of problem in the last four years. One thing that’s shown me is that assuming the people on the other side of a conflict are “the bad guys” can be a terrible mistake.
People are complex and, while there are definitely “bad guys” out there, people who are driven by humiliating, violating or destroying others, they make up a much smaller minority than it looks like at first glance. The truth is, most conflicts come about because people are broken. Not “other people”. Not “the guys who are on the other side of the battle from us”. People, meaning all of us, myself definitely included.
The other thing that leads to conflict is a lack of imagination. It’s so easy to look at situations as being an “either/or”. Either I win or you do. Either I’m right or you are. Often though, those are both lies. I win the game and you lose, so you stop playing and now I have no one to play with, so I lose as well. Even with something as straight forward as that, there’s a third option, one where the game is balanced so that whoever wins, both of us have enough fun playing the game that we want to come back and try again.
People change as well and yesterday’s enemy can become tomorrow’s friend with just a small change in perspective sometimes.
“I see they managed to escape.” RG said, as he landed on my shoulder in his black bird form.
“From the castle at least.” I said.
“Which they seem to have destroyed in the process.” RG noted.
“That was me actually.” I said.
“Didn’t want the little girl setting up house there?” he asked.
“Or worrying about the corners of it she didn’t have a chance to explore.” I said.
“It’s a shame, I rather liked that place.”
“You did some nice work setting it up.” I admitted.
“I’ve thought about your offer.” RG said.
“Not to your liking I take it?”
“Quite the contrary. That is if you would be amenable to a slight modification.” he said.
I blinked and turned to look at him in surprise.
“What modification do you have in mind?” I asked warily. By offering to bind himself to me as a vassal, RG was offering to give up a lot of his potential power. Left on his own he could be the equivalent of a god in a world of his own making. Under my rule he’d be no more than “The Queen’s Steward” effectively.
“I’d like to make a new realm.” he said.
“Ok, but why would you be willing to swear yourself to me for that?” I asked.
“Because I can only make them around rifts such of the one that the little girl guarded. And I need someone inside the world to notice me and suggest a form that I can take. Otherwise any realm I create just bubbles away as soon as I take my attention away from it.” he explained.
“So you would like me to open another rift for you to work with?” I asked.
“Or find an existing one.” he said.
“I’d put the same restrictions on the new realm that I’ve placed on Bedlam though.” I warned him.
“I presumed as much.” he said.
“Then why wouldn’t you want Bedlam back?”
“Because I don’t want to be the Monster-under-the-bed anymore and that’s whose home Bedlam is to me.” he said.
I paused and considered that. I knew that he’d wanted to trade a secret to me and that the secret was the reason for Bedlam’s appearance as a nightmare realm. It looked scary and creepy because Peri had believed that a rift under her bed would lead to a scary and creepy place. That had apparently also shaped the identity that RG had been required to take on.
“If that’s what you want then I can agree to it. I’ll find you a new home if you’ll work for me there.” I said.
“I’ll want some say over the home in question. You are, at the moment, a Wicked Queen. I’d rather not build a realm around a refuse pit for example.” RG said.
“Yes, you’ll have full veto power.” I agreed.
“Then I believe we have an arrangement.”
“Excellent!” I said, and then ate him.
It was a perfectly wicked thing to do, so it fit in well with Bedlam’s overall milieu, but it was far from as cruel as it appeared.
In swallowing RG, I gave him a little temporary world within the cosmos of my dreams. It was his to fill as he wished and nestled in my dreams he would be safe from all external harm.
“I hope you’ll find the accommodations comfortable.” I told him. “Feel free to wander, although I recommend staying within the confines of that dream. I keep other things in there which are a bit unpleasant.”
‘Waste not, want not’ was kind of my motto when it came to dealing with deadly terrors and eldritch horrors.
I turned my attention back to Peri and noticed that she and Belle were talking to a tiny seed man who stood on Peri’s palm.
“Really, I didn’t need that body anymore, anyways.” the seed man said. He looked like a green tear drop the size of my thumb with a pair of arms and legs. At the top of the tear drop shape were the seed man’s eyes and mouth. There was something about them that looked familiar enough that I didn’t even need meta-awareness to tell me who he was.
“But, you’re not Mr. Stumpy anymore!” Peri said, pouting.
“Bah, who wants to be Stumpy, when I can BLOOM AGAIN!” the little seed shouted.
“He will be able to fit through the rift better like this.” Belle pointed out. She was still in her large form and Peri was still on her back. I looked around for Stumpy’s tree body and noticed that it had fallen down into the Sky Moat after Stumpy had regrown himself as the seed man.
“Oh yeah, how are we gonna get back?” Peri asked, looking around for RG and seeing only open sky and the clouds below on one side and the collapsed castle on the other.
“I’ll carry you.” Belle said.
“It’s a long way though.” Peri objected.
“Then rest on my back and I’ll go carefully.” Belle said.
“But I’m not tired.” Belle said, and then yawned.
Ten seconds later she was snoozing away like someone had flipped a light switch.
“A sleep spell?” I asked Belle as I appeared beside her.
“A little one. It is supposed to be nap time for her.” Belle said.
“Would you like to take her back then? I left your barrier in place at the rift.” I said.
“Certainly. What should I tell your mother?” Belle asked.
“I’ll be along in a minute. I just want to wrap up this realm and close the rift once you’re back.” I told her.
“I’ll see you at your home then!” Belle said and like the wind she was gone.
I waited until I felt her bring Peri and “Seedly” through the rift back to my world and then turned to my new realm.
I was half tempted to leave it as was, but that could lead to all manner of issues later on. For safety sake, I swallowed Bedlam too, incorporating it into the same cosmos of dreams that RG’s bubble of a world floated in. Once it was safely tucked away, I touched the rift between the Dreamlit world and my home Earth. As I’d expected, it was my fault. That meant it was also my job to stay and hold the rift closed otherwise it would continue to expand and eventually let something through that was a whole lot less pleasant than RG.
Pulling a single hair from my head, I conjured a needle and stitched the two sides together. I had to hold the rift closed, but it only took a little bit of me to do that. In time, if it couldn’t expand, the wound in the world would heal and vanish on its own. Until then I wasn’t going to miss the strand of hair I’d left behind.
With that problem taken care of I was free to return home and face the challenge of explaining what had gone on to my mother. Surprisingly when I stepped back into my room, the house was quiet. Not eerily quiet, just regularly quiet. I tip toed over to Peri’s room to find her fast asleep in her bed with Belle in puppy form curled up at the foot of her bed.
I actually had Ninja training (you pick up a lot of weird skills as a Dreamlord) so sneaking out of Peri’s room without waking her was a breeze. I was almost good enough to do it without Belle noticing but before I got the door closed I noticed one little puppy dog eye open and regard me me casually before closing again to get back to nap time.
I expected my Mom to still be working in the kitchen but when I got there the cake was cooling on the counter and she was nowhere to be seen. I poked around inside looking for her only to discover a surprise waiting for me.
Way was sleeping on the couch in the living room.
Part of me felt a rush of relief at seeing her. Another part of me nearly jumped out of my skin at being “caught”. Both reactions were kind of stupid, and I knew it, but like everyone else, I’m kind of stupid sometimes.
I thought of Peri in Bedlam. I thought of the fierce courage she’d shown and how it had seen her through. She was going to be just fine now thanks to confronting her fears. As I crept out to the garden I thought how unfair it was that she’d gotten all of Mom’s courage genes.
“Oh, you’re back!” my Mom said as I wandered towards the shed that she was planting something near. She wasn’t looking at me, and I was pretty sure I hadn’t been making much noise. On the other hand trying to sneak up on Mother Nature in her own garden was a losing bet on the best of days, so I wasn’t too surprised.
“Yep! Peri is too, though I’m guessing you noticed that.” I said.
“I did. She was sleeping though. Is she ok?” Mom asked.
“Completely so. You should have seen her. I was barely able to keep up with her over there!” I said, feeling a weird pride at how tough my little sister had proven to be.
My mother breathed a sigh of relief.
“She looked ok, and your friend Belle said she’d made it out without getting hurt, but I remembered what you had said.” my Mom said.
“I don’t think she’s in any danger of latching onto Bedlam. She got what she wanted out it. She’ll move on to other obsessions from here.” I smiled at the thought of Peri’s single minded focus and it’s mercurialness. She was almost like a tiny fairy in that sense.
“Which, I gather, now includes ‘her puppy’?” Mom asked.
“I know you and Dad didn’t want to get her one, but she really worked to ‘save’ Belle in there. And, you know,on the upside it’s not like Belle needs to be house broken or anything.” I said.
“Is she safe?” Mom asked.
“Not in the slightest. For anyone who tries to mess with Peri that is. As a guardian for my little sister there’s maybe a handful of people I can think of who would be stronger defenders and that list includes you, me and James.” I said.
“She’s polite too.” Mom said.
“Yeah. She’s actually Way’s familiar so there’s some similarity there.” I said.
“Will Way mind if Belle is looking after Peri?”
“I don’t think so. Belle was looking after me for a while since Way’s so well defended it was boring protecting her.” I said.
“She’s here you know.” my Mom said.
“Yeah, I saw her sleeping on the couch. When did she get here?” I admitted.
“About an hour after you went looking for Peri.”
“Was she ok?” I asked. An hour was a lot sooner than I’d expected her to come looking for me.
“She said she was. She also said something about missing capturing an assassin though. She wanted to talk with you about it.”
“What did you tell her?” I asked.
“Not too much. We talked for a little bit and then she needed to get back to the other world. I’m sure she’ll tell you about it later.”
I’d wondered sometimes where the evil wicked streak in me had come from. Seeing my mother’s intentionally mysterious smile, I no longer had any doubts.
“She wanted to head back to her home but I offered to let her sleep here. The boys won’t be back till around 6:00, so things should be quiet till then. I’ll move her upstairs if you two aren’t awake for dinner.” Mom said.
“Thanks. I should get back there. I think there’s been enough time that I can nudge the world into letting me wake up.” I said.
“I’m just going to finish off this planting and I’ll be back inside.” Mom said.
“What is it that you’re planting?” I asked.
“Oh, just a chatty little seed your sister was carrying. He’s sleeping now while he waits to grow. It shouldn’t take too long I would think.” she said.
I paused at that. Usually when objects (or people) from the Dreamlit world are brought into the real world, they become more real. In Stumpy’s case (or I suppose it was more correct to call him “Seedly”) I’d expected that would mean he’d become a normal seed and that his spirit would become something like a dryad, a magical creature who watched over the world on one of the nearby mystical planes.
Instead it seemed like we were due to have a walking, talking tree in our garden at some point. One I hadn’t put any particular limits on. Shrugging, I turned and headed inside. There would no doubt be all sorts of trouble that Seedly would get into but sometimes you need to let the seeds of adventure for another day bloom in their own time.