PREVIOUSLY, ON DARIA: Our Heroine has a new friend, Saavik, a clerk and aspiring actor who entered Daria’s life by way of being Tom Sloane’s girlfriend. They’re up late together at a science-fiction convention (cosplaying as Edward Elric and Motoko Kusanagi respectively). After a movie in the small hours of the morning, they encounter a woman from Daria’s past, a character that Daria believed she had never really met in the first place. And the visitor is here to tell Daria about a certain proposal….
Content note: One character gets a glimpse of another character’s fantasy that’s a touch TMI.
“Perhaps we’d better discuss this outside,” Halloween said.
“Outside?” asked Daria. “In the snow?”
“Doesn’t look like snow,” Saavik said, crossing the lobby to the revolving door and pushing her way through.
Daria followed. The wind that met her as she emerged was as gentle as she expected it to be cutting. She reached out her gloved hands and gathered a few of the… “Cherry blossoms?” They caught in Saavik’s wig and melted to water, like snowflakes, on her face.
Halloween came through the door, skirt swirling, raincoat hooked by one finger at her left shoulder.
“I didn’t think you were the springtime sort,” Daria said.
Halloween’s lips quirked. “Oh, this is bigger than just me. It concerns us all.”
“All…” Daria cleared her throat and tried again. “All of Holiday Island?”
“The Holiday Island which you remember,” Halloween began, “is a skerry of the Dreaming. The present matter concerns not just that little outpost, but all the Dreaming, not to mention realms beyond. Shall we walk and talk?” She stepped out into the deserted traffic loop and headed for the street.
Daria muttered, “Angels and ministers of grace defend us,” and followed.
“Sometimes they do,” Halloween said, spinning her coat from her shoulder and slipping her arms through its sleeves. Without turning around, she added, “But most often not.”
The street was empty. Saavik caught up with them as they turned left, heading, Daria figured vaguely, across the channel and back towards South Station and downtown. Except that this didn’t seem to be the road they had taken to the hotel, two afternoons before. It did not seem, in fact, like the middle of Boston at all. To their right, across the street, where there should have been a concrete plaza and an entrance to the subterranean bus line, there was instead a marina, fronted by a row of clapboard shops, like a small Atlantic beach resort. The skyline of the city in front of them was… too tall, with too many layers and too many lights moving midair between the highest skyscrapers.
Daria took Saavik’s hand. It seemed a sensible thing to do. Their fingers, gloved and bare, interlaced. “You’re taking this well,” Daria said.
Cherry blossoms fell around and between them. “You remember,” Saavik said, “I told you I was in War of the Worlds?” She tilted her head upwards and began to recite: “`Starting now, we couldn’t soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night, so we did the next best thing. We annihilated the world before your very ears and utterly destroyed the Somerville Theatre. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn’t mean it, and that both institutions are still open for business. So goodbye everybody, and remember please for the next day or so the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody’s there, that was no Martian’—” She took a deep breath and pointed to the woman walking beside them. “It’s her.”
Halloween inclined her head. “I suppose I have to own that, too.”
Saavik asked, “Are we going… far?”
“Very far,” Halloween replied. “It’ll be a few minutes’ walk.”
—On this street, that makes sense.
“So…” Daria asked, “Do you still play in a band?”
“I hold a couple drumsticks now and then,” Halloween said. “But I’ve come into a new career since last we met.”
“And that would be?”
Without interrupting her stride, Halloween looked Daria up and down. “When I first spotted you and your friends checking in, you wore a parka and matching après-ski boots. The Doc Martens you’re wearing with your costume are unscuffed, and you’ve relaced them since yesterday afternoon. Now, unlike then, the bottom three holes are unthreaded. Inference: your boots are not just new, but so new they have not yet broken in, and you have been adjusting them to try and find a tolerable fit. Balance of probability: you did not plan on coming to the convention and made the decision only within the past few days.”
Saavik said, “You’re a detective.”
Halloween turned up the collar on her coat.
Daria deadpanned, “How’d that happen?”
“Garden-variety syncretism, I should think,” said Halloween. “All that belief had to go somewhere. Perhaps it was only fitting that it arrive with the one who already presided over stories coming back from the grave.” Her lips quirked again. “Or perhaps all those years of mischief gave me a taste for trouble and a healthy disrespect for the official police.”
Daria figured it would be a good idea to process this, if that were possible. “Let me guess. You’re here on a case.”
Halloween nodded—a sharp, abrupt movement. “A series of thefts in the far realms. All of them, to the best knowledge of the regional authorities concerned, impossible. A skull from a royal crypt in Aurelia Minor. The mummy of a child taken to the Faerie Wilds to make a place for a changeling. Two hollow agates of ceremonial poison, the first causing death and the second a trance. The other egg of the Phoenix, from—” She broke off.
Saavik asked, “What is it?”
Halloween was patting the pockets of her coat. “I had a list,” she said. She stopped in her tracks and began pulling scraps of crumpled paper from one pocket, briefly scanning them and stuffing them in another. “My boyfriend is always telling me I should keep notes on my phone, but I can’t seem to break my old habits.” She paused and held up a folded note. “Huh, a wedding invitation.” She crammed it into another pocket, a new one on the inside of her coat. “Oh,” she said, producing a curled-over brown paper bag. “Chestnuts?”
* * *
They came to the foot of a bridge. A last whorl of cherry blossoms spun before them and settled against the oak beams which made up the path.
Saavik grasped Daria’s hand more tightly. “Is this where we have to hold our breath so they can’t tell we’re human?”
Halloween clucked her tongue. “Aw, no, not here. Most of those that come this way are human, after all.”
Daria looked from the holiday spirit to the bridge and back again. “Most?”
But Halloween was already moving forward again.
Daria decided to think about something else. “So… How did you come to be looking for me again, after all these years? Sorry I didn’t keep in touch, you know, what with my thinking you were all just the cast of my most legal drug trip.”
Saavik asked, sotto voce, “Hey, does that mean—”
Halloween now stooped and shambled as she walked. “That was more of a vision than a trip, if you get my meaning. No? Well, put it like this: my friends and I left home, ended up in Lawndale. You were the one who was in the right state to perceive us. Instead of leaving your plane altogether, you dreamed in Lawndale. I’ll bet your memories of what happened got a bit garbled.”
“Kinda lost over here,” Saavik said.
“Oh? Well, the details don’t matter that much. The upshot is, people who have a special interaction with the Dreaming, an experience out of the ordinary, tend to pick up a certain tinge. And then your friend Jane—”
“Jane?” Daria chirped.
“Her company. The movie-prop workshop. You know they got an endowment from Farrell Multinational? Well, Mr. Farrell is an associate of the Dreaming. From the days of the last Dream in charge. He is what you might call an old god, with a new job. Nice guy, too, if you ever get the chance to meet him. Wears pink suits, sounds like Billie Dee Williams.”
“Sorry,” Daria said. “I’m still working on the part about `an old god.'”
“Babylon,” Halloween replied, “and I think the Akkadian Empire of Sargon before that. His worshipers were fading away, kids those days, you know? And on the old Dream King’s advice, he found other ways to keep going.”
They had reached the midpoint of the bridge. The city lights before them were farther away than they had been.
“The gods need belief,” Saavik said.
“Yes, yes they do. I guess I should say `we,’ but I’m not nearly in the league of some of those guys, and I don’t come from quite the same place, not exactly.” She was rummaging in her raincoat pockets again. “Where was I? Oh, right, Mr. Farrell. He likes to support the arts, you know. Part of being rich.”
The bridge now seemed to end, not in the city, but in an island which had arisen in the channel.
Halloween produced a bar of plain chocolate and began nibbling on a corner of it. “Part of being rich, part of being an old god. One must strive to fill a need in the human heart, to inhabit a role which the people crave to believe is occupied.” Her stoop was more pronounced now, and she held the chocolate bar between the thumb and index finger of her left hand. Though the air was still, her hair apppeared to tousle and sway in a breeze. “I expect that people want the rich to be doing something with all their wealth and power, something less tacky than the excesses reported in the gossip blogs. Machinations with weight and consequence. So, Farrell patronizes the arts, and Jane and her collaborators receive a financial infusion.”
The path was sloping down, now, towards a sandy beach.
“And that had nothing to do with me?”
“Not a thing. But there are certain mechanisms in place to detect when separate individuals of significance to the Dreaming come into contact. That can be a harbinger of… events having notable import.”
Saavik said, “So when you moved back in with Jane…”
“Think of it,” Halloween elaborated, “as though you crossed a tripwire, which only a person having a past like yours with the Dreaming could activate. You came to my attention, and the Lord Shaper decided that an arrangement might be mutually beneficial—for all three of us.”
Daria’s boots sank a few centimeters into dry sand.
Halloween inquired, “Look familiar? You visited here, a couple times, accompanied by projections of your mind, in the shape of your friends.”
“Holiday Island,” said Daria.
* * *
They came to a set of stairs, shallow concrete steps leading up to a weathered, institutional building.
“It’s dream school!”
Daria regarded Saavik with mild puzzlement. “Come again?”
“Where you go when it’s final exam day, only you forgot you were in the class and haven’t been going for months, and you start to think, hey, didn’t I graduate at some point? Are they going to take away my college diploma if I don’t pass? Why is the barista from the place across from my job in my biology class? And why are we dissecting Oompa-Loompas?”
“To understand how they avoid diabetes?”
Halloween seized the handles of the big double doors and swung them open. “Right this way, you guys.”
“Smells just like Laaaawndale High,” Daria said.
“Not far now,” Halloween called back, breaking into a jog and rounding a corner.
Saavik and Daria sped up to follow, and then stopped.
The hallway was empty.
Lockers on both sides. A broken desk chair left beside a classroom door. A water fountain recessed into the wall, next to a bathroom marked MEN.
“Um,” Saavik said.
“Maybe she had to tend to a cauldron?” Daria offered.
They looked about. A banner ran over the row of lockers on their right. FELLOW HOLIDAYS, it read. YOUR ICHOR IS NEEDED. DON’T DELAY, GIVE TODAY!
A semitransparent humanoid brushed past them, minding its own business.
“Daria… who was that?”
Others began to pour out of the classrooms, forming little knots of silent conversation, closing in around the two visitors.
“Daria. That one is carrying his own head.”
“Um, at a guess, Saint Denis. He’s the patron saint of France. First bishop of Paris. Martyred in the… third century?”
The specter tucked its head under one arm as it spun the dial on its locker. The head nodded to another figure that passed by, a young man in chain mail, who raised an arm and saluted with a quick wave of two fingers.
The arm was lacerated through the armor, but it did not bleed.
“These wounds he had on Crispin’s Day,” Daria said, under her breath.
Saavik tugged at her. “Maybe she went in one of the rooms.”
The first door led into a geography classroom. Daria had time to notice that the map pulled down in front of the blackboard was of GHULHEIM AND ENVIRONS before Saavik was pulling her onwards.
The next door was narrower, and closed. “Supply closet?” Daria figured aloud.
“Might as well try.” With her free hand, Saavik twisted the knob.
Inside, they found Jane Lane, seated on a low shelf, her back to the wall.
And, wrapped fairly around her, one hand exploring the space between Jane’s over-the-knee socks and her skirt, was Daria.
—That bodysuit follows every curve I have and some I’m pretty sure I don’t.
“Uh,” said Daria.
“Mmm,” said Daria, brushing back her feathery blue hair as she lavished kisses on Jane’s willing neck.
—Rei. Dareia. Dareia Ayanami.
Saavik was staring slack-jawed.
“This is not my dream,” Daria said, standing on the threshold, feeling Saavik’s hand start to slip away.
In the room, Dareia was saying nothing.
“Someone else’s fantasies,” Daria stated.
Jane took her lover by the shoulders. “Get down and lick, Morgendorffer,” she instructed.
Dareia gracefully knelt.
Daria looked away. She let her hands fall to her side, and she turned, and she leaned against the cold metal of a locker.
“Huh?” Daria straightened her posture.
The new arrival was a bird. A raven, which flapped between the meandering holidays and settled at her feet. “You’re Daria? Daria Morgendorffer, from Boston?”
“Uh, yes. I am.”
“Name’s Matthew. I’m the boss’s raven. I’m supposed to bring you to meet him.”
“Yup. We better get moving.” Matthew looked at Saavik, then into the supply closet. “Or, we could hang here and chill for a few.”
“I’d like some answers, please,” Daria told him.
The corvid grumbled and rose into the air again. “Is she coming with—”
Saavik was, by all appearances, lost to them both, enraptured.
“Eh,” said Matthew. “Looks like she’s out of it now. She’ll be all right, just dreaming regular. Come on, we’ll go someplace better than a high school.”
Daria followed the raven. The spectral crowd was thinning. Looking back, she saw her friend standing, amazed, swaying a little on her feet, and then they rounded another corner and she was lost from view.
“Was that her dream we saw?” Daria asked.
“Huh? Could have been. Probably was.”
“You know,” Daria mused, “this whole trip has a certain fairy-tale quality to it. One guide at a time, for each part of the journey.”
“Yeah,” said Matthew. “This place gets to be like that. There it is, up ahead.”
Another set of double doors, this time a pair which Daria recognized well.
“The Lawndale High library?”
“You spent a lot of time there?”
“It and the roof were the two places in school I didn’t hate.” Daria reflected a moment. “One day, they met and became one.”
They entered the library.
The shelves were taller than Daria twice over, and made of richly-stained wood. The books, thousands upon tens of thousands of them, were bound in leather and titled in charcoal ink, or in gold and silver leaf. Beams of afternoon sunlight descended from high windows in opposite walls, converging in the air, making a path which she followed while staring about herself in all directions, walking now forwards, now backwards, her coat trailing with every turn.
—”I have always imagined Paradise to be a kind of library.”
Matthew settled down on a trolley, one which bore the placard, Reshelve at your Own Risk.
Daria loked at the books which had been left on the cart.
“The Pixel and the Quantum, by John Archibald Wheeler. Be Seeing You: The Shooting Script, by Philip K. Dick. And… A Practical Course in Power Electronics, by Amy Barksdale?”
“You know them?”
—Books of dreams unwritten, thought Daria. —No, wait, that’s not quite right—
“This is not the Lawndale High library,” Daria said. “It’s much too… everything.”
“Correct. It is mine, and I welcome you.”
She turned to face the speaker, who rose from his divan and motioned her to sit in the matching chair which faced it across a low table.
He had the features of a young man, but the gravity of one much older, as though a calcite statue of a teenage pharaoh had been granted life after a few dozen centuries to contemplate its model’s misdeeds. He wore a plain white robe, bound at the waist by a pale gray sash. His only ornament was an emerald hanging against his chest on a gold chain which looped around his neck. Matthew flew to alight on his shoulder.
It seemed a foolish thing to ask, but Daria could think of nothing else. “Am I dead?”
“Not in the slightest,” the man—no, not a man, something else, something more—said. “That would seriously inconvenience both of us.” He paused. “I am Dream of the Endless, and I oversee this realm. You might think of me as a king, or as an anthropomorphic personification of an aspect of life. Prior generations of humanity have found the `king’ metaphor more congenial. In any event, when I was mortal, my name was Daniel.”
Daria’s throat was going all scratchy again. “And my friend?”
“She is safe. As Matthew perhaps tried to explain, she underwent a loss of lucidity: Though you both entered the Dreaming fully conscious, she now experiences it in the manner of an ordinary dream. The path you walked was intended for you, Daria Morgendorffer, but it will bring her no harm.”
Daria plodded to the chair which he had offered and sat down.
Dream of the Endless sat as well. “Tea? Or wine?”
“Yes… Yes please.”
Dream—Daniel?—smiled gently and poured tea into a cup which Daria had not noticed, from a teapot which she was pretty confident had not existed a moment before. He handed her the china cup and saucer. The liquid looked like tea, and smelled delightful.
She sipped. “Barley?”
“It is to your liking?”
“Oh, very much so.”
—It is, I’d say, uncannily like the tea at the sushi restaurant where I had my first real date with the most promising (but still doomed in retrospect) boyfriend prospect at university, the former roommate of my former roommate’s fella, the one who I’d been told loved sushi, which I had never liked amazingly much, so I said nothing and we went out and the unagi was delicious…
Daniel poured a cup for himself and sat back. “I am glad. As Halloween informed you, I have a deal to offer you. I believe it will benefit her, the Dreaming as a whole, and you as well. You are free to turn it down. If you do so, the events of this night will slip from your memory like ordinary dreams do, and you will be able to go on living your life as you were before.”
“You want me to become the Watson to Halloween’s Sherlock?”
Matthew piped up. “Got it in one!”
Daniel’s reaction to the bird was, she decided, best classified as indulgent. Then he grew serious again. “I believe you have already begun to appreciate the function of archetypes in my domain. Fragments of tales, recurring motifs, the genetic materials of the fantasies which have flourished in human minds.”
“Up to and including gods,” Daria said.
“Yes. So many have been born in this realm. Most of those who have walked the waking world have returned here again, as human wills have drifted away from them. Those who survive sometimes do so by developing new aspects, performing new functions.”
“Like playing the drums in a hiphop-punk-electronica band,” Daria suggested.
“Among other possibilities. For some years, Halloween has served as an agent of mine, and quite capably. She has become not just an investigator, but the focus of that archetype.”
“And the archetypal detective always has an assistant.”
“A confidant, a counterpart. In some tales, the Watson is the villain, brought into the detective’s plans, made to listen and grow unnerved as the sleuth unravels what had seemed to be the perfect murder.”
“But you don’t have a prime suspect, so you need a counterpart who can follow Halloween around, be amazed, ask her the right questions. And record it all for posterity.”
“And what do I get out of this deal?”
Daniel poured her a fresh cup of barley tea. She was barely aware that she had finished her first. “My predecessor in the role of Dream made a certain bargain with a human, a little over four centuries ago. The human, a poet and playwright by aspiration, created two plays. One was a merry celebration of dreams and a comic perspective on classical mythology. The other, written a lifetime later, was a romance, but also an exploration of the responsibilities of magic. In exchange for these two plays, my predecessor granted the author the wellsprings of the Dreaming, the ability to reach within himself and find images for all occasions which had captivated and prospered in minds long past. With them to draw upon, his own talent was able to strengthen itself, and move souls to this day.”
Daria set her teacup down very carefully. “Shakespeare. The Dream King before you made a deal with William Shakespeare. And that’s why he was Shakespeare.”
“To put it briefly, yes. And I am quite willing to do the same for you. I would, after all, like my agent Halloween to have the best writer possible for her assistant.”
Matthew flapped his wings. “Pretty sweet deal, huh? And I gotta admit, I think you’re starting in a better place than he was. I mean, Melody Glass is bitchin.”
“As I see it,” Daniel said, “the local authorities investigating various crimes of interest will dream, as they normally do, and they will come here, to my library, or to some other convenient location. As they dream, they will explain their problems to a consulting detective, whom they need never suspect exists beyond their own sleeping imaginations. When they wake, they will remember what you two deem it important that they retain and forget the rest. For your part, you need only sleep, as you typically do, and Halloween will call upon you when your assistance is desired.”
“I just go about my day, and sometimes when I take a nap, I pop up here and take notes while a demigod sleuth solves crimes. And in exchange I get inspiration on tap so I can grow into a literary genius.” Daria shook herself. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have the context to even begin processing that.”
Matthew squawked. “You think you got it bad? Try driving drunk and killing yourself and being asked if you want to stay on as the raven for the Dream King.”
Daria deadpanned, “I concede that the bird has a point.”
“My predecessor,” Daniel told her, “was an entity much taken with continuity, tradition—a personage of great dignity. When he made his deal with a young William Shakespeare, he expected that man to give voice to the Great Stories of ages past. And, indeed, so the author did. Later generations reworked his plays, replacing tragic endings with happy ones, for example. My predecessor saw this as a natural but temporary diversion. `The Great Stories will always return to their original forms,’ he put it. I do not take quite the same view of the matter.”
—King Lear, she thought. —Romeo and Juliet. Any other Shakespeare plays which had upbeat endings tacked on? Frailty, thy name is memory.
“If the experiences of my predecessor taught me anything, it is that a fixed point is not an idol to be sought for its own sake.”
Daniel—Dream of the Endless—did not seem eager to elaborate. Matthew shifted uneasily from one foot to the other.
“My kind are not what you would call `proactive,’ by our nature,” Daniel said.
“Overtly meddling in mortal affairs isn’t among your core competencies,” Daria quipped.
“In so many words. We—myself, and the others of my… family—tend to react, more than we act. We could, indeed, forsake our domains, and life would continue, albeit with nothing taking responsibility for those aspects of life which had fallen under our rubrics. What you might call the purpose behind events would no longer be subtle, but nonexistent.”
“You are troubled?”
“It’s just that you’re verging into that `God works in mysterious ways’ territory—so `mysterious’ that it’s indistinguishable from `no way at all’ as far as trying to live a good life here on Earth is concerned.”
“We are not charged with making your lives pleasant,” Daniel said. “Or fair, or just.”
“Good. Because if you were, I’d have to tell you that you’ve been doing a shitcock job so far.”
Matthew squawked and crowed. “Hey boss! I like this one.”
“We do, on occasion, step out of our habitual roles,” Daniel said. “Such interventions are in certain circumstances necessary, usually to avert undesirable consequences whose magnitudes and natures are essentially unprecedented in recorded human history.”
—Is he pissed? No, not quite. He’s… working up to something big.
“Are you… Does this have to do with why you brought me here? Is this deal you’re offering one of these `interventions’?”
—Oh ho-o-o-ly shiiiiiiiii—
“Suffice for the moment to say that significant changes are afoot,” Daniel told her. “Changes due to the development of your civilization, of your species and the role it plays on the planet you inhabit.”
“The planet we’re poisoning?”
“That is one corner of the problem, yes. New challenges have arisen. The matter which Halloween is investigating will be, I am certain, only the first. Meeting them successfully and surviving through the aftermath will require a great many novel conceptions. Quite likely, a new ethics. Conceivably, a new interplay between science and myth.”
“And I am supposed to…”
“Interventions, as I’m sure you have observed, have unpredictable consequences.”
—For me, hell yes. For you, too?
Daniel went on. “Were what you would call a `supernatural’ agency truly to affect humanity directly, humans would build a mythology around the event. Stories would be told and retold largely according to their ability to transform emotions. Soon, given enough emotional power, new gods of the kind born of the human heart would walk your world, their forms partly inspired by the original intervention and partly a human work.”
—Somehow, I don’t think that’s only a metaphor. Or, in this place, metaphors are not “only.”
“So,” Daria said aloud, “you need a human agent? Whatever you’re doing to help us along has to look like it comes from us ourselves?”
“It will come from you, Daria Morgendorffer. What you write—should you choose to accept my offer—will be products of your creativity which I myself would be unable to produce.”
Something about that made sense. He was Dream, she was a storyteller—and dream logic did not work like story logic. She thought back over all the times that she had awoken with an idea that she had to write down. Images, fragments of dialogue, settings, occupations, moods, conflicts, yes, but never plots entire which functioned as the eye took in the printed page.
“I think I’m starting to see,” Daria said. “You want to give me the chance to grow into a new Shakespeare?”
“I’ll never lack for inspiration.”
“Yes. You will be able to resolve problems you face as you construct stories, though the problems you encounter will depend on the choices you make, following your own inclinations which I cannot mimic.”
“And the price I pay for this is to help a holiday spirit fight crime.”
“Concisely put. I must warn you: the gift I can provide you is far more easily given than it could be returned.”
“I can’t give it back without, what, tearing my soul to pieces?”
“That is, perhaps, a dramatic statement, but essentially true. You would live, and not descend into madness—”
Matthew interjected, “That’s his sister’s job.”
“My younger sister,” affirmed the Lord Shaper, “known as Delirium. As I was saying, you would live, but returning to exactly the state of creativity in which you exist now would be all but impossible.”
—But why would I give up a gift like that?
Daria stared at her toes.
“Look at it one way,” she said, “and I’m already a lost cause. I try to think everything through by writing. In all the worst times, when I was having to take care of Jane, when Tom’s father died the year after that and right in the middle of all that mess at Bromwell, when… when my heart got broken… there’s always a part of me that comes along, saying in my head, `There’s good meat in this.’ What I think you’re asking of me, is that I become like I am, but more so.”
“To an extent which you may find deleterious. This deal took a toll on Shakespeare, essentially dominating his life; but that is a sample of only one person, perhaps too small a pool to draw conclusions from.”
“And will you want specific works from me? Like, I gather, your predecessor commissioned Midsummer and The Tempest.”
Daniel smiled softly. “My motivations for offering this deal are somewhat different from my predecessor’s. I am not so concerned with specific works at the moment. The first priority is that you help Halloween develop her aspect. Later, perhaps, I might come to you with a request for a special occasion.”
“I… I’d like to think about this for a few minutes,” Daria said.
Daniel nodded and rose to his feet.
“Come, let us walk,” he said.
“Mm, OK.” Daria stood, her knees a little stiff.
Matthew fluttered from his perch and flew into one of the vaulted alcoves. Daniel turned to follow, inviting Daria with a palm-up wave of his right hand. She dusted off her coat and joined him.
They walked into the alcove. On the hewn-stone wall was a painting of a room, rendered in amber and burnt-sienna tones. Matthew circled over their heads and then flapped his way into the painting. Daniel and Daria followed.
This room was a heptagonal chamber. Judging by the low bookshelves, their contents locked behind glass, Daria guessed that this was a specialized annex of some sort. The wall behind them featured a fresco of the main library. In front of the other six walls were five amber statues and an empty plinth. The statue closest to her was of a young woman, her head half-shaved, her fingers tugging the locks that tumbled down over her shoulder. Trapped inside the carving were a half-dozen moths, which might have been moving.
Matthew flew upward, and a helical staircase grew downward. Growth was the only word Daria could find for the process: the cold wrought iron flowed and twisted, like tendrils of a vine filmed in time-lapse.
“I thought you would enjoy a view from the castle roof,” Daniel said.
“Oh. Yes. Definitely.” She placed her right boot on the first step and began to climb the helix beside Daniel.
“So, ah,” she began. “I guess I’d kick myself with my new Docs if I didn’t ask this, so… If you literally are Dream, do you know what my dreams mean? Is that part of your job?”
“Well, like… That repeating dream I had, where my family died after eating those poison berries on that camping trip. Or the one where Boston and Lawndale and Chicago were all mixed together as part of one big city where everyone’s job was performing funeral rites? Or, for something really scary, the one where Stacy Rowe was an Evangelion pilot.”
“Or,” Daniel suggested, “the time you woke up trembling because Jane Lane was infected with alien DNA, and you abandoned her to faceless operatives of a vast conspiracy.”
“Yeah, sure. Like that. What does it mean?”
“Would you find it plausible,” Daniel asked, “if I told you that Stacy Rowe was on your mind because you had met her unexpectedly at a significant time in your life, and you were struck by how she, of all your sister’s friends, was one whom Quinn had kept in contact with all these years? Would it be beyond belief that you feared you could not support Jane, and that your fear manifested itself in a mileau drawn from the stories you two grew up watching together?”
“That sounds plausible.” Daria stopped. Daniel paused, standing two steps above her, and looked back. “I’d have said so myself, yesterday. But not today.” She took a deep breath. “If dreams were just random recombinations of what we already have in our heads, and `interpreting’ them was just like ad-libbing your way through an inkblot test, then there—there wouldn’t be any need for you.”
“Krawwwr!” Matthew landed on her shoulder. “She’s got you there, boss.”
Daniel’s mouth quirked briefly. He turned and began to climb the stairs again.
“`Caesar crossed the Rubicon,'” Daniel said, “`and was a menace to Rome’s freedom. He is also an American schoolroom pest, made into one by the reaction of our schoolboys on his writings. The added predicate is as true of him as the earlier ones.'”
“I’ll take… William James for eight hundred?”
“Yes. An interpretation of a dream is a story about that dream which endures in the Darwinian contest of the waking world. The process of dreaming itself is the genesis in shreds and patches of new experiences, inserting themselves into the greater weave, changing their environs and being changed themselves.”
“Uh, boss,” Matthew put in. “I’ve been around here a while, and you’ve still lost me.”
The ceiling irised open and swiveled away above them.
“Behold, Daria Morgendorffer: the heart of the Dreaming.”