She was back in the strange land with the pink fog. She flew through the air, though she didn’t have her usual sense of freedom and lightness.
The Radiant King better not show up again. I have so much space to explore, so much to discover.
She landed in the castle filled with paintings, but she didn’t linger. After so much time being unable to explore this place freely, she wanted to fly, not stay within a castle. So she came out the other side of a high corridor and took to the skies once more.
There was no light to guide her, and there were few landmarks. It was just Shana and the open pink sky, tinted with gold from light high above, not from the guiding light she sometimes followed, but from some sort of sun or sky above the clouds.
The golden light filtering through the magenta clouds had once been beautiful and exciting to Shana.
Now it just reminded her of the Radiant King and his lonely palace.
Oh, there’s something.
Shana flew lower, landing on a rocky spire. It was narrow, barely large enough on top for Shana to stand on, but it gave her a moment to survey her surroundings and to be still for a moment.
She’d been moving around a lot, engaging in tons of action and intensity. It was nice to finally have a quiet moment.
Though this is kind of strange. So many times I came into this dream world, and a light guided me where I needed to go. Then the last time I was here, I was free to move around. Since then, no light.
There’s so much here. I really wish I had some direction.
And then came the question that had been on Shana’s mind, growing more and more with every passing day since she’d heard the term…
What does it mean to be the Dreamer?
What does the Dreamer’s Heart do? I know it showed me to the grove and Annabelle, and showed me where to go with Maribelle and Annabelle… but what is it? Is it a power? Is there a way for me to control it? Is it always trying to show me something important, or is it as fickle and weird as normal dreams?
I want some direction. Especially with Shias gone… I just don’t really know what the point of having me here is. The others can handle the fights just fine without me. All I did was bring Maribelle and Annabelle to the Library, but now that they’re here, they’re the ones who have the power to save it.
I’m just along for the ride.
It wasn’t too long ago that I would have thought that would be fine. Being along for the ride can be exciting, especially with everything I’m experiencing and everywhere I’m going.
I want to do something. I want to matter.
There was a shape in the clouds far ahead, so Shana flew once more, angling towards it. Through the clouds she finally saw what it was. A strange, round platform floated in the air. It had no walls or roof, but all along its perimeter were windows, each spaced about a foot apart. Shana landed in the center of the platform and wandered to the first window in front of her.
It showed a scene completely unlike the pink and golden sky around her.
Through the window, Shana saw Caleb, Chelsea, Lorelei, and Isabelle. They were inside Grimoire’s public library, fighting off Hollows – the regular kind, not the freaky shadow versions in the Library of Solitude – and doing their best to protect the little girl.
“This… is the past, isn’t it?” Shana asked.
Soon Caleb and the others were outside the library, joined by Delilah and her Felines. As Hollows poured out of the library to attack them, Isabelle suddenly started playing her flute, a flute that Shana had once thought was a Piper’s Flute, before knowing the real story behind them and how they came from Isabelle. After a few moments, there was a blinding flash of light.
And then… the place was empty. Caleb, Chelsea, Lorelei, Isabelle, Delilah, the Felines, they were all gone. So were the Hollows, leaving no sign of the battle that had just moments ago been taking place.
“This is the night they disappeared,” Shana realized.
After a few moments, a person walked onto the scene. His back was to Shana, so she couldn’t tell who he was, but he was tall, with broad shoulders and massively muscled arms that were stretching the fabric of his long coat. Where the image through the window had been silent, now as the man raised a cell phone to his ear, sound suddenly came to Shana.
“It’s Bronn,” came a voice that, while Shana had only before heard in whispers, she instantly recognized. She’d heard him talk in an alleyway when she and the others had been trying to find the Locksmith, and he’d had some very strange and worrisome things to say.
“Anastasia’s gone,” Bronn said after a pause. “The girl and the flutes with her. There were people protecting the girl, but they’re gone, too.” Another pause. “I recognized three of them. They were Hunters: Greyson, Reiner, and Frost.” Pause. “Yeah, Greyson.” Pause. “I didn’t recognize the fourth. She was a girl, maybe middle school, maybe high school – hard to tell from how she looked. Blonde, with three cat Summons. She and Greyson seemed to know each other. But they’re all gone – the Hollows, too. What do you want me to do?” There was a long pause, as whoever was on the other end of the line had quite a lot to say.
“I can handle Fredricks,” Bronn continued. “He’s going to be on edge with Reiner disappearing, but I’ll keep him in line. And isn’t Stride on Crowley? Uh-huh. Right.” Bronn’s posture grew more rigid, as if something had taken him by surprise, but his voice didn’t betray any shift in emotion. “If you say she’s ready, then she is. You know best. But can I ask a question?” Pause. “When do we move? The Lunar Festival seems like an awfully long wait. And isn’t that too public?” Another long pause, and Bronn nodded. “Right. So we wait for King to move first.” He sighed. “Understood. You know if it’s necessary, I can wait forever. It’s just… I’m surprised you aren’t doing anything about the Greysons. It seems to me they’re the only real obstacles to your plans.” A pause, and Bronn shook his head. “No, I’m sorry. It’s not my place to pry. You’re in charge, and you know best.” He nodded. “Dark and silence through the night, action comes with morning’s light. Yes, sir. Thank you.” Bronn lowered the phone, and the image in the window rippled and vanished, leaving only a view out to the pink-gold cloudscape.
“That was…” Shana said softly, trying to absorb all she’d heard.
She didn’t like any of it. Well, except for one bit of it: “Dark and silence through the night, action comes with morning’s light.” That was a rhyme Shana knew well.
It came from The Misadventures of Gadrick Gorensell 13: Silence and Sound at the Severed Steeple. The way Bronn had said it, after all the other worrisome things, made it sound far more ominous than it did in its source material.
“I don’t understand everything, but I just have to hold onto it,” Shana said, nodding to herself. While she wasn’t as analytical and brilliant as her twin brother, the two of them did share one mental trait in common: excellent memory. Both of them could easily recall, word-for-word, scene-for-scene, nearly anything they ever read, saw, or heard. It was a handy talent to have, especially now that Shana was getting deeper into what felt a lot like real-life conspiracies and schemes.
The timing could be better. I’m in the middle of a whole other situation in another world. All this vision does is make me worry more about Shias. I saw the same door he did – it’s the front door of Greyson Manor. That means he and the others are back in Grimoire, where someone, whoever Bronn works for, is putting together a plan – and they see the Greysons as an enemy.
Shias, please be safe. I’ll be back to you as soon as I can.
Shana walked to the next window and looked through it, but it just looked out across the magenta clouds. The same for the next window, and the next after that.
“And here I was kind of hoping they’d show me more sneaky visions,” Shana muttered.
“They will in time.”
The voice behind Shana made her yelp, leap into the air, and spin around. She came face-to-face with a mysterious, beautiful being.
Before her was a woman, standing in the center of the platform. Or was she a girl? She seemed to shift and morph in subtle ways every moment. Her skin, hair, and attire didn’t change, and neither did her expression. Her skin was magenta, the same color as the clouds all around, and her hair and eyes glittered golden like the diffused light that came down in scattered beams from high above. She wore a silver cape that wrapped around her shoulders, and beneath that a cobalt blue dress. Her feet were bare.
“Hello, Shana,” the woman said, smiling. Her smile was a genuine one, and it reassured Shana.
“Who are you?” Shana asked.
“I would think you could figure that out for yourself,” the woman said. “If you just take a moment, it might become clear to you. Though…” she laughed softly, “I’ll tell you if you want. I won’t be cruel.”
Shana’s eyes lit up. “You’re…” she started, but she couldn’t finish the sentence. It just seemed too weird.
The woman nodded. “That’s right,” she said. “I’m the Dreamer’s Heart.”
Somehow, the idea made Shana giddy, and she grinned. “Really? So you’re… you’re inside me?”
The Dreamer’s Heart nodded, smiling. “That’s correct. It’s only when we dream that I can meet with you like this and speak to you clearly.” She looked away almost nervously, raising a hand to the side of her face. “In truth, I’m not supposed to meet with you at all. Like dreams, I’m not supposed to communicate so clearly. But I… I’ve grown rather fond of you, Shana. I have passed from one Dreamer to the next for a very long time, but I’ve never met someone quite like you.” She laughed, shaking her head. “I’m sorry, that sounds awfully cliché. What I mean is, no other Dreamer has had your imagination, your sense of wonder, your joy, and your love of adventure and discovery, all at the same time. You could say you’re the perfect vessel for me.”
Shana felt herself blushing. “I… thank you,” she said. “So… what should I call you? Do you have a name other than ‘The Dreamer’s Heart’?”
“You can call me Heart.”
Shana laughed, and Heart laughed with her. “That’s such a strange name for someone, but I guess in your case it fits, doesn’t it?” Shana asked. “Well, thank you for meeting me like this, even if you aren’t supposed to. What did you mean earlier, that they will in time?”
“The windows can show you much more,” Heart said, gesturing around the platform at the twelve windows. “But it will take time. You have visited the Dreamworld a great many times, and yet it took you years before you could start to navigate it freely. The more you come here, the more you explore, the more power you will have within this place.”
“Can I come here on demand?” Shana asked.
Heart shook her head. “Unfortunately, no. I wish it were so. I have some influence over whether or not, when you dream, you enter the Dreamworld, but I don’t have complete control, either. Just like ordinary dreams, there is an element of chance to it. Though as time goes on, you will come here more often, and have ordinary dreams less often.”
Shana smiled. “That sounds good to me. Do I have a time limit in this place?”
Heart smiled. “You ask smart questions. Yes, but time, as it is in dreams, is hard to measure. It stretches and contracts. Just like everything else in dreams, the laws of how the real world works mean very little here, and that includes time. So your time limit within the Dreamworld on every visit will be different from the last – sometimes longer, sometimes shorter.”
Shana looked around her at the windows. “So is this place always here?”
Heart nodded. “Yes. There are some places within the Dreamworld that are constant. The castle that you have gone through so many times is one. This platform is another. All have their own names, though perhaps that would be better served for another time? You seem to have more pressing questions, and time is precious, after all.”
“I was wondering…” Shana took a moment to decide how to word her question. “Is there anything you can show me about the Library? What is there for me to do? I… I just feel useless right now. Am I just here to follow along and watch others do their thing?”
“There is indeed something that only you can do,” Heart said, smiling. “Come with me. I can show you a glimpse, but you’ll need to take this hint to heart and follow it in the real world.” She started to fly, slowly rising off of the platform, and Shana followed her. They picked up speed, leaving the window platform behind and vanishing into the pink clouds, climbing higher as they went.
If Heart had chosen different colors for her clothes, she would have been hard to follow. Her skin and hair seemed to blend into the air around them as they flew, their colors were so similar to the clouds and light. Their flight wasn’t long before they shot above the pink clouds, bursting into a sky bathed in gold and magenta, dazzling and beautiful and putting out of Shana’s mind all comparisons to the Radiant Palace.
Heart turned to Shana and pointed ahead. Not far beyond them was a pearly white spiral staircase that led up to a small platform with a pedestal on it. Heart led the way, and the two of them landed at the bottom of the stairs, climbing them up to the top. Heart gestured to the pedestal, and Shana approached it.
On the pedestal was carved a few lines of verse, and Shana read them aloud:
“There comes a path before the end
A branch to answers that you seek
The hope to help the Bastion mend
There is no shame in being weak.”
Though she couldn’t possibly know what it all meant yet, the last line struck Shana powerfully.
“I…” Shana started, but she couldn’t speak the words. She clutched her hand to her chest, feeling a swell of emotions within her. Heart’s hand touched her back tenderly.
“Keep all of these words in mind, and share them with your allies,” Heart said. “I believe, by combining your knowledge, all of you together can find the way forward.”
Shana nodded. “Thank you,” she said. “If I can ask…” She hesitated, not looking at Heart.
“What is it?” Heart asked.
Shana finally looked up, meeting the glittering golden eyes of the Dreamer’s Heart. “Do you get lonely?”
Heart didn’t answer for several moments. She looked surprised, and then she looked away, her eyes glistening as if with tears. A small smile creased her lips. “No one has ever asked me that,” she said softly. “Thank you, Shana. I… yes. I do get lonely. And that makes me all the happier that I revealed myself to you.”
Shana smiled, taking Heart’s hand in her own. “I’m glad to have met you. Will you be with me every time I come to the Dreamworld?”
Heart nodded. “I couldn’t possibly hide away like I’m supposed to after having met you like this. I’ll be ready and waiting for you every time.” In the distance, a bell tolled, its tone bright and clear, and Heart’s eyes widened slightly in alarm. “Oh. That’s…” She smiled sadly. “Your time here for tonight is over, Shana. But thank you. And don’t forget all you learned here tonight.”
Shana nodded. “I won’t. And I’ll look forward to seeing you again soon.” She smiled. “This is all so strange, and so exciting. I keep discovering new things, and…” She laughed. “Somehow I keep making new friends.”
Heart’s expression grew more surprised, and she opened her mouth to speak…
And Shana woke up.
The soft, beautiful lights of the Dreamworld were gone, replaced by the dark, gloomy air of the Library of Solitude. Shana clenched one hand into a fist briefly, then released it with a sigh.
I’ll be back. But for now, I need to focus on what I learned. I can file away the stuff about Bronn for when I get back to Shias, but that poem needs to be clear in my mind.
She rolled over to see how her sister was doing, but…
Delilah wasn’t there.
Considering where they were, Shana was instantly worried. She rolled out of bed, Altair hopping up in front of her protectively, and scanned the room. There didn’t seem to be anyone here, but there also thankfully wasn’t any of the living darkness. She was safe, but…
“Where did she go?” Shana asked in a whisper. She went to the door of the bedroom and opened it slowly.
Outside in the wide hub-style intersection where the ten bedrooms of the Princesses of Solitude met, her entire group was standing safe and sound. Their expressions were ones of subdued puzzlement.
“What’s going on, gu–” Shana started, but as she walked into the hallway, she didn’t need to finish her question.
Something was very different. She turned around in a slow circle, looking at every corner, and especially at the three halls that branched off from this hub.
What had once been a place on the very edge of the living darkness, in clear danger of being overrun, was now strangely light and clear.
While the girls and Merric had slept, the living darkness had disappeared.
“This is strange, but should we really be concerned about it?” Chelsea asked. “Now we have a clear path to the center. We can get there faster.”
“Well, before we go there…” Shana said, bringing everyone’s attention to her. She explained her dream – in particular the rhyme about atop the spiral stair.
“So we need to look for a path before our destination,” Merric said, nodding thoughtfully.
“I like the last line,” Isabelle said, raising her hand, smiling at Shana. “There’s nothing wrong with being weak.”
Shana smiled, nodding. “I like it, too.”
The group moved forward, following the path towards the center. Shana stayed near Merric and the Princesses as they discussed possibilities and kept their eyes open for the “branch” they needed to find.
“Somewhere off of this main corridor will be another path we need to take,” Merric said. “But how will we know what it is?”
“If the message was given to Shana,” Annabelle said, “then maybe Shana will know it when she sees it?”
Annabelle walked closer to Shana than her sisters, and at times even held her hand for a stretch. When she mentioned her theory, she looked up at Shana with a smile.
“I just wish we had more clues of what to look for,” Maribelle said. She looked up and around with every step, analyzing this spacious corridor they trekked through. “Although I haven’t seen a single offshoot from this hall so far. Maybe it’ll be obvious.”
“I don’t remember there being any branches,” Merric said, “not that were shown on the map, anyway. And I was rather certain that was comprehensive.”
“Well you can’t have secret passages if they’re all labeled on a map,” Isabelle said. “Then they’re not secrets.”
“It would help if any of us had actually explored this hall,” Annabelle said. “But mother always told us not to go near the entrance to the center, so we never went this way much.”
“And I haven’t been up here before,” Merric said. “I wasn’t allowed to enter the center either, so I had no reason to come this way.”
“If the center’s going to be to our left at the end, then maybe the branch will be to the right,” Shana suggested. “I remember the map, and I didn’t see any branching paths from this hall on the map, but to our left should just be the wall, and not enough space for any halls or even rooms, except maybe a small closet.”
“Wow, your memory’s super good!” Isabelle said.
Shana smiled. She kept her eyes to the right as she walked, and occasionally let her hand brush along the right wall. There was something in the air, something strange – not a smell or a sound, but something elusive, probably magical. No one had mentioned it, so Shana thought maybe she was the only one who felt it.
In a way, it felt like flying through her Dreamworld. There was a sense of freedom, of adventure, of lightness in the air, and Shana followed it. The farther they walked, the stronger the sensation became. On the right wall were large, framed paintings, like in the castle in her Dreamworld. Many of them showed nothing, but then…
“What is it?” Annabelle asked.
Shana stared up at the painting. It was very stylized, not attempting to look realistic at all, but it was still clear what it was.
It was a painting of Greyson Manor.
Shana read the inscription below the frame. All it had was a date: December 24th, ten years ago.
Shana knew that date better than most. Not because it was Christmas Eve, but because it was the first time she had her dream, the first time that, unbeknownst to her then, she had entered the Dreamworld. Shana ran her hand along the metal plate with the inscription, and on the right side she felt a sort of switch. She pressed it, sliding it downward.
The painting and inscription were swept aside along the wall, rotating ninety degrees, and the blank portion of the wall in front of Shana warped, rippling with a sound like a thick, heavy liquid being stirred. The stones melted away, forming a depression five feet into the wall, and when they solidified once more, before Shana was a door. And printed on that door in golden letters were three words:
For the Dreamer.