Shana sat, staring off into the magenta clouds, the golden beams of light, the beauty and dazzling wonder of Dreamworld.
She sat, and she thought, and she waited.
The Radiant King…
Was the Dreamer before me?
She’d seen so much — “all” of the Radiant King’s memories from before he split Heart in two, according to the Guardian of Memory — and yet there were still so many questions.
Though all of that does explain why he was able to enter my dreams, and even meet me in Dreamworld.
She let out a long, heavy sigh.
How long have I been sitting here?
Are you avoiding me?
Shana stood on the rocky spire where she always started in Dreamworld and stepped off, flying through the clouds.
She soared over the castle, but passed it by.
She won’t hide.
I don’t think so.
So she’s waiting for me to come to her.
She passed several places she’d been to before — the platform with the windows where she could see visions of the past and possibly even the future, the floating library, among others — but kept on flying.
She said, now that Nocta’s saved, I can see them both in Dreamworld. I can go to the Nightmare Citadel through here.
They’re both involved in this. So they’ll be together.
Shana looked around, but seeing nothing promising, she shot upward, through clouds and clouds and oh so many clouds, until finally…
She broke through to nothing but golden light.
Not the gaudy, blinding light that the Radiant King — that Leon — favors. This light is beautiful. I love it so.
Spinning in a circle, she gazed out from this high point over everything.
She saw it, a great wood that started green and verdant but steadily turned to black and dead, and beyond it mountains, valleys, wastelands, and in the great distance…
The Nightmare Citadel.
Forward she flew, putting on speed like she hadn’t since rising up against the condor, flying so fast that magenta clouds blasted apart into fragments in her wake.
She was making a beeline for the Citadel, but she started to slow.
She’d seen something.
There, in the forest, where green met black, where life met death, where dreams met nightmares, was an open space. A stone tower jutted up above the trees, and its top was wider than its base, a circular stage with a strange, indecipherable glyph carved into its ruined floor.
Slowing as she descended, Shana came in for a landing at the very edge of the stage.
In the center were Heart and Nocta.
They surveyed Shana with expressions filled with a deep sadness.
“Now you know the truth,” Heart said.
“And yet I still know so little,” Shana said.
“Leon had a grand dream,” said Nocta, her voice deeply sorrowful. “He came to use any methods necessary to achieve it. And when death found him, he refused to give himself up to it.”
“So he really did die?” Shana asked. “I don’t understand.”
“He is not dead,” Heart said. “Not yet. He… clings to life, but that leaves him somewhere in-between. Not alive, but not dead. All because…” she bowed her head, “of me.”
“I’m here to listen,” Shana said, taking a seat on the low wall around the stage. “Please. I just want to understand the full story.”
“Leon was the Dreamer before you,” Heart said. “You know that much. But the memories in the Garden skipped over some parts, and they’re important to seeing the whole picture. You first came to Dreamworld in confusion and mystery. Floating through the clouds, seeing strange images and getting impressions of what’s important. Leon first came to Dreamworld for a very specific vision.”
“The one of darkness, right?” Shana asked.
Heart nodded. “Yes. He saw the darkness swallowing up all life, and the only light that could stand against it was led by the Dreamer.”
“Why did he have such a different start to being the Dreamer from me?” Shana asked.
“Because… I was whole,” Heart said. “You saw the end, when he… split me in two.”
“So he really did that…?”
“We shouldn’t jump ahead,” said Nocta. “But rest assured, all will be explained.”
“But my wholeness at the time is only part of the reason,” Heart said. “In truth… I saw something in him that I’d never seen in a Dreamer. He had great potential, a great light burning within him. I wanted to see him live up to his potential, and so I…”
“Manipulated things,” said Nocta, with no malice or judgment in her tone.
Heart looked away. “It’s true. I wanted him to live up to his potential, so I took a great Truth, and… made a lie of it. What he saw starts with the truth — darkness, consuming all life. The prophecy of the Endless Night, something that is sure to come to pass if it isn’t stopped. And yet… I painted the Dreamer as the Great Light, the ultimate power that can vanquish darkness. That isn’t true. The Dreamer is instrumental in preventing the Endless Night, but the Dreamer is not the ultimate hero, is not the ultimate power. The light that shines through the Dreamer comes from the Light. It doesn’t belong to the Dreamer, but is a gift. I… let Leon think he was destined to be the ultimate hero, led him to believe that the power was his and his alone. And though he could never be called selfish…”
“His passion and zeal were admirable,” said Nocta. “But he was too easily pulled into obsession, into passion without compassion. He had power and knowledge, and a righteous quest to put himself against. But without love, it is easy for such passion, such zeal, such admirable fire, to turn to obsession, to turn inward rather than outward, and become destructive to the self and those around him.”
“He lost his way,” Heart said. “Though I tried so hard to steer him right… he listened to Jormungand rather than me. He listened to his own desperation rather than me. I set him on the path, a flawed path that I should have seen would lead to ruin. And I could not pull him from that path. He brought terrible destruction to Grimoire, and later to so much of the Enchanted Dominion. Not to mention… so many lives and families he destroyed before he began his righteous conquest.”
“The strange ‘method’ that Jormungand gave him, right?” Shana asked. Just thinking of the brief glimpses she saw of the horrors that led to the creation of the Eternals sent a shiver through Shana’s spine.
Heart nodded. “Few could survive the procedures,” she said. “When so many died in the first several rounds, Leon had run out of willing participants, but he had too few survivors to enact his grand plans. So he started to take people, sometimes by force, even children. Many of the survivors still live, forever children, forever scarred by what’s been done to them, forever alone as their families have long ago passed.”
“His heroic desire manifested itself as villainous actions,” said Nocta. “And some would argue he received what he deserved. The Crystal King executed him.”
“In his final moments, he was able to see me,” Heart said, eyes glistening with tears. “It was supposed to just be a farewell. But he… he clung to me, to his ambitions, to his dreams, too tightly. I didn’t think it could be done, but he… he severed a part of me, took it for himself. Now a shell of me stands at his side, grants him no small measure of my power, and my own power that I can give to you, Shana, is greatly lessened. You have achieved remarkable things. But it all would have been easier, and your limits would be even lesser, if I had been whole from the start.”
“He has just a shell of you, and yet he’s so powerful?” Shana asked. She thought to what he’d done since his “execution,” the way he’d transformed the Crystal Palace, the massacres he’d committed, the power Chelsea and Caleb had told of him wielding against them in Grimoire.
“You will never have quite so much power,” Heart said, “though you may come close, I am unsure. But part of his power comes from the fact that he is no longer bound by human limitations. As I said, he… isn’t dead. But he is no longer alive, either. He is something that should not be, an impossibility that, through even just a shred of my power, grants him impossible abilities. But Shana, know this: he is a Dreamer, in the truest sense. And you heard something when you were in the Garden, a voice that said…”
Shana’s eyes widened. “ ‘A dream is meant to be woken from,’ ” she said, remembering what she’d heard. “If he wakes from the dream now…”
“The impossibility will cease,” said Nocta. “Finally, Leon will pass on, and find what awaits him beyond.”
“I hope, despite all he’s done,” Heart said, “that peace is what awaits him. That his anguished heart that has so long despaired for the world and put all on his own shoulders will finally be at peace.”
“So… you’re saying I have to fight him?” Shana asked.
“Dreamer to Dreamer,” said Nocta. “It is the only way to wake him.”
“But that’s too dangerous!” Shana said, standing. “If he only has a shell of you, he’ll want the rest. Isn’t there a chance he can pull you from me and get the full power of a Dreamer, of the impossible kind of Dreamer he is?”
“It is possible,” Heart said. “But Shana — darkness is rising. The Dreamer’s powers are needed — the full Dreamer’s powers. I must be made whole, Shana, whole with you. The risk is worth it. Not just for your sake or my sake… for Leon’s, as well. His current existence is a dream, one that cannot last forever. He doesn’t realize it, but he’s continuing his path of destruction, continuing to destroy me by keeping me severed, and destroying you by rejecting anyone else as the Dreamer, keeping my full power from you. His current state can only bring and increase heartache and sorrow.”
“A dream is meant to be woken from.”
To be forever dreaming, never waking… to be neither alive nor dead…
And he’s doing terrible things. He still is. It’s not just about Heart being severed, or about me not having power. He kidnapped children. He kidnapped Annabelle and Sarabelle. He tried to force Contracts onto his followers, and he’s turned Athena into his new Gold Knight.
It’s a cycle of cruelty and despair that spirals outwards, with him at the center.
And it all started because he wanted to save the universe. He saw darkness and sought to defeat it.
He needs to wake up. Leave the dream behind, and maybe…
Maybe he can have peace in the end.
Shana looked up at Heart, at Nocta. “What do I need to do?” she asked.