Chapter Four -- The Ballroom in the Stars

The King and Queen of Dauphin, Jethro and his Anna, danced in a ballroom lit by the stars. No others in the castle even knew it existed, for in truth, it did not. Not in the castle anyway, nor on any other physical plane. This room was a creature of the Dreamscape, and in it, all things were possible. The regal pair two-stepped through the universe, made love in a field of poppies at the center of a blazing star, waltzed through the sky with thousands of figures scurrying below like ants, lay together in a bed of diamonds, hard edges and sharp angles belying the impossible softness with which they touched their joined skins. A bejeweled sanctum of ethereal delight. All the world was open to them, and they needed none of it, for they had each other. And with Eleazar’s fine Gift, stolen, not freely given, firm in Jethro’s grasp, their love was a paradise with no end… or so, at least, the fledgling Godking thought. He could see, even in the midst of this bliss, a cloud hanging over his beloved Anna’s face, the blemish on a masterpiece.

“What troubles you, my love?”

“Oh, ‘Phin, it’s, it’s nothing.”

“Come, we’ve been man and wife near fifty years now. I know when you’re not happy. I can see it in your face, the hollow space behind your smile.”

He brushed away her still golden curls, untouched by gray even in these her twilight years, and why shouldn’t they be? Keeping himself and his wife youthful was a simple task. He was the strongest Dreamweaver in the land… or so he thought.

“I worry that…”

“Is this about Eleazar? That trickster fool. You have nothing to fear, I beat him at his own game, left him no recourse for revenge. We are his equals now. We are the Gods here.”

Anna was silent along time, clutching tightly to Jethro in the dark, their sure feet tapping away silently on the black emptiness of space. The King took her silence to equal acquiescence, and was blind to her tears that dampened his shoulder.

“If only it were that simple, my love.” She whispered silently. Even now, she could feel the false sickness begin to overtake her. She would be comatose within the week, Jethro desperate and, mad with grief not long after, and Eleazar’s long con would begin in earnest. “If only we could be together forever. I’m sorry. Sorry for what I must do to you. To us.

I’m sorry that I came to love you. That was never part of the plan.”

           

 

 

 

Sleep eluded Saiin. In the clutches of the Dreamscape, slumber was unnecessary, undesirable even. It became a gate to creatures mumbling in the dark. Dark, formless shadows that called to her, scratching at the recesses of her mind, craving memory. They fed on consciousness, usually nibbling away at the nightmares of those in the Real. But here she was, fully and in truth, a solid figure in an incorporeal world. A prime meal. If she closed her eyes, dropped her guard—even for a brief moment—they would have her.

She tried not to fear them, or hate them, or think of them at all. She strained to remain emotionally inert, to deprive them of any footholds they could use to climb inside of her. At times like this, she remembered the watch words of her mother, who came to her every night as a little girl all those centuries ago, to calm her rumbling stomach, aching with hunger. She would stroke her hair, brush hot tears from her cheeks.

We must be as rocks, you and I, in this tempestuous current. It may wear at us, erode us, but it can never break us. We will stand the test of time. We will be strong, and all is said and done, and the water washes away, we will remain.

We will survive.

            Saiin sat in silence and watched her life drift by in flashes. Her mother’s smiling face as she sang to her as a child quickly turned into the mask of death that settled on her too soon. Her eyes, opened wide in helpless despair, hands frozen clutching her weeping daughter, hoping to comfort her to the last. The long years that passed cleaning floors and serving drinks in one of Alur’s, the transient god/goddess of lust, resident pleasure houses. The night’s spent praying for deliverance before she came of age join the men and women who served in… other ways. Fleeing the day before she came of age at 16. Begging on the street. Working whatever odd jobs came her way. And finally, a wretch, lost, with nowhere else to turn, sending prayers skyward to ask the mercy of a God—

            “Saiin. My dear. Dwelling in the past again I see.” The smiling God of tricks tsked gently as Saiin’s world of memory faded away into the unformed mist of emotion and human consciousness. The fabric of the Dreamscape. “I need you focused on the future if we are to succeed.” His teeth, unnaturally glittering beacons, were the only source of light in the obscuring fog. Saiin stood. Even while floating in nothing, by sheer force of will she could find solid enough purchase to walk towards the deity in the ether.

            “Have they discovered… his remains?” She asked carefully, her heart still ached to remember the death of her Dauphin.

            “No, I see…” His eyes rolled back into his head as he looked out from the Dreamscape back into the World that is, “They are gathering now. Preparing to leave the city at first light. We have a few hours left to us. Soon though, soon…” His eyes refocused on her, and his smile took on a sinister air, even more so than usual. With a blink, he crossed the gap between them and took her by the hand, bringing hers to his lips for a kiss, one of surprising tenderness. “Of course, time’s passage here has only a causal relationship to the real world.”

            Saiin allows herself a small smile, under which she hides a throbbing vein of fear. “Who knows that better than I?”

            “Who indeed?” The dark God’s smile widens. “Have you noticed yet where we are?”

            The ‘dead’ Queen opened her mouth to retort, of course, how could she forget the prison where she was forced to spend centuries, this Dreamscape hell, with nothing but her memories and her fears and the whispered, mournful longings of the king she left behind for company, but as she looked around her, the vitriol was caught dead in her throat. She saw a star-lit ballroom, then blinked and it became a prosaic meadow at the center of a fiery star, furious, white hot combustions roiling overhead. Another blink and they dangled in space over a foggy Dauphin, the festival’s, her festival’s revelers barely visible below in the misty night.

            “How… how did you-”

            “Find your little dream nest? Jethro’s celestial fantasy? You forget, he created this place with my gift. Any dream, any power he manifested with it I was privy to and, now that your beloved is dead, have dominion over.” His hand still in hers, her gaze still held by his, they were transported into the howling silence of space, whirling through the black. A pair of impious dervishes. “Anything he dreamed of. I can exceed. Anything he desired, I too, can possess.”

            Saiin looked down, and saw not her earthly body, but that she herself had become a burning solar flame, wrapped in warmth, enveloped in the shrieking gales of the heavens. Eleazar too was a star. Though within his gaseous depths remained the smiling, as nefarious and knowing as before. Teeth still glinting in the flames.

            Come Saiin. His voice emanated from space itself, booming from the depths, whispering from the intimately near void. Let us know one another.

            And so they did, and their interstellar collision brought them to pleasure beyond words.

            In the afterglow, as they both came back to themselves, Saiin found herself once more in the world. By her side, the God Eleazar, trembling and, for the first time in all the centuries she had known the deceitful deity, he was not smiling. His glowing eyes had lost their luster. She couldn’t help but notice: He had never looked more human.