Chapter Three (Encounters of the Dream)

By Darrell Walker

Brian roamed through the Freehold restlessly. He'd been through every hall, around every corner, at least a dozen times already, but he felt like he should be doing something. He felt like a caged lion, pacing the confines of his cage, willing the bars to disappear.

Weeks had gone by since the night of Brian's Chrysalis. He wasn't sure how long it had been, time passed strangely in the Freehold, but he knew that the police had to be swarming over the area looking for him. He hoped Amber was all right. Cassandra wouldn't speak of her, and all Brian could get out of Marcus was that she was unharmed. For some reason that didn't reassure Brian at all.

Brian was finally getting used to the idea he was a changeling. It was hard not to face up to the facts when surrounded by such large amounts of Glamour--the Freehold seemed saturated with it. The Freehold itself seemed a mass of contradictions. In some areas it seemed to be a starship of some kind, complete with breathtaking views of space out the windows. But in other areas the Freehold seemed a Victorian palace. Cassandra called the place the Resonant, Brian had no idea what that meant, and she had seemed shocked when he asked. The entire structure hummed with Glamour, and Brian had figured out long before Cassandra mentioned it that the Freehold existed in-between worlds. Cassandra had taken him into the bowels of the Freehold, deep below the ground where the Balefire burned in a crystal obelisk. The obelisk stood over twenty feet tall and glowed with the shimmering green light of the Balefire. Cassandra said the Balefire was the core of the Freehold. Brian could feel the Glamour pouring into him from just standing beside it.

Then Cassandra had shown him the main attraction of the Resonant: a Faerie Gateway. The Gateway opened into a Trod that could take a traveler virtually anywhere. Cassandra said that it wasn't a totally perfected technology because it could only send one certain places on certain days, and there were other limitations. Brian still thought the Gateway was cool, because anywhere had to be better than Indiana.

Brian turned a corner and entered a liftube. As the magnetic field carried him deep beneath the surface, Brian smiled. The least he could do to repay his hostess for imprisoning him is to break a few rules. She'd told him the Gateway was off-limits, but he'd noticed that there was no one guarding it. She couldn't be that serious about people staying away from the thing or she'd have someone watching over it. The pleasant hum of the lift-tube faded as Brian neared the bottom level. He followed the hallway down to the core, careful not to make any sound.

The core hummed in the middle of the room as Brian entered, looking around to make sure no one else was there. The air crackled with Glamour, and Brian felt the sword at his side resonate to its song. Brian walked around the core and entered the Gatechamber. The Gateway glowed with Glamour, the stuff of dreams. It appeared to be something between rock and metal. It stood about ten feet tall and was wide enough that two people could walk through side-by-side. Brian traced the runes of power on it's surface, feeling the currents of Glamour move through the structure. Brian sighed; he could stay in the core all day and just empty his thoughts and allow the Glamour to flow through him.

Cassandra sat bolt-upright in her chair. Something was wrong. She quickly turned to the display panel on the arm of her throne and with a few quick finger strokes, pulled up a schematic of the Resonant. It was as she feared. The Glamour was going wild, backing up on itself, flowing in opposite directions at once. "Marcus," she commanded in a voice laced with the power of one who is not disobeyed, "summon the Guard!"

"What is it, my Lady?" Marcus asked, looking up from where he gazed out the main view screen. Stars streaked by as if the Resonant was moving at impossible speeds.

Cassandra's face had drained of all color, and she had a death-grip on the arms of her command-chair. "Someone is tampering with the Core." She glared at the Knight, and her next words were venomous, "Perhaps you would better protect those you are Sworn to by carrying out my orders without question!"

Marcus swallowed. "Yes, my Lady." He turned and ran from the Command-room, gesturing to the page who had sprung to alertness at the Lady's tone. "You heard her," his voice was harsh, with fear, "Have Quarn bring his best unit on the double!" Marcus watched the page scamper from the room with amusement, waited until he was safely around a bend in the corridor, then dashed towards the nearest lift-tube. He could feel it now--the Glamour was stirring, not with the comforting feel of a properly running Freehold, but with that of chaos and abandon. The Resonant was in a precarious position, situated as it was within what was probably the most banal city in Indiana. If the Glamour lost cohesion..... Marcus cursed the lift-tube's slowness colorfully, then impatiently negated its Glamour with a surge of his own. As the Knight hurtled down the tube in free fall, he pulled out his sword. It would not be safe to use Cantrips; he would have to do this the old-fashioned way.

Brian stared at the core with rapt fascination. The words, "Ooh...pretty," escaped his lips without his knowledge. He could see the energy writhing and bucking within, and the was like being pricked with a thousand needles all over at once, only it wasn't unpleasant. Brian laughed, let his head fall back in exultation. He could feel the magic flowing through his veins like liquid fire. *No wonder they think they're gods,* he marveled.

Brian's sword hung, forgotten, at his side. The boy did not notice its throbbing hum, or the fact that it matched that of the Core. Both were building steadily in intensity. The Resonant began to shake. "It's resonating!" Brian quipped to himself as the ecstasy burned his mind....

He was flying. The ground hurtling by below him was almost nauseating. For a moment Brian felt a rush of acrophobia, and some other phobia that has to do with flying at tremendous speeds a mere twenty feet above the earth. The world began to spin, and the earth rushed up to meet him....

Brian flinched, but the expected impact never came. Instead he found himself seated on a blanket in a grass field that stretched, utterly flat, to the horizon in all directions. The sky was impossibly blue.

"You've returned to me," a sad voice said, and Brian turned to face the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her hair was midnight, and her eyes were fathomless pools of darkness.

"Uh...hello," he stammered. The girl, for that's what she was--no older than he, laughed bitterly.

"You've forgotten again, haven't you? Oh, Aerinn, I cannot wait for you forever."

Brian looked around, wondering now if she was talking to him. He looked back, and she was watching him expectantly. "Look, I don't know who you are, and my name isn't Aaron. I don't even know where I am!" Brian let out his breath with exasperation and leaned back on his elbows, wondering at the beautiful woman before him.

"Yes, you do, Aerinn, yes you do...." the woman murmured, stressing the long "a" sound. She leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the lips. Brian's eyes widened in surprise, then he surrendered to her kiss. She tasted so fresh, so pure. Amber had never tasted like that....

Selene tightened her arms around Aerinn as his body spasmed, then went limp. She laid him down gently on his back, brushed his hair from his eyes. He appeared asleep, only his features kept twitching as if he were trapped in a nightmare. She sighed, then faded away. Soon the field and sky were gone as well, and Brian lay unconscious on the floor of the Core.

Images flashed through Brian's head so quickly he couldn't grasp most of them. A shining city in what must be Arcadia. A furious King--only a King could look so commanding and confident. A crying Sidhe woman of breath-taking beauty that he somehow knew was his mother. A large dragon with shimmering white scales. But one image appeared over and over, so often that it was burned into his mind. An image of a beautiful woman with raven hair. Names stirred within Brian's memory--different names, always different, but always the same face. His unconscious form whimpered.

Brian's eyes opened with a snap, and for a long moment, he stared at the ceiling high above his head. "I'm a Knight." He thought about that a moment. Then a smile slowly spread across his face. "I can leave!"

Marcus skidded to a halt before the entrance to the Core. A wall of pure Glamour barred his passage. He knew if he tried to go through it, it would vaporize him. "Damn!" he seethed. "What the hell is going on?" He turned to the sound of feet pounding down the hall. "At ease!" he ordered the band of flushed Knights, bedecked in hastily-donned armor, their naked blades gleaming in the dim light. "We're not going anywhere as long as this is here," he gestured to the wall angrily. "You," he picked one at random, "go tell Cassandra we need her down here, and hurry." Marcus sighed to himself as the Knight took his hasty leave. He had a bad feeling about this.

Brian hopped up from where he had been laying on the floor. If he was a Knight and held rank, then Cassandra couldn't keep him, especially since he had sworn no Oath of Fealty to her. He knew it wouldn't be easy, but--Brian's ponderings were interrupted by a rumbling through the floor of the Core. He darted a glance to the Balefire and froze. The Balefire had quadrupled in intensity from just a few moments before, and it was still increasing. The Housing already had cracks spider-webbing its surface. The floor rumbled again, this time almost throwing Brian from his feet. He heard a loud throbbing hum, and was surprised to discover it came from the sword at his side. "Soulguider," he whispered, the name seeming to come from some dark corner of his mind. The throbbing of the sword was in time with the swelling of the Balefire. The power of unbridled Glamour crackled through the air, and Brian felt a very distinct feeling. He'd only felt it once before. It was a feeling of anticipation, like when you are just about to hear a secret, or see a movie you've been looking forward to, or have an orgasm.... It was the feeling of an opening Faerie Gateway.

"Maybe this would be a good time for me to leave," Brian muttered and bolted to the door. "Shit! I'm trapped!" A field of Glamour barred the doorway, and judging by the fact that it was too bright to look at, Brian figured walking through it would be a bad thing.

A low growl, like that a lion would make if it were the size of a mountain, shook the Resonant. Brian turned back towards the Core, saw the monstrous, shadowy shape within the flames. The growl came again, and Brian began to think that going through that field of Glamour may not be such a bad idea after all.

Marcus sighed with relief at Cassandra's arrival. She would know what to do. Cassandra halted her sharp words to the Knight at the sight of the field of Glamour. She frowned, Kenned the area, and gasped. "By the Dreaming!" She looked to Marcus, shock plain upon her delicate face. "Do you sense that?"

"Yes," Marcus whispered, "someone is opening a Trod in there--a Trod we didn't even know existed."

"A Trod that *didn't* exist, at least, not before now," Cassandra corrected, dry-washing her hands as a feeling of strong uneasiness came over her. This was unprecedented.

"Don't you think you should dispel that," Marcus dared, gesturing towards the force field.

Cassandra looked at the Glamour of the field for a long moment. "I can't," she said softly. "We're going to have to wait for whoever it is to come to us."

The entire group started as the ambient Glamour of the area magnified to an intensity none of them had experienced in a long, long time. "It's as if a piece of Arcadia is on the other side of this door," Cassandra breathed.

Brian backed up against the wall, trying to find a place in the circular chamber that was equally distant from the Core and the field of Glamour blocking the entrance. He'd finally decided to face whatever was coming through the Gateway as opposed to certain death in that field of magical energy. A familiar, if uncommon, emotion swept through him. It was hard to describe, but he always felt it when he should be afraid. It was excitement, anticipation, the feeling of being on the verge of something extra-ordinary. Brian grimaced. Seeing Amber in the hands of a redcap had been the first time he remembered feeling fear. He looked down to the sword at his side, which was now glowing so brightly blue he could barely stand to look at it. "Here goes nothing," Brian seized the hilt and pulled the blade from its scabbard. Glamour surged through him like magma, so intense it was nauseating. His heart pounded to its rhythm.

A detached part of Brian's mind remembered a lecture his band director had given on rhythm. "The human soul responds to rhythm like no other force," she had said. "That is why music is so powerful. If you can get your audience immersed in the rhythm of your music, you can make them feel anything you like." She'd smiled a little and said something about lovemaking, to which most of the band had snickered. But Brian had understood perfectly. A part of his mind, strong in the knowledge it had weathered centuries, whispered to him, *Rhythm is all....*

The Resonant heaved, throwing Brian from his feet. He looked up from the floor just in time to see the massive, clawed foot emerge from the Core.

Brian had played fantasy roleplaying games for a long time. He knew a dragon when he saw one, but this one was like no dragon he had ever imagined. It was the color of the purest white-gold; it's scales gleamed, reflecting the light of the Balefire about the room, and Brian couldn't distinguish one scale from the other. Rather, the creature seemed to be made of liquid metal. It was huge, gargantuous; Brian knew that it was only through some trick of Glamour that the thing could fit in the chamber at all. As Brian watched, the creature shrank, seeming to condense, decreasing in size, but not mass or power, until it was the size of a large motor-home. Eyes wise beyond words peered into Brain’s, eyes of the purest gold. Brian knew without a doubt that this Dragon knew what he was thinking, and he would not have been surprised if it knew everything he had ever thought, or ever would. It seemed made of Glamour itself, like a Chimera, but somehow more. It *was* Glamour, and it was so strong in the Faerie magic that Brian found his newly awakened Fae senses strained almost to the breaking-point. Something was very familiar about this creature.

"So, you have once again awakened to your True self, Aerinn." The Dragons voice rumbled through Brian's head like an avalanche, but it was not painful. Instead it was strangely soothing, and Brian at once felt completely comfortable and safe with this creature.

He swallowed hard, found his voice, though it was croaky and didn't sound much like his voice at all. "Aerinn. Is that my Faerie name?"

"It is."

"I see....and you are...?"

"I have had many names, and I will have many more. It does not matter, but if it makes you more comfortable to address me with one, you may call me Armis."

Brian peered beyond Armis' gleaming shoulder, and was relieved to see that the Core had stabilized, as had the blade in his hands, though it still hummed quietly and poured blue plasma-like energy down his body. Brian was stunned to notice that the Dragon contained more Glamour than the Resonant. He could be sure Cassandra knew what was going on. He flinched, almost feeling the lashing that would come.

"Do not worry. You need not suffer her thoughtlessness any longer."

Brian nodded, becoming more comfortable with the Dragon by the moment. "Yeah, that's right, I'm a knight."

The Dragon chuckled, "You are at that, Aerinn, and so much more, and so much less.... I should not stay long. I see you have found your sword," he nodded towards Soulguider.

"Well, I think it was more the sword found me," Brian laughed.

The Dragon seemed to smile, though it was more the conveyance of amusement into Brian's mind than a changing in the creature's features. "Yes, that is an appropriate way to put it. The blade is bound to you and will always seek you out. You must trust it, and you must trust your heart. Listen to both, they will lead you to where you need to go."

"And where is that?"

Armis smiled again, fondly this time. "Everywhere, nowhere, a journey of the heart, of the mind, and of the soul as well as a journey through physical space. Beware Bedlam, Aerinn, you always were more susceptible than most, and beware the Sidhe. They are powerful, and can control your will."

Brian blushed hotly, "Yes, I've found that out already." He unconsciously looked towards the doorway. He knew *she* was on the other side. He hated her for what she had done for him, and yet he could not deny his feelings for her.

"You must leave this place, Aerinn. The time has come. Take the Trod. Oh, one more thing: Give Selene my greetings."

"Selene....?" Brian said, and then he remembered. The dreams, the visions.... "Is she real? I thought it was just a fantasy."

The Dragon sighed. "You are of the Dreaming, Aerinn. *All* fantasies are real."

"What are you?" Brian asked in awe.

"You already know the answer to that question," the Dragon answered in its cryptic way. "The answer lies within your heart. Until you are able to find it on your own, you are not ready to know it. I will go now."

"No! Wait! Don't go, I have more questions--" Brian shouted desperately, but it was too late. The Dragon was gone, and the sudden vacuum of Glamour created by its departure left Brian reeling so he could barely stay on his feet. "Soulguider" quieted in his hands, and the Core was nominal when Cassandra and the Knights rushed into the room, weapons at the ready.

"What is it? What happened?" Cassandra demanded, grabbing a dazed Brian by the shoulders. They'd sensed the disappearance of the Glamour, and found the Core completely normal, as if nothing had happened. Only the residual Glamour which had soaked into the place gave testament to the reality of what had happened.

"I...I...don't remember," Brian stammered.