I wasn’t expecting Grigori to come through with much of anything. I figured that at best he’d come back with some hallucinogenic bullshit for me to drink and then if I took it he’d claim that whatever I experienced was the dream quest against the nightmare witch. But surprisingly he came through with some actual magic. It wasn’t a big production of any sort either – wizards usually seem to need a lot of circles drawn on the ground and runes and silver powders and mummified alligator heads and all kind of shit to do their job. Grigori just came back into camp sometime after the moon was bright in the sky looking even more haggard than usual. Or at least what I know as usual for him. He asked me if I was ready, I said sure, and he made with the magic words and hand waving and next thing I knew we were there.
“There” in this case being a complex that appeared to be made out of some kind of shiny purple stone. I’ve never seen anything like it, but I suppose that should go without saying when you’re in the mind-fortress of a dream haunting nightmare beast from beyond time and space. The general layout was a central large circle with four smaller circles bolted on in kind of a square pattern. If you’re ever looked at an architectural drawing of a castle it was that same layout on a smaller scale – you got the middle part and then the four towers crouching alongside. Anyway I suppose the design doesn’t really matter so much.
I glanced over at Grigori “Are we really here or is this a dream?”
“Uhhh, both? We’re in the dream realm.”
I scowled “But we were actually physically here or are we asleep and this is a dream?”
“The realm of dreams is not well studied. Where we are is a demiplane of nightmares that exists beyond the dreamlands, where dark visions overlap into a strange reality spawned by the dreams of mysterious beings . . .”
“Don’t give me that bullshit! I’m not in the mood for wizardly vagueness about realms and dimensions and the subjective nature of reality. “
He halfway smiled “Given where we are I think you’re expecting a little too much in requesting a straight answer. What else can I say when we’re literally inside a dream?”
“What I expect is for one fucking magic user to know what is going on one time. You people are bending reality and you don’t have any clue what you’re even doing.”
“Back off lady, you act like we’re alone in that. No one knows anything. Why does the sun shine? Why does grass grow? No one knows. How does a ship float on the water? Don’t act like we’re the only ones with no answers.”
“There’s some very basic science about why a boat floats.”
He snorted “Sure, science.”
Circle one was full of cages, crow cages I think they call them, where the cage just a set of bars joined together in a tube shape slightly bigger than a person. They’re not cages for crows you see, you put people in there and I guess the crows peck their eyes out. Why do birds love eyes so much? Are they delicious or are they just easy to eat with their stupid beaks? Get a mouth already birds so you can eat something good. It was hard to tell how many cages there were because the front dozen or so were occupied. The occupants looked for all the world like actors, I guess I say that because their clothing looked more like a costume than actual every day clothes. You know how actors on stage always look a little off no matter what they’re wearing? It was like that. They didn’t reach out or beg to be rescued, they didn’t do anything – they just stared. Their eyes were the only thing that moved, following me around.
I gestured “What’s this about?”
Grigori peered at them “Souls maybe.”
“I always assumed that soul stealers needed souls for food or used them as currency or something, why keep them here?” Grigori shrugged “Are they real?”
“I feel like if I answer that you’re going to get mad at me again.”
“Let me guess, you were going to ask me what real means. Should we let them out?”
“How would we do that? There’s no doors or hinges on those cages. I don’t see any way to open them.”
I drifted away from the cage circle with the eyes of the soul remnants or whatever they were following my steps with the lifelessness of dolls. The next circle over was a somewhat organized and somewhat chaotic alcove filled with trinkets and accoutrements, seized from her victims I assume. The items ranged from cheap copper jewelry with clay beads to shining swords of adamantine and mithril with jeweled hilts that could bankrupt a lesser noble family. There were common boots and “bracelets” made of twine mixed in with rich silks and platinum serving trays. Most of it was junk, but there was some pretty good stuff in there too. I had absolutely no desire to touch any of it.
Moving to the right at the head of the main circle (okay it was more of an oval I guess, kind of turtle shaped maybe) there was a clear pool of water and hanging above it was a large multi-faceted reddish-purple jewel, it strangely looked like a piece of junk costume jewelry for all that it was clearly very magic and important. When I looked in the pool there was no reflection, or myself or of the jewel. Every now and then the jewel would rotate slightly and emit a soft pulse of light. I swear that I could feel it like a very light touch over all the exposed skin on my body. It was . . . odd.
“So what’s this?”
Grigori was shielding his eyes as if the sun was blazing despite the room being fairly dim “That’s the main event, that’s the source of her powers.”
“How do you know what?”
“Magic. Do you really want to get into another discussion about that?
“I do not. So breaking this will kill her?”
“No this will strip her of many of her abilities, without this she won’t be able to travel ethereal.”
“What the fuck does that mean?”
“She won’t be able to enter your dreams anymore chiefly. Probably it means her rivals will kill her too because she’s going to lose a lot of other magic stuff but there’s no way to know for sure.”
I looked around “This seems too easy. Shouldn’t there be traps or guards or something?”
“I guess not. We’re dealing with a creature that is basically a sentient nightmare, I’m not sure we can evaluate its motivations or speculate on what it might think is a good idea with any degree of accuracy.”
“That’s one of the most coherent things you’ve said to date.” I retrieved my crossbow and pointed it at the jewel, then dropping it from my shoulder “I feel like I should say something here.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, like the hero says before they vanquish the deadly supernatural threat ‘see you in the Hells!’ or something like that. Not that, but something better.”
“What would be the point in doing that?”
“I don’t know, that’s what’s bothering me, she’s not even going to know that I’m the one that got her. Maybe I could write something on the wall. A taunt or some sort. Do you have a pen and some ink?”
“Once you break that she’s probably not going to be able to get back her. How about you just smash it and we get out of here.”
I raised the crossbow back to my shoulder “You have no sense of drama.”
In retrospect I’m not sure why I thought that a crossbow bolt was going to shatter the gem, although in my defense it did look very crappy. The bolt knocked a shard off of it and then ricochet and almost hit me in the leg. I was mildly embarrassed by the yelp I let out as I jumped out of the way. I was startled is all.
Grigori peeped out from behind his hand “I don’t think that worked.”
“Thanks eagle eye. Can’t you just . . .” I made a vague magic gesture.
“That’s not a good idea. Besides, I thought you wanted to be the one to get the revenge.”
It was too far away to hit with the baron’s Cane so in the end I threw my trunk at it. Good thing it floats. It took three tries to smash the thing and trying to fish the trunk out of the pool each time was a pain in the ass. It has to rank right up there on the list of the slowest and least graceful smitings of evil in the annuals of evil smiting. Even after it was pulverized the dust and shards hung in the air above the pool, but the light stopped.
“Is that it? Is she defeated?”
“No defeated, but her powers have been greatly diminished like I said before.”
“Huh, that wasn’t very satisfying.”
“That’s life for you.”