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Noctivagant
#1
His first thought was about the absence of fatigue. In that very revelation, Philip knew he was dreaming. He had been bone-weary tired when his head found its way to a pillow. That the physical constraint of body and mind resisted translation to his new destination was as dead a giveaway as anything else. Though now that he shielded his eyes from the brightness of a sunless sky, he realized that he was surrounded by nothing but sand. Yellow, endless dunes made a wave of the horizon. For reasons he did not bother to dissect, a vast desert had been the place of his spawning. It was annoying more than anything, foot sinking into the sand as he tried to turn about despite the athletic-cut Ascis. Cliffs made a mountain behind him. In their façade were carved shapes undoubtedly etched by human hand. Wherever he was, he was certain it was about as far away from Catholicism as possible.

The cliffs were looming in what felt like fewer steps than should have been possible. Yet he was so accustomed to the oddity of dreams that gave it no additional thought. Why was he here? Was this the manifestation of his subconscious or was this by sophisticated design? He thrust his hands in the pockets of a La Perla cashmere tracksuit, bright white as his papal robes. The cashmere was smooth as butter, but despite the environment, he wasn’t hot. Though when he ducked into the shade of a doorway, a coolness washed his face.

A tunnel burrowed into the rock. The other worldly light extended into the passage, though it was barely enough to see. Carvings were etched into the walls, and despite the many languages he could read and write, the glyphs were unknown to him. A 5,200 year old tablet of pictographs was the oldest writing on record, but it was a crude form of proto-cuneiform. The ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs dating to the 5th Dynasty would fit in the setting of this dream, but the shapes on the walls were far less pictoral and more script-like. They had the scratching reminiscent of cuneiform of ancient Iraq but more elegant. He didn’t claim to read such worthless nonsense, his knowledge was honed upon the languages that built the church, but he knew enough to recognize that this writing was intelligent, sophisticated, and complex.

They were probably a figment of his imagination, he finally decided and continued onward. The tunnel turned to stairs soon after with just enough light to avoid spraining an ankle. At the bottom there was a fresh scent on the air and for the first time there was a sound. He followed an echo of drips to their source, puzzled.

At some point in the journey, the passageway or ancient temple – whatever it was –  transformed into a more natural cave structure. So much so that he was careful to avoid smearing mud on his suit. A pool of cave water identified the source of the dripping, and Philip was about to carry on until he saw a glint beneath the surface. At first, he thought it was another key, which would explain the absurdity of this dream. He leaned over the incredibly still water, squinting to discern what was submerged when an unexplained ripple disturbed the surface. He could almost see the shape of it when he turned his face slightly, but the light was insufficient. He could get in the water, he thought, and swim down to it.

An unease touched his brow. There was no one here to explain the hesitation, and ultimately his curiosity stole the better of his senses. It was a dream anyway and he typically tried to not fight the pull of dreams.

He slipped into the water. The chill wasn’t unpleasant but nor was it relaxing. His feet could touch the bottom, but after a few steps they lost the shelf. He was about to gasp a lungful of air and submerge when bubbles erupted ahead of him. Likely from the disturbance of silt, he thought, and slipped under the water.

The dark was deeper beneath, but the glint of something vaguely metallic led his way. He reached out to snatch the curious item, wincing when he found it was sharp to the hand. Surely it had cut him, he thought, as he pulled it toward himself and started to push upward.

Something grabbed his foot and a hard jerk pulled down. He gasped a mouthful of water and kicked at it, but the harder he fought, the lower he was dragged.
[Image: hiclipart.com_-e1597513863757.png]
Man is like God: he never changes. 
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#2
A white blur moved in the darkness. It was tall, looming. It moved on two legs, Mara thought, but the eyes of her pets were distant. The pet prowled the ground after the brightness. It didn’t notice the soft padding. Nothing knew what stalked them until it was too late. Mara’s attention was held. A rapt curiosity as she stared into the distance. She concentrated on the darkness, and in a moment, the blink of another set of eyes awakened in her mind. They glimpsed the white figure from another angle. The two pets then sensed each other and instinctively adjusted their prowling. They stayed in the shadows, a blackness leering out of blackness. The second pet told Mara the white blur was a person, and she was hooked.

She brushed herself off and imagined the warmth of her pets as if they were snuggled up against her. When next she opened her eyes, she found herself standing in front of a cave pool. Two of her pets nudged up against her bare ankles along the hem of her dress, a silky silver the color of the moon. The water bobbed and swat at the surface. Bubbles erupted in a frenzy. Mara’s brows rose high as she peered into its depths. The white figure was a blur once again. The curiosity of before narrowed to frustration as she waggled a finger at the two pets.

Promptly they both jumped into the water. Their black fuzzy fur mushed to nothing. They darted like an arrow to the bottom, but despite her concentration, Mara could discern nothing of what they saw. Suddenly, a face broke the surface, gasping for air. Mara’s pets followed, though they returned from the darkness undisturbed as before. Wildness filled his eyes until he realized he wasn’t alone. You weren’t alone before, either, she thought. Her head tilted sideways, curious as her pets before. They always prowled their prey through the dreams, waiting until the best moment to ambush them, and always in greatest number. To that end, more pets arrived on Mara’s periphery, though they stayed out of sight.

For now.

[Image: aa8UcY-u1]
"Come, mistress"
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#3
He kicked harder. He yanked his leg up and tried to dislodge the attacker. He thought to hit it with the object in his hand, but just as he realized he might actually drown, Philip remembered this was a dream. Wake up! He repeated it to himself over and over. Usually it worked fine, but that grip held him there. Then for no reason at all, he was freed. He swam for the surface, shiny object fallen into the depths with careless abandon. At the surface, he coughed and rubbed the pressure from his eyes just as he realized there was a figure at the edge of the water. He tried to say her name but his coughs erupted more water from his mouth. He found the edge instead. When he pulled himself up, he was shocked to find it wasn’t Nimeda who watched over him.

He looked behind him just in case something was about to lunge out of the water. There was nothing, but that didn’t stop him from moving a safe distance aside and sliding down the wall to catch his breath.

He wished for a towel, but a curious voice echoed a distant memory: why would you need one? and with a thoughtful furrow of his brow, he was dry a moment later. That did nothing for his hair, he was sure, so he took great care to smooth it properly back into place.

Meanwhile, the girl watched him like a curious insect. That distant look in her eye reminded him so strongly of Nimeda, he almost wondered if she was an elaborate disguise. Until he glimpsed something he hadn’t till then. It had the deepest black fur and slunk around the girl’s ankles. Actually, there were two of them.

“Cats?” He’d not dreamed of animals before. Tuuru qualified more as a plant than a creature. The longer he watched, the cats moved with such strange sways that he wasn’t altogether sure they were cats.

The girl still hadn’t spoken. “Do you speak English?” he asked her. She seemed of Chinese descent. Her age was indeterminable. She may be thirty plus or minus a few decades for all he knew. She had the same innocent carelessness that draped Nimeda, and the same lack of care for modesty, and so he tried to fix the point of his eyes upon hers or the beady globes of those cats when all of a sudden another one was rubbing up against his leg. He didn’t react beyond watching it to make sure it didn’t snag the cashmere fibers of his pants, but he noticed it didn’t have the languid flow of a cat. It moved like a predator testing its prey. Upon looking around, he realized there were more moving out of the shadows.

Circling.

And he wondered if he’d narrowly escaped one danger just to find himself snared by another.

Wake up.

This time, when he stayed fixed in the dream, he realized it wasn’t the monster in the water that tethered him here.  It was her. 

He rose to his feet swiftly. ”Let me wake up.”

The girl didn’t say anything except to scoop up one of the black cats and nuzzle it in her arms. 
If he couldn’t wake, Philip tried to shift elsewhere. Anywhere.
[Image: hiclipart.com_-e1597513863757.png]
Man is like God: he never changes. 
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#4
Her feet dangled over the edge of the rock and into empty space, sweeping patterns with the tips of her toes. The patterns were familiar in a muscle memory kind of way; slippery though, else she was not so sure she wanted to remember. It had been like that a lot of late. Strange trickles, strange waters, strange memories.

Far below the water churned into white foam. Around her the air thundered with the force of the nearby waterfall, loud enough it might have sounded like conversation to ears like Nimeda’s. Cold spray tickled her skin, though she was otherwise remarkably dry (by usual standards). The atmosphere itself was saturated with a permanent damp that sent her hair into wild spirals amidst the fauna crowning her head. Leaning into her perch, she contemplated the fall.

Until distraction beckoned.

She felt the Need like a tremor, as though somewhere distant her name had been called. Nimeda. My name is Nimeda. She had not been called, of course, but she answered all the same; as she always did. She pushed herself up to standing, unafraid of her precariousness, arms wobbling out for balance in a way that bubbled a laugh. Her hand reached through the sheet of raging water, groped for the purchase of a hand (a little bend and shift of the world is all it took), and pulled.

“Careful, the rocks are slippery,” she said in absent warning, only for surprise to widen her eyes when something pulled back, like sucking mud. Dreamers were usually slow to learn that willpower was the only thing that mattered in this world, and she hadn’t presumed to find resistance.

[[Up to you whether Nim pulls him to where she is or if the nightmare and Mara’s influence is strong enough to prevent it, in which case you can assume Nim goes to them]]
"A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
Roderick Haig-Brown
[Image: nimedathalialethebanner.jpg]
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#5
He tried to push through, but it was as futile as walking through the walls of St. Petersburg. The harder he pushed, the edges of everything began to melt away. The shadowy cave blurred streaks of green. Gleams of light burst, blinding, before being smothered again. His whole being pushed until he thought he may scream with the effort. Then a fresh essence washed over and everything swirled. Three walls pushed in around him and three arms tore at him. Weariness crawled deep within like the fraying of fibers before cloth was torn. There was no room for himself, much less for terror, and all released in a flash.

A slip underfoot and a warmth bloomed on his head. An untethering released him peacefully adrift. The warmth encircled his brow like a crown and his eyes slid low. He reached out to stabilize himself, but wasn’t sure what he grabbed.


[[Mara's still holding him in the dream so he didn't wake up when he probably should have. And those rocks are slippery!]]
[Image: hiclipart.com_-e1597513863757.png]
Man is like God: he never changes. 
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#6
Oh dear. She felt the moment her will brushed another, and not the troubled dreamer for whom she had reached. Nimeda did not usually care to interfere in Mara’s feasts with her pets, but she was not sure what would happen if she just let go now – everything suddenly felt fit to burst, a powder keg. A moment later release tumbled a figure through, and she no longer thought about it then, because she recognised him immediately. Her eyes rounded wide, and she reached for him as he grabbed wildly for something stable. That being her.

“I have you, Noctua,” she assured, not sure how much of that he’d discern over the chortling waterfall (of course it was amused, it rarely saw people at all). But he’d called the water her home once, and maybe the sound of it would bring some comfort. Either way she expected residual fear, and was ready to soothe it, given whose company he’d fled. She loved Mara unconditionally, but she also understood that the girl was often… misunderstood. For all she knew her pets still hunted, but they were unlikely to push their fuzzy little bodies from the shadows while Nimeda was here.

“Don’t flail. It’s slippery.” Her own bare feet slid across the rocks, but since she had no intention of falling, she paid it no mind. The waterfall perch was not a great venue for balancing acts, but if she kept him from the edge he was not in immediate danger of falling. A safer place might have been preferable, but she was worried another shift now would startle him awake, and she couldn’t bear the risk – not when he had remained hidden from her for so long, and not before she was sure there was no damage that would seep through to his waking body. His eyelids slid low. He seemed the type inclined to faint.
"A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
Roderick Haig-Brown
[Image: nimedathalialethebanner.jpg]
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#7
Mara sat at straight attention when her new friend popped like a bubble. Where did he go? she quizzed the pet nestled in her lap. It sniffed the shadows as two others curled their bodies around her waist. Well find him, please! she urged and the three bounded into the dark corners of the cave into the search. Mara peered into the same shadows, curious but commanding. Meanwhile, many of her pets swirled into storms and carved their way across the dream. She stood and dust herself off about to shift into the search when a rustling gave her pause.

“Who’s there?” she called out. 

What showed itself made the queen of nightmares scream with terror.

[Image: aa8UcY-u1]
"Come, mistress"
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#8
The wobbly Philip caught his feet but only because stable arms kept him upright. The bloom in his head receded, and a touch to his brow found only water when he was sure that the fingers would come away red. The waterfall mist slathered him top to bottom and no amount of concentration seemed to chase it away. “I feel like a drowned rat, which I almost was. Twice,” he said with as much sour spittle as he felt. As soon as he wiped the mist from his eyes, more pooled on his lashes.

It wasn’t lost to him that Nimeda had been his rescuer. After all his warnings about safety, he did not like finding himself the recipient of his own sagely advice. The owl of Minerva wasn’t feeling so wisdomous at the moment. Shaken was more like it. He retreated from the waterfall (and its mist) with cautious movements given the slippery walking surface.
“Why can’t I wake up?” he asked after the irritation subsided somewhat. She may assume his question implied he desired to retreat from the dream completely. It was only partially true. He wanted to get away from the cave pool, the girl and her strange cats. He was away, but now questions kept him moored to the dream as firmly as that supernatural girl.

To his namesake, Philip was quite intrigued by the rules of this place. He had to understand what held him here.
[Image: hiclipart.com_-e1597513863757.png]
Man is like God: he never changes. 
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#9
The kingdom shook amid the battle of two mighty wills.

No. Three, thought the creature lounging in its lair. It was an enormous figure dripping with shadows like loose skin from its body. A pair of horns thrust from its skull like spikes. The disturbance throbbed in its head, and the white of its buried eyes narrowed with distant disapproval.

The creature rose from his throne, a spire of darkness bathed in cold starlight. It was at least three times the height of any mortal man. Its skeletal form was stretched naked with tight skin that ripped and reformed as it moved. The starlight was washed away by two powerful wings lifted from its back. One beat of their leathery power and the creature plunged into its realm, landing upon the lap of a dead pool.

The force that drew the creature dissolved to a whisper, but the creature sensed what was left behind. It could see the tear in the dream like a hound sniffing for blood. The creature's will was beyond that of the injury, and in moments it reformed the fraying fibers before a new pocket be opened. A snarl tugged its lip, talons of teeth bared angry for the one that caused the rift.

“Mara,” it growled, turning upon the diminutive girl. It knew her name. Had reprimanded her before.

“I’ve warned you…” he said, suddenly interrupted. The creature snatched Mara, wrapping her in its wings and together they shifted.

[Image: dad8w5h-103f3317-266d-4953-a53d-f7ab5a1f...=650&ssl=1]

The Sandman
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#10
A smile peeked. Nimeda laughed a little as he retreated, mostly in delight that he was here, and so clearly remained himself. Somehow, he made his predicament sound like her fault. Strange his fears were presented to him in the threat of a watery demise. Or maybe not so strange. She wondered if he’d noticed. “Noctua, no one may drown you here but you.”

She suspected he wanted space to process whatever she had just plucked him from (else he planned to belligerently keep his distance from her), so she didn’t follow, just watched with a foolish smile on her lips. It was difficult not to pummel into his chest with the fiercest of hugs (action was so much easier than words), but she knew he would not appreciate the gesture. Instead she sat herself down nearby, launched her legs over the rock’s lip to dangle above the foaming water below, and watched her toes swinging through the empty air.

“I missed you,” she said. There was nothing saccharine in the way she said it, just simple fact. She did not expect he would acknowledge the sentiment, but she thought it important that he hear it even so.

He was quiet a while before he spoke, and she did not offer an answer right away. Rather, she asked one of her own. “You’ve seen them following you before? If they’ve grown bolder, it’s because you’re tasty. I could try to speak with her, but she might not be inclined to listen. Her Other’s life is not kind and she needs to live somehow. Better to learn how to protect yourself, they will not bother you then.”

She looked up at him, finally considering his question. Thoughtfulness narrowed her gaze, but it was old memory she reached for. “There could be many reasons for that. It’s none of my doing, though. I wouldn’t–”

But she never finished the thought. Her chin rose, distracted. Oh.”
"A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
Roderick Haig-Brown
[Image: nimedathalialethebanner.jpg]
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