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Dancing among Stars
Takeo walked into his room and immediately locked the door behind him. He threw the chain lock into place as well, then took the extra effort to drag the room's safe in front of it as well. It required him cutting through the chain normally securing it in place in the small cubby where most people hung their jackets and stowed their suitcase. Luckily, he carried a small torch in his bag for just such purposes.

He didn't worry about checking for cameras - Kasumi had thoroughly swept the entire building, again - and, true to its claims, this little B&B was as quaint and unassuming as the 80-year-old grandmother that ran it. Betty was an American ex-pat who'd bought the CCD dream hook, line and sinker. She had beautiful, long silver hair - a thing Takeo usually found grotesque on most older women, and on all older men. Like walking corpses, clinging to their last vestiges of life through their thin wisps of dead hair. But not Betty. Hers was long, wavy, and lovely.

Takeo had used this establishment for years. Betty and the various staff of the Clinton Bed & Breakfast knew who he was - it was hard not to know the faces of each of the Ascendancy's Priveleged these days. But, he tipped extremely well, and he was courteous. And, it certainly didn't hurt that Betty was such a devout Brandonian. They all thought he was writing his memoirs, or some other intimate tale. He always carried a tablet, for that purpose, and rarely left his room during his stays.

Tonight would be no different.

After returning his torch to his bag, Takeo took out a face mask and moved over to the bed. He had much to think on - the dranaika, Aria, and that woman she'd pranced off with to name a few - but he glanced at the clock. It was just past midnight - he was late. He left the light on to give the appearance that he was awake and lay on the bed, fully clothed, with his shoes on. Jun and Kasumi were out there somewhere, but he wasn't taking any chances tonight. He kept the curtains drawn on the one small window to his room and slipped on the mask and lay back on the soft, downy pillow. His memoirs would have to wait.

Within minutes, he opened his eyes, and the world was different. It was the same, but different. The mask was gone, and the room was lit by a low, soft light no lamp could emulate. Everything he'd brought into the room was gone as well, including his bag, his tablet, and even the safe - which was once again resting in the nook from which he'd dragged only a few moments before. The bed was made, and Takeo was standing now, but the covers and pillow cases often changed or shifted, usually when he looked away from them. It was the same with the drapes. When first he looked, they were burgundy, and matched the striped comforter on his bed, but when he looked again, they were cream, then white. Fortunately Betty rarely made drastic changes, so the room did not shift often. Most people wouldn't even notice the changes, but most people were not Takeo.

Takeo was in the Dream World.

Looking down at himself, Takeo found he was - as per usual - dressed in his old gi. All blacks, snug to fit, and completely soundless, no matter how he moved. He wore a black mask as well. It was soft, but covered his head and all of his face. To anyone who saw him, it would look like he had been kidnapped, with some shroud covering his head and disappearing into his shirt. No one could see his face, but he could see out as if he wasn't wearing anything on his head. That had not taken nearly as long to learn as his weapons. For now, he wore a pair of swords on his back, though that would likely change involuntarily as the night progressed.

At a thought, he was gone from the Clinton and suddenly standing atop a skyscraper, peering down over Moscow. Another, and he was in a rice field. A third, and he was standing on the side of a mountain. Mount Fuji. It was still and serene, and, although he was now very late, Takeo was the only figure in sight. His swords shifted to a pair of holstered guns, then a belt of throwing knives as he waited and the timeless seconds ticked past. He began to worry he made a foolish mistake in being late. He knew it could not always be helped - the live of a Privelege was rarely his own, after all. But, he also knew there was no explaining this to the one he'd come to see. In here, he was on borrowed time. On her time.

She appeared, not a meter in front of him, with her back to him. Her long, golden hair was tied in an intricate array of braids that could not have been replicated in the waking world. There was something impossible about the way the hair twisted - like some Esher drawing, and it too shifted every time the eye left and returned to it. She wore a gown, as usual, this time in a stark white - all the starker in juxtaposition to his black - and just a little too bright to look at for long. Unlike Takeo, she did not bother with weapons in this place. Her hands at her side were bare, and her dress was just short enough that he could see that her feet were bare as well. She made no move to turn around, to speak, or even to acknowledge his presence. She just waited.

Takeo, however, could wait no longer. He flashed, as he called it, and was in front of her, facing her, and kneeling on one knee. "Forgive me, Sensei, I was detained."

Edited by Takeo, May 16 2014, 07:30 PM.
Elza studied the top of the ninja's masked head. Even she could not see his handsome face through it. She had told him before that she did not care for his disguises. He was either forgetful or insolent - neither of which she would oblige.

At a thought, Takeo's black shroud was suddenly gone, along with the rest of his clothes. She saw him tense, but to his credit he made no other reaction. She motioned for him to rise and met his eyes long enough to let him read her thoughts. Try again.

Takeo stood, ignoring his own nakedness. Elza was beautiful, and somehow sinister-looking at the same time. He saw the command in her eye but let her enjoy her unwrapped package a few seconds more as he considered his clothing more carefully this time. Taking a cue from her choice, he imagined simple cotton pants, tight at the ankles and snug at the waist, but with give through the legs to let him move easily. It remained black - he'd given her enough. He materialized no more than that. Just the pants.

Apparently he had chosen to her liking - at least, she didn't take them off again. Instead, she turned to take in the rocky hillside sloping down away from them. Unlike the places of men, this scene rarely changed. The usual ubiquitous light gave great Fuji a glowing shroud, like an early spring fog. The plants and trees blurred now and then, but remained in place for the most part. People rarely dreamt of this place. They might see the occasional mountain climber appear, maybe stay long enough to check their footing, and vanish again. Once, he had seen a woman fall from a cliff face high above, shrieking and flailing the whole way down. Elza watched her as she might a leaf falling from a tree, and before Takeo could envision some way to save the woman, she was gone.

Nothing moved this night, and no one appeared. Takeo might have wondered if Elza had arranged that somehow, though he couldn't imagine even she could stop people from wandering into this world. Then again, he couldn't have imagined many of the things she had shown him.

"I have something to show you, boy,"
Elza said, in her quiet, strangely musical tone. It reminded him of a lullaby sometimes, as though she could send someone to this world just by speaking it so. He wondered if that was true, but nodded that he was ready regardless. He deliberately forced his pants to remain, and avoided conjuring any weapons - it would only anger her. He was ready to flash at any sign of danger. Elza had a history of showing him things he rarely wanted to see, though in all honesty he'd always learned a valuable lesson. Like how to battle the pressure of being submerged at the bottom of the ocean. Or how to fight the rakshasa - a grisly affair though it was. Or, more recently, the meaning of the Ouroboros. "Nothing like that,"
she said, possibly reading his mind, and motioned to a strange patch of space Takeo had completely overlooked.

It was a square in the very fabric of this place, like a window pane hanging only a few feet away. It shifted, somehow, and suddenly it was an eye-straining hole of darkest black. Still square, he could see nothing but emptiness within. The strange light of this place seemed to be leeched around its periphery. He took a step closer, leaning forward instinctively to peer inside. There was a distant light, like a tiny star a million light years away. Then more. It was as if he was looking out the porthole of a spaceship as they sailed through a night sky. Some of those stars flew by at great speed, others loomed huge before meandering past their little window. Now this was something she'd never shown him before. It almost made him sick to look at them.

Takeo took his eyes off that dizzying sight long enough to stare at Elza's porcelain profile, all the more beautiful and ominous after such a strain. Like a doll, Elza watched the window without expression. Her lips parted in what he could've sworn was a smile, if he weren't so certain she was incapable of forming one. But, rather than smiling, she spoke, "These are dreamers."
She pointed out into the sea of constellations. "Every sleeping man, woman and child on this world is at your fingertips".
She stepped up next to Takeo and pointed through the window. "Go to them, and you can enter their dreams. Speak, and they will hear you."
Her eyes seemed to burn suddenly. "Will it, and they can be yours…"
She stared, seemingly alone with her machinations, intent on one distant star in particular. The others began to fly forward, or perhaps Takeo and Elza were flying through this strange space, and the star she wanted raced forward to meet them.

At one point, Takeo needed to look away, if only to steady himself. He took in the tranquil aura of the mountain, the silence, and drew in a few deep, slow breaths. When he looked back, the star had arrived, and it filled their viewing area. Even as he looked, that window suddenly expanded, its edges racing off in all four directions, until it was as if someone had sliced the dreamworld in half, and they stood at its edge. And, beyond, the blackness of space had lightened, uncovering a large series of rooms, very open. High ceilings. All around were works of art. Drawings and sculptures of various designs. Black floors and white walls, and, suddenly, people.

Takeo turned to Elza, but she was gone.

Edited by Takeo, Jul 17 2014, 12:05 AM.
Takeo stared at a triptych of skull diagrams that had previously been the northern slope of Mount Fuji. The white wall on which it hung may as well have been there all night for the illusion of permanence it portrayed. Elza was nowhere to be seen - nor was much else along this wall, and the drawings held no interest for the Privelege, other than to note the overlay of mechanical pieces that seemed to suggest they were a series of studies of possible face implants or ornaments of some kind. He couldn't imagine how they would affect the facial structure of the person who bore them, but he doubted very much they would be an improvement from what he considered to be a perfectly beautiful natural creation.

"They're Godsworn,"

a voice spoke, beautiful to the ear but startlingly close, so close in fact that he spun and conjured a knife … that never appeared. The woman standing there just smiled and glanced curiously at his clenched fist. "Sorry I startled you. I'm the …"
she paused, eyes widened, and smile wider. "Aren't you the Ninja?"
She blinked and quickly shook her head, "Sorry, I mean the Privelege? Privelege Onoda?"

Takeo revealed nothing of his own thoughts, though he had many. Who was this woman? Why had she not disappeared yet? No one remained this long who wasn't a Walker, and she did not act like a Walker. Was everyone else here by their choice then as well? A full house milled about, staring at the artwork on the walls and chattering amongst themselves. It was an odd chatter - no matter how much he concentrated on one or another, he could never make out their words. And they always turned their backs to him before he could read their lips. Were they real? Or merely props? Some construct of Elza's whim? And what the hell was Godsworn?

"Yes, hi,"
Takeo slipped on a smile and offered his hand. "Takeo Onoda."
She had a solid handshake, but she still seemed a bit flustered. It was something he was accustomed to - everyone knew his face it seemed - but not here. Walkers generally had more control than that. "You can call me Takeo. And you are...?"

The woman smiled - she was really, very pretty when she smiled - and visibly flushed. It was an odd contrast to see her shift from fox to mouse so easily. Now that wasn't something he saw often in this place. "Sorry… I'm…"
She seemed incredibly embarrassed, and sheepishly motioned to the drawing behind him. "That's mine."
He glanced back and read a name and title just as she said it, "Mina Valerius."

At that moment, a bone-chilling shriek filled the cavernous gallery and threatened to shatter Takeo's concentration. He looked about for the source of the sound, but no one seemed to have noticed it. They continued to talk amongst themselves and paruse the Godsworn, whatever they were.

"Did you hear that?!"
Mina screamed, clapping her hands over her ears. She had a wild, terrified look in her eyes, and at the same time astonishment. "No one ever hears it…"

A rise in the shrieking and an explosion. The roof flew off in one clattering peel, like the lid of a sardine can, and bricks and whole sections of wall fell in among the gallery patrons. Men and women were crushed whole, limbs torn off by slabs of concrete and rebar, others were knocked down by a stone to the temple or a plank through the knee. And still the others chattered and ogled and milled about the carnage, calling for refills on their wines or taking photos in front of Godsworn where they weren't standing in front of empty holes in the walls. It was chaos and death, and none of them noticed.

Mina shoved him, hard, in the chest, and he tumbled backwards through a hole in the wall. He could feel the uneven bricks tearing up his back, a metal shard slashing his shoulder, but he rolled into a run outside and didn't look back.
Even if he had looked back, he'd never have seen anything. All was black. The ground beneath him was no longer ground, he felt nothing. He was awash in utter sensory deprivation, senseless, but wasting no time on those worldly concerns. He began counting, if only to keep his mind occupied, while he considered the woman he'd just met. She had a name - likely that meant she was a Dreamwalker like himself.


The name was familiar - in that vague, was she that friend of Kasumi I met at Manifesto last week kind of way. Her face, too, seemed to be one he'd seen before, but never up close. She was an artist, in the Dream, perhaps she was in the waking world as well. Had he seen some news story about her? A clip on Huff Post? He knew his own outlets had never run a story on her - at least none his EIC's had run past him first.

By the count of fifteen, Takeo felt his feet touch down. The darkness parted like a thick fog, revealing a small but austere sitting room. Two chairs angled slightly toward one another, but also facing him. Elzbeth sat in the left, eyes boring holes through his own, with a large goblet in one hand. Her left leg uncrossed itself from the right beneath her dress, and she motioned to the seat opposite her.

Takeo took a moment tilt his head and look down the length of his back. He wore a simple shirt, black as usual, and his normal flexible black pants. He was shoeless, weaponless, and showed no signs of the painful tumble through the ravaged gallery of twenty seconds prior.

He moved to his assigned chair and sat without rebuke, calmly calculating the amount of time his body must have been asleep. It was almost impossible - the rules here did not work the same as on Earth - but he thought he'd been Walking for maybe an hour. Elzbeth broke his focus, "Tell me what you learned."

"Yes, Sensei."

Takeo's brow drew down, in consideration more than frustration - though he felt both. It had been an odd experience, though no more odd than many he'd had in this place. "I met a young ... artist, Mina Veleros--"

Elzbeth corrected.

Takeo agreed. "I introduced myself. She showed me a drawing of facial implants. She called them Godsworn."
He paused to examine Elza's reaction. She had none, other than to take a slow drink from the goblet - she often behaved as though she lived in the Dream. As though that drink offered her any refreshment, any nourishment. And, for all Takeo knew, it did.

"That is all I remember. The dream became a nightma--"
he stopped, a sudden revelation. "She's not a Walker."
Elzbeth subtly shook her head in affirmation. "That was her dream. Just a normal dream."
Elza nodded. "You pushed me into her dream."
His jaw slowly set. "Her nightmare."
Takeo was furious, though he'd never show it to Elza. She'd warned him about entering others dreams, and especially their nightmares. He could've been killed! Not just here, but on Earth - for good!

"You needed to experience it once."
It was her only explanation. No apology, no sympathy. Yet, as usual, her stoic indifference was somehow a comfort to him. She was immoveable, and he envied her for it. "You could not change her dream, could you?"

Takeo thought a moment, letting his anger cool. "No."
It was hard to believe, but it was true. He'd had no control, and that innocently dreaming girl had shoved him out of harm's way. Even against Elza, he was able to exert some sort of resistance. Something. But in there, he may as well have been paralyzed.

From nowhere in particular, a mirror suddenly stood before them. Takeo looked at Elza's reflection through it, but her face was quickly replaced by that ominous field of stars in an even more immense expanse of blackness. Dreams. Normal, deadly dreams.

"Find her."

Edited by Takeo, Aug 18 2014, 12:31 AM.

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