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The Dream Collapses
A Credencium story
Kaolin Imago Fire
Start at the beginning of the Credencium series
The sky was dark, the sparse lights of the warehouse district adding a faint glow to the clouds overhead. The warehouse, about two hundred feet from the huddled group, was hardly visible through low-hanging fog. John Doe nodded. "I'm glad you're on our side, this time. You did good, Dreamer."
"Good? Balls, man. I'm going to own this." Joshua chuckled, and stretched his arms out, cracking his knuckles. "But fuck, I'm scared. Good thing I'm young, right? The belief of immortality comes naturally."
Spike laughed, handing Joshua a pipe and lighter. "We all live until we don't. Or shit, J.D.'s rubbing off on me. Bottoms up, yeah?" John Doe shook his head.
Joshua nodded, taking them both. He exhaled slowly, then took a deep breath of the wet air, expanding his lungs in preparation for the hit. Another exhale, and he bent down, then inhaled again while standing up and stretching to the sky. He let the air sigh out through a clenched jaw. "Yeah, I can do this." Putting the pipe to his lips, he sparked the lighter over it, and inhaled slowly.
He held the smoke deep in his lungs, feeling it worming into his veins, into his spine, into the darkness tapped and channeled by Phoenix. Joshua shuddered. She was reborn in him. How fucking weird was that? That was weird. That was going to keep being weird, even with her tucked deep away. He exhaled, a dragon in the mist, his smoke mixing with nature's own breath.
Simon shivered. "Come on. The longer we're standing here, someone's going to see us. And that's if Hunin and Munin aren't flying about."
John Doe stood in silence, scanning the sky.
A chill raced up Joshua's spine, over his shoulders, and down his arms, numbness following it. He could feel life and death inside him. Sound echoed in his chest, reverberated out into the world, which shimmered in waves under the pressure of his heartbeat.
Swiftly, deftly, he flourished his arm, gathering it all in, smearing the reality around them. Nothing would see them while they closed on the building.
Joshua strode forward; Spike, John Doe, and Simon fell in line.
At the base of the building, Simon grumbled, "Where's the trash bin? It's always here."
Joshua shrugged, and licked his lips thickly. When he turned to Simon, the world shifted a half second before. "We don't need it. The fire escape is down already."
"No it's—whoa. Alright then. Jesus."
Joshua could barely feel the stairs under him. Rungs. Rings. He shook his head. "I've got to hold on." Arms wrapped around him—his?
Voices: "gonna do...we could...going back...going back...up...answer...breathing...so."
In his ear, in his soul, another voice whispered, "Follow the thread. You can't go to the abyss, yet." Phoenix? All was darkness. Thread. Abyss. Follow.
He screamed, "There—" A hand clamped over his mouth. Flesh. Fingers. He traced them back...John Doe. He traced that back...the warehouse. The fire escape. He breathed slowly through his nose, focusing on visceral sensations, willing the world back to his eyes. They were at the top of the fire escape; the third story windows were boarded up on the inside. He could see through the plywood as if it was mist, but behind that was something else.
Joshua nodded, and the hand dropped from his mouth. They were all looking at him He gestured at the windows, then slowly pushed his hand through the plywood; it swirled around his arm, falling to splinters as it solidified into particles in the air. But his hand stopped at some darkness within. "We can't go in this way."
Spike touched the wood, pressing his hand against it. It didn't give. "Well, I couldn't anyway. I hope you're not saying we go in the front."
"No, we can access the roof. We'll find a way in from there." Joshua jumped up, feeling both weightless and somehow infinitely inertial. His hands pressed gently down on the lip of the roof, and he curled over it in one smooth motion. Laying flat on the roof, he watched the world spin. Cracks broke between the clouds, more and more with each rotation. "Guys, you should get up here."
Spike's head popped over the rim. "I don't like climbing, man."
J.D. grunted from below. "And we don't like lifting you; there's probably a line between the two we can find. Come on."
Spike pushed himself up the rest of the way and crawled over the edge. "Whoa. The sky is something else up here!"
An inhuman shriek broke through the cracks in the sky, barreling down towards the building. Joshua spread his arms and legs as wide as he could, imagining his heart beat reversing, pulling the sounds into himself. A thousand blades sliced through his veins; he pulled them into his lungs, and spat them up into the sky.
John Doe clambered onto the roof, pulling Simon up after him. John Doe stretched, and looked upwards. "Is that Hunin?"
A bird circled, flapping raggedly; it cried out again, but without focus. Joshua focused on it, drawing it down, drawing it near; pockets of air dropped out from under its wings, layer after layer. He reached into the air, perspective shifting wildly, and plucked it from a hundred feet up. It scratched and pecked at his hands, drawing blood; he threw it at John Doe, who batted it back at Spike like a hacky sack.
Spike caught it in his jacket, taking the jacket off while wrapping the bird as carefully as he could. "What the fuck do we do with it?"
Joshua reached towards it and the jacket and bird were in his hand. An inky spray lifted out of his wounds, coalescing into tentacles, sliding around the jacket, weaving living knots around the bundle. He shivered; iridescent colors he couldn't name shot through the fibers, pulsing with his heart beat. "We need to keep him actively trapped, or his human form will wake. Sorry, but 'Not It'."
Spike, John Doe, and Simon exchanged looks. Simon shrugged. "Sure, why not? Hunin's a good kid, really. I'll keep him flying, or whatever you've got him doing in there."
Joshua smiled as Simon took the bundle from him. "Just keep the energy constant."
The tentacles wriggled out of Joshua like giant maggots, sinking themselves into Simon. Simon twitched as if stung, disgust and nausea flashing across his face. "Oh, God, this is not cool." He clenched his jaw. "Just saying. Now go, already."
Joshua nodded, settling back into the roof.
"So how do we get in?" Spike raised his arms and twisted around, presenting the barren roof.
John Doe pointed at Joshua, who was sinking into himself, twisting, falling through the roof. "With the windows, they were focused on keeping things out. Up here, they were just focused on keeping things in."
Joshua felt the drug kicking in again, a cool chrysalis wrapping around him, pulling him to into its womb. Somewhere in the back of his head was laughter: a girl's, manic; and his own, also manic; and something else, something indescribable. He could let go so easily.
John Doe grabbed onto Joshua and Spike, kneeling down and pressing Spike to do the same. "We go with him, if he doesn't go too far. And if he does, we go all the same."
Joshua's eyes adjusted slowly; at first he thought he was imagining the slick bluish-purple glow sliding off of curved and twisted walls, deep in the drug fugue. When he saw Spike and John Doe both marveling at the Giger-esque contours, he pulled himself together, and tried to stand.
Something was holding onto him. He struggled, managing to stagger to one foot with a wet tearing sound. Hundreds of viscous, fractal growths connected him to the room—walls, floor, ceiling. He looked up for the hole that they must have come through, but above were stars and nebulae; again with the self-similar cracks of a sundered reality.
Phoenix's laughter was back, rolling through his skull, deeper, twisted. Or was she screaming? Screaming at him to run? He pulled himself from the wall, forcing flesh from...he couldn't let himself think about it. He heard choking and gargling, and wondered if it was his, or John Doe or Spike. His heart spiked, racing to explode out of him. He focused on his heart and pushed the rest of the world back; used the scream as a vibration to shake free, nails on chalkboard keeping a constant separation. He screamed, and everything shook.
The walls fell back until the room was bare—huge, really, like the top floor of an otherwise-abandoned warehouse ought to be. John Doe and Spike lay on the floor, gasping for air.
"Sorry, guys. There's some dark stuff here, and...yeah. Sorry."
John Doe rolled to sitting, taking quick control of his breath. "I think our plan to take them one by one is shot."
Joshua flexed his hands, feeling where the tentacles had been. "There's still a chance. Maybe they'll just send Cerberus to look, first." Electricity thrummed through a circuit on the far end. "As if on cue," Joshua sighed. "Lift's on its way."
"This isn't one of his fugues. I can tell you every one of those, and how this is different, but something is wrong." Munin stepped off of the lift, his attention still on the conversation.
Brian followed just behind him. "Of course something's wrong. That earthquake was not part of the plan. We've got to recalibrate."
Spike's fist whipped Munin's head sideways. The world blurred for a second, and Spike's arm was locked by a wiry monk as Munin crumbled to the ground. Spike grinned. "If it ain't Solo. Been too long."
The monk strained against Spike's arm; Spike bent forward, collapsing his arm, twisting his elbow back toward the monk's face.
The monk was fifteen feet away. His mouth opened and closed, biting off a comment. He shook his head, then was sweeping Spike's legs from under him and punching Spike's head into the floor with the heel of his hand.
Spike's head bounced against the ground, and up, and he threw a quick flurry of elbows and back-fists, none of which connected; the monk had stepped well clear. Spike did a quick dance in place, shaking out stiffness, finding his rhythm. "What the hell are the rest of you waiting for?"
John Doe sighed, moving towards Brian's second lieutenant, Styx.
Joshua shook his head. With everything that had happened since he arrived in Berkeley, this fight was the hardest thing for him to believe. It didn't seem right. Spike was paired with Hand. John Doe and Styx were dancing. Hunin and Munin were safely out. That left him versus Brian and Cerberus. He didn't like those odds in the slightest, even with Phoenix in the back of his head—or especially with Phoenix in the back of his head.
Brian had a combat knife in one hand, using that arm to steady the pistol in his other. "I don't know what you thought you were doing coming in here, but it's not going to work. I'm going to shoot you down one by one, and there's nothing you can do about it." He sounded a tinge disappointed.
"We're trying to do the right thing, you know. I'm not going to argue the definition of apocalypse with you, but do you know what you're trying to bring into the world?" Joshua shivered.
Brian smirked. "We've got it under control. That's the thing Phoenix could never understand. They're just one facet, one fulcrum, to leverage mankind's freedom with."
Joshua noted that Cerberus wasn't maneuvering, just standing next to Brian waiting for something to happen, and allowed himself a relieved sigh. He could still pull this off. He could do this. He could do this if his vision would just...stop...swimming. His vision shrank, darkened, then tunneled away. Someone else was in his eyes, in his veins.
"You're not the messiah, Brian," he heard himself say. "You're just a very naughty boy." Joshua had, at least, the satisfaction of seeing Brian's shock as large as his own. Cerberus' eyes opened wider, as well.
"Ash—Phoenix?" Brian lowered the pistol slightly.
Joshua's body walked forwards. Tentacles were sprouting from his limbs, again. Brian's eyes were locked on his, or hers, or theirs. Joshua didn't pretend to know anymore. He wasn't even sure he wanted to know, wasn't sure if he even wanted control. He could just let everything play out, and it wouldn't be his fault, and he wouldn't have to care about anything ever again. The whispers were oh-so-seductive. There was no Joshua. There was no Dreamer. There was no world. There was no was. There.
He felt his limbs connect with Brian; swim through Brian, digging into Brian's nervous system. A shock traveled from his spine out his arms, leaving his ears ringing. He stared at sparkling gray and black shapes slowly wash over his vision before he realized he had control of his body again. Breathe...he had to breath.
Joshua fell to the ground, trying to remember how to fill his skin. He wasn't watching when the gun went off. He could hardly turn to look when it went off again.
He tried to stand when the gun fell to the ground. "Phoenix?" He coughed.
Cerberus helped him to his feet. "She's gone, if she was ever here. And we need to get gone, too. They're closing in."
With the contact, Joshua could see Brian shooting Hand and Styx; Cerberus dropping Brian before he could do any more. "She...she did that?"
"Like I said. And we need to get."
The walls were closing in again, squishy, writhing, filling more dimensions than any sane mind could grasp. Joshua saw them all, and more. "You're right. We need to get." He pushed his will towards the ceiling, but it had no effect. He tried to imagine a tunnel opening up between them and the boarded windows, but it appeared only in his head. "How the fuck do we get, Cerb?"
Spike was kicking at tentacles, kicking at the floor. John Doe was picking his steps, though still stumbling as reality shifted. A fetid mouth opened in the floor, an infinite gut ringed with teeth all the way down; tentacles broke from every surface, moving to grasp them. Brian was walking towards them as if drunk, mouth hanging askew. Mad laughter echoed from his eyes.
Joshua yelped. "What's he doing up?"
Cerberus growled, moving to intercept, but twelve tentacles restrained him, and started dragging him towards the mouth.
Spike punched the back of Brian's head; it snapped forwards and bounced back without any change to the odd gait. A swarm of tentacles restrained him, twined him with Cerberus into a single bolus.
Joshua crawled slowly forward, trying to appear as helpless as he felt; trying not to let his one small spark of hope turn into belief lest it fail him.
John Doe nodded at Joshua, and managed to stumble into Brian, grappling with him. Tentacles moved to pull him off, but John Doe managed to remain entwined with Brian long enough for Joshua to grab the gun from where it had dropped. Joshua let his hope explode, then; he could do this. This would work. There would be a bullet in the chamber. The safety would still be off. He just had to cock it back, and—
He shouted, "I believe in fairies!" and pulled the trigger half a foot from Brian's face. The gun blew back into Joshua's face, powder burning his hand; Brian's head exploded. Tentacles writhed in chaos, walls sliding in and out of each other; a deafening silence bellowed out of the floor, suffocating every other sound.
Joshua dropped the gun, exchanging it for Brian's body; he dragged the body to the maw while dodging chaos incarnate, and threw it in. He reached deep into himself, breathing carefully, digging into his memory for what it needed to feel like, what it needed to be like. He imagined Phoenix, imagined his mother, imagined the world collapsing, and stretched himself out into the walls, into the tentacles, into every crack between the dimensions. He filled himself with the monster, and spat it back into the maw, wrapping it into itself; an infinite maw feeding on its infinite flesh.
The nightmare world around him shredded itself, letting little patches of the warehouse in at a time. And then there was only his heavy breathing, and tears, and John Doe telling him to get up. It was time for them to go. He wasn't sure he believed that, but he was pretty sure it didn't matter anymore.
Story and image by Kaolin Imago Fire, Copyright 2011