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clockwork5 [2012/11/08 00:24] (current)
doan created
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 +The void he fell through was not one of blackness but a roiling maelstrom of pandemonium. Amorphous swirls of gaudy, clashing colours were mixed together in bright smears like the canvas of a painter driven insane by demonic inspiration – or maybe one of the primitive but imaginative graphics packages he used to play with on the older model of Apple Mac he used to have - the glowing dark purples, bright reds and broad greens on pitch black, swirling around him reminded him of the Mac’s ‘system’ colour scheme. 
 +
 +As soon as he thought of this, his fall came to an abrupt halt when he met a ground level that hadn’t been there five seconds ago. He had time to windmill his arms once and let out a scream, then the impact caused him to bounce and skim along the ground like a stone thrown across a pond by a child, each contact with the surface raising a cloud of chunky black pixels and a melodic scattering of digitally generated musical notes, before he came to rest sitting on his rump and feeling a little silly. He stared up at a moon made out of glowing neon swirls drawn with the expert hand of someone on far too much caffeine who had worked out how to make the paint tool use a brush made out of dogs. The moon changed colour from plum to magenta to lime green in quick succession. From the impassive stare that the dogs returned, he wasn’t sure if they knew they were being observed or not.
 +
 +“Nice going, making the floor something it won’t kill you to land on, but could you make less dogs next time? Dogs freak me out, and they won’t stop staring at me.”
 +
 +Two green eyes and a set of twitching whiskers appeared directly above Cass’ face.
 +
 +“I didn’t know it would change when I thought about it,” he said, “It was just the first thing that came into my head.”
 +
 +“Human minds are weird,” commented the kitten.
 +
 +“Well, this is what the colours looked like to me. I’m not the one who imagined the colours, and they were weirder!”
 +
 +“Well, duh, nobody imagines the colours between dreamspace! Your brain can’t understand the space between dreams, so you think of the thing it most reminds you of, just so it makes sense. It stops you going insane and it also decides what the next dream you fall into is going to look like! If your imagination is the strongest, or someone else is letting you shape the dream, it’s only polite to make it look like something the other person can understand as well, though.”
 +
 +“Well, I didn’t know the rules. I’m sorry,” he shrugged, “So, did you let me shape the dream?”
 +
 +“Yeah, I thought it might be fun for you to find out for yourself, seeing as it’s your first time and all,” he gave a feline little yawn of amusement, “Although your imagination is pretty strong. You made quite a large and stable dream for a first attempt.”
 +
 +“Um… thanks, I guess…” he said, “So, what happens next?”
 +
 +“I closed and locked the gate behind me already. Hopefully, it’ll take them some time to figure out a way through. We’re gonna regroup, then we’re all going to go and see someone in charge, so we can report this,” he said, “This is probably really confusing for you right now, but there are smarter people than me back at base who can explain it to you. I’m as confused as you are, to be honest. I’m not sure why you’re even here – you shouldn’t be able to just wander off on your own and get lost like this. I think it might be to do with the fact that your dream was attacked.”
 +
 +“Those things scared the heck out of me,” admitted Cass.
 +
 +“They scare everyone.”
 +
 +“I thought a noise like that would wake me up screaming, but I can’t wake up, can I?”
 +
 +“That might be for the best,” said the kitten.
 +
 +“I don’t know if I want to be trapped in a dream forever,” said Cass, staring at his feet, “I mean, I’m in no hurry to go back – its interesting here and I’d just wake up to a freezing cold room and a broken Game Gear that I think I slept on, so its probably digging into my back by now – but I don’t want to run into one of those things either.”
 +
 +“You won’t be trapped anywhere,” he promised, “Well, you probably won’t. I can’t really promise you won’t, even though nobody has so far. Lots of things are going wrong around here lately. Anyway, if we’re going to get back home, we need to do another jump, but I want you to imagine something specific because we’re going to a specific place that already exists. It looks like a big town plaza with a fountain and a lawn around it, and there are flower beds on the lawns that are in the shape of numbers on a clock face. And we’re not allowed to eat the flowers.”
 +
 +“It sounds like the water feature in Splash Gardens,” he said, “There’s an actual water-powered gyroscopic clock in the fountain. I don’t think you’re allowed on the lawn at all, but people go on it anyway.”
 +
 +“You can’t expect me to know all your waking-world references!” said the kitten impatiently, folding his arms and thrashing his tail against a surface that sent up a dust-cloud of pixels and played a short piano riff, “If that’s the closest mental image you have, then you imagine that. I’ll lead the image anyway, so I’ll be doing most of the work. You just don’t make things any worse by imagining anything weird!”
 +
 +“Aaaargh, I can’t help imagining things if you tell me not to imagine them!” he said, gripping his head and deliberately rolling over the floor to make more noise and drown out what the kitten’s sarcastic reply.
 +
 +“Okay… now!” declared the kitten, rubbing his hands together and closing his eyes as if in deep meditation. A beatific smile crossed his face, one that almost looked like an ordinary, innocent kitten, then the world rotated one hundred and eighty degrees. Cass dropped, instinctively tried to imagine something to slow his fall, then remembered his true goal and stretched into a diving pose that he thought would make him fall faster, with more grace and, most importantly, safely into a pool of water. Then he thought about the Splash Gardens fountain but made it twenty feet deep, like a diving pool, and a little wider than normal so that he could imagine himself landing perfectly within it. His entrance parted the water without so much as a splash, then he swam away through the network of pipes that he had always imagined were underneath the fountain to make all the water in the different parts of the water features go in the right place at the right time, gurgling happily like contented machine spirits in a robotic coral reef with a hive mind. Following them back to the fountain, he shot up the main pipe, accelerating until he broke the surface of the water again, shaking his hair from his eyes so that the kitten, who had been balancing on the edge of the bench and peering curiously inside to try and find him, was forced to jump back to avoid being splashed with droplets of water.
 +
 +“Is that how you always go to this place in the waking world, too? First you randomly add dogs to the dream, then you splash me with water!”, he complained as Cass climbed out of the fountain and sat next to him on the bench, “Don’t you dare shake yourself dry!”
 +
 +“You told me that falling safely was important,” Cass reminded him.
 +
 +“Dreamers can’t imagine bad things into existence here,” another voice told him, “It’s a protected place. I imagine Purrfidy forgot to tell you that – along with a lot more important things! Am I right?”
 +
 +The kitten looked up sharply, his comical expression like that of a student about to be discovered in the act of sneaking off from school and catching a quick smoke in the park. Cass followed his gaze and saw another kitten, almost identical but female and a couple of years older, almost a fully grown cat.
 +
 +“And you must be a very new dreamer. I can tell just by the look on your face. Although whoever taught you to get into Nightopia like that needs a lesson themselves. I’ve seen elephants with more grace.”
 +
 +“I didn’t think it was a bad dive,” Cass said sullenly, “I can’t dive like that in the waking world, anyway.”
 +
 +“I didn’t mean the literal content of your illusion. You flung the door wide open and didn’t close it behind you! Don’t you know there’s a security scare?”
 +
 +“Sis, that’s kind of what I needed to talk to you urgently about…” began Purrfidy.
 +
 +“Have you been out looking for them again? I told you never to go near them on your own!”
 +
 +“But cats are solitary hunters!” he protested.
 +
 +“We’re not real cats, and that prey is too big for a little cat like you to take down on your own, and anyway, it’s a really stupid thing to try and hunt! Do you know what that thing will do to you if it gets in a hit on you?”
 +
 +“I know, sis, but it invaded someone’s dream again, and the dream got damaged and something’s really wrong with this dreamer!”
 +
 +“There’s nothing wrong with me,” lied Cass, “I’m just a bit confused. And lost. Okay, very confused and very lost. And possibly going insane.”
 +
 +“I thought the AdvoCat might be able to help him,” explained Purrfidy.
 +
 +His big sister sniffed Cass suspiciously, “You don’t seem dangerous, so I guess it won’t hurt to direct you to her. I don’t know if she’ll be taking appointments today, though. She’s very busy and she can be a little… well… catty. Follow me, then!”
 +
 +Her long, elegant tail swishing behind her, she walked over to a door behind it and meowed at it until it opened. It was a heavy wooden door with metal bolts, the kind that dungeons had in adventures, and it opened with the same uncharacteristic ease to the same mysterious golden light on the other side, despite it not being daylight or even outdoors.
 +
 +“Actually, I think I’d rather not go inside after all,” she declared, “You go in.”
 +Cass walked through the door, Purrfidy following close behind him, and found himself in a wide-ranging, rather pleasant meadow on a gently rolling hill. Its serenity was spoiled only by the lack of stars in the sky. Cass got the distinct impression that the world had forgotten to add them in. Dotted all around the hillside, kittens of all shapes and sizes slept curled up, darted around hyperactively and ate the moths that buzzed in the sky. They also played video games on hovering portable televisions that looked like some vision of the far future from an eighties science fiction movie, or played on pianos and other musical instruments while the others sang along, and there was a small amount of playground equipment further down the hill, where it started developing into forest. Some of the older kittens sat around in groups, whispering amongst themselves and pushing counters across maps spread out over picnic benches like an unusually jolly war room. It was as though they couldn’t quite decide whether they were cats or humans. But then, what cat could?
 +
 +Cass noticed that Purrfidy’s sister had followed them through the door after all. He pointed to a bench on its own in the middle of the clearing, where a much older cat, a young adult ready to sire kittens of its own, sat looking bored. He wore an immaculately pressed pin stripe suit and a bowler hat, and there was an umbrella and a clipboard propped against his bench. Various papers were stacked in trays on the bench.
 +
 +“He doesn’t look busy,” said Purrfidy.
 +
 +“What do you know? He might be thinking something really important. Advo, I’ve got a client for you!” yelled his sister. The other cat seemed to spring to life, tidying his already tidy papers and peering at Cass, blinking in surprise.
 +
 +“A dreamer? What’s a dreamer doing here?”
 +
 +“You asked me to find you a dreamer, remember? So you could find out what’s happening to the waking world,” said Purrfidy. His sister shook her head in disgust, then scampered off to join her friends.
 +
 +“He’s lost,” continued Purrfidy, “He has no idea what’s going on.”
 +
 +“Welcome to AdvoCat’s Advocacy and Advice Service,” said the cat, offering a paw to shake, “I offer impartial advice to everyone in the dreamlands, whether Dreamer, Nightopian, Nightmaren or other. How can I help you?”
 +
 +“I’m not sure where to start,” said Cass, “It’s a long story.”
 +
 +The cat listened intently, as did Purrfidy, who was showing impressive discipline considering his usual attention span, as Cass told his story. He seemed to be genuinely fascinated by what the dreamer had to say. They both seemed particularly interested in the flying Game Gear and there was a note of concern in AdvoCat’s eyes when he told them of its noble sacrifice to save them, and his subsequent flight from the collapsing dream.
 +
 +“Could it be that you’ve lost your Spirit Guide?” said the AdvoCat, scratching his left ear which poked out from his bowler hat, causing it to hang at a rakish angle, “That would explain how you managed to stray so far. I’ve never heard of Nightmaren attacking Spirit Guides, though. Well, I haven’t heard of them actually managing to injure one, anyway.”
 +
 +“Spirit guide?” he asked.
 +
 +“You haven’t heard of those? If you have an important quest in your life, your spirit companion will find you in a dream, and they’ll guide you to where you’re supposed to go, as long as you listen well to its advice and you don’t get scared or do anything stupid. It’s often an owl. Don’t ask me why anyone would want to be led by a homicidal maniac with wings, I’m just glad the owl’s too overworked to eat me.”
 +
 +“Oh, you mean in Shamanism? Isn’t that supposed to be an animal?”
 +
 +“Is there any kind of animal you feel particularly close to? Do you even know anything about animals?” asked the AdvoKitten.
 +
 +“Well… no…” he admitted. The only animals that liked him were the neighbour’s cats, who sat on his lap and pawed at the keys, then ran away as fast as they could when he started screaming in rage at the computer. It happened every time but they never seemed to learn the pattern.
 +
 +“But you love the games consoles, and you think about them all day long, and you stay with them when they’re ill and try to heal them because you care about them,” he said, “And no doubt they keep you alive and sane in return.”
 +
 +Cass nodded in agreement.
 +
 +“And you haven’t yet questioned that they can be living, thinking beings.”
 +
 +“Well, they can be anything they want to be in a dream,” he said, “I just thought nature and technology didn’t like each other. They never do in stories.”
 +
 +“What do you think games consoles are made out of, magical space fairy earwax? Everything’s nature. Its just nature with more stuff done to it,” he sniffed, twitching his whiskers, “Spirit animals aren’t real animals, anyway. They’re dream-beings, like us. And more importantly, you’ve lost your Spirit Game Gear in the middle of a quest. And it sounded like an important life lesson, the sort that tells you a lot about who you really are. So, you’re a little stuck. Even if we get you back home, your life might reject you because you haven’t reached the stage in it you’re supposed to. I’m surprised your Ideya hasn’t taken any damage. Your Red Ideya has been attacked, but I think it was too small to aim at, no offence meant.”
 +
 +“Don’t worry, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” he said, putting his hands in his pockets, “That already sounds my life. Missing a part somewhere. Like the world’s rejected me – like I’m not needed in it any more. It’s a little like being stuck in a game where you have no idea how to trigger the next part of the plot. Hey, AdvoKitten…”
 +
 +“AdvoCAT!”
 +
 +“Sorry. Cat. Is my Game Gear dead, then?”
 +
 +“I can’t tell you. I don’t know everything. I’m just guessing from what you’ve told me.”
 +
 +“If you see it, can you tell it from me ‘sorry I screwed up’?”
 +
 +“If I see it, I’m telling it where you are, and then telling it to go away and do its job properly,” he said, “But I have no idea where it is. So, we need to decide what to do with you for now. The dream you came in here through is probably destroyed by now. Those things are like locusts. It could be their presence that caused your vision quest to go wrong, you know. If so, that makes another thing they can ruin just by existing. It means we’re in more trouble. You could help us out while we think of a way to get you home.”
 +
 +“If I can help you, I will. I owe it to my Game Gear.”
 +
 +“After we put the location of the incident in our own records, we’re going to report it to the Council,” declared the AdvoKitten.
 +
 +“Is that a good idea? They don’t think any more highly of us than they do Nightmaren! They don’t treat us well at all. We shouldn’t be helping them!” protested Purrfidy.
 +
 +“Purr, that’s not the way we operate! We help everyone, even Nightmaren or the Council, whether they appreciate it or not, especially if it’s for the good of the entire dreamlands!”
 +
 +“I don’t suppose you’d explain to me what’s happening to me right now? Nightmaren, the Council, Ideya… I don’t get what any of this is… am I still in a dream?”
 +
 +“It’ll take me a while to contact the Council, and I won’t get an appointment for today. Why don’t we spend tonight explaining things to the dreamer? We can make it a party, because it’s a special occasion.” the AdvoCat asked Purrfidy, whose eyes widened in enthusiasm.
 +
 +“We can have music and a bonfire!” said the younger kitten, “We can toast marshmallows! We’ve got marshmallows, right?”
 +
 +The rest of the night was spent helping the kittens collect wood from the forest and piling it up into a bonfire in the middle of the clearing. There was enough fallen from the trees that they didn’t need to chop any down. Cass wasn’t sure if this was enough like a dream that the fallen trees would still be there tomorrow. He already noticed that the night didn’t turn into day as the hours went past. Some of the kittens re-appeared with musical instruments and others found food from somewhere. They stretched out picnic blankets and sat around in a circle next to the fire, with Purrfidy, his sister, Cass and AdvoKitten in the middle. Cass managed to procure a teapot full of strong tea, for which he was eternally grateful. Even in his dreams, he craved tea. After a few hours of singing and dancing, Purrfidy’s sister declared that it was storytelling time.
 +
 +“Okay, you understand what spirit guides and vision quests are. Have you heard of a collective world-dream, or the dreamlands?” she asked. Cass nodded, “Good. Now, imagine that, except that it isn’t just shared by human dreamers, or even dreamers from Earth. It exists on its own, whether anyone is currently dreaming or not, although the thoughts of dreamers shape a lot of it that would be chaos.”
 +
 +“There are things that live here natively. Some of the things are friendly to dreamers, some are hostile, some of them are just there. And there are things that aren’t supposed to be here. Those things are what attacked you,” she explained, “They’re called Awakers. They’re like alarm clocks to wake things up from the dreamlands, but they don’t wake them into the waking world, they take them somewhere where they can’t survive, and it kills them. The other people you have to watch out for are called Nightmaren. They’re not evil, though, they’re just predators, like owls and cats. They cause nightmares, and they find nightmares that already exist, and then they feed off the thought energy of the dreamers while they’re too weakened from fighting off the nightmare to defend themselves. You have something called Ideya that you use to fight them off, because it hurts them just to touch it. Ideya are your qualities that make you strong – the red Ideya is made from your courage, the white Ideya is your purity, the yellow Ideya is your hope.”
 +
 +“Wait, you said my red Ideya wasn’t very big. Are you calling me a coward?”
 +
 +The AdvoKitten’s ears wilted, “I guess you know how to tell when someone here is insulting you now. That’s good. You don’t want people talking jive about you behind your back.”
 +
 +“We used to be Nightmarens,” said Purrfidy, as proudly as a former alcoholic who was teetotal for the first time, “But we quit. We were too clever for our boss, so he couldn’t control us any more, and we didn’t tell him, and one day we escaped to somewhere too far away for him to find us,” then his expression changed to one of great sorrow, his ears and tail flattened, his whiskers wilting, “But we only managed it ‘cause our mum wasn’t there any more. Wizeman let our mum tell us what to do directly, and he thought if he told our mum what to do, she’d tell us to do the things he wanted us to do. But when she wasn’t there any more, we didn’t have to do what anyone told us to do.”
 +
 +“I’m sorry to hear about your mother,” said Cass.
 +
 +“Our mum was a strong Nightmaren. She was like the crazy cat lady next door, but cranked up to eleven,” said Purrfidy’s sister, “Everyone was scared of her, especially when she was leading her army of trained kittens. The Awakers got her. That’s why we like hunting the Awakers and the Egg Clocks so much.”
 +
 +“So, you want revenge too, huh?” asked Cass, “If I ever see that red-armoured bastard again, I’ll kill him. I’ll avenge my Spirit Guide and I’ll put right what happened to Sega!”
 +
 +“Who’s Sega?” asked Purrfidy, his eyes wide, “Are they family, too?”
 +
 +“Hm? I guess so. They sort of raised me,” he laughed a humourless snort, “They’re more like my home. My motherland. There was a terrible war,” he explained, “We lost. Our lives were spared, but it would have been more merciful to kill us all. Our lives, our home, will never go back to how it was. Our world is unrecognisable, now.”
 +
 +“I’m sorry too,” said the kitten, before curling up in Cass’ lap and resting his head on Cass’ chin, purring vigorously. It was soothing, if a little intrusive and surprisingly loud. A cat the size of a small child tended to sound like a washing machine when they purred. Cass hugged the kitten anyway, happy for any source of comfort.
 +
 +After a while, the party died down and Purrfidy’s sister ordered all her siblings to take a nap in preparation for their big day tomorrow (night and day being relative terms). Cass tried to rest, then he felt the familiar stabbing pain in his temples and mental fatigue that felt like his brain was drowning in mud, that told him he hadn’t played on any video games for almost twenty four hours. The kittens curled up and fell asleep where they lay, abandoning whatever they had been doing, often sleeping in piles on top of each other, so Cass quietly took a fallen controller and continued the game that the cat had been playing, some kind of classic side-scrolling shoot-em-up that he didn’t recognise. He guessed it was a generic archetype of a game, and didn’t actually exist outside of the dream world, as the kittens didn’t know what Sega was and seemed to have no other knowledge of the waking world. After completing what was, to him, a second sleep cycle, he fell into actual sleep.
 +
 +At first it struck him as odd that he could sleep while he was inside a dream. It felt no different to dreaming that you were asleep, those confusing dreams where you thought you had woken up but hadn’t, and invariably panicked because your clock was displaying weird times and you knew you couldn’t possibly have slept that long, and the panic really woke you up. It refreshed him exactly like ordinary sleep and he even had a dream within a dream. It was only simple images of panic and flight and being chased. He had at some point been playing a strategy game in his dream, then he realised that the characters died permanently when you lost them, like Fire Emblem, then he was suddenly a character in the game and a mad tactician was chasing him with the game pointer through the trees, cackling insanely, his voice echoing all around. As a result, it wasn’t the most restful sleep in his life, but he didn’t expect to sleep easily after the harrowing experience yesterday (Last night? Tonight? Time was so confusing in the dreamlands!) and it was better than no rest at all.
 
clockwork5.txt · Last modified: 2012/11/08 00:24 by doan
 
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