Tanglestone

24 - Dewlian's Nightmare

In which a Librarian has difficulty waking, a Night Sweeper becomes territorial, and nightmares find many things appetizing.

The Trade Union’s rest is uninterrupted, or so it seems at first. But Dewlian doesn’t wake up, and can’t be forcibly awakened. Sym and Peluma recognize that he’s trapped in a perpetual nightmare, likely a oneiromantic curse. (For her part, Peluma is actively jealous of the Librarian, and resents his “encroachment on her territory”.) Hinge finds the signs of some sort of frog-thing having perched on a windowsill in the night, but it seems to have flown there. Sym recollects a bestiary of the Outside that described flying frog-things called water leapers; if they are connected to the trolls, it’s likely by way of goblins or hags.

They contemplate seeking help from the Doctors (though not for long) and the cult of the Cowl, but ultimately they take Dewlian to the Mysteria and the cult of the Moon. Heirologian Selensia agrees to assist them, and uses a ritual to send the three into Dewlian’s nightmare to lead him out.

The three land in what seems like a warped version of a Library room, the empty bookshelves forming a labyrinth of sorts. Hinge follows the sound of gnawing to a more familiar room — a reflection of the section of the stacks where the Trade Union fought cannibals in the waking world. There, two immense rats are gnawing on an effigy of Dewlian made from piles of books. The dream-divers fight against the rats, and against an ambushing rat-man (marked with patches of scales reminiscent of the snake-people) that grows more heads as the fight goes on. When the rat-dreams are at last vanquished with fire and steel, the book-Dewlian animates briefly. The book that serves as the effigy’s “head” opens, revealing an illustration of Dewlian’s face. Pages flip by quickly, giving the illusion of his face moving and bubbles emerging from his mouth, as if he’s drowning.

Determining that the lift in the corner seems to move down to a watery depth, Hinge rides it down. He passes several “levels” of the Library along the way, where books are being devoured by fire, flooded by rising waters, or even consumed by immense disembodied teeth. At the bottom, he steps into a bizarre reflection of the reservoir where the Trade Union fought the immense frog-things some time ago. On the central platform squats some bizarre hybrid of a frog and the Filth King, devouring another effigy of Dewlian made of cuts of meat and sculpted fat, a small eyeball resting in the gelatin that is the effigy’s throat. The frog-filth thing gets to its feet, rummages around in its own throat, and pulls out a long bone with a colossal tooth strapped to it like an axe-head. A pair of what Sym described as water leapers spring from the water (which seems as much digestive acid as water), and four of the frog-people emerge as well. Hinge sends the lift up and braces himself.

One of the leapers pulls Hinge into the acidic much with a tongue lash, and Sym and Peluma arrive to find themselves wide open. The battle is much more dangerous than the clash with the rats, and the Trade Union find themselves depleted in strength by the time the last nightmare spawn is defeated. The effigy gestures downward with a sausage-finger, and the clearing water drains down, far down. The rope bridges give way and become ladders, descending into complete blackness.

Peluma leads the way for the blind climb, until she finally feels a roof under her feet. Hanging in the void is a replica of the Detritus house where they had rested, and something is within. Rather than risk the climb down through the windows, Sym focuses all his oneiric knowledge and a draining portion of his willpower to create a hatch inside. The three quietly slink down into the building, arriving in the loft area. There they see Dewlian thrashing in nightmare, his eye sockets open and empty. A green-skinned hag in a dress reminiscent of a fish’s skin holds his eyeballs; she is clearly more solid, more distinct than the troll accompanying her.

Peluma snatches Dewlian’s eyes from the hag with a rope of shadow, and the hag responds by summoning a wall of water to flood the loft, and attacking Peluma with phantom jaws that invoke a sense of drowning in the Night Sweeper. While Peluma and Hinge attempt to drop the hag, Sym takes Dewlian’s eyes from Peluma and places them back in the sockets, bringing the Librarian closer to lucidity with a remarkable bit of improvised medicine. The effort seems to weaken the troll, and the dream-vestige of the hag makes a few errors that Hinge punishes. As she totters, Peluma calls on her own powers of nightmare, and the hag succumbs to the Dewlian’s dream of being devoured, vanishing entirely as chunk after chunk is bitten from her body by invisible jaws. With Dewlian lucid and the hag’s dream-sending gone, the nightmare troll doesn’t last long, and the Trade Union is able to lead Dewlian back out of his nightmare.

Once in the waking world, Dewlian coughs up some sort of lacquered eyeball, the vehicle used to place the curse, and then falls into a restful sleep at last. Peluma retreats to her own bed to rest, and Sym invites the Heirologian of the Moon to go discuss the events in Dewlian’s Dreamscape over a meal. The four of them do remember one bit of knowledge, however, fast in their heads like the most lucid part of any dream — that the hag they confronted was called the Fishwife, and that she is very solid in the waking world.

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