Winterhawk paused in the doorway, looking from Ocelot to the bottle in front of him. “Should I ask?”
Ocelot indicated the seat across the table from him. “Pull up a chair. Couldn’t sleep either, huh?” He was dressed in tanktop and shorts, his newly short hair uncombed.
‘Hawk shook his head. He didn’t sit down right away; instead, he began opening cupboards and examining their contents.
“What are you looking for?”
“Tea. It’s a bit early in the morning for your style of refreshment.” The clock on the kitchen wall read 02:17.
“Second one from the fridge, bottom shelf.”
The mage opened the indicated cupboard and was pleased to find not only tea, but a nice selection of it. Either Joe had been thinking of him on his shopping trip or else tea was one of the few things Gabriel actually kept in stock. He found one he liked and put some water on to boil, then dropped into the seat facing Ocelot. “So,” he said, “What brings you out in the middle of the night when you should be sleeping off the effects of several weeks in hell?”
Ocelot shrugged, pouring himself another shot of Scotch before replying. From the level in the bottle, it appeared as if he had been here awhile before Winterhawk had arrived—or else he was tossing them down fast. “Had a bad dream. Tried to get back to sleep after, but it just wasn’t happenin’. I figured I’d come out here and try to medicate myself a little, then go back to bed.”
Winterhawk’s gaze sharpened a bit. “A bad dream? I had one too.”
“Doesn’t surprise me. It’s not like we haven’t all been through enough shit to provide subject matter for a couple of years’ worth of the damn things.”
‘Hawk was about to reply when a shadow appeared in the doorway. Both he and Ocelot looked up to see ShadoWraith standing there watching them. “Don’t tell us,” ‘Hawk said wryly. “Bad dream?”
‘Wraith looked briefly startled, then nodded. “Yes.”
Ocelot pointed at another chair at the table. “Right now the bar’s serving Scotch and tea. If you want anything else, you gotta get it yourself.”
‘Wraith looked at Winterhawk. “Tea?”
The mage nodded, already getting out another cup.
‘Wraith sat down; he didn’t seem inclined to speak right away, but no one minded. They sat in silence for a few moments as the water boiled and Winterhawk prepared two cups of tea and brought them over to the table. He was just placing one in front of the elf when they all heard someone else coming down the hall. From the sound of the heavy footfalls, it was Joe.
When the troll’s huge bulk appeared in the doorway, the others were all looking in his direction. He looked surprised to see them all there. “Hi, guys,” he said quickly. “I didn’t expect you all to be up. I was just looking for a snack.” He crossed the kitchen and began digging in the cabinets, gathering the makings of a rather sizable early-morning meal.
“No nightmare?” ‘Wraith asked.
Joe froze in the act of pulling out several slices of bread.
“So then you had one too?” Winterhawk asked the troll’s back.
Joe put the bread back and slowly closed it up. “Yeah. I had one. You guys did too?”
“We all did,” Ocelot said. “That’s why we’re having this little party instead of sleeping like sane people are supposed to do at 2:30 in the morning.”
“We all did what?”
Once again they looked up. Not surprisingly, Kestrel was watching them. Like the others, she looked like she had just gotten up and hadn’t spent much time in preparation before heading for the kitchen.
“Had nightmares,” Winterhawk told her.
Her eyes widened. “You too?”
“Okay,” Ocelot said. “This is getting ridiculous. Should we all sit here and wait a few minutes to see if Gabriel shows up and says he had a nightmare too, or just have our midnight—uh—two-thirty a.m. snacks and go back to bed?”
“I don’t think I want to go back to bed quite yet,” Kestrel said. There weren’t any more chairs at the kitchen table, so she leaped gracefully up and perched on one of the dark marble countertops, drawing her legs up and wrapping her arms around them. “I don’t think I could take another one like that.”
Joe nodded. “Yeah, mine was a little freaky too.” He paused. “Okay, a lot freaky. Can’t figure out why I’d suddenly start dreaming about Stefan after all this time.”
Four pairs of eyes fixed on him simultaneously. “You—dreamed about Stefan?” Winterhawk asked. His words were soft, slow and measured, like he was trying to keep his voice under control.
The troll nodded again, bringing his tray of food back to the table. “Yeah. It was the weirdest thing—it didn’t even really seem like a dream. I mean, you know how dreams tend to fade away after you wake up? This one didn’t fade. It’s still not.”
‘Hawk carefully set his teacup down, his gaze still riveted on Joe. “Joe—in your dream—what was Stefan doing?” He could feel the attention of the room’s other three occupants—the anticipation as they all waited for an answer.
Joe seemed to have forgotten his food. “He was in trouble. Big trouble. He was begging me for help. I asked him what happened, but he just kept begging me to help him.”
“Oh, shit...” Ocelot’s voice was quiet, but it didn’t need to be loud to reach the others.
“Same dream?” ‘Wraith asked.
Ocelot nodded. “Yeah. Oh, shit...” He looked at Kestrel. “You too?”
She also nodded. “Same one. Stefan—he was stuck to some kind of weird...thing. Like a framework. It looked like somebody was torturing him. He kept pleading with me to help him, but before I could do anything, he screamed and then I woke up.”
Winterhawk held out his teacup toward Ocelot. “I think I’ll take you up on that offer after all,” he said faintly. His eyes were wide in his pale face. Ocelot obliged, pouring a healthy shot into the mage’s tea.
“Okay,” Kestrel said from the counter. “Let’s try to make sense out of this. Are we trying to say that all five of us had the exact same dream?”
For the next several minutes, the five of them compared notes on their dreams. Several things came out of this discussion: first, they had indeed all had the same dream, down to the description of the rooms, the mossy odor of the hallway, the wicked framework that had imprisoned Stefan, and the scream that woke each of them up. Second, they all remembered it with remarkable clarity. As one would describe something, the other four were quick to add more detail until they had an uncomfortably clear picture of what had occurred. Third, all of them were growing more and more uneasy as the discussion progressed. By the time they had finished fleshing out the substance of the odd dream, Ocelot’s bottle of Scotch was gone, and not entirely by his own doing.
One thing that struck them as particularly strange as they wound down their discussion and sat looking at each other, trying to decide where to go next, was the conspicuous absence of one of their number. ‘Wraith noticed it first; he kept casting glances toward the kitchen door as they talked. “Where’s Gabriel?” he asked at last.
The others realized that, despite their predictions to the contrary, the young man had not made an appearance to announce his participation in their shared nightmare. Kestrel shrugged. “He was exhausted. Maybe he was just sleeping too deeply for it to affect him.”
“Or p’raps it just didn’t,” Winterhawk added. “P’raps dragons don’t have nightmares.”
“This one does,” Kestrel said soberly.
“Should we tell him about ours?” Joe was eating again; apparently even something of this level of weirdness couldn’t deter his appetite for long.
“Definitely,” Ocelot said. “Maybe he can figure out why we’re suddenly all dreaming about his dead brother.”
“In the morning.” Kestrel’s voice was firm. “We’re not going to wake him up now. You didn’t see him after you guys all went to bed. He was barely on his feet.”
The others grudgingly nodded. They all wanted to talk to someone who might be able to make sense out of the situation, to tell them that it was nothing and they were all simply overreacting after too many unpleasant experiences in too short a time, but they knew she was right. Even as close as they had grown to Gabriel over the past few months, none of them was in any hurry to wake a sleeping dragon to tell him they’d had bad dreams.
The only one who didn’t nod was ‘Wraith. As the others were listening to Kestrel, the elf seemed to have locked his attention on something else. He stared across the kitchen at nothing, his body tense.
“Something wrong, ‘Wraith?” Joe said through a bite of his multi-layered sandwich.
‘Wraith’s gaze switched back on and settled first on Joe, then on the others in turn. “Dead brother?” he asked.
Everyone gave him various versions of a confused look. “Yeah,” Ocelot said. “You know—Stefan? Big, green, scaly?”
But ‘Wraith shook his head. “Operative word: not brother. Dead.”
Winterhawk caught on first. He tensed, halting in the act of lifting his teacup. “Oh, bugger...” he whispered.
“What?” Ocelot demanded.
“What if he’s not dead?” Kestrel spoke up as she too caught on to the elf’s implication.
“But we all saw him die,” Joe protested. “Right?”
The others nodded, all of their minds carrying them back to the scene on the blasted plain near the Chasm of the Horrors, where all of their fates had rested on their former enemy’s—Gabriel’s brother and former mortal enemy’s—ability to defeat the Horror who had already killed one dragon and had been on its way to killing two more. They all remembered the agonizing scream of the Horror as Stefan, near death, had sacrificed himself by throwing both himself and the Horror over the edge of the precipice, casting both of them into the Chasm. It was a scene that would remain, vivid and unfading, in their minds—probably for the rest of their lives.
“Saw him go over the edge,” ‘Wraith pointed out. “Didn’t see him die.”
“But nothing can survive at the bottom of the Chasm,” Winterhawk said. “Harlequin told us that more than once.”
“Does he know for sure?” Ocelot asked. He didn’t like asking these kinds of questions, but he knew if he didn’t ask, somebody else would get around to it in short order.
‘Hawk sighed. “I don’t think anyone knows for sure. How can they? It’s not exactly like we can nip off to the metaplanes and conduct interviews with the Horrors, now can we?” His voice was a bit strained as his mind continued to consider possibilities.
“Wait a minute.” Kestrel jumped down from the countertop and began pacing around the kitchen. “We might not know for sure that Stefan’s dead, but Gabriel does. He felt him die. He told me that. And after that, he went off to mourn with the other dragons. There were a lot of dragons there. Don’t you think if he wasn’t dead, somebody would have figured it out?”
Winterhawk sighed. “I don’t know.” He looked around at the others. “P’raps we’re all rushing to a conclusion here. Let’s examine what we’ve got, leaving out any supposition, shall we?” He leaned back in his chair and ticked the items off on his fingers. “First, we’ve all been influenced profoundly by the Horrors, and very recently. Second, that influence has only even more recently been removed. Third, we’ve all had nearly identical nightmares involving Stefan’s being in great distress and needing our help. Have I missed anything?”
“Gabriel didn’t have the nightmare,” Joe said.
“We don’t know he didn’t,” Ocelot said. “Maybe he did and just didn’t come out here.”
‘Hawk nodded. “Right. Now let’s look at our suppositions.”
“Stefan’s still alive,” Ocelot said.
“He’s in trouble somewhere and has figured out some way to reach us,” Joe said.
“Horrors are deceiving us,” ‘Wraith said.
Everybody turned to look at him. “Oh, shit...” Ocelot said. “‘Wraith, you coulda gone all night and not said that.”
“But it’s definitely a possibility,” Winterhawk said, nodding. “P’raps this is just some vestigial bit of the Horrors’ influence burning itself out.”
“But what if he is still alive?” Kestrel said. She was still pacing around the big kitchen. “Is it possible?”
“Anything’s possible,” Winterhawk said. “Especially where magic and the metaplanes and the Horrors are involved.”
“Then if he’s alive, where is he? How did he survive? How would he reach us?”
“Horrors did,” ‘Wraith pointed out.
“We don’t know how they did that yet either,” Ocelot reminded them.
“Guys, I think we need to talk to Gabriel,” Joe said. “This isn’t helping.”
Winterhawk nodded reluctantly. “We could sit here all night trying to figure out how this could have occurred, but I don’t think we’re going to get very far. Our time might be better served by trying to get some sleep and resuming this discussion in the morning.”
The runners looked at each other. They could all see in each other’s eyes that nobody was in any hurry to go back to bed and risk experiencing the nightmare again, but on the other hand they all knew Joe and Winterhawk were right. They weren’t going to get any answers tonight—not unless they woke Gabriel up. And even then, they weren’t certain that he would have any further insight.
“One more question before we go,” Joe said, standing and beginning to clean up after his meal. “Does anybody feel—weird?”
“Weird?” Winterhawk tilted his head in question.
“Yeah. You know—I think it was different for all of us, but before, when I started losing it, I felt—something. I don’t feel it now. Do you?”
The others, all except Kestrel who hadn’t experienced the madness, considered that question for a few moments before answering. They all shook their heads. “No,” Ocelot said. “No weird buzzing...no feeling like somebody’s out to get us. Well, no more than usual,” he added.
The others readily agreed that, whatever had caused the nightmare, it didn’t feel like the Horrors trying to get their hooks into them again. At least not the same way. It was a small measure of comfort, although it didn’t help much.
Ocelot stood and tossed the empty Scotch bottle in the trash. “Well, I sure hope I’ve medicated myself enough that I’ll get at least a couple hours’ sleep. Otherwise I’m gonna be starin’ at the ceiling until the sun comes up.”
The others also rose and together they filtered out of the kitchen and back toward their respective bedrooms. They exchanged a round of uneasy goodnights and after a few moments the place was once again quiet.
Kestrel watched the closed doors and then turned to head for the other side of the apartment where her room was. Briefly she thought about waking Gabriel, wondering if he had experienced the same thing they had and was simply keeping it to himself to spare the others any potential disturbance. Then she shook her head. Let him sleep, if he can. We’ll talk to him in the morning. She wished she could go to him, to climb into his bed, to both give and receive comfort. She knew it wouldn’t happen, though. That night at his lair seemed like it had been a million years ago, a night from another time; in some odd way that she could not quite explain it had felt like the end of something and the beginning of something else.
She sighed as she passed by the door to the suite that was his living area when he was in human form, moving on to open the door of her own room. She got in bed, wishing that she had partaken of some of Ocelot’s Scotch, but deciding it was probably better that she hadn’t. Settling back, her thoughts a turmoil of confusion, she was asleep—deeply and dreamlessly—in less than five minutes.
Copyright ©1999, 2000 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of FASA Corporation.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.