Sometimes Ariadne wonders if Lily can somehow sneak into dreams without a PASIV, without anything mechanical or any kind of effort at all.
It’s ridiculous, of course; impossible, insane. But still, the fact remains: Lily is there at Nina’s bedside every single time they drop into her dreams, and every single time, as they search and examine and try every trick in the book to figure out what happened to her, Lily shows up and slinks through the forests and skyscrapers to at the very least astonish them.
Investigating Nina started out as a pet project of Arthur’s, just a chance to look at an unusually arranged mind, but all of them are well and truly addicted to any kind of challenge. They will not stop sorting through her twisted strands until they work out her secrets or her coma ends. Nina’s dreams are, Arthur says, probably the strangest that Ariadne will ever see; Yusuf, once pried away from the endless reams of notes he’s making as he tries to fix the compounds, corroborates this analysis. Almost every last projection is a dancer; black, white, pink, blue, feathered and spangled and spiked, terrifying and lovely alike. And they never simply walk, never stay still, just trace leaps and lines and delicately curved arms without ever once glancing at anyone else. The dreamers stand out like sparrows amid butterflies, but the dancers have never turned on them except for the few times they’ve tried to blend in by sketching out brief clumsy steps.
Which isn’t to say they’re safe down there. Scarcely a week goes by without Ariadne shooting herself out after the director, Thomas Leroy, whirls her off into a twisted dance. It’s terrifying; it seems it’s meant to be visceral but she only trips and stumbles, yanked backwards and forwards and sideways by the fingers and the wrists. Tearing free, she’s discovered, gets her pulled back with bruising force; if she does manage to rip loose, the projections mob her without a moment’s pause, sprouting talons from their fingernails and clawing her to death. Eames, forging, gets the same treatment from Leroy. Immediately afterwards, he tells her quietly that she should never feel ashamed about escaping that as fast as possible. She has no idea what he says to Arthur about it, but the point man offers to let her stay out of the dreams if she prefers. She puts every obscenity in her vocabulary to carefully constructed use, throwing everything at Eames that she doesn’t spit at Arthur, and nobody brings it up again.
Ariadne isn’t the only one to have a rough time of it, nor is Leroy the only horror down there. Erica Sayers has smothered Arthur twenty-nine times by now; for some reason, he’s the favorite for her particular brand of attention. Sometimes it’s a drug-covered cloth over the face; sometimes it’s a pillow; occasionally she collapses the ceiling over him; once she kneecaps him, drags him off, and buries him alive. She’s terrifyingly strong; Ariadne and Eames have both been batted across the room like paper dolls when they try to pull her off of him.
Beth MacIntyre is probably the least violent of the killers; she drifts and dances half-attached, insubstantial even to the dreamworld’s unreality. Each flitter and step, vanishing around a corner, whispers delicately follow me; every several days, out of sheer desperation, they do. So far they’ve been lead off of ledges, across ice that snaps and plunges them into half-frozen oceans, onto ground that crumbles into landslides, and into yet more collapsing buildings. You’d think they’d learn, but Yusuf points out mercilessly that there’s a revelation in every way they die. Eames points out that Yusuf isn’t the one dying, barring the mornings when he’s without coffee.
There usually has been coffee lately - Lily, who spends at least an hour every day talking to the silent Nina and another hour in the corner with her headphones leaking tinny dance beats, has started coming by in the mornings and handing Starbucks cups around with wryly wistful whispers of good luck.
Lily has killed them more often than all the others put together.