It had to be.
Without any questions or the slightest doubt.
The sound of rhythmic beats couldn't be mistaken for anything else.
And, aside from the two times he had wandered the dreams with her where they'd located and successfully recovered pieces of the mask they had no idea what to use for, every other attempt he had made to enter this uncharted territory was met with drums.
And the Faceless Man, screeching and charging in his direction.
On one such occasion, Ele'ena had the audacity to say that all men have the most inappropriate sense of timing to date. Gannayev-of-Dreams was never really sure if she meant the Hunger she struggled to keep in check or, spirits forbid, him.
And so this time there were drums in the air. Again.
Which meant, if his sharp intuition wasn't deceiving him, that he was about to be charged and screamed at. Yet again.
Why he even bothered entering her dreams he didn't know. Except that she was so full of contradictions that he just couldn't help his playful curiosity. Yes, when something piqued his interest he was so easy to dazzle. He didn't like to think of himself as cheap, but yes, yes he was.
The screeching and screaming hisses increased, and soon, from the dark mists a shape of tall pale humanoid emerged shrieking with hunger. Gann ran his fingers through his long hair with a sigh. Might as well get on and get it over with it.
He watched as the pale shape of the Faceless Man fell, face forward, with a lanky blue elf hanging on to its knees. The moment the creature touched the mass that made this dream and her mind, it started to sink in.
Gann knew what it was. He had had the 'pleasure' of seeing it happen on his previous visits, all of them in fact.
Her mind, her will, were keeping the Hunger at bay, by tying it down. Sometimes on the floor, sometimes in the walls – once even hanging from the ceiling. And the owner of this powerful will – and one would never think her so until one saw her in action – greeted him in her usual way.
"You again?! Can't you go bother someone else for a change?!" The elven girl hissed from where she was struggling with her screaming curse, forcing the shapeless floor of her mind to swallow it. Her hands were, after all, full. She couldn't bother to have tact and Gann understood that. He still wished she was more receptive to his presence though.
He clasped his hands and stepped around the gurgling floor and behind her.
"Am I not allowed to come freely from time to time and see if all is well with our most beloved leader?"
Ele'ena, her arms up to the elbows in thick mass and with the struggling creature beneath her, blinked at his choice of words.
Come freely? Waltz into her mind? Take a relaxing stroll in the most private reaches of her dreams?
Well, not so private ever since the Faceless Man moved in, but…
Making sure that the mind-prison would hold she stood up and threw him a dirty look. Privacy was obviously an unknown word in this hagspawn's vocabulary.
Now, Ele'ena was, for the most part, only aggressive and violently disposed inside her mind. And since they were effectively there already she had the burning desire to beat the word 'privacy' directly into his head.
"I take it the others don't really have the means to stop you from wandering wherever you please?" He shrugged with a most charming smile.
That meant no.
"Listen here dreamwalker," Ele'ena said, placing a foot on a now completely engulfed creature-curse – a threatening pose indeed, for it raised the question that if she had just subdued an ancient hunger would she be able to throw him out as well? Gann liked to doubt these things.
"I," she emphasized pointing a thumb at her chest, and he had the sudden suspicion a rant was coming his way, "so happen to have an ancient curse placed upon me – the type the world usually doesn't know how to deal with until one day some poor, unfortunate soul stumbles across a solution – a curse which I have to, and pardon my choice of words here, battle every single minute of every single hour and so on, and so forth. And on top of that, I don't need your praised self-absorbed high-and-mighty handsome face every single night-"
"Handsome?" He had to ask; his ears might be deceiving him.
"-popping out of nowhere, hanging behind my back while I deal with a stressful, and did I mention, potentially lethal situation! So you can pack up all your charming little phrases and use the mist door labelled 'THIS WAY OUT' and stay out!"
"Charming?" My, did she really think that? Well how was he to know? She never said a word when awake.
Even in the dream world Ele'ena had managed to retain her marvellous ability of going from blue to red while skipping purple in the process.
"All your choice of words when describing yourself and coming from me, they were not meant as a compliment," she snapped quickly in pure self-defence. "And now you will remove yourself and stop treating my dreams like your personal playground, hagspawn," she yet again pointed a warning finger in his direction.
"Or what?" Gannayev-of-Dreams, a most experienced dreamwalker who deemed himself impossible to be 'violently kicked-out' unless he allowed it, raised an eyebrow.
Ele'ena once again went red, though it might have been due to the anger this time around, and narrowed her eyes at him. Cocky blue bastard. And they called her unbearable to deal with. Very well then. He would learn the hard way why she was denounced by various factions of Neverwinter.
With a grin that perhaps only Neeshka could imitate without splitting her face, Ele'ena cocked her head at the place where the Hunger was temporarily buried.
"Neither he nor I have eaten in a while, you know," she sing-songed innocently. Gann scoffed.
"Such threats are unbecoming of you. You wouldn't actually-"
Tendrils of the mind-prison started retreating and the Hunger reared its masked head. The curse squealed – squealed – with glee. Gann's face fell.
A few more tendrils, small ones, moved out of the way and the Faceless Man could now freely move one of his arms. One wielding a very big scythe. Gann didn't fail to notice that the creature was likely hungry after all the shoving around Ele'ena had put it through.
Now was the time for retreat. A retreat that did not look like one. And luck being on his side, he had a very good excuse.
"And the dawn is approaching. My dear friend, you should quickly wrap him up again before we are on the road. You know how uncomfortable Old Father Bear feels when you lash around with your hunger like a mare in heat."
The Faceless Man nearly broke out completely.
"I'll see you in the waking world then," he waved and with a smile disappeared into the surrounding mists.
"And stay out!" Her voice, cascading through dreams, followed him out.
She glared stubbornly at the retreating dreamwalker. When he was out of sight – and out of mind – she slumped down on to her knees. The mind-prison was reinforced once again. She wished it were half as easy to restrain the Hunger as she made it look in front of Gann. Then the fear of being utterly consumed wouldn't linger and press her as much as it did.
Angry grumbling reached her pointed ears and she glared at her co-habitant.
"No, you don't get to eat him," Ele'ena said from her position on the shapeless floor next to the Hunger trapped within the tendrils of her mind. Gods knew how long it would hold this time. If she could only contain it permanently she wouldn't feel as hopeless and useless as she did now.
The creature hissed and whizzed and made a sound that would make ears bleed had she actually been hearing it with her ears rather than feeling it all in her head. Which made it all the more worse, actually.
Of course, comparing it to its usual sounds it just might have been a pitiful let-me-out-I'll-be-good mewl. There was no way of telling for sure.
Ele'ena dropped her face in her hands. They better run into some spirits, undead, elementals or just…anything edible or things within her head would get real ugly real fast.
Gods above and below, what wouldn't she give for a honey-cake right now.
* - * - *
Sleeping outside where the spirits reside was something the dreamwalker was very much used to and even rejoiced from. Except that, for obvious reasons, the spirits avoided their little group like the plague.
He sat up and stretched; A life spent in the wild or not, Gann had yet to work out how exactly animals managed to wake up without a single knot in their muscles. Still, a sore back didn't stop him from grinning with a great deal of smugness.
No, his leader never failed to amuse him on his nightly expeditions.
"I see someone has woken up in a better mood than most," Safiya greeted him, a small fire burning behind her with a meagre breakfast on it. In cold climes such as these something warm in the belly was always welcome, though trusting the cooking skills of a Red Wizard, no matter how amicable, might make someone stick to anything cold or dry, or leave the party completely.
Off to the side Kaelyn was quietly finishing the repacking of her bag, while Okku seemed to be enjoying – not that he could feel a thing – some rays of sun on the frozen ground. Even Khaji wasn't to be heard. A lively morning it was.
And not too far away the ashen colored elf stood looking away from the camp and its occupants.
There was nothing surprising about that. Since the day she was cursed Aneele neither slept nor ate – unless it was either souls or spirits or elementals – and took permanent guard duty. It worried Safiya to no end – and probably made her slightly curious too – but Gann took it all in stride.
Aneele was a spirit-eater. The curse was bound to be more than just skin-deep.
Breakfast was quick. They were not about to let their leader wait longer than necessary. She might show some impatience. He cracked a grin at that thought - Or not. For all the weeks of travelling he had never noticed her to show any kind of emotion outside her inner world.
So he had to say that he was surprised, very, very surprised when she addressed him. Voluntarily. Outside of a dream. And not kicking and screaming at him.
The voice, gruff and unrefined, made him stop in his tracks. This voice he did not hear often, and, he mused solemnly, it was so much different from the other one. Less pleasant too.
But my, was she actually speaking to him? Stranger and curious this morning was becoming.
She looked at him in her own peculiar way, one good eye appearing rather unfocused as she seemed to look through him. Or into him. She had that ability – gift of the spirit-eater he presumed – to look within someone, see all there is to see about that person, and then decide whether they would be tasty enough to bother.
"I…" her voice, used so rarely now that he could count the occasions on the fingers of one hand, cracked, "already have…one glutton to battle with. I don't need…another."
"But I'm not laying a siege on you, dear friend. You need not defend yourself from me." He assumed the most charming smile, harmless tone of voice and was shrouded in innocence. Aneele didn't even blink.
"It's the truth. I have helped you twice already in your dreams and on many occasions in the waking world." Some would believe him. Smart ones wouldn't. But then again in the waking world, she didn't really give a damn.
Her gaze, sharper now, lingered on his face – his face – and not behind his eyes.
Or so he assumed.
Damn her two-faced personality.
Aneele turned around, her one eye set on the road ahead of them. She didn't speak, did not comment on his heartening speech and for all the hagspawn knew it could either be a good sign or bad things creeping on the horizon.