I hadn’t been dead for very long. Just a few days, but I had spent most of that time in the Nevernever trying to stay ahead of some nasty things that wanted to eat me. You’d think that being dead would be enough and I wouldn’t have to worry about by monsters. But my afterlife seems to just as dangerous as my life.
Rest in peace, my ass.
I pushed myself to move faster the howls of the literal hellhounds chasing me getting closer. Yes, you heard me. Hellhounds. And not cuddly ones like Kincaid.
Someone had been monitoring me from the Nevernever and when I passed over they’d sent the hounds after me. It made me suspect that whoever was behind this was probably also behind my shooting. Not that I could find out anything about it- at least not until I had shaken the dogs off my trail.
I moved as quickly as I could. I had to be careful where I chose to open up a Way in the Nevernever. So far it was the only plan I could think up to get away from the hellhounds. I didn‘t exactly have a lot of options right now. I was a spirit, not a ghost, and while I had access to my magic I didn’t know how long that would last, after all magic comes from life. And, well it also didn’t help that right before I’d been shot I’d been involved in a draining battle where I’d used a lot of soulfire. I didn’t even know how I had enough soul left in me to be a spirit. My magic was running on fumes.
So I was more than a little desperate when I finally picked a spot and opened up a Way.
Emotions can be pretty good indicators of what lies on the other side of a Way. Especially from Earth to the Nevernever, it’s trickier using that method when you’re trying to move from one area of the Nevernever to another. But without the Map of the Ways, I had no other tools to use. So I picked a spot that felt calm and familiar, and focused my power.
I was honestly surprised when the Way opened up into a place that I’d never seen before. Yet the familiar feeling persisted.
It was a dark area that was filled as far as the eye could see with spheres, giant six-foot diameter bubbles that pulsed with light and color. I craned my head up. Hell, they were even floating above me. They went up so high I couldn’t even see the very top one, if there even was one. The spheres just curved away into infinity in all directions. There was enough space among them that I could maneuver without touching them, but not so much that I could keep running.
I walked cautiously, and with every step my feet sank into the black sand that made up the ground. I sighed, it would also make running difficult. As I passed the glowing spheres I heard noises: music, talking, cars, laughter, even what I swear sounded like the roar of a jet engine. The noises didn’t get very far past the individual sphere, just a few feet. The area in between muffled any output, keeping all the noise and light contained. That was both interesting and worrying because now I didn’t know if I’d be able to hear the howls of the hellhounds in time when they tracked me here. But maybe…
I considered a sphere carefully, took a deep and fortifying breath - with the reminder that I was running out of options - before pressing my hands against the nearest one. It shimmered with a kaleidoscope of colors exactly like a soap bubble, but didn’t pop at my touch. It resisted, so I pushed harder, using some of my last amount of power to help me, and between one second and the next I was inside.
I blinked and stared at a little girl. She was about seven years old, her dark hair tied up in ponytail and wearing a very pink dress. She was sitting on a picnic blanket and calmly talking to a giant blue fish which was practically three times her height. It gurgled a watery question at her.
“Of course not, Mr. Kettle, there aren’t any real stars in the ocean. Only starfish. Oh hullo, are you here for tea too?” she asked as she noticed me. Her accent was English, but from what exact area of England I couldn’t say. Hell, for all I knew she was South African. “I‘m afraid I don‘t have any bird food, just fish cakes,” she continued. The fish waved a fin at me.
Surprised, I waved back. “Bird food?”
“Storks are birds, you know, though I‘ve never seen a black one before. Only white ones. You‘re very pretty,” the girl said.
I don’t know why she felt like I needed to hear that. Confused, I looked down at myself and saw that my long legs had turned into pale yellow bird legs. Stork legs just like she’d said. And my arms were black wings with feathers that stretched out as long as my hands.
“Hell‘s bells! What is this?” I yelped through a beak and looked desperately back to where I’d come from but I didn’t see the bubble filled space, only more of this world. It had green grass and a wide pink sky. The sky, instead of having clouds, was full of huge chocolate cupcakes with icing and colorful sprinkles.
The little girl frowned at me. “You shouldn‘t curse. I don‘t like it.”
The entire place shook. It wasn’t an earthquake, instead it was as if someone had picked up the entire world and given it a good shake. The bubble world I was in popped.
I blinked in shock as I appeared back in the sphere filled space of the Nevernever. I double checked my arms and legs and sighed in relief as I saw I was back to normal.
“What was that?” I asked aloud, confused.
And then it hit me. I knew why this area of the Nevernever felt so familiar and I knew exactly what those bubbles really were. They were dreams, mortal dreams, coming from humans back on Earth. This was where dreamer came. This is where the dream became reality.
I was in the Realm of Dreams.
Dreams that a spirit could enter. A glorious and desperate idea unfolded in my mind. Several years ago I’d been attacked by the Nightmare, a super-ghost of a sorcerer. It had torn into me through a dream. My wards hadn’t provided any protection because I’d been asleep; I’d been vulnerable because a part of me had been in the Nevernever.
And maybe from here, I could find a way back to the mortal realm. It’s not as easy as just popping over. There’s a boundary between the mortal world and the realms where ghosts dwell. Even as a spirit made entirely of soul-stuff and not ectoplasm, I wasn’t anywhere near powerful enough on my own to break through that boundary. But if I rode piggyback on a dream I should be able to make it through the boundary. Or if I couldn’t do that, maybe I could pass on a message to my friends.
I stared back at the infinity of dreams and tried not to feel overwhelmed by the hopelessness of that task. I would have to be very, very lucky to find the dream of someone I knew. At any point in time there were around three and a half billion dreamers, give or take few million, and they were all here. And have I mentioned that my luck hasn’t exactly been running on the ‘good’ side of the board lately?
I shook my head and found the next dream bubble to enter.
I don’t know how long I kept at it.
Days - sure! Weeks - maybe - it was hard to tell. Time ran oddly in dreams and sometimes it took me longer than I’d liked to pass on my message to the dreamer, when I could recognize them as the dreamer, at all. Once, I entered a dream where the man who’d been dreaming thought that he was a lake. I still don’t know how I managed to get him to wake up so I could pop out of the dream world.
But even with all these troubles, I was able to pass my message to a lot of people. I kept it simple, so it would be easier for the dreamer to remember when they woke up: ‘Murphy needs to know that Harry’s in the Nevernever.’ I think I told several thousand before I finally pushed into the dream of someone I knew.
Of course with my terrible luck, that dreamer turned out to be Gentleman John Marcone, a man who I‘d threatened to hurt last time I‘d talked to him. Essentially, he was the very last person I wanted to see.
“Oh, you got to be kidding me,” I complained. The dream world turned out to be a big office in a skyscraper which overlooked the city of Chicago. The skyscraper was so huge that every building in Chicago was visible through a wide window. Of course, Marcone had his office at the very top.
Marcone looked at me with his usual cool gaze but then he did something that made me want to run the hell out of there. He smiled at me. A much wider smile than I was used to seeing on him, but full of teeth in a way that was completely predatory: hungry and dangerous.
I tensed up and focused my will.
“I was hoping I‘d see you today,” Marcone said.
“Really?” I asked, warily. Why would Marcone be dreaming of me? “I certainly wasn‘t planning on it.”
With casual ease, Marcone stood from his leather office chair and walked around the desk towards me. He didn’t stop until he was a foot away from me. His head tilted back to look me in the eyes. I stood my ground, mostly by reminding myself that this was a dream and I was already dead. There really wasn’t much that Marcone could do to me now.
And that worked just fine for reassurance up until Marcone grabbed me by the back of my neck and kissed me.
I froze. He forcibly pushed his tongue in my mouth. Then I may have panicked. A little.
Okay, so throwing him across the room with a blast of will was stupid. I was already running low on energy. But he freaked me out, okay! I wasn’t exactly used to having men stick their tongues down my throat like that. And I sure as hell wasn’t expecting that kind of attention to come from Marcone!
Marcone picked himself up from the floor and arched his eyebrows at me. Then his expression became thoughtful. “You‘re usually a little more cooperative than this. I think I‘ll enjoy you being more defiant for once.”
My brain broke more than a little at that piece of information.
He stalked towards me and I backpedaled quickly. The smile was back on his face, even hungrier this time. “It will make it all the sweeter when you finally say please.”
I swallowed down hard and kept backing away. I probably would have felt ridiculous for the way I was running away from a vanilla mortal if it wasn’t for the fact that this was Marcone.
“Okay, seriously, stop.” He didn’t. I added quickly, “You’re dreaming. This is a dream.”
“Of course it is, Mr. Dresden,” Marcone said, amused.
“I need you to pass on a message to Murphy!” I said, but soon my back came up against a wall. I scrambled to find a door only to find out there wasn’t one. A quick glance around the room verified my worst fears. This dream office of Marcone’s didn’t have any doors. “Oh, hell. Why don‘t you have doors?!”
And I really shouldn’t have let my attention drift away from Marcone for even a second. Because he took that moment to tackle me in such a practiced move that it made me think he had to have played a lot of football when he was younger.
“All you have to say is please,” Marcone said, as he leaned close enough to me for me to feel the warmth of his lips above my own. I pushed him away. His weight rested fully on my thighs not even letting me get enough leverage to buck him off.
“No way,” I said, and tried to see if wiggling away would work. It didn‘t. “I‘m never telling you ‘please’ ever again.” I glared. “If I‘d known you liked so much, I‘d never would have said it to you. Ever. Pervert.”
Marcone’s smile widened, a hungry thing that made me shudder, and not in a happy way. His hands started to undo my pants. I had to clutch at his wrists to make him stop. He paused and I slowly let him go. To my relief he made to move for my waist again, but he didn’t get off me either.
“Okay, I‘m serious,” I said desperately. “I‘m not some dream fantasy of yours.” And wow, those were words I never thought I’d say to him. “It‘s really me. The real me.”
“I doubt that,” Marcone said, but now there was a faint frown on his lips instead of that frighteningly hungry smile. “I’ve seen the pictures from your crime scene. I doubt even you would be able to survive from such blood less.”
“Yeah, I know. I didn‘t,” I said. “But being dead isn‘t enough to stop me.” Marcone’s frown became deeper. He was so close that I could see him thinking as he analyzed me, my appearance and the differences from dream Harry that he was used to seeing. I could see it in his eyes when he believed me.
And the entire dream world around us began to shake.
I said urgently, “Tell Murphy I‘m in the Nevernever, in the Realm of Dreams! Tell her to talk to Bob!”
Marcone stared down at me. In a quick moment, grabbed me by the arms and held me in a bruising grip.
The dream world around me vanished.