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Dream to Dream

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You wake from a dream of howling winds and crashing waves. For a moment longer thunder rolls in your heart and the scent of ozone seems sharp in the air, then you open eyes which have never been grey and something falls asleep within you.

You lick your lips, just once, trying to capture the ghostly memory of salt spray upon them. You had always been fond of the surface seas, and the black still waters of the Unterzee could never compare, but even in private it wouldn't do to get into the habit of showing any sign of longing for what had been left behind. Not even one so difficult to read. You've begun gathering too many enemies to risk giving them any ammunition they could use to pierce your heart.

You almost step on a rat when you roll out of bed. They've grown less wary of you; you'll need to go on the offensive against them again soon, before they grow confident enough to sneak onto your bed and gnaw the binding of the books you've borrowed from the bookstore below in the night. Your landlord might turn a blind eye if he ever notices some of his wares vanishing for a few days now and then, but you doubt he'd remain so congenial if you returned them half-devoured.

But you'll never remove all the rats, only enough to be sure they keep to the shadows of your pantry and venture no further. They're a good reminder that it rarely pays to be magnanimous in Fallen London, one that you need from time to time.

You receive few greetings when you leave your building. You know few of your neighbors, and of those care for fewer, the books are the only thing keeping you in this neighborhood. They think you heartless, you know, too cold and too driven in your search when they see you for their tastes. They neither know nor care that it's your heart itself, and the pain it causes you, that has brought you to the city. Your heart may beat revenge, craving only to see your brother's killer brought to justice, but that was still proof it exists.

Still, though you care little what your neighbors think of you, you do wonder at times what they'd think if they ever saw you in one of the other parts of the city. The bohemians of Veilgarden fawn on you. The city's urchins adore you, happily providing you with any information you might find useful to repay you for finding out who'd been slaughtering them. You're equally welcome in ballrooms and bar room brawls, among rubbery men and demons. You may be cold but you can still feign warmth more than well enough to make your way through any corner of the city you need to explore to fulfill your heart's ambition.

Your dream is still close to the surface of your mind, and you decide to spend your day at the docks. You need a chance to do real work anyway, and maybe to get into a real fight if the opportunity presents itself; you've spent too much time slinking through the shadows lately, and you fear your muscles are starting to grow soft. On the way there you pass through a neighborhood where it seems everyone is tattooed, brazenly wearing their secrets for all the world to see and thinking them cleverly hidden. You read each one at a glance, most nothing more than simple gossip but one or two outright appalling. You smile faintly to yourself when you spot a few that are your own original designs, which becomes a smirk when you see one you based on nothing more than pure nonsense during a random flight of imagination with none of the usual building blocks of tattoo symbology behind it.

The woman you spot wearing it is not the man that you remember giving it to. Somehow it seems to have been passed on.

You don't find the comfort you might have wished at docks, the waters just as strange and unfamiliar even after so long as you'd known they would be, and too still and stagnant to thrill the sleeping part of you that yearns for tall waves and clouded skies. There is no weather in Fallen London, there never will be, and it's ridiculous to keep a weather eye out for lightning. Still, some part of you does even as you mask your discontent by helping to haul boxes for what's left of the morning.

A soft grey cat sits beside you as you take your lunch on a rooftop with your back pressed to the warmth of a chimney. You feed it bits of a kipper and it whispers secrets to you between each bite, then purrs throatily when you risk being presumptuous enough to scratch it beneath its chin. It's a better source of information than the tattoos; wise enough to realize that things which might interest you would earn it more treats than random gossip it even manages to produce a grain or two of knowledge which might help in your search for the killer.

The creature is good company, more than enough to take your mind back off the sea, and you briefly wish that the cats in Fallen London could be kept as pets the way you keep the ones in the world above. But you knew better than even suggest it; the cats in the city might allow a person to take them home now and then but they would always be their own, never yours, and they could spill every secret you'd ever had across the entire city in a single evening if you ever found yourself on the wrong side of their temper.

No, a cat may be a good companion on the streets every now and then, but a wise person would never allow one in their home.

You meet a thief that you're acquainted as you begin to make your way home that afternoon. It seems that glim is expected to fall that night, and she's come to steal from the Unterzee itself. You wish her well of it, and privately think it better her than you. You've spent your own nights glim-diving, back when you were still new to the city and barely had anything more to your name than the dull grey clothing on your back that you'd bought with the few pence you'd gotten by selling off your shackles. There were better ways to gather glim, you'd quickly learned; the Masters might frown on those that burgled it, but the faint risk that you might not be shadowy enough was still better than having to slog through the city dripping over every cobblestone because your only outfit was saturated.

You stop in the bookstore long enough to buy the day's newspaper, remembering just in time that an editorial of yours was being printed in it that day, then head back up to your rooms. There is a wrapped box sitting outside your landlord's door on the floor below yours, that at the sound of your footsteps shakes and plaintively meows.

You think of the rats in your apartment, and put your foot on the next step to move on.

You think of the cat on the rooftop and kneel down to tear through layers of brown paper and twine. It all still looks almost clean, it must not have been passed on many times. The boxed cat scratches your hand as it leaps free and bounds out the stairwell window without a word of thanks, but you think that you've made the right choice. You gather up the shreds of packaging as you move on, leaving no sign of what you've done.

The rats have constructed a ladder of matchsticks and gum to reach your highest cupboards, but have been foiled by a lock you were wise enough to install there. One has its claw up the keyhole when you come in, and one large ear pressed against the tumbler, but it scurries away at the sight of you. The cats still on your mind you pull a new tallow candle from your nightstand drawer and slide it into the nearest of their holes. It will do no good for reminding them to fear you, but they taught you a lesson that has saved you more than once and it's suddenly occurred to you that you never thanked them for that.

You retire early, worn out and muscles aching from the heavy labor of the day. If anyone besides the rats had been watching closely as you fell asleep they may have noticed that as your eyes dropped closed some trick of the light made them seem to flash grey.

You dream of howling winds and crashing waves, and your heart screams savage joy as lightning crawls down your arm and finds the chest of the person who slew your brother. In the flash of it you almost think you can see his face.