Dream a Little Dream

The night had started like any other at the Coatl club.  It was busy for a weeknight a new show was being put on so the regulars were interested and that extended to the performers friends and family as well.  Gladstone had even convinced  Leonard to leave his shop and socialize. Admittedly this was because he knew the eagle was single, and Gladstone very recently had become very not single and so he thought he’d share the beauty that Oz had created with an eligible bachelor.  He was paraded around to be introduced to every glamorous woman in attendance whether the socially anxious man wanted the attention or not, it probably didn’t help that he still lived with his ex-wife but as she was currently a mini pig so that really didn’t seem much of a hurdle.  And while Gladstone could claim responsibility for getting Leonard out into the real world the real motivator was seated at a candid little table in a corner with an ibex nearly twice her size. Pleasantries were made and lots and lots of gorgeous women were introduced to the overwhelmed eagle before the first singer took the stage.   During a quiet moment Mambo decided to help poor Leonard and distract his hype man by linking arms with Gladstone and forcing him to come outside with her while she smoked a cigar.

They had a lovely conversation about not forcing women on people and how some men didn't like that kind of thing,  that went on longer than they expected so she indulged in another cigar before they decided to head back inside. That’s when the normalcy ended.

 

    • Gladstone Gander
      Gladstone Gander

      He was staring.  Unable to move even at the firm command to do so, even when there was nowhere to 'go' to.  He had direct view of the little girl as she was closed in those strong arms, the smile on her face, so warm and trusting.. and he saw the cracks form.  A strangled breath was squeezed out of him as if he was the one in Matthew's grip and his entire body trembled. No... what are you- you're going to- Lilly's innocent eyes had opened wide and his breath quickened, nerves shredding his stomach like talons.  STOP. He wanted to scream, he wanted to throw himself on the ibex and pull Lilly from him. DON'T YOU SEE WHAT YOU'RE DOING. How was Matthew so calm? This was like the werewolf all over again.  Gladstone sprung to his feet he would-he didn't know-do something?  And then it was too late.  It all happened so fast, from the moment he first embraced her to her crumbling to dust in that constricting hold. All strength washed out of him and he collapsed back to the floor, unaware of anything else that was going on or even what he was doing. Unaware of the fact his eyes were bleary, that his hands clamped over his mouth, not feeling the tremors that shook from from his very core. Somehow he finally saw the REMrod, and while that may have explained things... it didn't help.  

      The moment he was back in his own body Gladstone rolled onto his stomach with a quavering breath and staggered to his feet. He couldn't look at anyone just yet.  He knew where he was going, he wanted to go to Lilly, to hug her close and feel her arms close around him... but she wouldn't.  So he couldn't. Instead he let himself behind the bar, grabbed full bottles of whatever was closest and slumped to the ground hugging them to his chest ashen faced and trembling. He didn't have the dexterity to open them yet, just their proximity was comforting.

       

      The instant Matthew opened his eyes Mambo was upon him. Her hands held his face stroking his fur tenderly, but urgently as if extinguishing flames, the flames that had destroyed so much that he loved.  Not him too. She wouldn't allow it. The hen leaned over him, lifting him slightly to hug his head to her chest, her heart hammering within her like a frantic drum solo.  The club was nearly empty now.  So many of the patrons and employees had already woken up, with a few notable exceptions.  Leonard and Lilly were spread out nearby, both looking serene and comfortable, not at all resembling the prisoners they actually  were.

      "It's okay-" Mambo breathed into his ear softly. "-yer okay. She's here, she's gun' be fine. I promise. I'm here..." her voice was strong, as strong as her arms as she firmly held him.  There was no weakness, no question of her ability to see this through. Even if she had to take the risk herself she'd see it done. She was practically always soft, her whole long life she had tried to be warm and loving,  but my word if he just didn't reduce her to the ferocity of an armful of sleeping kittens. "Yer safe." She nuzzled her face into the crown of his head. "I've got ya." 

       

      • Lilly Teal
        Lilly Teal

        Don't say that. Don't say that. Not what I said to her when-

        He stared up at her, eyes blank and barely seeing her, when he suddenly rolled away from her onto his knees, and let out a horrible retching noise as his stomach, devoid of contents, felt like it was trying to crawl up and out of his body. The strong limbs trembled, barely supporting him as he made a strangled sound, half sob, half howl of fury. He had never been so publicly vulnerable in his life, and even now he tried to hold it in, but the feeling of sickness forced his mouth open, so he could not clamp down on his grief.

        Ragged breaths shook him as he moved away from her, shaking his head and afraid to touch her.

        His eyes fell on his niece, but the relief was marred by the memory of what he had just done.

        Just remember. Just remember. You did it for her. That wasn't really her, this is her, and you did it for her.

        Everything for her.

        He took a deep, shaky breath, and started to lock himself up again. He wanted to sob, to break everything around him, to hurt himself in some way and hold Mambo for a year until he could convince himself the people around him were in no danger from him. But it would take time, and there wasn't time.

        "What happens now?" he said hoarsely, unable to take his eyes away from the peacefully sleeping kids. "Can we wake her up?" Them. Them, I mean.

        • Gladstone Gander
          Gladstone Gander

          Mambo realized too late what she'd done and rather than try to hold him to her just let her hands hover over him as he worked through what he needed to.  She'd be there when he resurfaced, when he needed her.  Where was Gladstone? Come annoy him, distract him with your well meaning idiocy please, anything to keep him from- she saw the gander curled up into himself behind the bar.  Oh how she loathed herself in that moment.   The boy was run ragged and all she cared about was using him to help Matthew feel better. She... really ought to be nicer to him.  She'd have to do what she could for Matthew on her own, which she hoped would be enough. 

          "Lilly's locked herself up in her mind, figured out dat sumtin' was wrong and protected herself." She put her fingers under his chin and tapped his head up to look her in the eye. "She's a smart girl. But t' locks she left are memories dat she showed Gladstone.  One for all ya fine men here she cares about. He's got Oz's key, knows his own of course, we jus' need yers an' Leonard's and then we kin get through her defenses, break dat rod and then-" she let out a heavy sigh and shrugged. "-go eat an' entire cake each an' pretend dis never happened?"

          She shook her head as she leaned in close to him, kissing his cheek. 

          "Come wit me. Ya need a drink." And so do I. She took his hand and herded him to the bar.  As she had before she helped herself to the stock, standing just beside Gladstone, reaching down without looking to unstopper one of the bottles in his arms that he instantly started drinking. She patted his head and put a glass of scotch in front of Matthew and poured another for herself. "...this is too much fer just one person t' do alone. I tink both of ya should go get Leonard."

          Gladstone choked and stared at her, frantically shaking his head only partially out of sight. She ignored him. 

          "Ya heard whad they were sayin' in-" She motioned vaguely to Matthew's head. "-they're catching on. There's gunna be a lot more a' them sheep in Len's mind, ya mark me words.  It's gun' be harder t' git to him. An' we need this t' go quick.  I'm sorry t' ask you t' do this-" She put her hand on Matthew's. "-after whad ya just went through. And-" She smoothed out the gander's golden locks lightly. "-yer doin' a fine job Glad... but t' time for solo rescues is done.  Do ya..." she locked eyes with Matthew. "-tink yer up for it?" 

          • Lilly Teal
            Lilly Teal

            "Of course." The metal shutters had slammed down again, whatever he felt pushed back and locked down tight, the deceptive calm only given way by the way his knuckles tightened on the bar. The scotch remained untouched, he didn't want even the hint of a cloud over his mind, or a jot of comforting warmth in his body.

            It wasn't the time.

            He didn't deserve it.

            "He shouldn't have to go," he added, keeping this part low just for Mambo. "Hasn't he been through enough? I can do it. And..." the gander was given a slight glance, just with Matthew's eyes as he kept his face turned towards the hen, "I don't think he would want to be near me."

            Understandable, of course, but it might become a problem if they were supposed to be working in the same space.

            • Gladstone Gander
              Gladstone Gander

              Mambo's eyes softened as he spoke her to her.  But she shook her head.

              "Yer gun' need his luck." She put both hands on his, feeling the tension in him as if he was so tightly coiled he was going to snap. "I know it's-" she shook her head but glanced to the side as Gladstone stood up putting the bottle he was drinking on the bar.

              "This is the home stretch. " He turned to face the two of them, and yes somehow found the gumption to look at Matthew. "Just Leonard.  Then Lilly." Lilly. He fought the urge to look at her but his eyes darted to her quickly anyway. "If you think we both need to go in Mambo, and I'm inclined to agree they do seem to be catching on-" he conceded earnestly. "-it would be helpful to have someone to... well... help?" 

              The gander suddenly blinked looking uncomfortable he lowered his eyes, his finger anxiously tapping the bottle in his grip.

              "Mr. Halden... I uh... I won't tell anyone what I saw, and I won't ask any questions about it either."  I'm not sure I want to know.  "I hope you know that it was the only way." 

              • Lilly Teal
                Lilly Teal

                Something slipped out from behind the shutters, and Matthew's eyes softened slightly at peace offering. At the implication that the gander was not going to run for the hills at the very thought of standing next to him.

                It shouldn't have mattered, but in this vulnerable moment, it did.

                "Thank you," he said, his voice low and serious. Thank you for keeping my secret. Thank you for not asking. ... thank you for reassuring that creeping fear that had left me feeling so, so very cold.

                Outwardly, he had been calm, but the moment between the realisation and the decision had stretched on for years in his mind. If it wasn't for the fact that he had been needed, he would have been content to just stay in his mind rather than...

                ...

                "Well then. Shall we be off? There's no time to waste." He gave Gladstone a small smile, perhaps the only genuine one the man had ever given him. "I'll keep everyone off your back, you speed us on our way."

                • Gladstone Gander
                  Gladstone Gander

                  Gladstone eyed the smile and returned it weakly with a nod.

                  And then things got a little complicated. Mambo needed to maintain physical contact with all three men in order to keep them connected and she only had two hands. What the end result had been was a hand on Leonard's forehead, a hand on Gladstone's as well, and Matthew had to sit behind her resting his head on her shoulder so that her cheek would come to rest on his third eye. It was awkward but it worked.

                  And so the journey into darkness was brief and when Matthew would open his eyes he would be standing on a conveyor belt behind Gladstone that frequently stopped.  The goose blinked around, people lined the endless belt all leading up to a scale ahead of them. There was nothing else to see, just impossibly tall white walls. Whenever a person would reach the scale there would be a moment of calculations on a giant screen and then the floor would open and the person would fall away.

                  "...is it stupid of me to feel like this is build up to the first drop on a roller coaster?" Gladstone asked Matthew softly, a ghost of a smile on his face. "Uh- we've got company."

                  Three sheep were pushing through the long line behind them trying to reach the scale. Gladstone grit his teeth but jerked to a stop and blinked as a pleasant robotic voice spoke from the scale beneath him.

                  "Gladstone Gander. Age: 30, height; Three feet six inches.  Occupation: None.  Species: Hybrid. Maternal genetics: Duck, Paternal Genetics: Goose. Relationship status: In a relationship.  Categorizing.... categorizing. Categorization complete."

                  The screen lit up in bright green letters: FRIEND Subheading OVERLY SOCIAL Subheading ENDEARINGLY ANNOYING.

                  "Sorting, commencing in 3...2...1. Have a nice day Mr. Gander."

                  The floor opened up and Gladstone fell away screaming into the void. Matthew was next.

                  "Mathew Halden. Age: 52 Height: Six Feet Six inches.  Occupation: Mechanical Supply Transportation and Manufacturer. Species: Nubian Ibex.  Relationship status:-" An alarm sounded for a few moments but was cut off almost immediately. "Categorizing... Categorizing... Categorizing....Categorizing. Categorization complete."

                   

                  The screen lit up in bright green letters once again: FRIEND/RIVAL Subheading: Intimidating.  Subheading:  Lilly's Uncle.  Subheading: Intelligent and sophisticated  Subheading: Fortunate

                  "Sorting commencing in 3...2..1. Have a nice day Mr. Halden."

                  The pit opened beneath him just as the sheep had closed in. 

                  The hole lead to a clear plastic tube that slid him through a massive open space.  There were countless other tunnels coiling around with people or objects careening around inside them like a mad architect's slide design at a water park.  In the center of the space was a coiling structure, a train that was in a tight swirl the compartments endlessly sliding around an infinite track the words "Command Center" flickered in the air above it.  He was only allowed the briefest glimpse before he was whisked away through a wall and deposited in a  small but comfortable room.  It resembled a study, one that may have played well as a location for Holmes and Watson to ponder a case.  As it was there were a few plush chairs, a fire place, tons of books, and three other people staring at him. A man, a woman, and young boy.  The man sprung up and helped Matthew to his feet. He was a handsome young sparrow.

                  "AH! Fresh meat! Welcome! Welcome! I'm Clive and this is Antonia!" Antonia, a sulky looking raven nodded to him. "And this little scamp is Owen!" The child, an angel faced little bluejay waved to him happily. "We're your category buddies! So tell me what's your name? Where are you from?  What terrible thing did you do to our benevolent master Leonard that has you shoved in this hole of depravity with us?" 

                   

                  Wait, what?

                  • Lilly Teal
                    Lilly Teal

                    Once Matthew had caught his breath, the situation was so absurd he could have laughed.

                    The words on the screen were still ticking over in his mind, but more with curiosity than any real alarm. Leonard seemed like a pleasant enough young man. Lilly seemed to like him, and he seemed to... return the sentiment? Possibly? Tolerated her, anyway, it wasn't entirely easy to tell with the brief interactions they had had.

                    But brief or not, those interactions had always been pleasant and civil. So he was less worried than his usual rampant paranoia would dictate.

                    Mostly because right now he was just confused.

                    "Matthew," he said, shaking the hand that the sparrow had used to pull him him. "A pleasure to meet you all. What... exactly do you mean?" It doesn't look like a hole of depravity, I must say. "I... have no memory of doing anything terrible to him?"

                    I think I'd remember that. I DO tend to remember the terrible things I do.

                    • Gladstone Gander
                      Gladstone Gander

                      Clive shook the hand merrily.

                      "Ah! A nice firm handshake! And look at the size of you!" He patted whatever parts of the ibex he could reach as if looking for an echo. "STURDY! Let me guess let me guess..." he wiggled his fingers next to his temples and then snapped his fingers pointing at Matthew. "-you at the very least got an intimidating! Right!? Guys? Weigh in!" He turned to the other two.

                      "Oh golly I'd say!" Said Owen as he skipped over to the ibex, jumped up, grabbed his hand and swung back and forth as if on a rope swing. "I bet Lenny thinks your real scary Mister!"

                      "Leonard!" The raven half shouted the name as she suddenly rose to her feet in fury. Pure anger seemed to boil off her. "Thought that I was intimidating too! How ridiculous-" She snarled through tightly clenched teeth.

                      "Oh yes, Antonia, yes that is true." Clive winked to the newcomer so the steaming woman wouldn't notice. "Come sit down sit down, we want to hear all about you! It's been years since we got anyone new in here! Antonia was the last one and that was... what... five years ago?"

                      "Because of the wedding!" Owen chimed in happy to contribute to the grown up conversation. 

                      "That sham of a wedding!" Antonia seethed. "She deserved better than this pencil pusher!" she grabbed a book from the shelf and threw it into the fireplace angrily. It disappeared as soon as it hit the flames and reappeared on the shelf. 

                      "Attention.... Antonia.  You have Two more strikes remaining." Said the pleasant robotic voice from the scale. "Failure to adhere to decency standards laid down by your benevolent master will result in disciplinary action."

                       

                      "Stuff it you-" She broke off into a snarl but redirected her irritation at Matthew. "So what?! I tried to break up his wedding to Ebony.  Was it a crime? No! What WAS a crime was the fact she liked him at all! I mean..." she clenched and unclenched her fists. "Who does he think he is!? You know what , YOU  KNOW WHAT? I WASN'T EVEN INVITED TO THE WEDDING."

                      "Antonia... settle down you'll alarm our new friend. Go sit down and try not to burn anything? There's a good girl." Clive shook his head as she stormed off. "Ebony's Ex-girlfriend." He whispered to Matthew. "Always caused a lot of trouble for them.  Couldn't let go.  Oh," He brightened up. "Are they still together? We don't get much information down here.  Are they living happily ever after?" He suddenly laughed and patted Matthew's arm. "Well as happy as he could be if YOU'RE here am I right? But anyway, go on... spill it!"

                      • Lilly Teal
                        Lilly Teal

                        What are you all babbling about?

                        Matthew couldn't remember feeling this bemused in his life. The offer to sit down was very tempting, but he was going to have to find a way out of this place. How was he supposed to protect Gladstone if they were separated?

                        "Ebony? ... ah!" He nodded in recognition. "I remember, the girl who nearly got my niece shot. And her friend actually shot." Not the best first impression, there. "They're..."

                        He looked between the two chirpy (HA) looking birds, sparing a glance for the angrier one who had walked off, and wasn't sure it was appropriate to say. "They're divorced, I'm afraid. But I believe it is currently a somewhat amicable understanding?" It wasn't before, but since she had been turned into a pig it was much better.

                        "Listen, what is this place? And is there an exit? Only I really do need to talk to Leonard about something important."

                        • Gladstone Gander
                          Gladstone Gander

                          “Oh, that’s too bad.” Clive said brightly.  “I don’t suppose you have any of the down and dirty details about that?  I’m... guessing your niece’s friend did not get shot fatally? “

                          “That would be a fun story to hear Mister! Will you tell me the story! Tell me!”

                          “Sorry we don’t get much to do in here...” Clive looked and realized he’d been slacking in his hosting duties. “Oh! OH! Yes I’m so sorry!  This place is- “ He made a grand gesture to an open chunk of air. “Oh... now... where is-“

                          “You turned it off.” Growled Antonia but she sidled up to Matthew. “Divorced is it?  Is she seeing anyone?”

                          Clive went over to a portion of the wall and banged it with his fist a few times.  Red misty letters appeared in the air.

                          “Ah! There we go...” he made the grand gesture again toward the blazing red letters that read ROMANTIC RIVALS “-we’re a small batch, but sometimes when he gets crushes we get some new faces in here.  Sometimes he has a hard time letting go our benevolent master.” He patted Owen on the head. “Little Owen here... well he’s our longest standing resident.  Sabrina Miller was Leonard’s first crush in kindergarten, used to pine for her something wicked then little Owen comes in, new kid in town classically handsome-“

                          “I showed her a dead frog!”

                          “-romantic.  She was smitten.  Leonard still thinks about her sometimes. “ Clive motioned to himself. “Clive Penderton,  best friend in high school, and the first semester in college.  Leonard was dating a girl named Lydia Amber, prettiest thing I ever saw.  But you know Len, he’s so serious and stoic and I’m well-“ He shrugged laughing. “-not? We tried to behave but we fell for each other.  We certainly shouldn’t have messed around behind his back in an effort to ‘not hurt his feelings’ what a crock huh? Well anyway that’s me.  And you’ve already heard about Antonia-“

                          “Tell us about you Mister!  I wanna know about youuuuu!” Owen was practically climbing his arm at this point.

                          “Yeah if Bristle’s out of the picture... ish-“ Antontia shrugged. “-who’s his new squeeze?”

                          “Ohh hold it fellas-“ Clive snapped his fingers excitedly. “-Oh yess this is juicy! Our new friend here is so very confused, he has no idea where he is YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEAAAAANS-“

                          “Unrequited.“ Antonia rolled her eyes.

                          “Unrequited!” Clive trilled happily at the same time. “Ohhhh Leonard.  Who’s he crushing on now? Matthew my dear friend-“ He put his arm around the ibex. “I hate to tell you but you’re most likely never going to see our benevolent master down here.  He tries to forget about us mostly.  Unlucky break.  I used to be firmly in the  “Friend” tier.  The man himself would frequent it on the regular... but then I you know... shacked up with his girlfriend. “ He gave him a good natured elbow nudge.

                          “I know how you can get out.” Antonia interrupted causing the others to blink at her in surprise. “If you make him uncomfortable enough he’ll try to remove you.  Sometimes he does it himself.  The last guy who was dating his crush, Leonard showed up after he broke the second chair and we never saw the dude again.  Between you and me... he’s probably got a creepy shrine to your girl buried somewhere up in that ridiculous command center of his. I know he had one for Ebony. He showed it to me once.... prick.”

                          • Lilly Teal
                            Lilly Teal

                            Friend... wasn't that where Gladstone had been sorted? In which case there was every chance Leonard would visit him. What luck.

                            Mambo had been right, it was for the best that the gander come along, because clearly Leonard did not want to deal with the ibex. Presumably he would turn up in this room even if he woke up and tried to come back. And while it was a pleasant space, because the boy wasn't cruel, it was certainly a problem.

                            And he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to be lumped with a bitter, sensationalist ex-lover and a charming traitor. Whatshisface. Clive.

                            Matthew fundamentally didn't understand the concept of betraying a friend's trust to do what you want. Unless you were just pretending to be friends as he had done a few times in his youth. But actual friends?

                            No Clive, I distinctly do not like you.

                            But again, romantic rival? That was ridiculous, there was no-

                            Wait.

                            Oh. Oh.

                            Matthew gave a heavy sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Good grief, Leonard. So I have to break things."

                            I am good at that.

                            "... is there an alternative? A security camera I can talk to, or something? It's such a nice space, it would be a shame to spoil it."

                            • Gladstone Gander
                              Gladstone Gander

                              Antonia smiled at Matthew's hesitation and grabbed a throw pillow, and threw it into the fire. It materialized back on the chair she'd liberated it from. 

                              "Attention.... Antonia.  You have One more strike remaining." Said the pleasant robotic voice once more. "Failure to adhere to decency standards laid down by your benevolent master will result in disciplinary action."

                              "Don't worry about that, little Leonard is a stickler for a place for everything and everything in it's place. As if you hadn't picked up on that." She motioned to the floating red letters for a moment before she went to the wall behind Matthew where the slide had deposited him and slapped it. It went completely see through. They were near the bottom of the massive space, the tubes coiling around above them like glass snakes. Other depositories were visible.  There was one labeled "BULLIES"  right across the way, a little further up was "EX IN LAWS", "SALESMEN", "MIMES" and so on and so on.  Antonia suddenly crooked her head to one side peering up at a practically clogged tube. "What is that about?" She pointed her finger trailing the tunnel to it's destination. "When did Leonard make so many friends? And why are they all sheep?  Do you see them all? That thing's going to-uh- oh dear-"

                              The tube snapped, sending fluffy woolen sheep men free falling into the abyss.  She stood on her toes to see them disappear into off white infinity.

                              "What in the world is going on in here?" She eyed him and suddenly smiled. "It's different. I love it. I'll help you smash whatever you want.  You want to get him down here? Let's do it.  Owen you wanna break things?"

                              "Yes Please!" Owen hopped up and down.

                              Time to break things?  Time to break things.

                              • Lilly Teal
                                Lilly Teal

                                After the hellscape where everything he touched was destroyed, a place where nothing could be permanently broken?

                                Despite himself, a broad smile spread across his face as he made eye contact with Antonia.

                                "Well then. If it's all going to picked up anyway, where's the harm in making a little mess?"

                                As he said it, he smoothly picked up one of the plush chairs and snapped off a leg like it was made of toothpicks. Alright, so maybe he was suppressing a lot right now and it was manifesting in how easily he was about to start breaking things.

                                As the leg grew back, he smiled wider, and threw the whole thing against the wall. Goodness that was theraputic.

                                • Gladstone Gander
                                  Gladstone Gander

                                  Cheap therapy abound.  Anything that was able to to be hurled against the wall, dashed across the floor, broken in half was done with such glee and gusto it was almost as if the four were part of a demolition club.

                                  Demerits were racked up.  Warnings were almost constant. Sirens started wailing, but was that for them or the endless stream of sheep that kept trickling through the broken slide?  It was hard to tell.  Somewhere around Matthew's thirty seventh demerit and Antonia's negative thirteen a line of light cut through the wall tracing the outline of a door. The wall fell away and a shadowed trim form loomed ominously for a moment before he balled up his fists and stormed into the room.  The brown feathered wedge tailed eagle looked as if he was on the verge of tears, completely overwhelmed by the chaos.

                                  "Would you all just-PLEASE- stop-" his eyes scanned the breathless birds before he got to Matthew and he froze. There was an instant that looked as if he would let the tears spill out of him but he blinked slowly and the glossy glimmer to his eyes vanished. He straightened up with a dazed little smile. " Mr. Halden.... I... had-uh... when did you?" He reached to a blank portion of the wall, gripped a bit of open air as if were a handle and pulled out a drawer closely resembling a card catalog. He flicked through the contents pulling one out one with the ibex's name on it. He frowned at it. "..today?" 

                                  There was a startled bleat as a sheep smacked into the window and slid down it slowly until it disappeared. Leonard sighed closing his eyes tight with an aggravated, slow exhale.

                                  "What has gotten into everyone today.  And WHERE-"His voice cracked and he slammed the drawer shut heatedly. "-are all these blasted sheep coming from!?" The card still in his hand drew his attention and blushing slightly he opened up the drawer again, put the card in properly and closed the drawer carefully. 

                                  • Lilly Teal
                                    Lilly Teal

                                    "Leonard," Matthew said kindly. He didn't have a quarrel with the boy, after all. And his overwhelmed reaction tugged at the small, sentimental core that the ibex often pretended he didn't have. "I'm truly sorry for this."

                                    It felt good, but I'm sorry all the same.

                                    "But I had to get your attention. Have you met Gladstone yet? I believe he's... ah, in a different category." He kindly tried to refrain from bringing up the topic in any great detail, seeing the ibex here had seemed a bit embarrassing for Leonard and he didn't want to harp on it. "This may sound very strange, but you appear to be dreaming. Gladstone and I came into your mind to warn you, and those sheep," he glanced out of the window, "rather a lot of them, are attempting to stop us. Though given where they are, they know where Gladstone is and haven't come looking for me yet."

                                    That's a relief, but also a worry, because he needed to be there to help.

                                    "What's the fastest route to where they are?"

                                    • Gladstone Gander
                                      Gladstone Gander

                                      “Dreaming-“ Leonard blinked . “-sheep... Gladstone?”

                                      His eyes darted to the rain of sheep then scanned the collected faces, ending on Matthew and he sighed.

                                      “Well nothing else makes sense, so why the hell not? Follow me please.”

                                      He stepped aside allowing Matthew to exit into a small white room.

                                      “Can we come too?” Clive asked quickly taking a few steps toward the eagle who pressed himself up against the wall as if he was being threatened.

                                      “No. You-“ he looked at the other two. “You all should stay-“ he slid along the wall into the white room. “- and please don’t-“. Antonia picked up a chair and Leonard quickly punched a glowing button causing the door to slam shut moments before there was an all too familiar sound of splintering wood. “-break... anything.”

                                      The eagle stared fixedly ahead, his posture rigid.

                                      “You, um, So you’re not-“ he coughed. “-I don’t know what’s going on or if this is real but I want to apologize for the... placement you received Sir. I had gone into autopilot and let the computer autosort. I don’t know why it-that is I-“ suddenly the eagle hit his head lightly on the wall in front of him twice and immediately put his face in his hands. “-I’m mortified. Oh I hope you’re not real-“

                                      He suddenly turned to the ibex wringing his hands and his eyes pleading.

                                      “Please don’t tell her, you must have figured it out. It’s just she’s-that is- I would never act on- she cares for you so much and I-“ he let out a small groan and turned back to the wall pressing the button again. “-she was kind to me when no one else was.” He finished softly.

                                      The doors opened to a wide room that resembled an atrium. Tall glass windows stretched high overhead with tiers and tiers of seating areas twinkling with golden lights. Most of the seating areas were noticeably empty. A few ghoulish faces peered nervously down from them at the crowd that pressed in tightly on the main floor. And what a very wooly crowd it was as the sheep turned almost in unison to Matthew and Leonard.

                                       

                                      • Lilly Teal
                                        Lilly Teal

                                        Matthew just nodded understandingly. He didn't want to embarrass the boy, let's just drop the subj-

                                        The entire area was full of sheep. Sheep as far as the eye could shee- er... see. Any moment now they were going to find them suspicious and overwhelm them like a wave. Even he couldn't fight off so many at once, they would crush them with sheer weight of numbers.

                                        It wasn't obvious on the surface, but Matthew panicked, catching hold of Leonard's shoulder.

                                        "But how could you," he said, sounding very injured, his voice purposefully loud for the audience. "Leonard my boy I really thought we were friends. I have thought only the best of you, and here I find you gadding about with everyone else and leaving me in a corner-"

                                        Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a transportation tube. He had no idea where it went, but given that it was starting to make a humming noise as it activated, he hoped it was where Leonard subconsciously wanted to go. Which right now, was away from this situation.

                                        "And frankly I'm. Ah. Hurt."

                                        A few sheep blinked and turned away. Everyone was always arguing in these brains. It was kind of embarrassing to watch. But then again, with all this sorting and categorising this guy got up to, it was only a matter of time before someone kicked up a fuss about it.

                                        "And-" he took a step back, pulling the eagle with him. "I think we need to have a long, long talk about how we view each other as friends-"

                                        He couldn't keep this up, but thankfully the tube was behind them. In fact, the tube opened up for them, sucking them in hurriedly so Leonard wouldn't have to deal with this any more.

                                        "Good Lord, it worked. They really are incredibly stupid." He gave Leonard a bright grin. "I apologise, no hard feelings I promise you."

                                        And then they were vacuumed off into the distance.

                                        • Gladstone Gander
                                          Gladstone Gander

                                          The instant Matthew’s hand fell on Leonard the eagle flinched. For most of the next confusing few moments he was torn between staring at the hand as if he wanted to push it off and glancing at the ibex’s face beaming complete bemusement.  He didn’t resist when he was shepherded and once he noticed where he was headed realization flickered on his face. Thankfully he didn’t open his mouth to try to play along because that would have been-oh..-wait

                                          “Oh, yes!” He piped up, sounding far too pleased. “I am so very well liked, the idea of me having so many friendly acquaintances should come as no shock! I apologize if you are intimidated-“

                                          A few sheep turned to look at them, the tone of voice just was so wrong.  It was almost like screaming ‘HELLO BAD MEN PLEASE DON’T LOOK AT US’.  As the transportation tube was nearly reached one of the sheep broke off from the  herd intent to close in on them.  It probably would have been bad if something else hadn’t drawn his attention instead. A loud, very loud, voice cut through the enclosed space.

                                          “HOW DARE YOU! I THOUGHT OUR LOVE WAS GOING TO OUTLAST THE STARS! YOU TOLD ME WE COULD GET  A PUPPY-“

                                          Whatever else Gladstone and his new ultimate betrayal was would remain a mystery as the sheep turned toward the sound and Matthew and Leonard were spirited away. As they gained altitude they were awarded at bird’s eye view of the scene below, a patch in the center was empty save for a blot of green that was flailing around  grabbing random sheep and shaking them.

                                          “…Mr. Halden, I-“ They were gently deposited on a sleek linoleum floor. “-there are no hard feelings but I am very, very confused.” The space around them resembled the bridge of a  starship, blinking lights and giant monitors covered the main wall, bright green words hung in the air like a movie title. “COMMAND CENTER”.  Two doors accented the back of the room (one labeled “library” the other “Do Not Enter”) while the rest of the space was almost like a museum. Display cases with carefully written cards were peppered around the room. Some of them held articles of clothing, one had a worn looking teddy bear (‘Mister Snuggles best friend ages: 0-4’), a phone number written on a cocktail napkin with hearts dotting the 'i's and “call me” in curly handwriting (Scarlet Pub, second semester of university, blonde woman, name unknown, number never dialed) , another held a very old looking book and it’s notecard was ten paragraphs long.   Someone cleared their throat… but not in this room, in Matthew’s head.

                                          -I dun know if me ego kin take much more a’ dis strokin’. Yer gun’ have yer hands full when ya get back t’ me Matthew since I inspire such strong feelin’s in ya young men. Before ya ask, I’ve been here long enough an’ I won’t let on that I know t’ him.  But tings are getting’ confusin’ in there, I tink Nodoff is catchin’ on how we’re doing this. T’ more minds are in there the trickier it is for me t’ focus. Too much cross chatter… find that ting quick so I can pull ya out and go have a smoke an’ clear me head would ya darling?-

                                           

                                          Leonard was at the controls, a red light was blinking near a screen where a familiar trio was gleefully smashing a room to pieces. He spared it the briefest of withering glances before he silenced the blinking and flicked off the screen. He moved his attention to the monitor displaying Gladstone’s dramatics, he zoomed in on the gander. The crowd around him seemed unwilling to get too close, as if spooked, Leonard did not blame them. 

                                          “What is that?” Leonard pointed  to a short long eared creature that was shoving it’s way through the sheep.

                                          -Nodoff. Ya better find dat REMrod quick Matthew, if he gets his hands on t’ boy I’m not sure if he’ll let him go.-

                                          No pressure.

                                          • Lilly Teal
                                            Lilly Teal

                                            It would have been more of an effort not to show evidence that Mambo was in his head, if Gladstone hadn't been so distracted. For the second time in a brief space the ibex was glad the gander had come along. Don't tell him, obviously. It would only go to his head and make him think he approved of him or something.

                                            "That's the one whose been trapping us inside our mental spaces," Matthew said briefly, moving forward to get Leonard's attention again as he flicked his eyes around the space. "Leonard. Each of us had something implanted to keep us here. A long, red, rod, somewhere private, where you would be unlikely to go, or inside something you would be unlikely to touch."

                                            His eyes lingered on 'Do Not Enter' for a long moment.

                                            "We have to find it and remove it fast. Before he reaches Gladstone. I don't see it here so. Could it be behind that?"

                                            • Gladstone Gander
                                              Gladstone Gander

                                              Leonard pulled his gaze away from the screens and his eyes followed to where Matthew had indicated and his feathers ruffled in sudden complete discomfort his gaze snapping to the screen again.  The little goblin creature was nearly to the open space around the gander.  The eagle drummed his fingers on the shiny metal nervously before he pressed a button and turned quickly on his heel toward that door.  The Friend level suddenly went dark, but pulsing lights started strobing almost immediately and the figures on the screen covered their ears in surprise.  Leonard stopped before the forbidden part of his mind and took a bracing breath before he shoved the door open.  

                                              It was a long dimly lit room.  At least it looked like a room. When your eyes were allowed to adjust it was a confusing sight as if this room opened into a dark barren forest in the dead of winter.  The eagle shivered as soon as he crossed the threshold his breath clouding in the air as if the temperature was below freezing. Matthew would feel no such chill.  The trunks of the dark trees were carved with clean precise words.  Quotes about inferiority, harsh criticisms, hateful words thrown around in arguments, and each of them bore the same source. "-Leonard Ainsworth" with a corresponding date.  

                                              "...I'm not really a very nice person." He said through chattering teeth without looking back at his companion before walking down the path.  Amid the gnarled trees with long dark roots, there were more display cases. Each offering up a slice of his past.  Something he'd written about someone, or a broken trinket that was of great sentimental value to someone somewhere that he'd smashed out of spite, anything that could cut him down, remind him of how cold he really was.  How callus and spiteful he could be. "You probably suspected as much... what with you winding up where you did."

                                              The path opened up slightly into a small clearing, the cold moonlight bathing everything in a freezing pale pallor. There were a small circle of statues in the center of the clearing and he paused to look at them from afar for a moment.

                                              "I want you to know, that I am trying to be better. Mambo had said when she met me, that there was good in me.  So I'm trying to live up to those expectations if that makes any sense."

                                              Without waiting for a reply he closed the distance.  The statues were of people. Mostly women, some with their faces smashed beyond recognition. He avoided looking at those.  One of which was a small girl, she was probably very fond of the frog she was shown once.  He probably shouldn't have pushed her into the sandbox when Owen kissed her cheek, she wouldn't have broken her arm if he didn't.  He stopped at the foot of a statue that at first glance looked liked Lilly but on closer inspection was the true face of Ebony Bristle.  She was smiling, her face turned up to the moon, a veil and glamorous wedding dress hewn from the marble.  

                                              "...she really loved me." He wiped a hand along his beak tiredly. "And I liked that, I think she knew I never loved her, not as much as she loved me, but she didn't care.  Never did. I just liked the attention until it turned volatile. ...but that's my own fault." He sighed heavily and turned to face the last statue in the ring.  It was Mambo, she wasn't standing tall, she wasn't towering over them on her pedestal, she was leaning down, offering her hand to the viewer with a kind frozen smile. He looked like he was about to take it when his eyes caught movement.  Thick red droplets were sliding down the marble dripping to the base with thick little splashes.  Blood. Leonard's eyes darted to the source to see a red rod protruding from her back, the crimson oozing from the wound. "I didn't-" He started frantically,turning to Matthew as if he was his judge, jury and executioner. "I didn't do that! I haven't betrayed her I've tried so hard to not hurt anyone in so long-" He shivered again. "-I'm trying to be better."

                                              • Lilly Teal
                                                Lilly Teal

                                                So am I, Leonard. So am I.

                                                Matthew heaved a heavy sigh. Not one of regret, but one of a painful sort of kinship. "I know you are, Leonard. And you've done well. If you hadn't told me, I would find it hard to believe this room belonged to you."

                                                They had never spoken much, the two of them, but Matthew had never been insincere even in those brief interactions.

                                                "And I know you would never do anything like that... Mambo knows." Even if it was just a statue, his eyes were pained at his looked at Mambo, remembering his own ordeal again. "This is the work of that... thing down there. He did much the same to me. Pushed it deep inside something precious, to damage it."

                                                Let's not mention that I was the one who had to do the damaging.

                                                "Only you're allowed to touch it. You have to pull it out. Get us out of here, lad, so we can help the others too..."

                                                • Gladstone Gander
                                                  Gladstone Gander

                                                  Leonard flinched at such understanding but didn't argue.  He nodded slowly and after a tense moment he took Mambo's hand and hefted himself up to the pedestal. With careful footing he eased himself around the back of the form and gripped the REMrod with both hands and pulled. The blood flow quickened as the metal moved but he closed his eyes and pulled harder. Blood splashed down the stone, dyeing it scarlet as he struggled to remove the implement. After a few strong tugs the rod came loose and he toppled off the statue at the lack of resistance. And as with most dreams about falling, he awoke before he hit the ground.  

                                                  Leonard's eyes snapped open in the club, his hands closed into tight fists and released a weak breath as he sat up.  Gladstone stirred beside him, and gave him an incredulous look that he only noticed for a moment until his eyes found Matthew, his head still resting on Mambo's shoulder and her cheek still pressed against his forehead.  He swallowed thickly staring at them before he was nudged by the goose.

                                                  "I never knew you were a raver.  Are there even raves anymore?" He rubbed his ear as if the pounding dance music was still in his head. "Nice distraction though... they almost had me for a minute there." He patted Leonard on the back. "Good job, uh-" he turned to Matthew. "-both of you.  Seems like I was pretty useless this time.  Divide and conquer I suppose..."

                                                  "Talk t' him about that lock in Lilly's head." Mambo cut in and once Matthew was awake she stood up. "I need a smoke." She was about to walk away but paused, smoothed down the eagle's hair- "Glad t' have ya back Len." -then she swept off.

                                                  • Lilly Teal
                                                    Lilly Teal

                                                     "You were a perfect distraction," Matthew assured Gladstone. "We were doing terribly at dissuading them from finding us suspicious."

                                                    But to more important things, he listened with interest as Gladstone recounted what exactly he needed from Leonard, since he'd been too intent on exiting his mind to ask why exactly Lilly couldn't be woken up without help. There may have been a small surge of pride as well as he heard how neatly she had blocked off the intruders.

                                                    Leonard may have replied, but he barely heard it, suddenly realising how much harder each trek had become. Who knew how difficult it would be to fight through what was coming next?

                                                    Well, maybe he'd get to punch things without guilt. That would be nice.

                                                    Oz was just in the process of ushering out one of the last customers when the door swung open again.

                                                    "... I didn't think I was that late."

                                                    "Ah, Celia," Oz said brightly as the women slipped out of her coat, looking around the empty floor in confusion. Well, not empty, Gladstone, Matthew, and another man were sitting on the floor, looking as if they had wrapped up a very intense conversation.

                                                    "What's going on?"

                                                    "I'll explain later." Striding over, the quetzal pulled Leonard to his feet and practically, no, actually thrust him straight into Celia's arms. "Get this poor guy a drink, whatever he asks for."

                                                    Catching the eagle, Celia raised her eyebrows before looking at what she'd been presented with. "... well you certainly do look like you need something, honey. Come with me."

                                                    Oz, for his part, grabbed something strong from the back and brought it to the two still sitting on the floor. He wasn't going to ask if they were both going in. That was a stupid question. So he just poured a glass for each of them to warm them up and pass the time before Mambo came back.

                                                    Because when she did, when Lilly's forehead was touched for the second time, Matthew and Gladstone back in their positions from before, it was hopefully going to be the last time.

                                                    The drop into someone else's consciousness was becoming quite commonplace, now.

                                                    What was less expected was how much of a wreck the lovely reading room was. The people who had been sitting comfortably were now worriedly crowded on the stage, because it was the only place where there were no books, and the books were being ravaged off of the shelves.

                                                    Speaking of being ravaged, Javert let out a mighty snarl and grabbed into another sheep with both hands and both feet. And teeth. There were a lot of groaning sheep on the ground who had been subjected to Javert's defense of the room.

                                                    Some of them weren't even groaning.

                                                    • Gladstone Gander
                                                      Gladstone Gander

                                                      Gladstone looked around in a daze at the devastation.  It made his heart break and his blood boil simultaneously.  A sheep noticed the new arrivals and this time there was no move to try to throw them off their trail.  Gladstone shook out his hands for a moment before he charged.  Be brave.  Be angry.  Lilly is so close. This is it. The last one.

                                                      He slammed the sheep bodily into the one that Javert was latched onto and the men went down like a ton of bricks.  Gladstone looked to where the door was and saw Nodoff appear before it.  He was saying something to the locks, and they were shimmering weakly in reply. No, nope, you don't get to go in there you little- 

                                                      He narrowly avoided another sheep, ducking under an arm and immediately launching into a sprint.  Come on luck, get me to that door without getting caught, Lilly I'm here.  As he reached the space two more sheep tried to stop him but he slipped between them easily. 

                                                      "-and when I do get passed your little locks my dear-" Nodoff was crooning to the door snidely just as he was grabbed by Gladstone and physically thrown  into the sheep. The ruler of Dream World recovered quickly looking to Gladstone and then Matthew.  He smiled wickedly. "Ah-so you gentlemen must be the ones stirring up so much trouble.  How kind of you to turn yourselves in." A REMrod appeared  in his hand, he gripped it like a javelin. "But no worries, I'll have you back to beddy bye in no time!" 

                                                       

                                                      Gladstone sent a meaningful look at Matthew and threw himself at the door finding Leonard's lock he closed his eyes in concentration cupping his hands over the little 'L' so that it would hear him clearly. 

                                                      "-stop mothering me and get me that ledger. Thank you. Although your concern, both of your concerns, are very kindly noted. Literally. I've written them down in this ledger have a look.

                                                      Gladstone felt the lock unwind without opening his eyes the door trembled lightly and he sought out the "O" resuming the same position as before.  

                                                      "-Do you want to come watch us mess about? We're about to start something called The Happy Prince. It's going to be a sort of ballet. I think you'll love it. You might even want to stay."

                                                      This time he watched as the little orb flared before it rotated slowly releasing the coils of light from their confinement.  The door shook on it's mountings and he sent a glance to the side.  The chaos that was happening just feet away was mounting. Nodoff was trying to stab Matthew with the REMrod. What would that do he wondered, what would happen if it was stuck into the actual manifestation of the person itself? He hoped he wouldn't find out.  No one was attacking him he realized, and it was probably because he was opening the door to what they wanted.  Their last captive.  

                                                      -Go on. We're not gun' lose.-

                                                      Gladstone nodded and turned to his own lock. The little 'G' twinkled at him and he closed his eyes, his mind slipping back to the second night he'd met her.  The night he'd wanted nothing more than to kiss this beautiful, kind, brave stranger.  It was an even stronger desire now that he knew her.  Now that he was so close to seeing her awake and safe it was all encompassing. He was going to hug her so hard, kiss her so fierce, love her so much her head would be filled with so many more books that the shelves would buckle from nothing but happy memories.  He swallowed and tried to settle his nerves as he sang softly into the lock.

                                                      "-I could dance nightly just holding you tightly, my sweet.  I could keep right on because you're so light on your feet.  You're easy to dance with."

                                                      The lock swirled like the others disengaging, his eyes hovered on the "M" and backed away from it to shout into the fray.

                                                      "Matthew! You're up!" 

                                                      Please let's just get her out of here. I can't stand this anymore.

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