In keeping with the last story I posted, and because the Minion and I are too exhausted by NaNoWriMo to have come up with something new so soon, here is the first draft of the cameo by some of my friends into the Minion’s second Jullian Grey novel. This is my version of what happened. When it gets recorded from Grey’s perspective in the novel it will probably be quite different, distorted by the transition back from dreaming to waking, and her special, but not especially moosey mind. Of course, mine is the more accurate, but hers may end up more…interesting.
Grey was dreaming. The dream felt perfectly real, but she could still tell. It was a skill anyone in a family as big and…complicated as hers, with the slightest shred of self preservative instincts, develops. So she knew as an absolute fact that at that moment she slept, and while she slept, she dreamt. So why did the rest of her mind insist on the reality of what she experienced?
It could be that what she heard sounded just like she would expect to hear in the great, sprawling family pile of stone, wood, and antiques where she grew up. It was the sort of silence made up of soft, every-night sort of sounds. They were sounds that soothed, that reassured, but one did not really listen to.
The room, also, would have been right at home in with the other hundred odd rooms in the house, one of the smaller, private sitting rooms, perhaps, but one that had been remodeled and redecorated in a similar but not quite familiar style without her knowledge since her last visit. Nothing could be a more plausible, even possible, and probably even likely scenario. Technically, Grey owned the house, the grounds, most of the contents of both, and much of the surroundings, but she never really looked at it that way. The enormous, drawn out row that would blossom into world swallowing proportions the instant she attempted to take up the position did not appeal any more than the appalling amount of work involved in running the great motley show.
For want of other occupation since the dream was not providing any more entertainment value than such rooms usually do, Grey wandered around, looking into cabinets and drawers for anything which might clarify the situation. For some reason she could not quite identify, she did not try the door. The room held no book case, or she might have settled down to read, which is an odd but entirely characteristic thing to dream about doing.
Grey found just what she expected to find, nothing of much interest, in the drawers and cabinets. She came to rest facing a small, round, wooden table suitable for sharing an intimate meal or the playing of cards, although at the moment, no chairs ringed it round. Only two things occupied the smooth, lovingly polished, dark surface; well, three really, if one counted the creamy white lace circle that covered half the table’s diameter. Actually, if one wanted to be technical and quite exact, rather a lot of things sat on that table, but since most of them were intricately twisted and knotted wire flowers and leaves, it is easier to say an engraved brass vase containing a variegated metal bouquet rather than to count and describe each element involved.
The artist who made the bouquet—something about the arrangement clearly labeled it the work of an artist rather than the product of a machine turning the flowers out by the hundred—used no steel, platinum, silver, or aluminum. With lacquered rust and verdigris to add red and green to the muted golds, ruddy browns, and mute the dark greys, the overall effect was soothingly autumn that left one with a feeling both old and eternal. Oddly, the pale, mint green, fluffy bunny sitting just in front and to one side of the vase seemed at home against those flowers, like the native denizen of the metal garden rather than some child’s toy left abandoned in her mother’s room. One long, floppy ear hung down over what was probably a warm brown eye (judging by the visible partner) while the other ear hung down behind the soft head.
“If I am dreaming, why does this feel so real? And why doesn’t something happen?” Grey asked, planting her fists on her hips. “Why would I dream about wandering around in someone’s sitting room being confused?” For want of anyone else, Grey addressed the only other—if fuzzy and green—face in the room. Rather than wait for an answer, Grey threw up her hands and started pacing around the room.
Something kept her from charging out the door in search of…who knows what. It was a very polite, gentle, requesting more than commanding sort of something, so Grey did not fight against it as automatically as she might, but it still would not hold her for long.
A low, soft, warm, and mildly amused voice floated in the dimly lit room, stressing the middle word, “You are dreaming.”
Grey snapped around, looking for someone in the room, or somewhere they might be hiding that her earlier search missed. “I saw that movie. Next I look outside and see a great black wolf tearing out the farmer’s throat,” Grey said, narrowing her eyes. She set off to check the floor to ceiling folds of brown fabric embroidered with autumn leaves which flanked the tall, narrow windows that occupied up much of one wall.
“No farmer or wolves, only me. Just because you are dreaming does not mean this can not be real, too, though. You know people who go dream walking; explore places and talk to people with just their minds while their bodies sleep, do you not? Someone told me that you can go visiting people’s dreams yourself in a limited sort of way, and should know the damage that can be done there better than most,” the voice went on, less ethereally and clearly located behind Grey this time. She spun around, scanning the room with a frown that fought to become a glare.
“Over here, on the table,” the voice added and Grey’s eyes were caught and held by the moving bit of mint green. The bunny waved one paw while standing near the table’s edge, both ears thrown back now.
“In the ordinary way, I would say you are striking a definitive blow in the favor of the unreal, but it does not feel that way. I have seen far weirder things in more unbelievable circumstances,” Grey’s voice trailed off thoughtfully as she approached the table.
“I guess it all depends on your definition of real. You know perfectly well that your reality is not the only one. You have spent enough time in the mirror lands, walked dreams, visited the grey realms, and spent time in some of the courts of those like your mother. You are smart enough and well read enough to realize that there have to be others even more divergent in nature.”
Grey folded her arms and frowned down at the fuzzy smile aimed up at her. “You are better informed as to my activities than I am comfortable with, and none of those places have been particularly benevolent in my experience. Let us take my suspension of disbelief for granted, provisionally, and move on to what comes next. If not my suspicious disposition may intervene in your efforts to be convincing and this conversation could go on for ages. I assume you arranged this meeting for a reason.”
“Do not worry. We have not been spying. You have encountered a few friends of mine along your way and they told me what they knew when they found out what was going on,” the bunny soothed waving her little green paws in the air for emphasis as she talked.
Grey’s frown grew thoughtful. “I remember a lavender hippopotamus about your size,” she mused and the bunny nodded enthusiastically, sending her ears flying around her head.
“You remember!” she said, and somehow Grey knew the bunny to be a she. “Most people from your sort of world have trouble seeing and hearing us in the first place, much less remembering anything about it afterwards. That should make this so much easier.”
Grey started to relax now that she had a memory to tie the present to, but the confirmation of current agenda tightened her up again so much she took a step back. Some extremely nasty and dangerous things could appear small, cute, harmless, and friendly, after all, especially in dreams.
Seeing Grey’s reaction, the bunny utted, “Oh my,” and covered her mouth with two paws. She pushed her ears back slowly and equally slowly backed up to the vase on the table. “You really do not have to worry. Technically, you could say I am not even here or there…where you are I mean. This is two dreams pressed together, and I am in the other one.”
Little green paws waved in the air, indicating the walls around them. “The room and most everything in it is your dream. This table and what is on it were crafted as a place for me. If you care to test it, your wards stand between us, making my dream rather like the pearl in your oyster. Or, more accurately, it is the grain of sand with your ward smoothing our intrusion.” The bunny wrinkled her nose, not liking the way her simile was going. “Anyway, you get the idea.”
Grey nodded. Rather than approaching as one might expect for testing a barrier, she took a deep breath and blew it out again in a focused stream towards the table, infusing her breath with just a touch of magic. The elongated cone of air stirred thereby stretched out invisibly until it reached the area above the table edge. There it struck and swirled out and around the slightly squashed sphere which held the table. The effect resembled the oil-on-water rainbow effect of nacre more than the shimmer of a pearl, but the bunny clapped her soft paws silently in appreciation nonetheless.
After the first wave of colors, they faded to mere hints of rainbow swirling in the air, visible, but no more obscuring to the eye then a window screen. “Physical manifestation of dream representation of my personal ward,” Grey muttered to herself. Then she unbent enough to grab a straight chair from behind a window curtain that may or may not have been there before. She carried it to the table in one hand with no scrape of dragging of legs across the floor to the rainbows in the air and collapsed upon it with practiced boneless grace. She sat almost at the edge of the seat with her shoulders against the back facing sideways so a turn of her head had her chin only inches away from and above the table edge.
“So why all the effort to bring us face to face? Contiguous dreams can’t be easy to arrange or maintain so seamlessly,” Grey asked, stretching out her long legs and crossing her ankles.
“No, well I have some friends taking care of that. This is a rescue mission, of a sort. I am here to ask you a favor, I guess.” The green bunny strolled over to a more conversational distance and plopped down on her tail with such force that one ear flopped back over her eye. “It is so hard to know how much to explain without over explaining or just confusing the issue.” She raised both front paws to stroke the long, silky, soft ear in a thoughtful gesture.
“Just tell me what favor you want to ask, and I will ask for any explanation I want.” Grey hooked her hands behind her head and turned to look up at the ceiling.
“We want you to let someone through your ward,” the bunny stated baldly, a little too baldly as it turned out. “Though Grey hardly moved, the way of dreams made her incipient absolute refusal screamingly obvious.
The bunny waved her paws quickly in the air. “Not in! Not in your wards, we want you to give someone permission to go out through them. He could probably have gotten out any time he liked, but without permission he would have been forced to break the wards. Not only would that leave you unprotected and unaware, but it is also rather rude. Hence this meeting.”
Grey sat up slowly and looked down at the talking stuffed animal on the table. “You are telling me there is someone else in my ward with me, my personal ward that barely stretches far enough to include my clothes, like a rider or possession?” Grey demanded, her voice empty and soft like her expression.
The bunny was waving her paws in denial well before Grey finished speaking. “No, no, no, nothing like that. He’s just small and happened to be about your person when you put your wards up.”
“Why would anyone, small or otherwise be about my person without my knowledge or permission?” Grey asked, cooly.
“He is a member of a group who try to look out for, well soldiers mainly, but anyone who leaves home, comfort, safety and family behind to go help and protect others can qualify. The group can can do only do little things, usually, like help the mail get through, especially letters from home and care packages. They help keep socks dry and if the opportunity arises, they yell, ‘Duck!’ or draw attention to sneaky people. Unfortunately, each one takes care of hundreds of people, so there is only so much they can do for each.
“He was checking on you and then got stuck when you stepped up your defenses. I told you it is a rescue mission, sort of.” The bunny smiled at Grey, tilting her fuzzy head to one side to clear her ear from her eye.
“Right.” Grey did not actually roll her eyes, but she somehow gave that impression with a certain timbre in her bland tone and the lack of expression on her face. The bunny just laughed and bounced up and down a few times without leaving the table.
“Why did your friend not ask me himself and save you and yours all the trouble of setting up this meeting?” Grey asked, once again wishing she could raise a single eyebrow to punctuate her query with her expression like a certain tyrant she had read about.
The fuzzy green nose wrinkled up and tilted to one side. “He probably assumed you would not hear him in the ordinary way, since most people, especially adults do not. Then there was probably how you might react to finding him about your person. It would also be rather difficult to get up close enough to your ear without stressing your warding. Imagine having a tiny someone slitting the inner surface of a pocket you were not aware of possessing and then crawling up your anatomy inside your clothing–a process anyone might take amiss–as a prelude to conversation.” The bunny smiled up at Grey from under one soft ear.
“Such an experience would definitely not put me in the right frame of mind to do anyone any favors, especially considering my current waking conditions,” Grey admitted with a quirk of her lips. “But, in this dream space, he could have managed his appearance and explanation easily enough.”
The bunny sat back so abruptly she had to push both ears out of her face. “That would not be very nice.”
“It wouldn’t?” Grey asked, a little startled herself.
“Well of course not!” the bunny said, planting her paws on her hips. “After I went through all the time and effort tracking down where he must have disappeared and setting up this rescue? To get to the exciting part,” she paused and waved her paws around indicating Grey, herself, and the general situation, “just to arrive and find he rescued himself? That would be like fighting your way to the evil wizard’s castle to find a note pinned under the princess’ window saying she stole his ring of flight and took herself home a day or so after the king sent you on the quest!”
“More like you set your ladder against the tower and she climbed herself down while you fought off a surprise attack, since I still would not have managed the escape without you,” a deep, growly voice that still managed to be little and warm said from one of the high backed arm chairs set facing the stone fireplace.
“My example was more dramatic,” the bunny said, crossing her little, furry arms across her chest. At the same time, she hunched her shoulders forward and bowed her head, so that her long, soft ears covered most of her face.
She could not hold the caricature of a pout for long before she started bouncing in place again and admitted, “And less accurate but it…” she broke off and looked from the source of the new voice to Grey’s blank expression and back again. “Maybe we should save our debate on comparative image crafting until after we conclude our negotiations with Dame Grey.”
Grey scowled a little at the bunny, but something else danced in her eyes. Blandly she said, “It is more like the princess using the fight at the base of the tower as a distraction so she can sneak out the back and find her own way home, leaving the rescuers to charge bravely into an empty room once the fighting is done.” Only the amusement in Grey’s eyes showed that she was teasing.
“Come on out, princess. Let me get a good look at you before we find out if the next chapter involves a daring rescue, or feeding you to a dragon.”
The bunny stopped bouncing and dropped back onto her tail. “Why would you want to feed the princess to a dragon?”
“Dragons have to eat, too, and some of them have a very particular diet,” Grey said reasonably.
“Well, that is certainly true. I know one who subsists almost entirely upon lemonade and honey, but still…” the bunny broke off, looking distressed.
“She is teasing you, Vert,” the small gruff voice said, sounding a little clearer and higher in elevation than before.
Both the bunny, apparently called Vert, and Grey turned to look at the speaker, now sitting calmly atop the chair’s back. In contrast to the deep voice, the soft bear sitting with crossed ankles and his hands laying in his lap could not have sat more than a few inches high. He wore a dark tan uniform with big pockets neatly belted at his waist. Being indoors and in the presence of two ladies, he had doffed his cover and it sat on the upholstery beside him. His dark fur shown dully in the dim light, but not at all compared to the bright gleam of the buttons and other metal fittings on his uniform.
He saluted briefly in Grey’s direction, smiling like an old friend. “Good evening, Dame Grey. It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to formally make your acquaintance.”
The bunny looked from Grey to the bear and back, thinking hard. “Teasing me? Does that mean she has already decided to give you permission?” Vert asked hope coloring her tone, not giving Grey the chance to acknowledge the introduction.
“Of course she has decided. She did that almost as soon as you told her I was trapped. Our lovely Jig has never been the sort to leave someone relatively innocent trapped against their will if there was something she could do about it. Besides, even if she were perversely inclined in this instance, she would still give her nod considering the mischief someone of unknown capabilities and possibly suspect motivations might get up to who could get about her person without her let, leave, or even knowledge, especially in her current situation,” the little bear told Vert, confidence and amusement coloring his tone.
Then he turned back to Grey. “You’ll have to forgive the little, green, fluffy butt. She doesn’t get out among other peoples often and she isn’t used to talking to people who don’t already know her when she knows them. In this company, I want to say my name is some version of Brown, what with her name translating to green and your name being grey, but really, the name is Jeremy. I would offer to shake hands, but since you could cradle my entire anatomy in your palm, that might be a trifle embarrassing, so assay it or not as you see fit.” He held out one paw with no hint of finger or claw and waved it a little in a slightly teasing, slightly challenging manner.
Grey sighed, drawing the breath up from her toes and then struggled up out of her chair as if the movement took a monumental effort. She somehow managed to stomp across to his chair back without making any noise on the rug-covered, hardwood floor. With an incredibly gentle yet swift and abrupt swipe of her left hand, like one might use to snatch a baby bird who was nothing like ready to be pushed out of the nest out of the air without mussing its downy feathers, Grey snatched Jeremy and his hat from the back of his chair. He resettled easily upon her open palm when she held him up before her face, still holding his hand out with a grin.
Grey nodded to acknowledge his sangfroid, her lips kicking up at the corners in spite of her best efforts. She grasped his paw between her index finger and thumb and shook it gravely. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Jeremy,” Grey assured him so dryly he had to laugh.
With no comment, but a slow, very definite set of movements. Grey walked over to Vert’s table and lowered her left hand until Jeremy could quite easily step from her palm to the surface. The faint rainbow swirls in the air by him stilled for a moment, and then parted just there, like a sheer curtain pulled aside to reveal the doorway behind. Jeremy stood up, tucking his hat under his arm he bowed solemnly to his involuntary host then turned to step across. The ward immediately snapped shut behind him, so abruptly it should have made some sound.
Even though it happened behind him, Jeremy started, spun, and looked up at Grey with wide eyes. She just smirked at him, pleased at getting the reaction her snatch failed to produce. Jeremy scowled and rolled his eyes, then a thought rolled across his face, widening his eyes and wiping the amusement from his furry little face. “You are going to let me come back, right? I’ve got a bunch of people to catch up on, but keeping an eye on you is going to be much harder if you don’t.”
Grey’s eyes grew wide. Without the studied indifference and faint hint of hostility with which she customarily masked herself, Grey looked more like a teenager than the infamous independent operator, Julian Grey, whose name had been known in certain circles for decades, whose naturally maroon colored hair and definite if often–sometimes ridiculously–denied femininity never turned out to be quite what was expected. Jeremy smiled at her and her ward distended out towards her to somehow allow him to pat her still extended hand.
“It helps to know there are people looking out for you who have no obligation to do so, doesn’t it?” he asked, confusing Vert while giving Grey what she needed to start pulling her face back together. “He sometimes forgets you’re even younger than he thinks you are, but you can be certain he would sacrifice not one whit less in your defence and care than her spell has compelled him to, if given that choice.”
Rather than explaining what that might mean to the bunny sitting behind him, impatient to get on with the rescuing but still itching with curiosity, Jeremy strolled over and blithely climbed up to Vert’s shoulder, using her ear as his rope. “It doesn’t matter if you allow me in or not, I shall continue to keep an eye on you…whether you like it or not,” Jeremy told Grey, a touch smugly and with a teasing smirk on his fuzzy face.
“I just bet you will,” Grey mock snapped as she rolled her eyes and slumped back into her chair.
Neither of the ambulatory stuffed animals responded with words, but between one blink and the next, Grey woke with the sound of quiet, deep-toned laughter in her ears. She sat on a cold, stone floor with her forearms resting on bent knees and her shoulders pressed back against a wall that matched the floor. She could not have been asleep long. The ghost in the small room had not yet reached the door.
He glanced back over one shoulder at her before slipping through the solid barrier. Grey met the palely-luminous, slightly-transparent gaze with such a gentle, sweet, almost shy smile that he stumbled in surprise. He paused and opened his mouth as if to speak, but with a slight shake of his head, he passed out of the room, leaving Grey alone in the darkness, softly laughing.