"Sorry to keep you waiting, miss." Hammond said as he returned. He had taken Caelan to the breakroom, then excused himself for a moment to dash away. Now he returned, hand in pocket, and nodded politely to the young vampire. "Needed to get something else we'd be here all night."
Robert sat down on the couch in the breakroom and absently gestured for Caelan to make herself comfortable on a nearby office chair. The breakroom was, on the whole, a decidedly shabby affair. The couch had at least one spring poking through, the local computer seemed to be operating in DOS, and the chair had a fair chance of being older than Caelan. The Museum of the Industrial Revolution, it seems, was not a terribly successful affair.
"It usually takes me a while to get to sleep, but this ought to do the trick." Robert said, removing his hand from his pocket and holding up a small bottle of barbiturates. He read the instructions on the bottle carefully, then removed a pair of pills. Hammond snagged a bottle of water from a nearby table and took a drink. "So assuming you have nothing else for me..." Robert waited for a beat, should Caelan choose to interject. "...Then bottoms up."
Hammond downed the sleeping pills and took another drink of water, then sank back onto the couch. Within short minutes, he was fast asleep.
The situation was awkward. She sat in the chair, grimacing at the irritating squeak it made as her body sunk onto it. When Robert paused, Cae waved a pallid hand and shrugged.
The next step was to wait. Her nails offered some distraction through inspection of cuticles and lines while the Changeling settled in, and, more importantly, still had eyes open to wander.
All became silent. Hollow. These were the instances that Cae avoided, other than when it was time to rest in the day. But even then, there was the background hum of the planet, of diurnal life energetically buzzing beyond her grasp. Nighttime, her time, was much quieter, thus she did much to focus on moving and interacting. Stillness meant silence. Silence meant death.
And she was as death, much to her concern. It was every Kindred's concern, at least that was what Abonde had told her.
She leaned on one arm of the chair, still as a statue, silent as the night and death and all those things close to oblivion that she avoided.
Only there was a soft ticking.
Caelan glanced down to her watch. It was analog time, which she found more aesthetic.
Not a breath passed her lips. Without her own breath, she could hear his. But the room still felt hollow, as if she could hear the very air he expelled bouncing against the walls.
The watch still ticked the seconds in circles and circles. Perhaps it was comforting, too. How like a heartbeat time travels. One moment, then the next. Whether by grooves in metal or blood in valves.
Ba-DUM. Ba-DUM. Ba-DUM. You never notice how strong and loud your heartbeat is until it's gone.
Cae tensed for a moment, her eyes drawn to the jugular vein pulsing at the Changeling's neck. Luckily, Robert was already asleep. She could tell by his shallow, slow inhalations. It's poison, she reminded herself. Yet there was a desire, like the passing of a sexual thought in a human, when the brain imagines...what if?
Ba-DUM. Ba-DUM. His heart drummed, pumping the drugs and whatever else Changelings had through his body.
She shut her eyes and tried to think of daylight. Of sun in summertime; the miserable heat of London when the fog left. The stale feel of sitting out too long matched with the salty odor of sweat and a dim drowsiness. Even humans couldn't take the blasting star for too long.
After calming herself, Cae opened her eyes and watched Robert again. Her mind was clear of bloody thoughts, clouded instead now by a self-imposed meditative haze. Robert's form blurred, spreading out in three dimensions to silhouettes and outlines and a crown of light.*
Christ, she thought. They really show their colors when they don't resist.
Cae dragged her chair by Robert's elbow and lightly placed her fingers on his wrist.
The world slowed around Caelan. Objectively speaking, what happened to the vampire now was not sleep, not exactly. It was more of a trance, one that left Caelan just barely aware of her surroundings. With concentration, one could still feel, if not necessarily see, the ratty coach and the squeaky armchair, the feel of the changeling's cool flesh under cold fingers. But now one concentrated on the dreams, to find out what was inside of them. And so... Caelan entered the dream.
Colors shifted and moved, autumnal colors mostly. Orange, brown, red, yellow in a myriad of tones. The air felt sharp and crisp in Caelan's nostrils, and her skin felt the cool air. Sounds in the distance, a bit like the squawk of crows, a bit like the grinding of gears. There was nothing concrete about this stage between dreams, just an unreconciled mass of sensations, drawn from the changeling's unconscious mind.
Then, as Caelan continued to concentrate, the morass of images and feelings began to structure themselves, forming into lines and shapes and shadows. It wasn't as though they were being created out of thin air, exactly. Rather, it felt like Caelan pushed her way through a dense mist, a London pea-souper from Victorian days. After a period of time that felt ageless but likely took less than thirty seconds, Caelan had emerged into Robert Hammond's dreams.
Click. Whirr. Hiss.
At very first glance, the dream vista before Caelan was that of the Museum of the Industrial Revolution. Shabby-genteel, with painted walls that had seen better days, and the detritus of a bygone era lining the walls. Except in the dream, it moved. Pocket-watches ticked along, steam engines boiled, threshers rattled along the walls. Everything was moving, and everything worked. Nothin was too old or too rusted to run, everything as fresh as the day it was made. There were less obvious changes as well. The ceiling of the museum grew impossibly tall, stretching up a good thirty or forty feet. There were shadows everywhere, and not a lightbulb could be seen.
Hammond stood in the middle of the exhibition hall, gazing at Caelan. He looked much like he had before, but somehow more than he was before. His arms were longer and he looked oddly healthier, more muscular and broader in the shoulders. His hands had long fingers, delicate, and with more joints than before, and had a faintly metallic sheen to them. It was Robert's eyes that attracted attention, however. They were a startling white, no pupil or iris to be seen.
"Hello, Miss." The unmasked Changeling nodded politely to Caelan, smiling. His teeth looked faintly metallic. "Welcome to my humble, nocturnal abode."
Caelan glanced around at the mechanics, her eyes rolling at the rate of her intake. When she finally settled on what had to be Robert's true form, she was surprised at his greeting more than his eyes.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, Mr. Hammond," she said formally, only this time she didn't have the physical tic to accompany it. "I only meant to observe..." she trailed off, again absorbing his technical surroundings. She spotted the strange eye, mentally frowning. Fox...? She pushed it aside for the moment.
"Would you like to, hmm," The vampire hesitated; a Changeling in a dream. How unpredictable would he be? "explain the trouble you've been having?"
"It's hard to explain, and easier for you to see. Imagine the dreams as a storm of emotions, all focused in on the center. A kind of hurricane, if you will." Robert said. His voice was odd. A strange sort of reverberation, as though listening to a rather old recording. "It's my dream, and so I'm the center. But you're not. You can go backstage, get out of the eye of the storm. You can peek behind the curtain."
No sooner had Robert said this than you heard a creak. And then another. As though something, and something very large, was approaching down the corridor behind a set of large doors. Hammond whipped his face around to face the doors, suddenly flushing.
"It's hunting. Whatever it is, it's hunting." He looked back at Caelan. "Don't let it catch you, and stay behind the stage."
With those words, Hammond ran down another corridor, sprinting as fast as he could, away from the dreadful creaking, and whatever unwholesome thing caused this nightmare.
Hammond threaded his way through this bizarre nightmare of a museum, moving like a man well used to running. Even Caelan, who could not run out of breath found herself hard-put to keep up with him. Or perhaps not running, exactly, but escape. The changeling knew how to escape, dodging into side-rooms, weaving through the corridors, leaving the darkness and the sounds of movement far behind him.
All of this happened before Caelan. Behind her, however, something else was moving as well. She caught only glimpses of it, but that was enough. Many-legged, many-fanged, distant and indistinct at the distance, scuttling through the shadows with a clickety-clackety movement of mechanical joints. As large as a horse, the floor creaked beneath it as it moved.
"So...that's new," Caelan said. Or thought. It really didn't make a difference in the dream since no one else was around to hear it.
On the bright side, she thought, it wasn't her nightmare. It wasn't not scary, either. She vaguely recalled a RAMPAGING FURRY TRUCK OF DEATH and decided, you know what, I'd like to disappear right about now.
Cae stopped following Robert and sidled up to the nearest flat thing (the wall, in this instance) and watched the mechanical creature, careful not to be stepped on. Just like a dream to not let her see the whole of the monster, however. How much could Robert's psyche concentrate on its form?
Clickety-clack, the mechanical spider passed through the corridor, it's many-jointed limbs digging into the floor. The monster did not chase Robert Hammond. It stalked him. It tracked him and followed him, maintaining its distance while gears whirred and clockwork pincers snapped. It came closer, passing by Caelan, becoming easier to make out...
...except it didn't become easier to make out. The entire monstrosity was blurred or indistinct. It moved its mechanical legs mere yards away from Caelan, but it remained as vague as though it was at the far end of this dream-museum's cavernous hallways.
More than that. It looked false. It lacked detail. Gears whirred, but had no teeth. Joints that looked like steel bent like warm putty, or perhaps like flesh made of dreamstuff. From behind, the effect was even more pronounced. The thorax of the clockwork spider was no more than a great orb with mechanical designs seemingly painted upon it. It passed beyond Caelan, clattering after Robert, chasing the changeling through his own maddened dreams.
Caelan and Abonde stood in the office, bright sunlight streaming through the windows upon the 51st floor. Or not precisely. They sat in trance beneath the Church of St. Alcuin, but now they stood in the mind of a dreamer, some worshipper of the Hawthorne Circle, pass through dreams of drudgery and misery, on his way to a stroke of genius. Abonde had clad herself and her apprentice in the garb of minor office workers, and spoke to Caelan, watching the dreamer in the distance. She gestured to one office worker, near-perfectly human, but looking subtly off.
"When I was young, and remembered the sun, they were called Dream-Slaves. Today the term is Supernumerary. They are the half-living spawn of the dream, products of the mind's feverish fancies. Crafted to serve as the actors in the dreamer's plays, they fulfill the role as required. They are lovers, soldiers, friends, monsters, wise teachers and unseen idols."
The vampiress gestured to another figure passing through. An office boy in theory, but at the periphery of the dreamer's mind, a piece of the background. He had a human shape, but his clothing seemed painted on, and his face lacked features. No eyes, no mouth, no ears or brow, only enough depressions and shadows to give the impression of it.
"They are false things, born with no more detail than necessary to fulfill their role, born when sleep begins, perishing when it ends. They are harmless beasts, though some can hold great wisdom about the nature of the dream, if granted the power of speech." Abonde bared her teeth in a strange, fey smile. "They are the pawns of an oneiromancer. Never the master."
The supernumerary horror was past Caelan now, pausing to scent the air, or pretend to do so at least, and then following after the runaway Changeling. Far above her, the fox-eyed cameras followed the chase.