Part One: Elsewhere
David Bernard stands on the cracked stone floor of an open dojo in the middle of an endless grassy plain. A warm wind blows, carrying with it the smell of dry soil. The sky is clear and blue, and the sun shines hot on his face and neck.
It’s a simple dream, one he used often when he was trying to learn staff fighting. He’s not sure why he’s dreaming it now: it wasn’t by choice, which makes the setting unusual.
When he dreams spontaneously about a specific location, it’s usually about something he has an attachment to—the house he grew up in, the Sky Commando Unit, places like that—not a random set he constructed for his own amusement. He has no emotion invested in this place. There’s no reason for him to be here.
The wind kicks up, colder now, and carrying the distinctive scent of the ocean. A low, rumbling sound echoes across the plain, and a dark line forms on the horizon—stormclouds gathering, just a sliver of darkness against the clear blue at first, but quickly thickening, gathering in strength and size as they approach. The smell changes again, the smell of rain and storm overpowering the previous scent of warm earth. Along with that is something else: not a smell, but it almost registers as such.
He realizes why he is dreaming about the dojo now. He does have an emotional connection to it: a very recent connection. This is where he beat the island. This is where he, a man who knew nearly nothing about magic, managed to escape a trap on an almost-nonexistent island that was steeped in it. He did it because he is a lucid dreamer—he can control his dreams—and magic doesn’t know what dreaming is. By escaping into a world that he could control, one that the power that held the island in thrall couldn’t comprehend, he broke free of the power that bound him.
This is where he did it.
The clouds climb higher into the sky. Lightning flashes beneath them, tiny sparks of light against the dark, and the sky booms in answer. The hairs on the back of David’s neck stand on end, and his scalp begins to itch. He scratches his head absently, and is surprised to find his hair is long and thick. He passes his hand over his chin. He has a beard.
That isn’t right. His dream-form never has a beard. He closes his eyes and pictures that form: clean-shaven, short-haired, the way he looked when he was still in the Sky Commando program. He wills himself to adopt that appearance, then passes his hand over his chin. The beard remains.
He tries to change the setting, recreating the lobby of the Sky Commando Unit in his mind and attempting to mold the scenery to match. No change. He attempts to conjure something simpler—the bo staff he’d use when practicing here. Nothing happens. He tries to fly, one of the first things you do when you lucid dream. His feet remain planted on the ground.
Wake up, David. This is a dream, so just wake up.
He remains standing on the cracked stone floor as the storm approaches, the clouds ever nearer, the sky darker, and feels the wind grow in strength yet again. For the first time in a very long time, David is trapped in a dream.