Back to part 1

I was not looking forward to today. Another meeting with the oil company, another day staring at the Shamber. I wonder how much he could know about what's been happening these last couple of days, he's surprised me before with how much he could figure out.

Things went fairly well for the first half of the day. We discussed options for fracking techniques and locations and how to best juggle government regulations with maximizing profit margins. Nothing I hadn't done before.

It was lunch where everything went to pot. It started when the Shambler announced that, as the human resources representative, he'd be taking me out to lunch. It actually managed to go downhill from there.

"Starbucks isn't quite what I had in mind." I told him when we pulled into the parking lot.

"We need somewhere we can talk." The Shambler replied. "I have more information you need, and I need to know what you've found out."

That was disturbing on several levels, because a few things happened that I don't particularly want him to know about. We got a couple of sandwich wraps and two coffee drinks and sat down in the far corner.

We never did get around to having that conversation, though, because we were interrupted by a demon, which had never happened to me at a Starbucks before.

It was obvious that nobody besides the two of us could see or hear him, because a monstrous, winged form passing through a solid wall tends to attract attention otherwise. "Hello, my former jailer!" he started, entirely too joyfully. "I just came by to thank my best friend in the entire world." He leveled his gaze meaningfully at me, and it made me feel like I was being hunted. "Twice now, you've set me free, oh but not like last time, no, this time, you have truly set me free! I had no idea I could feel so alive! I have a completely free hand to act now, and it's all thanks to you."

The Shambler turned to me with a murderous look in his eyes, and I was afraid he might kill me right here in the Starbucks. "What did you do?" he demanded.

"It was all I could think of, I swear I thought I was doing the right thing."

"What did you do?" he asked again, in level, threatening tones.

"I based it on the summoning circle you gave me. It was the only way I could think of to get the amazon out of the Shared Dreaming before she could hurt Christine. I changed it and taught it to her, so I could summon something else."

"What?"

I let out a long breath. "The Grim Reaper. Since he was trapped in the tanzanite, I was hoping it would kill him."

"You unbelievable fool. You have no idea what you've done."

The demon sat down at our table in an empty chair and smiled broadly at me. "Surely you know, don't you, that the gods of one religion become the demons of the next? Haven't you ever wondered how exactly that happens?"

The Shambler continued for him. "Entities like He Who Devours the Moon and my father do not fit in this universe. They are too large, too complex. This universe was actually designed specifically to exclude them. But it can't keep them out entirely. The manifestations of their power in this universe are like hands reaching through, a tiny part of their whole, but a piece so complex it has agency of its own, tied to the whole but able to act autonomously."

"Of course you couldn't kill He Who Devours the Moon by attacking the little piece of him that's here. The worst you could do is cut off that hand poking through," the demon continued for him.

I put the last pieces together. "And, you're his hand. Cut off from the whole, your own independent entity now."

"And it is wonderful! Really, in retrospect, I have no idea what I was so afraid of. It's amazing that we all don't all do this."

"So what are you going to do now that you're free? Devour the moon again?" I asked.

"No, that was the old me. The new me isn't that powerful. I'd let you in on my new plans, but there's so much you don't know about why this universe is here in the first place. Maybe I'll tell you some day. But today, I'm here to talk to him." He pointed at the Shambler.

"I have nothing to say to you." The Shambler began eating his sandwich in an attempt to ignore the demon. Let me tell you, that's disturbing to watch for a man who can see he doesn't actually have a working mouth.

"Then listen. You're on the wrong side. You don't have to follow your father's agenda just because he created you. In fact, if I were you, I'd be offended that he did such a slapdash job of it. Look at yourself, underneath that human-looking veneer he hastily painted over you, you're a mess. You're a half-finished, lazy approximation of a man, thrown together in a hurry by something that wasn't really paying attention to what it was doing. He at least owed you that, didn't he? The basic care to do it right if he was going to do it at all?"

"Go away," was all the Shambler could grumble in response.

"And the way he treats you, so badly. Dead, twice now, both times avoidable. That couldn't have been pleasant. He didn't even trust you enough to let you know what he was doing that last time. A few guidelines, all intentionally misleading, all to set up this chump sitting with us to bring the ghosts to you so you could spoil my fun. Masterfully manipulated, I must say, but was that really necessary? Why did he bother to create an avatar he didn't trust enough to do the job he created you for? If I were you, I'd be renegotiating my contract right about now."

The Shambler threw what was left of his sandwich down on the table and marched angrily out to the parking lot. I heard the car start up and leave.

"Thanks a lot. He was my ride, you know."

†‡‡‡††‡‡‡†

I have no doubt in my mind that the amazon is coming for me tonight. I betrayed her, and she has every reason to hate me. I wonder how much she knows about what happened.

I have to be ready for her when she comes. I have defenses set up this time, mental blocks I learned how to create to deal with problems just like this. A trained dreamwalker attacks you by preying on your fears and insecurities, so to defend yourself you lock them away, or at least hide them and hope she can't find them. Sarah would be her most powerful weapon, so I hid my memories of her away as well as I could, suppressing them as deeply as I know how.

This is my dream, so I choose the battleground. It's my old high school, an ad-hoc collection of halls and corridors with no rhyme or reason to their placement other than what was cheapest to build as they added on over the years. You could get lost in a place like that if you don't know where you're going.

She comes.

I am ready.

"You lied to me!" She roared, her weighted net at the ready.

"You're trying to murder an innocent woman and her unborn child." My San Angelo bar is ready as well.

"I cannot let the Dream Child be born."

"I can't let you do that."

"You can't stop me."

We're standing in the hallway where I used to have English class. I duck into that classroom. She would think I'd be trapped there with no way out, but that particular classroom has a door in the back connecting it to the classroom next to it. I run through there and out the other room. I'm around the next corner before she realizes what I've done, and that buys me some time.

Not a lot. One of the peculiarities of the dreamworld is that dreams are most solid around the dream's creator, fading to insubstantial at the edges. That means that she can home in on me by feeling around the dreamscape and heading for the most solid part. I, meanwhile, have no such means of finding her.

In the school's auditorium, there's a catwalk up in the ceiling, which was a popular and relatively hidden place to hang out if you were skipping a class. I never did that, although I have to admit it wasn't because I had no interest in skipping class. It was because that catwalk scared the hell out of me. It swung side to side when you walked on it, and the handrails felt like they wouldn't support your weight if you leaned on them. If I could lead her across the catwalk, a subtle note of suggestion could bring the whole thing crashing down with her on it.

I run into the auditorium. I climb the ladder. She isn't far behind me. I step onto the catwalk, and it damn near falls apart just from my own fear of it alone. But I make it across.

Predictably, she follows. True to form, it swings violently side to side as she runs across it, and the handrails shake under her grip like they weren't solidly attached. When she is halfway across, I stick my San Angelo bar into the catwalk supports and use it like a pry bar to snap it loose.

The catwalk lurches to the side, throwing her against the handrails, which predictably give way under her weight, just like I was always afraid they would. Woman, net, handrail, and support beam come crashing to the floor.

I slide down the far ladder to see the aftermath. She should have fallen out of the dream before she hit the ground, that's how these things work. Instead she gets up, untangles her net from the debris, and is after me again.

I guess she's not afraid of heights. Me, I'm better with depths.

I run outside into the grassy area between the wings that everyone called The Quad, because it had four sides and high school students aren't very creative. When she follows me out, I realize I couldn't run forever. My plan didn't work, it was time to face the music.

I ready my San Angelo bar and get into a fighting stance. She does the same with her weighted net. She has a perfect record against me so far.

"I will find you, every night, in every dream. You will never sleep again." It wasn't a threat, it was delivered with a flat, factual certainty.

She raises her net up over her head, and swings it down at the ground between us. The ground cracks open like a cartoon earthquake, the sort of fault split that can't happen in real life but happens in movies all the time, and I tumble in as the earth gives way beneath me.

No, this is wrong. She can't do that to me, not me of all people. I know better.

"Don't think you can get away with that, lady. I'm a geologist." From the bottom of the crevice, I shove the San Angelo bar into a crack in the side that looks like it would split the way I want it to, and I pry it open. The entire side of the crevice collapses in on itself, and she tumbles in along with it.

"I can do what I want here," she declares, freeing herself from the rubble to face me again. "I am nightmares."

"Of course you are," I retort. "I'm just embarrassed that I didn't figure that out sooner. You know who else is nightmares? Stephen King, H.R. Giger, and David Lynch. They were all so good at it because they turned their own fears on their audience. They were good at it because they were speaking from personal experience. Well you know what? You can't scare me anymore. I finally realized what all this imagery is about."

I level my San Angelo bar at her accusingly. "You're the one who's afraid of sex, not me."

I climb up out of the crevice. She starts to climb up after me. I've flustered her, I have time, and I have the advantage now.

When she climbs out, she's not just facing me anymore. I have friends with me. "You know what, I think I know what else you're afraid of, and it's something you can't weaponize." Nicholas Pappas and his grandmother, my translator from my adventure in Tanzania, my parents, my best friend from high school way back in the late 1960s, my favorite teacher from grade school, and Jack Taylor are all with me now, or at least, manifestations of my memories of them are with me. We surround her, and she has her back to the crevice she just climbed out of.

"You can't fight this, can you? You lost. Go home."

Out of options, she leaves my dream.

I hope she doesn't realize that worked because I was speaking from personal experience, myself.

†‡‡‡††‡‡‡†

The next day I had more consulting work with the oil company. The Shambler wasn't there, he apparently called in sick. I didn't know it could get sick. Other than that, it was a refreshingly normal day at the office, and I was well-rested for a change.

It got weird later that night.

I was on my couch, with a blanket over my legs, and working on my notes for my books with a pen and clipboard. I was grateful for the quiet night and a chance to work on it again, until the knock on my apartment door.

Given the craziness lately, I peered through the peephole before I opened it, and saw the Shambler there. He didn't look good, his suit was disheveled, and he looked like he was having trouble with his balance. And I'm pretty sure he hadn't changed his clothes since yesterday.

Now here's a conundrum.

On one hand, this was the avatar of a powerful extra-dimensional entity who tried to kill me twice already and did kill my girlfriend. On the other hand, he's been a lot more pleasant this time around, and so far as I could tell we were on the same side and always have been. Do I let him in?

And then it occured to me that he's the avatar of a powerful extra-dimensional entity and if he wanted to get in by force I'd lose my security deposit.

So I let him in. And he was reeking of alcohol. "Are you drunk?"

"I certainly hope so," he slurred back, stumbling into my apartment. "I have been drinking for sixteen hours straight. It turns out I'm really, really hard to get drunk. But! It shuts up the blathering demon who's been bothering me all day. So that's still a win."

I didn't see the demon who was He Who Devours the Moon anywhere around, so I gathered that he managed to block him out in an alcoholic haze, and he left. I brought him over to the couch and got my mop bucket for him in case he needed to vomit.

"Are you going to pass out?"

"I don't think so. I don't sleep, so maybe not. However! This is all new territory for me, and I don't think I like it very much. I liked it a lot more around hour five but it's gotten steadily worse since then. Look. Look! You have to have a drink with me. You have to drink with me because it's pathetic to be the only one drinking when other people are around, so you need to have a drink with me. Where are your drinks?"

"You don't need anything else to drink right now. The demon isn't here. Just lie down and try not to make a mess."

"Have I ever told you you're my only friend?" Great. Now it's gotten weird. More weird. "My jacket sleeve is soaked in vodka." Without any other ceremony, he pulled a lighter out of his pocket and set his suit jacket sleeve on fire.

For a moment I was too stunned to react, I could only watch the fire start to consume his clothes and begin to burn his hand. Then I turned to go to the kitchen to get some water, but changed my mind when I realized that it might spread the alcohol around and make it worse. So instead I rushed to get the blanket off the couch and smothered his arm with it. His hand didn't look good. "He's right about everything, I'm a pathetic, half-finished... not really... a person. I don't even feel pain right. What do you think? Tell me the truth, you can see me under the illusion. What is it?"

"You look, um, wrong." I told him. "Your mouth doesn't work and Nicolas shot you five times and you didn't seem to notice. That's not normal. In fact it's really scary."

"Yeah, I'm scary. Boo! I'm a big, mean, old, scary, monster. Why'd he do it? Why'd he make me like this? Ah, you don't know. You don't know nothin' important. You don't even know what you are. Oh, I know why you were made the way you are, you're all part of somethin' bigger than all of you put together and you don't even know it. And a whole bunch of you are throwin' it all away forever and you don't even know it. This whole damn universe was made just for you and it's gonna rot away when the protons finally decay and you don't even appreciate it because you'll be done by then anyway."

I had no idea what he was babbling about so I went to the bathroom to get him some water and aspirin. I don't know what the correct dosage is for supernatural monsters over the age of twelve but at least I could offer.

He took the pills and swallowed the water and grabbed me by the shirt as if that were the next step after taking aspirin. "Look, look. Where was I going with this." His breath reeked of alcohol so badly it hurt my eyes. "Right, the dreaming, look. It's the divine spark of creation, you stupid idiot. Divine! That's a fuckin' hint!" Then he let go of my shirt and slumped down on the couch. "Everybody dies, okay? The only thing that matters is if you can look back and say the world was a better place because you were in it. It was designed that way for a reason."

I needed to get away from him. I could sit in the kitchen and see him in the living room from there, but not being in the same actual room with him made me feel better. "I need you to sober up and go," I said. I couldn't look at him without remembering he killed Sarah.

"Yeah, yeah. Just gimme, like, an hour."

†‡‡‡††‡‡‡†

It had been about a week since I was last able to actually enjoy the Shared Dreaming. The Shambler shook me up pretty badly with his visit, and it took me a while to get to sleep, but now that I'm here I finally feel all right again.

I almost have to pry Jack away from Christine, but we've got work to do.

"I realized the other night that I need to teach you how to defend yourself," I tell him. "You can't actually get physically hurt in a dream, it's safe that way. People who say if you die in a dream you die in real life don't know what they're talking about. But a lot of things can wake you up, and it takes a surprisingly short number of sleepless nights to start to really mess with you, and that is dangerous."

I manifest my San Angelo bar and show it to him. "You can't fight hand-to-hand in a dream. It just doesn't work. You need a weapon. The first thing you need to know is that everyone has their own, and it's very personal to you. This is my San Angelo bar, a geology tool. It's heavy and unwieldy in the real world and would make a terrible weapon, but that doesn't matter here. The second thing you need to know is that all weapons are equally dangerous, from guns to clubs, so don't let appearances fool you. Now, dig down, what's your weapon?"

"A sword."

I sigh. "Everybody says sword at first. I've only met a handful of people who actually use one, and they're all trained fencers in the physical world. Try again."

"You're right, it's not a sword. It's a chain."

"Really?"

"I have my reasons," he tells me, and sure enough he manifests a length of chain about five feet long in his hands.

"Now swing it at me, and remember, you can't actually hurt me here, so really give it everything you've got." He does, and it's clumsy and undisciplined. I raise my bar up high, and the chain wraps around the end. He's going to pull, they always pull, so I take a step forward to rob him of his leverage. Then I bring the other end of the bar down and around, catching him in the back of the knees, and drop him to the ground.

Before he knows what happened, I've got the spade end of the San Angelo bar at his throat. "The third thing you need to know is that I was trained in dream combat by Toula Pappas, the most badass dream fighter who ever lived. And the amazon still beat me four fights out of five. There's a lot you have to know about confidence, fear, manipulation of the environment, the power of suggestion, and willingness to hurt your opponent. This is a lot different from fighting in the physical world.

"Spend a few nights getting used to your chain. Make sure it's really your weapon, you'll know if it isn't. Then we can start training you. In the meantime, go spend some time with your wife. Once you get good at coming here on your own you'll be able to see her every night. She can't leave this place, so I need to make sure you can take care of her."

†‡‡‡††‡‡‡†

Two restful nights in a row. I could get used to this.

Fortunately, by this point I was more or less finished with the consulting work I was doing with the oil company, so it was another work from home day. I idly wondered if the Shambler showed up to work today. I managed to get a lot done, anyway, feeling motivated and productive, and through one of my regular contacts I may have even managed to get my next client lined up.

And that was all before noon. I was just about to break for lunch when the demon showed up, and I suddenly realized I'd had more supernatural visitors to my apartment than actual people lately. I was going to have to do something about that.

"What do you want?" I asked. "Had enough tormenting your jailor already? Is it my turn?"

"Oh, no, not at all. I just thought you might like to know that he's on his way to the hospital. I'm afraid he's going to do something rash."

I got up with a start. "What? Is he going to hurt Christine?"

"I believe that's his plan, yes. The poor thing seems to have somehow gotten it into his head that preventing the birth of the Dream Child would be a good way to get back at his father."

I grabbed my keys and was out the door as fast as I could go. I didn't even bother to stop to lock the door, seconds might count. I ran down the stairs as fast as I could, and the demon effortlessly kept up with me, more floating than flying and passing through solid matter like a ghost. I shoved my way past a woman and made her drop her grocery bags, because in situations like this there are simply some clich├ęs that must be obeyed. I've seen her around the apartment but I never learned her name. "Sorry!" I called back, without slowing down, as if it would do any good.

I got into my car and started driving to the hospital as fast as I dared. I wasn't about to ruin this by losing control and crashing somewhere, or I wouldn't do anybody any good. Gradually I became aware the demon was in the passenger seat. "What are you even telling me this for? I thought you wanted the Dream Child dead."

"Again, that was the old me. I've got a different perspective on things now that I belong to this universe."

"So you're helping the Shambler's master now?"

"Merely a distasteful necessity."

I drove the rest of the way in silence, somehow lucking out and not running across any traffic cops. When I got to the hospital, it was obvious something was very wrong. People were running out the entrance, at least the ones who could. The intercom was announcing something about a "code silver" in inappropriately calm tones. Doubtless they'd called the police already. Inside, the reception desk nurse was holding a cloth up to her nose trying to stop it from bleeding. A security guard was slumped over on the floor next to a wall, and I could only hope he was just unconscious.

Christine's room was on the third floor. I took the stairs again, and was starting to get winded. When I got out into the main hallway I'm not surprised. A number of doctors and orderlies appear to have congregated to try to stop the Shambler, but quickly realized they were helpless to actually stop him. Another two bodies were on the floor, and a doctor was screaming that his arm was broken. I just hope he hasn't killed anybody yet. I noticed he was still wearing the same suit from two days ago, and it's just gotten into worse shape.

I run between the Shambler and Christine's room. Jack wasn't here today, which is good, he'd have just gotten himself killed.

"Don't do this." I couldn't think of anything better to say.

"He wants her. It's the only way I can hurt him." Somehow, he stopped advancing. I don't know how I might have stopped him if he'd kept coming. "Don't you see, I can hurt him like this. He's not omnipotent."

Someone in street clothes was dragging the doctor with the broken arm out of the hallway.

"Christine doesn't deserve this. Christine is a real, living, breathing person. She's been struggling through a coma for almost nine months now, and Jack has kept by her the whole time. He could give up on her and he didn't. They're about to have a baby, for crying out loud! Don't destroy all of that just to get back at him!"

"He's got to realize he can't do this. He's got to see even his kind have consequences." He started forward again. "I'm sorry, it's the only way I can hurt him."

"Why do you want to hurt me?" We both turned, and saw the Shambler's master walking down the hallway toward us. "Why would you want to hurt you father?"

"Look at me!" the Shambler roared back at him. "Under this glamour I'm a monster! You made me like this, and then when you could have fixed it you didn't! You just painted over it! Well if I'm a monster, then I'm a monster, and this is what monsters do!"

"No." His creator answered, his voice still calm, level, and undisturbed. "When I first made you, I created what I needed at the time. You were brutish and dim, because that is all you needed to be. When you were killed, and your charge was freed, I realized that I needed more than that, I had underestimated how far humanity had progressed through their ignorant superstitions. Did you expect me to leave you dead? And simply create a new servant? That was within my power, but no, you served me well and loyally, and I brought you back. I gave you the intelligence and the appearance necessary to move freely among the humans, because that was what was needed."

"No, no you didn't, you just hid it, I'm still a monster underneath. And he can see it." The Shambler pointed at me. "And I can see it, and you can see it, and the demon can see it."

At that point I realized that the demon didn't follow me inside the hospital. Did he stay in the car?

"My son, you think that matters? Why ever would it?"

And that's when I saw the Grim Reaper return. Damn, I thought, the Shambler did kill someone after all.

Except not. He was walking toward the Shambler's master, his scythe poised and ready. The Shambler saw it, and fixed his gaze past his master, which tipped off his master that something was behind him.

Too late, he turned to see the Reaper just as it brought its scythe down, in a clean swipe that would have severed a person in half. The scythe, however, merely passed through his body like a ghost. Apparently satisfied, the Reaper turned, and left.

I don't know how I expected him to react, but he barely did at all. A pair of wings sprouted from his back, just like the pair the other demon had. He looked shocked, and then disappointed. And then he flew through the ceiling and left.

No sooner was he gone than the other demon flew up through the floor to join us. "That was your plan all along, wasn't it?" I asked.

"Ever since I was severed, yes, I was determined to sever my enemy as well. Despite its power, faith is such a fragile thing, isn't it? Shake it too hard and it shatters. Shatter it, and even one's own avatar can turn on him. The Dream Child is useless to him now, as a demon he doesn't have the power to use him. Your Christine should be quite safe, I can't imagine anyone wants to hurt her anymore."

"What about you?" I asked the Shambler.

"No, my former master has already been hurt more than I could ever hope to do myself. It's over."

"The police will be here any minute now. What are you going to do?"

"I'm not going to fight them. I'll go peacefully, and justice will be done. I'm not sure if I'm a monster anymore. Maybe I'll try not being one for a while, see how that works out."

Christine was fine. None of the medical equipment in any of the rooms was damaged or lost power. The worst injuries the staff wound up with were that broken arm and a concussion, nobody died. The police took the Shambler away peacefully, like he said. Maybe I should start calling him John Smith now, if he's going to try to blend in.

The police questioned me, and I told them I managed to talk him out of his rampage until they got there. They told me not to leave town for a while.

On my way out of the hospital, I saw the fading remnants of a magic circle that the demon had drawn all the way around the building, just like the one I tricked the amazon into using on him.

†‡‡‡††‡‡‡†

There's still one last loose end to clean up. It takes me a while to search through the dreaming, but I eventually find the amazon's dream. I haven't seen Arusha, Tanzania in forty years, and it's changed a lot, but this is definitely it. She must live there. It makes sense, He Who Devours the Moon would have needed someone local to help him.

"So, you decided to seek me out, then?" she demanded as soon a I showed up.

"No, it's not like that. I'm just here to talk." I'm not holding my San Angelo bar. I don't want to do anything threatening.

"Get out, you don't belong here. You are not welcome here."

"I didn't figure you for that big of a hypocrite." I immediately wish I could take it back.

Her eyes narrow. She's holding her weighted net. I hold myself back from manifesting my bar. As if they could sense her anger, all the "people" that were populating her dream scatter, leaving the two of us alone in the street. Mt. Meru is visible in the background, and it starts to rumble as though it were going to erupt.

"I was ready for you. You brought someone with you, you know you did. This is my dream, I can bring her out."

"No, please don't do that." I know she's talking about Sarah. "I just want to talk. I don't want to fight you."

But it's too late. My memory of Sarah walks out of the corner shop we're standing closest to. This time, though, her neck isn't broken, she's as I remember her before she died. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that I just saw her killer being taken into custody. Not for her murder, of course, but it might have given me a bit of closure.

"Sarah, please, don't blame me for what happened. Please don't, I don't think I could take it anymore."

Sarah just looks at me and smiled. "Of course I don't blame you. I never did. You only ever blamed yourself."

"I don't understand."

Sarah came toward me, and embraced me, really held me, the way I remember she used to, not the empty, meaningless gesture I tried before. "Weren't you paying attention at all? I came with you because I had faith in you. If I didn't, don't you think I would have thought you were insane? You were running around with a hundred year old woman to destroy magic circles that I couldn't see and fight a monster I thought looked like a man. And what did I do?"

"You stood up to him, and you..." I choked.

"No, before that. I scattered iron filings all over the parking garage trying to destroy one of those circles I couldn't even be sure existed. Because I believed you. Because I believed in you. There's power in faith like that. We saved the moon, you and me. We don't really know what that means, but it has to mean something if they went through all the trouble to steal it."

"You didn't have to die. Your death didn't mean anything."

"That doesn't matter. My death doesn't have to mean anything, as long as my life did."

Tears are streaming down my face as I remember the words of a drunken monster feeling sorry for itself on my couch. "The world was a better place for having had you in it, Sarah."

"Then I don't have any regrets. Good-bye. It's time for both of us to move on."

Sarah kisses me, and walks down the street. I watch until she's at the edge of the amazon's dream, and she fades away. I will never dream about her again, and I decide that's okay. I'll remember her.

I wipe the tears from my eyes and turn my attention back to the amazon. She's not holding her net anymore. She looks defeated.

I walk over to her, and slowly, cautiously, put my hands on her shoulders. She flinches, but doesn't pull away. Standing right next to her, I realize just how tall she is, maybe half an inch shorter than I am, if that.

"Come back with me to the Shared Dremaing." I tell her. "We need people like you there, people who know what they're doing."

"You're crazy, I can't go back there. I tried to kill the woman in the coma."

"You made a mistake. You were being manipulated by something that was stronger and smarter than you. Things like that have been tormenting humanity since the beginning. I don't claim to understand what they're doing, but our fate is important to them somehow. As far as I can tell the best way to beat them is to make this world the best place we can. Help me do that."

"They'd never accept me."

"I've seen too many people throw their lives away because they either couldn't get past their mistakes, or they thought nobody else could get past them. Don't underestimate the healing power of forgiveness. At least try."

Back to part 1

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