Chapter 15 - Back to Work
One awoke the next morning to find himself in one of the bedrooms in the private section of the Matinee, buried beneath a tangle of patchwork quilts and black satin-cased pillows.
He started drifting back off to sleep, murmuring, "I'm sure Two can handle Wong for a few more minutes."
Without warning, the room's single window suddenly slammed open and flooded the room with brilliant light.
One groaned and covered his head with a thick quilt. "It's too early to be morning!"
The sun's rays focused into a single beam and crept through the room. With surprising determination, the beam inched over a small pile of One's clothes, and up the wooden frame of his bed before finally stopping above One's covered head.
After a few moments, the sunbeam grabbed the quilt covering One's head and tossed it aside. As he squinted at the sudden burst of light, the sunbeam slapped him full across the face.
One shielded himself as best he was able, shouting, "Okay, okay! I'm awake!"
As the sunbeam faded, One tried to get out of bed, but only succeeded in further tangling his legs up in his sheets and falling onto the floor with a thud. He muttered something impolite beneath his breath before pushing himself from the floor.
He entered the Lobby a few minutes later via stairwell, still feeling a bit groggy. Two, who was lounging in his chair, snickered at his partner's appearance over a cup of what smelled strongly of apple cider. Wong was resting his head on the table, drooling ever so slightly. Mom was busily typing at her computer.
She nodded at One, her eyes never leaving her screen. "Good morning, One. Pleasant dreams?"
Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, One muttered, "Yeah, before you woke me up."
Naomi replied evenly, "And if I hadn't, you'd just sleep in right past your assignment, just like that job you took with Atraius."
"Yeah, 'cause it's totally my fault that witch hit me with a sleep spell!"
"Excuses, excuses." Naomi replied, waving her hand at One dismissively.
One popped his neck and sighed with relief. As he sat down in his chair at the conference table, Two snapped his fingers and made a cup appear in front of One on the table.
"Thanks, Two." One picked up the mug and promptly dropped it back on the table.
Two burst out laughing as One blew on his now red fingers.
"It's hot." Two said, tossing his buddy an oven mitt.
"Thanks for the warning, jerk." Taking a sip from his mug, One felt energy seep back into his limbs much more quickly than it would have with his usual coffee. He looked into the deep amber contents of his mug with surprise, asking, "What is this?"
"Crystallic cider." Two took another sip from his mug before continuing, "Some kind of magical pick-me-up or something from Vinta. It seemed appropriate, considering your assignment. Not bad, huh?"
"Except for the fact I can't use magic." One with a smirk.
Two laughed as well. "Yeah, but the norms don't know that, do they? If they call it magic, I sure as hell ain't gonna argue."
One started to take another drink when a nearby door slammed open, revealing the Dreamer known as Fate. Physically, Fate is as pleasant of face and form as her sisters, Luck and Karma. Mentally, she's a completely different story: where Karma is shy and Luck is flirtatious, Fate is extremely direct. Where Luck is capricious and Karma is kind, Fate is domineering. With her pitch-black hair hanging to her waist, her pallid skin, and morbid taste in clothing, Fate's sudden appearance can startle the most stalwart Dreamer even when her eyes aren't literally flaming with anger.
Seeing One suddenly go tense, Two started to ask what was wrong when he saw Fate moving toward them. His face went pale as Fate's burning eyes locked on to his. She put her arms on the armrests of Two's chair, trapping him beneath her fiery glare.
One muttered, "Nice knowing you, buddy."
Flashing an irritated glance at his partner, Two gave Fate his apologetic smile and said, "I had nothing to do with the frogs in your bed, I swear!"
Fate didn't respond, other than to slowly inch her face closer to his.
Sounding slightly panicked, Two added, "And the catfish-stink bait in your shampoo bottle was One's idea."
"Hey!" One protested, but Fate didn't seem to notice.
She moved closer to Two until there was only about an inch of air between them.
Two gulped. "This is going to hurt, isn't it?"
Fate's face split in a wide grin. She kissed Two on his nose and shouted, "Gotcha!"
With a graceful wave of one hand, her clothes changed from the strict black attire to Luck's usual shorts and shirt.
"Oh, thank God!" Two breathed, wiping the sweat from his brow as she ran her hand through her through her hair, changing it from black to blonde.
One let out a laugh. "You know, for a second there, I thought you really were Fate."
She flashed him a winning smile. "Sis was ranting about Two again, so I thought I'd give him a good scare."
"Not a bad prank." Two let out a sigh of relief. "Don't ever do that again!"
Wong woke up with a snort. "I'll take 'Potent Potables' for four-hundred, Alex!"
"Oh boy." Two said in a glum voice. "He's awake."
Wong beamed at Luck. "'Sup, Bubbles. You coming to help with One's assignment too?"
"You're on an assignment?" Luck asked, sounding surprised. "Again?"
One shook his head, unable to keep the weariness out of his tone as he replied, "Don't remind me."
Before One had time to object, Luck sat in his lap and wrapped her arms around him, cooing, "Aww! Poor One! I bet I can make you feel better." One's face went from peach to raspberry as Luck hugged his head to her bosom. He waved with his free hand at Two, hoping his partner would take the hint.
Luck toyed with One's hair, saying with alarming sincerity, "You're so adorable when you blush."
Two looked like he was about to explode from his pent up laughter. Shaking his head, he reached out and tapped One's outstretched hand. Both One and Two vanished instantly, leaving Luck to fall on One's cushioned armchair, looking slightly put off.
Two and One appeared in the Matinee, the former laughing his head off. One would have been indignant of his partner's reaction if he had not been grateful for his belated intervention. Two laughed until he had to sit down. For several minutes, he tried in vain to catch his breath.
"It's not funny." One muttered as he reached for his remote.
Smirking, Two said, "Oh yes it is. Your face, man … priceless."
Easing his chair into a reclining position, One couldn't help but sigh.
Reaching for the remote, Two said, "Dude, that girl's got you marked."
"She's almost three-hundred years younger than me."
"What's age to a Dreamer? She's gorgeous and she's got a serious crush on you. If it were me …" Two chuckled, a hungry look in his eye.
"She's great and all, but …" One bit his lip, unsure of whether or not to mention running into Teria.
Sighing, Two asked, "This isn't about Ukaroh, is it?"
One snorted at the mention of his last girlfriend. "Get real, Two. I haven't seen her for decades."
"Yeah, but I know you two were close. You might be holding out, hoping she'll come back."
Chuckling, One said, "She asked me to come with her, and I stayed here. I don't regret that decision."
Two sighed exasperatedly, saying, "Well then, what? What could possibly distract you from a drop-dead gorgeous girl who's about two steps away from just jumping you?"
One hesitated to tell Two. It wasn't that he had a problem with Two knowing; One and Two had been buddies for centuries. Still, while Two had a great many good traits, the ability to keep a secret wasn't one of them.
"I ran into a norm from my past yesterday." One said eventually, deciding to keep it vague. "We were ... close."
"How close?" Two asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Like engaged close."
Two let out a low whistle. "Been there, my friend. Sweet little Riaacan girl made me promise to marry her next time I was around. I said yes just to get her off my back, but I'll be damned if she didn't hunt me down when I stopped by twenty years later."
"How did you get out of it?" One asked curiously.
"I didn't. Jena was my third wife, lasted around fifty years before she died of some stupid plague. I kinda miss her, to be honest; she was great in the sack."
Shaking his head, One said, "Thing is, I think I've still got feelings for the girl. I think that's why I've had so much trouble opening up to Luck."
"And you want 'em both. Nothing wrong with that, One."
One glowered at Two. "I get the feeling they wouldn't agree."
Two appeared to think about this for a moment. "Yeah, you're probably right. You'll have to play it carefully."
"I'm joking! Seriously, though, I'm not sure what to tell you, other than the obvious."
"Which is ...?"
"Don't piss off the one who lives in the Elsewhere. The norm will pass on eventually; Luck, not so much."
One didn't know what to say to that. Instead, he preoccupied himself by trying to reach the small drink cooler next to the couch without getting out of his chair.
After watching One's feeble efforts for a few moments, Two snorted and made the soda fly out of the fridge and into One's outstretched hand with a flick of his wrist,. "Always doin' everything the hard way."
One took a sip of his drink. His eyes opened wide as the hot sauce he had just drunk began to burn his mouth and throat. Two laughed until One spit the hot sauce straight into Two's face.
With a shriek, Two made his eyes disappear. Effectively blind (and looking quite strange), he fumbled around for something to wipe the remainder of the hot sauce from his face.
His mouth still feeling as though it had caught on fire, One considered placing something vile in Two's reach, but decided it would be more fun to just watch.
Two managed to grab a dish towel that was lying conveniently on a nearby table and began cleaning off his face just as One managed to get a hold of a bottle of cold spring water and gulped it down.
Once Two and One had remedied their respective hot sauce problems, they looked at each other and immediately burst out laughing. After a few moments however, they both realized someone else was laughing too. They turned to see Wong standing nearby.
He shook his head and managed to stop guffawing long enough to say, "Two just wiped his face with my sweat rag!"
Two looked at the towel with a horrified expression before tossing it away. He started to pounce on Wong, but One held him back, saying, "Play nice."
"So," Wong said, rubbing his hands together, "We're gonna do stuff in the mainstream today, huh?"
One nodded. "That's right. We're going to teach you how to act like a norm."
Wong pouted. "Why do I need to be trained how to act like a norm? I mean, I was a norm once back in the good old days, and I did just fine!"
"Hang on a sec," said Two, giving his apprentice a dark look. "I did a little reading up on you; weren't you banished to the island of Morrow and partially responsible for the collapse of time back in the 'Good old days'?"
Sulking, Wong plopped down on the couch beside Two. "I fixed it … eventually."
"Anyway," One continued, "It's important to know how to act like a norm for when you leave the Elsewhere."
"Why would I leave the Elsewhere?" Wong asked, "This place is friggin' awesome!"
"Tell me something I don't know." Two muttered.
Wong cocked his head to the side. "Alan's middle name starts with a T."
Two stopped in mid scowl. "Tryth?"
"No, that's his last name."
Two floundered for a moment before scowling at Wong. "Look, we all have our own reasons. Maybe you're bored. Maybe Teach or Mom suckered you into one of their 'assignments'. Maybe life's been good to you, and you feel like giving something back."
One, regaining his compose, continued, "Whatever the reason, we have to be careful how we manage our abilities among norms."
Two replied irritably, "Because norms are narrow-minded simpletons who like to point fingers at anything they don't understand. You go acting weird around them, they'll probably beat the crap out of you."
Wong shrugged, saying, "I really don't see how it's a problem. I mean, if a norm starts any crap, we can just snap our fingers and BAM! No more problem!" He began shooting things around the room with tiny chalk pellets fired from the tip of his finger, all the while making shooting noises like a ten-year-old cowboy fanatic.
One put a hand to the side of his head. He was beginning to see why Two had trouble with Wong.
Grabbing Wong's hand to stop him from shooting, Two snapped, "Yeah, and the next time we go into the mainstream, everyone will says, 'You gotta watch out for Dreamers, they're a bunch of spastic freaks'. Even though it wouldn't be much of a change for you, some of us have our reputations to consider."
One commented, "This from the guy who made up a partner he didn't have for a scapegoat."
"Err …" Two suddenly became interested in a nearby bookshelf.
Shaking his head, One told Wong, "Aside from the bad PR, using your abilities like that will get you normed."
Wong's eyes glazed over. "Whazzat?"
One thought a moment on how to best explain. "Think of it like this; say that you have a section of your brain that makes you a Dreamer. That section of your brain acts as a fail-safe to keep you from using your powers by gauging the tension between reality and the Dream Realm. Eventually, you get to a point where you can't use your abilities anymore."
Two interrupted, "We've got to find a better name for that."
Rolling his eyes, One continued, "Now, each of us accumulates dream energy, both from our time in the Dream Realm and in mainstream reality."
Wong said, "You're right."
One raised a suspicious eyebrow. "About what?"
Turning to Two, Wong said, "We need to think of a better name than 'Dream energy'. How about 'Steve'?"
Ignoring Wong's comment, One continued, "You can also get normed by invoking the Anti-ka Maru."
"The Anti-ka Maru." One repeated, pointing to the rune on the back of his right hand. "It symbolizes power over reality. If you invoke it, you can cause a small merge between the Mainstream and the Dream Realm."
"The Anti-ka Maru, huh? Oh!" With a yelp, Wong leapt behind the couch.
Rolling his eyes, Two told Wong, "Relax; saying the words isn't enough. You have to be in a situation where you need it. Even then, you really have to focus to activate it."
One continued, "When you invoke the Anti-ka Maru, you'll be temporarily infused with a massive amount of Dream energy, more than enough to do whatever it is you need to do."
Wong asked, "What happens then?"
Two used his hands to mimic a plane crash.
Wong clapped his hands together. "We play charades? I love charades!"
Cuffing his protégé on the back of his head, Two snapped, "No, you moron! You get normed!"
"It's like overheating a car," explained One, "you have to stop and let it cool down before using it again. Until then, you'll have to rely on your personal skills to get yourself out of trouble."
"But if I've invoked the Anti-ka Maru, won't I have just gotten myself out of trouble?" asked Wong.
"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" Two looked over at One with a smirk. One, who had been normed many times, glared back in reply.
"Tell you what," One said, "Before we start your training, I've got a list of stuff … er, special items that I need for my assignment."
Two looked at One as if he had started spouting poetry. "What the hell are you talking ab-"
One elbowed him in the ribs, muttering, "Just play along!"
In his normal tone, he continued, "I was going to have to find these things myself, but I figured it would make an excellent training venture for you."
One made a blank piece of paper appear with a wave of his hand. As he began to list off items that he knew didn't exist, the words appeared on the paper. "Let's see: the hair of an alligator, some powdered hen's teeth, the toenail clippings of a yeti, the scales of the Loch Ness Monster, the egg of a rooster, a live bandersnatch and …"
One tried to think of the most hopelessly lost thing to send Wong for when his gaze fell upon his partner. "And Two's virginity."
Two punched One in the arm, his face red. "Hey!"
One materialized a brown bag and tossed it to Wong, saying, "This is a special bandersnatch bag. It's important that you have the right bag you know."
Wong accepted the bag. "Will I need a special storage container for Two's virginity, or will any old bag do?"
Two took a swipe at Wong, but the newest Dreamer was much too fast for him. Hoisting the bandersnatch bag on his shoulder, Wong saluted and said gleefully, "I'll be back in time for tea! Cheerio, chaps!"
Wong disappeared with a loud rooster crow.
One wiped his hands together, saying, "That should take care of him for a while."
Two crossed his arms against his chest and refused to look at him.
One snorted and clapped his partner on the shoulder. "Oh, come off it, Two! It was just a joke!"
Two asked, a slightly hurt tone in his voice, "Now how do you know that I don't still have my virginity intact?"
One stared at him a moment before bursting into laughter.
"No need to be insulting about it." muttered Two, glowering at his partner.