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       Light, p.7

           Adrienne Woods
slower 1  faster

  I turned back around, following Natalie until we passed the window and my eyes caught a humongous blimp. Except this thing wasn’t a blimp. It seemed more an airship I’d seen in steampunk drawings.

  “It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?”

  “What is it?”

  “They call it a pod, but it’s one of many crafts built to transport Casters and dreams. The big flute St. Phillipus picked up is part of it. You attach it inside the pod and it forms an instrument, which becomes the tool that transports the dreams.”

  That didn’t sound exciting at all.

  “Then what are we going to do?”

  “Oh, you’ll see. I swear, it’s something you’ll never forget.”

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  Mr.Sandman is coming to Town

  The inside of the pod was vast and shaped like an egg. There were big round gears and spooky-looking compartments at the back, all closed off with steel gates. It was a bit eerie. An icy finger traced down my back as I stared at it.

  “It’s cool, isn’t it?” Natalie asked.

  “Yeah, if you think creepy is cool.”

  “C’mon, Chas.” Chuckling, she led me to the few seats stacked against the windows.

  Reeves helped St. Phillipus attach the flute-like instrument to the front of the pod, next to the wheel.

  My eyes were fixed on them as they used all their strength to get it to click into place.

  “I’m getting too old for this bollocks.” St. Phillipus collapsed into the only seat in front, panting from exertion. “You ready for this, son?”

  Reeves, who seemed to be quite fit, merely smirked. “Always,” Reeves said, moving toward us.

  The gears above us started to turn when St. Phillipus pushed a button. In less than a minute, every gear in the pod was moving.

  “It’s time for the breakdown. Stay close to me and whatever you do, don’t freeze when you see a nightmare. Got it?”

  “Got it,” Natalie said, but to me they were speaking a completely different language.

  “Wait, we’re not staying in the pod?”

  Reeves flashed me a reassuring smile. “No, that would be extremely boring. The pod is our base, but our job is to make sure the dreams St. Philly here weaves and wields reach dreamers safely.”

  I gulped. I didn’t understand what he was saying, but it didn’t sound at all safe.

  “It’s best to see with your own eyes, Chas. But I promise, it’s just as fun as it’s dangerous.”

  I gave him an unsure smile. Then, with a mechanical groan, the back door of the pod opened.

  The harsh spotlights outside blinded me for a second and I used a hand to shield my eyes. When my eyes adjusted, I blinked rapidly a few times.

  Natalie gave a soft gasp and I shifted my gaze over to Reeves.

  “They’re gorgeous,” Natalie sang in a high-pitched voice.

  “What are these things?” I blurted.

  “They are what we call the transporters,” Reeves said.

  I stared at the creatures in front of me. One looked like a seahorse gliding on a puff of shimmering gray clouds. Another was a huge hippogriff, and a third was a giant eagle. Each creature seemed like made of shimmering metal—which I assumed was actually gold. They gleamed in the spotlight. My eyes drifted over them, and then it dawned on me… These creatures weren’t made of real gold.

  “Are they conjured from sand?”

  I’d only seen something like this twice before, when I’d used my golden sand to conjure my own dagger, but it had been small. Sophie, dear Sophie who had died a few months back, had also conjured a dagger in class, but hers had been big and beautiful. “Are they safe?”

  “It’s as safe as this pod. The Casters are exceptionally good at what they do, Chastity.”

  When all three of the transporters were in the pod, the door closed.

  A man and a woman walked past them and Reeves opened the steel gate for them.

  “Chastity, Natalie, this is Spike and Hoarse,” he introduced us.

  The woman sighed. “I used to have short spiky hair before this mane. I can’t believe he still calls me that,” she said as she shook our hands. Her hair was long and black and pulled into a thick braid.

  “Hoarse here, well, he doesn’t say much, but when he does, you’ll understand the name.”

  Hoarse was a giant, and he tapped the hippogriff’s face as if calming the animal.

  “Spike and Hoarse are the Casters of these three fine specimens,” Reeves said, “and will join us on this expedition.”

  “Everyone,” St. Phillipus called from the front. “It’s time to take your places.”

  The moment she heard his voice, Spike’s face lit up and she hurried to the front of the pod. Joy and surprise filled her voice as she spoke to him; it was clear she was happy to see him.

  After giving St. Phillipus a kiss on his cheek, Spike came back and took her seat next to Hoarse and Reeves, opposite Natalie and me.

  The pod started to move upward. It trembled violently. I was the only one with a panic-stricken face.

  I was in a land that was way more advanced than any other place I could dream of, but even they couldn’t make a pod that didn’t have a bumpy takeoff.

  The shaking slowed down and my heart seemed to mimic it. Just as I wanted to breathe a sigh of relief, we jolted forward and flew with incredible speed.

  We carried on at a mind-bending velocity for a while, until finally it seemed we were starting to return to a normal speed. Bright light filled the pod from the front of the pod and we all slipped dark goggles over our eyes.

  Spike smiled at me. She had a bag of peanuts on her lap and popped one in her mouth as if we were on a commercial flight.

  She bent over and offered Natalie and myself some. Natalie accepted; I declined.

  “It will help settle your stomach.” Spike pushed the bag into my face.

  I relented and took a peanut, sticking it in my mouth. As I chewed, I realized Spike was right. Somehow, my nerves were settling and I felt better and less nervous.

  I glanced out the window and saw twinkling lights way below us.

  It was weird how quickly the day had turned into night. My confusion must have been clear on my face, because Natalie nudged me with concern.

  “It looks much later than it is,” I said.

  “Oh, time in the Domain is different than in Revera.”

  “We’re in the Domain?”

  “Yes, it’s where we have to be to cast the dreams.”

  “So, we’re invisible?”

  “You catch on quick, Chas.”

  I was invisible and in the Domain, where my mother was. I would have given anything to see her again.

  “Do you know where we are?” I asked.

  “Russia,” Reeves answered.

  “We’re not even in America anymore?”

  The group roared with laughter, all except Hoarse, who merely gave a half-smile.

  “No, Chastity, but there are many dreamers. We can’t just service America, now can we?”

  “That’s not what I meant. Aren’t there Dream Casters living in Russia?”

  Natalie looked at me as if I just escaped from the nuthouse. I flushed from embarrassment.

  “No, there’s only one Revera for the entire world.”

  I nodded. I’d pretty much figured that out from Natalie’s stare.

  Spike and Hoarse got up. “It’s time,” she said. “Natalie, you’re with me. Chastity, you’re with Hoarse.”

  Hoarse motioned with his head for me to follow him.

  He headed straight for the hippogriff, but instead of climbing on his back, a part of the creature’s belly opened. There were two chairs inside, like in a two-man plane, one in front of the other. Hoarse pushed me into the front seat. There was nothing in front of me but a small red button.

  “Whatever you do, Chastity,” he said in a deep, croaky voice, “Don’t push that red button, you hear? Only when I tell you.”

  I nodded.
I didn’t even want to know what that button did.

  He strapped me in before taking the seat behind me.

  The door closed automatically. A fan and various small lights flickered to life.

  Cold air blew in my face as the sides started to grow brighter and brighter.

  The wall next to us disappeared.

  “Cool, huh?” he asked.

  “Very,” I said as the inside of the pod appeared.

  I saw the seahorse creature and the giant eagle, but couldn’t see who was inside them.

  “Can they see us?”

  “They can’t see us, just as we can’t see them, but they can see the hippogriff.”

  The door of the pod opened. I let out a soft moan at the sight in front of me. The sky was dark and clusters of twinkling stars peppered the canvas.

  The eagle took a running jump out of the pod, and the seahorse creature followed. I swallowed hard as we followed them.

  I clenched my jaw, certain I was going die, as the hippogriff nosedived.

  I realized why Natalie had said this was better than any other theme park. No rollercoaster could compare to the thrill of this. I screamed from pure adrenaline. When Hoarse snorted behind me, my scream morphed into a series of laughs.

  The hippogriff righted itself and almost immediately, the eagle dashed forward, teasing us into a race.

  “Okay, enough, you two,” Cassy’s voice came over the system.

  “Hoarse,” she said. “You’re up. Your dreams will be cast first. Or so I hope. I’m never too sure with him.”

  Hoarse laughed. “Relax, Cas. It’s not the first time I’ve been working with St. Philly.”

  “Chastity, you just enjoy,” she said.

  “I will,” I answered. “How did she know I’m in this pod? I thought no one could see in?”

  “Cassy can see us because she’s in the control room.”

  Below us, the lights of a city fast approached.

  “That down there is St. Petersburg,” Hoarse said.

  “We’re really in Russia?” I asked.

  “Da,” he answered.

  I’d never been as far as Boston my entire life and now, I was in Russia.

  It was the dead of night in Russia. Snow lay thick on the rooftops. Smoke billowed from chimneys. The only lights that shone through the cold night were that of the billboards and factories scattered over the landscape. Most of the city was asleep.

  I couldn’t see the pod anymore, but I knew it had to be close by.

  A bright, shimmering gray light lit up the sky above us. It was a big, shimmering gray orb.

  “That,” Hoarse said, “is a dream.”

  The eagle dashed toward the ball of shimmering gray sand and guided it down to one of the neighborhoods.

  “So, that dream is for all of them?”

  “No,” Hoarse croaked. “It’s a bundle of dreams, finely selected by our dream seekers—a bunch of men and women researching what the dreams should be about. There are about twenty dreams in a bundle. All Reeves is doing is making sure that they safely reach their destinations.”

  “But how does it work? I mean, the actual dreaming part. I always thought your subconscious made it up as you slept.”

  “You’re not far off. Whatever is designed in that bundle works together with the dreamer’s subconscious, giving each and every dreamer a different outcome.”

  The shimmering gray ball disappeared with the eagle, and the night sky lit above us again.

  A second bundle of dreams.

  The seahorse darted forward—Natalie and Spike. I watched it until it too disappeared behind a fluff of clouds.

  “Why does the transporter soak up the orb?”

  “Because we have to protect it.”

  “Why?”

  “Shadow Casters. They have the ability to morph our beautiful dreams into something horrible. We basically make their job a hell of a lot easier because they just take all our hard work and change it.”

  “Why do they do that?”

  “No one knows for certain. Some say it’s the balance of the realm. Others say it’s how they were made. Nobody knows, but one thing is for sure: we would never be able to live in harmony with them.”

  “So, St. Phillipus is basically blowing them out into the world?”

  “Something like that.”

  The eagle returned. All seemed well.

  Another orb darted past us.

  “This one is ours. Hold on tight.”

  The hippogriff dropped and I swallowed down the scream that wanted to make its way out of my throat.

  We were right behind the orb.

  The orb wavered slightly off-course and parts of the hippogriff broke away. Those pieces followed the orb and start to suck the orb’s essence. The orb was growing smaller. The hippogriff carried on doing that until the entire orb had been soaked up.

  “We’re right above your destination, Hoarse,” Cassy’s voice filled the transporter. “Release in three, two, one…”

  Hoarse complied.

  It was so bright, I had to squint. Hoarse kept guiding the light to ensure it reached its destination.

  I didn’t want to blink; I didn’t want to miss even a millisecond.

  The bright light burst into smaller orbs and flew into about twenty houses. Some through windows, others through keyholes, a couple underneath front doors, and others through chimneys. Whatever possible entrance they could get, they took.

  “Let me show you the dreams.” The hippogriff darted down to one of the houses and lingered outside the bedroom window of a young girl. I saw the dream hovering above her, moving slowly as if looking for its entry point, like it was an entity unto itself. Then it went in through her nostrils.

  “Do you see that?” Hoarse asked.

  Had I missed it? What was I supposed to be seeing? I didn’t want to ask him, scared that it had to be connected to color. I couldn’t let anyone know I wasn’t seeing color.

  “It’s beautiful,” I lied.

  I narrowed my eyes and saw a soft puff of clouds above her bed. That must be it.

  The puff of clouds grew wider, and then, like it was a movie screen, a scene started to play out featuring this girl and what she wanted to do the most, what she loved the most. She and her best friend were playing in the backyard. I smiled as her dog joined in on the fun. The girls laughed, speaking language I couldn’t understand, as the wind lifted them, helped them fly, and then they were playing on the clouds.

  “It’s beautiful. Is that what she’s seeing?”

  “No, she sees about twenty percent of it,” Hoarse answered. “And that is how we transport the dreams St. Phillipus and all the other Dream Casters create.”

  I now understood why Natalie wanted to become a Dream Caster. It was an awesome job.

  He steered the hippogriff back up into the sky, and we spent the rest of the night chasing after shimmering gray orbs, making sure they got to their destinations and watching them burst into tiny orbs before disappearing to where they needed to be.

  When the night was almost over, Hoarse took me down one more time.

  I watched the dream a little boy was having. He was at a lake with his friend. They were swinging on ropes and jumping into the lake, yelling excitedly in Russian. But something was different this time. I couldn’t quite place my finger on it, but the movements in the dream were too slow and a sudden weight settled on my chest.

  I struggled to breathe, my breath coming out in gasps.

  “Chastity, are you okay?”

  “Something isn’t right. I can feel it.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  The dream started changing. The wind picked up. Hoarse asked me what I meant, what was wrong, but I was fixated on the dream.

  The dream was getting colder.

  “Chastity?”

  “Look.” The word hardly came out as I pointed to the dream. Hoarse barked for backup over his earpiece. “Cass, I need Reeves and Spike. Now. Backup,” he
yelled. “They’re here.”

  They are here? What did he mean by that?

  The dream shifted, and suddenly the boy was distraught. Just as we were about to leave, I saw the dark sand of a Shadow Caster lurking in the gloom, turning the beautiful dream into a nightmare.

  Hoarse turned the hippogriff around and zoomed back up into the sky, speeding back to the pod.

  Dark shadows followed us, and my heart rate picked up.

  Dark sand hit the hippogriff with force and our host started to turn.

  “I need backup now, Cassy,” Hoarse demanded, his voice filled with panic.

  The clouds were thickening with each second that passed.

  More shadow sand connected with the hippogriff. A vibration rattled through me. The dark sand covered the hippogriff and we couldn’t see outside it.

  When the sides started to appear again, they weren’t the beautiful, shimmering gray color anymore; they were dark as night.

  My breathing quickened. It felt like I was suffocating, like the darkness was pressing on my lungs.

  Hoarse was still frantically yelling for backup.

  Something dark caught the corner of my eye. A Shadow Hound flew beside us, ready to attack the hippogriff.

  “Shadow Hounds! What the fuck are they doing in the Domain?” Hoarse was beside himself.

  I stared at the Shadow Hound. It seemed to look straight at me.

  Fear, I heard in my mind. I’ll consume you.

  I shook my head, breaking my gaze from the Hound.

  I’m going to die.

  A huge ball of shimmering gray connected hard with the Shadow Hound and it disappeared in a puff of smoke.

  The eagle showed up first. Balls of golden sand followed. The pod had to be close by.

  The seahorse that held Natalie and Spike came out of nowhere, blasting light sand at the Shadow Hounds.

  “Get Chastity to safety. Now!” Spike yelled over the speakers and Hoarse flew past her.

  The pod came into view and the back door opened just as we reached it and we dashed inside.

  CHAPTER NINE

  MY NIGHTMARE

  “Chastity, are you okay?” Hoarse asked.

  “I’m fine.” My heart was still beating like a jackhammer.

 
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