Gilmoooooooore! Brother, can you hear me?
Gilmore’s brain felt fuzzy. He felt as though he was underwater, somewhere deep and thick, where thoughts had trouble penetrating.
But he knew that voice. Knew it like a recurring dream of someone he had never met in the prime material. Someone with whom he’d spent quite a bit of time out of time.
As with a loved one known only in dreams, Gilmore struggled to remember them. Their presence was like moonlight on a moss-covered cave dappled with summer flowers. It sparkled with fey magic.
This was the part of the dream where Gilmore had to admit he didn’t know something he really should know. He had to answer them and face the consequences. Yes! he called back. I can hear you!
A gargantuan shape curled out of the mist, its green turquoise scales iridescent in the eerie light of nowhere. The horn on her brow was fully realized as a crescent where it met with the horn on her snout. And the mossy tufts of hair on her chest and chin twinkled with bits of glitter that Gilmore knew were pure Feywild essence.
Mangata? He remembered her name now, but so much more remained hidden, as memories in dreams often do.
Oh good, you’re alright, she said, landing gently beside him. I wasn’t sure what time it was.
What time? Gilmore was enthralled with the sight of her. The moonstone dragon was truly beautiful, in the way nature is beautiful.
Oh, right. Sorry. Mangata tilted her great head. We’ve had this conversation a lot, but I never know which time was the first. You see, I experience time in a non-linear fashion…
--in a non-linear fashion. Gilmore said the last few words along with her, as though he’d heard her say it numerous times before.
Okay, you do remember, she said. Good. I have a problem. And you’ve always given me such good advice, I thought I would ask your help.
Of course, my dear, Gilmore said, sitting down at a table set for tea that had not been there before. It felt impolite to still be in his humanoid form when she was here in her true form. But the table was human-sized. Would you care for some tea? Gilmore used a bit of magic to make one of the tea settings dragon-sized, and placed it on the soft grass.
Oh, Mangata said, sitting back on her haunches. You do always have the best tea.
Gilmore tried to remember what she took in her tea, and couldn’t. But perhaps it didn’t matter, as this was not real tea, nor a real place (though both of them were very real). Hoping it was enough, he made certain Mangata’s cup was full and used Telekinesis to offer it to her.
I think it’s amazing you can cast spells here, the moonstone dragon said, taking the cup gratefully. You’re the only non-Fey creature I know who can.
Do you see many other dragons here? Gilmore asked, placing several biscuits onto his plate.
She seemed to consider this. No. Not on purpose, anyway.
Then perhaps it’s simply something we can do, which other species can’t. He sipped his tea. Cardamom with rose petals, Gilmore’s favourite.
Oh no, Mangata said . You shouldn’t sell yourself short, brother. You’re not like anyone else.
Well, that’s high praise indeed. I hope not to disappoint your expectations. But why don’t you tell me what’s troubling you, my dear? Gilmore sat back and sipped his tea, listening.
A few things , Mangata said, setting her cup down. I’m a little worried about you. But first and foremost, I’m worried about my babies.
Gilmore’s eyebrows lifted. Your children? Had he known that Mangata had children? Searching his dream-memory, he didn’t seem to remember anything about her children, and the subject of whelps was first and foremost on Gilmore’s mind, always.
Yes. Oh, right! You haven’t met them yet. She paused, anxious. But this is the way of non-linear time. You may never meet them. Because they’ve been kidnapped! And I don’t know if I get them back.
No! Gilmore leaned forward, setting his cup down. He’d just been through this, and he refused to go through it again. You will, otherwise why remember them? Gilmore rose and walked forward to put a reassuring hand on one of Mangata’s enormous claws. Tell me who took them, and we’ll get them back right now.
What was it with the universe of late trying to do away with the next generation of dragons? Gilmore refused to allow it. In any plane of existence.
They were taken to the Nightmare Lands, the moonstone dragon said, looking frightened. But you and I can’t go there.
Why not? Gilmore had had plenty of nightmares in his time. He felt certain he’d been there before.
We’re too powerful, she explained. The Nightmare court won’t let us in, because of what we could do there. But my eggs are vulnerable, and they can be harnessed as a source of power there.
No. Gilmore scowled. Absolutely not. That’s unacceptable. Dragon eggs and whelps were not resources to be exploited. His mind began to methodically attack the problem, as if it were an equation to be solved. I assume mortals can travel to these Nightmare Lands?
Yes. The court feeds almost exclusively on mortals. The nobility are cowards, and prey on the weak. And the finite.
Of course. Mortal lives were so precious because they were so brief. And few mortals possessed an understanding of planes other than their own, or the ability to travel between them.
Then I suppose… Gilmore tapped his lips with a finger, thinking. Do you know of any mortals you could ask for assistance?
Mangata pondered this for a moment, stroking her curly beard with pearlescent claws. Well, I do have some close friends, some of whom are mortals--sort of--in the future.
But you experience time in a non-linear fashion, Gilmore pointed out.
Do you think you could contact them now? he asked. Whenever this is?
She nodded, uncertain. If they’re dreaming--not all of them sleep.
Oh dear, Gilmore said. Are some of them already dead?
Mangata nodded. I’m actually not as close to Valentine or Nahara or Fen. Do you think that’s why?
That may be, Gilmore said, worrying that this creature of life and light had relationships with undead beings. But what of the others?
The shimmering dragon smiled, growing almost wistful. Oh, Brother Uriah is my best friend. Gilmore noticed that she’d switched to present tense. Desmond has always been really nice to me... And I have such good times with Tatyana.
One of them, perhaps, then, Gilmore suggested. None of these names meant anything to him. As if they belonged to another world altogether. Can you try?
Mangata nodded. I will try. She lay down on the forest floor, resting her head on her great paws and closing her iridescent eyes. Gilmore hadn’t expected her to go to sleep, but when he thought about it, it made sense that Mangata would have to dream in order to see her mortals in their dreams.
Gilmore sat back down at the table and enjoyed his tea and biscuits. This world seemed to end just beyond the moonstone dragon’s tail, but what there was of the moonlit glade and the surrounding trees was peaceful, and Gilmore relaxed, listening to the sounds of the forest at night. He did wonder a little what was happening back in his waking world. But Gilmore couldn’t seem to focus on it, and whatever it was didn’t trouble him here.
Finally, Mangata sat up, looking anxious. I’m afraid my request has put them on the Nightmare Man’s radar, she said. So it seems I’ve gotten them involved, even if they would have said no.
Perhaps that’s the way it was meant to be, Gilmore said. Don’t blame yourself. Interesting mortals have a way of attracting the wrong sort of attention anyway.
You’re right, she said. And my friends are nothing if not interesting. But I don’t want them to suffer…
No, of course not. Gilmore thought of his own mortals. Vax’ildan seemed to seek out suffering, like a connoisseur. Cassandra was likely suffering even now because of the news Gilmore had recently shared with her. But how much more would she have suffered if she had been taken by surprise--if Sylas did manage to return to the prime material?
Which reminded him. I should be getting back soon. Things are happening where my body is…
Yes. Mangata nodded. You’ve told me. She looked down at Gilmore with a concerned frown. But because I can tell you don’t remember yet, I wanted to warn you: you’re about to suffer. A lot. Maybe the most you ever do in your life. Mangata reached out to him, extending one pearlescent claw, which Gilmore gripped with his hand. But don’t despair. You do come through it.
I thank you for the reminder, Gilmore said, feeling not a little ill at ease at this news. But I can endure a great deal, so long as my children are safe.
Yes. That’s what you said the last time.
The last time? Had this happened before? Are they safe, then? It would help me immeasurably to know they will be safe.
They’re not the ones in danger, Mangata said, looking down at him with a distressing amount of pity.
Others I love, then? Gilmore asked. I suppose you’re not allowed to say. He sighed.
Take care, Mangata said. It’s not going to be easy.
No, Gilmore said. I suppose it never is. He looked up at her again. But your babies…
If anyone can save them, my friends can. She nodded. And I think I can talk them through the Nightmare Lands. Thank you for helping me think it through. Mangata’s head perked up for a moment, and her ears twitched, listening for something Gilmore could not hear.
Please keep me updated, Gilmore said. When you can. I imagine this takes a great deal of energy.
No, not when you’re sleeping like this, Mangata said.
Like this? Gilmore wasn’t sure what she meant by that. I’ll be praying for their safe return, he told her. Bahamut keep you and your family.
Mangata paused. I’m not sure that silly old fool has anything to do with Fey dragons. But if he has any power here, I’ll take his blessing.
Gilmore reached out and cast Bless on her, channeling the platinum dragon’s divine power as from a great distance. It felt like little more than light through a keyhole, but in matters such as this, every little bit counted.
Thank you, brother.
Whatever I can do, Gilmore told her. We can’t afford to lose any more young ones. We simply can’t. All of existence was beginning to shift for the worse as the presence of dragons dwindled.
Mangata lowered her head and nuzzled him. Soon it’s going to be difficult for you to remember, but I love you. And so does most of creation. I hope the spark of that stays with you in the darkness.
Thank you, little sister, Gilmore said. I’m touched.
The moonstone dragon looked up again. You’d better go now. Someone who loves you has been trying to call you back.
And as soon as she said it, Gilmore could faintly hear Jarett’s voice in the distance, calling for him. Bahamut be with you, he said.
Mangata raised one great paw in farewell as Gilmore felt himself pulled out of the dreaming.