The sanctuary was silent. The kind of pressing silence that pounded against your ears and made everything else seem fragile. The fragility here was that very silence. The silence of stone that was so easily broken by the echo of a step, the scrape of a boot, the creak of a wooden slat. In the stone cage of vaulted ceiling and pillar windows, reaching too high she knew where she was.
It starts here, at the back of the cathedral, at the edge of the steps down into this part of the chamber. The long shadows from the windows seemed too thick. They dragged across the stone floors, across the pews, and then the light would be gone. Sodden blackness would replace it, cut at a vague, unhelpful angle by the glow of burning. She could hear the roar distantly. The harsh slant of a military flare in a burning city. She could hear the long [i poff] as it was shot off, and the echoing, harsh explosion that sent the whole sanctuary into bright, white contrast. Its harsh, unnatural light glanced off of the shapes in the pews. White, shrouded figures seated amongst them as their shadows slithered along the darkness as the flare began to descend. Things. People? Bodies. They stood in the aisle, the walkways, sat in the pews, and those above hung like corpses, spinning on creaking rope even as they were suspended by nothing she could see. She could [i hear] it. Or was that the snap of the firebomb fallout outside?
Her eyes slid up as the shadows slid like the shutters on an oil lantern down from the ceiling and she could see the black shrouded shapes hovering in the vaulted ceiling by the barely burning chandeliers. Their shadows too crawled over the vaulted ceiling. The prayer candles at the front of the sanctuary, and the city burning outside were the only constants, ruined as her night vision was by the flare. She had to blink to clear her gaze again.
They were getting closer. That flare was a checkpoint. The light was there, certainly, along with the scream of old wood outside, the pregnant night that hid soldiers. Berlin was burning around this place. The Allies were coming.
Gweniviere felt her hands start to shake as she saw flashes of the city. If she awoke any of the shrouded figures then she knew the dream would take her to the city outside. She would have to hide there and hope she could escape this time. She looked down at her hands. They were gloved. Unblemished. And she felt a disgusting shiver, feeling the familiar feeling of the cloth on her body. Black. Her leather trench coat. The boots. Shined, new leather, unbearably squeaky. The military hat, feeling the weight of the badge on the front pushing the brim into her eyes. The skull and crossbones. The goddamned metal crosses that were going to jingle on the breast of the uniform. The uniform she had stolen from the dead Gestapo officer. Or was it her uniform? She couldn't tell anymore. It changed.
She knew what she was. Blonde again. She could feel her lips purse and suck in. The fact that she could move them meant she hadn't been found yet. She hadn't been wounded yet. She wasn't bleeding yet. Her hand brushed across her throat, feeling smooth skin. No scar tissue, just flesh beneath the fitted German uniform. The black uniform. She could feel it getting heavy already. Each step would mean more. The soldier's eyes cut to the altar at the front. There was her rifle. Unloaded. She knew it was unloaded. But it still had the bayonet on it. She had to get to it.
Her hands were shaking. She carefully flexed her hands closed, the leather groaning in her fist. Her mouth wrenched tighter, eyes darting up to the suspended, vulturous shrouds above.
Eyes forward. Had the white sheeted figures moved? She had to be careful blinking. Slowly, the soldier stepped forwards, down onto the stone of the sanctuary floor. The tap, even gently, of her toe onto the floor seemed to echo horribly, interrupting what seemed like horrid white noise from the fire outside.
Another flare brought arresting light surging into the sanctuary from one side, turning the world upside down. The light falling, pendulously sweeping up towards the ceiling and making her dizzy.
[font "Georgia" [size14 [tab ] Nightmares had always been the troublemakers of the different types of dreams. Sometimes even more so than that of lucid dreams-- though those were much rarer outside of specific contexts. But nightmares-- you had to keep an eye on nightmares. Keep an eye on the dreamer, make certain that nothing goes awry. [tab ] Which, when you were assigned about a half dozen dreamers to supervise at any given time, nightmares became troublesome to have to keep an eye on. [tab ] Especially when the nightmares were recurring.
[tab ] Nicholai hadn't quite been able to puzzle out [i why] exactly this woman had been forced to relive these nightmares, he had even double checked with his supervisor and-- yes, it was correct. And had been like this for years- much longer than anyone had ever heard of someone being alive for, much less dreaming. If he wanted to he could complain, and get her moved to another dream maker, someone who could handle having to balance checking in on someone with such frequent horrors traversing across their subconscious-- but that wouldn't allow Nic to find the answers he seeks, it wouldn't allow him the excuse of getting to step in closer than others might, and try to figure out [i why]. [tab ] He wouldn't be able to be so close, standing here in the thick of this woman's dream on a balcony overlooking the scene of the cathedral below in civilian's clothes, and simply observe. Watch the way she worked through it, how her goals changed, and get wholly in tune with how she was feeling in all of this. He hadn't had this close of an interaction with a dreamer since his initial training process, where a dream maker stayed with one singular dreamer, making a variety of beautiful and unique dreams as a sort of portfolio of their work, ranging across the relevant dream types-- REM dreams, day dreams, lucid dreams, nightmares... The way the human mind functioned in such a way, the way they were connected and interfaced, it was rare for a dreamer to experience the tailor made fantasies they created while in training. [tab ] Part of him wondered if she had ever experienced such. [tab ] It didn't matter though. He watched the light flicker across the scene below, and watched her go through the motions of this nightmare again, as he had many a time before. She had never once looked up at this balcony. And it was very likely that she simply never would. That fact made him more reckless, itching to understand her more, it made him actually allow himself to be a presence, as he had only a small handful of times in the past. Why this scene? Why these images? He still couldn't quite figure out what parts of it was made up and what was remembered, it had fuzz around the edges like memory but a strange clarity at the focal point.
[font "Times" The Lieutenant crept forward, coat swishing around her legs, trying to traverse the dusty, rubble dotted floor. The windows weren't broken. A slip of logic, perhaps, but the rubble was agonizing to hear. The slow grind of a foot as she shifted her weight, hands out but not too far from her. Nearing the first motionless, white figures.
Her eyes were steady on the one she was nearing. Glancing away only briefly to make sure she could tell where the boundary of pew and of the floor touching hem of the ghostly figure. But as she grew near, the fabric moved just so.
The black clad soldier stopped cold, face intense, eyes wide.
The fabric of the sheet moved just so. Just by the suggestion of a face from inside. A breath. Chills wracked down her spine, the pale woman stiffening. Her shoulders tightened, drawing closer to herself. She shifted, hands moving to grasp the fabric of the trench coat. and pull it near. Making herself smaller. She had to get through the pews, some scattered haphazardly throughout the sanctuary due to blast and fleeing, to the altar. The dead soldier there had a gun. And perhaps it had ammunition this time.
Advancing slowly, the Lieutenant took her time to be silent. Passing the figures, she came to a crushed, fallen heap of wood that was once a pew. She glanced to the side, seeing two of the white figures standing there, near a couple of candles on a low, remaining leg of a pew. The light danced across them. Her eyes slid to the other side, seeing that one of the figures was next to her now. Right next to her.
Her eyes slid back to the pew in front of her. A stretch, when taken slowly, but she could hopefully make it over, if she didn't slip. Noise.
Painfully slowly, she shifted, stepping over the rubble and the wood splinters... There was a breath of disturbance from above. The hanging, black figures, moving absently. Suspended by nothing.
The woman - demarcated by the flyaway, dirty blonde swathes streaked in soot that were stuffed underneath the hat. Too long for the soldier she was impersonating. Her body filled the man's uniform well. She was tall, very tall, and her shoulders were wide, masculine. Her figure solid, matching the masculine lines of the uniform. Her eyes, an unnatural gold, glinted in the semi-dark as the flare's light swung over the scene.
The soldier grew still. She felt something. This dream was so familiar. She had it now and again enough that she dreaded it, knowing its breadth well. Being heard. being [i found]. But her goal was not to be heard. Her head turned, swiveling, those eyes sliding to the edges of their sockets. Streaked in soot and grime.
Unnatural, yellowish gold eyes looked directly at the pale face in the balcony. The flames of the prayer candles, those of which were still burning, glowed in the backs of those eyes like some animal's as they looked to him. He was caught in that gaze as her eyes widened, realizing his form contrasting with the pipe organ he was standing before, in its dark wood.
Nicholai felt something shift in the dream's fabric. Perception swept over him. The script for the recurring dream's fabric moved something that appeared, ghostly, in front of him. It was the shadowy figure of a young man in a dirty, ill-fitting suit. Dark hair and dark eyes like him. But young and smooth jawed.
Something akin to horror passed over the woman's face, seeing him.
Desperation flooded her, realizing he could [i see her]. Her head turned to the gun at the altar. The dead soldier slumped beside it.
A decision passed over her face. The horror drained away. Instead it was empty. Empty resignation was the shell that remained in place. The woman's body shifted, her heel scraping just so.
The black shrouded figures shifted in the vaults of the ceiling as a tremble seemed to pass through them. Activating them. Making them aware. Listening. The air grew thick. Full of static like the energy before a lightning strike. The woman had made it halfway across the sanctuary floor, woven her way through the figures, over the fallen, crushed wood.
She was a blur as she shot forwards, immediately diving as one of the shrouded figures on the floor whirled around, swinging a long arm with long, blind, grey, human fingers. The soldier rolled and found her footing as the disturbance snapped in the air where Nicholai was. The black figures moving, shifting, seeming to turn and try to hear where the noise was coming from.
All at once figures started darting down, a blur, and then just there, on the floor. They reached out with coils of roiling, living fabric and cracking limbs and grinding, wheezing, human noises.
The figure that appeared near Nicholai suddenly came into focus, sending a wave, a beat from himself as he entered, moving finally. A Russian soldier in his coat and warm cap emblazoned with a red star. A teenager, he looked like. His blind eyes suddenly saw, and a rifle was in his hands.
The Lieutenant 's hand shot out for the rifle on the altar, vaulting over another pile of pews.
"Nemetskiy soldat!" the young soldier shouted, cocking the rifle and taking aim in one motion.
In a second breath, the weapon was discharged. The German soldier, the woman's, head snapped to the side. Blood immediately spattered up across the white figure nearest to her as she tumbled, hands splaying out to catch herself on a knee.
A cough. A wheeze. Movement.
The soldier's head turned, much slower this time, and Nicholai could see that she had taken the shot in the mouth. Mangled, difficult to focus on blood and flesh and the glint of teeth from the torn wound in the side of her cheek, all freely bleeding, were what was left of the lower jaw of this woman. The exit wound was lower. Blood was glittering in dark gem smears across that black uniform. She wheezed, trying to gather herself. Eyes bleary and stunned. Blanked out as more moved behind her eyes. Recollections. Things Nicholai, with his thumb on her subconscious, was partially privy to. For what little sense it made.
The city streets. Choking smoke, the taste of acrid, burning flesh and hair. Flashes of unbearable heat. The shouts of men. The crack of rifles bouncing off of blasted, brick streets. Stepping in a hole blasted in the street and trying to catch herself but falling. Blood. Blood on your hands. Your blood. Russian. Hands. Someone prying the bullet out of your mouth with their knife, cutting more flesh as he went. Pain. Pain. Pain. Grabbing his sidearm. Shooting him. Getting shot.
All this interspersed with the descent of the black figures, all at once this time, from the ceiling. Their arms were out, searching, trying to touch. To find. To find the soldier...
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