Adelina did something she’d mocked other people for doing. She consulted a Dream Reader.
Everyone sensible knew that Dream Readers were frauds, making up stories to suit the needs they could read in their clients. Everyone’s dreams were as individual as their minds, everyone had their own internal cartography leading to entirely different parts of their brains.
But the dream had come three mornings in a row. Three mornings when she woke up with a start, fear clamping its fingers, slender as reeds, strong as iron, around her throat, her hands clenched so hard that her nails bit into the heels of her hands.
She was walking along a bridge, which narrowed further and further, so much only a single person could walk across it, then crumbled away in the middle, leaving a two foot gap. She knew a wide enough step would take her across it, but when she looked down, she saw the water, seething with toothy eels, their lanterned eyes staring up at her, waiting for her to fall.
She saw Bella far, far away, down the long road on the other side, back turned as she walked away, too far to hear Adelina calling after her. Snowflakes were falling around her, as though a cloud echoed her progress overhead, and moonlight glinted on the snow, tinting it purple and red.
Finally she gathered her wits and went back a few steps. She crouched, then pushed herself forward and ran to jump and land on the other side. Far below, the eels ground their teeth, a sound that crawled up her spine and along her shoulders.
A headshake, like a dog cleaning itself of rain, chased the sensation away.
Bella had vanished over the horizon. Parks lay to either side, and she knew they were Tabatian parks, but ones she’d never discovered before. The notion delighted her: she’d investigate their histories, incorporate that into her long-time project, a complete history of the city.
But which one to enter first? She hesitated.
The left-hand one held a fabulous menagerie surrounded by a high, green-painted fence. She could hear the creatures roaring and whinnying, baying and moaning and a calliope’s wheedle. Fireworks arced and popped above it.
On the right was a more sedate water-park. But it held nooks and crannies as enticing as any brightly-colored booth: serene statues had placards waiting to be deciphered, and a massive fountain in the center roiled with carp colored white and purple and red.
It came to her that the righthand side would cost her no coins, but that the menagerie would require the price of admission, so she fumbled at her belt, thinking she’d let the lack or not determine which way she went. But the coins in her pouch were unfamiliar and she was uncertain whether or not the ticket seller would accept them.
She hesitated, torn between choices.
Something was coming padding down the road towards her. A Sphinx and a Manticore, unchained, unrestrained. They walked without hurry, placid and implacable and deadly. Their mouths moved as though they were talking to each other, but they were too far to hear.
Where had Bella gone?
She looked from side to side, but something in the way they walked told her they would follow, no matter where she went.
They came so close she could smell the stink of the Manticore, hear the sound of their steps on the road. They were silent now as they came towards her…
Then she’d wake.
What did it mean? Because surely it must, happening three days in a row. It couldn’t just be that she’d had the same dream randomly dropped into her head three times. She’d mulled it over, standing in her office staring out over the street steaming in the warm spring rain that pattered on the patterned paper umbrellas, printed with political slogans, that everyone carried.
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