The grass was warm under her feet, soft and smelled of a lovely field. She was dressed in a white robe, like she had for wearing around the apartment, yet this one had a very soft lining to it. Puzzled she turned back the cloth to see a red satin lining for the entire robe, which formed against her body in a soft embrace. She heard the gentle lapping of waves to her right and looked to see that the field grass gave way to sand and a lake shore that had a shore so distant it could barely be seen. That shore continued on and on in both directions, disappearing from view to either side. She was on a small hill, she saw, perhaps a sand dune now trapped by the grass of the field which was to her left. In that direction she could see that the dunes gave way to a real hill, with a large tree, that gave shade from the not too bright sun.
Just below the tree she could see a figure pushing something and heard the faint tune of a man whistling.
"How odd to be cutting a field like that," she said softly as she picked her way down amongst the dunes trapped by grass, and then up the barely visible trail that led to the tree and the man cutting grass.
He had on a blue shirt and pants, but with a brown leather apron over those as well as brown leather work gloves. He was a young man, with brown hair that glinted red in the sunlight, and he was obviously enjoying himself.
"Hello!" she said as she approached, waving as she stopped.
The man stopped whistling and turned to her and waved back.
"Why, hello! Where did you come from? We get few visitors here!"
She looked around and pointed back to the lake and the overgrown dunes.
"By the lake," she said, walking towards him as he gestured and nodded.
"Ah, the Lady by the Lake!" he said with a jovial smile.
As she walked over she could see that the man was a bit older than she thought, and as he took off his work gloves and tucked them under his belt, the could also see that he was used to working outdoors.
"My name is Lisa," she said as she approached the man, "Lisa Choi. I don't know how I got here, wherever here is."
He held out his hand and she shook it.
"I'm Nathan, Nathan Green, and welcome, Lisa."
"Thank you, Nathan. I'm really quite lost, I think. I don't know where here is, exactly."
"Ah, yes, Lisa, a common problem for the few who arrive here. Come, over by the tree I have a blanket and we can sit and talk in the shade."
She nodded and followed him as he went under the shade of the great tree and took up a blue plaid blanket and snapped it open and let it fall on the grass he had already cut. As he sat she took the side across from him, and sat cross legged. He had taken his boots and socks off to shake them out and set them on the blanket and then looked at her.
"You truly are the Lady, aren't you, Lisa?"
"I... I'm just an ordinary girl..." she said softly, "And I truly am lost. I don't even know where I am."
Nathan nodded and looked puzzled.
"What is the last thing you remember, Lisa?"
She frowned and tried to remember.
"Its... difficult... I... was next to a mountain... up it... yes, far up it... and... I..." Lisa shook her head, "Think I had been in a cave... no a tunnel! Yes! Then the place on the mountain..."
She looked at Nathan.
"That makes no sense, does it?"
"Little does, really. Would you like to share my stew with me? It isn't much, mostly vegetables and some fish caught from the Lake..."
"No I'm not... hungry."
"Or some cider, not the best, but it was what I could make. There are more trees along that direction," he said pointing to the lake shore and what would be south if the sun was any clue. "Not wonderful, but wholesome."
Lisa nodded, licking her lips.
"Thank you, Nathan, but I'm not thirsty, either. I should be, but I'm not."
He smiled and took out a cup and swollen bladder skin and put some of the cider into the cup to drink.
"At least its not gone to vinegar," he said after swallowing some.
"Nathan? Where is this place?"
He raised his eyebrows then leaned back on his elbows, looking at her.
"This is the Green I tend, Lisa. It is a place most never find as they seek other places to be. While enjoyable it lacks interest, or any other real attraction. Plus it is such a thin place that it is missed in an instant, and few even have that to discern this place. They miss so much, those that arrive on the far shore, although it is, true, very little, indeed."
Lisa blinked trying to take in what he had said, as it made no sense at all.
"But... that doesn't sound... I mean are we in New York or France or someplace like that?"
Nathan blinked once and then smiled.
"Oh, no, Lisa, this place is in no place like those places. It is available to everyone, every thing that sleeps and dreams. The Green is the place that is holding the line against the Desert and desolation. This is the ribbon that holds that back so that it can no longer encroach further and futher towards what is now the far shore. The Green snakes around the endless expanse of Dreaming, protecting it and allowing there to remain living dreams. Few even realize that this place exists, or the desert beyond this hill."
"Desert? Dreaming? You mean I'm not... awake?"
"Ah, that is a question, isn't it? You are not across the far side of the desert which comes right to waking, so you are not close to being awake. Nor are you completely in Dreaming which is across the water at the far shore. So you are not awake but not close to real dreams, but here in the last or first place the living can be while asleep and not in the drear desert beyond. This is a very hard place to get to, Lisa, as the far shore is so attractive and your passing to it happens," he lifted up his right hand and snapped his fingers, "faster than that, faster than anything, almost instantaneous for those who transition from waking to dreaming."
Lisa thought for a moment as Nathan described where this place was and then she remembered.
"Yes," she whispered, "the desert so far below in the mountains and then beyond them that vast... featureless... no, wait... there is someone... out there."
Nathan sipped at his cider and nodded.
"So I've heard. That desert is in need of someone or something and it is crafting what will fulfill that need. A figure at the center of passages beyond those waking spaces. It is something that isn't there and yet the void of its not being there forms, waiting for fulfillment. No one can say what it will be, as few can even get there. If the Green is difficult to get to, then the center of the desert is so close to impossible that none can figure the odds of achieving it. That is where you are at, Lisa. Not a bad place, at all, but not as nice as some others and there are... wait..." he leaned forward, "...you said you were looking down at a desert between mountains and then beyond mountains to the vast desert behind the Greens?"
"Down over some prominance from the cliff... rocks and boulders strewn at its side... things floating below but above the desert..."
Nathan shivered as she described the scene she had witnessed.
"The Precipice... but no one survives being there. No one."
She tilted her head and stood up, looking at him.
"But I have, Nathan of the Green. Now I do not wish to be here... can you tell me how I can wake up?"
He looked up at her, a figure with the white robe shifting around her and the red lining flashing out around her form. For an instant she no longer looked like anything he could describe, but a creature of fire. He gulped down his cider as she looked at him.
"You... just wake up... like you always do..."
"That isn't happening, Nathan. Now how else do I get out of here?"
He shook his head.
"The way to Waking lays across the Desert of Dead Dreams... but no one... walks across that..."
She raised her eyebrows and tied her robe so that her legs could swing freely as she walked, which she started doing and looked down at Nathan as she passed him.
"Well, has anyone ever tried?"
"Then I will be the first. See you in my dreams, Nathan. Maybe..."
Nathan turned and watched the white robed Woman of the Lake rise to the crest of the hill and falter, then stop, as she saw the vast desert beyond. He could see her inhale, shake her head, and then stride down what became a dune and out of sight heading into the desert beyond. She was gone instantly from his sight and even as he went to the top of the hill he could see no sign of her or her passage.
"Good Luck, Lisa. I hope you make it."
"How disappointing," he said to himself as he put the Bora into gear and pulled out onto 30th Street, which he had been forced to take due to the sudden emergency at the Convention Center where sheets of lightning had flown from falling snow down to the frost level pushed in from the sea. The blue glow had blown out street lights and caused intersection lights to either fail or go back to their blinking mode, and this had snarled up traffic no end. Put in emergency vehicles, a police force now trying to deal with yet another medium sized problem that was city-wide and street navigation had become difficult. He turned right on Thornton Street which had the feel of being open to it, and while he did have stop and go problems at intersections, it was a preferable route to follow.
After 38th Street he saw something, a trace of color that could barely be discerned that went from sidewalk to alley on his right. Slowing the Bora he gazed through the passenger side window to try and make it out, but could only see some color that could not be easily described. The blue glow alighting from buildings, light posts, and metal fencing helped to give him a sense of definition for color contrast in all the spectrum he saw.
"Now that is unlike any other trace I've seen here," he said quietly as music played from the cassette player, "yet the intermixing at the Convention Center had just a touch of something like it, but not as pure as this. Why, I do believe that there was some other interest in the recent past here on Gotham and this one, while not fresh, must have much power to stay as just a trace. No deaths to supplement it like at the house or Convention Center, and no active suppliers, either. They have gone to ground and so I must wait for them to reappear, or must freeze the entire city to get them. But this... no Formless One made this trace... hmmmm...."
At 41st he turned left to follow it, turning on Wadsworth until it reached 50th, and there, at Kurnowski's Deli on the corner, he saw that the trace was deeper and that it had stayed at the Deli for long enough to do that. He was far from the hotel which was on the Sound side of the Island while here he was but a few blocks from the Gotham River. He could see that the trace had come from another direction but, as he looked at the gloom leading into night, the idea of a nice, ethnic dinner appealed to him. And he would get some idea of just what sort of cuisine this trace had favored, lingering here to get a meal as there were no indications of violence or anything else untoward happening.
Thus as evening approached Guthrie was inside Kurnowski's Deli in the sit-down portion behind the sandwich preparation area and general goods sold there, and perusing a menu that feature Polish and Slavic cuisines.
"Really, Gotham City is just full of surprises. A few of them pleasant."
The static glow of the early evening would continue for hours into the night, the rough air far over the city and out to sea causing induced currents that would rile things well into the next day. Still for those places that held simpler forms of lighting and entertainment, they would be unaffected, which would make the older businesses of Gotham City a haven for those without power or with far too much of it.
The lights had been flickering for some time as the blue glow shifted and snaked over buildings and across bridges. Street lights had attempted to flicker on, but they were not coming on. Signals at intersections were either out or on flashing yellow and red. Snow continued to fall from a sky empty, but was now tapering off as the sun went down on the distant horizon to the south and west. The man in the tower watched out over the scene of slowly darkening skies and he could see that the blue dancing glowing snakes of light were no longer as long nor as strong as they were when they first appeared. His apartment high above the city was utilizing emergency lighting which had not succumbed to the blue glow. Even on a weekend there were some people working in the building and the few who had been in the tower had figured out that the entire effect over the city was due to the cold air mass and the shifting of the jet stream. Warmer moist Atlantic air was pushed north by a high pressure system that went against the cold air mass that had plowed into the region. First the wind had pushed through the city, then at the margin where the two air masses met a swirling cloud of ice crystals was suspended and then pushed in by the margins of the high pressure system.
As the jet stream returned to higher altitude the less dense but humid warm air came in above the denser cold air on the southern side, while on the northern frigid arctic air flowed down. Over Gotham City the two met and formed clouds of ice crystals and snow. Both mixing zones where crystals impacted against each other static charges formed. As these clouds came in and descended the opposite charges started to form on the ground causing the light plasma that shifted with the winds and descending charges. Lightning followed in areas of the city, particularly in the open area around the Convention Center which had nearly an hour of sheet lightning that flashed through the parking lot and building.
The man in the tower was not pleased with events as they unfolded as they made no sense, at all.
"Chaos... pure chaos... winter storm..." he inhaled and smiled "I'm starting to talk like Dr. Gotham."
He chuckled, shook his head and walked into the main living room of the apartment, looking around and thinking.
"Can one man cause all of this? It makes no sense at all. Just like the Convention Center... again the Convention Center..."
He stopped for a moment and then turned to go to the elevator, the one that ran on its own power, isolated from the rest of the building. He stopped at the door and spoke out softly.
"Nearly an hour until full dark, but at street level it is already twilight."
Pressing buttons on the frame of the door and putting his hand to a rectangle above the keypad, the doors opened and the soft light inside welcomed him to a place where there was no need for emergency lighting. With a step he was inside, and then turned to his left, inserted a key into button, placed his right hand on a rectangle next to it and used his other hand to turn the key. The doors closed and the elevator sped on down the shaft, heading towards the large concrete doors that shielded the Vault area from nuclear attack. At a set distance those doors were tripped and they opened as the elevator sped through and they snapped shut behind it. Using brakes that translated speed into electricity, the elevator slowed and then stopped at the lowest Vault level.
As the doors opened he shifted to the side and stepped out, letting his eyes adjust to the concealed alcoves which had their own lighting as well as the distant lights of the archives that Lucious had converted into storage for equipment that had been adapted to other activities. He walked out beyond the alcoves and to the drawers and took up a notebook that Lucious left and started flipping through it to identify items he had asked for months ago, for another problem, that hadn't been finished on time but were finished for the Law Enforcement and Civilian Protection areas. With the notebook in hand he went to a cart and pushed it down the rows of cabinets and enclosed shelves stopping at one used most often to remove a battery pack for running draglines from its charger, and putting that on the cart along with two of the five hundred pound ascent/descent systems, all of which would attach to his standard belt. His next stop was from a fire protected cabinet from which he took out two belt attachments that held different sets of thermite devices: small stick ones useful for welding doors to frames or removing locks, and larger ones suitable for melting though engine blocks of cars. The flat stick thermite container held six sticks, while the rounded can container held just two cans.
"If it is just one man and he has an electrostatic field around him..." Bruce thought and then wheeled the cart to the other end of the room where devices that had been through initial testing were situated, but were not part of his regular retinue. Checking the notebook and arriving at the indicated cabinet, he pulled open a drawer just below waist height and saw one of the larger clamshell containers that had one of the capacitor discharge nets he had asked Lucious about developing when trying to develop something to at least distract the Terminator. That had taken too long to develop, and the project went to the Special Projects people who worked with Law Enforcement to see if it would serve with reduced output to incapacitate individuals much like a Taser would. The general answer is that it could deliver neuromuscular shock if it had proper skin contact with enough points to put the charge under the skin. Unfortunately this could be lethal to a human by stopping the heart and the project was abandoned in August. The three working prototypes were ones that Lucious had marked as 'destroyed' but were actually diverted into his equipment stores and tested on animal cadavers and mannequins with sensors to try and tune the arrangement of the filament net and the capacitors that went through rapid charge/discharge cycles from a belt battery system. By limiting the battery size the number of cycles were limited and while it might no longer incapacitate a person it would not kill them, either. Because of its electrical nature, it might serve to disrupt an electrostatic field, and it went into the cart as well. The larger clamshell held the batteries and lead wires that would feed out when the net was thrown, and each net would only have a single use unless he plugged it into the suit's own battery system or auxiliary system for the draglines.
The belt contained a standard set of slim containers that contained such things as flash and smoke powder, as well as a tiny flashlight that could be used in regular or IR light modes. Also on the belt were two containers of the thrown bat shaped shuriken, which allowed a painful although not deep penetration of targets with light coats and shirts on. Those had proven to be more useful than he had first expected, especially when deployed at a high drop speed either with the cape system or from a dragline free fall. As he closed the drawers he flipped through the notebook trying to think of something that might address this potential threat and was coming up short. He did stop to pick up a clamshell suitable for his boot position for luminescent sticks that were single use and could be activated by squeezing them, which were handy if limited night markers heading into the unknown. In one cabinet was a selection of knives and he stopped there to take out a rugged fixed knife with long edge and serrated back for the on-hand boot position and a slimmer, non-metallic knife for sliding onto a thigh position holding point.
On the way towards the alcove area he stopped and picked up IR goggles for the cowl and then proceeded to the locked alcove that held the body suit, cape, boots, and cowl. It took him longer to get out of his everyday clothes than it did to get into the suit and strap it tight to him. In a few minutes he was positioning the various clamshell containers on his belt, shifting them and using the large clamshell with the net for additional back support. Draglines gave a single green indicator to show that they were charged and properly hooked up to the battery system, and his distributed battery system also gave an indicator on his left gauntlet to show that it was now available suit-wide. A quick fitting of the goggles to get them into place and then lift them out of the way was done in a few seconds, and a final feeling for equipment across the suit and boots allowed him to ensure that it was all snug and secure. He activated the cape once to show that it was prepared for the night and then deactivated it to let it fall around his shoulders and down to the floor.
Bruce Wayne had walked into the archives and the Batman was walking out of them towards the vehicle that had been a design prototype and full test vehicle for a military contract that Wayne Corporation knew it would not get. Rounding the back of the vehicle he looked in to make sure all the back-up equipment was in place and then signaled for that door to shut. With a soft hiss it shut, his footfalls barely louder than it. The lights and systems he had activated as he had approached the vehicle and it was set for the night's excursion. Reaching under the gull-wing door he grabbed on to the rod there and swung himself into the driver's seat and the door shut as he did so. After fastening the five point restraint he took off the brakes on the vehicle and pressed down on the accelerator, and drove towards a far wall which slid away as he approached it. Soon he was through the curve that took him to the subway system and the Underworld of Gotham City and it engulfed the vehicle which swiftly, quietly sped through tunnels where only those without eyes could see it.
Her lips moved slowly, speaking while asleep.
Maria looked up from the small stove at Lisa as she spoke. Taking a pitcher of water, she poured out some into a camping cup and sidled over next to Lisa's body.
"What was that you said?" she asked softly.
"Tai-a-ma-te," Lisa's lips whispered the syllables slowly.
Shlasuar was asleep but stirred as Maria spoke and woke up from what dreams he may have had and stood up next to the entrance of the room, picking up a small spiral notepad and pencil as he came up next to Maria. She mouthed the words 'write for me' and he nodded flipping the notebook open.
"What is Tai-a-ma-te?"
Lisa's body shivered and her eyes moved under her eyelids.
"Great Hand of Agate under Asia..."
Maria blinked and knelt down next to Lisa's body.
"Who... am I talking to?"
Lisa's head moved slowly from side to side, her mouth moved forming half-heard words.
"...asleep... not connected...affinity..."
"Would you like a sip of water?" Maria asked.
Maria moved the cup up and gently let some water press to Lisa's lips which opened. Her tongue moved to swallow once and then again as the scant amount in the cup was poured out.
"Do you know where you are?"
Lisa's head shifted slightly, her arms moved under the covers.
"Shog...goth?... others... suspend..."
"Yes, girl, you were attacked by the Formless Ones. Do you remember that?"
"Painful... shorn... gone..."
Maria poured out some more water and then added a few drops from the pot simmering on the stove.
"More water, it has some medicine to help you."
Again Maria poured the water slowly into Lisa's mouth and her face reacted as if tasting something bitter or sour.
"That should help your system, girl. I think you will be able to take some soup soon, perhaps even be able to sit up."
Lisa's head rolled to the side of the pillow facing Maria.
"Yes... must find... lost place... tunnel..."
Maria smiled, shifting the cloth on Lisa's forehead and taking a dry towel to pat her where it had been.
"We know of that place where you were attacked. And will be more than willing to help you get there as you do have an affinity with it."
"Lonely without... me here..."
"My young friend, Shlasuar, will give you more water, girl. I am Maria. If you think you can get up soon, then I will start heating the soup. You must survive to end this situation, as that will help all of us."
"Tai-a-mat-te... her will... be done..."
Maria looked at Shlasuar and then whispered in his ear.
"Do not repeat that name."
"Yes," he whispered.
Nodding, Maria went over to the pan that held their dishes and took out a pot she had cleaned earlier. She went over to the lockers and cabinets to look for an appropriate soup.
"I am Shlasuar," the boy said looking at Lisa's face that showed no movement of muscles beyond the eyes and mouth.
"Yes," Lisa said shifting her head and inclining it on the pillow.
"Maria, may I ask her a question?"
Looking back and down Maria nodded.
"Nothing about Others, understand?"
"I understand," Shlasuar said.
He stared at Lisa's face a moment then asked, "Are you awake?"
Maria found one of the packets she had been looking for and opened a package of noodles, putting them into the pot and ignoring the packets that came with it, putting those back in the cabinet she had gotten the noodles from. She then dumped the packet onto the noodles and went to where the jugs that Shlasuar had filled earlier sat, and poured water into the pot. She also put the wrapping materials into a plastic bag that held their trash, so that they could dispose of it easily, later, or at least leave the place tidy in case there was no 'later' for them.
"But if you aren't awake.... how can you talk? Understand? Think?"
Lisa's head shifted slowly and her breath grew shallow.
"...my... here... can't..."
"There is an easier way to find out, Shlasuar," Maria said returning to the cookstove and taking the coffee pot off its burner and turning the heat up on it slightly as she set the pot down in its place.
"Watch..." Maria said as she looked at Lisa and picked up a spoon from beside the stove to press the noodles down into the water.
"Girl, turn towards Shlasuar and open your eyes. You do have enough function to do that, don't you?"
"Yes," Lisa said turning her head towards the boy while resting on the pillow. She opened her eyes.
Shlasuar gasped and shifted backwards, wide-eyed and shivering. There was not the expected eyes of a human, nor the whites of human eyes with the eyes rolled back into the head. What he saw, stared at, was a blackness that went on and on beyond the surface of her eyes and in the depth there was a twinkling of light, like distant stars.
"Now take the covers off her body and look at her, Shlasuar, not at her eyes."
"You will understand, Shlasuar, when you do that."
He forced his eyes to turn away from staring into Lisa's and reached forward to take the covers down her body. They had to strip her so that the damp and cold clothes from her when they arrived and got her covered over and the stove heating the area. Shlasuar had been getting water at that point and had not seen her body before and looked at her with interest. She was not one of the People and no Changeling, but was very attractive, at least from his point of view. This was not something he had experience with and didn't know what to make of his feelings, save that they had changed as he looked over her body.
"Now slowly look back up to her eyes."
His gaze shifted slowly and traveled up from her stomach over her breasts and then to her face.
"Her eyes are normal... green... I... oh no..."
He scrambled back faster this time as her eyes changed from normal for humans back to the black depths he had seen before.
"And that is your answer, Shlasuar. When you looked at her naked," Maria said shifting from the cookstove to move the covers up again, "you saw her with animal passion. As an animal with attraction and desire. You saw her, just for a moment, as an animal would. You are close enough to her in form to feel attraction, and saw all that she was. Only when you looked for the person, that conscious part of her, did the eyes turn to blackness. What you see is this girl without the conscious part of her as part of her body. She is not skilled as an animal, Shlasuar. And there are problems with her like this, as well."
As Lisa was covered over he looked at Maria with wide eyes.
"What... problems, Maria? Can't she just go on like this?"
Maria shook her head negatively.
"From the moment her body stirred with her conscious self cut off from it, there are changes in affinity. Minor ones, of course, the major affinity is still there. Without the guidance of that conscious self, Shlasuar, she is in a state of slow decline. That is why her body and consciousness must fuse back together and rejoin. If John has saved her from the Precipice, then getting that part that is actually Lisa Choi back here with her body is required to save us from paradox, once more. We dare not let her die here without her consciousness, for there is no telling where that may be or what will happen to it, because then it cannot die with its body already gone. She will not be spirit in this realm, nor one of those from Ancient Times, but something that cannot happen."
Leaning forward again, Shlasuar, pressed his lips together and looked into the eyes of Lisa Choi's body, into their neverending depths.
"Do you know where... that part of you is?" he asked softly.
"... nowhere..." was the slow whisper.
Turning back to the stove, Maria broke the noodle mass up with her spoon.
"And you cannot find someone who is nowhere, young one. Our only hope is that her conscious affinity will guide her back to somehow rejoin and wake up. Until then we have the toxins to deal with, still. I will need to exercise her legs and arms to help work those out so she can move under her brain's direction. That will take time. Precious time we may not have."
Walking down the left side raised path along the old subway tracks, Erin could see Dr. Gotham walking down the center of the tracks without a worry.
"After what happened how can you do that?" she asked for perhaps the third of fourth time.
Dr. Gotham sighed and looked back and up at her.
"It is perfectly safe, Mrs. Norris," he started.
"Please... Ms. Norris? I had to divorce Ronny... more than just certifiable, you know?"
"Old habits die hard, Ms. Norris, I am sorry. There is nothing that I can do for your ex-husband and I doubt that medical science even in this day and age, will offer him a return to sanity. He has glimpsed into the mind of a Formless One, and seen horizons that man cannot describe because we are not fit to exist in such places. That he can even speak intelligibly is a testament to his character, but that character is not enough to preserve him nor save him."
"I... know, Dr. Gotham. But how can you just walk down the center of the tracks like that? I mean after what happened earlier..."
He concentrated on the way forward, seeing where old ties had frayed by the central drain which, at times, held lifeless black liquid in them that glistened off the light from his flashlight.
"Ghost Trains are something I have no fear of, Ms. Norris," he started carefully, "they are but the most modern of manifestations of something that pre-dates the City. They are given form by the City and this one may be more durable than Night Beasts or Swamp Hands or any prior manifestation. Swamp Hands disappeared with the swamps and the Night Beasts disappeared when roads finally ringed both Islands. For a time there were transient manifestations of carriages and even wild packs of animals that had no proper name to them, but with the first railroad tracks and derailment into the Central Gotham River with loss of life, the Ghost Trains began to manifest. They are as much denizens of this land as you or I are, and if you recognize them and respect them, you will have no fear of them."
In her memories she remembered the Ghost Train that had barreled through the tunnels, taking the creature that Li Sun was becoming and all three of the Formless Ones who were in contact with some power that none could see nor fathom, and only Dr. Gotham had speculation as to its source.
"So one isn't coming soon?" she asked as she stepped down to walk towards him as an intersection of rail lines interrupted the one they were following.
"Not soon, no. From what I've learned there are two or three of the most powerful Ghost Trains that sporadically appear, and there is one on the surface I know about and stories of another one that appeared while I was away."
He stopped to examine the signs and switching arrangement, to discern which tunnel led where.
"We are near the Central Station," he said, "ever since we crossed that lowest point with the Central Gotham River overhead, we have been on a slow and steady incline. I believe we are near the lower platform of the Central Station which has been turned into the Gotham Central Library."
She nodded as she looked around.
"I followed... well I'm pretty hazy after running from that place The Bat found for me. I do remember going past a station, though, for the... Central Station..."
"Yes, this has the looks of it, with the switching areas extending back and out. If we continue forward we will be at the lower station platform, the one used by trains only going East to West. Some did change direction here as they did on the North Island, although much of that interior line there is mere tunnel without tracks."
He looked at Erin and smiled.
"I am comfortable in that Library, Erin. It isn't the Old Library, and parts of that are so sealed that no one even knows they are there. At least we can gain some shelter there and, perhaps, even venture into the Library to find out what is going on."
She smiled wanly at him.
"I'd like that, really. I don't like these tunnels at all. Way too spooky down here."
"Yes, still spirits down here and others come here to avoid some things and find avoiding the Ghost Trains preferable to interacting with the living. I cannot blame them in that."
Together they walked up a slow incline and soon found signs indicating the Gotham Central Terminal was the next station. As they walked there was a slight shift in the air, the slightest of breezes from the front had stopped and a slight one was now pushing from behind them.
"Somethings... happening..." Erin said not knowing what was causing the change from warm damp air to cool damp air in the tunnels.
"Yes, something is using the upper track system," he said looking up and then back.
"A... Ghost Train?" Erin asked in a very quiet voice.
"Of a sort," he said smiling as he pointed his flashlight forward after taking a look back, "and I suspect it will be going the way we came."
Erin stood, blinking, using her flashlight to look back to the east and then ahead to the west.
"But how can you know?"
He stopped and looked back at her.
"I know that 'train', Erin Norris. I have been in it. I've met its night denizen, even. I have no worries about that Ghost Train. Come within minutes we will be at the platform and then ascending the stairs to the upper and then to the Library above. Ghost Trains to not careen into platforms nor climb stairs. That should lay your worries to rest."
She turned to follow him and felt more than heard the rumbling and sighing above her head as it went into places deep in the rock. For a moment she thought she heard something moving quickly behind them to the east, but couldn't be sure. Soon the breeze returned and was coming from the west. She ran her tongue over her lips and hurried to catch up with Dr. Gotham and walked beside him.
"How do you know these things?"
Dr. Gotham snorted and smiled.
"Gotham informs me in many ways, Ms. Norris. I accept all that it hands me and do what is required with what meager skills I have."
"But the way you talk... about this stuff... its like... I don't know... like you've seen a lot of it yourself."
He gave her a sidelong glance.
"Yes. That is how I speak of it, Ms. Norris."
"Ahhh, now that is a question to which no good answer will reassure you, will it?" he asked with a smile.
Erin looked at him with a puzzled expression.
"But... but... if you have... but you look... normal."
"Oh, I am human, Ms. Norris, never fear. I shall die one day when Gotham no longer resides anywhere to be found. Or before that by normal means, although experience has taught me how to survive various problems of mortal life. I am no less human nor mortal for those things. And as Gothamagylnyth, the spirit of Gotham provides certain help as long as I continue to do as is necessary. A mere Servant of that which we know as Gotham."
They walked over a switching area that held a set of tracks moving up and to their left as well as a crossing set from the right side in the now open tunnel.
"The station is now at hand," Dr. Gotham said, "once a place that thousands used daily, it is now silent, built-over, forgotten and even denied by those who live here."
Climbing the short set of stone stairs to the main platform, Erin looked around at the spacious, open, two story concourse with its wide walkways above to facilitate moving people from the upper platform to the stairs and escalators. The once polished marble had been left in place and the construction work had left many of the larger floor pieces cracked. Debris had fallen during that work, and afterwards from various pieces of the original ceiling work that had been compromised to create the structural supports for the library, proper. Still she could see what a place it had once been when Gotham City had been thriving and could support a surface rail terminal and subway system, both.
"It's... beautiful..." she said.
He stopped, looked around and then back to her.
"Once this was the heart of the City, the place where everyone from all walks of life passed each other on their way to jobs or to the rail system for trips outside the City. I knew the subway would never continue as the size of Gotham City was too small to sustain it without a thriving business section. I had thought the rail yards would continue, but I was mistaken there, as well. Having missed so much, I can only think of what might have been if Gotham City were at all well run."
She looked down and back to him.
"You really did... get transported, didn't you?"
"Oh, yes, Ms. Norris. Indeed, I did. As a Servant of Gotham I would not have been able to change its course as that is set by the people and the spirit of the city, itself. Servants have no power to change such things, and the price for that amount of power is far too high to pay."
She looked puzzled and shook her head.
"I remember you tried to explain that after... what happened... that Li Sun was becoming... ummm..."
"An Avatar, Ms. Norris. Perhaps more if the plan had come to fruition. Between Avatar and actual, physical presence of such a Being, there is only a Manifest or embodiment of the representative power of a Being. At that point what had been the focal point to do that is transformed and nearly all of its memories and thoughts are destroyed. Under the Avatar is the Harbinger, that which has the power manifesting around it, but retaining much of what it had been as a living being. From there you move down to Priests, Cultists and others that seek to invoke the power or the Being behind it to send something to them, or to seek help, or address other needs. After that are few others, as most of the Maker group rarely seek to imbued power from Beings other than themselves into what they create. Such crafted things can be most useful and require that the Maker have skill and knowledge of the intended use of what is made and a degree of artisanship as well. There is an order of these things and as a Servant who has limited skill at craftsmanship, my purpose is at that rank and being in Service means that I gain very few boons but little attention. A Servant can rank up as high as a Priest if there is a mission or deed given for the Servant to do, and those tend to expend the life of the Servant in their completion. I observe the living Gotham City, keep track of its various denizens, and run a small shop as a focal point to help garner that information. Only when there is a dire threat to the City or its spirit can I act, and then I take my life in my hands if I have gotten it wrong."
Erin stepped closer to Dr. Gotham, watching him as he talked in a plain and matter-of-fact voice about the power positions and ranking.
"You're doing it again, aren't you?"
He had been staring out to where Erin had been and shifted to focus on her, again, inhaled and then nodded slowly.
"The spirit of Gotham is quiet as I had guessed correctly the last time. It cannot act now as it will take years, decades, perhaps a century or more to regain power like was used to stop Li Sun and the Formless Ones. This time I have nothing to draw upon and those things I have set out to warn me of danger are being drained, removed, and it is starting from the North Island and its Northeast quadrant and moving slowly across the Island heading South and West. Winter has come with a bitter cold North Wind and the master of that, if legend and myth are correct, was named Boreas although its real name is most likely unpronounceable. I had thought nothing of the Winds as they had never manifested in any way but through the weather and while many Priests sought to bring good weather, it was through Other Beings, not the Winds, themselves. Even such as the Wendigo are only byproducts of the Wind, not a manifestation of them. The Ancient Greeks knew otherwise and I discounted that as the mythology it was presented as being. It has disposed of the most powerful guard I had found in Gotham, with ease. Seeking to break the frame, the loom, I sent another to replace you to counter-theft and have her beguile all those seeking to use that which was taken from me."
"Who is she?"
He raised his eyebrows and chuckled.
"Woman of Cat."
"Catwoman," Erin whispered her eyes widening remembering the stories she had heard about the legendary cat burglar and thief, the best in Gotham City and, if rumors were true, perhaps the best on the planet. No one knew how to contact her, directly, and she rarely took jobs from others. "She doesn't work... with others..."
"Nor is she for me, as such, Ms. Norris. I have an object that she likes and I will trade it for her efforts and time. I would not insult her with mere cash, but something of great value that she would like and wish to keep for herself. A bit of catnip and a promise of a meal works far better with cats than threats or waiting for it at the door to make up its mind."
Erin chuckled and then looked around again.
"So why are we here?"
"You had asked about Barbara as we started."
She nodded, remembering that.
"From my conversation with her and what I've heard from others, and seeing her at the library, it is the one place beyond her residence she is truly associated with. If she is not out of the City and not at her residence, then she is here, at the Gotham Central Public Library, and I will leave no one at the mercy of Boreas if I can do otherwise. The last time power was worked upon me, I had no counter to it. This time, at least, I shall try to avoid it and those who paid a dear price for my lack of attention last time I will do my utmost to protect."
"What will you do, then? Contact Batman?"
He smirked and shook his head.
"While I was gone the place for something else arose in Gotham City. It was not a place for a Servant, as such, Ms. Norris, and I cannot say exactly how that space for it was created, but it does exist and is filled. I cannot contact the Batman for I have not the means to do so. Yet he is the White Tiger of the West and he has his own means and mind to ascertain facts which will lead him on his own course."
"You make it sound so... mystical..."
"Nonsense! It is a practical realization of the way things work. Now, shall we ascend the remains of the stately stairs to venture into the venue of the library and, perhaps, find Barbara absent so our minds can be at ease?"
"I... I would like that... a lot, really."
"Good! Follow me as I've ventured a few times here from the Norwich Station and know the way."
Together they followed the steps that had been broken and then reinforced which led up to the upper level and then, with wholly modern steps, led up to the library. A blue glow would give them warning of what had been going on as they traveled.
Out in the vast, gray desert she was on a path, perhaps a trail or even a road buried by the drifting sands. Finding it was easy as she had seen it from the Green and in a single step she realized that the Green was no longer behind her and that Dreaming had fled away quickly to the far horizon behind her. More steps took her over the low dunes of sand which no wind would ever move. She had come from the lighter side of the road and now walked down the middle of it and saw, at the horizon, the lone figure she half-remembered seeing from the Precipice. She walked and walked, step after step and each step filling in behind her as soon as her foot had lifted from it so that she left no trail behind her. On this featureless plain of gray sand there was only this one road to be seen and it was neither well lit nor in darkness and she cast a long shadow to her left as she walked, a shadow reaching out of sight of where she was. That figure that was both there and not there at the same time grew no closer as she walked.
There were no sign posts on this road, no mile markers, no paved stones, just the hint of sides where the drifts of sand that could never drift were interrupted by something straight and defined. As she walked she started to realize that this effort was making her hungry and thirsty, the first actual feelings she had in a long, long time. Her legs were aching and her feet were sore, and this walk, started with such optimism had started to give indications that it was, indeed, impossible to do. Still she walked, albeit a bit more slowly and, to her left, she saw something that looked like a thread suspended just above the sand. She walked a few steps over to it and knelt on the sand to peer at the thread that was so thin that it would be invisible if not for copper color it contained. It was taut and appeared to vibrate a bit and she saw that it extended from the direction she had come to the one in which she was going.
"Well, its not as if I'm going to be leaving the path..." she said as she started walking down the straight path once more, keeping an eye on the copper colored thread.
"I wonder what could cause that?" she asked herself after many and many steps in which the figure on the horizon grew no closer. Many more steps followed those and after one of them there was another, much smaller figure to the side of the path she was on, where the thread was leading. She could see that it was not tall, and was on its hands and knees, crawling forward but very slowly. As she came up from behind it, it gained a sickly greenish color and she could see that its scaled skin had slime over it, and that there were other appendages growing from its side and back that might be arms with hands or snakes or something totally other.
"Must... get... there..." she heard it saying in a growling voice that might be like a dog or just someone too parched to speak properly.
She came abreast of it and stayed on the road a few steps from it as she looked at it.
"You! Help me!" the thing said turning its head as it noticed her.
"And who are you?" she asked looking at it.
It stopped moving and sat back on its haunches and swallowed to try and speak.
"... dream... must get to waking. Help me!"
"You're a dream?" she asked.
"Yes, you fool. Can't you see..." it stopped in mid-sentence, shifting its head from side to side.
"See? See what?"
It's bulbous red eyes blinked once with nictating membranes that went cross-wise as its lids went up and down.
"You have no... where have you come from?"
She smiled, looking at this dream and cocked her head to one side.
"You don't look like a nice dream," she said softly.
"You don't look like a nice dream," she repeated straightening her head, "in fact you look to be quite an ugly one."
"Bah! Only ugly to some, not others. Now... where have you come from? You certainly aren't from there," it said pointing in the direction of the lighted distance, "or there," it said using an appendage to point towards the black distance, "and you came up from me from Dreaming but you aren't a dream. And you aren't a being from Waking. Who are you?"
"Yes, I did come from the Green. Before that I was from," she looked up and beyond where Dreaming was and not fully in the light but at far distant mountain peaks that were obscured at their base by dust and distance, "the Precipice. Originally I was from Waking."
It blinked again. Then twice. It was trying to puzzle out what she had said and not making a good job of it.
"You lie! Nothing survives the Precipice. No one. No thing. Nothing," it crossed its upper arms it used for crawling and nodded its head once in satisfaction.
"It is no lie, little dream of ugliness. I'm Lisa Choi. What is your name?"
It shifted its mouth from side to side and ground its teeth.
"Empire," it said in a flat tone, "and I must get to Waking. They haven't had me around in some time where I'm headed."
Lisa nodded, then squinted and saw that the thread she had been following did, indeed, originate in this dream's back.
"Yes, an ugly little dream," she said stepping slowly a few steps the way she had come to move behind the dream.
"Hey! What are you doing?"
"Looking at this thread... why is it coming from you and going to Dreaming?"
It turned its head but kept its feet where they were.
"It's my connection. Everyone has a connection to someplace. Every thing crossing here leaves one to show where they have come from. I'm from Dreaming. You have no thread. Where are you from?"
Empire was trying to show stout resolve, even anger, but its voice began to trail off as she approached the copper thread coming from its back. She was just out of distance to reach with any appendage and it didn't like the direction she was taking.
"I've already told you that," she said, reaching out to touch the thread and, feeling something both soft and tight at the same time, pulled her fingertip across it.
The dream shivered.
"Stop that, you fool!"
She pinched the thread and lifted it slightly.
"Ow! Do you want me to throttle you! Do as I say! Stop that!" the dream was shouting at her.
"First you ask for my help. Then you threaten me. You are truly an ugly little dream."
"Hey, now! You're the one to make judgments! You have no connection to anywhere! Who are you to judge? Huh? Tell me! Who are you to judge me?"
She smiled sweetly at the dream.
"Came to Julius Caesar, did you?"
It cocked its head and nodded.
"The Yellow Emperor, too?"
"Yes," it said smiling in memory, "Oh, yes!"
"The Great Khan? Surely him, as well?"
"Of course, of course! Ah, now that was a good time!"
"Yes, most assuredly! What a dreamer!" it said smacking its lips.
It moved its hands together nodding, "A crafty one and brutal, he was."
"Of course! A bit of blood to get his way, all he needed was to dream."
"Mmmmm... yes, such intensity of suspicion and wanting of power," the dream had closed its eyes remembering good times past.
She pinched the thread between her fingers and then used her other fingers to make a loop while she twisted the loop three times.
"OWWW! That hurts!!" the dream said in pain and anger.
"Who am I to judge? Just me. I don't much like the dreams you gave those people, Empire."
She held the twisting together between two fingers and then slid a fingertip through the loop to start pulling at it.
"AHHHH! Stop that!! You idiot! You fool! You imbecile!"
"Why?" she asked.
"Because you'll kill me! Do you know how hard it is to get this far?"
"I walked from the Green, remember? Or am I liar in that?" she stood up with the string still between her fingers and she could see that the dream was having trouble staying in place.
"No, no! I believe you! And from The Precipice, too? Why you must be very powerful!!"
She shook her head, 'no'.
"I'm just me, little dream. There are many like you, aren't there?"
"Yes," it said with a grin, "and once I get back..." it shivered and looked at her and at the thin line of color twisted between her fingers.
"You can't go back with me holding this, can you?"
"I... no..." it started to whimper, "I'll be good... I promise..." it said crossing its fingers, "... go back to Dreaming... stay there... really!"
As she turned her head to look at it, the hood of her robe fell back and its red interior glistened and the dream of Empire saw the red envelop Lisa and form into a great, lovely and fiery bird, all hint of the white robe gone.
"Others can find your kin, little dream of Empire. You, however, have caused enough death already."
She lifted her one finger in the loop and pulled the threat tight, painfully tight, until it finally snapped.
The dream howled in anger, in fury and then in absolute pain.
For a moment the little dream stood there, frozen in place. Then its form turned gray. Dusty gray. Then that fell in lump by the side of the road and its thread turned to gray dust.
Putting the hood back up on her robe she looked over the desert.
"So that is how all this dust got here," she said to herself, continuing her walk with a slight spring in her step.