The castle stood at the top of a mountain, balanced impossibly upon the very peak. It curved upward and outward on all sides, intricate and beautiful with towering spires, twisting walkways all shaped out of pale green stone. It was the kind of structure an architect could only dream of, which was precisely how the castle had come into being; seeking a new shape for his home, the King of Dreams had plucked this one from the mind of a man who slumbered at his workdesk in Venice in February of 1592.
There was a small balcony halfway up the tallest of the castle’s towers, and Dream stood with one hand resting lightly on the balustrade looking out over the Dreaming. A light breeze tugged at his white hair as he stared at a strange shimmering and twinkling just visible on the horizon. It was the Maze of a Thousand Locks, a part of the Dreaming since the beginning of everything… But for the last few days something had changed. Something new had occurred. Now, the maze was moving.
He gazed thoughtfully at the strange lightplay for moment longer and then took a step forward. It was a single step, but this was his own domain; Dream now stood upon nothing, high above the Maze of a Thousand Locks. It was vast, laid out in a pattern of rings and circles, like the inner workings of a pocket watch. Different sections of the maze were connected by thick metal doors, and on each door was a complicated lock. As he looked down he saw a small figure moving through the maze, pausing a moment at each doorway but always moving forward. Her movements were swift, urgent… She ran through the maze, clearly seeking something. The different sections shifted and moved, turning and twisting even as the figure made her way forward.
Another step, and Dream stood in a corridor of the maze just before a grey metal door. He heard the faintest whisper of footsteps, and the figure he had seen from above turned the corner and moved swiftly and almost silently toward the door. She wore dark clothes, browns and blacks, with a hood pulled forward so that her face was mainly shadow. A lock of white hair had escaped, however, and even as Dream watched the figure tucked it back beneath her hood. Seeing her, Dream knew her; this was, after all, his own domain.
She paused before the door and bent quickly to the lock. Her movements were economic, controlled, but he saw the tension in her frame. In moments the lock clicked, and the woman pulled the door open and leapt through. She ran swiftly but silently down the corridor and came to a fork. She paused, looking each way for a moment, before setting off down the right hand corridor. Dream followed her unnoticed through another door and down another blank corridor. This too ended in a fork, but a short way down each new hall was a door. Both were shining copper, and appeared to be identical. The woman stopped at the fork, and sighed.
“So which one do I go through?” Her voice was barely a murmur, the question for herself alone. But Dream felt an impulse to give her an answer of sorts. He stepped forward and spoke quietly.
“That depends upon what it is you are seeking, Spire.”
The woman moved quickly, spinning to face him and at the same time leaping back to give herself room. Her eyes were wide with shock, her hands clenched. The right one glinted with bronze and copper, and Dream looked with curiosity at her strange mechanical arm. Then his gaze travelled to her equally strange eye which, along with its more normal counterpart, was regarding him with suspicion and confusion. She shook her head and blinked, staring intently at him again, as though trying to understand what she was looking at.
“Where did you come from?” Dream gestured with his hand at the corridor they had both walked down. “I didn’t hear you.” Dream shrugged slightly and said nothing. The strange woman frowned at him for a moment longer, and then relaxed slightly, her hands unclenching. She straightened, rolling her right shoulder as though it ached. “You know me, it seems. Who are you?”
“I have many names, some of which might be familiar… But simplicity can often be the best path. I am Dream.”
“Dream? Like in the story, ‘Kelis and the Dreaming King’? I heard that once, long ago…” Her voice trailed off, a cloud passing across her face. Dream spoke again.
“I am Dream.”
The woman, Spire, frowned then, and after a moment nodded to herself.
“And is that what this place is, then? Just a dream?”
“‘Just’? That is a dangerous enough word in the waking world, Spire. It is even more so, here.” Dream paused, but Spire did not speak. He smiled slightly before continuing. “But you are right enough. This place is the Maze of a Thousand Locks, and it is part of The Dreaming, which is my realm.”
“And what is in this maze?”
“What are you seeking?”
Spire frowned. “I don’t know,” she said. “I knew it was a dream. I’ve been having it for a few nights. I’m looking for something, or someone… I don’t know what, but I know I can’t find it, and I have to… If I don’t, everything will fall apart. But every time I think I have moved forward, everything shifts and changes.”
Dream said nothing, and she turned to stare at the copper doors, one after the other.
“But I’ve not reached this place before. Do you know which door I should take? Where each door goes?”
“I can answer the second question, Spire, but only you can answer the first.”
“You sound like old Hedran,” Spire said with a grimace. “He likes to speak in riddles too…”
A faint shadow that might have been a smile passed over Dream’s lips.
“One door will lead you home, to dreamless sleep and then waking. The other door will lead you to the thing you seek.”
Spire met Dream’s gaze and held it, though it was clearly a struggle to do so.
“And you can’t, or won’t tell me which door to take?”
Dream said nothing, and Spire grinned ruefully.
“Just like Hedran,” she muttered, and sighed. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. As she opened them she let the breath out, nodding to Dream.
“What does Kelis say to the Dreaming King…? ‘Thank you, my lord, for the answers you have given.’”
Dream nodded in return, and Spire moved toward the door on the left. She drew a set of picks from her belt and bent to the lock. In a few moments it clicked, and she reached for the handle. It was brown in colour, smoothed and polished by years, and seemed to be carved from horn. As her hand touched it, Spire turned to Dream.
“Wish me luck,” she said, and Dream murmured the words softly.
Spire nodded, and pushed the copper door with the horn handle open. All that Dream could make out beyond the door was a soft orange glow. As she stepped through Spire began to fade, and in moments she had disappeared. The door swung shut and the lock clicked into place. Dream stood staring at the door, listening to the sounds of the maze slowly coming once again to stillness. He nodded once, and stepped forward. It was a small step once again, but he was the King of Dreams; as his foot came down he was no longer in the maze.
He stood in a dark loftspace, rafters sloping up to a point above his head, a rough boarded floor beneath his feet. Boxes and chest were piled high and covered with dustsheets, but they were curved about an open, circular space. In the centre of the space a small wooden chest sat beside a copper plate that held the stubs of three candles, faint trickles of smoke rising from their wicks. Next to the chest was a nest of blankets rumpled from use, and on top of these crouched Spire, her face confused. Her eyes were wide, and her strange mechanical eye glinted blue in the darkness.
“You…?” Dream nodded. “But this is no longer a dream?”
“This is the world you know. Is this your home?”
Spire shook her head and a lock of white hair fell across her eyes.
“This is just a place I know… A bolt hole, somewhere for emergencies. Things are… I wanted to be somewhere different, where I could think.”
Dream nodded, and Spire straightened, relaxing once more. She looked up at Dream and again he saw the confusion in her eyes, as though she were trying to process two images at once. Again the shadow of a smile crossed his lips, and Dream held his pale, thin hand out to her. She looked at it and then back at him, questioningly.
“I have not visited Clockwork City before, Spire. Will you show it to me?”
After a moment she nodded. “The roof will give the best view.” She began to move past him, almost reluctantly taking his hand in hers. As she did so the King of Dreams gestured, and Spire cried out in shock. They now stood seemingly on thin air, with the whole of Clockwork City laid out far below them.
Dream was impressed by this strange young woman; there was shock and surprise in her face, confusion even, but little fear. She looked down at the city below her, and then raised her eyes to his.
“This is still the dream,” she said accusingly, and Dream shrugged.
“I did not say it wasn’t.”
“You conniving… Why are you showing me this?”
“You chose wisely. Now, look down.”
She did so, and he felt her tensing as she saw the truth.
Below them Clockwork City lay, huge and sprawling; the canals and walls that separated the different quarters and districts giving it the appearance of a giant cog, with an inner and outer wheel divided by spokes into five sections… But at the same time, impossible though it was, it was also the Maze of a Thousand Locks. Even as they watched it began to move again, shifting and changing, each section rearranging within itself and within the whole.
As he watched the brave young woman staring intently down at the city-maze, Dream spoke quietly.
“Your world is shifting and changing, Spire, even as you are trying to find your way through it. The way is difficult; other people are seeking their own way, and their paths, like yours, cause events to happen… There is never an easy path. But there is always a right one.”
“But how am I supposed to find it? In all of that, how do I find the right way?”
Spire looked at Dream, and for the first time fear truly showed in her eyes. Slowly he took her other hand. His pale white fingers closed about the strange, beautiful mechanism, and he look at her intently.
“Trust yourself, Spire. Follow your heart, do what you know you must. The right way is the one we truly believe in.”
Even as he spoke, she began to fade again, and in moments she was gone. Truly gone this time, out of the Dreaming and into the waking world. Dream stood in the darkness above the Maze of a Thousand Locks for a long moment, and then took a single step back to his balcony at the top of the impossible castle. He looked out over his domain, wondering why he had been so compelled to speak to the woman, and wondering also if he had helped her at all…
A short time later Dream left the balcony and walked slowly through his new home, familiarising himself with its shape, seeking out the library. There was a book on its shelves he was most curious to read…
The character of Dream and the location The Dreaming are created by Neil Gaiman and owned by DC Comics. They’re not mine, I just hope I’ve done them justice.
The character of Spire and her home Clockwork City are my own creations and therefore © Matt Beames.