Alice put her hand on the doorknob and Esther reached out and touched her wrist. “Wait. It’s best to knock. Barging into another domain is not always greeted with warmth.”
Alice took her hand off the knob and looked Esther in the eye. The feeling of hot breath on her neck returned, the anxiety thrumming up through her core. She could feel the cold radiating off the door to the roof and shivered in response. “Ms. Lucas, before we do this, how did you find me? I took a car service here under a fake name, and I didn’t tell anyone where I was going.”
Esther held’ Alice’s gaze calmly, her face intent and confident. “Alice, I am a shaman, and I am in a hurry. I did it with magic.”
Alice shook her head. This was the same shit that Bruce had pulled with her. “No, that’s… I’m not buying this mysterious wizard line. How?”
A cold and quiet anger settled into Esther’s face. “Ms. Levy, I study the arcane. It is a practice that allows me to take my will and make it so, to reach across the barrier between the worlds, to deal with creatures you have not heard of and cannot comprehend. Such things cannot be explained in the few minutes we have. And if they could, on what grounds do you claim that you are entitled to such a distillation of my knowledge? You have been in this city for less than twenty four hours. You are a guest in my home. What you demand you are not owed.”
Alice glowered at her. “I am not our guest. I am your bodyguard. Keeping me in the dark isn’t going to help me protect you.”
Esther turned back to the door and nodded. “Ms. Levy, you are both my guest and my employee. While you are in my service, I will ensure you do not go wanting, and you will do as I say. Now knock.”
A reply nearly made its escape, but Alice bit her tongue, clenched her jaw, and knocked on the door. The two of them waited in uncomfortable silence for a minute before Esther nodded at the doorknob. Alice reached out and opened it.
The door swung open easily, and as it did, the light in the small stairwell changed, darkened to blues and reds. Filling the frame of the door was a shimmering veil, beyond which the details of whatever was outside were revealed only in a shifting mosaic of colors. Esther looked at Alice and said, “I can’t keep this open long, so follow me as soon as I’m through.” She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and stepped into the kaleidoscopic doorway.
Alice looked at the veil, trying to see where Esther had gone, to make out whatever was on the other side, but couldn’t see anything more than a patch of deep purple fading, moving across the pane, and shifting into a bluish splotch by the corner before being washed away in red. She struggled for words to put to the circumstance, but none came. “Guess this is it,” she managed.
Alice reached forward and touched the shimmering barrier. It gave slightly, and then her fingers passed through. There was a pulling sensation, not unlike the feeling of water going down a drain. Alice pulled her hand back without difficulty. It looked unchanged. Maybe her fingertips were a little redder than normal. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and stepped into the doorway. She could feel it give way as she passed into it, initially like cling film on her face, that broke when she continued to press forward, like a pool of water somehow inexplicably standing vertically.
The pulling sensation was stronger, like she was hip deep in a river, and felt as though there was water washing past and around her, dragging her downstream. She could resist it with difficulty, but somehow felt as if she shouldn’t. As she let herself be pulled along, she was filled with a sense of satisfaction. She had the sensation of being pulled off her feet, the current gathering her, body and soul, and swiftly delivering her downstream. There was a moment of weightlessness, and then the sense of being wrapped in something thick and heavy, just before the crash.
She was lying on her back, but she couldn’t remember having fallen. Her breath came heavy, and her heart was racing. When she looked up, she found herself staring into a great yellow eye, with a large black pupil, maybe a foot from her face. She could feel the hot breath again, and scuttled backward on her butt. The creature that the eye belonged to was a gigantic gray wolf. Its head was the size of Alice’s whole torso, and with its mouth open, she could see it had teeth as long as her index finger. Its body was the size of a small car. It sat, still, breathing calmly and watching her.
The wolf raised its head, and Alice turned to see Esther Lucas where it was looking. Esther was standing a few feet away, turned away from them. The wolf spoke without sound, without moving. Alice could hear the words come to her as though they were spoken directly into her mind. “Your fledgling is here, and she is relatively unharmed by the crossing.”
Esther waived her arm casually without turning around. “Good, but she is not my fledgling. She is her own creature.” The coat Esther wore was gone, and the tattoos covering her arms were somehow brighter, more vibrant. They seemed almost alive.
The wolf seemed to shrug. “It is of no consequence to me to whom she belongs. Do you require anything further?” The words came through to Alice’s mind directly. It’s voice was deep, resonant, it felt like the kind of voice that she should have been able to hear through her bones. If she wasn’t concerned that she was deluding herself, she would have thought it had a British accent. Then again, it was a gigantic telepathic wolf; she supposed it wouldn’t be that much more of a stretch if it happened to be from the UK.
Alice pulled herself to her feet and looked around. The wolf’s shoulder came up to her chest, and its breath was hot, moist, and reeked of fish. Surrounding her, the world was different. She was standing atop a wall, wrought of steel and stone, bone and mortar. Esther stood at the edge, staring off into the distance, her body tense, wary. Above them, the sky was dark, and shapes moved in the shadow. Pinpricks of light, like stars, shone down, providing all of the illumination here.
Alice eyed the wolf, but it was ignoring her, looking at Esther expectantly. Alice moved to Esther’s side and looked out over what she still somehow expected to be the city of Boston. When she reached the edge and looked out, all she could see was series of walls similar to those she was standing on intersecting with one another in a complicated pattern, stretching across the landscape. Looking down, all she could see was a chasm of darkness between the walls. “Where are we?”
Esther turned back to her. “These are the dreamlands.”