The little brown bird circled the jester‘s head, dipping and cresting. It paused each time it peaked in flight, turning its head frantically to look around. Behind it, green towers smeared and streaked to sky blue and smoke gray. It began to rain orange flower petals.
“Where?” said the bird to the jester, “Which way?”
The jester waved his arms. “How should I know, Fool?”
“Such madness,” said the Snipe, zooming off behind Jillian. “Sister Betsy! What are you? Show me what you are!”
Jillian turned around and saw the vision of Wanda, hale and whole, in a blowing white gossamer robe. “We‘re in dreams...”
“Yes, finally,” said the vision.
Jillian‘s stomach felt light, like it wanted to laugh.
The lovely-Wanda‘s bare feet stood on spongy green moss, just like beside the stream in the Garden. So inviting. They could lay beside one another here, as they‘d done before. Jillian bent her knees to sit. But the vision took hold of her arm.
“Keep your feet,” she said, gripping tightly, “we must not succumb.”
“Why are you so beautiful?” said Jillian.
The vision blinked, taken aback. “Beautiful?”
“Mm hm,” said Jillian, nodding. The Wanda she was looking at was an idol, carved by the hands of the Titans. Her ice-blue eyes and ruddy brown skin, her hair as black as the space between stars, her slender curves... “Sooo, so beautiful,” was all Jillian could say by way of explaining it.
“Your inner Signamancy for me,” said vision-Wanda. “But I tormented you. I should be...you should see me as I see Olive.” Pretty-Wanda‘s face dimmed to black and went blank for a moment, before returning to bright beauty. “In my dreams, she is a...she‘s a cold, scaly, wormy thing.”
“Oh,” said Jillian, trying to think of Olive now. Somewhere in this city, running away. “I always saw her as a pretty flower,” she said, “but now I guess she‘s kind of like that to me, too. A reptile, or something. Scurrying, like prey. Dangerous prey.”
“You should be hunting!” shouted the bald jester.
“I should be hunting,” repeated Jillian, reaching over her shoulder to find her sword, but unable to will her hands to bend in quite the right way. She flailed a bit, frustrated, until she forgot what she was trying to do and her hands ran down to her sides like melting wax down a candlestick.
“Is the city burning?” asked the Wanda vision. “I can‘t tell.”
Jillian‘s head was inside out and backwards. She sniffed the air with her ears. Something outside the city walls sounded hot and bright. “I think it‘s the Garden. Do these dreams seem stronger to you?”
“We are breathing in too much of it.” said Wanda. “It can croak us. If she gets out, we are all likely to perish here. We have no move.”
The Chief‘s head washed to one side, sliding like a barrel of sand, as she tried to make that thought assemble into one picture.
“Get the casters out!” shouted the jester, leaping and stomping his feet upon the ground. “Magic Kingdom! Magic Kingdom! Get the King high! Get yourself high!”
His words made Jillian squint up in the swirling sky. High...the yellow streaks among the green and purple. Friendly yellow peepy streaky...yes, come to mama, you gooey things!
“C‘m down‘ere!” she ordered aloud. Maybe something even listened.
“A moment, Princess! Please. Stay lucid, please.” The Snipe was back, darting through the flurry of orange and black petals in the air, and flying in tight little figure-6s around a slowly moving statue of a shrouded woman.
As the statue finally shambled close, the bird landed on its shoulder. “Sister Betsy,” said the bird, “our minds are all afflicted. Can you heal us?”
The statue raised its head, but the shroud never revealed a face. “Not...”
“Not what?” asked the bird.
They stared at the statue. Green and gray and orange streaks swirled in columns behind it.
“Yes, you are not a Thinkamancer, I know,” said the Jack-bird, flapping its little wings agitatedly. “Or a Florist. But this is poison we breathe. Can you keep it from croaking us?”
“You should be hunting!” shouted the jester, from somewhere behind Jillian.
“I should be hunting,” repeated Chief Jillian, shaking what passed for her head in directions that did not exist. How could she hunt? The prey had fled, and distance meant so little. Direction, nothing at all.
“Yes...” said the shrouded Betsy-statue. “But...”
“No buts!” tweeted the bird. “Cast to your calling, Sister! You keep us all alive! Yourself as well!”
The ground was moving. Jillian floated and bobbed on it, a bug stuck to the surface of the world. The statue, now twisting in space like a funnel cloud, raised an appendage and murmured. Bright rainbow-colored sparks jumped up from the ground and formed an impossibly complicated pattern of diamonds and triangles.
When the sparks faded and winked out, Jillian could see the streets of the city. The bird still fluttered nearby. Wanda still looked perfect as the sun. So Jillian was still in dreams, but they no longer threatened to wash her away entirely. She knew where she was. Her breath came easy.
“I should be hunting!” she shouted, and managed somehow to draw her sword. The Jack-bird flew away, alarmed at her clumsiness with the blade. “Gwiffons!”
But they were already here, big yellow blobs hovering just off the ground, indistinct, their faces eyeless and blind.
“How can I help?” chirped the Snipe.
“Spot the prey,” said Jillian. “It‘s a...lizard or something.”
“It has a head start!” shouted the jester, stepping up close to where Jillian rode. He grabbed her boot insistently. “What do you have, huntress?”
Olive must be running for the outer walls. Spotting the prey now was no guarantee they could get close enough to engage. They‘d need archery, to hit her from a distance. Or...casters.
“Wait,” said Jillian urgently. “First find me Rusty.”
So much time was wasted before they took to the air. Once they‘d found him, they had to lure the Shockmancer out of the bushes, where he had transformed into a giggling little knee-height daemon of sorts. Long, pointy black-tipped ears protruded from his head, and he had grown a jagged tail. Most startling was his face, like an animal‘s, with enormous liquid black eyes.
“Peek at you!” giggled the nasty little creature. It looked Jillian up and down, obscenely licking its lips and laughing.
“He sees you as he wants to see you,” explained the Jack bird. “In the, er...nude. Sorry to say it.”
“Nude! Nude!” howled the creature, laughing and staring. “Noooodah!”
“Shut up! Go mount that gwiffon!” ordered Jillian, pointing with her sword.
“Mount!” agreed the Shockmancer, scurrying out of the bush.
Jillian planted a swift kick in the keister as it passed. But that did not prevent it from attempting an alternative interpretation of her order when it got to the poor gwiffon.