Dancing with Rachael

by DarkStuff

rating: +15+x

The body of Dr. Robert Maximus Dorer — a chubby, short, white skinned man who wore contacts when he didn't wear glasses — laid, eviscerated, in a stairwell. To anyone observing, it would be clear that something blew a large hole in his lower back. Due to a portion of his spine missing (though an autopsy would reveal much of it was sent into his intestines), his body was folded in a strange way, so that even if you were to look at him from above you could tell something was wrong — if the blood below him or his pale, flaccid expression hadn't tipped you off. Drool and blood mixed to the left of his head, though most of it had dried by this point. Yes, he had been dead for some hours, that much was obvious.

At least, Dorer thought that blood would have pooled and dried that fast, to his limited knowledge of dead bodies, so even if it wouldn't have been so, it was. Though, in truth, he didn't know how long he had been dead, either. Being dead does a number to one's sense of time.

In any case, that was the scene, and that's the way it would have looked like. Unpleasant, no doubt. But, if one looked closely, one could see a further unpleasantness… in his face, in his cheeks, there seemed to be a twitching. Life? Could there be maggots in his skin, flies hatching? Had it actually been days, and now bugs were going to eat at him? Was it a leftover reflex? No, no, something was happening.

In fact, Dorer had just groaned.

"You're not dead, you idiot," echoed through his head, in a familiar voice. He hadn't thought anything of it at first. But after a few repetitions, he was forced to consider that dead people don't usually hear things. "Get up."

Get up? What a ridiculous thought. How could he possibly get up? His spine was broken in two, and he had most certainly lost too much blood to be doing much of anything. Though, the voice hadn't been wrong before. Just a moment earlier, it had informed him — quite loudly and angrily, much to his dismay — that dead people don't feel pain. That was quite the relief, because until then, he had been very much in pain. Pain in his back, in his jaw, in his head… everywhere, really. Realizing that dead people didn't feel pain was the best thing that had happened to him since he ordered a downright delectable hot pastrami sandwich from a deli in Rome. It certainly made being dead easier.

But of course, he wasn't actually thinking any of this. That would have been stupid to believe. He was dead, and had every non-intention of remaining as such.

Rachael stepped back, in a metaphorical sense. She didn't have a form, as she had given up a bit of her individuality to step directly into Dorer's inner consciousness. How else could she have gotten him to shut up? The only problem with this approach was that as soon as Dorer realized he shouldn't be feeling anything at all, he practically shut down. Hey, almost like being dead really is. What she could tell from her background in neuroscience, he was effectively in a deep, dreamless sleep. Maybe her work was done here. He wasn't wrecking the entire stairwell anymore, anyways.

With the reassurance that being literally inside someone's head, especially someone who was dead, was impossible, Rachael stood up from sitting and staring at Dorer's body, as she had of course been doing all along. He was very pathetic looking, just laying there. Dead, and all. Except, she mused, he wasn't really dead. She wondered how long he could be dead until he realized he wasn't.

In any case, in some sick kind of way, it made her feel a little better about herself. She turned, and stepped down another couple stairs. She only had to go until she reached a door, which would be a door sure to lead to the first floor. It would take quite a bit, considering how far they had climbed, but there she could find the exit, and leave. And. Leave.

Rachael stood for a second, a single flight down from where Dorer was. Leave? Was she just about to give up? And besides, how did she know that Howard hadn't somehow blocked off the exit already? But then again, give up on what? What was there to do? What had been gained?

No, this entire operation was a mistake. Getting out, and coming back more prepared, was the best thing to do, was it not?

Yes, it was. No one from the Foundation knew that she had come here. They would be confused, of course, that she and Dorer were nowhere to be found, but they don't know where to look. They're also quite sparing about using their anomalies. Unless she and Dorer were massively important, any "locators" weren't likely to be used. Not in the first couple days of their absence.

Yes. She had convinced herself. She needed to leave and come back, with more of a plan. That would be the best course of action.

She descended another flight of steps, and then stopped. Why had she stopped?

What was still keeping her here?

She closed her eyes, and lied to herself. Nothing was keeping her here.

Rachael began to walk down the stairs in earnest. No more stopping. She needed to get out of here. Anything keeping her could wait until she came back. One of the first things on her agenda was to create a plan. Some kind of plan of action. She knew that the beings here — Vernon and Howard — knew more about… about, those things, than anyone else she had ever encountered. She needed more information. She'd need to figure out a way how to get it.

She thought about this as she made her way down… down, down, and down. Was there a weakness to them? Well, if Howard truly was omnipotent here, she would have been stopped by now. Or, he was waiting to strike. She struck that possibility from her mind. She had escaped. If something suddenly told her the opposite, she'd work off of that, but it was safe to assume she was out of the woodwork now. Is that?

Rachael wiped off a spot of blood that had dripped onto her shoulder from above. She shivered, and then ignored it.

Moving on. She hadn't tried knocking him out, or otherwise harming him. That might yield results. Of course, Vernon was easier to talk to. He opened up very easily, but in a similar vein of thought, that might have meant that he spilled all he knew. No reason not to try, though. Was he as controlling here as Howard was? Did his "job" take up that much time? Were the walls always this bloody?

What?

No, no one bled that much. This was ridiculous. You'd think that the further you got away from a dead body, the less you'd see it. Oh, god. And smell it.

Passing around the corner, Rachael was greeted with the sight of a dead body.

She started, and then closed her eyes. Several deep breaths.

He was far more broken now than he was before. She consoled herself with the idea that he couldn't have been feeling pain, or else he would have retaken the stairwell. What was this about? How long can someone believe they're dead before they realize that that's ridiculous?

Well, whatever that length may be, it could be significantly shorter if you helped it along.

"Fuck it," Rachael said aloud to no one in particular. "I'm not going to be the idiot that has to go around a second and third time to take a hint."

She walked down the steps, knelt in front of Dorer's rapidly decaying body, and spoke.

"Hey, asshole. You're alive."

The sentiment fell on dead ears.

"I don't have all the time in the world. I know you're in there, and I know you can be communicated with. You don't have much more of a wall than you did before — it's just that now you're playing dead, not stupid. I convinced you that dead guys don't feel pain. Well, you must think dead guys don't think, either. Thing is, that's impossible for you to do, seeing as you're not dead. You're trying really fucking hard, but you can hear me. Just from proximity if nothing else. You're not dead. How could you be dead and still be thinking? That would be ridiculous."

Rachael thought she might have seen his right eye twitch.

"Yes, you got it. Did you feel yourself move? Focus on that. Do dead men move? Ask yourself that, think really hard about it, then think about thinking, and notice how dumb you're being."

But despite the talk, complete and utter lifelessness met her once more.

"You fucking dipshit. Okay, what do you want from me?" She tried to read the glossed over, greyed out eyes. She tried to fabricate a sense of body language in the stiff, uncooperative joints of Dorer's corpse. Something in his posture, though lacking a good portion of his back, must detail some desire from him.

But Dorer's silence was unyielding.

Rachael stood up. Was that all she could do? She felt like she had barely tried. Must she try to jumpstart his brain? It wouldn't work, if he didn't know what was happening. Worth a shot, though.

Dorer's body jolted, once, and then fell back. Rachael, attempting patience, waited what she thought might have been a minute. Could she control time here? It might be worth testing, but not now.

She closed her eyes, and tried to wish Dorer back to life, but that didn't work either. She tried her very hardest to believe he was alive, but that wasn't helping. She already believed he was alive, and that hadn't done anything to him.

She sat on the stairs. Defeated.

Defeated?

That was a horrible word. She hated it. She had never been defeated ever before in her life. She wasn't about to start right now.

"Dorer, you know how I know you're alive?" No response. "Because I didn't kill you. If I didn't kill you, what could you have possibly died from?" … "Dorer, you'd be even more of an idiot than you already are if you seriously believed I would kill you. What motivation could I possibly have? Well, don't answer that. It's…" Rachael frowned at her own tactic. "Dorer, the truth is that I wouldn't have killed you because I need you. You have powers, just like me. Electricity powers, I think. I don't know why, but…" Rachael fought against her own impulse to shut up. "Maybe you were right. Same initials, same power? I just learned about a bit of name magic, up top, after I… left you behind. You were tired, you see. 'Cause you're not particularly in shape. It's a lot of stairs. I kept you here, because you're my hostage, but I didn't kill you. How else could you explain that you're thinking right now? I might have put you in some pain, but… I couldn't kill you. You're part of the reason I'm here. I didn't bring you along because I needed a slave. I…" Rachael wondered why these words came so easily. "I brought you along because I needed someone here with me." She almost puked at herself. "So of course I couldn't have killed you. You'd have to be a moron to think so. So, I know it's your natural state, Dorer, but, stop being a moron, and get the fuck up. I can't leave without you." That statement was more literal than it might appear.

Rachael sat, supposedly alone, with her thoughts. Her face had softened. Her posture slumped. Her eyelids half closed. She looked at her feet. She was the idiot. She was letting Dorer hold her back. What kind of Rachael was this? Not the one she had grown up with.

Had she ever grown up.

Someone coughed. Rachael startled.

"Then, then why am I so beaten?"

Rachael didn't miss a beat. "Because you fell down the stairs, you clumsy oaf."

"And threw out my back?"

"Of course, but not too badly. How much pain are you in right now?"

"…None at all. I should be, though."

"Don't think about that."

Dorer's blood slowly pulled back into his body.

"Do you think you're here enough to shut up and listen?"

"It's my number one talent, hehe — aa, hoff." Dorer's giggling was interrupted by a large hunk of phlegm and blood coming up through his throat.

"I'm certain you notice that you're healing."

"I am? You must be doing that."

"I said shut up. What is with you people and not shutting up? Ed was like that. Don't ask who. Some asshole. But if you're going to be my partner, you're going to have to understand some things about this place. 'Cause if you don't, you're going to start fucking it up. Capeesh? Don't answer that. Everything about this place is what you believe. Don't ask what that means, I can see it in your face. It means that if I really believed there was a door on the next level down, it would be there. If I believed it led to the exit, then it would. Thing is, there's a consent type deal going on here. Call it a battle of wills, but when I came into this stairwell all there was was pain at first, because you're whole world was pain, and the feeling of pain was so strong it overpowered my ability to continue down the stairs. I was forced to stop and deal with you."

"So you did kill me."

"Now that you know for certain that you're alive, I can admit that to you. Yes, I did."

"You bitch."

"I can still hurt you, you know." That shut him up. "So what I'm doing is, I'm getting out of here. I was afraid of saying this out loud, because I wasn't sure what that would do to my chances. No room to doubt yourself in here. I'm figuring that if I keep going down, there will be a door that leads to the ground floor, where we were, and we can follow that out of here."

Dorer nodded, and breathed heavily out of his nose. "Why can't you dream up an exit right here right now?"

"How would I know if it's truly an exit? I need to get back to where we came in, or else I won't know for sure if we've left."

Dorer blinked, and thought. "How do you know this?"

"Oh come on. It's gotten me this far. Just trust me. In fact, you have to trust me, or else you'll be interfering with how it works. I experimented with how it worked with just one person, I don't want to figure out a new set of rules for two people, alright?"

"A-alright." Dorer groaned, and moved himself into a more upright position. His back looked fuller, his proportions in place, the blood almost all gone. He tried to push himself up to his feet, and moaned in pain. "I don't know if I can stand up."

"You can."

"Easy for you to say."

"Were you listening to me at all?"

Dorer frowned. With two deep breaths, he attempted a second time. This time he righted himself, though it looked to take considerable effort. He blinked several times, and turned to try and look at his back. When that proved futile, he simply rubbed under his shirt with his hands. "It's… all back." Rachael hoped to god he didn't notice the pun he just made. But then he started to smile. "Heheheh, all back. Well! Now I just look like a crybaby. Getting up first try after saying I couldn't? Man, I feel stupid."

"You know, for being such a passive force in your own life, you're quite actively a pain in my ass."

"It's just about all I can do when you control me absolutely and completely. Well, not anymore. I can believe anything up, can't I?"

"Don't test me. You want out of here as much as I do."

"Quite the assumption you're making. I was just getting to like the place. Why are we leaving, anyways?"

"If you want to stay so badly, maybe I'll reconsider."

"Oh please don't I was kidding, we should really get going." Dorer began a lively trot down the stairs, quite opposite to his previous demeanor. "Quick recovery," Rachael muttered under her breath, and started down the stairs again, this time hopefully for the last time. Too many times had she started down the stairs only to go nowhere. This time felt promising, though.

"Don't go too fast."

"When I find the imaginary door, I'll wait there for you. I believe I'll get there faster if I go faster, so I'm going to go faster. Capeesh? Heheheh."

Rachael felt like a babysitter. A very bad one, at that. Babysitters aren't typically supposed to kill their babies and then revive them after a shared torturous dream. Yeah maybe babysitter wasn't a perfect comparison.

Sure enough, after only several flights, a door had appeared to them. Dorer was there before Rachael, and he had it open, motioning her through with a "ladies first". Rachael went through, and found herself in the same inky black area they had been in before. "Perfect," she thought.

"Alright, we head left."

"You don't need to tell me twice."

Rachael began with a modest walk… but as anticipation grew, so too did her pace. She leaned forward as she went, and Dorer tried his best to keep up. As their speed grew, their flashlights became shakier, and the door became closer. Closer, and closer. It must have been right up ahead.

And sure enough, they came upon the lobby. To their right, the revolving doors.

Without stopping to communicate, Rachael had practically leapt for the exit. Dorer saw her disappear behind them, and then followed soon after. His heartrate had spiked, and he felt around for something sharp that he believed must have been in his pocket. This was his last chance to really materialize it, before they headed out. "Deep breath," he thought, and took one.

Game time.

Dorer pushed through the door, and…

Was caught off guard…

By an extending plane of black.

He waved his flashlight around, and saw nothing. "Rachael?" Turning around did, thankfully, reveal the revolving doors again. "Rachael!" Should he simply retreat back inside?

"There's nothing here. Did you believe we were trapped? Dorer, did you fuck this up?"

Rachael's voice seemed to be coming from everywhere at once.

"W-what? No! I thought we were getting out of here! Rachael, what's going on!?"

"You tell — Dorer. Is that a knife in your left hand?"

"I…" His palm felt sweaty. "Yes, it is."

"What was your plan?"

"He was going to kill you," rang an unplaceable voice.

"Wh-who's there?" But Dorer's voice was meek and muffled compared to the two directionless voices of Rachael and the other.

"Really, Dorer? That was your plan?"

"What? How was I supposed to know you weren't going to kill me? You only revived me to move on!"

"I saved you from an eternal state of pain."

"Yeah, one that you put me in."

"That's fair. Doesn't make me less angry with you."

"Ladies, gentlemen," came in the third voice again, "he couldn't have killed you even if he tried, just as you couldn't leave. Even if you tried."

"Why not!?" Rachael's voice bellowed like a god from Mount Olympus. Dorer tried to make sense of where these voices originated, but found himself only staring out into cold abyss.

"Don't you understand? All you are here is consciousness — everything here is molded by your thoughts, your beliefs, your ideas. Once you stepped through those doors, there was no coming back, because this place doesn't exist. It is only what you — and the others here — think it is, and that includes yourself. You have no bodies to go back to. You're stuck like this, like I am. Like Vernon is."

"Bullshit."

Dorer, feeling unwanted and unneeded, decided to retreat back into the building. Was that true? There were easy ways to test that, he imagined. In the back of his mind, he knew he was avoiding some unknown but inevitable wrath that Rachael would inflict upon him. This retreat wasn't to test the boundaries of this place, this was fear. He hated how easy it was to scare him. His bravest moment had gotten him killed. No good habits were being reinforced, he mused.

However, the voices never seemed to get any farther away.

"You've left before, Howard," accused Rachael.

"Aheheh," Howard's chuckle sounded nervous to Dorer, who had made his way to the computer which he had seen when he first came in, "you're right. But that's why I had to stew. You see, this is my house, or, it's my house as much as it is anything. It's unwieldy to have you two running around in my house. But I was also worried that… that doesn't matter. I'm trying to say, I can offer you a way out of here."

"…I'm listening."

The computer was on its desktop. Rolling hills, a blue bar at the bottom, the one pinned program being Mozilla. But he didn't care about that. If Dorer knew one thing about computers, it's that he knew absolutely nothing about computers. He clicked the windows button, and searched for the File Explorer.

"You have to learn. You have to know, to truly know, that the whole world is a dream."

Inside File Explorer, he searched for… something, anything, that he would expect to be in a computer. He typed out "Inner Console". The machine began to search, and, because he thought it would take a bit, it began to take a bit.

"A dream?"

"Yes, a dream. You have to accept that everything is fictional, that nothing is real. The only things you can prove are that you exist, and it's a reasonable assumption that other people exist, but not as anything more than thoughts. The walls, floors, and ceilings of every building are there because people agree that they are there. Your body looks the way it does because you think it does. You then present that to people around you, and they think the same."

What came back was gibberish. Just as he had expected, he understood not a lick of it. What he had searched had come up, but when he opened it, he could… make out words, but not what they were, or their meaning. He had no idea what would go here, but a few symbols (a printer, a floppy disk, and a computer mouse) were visible. That sold it. They were telling the truth.

"Is that how the world is?"

"It can't be any other way. Otherwise, why would this work? It would be impossible."

Dorer tried to think up other things he didn't know. Well, he reasoned, in a world where the anomalous exists, how can he be sure of anything? In a place like this, how could he be sure of anything? He tried to fill his mind with nonsense. What if, what if, what if… what if the hills on the desktop were real? What if he could walk into them?

"Then how come more people don't know?"

"It's… it's this place."

Dorer's hand twitched, and he slowly moved it towards the computer screen. Already, a soft breeze met his face, and the smell of grass and hot summer came to his nose.

"This place is the only place from which you can see it clearly. Only from outside the dream can you see it for what it is. Call it a place of waking up. Call it a factory. A factory that takes ordinary people like you and me and makes them into gods."

"You, you made this place. How?"

Dorer's hand pressed past the boundary of the screen.

"It was my company. I tried to erase it, to get rid of any evidence I had ever existed. But it didn't work like that. It existed in the minds of others. It was like a baby getting a car. I had the means to drive anywhere I wanted, sure, but I didn't have a single clue how to do it. In my efforts, I crashed. I bit off more than I could chew. Every day I face the consequences."

But in an instant, he doubted that it was possible, and the screen shattered in his hand, leaving him bleeding and stinging.

"How did you ascend without the aid of a place like this?"

But Dorer knew that he had healed from worse.

"That…"

The glass pushed itself out of his hand, and the wounds healed instantaneously.

"That is something I can not tell you."

"Oh, really. So, you can't die in here, can you?"

"Well, now that you understand the world, I mean truly understand it… I don't think you can die anywhere."

"Gods, huh?"

"Gods."

"Omnipotent?"

"Omnipotence. Come with me, and I can show you."

"Where can I meet you?"

Suddenly, Rachael and Dorer were seated at a table, opposite from a man with no discernible features. Despite the inability to collapse his face into something fully interpretable, a modest smile appeared loud and clear.

"Right h—"

But before he could finish his sentence, he fell face first into the table. After a second, a startled Dorer finally accepted that Howard had gone unconscious.

"What the fuck is going on, Rachael?"

"This," she stood up in the incomprehensibly unremarkable room as she motioned to the featureless man, "is Howard, the CEO of Scott Industrial. Well, Howard and some other people with the same initials as him."

"Same… initials?"

Rachael Maria Davidson and Robert Maximus Dorer stared at each other, as each connected two dots in their minds.

"W-what did you just do to me?" Howard groaned as he rose his head from the table.

Rachael's sneer returned. "You're no more omnipotent than we are, now. Your first mistake was to explain it all, and then deny me information. You're not the boss here, you're—"

At that moment, Rachael's head literally exploded, which pulled another pitiful yip out of Dorer.

"Really!? I'm not?" Howard's breathing was heavy, his eyes wide, his expression tired. "What's your criteria for that, huh? Huh?"

Howard turned to Dorer as Rachael's body fell to its knees and then fell on its side.

"Do you have anything similar to say?"

Dorer frantically shook his head, before he noticed movement behind Howard.

Howard, noticing Dorer's drifting eyes, didn't turn around fast enough to dodge a slab of concrete impaling itself into his abdomen.

Rachael's form apparated soon after, a fury in her eyes and a tension in her entire body. "Guess you can still feel pain, huh? Did you forget that we can't die? For a 'god', you're not too smart, are you? Now—"

But before she could finish, the ambiguous room collapsed into a stairwell, and Rachael immediately began to fall down it. Howard scrambled up the stairs, up and away from Rachael, and coincidentally towards Dorer, who had found himself above the action. Dorer pressed himself against the wall, making way for Howard's escape.

"Space is relative here, bitch." Screamed a Rachael that was suddenly on the next flight up, and came barreling down towards Howard. She ended up driving him into Dorer, and pinning them all against the wall.

Howard pushed Rachael off of him and towards the stairs, but just as Rachael looked like she would fall down them, the stairwell began to tilt. "Can't push me down if the wall's the floor!"

Howard lost his balance and fell over, along with Dorer. "Stop, stop!"

Howard's pleas coincided with Rachael's eyes bulging and her head expanding. An expression of excruciating pain crossed her face, but soon her skull was back to its normal size. "Can't use the same trick twice, asshole. Tell me what you know!"

"I-I can't! Don't you understand?" Howard moved to his feet. "If everyone knew it was a dream, it would be hell! Don't you see that? I can't give this away! It'll spread like the common cold, or the flu, or a plague. I'm the only one who truly knows, and no one else can ever know. Not you, not anyone. What would a world be when everyone can manipulate everything as they pleased!? Isn't that what your organization fights against?"

"I am not part of SCP, dickbag. I signed my letter of resignation the moment I signed up. Now, you're going to tell me what you know, now."

"You can't make me."

Rachael seemed to punch him in the jaw without moving, and as his head jerked backwards, a slurry of faces painted the wall behind him. Each one of the flattened, splattered faces began to tear up, as Howard's body slumped against the wall.

"Do you want to test that?"

Howard cried.

"R-Rachael, why, why are you doing this?"

Rachael's glare shot daggers. Dorer quickly shut up.

"Well," Howard sobbed out, "you can't kill me. But you can torture me. Unless I leave, which I could. But I won't. It would only delay the inevitable."

Rachael smiled. "Glad to know you're seeing things my way."

"But," Howard said, "a consciousness can still die. It just has to be willing."

Rachael's eyebrows raised, quickly followed by her eyes widening.

"No, no—"

"I just have to believe that I can do it."

"STOP THIS, HOWARD."

Rachael rushed towards him, but the distance between them expanded faster than she ran. Before she could manipulate it in her favor, Howard had pushed his hand into his own head, screamed from every mouth he had, and begun to fold into himself.

"Goodbye, everybody," thirty different voices pushed over their own cries before every piece of Howard was swallowed into a single point of light.

Rachael and Dorer sat still, awestruck. Dorer was awestruck at the exchange between Rachael and Howard, but Rachael was awestruck at how quickly everything she had ever strived for came within reach and then removed itself from the world for good. She fell to her knees (disturbingly similar to how her headless body had done moments prior), and simply breathed.

Dorer still wanted more information, but he felt that now wasn't a good time to ask.

Rachael whispered something. Dorer decided to let it pass. Far off in the distance, that dot of light still existed. "Well, uh," Dorer started, but then he stopped short. He seated himself next to Rachael, and let her sort out her own shit. He figured there was nothing he could say that would make this — whatever "this" was supposed to be — better.

He wrapped his hands around one another.

He pursed his lips.

He sighed.

"Okay, so, what now?"

Rachael stood up.

"Oh, okay, so, we're going, where are we going Rachael?"

"A hole."

"What?"

Rachael strode with confidence towards the small dot of light, which was getting slowly dimmer and dimmer.

"Hey, hey! Don't touch that, we don't know what it does—"

"I know exactly what it does. Do you know where we are? We're in a hole. A hole left behind, because all three of us had agreed on what a stairwell looked like and how it behaved. But one of us — actually, a good many of us — just ripped themselves from the world around them. This stairwell is weak. Did you wonder what this place would look like if there was no one to assign values to it? Consciousness to agree what it was supposed to be?"

Cracks in the walls(?) showed dark blues and greens that suggested some larger picture that Dorer couldn't make out. "Rachael, this is crazy, don't, don't touch it!"

"Time to find out."

Rachael arrived at the small dot, and realized that it was actually a very large dot, a very large brain shaped dot, that shined so brightly that it was its own sun. She reached her hand in, and both her and Dorer were absorbed by a light that was frighteningly familiar to Rachael.

When Dorer's eyes adjusted, or some stranger equivalent development, he saw that they were in the middle of a large white abyss, quite the contrast to the black one he had seen only recently. Except this one, this one was far from endless. Somewhere it stopped being a white abyss, and beyond it there was a black tinted world. A scene…

Below them, a large cigar poked out of a stubbled mouth. In front, they saw a hand of cards — an eight of spades and an eight of diamonds. Smoke filled a parlor, and a table as wide as a valley contained varying stacks of chips. Several other colossal men sat at the table, each with as straight an expression as they could muster. Nothing, not even the smoke, moved a single inch. Everything was as solid as a sculpture, as impregnable as the night sky.

But even more confusing to Dorer was that each person's head glowed, just as brightly as that white plane that they were in now, and out from their heads something did move — long, grasping arms, extending into the ceiling and beyond. Despite the roof, Dorer could see that the arms continued up into the sky, almost infinitely, like tendrils sprouting from the earth — hundreds, thousands, millions of them, off in the distance beyond the walls.

Dorer didn't have words.

Rachael collapsed.



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