When last we met, the group pressed farther into the sewer system in search of the Hand Made Man, encountering some bizarre and frightening happenings along the way.
While everyone else investigates the rat-bear, Goom has been keeping watch over the red door. Ashe hears the muffled echoes of silenced gunfire down the hall, he sees the paint on the door begin to fade and chip again – the Glamour which Alex had given it is wearing off. Unconcerned, Goom turns his attention to the chains and restraints on the floor, summoning his strength to rend them from the platform. At the shocked looks from Drake’s thugs, Goom comments, “I don’t like slavery.” They raise their fists in support.
Down in the tunnel, the bear is in tatters and the rats are all gone. The decision is made to burn the doll, and the SWAT team begins spraying it with a chemical, as well as setting plastic explosives to bring the tunnel down once the fire is out. Seeing that they are unneeded here, the rest of the group decides to return to Goom, having just heard the sound of him ripping up the chains.
As they reconvene and start discussing what to do next, Goom’s hackles raise – something is coming. Realising that they’re standing at the junction of several train tracks, they contemplate scaling the amphitheatre levels, but as the bottom level is 12’ high, it isn’t feasible. From one tunnel then another, clanging starts, a sound all too familiar to Goom. The mole people are back. Weighing their options, they see the red door as the only likely solution – less certain death versus absolutely imminent death.
The whole of their company has returned from burning the rat-bear, and they ask the tattooed leader if everyone (non-dreamers included) can go through the red door. He tells them that there is no way he is ever going through that again, they don’t know where it goes, and orders his soldiers to start blowing tunnel entrances and get ropes to scale the levels above them.
Alex, standing near the platform but not at the door, again spends a Glamour to activate the door, refreshing it again. Goom tries to open the door, but cannot – Alex activated it, he must open it. An argument ensues with the tattooed man, who grows more agitated the closer they all get to the door, insisting they stay to fight whatever comes through those tunnels. Sneering, the man begins to grow, his muscles swelling, and he leaps forward almost thirty feet toward them, toward Alex. The rest of the group books it for the door platform.
Realising his pact with the tattooed man, Alex realises that he cannot risk resisting the man’s orders. However, the rest of the group made a promise that they would not abandon one another. Weighing the consequences, Alex decides to fuck it, and sprints for the door, turning the handle of the door which opens with a sucking wind. The tattooed man lets out a bloodcurdling wail, as Alia and Drake rush the platform, grab-tackling Alex through the door. The soldiers and thugs give chase (The latter being bonded to follow Drake), following Morgan, then Wally, then Gareth through the door.
Goom waits until the last of them go through, including the tattooed man who wails like a child as he passes into his nightmare. The final few soldiers back through the door, shooting at the mole people who have started to crash through the tunnels like terrible rapids. Goom shuts the door as he passes through.
Alia, Drake, and Alex are falling, feeling as though they are going in many different directions. The space around them is flickering shades of bright whiteness, voices all around them as they cling together. They see flashes of their own lives, and those of their companions, nothing overtly connected, just memories. The farther they fall, the more surreal the memories become, twisting and warping as though in… well, a dream.
It stops as they collapse on the ground in a room. They are deafened by the silence that surrounds them. They are in a space so silent they can hear their own blood rushing, hearts pumping. They are in some sort of medical facility, and Alex feels it is familiar. Down the hall is a junction where other walkways meet at a nurse station. None of the typical sounds and smells of a hospital are there, only the visual.
As they get up, they realise they’re lying atop Morgan. They help her up, and then Wally is beneath her, clutching his pistol. The tattooed man is next, having returned to his normal non-Hulked-out state and he is freaking out. As they try to calm him, another person appears on the floor, and they start helping them up, their entire party appearing one by one, like some sort of human PEZ dispenser.
Unsure of how to proceed, they discuss what to do if they encounter, well, anything. Guns and bullets may be ineffectual here, but what about fire? Gareth flicks his lighter, the flame leaving a trail through the air that slowly fades. The tattooed man freaks out at this, saying that it will attract Them, anything they do to change this space will attract Them. This, he says, is Their realm, the takers. They are pure malevolence and time has no jurisdiction here, no rules. If you get trapped here, he tells them, you’d be best off taking your own life, as that is far better than enduring their tortures. Dream logic prevails, and they are to do nothing to alter the Dream, lest They notice. When they came here before, he says, they had someone with them who could see the soft spots between this world and the Real. He says it looked like purple light.
It clicks. Wally has seen purple glowing spots in various places around Manhattan. This is an ability he had no awareness of. When this is brought up, the tattooed man freaks out again. Wally tries looking, seeing that everyone has a fading purple smoke around them, but nothing more. They decide to push on, Alex remembering that there is a lift and a stairwell near the nurse station. As they approach the nurse station, the sound of a baby crying can be heard; they also see a glowing EXIT sign, though in the opposite direction of the crying. Wally asks Alex if this is where his daughter was born, and the realisation hits him – that’s how he knows this place! However, given his track record with Them teasing him with false daughters, they decide to ignore the crying and look for a way out.
Drake is the first to approach the stairwell, heading down. Everything seems normal, until he reaches the next landing, where it opens up below to a hospital room with a bed. In the farthest corner, it looks as though paint has been blasted over the wall. There is a female figure asleep on the bed, her face stopping at her nose, and the rest of her head an explosion of vines and twisted hair that bursts back against the wall. Alia is concerned that if they go down there, that the woman will wake, and so they go back up, past the level with the crying baby, to the floor above.
There is another door, and Goom pokes his head out. Another hospital hallway. There is a boy a ways down who turns and locks eyes with Goom, who recognises him as the boy who had knocked on Wally’s door, although his whole left side is horribly burned. The boy flies back into a room, slamming the door. All the way down the hall, doors start slamming, cascading toward them. Goom ducks back into the stairwell just as the door in front of him slams shut.
The tattooed man says that It is becoming aware, and that the group is creating this. Goom opens the door again, smelling burnt flesh. A deep baritone voice asks, “What are you looking for, Oath Breaker?” Alex knows he is the breaker of oaths, having reneged on his pact with the Tatman, and so he answers, “The exit.” A dialog begins between the two, the Voice trying to make bargains with Alex, though Drake cautions and coaches him so that he does not say anything that will bind them.
The Voice wants to see Alex, as he is unique. It promises Alex all the stars, all the laughing stars, the stars that laugh. Drake recalls those words from long ago, they are from “The Little Prince”, and he gives Alex the proper response from the story. The Voice is offended by this, telling Alex that he is being fed words by one not worthy. The wall opens up, melting into organic fibres and a yellow glow. “Come,” it says, “I would know you”. Alex refuses, saying he wants guarantees, though the Voice asks him what good promises are with an oath-breaker. It offers him a friendly face, and one of the soldiers morphs grotesquely into Alex’s daughter. Another changes to Meagan, another to Alex’s wife. All of them stare blankly at Alex. Alex asks for the guarantee that he and the ones he has brought with him will have safe passage out of this place and back to their own. The Voice replies that it will not grant this, and Alex asks if it would make him twice the oath-breaker, as he has a pact with his friends that none of them will abandon each other.
It considers this and says that they will talk again.
They head back down the stairs, although the three women will not move, no matter how hard they try to persuade them. Their fellow soldiers take out guns, capping them each in the head, and one pulls out an incendiary grenade with which to burn the bodies. The remaining company heads back down the stairs to the room where the woman sleeps. They are all able to drop safely into the room, although Alia takes a tumble at the end.
There is a doorway in the room, and as Drake opens it, the woman on the bed gasps. Looking into the hall beyond, Wally can see a purple glow emanating from a window, and they all file out into the hallway. The woman on the bed raises her hand, and whispers, “Wait.” Alia hangs back, though Alex, Morgan, and Gareth all follow Drake and Wally towards the glow. Alia asks the woman what she needs, to which she replies, “Please. I can help. With the Hand Made Man.” Alia asks what the woman’s name is, and the woman asks Alia to name her. Alia does not, but continues, asking if the woman is a prisoner. She sits up, but is held back by the vines in her head. She wants to help them, but… Down the hall, Drake realises that Alia and Goom have fallen behind and returns to the door, just in time to hear that the woman can help with the Hand Made Man. The woman’s cost for helping them is her freedom, she wants out of this place. Drake tells Alia to make the deal, get it done, get out of here.
The woman asks Alia to hold her hand, and then shoot her. Alia concedes to name the woman, calling her Angel, and taking her hand. Angel tells her, “The children are his way in, and there’s a bloodline… Your… mentor has kept it locked away. She’s hiding it from you…” She falls back into the bed, letting Alia’s hand go. Goom fires, a double tap to the head, and smashes her with the iron chains he still carries from the train platform. The book it to where the rest of the group stands around the glowing window.
Looking through, it appears as though they are at least forty stories up in a building. Wally spends a Glamour, opening the way between worlds. Where there had been no scent before, something hits their noses now, something Gareth recognises from his debauched clubbing days as scrotal sweat and plastic underwear. Lovely.
Once again, Alex is bullied through the doorway, this time by a couple of M. Butterfly’s soldiers and everyone else follows. They burst out of a closet door, glitter, feather boas, g-strings, wigs, and makeup exploding around them as they return to the real world. They are in a dressing room and the sound of heavy bass music can be heard.
In front of them stands a black man in drag, just finishing his makeup. “Well,” he says, recognition flashing on his face when he notices Gareth, “You know how to make an entrance!”