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Hunters come and go, in this Dream.

Some young, some old. Men, women, both and neither, everything between the two and everything outside the two.

Callous or kind. Timid or foolhardy.

They pass through the Dream, and are gone. They leave little behind but faint memory.


This young lady is strange--more so than most others, and Gehrman has seen a good lot of strange.

She brings back things she finds, somehow--a blue tea-pot, a copper kettle (dented a little), a tin of candied oranges, a little wood box that turns out to be full of oolong.

One time Gehrman came in from the garden to find her up to her elbows in soapsuds, scrubbing the floor.

She even gave a name, in return for him giving her his: Vittoria Verdi. "You can call me Vita or Tori or anything like that."

Not real, not quite, but close.

Things feel a bit less hazy and ephemeral with her around; Gehrman's not sure how he likes that. The drowsy numbness is a balm for someone who knows he's been so long outside of time; it's a kindness from the True Dreamer, to give Gehrman that relief and let him really rest while someone else takes the reins.

Gehrman's used to waking in places he didn't fall asleep in, and the True Dreamer's never deliberately cruel. (Sometimes a little bit of a woolhead, but then...he's older even than Gehrman; he's earned the right to a little woolheadedness.)

Vittoria accepts the explanation of somnambulism. Doesn't believe it, but accepts it.


It's stranger still when she starts to bring MORE home than just bits and bobs.

Vita staggers in tired, once--and she shouldn't be. The Hunters' Dream erases the weariness and woe of the Nightmares...or it should. The Doll's at her side in an instant when her knees buckle.

Gehrman's senses sharpen at the scent of her--spring orchards, crushed grass, and rust--no--

"You've got red on you," he says.

"I'm sorry," says Vita. "I'll wash the floor after. I need a bath. I'm sorry. I forgot--I mean, I didn't figure--I'm sorry--"

She's sounding more and more like an agitated bird, and he actually reaches out to touch her hand. (He knows the fear, the panic, the sense of being wound too much too suddenly an feeling like you'e about to fly to bits--cogs and springs scattered all across the workbench.)

She jumps, and for a moment her eyes are downright feral, but the moment passes and then she draws in a shuddery breath and lets it out slowly as the Doll pats her hair.

"There's been worse on the floor," Gerhman says. "I'm not angry. It's just a bit unusual for someone to...well...understand Dreams like this."

"I'm weird," Vita says wryly.

"Unusual," Gehrman repeats. And he smiles. "It's not unwelcome."


The tree in the back of the workshop-house is blossoming.

Dandelions grow amidst the lilies, where Vita dumped out last night's bath-water; primroses stud the gravel by the paths, where she walked back to the house after tilling a rocky bit of soil by the misty phantom sea.

When Gehrman stops by the birdbath, the very shadows of bids are there, to the delight of the messengers.

The Doll seems content, even happy.

"Look," she says, when he glances curiously to her.

One messenger is wearing a lilypad--complete with lotus--as a hat.

"They have been sharing it," the Doll says, "and more are growing. I wonder..."

She trails off, but Gehrman thinks she is wondering what he wonders.


(So, you do not simply give them false hope, girl; I'm pleased.

Vicky murmurs into her pillow; "I told you I would persevere, Scion.")
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