Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
The morning was nearly at an end, and Jacob rowed vigorously. He felt tired, but there was still a long way to go. He did not know how long, but he felt it. And he felt the impending peril of failing to reach the Floating Market before nightfall in these strange waters of the Dreamlands.
He and Ian had stopped talking a while ago, devoting every resource in their body - or rather, in their spirit - to the demanding task they faced. At the same time trying to free his mind of concern and feeling the need to "make sense" of all that had happened in the past few days, he began trying to organize in his mind the extraordinary events that had befallen him and Ian recently.
Talking to oneself has the benefit of being able to steer the conversation to what one wants or needs to hear. The Voice of the Wolf, who up to very recently had provided that comfort while still giving the illusion of an independent perspective, was now silent.
But Jacob could bring it back. The Wolf was a product of his imagination, a device his mind had employed, driven mad by its need for sanity. Now he was no longer dependent on it, but he could choose to picture the imaginary Wolf sitting by him in the boat...
"So, Jacob, do you believe this Raven King hocus-pocus crap? Do you now believe Benjamim is the Next Raven King to be, and you and Ian are his prophets? Do you believe you are rowing the King's Boat back from Avalon to the Floating Market of London, having recently retrieved Morpheus Lord of the Dreamlands from a shallow reef and dined with his sister Death Lord of the Mortal Realm? Do you believe you crowned the Raven King with an old blanket and a feather?"
"Or do you believe you are still in an intricate dream devised by your own mind and vampiric nature as an effect or torpor? Do you think you and Ian are special to the point of being singled out from a fate which befalls, apparently, all others?"
"Think for one moment how conveniently fitting the Raven King turned out to be. He was able to provide a means out of torpor, and around him came floating answers to questions of cosmological depth never before answered. And when you finally crowned him and he took you as his Prophet, what did he ask of you but your heart's deepest, most secret yearning?"
Jacob could remember the Voice's scorn, but this time, unlike before, he was in control. This time he could fight back.
"Cunningham said the only way me and Ian could broadcast into other's dreams was if we were both in Avalon. Ergo, when I return, if Cunningham and the others remember what I said to them in dreams, then this was real and not a dream in itself, QED." Jacob smirked in his mind. The best way to keep insanity at bay was sometimes trying to see things in a lighter perspective.
"When you return? What makes you so sure you are not going to keep rowing this boat for days, months, years on end until you fall and drown into torpor and there remain for the next decade-or-so?"
"If this is a dream, then Sheffield has not really followed my wish to throw us into the sewer, and when I fall back into torpor I will still be safe in his keeping, where I will eventually wake."
"Perhaps. Or perhaps you also dreamt that you were 'safe' in his care... Alain Monfort might have kept you as a rememberance instead, locked forever in torpor and kept in a glass case." Jacob-the-Voice was turning away from rational arguments - which Jacob was naturally good at - and moving more to emotions and fears. Coming to think of it, that made sense.
"Life, death, torpor, fate - who is to say what is to happen tomorrow? What matters here is that I am none the worse for trying to row to the Floating Market now. Even if I fail."
"I see your meeting with Death and your oath of fealty to the King has left you more kharmic in your perspectives..."
"You could say that. But that may be more from what I've been through in the last month. When Alain cut me in half I feared for my life, for a fickling moment. When I was attacked at the firefighter's HQ and saved by Tom Sheffield, again the fear was momentary and then over. When Petrenkov went into Hell I was afraid, but that too came to pass. We only fear what we don't know - what we know we can come to accept, no matter how awful. Even Death. Maybe I am just getting to know more of the Night. Maybe I am getting to know too much..."
"Do you think the Death, Dream and Destiny that you met or heard of these last days were actual cosmological beings, or that they existed only inside your mind?"
"What do you mean? If Avalon is true, then so are they."
"Not really. Avalon is a place in the Dreamlands; even if it is real, dream merges into reality here. Even if part turns out to be real, another part may not be."
"But Ian experienced the same." Jacob realized then he hadn't really discussed his dreams of Morpheus or even the short dinner with Death with Ian.
"Well, assume for one moment that this place is real and you are indeed the King's Chosen. Surely this common destiny you share implicates a higher empathy between you two - maybe what you dream he dreams as well, and vice-versa. It has happened in the mortal world."
"In lack of refuting evidence, I must grant you that point as a possibility."
"And what of Dream Death and Destiny then?"
Jacob himself was silent for a while as he searched his heart for an answer. Questioning your beliefs may appear simpler when you are given ample evidence, and even demonstration, for the existence of higher powers - but when surrealism and extraordinary become common all around you, evidence and demonstration can be refuted. They can deceive you. They can be false.
What is required then goes beyond a keen eye, a sharp mind, and a critic spirit. Believing, or rather knowing what to believe, becomes a matter of Faith. And Faith was something Jacob Hart had always replaced with reason. Or is reason itself a form of faith in the mind?
He had chosen to believe in the Raven King because for that was a Faith he could build upon, a Rational form of Belief, just what he craved for. If the King could get him out of Avalon and into the mortal world, and the all-knowing Dracul could provide no other explanation for that, then the King was real and to be believed in. Same for Magic, as that was in effect Part of the King as well.
But the organization of the Cosmos as described by Death was a separate matter. Did the King really believe Death, or was that the point at which dream and reality bended and fused?
He rowed on for what must have been nearly another hour, ever picturing the Voice's face awaiting his response.
And then it came to him. It did not matter whether Death and Dream and Destiny were real, only if they were real *in his mind*. The three planes Death had described were touched, more or less, by each human soul. One lives and touches the Mortal world, dreams at night and touches the Dreamlands, even if unawaringly, and dies and touches Hell. The 3 planes are *aspects of human life*; it only mattered how each human life saw them. If he, Jacob Hart, chose to see Death Dream and Destiny as rulers of effective planes of existence, that was as acceptable as believing in Heaven, Purgatory, Ragnarok, or the Nirvana. In all those beliefs was the quintessential aspect of Human Faith - that beyond our rational power, when faced with multiple unprovable options, we have the power to choose one of those as our Belief. Some do so unquestioningly, some retain their eye out for the ever-sought Rational Proof, real or perceived, of either their Belief or another's. But in all these there is the essence of Faith, just as there was in Jacob.
And then he came to his rational proof after all.
"Whether I have dreamt of Death or actually eaten ham with Her, it does not matter - if she is real, then I believe her and what she said about the Endless. If she was a dream, then my dreams shows what my heart believes, and I would be a fool not to follow it. So to me, they are real, and the Universe really is shaped that way."
In his mind, he pictured the Voice laughing out loud and bowing to him. And he rowed happily for another hour...