reams are probably the least understood phenomenon in human history.
    Sure, philosophers have sat around drinking wine and musing that truth is beauty and beauty is truth and what dreams may come when you make a silk purse out of a pig in a poke.  Some scientists have done studies hooking up wires to people's heads while they snooze and frowning at little squiggly lines on a graph and wondering if they can make their next grant approval.  Accountants have tried to bottle dreams, so that they can be sold and taxed adequately.  And yes, some magicians have come close to understanding, but only one sorcerer ever got the whole concept, and he died one week after finding out.
    The problem is that people are of two camps.  One says that dreams are symbolic imagery presented by the mind's subconscious and unconscious beings working as a tag team in the arena of the psyche, mental visions and nothing more.  Another group claims that dreams are actually transmissions from another dimension of which we only catch fleeting glimpses, and have even tried to bust through to that world; again, with only one achieving success.
    While the world in question exists (dubbed 'the world of dreams' for lack of a flashier moniker, and apparently the original cradle of humanity before they woke up), the world is not the dream.  The dreams simply exist in the world like water in a bottle, starting out as raw dreamstuff.  Without humans to 'dream', as in the verb, they'd stay that way; instead, they are then shaped into recognizable form each night by human will and imagination.  So in a way, BOTH camps are right, and if they'd ever meet and mingle instead of getting into loud, chair-throwing debates, maybe they'd get somewhere.
    Although humanity as a whole had no clue, two humans did.  One currently was caretaker of the world of dreams, a substitute Nightmare named Xelloss; the other was Lina Inverse, who Xelloss told a few tricks and tips when he was bored one day.  Sort of a survivor's guide rather than a comprehensive run-down.
    Lina was beginning to wish she had drilled the secretive priest for more information.  Theory was fine and good, but putting it into practice was another matter entirely.
    "What's with all the penguins?" Gourry asked, stepping aside as a small gaggle of them walked right through the group, discussing whether truth was beauty or beauty was truth and how exactly either of them could be adequately taxed.  They disappeared promptly back into the foggy, cottony dreamstuff that abounded here, from which the occasional shark fin or dual story farm house or giraffe floated to the surface... then sank back into dim imagination.
    "Don't ask me, I just attract penguins," Lina said.  "There's a lot about this place that I don't know.  You'd have to ask Xelloss.  Maybe there's some highly symbolic meaning to them..."
    "I've been here once before," Zelgadis said, frowning at the memory.  "It wasn't a fun trip.  Although Xelloss seemed to have a lot of fun."
    "It's... strange," Chi'Nai said, watching a lamp post that pointed left, forward and up spring up from the dreamstuff next to her.  It pointed to streets X, Y, and Z.  "I don't have dreams like this..."
    "Not surprising," Zelgadis said.
    "Huh?  Why not?"
    "Because....." he started, before recalling that Chi'Nai probably didn't know Chi'Leas's little secret.  "Ah... well, it's odd.  And you don't look like the sort to have odd dreams.  It's only logical."
    "What're we looking for in here, anyway?" Gourry asked.
    "As near as I can tell, it's a key," Lina said.  "A silver key that got lost up here.  Source unknown.  The map-stone just showed me casting the spell to come here, and had a vaguely weird set of directions for us to follow, but didn't show exactly where it was..."
    "There wasn't a key in my vision," Zelgadis warned.
    "Well, there's a key on the stone, so a key we'll find," Lina stated.  "It's all part and parcel with a good quest.  Next thing we'll probably be doing is delivering it to some place called the crack of doom or the pit of despair or the island of chaos... any of you guys see a road?"
    The group glanced around the limitless stretches of fog and haze.  Stray dreams from human sleepers roamed at the edge of sight, but none of them resembled roads.
    "No," Zelgadis denied.
    "Damn.  We're supposed to come to a fork in the road, and turn left, then follow it to--"
    "A fork in the road?" Gourry asked.  "What, like a big utensil sticking out of the ground?"
    Lina stared at him.  "Gourry, I know you're dense, but even you have to know what 'a fork in the road' REALLY means."
    "Oh, I do," Gourry smiled.  "I was just wondering if you meant that one in particular."
    He pointed to a big utensil sticking out of the ground.
    "There are going to be a lot of bad puns ahead, aren't there?" Zelgadis asked with a tone of doom.  "I just know it."
    "Wait a minute.  That fork WASN'T there before," Lina said.  "Gourry, did you dream that up?"
    "Your imagination and will affect this place," Lina explained.  "You think 'hmm, fork' and bammo, you've got a fork."
    "Really?  Cool!" Gourry said.  "I could like it here."
    "Anyway... I guess this means we turn left," Lina suggested.  The group changed course, although direction was hard to tell with no static landmarks.  "Next up, we need to walk until we reach a Y-shaped branch in the--"
    "Here you go," Gourry smiled, handing Lina a tree branch of proper design.  There was a small bird's nest in it, with some very confused birds.
    "Don't help," Lina begged.
    Lina's memorized directions became increasingly strange.  Fortunately, following them was easy enough; simply dream up whatever it was you were supposed to find, and off you went.  However, it got to a point where the next direction change needed to occur in front of a two headed yellow donkey braying at a volcano erupting chocolate fudge, and try as they might, picturing that was not easy.
    Zelgadis was of little use; his donkey was always gray and the volcano had real lava.
    "What do you expect?  It's a volcano," he explained.  "They spit up molten rock.  That's what a volcano IS."
    Lina herself had an okay time with the volcano, but the donkey never quite had the right number of heads.  Whenever she tried to concentrate hard enough to envision the dream, she got frustrated, lost it, and had to start all over.  While her unconscious mind was terrific at doing things like this, her conscious mind was refusing to cooperate.
    "Aaa!! This is annoying!" Lina complained.  "And it's the last direction, too!  Now what?  Chi'Nai?  How about you?"
    "I can try," Chi'Nai said.
    Silence erupted instead of chocolate.  Lina waited patiently for a minute or two, which for her fuse, was akin to a zen meditation.
    "What's the holdup?" she asked.
    "I.. don't think I can," Chi'Nai said.  "I can think of it, but nothing happens.  I'm sorry."
    Zelgadis shrugged it off.  "Nothing to be sorry about, chimeras just can't do it."
    "But you got some of it," Chi'Nai pointed out.
    "Ah.. I was human once, remember?"
    "You're a chimera now, though, not a human.  So why can't I dream anything at all?"
    Zelgadis switched subjects fast, turning to Gourry.  "Gourry, how about you?"
    Gourry looked over from the monkey on a unicycle he was distracted by.  "Huh?  What?"
    "Do that thing you do," Lina said.  "I hereby give you permission."
    Gourry's spine acted up.  "Say please," he requested.
    "Do it or I'll blast you!" Lina responded.
    "Come on, Lina, it's just something polite to say," Gourry said.  "Considering you told me not to help you before, I think it's probably a good thing to ask... ne?"
    Lina attempted to control her Fist of Death.  "Please... dream.. the... donkey and volcano," she said through clenched teeth.
    "Aww, come on, that didn't even sound like you meant it," Gourry said, disappointed.  "Why not use the nice, cute voice you use when you're trying to get a better deal at the market?"
    It turned out that while Lina was bad at volcanoes, she was REALLY good at dreaming up gigantic wooden mallets.
     The final step in the directions involved hopping up and down once the last vision was dreamed up by a reluctant Gourry.
    "And one, and two," Lina counted, hopping madly, "And three and WHAAAA--"
    Lina's feet punched through an invisible soap bubble below the hazy fog of dreams, sucking down through non-space, and after a brief yet harrowing touch of the infinite, she landed roughly on... a well mowed lawn, green from summer sunshine.
    It took a moment to adjust to the light, but they were no longer in a hazy plain of dreamscape; they were in a suburban plain of dreamscape.  Neat little cottages lined the streets in perfect rows, with brightly colored window shades, little mailboxes with cheery red flags, and plenty of huge trees, branches swaying just so in the breeze.  None of them seemed to be occupied, although with quaint suburban cottages, it was hard to tell given all the frilly, fluffy curtains... the nearest house seemed to have a light on in the attic, but that was it.  The sky over this community was a picturesque shade of, frankly, sky blue, with puffy white clouds and a burning yellow sun that you obviously didn't want to stare too hard at.
    "Gourry, stop staring at the sun," Lina ordered.  "We need to figure out where the hell we are."
    "This has got to be someone's dream," Zelgadis theorized.  "Not just the plains of weirdness, but a specific dream world.  So who's dream is it?  Amelia's?  It's sugary enough."
    "Hers would have more pretty dresses and pink things and villains to stomp," Lina said.  "I know an easy way to find out, though."
    Zelgadis thought about it.  "You have a spell to see through the walls?"
    "COME OUT COME OUT WHEREVER YOU ARE!!!!" Lina shouted, projecting with those amazing lungs of hers.
    A bucket of water fell on her head.
    "Gotcha!" a voice called out from above.
    Gourry looked up, distracted from Lina (who was busy stumbling around trying to get the bucket off).  In the tree was a hidden tree fort, made of wooden planks and nails, just like the one Gourry and his father tried to make before his dad had to be taken to the hospital for hammer injuries.  Every detail was right, from the ill fitting planks to the 'No Adults Allowed!!!!' sign.  It even had a young boy in it, grinning down at the group.
    "Hello there!" Gourry called out.  "Who're you?"
    "Timmy," the boy said.  "Who're you?"
    "Gourry," Gourry said.  "Good to meet you.  Hey, Lina, do you think this kid could help?"
    Lina finally pried the bucket off, and steam rose from her anger mixing with the dream to make heat.  "Help?  I'll help him into the afterlife, I will!  That LITTLE--"
    Gourry tugged Lina aside a moment, dropping to a whisper.  "Lina, he's a kid.  Kids play around like that and don't mean anything by it, no need to spook him.  Trust me, I know kids -- I've had to baby sit each of my cousins." 
    Lina grumped, and folded her arms.  "Fine!  You deal with him.  I don't do kids."
    The boy peered down curiously at the group, then shifted... one moment kneeling in his treehouse, the next standing in front of Lina and Gourry, examining them.  They examined him right back.
    He was young enough, maybe ten years old, with sandy blonde hair and ordinary kid-type clothes.... perhaps a little outdated, but nothing you wouldn't find in a second hand store.  Like any juvenile neighborhood menace, he had a token slingshot in the rear pocket of his overalls, and plenty of freckles.
    "Are you here to play with me tonight?" Timmy asked.  "It's early for people to come visit, but I guess you guys sleep days.  Some people do that if they work at night.  What do you do for a living?"
    "Oh, we save the world and stuff," Gourry said.  "I'm a swordsman and Lina's a sorceress.  Zelgadis does magic too, and Chi'Nai there... uh.. well, she's very interesting in a bunch of ways I can't remember, I bet.  We're adventurers on a big quest."
    "Wow!!" Timmy exclaimed, impressed by the direct job descriptions.  "Are we going to go on an adventure when we play tonight too?"
    "Kid, we're not here to play," Lina interrupted.  "We're looking for a silver key, about this and this big and this and this long.  Have you seen it around here?  Maybe hidden in a cave of doom or guarded by a fire breathing monster or something?  That's the way this sort of thing w--"
    Timmy pulled a silver key out of his shirt, attached to a matching necklace.  "You mean this?"
    Primal instincts took over.
    "Gimmie!" Lina shouted, and charged the kid, hands grasping.
    A red brick wall sprang out of the ground, Lina neatly crashing into it face first with a meaty THUD.  Timmy peeked over the wall, looking down at her, as she slowly slid to the ground.
    "I can't give it to you," he explained.  "I need to keep it very safe and don't give it to nobody.  It's mine to keep."
    Zelgadis decided to take a more reasonable approach.  "We could pay you for it," he bargained.
    "I can make as much money as I want," Timmy said, setting a piggy bank on top of the brick wall.  "This is all a dream and I can do make it do what I want.  I know that, I'm a smart boy."
    "A-HA!" Gourry said, a flash of realization hitting him like a ping pong ball.  "What if we played with you?  Then would you give us the key?"
    "Ummmmm... I shouldn't," Timmy said.  "I really shouldn't.  I was told to keep it safe..."
    "Any game you want is okay with us," Gourry naively stated.
    Timmy's iron will wobbled like jelly.
    "I know one game we could play, then I'd think about maybe giving it to you," Timmy said, thinking it over.
    "We'll do it!"
    Lina popped up from the lawn to comment.  "Gourry, don't just agree to do something without finding out what it is!"
    "Aww, come on, Lina, he's a good kid," Gourry smiled.  "What could go wrong?"
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.
Here's a BONUS for those of you who looked down here! ^_^