All right. This is how it got started, really. The whole big thing.

Rewind back about a year or so, just after the last Hoedown.

Xeffy and I were still feeling shaken - having a Power possess your body and
usurp your shared mental space is _not_ likely to leave you feeling all that
together once she lets go, believe me.

I must be one of the few people who can say that from personal experience.

Lucky me.

Dominic'd sat up with Xeffy, Ayna and me when we'd got home that night, just...
talking about stuff, about Gordon's birthday party, about this going to school
idea... just stuff, really. Just talking, until Xeffy and Ayna went to sleep.

I don't sleep - or rather, I don't _need_ to sleep. I think as long as Xeffy
gets a good night's rest, I'm fine.

At least, that was how it'd been.

I'd stayed manifested in Xeffy's shadow - not because I needed to hear anything;
I could have done that from in Xeffy's mind - but in case I wanted to say
anything, talk about something.

I'd actually enjoyed it, to be honest.

But when Xeffy finally fell asleep...

...everything changed.


I found myself in my realm - the place in Xeffy's subconscious I'd made my own.
A tropical island - miles of sand, miles more of deep blue sea, complete with a
promenade set back a little ways from the beach, laid out with tables, sunbeds
and loungers, somewhere I could sit and watch the surf and shore.

I'd manifested in my human form, the form I preferred, the one I used whenever I
needed to talk to the outer world - a young woman, blue eyes behind a pair of
mirrored sunglasses, short brown hair cut in a bob, in a one-piece swimsuit that
hugged my figure close.

But I hadn't willed it. I had to will it, will a shift between outer and inner
worlds - but this time...


I jumped at the sound, and looked down to see who'd said it.

It was Xeffy - or rather, a little Xeffy, a kid-Xeffy. She didn't look more than
five or six, her blue-grey eyes now even bigger in her face, her hair braided
into a pigtail, wearing a little swimming costume.

"Sorry, Xeffy." I told her gently. "It's me, Anya."

"Mum, can I go play on the beach?"

I hesitated. I didn't want to say yes, in case she thought I _was_ her Mum...
but equally, I couldn't say no.

"...Okay." I told her. "Stay safe, okay?"

"Thanks, Mum!" Xeffy bubbled, and dashed off.

I plumped down in a chair, letting out a huge breath, watching Xeffy making her
way to the beach.

And that was when I saw him coming up the other way.

It was as if I was looking through a heat haze, at first - which was odd in
itself, since there _was_ no heat haze here. I couldn't make out his features,
only a vague outline.

As he approached, he came into focus.

The first thing I noticed was how _pale_ he was.

Everything about him was pale - his hair, his robes, his skin, all pale, paler
even than the sand he walked on.

Everything was pale, but for two things. One was the emerald that hung around
his neck; the other was his eyes.

They were black. Completely, utterly black. No light reflected from them, no
light shone in them.

They were, quite simply, black.

I must have been watching him for I don't know how long, because the next thing
I knew, he was standing by the chair next to me.

`May I have this seat?` he said, and there was something... unusual about his
voice, something I couldn't quite pin down - whenever I got close to it, it
seemed to slip away.

"Um, sure." I said. "Go ahead."

`Thank you.` he said, and sat down.

"Um... My name's Anya." I said. "What's yours?"

`Dream.` he said. `Dream of the Endless. It is an honour to meet you, Lady

I must have stared at him again, because what he'd just said made absolutely no

"I'm sorry?"

He looked surprised for a moment, then he smiled.

And I remember thinking he ought to smile more often, because it really
brightened up his face...

`Was I unclear?`

"Um... no." I assured him. "I'm sure that meant something to someone who knew
who you were, but it doesn't help me."

`My apologies.` he said. `I am one of the Endless. We are seven in number,
embodiments of certain concepts in the Universe: Destiny, Death, Destruction,
Desire, Despair, Delirium - and myself, Dream.

`We are neither mortal nor Divine. We do not share the lifespans of the mortals,
nor the godspark of the Divine. We are what we embody, and what we embody is us.

`I am Dream, and Dream is embodied in me.

`Does that clarify matters?`

"...Can I just take your word for it?" I said.

`As you wish.` he said, and I couldn't be sure, but I thought I caught his mouth

"But if you're Dream, what does Dream want with me?"

`At this moment, simply to talk.` he said. `Electra's possession of Xephanya has
broken down some of the barriers between your mind and Xephanya's, brought you
into the true Dreaming.`

I gawked. "...You _know_ about that?"

`Yes.` Dream said. `And I would like to offer my thanks to you and yours for
your service in restoring Electra.`

I realised I'd started to flush in the cheeks - which is silly, because this
_is_ only a mental construct, so why I'd started flushing, I didn't know. "Um...
I didn't really do anything. I just tried to keep Xeffy safe..."

`Nevertheless,` Dream said.

The flush was most definitely _not_ going away.

`I became aware of you once you became connected to the true Dreaming, and so I
eventually decided to talk with you, once I finished meeting with Amber.`

"...You've spoken?" I said.

Dream inclined his head. `With Amber's current position, there were certain
matters that needed to be discussed. Fortunately, those matters have been
settled to our mutual satisfaction.`

"Um... this is flattering, and everything," I said, "but why me?"

`Because,` he said. `You are one of the Eldest - those older than this Universe,
older even than the Endless.

`We are only as old as this Universe - but the Eldest are even older, hailing
from the Universes before.

`To meet one may be accounted a rare thing, even to us.`

Dammit, the flush _still_ wasn't going down.

`In addition,` he went on, `your current existence in symbiosis with Xephanya's
mind places you in an unusual position as regards the wider Dreaming.`

"It does?" I said. "How?"

`By now, you appreciate the nature of your symbiosis has changed.` Dream said,
looking at me to see if I agreed.

I nodded.

`What may not be readily apparent are the consequences of that change.`

He gestured to where Xeffy was playing on the beach. `When Xephanya went to
sleep, she entered the Dreaming, as do all who dream.

`However, on this occasion, she entered through you and your particular location
in her mind.

'At the moment, it is your place in the Dreaming she dreams of - and as long as
I remain here, so will it remain.

`Should she dream another location, she will disappear from here, and reappear

`You, however, will remain here.`

"...Why?" I said, my voice trembling - and believe me, that's _not_ something
you enjoy hearing in your voice.

`Because of the nature of your particular connection with the Dreaming.` Dream
replied. `You do not dream; nevertheless, you can enter the Dreaming through
your connection with Xephanya.

'More specifically, whenever _Xephanya_ enters the Dreaming, so can you.

`However, Xephanya enters as a dreamer.

`You enter fully conscious.

`The difference means everything.

`Most dreamers act without thought, without full consciousness. What they do may
seem odd to their waking mind, or may seem completely natural - regardless, it
requires no conscious thought.

`For you to act in the Dreaming, however, requires thought. You cannot act other
than you know.

`You will stay here because you must think to go elsewhere in the Dreaming,
whilst Xephanya does not.`

"...So I just think somewhere and *bamf*, that's it?" I asked.

Dream shook his head. `That is not the way of the Dreaming. It is a place, as
much as it is anything else. I am afraid you will find yourself relying on other
modes of transportation more often than not.

`However, your symbiosis with Xephanya... I believe you should be able to follow
her wherever she goes, regardless.`

"..._That's_ a relief." I muttered. Losing track of Xeffy wouldn't exactly have
been easy to live with. "So how does this put me in an unusual position?"

He sighed. `I believe I already explained that.`

"Pretend I'm an idiot." I suggested.

`I would rather not.` Dream said. `I mislike repeating myself, but if need

I nodded at him to go on.

`You are bound by the rules of the Dreaming, but you are not bound by the rules
that guide dreamer and dream. Rather, you are in the position of a visitor here.

`Unlike the dreamers, you are fully aware of who and where you are. Unlike the
dreams, you act in no role within the Dreaming.

`However, such a situation has its own boundaries. In this case, the most
obvious limitation is that you cannot do something you do not know.

`Your mind is still bounded by the conscious. As such, you will not let yourself
do anything you know you cannot do.`

I stared at him.

"But I don't know how to do anything."

`Then what are you doing now?`

"That's not what I mean!" I snapped. "You know what I mean - this is _all_ I
know. Everything I get, I get from Xeffy!"

He tipped his head. `Everything?`

"You are an infuriating son of a bitch, you know that?"

`Others might agree with you.` Dream said, with equanimity. `Nevertheless, I
would invite you to think about this, and about exactly what you are capable of.

`Another limitation I believe you will need to consider is this:

`Xephanya is your connection to the Dreaming. When she sleeps, both of you may
enter. When she wakes, both of you will leave.`

"...Oh." I stared at the little girl splashing in the surf. "So... she wakes up,
and I'm back here?"

`As you say.` he agreed.

"Oh." I stared at Xeffy for a little longer. "...Why're you telling me this?"

Dream tipped his head. `I beg your pardon?`

"It's not that I don't appreciate the advice," I said, "but... I mean, _you_
don't need to tell me - I could have found all that out myself.

"So why _are_ you talking to me?"

He was quiet for a moment, looking at me, taking me in, as if he were studying

`Partly because you _are_ one of the Eldest,` he said after a while, `and I
wished to be sure that you knew something of the ways of the Dreaming.

`But also, I have...` He hesitated. `I have... a certain obligation to Xephanya
and her family. I placed Xephanya in danger, that the Dreaming - and the
Fictiverses with it - might be safe.`

I stared at him, dumbfounded.. "...Why?"

He let out a breath. `Why did I endanger her?`

"...Yeah." I said finally. "Why her? Why did _she_ have to be the one you
risked? Couldn't you have found another way?"

`Not, I fear, in the time I had.` Dream fell quiet then.

`If I might ask,` he said finally. `Were you present when the Hoedowners met the
Gods of Ragnarok?`

I shook my head. "Uh-uh. I didn't meet them until they visited the Glory."

Dream looked at me with new interest. `Ah.`

"Yeah, yeah..." I said. "That's me. One of the ones who got left behind. The
last one, I think."

`The last one?` Dream inquired.

"The last one still here." I elaborated. "I think all the others got merged with
the Hoedowners."

`Ah.` Dream said again. `Why do you think you survived?`

"Because..." I stared at the beach again, at the little girl playing there,
before looking back at him. "Do you want to know? Seriously?"

Dream nodded.

"Because Xeffy was in the middle of an identity crisis." I said finally. "She'd
found out she was a Siren, she'd just met her predecessors, seen what they'd
become, she was tearing herself up over her Mum... she'd just had everything
she'd known about herself shaken up. She wanted to know _why_.

"And that's when I latched on to her.

"She was questioning herself, asking why, what she could have done... and when I
bonded with her, I found myself _becoming_ the questioning voice - or it
becoming me, I'm not sure. We got... intertwined. Becoming one.

"But..." I shook my head. "But Xeffy... Xeffy _realised_ she was arguing with
someone else - that there was someone else in there. She wasn't talking to
_herself_, she was talking to _me_. Treating me like someone else.

I looked back at him. "I think that's how I managed to keep hold of myself, in
the end - because _Xeffy_ treated me as myself."

`It could be,` Dream agreed. `Very well. Let me tell you what happened.

`When the Eaters of Story - the Gods of Ragnarok - were released upon this
Universe, I knew it - I felt it - almost immediately.

`I am Dream. And the Eaters of Story are just that - the eaters of story, the
devourers of dreams, the feasters on imagination.

`I am, in and of myself, everything they wish to devour.

`But I am also one of the Endless. And I do not lack in my resources.

`The Master, I think, knew this.

`They made a deal: the Master would drain the energy from the Fictiverses - and
from the Dreaming - so weakening me enough that they might set upon me. In
return, they would guard the conduit he had established, until he had drained
what he needed, drained enough to destroy the Glory.

`When the draining began, I knew that it was not the Gods' doing. There was
something of their hand in this, yes - but it was not them.

`No. This was another's doing - the Master's doing.

`And in seeing this, I saw what the Gods might truly seek.

`I saw this, but I could not intervene. I needed all my power to slow the drain.

`I could but hope that someone would intervene - and the Hoedowners did.`

There was no hint of accusation or reproval in his voice, but even so, I felt...

Without us - those left behind, the shadows of those gone on - the Master
wouldn't have been able to set his plan up, wouldn't have been able to travel
the spectrum and establish the conduits.

It's not exactly easy, knowing you were empty enough, alone enough, _desperate_
enough, to bring the Omniverse down - even if you weren't exactly sentient at
the time.

`But I knew something that the Hoedowners did not.` Dream continued. `I knew
something of the forces the Gods of Ragnarok had at their command. I knew the
Sirens had returned.

`And I knew what the Gods must have offered them for their return - they had
offered them the last Divine Siren. Had offered them Xephanya.

`For that - for that, the Sirens would come back, and for nothing else.`

"...Why?" I said. "I mean, why didn't they come back before? Weren't there any
other Divine Sirens?"

Dream shook his head. `Xephanya was the first born since the Sirens departed.

`And for that, the responsibility must lie with me.`

"Why?" I said, and I could hear the fear, the anger, in my voice.

`Have you heard the story of Jason and the Argonauts?` Dream said.

I shook my head. I hadn't.

`Jason and the crew of the Argo set out on a voyage to retrieve the fabled
Golden Fleece. Among their number was the demigod Orpheus, a poet and musician
rivalled by no mortal man.

`On their voyage, the Argonauts had to pass the isle of the Sirens. Orpheus
saved the Argo's crew from falling prey to them by playing music more beautiful
even than the Sirens'. Thwarted, the jealous Sirens threw themselves into the

Dream hesitated momentarily, and I saw a shadow flit across his face, an ancient

`When history fades, the story lingers.` he said finally. `And in the
Fictiverses, _all_ stories are true.

`For the realms we are concerned with, however - the realms touched by the
Celestial Bureaucracy - the story of the Argonauts is a truthful telling of what
befell the Divine Sirens, save for one or two of its particulars.`

"They didn't drown." I completed.

`As you say.` Dream said. `The Sirens did _not_ drown. Instead, they left the
Celestial Bureaucracy's realms for parts unknown.`

"Talk about a snit." I observed.

`They had their reasons, and others beside.` Dream said. `But in the end, the
reason matters little - they still departed.` He hesitated again, as if worried.
`And from that moment on, no Divine Siren was born in the realms.`

"Until Xeffy." I said.

Dream nodded. `I had... a certain responsibility, a certain duty, to the Sirens.
I felt I owed them something, if only for their memory.

`And so, by my will, no Divine Siren was born in the realms again.`

"What happened?" I asked.

`My predecessor - my...` - he searched for the words - ` prior
incarnation - was imprisoned for the better part of the twentieth century. In
that time, many things that he - that I - had set in motion fell to neglect and
disrepair - among them, my ward on the Sirens.

`Without that, it is likely Xephanya would not have been born - or at the very
least, not born a Siren.

`By the time he was released, however, it was too late to do anything, even had
he been able to do so.`

I shuddered. Probably selfish of me, I know, but knowing that Xeffy might not
have been born - might _never_ have been born - if not for the previous Dream's
imprisonment, horrified me. Part of it was knowing _I_ might not have been -
that in all likelihood I would have been absorbed completely into whoever I'd
merged with - but the other part was the idea that the Xeffy I'd known, the
Xeffy I'd merged with, the Xeffy I'd protected, might never have been.

And that chilled me to my core.

`Without Xephanya,` Dream said, a quiet intensity burning in his voice, `the
Sirens would not have returned. Nothing else would have called them so. They
wanted her. Needed her. Hungered for her.

`They _desired_ her.`

`Desire...` I murmured, remembering what he'd said earlier. Somehow, I got the
impression Dream and Desire didn't get on...

`I knew the Gods of Ragnarok would call on the Sirens.` Dream continued. `And I
knew that only a Divinity of music - or a fellow Siren - might stand against
them, might thwart them.

`The Hoedowners needed a Divinity who might stand against the Sirens. A Divinity
the Hoedowners would accept, would trust, would have _reason_ to trust. A
Divinity with reason to be there.

`Much to my surprise, there _was_ such a Divinity.


`The very Divinity the Sirens sought.

`So...` He drew a deep breath. `So I gifted Xephanya with a pouch of sand - a
lesser version of my own - in the knowledge that she would use it to travel to
the Hoedown, in the hope that she might stand against the Sirens, that the
Hoedowners might move past to confront the Eaters of Story themselves.

`And she succeeded, succeeded even beyond what I had expected of her.

`_That_ is why I endangered her. Why I have an obligation to her.

`And it is that obligation which brought me to you.`

I was... dumbstruck.

On one hand, I was horrified he'd gambled Xeffy's life like that - but on the
other, gods help me, I could see _why_ he'd done it at all. Why he'd done what
he did.

I might have hated what he'd done - but I saw all too clearly why he'd done it.

"...What happens now?" I said finally, in an attempt to break the silence. "Is
that it? The obligation's over?"

Dream shook his head. `No. I believe it will be some while yet before that
happens. For the moment, however, it is not a concern.`

I _peered_ at him over my sunglasses when he said that, but he seemed unruffled.

`As for what happens now... is there anything you still wish to ask of me?`

"...Yes," I said. "That pouch you gave her - what does it do?" I hadn't got any
clue from Xeffy - I knew it'd brought her to the Hoedown that first time, but I
hadn't realised it was capable of anything more.

`It is a lesser version of my own pouch,` Dream answered. 'As such, its supply
of sand is inexhaustible. In addition, it has certain and manifold properties
relating to dreams and stories. The length of time it would take to elucidate on
them, I fear, would not sustain your attention.'

"...Uh-_huh._" I said. "Sure."

`If there is anything else...?`

I looked at little Xeffy, by now working on what _looked_ to be, for all the
world, a school made out of sand - complete with little sand pupils.

"Yes." I said. "Can I talk to Xeffy like we do when we're awake? So she doesn't
think I'm her Mum or anything like that?" I wasn't sure I wanted to go through
_that_ again.

Dream paused. `I believe I could grant you that, yes.`

He placed his hand over the emerald, which glowed softly.

`It is done.`

I thought it was a bit fancy, simply so Xeffy and I could talk, but I didn't say
anything - _that_ he'd done it was good enough, and I wasn't going to question
how he went about it.

Of course, if I'd known _then_ what I know _now_... but that's for another time.
It always is.

Dream stood, rising from his chair.

`It has been a pleasure talking to you, Lady Anya. I wish you well.`

Then he was gone.

I sat back in my chair, thinking about what he'd said, letting it settle in.

Then I stood up and walked down to Xeffy and her sandschool.

She didn't look up as I crouched down next to her.


At the sound of my voice, she _did_ look up.

"Anya! Wanna join in?"

I smiled. "Okay."

There _are_ worse dreams to live, after all...




Summary: The tale of the Sandman's meeting with a newcomer to his realm.

The This Time Round concept is Tyler Dion's.

The Master and the Gods of Ragnarok are the BBC's.

The Sandman was created by Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith, and Mike Dringenberg. Dream,
his likeness, and all related indicia are trademark DC Comics.

Anya and Xeffy are mine.

For anyone wondering about the chronology of this: when Anya mentions the 'last
hoedown', she's referring to 'Goodnight, Sweetheart' - 'Double-Edged' places it
as having happened a year previously.

For any other 'Sandman' readers out there wondering about the Orpheus issue -
the intent here is that the events of 'Orpheus' are what happened for Dream, but
they're _not_ necessarily what happened in the various Fictiverses.

And just for reference, this is the _second_ Dream, the one who succeeded
Morpheus. Anya doesn't know about that, though.


Copyright 2004 Imran Inayat