Rain did fall in the Infinite Realms. Not in all places. Not at all times. Well, except for those few places where it did fall at all times. The Realms were strange like that, often dictated and controlled by their inhabitants. In some Realms it never rained.
At least, that had been the case a few days ago. Now?
Now, it rained. Pouring from all angles, sometimes in accordance with local gravity, sometimes not. Great, heavy droplets, thin wavering mists, sporadic sprays, steady drums, cold, warm, boiling, freezing. Where it could not rain water, it rained fire, or stone, or air, or slush, or ice. But it did rain.
And the place it rained the most was over the heart of the Realms.
Danny hugged his knees and leaned sideways against the arm of the chair. He was in the solarium, watching the rain hit the glass and streak down. He kept picking droplets to follow as they chased each other down the windows.
He kept losing track of them.
He sniffed and shuddered. He felt cold. He always felt cold, now, but he couldn’t stand to feel pinned down by blankets. Lately, they felt like chains.
He missed when they made him feel safe.
(He missed home. He wanted to go home.)
“Hi, Ellie,” said Danny, listlessly. “What’s up?”
“I just… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get your hopes up and then—” She broke off, and Danny turned to see her staring out the windows, floating just a little way off the floor. Plants with dark leaves tickled her ankles. “I don’t want you to be like Vlad.”
“Oh,” said Danny. “Is he still down there?”
“Yeah,” said Ellie.
“Do you think…” Danny frowned, trying to collect his thoughts, trying to retrieve them from the constant white noise. “Do you think he can get, like… liver failure?”
“I’m… not entirely sure what liver failure is. Liver is, like, an organ right?”
“Right. Um.” Danny blinked slowly. “It is an organ. It,” he waved his hand vaguely. “It takes your blood and stuff and filters it and stuff.”
“Why would it fail?”
“It can get damaged by alcohol. Or something.”
“Oh. Huh.” Ellie approached him, slowly, keeping an eye on Fright Knight. “Do we even have livers?”
“I mean… maybe? Alive people have livers. But we aren’t alive people.”
“We are, though, right?” asked Ellie. “We’re… still alive.”
“Come on. We are. Right? Heartbeats and everything.”
“I guess,” said Danny. He checked his pulse, absently. “We should probably make sure Vlad doesn’t drink himself to death.”
“Wow. I thought that was a myth.”
“…No,” said Danny. “That’s, um. Yeah. If you drink too much alcohol you can die.” He looked back out the windows. “So, um. Yeah. Don’t do it.”
“Right. Anyway.” Ellie paused for a long moment. “How long have you been here?”
“Dunno.” With excruciating slowness, he unfolded his body from the chair. “We should go see Vlad. I guess.” He sighed, and the rain went sideways for a few seconds.
“We could do something else, too,” said Ellie, hunching her shoulders a little. “Like, I’m sure Vlad will be fine.”
“Are you okay?” asked Danny, concern breaking through his general malaise, however briefly. “Is Vlad being mean to you?”
“No, he’s just, you know.” She sighed. “Vlad.”
“Right,” said Danny. He rubbed the side of his nose, careful to avoid the looping vines of the crown. “Let’s talk to him.”
“Would you like me to summon him, my liege?” asked Fright Night.
“No,” said Danny, “I think I can make it.”
“I could create a portal,” murmured Clockwork. “You would only need to step through.”
“No, I want to walk,” said Danny, mulishly.
It was slow, but Danny didn’t have to rest as often as he did just a few days previously. His body was getting stronger, despite the depression he was currently indulging in.
Indulging. There was a word for it. It didn’t feel like an indulgence. He…
He didn’t want to be like this.
(He knew he was causing problems for literally everyone else. The Infinite Realms were vast and connected to the world of the living. Anything he caused here affected there as well.)
The rain began to fall harder.
“So… there’s a bar in here.”
“More like a kitchen that has booze in it,” said Ellie. Danny looked at her. Ellie shrugged. “What? I know what bars look like. I have traveled literally around the world,” she made a circular motion with her fingertip, “and I intend to – Oh. Um. Don’t, uh. Don’t read into that.”
“Okay,” said Danny. “We need to, like…” He gestured vaguely at Ellie. “Also get you, you know, education about human body parts.” He almost suggested Frostbite and the Far Frozen.
But then he remembered.
He shuddered. Someone else. Ghostwriter, maybe? He seemed like someone who would know a lot about things and be interested in teaching.
Then again, Ghostwriter had attacked him and trapped him in a poem, so… Yeah. He might not be the best choice.
There had to be someone out there, though. Some biology-obsesses ex-schoolteacher. Maybe Poindexter could give him some pointers.
“Yeah, sure,” said Ellie. “I’d rather look for things myself, all things considered. Being trapped in a school building is not for me.”
“Trapped. Yeah,” said Danny.
“Vlad?” called Danny, leaning against the wall. Vlad looked terrible, slumped down on the counter with a tall glass in front of him.
“Vlad,” repeated Danny.
“Vlad, Vlad, Vladdie,” sing-songed Ellie, skipping over. “Time to wake up.” She poked him.
“Off with you,” mumbled Vlad. “Go research impossibilities or what have you.”
“Vlad,” said Danny. He took a few hesitant steps towards Vlad.
Vlad lifted his head, blinking blearily. “Daniel? Is that you?” he asked, incredulous.
“You should not take that tone with the king,” said Fright Knight.
“It’s fine,” said Danny. “Come on. Vlad. You’re messing yourself up.”
“You’re one to talk.” Vlad waved vaguely behind him. He might have been aiming at the windows.
Maybe he was.
“You can always tell the thralls not to give him any more wine, my liege.”
“Yeah, that sounds like a good idea,” said Danny.
“Daniel! Don’t you dare.”
Danny bit his lip.
“Daniel,” said Vlad, his tone less biting. “I… you have to understand. I spent years building up my life and… It’s all gone, now.”
“So are our lives,” said Ellie. “You aren’t special.”
“Your life,” said Vlad, “you—” He sighed. “What does it matter?”
Danny sighed, too. “I don’t know,” he said. “But we’re all here. So maybe we can, like… I don’t know…” He shrugged.
“This is an entire world,” said Clockwork, carefully neutral. “A world that contains worlds. Infinite in nature. Anything you could find in your old world, you can find here.”
Danny spun, incensed. “Except for what matters most,” he hissed.
“I did specify things,” said Clockwork, “and I think Vladimir will find that the people who mattered most to him are, in fact, here.”
“He could act like it, then,” said Ellie.
“I will not argue,” agreed Clockwork.
Danny breathed in. The action felt shallow. Meaningless. Why had he come here in the first place?
“I’m going to the garden,” he said. He needed air.
“My lord, the rain—”
“Don’t care,” snapped Danny, moving as quickly as he ever could, lately. If anyone wanted to follow him, they could do that on their own.
(And, maybe, they did.)