I had forgotten that interlude issues happen in The Sandman because something big’s usually about to follow them. This issue’s the technical midpoint for The Kindly Ones, and it presents a drastic turn for both Dream and Lyta’s arcs (directly towards one another, in fact, but we’ll get into that later).
In the parade of appearances by characters from stories past, this issue begins with the witch Thessaly (now calling herself Larissa) finding Lyta on the streets of Los Angeles and bringing her home. As you’ll recall, Larissa’s whole deal is that she’s all about female empowerment in a very literal way: she derives her magic from the moon and its three aspects (in modern depictions, these aspects are often named after three Greek goddesses associated with the moon: Artemis, Selene, and Hecate), and she takes special interest in wielding this power specifically because it’s only available to women (Wanda was excluded from Larissa’s plan to walk the moon’s road to find Barbie in her dreamland). Larissa’s interest in protecting Lyta isn’t exactly clear at this point, but she goes to great pains to ensure that Lyta is allowed to continue her spirit journey to find the Furies unmolested. It’s possible that Larissa has sought Lyta out specifically because the moon told her to; we see in multiple panels throughout this issue the moon in the background at key points on Lyta’s journey: when Larissa finally locates her; at Larissa’s house; when she reaches the house of the three women; when she tells them she wants to destroy Dream; and finally when she’s leaving, thinking they’ve denied her request for help. It’s worth noting that all of these moons are depicted as waxing crescents (that is, they’re approaching a full moon) except for the last when Lyta is leaving, which is a waning crescent. Lyta’s entire journey in this issue builds towards a climax with the three ladies (who are the Furies, and the Fates, and the moon, and any other narrative form women can take), and the moon seems to be guiding her in that direction; it doesn’t feel like a stretch to imagine Larissa is helping Lyta along because it’s part of the deal she has with the moon.
The turn in Lyta’s arc here hinges on the fact that the Furies don’t actually care about avenging Daniel’s kidnapping; they flat out tell Lyta that Dream hasn’t harmed her child (though it’s easy to miss; they say they wouldn’t help her if Dream had killed Daniel, implying what the reader already knows), but they are willing to help since he has killed his own son. Lyta’s goal aligns with that of the Furies, but they have distinct reasons that will come into play later on. For the moment Lyta’s so bent on revenge that she ignores this important fact.
While Lyta finally finds the help she’s been seeking since the second issue, Dream is finally getting the warnings he’s been sorely lacking. Odin comes to the Dreaming to berate Dream for making any kind of deal with Loki (as we learned a couple issues ago, Loki can’t stand being beholden to anyone, and the main reason he’s been scheming to turn Lyta against Dream is because he’s angry that he owes Dream for not returning him to Odin after he originally escaped) and to warn Dream that having Loki indebted to him is only going to bring ruin.
Dream doesn’t take this warning with the level of concern that Odin is hoping for, and it leads to a moment that throws all of Dream’s actions for some time into question. Odin questions whether Dream, who’s apparently already heard rumors of the trouble headed his way, is lying in wait for some prey that he’s carefully manipulated to come to him or if he’s simply struck with indecision in the face of disaster. We know from the end of Worlds’ End that Dream’s death is going to be the conclusion of this arc; what’s in doubt at this moment is who actually is engineering its passing. Loki’s plan involving Daniel and Lyta Hall is pretty elaborate, but it’s only been enacted recently. The Furies, who only care about avenging blood debts among family, wouldn’t bother to help Lyta unless Dream hadn’t previously killed Orpheus as a boon for helping him and Delirium locate Destruction. We know Dream understands the implication of his decision, since getting him to kill a family member has been a scheme Desire has been working on since near The Sandman‘s beginning, and it’s reasonable to assume that all the Endless are intimately familiar with the rules of their universe. Even though he doesn’t acknowledge it, there’s enough evidence to suggest that Dream has been setting up his own death for some time (you can have a more nuanced conversation about Gaiman’s plotting of the series; I suspect he had a vague ending in mind and gradually figured out how to pull disparate parts together rather than having some vast master plan in place from issue #1). The why of all this is a little bit more obscure.
Besides Odin’s reprimands, Dream also gets a scolding from Fiddler’s Green which is really more of an expression of concern. It’s becoming increasingly clear to the Dreaming’s inhabitants that Dream is dealing with depression in the wake of Orpheus’s death, and Fiddler’s Green is one of the few dreams with little enough fear of Dream to tell him to his face. In a roundabout way, Fiddler’s Green suggests that Dream needs to take a break from all of his obligations; it’s what Fiddler’s Green did as Gilbert in the waking world when he wanted a change of pace. It’s a poignant moment, especially when Fiddler’s Green realizes that Dream has missed his point, probably deliberately.
Dream’s in a bad place, and the consequences are going to be pretty severe.