Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 196,766,106 Issue: 940 | 16th day of Swimming, Y23
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A Hero's Ballad: The Knightmare


by parody_ham

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Author's note, this story refers to plot points from //www.neopets.com/ntimes/index.phtml?section=581982&week=913 "A Hero's Ballad" but still functions as a stand-alone series. I hope you enjoy the journey!

      Chapter 1 - Sognando

     ~X~

     It was an accident. A terrible miscalculation in the potion’s ratio.

     The star-clad red Zafara paced about her study, a room set-back from her Meridell potion’s shop. Shelves filled to the brim with a multitude of sparkling glass containers shimmered in the mid-morning sun. Hastily scribbled notes stuck to every open surface with new, innovative ideas for brews.

     “There’s gotta be something I can do…” she muttered while biting her finger until it hurt. “Some sort of counter potion, a spell, maybe even cold water could work...” She threw her hands into the air. “Why did I even offer him that potion?!”

     So distracted was she that she hardly noticed her friend, Lisha, walk in from behind. The spectacled yellow Aisha tapped the Zafara’s shoulder; her face was wrought with concern.

     “I came as soon as I could, Kayla.” Lisha placed a small pack on the ground and raised a brow. “But wait. Why is Sir Rohane sleeping on your couch? Wasn’t he supposed to be with Jeran today?”

     Kayla’s eyes widened as she clasped Lisha’s hands. “Oh, thank goodness you’re here! I need your help.”

     Lisha disentangled herself from Kayla’s grasp before taking a step back. “Uhh, sure, but what happened? The messenger you sent told me it was urgent.” She shifted her gaze around the room and lingered on the snoozing knight. “At least nothing’s on fire.” She paused to correct herself. “Not this time, anyway.”

     “I swear it was an accident,” Kayla began again, her voice shaking, “I didn’t mean to trap Rohane in a dream—”

     “Wait, what?”

     The voice came from the door to her shop, a deep, rumbling bass belonging to none other than Jeran, Commander of the knightly Order. The armour-clad blue Lupe crossed his arms in the doorway.

     Kayla froze in place. “Jeran’s here?” she squeaked.

     “When Rohane never showed, he stopped by the library; that’s when the messenger came,” said Lisha with a shrug, but then followed that up with, “but wait, wait. Back up. You trapped him in a dream?!”

     “Oh, Meepits,” said Kayla as her floppy ears wrapped around each other with a bow. “I was really hoping he wouldn’t find out.”

     ~X~

     It was a warm, sunny afternoon in Meridell. Kayla was smelling a red and blue, bi-coloured rose in the courtyard memorial garden when she spied Sir Rohane stumbling past her in the corridor. Before she could even say hello, he walked headlong into a column and crumbled to the ground.

     Kayla cupped her paws over her face. “Omigosh, are you okay?!”

     Before he could even answer, she had rushed over to him. Dark bags lined his half-shut eyes. He went to rub his head and winced.

     “Ow.”

     She offered him a paw, a gesture that he gladly accepted, and slowly pulled him to a standing position.

     “Sorry you had to see that,” he mumbled, letting his voice trail off at the end. “I guess I really am tired…”

     “Tired? You look awful—no offense.”

     He shot her a look as his long nose scrunched like an accordion. “None taken.”

     “So…” she fiddled with her wide-brimmed hat as a means of avoiding eye contact, “have you been, uhh, sleeping okay?” Immediately after saying this, she lightly tapped her forehead and scolded herself softly. “Silly Kayla.”

     “No, not really,” he admitted, as his features sagged. “Terribly, actually. Bad nightmares.” He sighed deeply. “Really bad ones.”

     “Nightmares?” she repeated before shaking her head, “that’s no good.”

     “Tell me about it,” he said through a yawn as he brought up his arms to stretch. Kayla ducked to avoid being in the line of fire.

     “Please, let me help.” She waited for him to finish yawning before clasping his hand and gave him a sympathetic look. Surprised by the suddenness of her actions, he began to pull away. “Wait, wait, I’ll make you a sleep potion. I’ve been testing out a few and they’re really effective. You can take a nap in my study for a bit and you’ll wake up feeling refreshed.” When he looked hesitant, she added, “nobody’ll bother you there, I promise.”

     She fully expected him to politely excuse himself, as he was notoriously stubborn about taking care of himself. Their mutual friend, Mipsy, regaled her with dozens of stories about Rohane’s many injuries, almost all of which were sustained by brazenly jumping in front of monsters to “protect” his capable travelling companions. It was something Velm was all too eager to echo as well. Much to Rohane’s displeasure, both of them had made it a habit of calling it his “hero complex.”

     “A short rest might not be a bad idea,” he said before catching himself against the pillar. After he nearly stumbled into the column again, he added, “I’m barely standing right now. Jeran can deal with me being late, there’s a good reason for it.”

     It was rare that Rohane was late for his drills, let alone missed them. Surely Jeran would come asking about him later, probably accompanied by one of those gruff, “look at how tough I am” voices he liked to use when he was ordering around the Blumaroo. Given that they were both leaders, albeit Rohane’s crew had been much smaller, they both had a bad habit of insisting on their own plans without listening to each other first. Much more so Jeran than Rohane, though. The Blumaroo, at very least, was willing to listen to other voices… most of the time. Sometimes they acted like meatheads for the sake of spite.

     Before Rohane could change his mind, Kayla tugged him forward, the force of which nearly sent him sailing down again. “Oops,” she grimaced, “got a bit excited there, sorry.” Instead of replying, he gave her a withering stare. She scratched her ear nervously before saying, “onwards to adventure! I’ll whip you up something extra special!”

     

     ~~X~~

     “Something extra special, eh?” Jeran grew increasingly tense while Kayla recounted her morning meeting with the Blumaroo knight. “And he’s not waking up?”

     “No,” her voice dropped to a strained whisper, “he’s not. I’ve tried everything.”

     “Including pouring water on his head?”

     “No, not water. Not yet, anyway,” she chuckled sheepishly before taking a towel to his wet forehead and dabbing it dry. “I cut a few small blocks from the ice house and placed them on his snout—no dice.”

     Jeran began to pace. “You’d think he’d at least notice that.”

     “But he didn’t.”

     “And you think it’s magically induced?” asked Lisha, who had since taken to gently nudging the knight to no avail. When she pried his eyelid open, she gasped. “His eyes—they’re purple!”

     “Purple?!” Jeran shot a concerned look, and when Lisha didn’t elaborate, he pushed the question. “Is that bad? That sounds really bad.”

     “It means…” the words hung for a few seconds as both Kayla and Jeran leant in closer. “Well, I actually don’t know what it means,” admitted Lisha before fiddling with her glasses.

     “That’s anti-climactic,” quipped Jeran.

     “Hey, this is a weird case,” she shrugged, “but I’m sure there’s a book in the library with an answer.” She popped up from the couch and took a running start towards the door. “Watch over him for me, guys! I’ll be right back!”

     The bells on the shop’s doorknob jingled loudly as the Aisha sprinted into the street.

     Massaging his head, Jeran sandwiched his eyes between his hands. “Kayla…” he said it softly, but with the sort of sternness he’d reserve for disciplining knights in his charge, “what did you do?”

     “I… I just wanted to help him sleep better.” Her head hung. “I shouldn’t have tried an experimental potion on him without knowing the—”

     “Experimental…?” He gave an exasperated sigh before dragging his hands across his face. “Kayla, the whole kingdom—heck, almost anyone from the neighbouring kingdoms—knows you’re a talented potionsmaster, but you’ve got to be more responsible. What are we going to do if…” the words stuck to his lips as he felt them grow dry, “what if this isn’t reversible?”

     She tensed up like a ramrod. The look of fear in her eyes spoke volumes. She sprinted to her desk and began pulling out ingredients left and right from each and every drawer. Her hands dug furiously through dried berries, powders, and vials as she threw them into an increasingly large pile. Before long, an entire desk’s worth of magical goodies lay on the counter. Her hands began to shake as she started to bawl.

     “I don’t know how to fix this!” she wailed, throwing her head back as her voice filled the room. “I just… Oh, Jeran… I’m so sorry…”

     The Commander of the Knights padded beside her and placed his left hand firmly on her shoulder. “Then we’ll fix it together.” He said it calmly enough, but could feel his blood pressure rising as his heart fluttered. “What are you looking for? We’ll find it.” He picked up a vial of black, sparkling juice and squinted at the name written in fonts that only a petpetpet could read: voidberry juice, it said. Not like any of the ingredients were familiar to him or anything.

     “I… I’ve never seen anything like this,” she began, furiously wiping away the tears. “Neopians always wake up from these potions—t-that voidberry juice must have made it more potent than I realized…”

     “Maybe it—”

     The shop door swung upon as Lisha burst into the shop with Serian, a large, Darigan Eyrie in ornate robes and a sword strapped to his waist, following in tow. The latter was panting heavily.

     “I… flew her back here…” gasped Serian, dropping to one knee to catch his breath. “I heard that… my eternal rival… is sick?”

     Lisha suppressed a laugh, afraid it might be in poor taste given the circumstances. It had been months since Rohane was knighted, but since almost the first moment the knight began his duties, the Eyrie had declared himself to be his unilateral rival. Rohane had yet to reciprocate his enthusiasm, but unlike most of his compatriots, happily sparred with Serian. While others treated him with coolness, even fear, Rohane sincerely respected him, and for that the Darigan gravitated nearby—perhaps to the point of absurdity.

     “I found something!” Lisha gripped a tome in her hands, “but you’re not going to like what it says…”

     Jeran dug his nails into his palms. “What’s that supposed to mean? It’s fixable, right?”

     “Yes.” Lisha said it with hesitation. “I found a solution that matched with his symptoms… but that’s where things get complicated.”

     “If it’s a complex potion, Lisha, I won’t let you down.”

     “It’s not that, Kayla. It’s magic.” She gripped her wand of supernova. “Dangerous magic.”

     Jeran bit his lip. “Maybe you weren’t being firm enough when you were trying to wake up. I’m going to give it a try.”

     Before Lisha or Kayla could say no, the muscular Lupe shook Rohane’s shoulders so hard that the snoozing Blumaroo’s ears flopped against his face. Rohane responded with a grunt, but did not open his eyes. Serian couldn’t help but laugh out loud, but the second he received a pointed glare, passed it off as having a dry cough.

     Lisha threw her hands into the air. “Jeran, stop! You’re gonna hurt him!”

     “Maybe if I shake him harder, it’ll—"

     “That’s not going to work, meathead bro,” said Lisha with a frustrated smile and waning patience. “We need someone to go into Rohane’s dream and wake him up, not shake him until you give him a concussion.”

     “I’m not a—” Jeran took a deep breath and composed himself. Meanwhile, Serian was snickering. “If anyone should go, it’s me. I’m his Commander; he’s my responsibility.”

     “And I’m his rival,” retorted Serian while sticking a talon to his chest, “so I should go instead.”

     “Actually,” said Lisha before pointing towards the Lupe, “I think Jeran’s right. It has to be someone with whom he has a long history, someone he’d recognize as being outside of whatever dreams he’s seeing.”

     Serian crossed his arms. “I’ve known him plenty lo—"

     Just then, the formerly silent Rohane began to thrash about on the bed. “Stay back!” he shouted.

     The lot of them grew silent as a creep of concern spread across their faces. The knight looked frightened, something the normally stoic Blumaroo loathed to show.

     “His nightmares are getting worse,” stated Lisha, who had since leafed to a dog-eared page in a dusty old tome. “Voidberry juice on its own is great for inducing sleep, but when combined with midnightroot… it amplifies the dream’s effect. It probably feels real to him, whatever is happening in there…”

     “Those are two of the ingredients I mixed,” gasped Kayla. “I had no idea… no idea they’d be so strong together…”

     “The tome says it’s only in patients with serious, ongoing nightmares.”

     “Oh.” Kayla wrapped her cape around herself like a shawl. “Oh gosh…he did tell me that he had bad nightmares. Pretty frequent ones at that.”

     Lisha sighed. “Then we’ve got no time to lose. Waking nightmares can’t be good for his mental health. Jeran, are you ready?”

     “I am, but…” he glanced at his sword, “what’ll I be doing? I can’t exactly fight a dream.”

     “Three things.” She held up her hand and counted down. “You’ll battle through Rohane’s nightmares, find him, and wake him up from inside the dream world.”

     “Is that all?” he forced a chuckle. “Sounds like a typical Friday. Won’t take me long.”

     “Yeah…” she gripped the wand tightly as she brought her eyes down to skim the passage, “but please be careful in there. This isn’t an ordinary mission.”

     Jeran gave an overconfident shrug. “How bad could Rohane’s nightmares be? He’s just one Blumaroo. I bet he—”

     “Please, Jeran. I’m being serious.” The Aisha took a deep breath before bringing his attention to a circled passage in the book. “The dream world is a dangerous place. If you die in there… you aren’t ever waking up.”

     Kayla gasped in horror as she stumbled into a chair. Meanwhile, Jeran opened and shut his mouth as the realization sunk in. A chill rose along his back. “Ah. So, the usual life-or-death stakes then.”

     “I should go with him,” Serian added, “and I’m being serious this time. If it’s that dangerous… we’re both good with a sword. We can protect each other.”

     ”As much as I hate to agree”—the Eyrie rolled his eyes at Jeran’s response—"Serian’s right. He’s a skilled swordsman. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have backup… especially if Danner’s running the drills right now.”

     Serian practically shook with anticipation. “Alright, then! Let’s do this. We’ll save him together!”

     “Afraid I can’t do that,” said Lisha, her eyes pouring over the next page at warp speed. “This paragraph here says the spell should only be used on one Neopian at a time. It takes full concentration just to maintain it,” she glanced at them over the tome, “would that I could, but being self-taught as I am… that’s just not a good idea. Not safely, anyway.” She balled her paw into a fist. “I wish I was stronger… then I could help more.”

     “You’re plenty strong.” Jeran said it emphatically while wrapping an arm around her, causing the Aisha to lift her head from the page and smile.

     She leant into his embrace. “Thanks, Jeran.”

     “You’re one of the bravest Neopians I know. And no one in Meridell can doubt your amazing knowledge—you’re practically a living library.”

     “That’s true…” the Aisha said it gratefully as she fiddled with the page in front of her. Even so, her long earstalks drooped as she turned back to the passage. “But still, I wish I could do more…”

     “Well…” Serian kicked at the ground. He sounded utterly dejected, “I guess I can stand watch here...”

     “That would be good.” Jeran exhaled lightly, trying to hide the fact that his mind was racing beneath his otherwise calm exterior. “Watch over Lisha for me while I’m asleep though, okay?”

     “I can do that.” The Eyrie paused. “Don’t take too long in there, Jeran.”

     Jeran rose an eyebrow and crossed his arms. “You’re actually worried about me?”

     “I’m not completely heartless,” said the Darigan with a fleeting smile and a casual wave of his hand. He then looked the Lupe directly in the eyes without a trace of hesitation. “But you have to promise not to do anything dumb in there. No over-the-top heroics.”

     Jeran scoffed. “What do you take me for?”

     “You.”

     “I resent that.”

     “Behave, you two,” said Lisha, as she traced her finger over the next line. “Okay, we should be good. I found what I need here.”

      Kayla, usually a boundless source of energy, had remained quiet, her head buried within in her hands. Upon realizing that Lisha would be spellcasting, she hopped off the chair and gathered a small bundle of potions.

     “I’m… I’m going to help fix this—it’s my fault we’re in this mess.” She sniffled as she placed them on a nearby desk. “These are my famous ‘pick-me-up’ potions. They’ll restore magic energy in a jiffy.” She scrunched her hands into a fist, steeling her resolve. “Anything I can do to help I will.”

     Lisha placed her hand on her friend’s back. “Your heart was in the right place, Kayla. All of us know that.”

     She wiped away her tears. “But now our friend’s in danger; it’s time I help out, too. Are there any books on advanced potion brewing at the castle library?”

     Lisha nodded. “There should be, yeah.”

     “Then I have some research to do. Wanna help me look for them, Serian?” Kayla’s normally jovial face was resolute.

     The Eyrie looked back at his wings, drooped his shoulders, and nodded tiredly. “Alright. Let me get you there faster.” He gave a parting wave as he ran to the door with her. “We’ll be back soon.”

     ~X~

     From within the dreamworld, Rohane was running for his life. A large hoard of monsters encompassing all five lands were galloping, sliming, and shambling forward with mal intent. A few of them had giant wads of meat for heads. He had been unable to find anything more than a practice sword and was doing his best to outrun and out-stealth the beasts.

     When he woke to find himself in his dream, alert and aware of the surroundings, he was surprised. Even more so when his eyes snapped open in his childhood room, in his childhood bed in Trestin. Chipped wooden practice swords, carvings, and his father’s old, tarnished helmet sat on his shelves. It had been a nice enough trip down memory lane until—well—until he showed up.

     “Stay back!” Rohane had shouted, with a deep pang of regret.

     But it wasn’t him—it couldn’t have been. Not when he—the Blumaroo shuddered thinking about it. When Rohane found himself outside a patchworked, technicolour Trestin, with Neopians he recognized speaking in quasi-normal gibberish while surrounding him in a circle, he wanted nothing more than to leave. And from Trestin he found himself in a world that mish-mashed all of his travels into one landscape. One that had elements of Haunted Woods climbing above the loamy soil of Meridell while a snowbank covered nearby pine trees. A distant desert dune crest from atop the forest.

     He shook his head in disbelief, hoping that any minute now, he would wake up back in her study. But the harder he closed his eyes and stopped to imagine the room, the more he realized that wasn’t going to happen.

     “Kayla…” he muttered, looking for a snowbank to hide behind while the creatures passed by in a torrent of roars, hisses, groans, and harsh faerie curses, “what did you do?”

     ~X~

     In a flash, Serian and Kayla disappeared from the shop and raced towards the library. Meanwhile, the Borodere siblings readied themselves for the spell. She placed a pillow against the couch and stuffed some extra blankets against its side.

     “It’s not high-tech, but it’ll do.” She motioned to the make-shift sleeping quarters.

     “I’ve slept on worse.” As he said this, he patted down the blankets. “Beats the ground.”

     Lisha placed the book down in front of her and gave Jeran a crushing hug. He returned her strength with gentleness.

     “Just… please be okay in there, Jeran.” Tears filled her eyes. “I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you.”

     “Your big brother’s a knight, Lisha.” His voice softened as he stroked her head. “I’ve fought in two wars and survived them both. This dreamworld thing will be a cakewalk.”

     She brought her head up to meet his eyes. Even in her twenties, she still stood a few heads shorter than he did. “I know. But no crazy heroics, okay?”

     “You’re starting to sound like Serian.”

     “Well, he is our adopted brother, so…”

     “I suppose that’s fair…” Jeran laughed lightly as a serious look crossed his face, one that she could not see. “But don’t worry,” he squeezed her tightly, “I’ll bring Rohane home, I promise.”

     The two stood in silence for a few seconds before unwrapping from each other. As Jeran sat himself down against the couch, his laid his head on a pillow inches away from Rohane’s feet. He crinkled his snout.

     “This guy really needs to change his socks.” the Lupe plugged his nose. “You sure I’ll be able to stay asleep like this?”

     Lisha picked up the book and spoke a few muttered words, causing it to alight. “You’ll be in a deep, magically induced sleep—I don’t think stinky feet will be enough to break the spell.”

     “I guess we’ll have to see about that. Because seriously, Lisha,” he feigned gagging, “can you smell this? It’s like he rolled around in the rubbish dump or something.”

     “Real mature, bro,” she rolled her eyes. “Reeeeal mature.”

     With an exaggerated shrug, he said, “It’s not like he can hear me? So it’s all fair game.”

     “I mean, yeah, but, ya know. Your feet don’t smell like spring daisies, either.”

      “Thanks, little sis.” He stuck out his tongue. “Glad you’re on my side.”

     “You’re welcome.” She stuck out her tongue in return, but then turned her gaze to Rohane, who was flinching on the couch. “We should start. You ready?”

     Jeran’s expression hardened as he heard the Blumaroo whimper. “Yes. Are you?”

     “Yeah.” Her eyes scanned the glowing page. “Shut your eyes and I’ll start casting the spell. I’ll need to focus on it to maintain your connection, but Kayla’s potions should help with that.”

     “Okay.” The Lupe shut his eyes, but continued to plug his nose with his left hand. “And I know you’ve said it to me, but… please be careful yourself. I’ve seen how exhausted that magic makes you. Don’t push yourself too hard.”

     Lisha gave a thumbs up. “Don’t worry. I got this.”

     “And no crazy heroics, alright?” he mimicked her voice when he said it, but opened an eye to add, “but I mean it. Please, take care of yourself. I know how stubborn you can be.”

     “You, too,” she said softly. “Good luck in there.”

     With her brows knit tightly, Lisha announced a string of words read from within the tome. A swirl of magical energy rose from the book and passed through Rohane, causing the Blumaroo to shudder. It hovered in the air and twirled like a ballerina before diving towards Jeran. The whoosh of the spell sent a shiver down Jeran’s spine.

     “And you’re sure this is safe, ri—”

     Within an instant, Jeran was in darkness. He waved his arms around and felt nothing. There was only the void around him. A wave of panic washed over his features as he looked for any sort of light, anything besides the emptiness engulfing him. He pinched himself to feel something, and felt a wave of relief from the sensation.

      Before he could say anything, the world shifted. No longer was he in the darkness, but inside of a cosy home with a burning fireplace; cookies sat on a plate atop a large, wooden table. Outside the window, a small town took shape. But there was something unsettling about the town; the houses were made with illogical shapes and inverted colours.

     Jeran steadied himself to keep from retching. He then bent over to catch his breath.

     “Are you okay?”

     Jeran jerked back from the voice. It was one he recognized, one all too familiar to him, but painfully impossible nonetheless. He dared not turn around. Doing so would put him face-to-face with his mentor.

     His deceased mentor.

     Sir Reynold had lost his life tragically years before along with well over a dozen others. The one who did the deed was Ramtor, the king’s evil advisor who had nearly taken over Meridell years ago. The robed Bruce had made a cowardly surprise attack; Sir Reynold was caught off-guard. And after that he… no healer could revive him, no matter how hard they tried.

     It was as if the older yellow Blumaroo had known something would go amiss; he forbade Jeran’s support that day. Jeran never quite forgave himself for staying back, for not being there to protect his liege. Despite it being outside of his control, the guilt lingered like Slorg slime. Numerous scenes played out in his mind since of him heroically coming to Sir Reynold’s aid and saving the day. Perhaps, he thought darkly, his mind wanted him to be like the heroes on those Neovision plus reruns, the ones he and his sister loved as children before they travelled back in time. In those shows, the hero always won, the good guys always saved the day, and the bad guys always got their just desserts.

     “But this is not fiction,” he found himself saying bitterly, usually when visiting the castle courtyard alone, “this is real life. The good guys don’t always win. And even when they do win, there’s a cost.”

     To add insult to injury, Rohane and Mipsy had taken out Ramtor before Jeran could exact his justice. It wasn’t as though he hated for Rohane for it—no, far from that—but there was this lingering irritation that it should have been him to avenge Sir Reynold. His squire, not his son. There was a sort of unintended hardness in his voice towards the Blumaroo because it, although he tried to curtail it whenever possible. Well, that and Rohane’s frequent, willful questioning of his decisions.

     “Are you okay?” The voice asked it in the exact same way, like of monotonous recording parroting an infinite loop. There was something unnerving about the way it was said, too, as if each syllable was spoken in reverse and played back normally.

     “You’re not real,” Jeran said it aloud as if to cement it to reality. It didn’t stop him from wanting to turn around, to see the stern but kindly face of the Blumaroo who trained him as a child. The Neopian who chose to trust a Lupe thrown into a timeline far removed from his own, a far-flung time-traveller with no way home. “But if you can understand me, Sir Reynold, I need to ask: do you know where Rohane is? Where your son is?”

     There was a few second pause.

     “Are you ok—”

     The Lupe spun around; his fists balled up with rage. “Of course, I’m not o—”

     The word hung mid-sentence. Although the Blumaroo standing in front of him certainly was dressed like Sir Reynold and carried himself with the same confidence, there was something horribly, horribly wrong.

     He lacked a face.

     “Ah!” shouted Jeran before he could help himself. He unsheathed a rusty old sword—one he realized hadn’t been by his side before this—with shaking hands, and he pointed the blade forward. “Stay back!”

     The whole world seemed so real. From the other room, he saw Melissa, his mentor’s wife, appearing and reappearing in the kitchen.

     “Hello, dear,” she sang each time she phased in and out of reality until a cacophony of her voice resounded in the room. The cookies flickered into nothing; steam still rose from an empty plate. From outside the window, phantoms of homes, Neopians, and livestock moved randomly, robotically, as if stuck in some memory loop. One Neopian even walked upside-down four feet off the ground. Their torso was pointed backwards, walking a direction opposite their upper half.

     “What sort of nightmare is this…” Jeran muttered out loud, taking note of the door to his right. “I need to get out of here.”

      Without hesitation, he bolted forward towards the exit. Right before he would have reached the door knob, he appeared outside in a grassy yard. A moment later, a tall white Blumaroo bumped into his snout. Unlike Sir Reynold, who appeared as a ghostly conglomeration of old memories, the Neopian before him was solid.

     “Ro—” but Jeran caught himself, wiggling his sore nose from the impact. The Neopian in front of him stood nearly at his height, wore a long cloak, and had a belt of daggers at their waist. “Wait. You’re… Reuben, aren’t you? Rohane’s older brother?”

     “That’s me,” replied the Blumaroo. “Sorry about that, Jeran.”

     It took a moment for Reuben’s response to register as he watched a townsperson walk through a wall. “You… know who I am?”

     “Yes.”

     Surprised to get a somewhat normal reply, Jeran pushed the question while sheathing his sword. “Where is your brother?”

     Reuben froze in place, his mouth opened unnaturally as he uttered a loud, meowing sound.

     Perhaps the question wasn’t phrased correctly? thought Jeran, instinctively taking a step back.

     “Let me try that again. Reuben, Is Rohane here?”

     Reuben waved his hand dismissively. “No, silly. He’s off saving the world.”

     “Silly?” Jeran crinkled his nose. “Well, whatever. Where is he saving it?”

     Reuben begun to spin in place as he spoke, making every other syllable distant. “Last I heard, he was out in Faerieland. I received a letter from there yesterday.”

     Jeran’s eyes widened. “Faerieland? How did he make it there so fast?”

     “I’m not sure, but I hope you can help him.” He took out a dagger and spun it in his left hand. Meanwhile, he continued to turn about in an endless counterclockwise circle, which was making Jeran feel ill to the stomach. “He could use someone to talk to being so lonely. He is my baby bro, after all. Sings like a wet Meowclops.”

     Jeran tried to follow the conversation but found himself growing more and more confused. “He… sings?” Jeran shook his head to remove that image from his brain. “I’ll find him, Reuben, don’t worry.”

     “Thanks. Chet Flash wuz here.”

     “Chet who, now?”

     “He’s over there.”

     The second Jeran’s gaze travelled from the Blumaroo, he seemed to vanish into thin air. Jeran jumped back, unnerved.

     It wasn’t until the Lupe turned around that he noticed how odd the sky appeared. A purple haze hung low over the ground. And since when did a giant, snow-covered mountain range cover the Trestin skyline? Or Faerieland hover just above the mountains while trees with ghastly faces peppered the nearby wood? He squinted. There was that a desert in the distance with a giant tower in its center. And was that a blizzard in the sandstorm?

     “Dreams are so weird,” Jeran said aloud, “so very weird.”

     Before he made another step, a Neopian walked through him carrying an armful of potions. The sensation felt like nothing he had ever experienced before—like an ocean wave crashing above his head and dragging him down—and it left him speechless.

     “Potions for you?” they asked, their head tilted unnaturally, nearly upside-down. “Potions for you? Pot—”

     Jeran took a few steps away, looking for a safe escape. “No, thank you.”

     “Potions for you?” The merchant began lobbing potions at Jeran’s head, all of which he deftly dodged, while reciting his line with a dead-eyed stare. “Potions for you? Potions for you?”

     By the time the merchant ran out of potions, they tottered away as if their shop had been emptied and required a restock. Having been beaned in the head by one of them, Jeran rubbed his temples and winced. It hurt. Lisha wasn’t kidding about the dream feeling real. Beyond its obvious fantastical elements, everything seemed so lifelike. From the gentle breeze to the discoloured sun in the sky, it looked like it could be Trestin… if it was put through a colour filter and had buildings made with non-Euclidian shapes. Desperate for relief, he popped the cork on a potion, gave it a sniff, and took a small sip. Within seconds, his weariness all but disappeared. Next to the potions, a small travel pack materialized. Not questioning the generosity—if you wanted to call it that—of the nightmare, he took what he could carry and made his way towards the edge of town.

     “Wait for me, Rohane,” he said to himself. “I’m coming for you.”

     To be continued…

 
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