Chapter 3 – Viewpoints

“Hi and welcome to The Meeting Place!”

Not even before Aléi’s eyes have adjusted to the new scene, she is greeted by Ashling, except this time he’s looking much more feminine. In fact, not only is his build feminine, but he also seems to have grown a chest. It’s not much, but it’s definitely there.

It’s at this point Aléi notices the other Ashling, the actual one, standing next to her. It takes her a moment to realise what’s going on.

“Huh,” is all she manages to let out as no other words currently feel like getting formed.

Ashling and Aléi is standing in the corridor of The Meeting Place, or at least something similar to it. The corridor is much wider and have way more doors than any corridor in the actual Meeting Place.

“I was just about to take a nap, but do you guys need help with anything?” the female Ashling says and spins around once, arms outstretched. She’s still dressed in Ashling’s usual clothes of a red sweater and black pants. She could have been (and might actually be) Ashling’s twin sister, Aléi muses.

“No thanks, we are all good,” male Ashling responds as he dismissively waves his hand.

Female Ashling frowns, “Aw, really? And I was just about to fetch some cupcakes too! Are you guys really sure?”

“No really, we are sure. Don’t worry about us. Thanks for the offer though,” Ashling smiles. Aléi wouldn’t mind some cupcakes, but she assumes Ashling knows his dream better than her, so she ignores the hunger and politely smiles.

“Weren’t you about to take a nap?” male Ashling comments. Female Ashling snaps her fingers as she remembers, “That’s right! I have to go.”

The girl spins around once again and ends up facing away from the two. She leaves with a “Geronimoooooo” that fades away after she is gone.

After a few moments of silence, Aléi finally dares to open her mouth.

“What was that all about? Who was she?”
“That was a representation of me. This is the second layer which is made out of how people perceive you, albeit in a bit more exaggerated way,” Ashling replies.
“So that means that girl-”
“Yeah, that’s going to happen when you have an androgynous look. Can’t complain too much though; the first few nights after I arrived at The Meeting Place was much, much worse.”

Now Aléi feels a bit bad for having contributed to this image of Ashling. That feeling is quickly replaced by wonder how she would appear in her own dream. She then decides it’s probably not a good idea to check considering how her mental state has been recently, no doubt the other patrons have noticed.

“So we’re in The Meeting Place?” Aléi says in an attempt to change the subject. Ashling shakes his head lightly.
“This is also a representation. It’s not hard to see why this place was chosen for the dream as I spend a lot of time here, and they know it.”

“Let’s see if we can find the gate,” Ashling says.
“You don’t know where it is?” Aléi asks.
“Nope. Since most layers always change each time you sleep, the location of the gate always changes. It doesn’t apply to those floating islands from before, because it’s a special constructed dream.”
“Can’t we ask the other you, though? She’s a part of this layer, right?”
“We can’t do that either. Residents of a layer are unaware of the portals and can’t even interact with them. In the same vein, they don’t even recognise you. We’ll have to find the gate on our own. In a small location like this it should be easy. It’d be much worse if the dream was in a city, which has happened a few times, I might add.”

And so they started to look for the portal. It turned out to be much easier than expected as no doors could be opened and they found it at the very end of the corridor, next to the double doors that represented the doors to Ashling’s room.

“So, what’s next?” Aléi asks before they go through. If there’s going to be any more surprises, she want at least a bit of a heads up this time.
“This was the ‘outside’, so now we are going to the ‘inside’,” Ashling replies, but doesn’t elaborate further before they enter.

The scene changes again, but not as much as before. This time, they find themselves inside of Ashling’s bedroom. It’s much bigger than the actual one, and the few pieces of furniture inside it are spaced far from each other. Aléi can see the portal to the next layer on the ceiling a bit away.

This layer’s Ashling is sitting on the bed, reading a blank book. His face shows no emotion while slowly reading the pages, but a glimmer of hope springs up every time he flips the page, only to lose it back to the emotionless stare.

“This is creepy,” Aléi whispers to Ashling, hoping the other Ashling won’t hear. Unfortunately he must have, as he stops reading and looks over to the entrance where Aléi and the real Ashling are standing.

“Hello there,” he suddenly brightens up as he closes the book. “I didn’t see you come in, sorry about that. I’d tidy up, but there’s no mess.”

The Ashling from this dream layer looks just how Ashling appears normally, except he seems a bit more empty inside.

Aléi has a strong urge to leave. After all she has been through, be it the one time she saw that scary jester during the market, or facing Lord Appello himself, this Ashling has to be one of the most unsettling things she has ever seen. If she had her sword she’d probably fend off this uncanny being.

“Oh hey, look at that,” the dream Ashling suddenly backs off a few steps, being impressed over the sword that appeared in Aléi’s hand.
“You are learning really fast, I didn’t even tell you that you could do that,” Ashling says.
“I- um…” Aléi stutters. She really don’t want to tell Ashling she had thoughts of hurting him. Would the real Ashling feel pain if this dream version was hurt?

“I can do that too,” dream Ashling says. “Or well, in my dreams I can. Not so much here.”
The real Ashling confirms this with a nod as he summons a black pistol, taken straight out of some action movie.

“Yeah, just like that one!” dream Ashling exclaims and points at the gun. “I can summon all different kinds of stuff as long as my mind would allow it. Not so much for tanks or people though, my mind doesn’t find that realistic, which is kinda strange considering how it’s a dream and all. Oh well, I didn’t write the rules, I just have to follow them and now I’m stuck here because my short, lazy creator won’t get his butt off to actually make me exist in-”

Ashling is cut off by a gunshot straight through his forehead. Aléi jumps back and freezes, mainly because of the sudden sound. Dream Ashling falls to the floor dead.

“Sorry about that, but I had the feeling he would keep talking forever,” Ashling says and sighs out. “Don’t worry about him. He’ll be back next time I go to bed, and hopefully things will be different.”

“Guess that answers my question…” Aléi thinks for herself as her body slowly regains movement. She decides to stay away from that black noise maker weapon.

“Want to head to the next layer?” Ashling asks, but before he can get an answer, the room slowly starts to shake. Starting small, it slowly gains intensity and some books fall out of the bookshelf in the other end of the room.

Ashling lets out a disappointed sigh. “Guess we’ll have to continue some other day.”
“What’s going on?” Aléi asks as she tries to steady herself by holding on to the wall.
“I’m about to wake up.”

The bed explodes, pillows and all, with the pieces flying all over before sinking through the ground. Part of the ceiling collapses, revealing a black nothing behind. The shaking has grown really intense and Aléi falls to the ground. Ashling hovers in the air. The dead body of dream Ashling liquefies and seeps away into cracks in the floor.

More and more things disappear until there’s nothing left and they are consumed by the darkness.

NEXT CHAPTER

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