Chapter 4 – Extrovert

As fate would have it, they couldn’t enter the dreams again the following nights as Aléi’s adventure continued in her own world. She was barely gone for two days, but at The Meeting Place, almost a week had passed.

This time, Aléi’s adventure had been much less miserable, but even then just slightly filled with paranoia and mysteries. They had met a boy who called himself Brendon Elixir (who changed his last name to Cake after Aléi’s friend mentioned she likes cake). He wanted to join the party and apparently had feelings for Anize, Aléi’s friend, but at this point in time it’s better to be cautious than accept strange new people on confidential missions.

Meanwhile, The Meeting Place hasn’t changed much, even after a week. Rodney could still be found practising his craft in the kitchen, Martin could still be found in the arcade trying out new builds of his creator’s various game projects, and the Phor-ties still spends most of their time at the shooting range.

Usually, after having done a ‘real world’ adventure, the creator, Martin, tends to appear with whoever was the subject of the adventure, but this is not always the case and today is a day he had other things to do, so Aléi enters through the massive wooden doors to The Meeting Place alone.

The only one to greet her is Gidel, who is sitting at a table with a deck of cards, pondering why their suits are so strange. Really, basing the suits on the primary elements is so much better. But no, half of the cards are red while the other half is black, and the shapes make even less sense.

“Hi there, Aléi,” she greets the Liqueous girl, happy to get a distraction from the cards.
“Hi Gidel,” Aléi responds, but keeps moving with quick steps. She’s excited to find Ashling so they can continue with the dream thing.

Finding him turns out to be easier than expected, as she almost bumps in to him as she rounds the corner to the corridor.

“Whoa! Oh, Aléi!” Ashling says after a quick dodge. “Fancy seeing you here. Finally back from adventuring?”
“Yeah,” Aléi nods. “But I’m eager to jump back into the Realm of Dreams. Err… dreamscape? Sorry.”

Ashling chuckles. “It’s alright.”

The two start to head to the rooms.

“So, dare I ask what happened during the adventure? Nothing too bad, I hope.”

“Well,” Aléi begins. “We met this strange guy called Brendon who might work for Appello. Probably not, but I don’t want to take any risks. Anyway, by request of Marn, we were going to find a Thun named Mok, but after following him through a magical forest we ended up on the Plateau, the highest point in The Land. There we met an old man who asked us a bunch of questions. He also killed a Shadow Hider, a minion of Lord Appello.”

Ashling listens politely and with interest. “What’s a Shadow Hider?” he asks once she’s done.

“It’s a creature made out of darkness who hides in your shadow and acts as a spy for Appello. It’s creepy, but then again, so are all of the Shadow monsters.”

“Those shadows remind me a bit of the parasites from my world,” Ashling says.
“Parasites?” Aléi quizzically asks. This is the first time she has heard of them.
“Yeah, much like us Dreamers, they enter your dreams. But they want to corrupt you, take control over you. Luckily, there are some signs to let you know if someone has Para-” Ashling says, but then his voices dies down and he stops, shaking lightly. Possibly due to fear.

Before Aléi gets the chance to ask what’s wrong, Ashling dashes forward, up the stairs, yelling “How did I not see that before?!”

Aléi quickly reacts and follows. Ashling heads for his bedroom, but even in armour Aléi catches up.

“What’s happening? What didn’t you see?” she wonders, her voice trembling with worry.
“It’s Sharon,” is the only reply she gets. Ashling throws himself on his bed and grabs some pills from the night stand and downs them. He passes out.

Aléi gives a glance back to the corridor. At the end of it she can see the door to Sharon’s room, but like all the other ones it’s closed. What evil is happening?

Only hesitating for a moment, she also takes some of the sleeping pills (affectionately named “see-you-later pills” by The Superhero).

*

Moments later, she meets up with Ashling in his dreamscape, but before they head to Sharon’s dream, Ashling gives Aléi a word of warning.

“It’s most likely going to be dangerous. Do you think you can handle it?”
Now, if she had been anyone else in The Meeting Place, she’d respond with things such as “Dare I remind you that I’m a certified fighter?”, or “These parasites’ got nothing on what I usually fight,”, or possibly a very cheeky “Do you?”

However, she’s not anyone else in The Meeting Place, so her response is a simple and unsure “I hope so.”

*

The two manages to get through the REM layer without any major complications. The dream took place in Sharon’s school, and so they had limited space to find the gate with.

They quickly make their way to the second layer, where Aléi and Ashling finds themselves in a thrashed room. There has obviously been a fight going on; the furniture is smashed, books and smaller objects lie scattered all across the room, and on the floor in a puddle of blood is a mangled body lying face-down. Aléi puts her hand over her mouth in shock. Ashling on the other hand is scanning the room, not paying attention to the body.

“Is… is she-?” Aléi whispers.
“Yep,” Ashling replies stoically as if he’s seen it before. He opens the door out of the room and looks down the hallway, more broken decorations and claw marks, but otherwise empty. Only partially good news.

“No sign of the gate, but it doesn’t look as bad as we initially thought. Let’s hurry,” Ashling says, gesturing Aléi to follow as he heads out the door, not even waiting for a reply.

“What about her?” Aléi asks, wondering about the body. It has a lot of claw marks and has even been pierced by a sharp object straight through her shoulder.
“Don’t worry about her,” Ashling answers from outside the room, his voice cold and focused.

Aléi heads to the door, giving the dead body of Sharon one last look before leaving the room.

The hallway is eerily quiet. Ashling expected at least a little resistance at this point. He creates a gun, just in case. The gun’s top half is a silvery colour while the bottom half is black. In real life he’s only a decent shooter, but real life rules doesn’t apply in the same way in dreams, and he knows this.

“There!” Aléi points into something that looks like a gymnasium through a hole in the floor. In the center of the room, lying against the floor is the gate.

“Good job,” Ashling says and jumps down. Falling from great heights have no ill effect in dreams (and the fact that he can fly helps too). Aléi jumps after. After the Plateau, which is a straight drop down from directly under the clouds, this falling distance is no worse than a doorstep.

What greets them before they get to enter the gate is two small creatures the size of a 10-year old kid, looking like human bugs, with a dark aura that seems to twist and distort the dream in it. They hiss and take charge at Ashling and Aléi, but Ashling is quick to retaliate and shoots the first one to bits.

Aléi reacts purely on reflexes, summons her sword from nothing and slices the other parasite in half.

“That… was that a parasite?”
“Yep. It’s one of the simpler ones though. There are far worse things out there.”

After a moment of silence, Aléi speaks. “Is Sharon going to be okay?”

Ashling looks at her. His eyes have a determination she has never seen from him in waking life. It could also be that he does look more masculine, but she is getting reassured from his looks alone.

“The longer the parasites have been inside a host, the more difficult it gets, but as long as we can reach the core and get rid of the parasites, she should be fine. I just wonder how she managed to get infected in the first place…”

“So she’s still alive? I thought for sure that-”
“What you saw was Sharon’s extrovert self. It’s nothing more than a part of the dream, much like the introvert I shot last time.”

Aléi remembers that unsettling scene, but calms down.

Without further words they enter the gate to Sharon’s introvert dream layer.

NEXT CHAPTER

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