Dawn Harshaw / Dream Magic: Awakenings / Chapter 21 - Epilogue
The mind projects its rationalizations on the irrationally broken symmetries of the world; a 'rational mind' is a contradiction of terms.
- Dynamic Perfection, Dreamer's Handbook
A circle of friends surrounded Eric.
The Playground was active as ever. Although he spent most of his time in the more remote outskirts of Dream Camp - attending classes, practicing, or just flying around while thinking things over - it was always refreshing to return. Crowds in real life drained him, but the crowd here always uplifted and energized him. The friendly, pliable nature of the place made it easy to come together and have fun - Eric could run and play to his heart's content with his mind off the leash.
"We'll miss you," Kyle said.
"We'll miss you too," Rose said, speaking for the three of them.
Duke nudged Eric's hand with his nose, sharing the sentiment, and got petted in return.
Lucy got to her knees and hugged Duke. Gemma promptly joined in.
"Why don't you stay so we can play together more?" Kyle asked.
"Somebody has to fight the nightmares... they are eating people alive, you know," Eric said.
"Cool..." Lyle remarked quietly.
"But you'll come visit, right?" Kyle asked.
"I have a better idea. Why don't you come and visit us?" Rose asked.
Lyle frowned. "Joe won't let anyone show us where the Outpost is, and we can't find it alone."
Lyle's expression was pained. "He wants us to go to classes."
Rose raised an eyebrow. "So?"
Lyle looked down and twiddled his thumbs.
"I think the classes are fun," Aaron said. "Right?" He nudged Gemma.
She grabbed Aaron's hand, smiled sheepishly and nodded.
"I don't know..." Kyle said reluctantly.
"Come on, you can't be afraid of taking classes. How will we fight nightmares together if you're scared of studying?" Rose teased.
Kyle stomped his foot. "We're not scared!"
Rose leaned in. "Then promise me you'll go to classes and visit us later!"
"All right, we will! You'll see!" Kyle yelled.
"We're not scared!" Lyle added.
"That's the spirit!" Eric raised his hands to high-five both brothers. "Yeah! Master Joe was right when he said you have a bright future ahead of you."
"He really said that?"
Playmates and acquaintances trickled in, saying goodbye and wishing them a safe trip. Others came to see what the fuss was about, and gathered around.
"Are you really going to battle nightmares and stuff?" Aaron asked.
"Yeah, I think so. We'll see what Mr. Smith and the others will need us to do."
Aaron nodded, contemplating. He reached into his pocket, and took out a long, brown bag with something inside. "Here," he offered it to Eric. "I want you to have it. You'll need it more that I do."
"What is it?" Eric asked. He got no reply, and peeked into the bag. It was a giant-robot suit.
"I... I don't think I can accept this." Eric swallowed uncomfortably, and looked pleadingly to Rose.
"Tell you what," Rose moved closer to Aaron. "You have the dreams of your friends to defend now. Why don't you turn it into a proper battle frame?"
"I can already see it," Lucy gestured with her arms as she spoke. "Foldable metallic mesh with rune etchings of highest caliber. A large sword tempered in the elements. Varied techno-magical devices tinkered into powerful weapons."
Eric nodded, and offered the bag containing the robot suit back to Aaron. "It's a big responsibility; we're counting on you."
Aaron's face lit up. "Deal!" Teary-eyed and clearly touched by his friends' actions, he accepted the bag.
Eric mouthed a silent 'thank you' to Lucy and Rose.
"Come on here, you," Rose said loudly. "Group hug!"
* * *
"Have you talked to Maeve?" Annie asked. "I think she wanted to give you something for your journey before you left."
Eric, Rose and Lucy sought out each teacher, to say goodbye and ask for any advice they would care to impart.
Mr. Smith outlined which enemies they could encounter along the way and the fastest way to deal with them.
Maeve gave them equipment, and warned not to tangle with any of the factions before talking to her at the Outpost. She also bestowed a blessing to keep more significant threats at bay.
Master Joe said they're now persons with backbone, able to choose their own destinies. He assured them they'll be fine.
Annie outlined the geography of the Outpost and surrounding places, and suggested several paths of travel. The details were lost on Eric, but Lucy took it upon herself to handle all preparations.
Guided by Dancing Feather, Ohlson planned to visit one of the more abstract realms, but he promised to drop by and say 'hi' if was in the neighborhood. He made them promise to let him know if they ever needed help or backup.
In a talk of a more personal nature, Eric confided in Ohlson that he was unsure about leaving. What if I won't want to come back if I decide to leave? Ohlson simply tapped Eric's shoulder and remarked that he has grown taller.
"Are you rested? Have you recovered fully from your trials?"
Eric suffered no adverse reactions, but Rose had spiraly marks all over her body which took several days to fade, and Lucy's mood alternated between over-thinking and impulsiveness for a while. Thankfully, these after-effects subsided and they were as good as new. Better than new, actually.
Since their experiences during the trials had deep personal significance, they tried talking about it and sharing their insights, but the experiences were very difficult to convey. They tried telepathy too, but the deeper layers of meaning were indiscernible and non-sensical to each other.
Eric understood that Rose's trial was about manipulation and finding one's existence amongst opposing forces, and that Lucy's trial was about overreliance on knowledge and the feeling of being lost with no foothold, but beyond that, things stopped making sense. His descriptions and attempts to communicate the experience of his torturous rebirth also proved woefully inadequate in conveying the intensity of the experience.
Nevertheless, they each found some 'inner peace'-like quality, which affected them positively on a personal level and as a team. Eric warned himself not to take Lucy and Rose's presence for granted.
"Do you have everything you need? Double-check," Annie instructed.
Eric lowered his backpack and inspected the contents: a change of clothes, some food, a water bottle, a wand, and a short sword. Just the essentials. He took out the sword and fastened the scabbard. One of the compartments contained a small pouch of crystals Maeve gave them. Standardized currency crystals, she said. There was also a multi-purpose folding knife, which he slid into his back pocket.
Eric closed the backpack and briefly marveled at a sticker attached to it; it said 'GOOD FRIEND'. Now I'll have to start my own sticker collection, he chuckled.
"We have everything."
Annie tapped the air in front of her. It swirled and drained of color.
Eric was hit by the odor of stale air and watched as Annie's spell revealed a landscape similar to the present one, except much less vibrant. It can't be a portal... Ah, she removed the shield!
"Are you sure you wish to take the scenic route?" Annie asked. "I could just 'port you directly to the Outpost."
"Where's the fun in that?" Rose remarked.
"Didn't you tell me traversing the route once would make it easier for us to teleport there by ourselves?" Lucy asked.
"True... but you might have changed your minds."
Eric laughed. "We haven't."
Annie smiled. "I had to ask. Just keep going in that direction," she signaled. "Try to stick to roads and beaten paths. If you don't stray too much, you'll see periodic flashes of light. That's the Pulse - the Outpost's active shielding and light source. Just keep heading towards it and you'll reach your destination."
Eric took a few steps and stopped at the in-between. One half of his horizon was filled with the familiar motions and sounds of Dream Camp. The other half was bleak by comparison, but the feeling of danger it promised filled Eric with excitement. I'll miss the fresh air... I'll miss a lot of things...
"Ready?" Lucy asked.
"Yes," Rose said.
"Yes!" Eric said.
"Well then, off you go! I'll meet up with you once you arrive," Annie said. "And don't fight every zombie along the way!"
Eric, Rose and Lucy waved goodbye and set off into the twilight.
Dawn Harshaw / Dream Magic: Awakenings / Chapter 21 - Epilogue