Thursday, February 13

Chapter 12

Leon kept insisting on pulling Blazerine along, and quite frankly it hurt. The armor gauntlet he wore made his grip feel like it was crushing her wrist. She didn't complain about it until the two of them squeezed through an alleyway, well if you could call it one. The space was almost unbearable for a body to proceed. Unexpectedly he stopped near the far end, causing her to bump straight into him from behind. 

Suddenly he turned around to look her right in the eyes. 

"It would be a serious risk..." He began to sing. 

"Oh god, not you too!" She exclaimed. 

It was already bad enough he's mad at her. What's he going to say or even do after she witnessed him do something so out of character. Only one word came to her mind and it yelled, "RUN!"

She attempted to flee to the opposite end, but Leon immediately punched the wall beside her head.

Then he leaned in closer, continuing to sing, "If we were to..." The rest of his words were too faint to be heard. 

Shockingly her eyes widen in surprise, because if his helmet wasn't there, it's more than likely their lips would have met. The whole experience was beyond her comfort zone. Between this and his bulky armor, she couldn't endure it any longer. Aggressively she shoved him against the opposing wall as far as she could in order to slip on by. 

She knows it wouldn't be too hard to outrun him, asides the heavy armor he wore, his stride still has a bit of a limp. 

An upbeat tune sprung to life as Leon hurried after her. 

"Is it useless to run?

Just 'cause I'm falling behind?

Or do you think it's useless?

Of course, it's useless!

Who am I kidding? 

I'm chasing after a transparent dream!

A dream which can never be!" 

Blazerine felt like her heart was about to burst. An overwhelming pain to sing started to erupt inside of her like flames. She tried to take her mind off it by focusing on her feet. Trembling, her hands covered her now opening mouth. She'd rather be dead than live through the embarrassment of having Leon hear her sing. Panic constricted her chest momentarily and rattled around in her brain. Where was she going to hide? 

She ended up taking a sharp left turn, before diving straight into a pig pen, where she buried herself inside of the mud, behind a wooden fence. From there she watched Leon continue on the same route. 

Slowly her hands wrapped around the frame of the fence to pull herself outta the mud. 

As she arises, she softly sang these words, 

"These cold frames that keep you out, 

Keep me in~ just the same~."

----

The uproar of the pub discontinued the second everything made out of glass had shattered right before their very eyes. Although the fear struck in the hearts of men, Lyrist's elf features remain impassive, not giving away any sort of feeling or emotion. 

Fenix huddled his arms across his chest, when the warmth of the pub felt like it had been sucked dried. A wave of men fled passed him to the exit. 

"What's happening elf-boy?" He asked. 

There was a long pause before Lyrist replied,

"I've encountered this before when I dealt with my father. The souls of my kin that were embedded in his bark... I could hear them as if they were right beside me." 

"I guess your elf ability can come in handy sometimes," Fenix commented.

"It's not an elf ability, it is a feline trait." He told him.

Lyrist lowered his hood, allowing it to fall around his shoulders, releasing his long ears. 

He attentively listened then said, "The soul trapped here is named Belinda Willow. She sang fairy tales to sick children of this village. Some were worse off than others - so to ease their suffering... she put them in some sort of hypnotic state - an illusion if you will - but the longer they're there - the more real it becomes - and if they become too comfortable.... its more than likely the victim will end up staying and never wake up. 

Belinda believes she was doing the right thing, but the villagers thought she was satanic - sacrificing their children to the bowels of hell. Unfortunately, their beliefs incite them to cut out her tongue, but for some it wasn't enough... How terrible - so much soil was shoved down her throat, it can only be assumed that she was buried alive." 

"Over there!" Fenix shouted suddenly as he pointed to the fog that's beginning to overflow onto the floorboards. 

He didn't need to go any closer to seeing where it was coming from. It was none other than the cellar below. He's gone to that place, time and time after again, but right now, it was the very last thing he would ever want to do.

"We have to..." Lyrist responded accordingly to his thoughts. 

"No-no-no-no!" Fenix cried.

The corners of Lyrist's lips curved when he said, "I thought I was the only cat here."

"No spirits for me mate, no sir-ere. Only boars, rabbits, foxes, wolves..." He kept going down the list. 

He would have gone on forever if Lyrist hadn't stopped him by asking, "But you'll stand up to a dragon?"

"Well, I am a barbarian after all." Fenix boasted. 

Lyrist shook his head and simply said, "You humans..." 

It didn't take much convincing to persuade Fenix. All, he had to do, was throw a few demeaning words to bruise his ego. 

Tap... tap... tap... Those were the sounds they heard while walking along the cellar's stairs. The noise stopped the second they reached the bottom. 

It's mostly just the average things you would expect to see down here, exclaimed Fenix. It's basically where the pub owner stocks all of his merchandise. A couple of bottles of some fine wine could be seen from the racks. Beneath them were three barrels of ale stacked, but unfortunately nothing came out of the noose, when he tried using the tap.

Lyrist wasn't entirely sure what the connection between the cellar and Belinda was. Of course, her being buried down here did cross his mind. Then again it would take more than a shovel to get through these cobblestone walls. 

Fenix discovers an alluring painting of a pale young girl holding a lyre. Her long blond locks were neatly tied up in frilly white bows, which matched the color of her dress. However, her dark blue eyes are what stuck out the most, until... she smiled.

The hair on the back of Lyrist's neck stuck up the instant Fenix startled him by throwing the painting across the floor. 

"She-she-she smiled at me!" Fenix stammered.

Lyrist judged himself as an accurate reader of intentions and lies; though; as he admitted before, Fenix rationality was a little different than others. He wasn't sure what to make of him, but his instincts are usually trustworthy. 

Slowly Lyrist approached the painting and flipped it right side up again. Inside the painting, the girl's fingers started trailing along the cords of her lyre to create a soft flowing melody. It sounded distant, like a wind whispering from across an ocean, pulled in by the breeze of another world. 

A quick breathy gasp escaped from Fenix's lips, "H-how..." He barely managed to say.

"Sometimes it's not the whole person that remains, but rather just a fraction, a piece of memory that got separated from the individual. Most spirits bound themselves to this realm either to comfort those who are still grieving over their deaths or remain because of an unresolved issue, such as an injustice, but in this case - revenge." Lyrist said.

A distinctive tearing grabbed their attention suddenly. It sounded a lot like somebody taking a sharp object to tear through fabric. The woman from the painting was slowly starting to peel herself from the frame. Her detailed skin was becoming realistic soft flesh.

A hand extended towards the small distance between the real world and her fabricated world of color. No longer that of an ink-based liquid, which had long since dried. Her tresses flowed behind her as if coming to life. 

The torso climbed out and her hips were soon to follow. Slowly she had become a three-dimensional being, no longer confine by the oil and the canvas. Halfway out, one leg would strip free, allowing her foot to fall to the solid ground. Then the other soon followed right after. She was now able to stand, full frame, ample, and very so much real. 

Lyrist overheard the hasty beating of Fenix's heart, because he knew - he knew she's no longer a painting, but a living breathing being of sentient uses. And what she said, couldn't even be repeated back, because there were no words - only the sound of gargling, and the upchucking of dirt. 

"How do we fight something that's already dead!?" Fenix cried.

The dirt kept rapidly coming from the endless void, which is known to be Belinda's mouth. It won't be long now before the whole cellar becomes an underground tomb. 

"The source." Lyrist thought for a second, "We must dispose of the painting at once!" 

Fenix charged in, "Easier said then -"

He stopped the second the building started to morbidly change - like a drawing being executed in a sketchbook. The pub was beginning to shift into a darken castle. Blood laced banisters and black marble held up the stronger foundations. Black crystal glass made up the spiraling towers and its spires. While it was a stunning piece of architecture, it was a nightmare in the cold clarity that it symbolized. 

Outside, Blazerine and Leon watched as the boundaries between fantasy and reality split in half. The pub had become a castle, and its surroundings have taken on a life of its own. 

An innocent bystander got herself tangled into the mix, when the branches of a tree morphed into jagged claws and eagerly scratched her face. The second she tried running away, she was dragged back by the strands of her red hair. 

Blazerine tried going after her, but Leon held her in place, refusing to let her go. Horrifying she watched the woman rise higher and higher into the air. Her body spun around helplessly like a windmill. Twisting and turning... until all her hair is completely ripped out. Then the woman unleashed hideous scream right as she's flung off into a cottage - splattering into millions of tiny bloody pieces. 

 "What are we going to do?" She weakly asked him, "Fenix and Lyrist were still inside, weren't they?"

Dark clouds shaped like crows were inching through the sky right above them. And the wind, wasn't whispering, it was howling - howling each and every single syllable of their names. 

"Looks like we just got an invitation." He sighed. 

Cautiously they approached the massive outer walls of the castle. The air shift as if welcoming them with a cold breeze, before the drawbridge collapsed right at their feet. Briefly they stood there, wondering what else could possibly be waiting for them inside. 

Beyond the entrance, the castle reveals a spacious gloomy interior. 

Things had never felt this unnatural before Leon thought, the music felt like a wall, no, more like thickly churned butter that surrounded them both and made it ever so hard to concentrate. 

Faintly they heard a woman singing, 

“Emptiness, no presence, no light -

Not a single sensation ~ in sight

You are stuck in the nothingness -

You are everything -

And yet nothing at the very same time~" 

"That sound - I know this.... this is jazz. How is that even possible?" Blazerine quietly asked herself. 

A sudden commotion had caught Leon's attention. His gaze darted over to the sounds of quick steps nearby. For a brief moment, he saw the flowing mist, dancing along the marble wall, which carried the smell of decomposing corpses and sulfur. 

Out of nowhere the woman's singing begins to erupt louder,  

"I can feel their cold eyes all over me~

It felt like hands -"

A hand desperately pulls itself from the confinements of the wall, right beside Leon. Startlingly he leaped back, only to be grabbed by another hand from the opposite side of the wall. Blazerine scurried on over and helped pulled him free. The two of them frightfully took off down the corridor as the hands kept sprouting one after the other. 

"Why do I still ~

Hear those shovels, shoveling~ -"

Cracks started to burst throughout the walls, differing in many directions at once. 

They followed the music to a stage, where a set of instruments were left untouched. 

"I can't breath,

I'm suffocating,

I can't see~"

Blazerine squinted her eyes slightly as a bright light hit her face. Although it was slightly blinding, there was something familiar about it. Yes - it was the light of a hologram overhead of a crosswalk, that's broadcasting a recorded message, over and over again. 

"An Earth Fleet has been taken down. The Economic Union suspects it might be a retaliation of the Imperium Confederation. Still there is a lot of speculation that the Zhe'Kolhavan might be behind it. Districts forty-six, forty-seven, forty-eight, and forty-nine are now off limits. I repeat districts forty-six, forty-seven, forty-eight, and forty-nine are now off limits."

The Economic Union and the Imperium Confederation had been living peacefully for many years. But as of lately...there has been a lot of tensions between the two. Earth has moved out into space to harvest resources from other plants. This way they wouldn't use all the resources that were left on earth and furthermore pollute it.

The Imperium Confederation is those who have lived in space since they were born; The inhabitants of space colonies. They believe the people on the earth will eventually pollute their homes. When negotiations began to fail, a war broke out. The colonies have banned together to create a rebellion against the earth. But the war has quickly turned for the worse... when a third party made their arrival; The Zhe'Holhavan.

Blazerine was still standing there, staring at the announcement. She couldn't help but wonder how any of this is even possible - for she has return to the year 2125. 

"How disrespectful..." A woman comments while looking her way.

She was wearing a dress that resembles a jellyfish. The shape of the dress was a bell; (head of a jellyfish.) The bottom has delicate stringy latex; which is intended to look like tentacles. The colors are a mixture of reds to deep purples and lighter blues. The whole outfit was practically see through.

Around the year 2100, the less skin, you shown, was actually more appealing than oppose to those who exploit. 

Oh and that little comment she made.... well... today is a memorial day for jellyfish. It's the day that all the jellyfish had gone extinct. 

A lot of species have already died in fact, but instead of doing anything about the ones still left - all, they seem to be doing, is living in the past. And what I mean by "they" is the Animal Rights Committee. 

Members dress accordingly to the occasion, almost like it was some sort of holiday or even a fashion statement. On the other hand,... the extreme members take their devotion beyond that. They mutilate their bodies, from changing pigments colors, eye shapes, and animalistic implants... If anything that can be learned by this in her opinion, plastic surgery has advanced too greatly for mankind.  

The little girl standing next to the woman wore the same exact thing, but she was accompanied by an I.C. Head. It's a toy inserted with an Intelligence Chip. (I.C.) They're similar to A.I's, in the aspects of being capable of thinking, learning and developing. But they're allowed to have personalities. This function has been outlawed from androids as a precaution from an alleged doomsday. The androids are program to preset phrases and commands. They're mostly just drones for labor or navigation tools.

"Ha. Ha. Ha!" The I.C Head laughed in a cartoonish voice. It was sort of cute... in an annoying way. The toy itself was shaped similar to a cat's head and was colored pink. In the middle of its face, a monitor could be seen, displaying generated digital expressions with faces.

Since the war began... some of these I.C Heads have become lingering ear devices for the Zhe'Holhavan, when it comes to manipulation, children are a lot easier to influence than adults.

Blazerine eventually shook off the whole confrontation by coming to the realization of where exactly she was. District twenty-seven; It’s one of the many shopping areas of Transcendence. 

Transcendence is a disc- shaped city which dwells high in the skies. In a case of emergencies, the discs can be detached from its main colon structures for immediate departure. It also has enormous rotating shades that regulate solar rays for energy. Almost every residential home is transparent with see-through glass floors, ceilings, interior and exterior walls on every side. Both in and out, but there are only a few blind spots for facilities and the bedroom. 

 Let's just say security around here is pretty high. A bit off to the right there are people inside of a clothing store. A couple of them were trying on clothes by standing in front of an android assistant. They're able to re-image clothes onto the customer’s bodies, simply by moderating their body temperatures to make the exact measurements. The imagery itself is a life like holograph that overlaps their current clothes with the desired outfit.

Blazerine really doesn't have the slightest clue how she got back here. Although its what she wanted the most, but why does it feel so wrong? Just the mere thought of it seemed so impulsive. Was it because she truly did not even fit in here? Hell the more she thought about it, she really didn't belong anywhere. But there was one person here who made her want to come back; Haven. 
Could he still be alive?

Blazerine rushed to the transport station to catch a ride on pneumatic vacuum tube that travels from district to district; by launching people in ball like capsules. The capsules are pushed through the tunnel by the air until it reaches the passenger's desire location. Then it detaches itself from the current by sliding through an opening on the outside. This prevents traffic or causing any unnecessary accidents. The capsules are stored in individual sections that have control pads. Here is where she types in the coordinates.

When it's accepted, a female generated voice says, 

"Preparing for departure...." The capsule's plastic steel mixture liquefies an oval opening in the front and a new form seat in the back. "Please proceed with caution..."

For whatever reason, the word caution kept repeating in her ears. She didn't really think much about it, considering the amount of stress she has been under lately.  Hell who wouldn't have gone crazy already at this point? 

Blazerine shook her head before stepping inside. When she turned around and sat, the opening conceals itself shut by reversing the liquefying process.  During this moment, she's too occupied with the arms of the seat. It was forming around the front of her chest to securely lock her inside. The sections of the walls disappeared beneath the slits of the platform, which allows the air to impact the capsule, causing it to shoot immediately forward. Everything seemed fine until... she coughed once then another and another! Frightfully she lowers her eyes down to see the arms.... the arms of the seat were choking her!

Above she faintly heard Fenix yelling, "Leo what the hell are you doing!?" 

-----

"No!" Lyrist intervene. 

"But he's choking her!" Fenix cried. 

"The longer she's in this hypnotic state - the harder it'll be to get her out of there!" Lyrist explained, "The discomfort will help corrupt the illusion." 

"I can't believe this!" Fenix blurted out,"I know Blazerine stupid, but she isn't this stupid!" 

"If you were given what you wanted the most - would you be so willingly to leave?" Lyrist asked him, "Desperation can turn the strongest minds into simple ones."  

Fenix turned away, not only because of what Leon was doing, but mostly because Blazerine's appearance was disturbing. Her eyes were completely drained of color and she was absurdly smiling like a maniac.

Along the walls, circles of lights appeared, but within each circle, a shadow figure casually emerges. The one nearest to them started to imitate a saxophone as if it was actually holding the instrument - there in plain sight. It wasn't long before there's an entire jazz band pretending to play til their hearts contented. 

As the trumpet went wild, a black mist explodes in the middle of the room, only to disappear, leaving behind a grand piano. As quick as the mist was to leave, it returns, but something came along with it. 

The mist formulates itself into an actual dress around Belinda's ghostly succulent body. And her long black hair hung low in the front of her face, which she shortly swept back to reveal a flawless face, that's pale as the moon itself. Paying no mind to her guests, she took a seat, preparing to play.

"Let her go Belinda! Let them all go!" Lyrist demands, all the while flexing his fingers, encouraging his nails to surface. 

Then he let out a hiss, before sprinting off towards Belinda - ready to swipe. When he's just about an inch or two away from clawing her eyes out, he's thrown back into a vibration of an eerie note.

Belinda and the piano arose into the air - aimlessly floating along in what appeared to be the aspects of zero gravity. Briskly she ran a hand across the left keys, abruptly making the whole room tilt in the same direction. 

Like a barrel full of apples being tipped over, all of them helplessly rolled along the ground, until they all met an end, by smashing against the wall and piling up on top of each other like stacks of potatoes. The very last person to hit the pile made the entire wall collapse into a black abyss. One by one everyone disappeared out of sight except for Leon.

He began to feel lighter while falling deeper into its depths. Slowly he could make out what was happening, shiny bits and pieces started to detach from him. Fragments of steel and iron, brass and copper were slowly beginning to drift apart from him as he fell. 

Further down, he felt lighter and exposed. It did make him feel a bit scared, the thought of vulnerability without his armor crosses his mind. 

Looking up, he could see more than just fragments now, there were bigger pieces as well. Instinctively he tried grabbing a hold of at least one, but they were already out of reach. The more he kept slipping away, the less he could see them. It wasn't long till they looked like nothing except tiny sparkling lights throughout the darkness.

His head started to awfully ache as the images of his past flashed before his eyes. It felt like his memories are being pried painfully outta his skull, one by one. However, it wasn't far from the truth, when drops of white paint surrounded him. The droplets were twisting and turning - mutating into a familiar object, a mirror.

Once the glass is fully formed it displays some of his deepest, fondest memories. Most of them consist of the adventures him and Fenix had together. There was one in particular that did draw him in, but what does it matter? Surely he would just pass them due to the fact he's falling. Although that's not what ended up happening. All of his memories - were somehow keeping aligned with him. 

Then the horrifying screams filled his ears. He didn't know who it was straight away because her voice was so raspy, almost like it was cracking from a severe lack of dehydration or maybe even air. For sure it has to be Blazerine or is he just hoping it is?

A grunt escapes from his lips once his body finally impacts the bottom. Quickly he sat up only to watch the mirrors surrounding him dissipate into nothingness. 

The smell of brimstone and smoke was so thick here that it's too hard to for him ignore. The slight hints of sulfur would burn a mortal nose if it could survive in such high temperatures. Though, the heat and barren waste of this place did not bother him. Was it because none of this was actually real?

The moment he climbed to his feet, he's greeted by a woman who erupts through a curtain of flames. Her obsidian skin shined with sweat from the heat. Her clothes were shredded and torn beyond 
recognition. Her red eyes were gleaming back into his. 

"Leon..." She began to say, "Why...?" 

"Blazerine?" Leon questionably gasped. 

It was Blazerine's voice, but her appearance does not match. She actually resembles Fauna from head to toe. 

"Why - why  did you do this to me!?" She screamed as she raised her hands outward toward the ground, in just mere seconds, it cracks and tears about up to three yards. Deep within the creases, the heat rapidly emits, creating a crimson orange liquid, which only took a minute and a half for it to boil over.

Leon felt his insides twist and turn from Blazerine's terrifying cries. He wanted to reach out and help her, but the flames kept engulfing him until he sees nothing but just white. 

----

Practically lost amid-st the onslaught of the storm, the winds lashed against Fenix's body like a caged lion dying from starvation. And the violet colored sand swept about him similar to ladies dancing in exotic silks.

He knows the desert has never been for the faint of heart, a savage land where the weak perish and their corpses get swept away. This would have been the fate of Lyrist if he hadn't stumbled across him. He carried his unconscious body along by slinging him over a single shoulder. 

With no shelter in sight, there was not much he could do other than move forward, so they wouldn't get buried beneath the sand. 

Up ahead he barely can make out a roughly drawn cluster of ruins; which has hundreds of narrow rocky ledges, outlined in dark purple. Most of them don't look stable enough to walk upon, let alone any clear direction of where the ledges could possibly lead. He knew the only person whose nimble enough to attempt a passage, would be no one other than Lyrist.

"If someone going to have to check those ruins out - it's not going to be me - it's going to be you." Fenix blurted out. 

Then he angled his back against the wind before intentionally dropping Lyrist roughly into the sand below him. 

Lyrist's discolored eyes might be wide open, but he sure as hell wasn't conscious anywhere in there. He's just quietly rambling under his breath about who knows what. 

Although Fenix thought if he leaned in close enough, he could at least make out Lyrist's ranting's a bit clearer. As soon as Fenix leaned in closer, the wind cracked across the middle of his back like a whip striking a horse. He fell completely forward, accidentally meeting lips with Lyrist. 

Fenix is so shocked by the circumstances, he doesn't even pull away at first. It took him about two minutes for the gears in his head to start turning again. 

Miraculously a spark of life returns to Lyrist's eyes. His green pigments swirled back into their original place. 

Suddenly he moaned, "You're terrible at this, aren't you?" 

Fenix embarrassingly scrambled away after Lyrist delightfully laughed at him. He panicked about almost as if he was just forced to drink a lethal poison against his will. He spat all over the place until a sharp turn made him run into... Sinner. 

"You need all the practice you can get." Sinner told him, "Remember when you were younger. I helped you - I dressed up - and..." 

"This isn't the t-time-" Fenix interrupted him with a whine. 

Then a thought occurred to him, "How are you here?" He asked, "You were tied up back at the bandit camp."

Slowly Lyrist sat up and got a whiff of the situation. The odor tackling his nose was none other than salt. He knows sand only smells this way if it's somewhere near a body of water. Eventually, he cocked his head in Fenix's general direction.

"Who are you talking to?" He questioned Fenix's mental state. 

"Who do you think?!" Fenix argued, "Sinner somehow escaped and followed us here."

Lyrist climbed to his feet and said, "I think you're -" Before he could even finish his statement, Sinner had become visible to him.

The only thing, Lyrist could think of at this point, is that they're not hallucinating completely - if anything it's almost like their inner consciousness is beginning to run wild. 

"What are you trying to say?" Fenix demands. 

"We've all been taken in together - our psyches are connecting." Lyrist explained, "However if we do manage to get out of here. There's still a possibility of long term damage from obtaining - Well in this incident by absorbing another individual experience." 

"More of a reason to get the hell outta here then." Fenix replied.

Lyrist has a feeling that any unpleasant memories can accidentally be created here in this dream-like state, but it cannot change the original perspective to become a positive, for it has already been set in stone. 

Momentarily his ears perked up to attention and his eyes wandered about, scanning the environment. He wasn't quite sure what he just heard, but whatever it was is getting closer. Then he felt it, vibrations right beneath his feet. 

"Move!" He yelled. 

The both of them scurried away before an hourglass rises out from beneath the sand, from where they once stood. What shocked them the most wasn't the intrusion of the hourglass itself, but what they saw inside. 

------


Leon reopened his eyes from what felt like a very long rest. He didn't know how long it's been, since this place seemed timeless... everything was transient. Slowly he observed his surroundings cautiously. To his surprise, he's standing in the middle of a floating small isle that has a rocky terrain. And all was quiet except for a steady creak, which sounded as if it was rocking back and forth against wooden floor boards. Something about it was familiar to him, at least the pacing was. 

Alarms went off in his brain, telling him he shouldn't give in to his curiosity, because it's bound to get him distracted from his main objective, and that is to get back to his comrades. 

Suddenly he found himself staring transfixed at something unfurling ahead of him. Slowly as time passed he could make out a figure. It seemed to be a jester of some sort; wearing a flamboyant palace outfit that is colorful, but silly as well, due to the scarfs and polka dots of mismatching clothes. And stringy strands of yellow hair poked out the bottom of his dis-portion looking feather hat.

"So you're Leon I take it?" The Jester crazily asked with a grin. 

Then he walked towards Leon in a ditty manner like a clown would do. 

Leon threw an angry glance at the jester's foolishness. In return, he received a look, a sort of sparkle in the eyes, which read: I guess today isn't your lucky day.

The jester kept flickering in and out of sight as he approached closer. Leon chose to make a move on the closest reappearance. 

"Who...." He exclaimed with a swift movement to unsheathe his  sword and held it at the Jester's neck, merely inches away from his throat. "Are you?" He requested. 

In a flash, the Jester vanished only to reemerged sitting on top of Leon's sword.


"Remember the tale your mother told?" He remarked in the actual tone of her voice. 

"The tale of a man, 


Who steals naughty children from their beds,


By offering sweet breads,


Kneaded with tiny grains of sleepy sand,


Enticing them to take his hand,


The children would always ask,


In a hypnotizing trance,


Where to Mr. Sandman?


He'll simply reply,


Off to dreamland,


To be seen never again."

Leon did remember at a very young age. His mother told him the story - of how the Sand Man kidnaps naughty children from their beds and bring them back to his palace, where he would dissemble their bodies and use them for juggling performances. Although it didn't make much sense to him then and neither did it now. Why would he perform without an audience? He guesses fairy tales aren't really suppose to be logical anyway. Most stories are just scare tactics to keep children morally intact.

Before he could even begin comprehend the rest of it. He realized that the area had drastically changed into an Arabian palace; decorated with torn pages of moving drawings; resembling Fenix, Lyrist and.... himself?

The Sand Man playfully clapped and squealed, "Oh my the show -" 

Giddily he sprung to his feet, before he leaned in closer to finish his sentences. " - is about to begin." 

Right after he gestured a pose by putting a hand to his ear in order to portray he's listening closely to something in particular. 

Leon didn't know what it was until the sound of glass shattering fills the air. His attention quickly returned to the source; the pages, only to witness a hand burst through an hourglass to choke Fenix. 

"Leo!" Fenix struggled as he tried to pry his cold dead fingers away, "Snap out of it!" 

Right there and then Leon knew him and this clown had front row seats to a play. And the plot would no doubtfully be the end of his comrades, but he'll be damned if he ever let those curtains fall. 

The second Leon looked back, The Sand Man was already gone. Still he caught the sudden footsteps trailing from behind, so he swung around into a defensive stance. 

The Sand Man simply walked back and forth, all the while gazing at Leon like a lion would at its cornered prey. 

"What.... What did you do!?-" Leon demands to know.

He cocked an eyebrow with a remark of, "Hmmmm?"

"-Tell me!" Leon furiously screamed at him.

The Sand Man cackled and stepped a bit back while throwing his hands up in a spazzed sort of way; as if someone would do if they were shocked or taken by surprised. 

"You don't know!?" A malicious smirk painted his lips, before he motioned towards his head. 

"You're here - and you're out there. But the you out there is under my control." He snorted, "Only if you can defeat me you can "snap" out of it."

"I am weak out there..." He annoyingly admitted with a disgusted face, which shortly turns into one of pure pleasure.

Then he extended both arms out with one hand spread wide.

"But in here; well you could say... I'm a God." Once he happily utter those words, a beautiful flower sprouted from his hand out of thin air. 

Leon was pissed, because the last thing, he would ever want, is to be controlled like a puppet... and by this clown none the less. 

The Sand Man saw the hate so he mocked him further by crushing the flower into dust - no sand. It was more appropriate since he's - well - the sand man after all. 

To add more salt to the wound, he giggled, "You mad, boy? Hmmmm? Are ya, are ya? YOU ARE!" 

He threw his head back and continued to cackle up a storm, "Kekekeke! Ha-ha-ha-HA-ha~ Woah, oh, oh, oh!"

He held his belly, trying to restrain himself as he tearfully kept laughing, "That's not even the GOOD part. But I wonder - I wonder... how much of a punishment your little friends will take until they decide there's no hope and just.... - kill.... - you..."

"Shut up!" Leon demands.                                              

"Oh MY!" The Sand Man pretend to gasp in fear. 

-----

Fenix knew all, it would take, is for Leon's grip to become a bit tighter and he'd be done for. The most, he can do, is deck Leon in the face, hoping there's a possibly that pain might regain his sanity. Desperately he throws mad punches, again, and again, but its no use - nothing seemed to phase him. 

"... I-I c-cant..." He barely managed to get out. 

From the sound of his voice, Lyrist knows it won't be long til he passes out from the lack of oxygen to the brain. He suspects the only way, he's going to be able to break up this inhuman grip of strength, is by disrupting Leon's breathing pattern. Perhaps doing so it will also help break him out of his hypnotic state.

Right after that thought, he dropped down to his knees and sucker punched Leon right in the gut. Although Leon's eyes never opened, there was a reaction of the wind being knocked out of him. 

Freed from Leon's grip, Fenix collapsed to the ground, trying to catch his breath once again. And as soon as he did, Leon vanishes into a wisp of swirling sand. 

"Are you alright?" Lyrist asked, after helping him back to his feet. 

"I'm fine." Fenix irritably grumbled, "How did you know to do that?" 

"Breathing is an involuntary function." Lyrist explained, "It was merely a speculated guess." 

"Then you might be right about the painting as well. It may be the only way to escape this nightmare. You should be the one to find it." Fenix suggested, "You're the fastest between the two of us. If Leo comes back I'll handle him." 

Without any further exchange of words, Lyrist sprinted off towards the ledge. While running, the atmosphere begins to drastically change for the worst. And a pair of leering ruby eyes appeared in the sky above him. He tried his best to ignore it so he could just focus on the task at hand. Although it was hard to drain out what sounded like fabric tearing. When he looked up for a second, he saw a piece of the sky being torn away to create a smile. 

As soon as his feet made contact with a ledge, a creature drops out of the sky and lands right in front of him. He nearly loses his footing from the impact but still manages to skid to a halt. 

The hideous creature stood high on its thin legs that resemble a horse.  Two long horns stuck out from his wild red hair, which is a mixture of human hair and black feathers. 

From what he could tell, it’s still humanoid, but it has a lot of unnatural features, such as the mouth. The mouth was part way human on the left, but on the right, it was more of a protruding bird beak. The mid waist looked normal; expect with no fat, leaving only the naked rib cage and the sun burnt skin that covers the atrocious creature.

The creature chirps, “Tick!”  Then he tilts his head to the left and screeches, “Caaawwwwwwk!”

Furiously it flaps the only functional wing that's embedded in the forearm of his skin. The right arm is covered in feathers, but most of them had been plucked out, leaving the creature not mobile enough for flight. 

Whether or not the creature could fly is the least of Lyrist's worries. He's more concern if the creature is capable of challenging him in speed. 

He couldn't believe his eyes, when the creature face splits apart. And some sort of gooey yellow substance leaks out with a mixture of blood. He didn't expect something so digesting could be this fascinating. Once the face finally separates, a golden egg could be seen nestled inside. He doesn't really get much of a chance to look after the creature threw its head back. In awe, he then watches the creature head flung forward; in order to catapult the egg straight into the air.

Lyrist didn't wait to see what will happen next when the egg comes back down. He ended up leaping right off the ledge to land on another that's just right below. Shockingly he looked back in time to see an explosion. 

Derbies of rocks came tumbling down, but he quickly maneuvers himself to avoid being crushed. Dodging left, right, left then BAM! A much larger piece broke off the ledge further head, upon impact. He couldn't turn back now... There's no other option available. Desperately he reaches the gap and vigorously vaults to the other side. Barely he manages to make it by landing roughly with a somersault. 

Although he wasn't entirely sure how much longer he's going to be able to keep this up. There was not only one, but around the proximity of twenty creatures now shooting eggs at him. He realized after an exact count of ten eggs fired, it duplicates another. If only he killed the first one to begin with...  None of this would ever happen. But he doesn't know anything about the origins of this creature. For all he knows, engaging in close combat might be as deadly as the range is. 

Too preoccupied with his thoughts, he gets caught in a blast. And he's unable to completely dodge; the whole radius of the explosion. The upper half of his ear gets blown off. Luckily he didn't go deaf, but he's left with this awful ringing. His pain receptors don't kick in until there's quite a bit of blood. Reaching up, he snatches whatever left of his burnt hood and ripped it off, before tossing it aside. 

For a second he thought his vision was beginning to lie to him. When the ledges started to sway from one side to the other. This makes it all the more difficult to maintain his speed without going off the edge. 

Suddenly he jerks a hard left after an ambushed of chains swooped at his body like slithering snakes, attempting to entangle him. 

Nearing the distance, the pub he's been longing for could be seen plain as day. Whereas, each level of the building is floating individually by itself.  And the basement is the furthest one out of reach. If his calculations are correct, the painting has to still be in there. Why else would she go to all this trouble of manipulating a building when the painting can simply be moved. It can only mean she's unable to psychically move anything herself. Hopefully, he didn't decipher Belinda only flaw before its too late... 








© Tiffany Ann Adkins 2015 - 2019