When I first stir the next morning, I keep my eyes closed and attempt to maintain the easy breathing of a sleeping person. I carefully snuggle into Kaitlynn’s back, who I can tell is still actually asleep.
I slip into a trance.
Suri will probably be on my case again to start using some of my Espir as soon as she realises I’m awake, so this is the only time of day I have a chance to enter the Realm of Imagination.
And I’m not about to waste that opportunity.
This time, I awake from my trance when Raindrop pulls me into a hug. “Eh-ma!” she squawks. “You’re back!”
The familiar view of her room meets me over her shoulder as I uncomfortably pat her on the back. “Hey Raindrop.”
She pulls back, still holding onto my shoulders, and narrows her eyes at me. “You didn’t say goodbye!”
I shrug. “Ran out of time.”
“Well, you’re back, so I forgive you.” Her expression brightens, and she lets go of me to excitedly clap her feathered hands together. “Let’s go play!”
“Ehm, hold on...” I say, as she drags me outside onto the balcony. She’s stronger than she looks. Then again, looks may actually be pretty meaningless in this Realm.
Outside, she turns to me expectantly.
“I was just thinking how much more fun we could have if I could fly like you!” I quickly say. “D’you think you could teach me?”
What I really want to learn is still how to stay longer, but learning how to get around by myself would be a major time-saver. Mainly because I won’t have to spend time convincing Raindrop to bring me places.
She blinks and cocks her head sideways. “If you want to fly, just fly. Silly monkey!”
“No, I mean—I get that it’s a matter of Imagination, but, like... I don’t know what it’s like to fly, so I don’t know how to imagine it.”
Raindrop frowns. “Why would you need to know how to Imagine something? Just Imagine it, and it’ll happen how you Imagine it!”
I open my mouth, then close it again. I’m overthinking this, aren’t I? “All right, I’m going to try.”
I start simple, by Imagining myself floating above the balcony. It takes a moment, and some conviction, but soon enough my body rises until my toes hover just over the stone floor.
Raindrop trills excitedly and rises up beside me with a flap of her arm-wings. “See? You can totally do it! Now follow me!”
And she flies off into Hangspire, expertly swerving between the spires and various flying and jumping creatures and things.
I Imagine myself moving at a more reasonable tempo and indeed begin to float after her.
However, when I cross over the edge off the balcony, I make the mistake of looking down. Suddenly, all I can Imagine is myself falling.
So I do. Screaming at the top of my lungs.
I probably would have found the expression of the purple bear I pass on the way down pretty priceless, if I weren’t so terrified. “Raindrooooop!”
Thankfully, she appears before me in a matter of seconds, keeping pace with me on the way down. “You’re going the wrong way, silly!”
“Help!” I shout at her, wide-eyed.
She cocks her head sideways. “Why? What’s wrong?”
“What do you mean—look, I’m not flying, I’m falling!”
She blinks. “Well, stop it, then.”
Raindrop giggles and disappears from in front of me. A pair of large claws bores into my shoulders, as she catches me and begins to pull me up. “You’re so silly, Eh-ma.”
My legs shake when my feet are planted back onto her balcony. I thank her profusely.
She cocks her head sideways again. “No problem! So, are you going to try again?”
I consider this for a moment, then nod with gritted teeth.
The third time Raindrop plants me back on her balcony, I let myself drop on my ass, and let out a deep sigh.
I groan. “Why is this so hard? I’ve flown in dreams before...”
Raindrop cackles. At least I’m amusing her. Go me.
“Maybe you should just Imagine falling to where you want to go,” she suggests. “You seem to be much better at Imagining that.”
I blink. “I—that’s an interesting idea, but I’m not sure if that’ll be easier. Falling is typically something that happens in a downward direction.”
She shrugs. “Just Imagine down in a different direction, then.”
I consider this idea for a moment, before firmly rejecting it. Even if it works, it wouldn’t be a good long-term solution. Falling isn’t the most controlled form of transport, to put it lightly. “Look, Raindrop, the issue isn’t that I can’t Imagine myself flying. It’s that the second I’m over that balcony I’m hit by a a fear of falling, and then that’s all I can Imagine.”
She cocks her head sideways and hums. “Maybe you could try to Imagine flying in a way that doesn’t involve falling?”
I frown. “What does that...”
I trail off as the manatee from last time comes floating by, looking posh as ever. He seems to have added a monocle to his outfit, through which he peers at me thoughtfully.
I blatantly stare back. There don’t seem to be any social conventions against that kind of thing here anyway, but I probably would’ve done it regardless, because my mind is whirring right now.
Imagine flying in a way that doesn’t involve falling...
A few minutes later, I’m chasing after Raindrop with great glee. A giant rabbit hops onto the side of a spire in front of me, but a single sweep from my shiny new mermaid’s tail sends me careening past it. This chase has been going on for a little while now, and Raindrop has slowly been upping the ante. She’s now taken to ducking in and out of spires through windows, in an effort to lose me.
My Espir is burning up relatively fast, unfortunately, so I won’t be able to continue this much longer.
I resolve to catch up to Raindrop and tell her goodbye this time, before she genuinely loses me.
I spot her ducking into a window nearby, and quickly accelerate in her direction.
I dive through the open window with more speed than I’ve dared so far.
Unfortunately, I picked the wrong window to do this with. My eyes go wide when I spot the pyramid of neatly stacked glasses that’s right in my path.
My mind chooses this moment to freeze up and Imagine what would happen if I were carried by my momentum and smashed right into it, so naturally, that’s exactly what happens. I careen straight through it and crash into the shelves full of liquor bottles behind it.
I get up amongst the mess in a daze, barely aware that my mermaid’s tail has dissolved into legs again, and come face to face with a frowning man who’s slowly turning red.
With his burly frame, long brown hair, and bushy brows he looks vaguely Eastern-European. Thick arms lead to big, calloused hands that hold a broom in a white-knuckled death grip. Over his clothes he wears an apron featuring a nametag that reads ‘Sloan.’
Sheepishly, I take in the completely ravage of shattered glass and broken bottles of various strange liquids now spilled on the wooden floor. “Oh man, I’m so sorry.”
Sloan’s nostrils flare as he responds with a powerful nasal exhale. His broom snaps in half. He closes his eyes for a second before allowing the pieces to drop from his limp hands. His eyes flit open and fix me with a glare full of fiery hatred.
Slow and deliberate in a way that’s almost painful to watch, he begins to take off his apron, staring me down the whole time. He proceeds to fold his apron and place it gently on the bar beside him without even looking. When he finally tears his eyes away from mine, it’s to turn to the purple octopus manning the bar with an almost indignant expression on his face and say two words. “I quit.”
Then, with a faint ‘pop,’ he disappears into thin air.
I blink. My brain finally catches up to the fact that I was just face to face with what seemed to be a man. As in, an actual human being, of the male variety.
Oh my god, who was that?
The purple octopus sighs, and waves one of his tentacles. Time seems to reverse as all of the broken glass and spilled liquid rises up from the floor and comes back together.
The wondrous sight brings me back to the present.
“All right, tell me what you’d like to drink,” the floating purple octopus says in a bored tone of voice, like nothing just happened.
I blink at him. “Ehm, sorry for messing up your bar.”
Several tentacles move up in what appears to be a kind of shrug. “It happens. About that drink th—”
“Who was that guy?” I quickly ask, unable to contain the question any longer.
The octopus glares at me for a second. Its colour turns a shade lighter, towards magenta. “That was Sloan,” it finally answers, like that explains everything.
“Yeah, no, I got that. I meant—what was he doing here?”
“Swept the floor, polished glasses, that kind of thing.”
The floating octopus lazily grabs four glasses and starts polishing them with four equally dirty looking rags. “No idea. He just showed up here and started sweeping. Probably just dreamed his way here accidentally, or something.”
I blink. “That happens? Isn’t it very dangerous to be here?”
The octopus shrugs again. “Not to me. Now, are you going to order a—”
“Do you have any idea where he came from?” I ask impatiently. “Like, did he come from the Realm of Crystals or the Entropic Realm?”
The colour of the octopus shifts further, becoming a light red. It puts the four glasses down with a synchronized thump. “Bah, you ask too many questions. You’re supposed to order a drink!”
I frown. “What would I even pay with?”
The tips of his tentacles begin to lightly vibrate. “Nothing! Just stop asking questions!”
“All right, yeesh,” I say, looking at his vibrating tentacles in concern. “Ehm, what do you have?”
The octopus begins to emit bright red light, and two plumes of steam comes out of the sides of its head. “RAAAAH!” it screams. “I SAID NO MORE QUESTIONS! GET OUT!”
“OUT OUT OUT!” it yells as it starts chucking glasses and bottles at me with all eight appendages.
One of the bottles crashes into and opens a door to the outside. Ducking my head, I run out.
The door closes behind me with a slam. I turn around to look at it, flabbergasted. Above the door I spot a sign that reads, ‘The Timid Trident.’ As I stare at it in confusion, a new sign appears beneath it.
‘Drinks only. No questions asked or answered. EVER!’
I frown. “Well that was rude. How was I supposed to order without knowing the menu?”
“WHY AM I STILL HEARING QUESTIONS?!” the octopus shouts from inside. “GO AWAY!”
“Wasn’t that a question too?” I mutter under my breath.
The sound of breaking glass and inarticulate screaming comes from inside so I quickly form a tail and sweep into the air.
A wave of exhaustion washes over me as I do, alerting me that I have very little Espir left.
I look around for Raindrop, but she finds me first.
“Eh-ma!” I hear a split second before she crashes into me from behind, chittering as she wraps her feathery arms around me. “I caught you!”
I turn around with a smile. “I thought I was chasing you?”
Raindrop cocks her head sideways and shrugs. “What do you want to play next? Ooh, how about snakes and ladders?”
I raise a brow at her. “Do you mean like with actual—you know what, no, I’m sorry, but I’m running low on Espir, and it’s high time I were honest with you.” I take a deep, imaginary breath. “I’m not really here to play. I’m in trouble, and I’m here to find help.”
I pause for a moment, to await her reaction.
Raindrop blinks owlishly. “Well... why didn’t you just say so?”
I explain the basics of my situation to Raindrop back in her room.
“The problem is,” I continue, more or less thinking out loud at this point, “I’m not sure if the people of this Realm can be of much help to me. However, I just saw another Visitor, and that got me thinking... if I could contact another being in the Realm of Crystals, a free being, maybe they would be able to help me. Or at the very least, answer my questions.”
I turn to glance at Raindrop. She looks confused.
I sigh. “Raindrop, could you try and contact other Visitors for me, while I’m gone? Oh, but make sure you only try it with Visitors who are Visiting alone. Not with a, ehm, chaperone, like the first time you met me, because those chaperones could be dangerous. Do you understand?”
Her expression clears up. “I think I get it, Eh-ma. I can’t promise anything though; solitary Visitors are pretty rare.”
I nod. “Thank you, Raindrop.”
Another wave of exhaustion informs me that I really need to get going, so I hug her goodbye, and yank my chain before my figure can Fade any further.
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