Riley wasn’t sure how long they had been walking. The corridor was dark and seemed to stretch on forever. There were lit torches lining it, but the farther they walked, the farther apart the torches were, creating more pockets of shadow. Riley had this growing suspicion they were going deeper into somewhere they really did not belong.
“Do you ever feel like you shouldn’t be doing this?” Riley finally asked, breaking the silence. Saber startled, shaking off whatever thoughts she was lost in.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you’re in someone else’s head. Doesn’t it ever feel like you are intruding? This is where a person stores all their deepest, darkest secrets.”
“Oh…,” she said quietly, then briefly looked down at her feet before looking back at Riley. There was some obvious pain there. She must have touched a nerve.
“No, it’s okay. I just don’t get asked that much, and you’re right. Sometimes we get into some things, see some things…” She swallowed. “Well, sometimes we see things that really make this job hard, make you realize just how lucky you are when you have a good family. Sometimes the biggest, meanest monster in your life is the one you live with. Those are really hard to deal with because the monster in your life follows you into your dreams.”
“What do you do then?” Riley asked quietly.
Saber walked for a few steps in silence, then cleared her throat. “We shouldn’t be talking about this. Okay?”
They walked on for an indeterminable amount of time because there was no way for them to judge it.
“This is a pretty intense dream Bru- um, Raz is having,” Riley finally said.
Saber looked at their surroundings, then stopped briefly. She bent down to pick up some dirt from the ground, letting it sift through her fingers. She stood and wiped her hand on her suit.
“It is a pretty in depth for a dream. It contains many more details than what I am used to, but there are so many unknowns. This kind of thing has never happened before. We’ve never had a nightmare keep someone from waking up, or a Dream Walker who needed to anchor a Chaser in. We don’t know how much of this is because of what Raz is going through…or because of you.”
“So it’s normally not like this.”
Saber spread her arms out. “None of this is normal. It makes me nervous.”
“Good?” She narrowed her eyes.
“Yeah. That means I’m not the only one.”
Saber flashed a slight smile and nodded. “You know, without any training, you’re doing great.”
Riley grinned. “Really?”
“Well, it’s hard to gauge. We’re all a part of this special program. We go through a lot of training on how to do this before we’re allowed into a dream. You, though… You went straight in and seem to be doing fine.”
“Well, thanks, I guess. I gotta admit, this whole thing seems strange.”
“Finding out there is this secret organization that uses kids our age to go into other people’s nightmares and fight sleep creatures.”
“That’s not all that we do. Plus, there is a lot of research involved. After this, I’m sure you’ll get the full briefing.”
“But you’re not going to tell me much, are you?”
Saber shook her head.
“Can you tell me more about Raz?” Riley asked.
Saber shrugged. “What do you want to know?”
“Well, he’s obviously a big Lord of the Rings or maybe Game of Thrones fan. I mean, look at the world he created. And you didn’t see the village. It was amazing. Had I not been scared I was about to burn alive, it would have been fun to be there.”
“Yeah, that’s a problem a lot of newbies have. Getting lost in the world. It can sometimes feel like a virtual reality game, and in a way, I guess it is. But you also have to remember that you’re in someone else’s head. This is their nightmare. You are not here to sightsee.”
“I was asking about Raz.”
“Yeah, sorry. Still on the whole… Anyway… Well, I don’t know. I mean…” She looked around. “This is actually not what I would have expected. Raz is a geek, but he’s not a huge GOT fan. He watches it more in passing. This is something I’d expect more from, say, Chaz. He’s a huge fantasy nut. Raz is more comics and superheroes. I would have expected us to be in Gotham fighting alongside Batman.”
“Well, he did tell me he was afraid of dragons.”
“I guess. Still, it’s strange.”
Riley chucked. “Like everything else.”
“Yeah,” Saber said with a snicker, understanding how all of this looked.
Riley enjoyed this. A moment she could talk to someone and get a feel for what all this actually was. Everything had happened so fast, she needed this chance to try to understand it.
“But… I don’t know. Call it a gut feeling. I just don’t think this feels right.” Saber glanced around them.
“Yeah, well, I have nothing to base that off of.”
“Then trust the gut.”
“Fine. Just don’t tell me you like pineapple on pizza or you lose that trust.”
Saber pushed Riley away. She laughed and caught herself. “Random. Where did that come from?”
“I’m just saying, people who put pineapple on pizza are evil and not to be trusted.”
“Well, no worries. I have never put pineapple on a pizza. I mean, how did that even become a thing? Who was the first person who looked at a pizza and said, ‘This needs something sweet. Let’s add pineapple to it.’”
The girls giggled, trying to not think about how they kept walking but had yet to come to the end.
“Do you mind if I ask you something?” Riley asked.
“What’s up with Chaz?”
Saber furrowed her brows. “What do you mean?”
“Well, I don’t know. I’ve been trying to get his attention since I moved here, but it seems like all he wants to do is tease me.”
Saber gasped. “Wait. Do you have a crush on him?”
Riley’s face turned red. “Shut it.”
“No, really. You and Chaz? That’s who you want to know about?”
“Huh… I would have thought you’d want to talk about Raz. You two seem to have such a connection. I mean, as far as I know, you just met, yet he’s already told you all our secrets.”
“Well, it’s not like he had a choice. I was literally pulled into it.”
“True, but Chaz?”
“Yeah. I find him cute.”
Saber was silent, contemplating, then she nodded. “I guess I could see that. I mean, I’ve grown up around all these guys. They feel like family. So maybe that’s why I just think of him as the big brother who is always tormenting everyone.”
“So he’s a bully?”
“I don’t know. He used to be nicer, but since his mother disappeared and no one has said anything about it, he’s been different.”
Riley nodded, sighing. “I can see how that would mess with someone. I lost my mom. I haven’t been the same since.”
“Yeah? What happened?”
“I… She’s just gone.”
“No one knows what happened to Chaz’s mom?”
“I’m sure there are people who know, but no one is saying anything.”
“That must be rough.”
“Yeah. Since she’s been gone, he’s started hanging with those goons. All of them are rejects from the program. He used to be one of the best. What he could do in dreams was nearly impossible…” She nudged her with a shoulder, smirking. “Kind of like you. He was very strong in the dreamscape, but now, he refuses to enter it. He doesn’t think anyone notices that he keeps trading away his sessions, but it’s pretty obvious.”
“Maybe he’s afraid of something.”
“Considering how he can manipulate it, I think he’s worried something might happen. If you don’t control yourself in here, it’s possible to bring in your own nightmares and make it worse.”
They walked in silence as Riley contemplated what Saber said. If she made this her own terrifying world, what would they see?
“Raz had to have been back by the dragon. I mean, otherwise…” Saber gestured to the darkness around them. As far as they could see in front of and behind them was nothing but more corridor.
“It just keeps going on, never seeming to end,” Riley said. It was probably a good thing Saber had changed the subject because if Riley started thinking of her own nightmares, would everything around them transform?
“Yeah, I can’t see a way out. It’s like I told you. We normally come in near the person we need to save. We just need to find them.”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see Raz at all. Shouldn’t there have been something?”
Riley looked back and forth again, studying the corridor. Her gaze stopped on the darkness between the torch they just passed and the next one. She looked at the shadow between the two sources of light.
“Have you ever seen Labyrinth?”
“Labyrinth. It’s a really old movie, but kind of cool. Has goblins and they steal this baby and the older sister has to go into the labyrinth to save him.”
“Well, other than the ludicrous costumes, there was this scene where there was this long corridor. The sister was trying to find a door. She just kept running and running, but it seemed like there was just no way in.”
“Okay… I see where you’re going with this. How did she get in?”
“A snail stopped her and asked her what she was doing.”
Saber snorted. “A snail?”
Riley furrowed her brows. “Maybe it was a worm. Never mind. Anyway, a snail stops her and gives her advice. She tells her that there are entrances all around. She just isn’t looking at them right.”
Riley steps into a shadow near the wall. She reached out, letting her fingers glide against the stone as she slowly walked. It didn’t take long before she stopped suddenly and turned back to look at Saber, her eyes wide.
“I found it.”