They left the dark corridor, not sure what was beyond the door. It didn’t surprise them that they stepped into what looked like a dungeon, both sides of the room lined with three large, heavy wooden doors, a barred opening about head height.
“Well, this fits,” Riley said.
“I guess.” Saber walked up to the first door and looked in.
She shrugged. “Looks like it.” She raised her voice. “Hello?”
“Hello!” Riley called out, joining Saber. “Hheelloo! Anyone here?”
The room stayed silent, though it sounded like something shifted.
“At least we can see a way out this time,” Saber said, pointing to the door on the other side of the room.
“Yeah. Looks like six cells. We’d better check each one. There might be something inside them.”
Riley walked to the cell across from Saber. She looked into the empty room, then tried the door. Locked.
“Like what? Treasure? Items you would find playing a video game?”
“Well, doesn’t it feel like one?”
Saber shrugged as she checked the next door. “It does, but that’s how dreamscapes work. It feels like VR, and you can get stuck into thinking of it that way. That would be a mistake, Riley. This is not a game. We are in someone else’s head. This is a world of their making. The rules are made by the dreamer.”
“Okay, well… Was Raz a gamer?”
Saber snorted. “Duh… He’s a boy.”
Riley put her hands on her hips. “Hey. I play.”
“Yeah, so do I, but he likes those war and superhero games.”
“I don’t know. Maybe. He’s never talked about it.”
Riley checked the door of the next cell. She recognized the style, and it really did make her think of Elder Scrolls, though there was something off about it. She looked at the dirt-covered stone floor, hay scattered throughout. It didn’t make sense for there to be hay, as they were nowhere near a stable.
“What are you thinking?” Saber asked.
“I don’t know… This really does feel like a video game. A hyper-realistic one, but still a video game. There’s a sense of strange logic to the design, and it feels like we are being directed along a path. Tell me I’m wrong.”
Riley could tell Saber was seriously thinking about it. She had just finished checking the second cell on her side and turned toward the last one. Riley quickly looked into one on her side, tried the door, not surprised when it was locked, then walked to meet Saber as she strode to her last cell. Riley narrowed her eyes. There was something different about this one.
Unlike the other doors, this one was all bars. This allowed them to see the man sitting there. He kept his head down, looking at his hands, sobbing. When they stood at his door, he looked up.
Riley had a glimmer of hope it would be Raz. He did somewhat look like him, and by the gasp Saber let out, Riley believed she saw it, too.
“Please, help me,” the man said. He was dressed in loose rags stained with dirt and grime. His face was smeared with it, as well, and even from outside the door, Riley could smell the stench. That was odd. She hadn’t remembered smelling anything her entire time in the dreamscape.
“Who’s that?” Riley quickly hissed.
“It looks like Raz’s dad,” Saber whispered. “But that’s impossible.”
“Why? Because no one else can get pulled in?”
“No. Because Raz’s dad is overseas. There’s no way he could get pulled in from across the world.”
“Please, help me,” he said again.
He hadn’t moved. It wasn’t like he repeated himself to get their attention, either. It was the same tone, the same inflection to how he said it the first time. Something wasn’t right.
“I don’t think it’s real.”
“I think you’re right,” Saber said, stepping back from the door and gently grasping Riley’s arm. They both moved to the center of the room.
“Please, help me,” the man said again.
“It has to be an NPC,” Riley said.
“I know that, but it can’t be.”
“Why? You said yourself that the dreamscape can be like a video game.”
“I know, but not like that. In a dreamscape, there are no non-playable characters because, well… Think of it like a video game of a movie. Sure, there are a lot of pieces, characters you have no control over, but there are no characters waiting around in a dungeon, waiting for you to engage them. He is obviously-”
“Please, help me.”
She rolled her eyes. “He’s obviously going to keep repeating that until we talk to him. Now, if he would have just started talking or screamed at us as soon as we entered the room, that would have made sense. Instead, he was in a different cell and didn’t say anything until we were next to him. That’s not how dreamscapes work.”
When something pounded against the door next to them, they both jumped, Saber instinctively reached for the metal shaft on her belt.
“Open up!” a gravelly voice bellowed from the other side.
“Please, help me,” the NPC said from behind them.
“What?” Riley said. She turned back to the cell and called out, “How can we help you?”
“You must save my son. He is trapped in the tower.”
Saber and Riley shared a glance as a fresh round of slamming came from the door.
“Who is your son? Is his name Raz?” Saber asked.
“Bruce. An evil controls the dragon, and the dragon has imprisoned him there. You must find my son and kill the beast.”
“If this plays out like most video games, we’ll go to the tower and the dragon will be there, never mind we just left its lair,” Riley said bitterly.
Saber shook her head. “This is a dream. It plays on dream logic. It doesn’t have to make sense.”
“It plays like a video game, and a video game ends with a big battle.”
“Please, save him,” the NPC said.
“He says Raz is in the tower, and someone is trying to burst through that door What do you want to do?” Riley asked.
Saber answered by pulling the metal rod from her utility belt. Seconds later, a beam of light emerged. Riley heard the crackle as the electric blade whipped through the air.
“That’s another thing that bothers me. It called him by his name. Raz has better control than that. He can protect his secrets. In here, it should only know him as Raz.”
“It’s his dream, though. Are you sure about that?”
There was another loud slam against the door, cracks appearing around the lock. Saber pulled back her electric blade and set her legs, ready to defend herself. Riley suddenly felt unprotected, her hands noticeably empty.
Saber looked over at her. “You need a weapon.”
“Yeah, I’m noticing that.”
“Guess I should have told you. Most nightmares require at least some fighting. Even the weakest of wraiths never wants to give up its prey.”
“That would have been something to mention maybe before we were about to get attacked. Any idea what will be coming for us?”
“The palace guards. The king fears the dragon and does his bidding. He will not want you saving my son,” the NPC said.
They didn’t look at him as more force slammed against the door. The cracks were now wide enough that they could see armor-clad men fighting to get through the door.
One more hit and the door burst in. Guards ran into the room, their metal armor making an awful racket, and quickly encircled them. Saber and Riley stood back to back, keeping an eye on their attackers. Riley looked at her empty hands once again, wondering why she had never thought to bring a sword. It was the Middle Ages. How could she be there without a sword?
One of the guards stood out as it seemed his armor was less for fighting and more for show. Embroidered with jewels and polished to a high shine, Riley could see her reflection as he approached. He stepped between the two girls and his men.
“You are enemies of the dragon and therefore criminals. For your crimes, you are sentenced to death. Prepare to die!” he bellowed. He stepped back, the group of guards rushing forward.