It didn’t take long for them to reach the bottom of the stairs. In fact, it almost felt like they had been teleported there. All the guards they had dealt with earlier were gone, and they stood in front of the closed door to the dungeon. Just like a video game, the world around them seemed to reset itself once they were not present.
“Does it seem like we are being led in just one direction? That everything was put here just so we would kill the dragon?” Saber asked, resting her hand on the metal doorknob.
“Well, like you said, it’s like a video game,” Riley responded. She felt the urge to pull her axe. While she didn’t know what was beyond the door, she felt like there would be something. This game had gone on too long with nothing attacking them.
“No. I said that Dream Chasers can get lost in it feeling like a video game. It’s not. We are in Raz’s mind. There’s a feeling that you are in a video game, but that’s only because he plays them. His subconscious is doing this, but I’ve never seen anything this complex. It’s like it’s trying to keep us from getting to him. We keep having to do all these tasks. Go here, then go there.”
“Like his subconscious is hiding him from us.”
Saber shrugged. “Or hiding him from something.”
“The dream wraith.”
“Exactly, and it may not be able to tell the difference between it and us.”
Saber turned the knob and they stepped into the room. Just like before, the dungeon was empty, the guards’ bodies gone. The only person in the room was the prisoner sitting mournfully at the back of his cell.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a nightmare as long or detailed as this one.” Saber’s voice echoed along the walls. She bent down and picked up a piece of loose hay that was scattered across the floor. She let go of it and stood.
“That’s because this nightmare is a work of art.”
Saber and Riley both spun toward the voice, weapons ready in a flash. Riley wasn’t sure how she had conjured hers so quickly, but it was there, its purple blade crackling with energy.
The man still sat there, his head bowed, large metal shackles around his wrists.
Saber and Riley shared a quick glance, then started toward the cell. Saber stayed slow and cautious, but Riley moved quicker, taking the lead.
Something about this guy seemed different than the first time. Riley’s stomach clenched, almost like a cramp.
“What did you say?” she asked.
“I thought you said he was just an NPC,” Saber said. They stood in front of the cell, looking at the man.
“He was. I don’t think he is now. I feel something… Something’s different.”
The man laughed. “It is, huh? You feel it, Riley? What about you, Patricia? Do you feel it?”
The man looked up, but as he did, his body shifted. The shackles fell away, and as he stood, he suddenly wore a long, brown robe, a hood obscuring his features. His face was hidden in shadow, but they saw glowing, red eyes glaring at them.
“What is it, Patty? Cat got your tongue?” the man asked in a soft voice.
Riley studied the hooded man before them, not noticing Saber taking multiple steps back. Riley turned to see her shaking her head, face paling.
“This… This just… This isn’t possible,” Saber whispered, seemingly terrified.
Riley spun back to face the man, noticing the bars separating them were gone. He now stood right in front of her, staring at Saber. The sickness in her stomach grew worse, and she suddenly felt very alone.
“Did you enjoy your conversation with the king? I gotta admit, I’m surprised to see you back here. I was sure you would try to kill him. I would have enjoyed watching all those guards come after you. I wanted to see them tear you apart.”
“Why?” Riley asked. “It’s not like they could hurt her.”
His gaze moved to her. “Is that what she told you?”
As he spoke, he started to change. His voice got more raspy. He slowly started to enlarge. A scaly, green snout lengthened from the shadows covering his face. Large claws emerged from what had once been his hands. It was like the man was turning into some kind of lizard.
He looked back at Saber. “Patty, have you been lying to this young, tasty morsel?”
“This can’t be happening,” Saber whispered.
Riley didn’t turn to look at her, refusing to take her gaze off the creature standing before them.
“You see, my dear, there are limits to what you can handle. If one guard were to hit you, you would not get hurt, but a thousand guards beating at you endlessly… Well, your mind eventually wears down and exhaustion sets in. It wouldn’t hurt you physically, but there are more ways to do damage. If you get beaten enough, you become one of the lost. One of those tortured souls that never wakes up again. Their mind can’t grasp what is real and what is dream anymore, and they are eternally trapped within it.”
Riley swallowed. “Like Raz.”
“No. Bruce isn’t there…yet. I’m still having fun playing with him.”
“But you locked him away.”
The creature gave out a cackle that ended in a hiss as a long, forked tongue flicked out from between the large teeth that formed in the snout.
“What fun would I have if the three of you worked together? No. This is much more interesting. I’ll keep him around and have fun with him. But not right now. I’m enjoying my new playthings too much. You both are just so much funnnnn to play with.”
“Let him go,” Saber said, but there was no strength in her command. Still, she lifted her blade and held it toward the long snout. It might have looked intimidating…had her hand not been shaking.
He cocked his head at her. “Really? And why would I do that?”
“Because I will end you if you don’t.”
The creature did not look alarmed. In fact, he looked amused, which worried Riley. Her heart sank when, with a flick of his claw, Saber’s blade sputtered out and the metal shaft flew out of her hands.
Saber barely had time to register it before Riley ran and slammed into her, tackling her to the floor. And just in time. Riley felt the flame on her back just as they hit the floor with a thud. Riley quickly rolled back onto her feet, looking for the creature.
The fireball it had thrown had ignited the hay across the room, the fire quickly spreading. The creature turned his attention to her. She could barely see his snarl in the shadows as he pulled back his claw.
A new fireball quickly formed, so Riley took action. She thrust out her own hand and pushed with all the strength she had. The creature flew back across the cell and slammed into the back wall. Without thinking, Riley ran toward it, axe raised high, then launched herself.
The thing was still on the floor, obviously shocked. Riley landed, the cell shaking from the impact. She brought the axe down. She had planned to end this creature as she had the guards, but stopped her blade inches from the long snout.
The light from the electric blade pushed away the shadows so she could see the face hidden there. A lizard’s face with brown, very human eyes. They looked up at her, and she saw the fear. It was there for just a moment, then the rage returned and it snarled at her.
“How did you… Never mind. It doesn’t matter. You should have killed me.”
“First, you’re gonna release my friend,” Riley said through gritted teeth. She had to be quick or this thing was going to fully recover. She wasn’t sure she could win in a fight.
“You should have killed me,” it said again.
Before Riley had time to react, she watched a portal open beneath the creature and it fell through. Then the portal was gone, and Riley stared at the empty place it had been.