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Ariel's Anytime Adventure

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Chapter 2

I wander for a good two hours on the many trails that wind through the mountains. My headache dissipates sometime in the first twenty minutes, but by then I'm too preoccupied to even think of going back. As I set out, I'm trying so hard to stop myself from thinking of the dream that I'm not concentrating on where I'm going.

It's almost an hour before I look around and realize I have no idea where I am.

I haven't wandered onto Blacklands, but the territory's entirely unfamiliar and without a single clue of which way I came from. Even my footprints are gone, washed away in the mud. Days of Rain. Lud curse them.

Unsure which way to proceed, I just stay where I am for a moment. I have to flick my hair from my face a few times when the rain forces dripping locks over my eyes. I knew I shouldn't have started growing it out. Long hair's been nothing but a nuisance.

I let out a wretched groan as the mud discovers a small hole in my shoe and promptly fills the entire space, drenching my foot in the foul-smelling mud. Clearly, I need to stop letting my mind wander during walks. Right now, all I want is to get out of this rain. I'll try and find my way home later, once the rain stops.

If the rain stops.

It's the Days of Rain, after all. This torrent could continue for five minutes or two sevendays. My stomach growls, reminding me I didn't eat firstmeal and brought no food with me. Even if the rain doesn't stop, I need to get back to the hiding place before nightfall.

Casting my eyes around for a possible refuge, I take a few uncertain steps forward. I have no way of knowing whether I walk toward a shelter, or into danger. The rain blocks my persuasive abilities, and without those I won't last long against a passing wolf. I've never known wolves to roam in this area, but as my mother would say, "Many secrets in these mountains, few meant for our eyes."

But now's no time for memories, so I grit my teeth and keep walking. Whichever way I venture, there has to be some kind of shelter somewhere, no matter how simple.

I wander for ten minutes (risking irreparable damage to my shoes) but find nothing. The rain and wind are relentless, wreaking havoc on my hair and chilling me to the bone. I won't be surprised if I'm ill by tomorrow.

Miserable and (embarrassingly) on the verge of tears, I curse myself for wandering off the familiar paths and neglecting to wear appropriate clothing. My thin trews and shirt, as fine as they look, offer no protection from the harsh weather. To my horror, my vision begins to fail, reducing the sodden landscape to indiscriminate blurs of colour not unlike the end of my dreams.

The forced coma-like sleep that precedes a premonition is rare, but it happens and my temporary loss of sight is the first sign. No! Wake up! Don't you dare close your eyes! I desperately attempt to persuade myself into staying awake, but it's too late.

I fall.

I sleep.

I dream.

But what am I dreaming of? I can barely comprehend what I see, despite its perfect visual clarity.

The closest name I can give it is "city", despite its lack of resemblance to any city in the Land. The most noticeable attribute is light. Thousands of tiny lights in every colour, giving the buildings and roads an unearthly glow. The buildings are next, their height making me marvel. How could people get up to the highest parts?

I wish I could pass this dream-city off as nonsense, but I know perfectly well this is no ordinary dream. But when in the future would this city exist? Who would possess the teknology to create such a thing?

The obvious answer comes to me in a second. The Beforetimers. But why am I dreaming of a Beforetime city? They're the past. Gone and never returning. ...Maybe truedreams can tell the past as well, or even the present. It's a strange thought, but not completely impossible.

I expect the city to begin dissolving around me at any second. These dreams never last long, especially with my body in discomfort and potential danger. But when the dissolution begins, I don't wake up.

The vision reassembles, but this time the main focus is on two girls walking down a road. Beforetimers. Their clothes are oddly bright and painted with symbols I don't understand, but otherwise look normal.

"Did you see him?" One giggles.

"Of course I saw him!" The other replies, punctuating the sentence with a giggle of her own. "Where do you think he's from?"

"Not around here, that's for sure. He looked so lost, Liz, I just wanted to pick him up and hug him. A lot."

Liz half-smiles, tossing her thick, dark hair. "Among other things, I'm sure."

Before I can wonder what she means, the other girl gasps. "Liz! He was like, twelve!" Her wild curls seem to bounce as she moves her head, framing her indignant expression.

Liz lets out a languid laugh, reaching over to pat her friend's shoulder. "I was joking, Chrissie. Don't worry." Chrissie gives Liz a doubtful look, but her face quickly relaxes.

"So, I think there's still some cookies left over from yesterday. Want to take care of that?" What's a cookie?

"I'd love to." The girls keep walking, even as their environment begins to dissolve. Before long, they and the city are lost in the whirling maelstrom of colour. I wait for it to end, anticipating an urgent need to get up and continue seeking shelter.

But once again, the unexpected happens. The whirlpool of dissolved dream seems to drag me down, not letting me rise back into consciousness. I fight the vortex with all my strength, even attempting to use my powers on it, but nothing works.

It pulls me further down, through the levels of my mind. Fleetingly, I remember a moment from my time at Obernewtyn. A young Misfit girl had clumsily touched my mind. I had felt her shock flow into me when she glimpsed the chaotic order: some parts impossibly twisted and fragmented, coloured with black intent, others perfectly normal, and still others of some strange in-between mix.

I had blocked her memory of it, but some vestiges must have lingered, for she avoided me after that day. But I had never forgotten. It had been the first real evidence that a mind like mine was thought of as "defective", even without the powers that would condemn me as Misfit.

The strange force drags me further down, nearing the bottommost levels. I let out a soundless cry as the glittering mindstream comes into view, fiercely threatening for all its beauty. I fight even harder, faced with the inevitable death being absorbed would bring.

Help! Someone help me! My useless screams echo inside my mind. No one hears, no one helps.

Ariel.

I stop struggling for a moment, too shocked to move. But I'm not swallowed by the mindstream; I'm suspended in place, dangerously close.

You seek help.

Who are you? Why are you in my head?

You called for help, I answered.

The voice's enigmatic tone irritates me. Who are you?

Someone who will help you. For a price. It adds the last sentence almost as an afterthought, as if it wishes to play games with me by demanding an impossible price.

The voice laughs. Oh, no. Far from impossible. Ariel, how much would you sacrifice for your life?

I hold back a snarl, even though the intruder must have heard it anyway. Just save me.

Very well.

Before the voice's amusement can further inflame my irritation, I'm catapulted back through my mind, pushed by an irrepressible force. It doesn't slow as I approach consciousness, resulting in a painful awakening.

It takes a few minutes to clear my head, blinking away residual flashes of colour. I just wait for the disorientation to fade, not attempting to stand in case I fall. Instead, I look around. Once my mind catches up with my eyesight, the shock propels me to sit up. Not for the first time today, I've woken from a trance with no idea where I am.
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