Ch4.01 Fatal Prophecy

They walk down a wide spiral staircase, their steps resounding off the marble flooring. Studded with glowing crystals, the yellowish stone-lined walls give a sense of progressive coolness, as if by climbing down the stairs one is moving away from the light of day and its warmth.

“This place is beautiful but so eerie, my lady,” Doria comments, looking around nervously while carrying an ornate brass basin decorated with a motif of shells and sea serpents.

“Some seem to believe the Council should not gather under the light of day,” Nevieve says, a smile dancing on her lips. “Our matters are to be kept our own, they say,” she adds, glancing at the brass jug of pure, clean water she’s carrying, a perfect match to the basin.

“You don’t agree,” Doria states, rather than asking.

“I don’t agree,” the Oracle echoes. “But, as they say, sound likes to travel down, not up.”

As they reach the bottom of the stairs a pair of unfriendly-looking guards in golden armor welcome them with a low bow and open a tall, narrow door for them. Beyond it, dusk and twilight await.

Doria falls behind while Nevieve gently makes her way across a narrow white marble ledge that gradually widens into a teardrop-shaped platform supported from below by a slender pillar. In the dimly lit room, the white stone of the platform appears to glow with a light of its own and Nevieve, in long, figure-hugging aqua-green, stands in the middle of it like a luminescent coral. Below her, and around the platform, a moat as deep as the volcanic crater of the mountain that is the Insula whispers and moans its old age. Around her, curved walls limit a wide, round room. Carved on the walls, balconies illuminated by soft lights open in two offset rows like honeycombs in a beehive. Each balcony harbors an Archon, Nevieve knows, their names known more than their faces seen in the dusky Council room. Right now, they grumble and whisper to each other in idle gossiping, waiting for their attention to be drawn by more pressing issues.

The Oracle lets them wait some more, raising her eyes to the hushed voices coming from above. Up there, high above ground and under the warm light of day, is the Senate, a round structure of benches built around a central arena, where bills are presented and issues brought forward for discussion by the dozens of senators that argue and haggle their way through each minor piece of law. Their hushed voices reach the Council room, muffled by distance. There is no ceiling here. Above Nevieve, a number of magical filters are all that separates this space from the arena high above, all that keeps what is said here within confined to these walls.

The voices from above sound slightly louder now, but only because every soul in the room has gone quiet. As Nevieve lowers her gaze to focus on the Archons all around her, sitting behind their balconies, she finds them in complete silence, awaiting keenly and curiously for her to reveal what it is that has made her summon this extraordinary Council meeting. Calling Doria to her side with a subtle hand gesture, the Oracle softly instructs her to lay the basin at her feet and then leave the room. The moment the great doors close behind Doria, Nevieve leans over the basin and fills it with water from the jug she still carries. Even without any spoken incantations, the water immediately starts to glow white with an icy-blue edge to it, its light spreading across the room in a shimmering, translucent curtain. Putting the jug down on the ground by her side, Nevieve breathes deep and raises her voice to speak.

"My fellow Archons, I come to you with a warning and a vision.”

From one of the balconies, hidden by the watery haze, a female voice replies, serene and pleasant, “Speak, then, Oracle. What have your eyes seen?”

“My eyes have seen a future not distant when the Council will be without one of its own,” Nevieve states, to a choir of half disappointed grumbles.

“This Council has seen Archons come and depart before, Nevieve,” the voice notes, hushing all others. “Why should we be troubled for it?”

“Death will come for an Archon in this Council,” Nevieve says, tilting her head. “Has this happened before, pray tell?”

The Oracle glances down at the basin and, suddenly, the light pouring from it vanishes. In its place, shadows appear, crawling out of the basin, spreading around the room like black ink in a glass of water.

“Death?” the voice of Archon Dergallin sounds, confused and surprised.

“The clan?” Archon Anura asks from her balcony.

“The god?” Archon Kadmyl ventures in his strong, deep voice.

“They cannot be trusted, the lot of them!” Archon Eriseth immediately cries, her voice rising in slithering accusation. “I have been saying so for eons, now!”

“Wait! Do you mean an Archon can be killed?” Archon Chanti queries in obvious shock.

“What kind of weapon would one need to eliminate an Archon?” Archon Enki inquires, the voice of his wisdom ringing pure and calm.

“In the hands of a bunny, the weapon will come,” Nevieve replies, soft and serene.

“What do you mean, a bunny?!” Archon Eriseth snaps.

"Did she...did she seriously say a bunny?” Archon Taleloc jests, his incredulous laughter booming like thunder in the great chamber. “You should check the water in which you bathe, lest it be tainted with alcohol, goddess! Bunnies killing gods?! That is ridiculous!”

At a wave of the Oracle’s hand, the shadows spreading across the room twist and gather, taking exotic shapes of tall rabbit-eared creatures with long legs and slender figures, that hop around in the air, perching at times on the balcony rails, tilting heads with expressionless faces at the Archons as if mocking their ignorance. Then, suddenly, they all jump and gather at the center of the room, just above Nevieve’s head, their strange bodies standing in a circle, back to back, glaring without eyes at the assembled Council members, like killers waiting for an order to attack.

"We are the great and the ancient! How can an Archon be killed?!" Archon Chanti insists.

“Unheard of!” Archon Dergallin cries.

“Impossible!” Archon Ikenga grunts from his seat.

“In the hands of a Bunny, death looms for an Archon,” Nevieve states, sure and true. “This much I have seen, this much will come to pass. Ignore me at your own risk.”

And without further explanation, the Oracle turns and makes her way out of the room. Behind her, the shadows of her “bunnies” dissolve slowly as the Archons argue and fear for their own fates.


The glow in Nevieve’s white eyes flickers as her attention returns to the present. By the edge of the pool, in front of her, Doria patiently awaits with a plate of fresh fruit for her lady.

“Looking into the future, my lady?” the naiad asks as Nevieve approaches the pool’s edge.

“The past, my dear,” the Oracle replies, slowly shaking the memory of that long gone Council gathering from her head. “Remembering words said a long time ago, right before we came to dwell here.”

“We left much behind…” Doria nearly whispers, suddenly looking pensive and melancholic. “But why remember now?” she inquires.

Nevieve smiles and takes an apple from the plate. Around her, the nagas surface and look at the fruit with curious eyes. While Doria whispers an “I’ll feed you soon too,” the blue-green ethereal naga so closely bound to Sergeant Alma’s essence lowers its serpentine head and brushes a cheek against Nevieve’s, making the Oracle’s smile widen.

“Because it is now that Fate will prove me right,” she states, half-turning to pet the naga. “Is it not, little one?”


Ch4 Prologue

Por cada força que existe
Há outra que a contraria,
A noite não persiste
Se nunca chegar o dia.
As coisas nascem aos pares
Quando algo se cria.
Em todos os lugares,
Por ciência ou por magia,
Tudo existe entre opostos,
Balançando-se na fronteira
Entre os dois extremos dispostos
Dos dois lados da barreira.
For each force there is
There’s another that works against it
The night doesn't persist
If the day never comes
Things are born in pairs
When something is created
In all places
Through science or magic
Everything exists between opposites
Balanced in the border
Between the two extremes set
On both sides of the wall


I Walk with You 4

Though her father is not a tall man, he would have to bend to step through the little wooden door in the wall. Not so Mayumi, though her ears do brush the frame as she steps through.

It is early spring, and the plum tree is in bloom. A chilly breeze carries with it a reminder of winter. The cherry tree is starting to put forth buds, but none have yet opened. Between them, a man kneels, weeding, preparing the ground for planting. Around the edges of the garden, tsubaki – called Rose of Winter in Urbian – bloom white, though they are fading as spring establishes itself, while the ajisai bushes bear only green leaves, their glorious globes of hydrangea flowers months away from appearing.

He always planted some flowers around the edges, but the center of the garden was reserved for herbs. He loved to cook, but he’d never been good with growing vegetables. Most herbs were easier to care for, however, and the smell, especially to Mayumi’s sensitive nose, was divine. She flashes back to her childhood, soon after she awoke into this dream for the first time: the birds singing in the trees, the grass under her back, the warm sun on her face, the beauty of the flowering bushes and trees, the smell of the sage, basil, chilis, savory – this place, this sanctum, was the most wonderful place in the world.

She lets go of the door and steps fully into the garden. The door clacks closed behind her, and the man glances back, then pauses, and slowly stands and turns to look at her more fully. He looks stunned, almost afraid to speak.

His iron-gray hair is slightly long, framing a weather-beaten, sun-browned face. Though not old, he has deep crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes, from a life outdoors, squinting in the sun as he walked his beat and later investigated crimes as a detective. Eventually he was made Inspector of the station. And all along, he had taught her what it was to have honor, and to protect herself and others.

Mayumi whispers, “Otō-san?” using the formal word for Father from her youngest days. Then as he takes a step forward and holds out his arms, she covers the ground between them with a single spring and throws her arms around him, taking in the smell of him, the sweat and slight smell of tobacco, and when his arms enclose her she feels truly at home.

“Mayu-chan,” he says, his voice gravelly but warm. “Where did you go? You disappeared without warning. I’ve been...so worried.” His voice almost breaks with emotion.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” She has to fight to keep from weeping, her face pressed against his chest. “I’ve missed you so much. I want to explain but...I don’t think I have time.”

He releases her, allowing her to step back, and takes her hands, looking down at her. She glances at his hands, hard and rough, the knuckles covered with raised callouses from punching a wooden board for decades, bare-fisted. She looks back up at his face and feels her heart nearly burst with joy that she is here, and pain that she must soon leave. She can already feel it: a tug at the edge of her mind. The hypnotic command that will soon wake her.

Chichi,” she says, a more adult, less formal mode of address, “I live in another world now. This place...it’s only a dream to me. But I’ll find my way back!” Tears really do start to flow now.

“A dream?” he says, as his eyes seem to fill with realization and sorrow. “Yes...yes, this is a dream, isn’t it? But here in dreams I have you, my daughter, the only child I have ever had…”

Mayumi is stunned. “You...you are dreaming?”

He nods. “But I have always imagined, always hoped, that you were more than just a dream.”

Mayumi laughs in astonishment. “I am! I am! And you are too! I will find you! I will find you in the waking world! I swear it!”

But color is seeping out of their surroundings, and her father’s hands feel far less substantial. “Oh no!” Mayumi moans. “Tell me, where are you? I’m waking up! I don’t want to lose you! What ward are you in? Oyafukōdōri Station? Where is that?”

But she can only watch as he fades, as it all fades, and she is pierced with the terror of returning to that void, and then...


Mayumi opens her eyes to see Meng hovering over her like a mother hen. For a brief moment, the act that Meng had put on is brushed aside, the young woman’s eyes right there and then full of worry, anxiety and loneliness. All of which, Mayumi realises with a jolt, she herself had been facing before coming here. Before the Bunny can comment on it, however, the curtain is pulled shut again.

“You okay?” asks Meng, all business. “No missing memories? Still know who you are?”

“Yes. I am fine,” says Mayumi.

“Right then. If there’s nothing else, please pay and leave. I’ve got to prepare for the next customer.” Meng rises up to leave.

Perhaps it is the drugs, the hypnosis, or the emotional turmoil brought on by the terror and bliss she has just experienced, but Mayumi blurts out, “You don’t have anybody, do you?” Meng freezes on the spot, as if the statement pierces right through her armor into her heart. “You’ve been living on the edge, alone and afraid for ages,” continues May, watching the young woman turn around to face her slowly. “You’ve never let anyone close to you. I’m not sure why.” The Bunny gets up and straightens her tunic. “Would you...would you like to change that?” she asks, softly.

Mayumi waits for a moment, watching the girl, who hesitates, not speaking, but with a look of longing in her eye, a desire to say something that she can’t quite bring herself to speak aloud. So Mayumi does the only thing she can think of: she steps closer and puts her arms gently around Meng, who stiffens in surprise but awkwardly returns the gesture. Mayumi smiles and stretches up to press her cheek against Meng’s, embracing her more firmly.

“This… I’ll admit, it’s a first,” says Meng. “Then again,” she adds hastily, “it’ll probably be weird going around giving hugs to customers, and I don’t wanna know what that mentor of mine would dream up in response!”

“Mentor?” asks Mayumi, curious.

“‘Course!” says Meng. “Gotta learn those fancy parlour tricks from somewhere, you know. Though I wouldn’t exactly call her a mentor… More like… Ah, nevermind. Another story for another day. But seriously though…” Here Meng pulls away, grabs Mayumi by the shoulders and begins shaking her like a leaf. “Girl, don’t you even dare think about trying that stunt again!” she warns. “I honestly didn’t know if the hypnotic suggestion would pull you out of that weird void!”

“It didn’t,” says Mayumi, trying not to laugh at Meng’s over-the-top response. “Someone found me…” Her voice trails off. “I can’t remember who. But he helped me, and I found my father. I found him, Meng!”

“Oh…” Meng says, finally letting go and leaning back slightly. “Thank goodness for that, huh? So, you got your closure, then? Otherwise I might have a lawsuit on my hands,” she adds with a grin.

Mayumi shakes her head, also smiling. “No. I found something new. I found it wasn’t all a dream.” At Meng’s skeptical look, Mayumi laughs and says, “No, I’m not crazy! I’ll explain. But first...would you like to have a drink with me? I know a bar...it’s run by my a couple of members of my family.”

Meng laughs, all the tension she had been carrying now gone. “How about we have some tea first? I promise, it isn’t going to be drugged this time,” she adds with a wink.


I Walk with You 3

“Meng... Meng…” Mayumi calls  weakly, still hovering uncertainly in the dark. “Where am I?” she asks the nothingness around her. She has no idea how much time has passed since Meng disappeared. It could be moments, or months.

“You are where you shouldn’t be,” a voice answers.

Mayumi’s long black ears immediately perk up at the sound. It is a male voice, for sure, pleasant and soothing, but one she’s not quite sure she’s hearing. Instead, it seems to reach her mind directly, as if thoughts are being thrown softly against hers and intertwining with her own.  Even though she can’t tell where they are coming from based on her acute hearing, a notion that whoever is speaking is standing behind her makes her turn. There, standing majestically not far away, an indistinct nimbus of light surrounding him, a black horse looks at her, head raised and turned slightly to focus a shiny black eye on her. Black and white manes billow as if a breeze is blowing against them. Mayumi looks at the animal for a long moment,  swearing she can almost see through his body, even if there’s nothing to see beyond or even around him.

“Use your legs,” the voice rings in her mind again, and now Mayumi knows it comes from the mesmerizing creature. “You can walk here as if there were ground beneath your feet. You just have to will it so.”  

Breathing deep and closing her eyes for a moment, the Bunny bends her mind to the concept of walking and takes a step forward. Almost certain she can feel solid ground below, she takes another step before opening her eyes again and then goes on walking, now with greater certainty, towards the black stallion. The closer she gets to him, the more ethereal he looks, the limits of his body drawn in just a slightly darker shade of shadow than the rest of him. A single eye of his follows her as she moves.

“Who are you?” she asks out loud and then remembers he is speaking to her in thought. She hopes he can understand what she is saying.

“A friend,” he answers. “And yes, I can understand your words.”

“Where am I?” she inquires, looking around and seeing nothing but darkness. It is not complete darkness, though. She can still see herself…and him.

The horse shakes his head and looks back at his own flank. “On the very edge of reality, where all that is ceases to be,” he offers by way of explanation. “This is the Void. Creatures, worlds, ghosts, dreams, all come here to die.”

“But you are here,” Mayumi notes, one hand stretched to try and touch him, find out how solid he is.

“We are different,” the stallion states, head turning to look at a point just above Mayumi’s shoulder.

“We?” Mayumi asks confused. Then, turning to follow his gaze with her own eyes, she sees them,  dozens of them, ghostly horses galloping through the shadows not far away, young foals rearing and jumping, kicking the ether in childish play as they follow what must be their mothers. Mayumi’s eyes widen in wonder. “Who… who are they?”

“Family,” the horse says simply.

The single word strikes a chord with the Bunny, suddenly reminding her of the reason she got into this mess in the first place. “I remember…” she whispers. “I was looking for family. My father… I was looking for him in a dream and then…” She shakes her head sadly. “I don’t know what happened.”

“Your dream crumbled,” the black stallion explains as he turns and walks away. “You fell off the edge.” His strong neck bends as he turns his head to glance back at her. “Come.”

He starts walking slowly, waiting for Mayumi to follow, and she does so, her chances of finding a way out lying now with this unexpected acquaintance.

“Shouldn’t I have just woken up?” she asks, adjusting her pace to match his, her legs built for speed helping her keep up with his four-legged gait. “That’s usually what happens when a dream ends.”

“This was not a regular dream, was it?” the horse asks back conversationally.

“No,” Mayumi replies. “This was a life. My whole life until I woke up into a new one.”

Around them, the darkness turns to light and Mayumi squints slightly against the white brilliance surrounding her.

“Do you not like your new life?” he inquires, his voice seemingly without emotion.

“It doesn’t feel like my life. More like I’m a prisoner in my own home, trying to please a mother I barely know,” Mayumi finds herself saying. Something in this creature makes her trust him, as if she has met him before, a long time ago.

“Does she know you? Or this life you had?” he queries as they walk, the white light now turning sky-blue.

“No. She never asked and we have never talked about it.”

Walking still, the stallion brings his muzzle close to Mayumi’s face and she can feel the warm air coming out of his nostrils brushing against her cheek.

“Just as we fear to hurt others, others may fear to hurt us,” he states his head moving back away from her. “Silence can so easily be mistaken for lack of interest…”  

Suddenly he stops and announces, “We’re here.”

As his words register, Mayumi moves her attention away from the horse and looks around for the first time since they started walking. Without knowing how she got here, she is back in her old neighborhood, standing before a low door in a man-high wall, the gate to her father’s garden, behind her home. A small hole in the shape of a leaping rabbit is cut into the door, near the top, to serve as a peep-hole.

“I – I know this place!” she half stutters with excitement.

“Yes, you will find your father in there,” the stallion assures her. He moves his muzzle to the small of her back and nudges her. “Go to him now.”

“Will you not go with me?” she hesitates.

The horse stretches a front leg and licks it casually. “No, little one. This is where I stay. Now rush, the dream won’t hold for long. You will soon be awake again.”

Mayumi takes a couple of steps forward toward the door, then turns back one last time.

“Will I see you again?” she asks.

“Time will tell, little one. Now go,” the horse rushes her, a front leg stomping the ground.

“Thank you,” Mayumi says before turning and opening the door.


I Walk with You 2

It had just rained, the fresh, clean air a sharp contrast to the mustiness of the tent she left behind. The moisture in the air is so heavy, she can practically feel it weighing down her movements, clogging her breathing. She can feel the air literally condensing on her skin, the humidity so overwhelming she could probably swim in it.

Mayumi opens her eyes to see that she is still in the same tent, but the tent entrance is wide open, revealing a tropical rainforest outside, slowly crawling in. The Bunny can only gape in astonishment and wonder; she has never seen such tree roots before, such huge behemoths that seem to be like several giants’ hands swallowing up the earth with clutching, greedy claws, all of them desperately claiming precious soil as they rake through the brown compost of fallen leaves and plants. Each tiny pool of sunlight on the ground is a scarce resource, with huge clumps of small plants growing towards it, trying to crush out the surrounding competition, leaves teeming with unseen insects and creatures that make the jungle literally buzz with life.

“Right,” says Meng.

Mayumi jumps at Meng’s presence, having clean forgotten about the gypsy’s existence. “Where are we?” she asks, her voice soft in awe.

“A rainforest. Not sure if you’ll ever see anything like it,” says Meng, grinning at May’s response. “Saw this during one of my travels. Doubt I’ll ever see the likes of it again.”

“Wait. This is from memory?”

“Yup,” says Meng. “Normally, I let the customer dictate what they presume to be a safe place–

Mayumi isn’t listening anymore. “So I can recreate dreams out of memory?”

Meng huffs, a little vexed, for she is a long-winded person when she can get away with it. “Yes. It’s why I can help people seek closure, usually with themselves. In fact,” hurries Meng, seeing May about to interrupt again, “normally I start off inside the person’s dream which, for stability, is from a common memory. But since this is a… special case, I have to start from one of my own dream worlds. This just happens to be the fastest one I can recreate.”

“Can we get going?” asks Mayumi impatiently. “I have things to get done.”

Meng lets out an irritated sigh. “Really,” she says, stepping out of the tent and waving a beckoning hand. “This would’ve been a lot easier if you’d let yourself get hypnotised from the start.”

“It isn’t my fault that you tried to make me sing like a bird!” retorts Mayumi, getting up and following the gypsy.

“How was I supposed to know what you wanted, then?”

“You could’ve just asked–”

Sunbeams peep through the clouds, sending down columns to the ground ahead of Mayumi. The houses are small but neat and clean, not like Three...what was the name of that place? Three Blind Mice? No...that was a song he sang to her when she was little...when he taught it to her on the piano.

She can play the piano. She’d forgotten.

The street is narrow, lined with the walls that enclose the tiny, well-kept gardens around every house. It is early spring...plum blossoms are on the trees planted in tiny gardens behind the houses. The cherry blossoms have not yet opened, except for one tree she passes, the “crazy sakura” on the corner, the one with mixed pink and white petals, that always blooms early. Her heart pounds in her chest as she recognizes it.  Her home is only a block away.

Over roofs of the houses she can see the enormous gingko tree at the top of the hill in the center of the ward. Its leaves are golden, fluttering in the wind like tiny folding fans. Legend is that it was once a wizard who tried to become immortal. But his spell went wrong and he became a tree instead. But the tree was supposedly over a thousand years old, so perhaps it was true.

She passes by another blooming sakura tree and pauses, thinking That’s not right, but she continues on, because she sees it, her home’s brilliant blue ceramic-tile roof, tiles edged with symbols of the element of water on them, to ward off fires. She can see it ahead...but wait, the house next to her has the same roof, and there’s another sakura tree blooming, petals all the colors of the rainbow. She closes her eyes, shakes her head. This isn’t right. And the gingko tree...its leaves turn yellow in the fall.

Then she sees a figure cross the intersection ahead, only momentarily visible before going behind another walled garden. He is too far away for her to see his face, but his straight bearing, his iron-grey hair – it’s him!

She rushes to follow, but as she turns the corner, he is gone. She runs through the maze, looking around only to find that every house looks the same now, every tree the same crazy mix of colors, blooming out of season. Panic strikes fear into her being when she suddenly remembers – she had not came here alone. In desperation she calls out, “Meng? Meng, what’s happening? Something’s going wrong!”

She hears a shrill of pipes, and a beating of drums, a cry of “Oissa! Oissa!” Around the corner comes a stream of men wearing short happi coats and tiny haramaki breechclouts, flanked by young boys and little girls dressed similarly. She remembers having participated as a child, shortly after “awakening,” still young enough to join the ritual from which women are excluded. She remembers being embarrassed at being so exposed, her ears and tail so obvious, but the women who worked behind the scenes to make everything run smoothly were kind to her, as were the men, not ignoring her difference but joking good-naturedly, in a friendly way, not bullying like some of the kids at school, and they set her at ease.

Behind them comes a group of the strongest men in the ward bearing a large float, a portable shrine that weighs over a ton, on which rides Princess Ori, goddess of textiles, sitting impassively as she is carried through the streets. Only, this is a summer festival, she remembers. The sakura petals should have long since fallen like pink snow to the streets; the gingko leaves should be a pleasant green.

The crowd fills the street ahead of her, blocking her progress, bearing down on her. She steps back, afraid of being run down by the shrine-bearers. She takes another step back as the crowd shows no sign of stopping.

Her foot finds nothing.

She nearly falls, catches herself. She is on the edge of...not a cliff. Of nothing. Her knees nearly go out from under her as she sees the sheer emptiness behind her. Her mind cannot take it in. Turning back, she sees the crowd rushing toward her, about to trample her...but she would rather be crushed than fall into that nothingness, alone.

“Please!” she calls out, her eyes filling with tears. “I just...I just want to find my home! Please!”

But her pleas do nothing as the men bear down on her. Rushing with the heavy shrine, they couldn’t stop now if they wanted to. Mayumi closes her eyes, braces herself, too frightened of the void to step back – and then she is tackled from the side, and feels herself falling – not, not falling, floating, in nothing.

She feels arms around her and she holds on tightly. She opens her eyes. There is nothing around her, nothing but Meng, who pulls her into a warm embrace out of worry. Mayumi hugs her tightly, pressing her cheek against the young woman’s.

“Thank you,” she says.

Meng awkwardly loosens her grip, as if stunned. “... You’re welcome.” mutters Meng. She becomes silent for a moment, her expression full of confusion before hiding it.
“That escalated quickly, and it ain’t funny,” she chides Mayumi, righting her. “What’s wrong with you? I’ve never seen something like this happen to anyone! Seriously, this is the most craziest, whacked-up dream I’ve ever been–”

“I wasn’t laughing,” Mayumi replies softly. “Thank you...I’m sorry...I don’t know what happened. But...where are we? This is horrible...I feel like I’m going to go mad.” She shuts her eyes tightly. “If you weren’t here with me I think my mind would just shatter.”

“I don’t really know where we are,” says Meng uncertainly. “I thought it was your dream, your memories. And,” adds Meng, pulling what’s left of her bravado around her like a threadbare cloak, “let me tell you sister, if that’s the case, you are seriously jacked-up in the head to go into places like this–”

“No,” says May. “I’ve never known anything like this.”

“Well in that case,” says Meng, all bravado fading away, “We... could have a problem.”

“What do you mean?” Mayumi cries.  “Get us out of here, already!”

“I would if I happened to know where ‘here’ is!” Meng nearly yells. “Seriously, what kind of freakish dream-memory thing were you channeling there?!”

“What do you mean you don’t know?” shouts Mayumi, her voice quavering. “You’re supposed to be the expert!”

“This isn’t normal!” says Meng desperately. “This isn’t a dream OR a nightmare! I don’t know where the heck we are!”

“SO? HOW DO WE GET OUT?” Mayumi nearly screams from a mix of fear and frustration.

Meng gulps. “Umm… Normally…” She trails off, her mind racing to get her facts in order.

“Normally? Normally what?” asks Mayumi, becoming infuriated with the cowering gypsy. “Are we just supposed to stay here until I wake up?”

“Well, that’s always an option,” says Meng, now regaining confidence. “It’s a strong sleeping drug I gave you but with a short effective time. Can’t have people walking in on sleeping customers,” she adds under her breath.

“So how long does it last?” asks Mayumi.

“Thirty minutes,” says Meng firmly. “No matter how deep or immersive the dream or nightmare, you’ll be booted out within thirty minutes. Twenty, if you’re particularly resistant to the drug. In the event that somehow forty-five minutes have passed without awakening, the previous hypnotism kicks in, which you did succumb to for a bit.”

“So basically we just have to wait this out?” asks Mayumi, feeling relieved.

“Yes,” says Meng. “Good thing too, ‘cause this place is giving me the creeps!” Meng’s eyes suddenly widen as if she was kicked in the stomach and, bit by bit, her figure begins to fade. “Oh, crap,” she mutters.

“Meng? What’s happening, Meng?!” Mayumi asks, eyes widening with fear.

“I’m being pulled out of the dream,” Meng says, as calmly as she can, for to send Mayumi into hysteria would be the worst possible idea at this moment. “Don’t worry, it’s a natural thing. I’m a foreigner in your mind. Just relax. Any panicking will speed it up,” she adds uselessly, as the gypsy’s fading process rapidly quickens with each passing moment. “Just remember, this is all in your head. Nothing’s gonna hurt you unless–”

A loud sucking sound fills Mayumi’s world for a moment, and Meng vanishes. Somehow, the gypsy must’ve been lighting up her surroundings with her presence, for with her disappearance Mayumi’s vision plunges immediately into darkness.

"Unless? Unless what?!” Mayumi shouts. “Meng! Where are you, Meng?! Meng!"