I don't know how long I was unconscious; all I remember is dreaming about flying a dragon-shaped kite with my parents at the Saybaro. As the wind began to pick up, I had trouble holding the dragon. I knew if I lost my grip, the dragon would turn and eat my parents, so I held on as tightly as I could. It wasn't enough, however; with each second, the clouds turned darker and the dragon grew larger and more life-like.
I screamed at my parents to run back into the mansion, but they just stood there with their hands on my shoulders, smiling at me. Why wouldn't they run? Couldn't they see the dragon?
Just as the string began to slip from my grasp, I burst back into consciousness.
“NO!” I shouted, sitting up in my bed.
I sat there, panting slightly as the dream faded from my memory. I let myself fall back with a sigh. My head was pulsing. What had happened? Where was I? The last thing I remembered was seeing the dragon explode.
The door opened moments later, revealing a concerned-looking Mick.
“Hey, Mick.” I said as he approached. “I'm sorry about the shouting; I was having a bad dream.”
He breathed a sigh of relief, an impressive feat especially seeing as he didn't need to breathe. “Shout all you want, Jimmy. I'm just glad you're awake. How do you feel?”
“Like I fell off a dragon.”
Mick chuckled. “Fortunately, you were close to the ground; your wounds were only minor. I've already patched you up with the upgrades I received from Alaina.”
“Then you have my thanks. Where are we, by the way?” I asked, starting to sit up.
Mick pushed me back down easily. “Don't move; I'm going to give you a quick scan to make sure everything's all right.”
Blue lights shot from his eyes to the very top of my head and slowly began to move down my body.
“We're in the Laffer Estates Hotel, not too far from the studios. I suppose I should have brought you to a hospital, but …”
“You're a core unit, built by Thomas Desygan no less.” I said, remaining as still as I could, “Add in your new upgrades, and you're probably better equipped to treat injuries than any hospital on Vinta.”
Mick smiled. “Thank you, Jimmy.”
The blue light flickered out once it reached my feet.
“All clear.” Mick said, helping me sit up.
“Where are Terry and Arc?” I asked.
“In the next room over, both getting a nap in, I'd imagine. There was quite a mess after you fell asleep: bits of flaming dragon everywhere, actors and actresses fighting over half the studios. Fortunately, Narrator Number One managed to calm everyone down.”
“Narrator Number One? You mean the actor I bumped into, right?”
“Someone say my name?”
The door opened, revealing Narrator Number One. He held up Glint, a grin on his face. “You dropped this yesterday, Jimmy. I thought you'd like it back.”
I took it back, and bowed my head in thanks. “Thank you, Mister …?”
“Bah. One's fine. It's what I'm most known as, after all.”
My jaw dropped. “Y-you're the real Narrator Number One? The Dreamer?”
“Yup. Like I said, just 'One' is fine.” He held out his hand. I could see the Anti-ka Maru, the rune that supposedly gave the Dreamers power over reality, etched on the back of his right hand. “And you're Rena and Hugh's son, Jimmy Olsen Sakamota, right? How's the bridge?”
“I-It's fine, sir.” I paused for a moment and asked, “You remember my parents?”
“Of course I do! Saved my butt several times during the Epitimus Incident.” Chuckling, he gave me a playful slap on the shoulder. “You look a lot like your father, though I know for a fact he never did anything as crazy as letting me throw him onto a dragon.”
I wasn't sure what to say about that; I knew my parents had helped One sometime before I was born, but I didn't think he had kept track of me.
“While you were out, your friend Mick told me about the Saybaro. Heh, I knew Thomas was up to something in Wenapaj. I guess now I know what it was.” Shaking his head, One asked, “So, can you walk?”
“He should be fine.” A mischievous grin spread across Mick's face. “Just try to suppress the urge to throw him onto any dragons.”
“No promises.” One said, helping me to stand.
I felt a little dizzy as I rose to my feet, but it wasn't anything I couldn't manage. One led me out of my room onto the second floor landing of the hotel.
As I approached the railing, I could see there were about fifty people milling about on the lower floor. A flash of panic shot through me as I realized a large number of them were tigreth and faerie.
As I started to back away, someone in the crowd shouted, “He's up!”
I reflexively took a step back. To my great surprise and relief, everyone applauded: The faerie nobles, the Galden soldiers, the tigreth warriors, and a few other people I didn't recognize at first because of their previous lack of clothes.
As I walked downstairs, I was met by the galden who had saved me from the red-furred tigreth.
“Nice to have the chance to meet you proper-like. Kevin Smith Jennings.” Looking me over, he grinned and added, “You look like hell.”
“You're no fruit basket either.” I retorted, noting his black eye and bruised arms. “Still, thank you for helping me earlier. I see you managed to calm down the tigreth.”
His face went red. “Well, not quite.”
The red-furred tigreth walked up the steps behind Kevin. To my surprise, she slipped her arms around him and gave him a kiss that made even me blush.
“Ah.” I said, understanding. “I think I see.”
“Let me introduce Trish Icarus. My fiancée, thanks to you.” Kevin squeezed her close.
“We couldn't be happier … all of us.” Trish said, smiling.
“All of you?”
Beside me, One counted out loud, “twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three … looks like a total of twenty-seven couples.” Clapping me on the shoulder, he said, “Nice job, Jimmy. It took me seventeen years to pull off that many Cupid's Arrow assignments, and that was after I became a Dreamer. I'd say that qualifies you as a Sleeper.”
“That's great.” I managed as One slipped a green and gray ribbon beneath my blue royal guard band. I glanced at my new status marker, noting that the Anti-ka Maru had been embroidered on the edge.
The faerie with whom I had danced made her way above the crowd and landed gracefully near the giant who had nearly crushed me earlier and his winged cat. As they approached, I felt my apprehension return; the big guy's face was unreadable.
“Sir Jimmy!” The faerie said, giving me a hug. “I'm so glad you're okay.”
I patted her back, unable to say anything but, “More or less.”
Letting go of me, she grabbed her friend's arm and pulled him forward. “Ell has something he needs to say to you.”
When he didn't say anything for a moment, both she and the cat gave him a nudge.
He coughed, looking embarrassed. Oddly enough, it was the winged cat who spoke. “He wants to apologize for the incident in the ballroom. He tends to react without thinking, especially around Minnie.”
The man's face went red. He took a swat at the cat, but she was in the air in an instant, poking her tiny pink tongue out at him.
Minnie blushed and hugged the Ell's arm, her wings fluttering rapidly. “Aww! That's so sweet!”
His face still quite red, he bowed his head to me again.
“It's fine,” I assured him, “Don't worry about it.”
“See, Ell?” Minnie said, still clutching his arm, “I told you he'd be totally cool about it.”
Further conversation was cut off as another of the couples pushed their way forward. Minnie managed to say, “Bye!” before she was drowned out by dozens of people talking at once.
Every pair I had unintentionally brought together invited me to their wedding. Some couples even promised to name their first-born sons after me. I thought that was a bit much, but being my usual polite self, I just thanked them all for their kindness.
After the last couple turned to leave, a short man wearing a jacket with a seven-point star on the back rushed up to shake my hand. “Thank you very much, Mister Sakamota.”
“The name's Gilborn, Gilborn Ratchet. I'm the Director of 'The Sakamota Story'. I just have to say, that fight scene was simply fantastic!”
“We'll have to edit out the Ronisgald woods, but everything else will make the final cut with a little dubbing: tricking the dragon, freeing the princess and giving her time to escape, calling on the help of the brave Narrator Number One, and hurling yourself at the face of danger! Much better than the script Iniagus sent us.”
The director nodded excitedly. “I wasn't sure His Majesty's script was blockbuster material at first, but that last scene will make it a hit for sure!”
Shaking my head, I said, “Wait, are you telling me the dragon-”
“Just a prop, of course! All under my control, Jimmy! Er, sorry about chasing you and all. I got caught up in the scene. Still, you responded perfectly in character, so no harm's done, eh?”
I felt my confidence dip. All that trouble, and all I had defeated was a special effects prop.
He must have confused the expression on my face for guilt. He patted me on the back, saying, “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. Don't worry! Accidents like this happen all the time, really. Besides, with what you gave us, we won't need another dragon.”
“Out of curiosity, what was the ending of the original script?” I asked.
“You got eaten, and Arc Skylad defeated the dragon and rescued the princess. Still, that fight was so great that we've completely rewritten the script so that you're the hero! Besides, the actor playing Arc ran off with one of the tigreth.”
“That's … that's great.” A small voice in my head noted the faith Iniagus apparently had in me. The usual Iniagus-fueled headache wasn't far behind.
“Well, we can take care of all that with digital editing. Of course, I've taken the liberty of transferring a generous amount of shards to your bank account. Remember, if you ever want to break into the movie industry, come see me first, okay?”
I nodded, not really paying attention; my headache was making it hard to concentrate.
Mick noticed. “I'm sorry, everyone, but Jimmy really should lie down for a bit longer.”
Waving goodbye, the crowd left me alone with Mick, One and the last remaining couple, Trish and Kevin.
As we walked upstairs, I asked her, “Miss Trish, I don't pretend to be an expert on Shoran mating rituals, but when I knocked you down, and you tackled me, I should have felt an urge to kiss you and complete the bond, right?”
Kevin's chuckle along with the grin on Trish's face made me blush as I continued, “I mean, I read about it happening to Keysha Myssohn, but I didn't feel anything.”
Even One was looking at me now, making me feel even more self-conscious.
“It's not that I don't think you're pretty.” I said to Trish, my cheeks burning.
She laughed and rubbed my cheek kindly. “I know what you're trying to say, Jimmy, and you're right. Normally, you would've been drawn to me, and I do know why you weren't. I couldn't tell at the time of course, but when my head cleared-”
Mick stopped her, saying, “I mean no offence madam, but he really needs to rest now.”
I wanted to argue, but he was right; my head was really starting to pound. “Maybe Mick's right.”
Smiling, Trish moved to her beau's side, saying, “Then we'll take our leave.”
“Yeah. I guess we've got a lot to talk about.” Kevin added.
Trish wrapped her arms around his neck, asking coyly, “Who said anything about talking?” His face turned scarlet.
As she and Kevin left, I was led back to my room. They were helping me back to the bed when I noticed One's rune hand suddenly pulse.
“Ugh.” He muttered, tapping it. “Never a moment of peace. Sorry, Jimmy; I gotta go. Elsewhere business; I'm sure you understand. I'll check up on you later, okay?”
I nodded weakly, now feeling very tired.
Mick was very attending; he helped me into bed, and even tucked me in. How nice, I thought hazily as he held a hand over my head. Moments later, it began to emit a strange, warm light. I opened my mouth to ask what he was doing, and promptly fell asleep.
I woke up in the dead of night, feeling much better. My body still felt pretty sore, but at least my headache was gone.
I stared out the window at the rising moons. The entire trip to Wukice had turned out to be a waste of time. Yes, my bank account was a little bigger and I was now credited in an upcoming movie, but that wasn't why we came to Wukice in the first place.
Sighing, I lay back down and pulled the quilted covers around me. We were still no closer to finding Princess Sera or the dragon. Despite the fact we had already come to the conclusion that she wouldn't be hurt, I hoped that she was still okay, for her and her lover's sake.
I had just begun to drift back to sleep when my eyes caught on someone standing out on the balcony.
My heart immediately stuck in my throat; it was Terra!
She was wearing the same tank-top and blue-jean shorts as when I saw her in Iniagusville. She looked lovelier than ever to my eyes as she stood silently, her puffy tear-shaped tail waving gently from side to side as she leaned against the rail and stared out onto the city.
Almost unconsciously, I quietly opened the door and slipped outside. As I approached the balcony railing, the city of Wukice stretched out before me, a collection of prop houses and holographic checkerboards like the one I had stumbled into the previous day.
After standing behind her for a few moments, I said, “I was wondering when I'd see you again.”
Apparently I was a lot better at ninjitsu than my holo-sensei indicated; from the way she spun about, it was clear that I caught her by surprise. Any doubt of that vanished when I realized there was a short energy blade hovering inches from my throat.
Her eyes widened. “Jimmy?”
She lowered her weapon and let out a sigh of relief. “Thank the Creator. Are you feeling okay?”
“Well enough, I suppose.” 'I said, “Still feel a bit sore from the dragon thing, but I can't complain.”
“I saw that.” Terra said, a hint of exasperation in her voice. “Jimmy, you're insane.”
“I'm starting to wonder.” I said. “It'd explain you.”
“Me?” She asked, a surprised look on her face. “What's wrong with me?”
“Frankly, I think you're a hallucination … a manifestation brought on by loneliness and a desire to have a special someone in my life.”
“Oh?” There was a note of amusement in her tone as she leaned back against the rail and crossed her arms, a smile on her face. “And why would you be hallucinating little old me?”
“Well, I did live alone at the Saybaro for thirteen years. Yeah, Devon stopped by, but he only stopped by once every few months. Don't get me wrong; the Mox Wazoo has way more important things to do than to babysit some kid watching a bridge. He's got his own family, and a real son to look after. I'm still a little surprised by that, to be honest.”
“That Devon has family?” She asked, “Why?”
“I don't know.” I said. “I guess it's hard to imagine anyone who has to cater to the whims of Iniagus as having time for a family.”
“A fair point.” She conceded, letting out a light-hearted laugh. “How does that figure into me? Sorry, I mean your hallucination.”
“Well, I've been lonely for a long time.” I told her. “No dating options in the middle of nowhere.”
“Ah, so I'm some sort of fantasy then?”
“Of course.” I looked her over. “I mean, for starters, you're unbelievably gorgeous.”
Even in the light of the moons, I could see her cheeks grow red beneath her fur. “You really think so?”
“Of course.” I told her. When she extended her hand, I accepted it and held it between my own with the care I'd normally show a glass figurine. I rubbed the fur on the back of her hand, marveling at just how soft it felt against my rough hands.
“Then there's the timing of your appearances.”
“Oh?” She said, moving a little closer to me.
Trying to ignore the feel of her arm against mind, I said, “First when I was helping Terry, then when I was reassuring Princess Zelda, and then, when we were about to head out to begin our search for Princess Sera. Every time I've been tested, you've been watching. Perhaps you're trigged when I behave honorably?”
“What about the time outside the toy shop?” Terra said. “When you bought that little plush doll. How is that part of your bushido, Mister samurai?”
“Plush One?” I said, “Venerance, I suppose. The guy's a hero, no doubt about that. I can't even imagine having to go through what he went through.”
“I dunno.” She said, giving me another wonderful smile. “What you did was pretty brave. Misguided, perhaps, but you're definitely a h-”
She stopped, no doubt in response to my body suddenly going tense. She stared at me for a few moments, and for the first time, I felt her thoughts mingling through my own. I caught glimpses of her; her mother rocking her and her twin brother to sleep, of her many other little brothers and sisters, of her, her twin brother, and Princess Sera meeting as teenagers and quickly becoming best friends. As I saw her memories, I realized she was seeing mine as well.
“Oh, Jimmy.” Terra said, sadness in her eyes. “I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.”
I didn't need to ask what she had seen. Nevertheless, the thought that she had dug into my memories to find that image made me uncomfortable, to say the least.
Almost immediately after that thought, I felt her mind pull away from mine. It was like a door swinging shut between us. I could still feel her presence in the back of my mind, thoughts and feelings that were indiscernible, yet somehow both comforting and faintly familiar.
“I should go.” She moved to leave, but forgot that I still had her hand. Not letting go, I said, “Please stay.”
She seemed to fight with herself for a moment before letting out a sigh and moving to stand beside me at the balcony rail. We stared at the night sky in silence for a few long minutes.
“I'm sorry.” She said, not meeting my gaze. “I didn't mean to pry.”
“It's fine. You're just a different part of my mind, after all, right? If it bothered me, then maybe my imagination shouldn't have made you sneaky.”
“Sneaky?” She moved in front of me, her hands going past my sides and holding the rail behind me. “Tell me, Mister Samurai, why would you call me sneaky?”
“Perhaps playful is a better term.” I said, keenly aware of how close her face was to mine. “The way you keep appearing and disappearing, making me question my own sanity one moment, then staying her and speaking to me at length like this. Even now, it's like you're playing with me.”
“I did trip you in the lake while you were trying to sneak away.” Terra said, nodding her head. “Be honest; you're kinda glad I did, aren't you? I mean, you would be if I were real.”
I kissed her. I meant to just nod in reply, I think, but instead found myself closing the distance between us. She was startled at first, but her hands slid up my chest and wrapped around my shoulders.
When we released, I said, “Real or not, I'm glad you're here, Terra. If this is really just a hallucination, I hope it's one that I'll continue to have, even after I do this.”
I slipped my hands under her arms and tickled her sides. She let out a shriek and fought to catch my hands before I could make her run out of breath from laughter. She tried to move away, backing into my room, but I didn't relent until she managed shove me on the bed and pin my hands to the mattress with hers. Smiling victoriously, she moved closer and kissed me again. I savored the softness of her lips, the purple of her eyes close to mine. I didn't care if I was crazy anymore, as long as it meant we could be together.
“Hallucination One, Samurai nothing.” Terra said, her smiling face still inches from mine. “But as a consolation prize, let me give you a little advice.”
She leaned forward until her mouth was beside my ear. In a soft voice, she said, “I wouldn't be a good hallucination if there wasn't at least a chance that I was real. Wake up, my lonely samurai.”