Chapter 15:

Love and confusion

Do you dream of me in the next life?


"Are you sure we're going east?" said the concerned Alice.

"I think so? It should be," she looked over the map while she took a few steps ahead, "right around here."

Josie looked up and then rolled up the map. She placed her hands firmly on her hips and smiled.

"Found it!" said Josie.Bookmark here

Alice stepped beside her and smiled. They stood there and took the scene all in as the wind combed over the grass. Josie exchanged a nod with Alice and carried on towards the city.

***Bookmark here

They entered what looked like a modern city, buildings of various heights pierced the sky. From what Josie and Alice could observe, everything had an artistic and colorful vibe to it. A sign greeted them which read: "Welcome to Illusio city, the heart of the Illusha Kingdom. The nation where creativity blooms to life!"

"This whole city feels like the world's biggest canvas!" said Alice.

"Or the world's biggest art museum..." Josie added while in wonderment of her surroundings.

Through each turn and path they took in their attempted navigation of the busy city, they couldn't make heads or tails of what they were experiencing. Strange colors swirled around them. And they experienced hallucinations that quickly disappeared. Alice saw a cat-dog hybrid, the butt end of the cat was a dog body who was barking and hissing. Josie experienced fish that swam past her in mid-air.

They eventually reached the local marketplace. The space was very wide and full of many vendors and interested customers. Josie spotted a familiar face in the busy crowd.

"Hey, I see a vendor we should check out!" said Josie.

"Which one are you- Ah!"

Her hand was grabbed by Josie. She quickly weaved and squeezed past the crowd until they approached the vendor.

"Hello Josie! It is Josie right? Sometimes I'm terrible with names." Evelynn laughed.

"Yep, you're right! And this is Alice."Bookmark here

"N-Nice to meet you..." she said while she tried to catch her breath.

"Nice to meet you too. Gary mentioned he met you in the Beast Settlement."

“Speaking of Gary, where is he?” asked Josie.

“He went to do business with the other merchants. It’s been a while since he left…I should look for him, but I don’t want to leave with potential customers around…”

“We can find him for you.” suggested Josie.

“Really? Thank you!”

“You’re welcome!”

“Um, I’ll stay here.” said Alice.

“Ok…I will be back soon.” she ran off.

Alice remained fixated on the hand that Josie touched. She interlocked her fingers together and squeezed. Alice was doing this for a while until a voice hit her ears.

“- like her?”

“huh?”

“Do you like her?” said the smiling Evelynn.

“What brought that question on!?”

“You were blushing when Josie held your hand. I saw it happen.” She giggled.Bookmark here

Alice touched the cheeks of her face then covered her eyes. "Ahh, um, uh, please don't tell Josie about this."

"No worries, your secret is safe with me. Especially because I can relate to your problem."

"Relate? Are you saying you have feelings for Gary?"

Evelynn nodded her head. "I remember it like it was yesterday, the day we first met. A Nightmare wolf chased me in the woods. I was injured and terrified. My inexperience in combat was leading me to my grave. It was what I thought when I tripped. Until Gary stabbed it with his lance and offered to help me up.Bookmark here

After that, he walked me home as I leaned against him for support. Along the way, I told him about my dream of becoming a traveling merchant like the ones who visit the Elf settlement. He told me that he had the same dream and suggested we could work together, so I won't have to travel alone ever again."

"Have you confessed to him?" said Alice.

Evelynn traced a heart on the counter. "No. Not yet. Mostly because I wasn't sure if I really liked him all these years later or not. But now, I'm positive. Any day now...I will tell him."

They both smiled at each other. Alice looked away for a moment. She frowned and placed a hand on her chest.

"I have feelings for Josie but what if she doesn't like me back? What if I ruin our friendship? I don't want that to-"

"Found Gary!" announced Josie.

"What took you so long to come back?" said Evelynn to Gary.

"Sorry, this one guy was talking my ear off the whole time. Though I managed to nab some good trades." he opened the pouch and showed it to her.

"Ooh, nice!"

"Are you doing alright Alice?" said Josie.

"I'm fine. Just got some things off my chest with Evelynn while you were gone."

"I see. Well, if you want to, let's buy some supplies together."

"Okay."

***Bookmark here

Josie and Alice walked down the street. At the end of it, they spotted the white castle that waited in eagerness for them to enter. The party of two continued closer and closer to the castle door until weapons suddenly blocked their path.

“Halt, who goes there?” said the knight on the left.

"My name is Josie and this is my friend Alice. We would like to have an audience with the ruler or rulers of this kingdom."

"Sorry to disappoint, but her highness is too busy right now." said a voice.

A man in a suit and tie stepped out from the doors.

"Would it be possible for her to consider us any time soon? Our request is very urgent." said Alice.

"No, she's too busy. I'm afraid you must come back another-"

His right pant-pocket hummed at him. He grabbed a tele-crystal out of said pocket and used his dream energy. This caused the humming to stop, then the crystal spoke.

"Let them in, I want to hear them out."

"A-Are you sure my queen?" said the man.

"Absolutely. Please bring them to me."

"As you wish," he sighed. "Follow me."

They were led upstairs into a hallway. Some shouting from a young girl could be heard. Then what Josie assumed to be the girl stormed out of a room. The curly short purple haired girl paused and stared at them with tears. Before any of them could say something to the girl, she ran into a different room.

The man took them into the same room the girl came from.

"May I introduce you to her majesty, queen Lucy."Bookmark here

Her heterochromia eyes observed them as she rose from her chair. A black bow was in her silver hair. She wore a dark colored shirt with an open jacket, a skirt, white stockings, and black shoes.

Lucy shook their hands.

"Hello! My name is Josie."

"A-Alice. It's an honor to meet you."

"Welcome to the Illusha kingdom! I apologize for what happened earlier." she smiled.Bookmark here

"Was that your daughter?" said Josie.

"That was my daughter. Though she's not related to me in blood."

"You're saying she is adopted?" asked Alice.Bookmark here

"Yes...I found her in an alley. Her clothes were ragged, she was dirty, and barefoot. I gently asked her where her parents were. In between her sobs she said she couldn't remember who she was or where she lived. Nothing but her name. Violet. After running an investigation to no avail, I took her in and raised her as my own.

To this day...she never recovered a single old memory," she turned away and walked towards her chair. "Every day, I try my best to give her new and happy memories."

"Until Violet recovers, she is to become queen in the future and must study hard. All natural inheritors are dead, assassinated or passed away too soon." said the man.

"Indeed. Even my parents could not escape," the room was silent for a moment. "Anyways, let's have some tea while we chat! Enough standing around."

Everyone took a seat at the table except the man. He passed out the teacups and poured some of the piping hot liquid into each.

“Before I forget to mention, this man is my personal butler, Charles. We’ve known each other since childhood.”

Charles gave a simple bow. “Another factoid is that I’m her bodyguard too. Don’t attempt anything foolish around her majesty.”

He took a seat near the bookshelf against the wall. Eyes locked on with laser focus, arms crossed.

“Why is he looking at me!?” thought Josie to herself.

“Scary!” thought Alice to herself.

“Don’t worry! Its part of his job to be weary of strangers. However, you’re not a complete stranger…princess Alice.” she took a sip of her tea.

Alice was stirring the sugar in her tea. “You know who I am?”

“More like read about you in books. Rumors of you visiting the settlements spread throughout the Dream World, so I got curious.”

“Well, um, the princess you read about is not me. You see…”

***Bookmark here

“That’s terrible what you had to go through. Is this related to your request?”

“Yes. We don’t know what they are plotting, but we have to get back to Earth.”

“All we ask is an army for a distraction. Long enough to find the door hidden in the Nightmare Kingdom. Please, will you help us?” questioned Josie.

Suddenly, glass shattered in the distance followed by a scream.

“Violet!” panicked Lucy.

Everyone emptied into the hallway and ran toward the commotion. Charles opened the door, and they saw an unwelcome sight: A Nightmare wearing a feathered hat held a sword against Violet’s throat.

“Stay back! Or else.” The Nightmare growled.

“H-Help me!” whimpered Violet. Bookmark here

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