Do you dream of me in the next life?
“Looks like we’re getting close.” said Josie while she read the map.
“Oh, good! I thought we went in the wrong direction yesterday.” said Alice.
They walked slowly through a dirt path in the woods. Nothing was around except for the occasional wildlife that either stared or scurried out of sight.
“Thinking about yesterday, did you…experience anything weird in the Illusha Kingdom?” asked Josie.
“Yeah. I saw swirls in the sky and other strange things. Do you think Cortez was doing that?”
“Hard to say. Whatever it is, the effect persisted until we left the city.”
Alice stopped for a moment.
“Wait. Do you hear that?”
Josie walked over and stood near Alice. The expression on her face changed to a surprised one as a quiet sound touched her ears.
“It sounds like it’s coming from this way.” Pointed Alice.
They headed towards the source. The more they followed the sound, the louder and more defined it became. Josie took the lead out of an abundance of caution and entered the clearing. What they saw left them speechless. Many bubbles were hovering around a pond. In the pond’s center was a woman seated on a smooth stone. Except she was no ordinary woman: she had a big fish tail on her lower body. It splish-splashed rhythmically along with her song.
The woman raised her palm up to the sky while she sang a high note. Then a bubble landed on her hand and popped when she noticed Josie and Alice. With a turn, she faced them, then her tail changed back to legs and feet. After that she quickly sprinted across without sinking and halted in front of them.
She brushed some hair behind an ear. “Hi, are you lost? Do you need help?”
“U-Uh, Yes! We need help. Who are you?” asked Alice.
The white haired woman gave a cheerful smile. “Marie. What about your names?”
“I’m Josie, nice to meet you!”
“My name is Alice.”
“Oooh! Alice! I knew I’ve seen your face before. Happy to see you’re really alive like the rumors say, your Highness!”
“Actually, I’m not who you think I am.”
Marie looked at her with a puzzled expression. While Alice explained their situation, Josie curiously glanced over the clothing she wore. Marie had some kind of two piece outfit with sandals. Her bra displayed a floral design and her long skirt was open on one side, tied with a knot by the hip.
Josie nodded reassuringly to herself in no particular direction. When Alice was about done talking, Josie interrupted while smiling.
“You have a really beautiful singing voice.”
Maria rubbed the back of her head. “Thank you! Singing has always been my passion. One day, I want to sing in front of people around the Dream World.”
“What’s stopping you from trying it right now?” asked Josie.
She looked sad for a moment and turned herself toward the pond. “Responsibilities. My parents pushed me to tuck away my ambitions for what they thought was better for me and everyone else. So this pond became my sanctuary until that day comes…”
Alice stood beside Marie. “Your voice is amazing. I hope one day, you’ll be able to share this gift too.”
Marie suddenly teared up. “Thank you. Both of you. No one ever said anything like that to me.”
Josie smiled. “Do you need a hug?”
Marie wiped away some tears. “Yeah.”
They all went into a warm hug, not a smile was spared between them. After they finished hugging, Marie breathed in and out for a moment and smiled.
“Ok. What kind of help do you need?”
Marie led them through the forest until they made it to the exit. Josie and Alice’s eyes went wide when the city greeted their line of sight.
“Woah! Is this whole city made of stone?” said Josie.
“Looks very ancient! And look at that statue. So meticulously crafted.” said Alice who referred to the statue of the bearded man holding a trident.
Marie smiled. “Welcome to the Water Kingdom! This is the city of Atlantis, “the pearl of the sea” as the saying goes.”
“Wait, you mean the legendary city of Atlantis!? The one that sank?” asked Alice.
“Sank?” questioned Josie.
“Yep! Though we faked our demise. Many neighboring powers wanted to claim our Kingdom for themselves because of its tactical position. Luckily, a witch sailed to our Kingdom and offered to help us for nothing in return. We agreed, and she sent us to this world. Then they spread the rumor about what happened.”
“Interesting. I didn’t know a witch could cast something so powerful.” thought Alice to herself.
“C’mon guys! The castle is this way.” shouted Marie, who was ahead of them.
Josie noticed the fashion was similar to Marie’s style of clothing. Colorful. Sometimes vibrant even. Though the men wore either short sleeved shirts or sleeveless shirts with shorts. All this made sense to Josie considering the fact that the Water Kingdom was located near a beach.
They took a shortcut past the fish market to a square. Two kids were running around and trying to hit each other with water magic. Josie and Alice saw the short wall in the middle and strayed away from Maria to check it out.
“What’s this?” asked Alice.
“Looks like a mural. Are those mermaids?”
Marie appeared from behind. “Yep. This here depicts the first time our people discovered our abilities.”
“You’re real mermaids!?” said Josie.
“Yes. But we weren’t always mermaids. When our people got sent to the Dream World, in the following days, they unintentionally found the ability to use tails by touching their legs with dream energy.”
“I see. Then maybe…”
Josie laid flat on the ground. She closed her eyes for a moment and touched her legs.
“Nothing.” said the disappointed Josie.
“Sorry. Only those born from an Atlantean could do it.” explained Marie.
“Awe. If only I could be part mermaid. What would you call that? Dragmaid? Meragon?”
Alice and Marie laughed.
“Alright. Enough fooling around. Let’s keep going.” said Marie.
The stone castle was finally in view. It had a semicircle shape with three towers - one in the back and two in the front. The front door was crafted like a scallop shell. Two guards stood resolute while Marie opened the door for Josie and Alice. Inside, they walked down the carpet hall towards the throne. The whole room seemed empty except for the suits of armor against the wall and the banners of a conch shell that decorated it.
“Wait. Where is the King or Queen?” asked Josie.
“Only a crown is sitting on the throne…should we ask the guards for help?” suggested Alice.
Marie stepped forward and grabbed the crown. “No worries,” she placed it on her head. “Because I’m the queen of the Water Kingdom!”
She winked at them.
“Wow! Seriously!?” Josie and Alice said in unison.
“Mm-hm.” she smiled.
“S-Sorry for not realizing till now! We never referred to you as “your majesty” since we met!” said Alice.
“It’s fine. I rather you treat me as an equal rather than someone who’s above you,” she sat on the throne. “Since we are now here, may I hear what you wanted to talk to me about?”
“Yes. You see, we need to get back to Earth. The only way back is through a hidden door located in the Nightmare Kingdom.” answered Josie.
“Our request of the Water Kingdom is an army to serve as a distraction.” added Alice.
“Why do you need to go back to Earth?”
Alice placed a hand on her chest. “Because whoever killed us is still out there. They have a magic knife. And for all we know, the Dream World and Earth could be in danger. Please! Help us!”
Marie stayed silent for a moment. Then a smile grew on her. “For my new friends who supported me. I will support you.”
Joy grew on their faces.
“Thank you so much!” said Josie.
“You’re welcome! Now that that’s settled,” she put her crown back where it was then made a single clap with her hands. “Beach time!”
Joy transformed into confusion.
“Well…organizing an army together is going to take time. Why not have some fun for a while?”
Josie and Alice looked at each other for a moment and then set their gaze toward the opposite direction.
“Um…only if Josie wants to do it.” said Alice.
“S-Sure! I’d like to have fun at the beach.”
“Great! Oh! Thinking about it, you guys don’t have swimsuits,” she quickly got some paper and wrote on it. “Take this and give it to the owner of the clothing store by the beach. Then after you pick one, head straight to the changing rooms and I’ll see you there!”
“Ok. Thank you.” said Alice, who held the paper.
Josie was wearing her swimsuit and waiting outside the changing rooms.
“Good thing there was a mirror inside.” said Josie to herself.
A moment later, she heard the crunching of sand.
“Hey. H-How do I look?” asked Alice.
“Woah, she looks so…” Josie thought to herself.
“Wait! Did I say that out loud!? Sorry! I didn’t mean to-”
“Thanks. I think you look cute too. I mean! It looks good on you. Yeah, t-that’s what I meant.”
Josie and Alice smiled at each other. Alice noticed Marie approach behind Josie along with another familiar person.
“Hi!” waved Marie.
“Hello again, Josie and Alice!” waved Evelynn.
“Evelynn? Why are you in Atlantis?” inquired Josie.
“Gary and I finished selling in Illusio. So now we are doing business here.”
“Did you come here to have fun with us?” questioned Alice.
“What gave me away?” she giggled, referring to her swimsuit.
Marie put her hands together. A light flashed and as she pulled back her hands, a big bubble appeared out of nowhere.
“Behold! The supreme bubble!” announced Marie.
“Supreme…” said Josie.
“Bubble?” said Alice.
Evelynn poked it and the bubble didn’t pop. “Amazing! How did you achieve this?”
“If you infuse water magic with dream energy, it reinforces the bubble. Though this took me a lot of trial and error to figure out.”
Marie threw the bubble to Josie.
"C'mon! We're playing bubble-ball. I will explain the rules when we get there."
“Alright. So, the game is very simple. Hit the bubble over the net and try to get it to hit the opponent’s side. The defending team has to either block or hit the bubble back. Whoever can successfully touch the other’s side the most, wins. No throwing or kicking over the net allowed, everyone has to stay on their side. Any questions?”
“Who are we teaming up with? And what score counts as a win?” said Josie.
Marie looked toward Evelynn who nodded. “Evelynn and I are a team. You guys can be a team. The score? Hmm…how about five to win?”
Alice, Evelynn, and Josie nodded in consensus.
“Kay then. Whenever you’re ready, Josie.”
She threw it up in the air and hit the bubble. Evelynn dashed forward and tapped it to her teammate. Marie bumped the bubble. Alice responded with her own bump. Evelynn jumped and performed a mighty smack. Then Josie quickly blocked the shot. Marie attempted to save but was not fast enough.
“Nice one!” complimented Alice.
Josie smiled. “Thanks!”
Evelynn retrieved the bubble. “My turn to serve!”
She used an underhand serve. Alice hit it back to her. Evelynn sent the bubble flying to the middle. Josie dove after it for the save. Alice bumped it towards Marie. Marie spiked the bubble and Josie jumped to intercept the shot. But she missed as the bubble whizzed past her.
“Yay! Yay! We scored one!” Evelynn said while she high-fived Marie.
“Let’s keep the momentum going!” cheered Marie.
Alice picked up the bubble, she threw it high a couple times and then used an overhand serve. Evelynn backpedaled and then passed the bubble to Marie, who bumped it. Josie whacked it. The bubble flew above Marie’s head, only for Evelynn to successfully save once again. Marie took the chance to do a spike. Alice saved the ball. Josie ran to attempt a spike, noticing a blind spot.
Suddenly, Josie felt strong vibrations beneath her feet. She stopped moving to regain her balance.
“Earthquake!?” said Alice.
Some distance away behind Josie and Alice, sand erupted forth. A giant Nightmare snake appeared and slithered out to the open. Panic and more eruptions could be heard in every direction. Josie, Alice, Marie, and Evelynn swiftly ran straight to the snake. Two Nightmares stared them down from the snake’s head. These Nightmares were wearing kimonos, the one on the left had her sleeves covering her hands.
“My name is Honoka. This is my sister Shizuko. On behalf of the Order and the Nightmare Kingdom,” they jumped down, Honoka unsheathed her katana. “Surrender Atlantis, or your lives are forfeit!”