Chapter 5:

Estrella: Lady of the Stars

Voyage of Dreams [Collab]


Leo pointed his finger at the skinny woman on the throne. “Who the heck are you?! You ain’t the king!”

“You’d be wise to watch your tone,” she said firmly. “I am in charge of this test.”

“Huh?” Rio tapped his foot impatiently. “What test? And what’s your outfit, some dumb cosplay?”

“Hey!” Nio whispered to her cousin. “That’s a high ranking military uniform. Her 1-star emblem makes her an Elite Commander!”

“Minus ten points!” the woman barked. She pointed to her chest emblem. “It’s a 1-galaxy emblem, not a star.” Her yellow cat eyes sharpened. “I am Estrella the Empress of this vessel.”

The group gasped.

“N-no way…” Iori choked. “She’s…one of the royals???”

“This is serious,” Haruka said nervously. “Royals never met with anyone for meager reasons.”

“I scanned your Data Discs and liked your stats,” Estrella explained. “I overrode the virtual reality in here to test your teamwork.”

“Oh yeah?” Leo grinned. “You saw us rock!”

“Ironic your last song was ‘A Whole New World,’” Estrella said with a grin—her teeth were pointy. “But I care not for the singing.” She looked at Leo. “Something else caught my eye. Bring out your Data Disc, Leo.”

“You know my name?” He let his purple disc hover in front of him, which pointed at Estrella. “You really did read our data.”

Estrella walked toward them. “Haruka took your Data Disc, but you got it back without her returning it.” Her yellow eyes narrowed. “How?”

Haruka felt her pocket. “That’s right!” She looked at Leo. “If you hadn’t used your Data Disc, that rook would’ve crushed you!”

Leo was hesitant to respond. “Um…”

“She’s messing with us,” Rio snorted. “No way would a one-galaxy-ranked royal meet us here. She’s a hologram!”

That amused Estrella. “Could a hologram do this?” She held up her hand and Leo’s Data Disc soared across the throne room and into her grasp. While she squeezed it, a bright light emitted from the disc as if it was being overloaded with energy.Bookmark here

“HEY!” Leo shouted. “What are you doing?”

The light stopped and Estrella held up the dormant disc.

“As I thought,” she said with a smile. “Great skill with unauthorized remote control tampering of a Data Disc.”

Leo and Rio flinched as Haruka looked at her bandaged palm.

“But that isn’t what saved you back there.” She let the disc hover back to Leo. “Your Data Disc can never leave your side when your life is threatened.”

“What does she mean?” Haruka asked Leo timidly.

Leo stared at Estrella. “How do you know?”

Irritated, Estrella said, “I helped design and produce all the Data Discs.”

“But!” Nio glanced around. “They were introduced hundreds of years ago!”

“I know,” Estrella replied, “they originally were used to locate important targets, monsters…” her smile widened deviously, “and enemies.”

Her own Data Disc, golden, sleeker, and quicker, projected a display in front of her.

“Your teamwork was uncoordinated,” she mused, scrolling through the report. “You’re all students and tasked with learning, so learn each other’s skills and specialties.”

“You never explained why you tested us!” Rio barked. “Tell us, hag!”

“Silence, Laguna!”

Rio trembled. “W-what did you call…me…?”

“Your real name,” she answered. “Now, Leo is my greatest interest, but you all seem suitable enough.” Her yellow cat eyes burned into Leo. “Tell me…what do you dream of?”

“What I dream of?” Leo thought about it. “Of leaving this vessel and returning to…” He paused. “Well…I have dreams of grasslands and mountains, but I don’t seem to be myself in those dreams.” He looked at his disc pointing at Estrella. “This would guide me to targets and monsters…so why is it pointing to you?”

“Because you possess forbidden knowledge!” Estrella called out two more golden Data Discs, which rapidly spun around one another as she grinned excitedly. The discs created a storm of powerful energy. “Prove you are worthy of your forbidden knowledge, and worthy of embarking on the VOYAGE OF DREAMS!!!”Bookmark here

“I… I don’t understand!” Leo gripped tufts of his ashen hair as his peers stared in shock at him. “Forbidden knowledge!? Prove I’m worthy!? Voyage of Dreams!?” What he heard came down hard on his mind, which was now feeling unusually fragile.

“An expected response,” Estrella sneered as the energy storm that swirled around her only continued to grow from the increasing orbiting speed of her two Data Discs. “Sudden exposition must be a mouthful to take in, huh? Don’t worry. You’ll slowly come to understand everything soon enough. You all will.”

The storm continued to grow and expand in diameter, it was only a matter of time before the five students would be swallowed whole. Estrella was unaffected only because she stood in safest spot in the storm – its eye.

Desperate and pressured, Leo grabbed his data disk, which was floating in front of him. He fumbled for it to function as he backed himself against a wall alongside everyone that wasn’t Estrella. His disk did nothing other than continue to point at the person in the middle of the storm.

It was only when they thought their lives were over that the throne room they were in, crumbled into an empty white space before quickly shifting into completely different scene. Not only that, the storm was gone too.

“Where are we?” Haruka wondered aloud as she surveyed their surroundings.

“It looks like a grassland!” Iori rushed to tell her idol, based on the fact that she and the other five people were in a brand-new location – a peaceful scenery full of shimmering green.

“Heh, you finally made it work but only when your life was flashing before your eyes. When have I seen that before?” Estrella grinned. “Just so we can clear things up, Leo here managed to put his forbidden knowledge to use, an artificially implanted ability that grants one the ability to place himself and anyone else in a dream world he controls like a God. Only someone whose dreams are full of wonder can possible candidates.”Bookmark here

Leo was almost at a loss for words. “I’ve always been able to do that?”

“Not yet,” Estrella clarified. “We have to make sure you are truly worthy to wield such an ability. We’re still in a simulation after all, so this a ‘what if you had the power’ kind of scenario.”

A disturbance filled the air, making everyone except Estrella flinch. The scene changed again with a flash, and everyone was now standing on the rocky crags of a mountain in the middle of the day.

“Clearly, Leo is still reeling from the shock and his most recent thoughts are now manifesting and disturbing our surroundings.” Estrella eyed Leo’s disk, which still hasn’t refrained from pointing at her. “Here’s another chance to make me to have second thoughts on your teamwork, kids. Do you have what takes to work in coordination with this temporary God to defeat me? Pass, and I’ll answer everything that seems unclear to you.”Bookmark here

“But if Leo’s the God here, that means… We have the overwhelming advantage! There’s no way you could beat us!” Rio, or should we say, Laguna said. Nio nodded in agreement with her cousin.

“Hmm… Yes, that would logically be correct.” Estrella held a lithe hand up to her chin as a worrisome look defined her face. “It’s five against one and just one of you controls the very fabric of reality here, so it looks like I’m in trouble. Oh, and Leo? Whatever you do, don’t imagine me as a super powerful monster who can’t be directly affected by your powers.”

Once again, Leo was given the spotlight to four pairs of wide-eyed stares. He had only one thing to say.
Bookmark here

“Uh… Whoops.”Bookmark here

Suddenly, Leo felt a slap on his back.

"Come on! This isn't like you" The blond boy said.

He was right.

Doubting everything wasn't his style. Actions weight more than words, after all. Who cares about a hag's yappling?

Leo grinned to himself.

This was exactly what he wanted. A break from his monotonous pace.

"Alright!" Leo pulled back his disc. If the device refuses to work, then maybe...

-

"...Leo?"

A voice cut down the reality.

"Hey, wake up."

It was Haruka.

Leo turned back his attention to her. Dammit Haruka, just when it was getting good.

"What are you dreaming about now?"

"...Nothing. Just trying to beat an old hag."

"...Leo."

"What?"

"Nothing. Did you beat her?"

"How can you beat an hologram?"

"How can you beat a ghost?"

"...Touché."

Haruka was right. There was no way to beat a ghost, right?

Of course that's wrong.

Knowing her, the answer was just a step away.

-

<<Flash>>

A pillar of light abruptly appeared from the ground.

<<Flash>>

<<Flash>>

Various brilliant columns started to break this reality.

"Whoa-" Nio complained as she started to lose her footing. The ground below her feet had started to shake.

It was as if this dimension had started to become broken pieces.

Countless fragments of this world had started to fall apart.

She pulled out her disc as fast as she could, but alas, it refused to start up.

"Stupid thing, why now?"

Yes.

Just by Estrella's presence, discs refused to work properly. She still had the upper hand.

One can't just control dreams as they want to, right?

Unless...

"Careful!" Iori ran towards Nio and in a glimpse pushed her away.

<<Flash>>

Another pillar of light beamed below where Nio's feet just were. A second later, she would had been dissolved.

"Ouch-"

Luckily, the two girls managed to land somewhere far away.

...Maybe too far away.

Both of them had landed in a crevice of this broken world. It was just a matter of time before this reality broke apart completely.Bookmark here

However, one girl stood up like it was nothing.

It was Iori.

There was no way she could just stay there if her beloved Haruka was in danger.

Nio tried to stand up, but the ground shaking made her unable to do it right, and so she fell again.

"Just how?"

Iori turned around and smiled.

"Remember? I was always bad at using my disc. But, I know a bit of judo."

//

However, amidst this catastrophe, just where was Haruka?

The girl opened her eyes, and all she could see was...

A pure white.

!?

"Just where?"

"Wow, you took your sweet time."

The girl turned around to the voice's owner.

It was the same woman that had introduced herself as Estrella.

Haruka tried to ask many things, but she held back, and bit her lip.

After all, there was no way she would get a proper answer from her.

"No need to have your guard up. I'm just an "Hologram", right?" The woman chuckled and walked towards her.

"No. That's wrong." The girl locked her eyes on hers. "This is just Leo's dream, right?"

"Maybe yes, maybe no." Estrella said as she walked past Haruka. "Dreams and reality, who is the one to decide that?"

What a distasteful woman.

They have been dancing on the palm of her hand, all along.

Leo is a god? She probably buffled her way into this dimension.

If so...

Then...

"It's exactly as you are thinking!" Estrella laughed and turned around. "Why would everything be so easy?"

Of course.

Then was the power of changing reality a joke?

"Pfft. One would think you are smart".

The woman lifted her right arm and made some sort of gesture with her hand, as she floated.

"Now, is this power a joke?"

<<Flash>>

A sudden light covered the area.

"Is this reality or just a dream?" Estrella's voice sounded far away.

When Haruka opened her eyes, all she could see was some cold desert.

There was someone walking barefoot.

"Target is just 10km away to the east" A robotic voice was heard.

It was an old purple disc.

And walking behind it.

There was a man in unsuitable clothes.Bookmark here

“W-Who is that…?” Haruka peeled her eyes open at the random man walking barefooted at the distance.

The desert didn’t help her focus any better. Strangely enough, the desert was as cold as if she was in the arctic region. Since she wore not-very-much clothing, her bare skin felt the intense freeze of the bitter weather.

However, that man had clothes that spoke ‘strange’, and strangely enough, they didn’t seem to cover much either. He only had a short shirt that openly reveals his navel, and he also wore pants that showed off his hairy forelegs. In a sense, it looked like he was wearing those clothes for summer.

But what made Haruka’s jaw drop was something else entirely. His face—it reminded her of someone. But she couldn’t believe it to be true.

Was it another one of Estrella’s tricks pulled from her sleeves? Or was it a mirage—something that this strange desert should be famous to have?

But no matter how much she focused, all she could see is someone who had a strikingly similar a appearance to a stupid boy she knew longer than anyone else.

Leo… but much older.

His face became more sculpted, much less rounded like his teen self should. Rather, it made his features more strikingly handsome in Haruka’s opinion.

His open shirt revealed that he kept a solid physique throughout the years, and his small stubble on his chin was proof.

Haruka could not stop her eyes from peering at every nook and cranny on this adult version of Leo. As this person who looked so similar to Leo closed up to her, a broad smile showed on his face.

“Heya,” The adult male spoke energetically. “How you doin’?”

“W-Wha… wha…”

“Yeah, you’re confused. I know.”

“M-More than that!” Haruka shouted back. “I-Is that you, Leo?!”

“Not exactly.”

“…Huh?”

The adult male, who claimed not to be Leo, looked up while scratching his hair. Haruka was left with a gaping mouth in shock, realizing that she could have made a mistake.

“I sort of am, and sort of not.”

Now Haruka was even more confused.Bookmark here

“Listen—right now you’re in a dream world, that should be obvious, right?”

“Right… Estrella said something or other about some nonsense, and dragged me all the way here. I think I’m still in the same dimension…”

Haruka was still a little dazed, but thankfully, this adult version of Leo seemed more mature and helped her relax.

“See, that’s the thing. I’m Leo, but in your mind, I’m the Leo that you want me to be.”

“Eh…? Then… you’re…”

“Basically the adult Leo where he’s more mature and responsible.”
“Oh…!”

Haruka never thought it could come true in her lifetime, but for once, she was seeing a Leo that she wanted to see. Maybe it was another dream at work, but for now, she was at least enjoying it.

“And of course, being your Leo, I’m here to help you out.”

Adult Leo flashed a smile that brought Haruka’s cheeks to redden. The way he spoke about himself made it seem like he belonged to her and her alone.

For a young girl still in her teens, it was quite an assumption.

“S-So… do you know a way out of here? Rather, how come you came out of my mind…? I thought Leo had control here since he’s a god or something…”

“I don’t know much of the details,” Leo flashed a smile again, but this time, it was an awkward smile. “Remember, I’m from your imagination.”

“R-Right…” Haruka’s head slumped. In the end, there was no answer.

“Then,” Leo turned to the other side, and ordered the purple disk to come onto his hand. “Let’s take a leave from this place, eh?”Bookmark here

Back in the room where Estrella was playing her twisted game, Iori watched as Haruka suddenly went rigid, and then was surrounded by a dome of light that glowed with an unearthly aura. The same then happened to Nio and Laguna, and their auras shone with unearthly colors.

Iori swallowed her fear as she looked up at Estrella. “What did you do to them?” she yelled.
“They’re having a very nice dream,” Estrella said. “Perhaps you’d like a nice nap, too?”
A circle of light surrounded Iori and she dashed to the side, but something seemed to catch her foot. The dome of light emerged and sealed itself at the top. Iori felt her strength ebb out of her as she pounded the sides of the dome. Finally, she slumped to the ground as utter exhaustion took its toll and fell into a deep sleep…Bookmark here

Haruka’s Dream
The air was still and cold with no wind and the sand crunched underfoot as Leo and Haruka made their way towards a black smudge on the horizon. “Over there is an oasis,” Leo said. “We can stop and get water there.”

“Leo, why is this desert so cold?” Haruka asked. “I thought deserts were supposed to be hot, with lots of sun and stuff like poison snakes…at least, that’s what the history textbooks say.”

“Well, deserts are like that on Earth…”

“Wait, we’re not on Earth?”

“Maybe? Maybe not? I don’t know. Let’s just keep walking, OK?”

“OK,” Haruka said, hesitantly. She didn’t know why she was here; all she knew was that Leo was here and he’d lead her out of this. There were still some things she didn’t know about him though.

“Leo, why are your clothes like that?” she asked.

“I’ve been on this planet for over five years now. I’ve grown a bit, as you can see.”
They continued walking, and as they continued, Haruka began to feel uneasy. He hasn’t even mentioned the others once, she realized.

“In case you were wondering, Iori, Nio and Laguna—I mean, Rio are OK,” Haruka said. “They’re…they’re back on the ship. I’m pretty sure they’re having fun playing our game of karaoke-chess together.”

“Let them have their fun. They were only holding me back from my true potential,” Leo said. “I have you here with me, and that’s all that matters.” He turned to Haruka and smiled.
That’s when Haruka realized this wasn’t her imagination. This was a trap.Bookmark here

“ESTRELLA! YOU WITCH!” she shrieked, and her Data Disc flashed as the world turned white.
The light faded as Haruka found herself on a cold cement floor. She reached up to see that some sort of dome of light had formed around her, and it felt warm to the touch, like she was encased in some sort of hot ice. On the other side of the dome, through the shimmering light, she could see the others. They were encased in domes like hers, shimmering with auras of different colors. Every so often there was a flash of light.

Haruka grabbed her Data Disc and hit the side of the dome with it, hard. A web of cracks appeared and the light shattered. “All right!” she said, as the dome fell away like shards of broken glass.Bookmark here

Estrella was impressed by Haruka’s boldness.

“Pop quiz, kiddo,” the woman said with a smirk. “Who should you free first?”

The velvet-haired girl looked at her friends, all under their own dome of a unique color. But one particular dome stood out…Leo’s, which shone pure white.

“Of course!” Haruka answered. “Leo!”

“Are you sure?”

Haruka nodded. “I know I’m right.”

Estrella smiled. “Yes, you’re right. Very good.”

“But…” With a big grin, Haruka gripped her Data Disc in both hands, “…I don’t need to rescue only one person at a time!”

Estrella is interfering with our discs Haruka thought. I can use that to my advantage!

Haruka activated her Data Disc’s gravity controls. She input two basic commands on timers, then hurled the disc at Estrella. The first command activated, glitched out, and launched the disc farther with a “gravity bounce” (as Haruka named the phenomenon). Over Estrella’s head, the disc activated the second command, had another glitch, and made a miniature black hole.

“Two black holes in one day…” Haruka muttered, embarrassed. “Jeez!”

Instantly, Estrella was pulled off her feet into the air by the black hole glitch.

“A black hole?!”

Estrella’s two golden discs swiftly surrounded and concealed the black hole, shutting it down. Doing so diverted her power away from the domes, releasing the others at once.

Rio saw his chance, and he ran at the woman. However, she snapped her fingers, and the entire area went dark. Seconds later, the lights slowly returned and everyone found themselves in the karaoke chess room.

“We’re back!” Iori squealed happily. “All that changing reality stuff … hurt my brain …”

“I deactivated the virtual reality,” Estrella said boredly. “The test is over.”Bookmark here

“So, Estrella-sama?” Haruka asked.

“Using “-sama” after calling me a witch?”

Grinning nervously, Haruka replied, “Sorry. But is it true that Leo is … a god?”

“Heh!” Leo boasted. “Ain’t it obvious?”

“Pipe down!” Estrella snapped. “You aren’t a god, but your dreams are important to the entire vessel. We’ve been sailing through space since Earth was no longer necessary for us, but you aren’t ready to help us.”

“We flunked the test, huh?” Leo asked grimly.

“You did alright,” Estrella complimented, looking at the large glowing timer hanging overhead—it stopped with two seconds still remaining. “But we only hire people with college degrees. You’re in high school!”

Leo’s eyes twinkled. “You mean … you’ll hire me? The Royals?”

Estrella sighed. “Yes …”

“Then what do we do?” Rio shouted. “All of that just to tell us this?!”

“It was to prepare you for the future.” Estrella said. “This is the story of your introduction. Nothing more. Just your introduction! So go home, rest up, study hard, and I’ll see you all after graduation.”

And like that, Estrella shooed them all out of the karaoke chess parlor.

/////

Leo, Haruka, Iori, Rio, and Nio stopped into the best ramen place nearby. They had worked up a huge appetite.

“Karaoke chess gets wild!” Rio laughed while they ate. “That hag was totally dissing us!”

Nio frowned at Rio. “That hag was one of the ship’s royals! Not only that, but we passed her test. Who knew a royal would use their authority to hack into a karaoke chess simulator?”

“How do you feel, Leo?” Haruka asked. “That must’ve been quite the shock!”

“Yeah…” Leo slurped some of his ramen. “But hey, I have something to look forward to! Someday … in the super distant future …”

“I don’t want to think about it,” Nio said with a smile. “We might as well enjoy ourselves now!”

“Enjoy high school?” Rio moaned. “No way…”Bookmark here

It was only supposed to be a night of karaoke chess with friends; a nice way to kill time, socialize, and kick back after a day of school was over. Who would’ve thought it would escalate into something so much more?

Leo, dressed in his night clothes, fell back with his arms outstretched, and the anti-gravity mattress of his bed cushioned his fall before making him bounce a few times.

He was in the right position and room’s lights had been turned off, but his eyes refused to stay shut as they stared into the darkness of his ceiling. The day was done and it was time to let the world (metaphorically) turn without him, but the recent events circulating his head left Leo in a state between the fine line of falling asleep and staying awake.

He pondered over how Estrella, the Empress of the vessel they populated, picked a fine time to give them a test for something they wouldn’t have to worry about for another five years or so. Not only did the timing for such a thing feel so dubious, he was sure that he and the others were left with plenty of headscratchers.

Estrella claimed herself to had taken part in the creation of the data disks that were essential to everyone. There would’ve been nothing strange about that, if only those disks weren’t introduced centuries ago. For Estrella to looks so young, did this mean she discovered a method to live past the maximum life span? Whatever the case, “hag” truly was a suitable name for that royal.

Then there was Rio, or Laguna, as Estrella called him because it was supposedly his true name. Was there any significant point in her doing that? It didn’t sit well apparently, because everyone was back to calling him by the name they were comfortable with, but he was certain Rio himself still had that on his mind.

Then Leo’s internal questions began to reflect about himself.Bookmark here

Voyage of Dreams… Voyage of Dreams…

Those three words played like a broken record. He was still in the dark when it came to them. Then there was this “forbidden knowledge” Estrella spoke of. Leo remembered she first coined it as a power of his to manipulate a dream world that others could get pulled into, only to contradict herself later. She really wasn’t making this easy.

Then after giving himself some time, Leo’s perspective took a sharp turn.

What if the bizarre timing of Estrella’s test was meant to be a message to expect the unexpected when the time comes for the real thing? Leo almost felt embarrassed when he recalled how fragile he was when Estrella first rained down all this information right when she summoned an energy storm that put them under pressure. He realized how much he currently wasn’t up to the task, and it would be terrible for him in the future if he didn’t shape up. There was so much to consider.

Finally, steam blew out of Leo’s ears. Stress got the better of him and made him remember he was someone who was more suited to be a man of action. Maybe as time goes on, everything will make much more sense. For now, it was time to enjoy the present as Nio said while also preparing for a super distant future. Leo had the funny feeling that while Rio may have complained about enjoying high school, he may regret doing that later on. Leo told himself he wouldn’t make that mistake even though Rio had his sympathy.

Having settled what was on his mind for now, Leo slowly closed his eyes as he waited for sleep to claim him and play him a dream of his desire, which was something Estrella claimed to be important to the entire vessel.

"So, what am I going to dream of now?" Leo asked himself.Bookmark here

In the dream world, where anything could happen, Estrella found herself in an endless sea. In the distance, she could sea the spirit of Leo wander the abyss.Bookmark here

In her mind she imagined a dance ball. Royal ballad dance, synthwave ballad waltz to blood.Bookmark here

With chance Estrella finds her suitor, who rejects her hand. Madam Haruka turns her away. Perhaps someday she, from the old music box, wont turn her away.Bookmark here

Originally she wanted Leo, but he was a cat. Leo had long black nails, and smelled like a rat. The claws he had cut bone, while she called out.Bookmark here

The claws so long and so sharp wont stop itching.Bookmark here

When she thinks of cats, she thinks of demons in the underground sewers. There was once a cat, with demon red eyes. It found her when her mother had abandoned her, and she left to tend to dumpsters out.Bookmark here

It snatched away a half eaten pocky pack, but dropped CD, and on the back was the location for returns.Bookmark here

When she arrived at the location, it was largely abandoned. But there was a scientist, studying the effects of mind control in the dreams of test subjects.Bookmark here

She found herself unwittingly part of a new experiment. Carefully, almost surgically, through localized anesthesia, nodes were installed.Bookmark here

She remembered the pain, and found that dreams promised something reality could not. She could shape her own reality how she wanted, but got carried away.Bookmark here

She wandered the darkness, now avoiding cats.Bookmark here

And Leo, unwittingly, as if to play, shape shifted into a cat. It was the first time Estrella's heart raced.Bookmark here

Because she was now the mouse.Bookmark here

But Leo left her alone, stranded and isolated. So now she makes every training session especially difficult. She really hated cats. She wanted them to dance.Bookmark here

Like a masquerade of wandering souls.Bookmark here

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