The Dream Sequence, Chapter One: "Fate."

I was only sixteen when the love of my life died, since then I’ve spent most of my time in my best friend’s basement playing tabletop games with the only two people I’ve got left. I haven’t been the most stable of individuals over the last three years, but Pandora and Vicker have never abandoned me. When I lost faith in the world, they were there. Every sad day that I didn’t want to leave the house, every Valentine’s Day spent alone, and each Christmas without my family. They watched bad movies, bought me food, dragged me out of the house when I refused to leave for days on end. I owe them my life. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them, which isn’t exactly a good thing sometimes. I was in love with Pandora’s sister when she died, but they still don’t want me to give up on love. Between the two of them I’ve been set up on at least thirty blind dates since I turned eighteen. Every date I’ve been on has ended exactly the same, though. I take a girl out who is cute, but not really my type, then we have some small talk over dinner that never goes anywhere and I tell them so. There was never so much as a goodnight kiss, but the last one I had was with Raine three years ago. Sometimes they’re upset but they usually don’t care, either way I go home alone every time. The only girl I’ve ever loved and the only one I ever will is dead, and there’s no changing that. I don’t like dating anymore, and I don’t actually believe in true love. If true love existed then the love of my life wouldn’t be buried in the local cemetery right now. I wouldn’t still be alone and heartbroken if there was such a thing as love.

“So, Anubis, how’d your date with Kim go?” Vicker and his fiery red hair slumped down next to me on the couch. This was my best friend in the entire world, but he was also the world’s worst wingman. I just looked at him with a distasteful glare. Kim was this girl he knew from Calculus up at the university, but she was dreadful. Even if I was interested in dating, she wasn’t going to be the one. She was rude to our waiter, she couldn’t stop talking about herself, and she smelled like rotten milk. I’m not usually a judgmental person but she was the worst date I’d ever had.

“She was a nightmare, dude. I’ve never met someone so condescending and entitled in my life. Why do you guys keep trying to set me up with these girls? I don’t want anything to do with them.” I mumbled, grabbing a twenty-sided die from the coffee table in front of me. It was black with red dots covering it’s exterior, it was sort of like a lucky charm and it had been my favorite for as long as I could remember.

“We just want you to be happy again, Anu.” Pandora, my other best friend, sounded almost apologetic. Her voice always reminded me of her sister and I felt my heart sink. She sat down in a beanbag chair on the other side of the table and picked up a die of her own, blue and black just like her favorite colors.

“I appreciate the effort but it’s not going to happen. These girls just… They don’t compare.” My eyes drifted to the table as I let the die fall and roll against the wood. It was a gift that Vicker had given me a few years ago, and it almost always rolled well, but this time it landed on one. “Can we just play the game now?” A sigh escaped my lips as I picked up the die and sat back. My friends took up their usual positions and we took out our character sheets for Veturium, a tabletop RPG that I had made two years ago. The current campaign Vicker had been running for us was littered with goblins, elves, and orcs trying to slaughter us and take over the world. Pandora played a ruthless barbarian that wore skimpy leather armor while Vicker was a bard that played a mean ocarina and always found a way to get on my nerves. I played a brawler brimming with confidence and determination, a true leader if there ever was one. We made a fearsome and ferocious trio and I enjoyed every session we had. They’d usually last all night and we’d end up laughing when someone rolled badly a few too many times and chopped off their own hands trying to open a jar.

“Alright, lets get this going. Anubis, what are you going to do about the goblin horde trying to attack you?” Vicker smirked. He was a devious Game Master who wanted to kill me off as often as possible, but he was never successful. It was like our own little game of cat and mouse. “There are five of them coming at you.” He added, making sure that I knew I was backed into a corner. This was a tactic he used a lot to put the pressure on, but I was always a step ahead of him.

“I’m going to chop ‘em to pieces with windseeker.”My character, Valin the Fury, named his special swords. He liked to dual-wield and fight aggressively, always rushing head first into combat and leading his friends in the fight. I rolled the die on the table before Vicker even had the chance to tell me to; his expression when it landed on twenty was priceless. “Thirty-Seven damage.” He rolled a few die of his own and face palmed. He was already falling behind in his plot to destroy me. And Pandora couldn’t help but laugh while I grinned in his direction, waiting for him to tell me what happened. The combat in this game was usually over quickly, but Vicker really liked to throw numerous goblin hordes at us when he was trying to think of his next extravagant plot hook.

“You eviscerate three of them as if the gods themselves were guiding your blade. There are goblin limbs everywhere. Pandora, you’re up.” I could feel the animosity in his voice.

“I’d like to loot the three dead goblins.” She always did this kind of thing, instead of actually helping me during battle she would go for greed, and Vicker just wanted to get me so badly he never discouraged her. In the game we play they’re certainly devious and cruel people, but in life they’re the two nicest, most genuine people I know. Our fight against the goblins continued with swords clashing and bones rattling with every dice roll and ability check. Vicker managed to take a big chunk of my character’s health down, but he was just too strong for the creatures that Vicker loved so much to take down. Valin and Runea, Pandora’s barbarian, made quick work of the goblins and set off in search of their lost friend, Wilhelm, Vicker’s bard.

After a few hours we could all hear our stomachs growling, and that meant the game was over and that it was pizza time. Like every other teenager in existence, we loved pizza. It was our routine any time we got together to play. We’d always head over and have the late night special at Vincent’s Pizzeria. So much had happened in that little shop over the years that it had a lot of significance to us as a group. It was the first place Pandora and I had ever met Vicker, and it was the first place I had ever taken Raine on a date. No matter how much the city that we lived in changed, this place stood the test of time. Vinnie was a true Italian if I’d ever seen one, and he knew how to make the best slice in the entire city. His shop was this little hovel between a dry cleaner and a barber, and it had his apartment on the second floor. I loved going over there for Sunday dinner because no matter what we ate, it always smelled like pizza. Vinnie always welcomed me with open arms and a big hug, we weren’t related by blood but he treated me like a brother. His shop was a place that was very close to my heart and that I hoped never changed. I used to come here with Panda’s sister at least twice a week for date night. It was where we had our first kiss and where I told her I loved her for the first time. It was the place I probably would have asked her to marry me when the time came. Unlike most of the other things from that time of my life, remembering those moments every time I walked into Vinnie’s place made me feel a little better about everything. Vicker and Pandora laughed about something one of them had said, but all I did was sit there quietly and enjoy the food. That’s how things usually went on nights like these, and they knew what was on my mind every single time. Sometimes it felt like they purposely brought me here just so they could see a little bit of happiness in me again.

“How’s the pizza, Anu?” Pandora asked as she shoved a slice of pepperoni into her mouth. Vicker was scarfing down a bowl of pasta along with a slice or two of cheese and I had just barely gotten halfway through one piece. My eyes had been fixed on something outside in the street, but I snapped back towards my friends with a smile. I nodded along to her question and continued on eating. I found myself peeking through the window every so often when a small flicker of movement caught my eye, but it probably just seemed as if I was daydreaming to my friends.

We only spent an hour or two there before we went back to crash in Vicker’s basement. It was only about a fifteen-minute walk down Main Street, a block lit up every second of every day by shining lights and the sounds of traffic. Tonight was different though, there was no traffic, no pedestrians, and almost no lights. Something felt strange to me, so I went to urge Pandora and Vicker to turn back, but before I could get the words out I felt my feet moving forward. It was as if my body was acting of it’s own accord and I had no control. It was moments later beneath one of the shimmering streetlights when we found ourselves surrounded. Shadows began to swarm around us in a circle, rising and dancing from the cracks in the sidewalk, creating an inescapable vortex. We were trapped like rats. I began sweating bullets and my heart was beating a million miles a minute. I felt like my chest was about to burst as my friends stood against my back. We were all afraid of what was happening, and that’s when I charged forward. I tried to tear through the vortex and get out to the other side but it sent me hurdling back into my friends like they were bowling pins and I was the ball. We all crumbled to the ground in a heap of limbs, terrified and frantic of the situation before us. It wasn’t until after we exhausted ourselves trying to escape the shadows stopped circling, locking us in place with no way out.

A figure began to form from within the wall of shadows. A woman looked to phase through the vortex wall. She had jet-black hair just like Pandora but stood taller, clad in some kind of leather battle armor that you’d only see in those dungeon crawler video games and fantasy movies. She was hauntingly beautiful, that was undeniable. I was terrified. I had no idea who she was or what she wanted, but I had a bad feeling about her from the jump. I felt the urge to fight, but some unseen force was holding me back the same way it had made me walk into this in the first place. The woman’s lips parted and she spoke, her voice angelic like a classical harp carrying a tune through a crowded concert hall.

“I have waited for this moment. Pandora Rivers, pupil of Athol. Vicker Wilson, friend and guardian of the nymphs. And of course Anubis Fields, heir of Tyus himself… I am Hope.” She bowed her head, but I was confused, her words made no sense to me. “Rather, I have taken on a physical form in order to speak with you. My true form is of the emotion ‘Hope’. I am an astral being capable of great and powerful things beyond your comprehension, and I have come to inform you all of your fate.” She explained, but her words felt deceiving. I looked to my friends, but gained no comfort. I felt as though there was something she wasn’t telling us, but before I could question it she continued. “The world is in grave danger as we speak. Forces far more powerful than anything it has ever seen threaten it. No man, war, or natural disaster has ever caused this kind of destruction and chaos, but it can be prevented. You three can stop the great evil that approaches. You are what the prophecy promised.” Her gaze was fixated on me, I could tell. I felt myself drawn to her like iron to a magnet and it made me uncomfortable.

“Heed my warning. Emotions are taking on physical forms like mine, they’re here to destroy mankind and this world. Happiness, Sadness, Fear, Anger, Love, Pride… They’ve begun plotting the demise of your people. You mustn’t let them succeed, you must fight them and save the world. This is your destiny.” She was spouting supernatural nonsense. I couldn’t believe my ears! Vicker wasn’t as dumbfounded as I was though. He held a curious gaze as he peered towards this thing in front of us, his fortitude under pressure was resounding.

“And how do you expect us to do that? We’re just teenagers! Are you insane?” His curiosity turned quickly shifted into denial. I didn’t blame him; I was thinking the same thing. Pandora, on the other hand, seemed to be in a trance. She couldn’t take her eyes off of Hope, and she hadn’t said a word. Something strange was definitely going on and I didn’t like it.

“You’re not just a couple of teenagers, Vicker. You are the gods chosen warriors, the trio destined to triumph over this evil in the forgotten age. You have abilities that were bestowed upon you at birth. The prophecy foretold us of your inevitable victory. Do not fail us.” And with that, Hope was gone. I burst forward at the wall of shadows but was repelled as I tumbled to the ground. I had so many questions, but she was gone and I was left feeling uneasy. The mere thought of the world’s fate resting on my shoulders made me sick to my stomach. I wanted no part of this. Vicker picked me up off the ground and we both began to scratch and claw at the wall, hoping for an escape.

As soon as Hope was gone, Pandora snapped back to reality and the shadows fell around us. Small waves of black rippled against the pavement as they crept back into the cracks of the sidewalk and into the night sky, dissipating in an instant. The three of us looked around confused, but there was no trace of her. Even if we wanted to try, we couldn’t track her. There were no witnesses, no one around except for us and the quiet city street. “Guys… I felt something.” Pandora muttered barely loud enough for us to hear. “She and I… We have a connection. There was this weird energy between us, and it was powerful. She was radiating this… Aura or something. It just kind of drew me to her. I think she’s telling the truth… I think we’re supposed to save the world.” Her eyes said it all, she believed her words just then. I could hardly believe what I was hearing, but she was my friend. What was I supposed to say? Vicker and I shared a questioning look.

“Panda, you can’t be serious.” Vicker scoffed.

“Really, Pan. He’s right. I don’t know what just happened but--.” She cut me off right away. Her gaze suddenly lit like a fire.

“Vick, Anu, I’m serious. Unless either of you can explain how some woman can create a weird shadowy vortex and trap us in the middle of a city block without any witnesses, I don’t see a reason not to believe her. What happens if she’s right? What if we’re supposed to save the world? If she’s right and we don’t believe her then everything we love is doomed! No more pizza nights, no more family, no more world! If she’s some psycho and it turns out to have just been some random hoax then there’s nothing to worry about… But I’m telling you, I felt something with her. There’s no denying it. She’s telling us the truth.” I’d never seen Pandora like this. She was filled with conviction. I may have thought it was nonsense, but I had nothing else to say. “What about her, Anu? Wouldn’t she want you to be a hero?” Her words ricocheted through my chest, cutting deep into me.

“Lets talk about this somewhere less public… Who knows when this place will fill up with crowds again. We need to move.” Vicker shifted the conversation away from where Pandora was taking it. We started back in the direction of his place, but we felt lost. We walked silently, all of us, trying to process what happened. No one said a word or made so much as a sniffle until we walked in the door and down the stairs to his basement.

Even after we got back we spent about fifteen minutes sitting around. The only sound that filled the room was a ticking clock. We were all trying to comprehend what just happened to us. What if it turned out that it wasn’t just some elaborate prank? What if we were actually some ancient heroes from a prophecy? What did it mean? Why now? Why us? An average night of pizza and nerding-out turned into a story of mythological proportions in the blink of an eye. Vicker stood up, breaking the silence as he made his way over to me on the couch. “Anu… If this is real, we need to figure out what to do. Hell, even if it’s a real threat she didn’t tell us anything! What are our abilities? How do we use them? How will we know who and when to fight? She made us out to be legends but we don’t even know where to start!” He was panicking, but that wasn’t uncommon. Vicker always overreacted to things in the most frantic of ways.

“Vick, man, how should I know? You’re not really falling for this are you?” I snapped, tired of the nonsense. I just couldn’t believe it was real. None of it made sense to me. She called me the ‘heir of Tyus’, but I’d never heard of that before. It was like a bad fantasy novel waiting to happen.

“Anu, do you seriously doubt this?! How can you be so daft? She stood in front of us after coming out of a cyclone of darkness that rose from the ground! What can you possibly think that was? This is real. Accept it and help us figure it out already!” Pandora slammed her fist down on the table, silencing my doubts like a judge in court. “If we’re not all on the same page, we’re doomed! Life itself could be hanging in the balance but you can’t get it through that thick skull of yours!” She rose to her feet and was standing nose to nose with me before I could blink.

“Shut up already! No one is doomed! The world’s not going to be destroyed by emotions and life will continue being the crappy, dismal mess it always has been! This isn’t real!” I barked back, my anger steadily growing with everything the two of them threw at me. “If you two want to play hero, fine. I don’t want to be part of your wild goose chase.”

“Man, she’s right though! I didn’t want to believe it either, but the evidence is as clear as day! Remember when we got caught on tape throwing eggs at my old man’s shop? We have to this seriously or else we’re in trouble.” Vicker grabbed me by the shoulder but I brushed him off. I remembered the day his dad came screaming at us in the basement because the security cameras caught Vicker and I the night before with three dozen eggs and five rolls of toilet paper. We pulled a prank on his dad, but the security guard at his shop ended up chasing us for three blocks while we roared with laughter in a full sprint until he gave up.

“Shut up! I can’t believe you’re both trying to tell me this crap! We aren’t superheroes! We aren’t born of some stupid prophecy! We don’t have any powers, we don’t have some screwed up destiny to save the world, and we’re definitely not warriors! Look at us! We’re just a couple of nerds that like anime, tabletop games, comic books, and debate whether or not the movies we hate were actually that bad. I don’t even know what I’m doing with my life! How could I possibly be destined to save the entire god damn world? Tell me that!” I was red in the face now. Vicker and Pandora stared back at me, speechless. They had no answers for me and I had no answers for them. I started towards the door when Vicker spoke up.

“Maybe you don’t know what you’re doing with your life because before tonight you didn’t know what your purpose was… Maybe this is what you’re supposed to be doing with your life. Anyone can be a hero.” But before he could say anything else I was out the door. I didn’t want to fight with them anymore.

I shoved my hands in my pockets and started to walk. I didn’t know where I was going, but I didn’t really care either. I couldn’t sit there and listen to my best friends lose all of their sense because of a bad prank. I didn’t know how to explain why it couldn’t be serious, but I didn’t think I had to. I was just a nineteen-year-old boy without a purpose. I didn’t know what I was doing in my life, or what I even wanted to do for that matter. I was unemployed, I was a college dropout, and all I did was mope around and complain in my friend’s basement. How could someone like that save the world? I’ve been a damaged soul for years and tonight was just a reminder of that. Whether or not Hope was telling the truth, it was just the words she spoke that reminded me of what a failure I’ve been. I hated myself.

I had been walking for hours before I got out of my own head and realized where I was goin. I walked all over town twice over when I recognized the familiar path I was on. There was the dying oak tree on the corner of main street with the half built tree house in it. There was the old florists shop a few blocks down from that, the flowers outside ranged from daisies to sunflowers, but the most prominent were the camellias sitting in the center of the set up. They had always been my favorite. The further I walked, the more the sidewalk began to change. The pavement was rough and growing older every year, the stone was bleached by the sun at this point and the cracks ripped from side to side, letting little dandelions sprout. Eventually the city behind me grew quieter as I approached the edge of town and saw the rusted iron fence begin on my right. I turned the corner and stood outside the cemetery for a few minutes once I finally arrived.

I approached the cemetery gate quietly. The cast-iron entryway creaked and groaned as I gently pushed it forward and made my way in as I had so many times before. I trudged up hill for two minutes and thirty-seven seconds exactly followed by two hundred and thirty steps to my left. I memorized the amount of time and the amount of steps I took from the gate to the grave. I’d made this trip at least once a day for three years and each time was just as hard as the first. It never got easier. When I took my last step, I dropped to my knees. With my head in my hands and tears rushing down my face as I began to sob, I sat before her tombstone. My tears dropped down to the dirt and I traced the outline of the name with my fingers. My heart broke again the way it always did.

This was the grave of Raine Rivers. She was Pandora’s younger sister, born a year later than her almost to the day, and the love of my life. I met the two girls when I was only five years old. I was riding my bike outside their house when I hit a pothole and fell right at their feet on my way home. I broke my arm the second I hit the ground and they rushed to my aide quicker than I could whine about the pain. Their mother tended to me and brought me home, but not before I got to laugh with two girls who just wanted to distract me from the pain. I never forgot what they did for me that day, and I could never repay them for it. They helped a scared little boy be okay. Every day since Pandora and I have gotten together and laughed. We’ve been the absolute best of friends. She introduced me to Vicker and we became an even better trio than the Three Muskateers. But somewhere between the day I broke my arm and October 12th three years ago, Raine came along. She would always tag along with us wherever we went, and she always seemed to latch onto me. She listened to everything I said like it was the most interesting thing she’d ever heard, even though most of the time they were just silly stories. She hung on every word. She looked at me like I was some kind of unique creature she’d never seen before. When I told a joke, she’d laugh despite how bad it was. When I told a story, she listened in awe. Meanwhile, the entire time she was doing these things, I was doing them back. When we were thirteen Vicker and Pandora confronted me at the park to tell me what they thought. They told me that the entire time they’ve known me, I’ve had a crush on Raine. I denied it, red faced and embarrassed. I thought they were crazy. How could I have a crush on her and not even know it? But as if it were a movie, five minutes later I saw her. The only difference was I couldn’t stop staring at and I knew it. I tried to look away but couldn’t. That’s when she came up to me and whispered something into my ear. The next day we had our first kiss. She became the most important person in my life; I didn’t want to go a moment without her by my side. We were in love, really, truly in love. Then I lost her forever. It happened so quickly at the time, but in reality it was slow and excruciating. Often times it felt like I was still losing her even though she was already gone.

I stopped crying after a few minutes, running my hands along the stone soaked in tears. I was overcome with sadness, but not just because of where I was. I was sad because of what was happening in my life. I felt like I’d failed at everything I’d ever done, and if I was actually supposed to save the world, I’d probably fail that too. I didn’t know what to do.

“Raine… I wish you were here to tell me what to do. You always had the answers. You always helped me stop doubting myself. When I was with you I felt like I could become king of the world, but now? Now I’m just a joke. Do you know that someone tried to tell me I’m supposed to save the world tonight? Me, of all people! I don’t believe it, but Vick and Panda do. I guess you probably would too, right? You always saw greatness in me, even when it wasn’t there. But I don’t want it to be true. It can’t be. I’m not cut out for something like that. I’m hopeless without you, Rainey. I need you here with me… You promised me you weren’t going anywhere. You promised.” My vision grew blurry through my tears. I couldn’t stay here any longer. I needed to go home and get some sleep, so I stood up and walked away as the tears rolled down my cheeks once again.