Nightmares are not figments of your imagination. They are genuine—a reminder of when you have entered a new chapter in your life. Everything you attempt to run from, the fear, its sub-zero grip clenching at your heart, is more your friend than any dream. Nightmares wake you to the truth, and dreams lead you so far astray you’ll arrive at unsighted lands. Never to return to who you are, imprisoned by your happiness.
Jacky stands in the middle of a dark and misty swamp. Dead trees scour the land. Tar bubbles all around. In the distance beyond the moonlight, a tall, built figure looms across the muck. In an instant, the Sabered Prince lifts Jacky face to face with him, his eyes piercing into Jacky’s. The sharp tint of his orange pupils catches the reflection of light scattered throughout the night sky. The Prince stares at Jacky silently before opening his mouth wide and sending his sabers and gaping mouth to devour him. Jacky wakes, a nightmare sending him sitting up straight, sweat soaks into the bed. His demeanor quickly goes from surprise and panic to collected and alert. He looks around the room. A medical station, curtains surround him, trays of medical supplies, and a monitor displaying various vitals linked to Jacky’s person. The sound of heels grows louder and louder. A shadow beyond the curtains raises a hand and moves the curtain to the side. A tall and slender woman holding a transparent tablet locks eyes with him. She smiles and approaches closer to the bed. She looks at his vitals on display, mumbles a few remarks to herself, and taps away with her fingers on the screen of her portable device.
“You’re looking quite well. You’ve been asleep for some time now, so try to take things slow. Most of your more mortal wounds have healed though there will be scarring.”
“How long was I out? The last thing I remember was collapsing in the arena.” Jacky glances around the room as if looking for something.
“Yes, you were out for over a week.” The woman reaches just below her and pulls something out under the bed. “Those girls of yours told me the first thing you would probably look for was this dirty coat of yours.” She tosses the coat onto his lap.
“Thanks. So one week? Damnit. Are the girls ok? I must have been out through our next matchup.” Jacky starts ripping off the medical hookups along his arms and neck. The nurse shrugs and takes a step back, giving Jacky space to collect himself. Jacky dawns his coat, reaches for his jacket pocket, and pulls out his pack of cigarettes.
“Isn’t this the part where you freak out and attempt to force me back into bed?” Jacky sticks a cigarette onto his lips and pulls out his lighter, the screen of the monitor reflected upon the surface of the oily, silver surface.
The nurse lifts her eyebrow playfully and smiles. “As much as I would love to “force you back into bed,” I’ve seen many of your type come and go from the med station. I couldn’t stop you if I wanted to, nor would I want you stinking up my beds any further than you already have to begin with. You’re free to go. Just take better care of that body of yours; I would hate to see something so good go to waste.”
Jacky takes the cigarette out of his mouth and nods slowly. “ok, yeah, right, well, thanks for the treatment, lady.” Jacky exits his little curtained-off area and takes a look around. Before him, many sections of medical beds surround his person. It’s a field medical station. The stadium isn’t too far off to the right.
“We have injured to attend here at all times, 24/7. Thanks to you individuals, we have to set up camp right next door.” The woman opens the curtains, cleans up the sheets, and prepares the station for the next patient.
“I didn’t catch your name.” Jacky lights the end of his cigarette and takes a deep drag.
“You can call me Dr.Wrenna. Some consider me to be the “magician” here. I can heal anyone, anytime, especially-” Dr.Wrenna looks Jacky up and down. “Especially specimens like yourself,” Jacky smirks. “I’ll keep that in mind.” Jacky blows a puff of smoke over his left shoulder and makes his way over to Clair’s office to catch up on everything that has happened within the past week.
Hopefully, the twins are alright. The purpose for that show I put on was to protect them. They don’t deserve this. I need more time to get them up to speed.
Oh, don’t start getting all soft on me, Jacky.
The Sabered Prince growls, his stern voice bouncing all around inside Jacky’s skull. Jacky doesn’t respond. He continues down the street; the lights begin to dim slightly, the nightlife is settling in across the first floor of the Warpath.
Don’t ignore me. I know you can hear me, Jacky. It’s sweet you care so much about those twins. You know the fate that lies in front of them. You need to accept the possibility that you might not be able to protect them for long. Our survival is more important. Besides, you have only known them for- Jacky interrupts.
I’m not an idiot. I fully understand our circumstances. The twins have been the only “family” I have known in a very long time. Yeah, sure, before we got here, I put myself first. I had them fight almost every battle under the guise that I would win the match in the end. We were lucky. Now that I have seen what truly lies ahead, I can no longer continue old strategies. I must craft new plans and work hard to get to the bottom of all this, or rather, to the top. I at least owe them something for keeping me sane throughout this whole shitstorm.
So tell me then. What are your new “plans?”
To get you into tip-top shape. You’re our only way out. And from the look of things, you don’t have a choice but to help out as much as possible. If I die of unnatural causes, you can’t consume my soul at the end of all this. Unlike other horrors which take the lives of their masters once they perish back into Oblivion, you take a very long time to marinate your meal.
Oh Jacky, so informed you are. Just because I am what I am; does not mean I can’t enjoy myself. Throughout my existence, I have consumed many human souls. I have come to love humans, dear boy. I have devoured so much humanity I have a newfound affinity for them. Every life claimed I witnessed it in its entirety, right through their very eyes. I’m quite honestly in this for the adventure. Humans are so thrilling and entertaining. I’m here for games and fun and, at times, the danger. Our friends above are a new piece on the board that strikes my curiosity like never before, and I wish to know more.
This is why I’m so informed. You go off on random speeches that are packed full of all sorts of lore.
What can I say, Jacky! It’s all a part of the fun!
Jacky pulls the office door to the lobby open. He gives the receptionist a passing glance, then heads down to Clair’s office and knocks on the door. Jacky can hear Clair ranting off about business and corporate jargon through the walls. The voices of Lulu and Lala can also be faintly heard, drowned out over Claire’s loud corporate voice. Claire halts her rambling and addresses the knock on the door.
“Come in already! Make it quick, I’m-” Jacky opens the door and enters. Lulu and Lala stand up with excitement just at the sight of him. They both rush to hug him and look up at him with glistening, cute eyes.
“Jacky! You’re awake! I missed you!” Lala is the first to speak.
“Jeez, Jacky, maybe next time, don’t jump the gun so hard. I understand where you’re coming from, but I’m in this just as deep as you are. I don’t need you to protect me or whatever’s going through your head. I can handle myself, and to prove it, Lala and I won our last match while you were off sleeping the days away like a lazy panda.” Lulu and Lala both back away from their embrace, Lala clinging on for a second longer.
“I can see that. I have my weird ways of handling stressful situations. The road ahead is only going to get worse from here on. I’m proud of you two for not dying on me while I was recovering. Too bad I missed it.”
Clair stands up from her desk to meet Jacky’s gaze.
“Actually, you can watch it on the net when you have time. As for right now, we were in the middle of discussing what is next for team Royalty. First off, Jacky. Until further notice, you’re prohibited from all pre-match interviews and events. That stunt you pulled last week isn’t gonna fly. The committee went on with such a proposal because of how wild up it got the net. They control the playing field, so I suggest you stay within the confines of our authority, which is quite small. Lulu and Lala will be the two to interact with the media and all other associated social events. Clear?”
Jacky shrugs and leans up against the door. “Cool with me, hun. It wasn’t my style anyway.” Claire rolls her eyes, picks up her binder, and flips through a few pages. Jacky whips out his pack of cigarettes and lights up.
“Ok, with that settled, onto our priority topic. They have been trying out some new systems upstairs and have successfully discovered interesting engagements for your horrors. They want to bring these new events down here. One of you three, decide amongst yourselves, will participate in an event they have named “Nightmare Fueled.” It’s a death race for horrors. Twelve horrors will be selected from a handful of teams to participate in this new affair. The rules will be announced at the “match.” You have three days to prepare and rest. See me two days from now to inform me of who will be racing from the three of you. Any questions?”
“Yeah, how do-” Claire interrupts Lulu. “No questions? Awesome.” Claire ushers them out of her office. Lulu squints and stares into the door that has been closed.
“Why does she always do that!” Lulu throws her hands into the air and walks off with a huff. Jacky and Lala share a look and shrug. In passing, Jacky puts out his cigarette on the receptionist’s desk, smearing the ash on the corner of the wooden desk. The receptionists looked stunned at the rude gesture. She begins to speak up; however, Jacky and the gang have already made their way to the outside. She reaches for a tissue angrily on the desk and wipes up the mess.
“Well, I guess we should decide who’s gonna race, huh? How are we gonna do that? Pull straws?” Lala puts her finger on her chin and looks up, eyeing the massive structure at the beginning of the second floor of the Warpath.
“Nope! I got a better idea!” Lulu clenches her fist and looks at Jacky. “We hold a Race of our own.” A massive smile forms on her face.
Oh? I do like that idea. I’ll finally get to see if I’m faster than Syphon.
I wouldn’t doubt it.
“So where exactly are we gonna race between the three of us?” Lala says.
“I know a place. If there’s gonna be a race soon, then there must be a track somewhere, right? So all we gotta do is find it.” Jacky says.
“You’re right! Yeah. That should have been obvious.” Lulu elbows Jacky’s side.
“And if I had to guess….” Jacky slowly points his finger to his left. “That way,” Jacky says with a grin.
“Why that way-oh that would make a lot of sense, huh?” Lala gasps at what takes hold of her eyes.
A giant winding body of a gray and stone-like snake encircles a mountain. Jacky turns to walk in the direction of the immense wonder. Lulu and Lala look at each other astonished. They hurry to catch up to Jacky.
“I didn’t even notice that earlier! Where did that come from?” Lulu looks around to see if anyone else is as shocked as her. A few passersby gaze at the creation of the giant mountain, but none of them looked as confused or entertained, as if this is normal.
The Summit of Apophis. I never knew they could also summon locations from Oblivion as well as us horrors. Fascinating.
The coiling snake body tightens around the mountain. The sound of its movements echoes and skips across the first floor of the Warpath. Jacky continues straight for the monumental creation.
After a few hours of walking, Jacky and the twins emerge into a small bustling part of the city, just on the edge of what appears to be a forest. Jacky stops by a vending machine and inserts a few rubies. A few water bottles fall into the tray. Jacky passes a bottle to both Lulu and Lala. Jacky uncaps his bottle and takes a swig. Jacky reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out the notepad containing the team’s schedule. He flips through a few pages, stops, and folds the pad around its rings. Addressing the page, he is on; he turns to the two sisters.
“Here we are. Just beyond this treeline is a place called “The Sinners Plains.” It’s a large field; we have our mountain over there past that field. I guess they use this part of the Warpath for locational summonings. The kicker is this field is massive. It stretches for miles upon miles. To my knowledge, we should be allowed to summon out here. As long as we don’t commit violent acts, we should be fine. Get used to hiking out here too. This place seems a lot better for training exercises. Here’s how we’re going to decide who’s racing. We’ll summon our horrors along the treeline, and whoever makes it to the tip of that snake’s tail wins.”
Lulu and Lala share a look of excitement and rush off into the tree line. Jacky walks into the forest if it can even be considered a forest. The trees stretch pretty far left and right; however, only about ten or so feet separate him from the mouth of the biome set upon him.
“This is awesome! It’s been a bit since we got together to do something cool!” Lala sits down on the edge of the grass that marks the beginning of the Sinners Plains. She puts her hands over her ears and does her summoning ritual. Whisper appears from behind her and floats around, taking in his surroundings.
Jacky looks Whisper up and down. “I see Whisper has slightly evolved again after winning his last match, I see.”
Lala smiles. “That’s right! He’s a little bit bigger now and much more durable.”
Lulu’s eyes roll back into her head, and a black rift of smoke opens just before her. Syphon grabs the edge of the rift and yanks himself out of Oblivion. He eyes the plains and cracks his neck.
“We all know we don’t need to do this, right? I’m the speedster of this group.” Syphon growls. “But I guess I’ll humor you both.”
Jacky steps into the woods removes his clothes and balls them up into his coat. The sound of his transformation tears through the treeline, and a mighty roar rips the leaves off the nearby trees. Emerging from the forest, The Sabered Prince faces the other two horrors eye to eye. Syphon appears to have evolved back into his previous form, just like the day before he shared some of his power with Whisper, though even taller. The Prince evolved from his previous battle. He grew several feet. Four arms accompany the horror’s body. His build glistens in the artificial lighting of the first floor. His muscles bulge with more weight, and his legs and feet are more defined. The Sabered Prince closes his eyes and takes a deep breath through his nose. Letting out a slight growl, he looks towards the mountain.
“The Summit of Apophis. I’ve never been there myself, but I heard many tales.” The Prince looks to Syphon and Whisper. Syphon crosses his arms and turns towards the Sabered Prince.
“I’ve been there once. Long ago. In another life. If it is the same as before, the path that lies upon the body of the snake will be fairly challenging for those on it. We’ll save all the details for later. For now. I have a race to win.”
Syphon closes his body together and braces for top speed. Whisper floats next to him and leans forward a bit. The Prince stretches and flexes his back. He puts all four of his hands down on the ground; his back leg kicked out while the other is lifted forward, ready to spring action.
“Ready? Three!” The Prince’s voice roars. “Two!” Syphon’s voice ripples, a few stones beneath his feet jump around on the ground.
Let’s see who’ll win. This is going to be quite entertaining.
My heart indeed is racing, Jacky! Make sure to cheer me on!