Chapter I: Spirited Away
"But dreams have ways of turning into nightmares."
Arching over the treeline, the sun began to descend painstakingly slow into the horizon. The moment it disappeared beneath the hills—and the light was vacuumed into a singular red, beeping dot sat above a sea of gold—coldness swept across the meadow.
The wind was suddenly biting at the back of Clarence's neck—a chill so extraordinarily crisp that it sent a chill beneath his coat, creeping down his spine before it nestled somewhere deep in the pit of his stomach. He could feel it nestled in his blood and pounding in his ears. He sighed in relief, setting his clenched fists free, allowing himself to take in the view of everything around him for the first time.
A rush of adrenaline spurred Esme's eyes to finally open. At first, they gazed across the darkened landscape, eventually settling on the glimmering shell of a horn ahead. From its mouth spilled a mountain of supplies. Everything that one could possibly want in order to win. She noted the array of medieval weapons, nestled between guns and swords and even a war hammer. Christ, Esme tutted. They went all out.
Whilst Zuri knew that she should've been paying better attention, her eyes stayed fixated on her manicure. The colour seemed enhanced, somehow—a dull blue now royal in tone. She smiled as she looked up past the sad, sullen faces of the children around her, finding Mallory in the distance. Her cordial wave, however, was met with disinterest.
Airhead. Mallory rolled her eyes as she looked away from Zuri. Her interest lay solely on the grovelling boy next to her. His ashy, tear-streaked skin reminded her of the adverts they played at Christmas time—not that she let the T.V sit on it long enough before flicking the channel over.
Mallory raised an eyebrow. "Did you say something?"
"Please…" the boy whimpered, "Save me."
The words were unnerving. Mallory turned to face Clarence, only a few spots away from her. "Clarence—"
Her words were ripped from her throat as the world seemingly exploded.
Mallory barely had any time to react before the sheer force from the explosion swept her off of her pedestal, sending her face first into the dirt. Despite the air being torn from her lungs, she felt no pain, scrambling to her feet.
She stared, dumbfounded, at the pixelated mass that was the boy.
Even though he wasn't real, his final words were too eerie to ignore—something that needed to be fixed. Mallory promptly pressed the button on her wristband, vanishing in an array of iridescent sparkles.
Clarence barely noticed as he ran for the golden horn—a Cornucopia, if he remembered correctly. A few of the pixelated children strayed nearby, frightful to get too close, though there was one person who had no qualms. From the corner of his eye, the much taller figure stepped into view.
"Did you see that?"
"See what?" Clarence hummed, reaching down to feel the war hammer in his hands and lifting it as if it was nothing more than the weight of a book.
"The boy," Esme answered coolly, "He exploded."
"Oh—" Clarence threw the hammer with expert precision. It slammed into the back of a teen's skull, causing him to disintegrate. "—He probably stepped off his pedestal too closely. I think that's a thing, you know. I saw it in the movie."
"Nope. He literally just went boom."
"Huh— one second," Clarence grabbed a spear, barely tilting his attention as he launched it blindly over Esme's shoulder. There was a small thud as a shower of blue pixels rained down on the grass. "—What?"
"Did you have Roald raise your settings?"
Clarence smiled coyly, "No…"
"You're a liar and not even a good one. Not to mention that you need to take this seriously. This isn't just a game, Clarence," Esme said sternly, "We can't release the program until it's fully functional. Exploding children is a slight problem and a field day for the media."
"Exploding virtual children, Esme. Let's dial back on the tone."
"It's a shame that Roald can't change the settings in your brain," Esme jabbed her finger at his skull.
Clarence laughed, "Hurtful."
"Mallory left, too, so you'll have to deal with that when we leave."
He couldn't feel physical pain—but the tightening of the knot in his stomach said otherwise. It showed on his face, too, causing Esme to nod in agreement.
"Yeah, you think I was hurtful? Mallory is going to tear you a new one."
Suddenly, Clarence was no longer excited to play his game. He sighed stroppily, thumbing open the button on his wristband. He lingered for a second—revelling in the power that his world granted him, the ambition that was crafted into every pixel before his very eyes—before eventually hitting the button.
A world of colours swaddled Clarence as he left—turquoises and lilacs and fuchsias melding into one before turning into the bleak darkness of the inside of his goggles.
"Clarence St. Cloud has exited the Dreamscape."
Clarence thumbed the goggles free from his eyes as the pod lid gently rose. He sat up, letting his eyes adjust to the brightness of the testing lab.
The intercom buzzed. "How do you feel?"
The nausea in his stomach—from the Dreamscape or from the threat of Mallory's wrath, Clarence couldn't tell—quickly subsided. He raised his thumb instead, just in case his stomach betrayed him. Mallory didn't scare him. Nope. He was a grown man and the head of his own company that Mallory worked in—
"Any headaches? Nausea? Fuzziness in your arms or legs?"
"I'm good, Roald. All good," Clarence climbed out of the pod slowly, looking around at the empty chambers before realising that Zuri was still in the Dreamscape. "Can you eject Zuri, please? I don't think she's realised we've all left."
Esme sighed, appearing at Clarence's side, "Not the brightest bulb, is she?"
"Don't be mean. She's doing her best."
"Oh, I know… that's why it's frightening," Esme deadpanned.
Eventually, Zuri's lid rose, releasing her. Unlike Clarence, Zuri seemed to bounce back quickly—she was up in seconds, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, a bewildered shine in her eyes.
Clarence smiled at his dearest friend, "Did you not notice that we had gone?"
"Oh, yeah, sure— I got distracted by the trees. They're really pretty."
"Uh… Mister St. Cloud?" Roald's voice spoke over the intercom once more. "Miss Livingston wants to talk to you."
Esme crossed her arms over her chest as Zuri gave Clarence a pitied look. He sighed, "It was one exploding child… jeez."
w w w. dreamsarenightmarestoo. weebly. c o m
For now, I'm placing LimosVerse into suspended animation. Only because whilst this story lives in my head rent-free, I can't evict it, and it's taking up too much space.
To cut a long story short—this is an open SYOT! This prologue will be followed by two more over the submission period in order to give you, the readers, more insight into these characters and their eventual subplot. Any and all information can be found at the blog above, form included, if you so wish — and, alternatively, I'll put the form on my profile too.
I'll be accepting submissions via PM or my discord (coreyjay#5586) — it won't be first come, first serve, but I will immediately accept the tributes that I just have to have. All final decisions will be made by the end of the deadline.
Feel free to message me on either platform if you want to talk!