"Gregor, time to wake up! You can't sleep in just 'cuz it's Saturday!" Gregor could hear Lizzie's voice penetrate through his blanket. He groaned and shifted to his other side before muttering something that sounded like "five more minutes".
His door swung open with an ear-splitting creak and Lizzie stood by the doorway with her hands on her hips. "Gregor! C'mon! Breakfast is on the table!" she urged as she approached the bed. Gregor put his hands over his ears and moaned. Maybe if he pretended to ignore her, she would go away. Lizzie stood there for a moment, evidently annoyed. Then, to his surprise, Lizzie let out an annoyed huff and scurried out the room. He smiled and savored the peaceful quiet that followed. Looks like his plan worked.
Suddenly, he heard a high-pitched shriek and a thundering of footsteps that grew louder and louder. Gregor cringed. He was too naïve. Lizzie was using her trump card, and he knew what was going to happen next.
"Gregor!" Boots' voice rang like an alarm clock. "Get up! Get up! Getupgetupgetupgetupgetup!" she squealed as she jumped on his bed and pounded his backside with a barrage of small fists.
Gregor sighed. Looks like she wasn't going to leave until he got up. He rose reluctantly from beneath his blankets like a monster and towered over Boots.
"I'm going to eat you!" he snarled playfully and lunged for the small girl.
Boots screamed in delight and dashed out the door faster than Gregor could get out of bed. He chased her all the way down to the kitchen table and finally managed to catch her.
"Gotcha!" he laughed.
"No! No fair!" she pouted. "You cheated!" she pointed crossed her pudgy arms and glared at Gregor.
"Aw, I'm sorry Boots." Gregor apologized. "How about I make up for it by giving you some apple juice?"
At that, Boots' eyes immediately lit up and she siscrambled to her chair at the table. "Ye-es!" she said cheerfully and gave the biggest smile a toddler could give.
"Sure took you a while to get up." Lizzie smirked.
"Yeah, yeah." Gregor waved his hand dismissively as he walked to the fridge. "Boots says I cheated, but you're the one who cheated by using her to wake me up."
"All's fair in love in war." She shrugged.
Gregor came back from the fridge with ice-cold apple juice and noticed Lizzie was texting someone.
"Who you texting?" he craned his neck to get a glimpse of the screen as he handed Boots her apple juice. "A boyfriend?"
"Pfft." Lizzie scoffed. "As if. Boys are a waste of time. They're gross, immature, and not cost effective."
Gregor rolled his eyes. "Cost effective, huh?" he sat down and started to shoved his food into his mouth. "That sure is a weird way to look at things."
"It's true!" Lizzie put down her phone and gave an annoyed sigh. "All the guys at my school pick their noses and just wrestle with each other. Most of them don't have decent grades either."
"Well what about the ones that do have good grades and don't pick their noses?" Gregor laughed.
"Such people don't exist at my school." She sniffed. "Anyway, Dad was texting me. He said that the university has a faculty meeting today so he's not going to be home till later."
"Oh." Gregor twirled his fork around his plate and stared into it. Looks like Dad can't hang out with them. Again. "Well that's fine, I guess." He frowned slightly before looking back at Lizzie. "So what're you planning on doing today?"
"I was going to take Boots to the library and snag a couple of puzzle books." She said. "You wanna come?"
"Uh… nah." Gregor shook his head. "I guess I'll just meet up with Matt and Rachel or something."
"Matt and Rachel?" Lizzie stared at Gregor. "Who're they?"
"You know, my friends from school." Gregor smirked. "Don't tell me you forgot them already. You've met them already."
Lizzie's nose scrunched up and she stared hard at Gregor. "I've never heard those names in my life." She frowned. "Are you messing with me?"
Gregor's smile faded. "What? Of course not. Why would I be?"
"Hmm." She started to chew her lower lip. "Well I guess I don't remember." She said finally. "Anyway, we're off!" she picked up her bag and called out to Boots. "Let's go, Boots!"
Boots sprang out the door enthusiastically as Lizzie followed behind. Before she closed the door, she called out to Gregor. "Oh, yeah! By the way, Death's coming over, so clean up the place!"
Before Gregor could respond, the door slammed shut with an eerie echo. The kitchen seemed to be shrouded in a strange atmosphere and Gregor was frozen in the middle of it, not understanding what was going on. Why didn't Lizzie remember who Rachel and Matt were? And wait – she said who was coming? Gregor shook his head. No, weren't his friends down in…
"So this is your typical day." A voice emanated from somewhere behind Gregor.
Gregor whirled around and took a fighting stance, bracing himself for an attack, but all he found was Death sitting at the table drinking Boots' apple juice.
"Silly girl didn't even finish her apple juice." He sighed. "Such good quality too. Freshly squeezed. Did your mother make this?"
Gregor dropped his fists to his side and gaped at Death. "I thought you were…"
"Dead?" Death laughed. "Death can't die, didn't you know that?"
"But the last time we saw you, you could barely keep your back straight!" he gaped.
"Ah, yes. Well, technically, this isn't me. My actual self is still barely managing to hold it together back in the Dead realm." Death sighed. "I'm more like a small copy implanted inside of you."
"Wait what?!" Gregor squeaked. "I…inside of me? What are you doing inside of me?"
"Don't worry, I'm not going to do anything to you, Warrior. Yeesh." The Death-copy groaned comically. "So touchy. I was put inside of you in case some unexpected events happen."
"…unexpected events?" Gregor repeated. "What do you mean?"
"Well for one, you were nearly killed by that woman, which is a big surprise. Second, your cover is about to be blown because that woman almost killed you. The Underlanders are going to recognize you for sure when they take a close look at your face with your helmet off in the infirmary. And third, you're no closer to finding my scythe than you were when I first sent you here."
Gregor stared at Death for a while and suddenly turned his head side to side. "Wait." He stepped back. "What am I doing here? Why am I in the Overland then?"
"Isn't it obvious?" The copy sighed. "You're still unconscious. Right now, you're being shipped off to Regalia for treatment by Ares. Heaven knows why he went there instead of the House of D."
"So this is all… just a dream?" Gregor frowned.
"Not necessarily." Death wagged a finger in Gregor's direction. "It's more like a highly accurate virtual simulation of the Overland that retains the exact parameters as those of the actual Overland all being generated by your brain's recognition, sensory, and memory banks."
"So… it's a dream." Gregor reiterated.
Death rolled his eyes. "Fine. It's a dream. Way to be a party pooper, Warrior."
"So are you going to wake me up?" Gregor waved his hands.
"What, you think I'm the God of conscious or something?" Death scoffed. "You'll wake up when your body is ready. Besides, we still need to discuss your plan of action."
"Plan of action?"
"Yes." Death grunted. "Specifically, how you plan to get my scythe back. Did you even find out how has it?"
"Well…" Gregor twiddled his thumbs. "Matt, Rachel and I think it's Headwind."
Death frowned. "Who?"
"Scad Headwind. The leader of the House of D. Don't you know who this is? Leonardo told me you would have an idea."
"Leonardo, Sam, and Arja all expect me to know everything." Death sighed. "I have never heard of such a name. And I would remember an unusual name like that if he was the one to escape from me with my scythe."
"Wait, so is Headwind not the one who led the House of D out of your prisons?"
"No. The mortal to overpower me was apparently a great hero with a distinguished name… but I do not remember his name."
Gregor face-palmed. "Well that's just great. So I guess we're after the wrong guy. And by the way, the House of D. thinks you're attacking them since all of the prisoners are assaulting Regalia and the House of D."
"I cannot do anything about it. Not until you get me the scythe. Once you give me the scythe, all the dead shall return to their prisons, awaiting judgment by the Halls of Justice and Retribution." Death groaned. "Imagine all the paperwork I must attend to after this." He muttered.
"Anyway…" Gregor rolled his eyes. "We're sure Headwind has something with the scythe. He has dark powers far stronger than everyone else. So if anyone knows anything, it's gotta be him. And since we became his students, it'll be easy to find out about him eventually."
"I suppose that is all we can do for the moment." Death sighed. "But you better hurry. Time is not on your side, Warrior. You have the Bane, Gorger, and Solovet to deal with now. The three of them together are deadly. I suggest you move fast. Also, there's nothing that can be done about your identity being revealed. Just pray that the culprit doesn't realize that you were sent here by me. Or else things will be quite…difficult."
"Got it." Gregor nodded firmly.
"Good." Death nodded back.
They both turned away from each other and stood there awkwardly.
"Uhhh… isn't this sort of where I wake up or something?" Gregor scratched the back of his head.
Death looked at his wrist. "I think it is nearly that time… yes. Well until then, you are in a state of lucid dreaming. You can do whatever you wish. Manipulate your dream to your will."
"I can do that?" Gregor's eyes widened.
"Yes. There is nothing else to do, anyway. I have said all I needed to say, so I shall take my leave now. Farewell." Death bowed and disappeared in a shroud of black smoke, leaving Gregor alone again.
Gregor rubbed his hands together and grinned in excitement. Lucid dreaming. What should he do first? Fly? Become super-fast? Be like spider-man? There were so many great ideas! He took a deep breath and was about to conjure a huge skyscraper to jump from when his whole world….
Then everything went dark.
His body could barely move. He was hurting all over. Something bright was flashing in his eyes. What was going on?
Gregor slowly forced his eyes open and saw a white ceiling looming over him. He glanced downwards and saw his whole upper torso was covered in bandages.
"You are awake." He heard a familiar voice gasp from next to him.
With great effort, Gregor turned his head towards the voice and saw Howard walking over to him with all sorts of medical tools.
"You are such a fool." Howard muttered as he knelt by Gregor's bed and set down his tools on a nearby table.
"What are you talking about?" Gregor found difficulty forming words in his mouth.
Howard smiled. "You lied to me about who you were when you met Hazard back then. I recognized you."
Gregor couldn't help but smile back. "I… was always bad at lying anyway."
"Granted, I did not question it. But, I did wonder why you were back, Warrior." Howard frowned slightly. "I was sure you were not coming back."
"So did I." Gregor grimaced. "It's a long story…" he started to tell Howard about what happened, but Howard stopped him.
"Save your energy. Your body is in critical state from the wound." He looked solemnly at Gregor's bandages. "You were lucky Ares was flying his heart out for you. If he had been only a bit slower… things would not have gone well as it did."
"Oh yeah… how is he?" Gregor looked up at Howard, worried.
"I have not seen Ares for a long time. But he looks the same as he did when you were here last time. Even so, it is…quite difficult to diagnose the dead."
"Really…" Gregor closed his eyes. "It's great that he's doing well now."
"You will probably have many visitors, Gregor." Howard looked out the door. "So far, only the people close to you have been notified of your existence."
Gregor let a sigh of relief. Looks like Death could rest easy knowing that the "Warrior's Return" wasn't being broadcasted all over the Underland. "It's fine. I'm up now, and I'm not too tired." He grinned.
"Very well. I shall let visitors in after she leaves." Howard smiled and walked towards the door.
"Wait…what?" Gregor stared as Howard's silhouette move out the door and he watched the door close behind it. "Who's 'she'?" he called after him.
Gregor frowned and lay back in his bed. And then he realized that he wasn't alone. He looked down to his right and gave a little start. He probably couldn't feel her there because of the numbing medication he was on, but Luxa was sleeping right next to him, cuddled up against him like a small child. She was breathing slowly and her face was covered with small bandages. Gregor froze for a moment, taking in the sight, and eventually began to smile. How long was she there for? Hours? Days?
"You were waiting on me, huh?" he whispered as he pushed back a strand of hair that was clinging to her face.
As soon as his hand pushed back the strand, Luxa moaned softly and her violet eyes fluttered open. Gregor couldn't help but just stare into the deep pools of purple swirling in her eyes. She stared back. They stayed like that for a moment before Luxa realized what she was doing.
"Ah…" she mumbled and backed away a little. "I…" she glanced around. "I was worried about you since you were injured and…"
"Mmhmm?" Gregor asked smiling teasingly.
Luxa's face grew even redder. "I was just worried."
"You already said that… but I appreciate it, your Highness." Gregor continued to smile.
At that, Luxa gave a frown and gave a sound of annoyance.
"I… request you not call me that." Luxa looked away and gave a wrinkled her nose.
"Why not?" Gregor cocked his head to one side and stared.
"I do not want you to think of me as your queen."
"Then what do you want me to think you as?"
"As… something else." Luxa bit her lower lip.
Gregor laughed and pulled Luxa closer to him, causing Luxa to squeak in surprise.
"What are you..?" Luxa resisted for a moment.
"Hey Luxa… I never got a chance to say this. But I really missed you." Gregor whispered in her ear. "And I love you."
Luxa's eyes widened and her body froze. After a moment, she sighed and rested her head on Gregor's shoulder.
"I suppose… I do so also." she managed to mumble back.
Luxa looked up and saw Gregor's flushed face smiling back at her. After a moment's deliberation, Gregor moved his face down and pressed his lips against hers. He could feel the warm, tingly feeling that he felt the last time he kissed her. After a long, blissful while, Luxa had to break away from the lack of air she was getting.
"Your lips are quite dry." Luxa murmured.
"Oh… are they?" Gregor's face blushed as he brushed his fingers against his lips. "Well I mean… I didn't really prepare for this… you know?"
"Oh…ah no! My apologies." Luxa stammered. "I did not mean it was not enjoyable… I was merely just trying to…"
She was interrupted with Gregor's lips crashing into hers once more.
Luxa closed her eyes and gave up on talking as she eagerly returned the kiss. She wrapped her arms around his head as she smiled into the kiss.
"…Looks like Howard is going to have to wait a while to let the other visitors in." Leonardo's voice resonated in his head.
"Shut up." Gregor laughed internally.
"Geez. Can't believe we can't go see the guy." Matt groaned. "We save the day and we get punished by not getting to leave our house."
Matt and Rachel were back in their assigned housing and were lying on the couch.
"Well we did disobey orders." Rachel twiddled with her thumbs. "It's not surprising that they wouldn't let us go anywhere if we didn't follow orders on their turf."
"But we totally helped with the front lines afterward!" Matt fumed. "We drove those rats back along with their two leaders."
"Apparently Headwind doesn't see that as an excuse."
"Well he could at least let us go see Gregor."
"Well according to Leo's reports, even if you guys did go, visitors are not allowed to see him at the moment. He's sort of…busy." Sam laughed.
"Oh, young love. How sweet." Arja giggled.
The two bracelets laughed as Matt and Rachel stared in evident bewilderment. Matt opened his mouth to demand what they were talking about when suddenly there was a knock at the door.
Matt and Rachel looked at each other and eyed the door suspiciously.
"Who is it?" Matt called casually as he approached the door.
"It is me. Headwind." A muffled voice came from the other side.
Matt opened the door and Headwind stepped inside immediately, pushing the door closed as he entered. He looked out the windows, as if he were afraid someone was watching them.
"Anything wrong, Lord Headwind?" Rachel asked.
"Yes…" Headwind mused. "I have just been informed that Henry is on the verge of oblivion."
"What?" Matt and Rachel asked together.
"He has not returned to the House of D. on Ares. It appears Ares has managed to escape from Henry's hypnotism and took Jack to Regalia."
"What happened?" Matt asked. "It looked like his hypnotism was pretty powerful."
"He did a foolish thing." Headwind sighed. "He tried to take control of the Bane of one of Death's leaders."
"So what?" Rachel inquired.
"While it is true that the Bane is not strong mentally by any means… he is much more resilient to the powers of the dead than Ares was." Headwind shook his head. "But given the little training he endured after he managed to achieve the lowest levels of hypnotism, it comes as no surprise that he failed to do something like this."
"So why are you here?" Matt asked cautiously.
Headwind turned to them and crossed his arms. He gazed at the two for a long while before speaking.
"I wish for you two to be the search party to look for Henry."