Finnigan and Jonathan had killed more than four dozen sirens before being able to slump down and take a breath. For a while, they weren’t sure the creatures were going to stop coming. The two of them may have just decimated an entire nest without even breaking a sweat.
Jonathan licked blood off his paw- Aijun’s paw- no. He wasn’t sure whose it was anymore. He hated that confusion but there wasn’t anything he could do. It wasn’t like he could ask Aijun for ownership of the wolf or anything. When Aijun woke up, he would be the wolf too.
Finnigan sat his sword down next to him and smiled cruelly. He loved that rush of power just before he killed. And better yet, no stupid guilt haunting his every move. Finn had gone quiet after begging Finnigan not to kill the wolf. Finnigan would gladly spare the dog in order to have more silence.
Nothing happened for a while. The ocean waves lapped gently against the boat, and the sun was almost hitting noon. Birds circled something in the distance. Finnigan stood with his sword in hand and walked over to the small boy.
“This small boy… threw my sword off a dragon.” Finnigan said aloud. Jonathan looked up at the monster's face. It’s teeth were sharp and pointed, and long black lines stretched from its face down to his feet. The unpredictability of this monster scared Jonathan.
“This boy is also very irritating. And small.” Jonathan was surprised by its ability to even form sentences. He wasn’t going to tell the monster that it had already said small. Beyond that, it sounded generally confused.
“Why is it still here?” The monster was generally asking, and Jonathan shrank back even further. Even if he weren’t a wolf, he wouldn’t have responded to such a horrifying question. With his tail between his legs, Jonathan scooted back into the opposite corner of the ship and lowered his head.
Finnigan felt that nagging sense of guilt from Finn again. If he killed this small creature now, Finn would never let that guilt go. He could tell.
The monster grumbled and sat down next to the small creature. He sheathed his sword and let Finn come forward again. Jonathan couldn’t tear his eyes away as the black tattoos on the monster retracted and the claws shrunk. The creatures teeth sunk and it’s eyes returned to their normal coloring.
Jonathan let out a dog-like huff of relief. Finn was back.
Emma, Aijun and Adrik found their way back to Arve. He was still crouched over with his head in his hands. A siren’s screech was an unpleasant thing to hear.
“He must not have fallen asleep. Or he was eaten alive…” Emma’s voice trailed off. It was true, Adrik and Emma searched every window with no luck in finding Aijun. Adrik started to wonder what he was doing. He’d spent so long hating people with curses. And they all had curses- magical profanities. But these people were so nice. And Arve cared enough to drag Adrik out of his own self-hating dream.
“What if we fall asleep like Arve did? That would wake us out of this dreamscape, right?” Aijun suggested.
“Let’s try it before I go deaf.” Arve agreed. He leaned his head back against the wall and let his muscles relax. Adrik stared at the blood leaking from his ears. Arve sacrificed himself and Adrik was still afraid of his curse? It occurred to Adrik that these curses didn’t make the people themselves bad. Only the people who cursed them were bad.
Adrik joined the others on the cold and wet ground. How was he supposed to fall asleep when he was already dreaming? He guessed that if it was a lucid dream, he could command anything to happen.
The four quieted down and concentrated. Fall asleep, they murmured to themselves. Adrik’s mind wandered. If they fell asleep here, would they fall into those dream traps again? As much as he had wanted it before, Adrik didn’t want to drown again. That kept him wide-eyed and awake.
Aijun was the first to fall asleep. It had always been so easy for him to fall asleep. And now that his head was empty- no extra people in his thoughts- he could sleep peacefully again. Aijun felt his mind reconnect with his body. His sleepstate broke, and he was awake.
Only, he wasn’t in his body? Aijun looked around. Everything through his eyes was black and white and shades of gray in between. All the color from the world had gone. Was he trapped in another dream?
“Aijun? You’re awake!” Jonathan’s voice echoed in his thoughts. Yeah, he was. Aijun was definitely awake. He could smell the afternoon air, and hear the water below them. The boat rocked gently from side to side and it made him feel sick.
“What’s wrong with my eyes?” He didn’t speak out loud. He spoke through his thoughts just like Jonathan had. It was better than talking to himself aloud and looking insane. Aijun blinked a few times. His vision didn’t change or clear up. Things stayed a dreary black and white.
“Don’t freak out but-” Before Jonathan could even get it out, Aijun tried to jump to his feet. Only there was four of them. He had four feet. And by extension, four legs. Jonathan did the one thing Aijun had begged him not to. Jonathan changed into a full wolf, and now Aijun was a full wolf too.
“You- you did this to me- you-” Aijun was so angry that he couldn’t even form words in his mind. He tried to speak but all that came out was yips and growls of hurt anger. How could he do this? This wasn’t Jonathan’s body. This was his body.
“And I can undo it, as soon as the moon comes out.” Jonathan said. He was barely audible even in their shared mind.
If Aijun had half a brain, he’d ask if it would hurt to change back. But all he could do right now was growl. He stood on his paws again and tried taking a step forward. A few steps in and he toppled over.
“Jonathan? Are you feeling okay?” Finn leaned over to pet the wolf’s head, but was met with a series of angry growls. Aijun found himself baring his teeth through purely instinct. Jonathan sunk so far back into his mind that Aijun could barely feel him anymore.
“Aijun?” Finn was met with another growl and an indignant yip. Finn attempted to stop himself from laughing. He failed.
“Oh, Aijun- I think I’m dying. I can’t stop-” Finn laughed so hard he had to stop talking. Finn gripped his stomach to show off how hard he was laughing.
Finn’s eyes widened as he realized what was happening. He gripped the wolf excitedly by the snout and looked into Aijun’s eyes.
“You know what this means? It means the others will wake up!” He hopped with excitement. Aijun watched quietly as Finn ran around and leaned the others up against the railings. Arve’s body now resembled Arven’s, even though Arve was the one trapped in the dreamscape. Emma’s hand was wrapped, and Adrik’s shirt was covered in regurgitated water.
Finn’s sword lay on the ground near Aijun’s foot. Usually, that sword never left his side.
Aijun slowly got to his feet and made his way over to Adrik. He hovered over Adrik’s face. He licked his lips- just like a dog. He was horrified with himself.
“I’m glad you’re back. I was kind of scared…” Jonathan was unsure of himself. Nervous that Aijun would bite his metaphorical head off again. Aijun had to gather his thoughts. He had to understand that Jonathan was here to stay, and that this was bound to happen eventually. The full moon would only hold off for so long.
“The goblin things came after us. We did what we could.” Jonathan told him. The goblin things must have been referring to the sirens. They really did look like goblins with the gross greenish ocean skin and shriveled eyes that seemed dead.
“I know. I just- haven’t come to terms with the fact that my body isn’t all mine anymore. I’m going to get used to it. I’ll let you have more control more often. Just not now. I’m not ready yet.” Aijun thought to his brain buddy. What a horrible nickname to have.
“Arve? He’s waking up, Aijun.” Aijun looked up, but refused to move from his spot over Adrik. Arven sat up and rubbed his ears. Finn handed him an already bloodied rag, and Arven used it to dab his ears. He groaned.
“Can’t believe that twerp risked my ears for that peacekeeper.” Arven gestured over to Adrik’s lifeless body. Aijun found himself growling.
Arven looked surprised, but shut his trap. He didn’t even ask any questions about the wolf thing. He really knew how to avoid things other people didn’t want to talk about. Aijun then found himself wondering what he knew the others would wonder about to.
What did Arven dream about? What woke him up before all the others?
It occurred to Aijun that he didn’t know anything about Arven. He didn’t know anything about any of them.
“But they helped us…” Jonathan added to Aijun’s thoughts quietly. Aijun sighed. Arven did help them. And then he helped them again. Aijun was beginning to see a theme. Him being what he was, it got harder and harder to trust people. He was just like Arven now though. He was cursed just like them.
Jonathan squirmed uncomfortably in his mind, but didn’t add anything more. Aijun couldn’t tell if his job bothered Jonathan, or if it was the way he considered himself cursed because of Jonathan. Maybe both.
Emma gasped out and her eyes flicked open. She gave a soft smile of relief when she realised she wasn’t dreaming anymore. She was safe from those disgusting sirens. Finn helped her up and she thanked him.
“Where are we?” Emma asked as she checked the direction of the sun and the drifting wind.
“Not a clue. We were heading north to Cape Rilitte before we landed in a siren nest. But now we’re… almost to Werinig.”
“That’s too far south!” Finn exclaimed. Arven shrugged his shoulders in a ‘what can you do’ sort of gesture. Finn grumbled and looked over at Adrik. Finn rubbed his neck guiltily. If they hadn’t set out of Cape Rillitte at the beginning of all this siren business, maybe none of them would have been caught in nightmares for two days.
“Adrik hasn’t woken up yet?” Finn had meant to say it as a statement, but it came out as a question.
Aijun looked down at Adrik’s face. His own snout stuck out in his line of sight. That would take a lot to get used to. Aijun was sick of this man’s innate desire to die. What was wrong with him? First, he drowns himself over and over out of guilt, and then he goes out of his way not to wake up from the dreamscape.
Aijun made a human-like grumble before laying his head down on Adrik’s stomach.
The rest of the crew went below deck as the sun sank further and further below the horizon. Emma was the last to leave. She was worried that Adrik was somehow still trapped. But eventually, exhaustion won out, and she had to retire for the night.
“I think I could try turning back now. The moon is high.” Jonathan told Aijun at half past eleven. Aijun hadn’t moved his wolf-like head from Adrik’s stomach. If he were human right now, it would be very hard to wait like this.
“Is it wrong to want to stay here, like this?”
“He tried to arrest and kill us, you know.” Jonathan said resentfully.
“What if he doesn’t wake up?” Aijun tactfully ignored Jonathan’s comments. He didn’t like Adrik. He couldn’t have. He just felt bad that someone wanted to die that badly. He didn’t even know it was possible to feel that much pain.
Jonathan never got a chance to answer.