<<His remaining friends mourned the loss and sacrifice of their treasured friend, who gave his life to protect them.>>
I looked at the sentences on the last page of the book on my lap. You’ve got to be sh*tting me! This can’t be it?!? Almost tearing the page off, I desperately turned to see if there was more, if there was some shred of hope left, but reality loved to disappoint me. The horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach had only worsened over the last few pages. There was this foolish hope I had that this knot would untie itself when I reached the last page, only for my hopes to be brutally crushed. I had waited so long, and for what? For this piece of bleak and terrible writing? Did some higher being have it in for me?
A dull thud echoed through the sterile and quiet hospital room, when I threw the book down on the floor. Preferably, I would’ve thrown it out the window, but the risk of hitting another unsuspecting patient with it wasn’t worth the effort. My musing only soothed me for a few seconds, until I felt a dark bitterness spread through my whole body.
I leaned back against the bed and tried to stifle my shallow breathing, desperately trying to stop the emotions from spilling out. For a minute, I fought against my instinct, slowly breathing in and out, even so, eventually the distinct prickling in my eyes overcame me. My composure crumpled completely, as bitter tears spilled down my face. Luckily, I was all alone in my room, but I still wanted to hide this embarrassing sight from anyone. In a last attempt to save my dignity, I put a hand on my eyes and closed them.
The white light was soon blocked off and a comforting darkness engulfed me.
If any of the nurses saw me, they’d think I went mad crying over a stupid book, but for me this was different. This story had followed me for more than eight years and when my sister told me she got contracted by an official publisher, I was happy for her! It had been her dream to get a book officially published. And I was also curious about what kind of story would be created like this. Little did I know that this would destroy the story and characters that I had loved for a significant part of my life.
As I kept trying to calm myself and my broken heart, I eventually lost consciousness.
When I came back to my senses again, I wanted to jump up and hide myself from all the shame of crying myself to sleep, but something was off. The hospital beds were never comfortable, however, I didn’t remember them to be this rough - it was almost like I was lying on a stone ground! There was also this dull pain that I could feel through my whole body, even my head felt fuzzy. Under all these influences I opened my eyes and was greeted by a grayish sky and a few particularly dark clouds.
Any remaining fatigue immediately left my body, as I tried to figure out where I was or what was even happening. My memories were still oddly hazy, as I could only remember how I cried about the ending of that book, but nothing else. Side effects of my medication did not include hallucinations and stuff like that, so whatever this was, it wasn’t medical in nature.
Was I simply dreaming? It wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to fall asleep like that, but…some things bothered me. For one, in most of my dreams, I was never self aware enough to realize that I was dreaming. Usually, I’d experience everything like it was ‘reality’ and only after I woke up, I’d understand that it had been a dream. In a way, any dream that I remembered was a miracle in itself, however all this didn’t refute the existence of lucid dreams.
…In the end, I couldn’t form a definitive conclusion and decided to drop the topic for now.
It was wiser to check where I was first and then try to think about what to do next. With new resolve, I finally stood up and took a look around.
Where was I?
My location resembled some kind of backstreet. What caught my eyes immediately was the style of the buildings and general architecture; it looked completely different from what I was used to. As far as I could see, there were red roofed stone houses everywhere. It brought a bit of an old charm to this lonely backstreet. The houses, though looking old, had normal glass windows, so maybe I was just in an older district of my hometown?
My musing was cut short, when a pair of men entered the backstreet. This coincidence worked well for me, I could try to get some information out of them, at least.
Almost immediately, I waved towards them, hoping they’d stop once they were in front of me, but they nonchalantly ignored me. Cold sweat ran down my spine, when I recognized their outfits as they walked closer to me. My eyes were glued to their familiar uniforms; if there ever was a TV show or a webtoon adaptation of “Life Of A Top Mage”, this is how I imagined they would look like. A padded uniform in a deep red shade, with silver lines drawn into the fabric in a fancy way. I remember reading that it was actually intricate letters spelling the word knight, but it was hard to see from such a distance. Seeing as they were characters that I wouldn’t be able to see in real life, aside from maybe at a convention, this really had to be one of my dreams, right?
As if to further mock me, the two patrolmen continued on and stood right in front of me. I opened my mouth to say something, but the words were stuck in my throat. What am I supposed to say to them? Before I could even drown in my thoughts, something unsettling happened: without a care in the world the men just phased right through me. The sensation and realization that someone just walked through me, sent shivers down my spine and I felt the icky sensation of goosebumps on my arms. Instinctively, I rubbed my arms, when I noticed another unsettling fact. I was still in my hospital pajamas and even worse, my arms were slightly see-through!
What kind of freaky dream is this?!
Frantically, I looked at my whole body and no matter where I looked, I could see through my body. In a last attempt to dispel my doubts, I walked over to a window to check for a reflection, but there was none. A horrible anxiety spread through my whole body, sending me into a panic, as I fell to my knees.
I often had nightmares of my college years or school, but I don’t remember many instances of nightmares about my favorite novel. It only brought comfort to me, so this ‘reality’ I was finding myself in, hurt me on an emotional level. If this was a nightmare, it meant I would eventually wake up again, right? Maybe I could rouse myself if I did something specific?
From what I remembered, there were certain strategies that help you with waking up, when you’re having a lucid dream. At first, I attempted to blink a few times and concentrate on waking up. I gave up after five minutes of trying, as it didn’t seem to achieve anything aside from giving me a slight headache. Next I tried calling for help as loudly as I could, however this only served to make me feel embarrassed and depressed. Occasionally someone would walk through the backstreet raising my hopes only to crush them by ignoring me. I was sure this should’ve helped my brain to wake up!
As a last resort method, I tried to spin in circles, thinking that the nausea would wake me up, but I was sorely mistaken. After going overboard, I fell down to the floor and almost threw up, if that was even possible in my current state. I spent another few minutes on the floor with ragged breathing, as I fought against the urge to retch, when I got overwhelmed by a strong headache.
The pain hit me as if someone had pounded on my head with a hammer and a disgusting tinnitus echoed in my whole head. I screamed in pain and my vision blurred as I helplessly squirmed on the hard stone pavement like a worm. In this indescribable pain, certain memories that I couldn’t remember before resurfaced.
I heard the sounds of people rushing in and out, rustling in my room. My senses were completely dulled, it was like I was far away or submerged in water, as I struggled to make out what the panicked voices said.
“□□ need to □□□□□□□□□ quickly. His □□□□□ is drop□□□..….”
“His co□□□□□□□ is □□□□□□□□□. Prepare □□□…”
Suddenly the voices were cut off with another shrill sound.
For the second time today, I opened my eyes again and realized I was still laying on the cold stone pavement. Even if I still couldn’t see my reflection, I knew that my face had to look like a complete mess, with the way my eyes stung and how dry my throat was. Luckily, the horrible headache had subsided, but considering what it brought back, I didn’t know whether to feel glad or not.
I tried hard to just shove the thoughts away, nothing good would come out of focusing on these memories, but the shock was still stuck in my bones. The distinct feeling that this was something that happened after I cried myself to sleep just wouldn’t leave me. At the same time I knew that all this pondering wasn’t doing my mental health any good, yet I couldn’t just ignore it. Maybe this isn’t a dream after all. I shuddered at the possible conclusion awaiting me at the end.
There was no use in thinking like this. I shook my head and forced my eyes shut again. My best bet was to keep looking around more, as I knew that twiddling my thumbs and overthinking was detrimental to my mental health at this point.
If I was already stuck in a dreamworld that resembled my favorite fictional world, I should make the best out of it and take in the sights. I might get lucky and even see some of the characters!
With a new goal in tow, I finally stepped out of the backstreet and saw something akin to a main street. The book version of the novel had a map included, but even then I had no clue where I was exactly, so I decided to follow the main street for a while.
Much to my surprise, this way led me to encounter other people who also didn’t see or acknowledge my presence. Of course, I had already considered the possibility that I might be visible, and people were deliberately ignoring me, but not even some curious children took pity on me. I would have assumed that at least a few of them would glance in the direction of a pale man dressed in his pajamas. Once again, my reality differed from what I expected.
After what felt like quite some time, I spotted a large plaza with vendors in the distance, and I let out a sigh of relief. Not knowing where I was headed was nerve-wracking , so encountering the bustling market plaza was a welcome sight.
As I drew nearer to the plaza, the voices of various merchants and people talking blended together. My anxiety lessened with one glance at the lively market in front of me, and I was grateful for choosing this path. Even if no one could see me, the sight of so many people gathered in a normal setting brought me a sense of peace.
The place was teeming with numerous vendors offering fresh goods—from regular farmers selling their produce to jewelers and weapon merchants, even a man peddling rare materials like dragon claws, tails, and harpy wings. It all felt like a vivid reflection of descriptions I'd encountered in an earlier part of the original story, leaving me in awe. Everything appeared more colorful and fantastical than anything I had ever seen in real life.
In a corner, children were engrossed in playing with various toys, and I happened to recognize one of the boys as a side character who occasionally interacted with the protagonist and received medicine from him. It was a strange feeling, watching this boy knowing he was merely a fictional character; he looked like any other normal little boy.
His toy landed directly in front of my feet, and I instinctively bent down to pick it up for him, only to have my hand pass right through it, leaving me disappointed. In the end, he retrieved it himself, emphasizing the undeniable fact that I was nothing more than a ghost at this moment.
My thoughts drifted back to my sister's story, and my heart sank immediately. She had dedicated so many years to crafting this tale. I even remembered the precise moment when she had excitedly shared her new story idea with me. Whenever she found herself stuck in the midst of plotting, she would seek my opinions and ideas. As she began posting the initial chapters on a web novel platform, I eagerly followed along, even though I had some insight into her planned concepts.I found great joy in the way she breathed life into her characters and the world she had crafted. She was aware of how often I struggled with my poor health, and her story provided me with a ray of hope during those times when we couldn't be together. On numerous occasions, it seemed as though she had written specific scenes just for me, as they aligned perfectly with my tastes. This was also the reason why finishing her book hurt me so much.
She had poured her heart and soul into this book continuation, extending the story she had crafted over the years even more. I knew from a few messages she had sent me that her editors had basically forced her to make changes to her original vision.Yet, the book I ultimately read felt soulless, bleak and devoid of the passion and creativity that I had witnessed when she excitedly shared her plans with me. I remembered her smile as she told me what she had planned and how none of that was present in the final version. It was heartbreaking to see how this cutthroat publisher had stripped away everything that made her story special. They had only been in it for the money!
Aware that my frustration was getting the better of me, I had to force myself to stop thinking about this and redirected my attention elsewhere. Once again, I cast my gaze across the plaza, but the vibrant atmosphere that had previously comforted me now felt empty. Without a second glance, I turned around and left through another side street. At that moment, I cared little for street signs; my overwhelming desire was to find a quieter place.
As I walked through various side streets, a single question was on my mind. If the plot were to happen here, I wonder which point in time this would be…?
No matter how depressed I was, I couldn’t fully quell my natural curiosity. Aside from the little boy, I hadn’t encountered any main characters yet, which was somewhat disappointing. Technically, I knew where I could find some of them, but what were they up to at this very moment? Were they embarking on epic adventures, battling formidable monsters, hatching elaborate schemes, or simply living out their ordinary lives?
Lost in thoughts, I wandered through the side street and ended up in a dead end. Given my lack of attention to my surroundings, this outcome was almost inevitable. However, I didn't mind it as much as I might have otherwise.
Just as I contemplated turning around and retracing my steps, a voice abruptly rang out from behind me.