I had to find someone else. And fast. I resumed my original plan—head to the Residences. I darted through the trees and, once I neared within twenty feet of the burnt wreck where my parents’—and my—penthouse had once been, I lowered myself to the ground in front of a tree and leaned my back against its thick trunk.
Then I took my thoughts back in time to when I had shared a dream with Ernest. I closed my eyes, as I had done then. Slowly, I cleared the debris from my mind, even as it felt like the most impossible task in the world. Ernest had been adamant about that—that my mind be relaxed and open, to make it receptive to the minds of others.
I wasn’t sure how close I had to be to a person to pick up on their dream, but as I kept my eyes sealed closed, forcing myself deeper and deeper into relaxation, I was relieved to find that it wasn’t long before I encountered my first dream.
The vision of a grand hall lit by flaming torchlight trickled into my mind’s eye. Its walls were covered with crimson draperies, and the chamber was bare except for a long table that ran down its center. Piled up on the table’s surface was enough food to feed an army. Despite row upon row of steaming pots, there was only one seat that was taken, at the head of the table—by an ogre. A female ogre… Bella. Although there appeared to be savories aplenty—I was certain that I even spotted some fried human toes—a towering cake was set in front of her. It looked like a wedding cake—with pure white and light pink icing—and it was so high that it reached the height of her chin.
Cupping her hands, she dug both of them into the sides of the cake at once, withdrawing two sticky handfuls. Raising one hand, she slapped its contents into her mouth…
I lifted my head and opened my eyes, shaking away the dream. What is it with me and ogres’ dreams? I’d thought to myself that absolutely anyone would do, but something told me that competing with that cake for Bella’s attention would be a losing battle.
No. I had to find someone else. But the fact that I had managed to intercept this first dream so quickly gave me hope that I wouldn’t have to wait too long before another one came along… and this time, hopefully not Brett’s.
I leaned my head against the bark and closed my eyes again.
My hope of finding another dream soon—and an ogre-free dream at that—was not dashed, but the second dream I came upon I spent even less time in than Bella’s. It must have been the dream of either Claudia or Yuri—since those were the two figures who’d been writhing around on a silk-adorned, four-poster bed. Reminding myself that Claudia was pregnant, I guessed that it was hers. It made sense for her to be taking an afternoon nap.
Trying to forget what had just blasted through my head, I settled myself against the tree and closed my eyes again for a third time. Hopefully, this time would be lucky.
I saw nothing but blackness for the next five minutes, or at least what felt like five minutes. I was beginning to feel tense, wondering if it had been a grave mistake to dismiss the previous two dreams so quickly. Perhaps I should have tried to communicate while I’d had the chance. I had just taken it for granted that a third one wouldn’t be far away… And then it arrived. A third vision took over my consciousness.
Stretching out all around me was a dark ocean, its waves glistening beneath a starry night sky. The moon was full, and roaming along the beach was a lone figure. It was our beach—The Shade’s beach, just near the port—and the figure… the figure was River.
Would she really be sleeping at this time? Last I knew, the humans were not aware of the devastation from last night. That would not have kept her up worrying. And the last time I had seen her, she had certainly looked worn out and tired.
She was wrapped up in a thick shawl which she held close to her chest as she gazed out into the distance. Her eyes were fixed intently on a spot above the waves. As I followed her gaze, I realized what she was staring at—the shiny roof of a submarine, partially visible in the water. It was moving quickly toward the shore—so fast it was almost as though the vessel possessed supernatural speed. It arrived at the Port and stopped by the jetty. River’s breathing quickened. She ran toward it. As the hatch opened, a head of dark hair emerged above the roof.
“Ben!” she shouted.
It was a man climbing out of the submarine and as he turned around to face her… the man was me. The other me’s face lit up as River closed the distance between the two of us and she threw herself at me. I stared as my lips locked with hers, my arms engulfing her small waist and pulling her flush against me. My hands moved up her body and into her thick, dark hair as we kissed with all the passion of a newly-wedded couple.
“River,” the other me said, detaching my lips from hers to catch a breath.
Tears burned in the corners of her eyes even as she smiled. She buried her head against my chest and whispered, “I was afraid, Ben. So afraid. I thought that you might never return. How are you, and what took you so long?”
“I’m okay,” the other me replied, cupping her face in my hands. “I was away a long time because the Elder was stubborn. But I’m finally rid of him. Everything is all right now.”
Those last words coming from my mouth grated on my nerves.
“No!” I shouted. “Everything is not all right!”
There was a stunned silence, and to my shock, River turned round around to face me. The real me. I wasn’t sure what I’d expected to happen—I’d shouted more out of frustration than anything else. But now she gazed at me, her eyes wide and her face twisted with confusion. She looked from me to the second me and then back again. Then the second me evaporated.