Arvid had spent the last week studying, except this evening. The memories of the strange dream - or was it really two dreams? - was starting to fade, as he had other concerns. It seemed that no matter what he did, he could not get a perfect grade in English. He never broke a grammar rule, his spelling never failed. Well, less so than his teacher's, at least. He knew all the great works of literature, and some not so great too. And yet, Mrs Jonson refused to give him the top grade. Making up lame excuses. "Your essays read like an article out of Science Illustrated. There is no life in them, no spark, no originality. It is like something written by a computer: Perfect, but dead." So what? All great literature was written by dead people. Shakespeare, Ibsen, Goethe ... all of them dead. And Arvid didn't feel too well, either.

He let himself convince to go to a meeting again with his parents. He sat down as far to the back as he could, in the corner. But even so, he could feel the eyes of the preacher on him all the time, as the guy was making veiled threats of eternal suffering. At least this one did not mention the brimstone. Instead he was speaking of eternal night and loneliness, being cast out and desolate while the saved were together in joy and harmony for all eternity, safe with their Savior. Stuff like that. Why didn't he just as well run down in the corner, grab Arvid by the shoulder and shake him and shout: "Repent, damned sinner! Repent or be fragged!" But no, just hinting and hinting and hinting.

But Arvid could see by the way the small kids kept their distance afterwards, that everyone had got the message.

So he went to bed in a rather dark mood. And so the first thing he thought when he felt the tug and the blur, was "Oh sheeet!"

The girl, Mari ... no, Avdyra, is there, and her father. He is busy singing the eggnog song and brandishing his staff. Yellow leaves are littering the wet ground. Avdyra seems thinner than he remembered. More tired. Yet her voice is stronger, firmer. "Greetings, Arovid Genius! Be welcomed yet again to Gwalawala! For more than four moons now we have labored with the lore of the Clearstone since last you visited our realms, and you shall find that we have not failed. And a good thing that is, for dire tidings have reached our lands."

"Umm, no offense, lady, but it's a week, not four months." "That cannot be!" "She speaks the truth, Genius. For more than four moons, we have put aside all but the most needed of work to ponder the lore of the Worldstones. It is an old lore and not well known, for the clear stones of travel are very rare in our lands. But mayhap time passes differently in the Dreamworlds." "Maybe. I have another theory, though. I did take a look at that stone again tonight before I went to bed. I suppose that could have caused me to dream of you people again." "Be that as it may" says Avdyra sternly, "our entire village has struggled by largely without the aid of their magician, because my father has devoted himself to helping me research this lore. The crops are poorer than usual, and the animals thinner, for your sake. Do not belittle our quest, for we have entrusted our entire lives now to your aid."

Taken aback by her intensity, Arvid still cannot hold back his reply. "You make decisions on my behalf? You, who are only figments of my imagination?" "Be that as it may, we need you. In time we shall sort out who is dreaming and who is awake. All we ask now is for you to follow us out from the Circle and see that you can touch our world. If not, then we have failed and must start anew. But we shall not give up until we succeed, or die."

She does indeed seem at least four months older. Not just for the new lines etched into her young brow, but her whole attitude is more grown-up, more serious. The triumphant girl who had managed to cast a difficult spell is gone, replaced by a woman bearing the weight of the world on her shoulder. While he has been cramming literature.

The staffman goes first, following a barely seen path that is swallowed by the red and yellow forest. After him, his golden-haired daughter. She stops and waits, looking keenly at Arvid as he gingerly steps over the invisible line, where he once before fell screaming into the abyss. This time, the ground supports him. It feels strange, stepping on the ground and not feeling sure that it will hold your weight! But it does, and he feels gradually more confident for each step.

It is late autumn here, the yellow of the forest is fading into red and some of the leaves have already made their bid for freedom. Only light clouds dot the sky right now, but the ground is still wet and slick from recent rains. There is a strange scent in the air, as if from some exotic spice, and it seems to be borne on the wind from the forest. How real it all feels! He could easily believe he was back in the forested hills beyond the lawn. Only the two characters with the golden tan in their skin reminds him that he is dreaming.

"Well, it seems it worked." "Praise to the First Parents! Now, with your aid, I know in my bones that we shall succeed. Whatever the cost, we shall overcome the Snake Shadow and heal the land. Please, Arovid, come presently with us to the village, and meet the people who you are about to save. Long have they waited for a sign of hope, and you are it." "Arvid. The name is Arrr-vid."


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