The sky was deep purple, and a rancid smell lingered in the air. Ichaival instructed me to wear the coat in my backpack. As precipitation fell, smoke billowed from the ground. Rain drops struck a pebble, melting it immediately. Acid rain. What kind of f***** up dimension was this?
“Where do we go?” Ichaival asked Kuan, handing him the map.
“Why did you even take it then?” Kuan shook his head.
The acid rain ceased, but a thick smog developed in the sky, lowering our visibility. Collapsed buildings surrounded us everywhere. We finally arrived at a rare functioning structure. Kuan tried the doorknob but it didn’t open. He pulled out his gun, shooting it, and kicked the door open. A scratched screen, containing a platform below it, buzzed inside. Ichaival pulled out an ID, sliding it on the attached card reader. The screen flashed red for two seconds and then turned green.
“This should take us to the prophet,” Ichaival announced.
Everyone crammed onto the platform and he tapped the screen. It flashed blue and we were transported to a different area. Massive trees filled the area, houses built on top. Bridges connected all the trees. No signs of any acid rain or an irregular sky color.
“What is this place?” I stared up at the tress, amazement in my voice.
“Welcome to one of the few places that isn’t broken,” Ichaival responded.
A man, wearing an apron, stared at us. He glared at Ichaival, charging at the false archer with a knife. Kuan shot his hand, forcing him to drop his weapon. The hero kicked our assailant’s blade away, aiming his firearm at him.
“Ichaival, what the hell?” I questioned.
“Some people don’t like us. We didn’t exactly help them when they needed it. It’s a long story,” Ichaival explained.
“Shan?” I inquired.
“No, he’s a bastard, but it wasn’t his fault. Hey, are you okay? I’ll pay for your hospital bill,” Ichaival offered, handing the man cash.
“I won’t forgive you, Ichaival Darryl. Where’s your buddy, Shan Shigetzu? Fuckin’ traitors, getting us into this mess,” the man shouted, spitting on the ground.
The man departed, taking Ichaival’s money with disgust. Things were much more heated here than in the other dimensions. The false archer took the lead, directing us to a store selling watches.
“What are these for?” I asked, strapping it onto my wrist.
“Instant teleportation inside the city. Better than walking around. Hope she has the same address,” Ichaival explained, checking the screen.
He inputted the address into our watches and instructed us to tap the screen. Our scenery changed in an instant. We stood in front of an expensive looking house.
“Fancy,” I remarked.
“She’s kind of weird, don’t be freaked out,” Ichaival warned, approaching the front gate.
A display panel was mounted on an elevated pole. Ichaival rang the doorbell. The screen flickered on and a stuffed dog’s face appeared. It moved around, ears flapping. Uh, what? I was at a loss of words.
“Woof, woof,” a voice came out of the intercom speaker.
“Kuan, what’s going on?” I whispered.
“No idea,” Kuan responded, shaking his head.
“Lyra, it’s me, Darryl. Can you open the gate?” Ichaival requested.
“Woof, woof! Play a game with me and I’ll open the door,” the voice negotiated.
“That sounds like a great idea,” Ichaival agreed.
“I’m still not opening the door yet!” the voice refused.
“Wait! I promised you,” Ichaival said.
“You’ll have to get past my guards. Woof!” the voice announced as the screen shut off.
What were we up against? A portal opened, and a huge teddy bear flew out, slamming into the false archer. I dodged to my right, scraping my arm against the ground.
“What the f***, Ichaival?” I pointed at the stuffed animal.
“It’s just how she is,” Ichaival responded.
“Not the weirdest thing I’ve seen,” Kuan said, wielding his gun.
Five small teddy bears shot out from the portal, landing near us. Kuan immediately pointed his firearm at them. Ichaival shook his head and approached one, retrieving a piece of paper from the bear’s arm.
“What is it?” I questioned.
“Directions for the game. She wants us to check the garden,” Ichaival revealed.
The teddy bears stared at us with their black bead eyes. Discomfort filled my body. Why did it elicit such a negative response? Kuan shoved Ichaival forward, dashing past him.
“What the hell, Kuan?” Ichaival asked, shocked by the man’s actions.
“Run!” Kuan ordered, sprinting ahead of us.
I followed him. Ichaival stumbled after us. A large explosion occurred, the bulk of it absorbed by the portal. If we remained there… let’s not think about that.
“Ha, ha, what the hell is wrong with her? She just tried to kill us,” I panted.
“I don’t know. Let’s just go to the garden,” Ichaival responded, shaking his head.
Flowers filled the entire area with an occasional fruit tree cutting in between them. I saw a lawn table and plastic chairs in the center.
“She wants us to pick the fruit,” Ichaival said.
“Isn’t this just helping her finish chores?” I questioned, checking the list.
“I guess. We don’t have much of a choice,” Ichaival agreed.
“Let’s not waste time,” Kuan suggested, putting away his gun.
All the tools required were inside a bright box labeled “Tools For The Dummies”. The text was written in marker and highlighted in pink.
“I’ll gather the fruit. Darryl, mow the lawn. Tomo, water all the plants,” Kuan assigned.
We finally completed our tasks after half an hour. Ichaival pressed a button on the nearby panel. It lit up and a realistic doll greeted us this time. Not scary, but rather unnerving, because of its uncanny resemblance to an actual human.
“Thanks for helping Lyra out, Darryl. She really appreciates it. Why don’t you take a nice break? I left refreshments out on the tables for your friends. Lyra baked all the treats herself. Come back in fifteen minutes,” the doll directed.
Brownies and a plate of cookies appeared on the table. A pitcher of water and juice was positioned next to it, three cups placed in front of each chair.
“Is it safe?” I pointed at the refreshments.
“Yeah,” Ichaival replied.
“Go ahead and eat one then,” Kuan said.
“No, you go first,” Ichaival refused.
“It only makes sense for him to go first, right, Tomo?” Kuan argued.
“Really, I’m fine. I’m can’t eat food like this. I really shouldn’t,” Ichaival said.
Fine, I’d go first. Ichaival, if I become sick, I’m getting Shan to beat your ass. I poured myself a glass of water. The two men continued their bickering, coming up with excuses not to eat the food. They paused after seeing me drink the water. It tasted fine, no weird chemical taste or unusual sensation.
“Tomo, nothing wrong?” Kuan questioned.
“If I start throwing up, I’ll tell you,” I responded, pouring another glass.
“I told you! Lyra wouldn’t make bad food,” Ichaival pointed out.
“Then eat a cookie, Darryl! Prove it,” Kuan dared, pointing at the plate of sweets.
Not this b******* again. I bit into a cookie. Pretty chewy, not bad. Reminded me of the ones Mom made.
“It’s fine. Nothing wrong,” I informed them.
Please don’t let this hurt me. I’m getting everyone to kick your ass, Ichaival, if I feel ill. Kuan stared at the plate of cookies. In the end, he didn’t touch any of it. Ichaival drank water but ate none of the sweets.
“Has it been fifteen minutes yet?” I questioned.
“Yeah, it’s about time we check,” Ichaival answered.
We gathered around the flickering panel. The same doll from before stared at us with a sad expression. You f***** up, Ichaival!
“Lyra, are you there?” Ichaival questioned.
“No! Lyra is mad. Only one of you ate the snacks! I’m disappointed! Darryl, you’re going through a punishment game. Then you can see Lyra!” the doll pouted and flailed its arms in anger.
“Darryl, why did you let her down like that?” Kuan teased.
“What’s the punishment game?” Ichaival asked with a sigh.
“Eat all of the cookies and brownies! You can’t leave behind any crumbs,” the doll ordered, raising its left arm in the air.
“That’s easy. Come on, help me out, guys!” Ichaival requested.
“No! Darryl, you eat it all by yourself! That’s what you get, meanie!” the doll shouted before the screen shut off.
I stared at Kuan, who shrugged his shoulders, patting Ichaival on the shoulder. Not one of sympathy but more of derision. Ichaival didn’t look happy, shuffling back to the table.
“I’m not doing this,” Ichaival refused, staring at the plate, shaking his head.
He eyed the sweets with contempt and hatred. S***, we were at an impasse.
“What the hell are you guys doing?” a familiar voice questioned.
We turned around, seeing Zhuyu. He wore a T-shirt with an arm sleeve. It went above his elbow, black with gold and red etchings.
“The prophet ordered Ichaival to eat all the food here before we could see her,” I explained the situation.
“Are you going to do it?” Zhuyu inquired, staring at Ichaival.
“No, this is ridiculous,” Ichaival refused.
“Then don’t. There’s an entrance right there,” he revealed, pointing at a glowing door in the distance.
I didn’t notice that before. Zhuyu suddenly grabbed Ichaival, hurling him into the table, sending the sweets flying. Kuan immediately fired at the man. The bullets never struck him, dropping to the ground. Was this the punishment game?
“Okay that hurt. Enough playing around, Long. Come on, let’s do this over again,” Ichaival said, rising from the debris, clutching his right arm.
“I don’t think so, false archer. This is your real punishment!” Zhuyu proclaimed, materializing a sword in his right hand.