Author Notes: Let us see what comes of this.

Breaking Reality

Chapter 15: Old Friends Unite




A pen rolls along the table. It stops. Rolls back to me. Stops again. Rolls away. I'm not touching it. Not physically. The pen rolls again. Stops. Sweat beads in my hair, but that could just be the hot atmosphere. Or it could be the strain caused by using my new super awesome ability. The pen rolls. Stops. Rolls. Slowly stops this time. It's my psychic powers – I'm using this time to practice. Roll. Stop. Roll. Everyone around the table is hardly watching, though.

"So, they've found a way to reactive it. I feared this would happen."

I bunch up my fists and smack the table. The pen keeps rolling and falls in my lap. "Does it matter? I need to get home, here. I'm not here to help you solve your problems!"

After the incident with Jake and the Zoranian gang members, including one Jake's son, I had eventually found my way to the warehouse where Jake and his friends liked to hang out. Though I think it's cool to have a warehouse as a hang out spot, something about the whole thing feels strange. For one, Dain is here. The character who had been role-played as insane and gay. I don't remember Steph telling me about Dain being a part of Jake's friends. In fact, I thought Jake did his best to stay away from the crazy guy.

Come to think of it, Jake may have been standing against the far wall, near the door, for that very reason. Of course, that left me to sit next to the crazy gay guy. If he really was gay. If he really was still crazy. Maybe Jake just liked to be alone. A part of my claustrophobic self wanted to go stand next to the door, too, to be honest.

Three other people sit at the table. Paul, Jake's brother, who keeps bringing up the reactivation of Jake's collar thing. He, supposedly, is the brains, the techno-whiz, the genius of the group. Whatever. He does seem more interested in the "how" someone managed to reactive the slave collar, then the "why," but I could just be reading him wrong.

Austin, a friend of Jake's from childhood, sits across from me. I haven't learned much about him, and I hardly even remember a character named Austin from Steph's ramblings. She does talk about her MSN 'chat buddy' every once in a while, and his name is Austin. There might be a connection. But, anyway, he has a katana like Jake's, but he also has punching daggers, an assortment of knives, and a rifle-looking laser-gun sitting on the table in front of him. Good grief. His arms are crossed and he is trying to appear focused, but his eyes keep wandering to the corner of the room, the opposite wall where Jake leans.

Against that wall is a character I most definitely did not expect to see anywhere near these guys. I probably wouldn't have recognized her if Steph hadn't drawn her with her "oh so cool Drask" character. She keeps looking at me like she knows me, and it's kind of creepy. I mean, this isn't Rani. This is Kyroque. Her character, not her. But she lingers in the shadows over there, a strange version of elf-ears poking out from blue-streaked black hair. She's wearing fingerless gloves, black shirt with a thinner blue shirt over it, and black jeans with a silver chain around the belt and hanging from pockets. It's Kyroque, not Rani. Why do I have to keep telling myself that? Why does she keep looking at me like she expects me to say something?

"Yes, I understand that, Bryce, but I have no idea how this dimension travel works, so I don't know what I can do to help. I'm used to the rules of my own universe." This from Paul, who shrugs.

I grit my teeth and pick the pen up. My fingers begin to flip it. "Jake found his way to our dimension, though! So did all these other things that aren't supposed to be able to travel like that, either!" I try to keep the anger down, but it's hard. My fingers let go of the pen, but it keeps flipping as if I hadn't stopped. "It shouldn't be that hard to figure out now –"

"I don't know how he suddenly appeared there, or how he came back with you."

Jake speaks from his side of the room. "Reda called me, and I was there."

Dain moves, his arm coming a little too close to me for comfort. "Reda's dead. You know that."

Jake shakes his head. "I saw her. She was different, but it was her."

I clench my teeth. Grab the pen out of the air. Face him. "She is not Reda. She's Stephanie." I meet those green eyes. If this was an anime, I'm sure the artist would have drawn lightning flash between us. This argument over Reda or Stephanie seems to have become more about who she belongs to, me or Jake. I am not going to give up.

Neither is Jake, apparently. "She is the Author, but she is also Reda. You saw what happened as well as I. All the Characters will call her Reda. Because that is who she is."

This time, Dain does touch my shoulder. This time, I do flinch back. "Sorry. I did not mean to startle you," Dain murmurs. I turn to face his strange blue eyes and sad smile. He doesn't look like a crazy guy, but that doesn't mean he can't be… Well, it distracts me from Jake, at least. "But he does have a point. We know of the Author, but I think she is more a piece of every Character, not just Reda."

Austin nods. "We also know that we are all Characters, except you. You are of her world, the true world, I suppose."

"So am I."

I freeze. That had come from Kyroque, or was it really Rani? How does that make sense?

She gets up and walks over to the table as all the guys in the room stare. The air seems thick, like we're all trapped in a bubble that needs to pop or is going to pop. She puts her hands on the table, throwing a piece of paper across it and smoothing it out. It's a map. A very strange map, but a map nonetheless.

"I've drawn each world I know of in different layers to try to show how this works, but that means it only shows two exits. There are more, so keep that in mind."

"Wait, what?" I interrupt.

Rani turns to me. Smiles. "Hi, Bryce, long time no see." Before I can say something else, she holds up a gloved hand and stops me. "We don't have time to explain why or how I know this. Just trust me. I fell into this dimension-hopping adventure long before the line broke."

This makes me sit back, of all things. Rani had been traveling dimensions before all the crazy started happening? Is that where she'd been? What the hell happened when she moved away? Where had she gone? What had she seen? I drop the pen, but it hangs in the air.

When her arm moves back to the table, the lamp light glow catches something I'd missed before. Scars. She'd been in a fight – or something dangerous. Long enough ago to have a few reminders already. I grimace. What the hell? What is going on? How long has it been going on?

"In the center I've drawn the true world – the Author's world. Below it, I put this one. And above it, the world of Dragonblade." She points to each one as she speaks, indicating the lines she had drawn separating each. "Jake spoke of meeting the Character Zokuusa, and Bryce had the Author there to explain what world he was from. Then when whoever-it-was attacked, you two ended up here. It makes sense. Of course, I'm assuming that Zokuusa found a gateway from his world to the Author's, and that gateway happened to be damn close to the one from the Author's world to here. So when whoever attacked, the three converged, making all three worlds closely related to each other."

"Reda called me," Jake mutters from his corner.

I start to glance over my shoulder, but Rani calls attention again. "That makes sense, too. She was in danger, probably panicking." Rani smiles. "I remember when she admitted to listing her favorite characters whenever she felt scared or nervous. Jake, Reda, Kelch being the only three I've heard her say." Pause. "I wonder if Kelch showed up somewhere…"

When she looks to me, I shrug. "Hey, when I got to her, there was an Elf with really long white hair, and then someone showed up that really freaked her out. Someone who could follow our memories, or something. I don't know, I can't remember his name…"

Rani's eyes have grown big now, and she's shaking her head. "Good. Don't try to remember it. We don't want him finding us. Maybe that was who attacked you guys…" Her voice drifts off. "Fuck," she whispers. "If he's already got her, this is all pointless."

A sword rings as it's unsheathed, and suddenly Jake is standing beside the table, looking straight across at Rani, his eyes cold, hard, yet…worried. "Where? Where can I find her?" His serious mood is somewhat ruined by the pen now bouncing in the air – he turns a glare to me out of the corner of his eye.

"If I knew that, I wouldn't be here!" Rani snaps. "Put that away. You're not helping anyone."

Jake slowly puts his sword up, but doesn't go back to his corner. The idea of being a part of some fantasy rebellion group suddenly makes sense now. It must be the single table with the glowing lamp light, the storm outside, the tense atmosphere of the people seated around the table. The dancing pen everyone else is ignoring. Hey, how else can I practice using my mental hands?

I'm sure the weapons scattered on the table in front of Austin add to the feel. Jake has his sword. So does Dain, the "Perfect" one I'm sure, which makes me squeamish sitting next to him. Paul doesn't have one, but I'm sure he's got a computer or something somewhere that he uses. Even Rani has a weapon, though her sword and gun are both propped up against a wall in the corner she had been observing from. I'm the only one that looks out of place. Or feels out of place.

Strange. Rani fits in better than I do. That's not fair.

"Everyone has their own part to play. Every Character has to play along, though what that means, I'm not sure." She sighs. "What I do know is that there are certain Author Aids, friends, who will be given abilities in order to attempt to stabilize the worlds."

"To attempt to stabilize?" My question gets a nod.

Rani puts her finger on her drawing and draws circles around certain points. "This is all chaos. This is what the dimensions are supposed to look like. Right now, they are all beginning to converge." She pauses, as if trying to think of a way to explain a complex programming problem to someone who can't save a file without help. "Imagine a massive traffic accident where two eighteen-wheelers crash on a two-lane road. Imagine said two-lane road happened to be busy and people are speeding over hills. Imagine one car coming over a hill, you know what add ice to it, too. He sees the wreck at the bottom, but when he puts on the brakes, nothing happens. He still skids into the wreck. And cars fall into the trap. One by one by one, until that first car doesn't even look like a car. That is what is happening to our world, our dimension. Everything is converging, falling into this trap hole. Even though some of us see the wreck, there's too many other factors preventing us from stopping the inevitable. A dimensional traffic accident."

I blink. "Where did you learn so much about dimension stuff?"

She shrugs. "Drask. He's a planeswalker. Shows up in every story in one way or another, never doing anything big because he doesn't want attention. Kind of inevitable that he find the Author's dimension, even before she breaks the line between reality and fiction."

So, wait, she's been hanging out with one of Steph's characters for…for…months? Years? That. Is. Not. Fair. To her, all this is already real. To her, all these characters have been more than just a story. Even the bad guys.

Before the conversation can continue, Jake steps back, stumbling until he hits the wall. We all turn around to stare at him, and he's touching the collar. I swear I see the electricity snapping between that thing and his hand. His jaw is clenched. His creepy green eyes closed. But he falls, slowly sliding down the wall until his knees collapse and he sprawls forward.

Dain is up. Austin is up. Paul has already rushed out of the room. I turn to see if Rani has some kind of solution – hey, she's been doing this 'fighting in a dream world' longer than I have – but the gun shots demand more attention. One of the tinted windows near the door crashes, glass spewing. Austin runs up beside the broken window, hefting his laser-gun, getting ready for a fight that never comes.

The door breaks open. Two Zoranians come into the room. Austin curses and manages to trip a third before giving it a headshot from behind. But a gun through the window presses against the freedom-fighter's face, forcing him to drop his weapon and give up.

I'm on my feet, something I didn't notice while watching the character I didn't know existed. And I'm standing in front of Jake. Rani is too. So is Dain. Well, Dain's forced Jake to sit against the wall, and he's holding both the screaming man's katana and his own perfect blade.

Rani is holding a pistol thing – futuristic world, right? Laser pistol? I got nothing. Well, a dancing pen, but what's that gonna do? Because here come the Zoranians.

"What's your power?" She whispers to me.

I blink. The Zoranians lift their guns. There's more than two. Hell, there's more than five. Where'd they come from? How'd they find us?

"Everyone has a power, Bryce. What's yours? What did she give you?"

My heart is pumping fast. Probably because there's so many guns pointed directly at me. I've never had to face something like this before. It's all so surreal. It should be just a dream. Just a story.

A part of me just wants to go home. A part of me wants to do something heroic. Another part of me is trying to think of what I can do. And still another part wants…

Psychic. That's my power. But what does that mean? How far can that go? What can I do with it?

Dain steps up behind me, a hand on my shoulder. I'm tired of the creepy possibly-gay guy touching me. "Unless you have the power of the stars, or a god, we're not going to be able to save him."

Why would I want to save Jake?

Seriously, everyone seems so obsessed with the idea. I don't remember him doing anything besides get caught a lot. Why do they want him? Why do we want him? What do they expect me to do?

"Gah, I wish I could just go home."

And then it happens. My wish. Happens. Oh sure there's a slight discomfort as we hop the dimensional line once again, but I don't remember feeling much or seeing much the past two times, so I wouldn't be able to compare them. The best I can do is explain how before I said anything we were staring at a squad of Zoranian fighters.

And then we're home.

And there's this giant ship falling from the sky.

This is where my reactions do something before my brain can think, again. I hold my hands up and will the giant spaceship to stop falling, slowly. Pressure hits my hands, my neck, my head. I'm suddenly having to fight a headache that wants to split my brain in half. My chest feels the pressure too, but it's mostly against my hands. My arms feel like lead as I attempt to push them outward, telling that damnable way-too-close spaceship to slow the fuck down and land well away from me.

I think it's working. The ship seems to be landing instead of falling. The pressure begins to ease up. The headache is still there, and worse. I think I'm going to black out it hurts so much.

Then I hear: "You ass! You left him!"

And Rani, being Rani, pulls back and actually punches me in the face. She was always known for not holding back her strength – or lying about holding back. Most girl punches are cheap and not painful. Rani definitely does not punch like a girl, even if she is a girl.

That. Coupled with the dimensional travel I just did. And the psychic Star Wars power of stopping a big spaceship from smacking into the ground…

Yeah. I think I have reason enough to go to sleep after all that. Leave me alone.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, my little pen pal falls, too.