Ch.22: Righting Wrongs and Saying Goodbye

Casper's response was immediate. Hands flew to ears, clamping down on them with great force, and his body curled up in a ball. There was a loud yowl, filled with pain and momentary confusion. The Nightmare scratched at his scalp when the shrill sound didn't quit after a few seconds, but that was because I was trying to give Carter and Eris as much time as they needed to sprint to where Casper sat and get him.

The alarming whistle spooked the woman sitting on the bench and startled the other awake. Neither two had any time to regain their bearings as my two unusual looking friends raced right up in front of them, aiming to capture the spectral being sitting in front of them- only for the two women to slam into each other, running straight through their goal.

I ran out of breath, the whistle dropping from my lips as I gasped for breath. Cas scrambled away from the two women, still clawing at his head as he tried to scrape away whatever pain and fuzziness blanketed his mind. Eris and Carter stumbled away from each other, groaning and clutching their sore, aching limbs and heads. The woman whom had been conscious for the entire fiasco- the other still wasn't too sure what exactly was going on –screamed, "What the hell?!"

"My thoughts exactly." Eris commented, groaning as she rubbed her head.

Casper's mewling died down, and he shook his head, as if it would rid himself of all the fogginess present in his mind. He didn't wait around long to see what would happen next, instead clambering to his feet as fast as he could in an effort to run. I reacted without thought, pulling my whip from my chest and snapping it in Casper's direction. As soon as I did it, I wondered why on earth I tried, but to my- and everyone else's –surprise, it wrapped around Casper's wrist, catching him in a tight hold.

The leather wrapped securely around the Nightmare's wrist went unnoticed until Cas went too far, who abruptly snapped back and fell back onto the hard ground. A car drove by at that exact moment, passing right through Cas but running over my whip, dragging him further to the concrete of the road he had sprung onto. Cas shook his head again, looking in stunned silence at the long strip of leather keeping him from leaving.

"He can't pass through our weapons!" I called to Eris. I didn't need to see her to feel her roll her eyes.

"Hey Carter, what was that about not needing Eli?"

"Shut up, Eris, and make sure Cas can't reach any shadows!"

The two women burst into action upon Carter speaking. The two began corralling Casper as he started struggling again, pulling and tugging at the end of my whip while I pulled back on my end, trying desperately to catch him off balance again. Cas was strong, though, stronger than I was right now, and he began pulling me along, trying his damn hardest to reach the shadows, where he could slip away without fault. However, his efforts were hindered by the other Dream-Catchers blocking him from leaving the light of the streetlight he was under. Eris was the more threatening of the two, as she had her staff, but Cas seemed rather wary of Carter as well, as if waiting for her to whip out some weapon or another that could be used against him.

Unfortunately, Carter did not have her own form of weaponry. Cas did not seem to realize this, and I prayed he wouldn't figure out this fact anytime soon; otherwise, he would undoubtedly start targeting Carter, our weak link.

In the back, I heard footsteps rushing away from the brawl going on in the middle of the street and could only assume it was the two women from the bus stop. One of the women was speaking erratically, and it just occurred to me that the local law enforcement would probably be quite unfeeling to our cause.

Headlights appeared from behind me, as well as the loud honking of a car. Eris and Carter paused, heads whipping to see the car before they both dodged to the side. Cas looked after them confusedly, and I didn't move, for I was still standing on the sidewalk. Of course, it did not occur to me that I was out of danger.

Once again, the car passed straight through Cas, but he was standing as it went through him this time. My whip was still tied tightly around his wrist- every time he had loosened it, I had jerked it tight again –and the long strip of leather caught onto the grill of the truck. My mistake only registered too late, and then both Cas and I were being dragged after the car as it passed us.

Pain shot through my shoulder from the abrupt jerk, followed quickly with my side meeting the cement sidewalk. It didn't compare to the burning that came after, as the cement from the sidewalk rubbed my skin raw. It was only after that my hand decided to let go.

I stopped sliding abruptly as someone yelled in my ear. I couldn't answer them, though, for the burning was stinging and itching in a painful way, keeping my trap shut tight as I attempted not to make any sounds. I held my breath, willing for the pain to subside or dull. It refused to for a time, but it finally calmed down to a mild burn with small prickling. As soon as it did, I pushed myself up, reaching up to rub the pain but yelping when it made the burning worse.

Someone's hands were on my shoulder, and I looked up to see it was. Carter stared at me worriedly, her eyes shifting to my arm every few seconds. Worriedly, she asked, "Are you ok?"

My head bobbed up and down, even though my face was undoubtedly drawn into a look of pain. Carter rolled her eyes before grabbing my wrist, turning my arm to look at the damage. I yelped again as the edges of my flayed skin pulled. Pushing that to the side, I asked, "Wait, what about Cas?"

"Eris has him." Carter replied emotionlessly, nodding her head down the street. Looking in that direction, I saw Eris standing right above Cas- beaten and battered, but overall, fine -the end of her staff pointed at his throat as she kept him under the next streetlamp, away from shadows. The Nightmare was hissing angrily at her, the spines along his back at attention. It looked as if he might bite the piece of metal in his face, and honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if he did.

Carter's fingers brushed along the edges of the wound, feeling much cooler than the wound itself but also making it itch again. A frown was fixed tightly on the woman's face. "We need to get this checked out."

The sentence shot fear through me, even though it was purely logical and I even agreed with it. Blood was oozing from the edges of the wound, dripping slowly, and the skin itself was beginning to blister badly. Also, there were some scrapes on my side and along one of my legs, as the cement had ripped up my clothing, though none of it was as bad as the rash on my arm. But I had no intentions leaving Cas alone with Eris, not when I didn't know when Selene was going to show back up. What if Cas decided to start fighting? Eris couldn't do it all by herself, and Carter was- in a word –pretty useless right now.

Carter wouldn't take no for an answer, though. She started pulling me up by my good arm, stating seriously that we were going to a hospital to get the wound taken care of. I kept shaking my head, pulling back at her, but not saying a word because my mouth was not working properly. Carter continued to insist and only became distracted when Eris asked if I was doing ok. The older woman replied, "He's injured, but he doesn't want to go to a hospital to get it checked out."

Even from my spot, I could see Eris rolling her eyes. "Koda, get going, or I'll whack you and give you a concussion, got it?"

Still, I refused to leave, and by the irritation growing on Carter's face, I assumed she was actually going to get Eris to do as she had threatened somehow. Eris looked at us and asked if she would seriously have to give me a concussion, commenting that Grandpa wouldn't be too thrilled when they gave me back to him. I rolled my eyes, and Carter shrugged in 'gotta do what you gotta do' sort of way.

We were all so distracted that we missed Cas slowly slipping out from under Eris' staff. Only after he bolted did we decide to take notice.

There was only so much light to keep the Nightmare from the shadows he so desperately was trying to reach. There was no time to stop him physically either. Eris' staff was a weapon of defense and offense, and my whip was lying on the ground, useless. It would take too much time to pick up my whip, Cas would swat Eris away easily, and I didn't even know where my whistle was anymore.

It looked like it was all over, until I blurted, "Dakota!"

Cas tripped over his own feet, sending him sprawling to the ground all over again. He was far enough into his sprint that he was now casted in darkness, but he was so bewildered by the sudden use of the name that it didn't even click together in his mind. Cas merely shook the sudden shock from his system, and then he looked back at my standing form- when had I stood? –red eyes wide with confusion.

Carter was equally as confused as Cas by the sudden shout, but Eris immediately caught onto my sudden idea. She repeated my name too, looking at Cas as if he should know what she was saying. My voice joined hers, and Carter's calling eventually chimed in as well, though confusion was still written clearly on her face.

The multitude of voices repeating the name had Cas in a ditz, shaking his head and occasionally swatting his scalp in an attempt to rid himself of the fog hanging over him. His uncertainty refused to leave him, though. He was caught defenseless, trying to find a way to itch the scratch he couldn't find. It didn't matter how much he turned them; the puzzle pieces would not fall into place for him.

The repetitive calling became tiring after a mere few minutes, and it seemed it was losing its hold on Cas. He became less interested. 'Dakota' started meaning less than it did before, when he knew it but didn't know why. Now, it was just a couple of letters thrown together to make a multisyllabic sound. We were wearing this method of distraction out faster than a kid with a new toy.

Just when it seemed as if Cas was starting to piece together that he could leave anytime he wanted, our salvation came in the form of Siren's singing.

The haunting sound flooded the streets, startling Cas all over again (if he had been alive, he would have probably suffered a heart attack by now). It closed in from all sides, bearing down with the intensity of an oncoming army. Cas scrambled around, looking in multiple directions as he tried to face the new, unfamiliar sound. Back and forth, he went, but no matter which way he went, there was no lessening in the sound, no getting away. It was painfully overbearing for him, and Cas finally huddled up in a ball, clamping his hand over his ears as he squeezed his eyes tight. His spines flattened against his back.

There was no joy in seeing Cas so messed up, but I couldn't help the smile that overcame my face. Carter and Eris were equally as thrilled by the backup, and the three of us searched for the origin of the noise.

Selene stalked up behind us, walking briskly and swiftly. Her mouth was open, emitting the powerful song that had Cas so confused. However, behind her, there were about five other Sirens, also singing in unison with the female Siren. One of them was the Siren from the Maria Lopez case- Trent, I think his name was. Their voices, I began to notice, were all very different; they had their own touches. However, the six Sirens harmonized so well, it was hard to tell there were many different people.

Trent and the unfamiliar five Sirens immediately scurried past us, focusing on the Nightmare still huddled in the middle of the road, surrounded by darkness. Now that they had his attention, the Sirens softened their voices, sounding less intense and friendlier than before. It didn't help Cas' state, but it sure put me at ease, knowing my friend was in good, caring hands. They weren't going to push anything too far.

Selene broke from the group when they began passing us, and she came up on one of my sides. She took one look at my torn up arm and clothes before asking, "Do you like to let him tear you to pieces?"

I wanted to mention that it really hadn't been Casper's fault- it was purely mine –but I merely shrugged awkwardly instead, cracking a strained smile at her. Selene rolled her eyes before dropping the subject abruptly, nodding towards her fellow Styx members. "That's part of the business I had to attend to. I figured we could get more done if more people were on board. We're all free until this Dome business is taken care of."

Eris, Carter, and I were thrilled by the news, and I knew from the small smile that appeared on Selene's face that she was pleased as well. Her content expression, however, changed when she looked at my busted up skin. Selene stated, "You need to get that checked out. There's a hospital a couple blocks from here."

Needless to say, Carter was overjoyed by the Siren's agreement, and Eris smirked in amusement. Still, I did not want to leave. "But what about Cas?"

Selene rolled her eyes, gesturing to the numerous friends she had brought along with her. Her face was deadpan as she replied, "I think there's an adequate amount of people to keep Cas grounded for the time. Now get going before the cops I saw a couple of blocks back come around and investigate the area."

The woman from earlier talking erratically- probably into a phone –popped into my brain. She had probably called the cops to report some 'suspicious suspects,' but considering what the woman had probably told them, law enforcement more than likely had taken her as delusional. There was no need to prove the woman right, though, so I quickly nodded. After getting basic directions from Selene, we Dream-Catchers quickly jogged off, sticking close as we navigated through the dark streets.

The visit to the hospital was brief. Nothing seemed to have been going on at the hospital at the time we showed up, and they took care of my arm quickly. Carter posed as my hysterical mother while Eris played the part of concerned aunt. The nurse that took care of our case- a nice lady named Missy –'calmed' my dear mother down fairly easily, always smiling and reassuring us that everything was fine. While my bad road rash wouldn't go away anytime soon, Missy stated that it should heal just nicely without any problems if I didn't get into any trouble. I promised that I would do my best to keep out of rigorous activities.

As for what we told the hospital staff who asked about our mismatched appearances, Eris quickly informed them that they were our costumes for a cosplay convention going on in another town. See, Carter and I lived out of town, and we stopped by to pick up my 'aunt,' as we were all part of the same fandom and decided to go as a group. However, I had gotten mad at my mother for an undisclosed reason and had gone out with my cousins for the night, worrying the parents sick in the process. The nonexistent cousins and I had shown up early this morning after a dirt-bike accident, and Eris and Carter had just randomly threw some clothes on so they could get me to the hospital.

Missy scolded me for running off for a few minutes before asking what fandom we were dressing up as. Eris, Carter, and I glanced at each other before Carter told the nice woman, "It's called Sandmen. It's a very obscure book series about secret agents and dreaming."

The nurse smiled and replied, "Hm. Well, I might have to check it out sometime."

After being all cleaned and wrapped up, Carter took care of all the legal issues and paperwork. I don't know what she wrote down, but it certainly did the trick. Missy let us leave without any hitches, and she waved as she watched us out the door, a pleasant smile on her face as she called for us to have fun at our convention. We replied with simple goodbyes and 'we will's' before slipping away, grabbing our small arsenal we had hidden in the bushes outside.

By the time we got back to the spot we had left the Sirens and Cas, an hour and a half had passed. No one but the spectral beings were in sight- no cops, no women on benches, and no other pedestrians. It was just the spectral beings and us Dream-Catchers. They had moved since we had left, and four of the six Sirens had stopped singing, Selene being one of the four. The last two had softened their voices as well, singing lowly and gently to Cas, who was sitting back against the side of a building.

The Nightmare was hardly recognizable anymore. The spines that had layered his back had receded completely, leaving him in nothing but shredded clothing that hung limply from his form. His black hair had turned a dull, silvery color. His head was bowed when we raced up, his eyes closed and shoulders slumped. Cas swayed where he sat as well, unsteady and exhausted. In a few words, he looked like shit, and I felt horrible about it. Selene, however, looked pleased, and I could only hope that, even though Cas looked horrible, he was really fine under his exhausted exterior.

Selene walked to greet us as he we approached, and she cheerfully said, "You guys are back just in time. We've pretty much done as much reversing as we possibly can without erasing all of the Nightmare part of him. Dakota, I was thinking you could be the first voice he hears when Dawn and Joy are done, ok?"

I didn't hesitate to nod before looking back at my friend. "I'm surprised how quickly you guys were able to reverse his condition."

"Normally, it would've taken us six or seven hours, which is pretty short for most Nightmares. However, a combined effort cuts that time down by quite a bit." Selene explained, looking at her fellow Sirens before turning her gaze towards the dreary Cas. Her eyes were increasingly soft whenever she looked at him, but I imagined she looked at every dying person and Nightmare that way.

Besides the two Sirens' singing, the next few minutes were spent in silence. They seemed agonizingly long as well, something was increasingly agitating for everybody. However, the Sirens' voices slowly died out into gentle hums before faded too. One of the girls looked to Selene with a content smile on her face and nodded. Selene returned the gesture before looking at me and nodding towards Cas. "You can talk to him now. Just be gentle; he may be confused, and I'm sure he'll be as moody as a teen girl on her period. Now go." Unexpectedly, Selene slapped my back hard, sending me stumbling forward. I gave her a bewildered look, but she just smiled at me deviously.

Rolling my shoulder and easing the dull pain from my shoulder blades, I cautiously walked forward, coming up on Cas' side. Everyone was boring holes into my skull as they watched, but I pushed it away, focusing on my swaying friend. I kneeled carefully beside him, resting a gentle hand on his shoulder. I called, "Hey Cas. How you feeling?"

"Shut up, Koda. My head hurts." Cas whined in the most childish voice he could muster. His blue-red eyes cracked open, glaring at me in a petty manner. It was as if the last year hadn't even happened.

My head turned to Selene. She was amused more than anything else, but she answered my thoughts, replying, "His memories are intact, but it takes him a lot of effort to call them to mind. I don't think he realizes he's dead right now. Just go along with it."

That sentence struck me as sorrowful, but Selene didn't seem worried about it. I shrugged off the twinges and smiled as I looked back at Cas. "Yeah, I can't do that, buddy. You and I, we have things to do, and I need you to do them. So come on, you lazy bum, and get off the ground!"

I didn't wait for an answer as I grabbed Casper's hand, roughly pulling him up and off the ground. Of course, I didn't plan for him to be unsteady on his feet. Cas and I both yelped as his knees began collapsing under him, but I caught him awkwardly before he could hit the ground, which had some pain shooting up my injured arm. Cas squirmed in my hold, worsening the pain, but he didn't notice as he muttered, "Put me down, fucker."

The whiny but nasty voice Cas was using hardly phased me. He had used it plenty of times before on me in the past, but that didn't make it amusing. However, all the Sirens laughed at the show. Carter smiled weakly in amusement at the two of us, and Eris hid her eyes behind her hand, barely containing some smart comments and harsh chuckles.

I guess I should've been more entertained as well, but, it's just… This just wasn't what I had expected when the plan had been laid out. No, I hadn't expected for Cas to be back to his normal self, but I had thought he would be better than this confused, exhausted mess currently dangling from my arms. It wasn't fair that he had to be like this after being caught in limbo for roughly a year. I almost wanted to snap at the Sirens to finish the job, to make him normal again, but then I remembered the mission. With a sigh, I promised myself we would make this as quick as possible.

Pulling Cas back up and fixing him so he wasn't hanging so heavily, I replied to him, "Sorry Cas. I can't do that right now. Like I said, we've got things to do."

"I wanna do it later~!" Cas griped. He made a poor effort to kick my shin before twisting to the side, nearly sending the two of us toppling over. I managed to keep us steady, however, as Carter came over to help me keep him from squirming so much.

"Too bad! We're doing it now! Now stop being a lazy ass!"

"Stop being an ass in general, and then we'll talk."

There was more laughter from the others surrounding us, and I irritably blew a strand of hair from my eyes. Cas remained oblivious, his dual colored eyes seeing straight through all of the figures. Carter flashed me a patient smile, reminding me to be gentle. I rolled my eyes, but replied to Cas, "Look, Cas, I need you to take Cas and a couple of Sirens to the Carnival. You've taken me before. You need to do it again."

Casper's head rolled back to look up at me, his expression shining with confusion and eyes focusing on something behind me. His tired voice asked, "Why the hell you wanna go there? It's a terrible place. You should go to the beach instead, Koda."

Ignoring how completely innocent Casper's statement was, I responded, "As much as I would love to go the beach, we have to go the Carnival, and you're the only one that can take us. Please take us, Cas? We can go anywhere you want after we go to the Carnival."

"But it sucks~."

"I know!"

Cas became suspiciously quiet after my outburst. I glanced at everyone else, but all of their smiles had dropped. They shrugged at me stupidly, unsure of how to continue on, and my wonderful solution was to wait for the other boy to respond. He finally did, a few minutes after my sudden explosion, saying, "Fine, but when we're done, we're going somewhere nice and happy."

A weak smile twitched on the corners of my face. "Yeah Cas. Whatever you say."

This visibly pleased my friend. He announced that it was time to go, and with a content grin on his face, he tried to start walking away, presumably to some shadows. Needless to say, he did not make it very far. Cas didn't even notice when I started balancing him on his own feet before getting him to flop down on my back, getting him into a piggyback. He just started rambling about all the places he wanted to go and occasionally complained about his headache, which I assumed he was beginning to ignore since his gripes were slowly becoming less and less frequent.

I asked Cas what I needed to do to get us to the shadows, and his answer was, "Just step in shadows and hang on!"

The Sirens quickly gathered about, as I moved out from under a streetlamp. I checked to make sure there were no oncoming cars before stepping in the middle of the road. The Sirens latched on, and I told Cas we were ready to go, winking to Carter and Eris in a sign of 'see you later.' Casper's hands suddenly gripped tight to my shirt, and all of his muscles tensed up unexpectedly. It had me nervous as his cheerless voice called, "And down the rabbit hole we go!"

The familiar sensation of falling was overpowering as the view of the road disappeared, replaced by an endless black sea. Cas continued to cling to my shirt, but it wasn't desperate like the Sirens' grips that suddenly tightened on my friend and I. Our group fell and fell for a long time, the feeling in our stomachs never fading but never becoming worse. I thought that we were never going to reach the Carnival- Cas must've gotten us lost or something –but then there was a rock wall to our sides, and the ground rose to meet us.

The impact was familiar, and it was hard. Everyone let out pained yelps as they crashed into the field, not at all cushioned by the overgrown grass. I think the quietest out of the group had to be Cas, who barely even grunted as I collapsed forward. The weight of my friend was painful as we smashed into the ground, the Sirens crumpled and buckled in other directions. The pained cries died out quickly, though, as did the moans and groans. In the silence, I breathlessly mumbled, "Ow."

Cas chuckled hollowly against my back. I sighed and tried to move. My arm was burning again, and it didn't want to listen. Blowing some of the wet grass from my face- oh look, it was still pouring rain in the Carnival –I asked Cas, "Hey, you think you could get off me?"

"Sure, Koda." Cas answered, but he didn't move. He didn't even shift to make himself comfortable! The Nightmare just continued to lie, half-sprawled on top of me and half-sprawled in the sopping grass to the side.

With a huff, I turned over, gently dumping Cas to the side as I turned over. He didn't seem to notice that he was suddenly looking at the endless black sky, but his eyes were pretty blank anyway. I sat up, shaking off the worst of my aching and barely touching my road rash as I looked to everyone else, noticing they were getting up as well. I asked, "Is everyone ok?"

One girl with blue streaks in her dark hair rubbed her head, a scowl on her face. She replied, "Oh, just peachy."

I shrugged at her in reply, and slowly, our group began getting off the ground. The only exception to this was Cas, whom I would've mistaken for sleeping, had I not known he couldn't sleep. I stood above him, sighing for the umpteenth time that day as I nudged my friend with my booted foot. "Hey Cas, come on. Can't you do anything other than lay there?"

Cas hummed something but didn't make any good answers. Selene came up on my side, laying a hand on my shoulder to get my attention. Looking at me with rain pouring down her face, Selene explained, "When we help Nightmares, we literally backtrack through their trauma. We've backtracked as far as the minute his connection to life abruptly snapped. He's in a state of shock that keeps him from physically being capable of doing anything right now. It's not that he's not doing anything; it's simply the fact that he can't do anything. Cas can tell us what to do- his mind is pretty sharp right now, not technically having caught up with what his body has registered –but we're going to have to do all the heavy lifting, alright?"

Another sigh, another weary nod. I should've already pieced together what Selene had told me, though. It was common knowledge that Sandmen become temporarily immobile for the most part when their connections severed. They could talk, but they were usually too hysterical about what was happening to make any sense with their words. There was no way to calm them down, either, before the insanity started settling in, and they became lost in their own minds.

The Sirens helped Cas get up and back on my back. Once we had gotten that taken care of, we all walked as one group towards the cave entrance not too far from where we were now. Just as I remembered it, the multicolored lights were blinking inside of the tunnel, taunting and welcoming, all in one. The closer we got, the more nervous I felt, and I asked what we were going to do when we got to the main portion of the Carnival.

At my side, Selene placed a hand on Casper's shoulder in an effort to get his attention. His eyes continued to look right through everything, though. Selene was not deterred as she asked, "Hey Cas, is there any way for us to get all of the Nightmares in one place?"

Cas humped, as if irritated by something, before he replied, "If you get Full-Fledged to sound the alarm, everyone will come running. Full-Fledged always gets her way."

My steps wavered under me, wondering what my friend was supposed to mean when he said that. Selene and all of her friends looked equally as confused, lost by the strange choice of words. Selene glanced at me, I shrugged, and the Siren looked back at Cas. "What do you mean by that? Full-Fledged, is that a person? Is Full-Fledged supposed to be a person?"

Cas hummed, another agitated sound that I didn't much care for on him. "Of course Full-Fledged is a person! She's so irritating. All she does is take from Of Age and dance. Oh my Lord, she dances so much, and she does it cause Ancient lets her get away with everything. It's bullshit."

The majority of what Cas complained about was lost to us once again. However, there was one thing he said- the part about dancing –that caught my attention. I vividly remembered a Nightmare dressed up all in ribbons and green paint, ragdoll curls spilling from twin pigtails. Her fluid movements and flowing dress had become ingrained in my memory, and I had a sinking feeling that the dangerous female with the devious smile was the one Cas spoke so angrily of.

Curiously, I asked Cas, "Full-Fledged likes to dress up as a ballerina, right? She hangs out in the courtyard thing?"

There was the slightest nod against my back, along with confirming hum. I sighed as I stated, "I know who we're supposed to find."

The Sirens' faces bunched up into confusion at my statement, even Selene, who still had no idea of last night's excursions. Trent asked, "How do you know?"

A ruthful smile slipped onto my face. "I've been here before."

Our caravan trekked the rest of the way through the field, passing the sign that continued to send its cheery message. The Sirens glanced at it, most grimacing. I just ignored it, trying not to acknowledge how pleasant it was in an unpleasant environment. The bunch of us came upon the tunnel, and the Sirens gawked at its size. I took the lead, getting onto the ground and dropped Cas gently to the ground. With some minor difficulty, I crawled through the shoot and came out the other side. I had Selene and another one of the Sirens slip Cas down the tunnel and pulled him out on my side. As the group started filing into the Carnival's main joint, I worked on getting Cas back into place with the help of Selene.

As I had done, the Sirens gawked at the view they were unfortunate enough to see. They were astonished, as any person would be upon first seeing the place they were to travel. The Carnival was intimidating, and no one escaped from the overbearing presence cleverly hidden among the lights, the music, and the shadows.

The only ones who were not awed in the least were Cas and I. I had no desire to be back, and my shoulders slumped at the darkness awaiting us, something I could blame on Cas' weight. The Nightmare himself sighed in my ear, knowing exactly where he was, even though he wasn't really looking at anything. The suffocating atmosphere was enough.

After allowing a few minutes to the Sirens' to gape and wonder, I brought their attention back to the situation. They six regained their composure quickly, looking as if this were any other job. I only rolled my eyes before beginning the new trek, going in the general direction I remembered going down the night before. The Sirens followed me obediently, silent as the music continued tolling, occasionally becoming overcome with static.

I tried to follow all the paths I thought I had taken before, but it soon became apparent that I must've taken a wrong turn somewhere. What was barely identifiable before became so unrecognizable that I was taking turns only to make it seem as if I knew what I was doing. I'm sure the Sirens were aware of our predicament, but they kindly said nothing about it. I'm pretty sure they didn't see a point; they didn't know where to go, either.

Finally, my frustration with our complications stopped us all dead in our tracks. With a huff, I asked, "Cas, do you know where what's-her-face is?"

There was a confirming hum in my ear, and Cas replied, "Just go through that tent right in front of you."

I blanched, looking back and forth between Cas and the big-top he had mentioned. The Sirens, I noticed, didn't see the big deal, but the last time I had inconveniently gone into one of the large tents, I had been trapped for who-knows-how-long. I said, "I don't really trust the tents, Cas."

"And you think Nightmares do?"

…ok, if that was true, he had a point.

An irritated sigh left my mouth. "Are you sure?"

"Never, but it's better than nothing."

Another good point I couldn't ignore. Turning to the Sirens, I shrugged helplessly at them, a frown twisted on the corners of my lips. "Well, you guys heard the idiot. Try to stick together. It would suck if we were to be split up."

The six entities bobbed their heads. As I turned back to the striped tent, I took a deep breath as I hesitantly walked towards it. The Sirens followed behind me closely, and as we came to the very edge, I lifted up the bottom of the tent, searching inside of it for anything out of the ordinary. It was no use, though. The darkness was heavy inside, covering up anything that might be of danger. The only thing visible was the exit on the other side, where the blinking lights were calling to us to try to run across if we dared. I nodded to the exit, and after they silently debated who would go first, Trent stepped up to take first place.

One by one, all the Sirens hurried on through the tent, always appearing on the other side and ducking out as quickly as they could. No one said anything as each person ran through; it was a silent agreement that, if we did, we might be targeted by a Nightmare or the Carnival itself. Finally, it was my turn, and I quickly hurried through the tent just as the others had done, coming out the other side with no hitch. The fact that there had been no problems within the tent was actually a more terrifying thought than if something had happened because now we were left wondering why nothing had happened.

Well, in the end, there was something that didn't turn out the way it had been planned, just as I had predicted. There was no ballerina chick in sight, nor was the courtyard anywhere to be seen, either.

I complained to Cas. He made an unconcerned noise in my ear. I rolled my eyes.

Instead of asking for more directions from my friend, I started walking to the left, accepting the fact that our caravan was probably never going to find the ballerina and that I was probably going to die here. I should've let Eris or Carter come instead.

The next few minutes was once again spent in silence. It was obvious hopelessness was slowly crushing everybody, and no one had any ideas to lift the mood. As usual, Cas was the one only who seemed fine, but I assumed that was because he was pretty uninterested in most things.

However, things starting looking up when we turned another corner, and from our spot, I could see a large, gaping opening I recognized all too well, even when the line of stalls and games didn't spike any remembrance. A reassured smile overcame my face as I jogged carefully over to the large entrance, peeking inside to see the ballerina girl spinning around, splashing green paint over all the orange.

I could feel Casper's smile as he mumbled, "I did good."

My dual colored eyes rolled at him, but I couldn't help but agree, though I didn't mention it aloud. The Sirens peeked around me to see what I found so interesting, but I ushered them back, hiding them behind a wall of stalls, which hid us from the ballerina's wandering, red eyes. I crouched down, allowing Cas to slip off my back and onto the dusty floor, leaning him up against the back of one of the games. I said nothing to the Sirens, asking Cas, "How do we get the ballerina girl to sound the alarm, like you said?"

"Freak her out."


"I dun know."

I facepalmed at my friend, sighing in frustration. There was nothing I wouldn't give at the moment to have Casper's head screwed on right at the moment.

Before I could find myself beating Cas in my affectionate way, Selene laid a hand on my shoulder. I looked up at her and her thoughtful expression. Selene smiled patiently and said, "The others and I can take care of everything from here. Get you and Cas back to the physical world. We'll be right behind you."

My face scrunched up in confusion. "What? No. You guys are going to need a way out too. We can't just leave you here."

"We're going to be surrounded by Nightmares, Dakota. I think we're going to be just fine." Selene assured me, patting my shoulder in her patient but not patient way. "Besides, I think you and Cas have spent enough time here. It's time for you two head back home."

I wanted to argue, but behind her smile, Selene was giving me a look that told me I wasn't allowed to argue. Behind her, the other Sirens were giving me similar looks. None of them were going to let me or Cas stay, and if either of us tried to dare defy them, we would be in a world of hurt. Thus, I simply caved to their will, tired from a long night's work. Selene smiled triumphantly at me, patted my shoulder, and told the two of us to get going. I asked Cas how we were supposed to get home, and he answered, "Hold tight and fall back."

Once again, my friend was sounding oddly cryptic, but I chose not to comment on it, simply trusting him. I grabbed a tight hold on him as I sat down next to him, and after squeezing my eyes shut, I pushed the two of us back. Instead of hitting the back of the game stall, the two of began freefalling all over again.

Though it was tempting, I never opened my eyes, never saw where we were falling or how. My grip of Cas' arm would probably have completely cut off his blood circulation, had he been alive, but he made no sound as we continued to fade from the Carnival, where we had left all of the Sirens behind. Part of me wondered how falling was going to bring us back to the surface world, when it had taken falling to get us here, but the Carnival was a strange place. Psychics didn't apply, only a sick version of fun.

The two of us fell for the longest time, but then I could feel solid ground beneath us. When I opened my eyes again, Carter and Eris were just beginning to notice us from their spot on a bench. The two broke out into happy grins at seeing us, but they were rightfully confused when the Sirens were nowhere to be seen. I quickly explained what had happened, and together, we all patiently waited for the Sirens to reappear as Cas and I had done, just as Selene had promised me.

Except they didn't.

The three of us waited for hours for the Sirens to come back, along with all the Nightmares they were supposed to bring to the light. We waited long enough for the sun to come up, for people to start walking down the sidewalk and run their cars down the street. The four of us were there long enough to see all of the businesses open, their patrons coming and going throughout the day, always giving our sad and worried forms strange looks as they passed. Enough time passed that Eli called Carter, finally awake from a long slumber, and met us in our spot. He was overjoyed to see Cas, unsurprisingly, and though it was a little joyous for a time, the mood died away. We just wanted to know that the people that had volunteered to help us would make it out all right.

Just when I began shaking Cas from a stupor he had been falling in and out of to get us back to the Carnival, Selene came to us, running down the street with a big grin on her face. Carter, Eris, and I all shot up from our seats, earning more strange glances from strangers, but the Siren did not come to meet us fully. She stopped halfway down the street, gestured for us to follow her, and waited patiently until we had gotten Cas off the ground before racing after her.

The Siren led us to the park we had started at, which I was happy to say wasn't very crowded. Our small group trekked all the way to the fountain we had called Selene from, where the other Sirens were softly singing to a large group of tired looking Nightmares, all of which now looked human. Selene told us to add Cas to the group, explaining that everyone, for the moment, was in a trance as they waited for the last Nightmare to show up so the Sirens could finish their song.

The four of us did as we were told, and though I should've left him alone like the others did, I stayed beside Cas for the rest of the session. During the day, I noticed, the Sirens didn't sound so nearly as foreboding as they did during the night. It also helped that they were all smiling, a rare sight for sure, but right all the same, considering the circumstances.

It was only a few minutes after Cas had completed the group that the Sirens finished their song. It showed on the Nightmares like neon signs in pitch black, for whatever remained of their intimidating figures shed away like a snake's skin, and they seemed to all wake up as one, gasping at the obvious change in their minds and bodies.

Cas looked just as he did the last time I saw him alive. His mop of brown hair was messy, blue eyes full of humor and life. He wore the same clothes, too- a DC Comics t-shirt, faded jeans, and sneakers -even though I knew Casper's parents had taken all of his things to Salvation Army after asking if I wanted to keep anything. Cas hadn't aged a day either, still looking as he did all that time ago. The obvious lack of change hit me hard, as if I'd been punched the gut or something, but the pain washed away when Cas looked at me, smiled, and said, "Wow. You got old."

"Wow. You're still a piece of crap!"

"No-o-o! Koda, you must have me mixed up with someone else. It's that old-ness kicking in."

Unsurprisingly, while all the other Nightmares were attempting to figure out what was going on, Cas and I screamed and yelled and fought with each other, the biggest smiles anyone has ever seen on our faces. It was uncanny, how much it was like old times.

The two of us didn't have a lot of time together. The Sirens began rounding all of the former Nightmares up, explaining to them what had happened. Surprisingly, none were too shocked, but they were many whom were shocked by how long it had been since they had passed away. The Sirens calmed them down, though, explaining it was all ok now. The spirits were going to be able to move on now, and with a jolt, I realized that meant Cas too.

I knew Cas couldn't stay in the physical world anymore. I had been expecting the Sirens to help bring him back, just so he could finally move on since this fiasco had started. The only thing I hadn't counted on was feeling loss all over again.

At the same moment that realization hit me, it hit Cas too. His shoulders slumped, his smile dropped. What little fun we had managed to have died, and Cas just gave me a look that said, "I don't want to go." It didn't matter, though; we knew there was no choice in the matter, and for that, an expression of remorse overcame Casper's face.

As the Sirens began herding all of the former Nightmares together, looking thoroughly pleased with what they had managed to accomplish, Cas and I stood up and without hesitation, the two of us hugged each other tight. I noticed how much taller I had gotten, how shorter Cas was than me, even though we had been nearly the same height when he had died. It made us hurt all the worse.

I could feel Eli, Eris, and Carter boring holes into my skull as they watched Cas and I, but it didn't matter. The only thing that could separate us was a loud call from Selene, telling all the spirits present it was time to go. I knew she only shouted to let us know our time was running short, and for a moment, I resented the girl, even after all she had done for me.

Cas was a better person in that moment. He smiled and told me, "Gotta go now, Koda. I'll see later, but don't make it too soon, ok?"

With a quivering lip, I nodded and replied, "Yeah. I can do that. See you later, Cas. I'll miss you."

"Miss you too, dude."

With that, Cas joined the other spirits, and they all quickly gathered around the fountain. The other Dream-Catchers gathered behind me, and Carter wrapped her arms around my neck, resting her chin on the top of my head. In silence, we watched as the Sirens carefully helped each spirit- probably numbering around three dozen in all –into the fountain, where they disappeared under the ripples. Cas went last, and he paused before he allowed himself to be ushered away. He looked over his shoulder, smiled shakily at our group, and waved. Needless to say, we waved back.

Then he was gone, and Selene, the last Siren present, said a goodbye to us before following after the rest of the group.

For a time, four of us Dream-Catchers were still and silent, watching the fountain spill water into the large basin. But then Carter pecked a kiss on the top of my head, sniffed, and said with a breathless voice, "Come on, Koda. It's time to go."

Within minutes, we were back on the road, Eli driving the SUV in silence. Eris and Carter fell asleep within minutes, the exhaustion from the night before hitting them like a sack of bricks now that the problem was fixed. I was tired too, but I couldn't seem to sleep, no matter how many times I found a new, comfortable way to sit. Eli noticed, peeking in his mirror every once in awhile, but he made no effort to talk, something for which I was grateful.

In a few hours, we were back in De Sota, where the Dome was still grounded and swarming with troops. They allowed us through easily enough, and upon getting the Directors' chamber, I saw that Grandpa and Pin had been able to keep our promise to Jade and Desmond, whom were both ecstatic by the mission's success. They informed us gleefully that a lot of the unusable energy had already dissipated, and within a few hours, they would be home, safely tucked away in their limbo-like dimension. The Directors then dismissed us, telling us to go home and rest up.

After saying our goodbyes, us Dream-Catchers began evacuating the scene. I stayed for a moment, though, and asked the Directors for a favor. They were surprised by what I asked, but they granted it without any hesitation. After that, I left with Grandpa happy.

The ride home was drear. It rained most of the time, but Grandpa and I had some fun discussions, even though I didn't feel like talking. Halfway home, the Dome ascended back into its dimension, and we could tell because our Dream-Catcher sides faded back into the dimension with it, leaving us looking like any other normal human being.

The sun was setting when we finally got home. Mom and Dad were waiting impatiently in the house, Jacob trying to calm them down the entire time. They were ecstatic to see Grandpa and I home again, unharmed and without white streaks in our hair. They wanted to know everything that had happened, but when it became apparent Grandpa and I were exhausted, they calmed down. Gramps went home after only a few minutes with my parents, and I excused myself to go to bed. My parents wanted to hear everything in the morning, though, with which I complied.

I texted Kerry as I got into bed, assuring her the problem was taken care of, and then dropped my phone in my nightstand drawer. As I turned over, getting comfortable, I looked at the mark that had been bestowed on my forearm by the Directors. It was simple: a black stopwatch with the hands pointing to twelve.

It was temporary, allowing me to take a single night off from Dream-Catching. I had almost made it permanent, though, before realizing Cas would kick my ass when I died if I did so.

Even though the mark was temporary, I was the first person ever to have the night off. Sandmen were very serious about their jobs, after all.

I feel asleep quickly, drifting in darkness that I was unfamiliar with, and for the first time since I eight, I dreamt.

Cas and I were at summer-camp. We had decided to break some rules and wandered off into the woods, going down to the lake by ourselves. We swam the entire afternoon, getting sunburned because we had stupidly forgotten to put on sunscreen. It didn't matter, though, because the two of us were having fun, even though we could hear the camp counselors calling for us back at the cabins. We just laughed, decided it would be easier to ask for forgiveness later, and continued to splash and swim, joking that there were sharks and alligators in the water.

When the sun began setting in my dream, Cas smiled at me, water dripping down his face. He said, "Hey Koda, will I be your best friend forever?"

The question shocked me, but I didn't hesitate to say, "Of course, Cas! And will I be yours forever?"

"You know it, buddy!" Cas answered and laughed. He kept laughing until I woke up, and even then, I could still hear him. With tears all over my face, I laughed too, muttering, "See you soon, Cas…"

Only about two pages of this is edited. I'll edit the rest when it's not 2:44 in the morning. (This is such a weird chapter, but I can't bring myself to care right now, so please put up with me, guys.)

And here is a simple end to a complicated story! Hope y'all are satisfied! If not, I tried. Oh well. (It there's anything that has confused you and never got answered, ask away.) Anyway, I would like to thank everyone who read, favorited, followed, and reviewed. It's been a pleasure having you here, and I hope to see you all again in the future. ^.^