Cedric Sets Out

 

As the shine left his eyes, Cedric found himself looking down at a vast blue expanse. He couldn't figure out what it was, but it looked sort of like...

The sky?

"...Augh!"

Cedric jumped, somehow, and hit his head, on something, and tried to backpedal into the door he'd come through not a moment ago, only it was gone. In fact, there was nothing beneath his feet anywhere, except for the blue void. Though if that was the case...

Looking up now, Cedric could see that his hair was brushing against the longest blades of grass in a lush bed of it that extended in all directions. There were trees, rolling hills, and a cool breeze that might have been calming if Cedric didn't feel like it was going to blow him off whatever was keeping him up and into the sky.

"What am I even standing on?!" he exclaimed, grabbing tufts of the lawn above his head as if doing so would keep him from falling.

"It's best not to think about it," came Suit's voice, from the sky below Cedric's feet.

"Yes, of course. I'll just... not think about it," Cedric said, laughing nervously as he inched his way over to the nearest tree. With each halting step, he exchanged one fistful of grass for another, looking rather like he was trying to use a set of undersized monkey bars, only to have his feet drag on the ground.

He made it to the tree without incident, though, hugging it with one arm as he let his breath out. At least if he fell now, he'd end up in the branches and not falling into space, or whatever.

"Okay. Alright. Lucid dreaming. I'm in control," Cedric whispered.

"As I have said, that is not quite right."

"You be quiet. I'm concentrating."

"It's not a dream, it's more like a combination—" Cedric screwed his eyes shut, ignoring Suit. "—of the subconsciousness and imagination of everyone..."

"When I open my eyes, my feet will be on the ground, and gravity will be back to normal."

"...who's ever been in a coma."

Cedric opened his eyes. His feet were on the ground, and gravity was back to normal.

"Ha ha, yeah! Not lucid dreaming, right?" Cedric teased, beaming.

"Controlling anything beyond your immediate self would be extremely difficult. I'm not even sure it can be done. One hears legends, of course, but—"

"Hey, stop raining on my parade," Cedric said, his good mood solidifying as gravity passed a battery of rudimentary tests. "So what do I do now?"

"Whatever you would like. Your Fate will find you eventually."

"My... Wait. How did you say that with a capital F?"

"Well I couldn't possibly mention a Fate and not."

Cedric didn't particularly enjoy this explanation, but he'd grown to expect no more out of Suit. "Right. What's a fate, then?"

"A Fate, you mean?"

"Yes, that," Cedric said tersely, rather upset he couldn't manage to say it the proper way.

"Your Fate is your key out of the Grim Kingdom," Suit explained. "It may be an adversary you must defeat, a crucible you must pass through, anything, really. The only rule is the one I mentioned earlier; the worse your injuries, the more difficult it will be to beat your Fate."

"Right then. So I just have to beat my capital-F-ate, and this dream will end, and perhaps I'll end up relaxing on a nice beach somewhere instead."

"Now you're just being contrary," Suit said. "You could at least play along. Have I led you astray yet?"

"Fine. I'll play along. I guess we'll just have to kill some time while my fate catches up to me."

"Indeed. Except that I must be going, so you will be on your own. There has been a rather nasty pileup on a highway outside Tokyo, and I have another guest to attend to."

"What? You're leaving?" Cedric did not like the idea of taking on the 'Grim Kingdom' without a familiar face. Or familiar voice, at least, with an unsettling amount of familiar faces. Completely bonkers or not, it was nice to have someone around who knew how things worked.

"While I appreciate the sentiment, I do have a schedule to keep. And so, Cedric, I must bid you adieu."

Cedric frowned as Suit's voice faded and was gone.

"Well, this is just great, isn't it?"

* * *

After wandering for awhile with no real goal, Cedric began to wonder exactly what he was supposed to do. The warm sun on his face was comforting, and the cool breeze that was once threatening was now refreshing, but the lack of direction was boring at best. Was he really supposed to just sit around and wait until his Fate found him?

"Bugger. I could be here for—"

Over a nearby hill came a monstrous sight, the speed with which it approached alarming. Riding the illegitimate love child of a particularly ugly horse and a giant toad was a being completely encased in terrifying black armour. At least, Cedric hoped it was armour. Whatever it was, it appeared, against all reason, to be forged of pure anguish.

Cedric was distracted from imagining what the smithing process must have been like by the fact that the 'knight' and his 'mare' were bearing down on him, and showing no signs of stopping.

Cedric's eyes widened, and he scrambled behind the cover of the nearest tree, awaiting his fate. He certainly couldn't outrun it, and the idea of fighting it would have been laughable, if he wasn't in mortal peril.

"...is this my fate? How am I supposed to beat that?" Cedric lamented under his breath.

At the last possible moment, the grotesque steed put on the brakes, its four-hooved toad hands digging into the turf (which, Cedric was alarmed to find, was leaking what seemed to be brown-tinted blood).

Cedric cowered behind his tree, averting his eyes.

"Just stick me with a sword. I don't want to be eaten. Being stabbed I can handle, being chewed I can not."

A sudden rush of air announced the arrival of whatever nightmarish weapon it was that the black-clad one had chosen to do him in with. With his last breath, Cedric squawked.

Wait a minute, I didn't squawk.

Turning his eyes back toward his doom, Cedric was disappointed and disgusted to see that the toadhorse was munching contentedly on a largish bird, having apparently just snatched it from the tree with its tongue. Were they going to drag it out? Torture him, maybe chew his legs off? Poke holes in his eyes?

"Hm. You're not a Figment," said the rider, his voice terrifyingly non-threatening.

"How do you do that?" Cedric demanded, momentarily forgetting he was about to die.

"Huh? Do what?"

"Speak in capital F's!"

"Ohhh, that. You'll get the hang of it eventually. It took me awhile, myself."

It occurred to Cedric that the pair of them were exchanging words for more words, instead of swords for vital fluids.

"Wait, so... you're not my fate?"

"Your Fate? Ha! Ha ha ha!" The rider laughed heartily, and his mount emitted a low sound now unlike an earthquake, minus the shaking bit. Cedric was disturbed by the realization that it, too, was laughing.

"Ahhh ha ha ha ha ha! You actually thought—" The rider lifted the visor on his helm, revealing a perfectly normal if slightly overweight face, and wiped the tears from his eyes. "I should be flattered, I guess," he said, gaining some measure of control over himself. "No, I'm not your Fate. I'm like you."

Cedric raised an eyebrow and stared pointedly at the fellow's accoutrement.

"Well, with some upgrades."

"I see that," Cedric said, his brow staying at full mast. "Where'd you get that, er... stuff?"

"Quests, mostly. A mini-boss dropped Amanda, here," he said, patting his mount.

Cedric's eyebrow made a valiant effort to rise higher than the physical limits of his face.

"My Fate is the final boss of the greatest video game I've ever played. Did I luck out or what?" The man's eyes were full of excitement, but he sobered quickly. "Only one life, though," he added, staring into space as he contemplated some deeper meaning.

'Amanda' pawed at the ground, snapping her owner out of it. "Right then. I'd better be off. A few more Figments and I'll level up!" He pulled at the reins and Amanda reared, turning away from Cedric.

"Wait!" said Cedric, remembering the question he'd meant to ask earlier. "What's a figment?"

"Pretty self-explanatory, I thought. You know, figment of your..."

Seeing Cedric's blank look, he shrugged and went on. "They're the most common sight in the Kingdom. Pretty much anything you see that's alive is a Figment. Amanda here, her snack a minute ago, ordinary looking people... They're the creations of people's dreams and imaginations." The rider flipped his visor back down and waved. "For me, though, they're experience! If you want to know more, or need supplies or anything, head the way I came from. There's a city not far from here."

Cedric wasn't sure he wanted to know what the crazy dream-world version of a city would be like, but he couldn't think of anything better to do with his time. "I'll do that," he said. "Thanks!"

"No problem! Good luck with your Fate!"

"Yeah, you too."

With that, the rider left Cedric with nothing but a patch of mortally wounded grass. Cedric poked the wet ground with the toe of his shoe and grimaced at the squishy noise it made. To think, that had been under his feet all along.

Keep it together, Cedric.

He steeled himself, and looked in the direction the rider had come from.

"Alright," he said, beginning his trek toward a whole slough of insane shenanigans, and hopefully some answers. "Let's see what else they can throw at me."

The End

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