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       Dreamworlds: Footprints and Pawprints, p.1

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Dreamworlds: Footprints and Pawprints


  Footprints and Pawprints

  Dreamworlds 1

  One boy’s footprints strayed into a stray Gate

  And walked a forbidden path

  Then he was brought to a new Dreamworld

  There to begin a Journey new

  One wolfcat’s pawprints stepped out for the first time

  To guide the steps of a lost boy

  To stand in the way of all that may harm him

  To keep him from walking into trouble

  Or at least, to try.

  Footprints and Pawprints

  Dreamworlds 1

  Victory Low

  Copyright 2011 by Victory Low

  Table of Contents

  (Tap links below for shortcut to chapter, tap chapter headers to return here)

  Prologue

  Phase 01: Boy meets Comrade

  Phase 02: White Furball

  Phase 03: Shiro’s Reason

  Phase 04: Meeting Michi

  Phase 05: Option

  Phase 06: Preparations

  Phase 07: Going North

  Phase 08: About Town

  Phase 09: The Road South

  Phase 10: Last Resort

  Epilogue

  Aftermath

  Prologue

  He Dreamed.

  “You can’t play with us!” they told him. “You can’t go where we’re going!”

  “But… why?!” little Colin asked them.

  Colin was a skinny boy with short brown hair and a deep frown. Tonight, as he Dreamed in this Dreamworld, he wore a brown vest and gray-striped shorts.

  Right in front of him was a Gate – a white archway filled with shimmering blue light that led to a place far away. A Gate and three other kids.

  The biggest of the three was a spiky haired boy in a bright red tracksuit. He laughed at Colin. “Because we don’t want you there!”

  The girl on his left had yellow hair and wore a green dress. She said, “You’re too clumsy!”

  The third kid, a tubby guy, scratched his head.

  “Let’s go!” the leader of the three said, and walked through the Gate, zipping off to somewhere else here in Gardens Dreamworld.

  The other two hurried after him.

  Colin rushed after them, but the Gate stopped him.

  “Let me in!” he shouted.

  But the light in the Gate had turned red. Red meant he couldn’t get through… because the three of them were blocking him out.

  “Colin.” His father stood behind him, a tall man in a dark brown suit.

  “I want to go through!” eleven-year-old Colin told his dad.

  “Leave them alone, son. The prayerman is here to meet us.” Dad told him.

  “The prayerman is boring.” Colin turned to the Gate and tried to push at it again.

  It still wouldn’t let him through. Two inches from the shimmering red light, he was stopped by an invisible barrier that felt like thick plastic.

  “Help me?” Colin turned to his dad. “I want to go play with my friends.”

  Dad paused. “Not now, son. I want you to meet the Prayerman.”

  “You’re boring.” Colin accused. “And you never help me.”

  “Colin, listen to your father.” Mom joined them. She was very fair, had long black hair and wore a long white dress, as she often did.

  Like Gracie, Colin’s younger sister. Gracie followed mom everywhere, all the time. She even followed mom’s dressing.

  Colin fumed. Once mom was there, he was never going to win an argument with dad. “You’re just saying that because he’s your friend!”

  “Where are your friends?” Gracie asked, looking around from behind mom.

  Colin growled and stomped away.

  “Where are they?” Gracie’s voice haunted him as he ran.

  “Nobody understands me! Nobody cares about me!” Colin yelled. “Everyone just wants me to do what they say!”

  He passed the prayerman on the way. The guy wore a suit like dad’s, except that his suit was black and he had a hat.

  “Hello, Colin…” the prayerman said, but Colin rushed by without replying.

  He barely saw the Gate open up in front of him before he was through it.

  The Gate vanished behind him.

  ***

  His parents were frantic.

  Colin Rivers was missing for three hours. Nobody could tell them where he went or where that Gate came from. Gates didn’t appear out of nowhere, they were told. Things like that just didn’t happen.

  They called everyone they could, but nobody had seen him. The prayerman and some others helped them search for the missing boy all over the Dreamworlds Network.

  It was his sister, Gracie, who found him in the end. They had left her right where they were in Gardens Dreamworld and told her not to leave.

  Colin, she said, was suddenly there behind her when she heard a weird sound and turned around.

  The boy didn’t move the rest of the night. He said nothing and did not move no matter what anyone said or asked. He never stirred.

  The only sign they found of him ever really having gone was a mark on the back of his right wrist – a mark in the shape of a diamond.

  While they were discussing that mark, Colin woke up and vanished from Dreamworlds. They didn’t even realize he was gone until an hour later. When his parents woke up and checked, he had already gone to school.

  They called the school. The teachers reported nothing strange, just that he was quiet and moody today.

  When he came back from school, they asked him more questions.

  “I don’t remember.” He said, and went on as if nothing had happened.

  But something had happened. Something that made him much quieter, much moodier, than he’d been before he’d vanished.

  Colin Rivers was never the same again.

  Phase 01: Boy meets Comrade

  They brought him to a new Dreamworld the very next night. Ten minutes after he went to sleep wearing the Dreamworlds headband, Dad and the Prayerman brought him through a series of Gates, and before he knew it, Colin was looking rather doubtfully at the front doors of a fat silver building covered with a glass dome.

  Beside him, Dad turned to the Prayerman. “Are you sure about this?”

  The Prayerman nodded. “It’s very popular with kids his age. I think it’s the best thing to do.”

  Colin frowned at him, but Dad said, “It does look very popular, doesn’t it?”

  They were not the only ones looking at those front doors. About twenty people were crowded around them, adults and children mixed together.

  Dad looked around at the people there. “Hey, Tsion… is that them?”

  Prayerman Tsion took one look and said, “Yes. That’s Nelson and Blake.”

  Uncle Nelson and Uncle Blake…? Colin started to step away but Dad grabbed him and pulled him along at once.

  “Nelson! Blake!” Dad waved. “Are your kids joining this World too?”

  Colin wished he could run away and hide.

  “Of course!” Uncle Nelson roared. “Jonah! Go say ‘hi’ to Colin!”

  Colin clenched his fist. “Dad… I…”

  “Isn’t this great, Colin? Your friends are here too.” Dad said, smiling broadly.

  “They’re not my friends.” Colin tried to explain. “They don’t want to play with me.”

  “Nonsense! You’ve been playing together for years!”

  “Only because you…”

  “Hello, Colin.” Jonah was all smiles. He still wore his red tracksuit. He looked at Uncle Nelson just to make sure his dad was seeing it.

  “Hello, Colin.” Alicia still wore her green dre
ss. Uncle Blake patted her head.

  “Hi.” Larry, still as plump as ever, was the only one who looked a bit uncomfortable.

  Uncle Blake frowned at him. “Larry, you should learn to be as friendly as your sister.”

  “Yes, father.” Larry replied automatically, but he didn’t sound happy about it.

  “Hi.” Colin told all three of them shortly.

  He still remembered the last time he saw them.

  We don’t want you there! You’re too clumsy!

  But Dad was here, and their dads too. As long as they were here, Jonah, Alicia and Larry would be nice.

  Colin stood there and said nothing.

  ***

  Very soon, a loud voice came from the front door of the building they were waiting at.

  “Attention, all new Travelers! Welcome to Nakama World! You are about to start a wonderful Journey... ah, hang the speech. Let’s just get started!”

  The front doors opened, and out stepped a row of nurses in pink nurse uniforms, led by a nurse who had a red uniform. The leader was the one speaking.

  “Nakama world is a Dreamworld where people live with Comrades. Comrades are animals who become our friends. They help us with all sorts of things. Travelers like you need Comrades to protect them against wild animals, or to capture Wilds and tame them.”

  She waved at them with a notebook. “I’m Chief Breeder Larissa. All new Travelers, please step forward!”

  “Go on.” Dad pushed Colin.

  Colin stepped forward. Larry was on his right, then Alicia, Jonah, a short boy with glasses, a tall girl with green hair, a girl with black hair, and a boy who wore a yellow scarf.

  “Phillip?” Larissa called.

  The boy with the yellow scarf raised his hand.

  Larissa checked her notebook. “Katrin.”

  Black-hair girl raised her hand.

  “Jonah. Alicia. Larry.”

  They raised their hands.

  “Henry.”

  The boy with glasses raised one hand.

  “Marita.”

  Green-hair girl waved. “Just ‘Rita’, please.”

  At last, Larissa turned to him. “You must be Colin.”

  Colin nodded slowly.

  “Good. Everyone’s here.” Larissa turned to one of the nurses behind. “Nami, if you will.”

  The nurse on the far right stepped forward. Nami had long blue hair, and twinkling eyes. “Hi, everyone. Come on in.”

  ***

  They followed her into the building, eight new Travelers and seven other nurses.

  Behind them, Larissa was talking to all the parents outside. In front of them was a desk with badges on it.

  Nami held one up. “These are for you. Wear the badge at all times – it identifies you as a Traveler and protects you from serious danger.”

  She gave each of them a badge; a white shield with a black ‘T’ in the middle.

  Colin frowned at his. “There’s no pin.”

  “Just touch it to your shirt.” Nami said.

  Colin touched it to his vest over the pocket. The badge suddenly stuck to it like a magnet.

  He looked around at everyone else; everyone was wearing a badge. The other Travelers had white badges like his; the nurses had purple badges.

  “Has everyone got badges?” Nami asked.

  Everyone had. She led them down the hall into a big lift, round and wide enough for all of them to stand on and still have space to walk around.

  It had no buttons.

  “Upper floor.” Nami said aloud.

  The lift obeyed, moving upwards for a short time.

  And then Nami turned to them all. “Once the lift opens, you’ll find yourself in a place where you can choose your first Comrade. There are different kinds of Comrades here, but only those with a yellow tag on their collars are ready to bond with a Traveler.”

  Jonah raised a hand. “What do we do when we find one?”

  “One of us will be with you.” Nami glanced at the other nurses. “Just tell us when you’ve made your choice.”

  The nurses separated, one to each of the new Travelers there. Nami stood behind Colin. “Ready?”

  “Ready.” They answered.

  Nami looked up at the lift’s ceiling. “Full Open.”

  The walls and ceiling of the entire lift split into two and fell away to either side.

  Colin stared.

  ***

  “This looks like a zoo.” Alicia mentioned.

  It did look like a zoo. Now that the lift walls were gone, Colin and the others stood in the center of a huge space filled with room after room, floor upon floor like a stadium. Every room had short walls up to Colin’s knees, and most held animals.

  “How are we ever going to choose?” Henry’s eyes were wide. “There are so many!”

  “Actually, the yellow tags are only on the lowest floor. The ones nearest to us.” Nami explained. “The others never have yellow tags. Some of them already belong with people and we’re just taking care of them for a while. Others have to be bought, or earned, or need special conditions to bond with.”

  Jonah was the first to step off the lift and take a look at the yellow-tag animals around them. Alicia and Larry followed him, as they always did. Their nurses went too.

  Henry went the opposite way. Rita went with him.

  Phillip turned to his nurse. “Can you tell me about the yellow-tag animals?”

  His nurse glanced at Nami, who shrugged. When that nurse hesitated, Nami answered Phillip herself.

  “There are basically four choices this season.” Nami said and pointed. “That kind is the easiest to get along with.”

  Nami was pointing at an orange mouse with long, pointed ears. Henry was carrying it in both hands, and it was sniffing at him curiously. There were many more in the room in front of him and Rita, and Rita was bending over the wall to pick another one up.

  “It’s called a Lynxmouse. Lynxmice have good hearing and a good nose for finding food.”

  The Lynxmouse gave Henry a twitch of the whiskers and then put on a big smile that looked just like Larissa.

  Phillip looked doubtful. “I don’t think it can protect me against anything.”

  “Any Comrade can grow strong, if you raise it right.” Nami told him. “But Lynxmice are popular more for their ability to find food than their ability to fight. And like I said; they’re very easy to get along with.”

  Phillip glanced at Colin. Colin glanced back.

  “Colorbits are also easy to get along with.” Nami went on, pointing to a room filled with rabbits of different colors. “The Pinkbits are the friendliest. Yellowbits are friendly too. Greenbits and Bluebits are less friendly, while Purplebits and Redbits can be a bit hard to get along with.”

  Phillip frowned. “Does that mean that the Purple and Red bunnies are the strongest?”

  “Maybe.” Nami shrugged. “But as I’ve said, it depends on how you raise them. A Pinkbit can be stronger than a Redbit if you raise it right.”

  “What are the other two?” Phillip asked.

  “Squirrels and Spiders.” Nami said shortly. “Flying Squirrels, actually… but they can be a bit mischievous and hard to control sometimes. The purple spiders are called Arachnids, and they’re popular for their webbing. Farmers like using their webs to protect their plants.”

  Jonah an Arachnid in his hands. It was the same size as the Lynxmouse in Henry’s hands, or the Flying Squirrel in Alicia’s. All the starter Comrades were the same size.

  Larry was looking at the Colorbits and the Lynxmice, scratching his head. Rita was walking towards the Arachnids.

  Colin looked at Phillip and found Phillip looking at him.

  Colin didn’t know what to do. He shrugged helplessly.

  Phillip turned to the Colorbits and studied them a while.

  But Colin looked beyond the yellow-tags, beyond the first ring of Comrades.

  He saw different kinds of what looked like small dinosaurs. He saw Com
rades that looked like walking plants. He saw creatures that seemed to be mixed up entirely. He pointed to one and asked Nami. “What is that?”

  “That’s a Rhinotle.” Nami said, studying what looked like a mix of turtle and a rhinoceros. “Very strong in defense, but not very clever.”

  “And that one?” Colin pointed.

  “That’s a Stag Beetle.” Nami told him. “Colin, creatures like those are way beyond what you can handle right now. They’re much too strong for you. Focus on the ones you can handle first.”

  “Mice, rabbits, squirrels and spiders.” Colin sighed.

  “Exactly.”

  Phillip had chosen a Bluebit, and Larry had picked up a Yellowbit. Rita found the most active Arachnid in the entire hall. It kept trying to climb out of her hands.

  Two rabbits… two spiders… a mouse and a squirrel.

  Colin looked at the Lynxmice. He looked at the Squirrels.

  Easy to handle mice… they’re good at finding food… but they’re probably the weakest of the lot… Squirrels are hard to control… they’re naughty… and they can fly away.

  Colin shook his head. “This is hard.”

  “Just pick one. You can get more Comrades later.” Nami told him. “If you want to catch Comrades, the best one here for the job is the Arachnid.”

  Colin thought about it. “I don’t like spiders.”

  “Well, whatever it is, take your time.” Nami said. “You’re already the last one.”

  “Isn’t there any other Comrade I can take?” Colin asked.

  “There is.” A soft voice said from behind him.

  Colin jumped. Nami jumped too, and her nurse hat fell off. Both of them turned to see a lady in a white coat; a lady with a blue visor and dark brown hair.

  “Michi!” Nami stared. “Where did you come from?!”

  “My lab, of course.” Michi answered in that soft voice. She looked at Colin intently. “You will do.”

  And with that, she held out a bundle of fur.

  “What’s this?” Colin blinked, as she put it into his hand.

  And then the bundle of fur lifted out a small sharp nose and blinked at him with soft brown eyes.

  ***

  It was small. Smaller than the yellow-tag Comrades that everyone else had gotten. This one was about half their size, and fit in just one of his hands.

  “Hello…” Colin paused, blinking right back at it. Sharp nose… sharp ears… soft eyes… fur. Soft, white fur. It looked like a wolf cub.

  It stood up and Colin saw that it wasn’t just a white wolf. Its paws didn’t look like a dog’s or a wolf’s. Those paws looked like a cat’s. That tail too.

  “A wolfcat.” Nami told him. “One of Michi’s breedings. Colin, don’t take it. Michi’s breedings don’t do very well.”

 
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