FR EN DE ES IT PT
Lay wiped down Rylow-San's forehead while continuing to eye the Eniripsa. The doctor's silence made it feel like a hand was squeezing her heart. Her muscles were as tense as a drawn bow. Her jaw was so clenched, you could make out the blood flowing in her jugular vein.

"Hmm…"

"What do you mean, 'hmm'?"

Lay wasn't concealing her worry, but her irritation was just as noticeable. 

"His temperature is off the charts. His pulse is completely irregular. He has all the signs of… well… Lay, I don't want to scare you, but… he should be dead by now. I don't understand it…"

Lay looked down at her husband again. The anguish could be seen on her face, transforming it, making it appear softer, less severe than usual.

"What concerns me is that… you see, Lay, his heart is beating much too fast. I'm afraid it'll eventually give out…"

Lay let out a squeak, almost animal-like, and brought her hands to her mouth. The mere possibility of losing Rylow-San was unbearable to her. It had been several days since the young Pandawa fell into a deep sleep, and no one could explain why. Lay had tried everything to rouse him. She'd summoned spirits, requested the aid of a shaman, and even brought in an exorcist. With the recent awakening of the spirits, she'd considered every scenario, including that her husband was possessed.

"I beg of you, Doctor. Do something…"

"I've done everything in my power at this point, my dear… All we can do now is wait and pray for the gods to show mercy. I don't know what Rylow-San is afflicted with. To be perfectly honest with you, I've never encountered a case like this before. The only thing I can do is stay beside him, with you…"

The Eniripsa placed her hand on Lay's. She was surprised by the smallness and apparent fragility of her. The Pandawa was a small frame with a fiery temperament. In the village, they called her "the dragon". An iron fist in a velvet glove. There were even rumors that Rylow-San was completely submissive to her. Nevertheless, Lay cared for him like her pride and joy. Now more than ever, her love for the young Pandawa pulsed in her veins.

***

"It's too soon…"

The voice was familiar. It seemed to be coming from inside his head, as if he were speaking while plugging his ears. But it was nothing like that.

"Lay? Is that you…?"

The echo bounced around like a ball hitting the walls, yet none were visible. He was surrounded by nothingness. A black expanse that went on forever. Off in the distance, a grayish, shapeless mass was flickering. Rylow-San rubbed his eyes. His vision was blurred, his mind foggy.

The Pandawa tried to take a step. His legs were jelly, and moving required considerable effort. Beneath his feet, the ground was as black as glossy ink. It looked like a massive tar pit. Without knowing why, Rylow-San felt irresistibly drawn to the gray mass, which remained perfectly still. He heard it whispering, though he couldn't seem to understand the words.

"Much too soon… I'm not ready yet."

Rylow-San moved closer. Each step was a struggle against headwinds. Each movement reminded him of his portly figure, something Lay would always tease him about. Where was she? Why wasn't he with her? Where even was he exactly…?

"But… That force, sssss… It calls to me…"

He didn't know why, but that pull was unstoppable. He had to face that thing. Whatever it was.

"It's hard to resist… Ssssss…"

He was almost there. Rylow-San could nearly distinguish the outline of the figure. He was only a few feet away from it when the shape suddenly vanished, drawn into a black hole. Rylow-San stopped in his tracks, shocked, but also terribly disappointed. The black void surrounding him began to vibrate. High above him and to his left, a white cube appeared. Then another one, slightly lower. One after another of them followed, as they began to swap out, in a ballet of strange clicks, the deep black for a dazzling, pristine white, as if redrawing the contours of a place that was hard to qualify. Rylow-San was struggling to tell if said place was real… 

Blinded by the whiteness all around, the Pandawa struggled to keep his eyes open. A voice caught his attention. It was shaky, tinged with worry.

"Lay… You again? What are you trying to tell me? Where are you…? And me… Where am I?"

His wife was there, somewhere close by. He was sure of it. In the spot where the mass had been, something else emerged. Spit out by the empty space around him. It was a memory, and it unfurled like a roll of paper, like a poster being stuck to a wall. Rylow-San stepped back to appreciate it in its entirety. Instead of the darkness, before him was a familiar place; it was warmer, more comforting. Behind him, the space remained unchanged. An almost diaphanous white.

This place he knew. Of course! His Aerdala Village! Still, something intrigued him. Something was missing… Where were the ribbons and the kites? And more importantly, where was his lodge? The town square was uncharacteristically deserted. He'd never known it like this…

A strong gust of wind made him lose his balance and sent him flying. Rylow-San had the mad feeling he was falling endlessly and began to scream in terror.

"AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!"

Beneath his feet was the summit of Aerdala. He was levitating now, jerking his legs around in the empty space like a glorified marionette.

"This is all just a dream! IT'S JUST A DREAM!" he shouted, as if trying to convince himself.

But then… Why this strange feeling of déjà vu…? From this image of an earlier Aerdala, a beam of light suddenly shot out and pierced through the Pandawa's body. After it hit him, he twirled around like a spinning top, then was pushed back quite a distance, such that he now faced away from the ghost Aerdala. Before him, the white surface, still pristine, began to crack under the pressure of the beam, which had just reached it, then ignited like a paper wall. A thick cloud of smoke filled the space. Faint glimmers slowly appeared behind the curtain of fog. Rylow-San instantly recognized the traditional Feudalan lanterns, then the region's unmistakable skyline.

"What on earth…? None of this makes any sense…"

Was the Pandawa under the influence of those Feudalan fumes to which some attributed, let's say… euphoric properties? That couldn't be – he didn't remember ever setting foot in this region. Lay would never let him, because of his asthma.

The ray of light grew thicker. Then there was a flash, followed by an explosion. Rylow-San fell hard on the ground, head first into a puddle. Severe fatigue overwhelmed him, keeping him pinned down. Utterly devoid of energy and afflicted by a burning thirst, he lapped up the water as would a small animal, his palms on the ground. Suddenly, a jolt traveled from his fingertips down his arms. Ripples formed in the center of the puddle, slipping away as concentric waves… Another jolt. In a final effort, Rylow-San lifted his head: 

"Maybe there's another solution…"

The gray mass was there again, much closer than the first time. It charged at him with its gaping maw. Rylow-San closed his eyes and cried out in fear. As nothing seemed to happen, expecting pain that was slow to come, he opened his eyes again. Nothing. What had seemed like a dragon to him, or at least an imposing creature made of scales, had passed through him, and he didn't feel a thing.

"Take a different path! SSSSSS!"

Without understanding why, Rylow-San suddenly felt profoundly elated. It was something pleasant. What was that odd sensation…? He had experienced this once before… And he recalled it had never been as intense as that day. Something tickling him around his navel.  He looked down at his stomach.

"For Pandawa's sake! What's happening to me?!"

Rylow-San saw inside himself. Literally. Where his guts would normally be, swarms of insects swirled around in an enchanting, multicolored dance. He understood. This was how he'd felt the first time he met Lay. The feeling was simply love in its purest form, at its most intense… And yet, the way it felt now seemed elusive, distant. As if he wasn't really the one experiencing it…

He looked up. The creature was there again. What especially struck him was the duality it exuded. Mixed in with its black scales were almost blindingly white ones. That's when the obvious hit him. He understood.

"By the Twelve… Could it be him? Our spirit guardian…"

Rylow-San couldn't believe his eyes. By what miracle did he find himself across from the one whom Pandawas had long venerated nearly as much as their goddess? The creature hovered, its wings outstretched and slowly flapping through the beam of light that had grown into a kind of tunnel. Time seemed to stretch out. Rylow-San took advantage of this to carefully examine the scene. Mesmerized by this sight, he savored every detail of the wonder before his eyes.

All of a sudden, the crossing taken by the dragon vanished. Its limbs came back together and unfolded to form a gigantic luminous sphere that enveloped the dragon. A blast rang out, upsetting Rylow-San's balance, and he once again almost fell over.

The sphere had just exploded into a shower of sparks. Debris resembling diamond shards combined to form the obvious contours of Pandala. The island's cartography floated in front of a dragon, whose eyes belied a fascination and wholeness like none other…

"Magnificent… Ssss… Splendid…"

"So, that's what's on the other side…"

The Pandawa had never been this close to the creature, who was no doubt unaware of the Twelvian. For his part, he was captivated. Enchanted…

"You belong here with me. Come back now…"

Lay's voice pulled him out of his stupor. Now it was to her that he was irresistibly drawn. He slowly stepped away from the dragon, leaving it alone with the object of its desire…

***

"I feel him coming back. I couldn't say why…"

Lay looked for approval in the Eniripsa's eyes.

"There's something inscrutable about a wife's instinct, like that of a mother. Invite him to find you again, Lay. I feel him stirring too. It might be a good si–"

The doctor didn't have time to finish her sentence. Rylow-San woke up with a start, covered in sweat. Wearing a goofy grin, the Pandawa threw himself at his wife and embraced her sensuously.

"Ahem… Well, I'd say he's doing rather well…" said the Eniripsa, somewhat embarrassed.

"Rylow-San, finally! I was so afraid! Where were you then??"

Something caught the Eniripsa's attention. On the Pandawa's hand was a mark that hadn't been there before. A circle split in two. The doctor immediately recognized them as symbols for the gusts of Wukin and Wukang.

"Maybe at the crossroads between worlds, Lay…"