Chapter 199

Dyllan bounced from rooftop to rooftop chasing after the existential crisis smoke pluming out through the roof of the apartment building Andie lived in. Cedric had fallen behind a bit, but was doing his best to keep up.
Something about the whole situation just… didn’t feel real, like this wasn’t how it was supposed to go. Andie had always seemed unshakable, so unrelentingly, unstoppably her. Dyllan had already been on both sides of a dreamwalker’s awakening, and imagining Andie being that… vulnerable?
It was difficult to say the least.
Sure, realistically, Dyllan knew this was how it would go. But no matter what his head told him, he’d always felt in his gut that Andie would just show up one day and say something like: “Oh by the way, I awakened last night. Check out my cool new orange ectoplasmic ears!” Even now, Dyllan half expected the plume to just vanish in front of him.
Dyllan started to slow down as he approached the swirling maelstrom. He had planned to stop, take a deep breath, and clear out his adrenaline and momentum – to center himself and sharpen his focus. Instead, he found himself freezing up. His breath grew more erratic, and he felt a shivering heat overtake him.
Andie would barely flinch when faced with pressure that Cedric and Dyllan would buckle under. Dyllan didn’t think Andie had any traumatic backstory or anything, and yet, somehow… whatever was on the other side of this smoke was enough to break the unbreakable girl.
Could he and Cedric really handle that?
“There have -” Cedric had finally caught up with Dyllan and was speaking in between exhausted, wheezing breaths. Even in a form without physical mass, physical exertion still remained his major weakness. “There have been no dragons in my life.” He inhaled deeply and steadied his breathing. “Only spiders, and stepping in gum. I could have handled the dragons.” He smiled. “I am probably paraphrasing, as it has been a while, but I believe that quote can be attributed to Niki Nymark.”
“Is… there a reason you bring it up now?” Dyllan bit his lip, finding himself desperately hoping that what Cedric said next would alleviate his fears.
“You were clearly worried. Hesitating when someone needs help is… unlike you. As for why this quote specifically…” Cedric’s smile faded, but somehow, this almost seemed to make his tone and body language warmer and more reassuring. “Well, regardless of original context or intentions, I have a particular interpretation of it I’m fond of: We see people stare down ‘dragons’, these seemingly insurmountable, terrifying, mountainous undertakings. We see this, and assume this means they are stronger than these daunting challenges, so when they buckle, we assume it must have been something even greater – even more fearsome in size and ruthlessness than a dragon. The reality, however, is often the opposite. Those that slay titans are worn down by the little things, the spiders and gum that we see as inconsequential.” Cedric paused a mischievous glint in his eye. “Would you rather fight hundreds of rats, or a single lion?”
“The rats, obviously.” Dyllan arched an eyebrow. “What does that have to do with -”
“It’s not obvious, Dyllan. Andie would take the lion. Not for the challenge, or out of pride, but because it would seem easier to her. The lion is big and scary. We struggle to imagine taking down even one. But a single rat is easy, so we just need to do that easy thing hundreds of times – which still feels easy… but Andie sees it differently. She sees the rats swarming her – attacking from all directions. But the lion… the lion she can face head on. A lion grows weaker if you stab one of its legs, but crushing the rat chewing at your ankles will not impede the one at your throat.” Cedric pointed at the slightly-less-ominous-than-it-was-before smoke. “I don’t think it’s a lion or a dragon in there, Dyllan. Andie could have handled those. I think it’s rats. We can handle rats.”


A note from the author:

Humans were designed to rely on each other.

Independence is only a strength if it comes in equal measure with cooperation – should it grow to exceed it, it becomes weakness.

Or worse, it becomes a burden onto others.

The cobbler is good at making shoes, so to give a shoe is a small thing for them.

The baker is not good at making shoes, so to receive a shoe is a big thing for them.

But cobblers need to eat, and the oven is unfamiliar to them.

Give to your friends less than they receive from you. Take what is little to them and big to you, give what is little to you and big to them.

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