The kingdom of Elysium thrived under the peaceful rule of Prince Helios. With the aid of the Light Kingdom of the Moon the Remliss of Elysium's court had been freed from the insane circus of imprisonment under the Kingdom of the Dark Mirror, and life was now good. Sleeping Remliss were awakened every day, whenever special people spent long enough in one of the magical places.
JC opened his eyes to the cerulean Elysium sky, and he grinned. The sun was a brilliant blaze of yellow, the hills and meadows a lush, verdant green, the flowers and birds and butterflies a rainbow throughout it all. JC leapt to his feet, twirling with his arms extended in the sheer joy of being alive in such a beautiful place. He sprang into the air with a cry of jubilation, giving voice to his joyous enthusiasm. His arms remained outstretched as he tipped his head back, thrusting his chest out to feel the sun's warmth on his skin.
The wind in his hair matched the pleasant bass thrum at his back, when JC opened his eyes and peered over his shoulder to see what the sound was, he gasped in surprise. He had human-sized dragonfly wings attached to his shoulder blades, shimmering a myriad swirl of pale blues and greys that matched his eyes as they hummed. Glancing down in amazement, JC saw that not only was the ground dozens of feet below him, he was also naked but in a pleasant way, a unity with Nature.
Laughing and singing, JC spread his arms wide again and flew.
Chris opened his eyes to a big green leaf. Wow that was a big leaf. It had to be lying across Chris' eyes to be filling his vision like that. Chris raised his hand to his face to brush the leaf aside, blinking in surprise when his fingers came into view and touched the bridge of his nose. And the leaf was still there, well behind his fingers. The really REALLY big green leaf, HUGE green leaf, if it were above him like that...
Chris stretched his arm out and laughed in surprise when he saw his hand was only the smallest fraction of the leaf's full size; he had to extend his arm fully to flip the giant leaf off of him. It had been covering him like a blanket, and Chris sat up to find himself in a forest of strange plants. They were a vibrant green, each a broad, flat leaf growing from a thick stem in the ground, stretching a bit above Chris' head where he sat. There was something weird about the ground they were growing from, too. Chris stared in curiosity for a minute, trying to put his finger on it, then realized the ground was... coarse. The lumps of dirt were too big. Chris grabbed one and crumbled it, but it only broke apart a few times before the pieces wouldn't split any smaller without his forcing them... and they were still the size of small buttons or jellybeans.
Gasping in astonished realization, Chris jumped to his feet, the grass of the meadow stretching out around him... at waist height. He was less than six inches tall, like each foot of his height had been reduced to an inch, one-twelfth his normal size. Cool! He was tiny! Chris shrieked laughter in his new helium-sized voice and sprinted for the nearest flower, passing it and leaving it yards behind in an eyeblink. Apparently he was as fast as he was small. He ran on to another flower, carefully slowing as he approached it, then climbed up it like a tree. Chris dropped seat-first into the cup-shaped well of the flower's blossom and kicked his feet, relishing the scent. Life was good.
By the next night *Nsync had been in the current city of their tour long enough that Justin opened his eyes under Elysium’s sun. He blinked as he propped himself up on one elbow, shading his eyes behind his other forearm, but he still squinted in the light dazzling his eyes from other directions. Justin was lying on a cluster of rocks, sunsparkles flickering across them and his own golden form from the dancing waters splashing against the base of the rocks. The rock cluster Justin was reclining on was in the middle of a wide, strong river, so wide it was like a tiny, flowing lake, splashing and rippling and blue like a storybook stream, shining dazzles of sunlight everywhere.
Justin's skin was a golden tan and he was in the happiest place he had ever been, but he was still blue. From the waist down he was covered in cobalt blue scales, lines of muscle flowing from his hips down the length of his body into broad, pale sapphire fins. His trademark grin flashing brighter than the glints of sunlight off the placid waves, Justin threw his merman form off the rocks and swam downstream, leaping from the gentle waves like a dolphin and laughing as he went.
Joey was running, feet pounding against the ground as he smiled, grinning as he galloped across the plain. He had been in Elysium for a while, and it was lovely, but now his friends were there. He had wandered through the beautiful land for what had felt long a long time, and it was great, but it would be even greater to have his friends there with him. So he was running back to join them, the sun warm on his back, the wind cool on his chest and blowing over his face and through his hair as he thundered away from the forest and back toward the meadow.
Eventually Joey paused, when he reached the river, drinking deeply and splashing water over his chest and shoulders to cool off, and more down his back. He knew he was getting close to his friends; he could practically feel it.
Joey looked up when he heard a familiar bray of a laugh coming from upstream, seeing Justin bounding over the rippling water and slight waves toward him.
"Joey!" Justin cried with delight as he leaped from the water into Joey's arms, wrapping his tail around Joey's waist and laying his fins across the broad length of Joey's back.
"Justin!" Joey gasped in pleased surprise as he caught his friend, his broad and sturdy frame catching over 150 pounds of hurtling merman without difficulty. "Justin... you're a fish!"
Justin grinned back, his beaming smile matching Joey's own.
"And you're a horse!" the youth exclaimed, slapping the fins of his fish tail against the horse-back of Joey's centaur form. "The Italian stallion!" he finished with a huge smile.
Joey grinned back, flicking his tail up to tickle Justin's fins. His tail was long and silky, flowing in the breeze that blew across the plains and meadows, a brown so deep it was almost black. The rest of his equine half was only a few shades lighter, matching his human hair and eyes.
"I was headed for the rest of the guys!" Justin told Joey happily. "They're this way; I can feel it."
"I know," Joey grinned back. "I was, too, can feel them too."
Justin nodded back, firming his arms around Joey's neck as the centaur turned to head downriver across the plain, cantering toward the rolling meadows ahead.
They had only gone a short way when an odd sound reached their ears. Justin turned in Joey's grasp to peer back over his shoulder, laughing when Joey circled in the other direction since he couldn't turn to look behind himself while carrying Justin. The bass thrumming grew into a low, buzzing roar as they looked back, ducking out of reflex as JC's flying form passed directly over their heads.
JC was smiling wider than Justin, eyes crinkled to slits as Chris hopped up and down on the back of his neck, holding onto two twists of JC's hair as he shrieked in delight. Chris laughed mockingly and turned back to wave at Justin and Joey as JC and he sped past, waving one arm in broad strokes and grinning cheekily.
"Ohhh no they don't..." Joey grinned, hefting Justin up to tighten his grip. "Hang on tight, Justin!"
Justin wrapped his tail around Joey's torso as best he could, bracing the base of his fins against the joint of Joey's torso and equine back. He slipped one arm over Joey's shoulder and the other under Joey's other arm as he twisted to put them chest to chest, gripping his own forearms with the opposite hands to hold himself tightly in place.
Joey took off like a cannon-shot, his gleaming hooves chewing divots out of the ground as he sped to catch up to JC and Chris. They thundered across the plain, swiftly catching up to their flying friends and passing them when the roll of the land changed to a downhill gradient. Joey could run just that much faster with gravity working in his favor, while JC continued to work just as hard as ever to maintain the same top speed.
On the other hand, tiny Chris was a much lighter burden than Justin, weighing hardly anything at all. They continued to race for the sheer joy of it, Justin and Chris shouting insults and boasts at each other while their companions saved their breath for the exertion. Eventually the ground began rising again, and JC passed Joey by as the centaur began to feel his labor, carrying a merman uphill at top speed. JC landed on the low hilltop that formed one edge of the meadow valley, Chris scrambling to sit on his shoulder once the back of his neck was upright, and a moment later Joey and Justin joined them.
The meadow valley stretched below them, a gorgeous wash of green dotted with the bright reds and purples and pale yellows and blues of wildflowers. Flitting butterflies were moving dots of color throughout the meadow, and birdsong from the trees of the forest edging up to the valley’s other side filled the air with music.
“Wow,” Justin breathed from Joey’s arms, seeing the valley for the first time. “It’s gorgeous. So gorgeous!”
“But where’s Lance?” Joey asked, looking around from their vantage point atop the valley’s edge. “I felt you guys... ..I came back this way again because I felt all of you guys...” Joey turned back to face them, peering into the faces of his three best friends, hoping they could explain the absence of his very best friend. “..So where’s Lance?”
Justin frowned, then looked around from Joey’s arms for himself.
“I feel him too, but I don’t see anything,” Justin pouted, frowning with concern.
JC turned his head slightly as Chris leaned forward on his shoulder, so that they could look one another in the eyes.
“I didn’t think about it, but I feel you guys, too. You just flew up to me,” Chris told JC, then glance to Joey and Justin.
“Right,” JC nodded, also looking to their friends. “I felt Chris because he was closest and picked him up, then we flew to you guys. I think I felt Lance, still do, but I’m not sure where.”
“I feel him. I still do! But I can’t tell where!” Joey complained, tail lashing as he began to get upset.
“I feel like he’s all around us, but still far away?” Justin asked doubtfully, blinking at Chris with large, confused eyes. “How can that be?”
“I dunno, how can ANY of this be?” Chris asked with a shrug. “I mean, none of this is normal, right? Except it is. This is normal now, or here, or something,” Chris declared in his piercing mini-voice, flapping one hand in a dismissive gesture. “We just have to work with it. Now that I’m paying attention to it, I think it feels like Lance is... ..getting closer, maybe? Maybe he’s coming to us,” Chris finished with a nod.
JC unconsciously nodded in sync with Chris, agreeing that he could feel Lance’s presence drawing nearer. Then he gasped, tipping his wind-tousled head back and peering up into the sky, squinting his eyes into slits as he tried to see against the sun’s brilliance.
Lance surged toward them with a deep bass roar of triumph as his body undulated through the air, coming out of the sun toward their hilltop at a steep angle. He dove at his friends, grinning in delight at their cries of shock and surprise as he plummeted straight for them.
Just as Justin tensed in Joey’s arms and JC threw an arm up in alarm, Chris clinging to JC’s hair as the shoulder he was sitting on moved wildly, Lance roared again and snapped his wings wide. He arched back and swept his massive wings toward their hilltop, the powerful downswing halting him entirely and allowing Lance to hover with a lazy flapping of his wings.
Lance was a dragon, several dozen feet long with a serpentine body roughly six feet thick. His wings were enormous, his wingspan even wider than he was long, and his scales were the same amazing green as his eyes. His head was fairly classically draconian, a broad skull and jaw with a narrow, fang-filled snout and twin horns curving above his pointed ears. With narrow limbs and a spade-shaped tail he didn’t look anything like the Lance they thought of, but his eyes were exactly the same, including their teasing smirk.
Chris blinked as Lance-the-dragon flapped his wings slightly slower and more slowly still, dropping towards them to land on the hilltop. He knew that was what Lance was doing, but at the same time it looked like he was flying backwards away from them, because he was getting smaller. Joey and JC both stepped sideways away from each other to give Lance room to land, but they only moved a few steps before Lance was dropping between them, no bigger than he had ever been.
Lance’s stubby dragon-limbs lengthened as he dropped lightly onto his feet, said feet flowing from green-scaled talons to ordinary human feet as Lance landed, bending his newly re-formed knees to absorb the impact. His dragon shoulders had spread as his arms restructured themselves to normal, his chest and abdominal musculature returning to human as the scales were absorbed into Lance’s skin. The transformation flowed up from Lance’s collarbone over his head, the draconian muzzle drawing back and re-forming into Lance’s smirking face, his eyes remaining unchanged all the while as he watched his friends watch him transform. The horns remained, curving up a few inches from in front of Lance’s temples, just under his hairline, as did his spade-finned tail. JC noted with interest that Lance’s finger- and toe-nails were still jade green, but all of his hair was its normal colors, tips frosted, stubble lighter than the rest of his head, and chest fuzz lighter still.
Chris shrieked hysterical animated-woodland-creature laughter and rolled off JC’s shoulder, dropping to the ground and zooming behind Lance to stare up at him, then laughed more.
“Dude! You’ve got a giant green TAIL coming out of your ass! And wings!” Chris hollered in delight, pointing up at Lance and jumping up and down with zeal.
Lance looked back over his shoulder at Chris and smirked more.
“It comes out of my coccyx, actually,” Lance rumbled, his voice still sounding rather dragon-sized. “Natural extension of the spine. And the wings come out of my shoulder blades, like JC’s, not my ass,” he deadpanned.
Chris turned purple and rolled around on the ground laughing in maniacal hysteria, still pointing at Lance and managing to gasp “Coccyx!” every so often, until Lance swatted at Chris with his tail.
With his insane speed Chris had no trouble scampering out of the path of Lance’s tail fin, grabbing its edge as it swept by and then scrambling up Lance’s tail to the base of his spine. He stood there for a moment as Lance froze, head cocked as he contemplated the joint, examining how the skin transitioned from pale green scales to tanned flesh.
Joey roared laughter and carefully set Justin down, then moved forward and hugged Lance, tears of laughter pricking at the corner of his eyes.
“Lance... Man, your face!” Joey’s entire frame shook with laugher as he hugged his friend, whose face still wore the most flabbergasted expression he had ever seen. “I’m glad you’re here,” Joey finished, murmuring the words softly into the side of Lance’s neck.
“It... ..tickles. Sort of,” Lance replied, one eyebrow twitching involuntarily as he raised one wing and reached behind himself to pluck Chris off the base of his tail. “And I’m glad to be here,” he finished, smiling at Joey as he stepped back, then raised his palm to quirk one eyebrow at Chris, who stood there smirking at him.
“Uh-oh, I earned A Look!” Chris declared with laughter. “Tickles, huh? Tickles how, eh Lance?” Chris snickered, waggling his eyebrows suggestively and making suggestive “rarr, rarr” noises.
Lance’s eyebrows lowered into a frown.
Chris kept it up until the tiniest tinge of red was visible on Lance’s cheeks, then thrust both arms into the air and paraded around Lance’s palm in a victory dance, cheering and laughing.
Lance smirked again and threw Chris as far as he could.
Chris came zooming back, leaping up to grab the end of Joey’s tail and scrambling up it, racing across his horse back and leaping up the musculature of his human back to crawl onto his shoulder.
“Hey! That was mean! I coulda broken every bone in my tiny little body or something!” Chris screeched at Lance in pipsqueaked outrage, ignoring Joey’s full-body shiver.
“Whoah. That does feel weird...” Joey murmured in a low voice as Lance raised an unimpressed eyebrow once more.
“Chris, please,” Lance drawled. “You weigh all of a pound at the most. You hit the ground running after deliberately falling off JC’s shoulder.”
“Well, it still wasn’t nice, even if it didn’t kill me,” Chris frowned. “No fair picking on me just ‘cuz I’m smallest as well as shortest now!”
Justin had rolled onto his front with his arms extended like he was doing push-ups when Joey put him down, then curled himself backward. His fish-tail was supple enough to let him “stand” on it, leaning his center of gravity back over his tail fins, almost like a person on their knees. He couldn’t walk, of course, or even shuffle on his “knees” since the tail was a singular column, but he could “stand” in place comfortably enough.
However, balancing on a single “limb” was tricky, and he collapsed onto JC as he brayed laughter, leaning against JC’s side and holding on with both arms as he giggled helplessly.
“Oh, Chris...” Justin laughed, barely able to speak. “Dude... ..SO many short jokes...!” Justin cut himself off, burying his face in JC’s ribs as he laughed even harder. Chris pouted.
“So... ..where were you, Lance?” JC asked curiously. “Chris and I were here, in the valley, and I think Joey said he started here, but he went to find Justin... Where were you?”
“Hey yeah,” Justin added, taking JC’s hand to steady himself upright once more. “I was at the river, between here and the forest where Joey went. He was here first, but you got here last. Where did you come from?”
Lance looked up at the sky, the early afternoon sun lighting his skin up golden, the bright light casting razor-crisp shadows under his ears and Adam’s apple.
“I was sleeping on a cloud,” Lance told them, smiling. “I opened my eyes, and I couldn’t believe where I was. I looked around but the only other thing to see was the sun above.” Lance tipped his head back down to look his friends in the eye. “I noticed my wings and tail when I turned to look around behind me... ..and then I flew.”
JC grinned, eyes vanishing into slits of delight.
“I was actually flying before I noticed. I looked behind me to see what the noise was, it was the same as the wind, and it was my wings!”
Chris laughed and leaped from Lance’s hand to JC’s shoulder, landing in a crouch and then flipping over to sit down again.
“You big goober,” Chris laughed softly up into JC’s ear, grinning.
Lance folded his arms lightly over his chest, still grinning softly.
“I flew, up. Up and up and up, until the air was so thin I couldn’t breathe it anymore. But I kept going up, even though there wasn’t any air for my wings, even though I wasn’t breathing. I kept going up.” Lance’s gaze returned to the present as he met each of his friend’s eyes in turn, hoping they could see what it had meant to him.
“I saw the stars. I looked back down, and I could see the world below me. The curve of the horizon in the distance, the blue edge of the atmosphere.
“I was in space.”
“Dude, that’s Awesome!” Justin cried, throwing himself forward to walk on his hands, sliding his tail behind him until he could “stand” up again next to Lance, throwing his arms around Lance’s ribs in a hug. Lance crouched and slid his arms under Justin’s, standing up with him to hug him properly as Joey and JC both added themselves to the embrace at his sides. Chris leapt from JC’s shoulder to Lance’s and embraced the cord of muscle on the side of Lance’s neck.
Lance nuzzled Chris with the corner of his jaw, bumping Justin’s nose with his own as he turned to smile at JC, then met Joey’s eyes with tears in his own.
“It was the most amazing thing ever. I want—I want you guys to see it, too. I want to share that with you,” Lance told them, stepping back slightly so he could see them all at once as Chris ran down the length of his arm and perched on Justin’s shoulder. “I think I can.”
Chris looked at Lance with surprise as he automatically grabbed one of the nascent curls at the base of Justin’s neck, temporarily shelving the idea of giving him a wet willy with his entire fist. It would take a while to lick his whole fist.
“How can that work?” Chris asked, face scrunched up absurdly in confusion.
“Right,” Lance drawled back, smirking again as he folded his arms more tightly to express disdain. “Because a dragon could of course normally breathe in space. Or fly with no air.” He quirked an amused eyebrow at Chris, then glanced at JC. “Just like a six-foot wingspan would be enough to let JC fly. Right.”
“So... ..we could?” Justin frowned, trying to find logic in the sarcasm, or maybe it was the other way around. “We could all go? That—that would rock!”
“It would. What do you think, Scoop? This’ll work? For real?”
Lance shrugged, but only to say that he couldn’t be sure, not that he really doubted it.
“What do we know about any of this? What’s the last thing anyone remembers?”
There was a moment of silence as the other four realized they knew they were all five the best of friends, more brothers than blood and always had been, but they couldn’t come up with any more than that.
“You... ..you always wanted to see space. That’s why it’s so cool,” Justin said with a frown, then nodding, positive he was right.
“Yes,” Lance grinned back, nodding once himself. “But I couldn’t tell you why. This whole place... ..it’s wonderful, but it’s almost too good to be true. New question: Joey, you were here first, right?” Lance waited for Joey’s curious nod before continuing. “We didn’t all arrive at the same time. But how long were you here before the rest of us arrived?”
Joey blinked, opened his mouth, then paused to consider his answer more before speaking.
“I’m... I’m really not sure. A while, I think, it felt like a long time, maybe even—maybe even days, one or two, but...” Joey trailed off, frowning in confusion.
“How many nights do you remember?” Lance asked, smiling slightly because he knew the answer before Joey shook his head in the negative. “But it was a while. We’ve all been here a while, you guys looked around and found each other... ..has anyone noticed the sun move?”
The guys all glanced at one another and overhead. Chris frowned as he tried to remember; JC blinked as he thought about the sun being almost overhead when he had first opened his eyes. It was still not-quite overhead. Just like it had been when Justin woke up on the rocks.
“This whole place...” Lance explained his theory to them, “..it’s like a dream. And in a dream, you can do anything. Whatever you want.
“Who wants to see space with me?”
Cheers erupted from his friends, and Lance turned away, body lengthening as he transformed into his dragon form once more. He spread his wings to glide down to the valley floor, where Joey could carefully leap from the slope onto his back, between Lance’s wings and his neck. JC helped Justin writhe up Lance’s side, wriggling into place in the hollow between Lance’s wings where he could recline comfortably, without fear of slipping off one side. JC flew up to Lance’s sinuous back and straddled him just in front of Joey, Chris perched on his shoulder once more, secure with JC’s plentiful hair to hold on to.
With a deep bellow of pure joy, Lance sprang into the sky, powerful wings stroking to raise him and his friends higher and higher and higher.
In Elysium, the Land of Dreams, all things were possible, and life had never been better.