New Mother Nature

A Fæ leafed through a magazine she’d pulled from the seat in front of her. The hum of airplane engines and the soft glow of the interior lights made it hard to stay awake in the predawn hour. Everything was either painted or paneled in earthy colors. From the brown seat cushions, to varnished faux‐wood ceilings, to beige painted metal. Every other flat surface was wallpapered with geometric shapes, in dark colors. Ibriz took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and put down her magazine.

E— excuse me, ma’am?
She opened her eyes back up and looked over to the right. A short green Acara in a flight attendant’s uniform had pushed her cart down the isle. Ibriz let out a drowsy Mmm? Yes?
Oh, I’m sorry ma’am, were you tryin’ to get some shut‐eye?
No no, go ahead.
Right, thank you ma’am. Do you need refreshments?
Hmm. she turned her head and looked to her left. It was an empty void outside the window. Something lively… do you have anything with honey in it?
Like… granola bars?
Mm, no. …Drinks?
With honey? Well… I guess we have some mead.
Alcohol? she smiled and chuckled, I might regret it later, but… that does sound nice.
You’ll have a glass?
Yes, please. Just one, I don’t think I’ll need the whole bottle.
Yes ma’am. I’ll be right back with that!
Thank you, very much. she nodded.

The Acara rolled her cart back up to the front of the plane, and it returned to near‐silence. Ibriz leaned forward, tucked the magazine into the pocket of the seat in front of her, then leaned her head back. It was colder than she expected, as the fabric pressed up against the bare skin on her head. Someone behind her cleared his throat, then moved from seat to isle. She looked to the right with her eyes, where the sound came from, but didn’t crane her neck around. She was too tired to make the effort to do so, and was content to listen as he walked to the back of the plane. She exhaled and closed her eyes.

A few moments had passed, and the sound of the metal cart returned. She opened her eyes back up and leaned forward, as the Acara waved at her.

Ahh, lovely. she smiled as saw the bottle of golden liquid on the cart, I assume that’s the mead?
The flight attendant giggled, Mmhm! I had to get it from the refrigerator up front. How much would you like?
Oh, just a short glass, please. Don’t want to have too much fun.

The Acara chuckled again, as she pulled out a small glass from a lower shelf in the cart, and filled it up from the bottle. As she handed her the glass, the attendant bowed her head, and Ibriz smiled & did the same.

There was a pulse, a soundless thunder. Ibriz froze in her seat. It went through the plane, through her, the mead in her glass, and shook the cart. Magic. A massive surge of it had come from behind her, and raced forward through the plane.

M… ma’am?
Ibriz looked up, and realized that she’d stopped all movement to pay attention to the magic, …Apologies. Did you… did you feel that?
No…? What?
Someone… someone just cast a spell. A powerful spell. Very close by.
There was a flash of panic on the Acara’s face. Wh— what? How can you tell?
It was strong. Strong enough for one to feel it. Ibriz set her mead down on the cart, and went to pull herself up.
Oh! I’m sorry ma’am, please remain seated. I’ll… I’ll get the sensor operator to go check it ou—

As Ibriz stood up, the lights in the cabin dimmed. Passengers, at least the ones who were awake, looked up and around. The hum within the cabin grew louder, and the lights began to glow brighter. And brighter. The hum changed into a buzz, and then, with a loud pop, all the lights fadeded out.

For a few seconds, everyone was silent. Ibriz and the flight attendant stood, and despite not being able to see, turned their heads toward each other. The Fæ raised her hand, and focused her magic into a light from her palm. It filled the cabin, and she looked around at the other passengers. They began to stand up in their seats, and raised their voices, but there were too many at once for her to hear any distinct words.

The flight attendant moved away, and raised her hands. Excuse me everyone! Please remain in your seats!

Over the chatter, Ibriz heard a loud, muffled pop from outside. She turned her head toward the windows. It was still dark, but now there was an orange glow. Her heart beat faster. She bent over to get a better look out the window. It was not the light of dawn. The engine on the left side of the plane sputtered flame.

The other passengers must have noticed, as someone a few seats ahead of her screamed. The Fæ stood up, inhaled deep, and stared off into the back of the plane. The restroom door burst open. The room, and the person who had tumbled out of it —a Kyrii in a black & gold business suit— had been set ablaze. She picked up the cold alcohol with her free hand, and drank it straight from the bottle.

Fluorescent tubes inset in the ceiling soaked the matte walls in bluish‐white light, then reflected off of the tile floor to do so again from below. The electrical current within them made an unnatural buzz, along with the low sound of air conditioning from the vents. A tall & muscular grey Lupe stood in front of a door, in a hall with several other doors like it. The cold, sterile, astringent air of the hospital stung the inside of her nose.

There was a sound of rushed footsteps from the other side of the hall. She turned her head. A Mynci panted as he fast‐walked towards her, unbalanced as though he was just about to tumble forward. He was skinny, but also tall, though not as tall as her. He wore a black pinstripe suit, and had his orange hair —the same color as his fur— spiked up with gel. As he got closer, she could see that the fur on and around his face was damp.

I’m here, I’m here. he bent over even farther as he stumbled to a halt, then put his hands on his knees, Sorry… sorry about that.
Her expression remained neutral, You are late.
Both of their voices were low, just above a whisper, Yeah, I’m uh… I know. he stood up straighter, Sorry ‘bout that.
She stared at him, Why were you late?
Wh— I was in the bathroom! his voice went up in tone, but stayed the same volume. He waited for a response from her, but she didn’t move. He threw his hands out in exasperation, I was getting ready! Gettin’ my hair up!
Did not think it would take so long.
What, what d’ya think I was doin in there, you think I was jackin’ off in there or somethin’?
She sighed through her nose & scrunched up her eyes. She turned her head to face the door then forced her expression back to neutral, An Agent cannot be late. Get here on time? she shook her head, Don’t care what you do.
Y— he pointed at her, I’ll have you know, then his face, I was splashing my face with water. Cold fuckin water. Needed to wake my ass up. he put his hand up to his forehead and glanced down at the floor, Wake my ass up. then back up to her, What is it with these people and calling us in at crazy hours huh? Five million in the goddamn morning?
Enough. We find out, then. Composed?
Uh… s—sure. Yeah. I’m composed. …Let’s get this over with.

Dylan opened the door and slipped in. He moved around it like a weasel. Yyyello!
The Fæ who stood inside jumped, gasped, and looked up at the door. There was a pen tied to the clipboard she held, and it had been flung into the air by the sudden movement.
How’s it goin, you doin good in here? Dylan looked around into the dark room, illuminated only by a lamp between two beds, and a large picture window to the pre‑dawn outside.
You…. she massaged the bridge of her nose with the fingers of her free hand. Her skin was cold and pale, even against the cold color of her blue dress, You surprised me. I did not hear you out there.
Oh, uh. Heh. Sorry about that. I’m just uh, like, naturally a master of stealth. I do it sometimes. Don’t even realize it, it’s like, it— I walk into a room? And like. I’m a, a uh, like a thing, that is invisible.
She blinked and stared at him.
It’s like some kind of profound thing, that I uh, have to live with, but also, makes me really cool. Y’know, so I’ve been told—

Enough pleasantries, Agent. Anastasia walked in from behind him. She had to push the door as far open as it could go in order to fit through it. She moved just as quiet as Dylan despite her much larger frame. She gave a single nod to the doctor, closed the door behind her, and said nothing.

Well. the doctor turned back to him after a glance at Anastasia, G— good morning.
Yeah! Mornin’! he smiled, How is everything?
She bowed her head, As well as it can be, given the situation. Were you the one that I spoke to upon the telephone?
He held out his hand to shake, Yeah! Yeah, hey, I’m—
Anastasia cleared her throat at him.
He glanced over at her, and stopped himself, I’m the uh… Agent. You spoke to… upon the telephone.
The doctor did not reciprocate the handshake, And before you begin, we can spare the lecture about restricted information. She looked past Dylan to Anastasia, I’ve spoken to several of your… co‑workers before.
Right, yeah. Good, uh. Nice people? Good experience?
She looked at him with a blank expression, and responded with a monotone No.
Dylan looked around, Right. My apologies. he swallowed and looked around the room as he avoided her gaze, So! Dylan clapped his hands together once, You uh, got somethin’ for us to see? he looked down at the bed next to him, which held a blue Zafara, Is it them? he waved at him, What’s up, how ya doin.
The doctor responded, No. Not this one. she turned and walked towards a bed wrapped in a privacy curtain.
No? Hmm. Okay.
Anastasia raised an eyebrow, but remained silent, and waited for the doctor to explain herself further.
The blue Zafara on the bed was awake, and gave a weak nod at Dylan, then let out a quiet Hey.
Hm? Oh, howdy! Dylan looked him over. There were cuts all over his face, neck, & arms, clumps of fur ripped out —what skin was visible was all bruised— and his legs were crystallized, fused with ruined drainpipe jeans, Damn. What’cha in for? You look like somebody ran you over with a zamboni. Not that I’m an expert on ice skating related fuckups or anything. Is that what happened?
I was kidnapped, asshole. he frowned, and spoke with a hoarse voice.
And they f—… messed up my legs, with like, necro‑magic or whatever.
He raised his eyebrows, Damn. he looked back and forth between the doctor and his fellow Agent, I didn’t hear about a kidnapping.
Well, ya have now.
He chuckled, Heh. What was your name?
Well, it was nice ta meetcha, Jared.
Do you work for the government or something?
…Oh, I’ll uh… tell ya later. he smiled and nodded, gave a thumbs up, then slid away.

He turned back to the doctor and jabbed his upped‑thumb in Jared’s direction So… what’s up with this one, huh? Anything different than usual?
No, other than the severe injuries, and the partial crystallization. she shook her head, If I recall correctly, you have already met the only other partial crystallization victim.
Oh! Yeah. I saw ‘em around. he shrugged, Seems fine now. Probably. Also. he turned to Anastasia and spoke quieter, We didn’t talk to this one?
Taken care of. By other Agents.
Ah. I see.
The doctor looked back and forth at the two of them, Mm. Anyway. I already told you, that’s not the patient, nor the illness I was referring to. They are here, on this second bed behind the curtain.
Anastasia’s expression changed from forced neutrality to concern, as she pulled her head back and squinted, Not crystallization?
That is correct.
Two different anomalies, one unknown? Is that correct?
And you have housed them both in the same room?
Jared mouthed Anomaly…? to himself, and scrunched up his face in confusion.
Do not lecture me. the doctor’s voice was stern, I know well enough the dangers of crowding the sick together, especially when I know so little. I have no other option. This hospital is full.
The Lupe looked over at Jared, back to the doctor, and gestured at him with her eyes at the door.
I’m afraid relocating either of the patients is not an option. You misunderstand me— I want this patient to be isolated as much as you do, but there is simply no more room. The ones coming in today are having to wait in the ER.
Anastasia looked back over at the Zafara, who tried to lean back into his bed to avoid her gaze. We would prefer this conversation to be private, doctor. How long will they be here?
She sighed. You’re going to make me tell you, aren’t you.
Anastasia said nothing.
Right, well. Since your organization has no respect for doctor‑patient confidentiality, and upper management seems to bow to your every whim, I suppose I must oblige. The crystallization is fading, slowly, which is more than I can say of some of our patients. Partial crystallization appears to be much less serious than full. Additionally, he has several abrasions, broken bones, electrical burns, and is under watch for arrhythmia. His tissues appear to have electrical damage, of a magical nature. If his condition continues to improve, he should be discharged in a little under a week. A few days, if he is lucky, or if upper management decides to send low risk patients home.
We appreciate your cooperation, doctor.

As the two of them spoke to each other, Dylan had paced around the room, and turned to look out the window. It was before sunrise, and there was a small band of light blue on the horizon, difficult to make out over the lights of the city. The hospital complex outside & below the window was a jumble of hazard lights, air conditioners, and ladders, all on different heights & levels. A brightly‑lit carport, an emergency entrance, and a welcome center all bustled with activity. Dylan turned around and faced the doctor. So, uh. Can we see them?
Hm? Ahh, right, the patient. Yes, you may.

Rei inhaled deep as she woke up. She shivered, and rubbed at one eye to get the sleep‑dust out, then the other. She stayed there for a few seconds as she composed herself, then pushed herself out of bed.

It was darker than she thought it ought to be. She looked at the clock, which required a few blinks to focus. It read .

She shook her head and chuckled. She’d woken up before her alarm had gone off. The sun hadn’t even risen yet. Too close to when I actually want to wake up. she thought to herself, as she turned off the upcoming alarm and walked to her door, No point in trying to go back to sleep for only 15 minutes.

She squinted as she left the hallway to her room, and into her kitchen. Soft nightlights were plugged into some of the otherwise unused electrical outlets, meant for appliances she didn’t have. The lamp next to the two couches was still on. Her gaze avoided the comparative bright light from it, and she turned to open the fridge.

The pure white from the inside flicked on as she pulled the handle, and she wrenched her eyes shut. The antagonistic brightness became a red color as it radiated through her eyelids. She once again shook her head and chuckled. She took a moment to pull her eyes open, slow enough to let them adjust. She then turned her gaze over to the lamp, now able to look at it without an involuntary wince.

Sechson was asleep there, the Bori’s dark blue hair still tied up in a ponytail. She was confused for a moment, as the fog of sleepiness delayed her memory of the night before. He never left, last night. she remembered, I didn’t want him to have to pay for the hotel room again. She smiled and looked back into the fridge.

She stared at her leftovers for a moment, and considered it over the cafeteria breakfast she’d planned to get on the way to class. Nah. she shook her head, Just a soda.. As she pulled herself a pink can of jumbleberry Achyfi from the fridge, she glanced over at him again. As she looked closer, she noticed that because he’d not turned off the lamp next to his head, he’d opted to press his face into the couch cushions to block the light instead.

That is so friggin adorable. She chuckled, and couldn’t help but smile wider.

The doctor reached up, and pulled away the privacy curtain from around the bed. Dylan leaned in to look. On the bed was a blue Bori with darker blue hair tied back. Bangs swept away from his eyes, the rest held in a ponytail.

There have been a few cases like this. Not nearly as many as the crystallization victims, however. Most of them are being held together, in a single section of this floor, but… well, I’ve spoken enough about the overcrowding issue.
Dylan narrowed his eyes at the child and mumbled to himself, Hm. They look kinda familiar. then looked up at her, Alright, sure, okay. You say a few though, but like, how many exactly?
She looked to the side to think for a moment, There has been eleven so far, I believe. I’ve gathered the paperwork of all of them, for you two. her head tilted forward as she put on a more aggressive tone, And I certainly hope you appreciate it, since, as I’m sure you are aware, that sort of thing is normally… well. she cleared her throat.

She turned back to look at the Bori in the bed. The anger faded from her face, It’s… whatever this condition is. The child feels… empty. Like his soul is missing, if you don’t mind me being unscientific. Deeply disconcerting. the doctor said, her tone deeper and softer with worry.
Right. Disconcerting. he looked down at him, then back up at her, That's a good word, I like it. I say a lot of good words like that. I’m kind of a word guy, you know. I say stuff, you know? Can’t help it, words just kinda fall out of my mouth all the time.
Anastasia cleared her throat at him.
Hm? Oh, right, sorry. Anyway uh… who are all the victims? Who is this?
The doctor continued, This is Mr. Zelig Weimann. 14 years old. Came in by ambulance. No history of major or chronic illness, and so far his condition has been unresponsive to treatment, both magical and non‑magical in nature.
And the others?
What do you mean?
The other people that, uh, are like this. Have you… noticed any patterns in them?
Ahh. Well, almost all of them have been children or young adults.
Hmm. When did this happen? he gestured at the still body below him.
We’re not entirely sure, but we think about a quarter past 19, Last night. she said, then looked out the window, I hadn’t come in yet, but I was told someone had called an ambulance for him.
Anastasia spoke up, Haven’t staff known about these patients?
Some did. Recently, well… to… put a long and unnecessary story short, we’ve had some shuffling around of the people in charge. Evidently, whoever was in charge of this section before I was didn’t feel it necessary to let you or I know about this.
Mm. Dylan nodded, So… well. What’s the matter with ‘em exactly?
The Fæ adjusted her glasses, and waited a moment before her response, If I had known that, I would have simply taken care of it myself, and not called the two of you. And unfortunately, I have… still not found out in the meantime.
He huffed and looked to the side, I mean, like exactly exactly, you know what I’m sayin’? Like is it a brain thing?
She lowered her voice, Since your… organization… is involved with the other unusual illness affecting the city… I thought you might know something that could help me. And help them.
He inhaled in preparation for a longer sentence, Well, at least, as far as I know
Anastasia spoke up at him, No info from us. She is civilian.
He turned his upper body towards her, and leaned on the bedrail with one elbow, Yeah, but she’s a doctor. She needs to know this kind of stuff, doesn’t she?
No. We have doctors. We will tell them of this. They will come. She knows enough about one anomaly.
Right… fine, yeah. he raised his eyebrows and turned away from the both of them, I’m just gonna uh… let y’all talk about it. he began to walk towards the door.
Her expression softened, That is not necessary.
No—no, I’m uh… just… thirsty. I’m gonna get a drink. See ya in a bit. he half‐mumbled his response as he left, and closed the door behind him.

The doctor turned to look at Anastasia. Neither said anything for a moment, until the Agent cleared her throat.
Do not be concerned. It is very early in the morning for him.
Is that so?
That has not been a problem for the other individuals I’ve spoken to. And his demeanor?
What about it?
He’s somebody’s kid, isn’t he.
She frowned, I don’t follow.
He speaks more like someone that’s been picked up off the side of the road, not one of you people.
Ah. I am not at liberty to discuss his parentage. He… he will become a fine Agent. In time.
I believe I understand, then. I assume the details are none of my business?
You assume correct.

The doctor reached over the patient and picked up a mug of coffee from the bedside table, then turned away to face the window. The blue line had turned pink, but still the sun had not risen.
You say your doctors will take care of this.
I did.
And how, may I ask, should I expect your doctors to act? Must I debase myself to their questioning as well?
I doubt it. she shook her head, It is highly probable that… what was his name again?
Mr. Zelig Weimann.
Mm. It is possible that Mister Weimann and the others may be here one day, gone the next. You may not even see them transfer. Mutual benefit, as there will be more room here. All paperwork will be properly filed, and there will be no trouble.

Another period of mutual silence. The doctor turned halfway, and moved her head more than her shoulders. I’m sure you know how uncomfortable this whole situation makes me.
Mmm. she crossed her arms, I respect your profession, and your patience with us. In a way, we are like you. Much of what we do are things that… cannot be argued with. Things that must be done, regardless of how they make us feel, you understand?
The doctor broke eye contact, sighed, and looked down into her coffee. I… cooperate, with all of this, with the hope that your resources can save these people. I’ve heard quite a lot about how all this is for the greater good. she took a long drink of her coffee, Of public health, and safety.
Do not be concerned over our effectiveness. You have my word, whatever you consider that to be worth. We are using all the resources that can be spared. People will be protected, and any threats will be contained. Is what we do.
I certainly hope… that being held at bureaucratic gunpoint to violate my morals —and local law— is worth it. That it eventually helps these people.
Mm. Again, have no concerns.
The doctor shot her another irritated look, then turned away to the window again.

Dylan shuffled out from the hall, and over to a desk, the nurse’s station. True to the name, there were two nurses there: a green Gelert with grey and black curled hair, and a blue Wocky with pink hair, both wearing the standard white and pale cyan of all the nurses that worked there. The Gelert leaned against the counter from the inside, and the Wocky sat in a chair. They were in conversation, but Dylan couldn’t hear any of it. He walked up, then leaned on the counter as well. The Gelert looked over at him, cleared his throat, then moved away from the counter, and in his direction.

Morning. the tone of his voice formal and serious, Is there… anything I can help you with?
Howdy howdy howdy. Dylan didn’t look up at him, Yeah, it’s uh, nothin’ serious or anything.
The Wocky leaned back in her chair to look at him, Oh hey, are you uh… one of… those people?
The Gelert turned back to her and shook his head at her.
Dylan couldn’t see his expression, but assumed that he was afraid of him, I uh… he raised his left hand in a dismissive gesture, don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it, it’s not important. Y’all wouldn’t happen to have, like… coffee or somethin? Maybe just some water if you don’t?
The Gelert turned back to him, Just a drink then? That’s all you need? and tilted his head.
Yeah, if that’s alright.
He nodded, I can get us some coffee. I’ll be right back. then turned away.

The Wocky pushed against the floor with one foot, and the wheeled chair rolled over closer to Dylan.
He glanced at her, but otherwise avoided eye contact, Hey what’s up how’s it goin.
She smiled, I’m doin alright. Haven’t seen a lotta you all.
You all?
You all in suits! The spooks. No offense. After the whole crystallization thing started.
Yeah. he chuckled, Prolly a good thing that you haven’t.
Suuure. What’re you all up to?
It’s probably better to not ask questions like that.

He looked over at her again.
She had made an exaggerated pouting face at him, and crossed her arms.
Probably not the exciting answer you were looking for, huh?
Do you blame me? she smiled.
He smiled too, then looked away again, Not really.
I kinda wish I was a secret agent sometimes, y’know.
He raised an eyebrow, A secret agent?
That’s what you are, right?
Oh ho, noo. he looked at her, and smiled wider, See, if I was a secret agent… I wouldn’t be standin’ around in a suit talkin to ya. You’d never know who I was. I can be a sneaky bastard, he pointed at her, when I wanna be, ya know? Just walk into a room, and I’m like, an invisible guy, that like, it’s like I never walked into the room because I’m so sneaky.
Oh…. Then what are you then?
He chuckled and shook his head, I am extremely cool, and badass. Other than that uh, can’t tell ya any more than that, sorry.

She pouted again, then looked him over. Her eyes caught his gun, in a holster on his hip, and she raised her eyebrows, Oh. Wow. Is that… real?
Hm? he looked up to her, then followed her gaze down, Oh, this?
Yeah. Are you uh… allowed to have that? In here?
Sure, I guess. I’m required to carry for my job, and no one’s stopped me before. In here, at least.
What, you haven’t noticed it before? I’ve been in here a couple times.
I guess not. I’m not usually in this wing.
Right… well, if it was up to me I would probably just… leave this at home. Sorry if I spooked ya.
No no no, I collect guns, I just wanted to ask you about it.
Ahh, I see.
I’ve never seen one like that before. Can I… get a better look at it?
I mean, he smiled, I can hold it up, but I ain’t gonna give it to ya.
She smiled too, Yeah, yeah! Of course.

He pushed himself off the counter, and pulled it out. A paranoid thought appeared in his mind, about how it would look if someone walked in on them like this, so he held it by the barrel instead of the handle. He leaned his elbow on the counter, and he let her see it.

It was a revolver, smaller than average, with a thin barrel. The metal parts were shiny and silver colored, and the handle was a light beige. The initials S Z were carved into the handle, with what might have been either a knife or sharp claws.

Hm… that’s… interesting. she lowered her eyebrows as she looked at it, What model is it?
A modified uh, Léon M1895.
I’m not familiar with that one.
It’s a uh… it’s a piece‐a‐work. Gas seal in there, and you can put a suppressor on it.
That’s neat. Modified, you said?
Yeah, I had a uh, speedloader put onto it. It’s what I’m used to. I like it.
Do you collect them too?
He shook his head, It was a gift. The only reason I know what it’s called, is because uh, I had someone take a look at it for me.
Hell of a gift. The ammo alone must be expensive as hell. Who was it from? If you’re okay with me asking.
He swallowed, and stopped smiling, Somebody I met. When I was uh, overseas. Would rather me have it, than uh…. he shook his head, Look, it’s a long story, I don’t really wanna talk about it.
Overseas… wait, you mean… the war?
He didn’t say anything, and stared at the gun.
Oh wow! Th— thank you for your service! she smiled.
He looked at her, then back down at the floor, Don’t… he shook his head, don’t worry about it.

Thin streaks of yellow light pierced the living room. The sun had peeked over the horizon, and bands of golden light shone in from the outside. Rei straightened her back out, then farther, which popped a couple joints somewhere in there. She wore proper clothes now, and had another soda in‐hand. She turned on the TV, and as it came to life, the sound and picture faded in.

Sechson sniffled, and turned over. Rei looked down at him, and smiled again. Hey man. Sleep alright?
He breathed in deep, and stretched his arms and legs. Y… yeah, I think so. What time is it?
About 6:30.
That’s… kinda early.
Heheh, sorry. Didn’t really wanna wake you up, but it’s uh… not early for me! I gotta get to class.
Oh! he raised his eyebrows, I hope I didn’t keep you, did I?
Nah, nah, you’re fine. Gotta go though. Tried to let you get as much sleep as I could.
Thanks, I uh, he rubbed his head as he heaved himself up into a sitting position, I’m ready, I think.
She nodded, and walked over to the front door, and picked up her purse from the table, Whatcha gonna be up to today?
Oh, uh, I dunno yet. Too early to think about that.
Hahah. That’s fair, I suppose. What time do you usually wake up?
About… noon?
Ahh. Yeah, that’s uh… a big difference, there.
Although… what I do know, he raised up one finger‐claw, is I’ve got a terrible craving for pancakes. Jelly on top.
Ha! Also fair.

He stood up and stretched again, as he stifled a yawn.
She gestured at the fridge, Do you want a soda or anything before we go?
Nahh, nah, thanks though. I’ve imposed on you enough. What are you gonna do today?
Ah, well, I’ve got that uh… destruction magic assignment today.
He nodded, then looked at her when he realized what she meant, Wait… like the same thing you did with…?
Yeah. Gonna have to do that again. Heh.
Mmm. he gave her a worried look, Can you do that? Just anytime you want to?
Well… I dunno. We’ll see. If I can, I’ll probably pass. If I can’t, well. That’ll suck.
Are you gonna be okay?
Yeah! Yeah. I hope so. I’ll be good. she nodded.

The muffled sounds of cars went by slow, as Dylan rested his head on his arms, and his arms on the passenger side dashboard. He heard heavy footsteps on the concrete outside, and he tilted his head over. Yep. he thought, Here she comes.

Anastasia opened up the driver‐side door to the unmarked white van. Dylan lifted his head up, Hey. Sorry about earlier.
Mmm. Not critical mission, do not fret.
I know, I know, it’s just….
I said, not fret. she looked at him as she closed the heavy car door without visible effort, If you make no mistakes then you do not learn.
Right, sure. he looked away.

She pulled the keys from her belt, and stuffed them in the ignition.
He mumbled at her, Everything go good in there?
Yes. I have necessary paperwork.
Alright. Neato.
Additionally, we have a second lead.
Mm. she nodded and grunted, She disclosed the last person to see Zelig conscious.
Ahh. Cool.
We go. Find out what they know.
Find out how long they can tolerate me, more like, heheheh.
She turned her head and looked at him with raised eyebrows.
Enough, Dylan.
Mmh. he leaned against the door, elbow against the window, as they drove out of the hospital’s parking garage. One hand went into his jacket, as he pulled out a package of uncooked spaghetti noodles. He fished a single stick out, put the package back in his pocket, bit a peice off of the stick, then chewed on it with his front teeth.

Kenji inhaled, and the smell of cigarettes stung his sinuses. He opened his eyes. His gaze was on a wooden drafting table, and papers doted over by engineers. The sun shone through large picture windows upon them, the glass fitted into a prefabricated metal wall, the kind that he’d seen before in unfinished buildings, or auto repair shops. Small motes of dust floated in the air and mingled with the wisps of smoke, as the smudged glass coated everything in a tan haze. Off to the side, against a far wall, were computers from what might have been 10 years ago, passing lengths of tape to each other, wires being connected and disconnected from them by several people who held hole‐punched cardboard.

Kenji was on the other side of the table, now. He hadn’t walked there, and he didn’t consider the teleportation as significant.

He could see the faces of two of them in this new position. The first, a blue Ixi with curly hair and short horns. He recognized Amy, but not the other one next to her. The second was a Blumaroo, just a bit more tall and skinny than she was. His fur was yellow, and his curled hair was auburn. He wore glasses, lenses shaded blue, and had freckles about the same color as his hair. Amy wore the same white coat she’d worn to the interview Kenji saw —unbuttoned for a higher temperature that Kenji couldn’t feel— and the Blumaroo wore beige slacks, with a blue and white striped suit shirt.

Kenji wondered what his name was.
You’ll know soon. someone unseen said to him.

A gruff voice came from behind the engineers, You there, kid, with the red hair.
Kenji’s attention snapped to it, as he thought it was in reference to his own red hair.
The Blumaroo turned around, Hm? Me?
Yeah you, with the glasses. he turned to Amy, And you too. Need y’all to sign somethin for me.
Oh! Howdy. he smirked, and held up his hand for the unseen voice to shake, You uh, you do? Alright.

A yellow Skeith walked up from behind a shelf full of metal parts and tools. Kenji recognized him too. The Skeith shook the Blumaroo’s hand. There were four people behind him, who all looked around.

The Blumaroo looked around at the four, Who are these?
These? Oh, heheh. These are your pilots. Say hi.
Oh! Well uh, howdy! he waved his hand.
Amy gave a short nod and a smile to them as well.

The tallest of the four —a Kougra with cyan and magenta fur— gave a similar respectful nod. They already wore a prototype space suit, which was white with green and yellow stripes. Their fur was subtly iridescent, which gave away Fae heritage.
Might as well introduce them, you’ll be seeing ‘em a lot. This is uh, Mx. Shila Rice, the Skeith pointed at the Kougra, they’ve got on the uh, whatchamacallit, the new suit they designed, on. I forget the name. Walkin around, testin it out for us. That sorta thing.
Is is comfy? the Blumaroo asked.
Shila chuckled and smiled, Oh, hell no.

The Skeith gestured to another, an Eyrie. Her fur was striped patterns of blue & cyan, and had on pilot clothes, all colored shades of magenta. This is Ms. Petra Faulkner, you uh, probably recognize her from TV. Don’t get too excited.
She chuckled, Just Petra is fine. she leaned in to shake their hands, first Amy, then the Blumaroo.

He stepped out of the way to reveal the third neopian, who had stood behind him, Uh, this is Mr. Jonas Straub.
He was a very muscular Kau, strength big enough to see through his formal clothes, a maroon suit with black pants. His fur was a desaturated blue, and most of his hair was pure white with age. He was wrinkled under his fur, and shook a little as he stood, but his eyes were clear and attentive. He cleared his throat, H‑mh. Sorry, hello.
He’s the oldest applicant we received, 98 years old, is that right?
That’s right, sir.
Yeah. Don’t worry though. He’s in peak mental and physical condition, honestly a miracle for his age.
Jonas looked embarrassed, and shuffled a bit to be behind the Skeith again.

And uh, this last one, he pointed down, to someone half his height, is Mt. Taisa Markov.
It was a Mynci, furred black, white, and grey, with bright pink hair & eyes. It wore a black & white dress, with a thin brown belt, and shoes the same color as her hair and eyes.
The, uh, youngest person to qualify for the mission. How old are you again?
I’m like, 23 or something. it said in a high pitched voice.
Right. It’s stronger than it looks, just so you know.
It stuck up it’s nose and folded it’s arms, Nice to meet ya.

Heheh. the Blumaroo chuckled, Nice ta meetcha too, all of ya.
Indeed! Amy smiled, I can’t wait to see you all on the moon.
The Skeith chuckled, Good. That’s what I wanna hear. I wanna see that attitude, today, tomorrow, months from now. Speaking of which, you. he pointed at the Blumaroo and glanced at the table, What’re ye doin right now?
Me? Oh, just some math. Tossin’ around some ideas. Stuff like that.
Heard some good things about you. You do computers?
He smiled and chuckled, Hehheh. Yes sir, I uh, do computers.
Mmm. I see. the Skeith turned to the Ixi, And you? What’re you workin on?
Same thing, sir.
Mm. Alright.
Something about paperwork, you said?
Oh, hell, I almost forgot, thank you. he ruffled around with several papers from a clip board. He pulled out one sheet, and handed it to the Blumaroo, Forrrr you., then shuffled around again, to hand Amy one, Aaannd you. NR’s accepted your paperwork, I need ya ta, just need you two to sign on that there dotted line at the bottom.
Mm. thank you. Amy nodded.
And uh, I also needed some confirmation from ye.
Oh, yessir? What do you need?
It says here your birthday is uh… June 14th of… 1382? Is that a typo?
Ahh. she chuckled, No, that’s right.
The Blumaroo looked at her wide‐eyed, That’s right??
She chuckled and nodded.
How old… that would make you… he looked lost in thought for a moment.
It’s just because of—
That would make you about 580 years old!
Nooo, no, I’m only 37.
Wait… are you one of those…?
She nodded again, The people from the shift, yes.
The Skeith scribbled something down on a different, third piece of paper on his clipboard, Thank you, Ms. Dupont, all I needed to know.

She bowed her head and leaned down, as she picked up a pen from the table, then started to sign the paper she’d been given. The Blumaroo made an impressed face, then fished around in the right pocket of his slacks. He pulled out a large metal object that Kenji couldn’t identify until he stared at it for a moment. It was a metal stamp. Amy turned to look at it, as she finished writing. He took the metal cover off the stamp, and then mashed the rubber part into the paper. Amy raised an eyebrow, and couldn’t resist a glance at it. She leaned over and looked.

Kenji was behind them, without transition. He looked down at the drafting table where the papers were, and to what Amy had looked at. Instead of a signature, the Blumaroo carried around a stamp of his name, which he’d used instead of writing it out with a pen. The font of the text looked to Kenji like the kind used to advertise sci‐fi novels, or perhaps an arcade machine.

Arastū Chandrasekhar

The Skeith made a sharp exhalation, somewhere between a contemptuous scoff and a chuckle. That’s a uh… in’erestin’ signature ye got there, buddy.
Heheh, thank ye. his smile was lopsided, as he handed the paper to him.
And how old are you, again? You look like you could be my kid, maybe grandkid.
I’m 22.
The Skeith raised his brows, 22? What, are you in college?
I’m on staff, at the moment.
Yer not takin any classes?
Already did.
Hmm. What level
Master’s degree, mathematics. he nodded.
The Skeith’s eyes went wide, You’re… 22. And have a master’s degree.
Yes sir.
Goodness. He shook his head, Fyora’s name. Are the kids really learnin’ like that nowadays? he looked around at crowd around him. Taisa did not look impressed.
Arastū chuckled, though he looked confused at the Skeith’s reaction.
That’s what I wanna hear, though. he pointed at Arastū and looked back at him, We need people with big heads like that.
The Blumaroo looked offended for a moment, cleared his throat, then put the smug smile back on his face, I think my head, is of uh, perfectly reasonable size, sir.
It’s just a figure of speech. the Skeith looked over at Amy. And you. I never asked what you did. Whaddya do?
Mm. I’m also on staff, but as a teacher, though.
I’ve been running a smithing class. On the applications of certain metals and alloys, at the University of Brightvale for about five years now.
Uh‐huh, good.
I’m a structural engineer. Specialising in metallurgy, specifically, metal alloys made to withstand supersonic flight.
Oh, he nodded, definitely. We’re definitely gonna need that. Yeah. he nodded to himself, as he turned away, Good. This is goin good. Picked some damn fine people, they did.

Time stopped, mid step. All the sound in the workshop faded to nothing, except for a slight breeze, and the creak of a door. From far away, Kenji could hear the voice of a young girl:
Go kōnyū, arigatōgozaimaaas!

He turned to where the voice had come from. There was a red wooden door, ajar, out of place in the metal wall. He walked towards it. He looked behind him, as he felt the distinct feel of someone frowning at him, but no face to connect it to. He turned to look straight ahead, and opened the door.

There was a hallway beyond the door, which led forward into another door. Kenji went in. The floor was carpet, dense and short like in a fancy hotel, with colorful patterns of black, white, red, and yellow. The walls too were wallpapered with geometric shapes of the same colors, in a pattern that made him dizzy to look at. There was a pale light on the other side of the door in front of him. He didn’t remember his walk from one side of the hall to the other, but he was at the threshold regardless. He opened the door.

The character of the light was different here. The sun shone from a different angle, and the hue of the light was like pale cyan, as if he saw the place through a crystal glass. He walked upon a speckled white tile floor, and stood at the entrance to a public restroom, no longer an inexplicable hallway. A red Wocky with short black hair stood at a glass counter, next to a cash register, and inside the counter was a display of many different kinds of ice cream. The girl at the register smiled and waved at him, then pointed to the right. Kenji looked where she pointed.

Dakota sat at a metal table, with two bowls of ice cream. He was by one of the windows, and light poured from it onto him. All around him was greenery, small shrubs and decorative plants, which rested on the floor, or were suspended from strings in the ceiling. There was an ephemeral wall around him, like a cylinder of glass, which seemed to follow his movement, and pass through inanimate objects. There were long cracks in the barrier, and iridescent light coursed through them. Dakota turned in his chair to look at Kenji, and smiled.

Kenji walked over and pulled out the chair across from the Lutari to sit in.
Hey. Dakota grinned, his voice muffled behind the wall, You doing alright in there?
Oh, uh… yeah. I’m good. Kenji’s heart raced as he sat down.
I got your favorite! he gestured at the bowls of ice cream. Both were green tea ice cream, covered in chocolate.
R— right… I… thank you. he looked back up from the bowls, to Dakota, Sorry, I’m just uh….
It’s fine, it’s fine, don’t worry about it. he chuckled.

Kenji picked up the spoon, and as he looked back at the ice cream, found that it’d already been mixed together. He took an experimental bite. It was exactly the same as he remembered, and he smiled again.

Well? Dakota ate a spoonful as well, How’s everything been?
Kenji searched his memory, It’s uh… good. he looked around as his mind worked. Thoughts of his father, the hospital, his empty house, a crowded plane away from Shenkuu. He looked back up at Dakota, Sh… should I be here? Is this right?
You can be anywhere you wanna be.
I— I know, but….
Ohh, you mean chronologically. Where do you think we ought to be?
I’m… I’m supposed to be in Brightvale. Cool Scoopies, probably.

A jukebox changed records, and they were.

The jukebox in the corner began to play. Kenji leaned over in his seat to look at it. It played a song that he recognized, one that his father used to play for his mother.

The restaurant was full of people, some Kenji thought he recognized, some he didn’t, all around his age. Some like a grey Lupe girl, and a green Aisha with two more ears than usual. His own friends were there too, several of Warren, as was another of himself. One stood out to him even more than the rest. He wore the same clothes as Kenji did, though they were a blue‐ish Hissi, like his father. Many more people were packed into the restaurant, and some walked through each other without effort. No one noticed them.

This is the place? Dakota asked, as he bobbed his head back and forth a little to the music.
Oh! Kenji turned back to look at him, Hai! I mean, yes, it is.
He chuckled and lowered his head, You know I speak Japanese, you don’t have to correct yourself.
Yeah, yeah, I know. English learning! I gotta keep usin' it, or it’s not… it’s not gonna stick in my head.
Alright, alright. he chuckled, So they have green tea ice cream here too?
Yeah! This is the only place that, ano, even sells this stuff, as far as I know. Out here in Brightvale.
Nice! That’s good. he nodded.

The purple Skeith who ran the restaurant walked out from the employee‐only area. Dakota looked over. His expression changed, just enough for Kenji to notice. The Lutari attempted to hide being upset by something. The Skeith leaned against the counter, and stared at them.

I…. Kenji began, I’ve not been uh, having much progress on stuff, in the club.
Dakota looked back over to him, and his expression lightened, Oh, yeah?
Yeah. he nodded, We have a new member, and there’s been this whole… thing. It’s… complicated. I haven’t been able to work on my dream stuff.
Oh? I thought you said that you guys were done for the semester.
He shook his head, With what was planned, yes. Something new came up. I can barely find the time to sleep, so I haven’t been… having any dreams lately.
Dakota ginned and giggled.
Nothing, nothing. they chuckled, and ate more of the ice cream.

The Skeith cleared their throat.
Dakota looked over.
They tapped at their wrist where a watch would be.
He frowned, and shook his head quickly.

Mmmh. Maybe we should’ve stayed in Shenkuu. Well… Dakota looked back over to Kenji, Are you okay? In general?
Yoseyooo. Kenji smiled and rolled his eyes, so exaggerated as to move his head around, You have no idea how many people keep asking me that.
Do they have a reason to?
It’s… I’m handling it. Don’t worry about it, I’m… I’m fine.
I see. he took another bite, Have you uh… heard from anyone?
Mm? he spoke through a spoonful, From… who? About what?
My uh, my parents? Talked to them recently?
Oh, no, sorry. I haven’t really left Brightvale in a while.
…I see. he looked down into his ice cream, which hadn’t yet begun to melt.
What's wrong?

Dakota looked back up, and into his eyes. He didn’t say anything, for a moment. When he did speak, his smile was gone, It’s just that I don’t… I don’t have very much time. In order to talk to you… he set his spoon down and spoke softer, I need to use a… specific material. Something you can’t help me with, that doesn’t exist here.
Kenji scrunched up his brow, Wwwwhat are you talking about? You’re right here.
I know… he looked down again, I know it looks like I’m here, I’m just… I’m on my way. But I have to keep in contact with you. There’s so much I wish I could tell you, but I can’t. I barely have enough time to talk to you as it is, before…. he shot a glance at the Skeith, then back to Kenji, Look. I need you to remember something.
Uh… okay?
I need you to wake up and find a book. A book on lucid dreaming, by an author named Quasepal.
Ku‧a… se‧pa?
C… close enough. Don’t ask around for it, it won’t be in the library. Go to your friend Warren, or better yet Bren, if he’s showed up yet. They’ll know what you’re looking for, and what to do.

The barrier between began to look more solid, as the geometry of the restaurant warped and bent. Colors brightened and swirled into each other.

Wait. table turned to smoke as he stood up through it, What are you implying… that—?
Don’t worry. I’m sorry… it always seems to go like this. Keep it in your mind Kenji. Quasepal. Lucid dreaming.

Kenji reached out to him, and his hands pressed up against the barrier. The Lutari put his hands against it as well. Everything began to look flat and artificial, as a white vignette grew over the edges of his vision. A cyclone of light numbed his senses, until everything, even his own body, fell away into dark.

Kenji opened his eyes. The midday light shone through the blinds, and into his dorm. A sound like the crackle of glass about to break echoed in his mind. He closed his eyes, and tried to go back to sleep.

Rei sat alone in the front of the lecture hall, as light fell in from the outside. She wasn’t in the student seating, but in a small metal chair next to a table of snacks. Someone had put a small television up against the wall with the windows, and though she wasn’t too interested in the news that played, it was somewhere the rest her eyes.

A reporter —a yellow Aisha— stood in a grassy field, an airplane far behind her. Good morning everyone, she bowed her head, this is Felicity Walker on behalf of NCI News. I’m here just outside the small town of Sutton Merilow, where the residents have had quite the rude awakening.

The camera panned over to the right, and she gestured behind her at the plane: Early this morning, a flight from Neopia Central to Sakhmet International Airport made an emergency landing. After a brief stop in Historic Brightvale the plane took a steep dive, but managed to land in this large field here behind me. Engineers determined that a powerful electrical surge of unknown origin caused an equipment failure, and a fire to break out in both the cabin and in the back of the plane. Locals who investigated the scene after the crash landing stated to reporters that it was a miracle they managed to land the plane at all in this terrain, without colliding with the many large rocks and boulders that dot the landscape. Many of the victims suffered minor injuries, and some have suffered mild to severe burns from the fires. Fortunately, there were no casualties. For now, our sources are waiting on an official statement from Neopia Central Airlines.

The scene shifted to footage of the victims, many of which sat or leaned against large rocks. Rei narrowed her eyes and looked closer. There were a few people that she recognized, as she noticed the light Fæ she’d met at the Færie Festival there, and a grey Gnorbu in a turban she’d seen on tv, at some point. A Kyrii in black dress slacks was in the process of being treated for severe burns on his head & face, and something about him seemed familiar to her.

The door to the outside, which was next to the platform the teacher usually stood, swung open. Rei’s tenuous attention to the television was broken, as a fellow student shuffled back in. She looked over at him. It was Micheal, a large yellow Poogle that she didn’t know very well. She nodded her head at him, and he waved. The door closed behind him as she got up from the chair.

Hey! he said to her, as he walked around to the other side of the table, Rei, right?
She nodded.
Right. Guess you’re next, huh?
Mmmhm. You do well out there?
Ehhh. I did uh… okay. I think. They didn’t say much to me. he took a handful of cheese & crackers, and shoved them into his mouth. I thimk you offa do good.
He swallowed, Mmh, sorry. I think you oughta do good. Being a Færie and all.
Ahh, right. I sure hope so.
The Poogle nodded, then turned away, M’kay. Good luck.
She nodded at him, and she took a bite of cheese with her as she went through the door herself.

It was a day of unseasonable warmth once again, as bright green landscaped grass met the pale yellow brick of the school’s exterior. The sun shone down bright, as Rei walked over to her professor. They were tiny, a quadrupedal blue Xweetok, with dense and frazzled dark blue hair. They wore thick glasses, and a bluish‐grey dress with a black pinstripe vest on top of that. Blue shoes and blue padded gloves were partially obscured by the grass, where they sat and waited. Now that Rei was next to them, it was easier to see the difference in height, as the professor’s head didn’t even reach up past Rei’s knees. Several wands, a pile of printed papers, a strange mechanical trinket covered with bejeweled rings, and a (comparatively) large book lain open next to them.

Rei bowed her head at them, G’morning, Professor Miller.
Ms. Pakatchouli. they nodded, Are you ready now, or do you need time to prepare?
No no, I uh… think I can do it now.
Good. You have the written documentation?
She nodded as well, I do.
Mmm. Set them down in the pile, then.

Rei took out the sheets of printed paper she held under her arm, and placed them on top of the other stacked papers on the grass. She looked out into the yard past the building, and saw several damaged spots in the grass. Some burnt, some frozen, and other places darkened & damaged in ways she couldn’t identify. A test dummy, made of wood and paper, was propped up against a wooden stand. A necklace hung around its neck, colored blue.

Looks like the landscapers are gonna have their work cut out for them. Rei chuckled.
Mmm, indeed. they replied as they walked over, sat down again, and used their front paws to shuffle through her papers, So you’ve named your thesis… prominence.
She smiled, That’s right, professor.
Mm. Reasoning behind the name?
Oh, it’s like… you know, from the sun?
Enlighten me.
You know those… pictures of the sun, where there’s… filament that forms into big loops?
Ahh. I believe so.
Yeah. It’s named after solar prominence, which is what those are called.
I see.

Rei stepped out into the field, to get an appropriate distance between herself and Prof. Miller.
Do you need the test object to be aligned to a certain element?
Dark magic, if possible.

The Xweetok adjusted the brass colored mechanism with several gems in it, and turned a wheel from a blue gem, to a dark purple colored one. The gem upon the necklace on the dummy changed color to the same dark purple.

They looked over to her, How many times have you measured the AoE?
There was a small moment of panic in her, as she tried to guess how large the blast was from the only time she’d used the spell at full power, About… maybe six, or six and a half meters? At maximum power?
I see. And the spell is centered on the caster, is that correct?
Yes, professor.
Could the spell be used at range?
I… might be able to, potentially. I have yet to throw it any distance.
I see. I realize that you don’t need them —as a Fæ— but where is the incantation listed?
Oh, page two, towards the bottom.
Mmm, good.

Rei nodded to herself, as she stared off into the distance. She inhaled in deep, then breathed out slow. This should be easy enough. she thought to herself, Did it once, do it again.

The professor cleared their throat. Hh‐mm. Apologies for the interruption, but this… seems to be quite a… potent spell, from what I’m reading. Will you be able to cast this multiple times?
She attempted to sound confident, I will. I believe so.
Mmh. It’s an interesting choice.
Most of my Fæ students don’t like dual‐type or chimeric element spells. they waited for a response, for a moment, but she didn’t reply, I hope that you don’t feel the need to prove you are more than just fire magic.
Rei just shrugged.
Mm. Go ahead then.

She turned again, huffed, then cast the spell.

There was a pain in her gut, like all her organs twisted up. The grass around her fluttered, and a small spurt of yellow flame rose from the ground in a circle. Then stopped. As the pain faded, so did the flame.

Rei started to breathe faster, and looked down at the ground. The knotted feeling was over, but so was the spell. She cleared her throat.

Mm. Sorry. she turned her head towards the professor, Just warming up.
Mmm. You’re lucky I don’t deduct points for puns, madam.
Rei hadn’t realized what she said could be taken that way, and let out an involuntary chuckle.
Are you certain you’re ready?
Hm? Why?
You look quite uncomfortable.
I do?
If something is wrong, then we can reschedule.
No no. she looked away, It’s alright. We can do this now.
I see.

No more stalling. I have to do this. I need to be in the same place I was when I cast it last time. she chided herself as she put on her round, dark sunglasses.

Prof. Miller watched on as Rei put her hands down to the side, and tightened them into a fist. They picked up their student’s papers and pretended to read them. A circle of light formed around her, her gaze turned downward, and she leaned forward. The skin around her palms grew pale, and then, what sounded like an explosion. The gem‐laden mechanism next to the Xweetok creaked, then the gems inside of it shattered with a painful sound. The dummy was launched into the air —horizontally— so fast that it went from still to a blur, in what seemed to be a single moment. The now darkened necklace detached from the neck with enough force to decapitate the dummy, and the now‐ruined magical attunement device sped off into the distance.

No wind or shockwave had come from it, nor was there extraordinary heat from it either. The grass beneath her feet swayed with the soft breeze, with only the tips of the blades darkened. Rei inhaled deep, then exhaled. The Xweetok shook their head and blinked, as the spell, in all its power & light, evaporated without lingering effect.

The professor cleared their throat: I see that… what you described in the paper is correct. Minimal, if negligible harm to life. Deleterious effects to… negatively charged objects.
Rei stood with the same pose she began the spell in, and did not respond.
What you’ve displayed is… certainly… impressive.
No response.
Ms. Pakatchouli? they leaned forward, Do you require assistance Rei?

She lowered her hands, stood up straight, but did not unclench her fists. She inhaled again, and held it in for a few seconds before she allowed herself to breathe out. She turned, and walked —each step deliberate— back towards the professor.
The Xweetok adjusted their own glasses, as they looked into Rei’s opaque ones, I don’t believe I’ll need another demonstration. Nor… could I entertain one, should I have needed to. they glanced at their detonated equipment, then back to her, You are free to go.
Good. Rei tilted her head forward in a small bow, but kept going further than she seemed to have meant to, and stepped forward to catch herself. She stood straight up again, then turned to leave.
The Xweetok furrowed their eyebrows as they watched her walk back inside the classroom door.
She was inside for only a few seconds, as she came back out with a handful of cubed meat & cheese, which she shoved into her mouth without any kind of tact. She fast‐walked along the wall of the school, until it turned out of sight.

Rei’s glasses fell off her face, and clattered onto the ground. She fell too, as she couldn’t keep the pain down any longer. The food she’d just ate came out, along with a red substance she didn't like the look of. She coughed as she gripped at the grass. Fffuck. Shame and embarrassment flooded her mind, as pain flooded her body. It didn’t even last half as long as last time. What a disaster. I should’ve just rescheduled, or flunked, or something.

She looked up and around. She’d fallen behind a bush, and as classes were in, she couldn’t see anyone around her. She coughed, sighed, then attempted to stand up.

The attempt to stand was a mistake.

A tall purple Xweetok in orange pajamas leaned back in a stiff wood chair, and twirled her finger around a phone cord. The detective, Yolanda, sat alone in her house, next to a small table where a large rotary phone sat. Next to it, was a phone book, and next to that, was a photo of her father, a Lupe in a police uniform. The ringing stopped as someone on the other side picked up.

Right, she cleared her throat, is this—?
Hey, hey, sorry. said a masculine voice she hadn’t heard before, Can I uh, can I put you on hold? I’ve got somebody else on the line right now.
Oh, uh… yeah, yeah, sure. Take you time.
Right, thank you. Just a minute.

She blinked in confusion, as whoever had answered the phone paused the conversation with a mechanical click. Over the line, the compressed sound of a saxophone started to play. She scrunched up her brow and narrowed her eyes. The hold music —a romantic solo— sounded like something out of a low budget movie. She knew what Warren sounded like, and this was not him.

There was another click, as the sax solo came to an abrupt stop, H— h, hello? Hey, sorry about that, you still there?
Oh! Yes, I’m still here.
Nice, nice, uh. What can I help you with?
Good. Well, I’m looking for a Warren, would he happen to be around? A Mr. Grey?
Uhhh the voice faded as his mouth moved away from the receiver, then back again. I uh, I don’t think so. Is this for a specific actor? Employee maybe?
…I’m sorry…?
Like, are you lookin to buy something? Or did you need to talk to somebody who works here?
I. Uh.
…Because uh, I don’t think there’s anybody that works here by that name.
W… where—
I mean, we got a guy named Wally in the back if that’s who you’re talkin about.
Hold on, hold on, buster. Just a minute. Who is this? Where am I calling?
O— oh. Uh. You don’t know?
Yolanda paused and waited for him to continue.
This is uh, my name’s Jack, and uh, this is an adult business.
An… adult business.
Yeah, this is L’amore (and More~) Adult Superstore, he lowered his voice and put on a sultry tone as he said and More~, off of uh, on the corner of uh, Jackson and Shackelford road? Is this the uh, the number you meant to call?
I… n—no. she put her forehead in her free hand and slumped over, No I did… not mean to call a sex shop. I’m. Uh.
There was a muffled wheeze and a cackle from the other side of the line, as Jack turned his head away from the phone to laugh, I’m ahh… I’m very sorry, but uh, I think somebody must‐a been pullin’ yer leg.
Oh my fucking god. she mumbled.
There was another wheeze from the phone.
She sat back up, I’m… sorry to have taken up your time.
That’s alright! It ain’t your fault. You sure you don’t wanna buy nuthin?
N—no, no, I’m sure. My apologies.
Heheheh. You have a lovely evenin sweetheart, hope ya find what you’re lookin for.
Yeah, uh. Me too. G— goodbye.

She placed the handset down onto the cradle with a gentle, satisfying sound, then dropped her hand onto the table in frustration with enough force to make the bell in the telephone reverberate. Her other hand went up to massage her brow, as she got up from the chair to pour herself a drink.

Warren walked from the open grass courtyard, onto the brick of the sidewalk, then onto the polished tile of the café’s storefront. There was no separation between inside and outside, only an awning to shade outdoor seating from the afternoon sun. They didn’t need to look around long, as they saw Rei before any of the other patrons. She was lain down in a reclining patio chair next to a combination umbrella and table.

They walked up to her, then stood there with their hands at their hips. Her black glasses were still on, and they couldn’t tell where her gaze was, or if she’d seen them.
Hey. they said, in a flat tone.
She didn’t respond.
They frowned, and looked over her. Her body did not so much recline, as one would do in a reclining chair, it instead resembled more a ragdoll thrown into it.
She sniffled.
They looked to the side, sighed, then leaned over to shake her by the shoulder.
Mmf! Mm! What? Rei lifted her head up and moved it around. She looked first at her shoulder, then up his arm, then to Warren themselves.
They took their hand off her and leaned back, Mornin’.
Uh… morning! I think? No, wait, it’s afternoon now.
Yeah. That was a joke, sorry.
What… what happened?
I got a call.
W… you did? From who? Rei looked around again, Also… how… then took off her sunglasses, did I end up here?
Lucine, and, Lucine.

She turned back to him and squinted, Huh??
Yeah. He says you owe him a clean shirt, apparently.
She put a hand to her mouth. Her face was clean, and she didn’t smell like what she expected to.
You wanna uh… tell me what happened with your whole magic test thing today?
Wh— tell you what happened?? Are you kidding me? How the hell did Lucine find me? What did he do? Did he just drop me off here?
If I knew, I’d tell you. He just called me and said you passed out. Knowing him, he probably follows all of us around, or something. Since nobody can see him right now.
His condition.
…Yeah, I know, you told me about it.
Anyway…. Just tell me what happened, okay? Are you seriously hurt? Do you need a doctor or something? Do you want me to get you something to drink?
No no no. No. I’m good. I’ll tell you what happened. she swallowed, then took a couple deep breaths: I did my uh… I did my test. Thing. I tried to cast the same spell that I used at uh, Sechson’s house.
They turned to the side and looked down, Aww hell.
Hey, what’d you expect me to do, just fail the test completely?
They turned back to her, If it meant not collapsing on school grounds, maybe you should’ve.
Mmhf. It crossed my mind. But you know I can’t do that.
So uh, I did it. It wasn’t nearly as long as the last time. The professor doesn’t know that though.
You’re not doing that again.
She propped herself up on the armrest of the chair, Oh? I won’t? I will do it as many times as I goddamn need to, mister.
Not if you black out every time you use it! I’m not the telling you you can’t, your own body is. For all we know, you could be screwing yourself up permanently when you do stuff like this. Can you even do any magic, at all right now?
Probably not, no, and I don’t feel like trying.
And what does a Fæ’s body mostly run on?
She rolled her eyes, then looked straight ahead at the courtyard in front of the café.
I don’t know about other Færies, but I know I run on cheeseburgers.
And did you eat a cheeseburger this morning?
Nope. Forgot to eat.
They sighed and pressed their fingers into their eyebrows.
Look man. I’m startin’ to get real tired of people assumin’ shit about me, and what I’m good at, or even what I feel like. If I think you need to know, I’ll tell you.
And I accept that. But look, what crosses the line for me, is you getting hurt. I have to step in when stuff like this happens.
Do you?
Yes, I do. I’m tired of everyone around me getting hurt, or killed, all the time, it drives me crazy.

She looked back up at them. Her expression didn’t look so irritated as before. She looked like she was about to say something, then didn’t.
Warren blinked, then tilted their head a little, What?
Rei sighed, You… know how I cast the spell that day? Back at his house?
I’d never been able to do that, at that level, until then.
Warren gave a single nod, and waited for her to continue.
When I tried to do it again, here, for the test… I couldn’t do it. Until… well, I had to think about it again. I had to fuck myself up, she looked away, get so riled up about Bili, about all the people I care about getting hurt… that…. she sighed and looked back over at him, Yeah. I get it.
Get what exactly?
Maybe not specifically, whatever it is you’ve got goin on. But I get it.

The two of them didn’t say anything to each other for a while. Warren looked at Rei, as she turned her head to look out into the courtyard. A second or two later, they did the same. There wasn’t anyone out there, not at that moment.

Maybe. Whatever. they broke the silence. They waited a few moments before they spoke again, You have anything else you gotta do today?
Good. That’s good.
I’m probably gonna go get something to eat. Probably sit down at a restaurant until I’m back to normal.
They nodded.
Me? Oh, uh. I dunno. I’ll probably just go back home.
No club meeting?
They looked back down at her, then chuckled, No. Not yet anyway. Once his house is fixed up… that’s when we’ll start back up.
On that subject… can I ask you a question?
Oh? she raised her eyebrows, Sure, shoot.
You… finished everything I had on our syllabus, for the club.
Yet you kept coming. Even when there was absolutely nothing to do.
She smiled and chortled.
Were you just there to be around me and Kenji?
Mm. Pretty much, yeah.

Warren turned and looked back out into the courtyard again.
She elaborated, to fill the silence: I just… don’t have a lot going on, right now. Outside of school, at least. I don’t really have —I guess what most people would call— a social group, outside of you guys. If I didn’t have time to goof off with you two, it’d just be… wake up, work, eat, sleep, over & over again, and I’d go completely insane. she smiled and suppressed a giggle.
Warren didn’t change expression, Mm. Well. Let’s just… make it, until we’re out of school, alright?
She scoffed, but nodded, Yeah. Alright. You wanna go get something to eat with me?
No, no. I’m sorry, I can’t.
That’s alright.
I wish I could, though. I’d probably enjoy it.
She nodded again.

I need to get going. I’ll see you later.
Alright. Tell Lucine that I’m fine.
I’ll certainly try. they glanced at her, then turned to leave.
Rei continued to lean back, for a while, and she watched them go. Her stomach rumbled, which provided a sufficient distraction to motivate her away.

Arastū leaned against a shelf, as Amy poured over their papers. He looked over at her, swallowed, then spoke up: …Hey, so uh… I never got the chance to ask you about it earlier, but… you’re one of the people from the past?
She looked up from her things, as Kenji appeared by Arastū. Mmhm! I guess you’re curious about it?
Yeah, you could say that. he shrugged, I’d heard about it, but not much aside from newspaper headlines. Was it like… scary?
She laughed a little smiled, For the first couple months, yeah, it was scary as hell.
Goodness. How was it? Like, what’d it feel like?
Oh, going forward in time? Not as much as you’d think, honestly. It was just the middle of the day, completely normal, but then… boom. she made a dome‐shaped gesture with her hands, A sound of thunder, all the shadows changed directions, then it got super windy.
So there wasn’t like… any sensation to it?
Like what, a feeling?
He nodded.
Nope. If there was, no one noticed it, as far as I know.
Wow. he paused, So wait… your name, it sounds like a modern one, from here.
Oh, yeah, it is.
You changed it?
Sort of. Mostly just made it easier to pronounce for modern people. My name was originally Amée du Pont, but when I went to college, I decided to modernize it to Amy Dupont.
Ahh, I see. That’s pretty interesting.
I bet it’s… like, how crazy is it, to live back then, and now be like… putting people on the moon?
She let out a single chuckle, Tell me about it. I’m mostly used to it by now, but, the world doesn’t even feel real sometimes, like I’m dreaming the whole thing.