Vanilla gave a small gasp then stopped walking. Billy stopped next to her and looked out over the black lake. A perfect bright blue circle glowed on the water’s surface and mirrored the night sky perfectly. Billy stared at the horizon; if he were not standing up he might not be able to tell which moon was in the sky. The white-haired woman had spent the last couple of weeks showing off some of her favorite Earths. This Earth had no humans on it. Most of the Earths she took him to were devoid of humans; Vanilla preferred solitude. She turned to face him with a smile on her face.
“Wait here,” she wiggled her fingers at the air and opened a black portal. After she opened the portal she waved her hand at the forest around them. “Make a fire. I’ve got a surprise for you, I’ll be right back.” She disappeared into the portal.
“Surprise?” Billy mumbled to himself as he walked to the nearest copse. As he used the skills she taught him to build the fire he realized their relationship had changed. He mastered what she taught him then she began treating him less as an equal. Even their current tour of Earths felt like a road trip with a friend.
Billy reached for a thick green branch; he began to age it the moment he settled on it. The point where the branch met the tree became brittle. The dried old branch came loose in his hand as he wrapped his hand around it; he did not use an ounce of force.
The moon climbed higher in the sky by the time he collected several solid branches from different trees. Billy did not want to feel guilty for picking on a specific one. Moonlight lit up the path and he spotted a clearing a few feet away near the water’s edge. He carried his bundle of branches to the clearing them dropped them. He looked down and found a smooth, lemon-sized rock. He grabbed it and tossed it into the pile of wood. He used another skill Vanilla taught him to time-stop the rock in the air inches above the wood. He vibrated it in place to heat it up to a bright orange glow then he let it finish its journey. It landed and ignited the dried wood. Billy sat down to wait. He felt mildly impressed with himself.
Throughout the process of putting the fire together, Vanilla occupied his mind; he’d done it all almost subconsciously. Just as he began to wonder how long he would have to wait a black portal opened near the fire. Vanilla walked out of it pulling a black leather strap behind her. A large orange mine-cart followed Vanilla out of the portal; it was attached to the strap. A tall man with wide eyes and an open mouth stood, obviously time-stopped, in the cart.
“Sorry I took so long,” Vanilla said. “I needed something to carry him,” she pointed at the stranger. “This is Steven,” Vanilla said to Billy. The man wore a confused look on his face and his mouth hung open as if he were in the middle of speaking. “Steven is a slumbering Muerte, but he doesn’t know that.”
“Where’d he come from?” Billy asked as he stood up from the grass. “And why?” He began to wonder if Vanilla was going to replace him with Steven. He considered that she might be showing him different Earths so that he could go on alone while she trained a new student.
“I have my eye on a few different Earths waiting for a Muerte to be born. He’s here to help me demonstrate something for you.” Vanilla said. “You already know that killing other Uniques gives you a power boost,” Vanilla said. She paused; Billy nodded. “But it goes deeper than that. If you absorb the right kind of soul in the right kind of way you’ll get much stronger than if you just killed any Unique.”
“Does it make much of a difference?” Billy asked.
“Definitely,” Vanilla nodded. “#33, La araña will grow stronger if it eats other arañas. If they eat enough they can even become Celestials and learn to Traverse. But it has to physically consume them, it’s not enough to just get the killing blow. Now if an animal soul can become a Celestial, just think how powerful we could be.”
“Whoa…” Billy looked at her. “I don’t have to eat him, right?” he asked. Vanilla shook her head with a smile.
“No. If you, a Muerte, kill another Muerte while you’re both controlling time you get their soul and all their time powers. So I’m going to wake him, Awaken him, get him to use his powers, then you kill him. Okay?”