Lunar Steel

“Fight me yourself, witch!” Hercules bellowed and smashed the skulls of two skeletons together. Dozens more still surrounded him and the few others left standing. King Arthur and his knights, along with Robin Hood, Merlin, and a bevy of myths lay slain on the wide-open field. Behind Hercules, Thor continued fending off the skeletons with brilliant arcs of lightning. Ballisea smiled at the brutish man.

“If I did that, it wouldn’t be any fun at all,” she said. The tall, horned woman stood atop a hill looking down on raging battle. “I haven’t had this much fun in eons.” A bolt of lightning shot at her from behind; it passed through her and struck a group of skeletons in front of Hercules. “I wish more Earths were as feisty as this one.”

“Your evil ends here,” Raiden said hovering over her to land next to Hercules. Thor fought his way through the skeletons to meet up with the other two. He gave Raiden a nod, then both loosed electricity at Ballisea. The beams passed through her head; she smiled and began walking down the hill with their attacks still flowing through her.

“It’s like you’re not even paying attention,” she said. They ended their attack. “But, I find your ‘never give up‘ attitude wonderfully entertaining. I’ll make it easy on you.” Ballisea snapped her fingers; the hundreds of skeletons on the field vanished in an instant. “One on one, each of you against one of my representatives. If you win, I’ll leave your Earth unconquered.” Hercules stepped forward and nodded.

“We accept.”

“Wonderful,” Ballisea smiled. “Who’s first?” Hercules pounded his chest in answer. She looked him over for a moment, then nodded. “I have just the thing.” A hole opened in the air next to her and someone fell out.

“Hah!” Astrid said, happy she landed on her feet. She looked around and caught sight of Ballisea first, then she saw the three men. The scrawny young girl moved toward Ballisea.

“What’s up?” she asked. Ballisea nodded at the three men.

“Want to fight them?” she asked. Astrid grinned and turned around.

“Yeah!” she said. She did not need more reason than Ballisea asking.

“She’s a child! And a girl!” Hercules’ protests were joined by Raiden and Thor.

“The poor thing isn’t even ten yet and you’re sending her against three gods?” Thor added.

“I’m FOURTEEN!” Astrid yelled. “And I’m stronger than you!”

“Cruel witch! Sending a malnourished child to fight your battles; we won’t attack a child no matter the age,” Raiden said.

“I’M NOT MALNOURISHED!” Astrid yelled and charged at Raiden. She moved faster than he expected, and she would have scored a direct hit. Fortunately for Raiden, Ballisea reacted even quicker. A black hole opened in front of Raiden. It swallowed Astrid. She fell, face first, on the field in her initial spot.

“He’s not your opponent yet,” Ballisea said. She pointed at Hercules, “That one is.” Hercules shook his head. “I will not fight a child, but she seems to believe she has strength enough to match the gods,…”

“Stronger!” Astrid shouted the interruption but Hercules kept speaking over her.

“I propose a contest of strength instead,” he said.

“Aww man, I was in a fighting mood,” Astrid grumbled when Ballisea nodded at Hercules. A black portal opened in the air next to Astrid’s 4’9″ frame and a black cube fell out. It landed on the ground, made a sizeable crater, and buried itself more than halfway.

“Since it’s not a fight anymore I’ll let all three of you go at the same time. First, all of you get a chance to lift that cube, together. Then, Astrid. Whoever lifts it higher wins.”

“Agreed,” Hercules said with a broad smile. He stepped forward alone, knelt and touched the black cube. “Not that I’ll need their help.” He scooped dirt out from around the edges to get a better grip on the 1′ cube. He heaved, but it did not budge.

“Maybe some help, Thor,” he said with a grunt. Thor walked forward, knelt and helped Hercules. With both their effort, the cube wiggled upward a bit. “RAIDEN!” Hercules added; his face was strawberry red with strain. Raiden teleported instead of walking the three steps, he wanted to show Ballisea she wasn’t the only one that had tricks. He knelt and added his strength to theirs.

After grunting for several seconds, they managed to lift the cube out of its hole entirely. They moved as one and carried it to Astrid before they dropped it at her feet.

“Good luck, little girl,” Hercules said while trying to catch his breath.

“Whoa, it’s kind of pretty!” Astrid said. She reached down, lifted it like a beach ball and manipulated it in her hands as she tried looking at all its sides. “What is it?” She asked Ballisea. The three gods stared at her slackjawed.

“It’s called Void-forged steel,” Ballisea smiled. “It’s kind of like the Unique Soul of metal-working. That cube is actually millions from different universes forged together into one. Anyway, I believe that means I won,” Ballisea smiled at Hercules. Astrid grinned.

“Unless you wanna try again? Catch!” she shouted and tossed the cube at them. She used an under-handed toss and launched the cube in a high arc. The three gods spread out to avoid getting hit, but a portal appeared in the air. It swallowed the cube then dropped it on Astrid from above her head.

“Owww,” Astrid said as the cube fell forward and into her hands; she caught it. “What was that for?”

“Don’t throw it or you’ll break the Earth,” Ballisea said. “Off you go,” a portal opened under Astrid and swallowed her and the cube.

“Thank you for the entertainment, gentlemen, but I must get back to what I was doing.” As she said that, hundreds of portals opened around them and skeletons began marching out.

Lunar Might

“You’re already the greatest,” Mundo smiled while he poured a drink for Captain Hero. The red-caped superhero sat on the bar stool with a bored look on his face. “No one’s seen a supervillain in years, they’re all gone. You did that. Your legacy is firmly cemented.” Mundo finished pouring and set the bottle down.

“Ehhhh, you know how people are.” Captain Hero shrugged as he downed the drink in one gulp. “Forgetful. Dismissive. Five years later, and people are already starting to forget me.” Captain Hero gestured for Mundo to give him another serving. He watched the bartender pour.  Mundo was a mid-40s gentleman with a neatly trimmed beard. He wore a black dress shirt with forest-green suspenders; a sprig of peppermint was pinned to his shirt.

Captain Hero had been visiting the bar for years before Mundo even started there. They became friends as Mundo worked his way up to owning the bar; they were close enough to know each other’s secrets. Captain Hero was a mild-mannered health inspector named Charlie Hernandez. Mundo did not have a secret identity as such, but he knew about things that Captain Hero never imagined. Things such as the multiverse.

“Gone,” Captain Hero whispered as Mundo finished his pour. “They’re gone,” he said.

“Huh?” Mundo asked for clarification. Captain Hero’s eyes grew wide and he smiled up at Mundo.

“They’re gone!” he gave an exaggerated ‘oh well’ shrug. “We’ll just have to get some more. YOU can find more.” Mundo raised an eyebrow.

“How so?” he asked. Captain Hero gestured wildly at the air around them.

“Out THERE! Can’t you find a villain from another Earth or something?” Mundo chuckled and shook his head.

“Charlie,” he said with a softer tone. “Things are different out there. I’m telling you as a friend, you can’t handle what’s out there.” Captain Hero glared.

“What do you mean I ‘can’t’ handle it? I’m the strongest hero on Earth!” Mundo nodded.

“Sure. This Earth. There are people out there that you wouldn’t even be able to touch; your strength would be useless. And even then, there are plenty of people that are just plain physically stronger than you.”

“No one’s stronger than me!” the Captain growled.

“You think so, huh?” Mundo smiled and idly tugged at the peppermint on his shirt. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll prove it.”

“Huh?” Captain Hero narrowed his eyes at Mundo.

“Give me a minute,” Mundo said. He walked out from behind the bar and into his office. Captain Hero tried to see in through the window, but all he saw was Mundo sitting quietly with his eyes closed. After almost five minutes, the bartender left the office with a giant ear to ear grin.

“A bet,” Mundo said once he stood behind the bar again. “Right here, right now. I’ve got someone stronger than you on the way.” Captain Hero sat up straighter.

“Really!?” he asked. Mundo nodded.

“Hold on. You’re not going to fight, I just want to prove there are people stronger than you. Arm wrestling. If you win, I’ll help you bring all the supervillains you want to this Earth. If you don’t win, you admit that you’re not ready for what’s out there. Deal?” Mundo held his hand out.

“Deal!” Captain Hero eagerly shook his hand.

“Mundo?” A small voice asked. Mundo and Captain Hero turned to see a young dark-skinned girl with wild hair sitting on a barstool. She sighed and mumbled under her breath. “Of course she could have put me on a Mundo’s doorstep at any time.”

“Astrid?” Mundo asked the girl, she nodded and smiled. “Astrid, this is Captain Hero. He’d like to see how strong you are.” Captain Hero burst into loud, obnoxious laughter.

HER!? An 11-year-old?” Astrid sat up straighter.

“I’m 14,” she said with a straight face.

“There are thousands, if not millions of people stronger than you. Some…,” Mundo nodded at Astrid. “You would not expect.”

Lunar Request

“It can’t be…,” Marshall retreated into the shadows. He flattened himself against the brick wall; he wanted to remain out of sight until he got a better idea of the situation. “Did you see that? It was a girl!” the lean, athletic man asked Bandit. His faithful German Shepherd tilted his head and continued to pant happily.

“At least, I’m pretty sure it was a girl,” Marshall said. “What do we do?” Bandit barked, then bolted out of the shadows and around the corner. Marshall sighed and followed at a slower pace. By the time he turned the corner, Bandit was already enjoying the attention of a  smiling young girl. She looked up at the sound of Marshall’s heavy footsteps on the sidewalk. He noticed a reflection of golden sunlight flashed in her eyes then her smile grew broader. She stopped petting Bandit and stood.

“Hi! I’m Astrid, what’s your name?” The girl asked. She bounced on her heels excitedly but kept her hands behind her back.

“Hi, I’m Marshall,” he said. Marshall extended a hand in greeting. Astrid glanced at his hand but didn’t shake it. After an awkward moment, he lowered his hand.

“Do you know anyone named Mundo? Or maybe a restaurant or tattoo shop named, ‘Mundo’s?” Astrid asked. Marshall shook his head.

“There’s no one to know,…” he spread his arms to gesture at the empty city around them. “Bandit’s been my only friend for about three years now,” he said. Bandit barked at his name.

“Oooooooh,” Astrid’s eyes widened. “Last man on Earth, huh?” She asked with interest. Marshall tilted his head at her.

“Apparently not. Where’ve you been for three years? Are there others there?” Astrid shook her head and shrugged.

“Sorry, I just got here.”

“Just got here? The city?”

“This Earth.”  Marshall subconsciously took a step back.

“Earth..?” he asked, then made a point of glancing upward. Astrid giggled.

This Earth. Aliens aren’t real, but alternate universes are,” she replied.

“You came from another Earth?” Marshall chuckled. “Why?”

“Well,.. if there’s no Mundo. I’m here to meet you, I think.”

“Me? Is… is this a rescue?” He asked.

“I don’t think so,” Astrid replied with a shake of her head. “Do you want to be rescued?”

“Not so much,” Marshall replied. Marshall loved the solitary life he built over the past several years. He traveled from state to state doing as he pleased. Staying wherever he wanted whenever the mood struck. “So, why me?”

“Your favorite number is 34,” Astrid said. Marshall narrowed his eyes.

“How’d you know that, and what does it have to do with anything?”

“Uhh… it’s complicated. And if you’re staying on an empty Earth, it probably won’t matter too much. The short version is: you’re special. I’m special too. If I touch you, I can copy your ability.”

“Whoa, whoa…,” Marshall held his hands up to interrupt. “I think you got the wrong guy. I don’t have any abilities.”

“Your soul does. If you get a 34 scarred on your skin, your soul wakes up. But, I can copy you even if your soul is still slumbering.”

“Really?” Marshall asked. Astrid nodded. “What can I do?”

“Tattoos are the most common, but I’ve seen brandings and just plain scarification too. Anything that leaves a permanent mark under the skin permanently.”

“No, no,” Marshall chuckled. “I mean what abilities do I have that you want to copy?”

“I want regeneration, but you also have boosted strength, agility, and reflexes. You’re basically the ultimate soldier.”

“Whoa…,” Marshall grinned.

“So…, do you mind if I touch you?” Astrid asked.

“Just a copy, right? You don’t steal my powers or anything?” Astrid nodded. “You would’ve copied it if you shook my hand, right?” She nodded again. “Does it hurt or anything?”

“Not at all.”

“Thank you,” Marshall replied, then extended his hand. “Thanks for asking first.” Astrid shook his hand with enthusiasm.

“You’re welcome,” she replied, then Astrid let go of his hand and stepped back. “Well, thanks. Enjoy your Earth.”

“Leaving already?” Marshall asked.

“I’m about to find out,” she said with crossed fingers. “Ballisea?” Astrid asked timidly.

“Who’s Balli-“

“What is it, little Luna?” a woman’s voice filled the air around them. Bandit stood on all fours; his ears perked up and he started to growl.

“Um. I’m ready?” Astrid said. Ballisea’s laughter filled the air.

“I knew you’d be entertaining,” Ballisea said. “Off you go.” A black hole opened under Astrid’s feet and swallowed her whole.

Lunar Trajectory

“Ha!” Astrid landed on her feet this time. The scrawny girl looked around at her new surroundings. Moments ago she stood next to a wide, deep chasm; then, Ballisea sent her somewhere else. Astrid landed at the edge of a filled parking lot; a sea of colorful cars stood between her and a lively strip mall. She shrugged to herself and started walking toward the crowd.

As Astrid drew closer she spotted dozens of “Sale” signs. The storefronts promised heavy discounts on everything inside while throngs of shoppers swarmed in and out of each shop. They carried a rainbow of bags, colorful boxes, and bags of boxes. Astrid reached the main walkway.

“Excuse me,” she asked the first person that crossed her path. A burly man with both hands full glanced down at Astrid, then walked around her without a word. “Rude,” she sighed then tried again with the next person. The good thing about a busy strip mall is there were plenty more people to ask.

After four strangers buzzed past her without giving her more than a half-glance, Astrid decided to change her tactics. She stared more intently at the flow of strangers around her. Then, she found what she was looking for; someone without packages that didn’t seem to be in a hurry. A young girl in a blood-red hoodie exited a furniture store and seemed to be strolling along. Her pace was significantly slower than the shoppers around her. Astrid headed straight for her but slowed down when the girl walked into a pizza shop.

“Crap,” Astrid sighed, then she giggled when she put more thought into the situation. “Actually, I am hungry. Great.” She decided to continue into the restaurant. It occurred to her that even if she didn’t get to talk to the girl, her waiter had to talk to her. She resumed walking toward the pizza shop. The girl in the red hoodie walked out as Astrid was about to enter. She glanced at Astrid, then smiled broadly.

“Hola, Luna,” she said. Astrid froze. Her eyes widened and her smile touched her ears.

“Mundo!?” she asked excitedly. It made sense to her; a Mundo would be able to tell what she was at a glance, but the girl shook her head.

“I’m Cherry. An Estrella,” she said but did not offer a handshake.

“Even better!” Astrid chirped.

“Walk if you wanna talk, I’ve got people waiting on me,” Cherry said. She turned and started walking. Astrid eagerly followed. This was Astrid’s first meeting with an Estrella, and she wanted to stay on her good side.

“Two things, first, can I touch you?” she asked. Cherry stopped walking.

“Why?” she asked.

“Star Sight is one the abilities I’m saving room for,” Astrid said. Golden stars glowed in Cherry’s eyes as she stared at Astrid.

“One of the ones you’re saving room for?” she asked with a smirk, then started walking forward again. “You’ve already got the strength of a Calavera and the flight of a Pajaro, what other ones do you want?” Astrid kept pace next to Cherry as they walked through the crowd.

“I didn’t even want flight; but, my mom’s a Pajaro, so I didn’t have a choice. Along with Star Sight, I want the Borracho’s luck, Soldado’s regeneration, and el Mano, just because it’s handy.”

“You’ve really planned it out, huh?” Cherry asked as she slowed down in front of a fried chicken restaurant. Astrid nodded.

“I met a Mundo who explained how I work,” she said. “Speaking of which, that’s the second thing,” Astrid said.

“Wait here a second,” Cherry said, then disappeared into the restaurant. A few minutes later she walked back out. “So what’s the second thing?”

“A ride. Usually, I look for a Mundo to get me a taxi, but since you’re an Estrella, I could just ask you.” Cherry smiled and offered Astrid her hand.

“Go ahead,” she said. “I’ll let you copy my Sight.”

“Thanks!” Astrid wasted no time in grabbing the girl’s hand. She immediately felt a tingle in her soul and in her eyes. She squeezed her eyes shut to let the sensation pass, then she opened them, and gasped. “Oh my god, it’s beautiful!” Astrid saw dozens if not hundreds of tiny, twinkling, floating stars around Cherry. They swirled around her like a lazy, gentle tornado. A brilliant golden cloth with a star insignia hung from Cherry’s shoulders like a cloak. Astrid blinked the vision away and Cherry returned to a normal girl in a red hoodie. 

“You’re welcome,” Cherry smiled. “But, I can’t help you with your second request,” Cherry said. “You’ve already got a ride.”

“What are yo-,” Astrid did not get to finish her question. A black hole opened under her feet and swallowed her up.

Lunar Origin

Astrid looked the frail, short man up and down. Astrid’s mother, Tana, stood 5’6″, but the bag of bones next to her was noticeably shorter. His skin color matched Astrid’s, both were several shades darker than Tana’s dark brown. There was no doubt he was Astrid’s father.

“Hi,” Astrid said, then she turned to the young man who delivered her father home. His dark suit made him look like a government agent. “Are you really a Muerte?” She asked with wide eyes. He nodded.

“Yep. I found your dad time-locked; when I freed him he wanted to come straight home to you,” he smiled at her and offered his hand. “I’m Billy.”

“Astrid,” she smiled. She glanced at his hand long enough to acknowledge it, but she did not dare touch him.

“Time-locked?” Tana asked. She turned to her husband for an explanation. He shrugged.

“I blinked and it was 14 years later. Whoever it was had to be pretty strong to stop me.” After answering his wife he turned his attention to the young girl.

“Where are all your friends?” he asked. “I just found out it was your birthday today,…” the lean man looked around the living room of off-white walls and hardwood floors. There were no hints that a party was about to happen.

“I don’t have any friends,” she said with the same tone one might use when stating that the sky was blue. It was a fact plain and simple. “Hey, can you give me a ride?” she looked at Billy.

“Astrid! Don’t be rude,” Tana tried to reprimand her daughter. “At least talk to your father. It’s not his fault he was gone for so long.”

“Why don’t you have any friends?” her father asked.

“I’m a Luna, dad,” she immediately felt bad. She meant to give the endearment a bit of snark, but it came out sounding much meaner. She sighed and relaxed a bit. “I don’t know if you remember; everyone here is a Super. I’m a Luna. Anytime I touch them, I copy their powers, and they don’t like that.”

“Oh,” he said. “I thought Lunas had a limit to how many abilities they could copy?” Astrid nodded.

“I do, but that only applies to Uniques. Supers are just higher-end Zeros; there’s no limit for their powers.”

“Well…,” the frail man started rolling up the sleeve of his flannel shirt. “…did your mom tell you what I am?” he asked. Astrid shook her head and watched as her father’s forearm came into view.

“I thought you were gone,” Tana answered.

“REALLY!!???” Astrid screeched as the sleeve revealed her father’s tattoo. The tattoo was a thick slice of cake with a sugar skull decoration sitting on it. The number ’42’ was printed on the skull’s dome. Astrid wasted no time in reaching out to grab her father’s hand. The moment they touched Astrid felt her strength grow.

“Yeah,” her father chuckled. “My name kind of gives it away, but yeah. I’m a Calavera.”

“Oh,” Astrid said. “What’s your-” her question was interrupted by Tana patting her husband’s shoulder.

“Heavy, dear, why don’t you go wash up and change. You’ve been wearing the same clothes for fourteen years.”

“Your name is HEAVY!?” Astrid giggled. Heavy’s eyes shifted to Tana; she shrugged.

“You were gone,” she said.  Heavy sighed.

“I was only gone for a few minutes,” he whined. Tana kissed his cheek.

“I’m glad you’re home.”

“So can I go!?” Astrid asked her parents. “Pleeeeeeeeasssse?” she clasped her hands.

“Go where?” Heavy asked.

“Out there,” Astrid pointed at Billy. “Somewhere I can make friends maybe. I want to travel and see new things.”

“It’s dangerous, and that’s not even counting the one in a billion chance of meeting Ballisea,” Heavy said. Astrid shrugged.

“Mundo gave me a ton of information, I can handle it.”

“Oh, you know a Mundo?” he asked. Astrid nodded.

“He dated mom for a few years. They broke up last week.”

Lunar Lift

Dennis shut his eyes, clenched his fists, and tensed his body as the rocky ground below rushed up to meet him. Instead of the brief, final moment of agony he expected, his backpack caught something. He felt the straps bite into his shoulders the moment he stopped falling, then he was lowered gently to the ground. Dennis immediately sighed with relief.

“Oh no, were you trying to die?” Dennis rolled over as the question was asked. “I can take you up again and drop you if you want.” His mouth dropped when he discovered who saved him. Dennis was not a small man; he stood 6’5″ and weighed about 280lbs. Despite that, a young girl that didn’t look older than 11 or 12 hovered in the air above him. He shook his head and sat up.

“No! You saved my life!” He stood up and dusted himself off as the girl landed in front of him. “How did you save my life?” he asked.

“I got here just as you went off the bridge, I wasn’t sure I’d make it in time. My name’s Astrid,” she offered her hand. Dennis shook it with a smile.

“Yeah, but,… how? How did you fly? How can you even carry me?”  Astrid shrugged. Then, before Dennis knew what was happening, she carried him up into the air and placed him on the old bridge he fell from.

“Like that,” Astrid replied. “I can fly and I’m strong. Hey,” she changed the subject. “Do you know anyone named Mundo? Or like a tattoo shop or bar or something named Mundo’s?”

“Why?” Dennis asked. Despite the fact that she saved his life, Dennis wasn’t in a hurry to volunteer information. His younger brother’s name was Mundo, but he was not about to offer family up to a stranger; even if she did save his life. After he asked, Dennis resumed his journey across the bridge. He wanted to get to the other side while Astrid was still nearby, just in case he tripped again. He heard Astrid giggle behind him.

“You know, that’s a good question,” she said. If you had asked me about 10 minutes ago, I would have told you it was for a ride.”

“A ride?” Dennis asked over his shoulder, then returned his focus to the rickety bridge. He was almost to the other side.

“Yeah. Mundo usually knows the right people that can get me where I’m trying to go,” she replied. “But that hasn’t been happening lately.”

“What do you mean?” Dennis asked. They reached the end of the bridge and stepped on to solid earth. He turned to look at Astrid; she was chewing on her bottom lip with a thoughtful look on her face.

“HEY!” she shouted at the sky.

“What are you-” Dennis began to ask, but he was interrupted by Astrid screaming again.


“Who’s Bal-“

“What is it, little Luna?” a woman’s voice spoke from all around them. Dennis whirled around but he saw only Astrid and no one else.

“Are you moving me from Earth to Earth?” That question caught Dennis’ attention. His brother mentioned alternate Earths sometimes; but, Dennis chalked it up to imagination. Astrid asked about his brother by name. She also seemed to know something about different Earths; the two events had to be related.

“Did you say-” He started to ask Astrid, but the mystery voice spoke over him.

“Of course I am,” the absent woman replied.

“Why ar-” Astrid began to ask, but a black hole opened at her feet. The girl fell in and the hole closed in less than a second; then, Dennis was alone again.

Lunar Landing

“Ow!” Astrid landed bottom-first on a concrete picnic table in the park. While pain shot up her tailbone she heard several chimes fill the air. A group of four kids sat at the table she landed on; instead of being surprised, they all checked their phones instead. “Sorry,” Astrid apologized to the group and climbed off the table, but the group ignored her.

“NO WAY!” one of them shouted, but the entire group seemed to be buzzing with the excitement of their screen.

“What’s S–*plus?” a brown-haired girl asked.

“Who’s Astrid?” a ruddy-faced blond boy asked.

“Hi! I’m Astrid,” Astrid waved at the group. This time she caught their attention. The two boys and two girls left their seats and surrounded Astrid with curiosity on their faces.

“No way, she looks super scrawny,” the second boy commented about Astrid.

“Has to be, she showed up right when the ranking changed,” the brown-haired girl said; then, she looked at Astrid. “How did you get to rank 1?” she asked the scrawny girl directly. Astrid shrugged.

“I don’t know what that means, I just got here. Do you guys know anyone named Mundo?” The group burst into laughter.

“Right, right, you have no idea what we’re talking about,” the blond boy said. He took two steps closer to Astrid while browsing something on his phone. Then, he showed her the screen.  It was a Top Ten list with her name at the top. “1. Astrid – S+” But the second entry caught her attention. “2. Mundo – B.”

“It’s a complete coincidence that you’re asking about the guy in second place,” he said.

“It is, but that’s great! Where can I find him?” Astrid’s question was punctuated by the same chorus of chimes she heard when she arrived. The group automatically checked their phones.

“Whoa, another one!”

“What’s going-,” Astrid started to ask, but stopped. It all clicked. She heard the sound when she landed and took the first spot on their leaderboard. Now it sounded like someone took the first spot again. She meant to try and peek at one of their phones, but she caught sight of something in the corner of her eye. “Oh.”

“Now who the hell is Ballisea?” the blond boy asked. “S- infinite? Is that even a thing?”

“Hola, Luna,” Ballisea smiled at Astrid. The pale, horned woman in a flowing black dress stood atop the concrete picnic table. “How fare your travels?” she asked with an amused tone. Astrid narrowed her eyes.

“Hey,” she said, then paused. She needed to consider her words carefully. She did not want to offend Ballisea with an accusation, but there was no other explanation. “Are you-,” Astrid did not get to finish her question. After the word, “you” left her mouth, a black hole opened under her feet and swallowed her up completely. Chimes sounded from the group’s phones, but not one of them took their eyes off Ballisea.

“Di.. did you kill her?” the brown-hair girl asked. Ballisea looked down at the young teenagers and smiled.

“Of course not,” she said. A black portal, the size of a garage door, appeared in front of the group. White skeletons marched out of it while chimes filled the air; a new tone rang each time a skeleton appeared. “When I kill someone, it’s a little more obvious.” The skeletons marched forward on the teenagers. “Like this.”

Lunar Travel

“What are you trying so hard to hide?” the lean one asked. Astrid sighed at her captors. She looked up at the chubby one with greasy brown hair; he seemed to be the more level-headed of the two.

“I don’t have anything to hide, I’m just passing through.”

“Don’t lie!” the skinny guard asked. Despite the rounder one being more level-headed; more ribbons decorated the lean guard’s uniform. He was obviously in charge. “My most trustworthy men reported your ability to fly,” he leaned down to growl the accusation in her face. “Do you think that is uninteresting?” Astrid shrugged. She, as well as the chair she was strapped to, levitated off the ground.

“Who’s hiding it?” she asked before landing the chair again. Both guards stepped back in surprised awe. “I don’t like to do it, so yeah. It’s uninteresting to me.”

“Who are you, witch?! What do you want here?” the lean guard took a tentative step forward. Astrid rolled her eyes.

Finally,” she said. “I came to you guys, remember? You didn’t have to tie me up just to ask me what I wanted. I came to speak to your commander.”

“You? A little girl? Our commander has no time to play with dollies.” The thin guard chuckled. Astrid floated upward, chair and all, until her eyes were level with the guard’s.

“Are you stupid? A flying girl wants to talk to your superior… and you think he won’t be interested?” she asked.

“I’ll get him,” the chubby guard said; he turned and dashed out of the tent. The lean guard glared at Astrid for several quiet minutes until the other guard returned. He was followed by an older man with short green hair and a well-decorated uniform. He entered the tent with a stern look, but his eyes softened as soon as he saw Astrid.

“Hola, Luna. What brings you here?” he asked. He walked over to her and looked down at the bound girl. She stood from the chair in a smooth motion; she tore through the straps as if they were made from tissue paper. She waited patiently like a good host; but, now that he was there she did not need to pretend anymore.

“Looking for a ride out,” she said. “Know anyone?” As Commander Mundo nodded a black hole opened under Astrid’s feet and swallowed her whole.

“Wh- where did she go?” the lean guard asked as his head swiveled back and forth around the tent. The Commander shrugged.

“I don’t know, I didn’t get a chance to arrange a ride.”

Lunar Following

“Thank you!!” Jane shrieked with delight. She reached out and wrapped her arms around Carol for a one-armed hug; she was careful to hold the small gift-wrapped box out of the way with her other arm. The two friends met for breakfast at a cafe. Jane was the first to arrive and she chose to sit outside to enjoy the cool October morning. She had just chosen a table when she noticed Carol dashing up to her with a gift. After they separated, Jane grinned. “But my birthday’s on the 10th.”

“Yeaahh..?” Carol nodded as the two women sat down at the table.

“Today’s the 9th,” Jane said. She smiled when Carol whacked her forehead with her own hand.

“Sorry,” Carol apologized but Jane shook her head.

“Better early than late!” she joked. She set the gift on the table and pulled at the pink bow to open it. She was interrupted by a yell A woman screamed from a nearby table; Jane and Carol both looked for the commotion.

“What the hell!?” Carol blurted. Two bleached-white skeletons approached the outdoor section of the cafe. The patrons crowded by the door to get back into the cafe; but, the staff was quick to block the door to keep the skeletons out. Carol stared at the skeletons trying to process the situation; then, she noticed a black hole open in front of her and Jane. A tall pale woman in a black flowing dress stepped out of the dark portal. She looked at them and Carol’s eyes drifted up to a pair of bone-white horns twisting out of the woman’s inky-black hair.

As she stepped out of the hole, a second, smaller, horizontal portal appeared between her and Carol. It hovered higher than the tip of the woman’s horns. A scrawny girl with frizzy, golden curls fell out of the second hole.

“Ow!” she yelped when she landed on the concrete butt-first.

“Hola, Luna,” the woman smiled at the girl.

“C’mon!” Jane whispered at Carol to get her attention. She squeezed her friend’s hand and tried to lead her away; but, Carol could not think clearly enough to move. She kept her focus on the strange woman and the girl, but she noted more and more skeletons arriving in her peripheral vision. They seemed to be walking out of portals like the woman.

“B.-Ballisea?!” the girl sounded equal parts impressed, shocked, and terrified. She made a point of standing up while defiantly staring at the horned woman. However, the moment she was on her feet she took a wise step back; a step closer to Jane and Carol. “Mundo called you to give me a ride?”

“Little one, please,” the woman said with a playful sigh. The sharp smile never left her lips. “No one asks me for favors.”

“Then…,” the girl looked around them. The gated patio was mostly empty except for the two women behind her. The patrons that could not get into the cafe ran away to try and find somewhere safe. Everyone inside the cafe stared eagerly out the window. More than a dozen skeletons surrounded the patio but none of the skeletons crossed the gate yet. All the cars on the nearby street were abandoned in a rush. “What am I doing here?” she asked.

“I didn’t get your name last time,” Ballisea said.

“Astrid,” the girl replied.

“Thank you, Astrid. Off you go.” A black hole opened in front of Astrid.

“Get ready…,” Jane whispered and squeezed Carol’s hand again. She tugged her friend’s hand in the direction of Astrid’s portal to signal her intent.

“That’s it?” Astrid asked. “You just wanted my name?”

“For now,” Ballisea replied. “Bye-bye.” At her words, the skeletons surrounding the patio climbed over the short fence. Astrid shrugged and walked into the portal.

“NOW!” Jane shouted and dashed to follow Astrid. To her surprise, Carol moved with her.

“Ummmmm, not you,” Ballisea said. Her tone sounded like it was a completely unimportant stray thought. As if she were choosing a flavor of ice cream. Saucer-sized black holes appeared all around Jane; and, only around her. White skeleton arms shot out to block her path. Carol stopped running and looked at her friend, then she looked at the black hole.

“Your friend is already dead. All them,” Ballisea said. The sky began to darken and turn red. “Make a choice,” she said.

“I’M SORRY!” Carol yelled. She ran into the portal without looking back.

Lunar Eclipse

“I think it’s over-” the polite stranger fell mid-response. He attempted to point at some place further along the plaza before collapsing to the ground. Astrid heard the sound of dozens of bodies hitting the ground along the side-walk. The 14-year-old girl had a feeling she was close to the place she was looking for and stopped someone to ask.

“Huh,” Astrid said to herself. She shrugged and wondered if it was normal for people to collapse in groups on this particular Earth. Then she heard footsteps. She turned to see a man in a black suit approaching her with interest. He was tall, lean and pale; his dark suit and sunken eyes made him look like he walked out of his own open-casket funeral.

“Hey!” Astrid smiled at him. “Do you know where Mundo’s Bar is?”

He stopped walking and looked around at the bodies on the cement, then back at her.

“Why didn’t it work on you?” he asked. Astrid shrugged.

“I don’t know. So.. Mundo’s Bar?”

“Why aren’t you more…” he paused while he searched for the right word. “…concerned?” he asked. Astrid sighed heavily and floated a foot off the ground.

“I got my own problems to deal with,” she said. “I don’t care what you’re up to.” She sank back to the ground. “Can you point me to the bar or not?” The lean stranger took a step toward Astrid while holding his hand out toward her. She felt a wave of tingles tickle her brain and she giggled.

“Awww, you’re just a baby Corona,” she said. He stopped walking again with a surprised look on his face. “That’s why it didn’t work,” she added. “You’re not strong enough to mind control me.”

“You’re just a little girl!” He laughed. “Of course, I’m strong enough!”

“You should come with me to Mundo’s bar,” Astrid said with the concerned tone of a teacher. “It sounds like you have a lot to learn about yourself. It’s better for Mundo to explain it to you or you might try to control the wrong person.”

“I don’t need the advice of a little gi-,” Astrid hovered off the ground again and floated away. “Hey! Where are you going!? he shouted after her. She did not slow down or turn to acknowledge him until he started running after her. “You’re going the wrong way!” he shouted. That did slow her down. “Mundo’s is the other way,” he pointed to the right when she turned to look at him.

“C’mon!” she said and floated the direction he pointed in.

They traveled in silence for three blocks until he pointed at a building with a neon green sign on it that said, “Mundo’s Bar”. Astrid floated in with the stranger in tow. A large, round woman sat behind the bar; she looked up from her newspaper when Astrid and the man entered.

“Her too? Why isn’t she asleep?” he asked in surprise when he noticed she was moving. Astrid giggled.

“I told you, you have a lot to learn,” Astrid said. Then, she turned her attention to the woman. “Hey, Mundo! This Corona,” she gestured at the dark-suited man. “…doesn’t know anything. Also, can I get a taxi?”

The heavyset woman nodded; as she did a black hole opened under Astrid’s sneakers.

“Thanks!” Astrid shouted as the hole swallowed her whole, then she disappeared.

“What! Where’d she go!?” The stranger asked. Mundo shrugged.

“Dunno, I didn’t have a chance to get her a ride.” Mundo sat up straighter and looked at him.”So, you’re the reason everyone’s asleep?” She asked, then gestured at the barstool in front of her. “Have a seat.”