Star Sight

“She already knows,” Donna Chang smiled. Thomas Moon handed her a messy, store-bought bouquet of roses with a small box of candy hearts taped to the green wrapping. The short, ancient woman turned her nose up slightly. She dropped the bouquet into the trashcan beside the warming lights. “Takeru will get you pretty ones.”

“Those were pretty-ish,” Thomas said. He reached into the trashcan but his hand only returned with the small box of candy hearts. He left the discarded roses on their bed of discarded fish heads. “I’ve kept it secret for so long, there’s no way she knows. But that’s what tonight’s for,” Thomas smiled at Mrs. Chang. “How do I look?”

“Like a werewolf,” she replied.

“Thanks, Mrs. Chang,” Thomas smiled and turned to leave the kitchen. “Wish me luck!” he exited through a side door into the same hallway that housed the restrooms. Then he went back to his table. Emma smiled at him when he slid into the red and gold booth.

“That was a bit of a wait. Everything okay in there?” Emma asked she pointed at his stomach.

“Yeah, yeah. Sorry. I ran into Takeru and gave him our order.”

“That took 20 minutes?” Emma asked with a smile. Thomas hated to lie but knew he could explain the situation once she got the flowers.

“No. I needed some time to build my courage,” he said truthfully. Though, he’d planned to tell her for some time and only needed a couple of minutes to build his courage. The rest of the time was spent running to and from the nearest market.

“For what?” Emma asked. Her eyes sparkled with interest.

“I -uh,” He reached across the table and wrapped his hands around hers. “I’ve been keeping a secret since we started universe-hopping. There’s no easy way to say it so I’m just gonna blurt it out. Ready?” Thomas asked. Emma nodded. He took a deep breath.

“I’m a werewolf!” He half-shouted to make sure the secret came out. Emma tilted her head to the side and she gave him a confused look.

“Was that a secret?” Thomas narrowed his eyes at her.

“You knew?” She nodded. “Since when?”

“Since we met…,” she winked at him. “…the first time.”

“What? If you knew why did you help me hunt those other werewolves?” Emma shrugged.

“Because you let me. You weren’t a violent, mindless animal like them.”

“But how did you know?” Emma smiled broadly.

“It’s kind of funny. Back then I knew without knowing how. Mundo gave me a rundown of my powers when he taught me how to traverse; Estrellas can learn to see magic and fae.”

“Huh. So… it doesn’t bother you that I’m a werewolf?” Emma shook her head.

“It hasn’t so far,” she looked past him, then sat up straighter. “Food’s coming.” A giant cook with multi-color dragons tattooed on his arms walked toward their table with a full serving tray. He placed their plates in front of them then looked at Thomas.

“Thanks, Takeru. You can bring the rest now too.” Takeru nodded then walked back to the kitchen.

“What else did you order?” Emma asked.

“Well, I thought my secret might open a gap between us,” Thomas shrugged. “I didn’t want to let that happen.” Emma looked past Thomas and her eyes widened.

“OOOOH, Those are so pretty!” She said.

“So I ran to the market to buy you a pre-emptive bouquet.” He watched Emma’s reaction instead of turning around to see the flowers that Takeru picked out.

“You’re such a liar,” she said playfully. “You did not pick those out.” She pointed at the elegant red and gold flower vase Takeru placed on the table.

“Whoooa those are pretty!” Thomas said. The vase was beautiful, but it held a dozen of the most beautiful roses he’d ever seen. He assumed they were roses. The petal formation looked like the roses that went into the trashcan. Instead of the dull red color of the supermarket flowers, these roses formed golden, segmented petals. Thomas thought it looked like each petal was made of shiny, jagged, golden scales.

“See?” Emma giggled. “You’ve never seen them before.”

“Dragonbreath Roses,” Takeru said. “Be careful.” He leaned forward and blew a gentle puff of air along the top of one of the roses. A small flame flickered to life on the disturbed petal.

“Wow!” Emma said. “Thanks, Takeru!” The large man nodded then walked away.

“How do we-,” Thomas began to ask. He looked up at the roses, but the flame already died out. “Nevermind.”

Blooming Angel

[OT] Smash ‘Em Up Sundays!

“Which one d’ya think he’ll like more?” Emma asked. She held up a pair of very different piggy banks, one in each hand, for Thomas to compare. The pair stood in the back corner of a thrift shop trying to avoid being seen by the clerk.

“It doesn’t matter,” Thomas whined while peeking around the shelf of piggy banks.

“It totally matters,” Emma said. She tapped his chest with a blue ceramic pig to get his attention. “C’mon. Which one would you have picked when you were his age?” Thomas sighed and looked Emma in the eyes.

“I can’t remember a thing from when I was your age, much less his.” Thomas regretted it almost instantly when her eyes softened and she looked at a very interesting spec on the floor.

“Sorry,” he grabbed both of her hands and pushed them up in front of his face to take a good look at the banks. The blue ceramic pig in her left hand resembled a basic cartoon pig with over-sized eyes and a perfect circle for a snout. The bank in her right was made out of shiny brass. It was an abstract pig with tiny brass pegs sticking out of its barrel-shaped body for legs. The face consisted of indentions in the metal where the eyes belonged and a snout that looked like it was hammered from the inside.

“Who’s back there?” the clerk shouted from the front. Thomas tapped the brass pig in her right hand.

“This one. Let’s go.”

“Why?” She asked as she returned the ceramic pig to its shelf.

“What? I picked one! Let’s go!” Emma shook her head.

“Nope. You need a reason for picking this one. You can’t just pick whatever one because you don’t want to get caught stealing.”

“I picked it because it’ll sound better when it’s got change inside,” he whispered. “Can we leave?” Emma seemed satisfied with the answer and lifted her hand to make a gesture in the air. A tall black portal appeared and Thomas dashed through without waiting for Emma. He stepped out into a bustling city plaza on a sunny day and heard Emma giggling behind him.

“It’s not like they can hold us,” she said, then patted Thomas on the back. He shook his head.

“That’s not the point. You can never tell how things will go and I’d rather not have to kill anyone,” Thomas explained. He looked around the plaza. ‘Anyway, do you see him?” he changed the subject.

“Hey!” She started running and Thomas followed automatically without knowing why. He looked ahead of her and spotted the familiar young, black-haired cherub talking a lanky, pale man in a navy-blue suit. Thomas recognized a pink pig in the stranger’s hand and picked up speed.

“You promised it to us first!” Emma said when she reached them. The pale man turned to look at Emma, then he glanced at Thomas and grinned.

“This quest is open to anyone, right?” he asked the boy. The winged child replied with a nod, and the stranger shrugged at Emma. “First come, first serve.”

“Wait!” Thomas shouted, then paused to catch a breath before he addressed the cherub.

“You’re not an NPC,” he said. “You can choose which one you like better.” He held out the brass pig and flashed a hopeful smile.

“A piggy bank is a piggy bank,” the stranger said.

“That’s not true and I’ll prove it,” Emma said. She reached into her pocket then gave the boy a quarter. “Put it in,” she said. The boy smiled and slipped the quarter into the slot on the pink pig’s back. Thomas realized the pink pig was made out of plastic when the quarter landed inside it with an empty thud. Emma handed another quarter to Thomas and smiled. “I told you it was important,” she winked.

Thomas pushed the quarter into the brass pig. It made several small, loud bangs as the quarter settled in its belly. Thomas held the pig by its feet and shook it to get more noise out of the quarter. The cherub decided he wanted to play too and shook the pink pig, but he frowned at the several hollow thuds the quarter made.

“I like that one better,” he said and pushed the pink pig into the tall man’s hands. The stranger let the pig fall to the ground, sighed, then made a gesture in the air to open a black portal.

“Consider yourselves lucky that I don’t have an AlterNet character,” he said then stepped through the hole.

“Now I got two!” the boy said as he crouched down to pick up the pink pig. “Thank you,” he said. Then he reached a hand out to Emma. “I’ll show you where my Earth is.” She took his hand and a pulse of purple light flowed from him to her through their joined hands. “You’ll find El Cantarito next to me,” he said. Emma nodded.

“Thank you,” she did not waste any time in opening a black portal. The boy smiled at her then walked away. Thomas went through the portal first, then Emma followed.

They stepped out into a dim, grimy, rundown house. A large soil pit sat in the center of the room they landed in. Thomas spotted the pitcher first. The bright red ceramic pitcher rested against a boy’s body. Emma gasped involuntarily when she spotted a tall sapling with red leaves was growing out of the boy’s chest.

“Ohhh. So that’s what ‘Blooming’ is,” Thomas said. He walked to the pitcher and pulled it from the corpse’s stiff arm. “Man,” he shook his head. “He permanently lives in the AlterNet now. It’s kind of amazing when you think about it.”

“I don’t want to think about it. Let’s go,” Emma opened a portal. “Please.” She stepped through first then Thomas followed.

Whiskey Bitters

“It isn’t what I expected,” Emma said. The young woman stared at the rundown white mansion looming in the darkness before them. A bright flash of lightning highlighted dozens of cracks along the outer walls.

“Mundo said we’d find La Escalera in a haunted house. How did you not expect this?” Thomas asked. Instead of waiting for an answer he grabbed Emma’s arm and pulled her toward the fragile building.

“It’s a haunted house on the Paradise server,” she shrugged. “I thought it would be more of a carnival, less horror.” Thomas paused at the front door.

“Yeah, I guess,” he agreed. “I’m still getting used to the idea that this whole Earth is used for a game…,” he shook his head. “…and it isn’t the only one.” The lanky man tried the handle to check if it was locked; it did not budge. He dropped his grey canvas backpack off his shoulder to search for something useful.

“I’ll get it!” Emma pulled a translucent gun carved from pink crystal from a leather holster at her hip. Thomas stepped out of the way while hoisting the backpack on; then, Emma pulled the trigger. A tiny horizontal tornado flew out of the barrel and drilled through the air until it reached the door. A single loud crack filled the air as the door instantly disintegrated into splinters.

“Aren’t you glad you came with me?” Emma asked while they stepped through the threshold. The house was neat, if not clean. Everything was organized with only several layers of dust to hint at any neglect over time.

“I’m still debating that, but this scavenger hunt is fun,” Thomas said. He wandered out of the room and Emma followed him into the kitchen. “Where do people keep ladders?” he asked. He found the pantry behind a door next to the refrigerator, but it only stored food. “Maybe a shed in the back?” he asked. He heard a shuffling sound and turned toward it. Emma was searching one of the drawers in the counter.

“What are you doing?” Thomas asked.

“I’m looking for La Escalera,” she said with a smug grin. “What are you doing?”

“I’m looking for the ladder,” he rolled his eyes. “You’re not gonna find it in a drawer.” Emma shook her head.

“We’re not looking for a ladder, we’re looking for La Escalera.” Her grin grew into a large smile. She winked, then held up foot long wooden rod with her right hand. ‘#07’ was carved into it. “Remember what Mundo said?”

“Don’t give up on your dreams, keep sleeping?” Thomas shrugged. “I don’t think words work the same on his Earth,” he said. Emma stepped forward and bonked his forehead with the rod.

“No, dummy. The clue he gave us to find this.” Emma held the rod at Thomas’ eye level and pointed to a smaller engraving under the number.

“Oh yeah,” Thomas nodded with a chuckle. “Foldable for easy storage.” He grabbed the rod from her hand and looked it over. “I wonder how it works?”

“Well if you didn’t yank it out of my hands,” Emma grabbed it and pulled. “I could’ve figured it…,” Emma looked down. She stood about two feet away from Thomas and each of them held a wooden rung of a short, three-rung ladder. “…out.” She took a step forward and pushed her rung forward. The three-rung ladder became a shorter by a rung.

“Neat.” Thomas stepped forward to fold the ladder back into a single wooden rod. “OH! I wanna do something.” He slid his backpack off again and set it on the dusty counter. “Help me,” he held out the rod. Emma grabbed it and Thomas pulled to extend the ladder. He walked several steps away until he had an almost six-foot ladder.

“What are you-” Emma began to ask, but Thomas interrupted.

“Shh, this is gonna be funny,” he said. He walked back to the counter and placed the bottom rung in his backpack with his left hand holding supporting it. He pushed the ladder down with his right hand. “Eh?” he grinned. It looked like he was pushing an impossibly tall ladder into the bag. Emma rolled her eyes.

She opened a shallow drawer, then stuck her hand in. She leaned over until her elbow was in the drawer, then she pulled out a bottle of Thomas’ favorite whiskey.

“Something like that?” She dropped the whiskey into the drawer to prove a point. The bottle was large enough that the drawer could not close with the bottle in it. Thomas grabbed the bottle from the drawer and put it in his bag.

“Yeah well, not all of us are Celestials. Let’s move on to the next thing,” he said. Emma nodded and opened a portal in the air.

Bon Voyage

“I DID IT!” Emma cheered for herself. She clapped happily bounced in place and pointed at the black hole hovering above the campfire. “I can go home now! Thank you, Mundo!” The short woman rushed to hug the even shorter man. The tattooed biker smiled but shook his head.

“I’d practice a little more,” Mundo said. He drew Emma’s attention to a snowflake that emerged from the hole in the sky. “If you try to go up, you’ll fall right back out. The portal should be vertical, and you know, at ground level.”  Emma signed and wiggled her hands at the black hole. It disappeared.

“Yeah you’d better practice more,” another male voice said. “I’m not going to ride with you if you can’t drive.” Emma’s eyes widened when she heard the voice. She turned and saw Thomas Moon walking into the light of the campfire. He set his grey backpack down and smiled at Emma and Mundo.

“YOU CAME!” Emma dashed to him, leaping over the campfire, and greeted him with a constricting hug. Thomas gently pushed her off him but nodded with a shrug.

“I thought about it. I don’t care about getting home. It’s already been so long, there’d be no point. But, I’ve already seen everything in this world. Might as well explore some new ones, right?”

“Right!” Emma smiled. “Let’s go before you change your mind.” She wiggled her fingers at the air in front of her to open a black portal tall enough for them to walk through.

“Good luck!” Mundo waved at them from the other side of the fire.

“You should come too.” Emma invited him, but he shook his head.

“No, I can’t. I can’t leave this Earth, but if you need help find another Mundo. Most Earths have one.”