Heroes Of The Green City Chapter 9: In Which Something Damn Scary Happens

Alex was feeling pretty great. This was a bit unusual for them. Their dad had started calling them “sad sack” lately. Alex hated the nickname but didn’t tell him. The less they talked with their dad the better. He probably thought they were going through a phase or some bullshit like that. He hadn’t found the makeup as far as they knew. But they supposed it was only a matter of time before they did. They should probably talk to Jane about moving in with the rest of The Freak Clan so they didn’t have to change and do makeup in the upstairs library bathroom at school.

That’s where Alex was walking now. It was 10 in the morning and they’d have enough privacy to change and put makeup on before going to their first class. They leaned their giant clipboard and two giant pads of paper against the bathroom wall farthest from a toilet, urinal, or sink. They took off their nondescript black shirt to reveal a pink Strawberry Shortcake t-shirt. Then they grabbed the dark gray skirt and leggings from their bag. They put on their lacy hat and lacy fingerless gloves.

Next came the jewelry. A black beaded bracelet with an ankh because Alex thought Neil Gaiman’s Death character was super cool. A pink Hello Kitty necklace and matching bracelet. Three friendship bracelets: one pink, one with the colors of a bisexual flag, and another with the colors of the pansexual flag. Clip on dangly lightning bolt earrings.

Last bit was makeup. Purple lipstick. Rainbow eyeshadow. They thought they were getting pretty good at makeup. Now with the pink-burgundy they really thought their style was coming together.

Ok, they were done, and no one’d come in to bother them. It probably would’ve been ok if they had. Alex had a hot girlfriend and a hot boyfriend. They were like, double in love. How can that not make you feel good? How can you not feel confident as fuck?

Art class was boring. The teacher did a long lecture on renaissance painting and sculpture. They didn’t get any drawing in until the last few minutes of the period. Creative Writing was just reading each other’s stories. That’s always cool. Next was Algebra, which was also fun.

Alex remembered when they’d told Jane they actually liked math classes. “Really?” she’d said, “But you’re so artsy!”

“You don’t get to tell me what to do!” Alex stuck their tongue out. Then they gave Jane a quick kiss on the nose. They were snuggling like always. “Do you want coffee? I want coffee!” asked Alex as they jumped out of Jane’s arms and legs and the blanket that’d been covering them and off of the couch.

Terry, another resident of the apartment and member of The Freak Clan in good standing, was sitting cross-legged in front of the TV playing a racing game. As Alex walked to the kitchen she asked him if he wanted coffee too. “Yes please.” His eyes were locked on the screen.

Alex got out the kettle and all the other coffee-making paraphernalia. They got out the beans and ground them. Jane picked up a controller. “Video games good, math bad” she said.

“I used to think so” said Alex, “but then I started reading about math outside of class. I kept running across mathematicians that would use aesthetic language. One would write that a proof was ‘beautiful’ or that some other thing was ‘elegant’. I started to read an old, I mean really old, geometry textbook called Euclid’s Elements. I don’t understand a lot of it but I’m starting to see the appeal.”

The kettle whistled and Alex poured the water in to the press, pressed it into a cup, dumped the grounds, dried the press, and repeated the process two more times. She got out the milk and chocolate syrup.

“Terry, my girlfriend is a giant nerd.” she was racing Terry across the streets of San Francisco. Said streets were fortunately free of pedestrians or pesky police officers.

“That’s cool” he replied.

“I know! So what about algebra? Is algebra beautiful?” asked Jane

“It’s fun. Like a puzzle. I wouldn’t say it was beautiful.” Alex replied.

“You’re beautiful m’dear” said Jane. She blew Alex a kiss “Mwah!”

Terry rolled his eyes. “I’m gonna get diabetes over here” he said.

“Then I guess you don’t want this choco-coffee or these cookies” Alex said.

“I’ll risk it” he replied.

Alex moved over a small short table next to Terry and Jane, then brought a plate of some of the homemade cookies Terry had made yesterday. They then placed three tall mugs next to the plate. One was yellow. Another was white. It a cartoon picture of Wonder Woman and her lasso spinning above her. The last was the tech company mug Terry’s boyfriend’d brought back from a conference. “Terry, you’re yellow, I’m Wonder Woman, and you my love are Synergy Systems.”

Jane paused the game, took her cookie and mug, had a bite and then took a drink. “Mmmmmmm, tastes like angel investment money.”

Alex had a cookie in their mouth and said, in a muffled voice, “Mine tastes like female empowerment.”

Back in the present, Alex was reliving the moment with Jane and Terry in her mind. Now they wanted coffee before algebra. They checked their phone. Actually there was enough time to put this bulky clipboard and art paper back in their car before going to the coffee shop at the building where math was scheduled to happen. A few minutes later Alex was in line with only their backpack. The coffee shop was full of shiny black wood furniture. The wooden floor was also stained black and shiny. The counter was stained the same. Black was everywhere, as well as shiny stainless steel and glass. Cheesecake and brownies and croissants beckoned behind the display case.

Two guys in gym t-shirts and shorts wearing baseball hats were in front of Alex in line. The guys were talking about sports and women. Alex tried to filter out the dude-bros and their casual misogynic conversation out of their mind.

One of the guys looked at them and did a double take. It made Alex nervous. I feel like a deer who’s just been spotted by a couple of fuckin’ wolves. They knew that the likelihood of getting hurt by these dudes was pretty low. It was a public place after all, but the thought didn’t make them feel any better.

The bros ordered their drinks and moved aside. Alex moved up and put away their phone. “Uh… large mocha and a brownie.” They felt a little dazed as they walked to an empty table to wait for their drink. The day wasn’t normal anymore. Alex couldn’t help but think about Matthew Shepard. That kid in the 90s who’d been beaten to shit, tied to a fence, set on fucking fire, and then left to die of exposure. Alex had watched a movie about him as a kid. True fuckin’ story. It sounded so awful. I’m probably being unfair, most people aren’t violent like that.

“Alex?” called out the barista. Hoping those dudes were gone or just ignoring them, Alex grabbed their drink and walked away without looking at anyone. Then they were pushed into a table by one of those muscleman dipshits. Alex’s hands grabbed the table but it wasn’t attached to the floor and Alex knocked it over with their momentum. The napkin container fell to the floor along with Alex’s hot cup of coffee, their brownie, and Alex. They’d hit their lip on a nearby chair, which was also knocked over.

“Clumsy faggot” said one of the dude-bros.

Alex was gripped by fear. They looked around the coffee shop. Most of the patrons were ignoring what’d just happened. Others were looking at them without an atom of sympathy. The guys who’d pushed Alex weren’t in the shop anymore. There was hot coffee all over Alex’s jacket and strawberry shortcake shirt. They couldn’t stop the tears from flowing as they half-walked/half-ran out of the coffee shop.

A few minutes later Alex was in their car. They were still crying, and occasionally sobbing. They had enough self-control to keep the sobs from being too loud. They didn’t want anyone to notice them. They wanted to disappear. Alex thumped the dashboard. “Fucking assholes” they whispered. After a few minutes they were calm enough to drive away. Fuck school. Fuck algebra. Fuck those assholes.

After driving a while toward the apartment that was Freak Clan Headquarters Alex parked at another coffee shop and had a look at their face in the rear view mirror. Their makeup didn’t look that bad and didn’t take long to fix. Eyes were a bit red and puffy. The lipstick needed a bit of repair too. There was probably some purple lipstick left on the table from the impact. Alex’s lip was a little swollen. Again, not too badly.

After sitting silently in their car for a while, just collecting themself, Alex took a deep breath to calm and went into the coffee shop. I want some coffee and a goddamn brownie. Actually, if there’s a chocolate cheesecake I want that instead. There was, as it happened, a slice of chocolate cheesecake available for purchase. The cheesecake and the choco-coffee made them feel better.

When Alex got to the apartment Terry was sitting on the couch playing a video game. “You’re here a bit early.” he said in a friendly tone.

Alex walked past without saying anything and went directly to Jane’s room, which was empty, (Jane wouldn’t be home until this evening) and then closed the door. It wasn’t a door slam, but it was a very firm and definite closing of a door.

Terry wasn’t one for noticing nonverbal cues, but even this one got through. He paused the game, walked over to Jane’s door, and softly knocked. “Are you ok Alex?”

“I need to be alone for a bit Terry” Alex said.

“Ok,” Terry wasn’t sure if things were ok or not, “I’m happy to talk with you any time you feel like it. I’ll be out here. Let me know if you want some frozen pizza or a soda or anything.”

“Thanks Terry.”

Terry waited to hear if Alex would say anymore. After a few moments Terry went back to his game.

“I just need to calm the fuck down” Alex told themself. They were sitting up on the bed, legs straight out. They put on their headphones and played some electro swing. Happy music to relax and improve their mood.

Jane’s bed was in the in one corner of the room. She had a nightstand with a hula dancer lamp. Next to the lamp was a short stack of magazines. Half of them were what Alex thought of as girly magazines for lesbians. Thinking about Jane, about how good it felt to snuggle with her, how good it was to have sex with her, how caring she was. It made Alex feel better. They also thought about John. He was good to snuggle with too. So warm. He always smelled good. Always clean. Always wearing man-perfume. John smiled whenever she said that. “When it’s for boys they call it cologne” he’d say in a pretend-hurt tone of voice.

John was at work now or Alex might’ve called them too. They didn’t want to worry either of them. It’s not like this was a hate crime was it? Although they’d mostly avoided being bullied in high school, Alex’d definitely dealt with worse than this before. It’s just that they’d kind of expected things to be different once they got into college.

For the most part things were better. College seemed to be a time for people to discover themselves. It seemed to Alex that more queer people found the courage to come out once they left the mandatory education system. Everyone who didn’t want to go to school anymore just wasn’t going to be there. The people who remained were more mature and intellectually curious.

But those assholes were pretty much like all the jock dipshits Alex had encountered in high school. People like that were why they’d never felt safe coming out as nonbinary back then. Other people were terrifying.

Alex was looking at a girl’s skateboarding magazine. They could hear the sound of video game tire screeching in the living room. They were safe. “I’m alright” Alex said to themself. They were looking at a girl doing an upside down handstand at the top of a cement skate ramp. One hand held her up while she kept the board to her feet with the other. It was pretty impressive.

There was another knock on the door, then it opened a crack. “Are you alright Alex my love?”

Alex put down the magazine. “Jane? I thought you were still at work!”

Jane opened the door all the way, revealing John behind her. Alex hugged and kissed both.

“Terry emailed us,” said John, “He was really worried about you.”

Alex sighed in mock exasperation and completely sincere relief. Then they walked over to Terry and kissed him on the head. “Thank you Terry dear. You’re a very sweet and good boy.”

He continued to play his game. “You’re very welcome Alex. You’re part of the family now. We’ll be there for you.” Alex hugged him from behind before sitting on the couch next to John. They took his hand. Alex could see he was concerned but didn’t want to pry. Their relationship was still very new and he didn’t want to screw it up by being too nosy.

Jane was always nosy. She popped open a root beer for Terry, two beers for John and herself, and a cider for Alex. Then she said “Suppose you tell us all about it my dear?”

Terry had said they were family. I love them all, they thought to themself.

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Heroes Of The Green City Chapter 8: Tea And Goddamn Crumpets

Jenny patted the head of one of the giant dragonflies while scratching under the chin of the other. “Hey Jack, how are you doing?” she asked the first. “Are they treating you well Jake?” she asked the second. They both emitted low-frequency rumbles that were felt as much as they were heard. The giant dragonflies purred. Then she summoned a balloon from between her hands. No spot on the balloon for air to be blown in, it started its existence filled with air, or magic. As Jenny withdrew her hands, the balloon expanded until it was larger than the head of Jack or Jake. They both eyed it expectantly, like dogs waiting for their human to throw a stick.

Jenny thrust her hand upwards and the balloon shot into the air. Jack and Jake followed the balloon as it zigged and zagged. Sometimes one or the other would hit the ball with their head, or tail, or belly. Sometimes the other would hit it back, but half the time the balloon would decide to change direction at the last minute. They chased it among the trees and on the roof of Jenny’s two story cottage.

Votu and Vello were at the picnic table on the grass in front of Jenny’s house. Votu was wearing his standard leather adventuring armor, its green dye had faded. The straps and belt were new. They were longer now, to adapt to the weight he’d gained since his injury. His pants were new too, bigger and longer. Most of his upper body was still bare. His child-like expression hadn’t changed. He just looked even wiser than he’d been in their youth.

Vello was as much a grump as ever. His wrinkles had formed around his ever-present frown. His long hair, bushy eyebrows, and long beard were completely gray. He was still wearing his blue robe and pointy hat. They were supposed to be traditional munchkin colors, but were almost as faded and gray as his hair.

Vello was impatiently spreading jam on four more crumpets. Two for him and two for his husband. Votu was pouring them all tea. Jenny still hadn’t finished her first crumpet. She walked over to her place at the table, sat down, took a bite, and waited for Vello to speak. It didn’t take long.

“You know why we’re here of course.” It was a statement, not a question.

“I do” she replied.

Votu was smiling as he watched Jack and Jake play above them. While he still had crumpet and jam in his mouth he asked “Is it a real vision? Are we really going to be invaded?” He didn’t seem too distressed by the idea. Jenny couldn’t figure out if it was because of his impenetrably happy demeanor or the inability believe a threat was real if it was a long way off that most people tended to have.

Jenny had, of course, seen the vision Votu had seen. Armies of creatures. They looked a bit like giant goblins, but they had horned heads and were bright red, dark black, or dull blue. She could see thousands of them. Some were smaller than munchkins. Others were as large as any dragon. The behemoths tended to vary more in shape. Some taking more beastial forms. Bulls. Cats. Wolves.

They had dull, unthinking, eyes. Or they looked clever and devious. Or else they looked like they were berserkers with a thirst for blood. Many of them were armored. Most of them had weapons. Swords, spiked clubs, pole axes. Black and gray smoke hung in the sky. The forests and cities were on fire.

The Green City. It was a smoking pile of rubble.

She answered Votu. “Yes, the vision is real, or very close to real. It’s what whoever is sending us this vision is seeing.”

“Are they delusional? Are they lying?” Vello asked, without much hope. He already knew the answer.

“No. They’re seeing something that is real. The future they come from is being invaded by them as well as by another army.”

Votu had now turned his attention to his tea cup. He’d already drunk its contents and was getting another refill. “So you’ve seen more than what Vello’s seen?”

“I’ve asked the future some questions and gotten… answers. The picture I get is chaotic and contradictory but I’ve got the nuances. You’ve heard me talk about how listening to time is… well… it’s not like listening to a human, a munchkin, a gnome, or even a bird or a snake. And actually talking to the past or the future is… well…” She waved her hands as if she were explaining away the eccentricities of a difficult relative.

They both nodded. Neither of them had her power but she had explained it well enough to them over the years. Different times and places had their own personalities, and while it was possible, in theory, to hold a discussion with those personalities, such discussions weren’t easy to hold or understand.

“What I’ve figured out is that two races are coming to our world, just like visitors have in decades and centuries past, but at a scale we’ve never seen before. Each army is a different race. One race is called angel. They look like humans but have feathered wings. They don’t appear to be a type of fairy. The other is called demon.” turning to Votu she asked “Has Vello described them to you?”

He nodded and said “they seem like a kind of goblin.”

She shook her head. “They have a passing resemblance to goblins, at least to the bigger kinds, but that comparison doesn’t really do them justice. They’re extremely fearsome.”

Votu started to ask “And the angels? Are those the creatures–”

“The ones that Dorothy spoke of, centuries ago. It’s said she never lost her faith in angels or in God.” interrupted Vello. He started to stroke his beard absently. She could almost hear his mental gears turning. It worried her more than normal. What are you planning old man?

“They don’t seem like the holy attendants of God the wife of Ozma spoke of” said Jenny, “They seem to be no different than the other invading army. They’re–”

“They’re going to fight over our world, aren’t they?” asked Vello

“It seems so. Except I don’t think we’re seeing the whole picture, only what the person or persons sending this vision deems important. In any event this world is very likely facing a danger unlike any it’s ever faced.” replied Jenny.

“So what do we do?” Votu asked.

“We need to spread the word. I can contact the steward of The Green City. He and his people can send messages all over.”

“The gnomes might not have any contacts with The Green City,” Votu said. “I know a few. I should be able to warn them. I don’t know how many’ll trust the visions of a wizard or a witch”

“It’s unlikely Jenny and I are the only magic users who’ve seen this vision.” said Vello

“Since you’re not a seer and you’ve seen it, then anyone with even a modicum of magical ability will likely have seen something” Jenny said to Vello, “The gnomes have probably had this vision too. We’ll need their help if we’re going to build an army that can stand against these invaders.”

An army. Votu didn’t know what to say to this. He watched Jack and Jake on top of Jenny’s house. They’d stopped playing and were napping in the shade of the trees surrounding the house. Their balloon lay next to them. There was a light, warm, breeze. The leaves of the trees rustled in the wind. It was the kind of warm day Votu always liked. Peaceful.

If it wasn’t for this damn vision Votu and Vello would probably be in town right now. Vello would pull him into the book shop and be browsing some dusty history tome, or a treatise on mathematics or astronomy. Votu would pick up another adventure story. They’d take a walk. Then they’d eat at the Inn before going home.

He didn’t like to think of these angels and demons burning that Inn or the book shop to the ground. Votu wondered, not for the first time, why people felt the need to hurt other people, or to take what they didn’t need. Why do people want to dominate other people? Why wasn’t control over their own lives enough?

Heroes Of The Green City Chapter 7: Skateboarding, Also Frog

“Holy shit!!” Jason exclaimed. He’d just been walking through a bunch of trees. It’d been pretty dark except for the small slivers of light that managed to shoot through the branches and needles above. The trees were close together. Sap had gotten on Jason’s clothes. The trees had scratched his arms. Finally he came to an open spot and there was this huge fucking toad just… just sitting there next to the creek. The thing was easily three or four feet tall, maybe four and a half feet wide. Jason jumped backwards in shock, hitting the trees behind him.

The toad either hadn’t noticed him, didn’t care, or maybe it was too cold to move? Nah, Jason thought to himself, it had to be warm enough for it. Jason had been sweating pretty heavily from his walk but he probably would have been too warm even if he’d been sitting, even in the shade of the forest.

Jason couldn’t stop staring. There was nothing like this on Earth. He let out a low whistle and said “Buddy, you are one big fucking Toad”. Perhaps in response, the toad blinked one eye after the other in quick succession. Then it got back to the important business of sitting nearly motionless.

There was a small creek between Jason and the toad. There were more of those rock formations around, big flat areas of rock that looked weirdly skateboard-able. One of the “benches” that had appeared every so often during his hike was on his side of the creek. The rectangle of rock was situated perfectly for toadly viewing, as if it had been made for sitting and appreciating the toad, as if it were a piece of art and not a huge fucking animal out of a kid’s fairy tale book. The bench was surrounded by flat, rocky, ground that almost looked like cobble stones. Bits of easily sweepable forest detritus (mostly dirt and pine needles) was scattered on the “cobble stones.”

Jason sat down on the bench and put his skateboard on its side by his feet. He took off his backback, got out his water bottle and one of the jerky bars he’d taken with him for his skateboarding session back on earth. Earth, Jason thought to himself as he ate the jerky, that is where you are not. Now you’re on Nebulon 5 or whatever planet this was supposed called. Maybe it was called Ribbit.

Jason sat there, drinking his water and eating his snack. He idly watched the frog, who still wasn’t doing much. It was just staring off in the middle distance, blinking occasionally or sometimes adjusting its feet. It seemed like a normal toad, just incredibly large. Jason had always thought toads and frogs were amazing. He’d never lived anywhere where you saw a lot of amphibians so it seemed to him that they were rare wild animals distinct from the birds and bugs of a suburban park. The suburbs in California’s central valley was probably too hot for amphibians, or maybe the lawns and the herbicides killed any of them that arrived at the housing subdivisions or shopping centers that were Jason’s normal habitat.

He felt better for resting. He put his skateboard under his feet and started idly rolling it back and forth as he sat. The skateboard’s wheels rumbled along the stones. He looked at the rocky surface around him and shook his head in disbelief. Jason was beginning to accept that the small dragons he saw flying around were real, and this toad was about as fucking real as anything could be. (The damn thing could probably eat a small dog without much trouble.) The thing he was having trouble with believing just now was that this natural environment was seemingly littered with choice skate spots.

He’d been resisting the urge to try any of them out on the assumption that he didn’t know how near the nearest town or city was, and he should conserve his energy just in case it was real fucking far. Of course he could be on a planet that was completely uninhabited, in which case he’d be well and truly fucked…

As he moved the skateboard under his feet, he found the “cobblestones” seemed less bumpy than he expected…

“Ok, fuck it” Jason said, put his food away, and grabbed the bag of skate wax from his bag. He started coating the top edge of the bench for better sliding and grinding. He put his bag and water bottle in a spot out of the way of his approach to the bench and used his foot as an improvised broom to sweep enough of the detritus away for this ridiculous, toad-filled, skate session.

Jason walked away from the bench to give himself enough distance to get enough speed to grind the bench. He got on his board and tried a few ollies. (For those not savvy to skateboarding, an ollie is just a jump that keeps the board attached to a skater’s feet without the skater having to touch the board with their hands.)

Damn. He still felt on. His ollies were higher than they’d been. Everything seemed easier than normal. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m not freaking out, Jason thought to himself, everything just feels right, which is just wrong. Why should I feel so at ease? Why do I feel like I can do anything?

Jason sped toward the bench on is board and popped an ollie high enough to get him on to the “bench”. His wheels landed in the perfect position. Two wheels on the bench, two wheels off. The landing was smooth. He was locked in. He’d not lost any speed. The axels grinded against rock with that satisfying sound skateboards make when the metal hits slick cement at speed. The trucks (the metal axles of the skateboard) slid along, pushing and sliding the wax and metal into the rock for the few seconds Jason made contact. He dismounted and landed on the stones that seemed like they’d been specifically placed there for Jason to roll on them. He rumbled along until he hit the dirt near the creak.

Now that he was closer to it, Jason looked at the Toad. It hadn’t moved much but it did seem to be watching him. “Ever seen anything like that Kermit? I’m assuming skateboarding hasn’t been invented here on Neblulon 5.” Jason looked at the bench and the ground near it again. It must have been his imagination, but the spot looked like it had morphed just a little more into the sort of thing he’d find at his school or in a public park.

He looked at Kermit the Toad again, then back at the skate spot, then shook his head. “Yeah, me neither.” So this world is offering itself as my personal skate park, he thought, is that really the weirdest thing about my current situation? Is this my new super power now? Maybe I’ve been given the power to shred wherever I go.

Jason raised an eyebrow, seriously considering the possiblity. While considering it, he used one foot to fiddle with the board, making it pop and spin in the air and around his foot. “I just got a wacky idea Kermit” he said to the toad while facing away from it and toward the bench. He was a big believer in visualizaiton as a way to improve his skating. Even when he wasn’t in a position to skate (while standing in line at a store, or not paying attention in class, to give a couple of examples) he tried to vividly imagine himself doing new tricks or perfecting old ones. He knew it had improved his skating, and his mind’s eye was pretty well developed.

He looked past the bench and did his best to visualize a stone “curb” (the bit of cement on the street-facing part of a sidewalk or the rectangular strip surrounding a tree in a parking lot, slick curbs are a staple of street skating) appearing on the far side of the bench as he approached it. It didn’t appear out of the ground he moment he imagined it like he half expected, but the experiment wasn’t over. He did his best to imagine a smooth, oily, waxy, rectangular strip of rock appearing out of the ground as he approached it.

Jason got a running start, dropped his board under his feet and then started pumping his legs to get maximum speed. Just like he expected, the ground got even smoother as he rode over it, though it still rumbled under his wheels. The rumbling was now at a higher pitch as he went faster and faster toward a curb that wasn’t there.

Pop! He spun the board in the air under him and then landed on the — “Oooof!”

It seemed the curb hadn’t appeared out of the ground after all. Jason Jumped off the board and started to run on his feet to slow down. He was going to fast for that trick to work. He tripped and rolled into the dirt. As he rolled in pokey dirty forest detritus he had a huge grin on his face. This was for a couple of reasons. One, he was having a blast. Skateboarding is just fun as hell whether you’re landing your shit or not. Two, what the fuck had he been thinking? He didn’t have magic powers. Jesus Christ dude, get a grip.

Jason looked back to see if the toad had witnessed his fall, but it looked like Kermit had finally had enough of all this ruckus and wandered off. “Fair enough” Jason said out loud, then he looked at the spot. “Wait…”

He looked a the spot where he’d visualized the curb being. It was there. It was fucking there.

He got off of his stomach and onto his feet, then walked to the curb that hadn’t been there just seconds before. “Holy fucking shit.” He also saw why he’d not landed the trick. The “curb” wasn’t really enough of a facsimile for him to properly skate. The rocky surface was too rough to grind or slide. It also wasn’t completely straight and had cracks in it big enough to stop any skater. But it was there. It existed. Big as life.

Jason had goddamn skateboard powers. “Jesus Christ on a cracker” he said out loud and to no one in particular. “I’m a skate god!” He shouted this so loud that a couple of dragons flew out of their trees in surprise.

Heroes Of The Green City Chapter 6: Sarah

Sarah leapt into the air. The suns were bright behind her as she swung her black sword toward her target. In that moment, only her silhouette was visible. Sparks and rocks flew as she struck the dragome. Its reptilian head roared in pain and anger. She landed near the beast at the same moment small bits of the creature’s rock body hit the ground. The creature whipped its massive tail toward Sarah, who easily leapt out of the way and onto a small outcropping of rocks that put her at eye level with the rock dragon.

She grabbed her other sword from the scabbard strapped to her back and held both of them toward the creature. They’re both wide, long, and black except for the sharpened edges and the curly artistic engravings drawn as if they were growing out of the hilt like vines. These revealed the metal underneath. Her long black dress and long dark-pink hair flowed in the wind. Her red eyes stared down the creature as she grinned and asked “Alright pal, are you gonna stand down?”

Next to the creature, the round angry gnome jumped up and down angrily. “You’re not going to let one human woman stop you are you?” the little rock man shouted to the creature. Despite the fact that the gnome was about half as tall as Sara and the rock dragon was about the height of a castle as it stood on its hind legs, it whined submissively. It doesn’t want to do this, it seemed to say.

Sarah’s grin disappeared as she pointed one of the swords toward the gnome. “That’s no way to treat such a magnificent creature!” She hoped she wasn’t laying it on too thick, but she didn’t figure being subtle would get the creature on her side.

“Don’t you tell me what to do with my own things!” he yelled back at her. To the dragome he said “Now I order you to kill her!” He looked at the creature sternly and pointed at Sarah, or where Sarah had been… “Huh? Where’d she go?”

“DELUGE!” She yelled above him. She crossed her swords in front of her and a massive jet of water blasted from the point the two swords crossed. It blasted the gnome back into the few soldiers he’d brought with him. They quickly got up while their boss was still lying in a large puddle of water. He coughed up a fish while his underlings charged toward Sarah, who swept them aside with the flats of her swords.

She threw the swords into the nearby dirt. Their hilts pointed toward where she had been when she’d thrown them as she rushed toward the leader, who was just sitting up. His eyes were surprised as she picked him up by his shirt, which ripped a little under his stony weight, a weight which didn’t bother her at all.

Her grin was back, full of more mischief and menace than she gave the stone dragon. “So are we gonna call off this little soiree? Hmmmm?”

Just then, and a little too late, she noticed the dragome’s tail rushing toward her. At first she only heard the rushing wind, then she turned her head and said “Oh shi–”. Crash! The tail made contact. Boom! Sarah hit dirt and rocks, causing a plume of smoke.

“Idiot!” screamed the leader gnome, “You hit me too!”

“DELUGE!” Another jet of water originating from the dust cloud hit the rock man, knocking him back again. His verbal abuse was really getting on her nerves. As the dust cleared she was hit by a few arrows. One hit her arm, but the others were deflected by a shimmering transparent sphere which suddenly enclosed her. Her right arm was outstretched, holding the sheild in place. That same arm had a small arrow lodged in her lower deltoid.

“My fuckin’ arm!”

As she leapt to her feet she had just enough time to dodge another swipe of the tail. She rushed the soldiers. There were only four of them. They looked shocked to see her coming at them. This wasn’t any ordinary human. As she passed her swords they flew, hilt first, into her hands as she continued toward her enemies.

One of the gnomes was completely still. He held an arrow in his hand, one he’d intended to aim at his target, a target that was just hit with the full force of a tail as thick as the trunk of a large tree. She’d just gotten up, almost as if nothing happened.

They all decided at once. They’d thrown their weapons to the ground and were running away by the time she reached where they’d been. She stood there for a moment, just a little nonplussed. They kept running as she stared. After a few moments she yelled after them, “Yeah! That’s what I thought!”

She looked in the direction of the leader, who hadn’t gotten up, and then at the dragome, who looked confused and scared. Sarah looked pityingly at the animal, sighed, and put her swords away. This caused her to flinch, hard. “Fucking ooowww!” she whisper-yelled, so as not to alarm the poor rock dragon.

A sphere of pink light grew from the center of her left hand, it made a high pitched but not unpleasant sound. The sphere stayed affixed to her hand as she moved it to engulf her injured arm. After a few moments the arrow clattered onto the rocky ground and the sphere disappeared.

Sarah stretched both arms and sighed with relief. “Better”. She looked up at the dragome again. It was staring at her in fear but wasn’t running away. “Oh hey buddy!” she said this as if she were talking to a friendly but skittish stray dog. The creature looked hopeful. Its shoulder was leaking reddish brown fluid, its blood. She held up her hand and made another sphere, “Would you like some of this?” she asked in an encouraging tone. The rock dragon didn’t move as she made the sphere float toward him and enlarge enough to surround the wound. In a few moments…

“There, all better.” She noticed it’s tail was wagging slightly. “Oh, that is cute as hell.” She grinned at it like she might a puppy. “Let’s see what I can come up with for you.” She closed her eyes for a moment and held out her hands. Dust swirled and whipped around a part of the ground just in front of her. Sarah put her down her hands, opened her eyes, and walked toward the sack that was revealed as the dust and wind died down. She produced three large and shiny stone eggs from the bag and tossed them to the beast. It easily caught and ate them.

The dragon bent its head down as she reached to pet it. It’s leg started to move a little as she scratched behind its ear with a small dagger.

“What are you doing?!” yelled the gnome ex-leader. He was now standing up. “Attack her!” The dragon growled in his direction. He drew back in fear.

“Go home jerkface,” she told him. “Me and scrappy here are going back to the village you’ve been harassing.”

He looked like he was about to say something, but then dejectedly turned and walked away.

“Oh, and jerkface?” she called out to him before he was out of earshot. He looked back. “If I ever hear of you harassing the village or anyone or anywhere else, I will find you and make you regret it.” The gnome quickly ran away.

She looked back up to her new friend, “C’mon scrappy, let’s go get rest and some more to eat.” Sarah picked up the bag, swung it over her shoulder, and they both headed toward the nearby village.

Heroes Of The Green City Chapter 5: When Bad Summonings Happen To Bad People

Liz finished up with the candles as the servants turned down the oil lamps. She had to admit this was a pretty good setup. The mansion was huge, almost as big as a palace. The room was filled with large cushions and couches. Ornate carpets and old paintings lined the walls. It was as if a master interior decorator had been given an unlimited budget and given the command, “Make this place cozy as is possible under the laws of physics.”

Lord Bindlesmith had built the place on a hill overlooking the river and the town below. The room she was in had huge windows and a spectacular view. She could see the lights of the city. She couldn’t make them out from this distance but she knew the streets were lined with signs and lanterns lit up with cheap magic that had to be recharged every few hours. There were scores of restaurants, taverns, games and other attractions, drawing all sorts (and their money) from the river.

She’d heard the stories before coming here, but seeing it was another thing entirely. Riverside was loaded. Half the trade on the continent was now happening on giant boats going back and forth along the river, and Riverside was uniquely situated to benefit from all that new commerce.

When she arrived, she’d cased the town the same way a thief cases a jewelry store. She soon learned about people like Lord Bindlesmith. Bindlesmith was one of those assholes who’d stumbled into business success. Just some dumb merchant who’d been in the right place at the right time.

In the last few years he’d gone from making a humble but adequate living for his extended family to becoming one of the “City Fathers”. Buying a noble title was almost an afterthought. It was just the sort of thing one did, old chum. All it meant to Liz was that there was a giant lighted sign that only she (and her fellow con artists) saw hovering above the man’s head. Giant letters on that  said “Big Money Easy Mark”. Once she’d put her plan together she had to stop herself drooling like a wolf who’d just found a fat juicy sheep with a bum leg caught upside down on a thorn bush.

Liz quickly set herself up as a fortune teller and guru along one of those busy streets. It helped that she had a little talent in that area, but her greater talent lay in telling her customers what they wanted to hear. As her reputation grew, so did her fees. Soon she turned her business into a church and her repeat customers into the faithful adherents of a new religion.

She’d always thought of religion as a con, and here, finally, she’d be able to see how well it would work. It worked really really well as it turned out. More and more money kept coming in. It had all been so easy. She should have cashed out as soon as the money was good enough for her make a run for it and retire somewhere, somewhere far away.

Why did she think it was a good idea to court investors? She’d just had to have the biggest, most impressive church in town. Had she really thought there’d be not other operators? Hadn’t she already known that the truly impressive scam artists were the “respectable” pillars of their communities? Bankers, lawyers, religious leaders, these movers and shakers were the true masters of the con.

The inner circle started to arrive. They solemnly seated themselves near the altar. Liz stood behind it with the damn book opened before her. Her hood covered her face giving the impression she was deep in prayer. In fact she was trying to figure out if there was still a way to get out of this mess or if Edmund was right and it’d all be worth it.

Edmund Duke entered the room. He took his place as subdeacon next to Liz. He’d been a new arrival too. He’d never talked about his past but she got the impression that he’d been a businessman somewhere far away. Just like her, he’d cased the town, but he’d brought his money, accountants, and lawyers with him. He’d come to “invest”.

She’d put up a good fight, but she was outclassed. It was Edmund’s church now. What suprised her was that he didn’t want her gone.

“I want to hire you,” he’d said.

“Are you serious?” This was not how these things usually went, at least in the circles she was used to.

“I realize this might be hard for you,” he’d said, “After all, this is your con, but you’ve been bested. It’s as simple as that. However, you’re extremely intelligent and resourceful. I’d rather have you as a business partner than a bitter rival. If we work together we can both make a great deal of money. What do you say?”

“It was your con”, he’d said it with a professional appreciation she hadn’t expected.

Now she was basically an employee. Of course, she reasoned at the time, Edmund was right. So what if she wasn’t in charge anymore? She was still the figurehead to the organization, the face of the religion, and when Edmund and he cronies took over, the clientele continued to go more and more upscale, and he’d come up with so many more ways to extract money.

This little event was one of those ideas. The highest paying clients were given special treatment, titles like “high deacon”, or “priestess”, and promised “special knowledge into the inner workings of the church and an opportunity to bring about a new era of peace and prosperity for all”

In reality it was a simple insurance scam.

*****

Derek woke up sweating. He felt sick. As he sat up he checked his phone. 5 am, way too early. He needed something to soothe his stomach. Perhaps some of the pink stuff and then an herbal tea.

*****

It’d been the idea of one of Edmund’s goons, one of his lawyers or accountants, Liz forgot which. All we needed to do was summon a creature from another realm and let it loose in a certain part of the city, collect the insurance, and make a killing from the rebuilding contracts. It was a standard play, and because Wizards and Witches were rare in this part of the world, the monster would be considered an act of nature.

Liz had laughed out loud. “You all might know money and the law, but you don’t know magic. Summoning is extremely difficult and takes a lot of energy. I can’t do it.”

“Is there anyone who could?” asked Edmund.

She tried again to communicate just how ridiculous they were being, “Look, I know there are all these stories you learn as a kid about the champions coming to our world in times of crisis–”

“Like Dorothy!” interjected another of the silly men.

*****

The medicine wasn’t helping. Nor the tea. Derek was burning up. This didn’t feel like an ordinary cold or flu. For one thing, his mind was clear, clearer than it normally is. Nothing like a fever to make your head feel fuzzy.

It was almost as if-

*****

After a lot of explaining and assurances Liz thought she’d convince Edmund’s entourage that summoning a creature from another world wasn’t practical. At least they had shut up about it.

Then Edmund found that damn book.

“Liz, you’re our magical expert, what do you make of this?” he asked as he handed it over, it was old, bound in leather, and had a single world scorched on the front cover.

“Chaos” she said out loud. She opened it up and had a look inside. “Looks like a hand written journal.”

*******

Derek was extremely dizzy. Carefully he got on his hands and knees before he fell and hurt himself. Just need to reach the phone, call an ambulance, he thought to himself. It was getting worse. The world was spinning.

*******

Things moved fast after that. The Chaos Book was a journal alright. It was written by a wizard a few hundred years ago. Edmund bought it at an auction along with a number of other rare antiques. “You never know when you might hit the jackpot,” he’d said. Well, he’d hit it alright.

Dorothy Gale was the first recorded visitor to our world. She and Ozma ruled The Green City, then called The Emerald City, for a hundred years. Their remains were still in The Green Palace. History records that after Dorothy, every few centuries or so a new champion would come from another world and help this world in a time of need.

The reality was a little less fantastic. It seemed that every half-century or so, things or beings from other worlds would arrive in this one. Most of them didn’t change the course of history. Occasionally some did. These champions seemed to have been extraordinary people to begin with, but the journey had the potential to change what came here, and sometimes the champions would come with extraordinary abilities they didn’t have before.

A whole field of study was devoted to figuring out how the whole thing worked. It was rumored some exceptional witches and wizards throughout history had learned how to intentionally summon beings for good and ill, but nothing has ever been confirmed.

*****

Derek tried crying out for help. No one was likely to be around, but what else was he supposed to do? He couldn’t see anything when he opened his eyes. It was all just a blur. He wasn’t sure if he could feel the floor anymore.

*****

At first, everyone was excited, even Liz. She’d figured out how to summon things and creatures from other worlds with little to no cost. All it took was a few volunteers and someone to guide the summoning. The more volunteers the bigger the creature she could summon. Why hadn’t this discovery changed the world?

But then things started to go wrong.

*****

Everything was wrong. Derek could hear his screams echoing as if he was in a tunnel. He could hear something like the waves of the ocean during a storm. Or was it like the sound of a massive wildfire? A roaring and rumbling. The spinning continued. He was hurtling through the tunnel, spinning wildly. His mind and body were on fire.

******

“How is he?” asked edmund. Steven was burned and scratched, nearly beyond recognition. He’d been made as comfortable as possible in his bed at home. Caretakers attended to him around the clock. Steven had been a founding member of Edmund’s little group. A skilled and well respected lawyer from Boq, he’d been the one who wrote the contract Liz had foolishly signed. The contract that, eventually, allowed Edmund to take over her operation.

She’d wished him harm on more than one occasion but hadn’t really meant it. Did I do this unintentionally, she wondered to herself? Magic requires the right mindset. Get your head right or bad things can happen. She’d always taken professional pride and made sure that what magic she did do, she did well and safely. As easy as all this new summoning magic was to perform, she didn’t understand it as well as, say, seeing into the future, becoming invisible, or throwing her voice. She’d been a con artist first and a wizard second. She was operating outside her expertise.

“How do you think he is?” Edmund raised an eyebrow. Liz’s tone was sharper than she’d meant it. “Look Edmund, what are we even doing this for? We have plenty of money.”

“No such thing,” he replied, smiling in what he probably thought was a friendly way. To Liz, it seemed incongruous that, shark that he was, his teeth weren’t pointed like one.

“Look, this is getting dangerous–”

“You’ve already brought up your concerns.”

The threat behind those words were plain enough to Liz, even if the actual thing being threatened wasn’t specified. At the very least she’d be out a lot of money if she walked, but (and she couldn’t be sure about this) it seemed like more than money might be on the line for her. He struck her as the sort that could make uncooperative people disappear if he wanted to.

****

How long had he been shooting through this tunnel? Derek could only see flashing light and streaming images he couldn’t comprehend. Everything was going to fast. One moment it was too hot to bear, then he felt as if he were freezing in the vacuum of space.

*****

Everyone was here now. Twenty people in robes sat in front of Liz and Edmund. They chanted. Liz started speaking an incantation from the book. Time seemed to split apart at the seams. Parts of the incantation seemed to be spoken over other parts. Liz had many mouths at once, or one mouth saying each part in different moments, but those moments had split and now overlapped.

*****

An eternity later a pinprick of steady light appeared in the swirling vortex. It seemed miles and miles away. Derek, no longer capable of rational thought, screamed in anger at the red dot and tried to move in its direction. What remained of his mind and body began to hurl toward it as if it were a black hole sucking him in.

*****

The chanting and weird magical effects became overwhelming. Liz was having trouble keeping her mind clear. The plan was to direct the thing into a particular part of the city and command it to destroy, then she’d destroy it before it caused any more trouble. She thought she knew what had gone wrong before and had cast controlling magic on the room. She also had several spells ready for the creature coming through.

Before the ritual started, she was relatively sure the spells would hold, but now things seemed wrong, more wrong than ever. She could hear the screaming of a… it was a man… No, it was a champion. She could feel it. A champion, not a creature, was coming through. She tried to move. Tried to scream. Edmund had her by the arms and mouth. She struggled against him.

“What–” he started to say angrily until the familiar red ball of the gate flare opened in front of them with of force he didn’t anticipate. Edmund and Liz were knocked down. Candles fell. Drapes caught fire. The champion was here. He was on fire.

*****

Derek could feel the wind on his face as he came to. He could smell the smoke. The wind was cold but it was otherwise hot. He could smell smoke and hear a roaring fire. It felt out of control and surrounded him. He woke up with a start in an unfamiliar room. He looked around and saw strangely dressed figures, they were burnt or otherwise injured in a way that left no doubt they were dead. Some of the bodies were on fire like the rest of the room.

A figure was on her hand and knees, moaning as if injured. A man lay next to her with a metal object sticking out of his face.

Despite everything that just happened Derek’s mind felt clear. It felt unnaturally clear, as if he’d been drugged his entire life and was just now coming out of it. He rushed to the figure to see if they were injured.

“Get away from me!” She screamed.

“I mean you no harm.” he said cooly. The fire was intensifying. “Is there anyone else in the building besides you and I?”

She looked confused, but said “I think they’ve all gone.”

Derek scanned the room. Where might an injured person be hidden? What about other rooms? He heard the roof make an alarming cracking noise. No time. He asked the woman “Can you walk?”

“You broke my leg,” she said, groaning in pain. With all that had just happened to him he couldn’t discount the possibility that he had. Maybe he’d killed these people or started the fire. He could remember being sick, being in pain, then being extremely angry. The swirling images in his memory seemed like a dream or, perhaps, a suppressed memory.

“I’m sorry, but I hope you can see I’ve come to my senses. I promise I have no intention of harming you or anyone.” He reached out to her. She accepted his assistance.

“Never thought I’d ever meet a champion,” she mumbled as they hurried out to safety as soon as possible. Derek heard her but didn’t know what she meant. He could hear shouting in the distance. He couldn’t tell if the voices were of people running away from the fire or people coming to fight it.

Heroes Of The Green City Chapter 4: Love And Sex

“Here, try some of this.” John said, offering the beer bottle to Alex. They were close. Alex could smell him, feel his warmth.

Jane had introduced John to Alex a few days ago. Jane and Alex had been going to the philosophy discussion group together for most of the semester. Even though Jane was a total Ayn-Rander she wasn’t an asshole about it, and was honestly more open to talk about Marxism than Alex’s more liberal friends.

Alex liked her. They took the chance and told Jane they didn’t really feel like a guy or a girl. After that Jane had helped Alex find more girly clothes, showed them how to put on makeup and do their hair, all kinds of girly stuff.

Alex’s dad hadn’t learned about any of this so far (they honestly didn’t know how he’d react) and Jane lived in an apartment with a bunch of other weirdo slackers who welcomed Alex as if they were a long lost member of their self-described clan of freaks.

One night Alex and Jane were having an honest to god sleepover (pajamas and everything). While Jane was doing Alex’s nails she asked if Alex was attracted to men.

“Jane, I’m 21 and queer. I’m horny all the time and I want to fuck everyone.” Alex replied.

Suddenly shy, she started to focus more on Alex’s nails than seemed necessary. Quietly she asked if that included her. Alex said it did.

They both grinned and blushed at the same time. Then they talked a few things out before they fucked. It’s best to do that sort of thing when you’re polyamorous.

Afterward they both fixed their makeup, played dress up, and finished off the homemade apple pie in the fridge while snuggling and watching dumb movies.

Another night, another party, this time in an actual house instead of an apartment. Lots of people. Lots of queers of every description. Alex wasn’t the only weirdo wearing makeup.

Jane came up to Alex and kissed them full on the mouth. “I want to introduce you to someone. He’s why I asked if you’re into guys.” Alex nodded enthusiastically.

Alex could tell John was gay. He was wearing a normal t-shirt and jeans, but there was something about his clothes, his hair, his clean shaven face. He looked too good, to well-groomed, to be straight.

Also his t-shirt was a big clue. It was baby blue and had a rainbow and clouds printed on it. Just below the rainbow and clouds, happy letters spelled the word “faggot”. There were pink and yellow bunnies hopping around on the clouds.

Alex was instantly smitten but worried were they too girly for him.

No, as it turned out. John seemed very happy to date someone who felt they weren’t either gender, although he admitted he didn’t fully understand it. Alex said that was ok because they didn’t really understand it themselves.

Alex was being a little less cautious now. One night, most of the clan had decided to go out to eat. Alex, with Jane’s help, had finally gotten the courage to dye their hair an unnatural pink-burgundy. They were wearing their hello kitty bracelet, had painted their nails, and were wearing their Care Bears shirt.

Otherwise Alex was dressing “normal” which, for them, meant their green chuck Taylors, baggy purple jeans, and their red hoodie with the smiley face on the back.

John had asked if the smiley face was because of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. Alex nearly kissed him full on the mouth right there in the restaurant.

As it was they were both sitting awfully close to each other for a public place. Jane was sitting on the other side of Alex, beside herself with glee. Jane thought Alex and John looked so cute together. John told Jane and Alex he still felt a little awkward about the whole poly thing and kept having to tell himself that they weren’t cheating and hurting Jane.

Perhaps incautiously, Alex made a point to hold both John and Jane’s hands as a way of confirming this was all above board and no one was being hurt.

At some point the conversation went to beer. It turns out John was super into beer and had started brewing some of his own. He knew all about the different kinds of beer out there and could explain to you what an ale was or why most beer had hops in it.

“How very dad of you,” teased Jane.

“I’ve tried a few beers, but then I discovered cider and other fruity drinks. I was like, ‘oh, you can drink alcohol and not have it taste like shit.’” said Alex.

John grinned at this “I don’t want to tell you you have to drink beer,” he replied, “but there might be some beers you like. Here, try some of this.” He offered the bottle to Alex and Jane.

Alex took a swig and made a face. Jane drank some and said they liked it. “I almost wanna say you’re both faking. Beer tastes terrible.” joked Alex. They stuck their tongue out to emphasize the point.

That night Alex and John had sex while Jane played video games with the parts of the clan that weren’t already asleep. After a while Alex and John came out of the bedroom and played video games too.

A few hours later John had to go home. They promised to call each other the next day. Jane and Alex fell asleep in each other’s arms on the couch.

Video game music played as they slept. The cartoon skunk Alex had been playing just stood there for a bit, scratching himself, looking bored. Eventually the skunk laid down and started sleeping. Cartoon z’s streamed out of his head as he snored.

Heroes Of The Green City Chapter 3: Sotu and Vello

Vello slammed their bedroom door open. Sotu woke up with a start. Sotu wondered if he could ever get Vello to stop doing that.

“We’re going on a trip!” barked Vello as he started rummaging through their drawers for clothes and other essentials. He urgently put them in a bag, then turned to Sotu and asked “How soon can you get ready?” Sotu had been about to complain about the door slamming habit but stopped.

The wizard, who normally looked imposing, powerful and wise, now just looked like a scared old man in a silly pointy hat. It was shocking.

Vello mistook Sotu’s look of concern for annoyance. He was momentarily confused, then said, “Look love, I’m sorry I burst in again, but this is important. The fate of our world might hang in the balance.”

“I’m not annoyed, I can tell you’re scared.” Sotu replied, getting out of bed, reaching out to Vello and embracing him in one fluid motion. He quickly kissed Vello, said “I’ll be ready in 15 minutes”, and rushed off.

******

It actually took Vello half an hour. He kept forgetting how much harder everything was. But he finally had himself and his gear loaded in the cart and ready to go.

Vello never complained about how long Sotu took to do things any more. Back when they were both young it seemed complaining about how slow and lazy Sotu was was about half of all their conversations. It was Vello’s awkward way of flirting.

Sotu had ahold of their two giant dragonfly’s reins and was ready to go just as soon as Vello started the fire and filled up the balloon.

They were in the air and traveling at top air speed less than an hour after Vello had slammed open their bedroom door.

“What’s this all about?” Sotu asked loudly. The wind whipping around them as they flew meant they had to raise their voices to just a few notches below shouting level.

Vello replied, “A few hours ago I received a dire vision of the future. I saw vast armies of creatures of a kind I’d never seen before, burning the land and enslaving everyone in this world.”

“I thought you didn’t do that sort of thing, seeing into the future I mean.”

“I’m not a seer, no, but any competent magic user can see obvious things in the future or the past. Especially if it’s a recent event or unhidden.”

“Is this invasion happening soon then?”

“Soon enough. We’ve probably got something like 1 to 2 years. Normally I can’t see that far ahead, but this… this vision was different. It’s as though a message was intentionally sent to the past to warn anyone who had the ability to listen.”

“If someone sent this vision intentionally couldn’t it be a trick? Maybe there’s no invasion coming and these creatures are potential friends? Maybe people that need help?”

“It’s definitely possible. That’s why we’re going to see Jenny.”

Sotu tensed up at the name, not because he was afraid of or didn’t like Jenny, quite the opposite in fact, but because Vello and Jenny had… A History. When a series of disagreements, arguments, and plain old shouting matches lasted over half a century, the capital letters and ellipses were justified.

But they both knew Jenny knew things Vello didn’t. She saw through the eyes of the creatures of the world. She listened to the mountains and understood the language the sky spoke, achievements both Jenny and Vello were pretty sure were unprecedented.

In the same way she listened to trees, rocks, and birds, she’d learned to listen to the past and the future. In fact, she often spoke about events, places, and even concepts as if they were living creatures. When someone like Jenny talked that way, you didn’t dismiss the idea out of hand.

Jenny could also see the past and the future through the context of those times. She could see things the way people from the past would have understood them and how people from the future will come to understand them.

One of the consequences of this was that she could see the present from the point of view of future generations.

Few things look good from that perspective.

The future, as you might expect, was more than a little embarrassed by how their ancestors thought and acted in the past, how backward they had been, or rather how backward everyone is now.

Jenny had taken on many, but certainly not all, of the attitudes of future historians toward her own time. She wasn’t quiet when someone said something cruel about marginalized groups no one knew existed (except, of course those groups themselves) or did something the future would consider unethical but was, at this moment in time, considered normal or even polite behavior.

This did not make her popular at social gatherings.

Of course Vellos had never, ever, been popular at social gatherings, which is probably why he and Jenny had gotten along famously, at least at first. But, as time went on, a fundamental disagreement in their world views began to show itself.

Vello tended to favor a direct approach to things. See some poor people, get them some money. A tyrant has taken over a nation? Depose that motherfucker.

While Jenny respected this in Vello, she thought sometimes this lead him to rash actions. The phrase “unintended consequences” was spoken more and more frequently during their ever more frequent arguments. To the despair of both parties, eventually their friendship fell apart.

But they still sometimes worked together if a situation was too much for either of them to handle, and did this ever qualify.

Vello was deep in thought as Votu landed near Jenny’s house. She’d already laid out tea and honest-to-goodness crumpets on her outdoor table. You don’t really have to announce your arrival to a seer.