“Looks Like We’re Off the Deep End Together”
I wake up in the same spot where I collapsed. It seems like everyone who was there before has been reduced to ash and bone, except… I can see a man near me getting to his feet. He’s got dark skin and short black hair, and his sweater big hole in the back with singed edges.
“You’re alive,” he says, surprised. Does he recognize me or is he just surprised to see anyone alive at all?
“What’s just happened?”
“No clue,” he says, paying very little attention to me and glancing all around. His gaze finds another survivor, who I turn to look at as well. She has pink hair.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” the man says.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
“I think so,” she answers.
“Out of here where?” I ask, because I can see some sort of shimmer all around us that makes me wonder if we’re trapped inside something. It looks like we’re inside a bubble and there’s water all around.
“Anywhere but there,” the man says, pointing. There’s something there, where he points, something from a nightmare. It’s a creature with knobbly horns and sooty, tightly stretched skin, and it’s holding a lantern.
I break into a panicked giggle fit. It’s all too ridiculous. I must be asleep! I can’t catch my breath.
“Would you stop laughing!” the man snaps at me.
“I can’t help it,” I say, but I pull myself together anyway.
We run. We go right through what I thought was a bubble… it must have been heat haze. I must be just hallucinating. I don’t feel so well. The man is still running.
“Wait,” I say.
“What.” he says. I don’t know what to say. I just don’t want to split up. If he and the girl with pink hair leave me, I’ll never be able to ask what happened. I’ll have to trust my own memory and right now I don’t think I can do that.
“Nevermind,” I say.
“Look,” he says. “I’m getting out of here. You can come with me or not.” He runs off.
“Do you know what just happened?” the girl with the pink hair asks.
“No,” I say. “But maybe he’s right and we should get out of here.”
Pink Hair leads us to a small apartment with curved ceilings. It’s really unusual, but it feels safe and close. Like a hobbit hole. I am grateful that they both think we should talk. They can tell me what they saw. We can compare notes.
“Does anyone have any medical knowledge?” the man asks before anything else. Pink hair asks him if he’s hurt.
“I don’t know. Adrenaline,” he says.
“I can check it out,” she says. I babble a bit about not being able to help or know what to do, which is obviously of no help to anyone, but, well, I don’t know what to do.
“You could make some tea,” Pink Hair offers. “I’m Lea by the way.”
“Me too!” I say.
“I’m Leo,” says the man, taking off his shirt and letting Lea examine his back.
“You’re fine,” she concludes. “You have some new skin there…”
“I’m dreaming,” he insists.
“That’s one of my hypotheses…” she says.
She pinches him. I make tea.
“Did you get hit too?” Lea asks me.
“I think so,” I say, handing a cup of tea first to Lea, then to Leo. It’s all a blur in my mind. Did the star hit me?
“I saw you get hit,” Leo verifies.
“The heart?” Lea asks.
“I think so,” I repeat, rubbing the tender raw skin over my heart. “It aches a bit.”
Lea shows her back. She has a hole in her shirt and new skin beneath it, the same as Leo. I don’t have a hole in my outfit, but my chest was bare. I think I was hit right in the heart.
“What now?” Lea asks.
“We might as well have a tea party. That’s what you do in dreams, isn’t it?” Leo says.
I take a moment to sip my tea and just watch them. When I meet new people I always like to get a feel for them, and I have a feeling these people are going to be very important to me, so I want to get my impressions out of the way as quickly as possible so we can get to more important things.
Leo: I can tell from the way he moved so quickly and easily in the face of calamity that he’s very strong and self sufficient. He has a super friendly face and his presence is stable and safe. I’m glad to be with someone like this in this kind of situation. He’s keeping his head really well. He may have snapped at me when I was having a giggle fit, but he obviously wants to make sure Lea and I are safe. I feel sure I can trust him.
Lea: I’ve already mentioned her pink hair, and it’s certainly the most immediately obvious thing when you see her, but now that she’s spoken there’s something else important: She’s American! She’s got that classic American tan and an engaging, warm American smile. Right now she’s definitely shaken up, for which I can hardly blame her, but she wants to get to the bottom of this as much as I do (already forming Hypotheses, right!?). I feel sure she’ll move past her fear and keep her head just as well as Leo. I sure haven’t seen any giggle fits out of her. She’s as impressed by Leo’s level head as I am and just seems to generally really like me. Personally, I think I couldn’t have woken up with two more competent, confident people and I’m doubly happy that they seem to want the best for me.
When we’re sure no one’s bleeding internally or externally, we discuss what we saw. We all agree on every point: The sky started burning away, a star came falling down and exploded like a firework, pieces flew everywhere and when they hit people the people turned to ash. Except that it hit us too and we survived.
I tell them about the little girl and what she said about the pole star falling. They all have the same flowers from her too. I can’t believe it’s a coincidence. Leo wonders if that’s why we all survived, and I secretly agree with him, but Lea says that’s dream logic. Leo asks her to punch him.
She punches him in the stomach. It looks like it hurts a lot. She seems ashamed.
“You pack a punch for a little girl,” he says.
“I’m stronger than I look,” she says sheepishly. She actually looks a little strong to me. She has thin, but tough muscles. She’s taller than I am, but then, so is everyone, so I’m sure she looks small to him.
“Yes,” he says gasping for breath. “You could say that.”
Suddenly I remember about Paternoster! Everyone keeps saying this was like a star fell, and he WAS talking about stars. And hiding something. I don’t know if he could have possibly meant this, but it’s worth a try, right? Right?
Lea and Leo think so too.
On the way to Paternosters, Leo suggests we think of a nickname for one of us so he doesn’t have to keep calling us both Lia. I tell him my real name is Julia.
“Jules, then,” he says. It makes me feel like we’re close that he jumps straight to my other favourite nickname.
“I’m sorry for stealing your name,” Lea says.
“That’s fine!” I say. “I have a lot of names!”
“I have just the one…” she says. I can tell she’s lying, but that must mean she really hates her other name, so I don’t push it.
Paternoster wants us to leave, but the moment someone mentions that we were at the site of the explosion he lets us in and invites us upstairs. He goes from ‘get out of here, I don’t have time’ to ‘really? could it be?’ in the blink of an eye. He definitely knows something. He checks our palms and then starts explaining, bit by bit.
Here are the things that he tells us: “So you can see the second sky, all of you? You’ve jumped off the deep end, I can tell you that much.”
“You didn’t die because you were new to life. Your spirits were newly incarnated. Your spirits are new.”
“The star burnt out your hearts and left itself in its place. Some say it is because you are free of karma and the star burns away all karma. You, having none are free from it. What is known is that it doesn’t happen very often and this would be the third star in a week.”
Lea mentions the monster thing that appeared.
“It was a scavenger,” Paternoster says once he’s pieced together a description from Lea and Leo’s juxtaposed explanations. “Scavenging for bits and pieces of life. But you shouldn’t have been able to see it. You said you were in a bubble? Like an ethereal veil? You were thrown into the astral. London must have done that.”
“We’ll need to get you some mana soon,” he goes on, as if we’re all following perfectly well. “You are probably the most valuable thing on the planet right now. You have a piece of the star. The various societies and cults will all vie for you, not to mention the other mages and exalts will all try and win your favor or your power. You won’t age and destroying you is difficult. You can die, but if you have mana, you’ll come back. Mana is a naturally coalescing energy in the world that is drawn to and colored by several things in this world. There are 12 or 13 known. When the star falls and bonds with you it kills you in the process but it has enough mana to regenerate you.”
Leo starts talking about being shot in the head and regenerating and I’m wondering why people would shoot us in the head! I wasn’t immortal yesterday, and I was perfectly fine. Do I need to worry about being shot in the head now?! But Leo tells me he will make sure we don’t get shot, even if someone tries to shoot us. I wonder if he has been shot at before.
I’m feeling massively overwhelmed by information. Paternoster almost sounds like he’s talking to himself and we just happen to be catching important bits here and there. I’m wondering if it would have been better just to muck about for a bit and get used to things instead of coming to paternoster. He knows so much but he’s dumping so much on us all at once that I wonder if it couldn’t have waited until tomorrow.
Like he read my mind, Paternoster says he’s got two camp beds and a sofa, that we’ll need fresh clothes, etc. I start to relax a little. We’ll have time to talk, and we can get clothes first.
Paternoster says he’ll cook dinner while Leo and I go out to get new clothes from our places.
The magic circle is locked. I knock and start looking around before I remember I have a key.
“I do live here, no worries,” I tell Leo, trying to make light, but he doesn’t seem too amused. The place is empty. I almost forget that that’s normal for the middle of the day because I am so freaked out.
I pack almost everything I own into my purse, including my handcuffs, disguise kit, and binoculars, and some extra clothes. Of course, I change into something normal too, but it looks like we’re staying over at Paternoster’s for at least one night… Leo’s texting frantically. He brings me to his apartment and invites me in. I go with him. He lives in a big apartment complex. His texts look important. I want to read over his shoulder, but I’m too short. He tells me not to rummage through anything. The reason? There may be traps. He’s not even lying. He packs up some clothes too. And a sleeping bag. Paternoster said he had a couch and two cots, but a sleeping bag can’t hurt. Leo checks a huge wad of money trapped under the sink. He makes sure it’s there and then leaves, saying nothing about it. I don’t ask. I wonder if that’s why he’s been texting all day.
Dinner is ready when we get back, shepherd’s pie. It’s delicious, if only because I am starving and it is comforting and home-cooked. Much better than burnt toast.
“Well girls,” Leo says. “It seems we’re off the deep end together.”
Leo takes the first camp bed and Lea asks if I’d prefer the camp bed or the couch. I take the couch. Leo smiles. I think he wanted me to have a comfortable place to sleep. He’s so caring, even though he seems very tough and stoic. And even though his apartment is full of mouse traps.
No one wants to go to bed. Lea and Leo start small talking about where they’re from and what brought them to London. I curl up on the couch and listen. I’m very bad at small talk. Lea’s voice is very soothing to listen to. I bet she sings beautifully. I suddenly want to ask if she’ll sing me a lullaby, but that would be a very strange request with no lead-up.
Paternoster says it will be a long day tomorrow. I wonder how it could be longer than today.