Fundamentals of Foreshadowing
It was weird to be in this position again. The past few years we’d tried to keep things calm and quiet. That’s not to say it had really been easy, of course. Trouble still followed me around like ducklings behind a mother… duck? Regardless, I still had a tendency to waddle into situations I couldn’t quickly waddle my way out of, but Kazumi had gotten a lot better at getting me out of it. All I had to do was stay out of situations where I was alone in a room with pretty much anyone and everything would go fine.
But now it was all becoming so un-real again. I’d adjusted to life here, not really missing much from back on Earth. Gods, even thinking the words ‘back on Earth’ felt surreal. It only ever really came up when Sally and I reminisced, and these days we mostly talked about our early days here.
“Speak of the devil,” I mumbled as I looked out the window to see the horned girl land in our yard, wings kicking up snow in the sunlit yard while she gently put down John Mustrum. The boy had put on some muscle in the last few years. It was weird to see a buff wizard, but he made it work, and Elena certainly didn’t mind. Kazumi looked up from the maps she’d been studying.
“Nothing. Saying I haven’t used in a while. Sally’s here, by the way. She’s brought us a John-shaped present.”
“Is it John?”
“Yes.” I chewed my tongue for a moment. John was the most knowledgeable magic-user we knew. Sure, Elena could probably blow up a mountain and I… well, the actual limits of what I could do were still a bit nebulous, and I wasn’t keen to find out. But John actually knew what he was doing. He would probably be able to shine some light on what was going on.
Kazumi got up and stretched, hissing softly and I couldn’t help but smile. Not only was she… well… uh… making words hard when she stretched, her little hisses were adorable. She caught my eye and smiled in that way that made me weak in the knees.
“You’re precious,” she hissed, stretching out her s’s. Esses? ‘S’s? Whatever it was, I blushed. Like it was the first time, every time. “Especially when you go all weak like that.”
“Mmnngk,” I rebutted with my usual eloquence as she wrapped herself around me, then finally she planted a kiss on my forehead, because, sure, nine feet tall and she still managed to make me feel tiny.
“I love you, Liz,” she purred.
“Love you, Kaz,” I responded and nudged her with my nose. The size difference made actually making out hard (not that I would ever have such obscene thoughts, obviously. Just handholding), but we had other ways to express affection.
“I swear, you two. Like a couple of teenagers,” Sally said as she stepped inside, shrugging snow off her jacket. Even though the snow-storm had let up, it was apparently still snowing a ways out. Cold and heat didn’t bother her much, but John was practically blue, waving us a very quick hello before shuffling to the fireplace to warm his hands. “So, what’s up?” she asked as she worked off her coat, unhooking the straps to make it fit over her wings.
“Lillian’s here,” Kazumi said. “Sleeping in the second guest room right now.”
“Walked here all the way from the coast in one go, if you can believe it,” I said with an exasperated look. While, fair, technically I wasn’t always the best at taking care of myself either, I did seem to be surrounded by people who had all the self-preservation of a thirsty sugarcube.
“I do,” Sally said. “Love her, that weirdo. News from down there?”
“Yes,” Kazumi said, taking John’s coat off him as I went to the adjacent kitchen to set some tea. “Bad news.” I focused on the simple task of boiling tea the old-fashioned way -- I didn’t like relying on magic too much -- while Kazumi explained everything. Sally let out the appropriate gasps, but John stayed remarkably quiet, listening intently. I carefully picked up the smaller cups (for the smaller people, I had my own giant mug. It said “world’s best dragon” on it) and took them to the living room. Kazumi was just finishing up. “So yeah, according to Elena, this is world-ending stuff. We’re going to try to see what Lisa thinks about this soon, if we can find a way to easily make our way back here.”
“I have questions,” Sally said, raising her hand as she gratefully took the empty cup and tried to drink from it. The look on her face was pure betrayal until I also handed her the kettle as well and she beamed a big smile up at me. Always a delight when she was around. “Anyway, first off, end of the world?”
“Yes,” John said darkly as he accepted his own cup. “I’ll have to check a few things, but Elena is probably right.”
“Okay, that’s bad. Second, asking Lisa? How could she help?”
“Well, she used to be the closest thing this world had to a world-ending threat, right? She might know more than most,” I said. “Besides, it’s been too long since we’ve seen them.” The shared dreams we communicated through had fallen off dramatically after our first year in these ‘new’ worlds.
“Fair point. Last question: ‘easily make your way back’? What does that mean?”
“When we first got here, and Daniel and the old Queen got bopped to Earth,” I explained, “we figured out it was actually pretty easy to send people home. Like snapping a rubber band.” Sally nodded, blowing on her tea.
“I remember, I was there,” she said. “No need for the exposition.”
“Fair,” I said, looking at nobody in particular. “But it apparently would take a lot more to actually cross to a world you’re not originally from. It’d be easy to get you and myself to Earth, but might take a lot of power to get us back here.”
“Would have,” John said ominously. We all looked at him and he shrugged. “Not anymore.” He stuck his hand into empty space and pulled a clementine out of it. I blinked.
“Is that like… a magic--” Well, of course it was magic. “Where’s that from?”
He shrugged, but his eyes were heavy and tired. “I don’t even know. Not this world.”
“That’s probably bad, right?” Sally asked. John nodded, then dug around his pockets.
“One last thing,” he said, and retrieved a coin. “Call it.”
“Heads,” Kazumi said.
“Wrong.” He flipped the coin and it landed on its side. “Learned that from someone I really looked up to when I was younger.”
“You’re like twenty-five,” Sally said with a playful sneer.
“Twenty-six,” John corrected her, and then tossed up a handful of coins. They all landed on their edges. The ones that made it to the ground anyway.
“Huh,” I said. “That’s not supposed to happen.” Kazumi chuckled as she looked at me. Despite the gravity of the situation, it was hard not to sort of appreciate the absurdity.
“I’ve never seen a dollar try to smother another,” Sally said.
“I don’t think it’s trying to… uh…” John said, blushing as the two coins rubbed against each other furiously. Sally burst out laughing. John cleared his throat. “The point is that the walls between reality and… well, everything really… they’re getting kind of thin. Magic is seeping in, in a bad way.” He sighed. “Asking the Dem-- the old Queen is probably a good idea. I wouldn’t know where to start.”
“Hi, John,” Elena said, standing drowsily in the doorway. Once upon a time, she’d been a fire-mage of ill repute, the ends of her hair permanently singed and glowing, eyes like burning coals. It was safe to say she’d mellowed out, and hard to be too intimidated as she stood there, wrapped in a comforter. Not to mention the big goofy smile she had on her face.
“Elena!” John immediately lit up and jumped out of his chair, spilling tea on himself and not caring one little bit as he closed the distance. I let the two of them snuggle for a bit. It’s not like Kazumi and I were any better whenever we were separated for more than a few days, and John had been up in the old castle for almost a week, scrounging up whatever old texts were still stored there.
I turned to Kazumi and Sally, cradling my giant mug. “So yeah. It’s looking like we might need some help. It’s been a while since we’ve had a capital-A Adventure.” I immediately regretted my choice of words. Our first and last adventure had included the death of Sabine, partner to both Kazumi and myself. Our attempt to bring her back had failed, although she’d given us her love in a much more literal sense than most people got. “I’m sorry,” I mumbled, feeling my cheeks burn and a lump form in my throat. “I shouldn’t have--”
“You’re fine, love,” Kazumi said. “It’s been half a decade. Not all memories from back then are bad.” She looked at me and Sally sternly. “But nobody dies.”
“We’re just going to Earth,” I said. “After the Deepwood, I don’t think there’s much we can’t handle.” Sally nodded, and then paused.
“We-ell,” she hesitated, “we might have to really stress the importance of looking both ways when crossing the road.” I nodded; she wasn’t wrong. “And escalators.”
“And elevators,” I pointed out, sipping my own tea.
“Maybe airplanes? I don’t know how long we’ll be.”
“And then there’s the, like, little etiquette stuff,” I mused.
“Street food!” Sally suddenly blurted out. “I haven’t had falafel in… oh my god.”
“You’re doing the thing again,” Kazumi said with a little smile and slithered closer. I grinned sheepishly and took her hand in mine.
“The point is that we’ll be fine. We go to Earth, ask Lisa how to fix things. Hells, we bring her and Daniel here, and the most powerful Queen and the great Hero can solve things for us. We can go right back to reading and sending letters.”
“Speaking of which,” Kazumi said, “we got another letter from Anastasia.” Her eyebrows danced up and down in a way that was more interpretive dance than merely suggestive wobbling. Anastasia had been… eager in her correspondence. We’d visited her a few times in the past few years, but since her first term as Prime Minister she hadn’t had as much time. But she had rarely passed up an opportunity to gang up on me with Sally to make me stammer and blush like a schoolgirl.
“Oh?” I asked, innocently. “Did she have anything interesting to say?”
“Oh,” she said. “The usual. Matters of state, seeing how the integration is going with some of the less-represented races, asking me how I feel the Lamia population is handling things.” And then, almost as a footnote: “And she wants to take you to dinner.”
I almost did a spit-take, only barely managing to avoid showering Kazumi in scalding hot nasal tea. After a moment, I managed to catch my breath. “She does? Well, when do we want t--”
“Just you,” Kazumi said with an amused little smile on her lips. “When you’re available.” She looked so damned pleased with herself. I started to stammer.
“I -- but -- and you don’t… mind…?”
“It’s dinner, love,” she said and put a hand on my cheek. “And if there’s more to that, we’ll talk about it.” Her forked tongue tasted the air. “Wouldn’t be the first time.”
“But why would -- what -- how --”
“Read the letter later, love,” she said, kissing me softly. “Let’s focus on the bigger things first. We have to go to another world, which should be doable with John’s help.” She looked at my horns and then at her tail. “And we’ll have to figure out where we put those amulets, or blending in is going to be a trick and a half.”
“Ah,” Sally said, waving dismissively. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”