Crossing a Threshold
It wasn’t quite like putting on an old, now-ill-fitting suit. It was more like wearing a shirt I didn’t know I still had. Sure, Kazumi and I had used magic sometimes to make up the difference between the two of us, but this was very distinctly the same illusion that I’d once worn for my journey across the nation of Wydonia. And it was short. Like, five feet and change. I was almost half my original height, and I wondered how I’d ever managed not being nine feet tall. I looked up at the ceiling.
When we’d first moved in here, years ago, we’d adjusted the whole place for two separate heights. Stairs with smaller steps in between, giant doors with a second handle, two sets of silverware, larger furniture… it had taken us almost a year and a half before everything was really fixed. But I didn’t really look at it from the perspective of a human, not really, not anymore. Neither did Kazumi, for that matter. Her tail accounted for a lot of her body mass, and when she raised up she could easily make up for the height difference. So this was the first time both of us were seeing the house from this angle.
“Ew,” Kazumi said. I giggled and squeezed her hand. It was strange seeing her like this again. She looked largely the same, with all of the non-human bits sort of… magically tucked away. It reminded me a bit of seeing actors playing monsters or aliens without their make-up. Clearly the same person, yet fundamentally different. I’m sure I looked the same to her. She looked me in the eyes and smiled. “You know,” she said, “you do look precious when you’re this small.” A blush reached my face before a thought could enter my brain. “Doubly so when you get all red like that. I haven’t seen you this flustered since the early days.” She paused thoughtfully. “Or when you read that letter from Qu-- sorry, Prime Minister Anastasia.” She nudged my nose with hers. “Can’t say I’d hate seeing more of it.”
“Aa!” I managed to sound a little offended. It was the least I could do.
“Ah-hem,” John said, crossing his arms. “If you’re quite done.”
“Oh, let them have it, John,” Elena said behind him, putting a hand on his arm. “Besides, the two of them and Sally will be out of the house for hours. Who knows what we’ll get up to get our revenge for their shenanigans, affectionate though they might be.”
“Hey! You love our shenanigans!” I put my hands on my hips but it was a lot harder to be taken seriously while huffy when I had to look up at everyone.
“Well… yes,” Elena admitted. “Still, it’s a lot nicer here than in Black’s Reprieve, and it’ll be nice to have the place to ourselves for a while.” Couldn’t fault her that. Sally had accused me of being a cottagecore lesbian several times, and while I hadn’t heard the term before, I’d managed to pick it up by context clues and was not mad about it.
“Let’s get going,” John said. “We’ll keep a portal open on this end, but if you should have trouble finding your way back, just try to link to myself or Elena. The walls are thin now.”
“The walls between what, exactly?” Kazumi asked. It was strange to hear her talk without her slight hissing lisp. I missed it.
“Reality,” Elena said, standing opposite John to let him use her magical reserves.
“And… other things,” John added, waving magical symbols in the air. Blue tendrils of light wove themselves around his hands, his fingertips glowing.
“What other things?” Kazumi asked suspiciously.
“Let’s not find out,” Sally said, smirking, and pulled us both to the growing sphere of nothing in the middle of the room. That wasn’t to say it was just black. Black is just a colour with the brightness turned all the way down. This was a nothing. This was the physical embodiment of that feeling people get when they realize they’ve just shut the front door with their keys still inside. This was a hole falling out of the bottom of reality’s stomach. It was unpleasant. And in the middle of that nothing was a tiny pinprick. “That’s it?” Sally asked. “Why is it a sphere? I was expecting like… a window or something.”
“That’s it,” John confirmed. “And that’s because a hole in a flat plane is a circle. This is a hole in a… space.” Sally perked up.
“Oh! I remember seeing that in…” she paused. “I forgot the name. Fun movie though.”
“Please hurry,” Elena said, the blue tendrils also having lazily wrapped themselves around her arms. “This feels more unpleasant than it looks.” I nodded at her and began to walk to the portal with determination, Kazumi on one side and Sally on the other.
“You know,” the latter said, “I wonder if we’ll have time to pick up a DVD play--”
Reality warped around us in every direction, smeared across my field of vision like expensive-for-the-time eighties special effects. Then the three of us stood in a void of nothing, absolutely still and moving an infinity a second. The pinprick of light in the distance barely changed in size yet was clearly coming closer at a rapid pace. Well, that was an understatement. It was moving at speeds that should be impossible, and it was only because of the sense of ceaseless and motionless momentum that I knew just how fast it was approaching us.
“Um,” I said, and it was trying to speak while submerged in honey. My words seemed to be reaching my ears only after having gotten everywhere else. It was weird to speak with a delay. “I thhhinkk wwwe’rrreeee ggoinnngg a bbbit ffffasssssst,” I managed to squeeze out. There was no time for anything else when the white pinprick became a wall of brightness that crashed into us with all the force of reality, and the three of us were thrown across what appeared to be a street in a sleepy but very clearly modern town.
The thoughts going through my head were as blurry as my environment, although I registered what was very clearly a car. Before I could identify its breed I smacked into it face first and was hit by more than just the car. The realization that that should have hurt, but didn’t, was at the forefront of my mind. After the screeching of tires had come to a halt and the commotion had died down, I stood up, extricating myself from the engine block with the groaning of metal, with a faint but noticeable ringing in my ears.
I wrenched the engine apart with my bare hands a little too easily, and it’s only when I’d raised myself to my full height that I realized that I was at my full height. So much for eight hours of uninterrupted tiny time. I looked around. Sally climbed out of a shop window, stretching her wings, and Kazumi was checking her bruised elbows, ego and tail next to a wall on the other side of the street. We were all okay. We were all also distinctly not human.
As I recovered from what had felt like being slingshot through reality itself, I became aware that the ringing in my ear was actually the car’s occupant, screaming.
“Oh my goodness,” I said as I stepped out of the car’s engine block and around to the driver side, “I am so sorry. Are you okay? Are you hurt? Can you move your neck?” She seemed to be physically okay, although she only answered my question by continuing to scream and fruitlessly turning the key in the ignition. Hold on, that was probably a bad idea. I smelled gasoline. I was covered in the stuff. Probably best not to get that engine running, then. “Ma’am,” I said, kneeling down so I’d stop towering over her. “I’m really sorry about your car’s engine, and I’m going to do what I can to reimburse you, but for now I think we need to get you out of that car, okay? I’m going to open your door.”
“Aaa!” she said as she locked the door. I rolled my eyes and gave the door a slight pull. My intention had been to snap the lock, but even accounting for how much stronger I was than I used to be around cars I was still surprised to find myself holding a whole car door in one hand.
“It’ll buff out!” Sally yelled, clearly having a blast as she ran across the street, narrowly avoiding an ironic collision with a truck. I turned back to the woman who had, at the moment, stopped screaming to catch her breath. She might calm down if we left?
“Look, ma’am, I’m going to leave, but you really do need to get out of that car, okay?”
“Aaaa!” she resumed, and I sighed.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said as Kazumi slithered up. “I can feel Lisa close by, and I think that means she can probably feel something too.”
“You think we caused enough of a ruckus?” Kazumi asked, staring at everything around her. This was her first interaction with this world and it had certainly been… impactful.
“Could go full Dragon,” Sally smirked. “You haven’t pulled out all the stops in a while.”
“Let’s just gooo,” I said, jogging away from the car with the other two close behind me. I wanted to make sure Kazumi especially didn’t get lost. The blaring of sirens was already audible in the distance, and more and more people were stepping out into the street to see what all the noise had been about. I turned into a side-street, and though people were still staring, I had to assume they thought it was a marketing stunt of some kind. We weren’t that far from Lisa’s presence anyway. It was so very faint, just a twinge of magic floating around in her system, but I’d helped put it there years ago. I doubted she even had enough left to do anything with it other than being a beacon for me right now. We rounded one more corner and I felt she was close, inside a building on the other side of the street.
The house itself was both larger and more modest than I’d expect it to be, covered in vines, which looked gorgeous, flowers in bloom, and the old brickwork and wood gave it a very rustic feel. That’s when I realized the seasons back home and here weren’t synched up.
Sally had mentioned the expanded living situation, but really seeing the house, and how it was almost as big as ours back home, it really sank in that you did need a lot of space when you lived with six people. We paused.
“It’s probably best if I go in first,” Sally said. “I know you ‘met’ Lisa at least once or twice, but Daniel is probably going to recognize me best first.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I just blend in too well.” Kazumi playfully bopped me on the arm and stuck out her tongue, and then seemed very relieved that she could once again give me her trademark hiss.
“It’s more about seeing a friendly face, nerd,” Sally said and she started to walk up the front path. “Besides, knowing you, you’d probably punch a hole in the wall trying to ring the bell or something.”
“She’s got a point,” Kazumi said as Sally rang the doorbell. There was that wonderful moment of awkwardness after ringing a bell where I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d gotten the wrong house, despite literal actual magical confirmation, or that maybe they hadn’t heard the bell. Luckily, it was only a few seconds until someone opened the door. He seemed to be a man in his late twenties, with a well-kept beard, short-ish brown hair and piercing blue eyes. He clearly kept in shape, and his shirt was covered in dirt.
“Daniel,” Sally said. “It’s really cool to finally see you in person.” Daniel clearly wanted to respond, his mouth opening and closing like a panicking goldfish. I could relate, although it was a little uncomfortable to see that it was me he was staring at. I gave him a little apologetic smile.
“What,” Daniel asked, “are you doing here? What’s going on? Is that who I think it is?”
He pointed an accusatory finger at me. For a second I wanted to look behind me, but the angle of his arm didn’t leave a lot to the imagination. There weren’t a lot of ten-feet tall women around that I was aware of. I tried to wave at him, hoping that this would defuse the situation a little bit.
“Hi,” I said. “The world’s ending and we need your help. Can we come in?”