“You look… uh…”
“Yeah…” Sally said, sitting awkwardly on the sofa. It was a pretty comfy sofa, all things considered. Well, it looked comfy. I didn’t want to risk sitting on it, not back at my full height. I’d just knelt down next to it. Getting through the door had been awkward already, and I didn’t want to damage the ceiling with my horns out.
“Is that really my old body?” Daniel asked. “It’s so, uh…” His eyes tracked the tip of Sally’s tail as it swished back and forth. She saw him looking and grabbed it sheepishly.
“Yeah,” she said. “I did tell you I made modifications. It’s not like you didn’t change anything, you know.” Daniel scratched the back of his neck.
“You’re not wrong,” he mumbled.
“I think you both look lovely,” Kazumi said diplomatically and sipped the cup of tea she’d been offered, trying very hard not to look anyone in the eye in case she was pressured on that statement. Meanwhile, Lisa and I were staring each other down. I barely recognized my old vehicle, but the changes she’d made were all ones I approved of. If I’d been given the chance, back then, to look like this, to know that changes like this had been possible… Well, I would’ve taken it without arguing, that’s for sure. Still tall, too, but she wore that better than I ever did.
“You look good,” Lisa said. I smiled.
“You too. I like what you’ve done with… it.”
“It required a bit of effort, but I made it feel like home,” she said with a little smirk. “I see you’ve made yourself comfortable as well.” I nodded. “I heard via Daniel that you got the whole Dragon Form thing figured out.”
“Well…” I cocked my head. “That’s a bit of an overstatement. I’m still trying to control things a bit more. Magic, too.”
“Do we want to talk about the children?” Sally asked. “And the other two?” She turned to look at the two other occupants of the living room. “Who are you?”
“Uh,” Daniel said. “Jenny, Hayden, these are Liz, Sally and Kazumi.”
“Uh-huh,” Hayden said.
“Okay,” Jenny nodded. They both looked like perfectly nice people. Jenny had the wiry physique of someone who spent a lot of time working out. Hayden was all style, the kind of person to wear a collared shirt in his own living room and somehow look relaxed. The light beard didn’t hurt.
“They’re… from where we’re from,” Lisa continued, and then paused. “Well... Kazumi is. Liz and Sally aren’t.” Another pause. “Well…”
“We’re the originals,” Sally said, crossing her legs and leaning back. “You’ve got us to thank for Lisa and Daniel being here.”
“You got hit by a car,” Jenny said. “You died.”
“You’re welcome,” I said, cheerfully. “In our defense, our Hero and the Queen here did very definitely murder each other.” I looked between the four of them. “Uh… I should have probably asked…”
“They know,” Lisa said, with a raised eyebrow. “But you better not say that in front of the kids.”
“About those…” Sally said with a confused frown. “They’re…” Her eyes flicked between the four people across from her, probably not knowing how to ask the question she clearly wanted to ask. I sure had no idea. The kids had been ushered out of the room, having been given playtime while keeping the three of us out of their sight.
“None of your business,” Lisa said curtly.
“Babe…” Jenny said, clearly directed at Lisa, and my eyebrows shot up. I mean, it’s not like I wasn’t familiar with unorthodox family units, of course. But still, it was interesting to see something like this out in the open.
“They’re ours,” Daniel said, leaning on his knees, making distinct eye contact with all three of us. “That’s the most important part.”
“That’s wonderful,” Kazumi said with a genuine smile that was probably unnerving to Jenny and Hayden. Usually the people who smiled at them probably didn’t have such sharp teeth. “Could I get some more tea?”
“I’ll get it!” Jenny said, jumping up and running to the kitchen.
“To be honest,” Hayden said, staring at me, “the thought of Lisa looking like th-- looking that tall…” He looked over at her for a second, and then back at me. “I can’t say I dislike that image.” Daniel nudged him with a smirk. “What?”
“I made a good Demon Queen,” Lisa said, “but I’m a better Lisa.”
“Damned right,” Daniel said, and kissed her on the cheek.
“The kids are still doing okay,” Jenny said as she came back into the room holding the water cooker and a tin of teabags. “What are you… uh… doing here? No offense.”
“The world is ending,” I said again. “We need your help.” I looked at Lisa. “We need someone who can do all of this better than I can. There’s magic users back home, but they have no idea what to do, and I figured it would be a good idea to ask someone with a bit more experience.” Turning to Daniel, I saw his shoulders sag already. He probably knew what was coming. “And we could probably use a Hero. I’ve… heard the stories, Daniel.”
“Absolutely not,” Lisa said.
“Love…” Daniel said softly. “I have to--”
“No.” I expected Lisa, or maybe even one of their other -- I struggled. Partners? Lovers? Besties? -- loved ones to interrupt him, but that had come from Sally. “If you do this, you had better not do it because you’re the Great Hero. We can use your experience, Daniel. I think, anyway. I’ve never actually seen you do any of the stuff they said you did, but regardless, I’m sure we can manage without you as well.” I nodded in confirmation.
“I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong idea with that,” I added. “We just… need help. We’re out of our depth.”
“There’s nothing I can do,” Lisa said. “That bit of power you gave me was enough for a small spell, but the reason I was so damned powerful is because of all of the power stuffed into my old body.” She glared at me, and I flinched, even though I got the feeling it wasn’t really the passenger she was mad at. “The answer is no. There’s nothing I can do, Liz. I’ll… write down what I know.” She stood up and went up the stairs.
“You’ll have to excuse her,” Daniel said. “She cares. I know she does.” He sighed and hung his head. Hayden put a hand on his back, and Jenny sat on the other side of him. It was nice to see him supported by people who so clearly cared about him. “We’ve come a long way to be away from the people we were. Sally knows. Going back… I think Lisa fears she may not find her way back here, and there’s a whole life here for us now.”
“I understand,” Kazumi said. “But if you can do something…”
“We’ll let you know,” Daniel said. “If you have any leads, don’t hesitate to contact us. Although, ideally, try to show up in our back garden.” He paused. “If you stay off the vegetable patch. Maybe send a message ahead. We’ll explain things to the kids, but I’d rather not have to deal with local authorities.”
“Oh my god,” Jenny said, covering her mouth with her hand in shock. “People must have seen you…”
“That’s a future-us problem,” Sally said. “The end-of-the-world thing really is a bit more, like, pressing.”
“Yeah, I imagine it is,” Hayden said. “What is happening?”
“We don’t know. Magic seems to be getting more powerful? Maybe?” I suggested. “Or the walls of reality are getting thinner? In our world, at the very least. I think this world should be safe. Let us know if that changes, though. We’ll find a way to keep in touch.” Hayden and Jenny just sort of blinked. They’d been told about us (clearly), but I got the distinct feeling they were less than ready for talk of saving the world. I turned to Kazumi. “Babe, is it weird that we’re used to this stuff?” She hissed a little giggle and shrugged.
“So… you and the snake lady…” Hayden said, fidgeting, looking at both of us with semi-significant glances.
“Yes?” Kazumi asked sweetly.
“Well… I mean… the size difference…” He cleared his throat, and I saw Jenny blush as hard as I felt I was. Despite the dark purple of my skin, I knew Kazumi would be able to see it on my face. Somehow. She shot me a glance and the wicked smile that played on her lips just made the whole thing worse. Hayden, however, didn’t seem deterred. “How do you…”
“Carefully,” Kazumi said, flashing her teeth. “And I make her say please.”
“Kaz!” I blurted out, and Sally burst out laughing.
“I had that one coming,” Hayden said with a chuckle; then leaned back. “We should have them over more often, Jenny.”
“Uh… If they bring food. I wouldn’t even know… where to… start…” she mumbled, clearly still a little overwhelmed, although I did see a small smile dance around the corners of her mouth. “Is this really happening?”
“It is,” Lisa said, as she came downstairs, holding a piece of paper. “But we’ll be able to discuss it further later, when the three of them leave.” She addressed the room in general. Our half of it, at least. “Listen… It’s not that I don’t enjoy seeing you all here. Liz, you make a good Liz. You look good and comfortable, and I’m glad. I’m grateful to all of you for giving me the chance to live my life here. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without your help. Well, not quite the way I wanted to, leastways.” I nodded at her.
“Of course. I’m glad I could help.” I did the little smile-that-wasn’t-a-smile thing people do when they want to apologize without apologizing. I felt guilty for coming here and even having threatened her peace.
“And I’m sorry I can’t help more,” Lisa said. “Sally, you’ve also done a great deal for Daniel, and myself. You seem nice. I like the little horns you’ve got going for you.”
“Kazumi,” Lisa said, and her attitude changed. Demure wasn’t quite it, but she definitely seemed to close in on herself a bit. “I’m glad to see you’ve come into your own, despite where you were when I was still, well…”
“A long time ago, Lisa. Long forgiven,” Kazumi put her hand on Lisa’s arm and nodded. “And I’m glad you’ve found your peace as well.”
“All that said,” Lisa said, “unless you have something more, this is all I can do.” She waved the piece of paper. It was covered in runes and what looked, horrifyingly, like algebra. “A decent mage should be able to use this to scry for the cause of all this, if you’ve got an anchor of some kind.”
“An anchor?” Sally asked.
“Something directly connected to the cause or the event. Like tracing a leaf back to its tree. If you used it on me you’d find…” she paused and looked at the other sofa, “my family.” She straightened her back. “Which I’m not leaving behind. As the ‘Demon Queen’, I can’t help you anymore. If you need Lisa, you can let me know.” She sighed and I began to get up -- slowly.
“We should go, then,” I said, just as Jenny’s phone buzzed.
“Um,” she said.
“What is it, Jen?” Daniel asked.
“My grandmother,” she said, “you know, the good one. She just asked me if ‘that’s our town, on the TV’.”
Lisa was already massaging the bridge of her nose. “This can only be good. Hayden?” Hayden was already ahead of her, turning on the television in the corner of the room and switched to a news channel. There was a live report. Of an accident on an intersection. There was video from several mobile phones.
“What could go wrong?” Kazumi mocked, glaring daggers at Sally.
“This is no way my fault,” Sally said as her past self on the screen stepped into full view, wings, horns, tail and everything clearly visible. The digital image turned to the camera, waved, and then winked. “Okay,” the flesh-and-blood one said, “that part was a little my fault.”
“You should probably go out through the back,” Jenny said.