Naomi and Falcon walked across the concrete in silence. There had been no sign of Jen since they’d outrun the monster.
Naomi looked down at the silly cat pen in her hand. It stared up at her accusingly with big, goofy cartoon eyes.
If Naomi had pulled her along instead of just running away and assuming she’d follow, would Jen still be with them?
Now Jen was either dead or wandering lost and alone somewhere.
“I’m sorry I called you annoying,” Naomi mumbled to the pen.
They had two people to find now, and Naomi still didn’t have the first idea where to start looking.
She glanced at Falcon and realized he was smiling.
She shot him a glare, and his smile faded into an appropriately guilty expression. He pointed to the notepad she still held, and held out his hand.
This had better be good. There had better be a good reason he was smiling like an idiot when they were stranded in some hell dimension and had already lost a group member.
She handed him the notepad, and he took a moment writing down his explanation.
The ground shook beneath them again, and Naomi tensed, preparing to run again. Falcon put a hand on her arm, signaling her to relax. He handed her back the notepad.
‘My brothers are alive. I don’t know how I know it, but I can feel it. I can feel them. They’re here.’
Oh God, oh God, oh God.
What the hell? What the hell?
What had happened? What was this place?
There was an iridescent light surrounding the four tiny bodies, falling in a direction that didn’t compute. Four eyes of reality, four drops of a vast ocean in four different vessels.
Which one belonged to Chelsea Brown?
Oh, right. The second-largest body, a female human with brilliant red hair that cascaded behind them, strands shimmering in and out of existence as they fell.
Chelsea Brown’s vessel clutched another vessel, a smaller, dark-haired human. The smallest vessel clung to the dark-haired human’s shoulder. It was hard to tell where one of the three ended and the two other began.
The fourth body, larger and covered with olive scales, fell some distance away from the other three, emitting angry hisses as it faded in and out of view.
Stress hormones flooded Chelsea’s body, elevating the heart rate, priming the muscles to run or fight, though the vessel was powerless to do either. The vessel’s fear felt so limited, so infinitesimal in a way that only made the terror more intense. It was more terror than this tiny, insignificant vessel had ever experienced, and it was almost nothing.
In contrast to Chelsea’s terror, the dark-haired human wore a serene expression that didn’t make sense.
The smaller vessel’s designation was retrieved from neural circuits inside one of the four bodies. Angelina Bianchi.
The vessel called Angelina produced a series of communicative sounds that Chelsea’s brain processed into meaning. The sounds were labored, uttered with great difficulty, but their tone was soft and calm.
“It’s… okay. Don’t… scare. It’s… all okay.”
But everything was far from okay! Everything was incomprehensible! The four bodies were falling in reverse now, in a direction that couldn’t possibly exist, and it was impossible to remember.
Which one belonged to Chelsea Brown?
Did Chelsea Brown exist at all?
Did it matter? The distinctions between the four bodies, between everything, suddenly seemed to irrelevant.
The neural circuits no longer perceived the four bodies. There was only the sensation of falling, being sucked into the iridescent, swirling nothingness.
An otherworldly voice cut through the nothingness, speaking to the four lost vessels. It spoke without language, but its tone was startlingly ordinary–soothing and gently admonishing at the same time, like a kindly grandmother who’d found a litter of stray kittens hiding on her porch.
“How did you ever get in here? Come on, let’s get you back to where you belong.”
A fifth body, vastly, infinitely larger than the other four, reached out two shining tendrils to catch the falling vessels.