Angelina felt so small and limited.
She didn’t understand what had happened. The last thing she could have described in words was pulling Chelsea and Belfry off the platform, tumbling through the dark, and emerging somewhere bright and shimmering.
She hadn’t been just Angelina as she’d fallen, she’d been something far greater. She’d tapped into something greater, accessed a vast consciousness.
She held out her hands in front of her face, flexing her fingers. All that was gone now. She was plain old Angelina, in a tiny human body, sitting on the bedroom floor of the same house she and Chelsea had been in earlier.
She didn’t mind it so much, being this small. The residual bliss from the fall left her more relaxed and at peace than she’d felt in a long time.
She looked over at Chelsea, and the relaxed smile fell off her face.
Chelsea was sitting with her arms wrapped around her knees, trembling as tears streamed down her face. Angelina rushed to Chelsea’s side, knelt down, and wrapped her arms around her.
“C! What is it? What’s wrong?”
Chelsea looked up, wiping tears from her cheek.
Belfry stirred on Angelina’s shoulder. His claws dug into her skin a bit as he stretched and yawned.
“Are you okay, signorina?” he said.
“Sorry,” said Chelsea. “I’m okay. I’m going to be fine. That was pretty scary, that’s all.”
Angelina translated for Belfry, and felt him relax on her shoulder.
“Va bene, Belfry?” said Chelsea in stilted Italian.
“Yes, signorina, yes. I’m fine, thank you. I don’t remember much–I must have fallen asleep.”
How had Belfry managed to sleep through that? Had he really been sleeping, or had he passed out from the stress of Zogzhesh’s illusion?
Belfry hopped off Angelina’s shoulder and fluttered into Chelsea’s lap. He rubbed his head against her knees.
“That’s a relief.” Chelsea stroked Belfry’s head. “I’m glad he didn’t have to go through something that scary.”
“You thought it was scary?” said Angelina. “I thought it was beautiful.”
Seeing Chelsea’s confused expression, Angelina elaborated.
“I mean, the scary Zogzhesh guy wasn’t beautiful, and the creepy darkness, and the scary illusion. That was all very bad. But after that, the shining, falling place. It was beautiful.”
“Scary illusion?” said Chelsea. “I don’t remember an illusion.”
“What do you remember?” said Angelina.
Her face burned as she remembered the kiss. That was one thing she hoped Chelsea didn’t remember.
That had been so weird and stupid, and she had no idea why she’d done it. Normal people didn’t randomly kiss their friends in ordinary situations, let alone kiss them while hovering above writhing darkness and being tormented by a snake being.
“I remember that snake… man… thing appearing, and those big pendulums. Then, I remember… it was like I was unraveling, until all that was left was something cold and lonely.”
Chelsea’s tone was strangely casual considering what she was describing, but Angelina felt Chelsea shudder as she spoke. Angelina tightened her arms around Chelsea.
“It’s okay, C,” said Angelina. “That part wasn’t real.”
“It… wasn’t?” said Chelsea. “Was that the scary illusion you were talking about?”
“Yeah, it was all fake. Once I figured out the pattern, it wasn’t so hard to break out of the illusion.”
“It all seemed so real,” said Chelsea. “If you hadn’t pulled me out of it somehow, I don’t know what would have happened.”
“You would have figured it out too,” said Angelina. “You’re the smartest person ever.”
Chelsea gave a bashful laugh as she wiped away the last of her stray tears.
“I don’t know about that. I’m still not even sure I understand what there was to figure out.”
Angelina frowned. How could she even explain it?
“It’s hard to put into words. It was like… my brain knows it, but my mouth doesn’t. Does that make sense?”
“I think so,” said Chelsea.
“There were all these… ribbons of who I was as a person, and they were all moving around in this special, complicated pattern, and I thought about what you said earlier.”
“Sorry, I’m… not really sure what I said that you’re referring to.”
“About how nothing is random. Everything has a pattern, no matter how complicated it is. I saw the pattern in what the snake guy was doing to us. I didn’t really understand it, but it was enough to break out of it.”
Chelsea looked at her for a moment with an expression Angelina couldn’t read.
“What?” said Angelina.
“I hope this isn’t weird to say, but you’re kind of amazing.”
“Me? I am?” said Angelina. “Why?”
“First you saw the pattern in everything that was disappearing. Then, when we were trapped in… whatever was happening with that snake place, you saw another pattern and pulled us out of there.”
“You would have seen the patterns if I hadn’t.”
“I don’t know that I would have,” said Chelsea. “You’re really, really smart, Angelina.”
“I have a lot of teachers who would laugh at you if they heard that.”
“Most people wouldn’t have been able to figure out what you did,” said Chelsea. “It takes someone really smart to see patterns like that.”
“You’re so nice,” said Angelina. “You’re the nicest person in the world.”
“Thank you. But I’m not saying this just to be nice. I’m saying it because it’s true.”
Chelsea had stopped crying completely, the only trace of her tears being the soft flush of her face. She was so impossibly pretty, even after falling into a pit between realities, fighting with monsters, and weeping on a floor. Angelina was suddenly acutely aware of her own appearance–her messy hair, the dirt streaking her arms and legs, her shapeless nightgown and mud-caked boots.
“You’re so pretty it’s not possible,” said Angelina.
“Oh, um, wow,” Chelsea gave a soft laugh that sounded startled, amused, and embarrassed all at once. “Thank you.”
Chelsea paused, giving Angelina another hard-to-read look before speaking.
“Can I, um, ask you something that might be kind of awkward?”
“So, there’s something I remember, just after you pulled me out of the illusion, and I’m not sure whether it was real or not.”
Chelsea’s words sent a nervous sensation burning through Angelina’s head.
“Chelsea, I’m sorry,” she began. “I’m not sure why–“
The sound of glass shattering in the next room saved her from having to explain herself.
“What was that?” said Angelina.
Chelsea gently deposited Belfry into Angelina’s lap and stood up, a serious, intense look wiping away every trace of her embarrassed expression.
“I’m going to go see what that was. Can you stay here with Belfry?”
“No!” Angelina stood up, placing Belfry on her shoulder. “You’re not going by yourself! It might be something dangerous!”
“I’ll be fine,” said Chelsea. “I’ll be right back in a few minutes. I–“
Angelina picked up a lamp with a long, thin base, brandishing it as she pushed past Chelsea through the bedroom door.
The fearless Princess Angelina charges into battle once again.
“You’re not going alone, C.”