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Omira Chapter 8

“Did you notice that the Joblins are wearing suits?”

Jimmie shook his head at Cole.  He pointed up at a floating rock nearby, and they both jumped up to it.  They kept running, which was for the best, since several Joblins were close behind.

“I didn’t notice,” Jimmie admitted.  “I’m not figuring this the best moment for fashion critique.”

Cole grabbed Jimmie’s hand for a second, and pulled him towards a smaller floating island off to the side.  They leapt at it as the Joblins overran the rock they were on.  A few continued to shadow them from below.

“I’m sort of relieved is all,” Cole admitted breathlessly.  “I mean, we’re being chased, and I honestly think they want to kill us.”  She looked back for a quick moment.  “But at least they’re dressed.  I think if they were naked, this would be a lot worse.”

Jimmie dared a glance backwards.  The Joblins were gaining quickly, but at least they’d lost Dilla somehow.  Jimmie couldn’t help noticing that Cole was right; Joblins wore little black suits like miniature undertakers.  He couldn’t decide if that made them more or less terrifying, but it was nice to see they had ties flapping in the wind, and nothing else.

Jimmie looked forward again just in time for the next jump.  This time, he and Cole landed on the underside of one of the islands.  The sudden reverse of gravity turned them around, and they almost ran back towards the oncoming horde of Joblins.  The Joblins didn’t seem to have the same disorientation as they leapt up to the same island.

“There was a second half to the plan, right?”  Cole panted.  Her lungs felt like a furnace, and her chest was on fire.  “I don’t think running is going to be enough.”

Jimmie gave a nod.  The Joblins were gaining; partially because they knew how to use the islands better, but mostly because Cole and Jimmie were slowing.  Neither of them had ever had to run this much, or push themselves this hard.  Adrenaline was the only thing carrying them at this point; and even that was running low.

Jimmie pointed ahead.  “There’s a grove of trees,” he forced.  “If we can get there, maybe we can lose them.”

“That’s a pretty big maybe,” Cole said.  She pointed ahead at the lack of islands.

Cole and Jimmie didn’t slow.  They both leapt from their last island, and swan dived towards the ground below.  They twisted in the air as the ground’s gravity righted them, and landed hard feet first before bouncing again.  Most of the laws of physics were lost on Omira, but one still stayed true so far.  Jimmie and Cole were heavier than the Joblins, so they bounced further.  They may have not lost the Joblins, but they had a better lead at least.

Jimmie looked back at the Joblins.  One of them had broken from the pack, and was barrelling down on him and Cole quicker than the others.  Jimmie couldn’t help but notice that this one Joblin was wearing a sweatband and sneakers.

Cole didn’t miss it either.  “That’s uh…” she stated, not sure what to declare that to be.

“Yeah,” Jimmie agreed.  He watched, hypnotized, as the Joblin ran at them.  Jimmie considered running again, but changed his mind.  Instead, he turned and faced down the Joblin rushing at them.

Jimmie balled his fists, and swung as hard as he could at the Joblin.  Jimmie had to swing low to catch the smaller creature, but he managed to clock it pretty good in the side of the jaw.

The Joblin toppled backwards.  It rubbed its jaw where Jimmie had punched it, and hissed.  The Joblin showed the full of its teeth as it screamed fury at Jimmie.  “JAWBS!”

Jimmie blinked back in shock.  He’d expected things to turn out different.  He felt Cole grab his shoulder, and didn’t struggle as she urged him back into a run.  “Keep moving, Ryu!” she insisted

Jimmie stared back for a second before pouring on the speed again.  “It was supposed to just, you know, poof,” he explained as they ran.  “Like back in the warehouse!”

“I know,” Cole replied.  “Maybe they’re more real here?”  She shuddered as she considered if that made her and Jimmie less real here.  She wondered if they’d just poof if they were hit hard enough.  Cole kept the thought to herself.

The one runner of the Joblins may not have poofed, but Jimmie’s punch had taken some of the urge out of its step.  It was still moaning about its face when the others caught up with it.  The Joblins didn’t stop to help their hurt comrade, instead sprinting harder to close the gap between them and the two humans.  Jimmie and Cole meanwhile huffed and puffed, and tried to ignore their lungs threatening to explode.  The grove was just ahead, and though Jimmie and Cole weren’t sure how, they were convinced that it was where they’d lose the Joblins

It was as they got closer that they saw the grove for what it really was.  It wasn’t a grove at all in fact, but the top of a great forest.  They’d only seen the tops of the trees over a cliff.  A cliff that Jimmie and Cole were running towards at full speed.

Jimmie skidded to a stop at the edge of the cliff.  He turned around to search for another option.  All he saw was Cole, and the Joblins.  The Joblins were still right behind them, and Cole wasn’t going to stop.  She slammed into Jimmie at full speed, and threw them both off of the edge of the cliff.

Cole and Jimmie smashed through the foliage as they freefell.  They were battered and cut by the branches around them, but the forest did slow their fall.  When they ploughed through the thicket and hit the ground, they were surprised that they didn’t bounce.  The ground was spongy: but it was the regular forest spongy of rotted leaves and mud, not the bounce spongy of the Omira ground above them

“Ow,” Jimmie declared.  He meant it this time.  He stared at the dozens of small cuts lacing his arms, and assumed by the stinging that his face looked the same.  His ribs hurt from where he’d smacked directly into a tree on their fall, but Jimmie was mostly certain he hadn’t broken anything.  “Ow,” he declared again.

“Ow,” Cole agreed.  “I’d almost forgotten that things can hurt,” she said.  “I mean, till now, gravity’s had our back on this sort of thing.”

Cole rubbed her knee where she’d scraped it on their fall.  Her tights were torn there, but she’d fared better than Jimmie.  Her hoodie had kept her from getting too cut up, though the zipper had been wrecked in the fall.  She rubbed her cheek, and pointed at Jimmie.  “You’re bleeding,” she told him.

“So are you,” Jimmie replied.  He rubbed his forehead, and pointed back at Cole.  Jimmie looked up at the cliff.  The Joblins looked back down at them, but didn’t follow.

Cole followed Jimmie’s gaze.  “We got away,” she stated with a sigh.  “Good plan, sir.”

“I suppose.”  Jimmie winced as he pulled a twig free from where it had embedded itself in his arm.

Cole stood up, and rubbed her knee again.  “And no one lost an eye in the trees, so that’s a bonus.”

“Yeah.”  Jimmie muttered.  He looked back up the cliff.  “Why didn’t they follow us?”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”  Cole helped Jimmie up.  “Were you hoping they’d chase us a bit more?”

“No, it’s just…” Jimmie waved at the cliff.  “They’re not even trying to climb down now.  I can understand them not leaping over the cliff right after us, but they’re not even trying now.”  He shook his head.  “They must know something we don’t.”

“Well, we’re not going back the way we came,” Cole replied.  She looked into the forest.  The yellow light of above was gone, replaced by an eerie grey.  “We don’t have a choice,” she stated, as much to herself as to Jimmie.  “We’ll just have to find out what they know that we don’t.”

****

Dilla-Dago joined his Joblins at the top of the cliff.  The Joblins looked down the cliff, and then around the area.  None of them wanted to make eye contact with the Dago.

“So,” Dilla-Dago started expectantly.  “Where are the strangers?”

“Jawbs,” A Joblin told him.  The others agreed readily.

“Well, why aren’t you in there chasing them down?”

“Jawbs,” the Joblin declared quietly.  It looked at the ground in embarrassment.

“Is that so?” Dilla-Dago asked.  “And you all feel this way?”  Dilla paced in front of the Joblins, hands behind his back.  “See, boys, what you gotta ask yourselves is; what are you more afraid of?  The forest, or me?”

Dilla stared incredulously as the Joblins discussed amongst themselves.  Their chosen spokesman finally nodded to the others, and looked up at Dilla.  “Jawbs,” it admitted.

“Really?”  Dilla chewed on his cigar a moment.  He tilted his helmet, and scratched his forehead.  “I thought the answer would have been me.”

The Joblin shrugged apologetically, and smiled hopefully up at Dilla.  Its smile vanished as Dilla-Dago wrapped his hand around its head.  There was a shriek, and a sound that can only be described as a watermelon popping as Dilla closed his fist.  The Joblin vanished in a puff of oily black smoke.

Dilla-Dago shook smoke from between his fingers, and sneered at the remaining Joblins.  “Now, lets try that again,” he suggested.

The Joblins stared wide eyed at Dilla-Dago for a moment, then dashed into the forest after Jimmie and Cole.

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Omira Chapter 7

Cole wiped away a layer of yellow from the window and peered out onto the Town Square.  She was cautious at first that Dilla-Dago would see her, but got over her concern as she was crowded by Jimmie Momo and Pluppa.  No one outside could see them; that wasn’t how windows worked in Omira.

Dilla-Dago paced in front of the collected Goobs, surrounded by a small entourage of Joblins.  He stood nearly eight foot tall, and was covered with a thick round shell of interlocking armoured bands.  Dilla-Dago’s head was triangular, with a tapered snout, and an exaggerated overbite.  Long donkey like ears jutted from the sides of his bald head.  Dilla’s forearms and hands were far too big for his arms, and his fingers ended in thick claws.  He had short thick legs, and oversized feet.  Dilla-Dago wore a red tie, and a drill sergeant’s helmet.

Dilla-Dago chomped on the butt of a cigar.  He walked with his hands folded behind his back, and stared menace at the Goobs.  He yelled when he spoke in a way that suggested he didn’t know how to speak otherwise.  “I suppose you maggots are wondering why I’m here today?”

There was a murmur amongst the Goobs.  “W-why are you here?” one of them stuttered feebly.

“Very good,” Dilla-Dago replied sharply.  A Joblin standing beside Dilla nodded, and handed the Goob who’d spoken up a card.

“What did they give him?” Jimmie asked.

“It’s a Don’t Hurt Me card,” Momo replied.  “You can use them to beg for leniency when Dilla-Dago is going to hurt you.”

“Oh…Kay.”  Cole shook her head.  “Does it work?”

Pluppa shrugged.  “Works better then not having one, eh?” he replied.

“I can be reasonable,” Dilla-Dago yelled outside.  “I can be kind.” Dilla-Dago explained.  “I can be fair.”  He stopped a second, and stared down at the Goobs.  “Who can be fair?”

“You can, sir!” the Goobs yelled in practiced unison.

Dilla smiled around his cigar.  “You’re damned right.”

Dilla-Dago returned to his pacing.  “I am looking for some strangers,” he declared.  “You’ll know who they are, because they don’t look like anyone you’ve ever seen before.  We have reason to believe that they are here, in Goob’s Ville.”  Dilla-Dago puffed on his cigar.  “I have one more Don’t Hurt Me card.  I’d hate to think about what will happen to anyone who doesn’t have a card if I have to find the strangers myself.”

Jimmie and Cole watched from the window.  They shared a look of sheer panic.  “I wouldn’t worry too much,” Momo assured them.  “A Goob wouldn’t help a Dago to water if they were on fire, eh?”

“That’s right,” Pluppa agreed.  He smiled at Cole.  “None of us would turn you Fellas in even if it wasn’t to a Dago,” he continued.  “You’re guests.  That’d just be rude, eh?”

Outside, Dilla-Dago was doing nothing to hide his frustration.  He backhanded a nearby Goob off of its feet, and waved his Joblins out across the town.  The Joblins began immediately banging at doors, smashing windows, upturning carts, and making a general nuisance of themselves.  On a casual glance, the Joblins could be mistaken for searching the town, but really, they were just wreaking the place.

Momo and Pluppa nodded at each other, and left Jimmie and Cole looking out the window.  “We should go and make ourselves visible before Dilla-Dago notices we’re not out there eh?”

“Maybe you can stop them?”  Jimmie sounded hopeful.  “You could tell Dilla that we’re not here?”

“Nope,” Momo said.  “Oh, we’ll tell him you’re not here, eh?  But that won’t stop them from looking.”

“That’s right,” Pluppa added.  “Dilla-Dago is always looking for an excuse to make things difficult for us, eh?  They won’t stop until they’ve destroyed the place, or they’ve found you.”

Pluppa stood with Momo as the platform began to lower.  “Take the platform up, once it comes back,” Pluppa explained.  “It’ll get you Fellas out of here safely.  Dilla and his Joblins won’t notice you leave; they’re busy, eh?”

“What about you?” Jimmie asked.  “What about the rest of the Goobs?”

“We’ll rebuild,” Momo replied sadly.  “It won’t be the first time.”

“Nope,” Pluppa said.  “Probably won’t be the last either.”

Cole shook her head.  “But…”

“It’s not your concern,” Momo interrupted.

“That’s right Fellas,” Pluppa added.  “You said it yourself.  You’re not heroes.”

Pluppa and Momo rode the platform to the lower floor, and immediately sent it back up.  Cole watched them go outside from the window.

“That was totally one of those call to action moments,” she commented.  “They say, ‘you’re not heroes’, and we’re supposed to be moved to heroics by it, right?”

“I think so,” Jimmie replied.  He did a circle around the platform.

“I don’t know what to do,” Cole said.  “I mean, we need to help the Goobs, but what can we do?”

Jimmie shrugged.  “What can we do?”  He winced at the face Cole gave him.  “I want to help them too,” he insisted.  “But look at that Dilla guy.  He has claws, Cole.  He’s like ten foot tall.”

“He’s maybe seven foot,” Cole muttered.

“And he’s armoured I think,” Jimmie continued over Cole.  “The only thing I know about fighting I learnt from Street Fighter; and I suck at that game.”

“But,”

“I’m not even suggesting we don’t help,” Jimmie said.  “I’m just saying we need to be smart about it.  We take this platform up, and maybe we’ll see something there that will help.”  Jimmie stepped purposely onto the platform.  Nothing happened.  “We take this platform up,” Jimmie repeated.  Nothing happened.

“Maybe it needs both of us,” Cole suggested.  She stood beside Jimmie.

They both stood still on the platform for a good bit.  Nothing happened.  Downstairs, there was the sound of shattering glass as the Joblins began to search the Town Hall.  Still nothing happened.  “Up!” Jimmie and Cole demanded in unison.  Still, nothing happened.

“How does this even work?”  Jimmie stomped on the platform in frustration.  It rippled like a membrane, and bounced him slightly in the air.  He looked up, noticing that the roof above was wide open.  He wondered if it had been the whole time, or if it had opened when Pluppa and Momo left.  He stomped the platform a bit harder, and was bounced a bit higher.  “Oh no,” he muttered.

Cole grabbed Jimmie’s hands.  “Oh yes,” she affirmed, nodding excitedly.  She hopped a bit, and sqee-ed slightly as it bounced her and Jimmie in the air.  “We’re taking the platform up,” she declared.

Jimmie thought on it a second, then nodded back.  “You know what?  Yeah.  We are.  On three?”

Jimmie and Cole jumped as they counted, and bounced higher with each number.  On three, they put as much stomp as they could on their landing.  The membrane rippled angrily, and growled like a monster truck.  It retracted violently, and fired them out of the roof like a cannon.

Jimmie watched as the Town Hall shrunk beneath them.  He and Cole had been launched straight up.  He wondered if they’d fall straight back through the roof of the Hall, and bounce again, or if the roof would close and let them land on it.  It took him a moment to notice that despite going up, they weren’t going back down.  They weren’t slowing either.  Jimmie looked up, and saw the giant floating island above him and Cole.  Not only were they heading at it, but they were speeding up as they were caught in its gravity.

Jimmie stared mad eyed at Cole.  He wanted to say maybe we’ll land safely on that upcoming island, but the best he could manage was a slight choking sound, and a manic nodding.  Cole returned his nod with equal panic.  Neither of them liked shooting towards the island at full speed.  The floating islands were the most solid things they’d met so far in Omira; they didn’t want to meet one at this speed.

They didn’t smack into the island, and they didn’t land on it.  Instead, they were caught in its personal gravity well, and were pulled into an orbit around it.  Still holding hands desperately, Jimmie and Cole were yanked around the small floating rock, and slingshoted off on a downward angle. The two meteored back towards the Goob village at now double their original speed.

Jimmie let go of one of Cole’s hands.  He put his hand over her mouth, even as she covered his.  At the speed they were plummeting, screaming was unavoidable.  Mutual muffling was the best attempt at stealth Jimmie and Cole could manage.

Jimmie and Cole shot over the Town Square, and collided with one of the larger pillar Goob houses.  The house bent like a tree in the wind, absorbing the impact, and leaving the two with no more than some bruising.  It straightened, and catapulted Jimmie and Cole again over the Town Square.

The Goobs looked up at Jimmie and Cole, following their flight as if watching a tennis match.  They all looked over at Dilla, and then immediately looked about at anything that wasn’t the two’s aerial escape.  Dilla was too busy yelling to notice Jimmie and Cole flying above, and the Joblins were too busy smashing things to care.

Cole and Jimmie hit the roof of the Town Hall next.  The hole in the roof was closed again, though they only got a moment to be thankful for that before they bounced like they’d hit a rubber ball.  They bounced from the Town hall to a small bungalow just beyond, and were launched from there to the ground just outside of town.  Jimmie and Cole bounced a few times across the grass before they finally came to a stop.

Jimmie lay on his stomach for a few moments.  “Ow,” he stated.  He wasn’t really hurt, but there was expectation.  He looked at Cole.  “Ok,” he admitted before she could say anything.  “That was pretty awesome.  Still, I’d rather not make that a regular form of transport.”

“That was pretty awesome,” Cole agreed.  She sat up, and rolled her shoulders in a basic check for damage.

Cole and Jimmie looked back at the town.  The Joblins were kicking in doors, and breaking in windows.  Dilla-Dago stood in the center of town, smiling around his cigar at the destruction.

“We can’t just leave them,” Cole declared.

Jimmie nodded as he stood.  He shifted from foot to foot.  “I think we’ve got enough of a head start,” he declared as he walked back towards town.  “I’ve got half a plan.”

Jimmie cleared his throat loudly.  “Hey!” he shouted in a casual tone.  “Perhaps we can get some help in this town that we have never been to before!”

Cole smirked at Jimmie.  “Yes, this is a new and unusual town!” she yelled.  “I am willing to bet the people here can tell us where we are!”  The Joblins stopped smashing things, and all looked over at Cole and Jimmie.

“Hey!” Cole yelled, pointing dramatically towards Dilla-Dago’s little meeting.  “We were just coming into this town, but what is going on?”

“I am not sure!” Jimmie yelled back.  “The town seems to be full of Joblins!”

It was possibly the worst example of improv ever seen, but it was enough to catch Dilla-Dago’s attention.  The Joblins all stopped their destruction, and stared at Jimmie and Cole.  They then turned a collectively confused look back to Dilla-Dago.

Dilla-Dago stormed towards Jimmie and Cole.  He yelled at his Joblins as he went.  “Well, don’t just stand there waiting for orders!” he yelled.  “Get them!”

The Joblins hissed, and showed their large square teeth.  They rushed towards Jimmie and Cole.  Cole looked at Jimmie.  “Half a plan?” she asked.

“Second half’s coming to me pretty quick,” Jimmie replied.   “It includes running away!”

“Good plan,” Cole agreed as they booked it away from town; Joblins rushing behind them to catch up.

Omira Chapter 6

Blubo pulled his cart up right at the doors of Town Hall.  He hopped out, and pushed the blinders away from his Roopers’ heads.  Blubo patted both of them affectionately.  One made a sound that reminded Jimmie of a car backfiring, but beyond that, neither Rooper showed much interest in Blubo, or their surroundings.

“They’ll just stay there?” Jimmie asked.

“Oh yeah,” Blubo replied.  “You want a Rooper to move, you let them see a bit.  You want them to go home, you cover their eyes.”  Blubo waved to his Roopers.  “You want them to stay still, you let them see everything.  It’s too much for them, so they just freeze.”

Cole and Jimmie shrugged at each other.  The fact that Roopers were too stupid to exist was pretty low on the weird scale today.  They waited as Blubo talked to a smaller Goob standing at the doors of Town Hall.

The smaller Goob’s eyes went wide as Blubo explained who Cole and Jimmie were.  She did a double take as she looked over Blubo’s shoulder at the two, and then rushed inside.

“That’s Deeda,” Blubo explained airily.  He blushed slightly as he looked back at the now closed doors.  “She’s sort of the guard, eh?  Makes sure only people that need to see Momo and Pluppa get into Town Hall.”

“She seems cute,” Cole said.  “What’d you tell her?”

“Oh, just who you two were,” Blubo stated without looking back from the doorway.  “I said you Fellas were the heroes from Somewhere Else.  Oh, and that you’d met Princess Cerise.”

Cole and Jimmie stared at each other in stunned silence.  Jimmie was the first to recover.  “Blubo,” he started.  “We’re not…”

The doors of the Town Hall burst open, and Deeda hopped excitedly down the steps.  She came to a halt directly in front of Jimmie and Cole, and cleared her throat in an official manner.

“Momo and Pluppa will now have audience with the Heroes of Somewhere Else,” Deeda announced loudly.

“But we’re not…” Cole tried.

“You’d best get in there Fellas,” Blubo interrupted.  “If Momo and Pluppa are willing to see you so quickly, it must be important.”

Jimmie opened his mouth to try again, but gave it up before he started.  Cole patted his arm, and shrugged.  They left Blubo and Deeda behind, and went into Town Hall.

Town Hall was nothing but a giant round room.  The walls were carved dirt, with a strong zig-zag pattern running through the middle.  A few pillars broke the monotony along the walls, as did the windows on either side of the double doors.  Beyond that, the room was unfurnished, and quite dull.

Momo and Pluppa stood in the center of the room, inside a large circle drawn on the floor.  They nodded in sync as Jimmie and Cole entered the room.  The double doors closed with a thud.

Momo and Pluppa were nearly identical.  Both of them wore great bowler hats with giant brims.  They both had faces concealed under unruly white beards and oversized mono-brows.  They both wore overalls over some sort of white ceremonial robes, and they both blew smoke from long pipes.  The most visible difference between the two old Goobs was that Momo’s smoke was pink, while Pluppa’s was blue.

“We’re not heroes,” Cole blurted before Momo or Pluppa could say anything.

Jimmie looked from Pluppa to Momo for any reaction.  He couldn’t see anything beyond beards and brows.  “We’re not,” he agreed.

“Well, that’s good,” Momo stated.

“Yup,” Pluppa agreed.

Cole blinked.  “It is?”

“Never trust anyone who introduces themselves as heroes,” Pluppa said.  “If someone has to walk about telling you that they are a hero, chances are they aren’t.”

“Oh, yeah,” Momo agreed.  “Heroics are in actions, eh?  They aren’t in words.”

“You are from Somewhere Else though, right Fellas?”  Pluppa didn’t wait for Cole or Jimmie to answer.  “I’m wondering if Princess Cerise was right,” he commented to Momo.

“She theorized that the Royal Family came from Somewhere Else,” Pluppa added for Cole and Jimmie’s benefit.  He looked back to Momo.  “I mean, they do look a lot like her.”

“Short bodies and long limbs,” Momo agreed.  He poked Cole in the side with the mouthpiece of his pipe, and seemed surprised as she flinched away.  “Soft too.  Just like the princess,” he commented.

“I’m not soft,” Cole retorted.  “That’s been in your mouth is all.”  She poked Momo back, and found that Goobs had tough leathery skin.  “Ok,” she admitted.  “Maybe a bit softer.”

“Hmmm,” Pluppa pondered.  “And both you Fellas are from Somewhere Else?”

“Well, we’re not from here,” Cole offered.  “We must be from Somewhere Else.”

“Fair enough, eh?” Momo agreed.  “So.  What can we do for you Fellas?”

“Blubo said you could tell us about,” Jimmie waved about the room.  “About wherever it is we are.”

“Oh, you’re in Town Hall, eh?”  Momo put his hands up to show he was joking.

Pluppa puffed on his pipe seriously.  Blue rings of smoke circled his head.  “I’m sure you mean Omira, right Fellas?”

“Omira,” Cole repeated.  “That was painted on the wall at the Mystery Warehouse.”

Jimmie nodded his recognition.  “Is that the name of this zone?” he asked.

“Omira is the name of all of the Zones together,” Momo explained.

Pluppa nodded.  “Yup,” he agreed.  He gave Momo a nod.  “Maybe we could explain this better in the Smoking Room, eh?” he suggested.

Cole looked at both Goobs, and then at their pipes.  “You have a designated smoking room?” she questioned.  Her question went ignored as the floor shifted suddenly beneath them all.

The circle on the floor rose as a platform, lifting all four into a room on the second floor.  It was as unfurnished as the first floor, but a bit smaller.  The light tried to come in through the sunroof above, but it was yellowed from years of smoke.  The walls were also stained forever a dull brown.  The room smelt like tobacco and spice and pepper.

“Smoking room,” Cole verified.  She wanted to say more, but any smarmy remarks vanished as she watched Momo and Pluppa.

The two Goobs exhaled smoke purposely into the center of the room.  The smoke from Momo and Pluppa’s pipes intermingled.  The pink and blue turned white, and formed thick shapes.  The smoke settled into a series of seven platforms, one above the other.

“You’re here,” Momo explained.  A small arrow formed from the smoke, pointing at a tiny smoke diorama of the Goob town.  “We are the first zone, eh?  We’re known as the Center.”

Jimmie leant in close, almost afraid to breathe on the smoke shapes.  They were amazingly detailed.  He could see the floating islands, and the castle near the edge.  There was a small lake near a forest, and a river that ran through the whole of it.  Waterfalls drizzled from above, and what Jimmie had thought to be clouds were in reality the bottom of the zone above.

Pluppa nodded slowly as he watched Jimmie and Cole look up.  He blew a second stream of smoke, which settled into the platforms below.  “There’s an order to things,” he explained.  “Below is first, then above, eh?”

“That’s right Fellas,” Momo agreed.  He blew smoke as well, and it mingled on the second level into a thick scenery of trees.  “The second zone is beneath us,” Momo explained.  “It’s the Jungle.”

“Yeah, but it’s real close to the Third, eh?” Pluppa added.  He gave a wave, and the smoke settled into the Third Zone.  Crags and tunnels of smoke rock appeared.

“Oh yeah Fellas,” Momo agreed.  He and Pluppa waved the air, and the third zone shifted up.  There was a puff of smoke along the sides as it bumped into the bottom of the Second Zone.  “Real close.”

Pluppa nodded.  He pointed at the Jungle, then at the Rocks.  “Floaras live in the Jungle.  Sprig-Sprogs live in the Rocks.”

“And let me tell you, they do not get along,” Momo commented.

“Nope,” Pluppa said.  “As if there isn’t enough problems with the Dagos, they gotta be fighting too, eh?”

“Wait,” Jimmie interrupted.  “Blubo mentioned the Dagos too.  I meant to ask him what they were, but I didn’t get to it.”

“Distracted by soup,” Cole stated.

Jimmie wanted to argue, but that was pretty much the case.  “Anyways, what are Dagos?”

“We’ll get to that Fella,” Momo assured Jimmie.  “There’s an order to these things.”

“Yup,” Pluppa agreed.  He inhaled deeply, and blew a large ring of smoke that circled the lowest zone.  The smoke that formed the Forth Zone ignited, flaring deep red in areas, and leaving islands of obsidian black.  “Fire,” Pluppa stated.  “Forth Zone is fire.”

“Oh, and lava,” Momo added.  “Can’t forget that.”

“And lava,” Pluppa agreed.  “Been told that the Sala-Men live down there, but I’ve never met one.”

Despite the pyrotechnics, neither Goob had anything else to say about the Forth Zone.  They both tapped out their pipes, and repacked them in unison.  Jimmie and Cole looked over the Zones that had been described already.  They both waited patiently as Pluppa and Momo lit their pipes.  There was an order to these things after all.

Momo blew a cloud of smoke up at the higher level of Zones.  It settled out in islands on the Zone above the Center.  Pluppa blew from the other side, his blue smoke pooling between the pink islands Momo had left, and flowing down the waterfalls that dropped from above to the Center.

“Zone Five is Water,” Pluppa explained.  He tapped the smoke with the mouthpiece of his pipe, causing tiny waves to ripple along the Fifth Zone.  “No official people there, eh?  But Princess Violet has a castle near the beach.”

“Lots of Goobs live up there too, eh?” Momo added.  “Lucky Fellas.  It’s great up there.”

“Oh yeah,” Pluppa agreed.  “Its all beach and water, eh?”  He shrugged.  “That’s what makes it the Water Zone, right?”

“Right,” Momo agreed.  He inhaled, and blew sharply on the Sixth Zone.  The smoke crystallized. Forming giant glaciers and geodesic shapes.  “Ice,” he stated simply.

Pluppa shrugged.  “We don’t know much about the Ice,” he admitted.  “Prince Blanche led an expedition up there years ago,” Pluppa added sadly.  “Never saw him again.”

“We know The Tribe is up there,” Momo commented.  “But we don’t know where they live, and we don’t know if they’re better or worse than the Dagos, ‘cept that they don’t come down here looking to bug us, eh?”

“Oh, yeah,” Pluppa agreed.  “That’s decent of them, eh?”  He lightly blew a puff of smoke to the top level.  “Still, we know more about the Ice then we know about the Cloud Zone.”

“That’s Engle territory Fellas,” Momo said.  “They have any portals up locked real tight.  Supposedly they don’t have any Dago problem up there, but who knows, eh?”

Momo and Pluppa nodded at their work, but didn’t add to it.  Jimmie stepped back, trying to take the whole thing in.  Even though most of the smoke from Momo and Pluppa’s pipes had made the map of Omira, the room was still pretty smoky.  Jimmie waved some from his face, and was surprised how solid it was.

Cole gasped as she looked over at Jimmie.  She waved at the smoke around him frantically, then stopped herself.  “Sorry,” she muttered, both to Jimmie and the Goobs.

“No,” Pluppa said with a chuckle.  “We were waiting for the reaction, eh?”

Jimmie turned slowly.  The smoke around him was dark grey.  It looked like it was composed of a horde of Joblins.  He leapt backwards, despite half expecting something similar.

“The Eighth Zone,” Momo said.  “Darkness.  It’s not part of the Zones, but it touches each of them.”

“Yup,” Pluppa agreed.  “That’s where Joblins are from, and Dagos.”  Pluppa and Momo looked expectantly at Jimmie.

Cole nudged Jimmie in the side, as though he’d missed the obvious opening.  He hadn’t.  Jimmie sighed, and took his cue.  “What are Dagos?” he asked.

Momo nodded at the question.  See?  Everything in its proper order.”

“Yup,” Pluppa said.  He waved his pipe at the smoke, and the Joblins shifted and scattered nervously.  Large figures shuffled to the front, pushing smoke Joblins aside.  “The Dagos are the leaders and Generals of the Eighth,” Pluppa explained.  “There are seven Dago Generals, and they answer to their King; Drago-Dago.”

The smoke Joblins shifted and swirled as something huge snaked behind them.  Cole caught a glimpse of scales and wings.  “No freakin’ way,” she muttered.  “Drago-Dago is an actual dragon?”

“When he wants to be,” Momo stated.

Pluppa nodded his agreement without speaking.  He blew smoke angrily at the Joblins, and they parted to make room for Drago-Dago.  Jimmie and Cole were braced, ready for a dragon to burst from between the Joblins, and were surprised as Drago stepped calmly into the forefront.

Drago-Dago was a slim middle aged man, with a pencil thin goatee, and dark spiked hair.  His suit was perfectly fitted, perfectly pressed, and likely worth more than Jimmie or Cole would ever see.  The simulacrum Drago-Dago adjusted his tie, and smiled like a shark.  He was a man who’d be just as comfortable on the cover of Fortune 500 as he was surrounded by monsters.

“Looks like he’s always a dragon to me,” Cole commented.

Jimmie stared at Drago-Dago.  “Why is he wearing Armani?” Jimmie questioned.  “Do you even have business men here?”

“Oh yeah, Fella,” Momo said.  “Blubo sells rutabagas.”

Pluppa nodded in agreement.  “None that dress like that though, eh?”  He pointed his pipe at Drago-Dago.  “Do business men dress like that Somewhere Else?”  Pluppa didn’t wait for an answer.  “Princess Cerise was right then.”

“Drago-Dago only began wearing that form recently.  Before his recent attacks, he was always a dragon.  Now?”  Momo shrugged.  “We thought it was some trick.  Maybe that Drago-Dago thought we’d fight him less if he looked like the Royal Family, but Princess Cerise thought different.  She thought that Drago had found a way to Somewhere Else, like in the stories.”

“Seems likely,” Cole said.  She ran her finger through the smoke Drago-Dago, and then wiped her finger on her tights.  “It is a fine suit.”  She smiled crookedly at Pluppa and Momo.  “Don’t think we missed the part where there is a General for every Zone, by the way.  Seven Zones, plus the Darkness?  Seven Generals and a King.”

“That’s right,” Pluppa replied with a nod.  He stomped his foot under the smoke model of the zones, and tiny forts popped up like mushrooms; one on each Zone.  “Without the Royals to stop them, the Dagos have managed to set up bases in every zone.”

“Pretty much, eh?”  Momo looked at the map, and stomped as well.  The forts on the Air, Fire, and Ice Zones throbbed bigger.  “We’re guessing on these ones, eh?”

“Oh yeah, Fellas.”  Pluppa pointed at the one fort on the Central Zone with his pipe.  “That one we know too well, if you know what I mean.”

“I can imagine,” Jimmie said.  “You have your own Dago here then?  What’s it like?  What’s its name?”

“Dilla-Dago!” Deeda yelled suddenly from the floor beneath them.

“That’s right Fella,” Pluppa agreed with an annoyed glance at the floor.  “Though we prefer to finish our own stories.”  He rose his voice for the last bit.

“What are you doing down there?” Momo yelled to the platform.  “Are you listening in?”

“What? No!” Deeda called back up.  “Dilla-Dago is here in town!  He’s called everyone out to Town Square!  He’s looking for the strangers!”

Omira Chapter 5

The inside of Blubo’s cart was twice the size of the outside.  There was a fireplace roaring in the center, circled by a series of comfy looking couches.  The front of the cart was dominated by a large round window, and a series of pulleys and ropes to control the Roopers.  The back was a stack of crates, each stencilled with a picture of a rutabaga.  A steel staircase ran above the door, and led a second floor nook, and the roof turret.

Cole and Jimmie stood just in the doorway, gawking.  Jimmie shook his head, and looked back out the door.  “This.”  He considered pointing out that this was impossible, but figured it would be redundant at this point.  Jimmie looked around the cart’s inside again.  “This.” He repeated.

“This is amazing!” Cole exclaimed.

“Thanks Fella,” Blubo called from above.  He penguin waddled down the stairs to meet Cole and Jimmie.  “It’s a compact model,” he admitted with a smile, “but I didn’t need anything bigger then this.”

Neither Jimmie nor Cole responded.  They just stared at Blubo.  Blubo was pear-shaped, and swaybacked.  His legs were short enough to be nearly non-existent, and ended with a pair of oversized feet in work boots.  With his hat and his overalls, Blubo resembled a thumb that someone had dressed as a farmer.

If Blubo noticed the two staring, he didn’t mention it.  “You Fellas make yourself comfortable,” he suggested with a wave towards the fire.  “I’ve got get them Roopers moving eh?  Then I’ll make you Fellas some soup.”

Cole was the first to recover her manners.  “Thank you,” she said.  Cole gave Jimmie a nudge, and he quickly nodded his thanks.  The two then shuffled to the couches.

Cole and Jimmie collapsed on to the couches.  They hadn’t noticed before how much their legs were aching from leaping and running, but they were noticing now.  They also hadn’t noticed how hungry they were, and soup was sounding great; even if it was likely rutabaga.  They made an effort not to stare at Blubo even though his back was turned.  Instead, they both stared into the fire.

“There’s no smoke coming from the fire,” Jimmie noted.

“Of course not Fella,” Blubo commented from the front of the cart.  “It’s a smokeless fire.”

“Of course it is,” Jimmie said quietly.  He looked up at Blubo.  The strange looking man was working a series of pullies and switches, and checking a bunch of gauges.  It seemed pretty complex to just get a pair of fat Roopers to move.  Jimmie stared back down at his hands.

Cole shuffled along the couch to sit beside Jimmie.  She patted his knee.  “You doing alright?”

Jimmie sighed.  “I’m doing better,” he said.  “They make this look easier in the books.  Kids get whisked away to a magical world, they just shrug and go with it.”

“Well, it wouldn’t be much of a story otherwise,” Cole said.  She mimed opening a book.  “Lucy flipped right out, because damn it, lions shouldn’t be able to talk.  She ran around screaming, then her head exploded.  The end.”

“Alice looked about,” Jimmie added, miming a book as well.  “Nope, she declared.  This is beyond curious.”  Jimmie chuckled.  He patted Cole’s hand, still on his knee.  “You’re handling it a hell of a lot better.”

Cole smiled at Jimmie, and took her hand back.  “No I’m not,” she admitted.  “I’m freaking out inside.  I just hide it better.”  Cole shrugged.  “I know none of this is possible, but I’m not willing to dwell on it.  It’s working for me so far.”

Any more talk about possibility and this place was interrupted as a large black pot lowered itself from the ceiling to the fireplace.  Blubo smiled over from the controls, wheeling the large crank that lowered the pot.

“Lets get you Fellas fed, eh?” he declared.

Blubo didn’t waste time getting to the soup.  He smiled and hummed a bit, but kept conversation short.  He dug into his crates, and pulled out a particularly big rutabaga.  Blubo held it up for inspection, but didn’t wait for a yes or no from Cole and Jimmie.

Blubo’s rutabagas looked an awful lot like turnips; only bigger, and done up in royal purples and snow whites.  He only needed one for the soup; it was as big as Cole’s head.  Blubo chopped up some Crayola orange carrots, and a pink fleshy thing that looked like bubble gum, but smelt like bacon when it cooked.  He threw it all into the pot with a  handful of mixed herbs.

Jimmie watched as Blubo stirred the soup.  The water had taken on the pink color of cotton candy, and the bits of bright tinted vegetables floated garishly in the mix.  Still, he couldn’t deny how great it smelt.  Blubo watched over the soup for a few minutes before spooning out helpings for everyone.  He broke a long loaf of pale green crusty bread into three parts, and offered it out with the soup.  Blubo was an excellent, albeit color blind, chef.  No one spoke until they’d moved deep into third helpings.

Jimmie squinted at the window along the front of the cart.  He couldn’t see much out of it beyond the back ends of the two Roopers.  “Do they just know where to go?” he asked.

“Oh yeah,” Blubo replied.  “They’ve got their blinders on, eh?  So they can only go home.”  Blubo collected Cole and Jimmie’s empty bowls.  He smiled curiosity at Jimmie.  “You don’t have Roopers Somewhere Else?”

“No, we have…”  Jimmie couldn’t decide if horses or cars were the best direction to go.  Both and neither seemed right.  “No, we don’t.”

“That’s a shame, eh?”  Blubo waved at the window.  “Great animals.  Strong, sturdy, loyal.”  Blubo shook his head.  “But not very smart, eh?  You cover up their eyes, and they don’t know how to go anywhere but home.”

“And that’s where we’re headed now?” Cole verified.  “They’re taking us to your home?”

“Oh, we’re in town already,” Blubo replied offhand.  He looked around the cart.  “Ah, heck,” Blubo said.  “I’m real sorry Fellas.  I’m used to driving with the windows closed.  I didn’t even think, eh?”

Blubo waddled over to the controls, and flipped a few levers.  The walls of the cart broke into a mesh of panels.  The panels all flipped, turning transparent as they tilted over.  The entire cart suddenly became a giant viewing dome, and the outside world was visible all around them.

“That is amazing,” Jimmie stated, hopping up from the sofa.

“Yes it is,” Cole agreed.  She got up to, and pressed her hands against a now see-through wall.

The cart passed  between a series of thick pillars, and it took a moment to recognize them as homes.  The buildings looked like fingers jutting out of the ground.  They were covered in different lines of shaded grass, and finished with rounded roofs.  Each house had only a few windows at the top that gave the illusion of them having faces.  Some of the islands floated between the buildings, and someone had seen sense in running rope bridges between the ones too far away for a good jump.

“This is the most phallic town I’ve ever driven through,” Cole announced.  “And I’ve been to Montreal.”

“How does that even?” Jimmie asked.  He wasn’t certain how Montreal was more or less phallic than any other city.  He’d never been.

Outside; dozens of Blubo like folk wandered the streets.  They all wore simple overalls or dresses, and everyone wore an oversized hat. The men wore straw hats, or rice hats, or wide brimmed fedoras, while the women wore grand bonnets or huge summer hats.  Everyone either waddled like Blubo, or hopped about on the spongy earth.  Anyone that passed nearby stopped to wave at Blubo’s cart.

Jimmie waved back politely.  “Can they see us?”

“Well of course not Fella,” Blubo said.  “That’s not how windows work.”  He chuckled.  “They just recognize my cart.”  Blubo stuck his thumbs in the straps of his overalls.  “I’m pretty well known amongst the Goobs,” he declared.  “Blubo’s famous rutabagas?”

Cole bit back a giggle as hard as she could.  “Goobs,” she repeated.  “Is that what your people are called?”

“That’s right Fella,” Blubo stated proudly.  “Everyone around here’s a Goob.”  Blubo thought on it.  “Well, everyone ‘cept for the princess, eh?  And I guess you Fellas.”

“What’s the princess?” Jimmie asked.  He shot Cole a pre-emptive glance before she could add a comment.

“Well, she’s the princess, ain’t she Fella.”  Blubo replied dismissively.  “There,” he stated with a point out the front.  “Town Hall.  That’s where we’re headed.”

Town Hall was a stubby building.  It was covered with grass, and rounded out at the top like the rest, but it was only a few stories high.  Two huge rounded windows dominated the front, just above the double doors that curved upward near the edges.  With it’s windows and doors; Town Hall looked pleasantly surprised to see them.

Blubo hopped across the cart, and began pulling levers and ropes.  Outside, the Roopers stopped, and blinked as their blinders lifted.  They shifted slowly, and turned towards Town Hall.

Omira Chapter 4

Getting from one island to the next was becoming a tested science, but getting down was still in the theory phase.  Cole and Jimmie tried jumping down again, only to find that it didn’t work as well from bigger islands as it had the first time they had done it.  They finally managed to push off hard from the bottom after taking a good run at it.

Cole and Jimmie had been too busy trying to get down to discuss an approach to the cart, but still they managed a team effort.  They walked over to the cart in a slow steady pace, trying almost too hard to look casual.  Jimmie stepped up and knocked on a side window like a state trooper, while Cole stayed just behind him, looking intimidating.

The cart’s driver didn’t answer the window.  Instead he popped his head out the roof like it was a tank turret.  The driver scratched his head along the wide brim of a straw hat.  He blinked down at Cole and Jimmie.  “Oh,” he said.  “Hey there Fellas!”

Jimmie and Cole didn’t respond.  They just stared at the cart driver.  He had bright pink skin.  His head and neck were as wide as his torso, and he looked like a pencil eraser in overalls.  His eyes were beady, and close together.  He had no nose or ears.  When the driver smiled, his face split nearly in two, exposing rows of giant square teeth.  Cole screamed, but the driver didn’t notice her because Jimmie screamed first, and screamed louder.

“Whoa, hey there Fella,” the cart driver said, still smiling.  “Settle down, eh?  You’ll startle the Roopers with all of that yelling.”

The  man motioned to the fat dino-things that were pulling his cart.  Evidently they were called Roopers.  One of them looked back at Cole and Jimmie.  It gummed at its bridle slowly, and didn’t seem that startled by them at all.

“We’re real sorry mister,” Jimmie offered, once he regained his posture.  “We’re new here, and we’re a bit jumpy.”

“Naw, that’s ok Fella,” the driver said.  He smiled even wider.  “We’re all a bit jumpy these days.”  The driver put a thick elbow on the edge of his cart, and leant in all comfortable.  “I’m Blubo,” he offered.  “Nice to meet you.  Where you Fellas from?”

Cole and Jimmie both pointed up at the floating rocks, unsure what else to say.  Blubo just nodded.  “Whelp, always better up than down, that’s what we say, ain’t it Fellas?”

“I guess,” Cole replied.  She thought about it, and shook her head.  “Actually, no.  I have no idea what that means.”

Blubo looked embarrassed.  “Well, maybe you don’t say it up in your zone,” he muttered.  “Down here though, I guess we just find that folks from the upper zones tend to be a bit more friendly like than ones from below, eh?”  Blubo shrugged.  “I guess it’s good that you Fellas up there ain’t saying it, since we’re down from you here.”  Blubo scratched his head again.  “I’m sorry Fellas, what zone did you say you were from?”

“I don’t get it,” Jimmie admitted.  “What are zones?  Are they other places just floating above us?  Like the rock islands?”  He struggled with the concept.  “Bigger rock islands?”

Cole joined in, equally confused.  “And there’s more under us?”

“Well sure Fellas, the eight zones,” Blubo offered.  “Three above us, and three below us.”  Blubo tucked his thumbs into his overall straps.  “Then you got us here in the middle.  All grass and sunshine.”  His smile faltered as he looked Jimmie and Cole over.  “I mean, you must know about he zones,” Blubo insisted.  “Unless…”  his eyes went wide as he continued to stare at Jimmie and Cole.  “Do you know Princess Cerise?”

“Not by name,” Jimmie admitted.  “Does she have pink hair?  Looks more like us than, uh, than like you?”  He faltered at the end, not sure if pointing out the obvious difference in appearance counted as racism.

Cole rolled her eyes.  “Bad habit of making out with complete strangers?” she added.  Cole made a face at Jimmie when he elbowed her.  “Tell me I’m wrong,” she challenged.

“Well I don’t know about that last bit, Fella,” Blubo cut in, “but the pink hair is right.”  Blubo smiled his face splitting smile.  “Princess Cerise was certain that there was something other than the zones.  She thought there was Somewhere Else.  We’d heard that she’d found a way there, just before she went missing.”

“What’d she say about this Somewhere Else?” Jimmie asked.

“Well, I don’t know that much about it Fella,” Blubo admitted.  “There’s stories, eh?  Long ago types where a hero showed up from Somewhere Else when things were bad?  Well, Princess Cerise believed all of them.”

Blubo looked around, as if making sure no one was listening in.  “Between you and me Fellas, I think she became a bit obsessed.  Princess Cerise thought that the royal family was descended from old heroes from Somewhere Else.”  Blubo nodded.  “Course, that might be why the Princess looks more like you than like, you know, like me.”  Blubo faltered at the end, and Jimmie thought it might be for the same reason he had earlier.

Cole cut in.  “So you think we’re from Somewhere Else?”

“You’re not from any of the Eight Zones, right?  So you must be from Somewhere Else.”

“Can’t argue that logic,” Cole admitted.

“Wait.”  Jimmie did a quick mental count.  “Three above, three below, and you here.”  Jimmie shrugged.  “That’s only seven zones.  You just said there were eight.”

Blubo nodded.  “Yeah,” he admitted.  “There is the other one.  We don’t much like to talk about it Fella.”  Blubo sighed when he looked at Cole and Jimmie.  They weren’t going to relent.  “Alright,” he started.  “The eighth zone isn’t above or below.”  Blubo waved his arms in a wide circle.  “It’s beside us, and around us.  It exists on the edge of all the other zones.”  Blubo lowered his voice to a harsh whisper.  “The eighth is a zone of darkness.  It’s where the Dagos come from; where the Joblins and worse live.”

“Oh,” Jimmie said.  “We’re not from there.”

“Look, I might not be the one to talk to about all of this,” Blubo admitted.  “I’m a rutabaga salesman.  I sell rutabagas.  Zone astrology isn’t my strong suit.”  Blubo reached into his cart and pressed at a button.  One of the large circles on the cart rolled aside.

“Why don’t you guys come to town with me?” Blubo offered with a wave at the open portal.  “Pluppa and Momo might be able to explain better, eh?”

Cole and Jimmie looked at each other and shrugged.  “Sure,” Cole replied.  “It’s not like we were doing anything else with our day.”

Omira Chapter 3

Jimmie’s calves hurt from trying to walk on the soft weird ground.  He bounced with every step, no matter how much he tried to fight it.  It wasn’t just the ground either; it was like gravity was lower here than he was accustomed to.  Jimmie fought the urge to compare the gravity here to the gravity on Earth, mainly because he wasn’t willing to accept that he and Cole weren’t on Earth.

Cole was more accepting of the situation.  She threw herself into the air for the umpteenth million time, using the odd textured ground like a trampoline.  She did a flip, and crashed laughing on her back.  Cole bounced along the ground a few times before coming to a stop.  “This whole place is like one giant bouncy castle!”

“Yes, just like.”  Jimmie loped along, but he did everything in his power not to bounce. Cole made it look like fun, but Jimmie wasn’t past the ‘this is impossible’ phase of his day yet.

Cole flopped like a fish out of water until the action bounced her back to her feet.  “Right,” she declared, rolling her shoulders, and making a show of stretching.  “I’m going to try and jump up to one of the floating islands.”  She smirked at Jimmie’s look of disapproval.  “I have to know if it works.”

“We just got down,” Jimmie replied.  It had been an hour since they’d gotten down, but relatively, it was true.  “Besides,” he added weakly, “it’s not supposed to be possible.  Gravity doesn’t work like that.”

“Screw gravity,” Cole stated.  “What’s it done for us today?”  She pointed at a small nearby island.  “I’m going for it.”

Cole took three long strides, and leapt at a floating rock no bigger than a sidewalk slab.  She pin-wheeled her arms as she floated for a moment, and then spun as she was dragged suddenly towards the ball of grass and dirt.  Cole hit belly first, and wrapped her arms and legs around the small island.  She stayed that way for awhile.

Jimmie chuckled at her.  “You ok?”

“Ow,” Cole replied with a laugh.  She stood up along the side of the island, and rubbed her chest.  “It’s weird,” she explained.  “When you get close to the islands, you flip.  It’s like gravity wants you to land on your feet.”  Cole looked over at a larger island floating nearby.  “I wonder…”

“It’s hurting my brain to look at you standing sideways like that,” Jimmie commented.  “I know I sound like a broken record, but this isn’t possible.”

“uh huh.”  Cole was still staring at the next island.  “You may not want to be under me in a second.  What I’m about to do is going to blow both our minds, and there’s a fifty/fifty that I’m going to throw up.”

Cole took a deep breath, and braced herself.  She walked a full rotation around the island; stopping at the top.  Pleased that she wasn’t going to fall off, Cole broke into a run.  From Jimmie’s point of view, Cole looked like a propeller.  He expected her to come flying off at any moment.

Cole laughed like an excited child.  “This is both awesome and messed up,” she yelled as she ran.  “It’s like I’m staying still, and the scenery is spinning around me!  I feel like the island is rolling under my feet.  It’s like I’m circus balling!”

“That’s great,” Jimmie replied.  He did some quick calculations, and moved out of vomit trajectory.  Watching Cole was making him queasy, so he had little faith in her stomach holding up.  “Maybe you should come down,” he suggested.

Cole ignored Jimmie’s suggestion.  She ran a few more laps, building up courage with each pass. Cole made one more full rotation, and leapt at the larger island ahead of her.  She closed her eyes, and tucked her arms to her sides.  This time, instead of flailing against the pull of the large island, Cole let gravity have its way.  She tilted in the air, and landed in a crouch against the side of the island.  Cole opened her eyes, and cheered at her success.  She stayed in a crouch; Matrix posing for effect.  “Is that awesome or what?  You have got to try this Jimmie!”

Jimmie circled Cole’s Island a bit.  It was about the size of a Volkswagen.  “I don’t know,” he said.  “I’m still getting over the fact that what you did was impossible.”

Cole followed Jimmie on his walk, staying at a ninety degree angle of him the whole time.  “Yeah yeah,” she said.  “Hundred reasons not to try it, right?”  Jimmie shrugged his response, and Cole smirked at him.  “There’s one reason for you to do it though,” she stated.  “I did it, and you do so much want to be cool.”

Jimmie nodded slow.  “Peer pressure is a thing,” he admitted.

Cole clapped excitedly, but stopped herself as soon as she recognized how ridiculous it looked.  Peer pressure was a thing.  She pointed back to where she’d begun.  “Alright, I’ll wait here, and you…”

“No,” Jimmie interrupted.  “I saw your first landing.  I have some pride, and I’m not going to stomach-slam the same rock.”  He pointed off to a lower island about the size of a house.  “I’m going to start there,” he announced.

“Fine,” Cole agreed, already breaking into a run.  “I’ll race you there!”

Cole ran the distance of her grass island, and flung herself at the next one.  From there she skipped along a series of tiny islands like she was crossing a river.  Jimmie shadowed her below.  He gave up fighting the strange gravity, and lunged along the ground in great leaps and strides.  Jimmie launched himself at the large island the same time Cole was landing on the far side of it.

It was just like Cole had explained it.  Jimmie could feel gravity tug at him from the large island, and twist him in the air.  He rode with it, and landed in a tucked roll.  Jimmie finished in a sprinter’s crouch.  He smiled at Cole as she jogged over to join him, and broke into a run again.

Accepting that gravity was more of a suggestion than a law was very liberating.  Jimmie laughed as he ran.  He leapt to the next island, and this time didn’t bother to roll.  Jimmie landed feet first, and just kept running.

Jimmie had always considered himself to be very agile, but this was beyond anything he could have ever dreamed.  When Jimmie saw that the next island was a good fifty feet away, he didn’t even think twice.  He just leapt.

Jimmie knew he wasn’t going to make it a second before gravity agreed.  For a moment he floated between the two islands, then he was suddenly freefalling.  Jimmie’s brain reminded him that he was easily fifty feet up, and that shattering his legs was the best case scenario.  Jimmie didn’t have much time to think on it, and wasted what he had taking a page from Cole’s book.  Screw it he thought, just before hitting the ground.

The ground went slack beneath his feet as he landed.  He could feel it recoil and then go taunt again, like a trampoline.  Jimmie rode the wave, and leapt again at the last second.  He was launched back up to the island he’d missed, and landed feet first on its underside.  Jimmie exhaled sharply, now able to think about what happened.  He sat down.

Cole circled around from the top, having found a less suicidal path along some smaller islands.  Despite concern, she managed a smile for Jimmie.  “Are you ok?”

“My God,” Jimmie replied when he found his voice.  “This must be what Spider-Man feels like every day.”

Cole laughed.  She patted Jimmie on the back, and sat down beside him.  “So, you’re ok then?”

Jimmie sighed.  He looked up at the ground beneath them.  For a second, his brain reminded him that they were hanging upside down, but the panic wasn’t there.  “I’m ok,” he said.  “I’m surprisingly ok, considering how mind-bendingly insane this all is.”

Jimmie watched the horizon, brow knit with sudden concern.  “I’ll be even better when I know what that is,” he commented.

There was a road running along the ground below them; just a bit off to their left.  A cart trotted along the road, pulled by a pair of fat toothless velociraptors.  The cart was a large bubbled dome.  The doors and windows were round, and placed asymmetrically around the vehicle.  It was painted in bright reds and pinks, and resembled a cartoon mushroom top on wheels.

Cole and Jimmie scrambled up the island, hoping they hadn’t been seen.  They dropped to their bellies, and watched the cart pass slowly below.

“Do you think they saw us?” Jimmie asked.

“Dunno,” Cole admitted.  “What do you think?  Maybe it’s those monster things?”

“Joblins,” Jimmie muttered.

“I mean, I doubt it,” Cole continued, ignoring Jimmie.  “Personally, I’d like to think that monsters would drive something a little more ominous.  Something less colourful.”

“Joblins,” Jimmie corrected again.  He shrugged at Cole.  “The girl with the pink hair called the monsters Joblins.”

“I wasn’t really paying attention to what Miss Bi-Request had to say,” Cole replied bitterly.

“So she did kiss you,” Jimmie confirmed.

“Whatever.”  Cole rolled of her eyes, and pointed back at the road.  “I don’t think the Joblins are going to ride in a mushroom shaped clown cart.”

“Fair enough.”  Jimmie watched the cart.  “Should we go down then, see who is driving it?  Maybe they can tell us where we are, and what the hell is going on.”

Cole nodded, and began to circle back around to the bottom of the island.  Jimmie grabbed her arm before she could leave.  “If this turns out to be weird,” he said, “we get right back up here.”

Cole shook her arm free.  “We’re about to casually jump fifty feet down from a floating island to stop a mushroom cart being pulled by fat dinosaurs.”  She gave Jimmie a look.  “I think at this point weird is a relative term.”

Omira Chapter 2

Cole squinted against the sunlight, and refused to open her eyes.  Her back was stiff from laying on the ground, and she felt sticky and wet from morning dew.   Cole had no idea where she was, and to be honest, wasn’t awake enough yet to care.  She groaned as she tried to piece together the events of last night.

Cole grimaced as she remembered being tongue ambushed by the girl with the pink hair.  She remembered blacking out, but she didn’t remember anything after that.  She could feel sun on her face, and the grass against her back, so she knew she was outside at least.  Cole rolled her head so she wouldn’t be looking right at the sun when she opened her eyes.

Jimmie was already up.  He was sitting on the grass beside Cole, staring off in the distance.  He nodded to suggest he knew Cole was up, but he didn’t look over.  Cole gave a half smile, just before the rest of the evening’s memories returned.  She leapt to her feet with a gasp as she remembered the warehouse, the shadow, and the monster.

Cole blinked at their surrounding.  There was no monster, no shadow.  It was far too bright for shadows of any sort.  She slumped back down to the grass beside Jimmie; shaking her head.  Everything was in Technicolor.  The grass was too green.  The sky was too blue, and the clouds were too white.  Giant butterflies flittered lazily past, and even they were too colourful.  But that wasn’t the weirdest part of the scenery.

Islands of earth floated in the air around them in all directions.  They hovered like hills that had broken free of the land.  Some were tiny, no more then steps floating in the air, but others looked like they could support small towns.  They were all perfectly round, and covered in grass.  The odd one even had a few trees jutting in random directions.  They looked like giant bubbles of earth floating above the landscape.

Cole looked around, suddenly less certain they were just on a hill.  Jimmie nodded before she could ask.  “Yes,” he assured her.  “We’re on a floating rock right now.”  Jimmie chuckled.  “I looked over the edge before you woke up.  It’s pretty disconcerting.”

There was an obvious warning in Jimmie’s comment, but Cole ignored it.  Anyone would.  She crawled over to the edge of the hill, and stared down.  Sure enough, there was land about forty feet beneath them.  They weren’t moving, but it was still dizzying to look over the curved edge.  Cole backed away slowly

“Wow,” she declared.

“I know,” Jimmie said.  “I’ve been trying to find a better way to put it, but wow is all I’ve got so far.”

“How is this even possible?”

“It’s not,” Jimmie replied.  “It’s not even remotely possible.”

Cole walked cautiously back to Jimmie’s side.  Despite the ground being stable, just knowing that they were floating made it feel like the earth was shifting beneath her feet.  Cole stepped like she was walking on eggshells; and sat the moment she’d joined Jimmie.

“So,” she said.  “Now what do we do?”

Jimmie shrugged.  He pulled the blanket from his pack, and laid it out on the grass.  He rifled through his pack, and found some food tucked away at the bottom.  He laid out their feast on the blanket.  Floating island picnic was the best he had to offer.

Cole raised a sceptic eyebrow to Jimmie’s spread.  “You have granola bars and apples?”  She smirked.  “Did your mom pack your bag for you?”

“Hey, if you don’t want any, just say so.”

Cole motioned for Jimmie to hand over a granola bar.  “I don’t suppose she packed you a few drink boxes?”

“Sure.”  Jimmie threw Cole a Keystone.  “No bendy straw though.”

They opened the beers, but left them ignored on the grass.  Cole laid down on the blanket, and stared into the sky.  There was bright sunlight, but no sun.  The sky above was overcast, with white clouds that looked like they’d been put up with a paint roller.  Other floating islands dotted the sky.

“World’s gone insane.  Physics have gone tits up,” Cole declared.  She basked in the sunlight.  “At least it’s warm.”

Jimmie laid down beside Cole.  “I’m trying not to think about it much; the physics part at least.  It feels like if I think too hard on how screwed up this is, reality might agree.”

“And then we’ll crash,” Cole finished.  She’d felt the same way since she’d looked over the edge.  “I know what you mean.  It feels solid right here, but every time I look at the edge, I expect the whole thing to roll over and dump us off.”  Cole sighed, and went back to looking at the sky.  “I suppose we need to get down somehow.”

“I guess.”  Jimmie stared at the sky.  Neither he nor Cole said anything for a bit.

“Jimmie,” Cole said, still looking at the sky.  “I’m about two seconds from flipping right out.”

Jimmie nodded.  “Yeah, I’m there.  I was going to have a full breakdown earlier, but I didn’t want to wake you up.”

“Always the gentleman.”  Cole sat up, and took a bite of her granola bar.  “So, you’ve had more time to freak out.  That means you’ve had more time to think.  What’s our next step?”

“Getting down from here is step one,” Jimmie said.  “I don’t know how to do that, but I think I’ve got a place to go once we manage.”

Cole nodded, and leant in as Jimmie made a frame in the air with his fingers.  “Right there,” he told Cole.  “It’s a good bit off, but it’s there.”

Cole looked through Jimmie’s hands.  Off in the distance was a castle.  The castle wasn’t much more than a dot on a distant hill, and Cole had to squint to see it, but it was there.  “Is that the castle from the shadows?”  She shook her head.  “But that’s where the monster came from,” she declared.

“Maybe,” Jimmie replied.  He gave a ‘you never know’ sort of shrug.  “I mean, it ran from the shadow, and it looked like it came from the castle.”  Jimmie didn’t have much of an argument from that direction, and decided to go another route.  “The castle’s all that’s out there,” he amended.  “Maybe it’s a monster castle, maybe it’s not.  It’s civilization either way.  It might be a way home.”

“It’s better than nothing I guess.”  Cole crawled back to the edge, and looked over.  They were just as high up as they’d been a minute ago.  “How did we even get here?”

“I’m not sure,” Jimmie said.  “I mean, pink haired girl kissed me, and I blacked out.  I guess she brought us here?”  Jimmie touched his lips, and then looked at Cole.  “Wait, did she…?”

“Did she make out with me?”  Cole turned a scowl on Jimmie.  “I’m here, same as you.  Draw your own conclusions.”

“Hot,” Jimmie commented under his breath.  He watched as Cole tossed her pack over the side, and began crawling backwards towards the edge.  “Whoa,” he called.  “Cole, what are you doing?”

“I’m getting down,” she replied.  “I’m going to hang off the edge, see how close to the ground I can get, then I’m going to drop down.”

Jimmie scrambled forward, and grabbed Cole’s hands.  “Hold on,” he insisted.  “We can at least try to be smart about this.”  Jimmie pushed forward on his belly, and lowered Cole as far as he could.

Cole crawled carefully down the edge of the floating island.  She waved a foot in the air occasionally to test how near she was to dipping off.  She was never dangling though, even as she crawled past the curve of the side.  Cole blinked confusion up at Jimmie.

“I’m not un-sticking,” she declared finally.  She let go of Jimmie’s hands, and continued to belly crawl down the side of the island.

Cole dipped out of sight around the curve of their floating island, but still didn’t fall.  Jimmie stared for a good long time before turning around to crawl backwards after her.  Sticking or not, he’d be damned if he was going to crawl headfirst down the side of the island.

Jimmie crawled backwards along the side of the floating island, then along the bottom.  He found that if he just kept his eyes on the grass under his hands, it didn’t feel at all like he was upside down.  He instead felt like he was crawling slowly, backwards, along a hill.  He actually felt a bit foolish.

“This isn’t how gravity works,” Jimmie insisted.

“I know, right?”  Cole swallowed hard.  Her voice wavered.

Jimmie had backward crawled right to Cole.  She was standing, but on pretty shaky legs.  Cole had the back of her hand over her mouth, and looked very pale.  Jimmie Braced himself, and pushed up from the ground.

“Wait,” Cole warned.  “Keep your eyes on your feet; trust me.”  She watched Jimmie stand.  “I looked up.  Or down, or…”  She swallowed hard again.  “I’m still having trouble processing it.  I’d throw up, but I don’t know what direction it’ll go.”  Cole gave a weak smile, and immediately covered her mouth again.  “I think if you just look at your feet, you’ll be fine.  Probably.”

Jimmie nodded.  He focused on the grass as he stood.  He’d expected to feel like he was upside down, but he didn’t.  It just felt like he was standing up.  Jimmie smiled at Cole, and gave a ‘that wasn’t so bad’ shrug, just before he looked up.

Jimmie half expected the ground to be above him like a ceiling, but that wasn’t the case.  His brain immediately recognized that he was hanging upside down twenty feet above the ground, with nothing it recognized holding him in place.  Every muscle in Jimmie’s body clenched.  He dropped back to the ground, and grabbed handfuls of grass to keep from falling.

“Damn it man, what did I just tell you?”

Jimmie let go of his death grip on the grass.  He shook his head weakly.  “Couldn’t be helped.  It’s like if you asked me not to look back, or not think about a white elephant.”

Jimmie forced himself back to his feet, understanding now how Cole felt.  “Alright,” he said.  He thought for a moment.  “I think we need to jump.”

“I think you’re right,” Cole said.

They stood staring at each other, neither willing to actually jump.  Cole chuckled, and held out her hands for Jimmie to hold.  “Peer pressure; we do it together or not at all.”

Jimmie grabbed Cole’s hands.  “Well, I have to do it now,” he stated.  “All my friends are doing it.  I do so much want to be cool.”  He gave Cole’s hands a squeeze, and took some comfort when she squeezed back.  “On three?”

Cole nodded.  They counted together, and on three, they both pushed off as hard as they could.  For a moment, it felt like they would just fall back up to their island, and then felt themselves gripped from beneath.  They were tugged into a spin as the gravity of the mainland asserted itself, and pulled them down.

Jimmie and Cole twisted in the air as they fell.  They landed flat on their backs, still holding hands.  The ground was spongy soft, as though made entirely of Nerf.  Both of them had the wind knocked out of them, but beyond that they were unharmed.

Cole recovered first.  She sat up, and rubbed her back.  “It could have gone worse,” she said.

Jimmie groaned, and stared up at the floating rock above them.  “I left my backpack up there,” he replied.  “And we left the beer behind.”

“Like I said, could have been worse.” Cole smirked as she took the wine out of her pack, and handed Jimmie the bottle.  She thought a second, then drooped at the shoulders.  “I don’t have any way to open that,” she admitted.

Jimmie looked at the bottle.  “You know the irony of this?  I have a corkscrew.  It’s in my backpack.”  He tossed the wine back to Cole

“That’s not irony, that’s just unfortunate.”  Cole put the bottle back in her pack.  “We could try to jump back up,” she offered with no real conviction.

Jimmie shook his head.  “Not even willing to try,” he told Cole.  “I think it might work, and then my brain would explode.”  He shrugged.  “I’d rather accept the loss for now.”

Cole agreed with a nod.  She pointed a thumb towards the castle.  “Might as well start walking then.”

Omira Chapter 1

Mystery Warehouse had sat abandoned as long as anyone could remember.  No one was even sure who owned it, or who took care of it.  The logo had fallen from the front door long ago, leaving only a giant ‘P’ behind.  Even that was broken in a way that made it look more like a question mark than a letter.

No one bothered with Mystery Warehouse.  No one visited.  It had a large fence, and plenty of keep out signs, but not much more for security.  Mystery Warehouse didn’t need security; everyone avoided it, even though no one talked about why.  There was a collective of ghost stories and sense of strange that emanated from Mystery Warehouse.  It served to keep the place mostly ignored, and mostly unvisited.

Cole and Jimmie snuck in the dead of night to the fence surrounding the warehouse.  They crouched like ninjas, and looked over their shoulders like convicts.  Both of them had worn their best dark sneaking clothes.  Jimmie was in dark jeans, and a tight black tee that declared him to be part of the band.  He wasn’t.  Cole wore a short black skirt over thick black tights.  Her shirt stated that she’d visited Marine Land, which was true.  She hid it under a black hoodie though.  The two looked about once, and nodded at their clearance.

Jimmie hopped up the fence in only a step or two.  He crouched at the top, and smiled back down at Cole.  With his black clothes, his slim build and his dark cropped hair, he looked like a crow perched on the fence.  He wasn’t skinny, but he wasn’t the biggest kid at school in any way.  Instead, Jimmie had a gymnast’s musculature, and seemed to think that meant he needed a gymnast’s skills.  He took a moment to pose on top of the fence before offering Cole help.  He held the top bar with one hand, and reached with the other for Cole to grab hold of.

“C’mon,” he offered in a whisper.

Cole scowled at Jimmie’s hand.  She was small in both height and weight, and had the big eyes and crescent features that people found cute.  Cole had cut off most of her hair recently, but that had somehow just made people underestimate her more.  Cole saw cute as a synonym for helpless, at least the way people used it around her.  She didn’t consider herself to be cute, and she certainly didn’t consider herself helpless.  Cole scrambled up the fence without Jimmie’s assistance.

The two dropped down from the fence in unison.  They rolled a bit on the grassy hill, and stayed low when they’d stopped.  Convinced they were still alone, the two took a moment to check their supplies.  They both had flashlights, but beyond that, they’d packed quite differently.

Jimmie’s backpack was jammed with books, bits of paper, and odd ends of clothes.  Jimmie had  also stuffed it with a blanket, and a few Keystones.  Jimmie wasn’t expecting Cole to use the blanket with him; not like that at least.  He just always packed one in case they wanted to sit down for a bit.  He did expect Cole to share the Keystones, because beer was for sharing; especially when sitting about an abandoned warehouse on a convenient blanket.

Cole’s backpack was much smaller than Jimmie’s.  It had a similar array of junk, but not as much, and not as sloppily packed.  Cole had her camera.  She intended to get a few shots of the inside of the warehouse, or so she said when she’d agreed to break in with Jimmie.  Really she just wanted to see the place.  Cole also had a bottle of wine, because she knew that Jimmie had crap taste in beer.

“I’ve never understood why this place is always empty,” Cole commented as they got close.  “I mean, it’s just here.  No one watching.  This should be druggie party central.”  She shrugged.  “If nothing else, it should be the first stop on the young parenthood train.”

Jimmie chuckled.  “No one likes to be here,” he said.  “Too weird for tripping out, and too scary for anything else.”

Cole rolled her eyes.  “Yeah, real scary.”   She laughed at Jimmie.  “You don’t believe all the stories do you?  I mean, people going missing?  Monsters?  Weird lights?”  She waved at Mystery Warehouse.  “I mean, really, it’s just an old building.”

“Maybe,” Jimmie agreed.  “People do go missing.”

“People go missing all over the world.  They don’t all come here first.”

Jimmie shrugged.  He made a show of licking his finger, and holding it up to check the wind.  “It’s something in the air,” he concluded.  “You can’t tell me you don’t feel it.  It feels like we’re going into a church on a Monday.”

Cole thought on it.  She did have a weird feeling about the evening, but she wasn’t about to put anything more to it than it was.  “It’s called nerves Jimmie,” she replied.  “We’re about to pull some serious B and E, no matter how you want to look at it.”

“Hey, you asked,” Jimmie replied.  “Maybe the crack-heads can feel it too.  Do you think anyone wants to trip out feeling like this?”  He raised an eyebrow.  “Or, maybe they know something we don’t.”  He scrunched up, and did some spirit fingers in front of his face to show that the last comment was supposed to be spooky.

“Sure,” Cole said.  She punched Jimmie in the arm for his troubles.  “Lets do this then, find out what they know that we don’t.”

Jimmie and Cole had to circle the warehouse a few times before they found an entrance.  In the back, there was a small basement window that was uncovered.  Jimmie poked his head in first.  When he felt it was clear, he climbed down to the basement.

Cole gave him a moment before she tried to follow.  She felt Jimmie’s hands on her legs as soon as she stuck them in the window.  He tried to pull her in, but with a frantic sort of blind yanking and patting.

“Watch it,” Cole growled as he gripped along the inside of her thigh.

“Shhh,” Jimmie responded immediately.  There was a panic in his voice.

Cole slid the rest of the way into the window.  She hung from her fingertips for a second, then dropped to the floor below.  “Not going back that way,” she muttered with a glance back up at the window.  “Even with a boost, there’s nothing out there to grab.  We didn’t really think this through.”

“Shhh,” Jimmie hissed again.  He tugged Cole down into a crouch beside him.  “We’re not alone,” he whispered.  “there were two guys.”  Jimmie hung on the word guys, as if unsure.

Cole stayed low with Jimmie, and took in the room slowly from her position.  It was small, with a desk, an old chair, and a filing cabinet.  There was a poster of a kitten hanging from a branch, but nothing else.  Cole found herself idly wondering what position in the mystery company stuck you with a small basement office.  Someone had spray painted the word OMIRA over the door, with an arrow pointing outNo one had touched the office otherwise; possibly in decades.

“There’s no one here now,” Cole stated after a few moments.  She stared annoyance at Jimmie when he grabbed her arm.

Jimmie looked at Cole wide eyed.  “Hold on,” he insisted.  “We have to be sure.”  He poked his head up over the desk, and looked about frantically.

“You ok?” Cole shook free of Jimmie’s grasp.  “Because I gotta be honest, you’re freaking me out right now.”

“Sorry,” Jimmie muttered.  “I’m freaked out a bit myself.”  He looked at Cole, and laughed a bit at himself.  “You had to see them Cole,” Jimmie explained.  “There was something seriously wrong about them.”

“Meth-head wrong?”

Jimmie nodded quickly.  He thought on it for a moment.  “I don’t know,” he admitted.  “It was different.  They just seemed wrong; like they were walking at a weird angle, or…”  Jimmie opened his hands showing his lack of descriptive.  “They were just wrong to look at.”

“I don’t know,” Jimmie continued.  “I couldn’t see them well, but they were all slouched, and funny shaped.”  He shook his head as he tried to explain.  “I don’t know if they didn’t see me drop in, or if they saw and just didn’t care.”

“Probably didn’t understand,” Cole suggested.  “Maybe they figured you were some figment of their imagination.  Sounds like they were pretty messed.”

“Is that even how meth works?”  Jimmie watched Cole shrug, and continued.  “Look, we should get out of here.”

“Agreed.”  Cole put her hands flat over her mouth and forehead.  “Ninja mode.”

Jimmie looked up at the window they’d come in from.  He sighed, and followed Cole into the halls.  Unlike the office, the halls of the Mystery Warehouse had seen visitors before.  Papers were strewn through the halls along with broken furniture, and shattered florescent bulbs.  The walls were covered with graffiti; mostly of mushrooms, question marks, and dollar signs.  The graffiti had the bubbly design common of the seventies instead of the sharp scribbles of modern work.  The wall art looked like it would be colourful under the light of day, but right now was steeped in the same grey dullness of the rest of the hallway.

Jimmie grabbed up a solid looking desk leg from the floor, and kept an eye out for the guys he’d seen earlier.  So far though, he and Cole seemed alone.  “Maybe they took off,” he muttered, more to himself.

“Mmm,” Cole replied.  She’d taken her camera out at some point, and was taking shots of the graffiti, and the mess.  She poked her head in a door as they passed it, and shook her head.  “Just a bunch of offices.”  Cole lowered her camera.  “No bathroom.  No stairs.  Just offices.  This must be what hell is like for accountants.”

“This is a long hall,” Jimmie agreed.  He looked both directions, and shook his head.  It seemed to go forever.  “Are we even under the warehouse anymore?”

“I don’t know,” Cole admitted.  She looked around frantically.  “It’s an old warehouse right?  Maybe this hall leads to a forgotten bomb shelter?”

Cole nodded at her own suggestion, and began snapping photos again.  “Or maybe…”  She stopped dead as she ducked in the door of one of the offices.

“Maybe what?”  Jimmie followed her into the office.

Cole was standing in the center of the room, blinking at the walls.  Jimmie looked about.  The room had a desk, a filing cabinet and a beat up chair, but nothing much more.  There was a poster on the wall of a kitten hanging onto a branch, and someone had spray painted the word OMIRA over the door.

“No,” Cole muttered.

“It’s not possible,” Jimmie agreed.  “We couldn’t have been turned around.  We’ve been walking in a straight line!”

Cole circled the desk.  The window looked even higher up than it had before, but beyond that, there was no question; it was the same room.  She could hear scraping behind her as Jimmie pushed the desk under the window.  Even with the desk though, they couldn’t reach the window.

There was a flicker in the light outside as someone walked by the window.  Cole almost laughed; she was willing to deal with meth-heads right now if it meant getting out of this basement.  She could at least punch her way away from them.  Jimmie grabbed Cole from behind, and covered her mouth before she could call out.  He shook his head quickly at her, and motioned at the window.

Outside, there was a steady moaning noise; like wind through an old house.  It took Cole only a second to recognize it was coming from whoever was out there.  She didn’t struggle as Jimmie slowly backed both of them out of the room.

“Ok,” Cole said when Jimmie let go.  “This is pretty messed up right here.”

Jimmie didn’t respond.  He was too busy looking around.  They had left the room, but they weren’t in the hall.  Instead, they were in a cavernous room, decorated with random stacks of wooden crates.  “This isn’t just messed up,” he finally declared.  “It’s impossible.”

Cole nodded her agreement.  She wandered through the room in a trance.  Part of her considered opening some of the crates and finding out what Mystery Warehouse stored.  A stronger part of her was terrified of what might be in the boxes.  She walked the length of the room with Jimmie close behind.  The far wall was free of boxes, but covered by a strange shadow.

Cole tilted her head.  The shadow looked like a hill, with a castle on top.  There was a full forest in the shadow, and what looked like floating islands.  Cole could even count the windows along the castle’s towers.  There was a lot of detail in fact.  It was more like a greyscale image than a shadow.   As Cole stepped closer, she could see that the trees were moving in a slight wind.  She swore she could feel the breeze right through the wall.  Cole jumped when Jimmie put his hand on her shoulder.

“This is messed up,” he commented in a whisper.  “there’s nowhere for the shadow to be coming from.”

“Gotta be from something,” Cole replied.  She looked about for a moment, finding nothing directly castle shaped that could be making the shadow.  “Maybe there’s a diorama on one of the top boxes or something.”

Jimmie blinked at Cole.  “Diorama?”

“I’m grasping,” she admitted.  “But it’s got to be something, right?”

Jimmie shook his head.  “Cole, there’s no light in here!”  He waved frantically at the wide room.  “There can’t be a shadow.  There is no light.”

Jimmie stopped a moment.  “There’s no light,” he repeated.  “We’re in a room with no lights and no windows in the middle of the night.  How can we see at all?”  Panic snuck into the edge of his voice.  He dug frantically through his backpack, and pulled out a flashlight.  He flicked it on and off, but it did nothing to change the dull grey glow in the room.

“We need to get out of here,” he stated.

“Yeah,” Cole agreed.  She took one more look at the grey castle, and froze.

Something was loping down the shadow hill.  It was small and distant, but Cole could see it.  It had long arms, and big hands, but a tiny thin body.  Its head was pumpkin shaped, and far too big for its tiny neck.  Even from a distance, Cole could make out tiny beady eyes, and a giant toad like mouth.  The thing looked it was going to run into the foreground, and Cole found herself giddily thinking of television comedy bits where the actor bangs into the screen at the last moment.

This wasn’t an eighties sitcom, and the thing didn’t run into the foreground.  It bolted out of the shadow image and into the room.  It stopped, and looked around; suddenly confused about where it was.  The creature focused on Cole, and smiled; exposing a mouthful of oversized square teeth.

“JAWBS!” it bellowed, spraying Cole with spittle.

Cole jumped back with a scream.  She stopped a moment, but quickly decided that screaming and running was actually the right thing to do.  She grabbed Jimmie by the hand as she bolted past him.

“That’s what I saw!” Jimmie exclaimed as they ran through the large room.  “That’s one of the men from the office!”

“Not men!” Cole managed.  She was too focused on escaping for sarcasm.  “Run!”

Jimmie and Cole ran full tilt away from the shadow, not daring to look back.  As they reached the door though, two more of the things stepped through.  These two were dragging a girl with bright pink hair.  They hissed and bellowed as Jimmie and Cole ran towards them.

Between trajectory and surprise, there was no way Cole was stopping.  She turned a shoulder towards the closest of the little men, and dashed full speed into him.  Hitting the thing was similar to body checking a meringue.  It was solid for a moment, and then nothing but squishy shadow.  Confused, Cole looked over to Jimmie.  He was staring at the whisps of black shadow smoke drifting from his desk leg.  Behind them, the third thing yelled fury, but bolted away from the two.  It dived into the shadow castle wall, and took off up the hill.

Jimmie and Cole stood very still for a very long time.  “This.”  Jimmie muttered.

“This is all very.” Cole agreed.  There wasn’t a word for what it was.

Cole let out a noise that lived somewhere between squeak and nervous giggle, and Jimmie nodded his agreement, giggling a bit himself. It passed back and forth between them until they were both laughing hysterically.  They both jumped when the girl with pink hair joined in on their giggles.

The girl had pink hair.  Not an out of the bottle pink either, but a glowing vibrant sort that forced color into the grey room.  She smelt like cotton candy and radiated like the sun.  She held Jimmie’s hand as he helped her up, and didn’t let go when she was standing beside him.

“You have saved me,” the girl exclaimed.  “You have dismissed the joblins, and you have rescued me.”  The girl smiled with perfect teeth.  “You are the true heroes!”

“Well, no.  No need for thanks.  Really.”  Jimmie knew he was rambling, but he couldn’t stop.  “I mean, we saw you were in trouble and…”  Jimmie didn’t get any further.  The pink girl yanked Jimmie’s hand, and pulled him suddenly into a passionate kiss.

Jimmie felt the girl’s tongue slip past his lips, and reciprocated out of instinct.  The girl with the pink hair tasted like flowers and bubblegum.  The heat of her body near his felt like a summer day.  The girl’s kiss literally took Jimmie’s breath away, and sent his head swimming.  He smiled stupidly against her lips, and stood there gasping like a fish out of water when she was finished kissing him.

The girl pulled away from Jimmie, and smiled at him sadly.  “I am sorry,” she stated.  “I wish there was another way.”

“No,” Jimmie muttered.  “No, that was…” he stopped, and shook his head.  He felt like he was moving through molasses.  The world left trails of light as he looked about.  He smiled dumbly, unable to focus.  It was taking everything to just stay standing.

Cole rolled her eyes.  “You have got to be kidding,” she muttered as she watched Jimmie stumble a step away from the girl.  She wasn’t sure what was bothering her more; the fact that the girl kissed Jimmie as a  thank you, or the fact that he was going all drama about it.  “Dude,” she commented, unsure which of the two she was saying it to.  “Really?”

Jimmie gibbered a response, unable to form words.  Darkness was seeping along the edges of his vision, and despite the smile plastered to his face, Jimmie was panicking.  He tried to tell Cole that something was wrong, but he couldn’t articulate that the girl had done something to him.

“Whoa,” Jimmie managed in a long slur, before staggering forward.

Cole’s annoyance was replaced with concern as Jimmie fell to his knees.  She rushed forward, hoping to catch Jimmie before he face-planted.  She was intercepted by the pink haired girl.

“Thank you to you as well hero,” Pink stated as she grabbed the front of Cole’s hoodie.  “And also to you I am sorry.”  She pulled Cole forward, and kissed her the same as she’d kissed Jimmie.

Cole’s eyes widened in shock.  The girl was surprisingly strong, and Cole couldn’t escape her grasp.  She tensed, and balled her hands into fists.  Cole was overtaken by a sudden wave of euphoria before she could punch the other girl away.  It felt like the pink girl was tonguing candied sedatives down Cole’s throat.

Cole’s eyes rolled in her head, and she fell backwards wearing the same stupid grin as Jimmie.  The pink girl caught Cole on the drop, and laid her carefully on the ground beside Jimmie.

“I am feeling the sorry,” she stated again to the two.  “But this is the only way.”

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