The Universe Expanding

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Billy tries to play the role of body guard to his one good friend until the real world interrupts with the unexpected power of traveling to different dimensions.

Fantasy / Adventure
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

The night bore down on Billy. It stung like burning tears at his back. He looked into the hole where space existed. Black and blue dirt remained there. Sparks crackled nearby from the fallen light post. The hole was hand-sized. He took it in for a long moment… stared at it. In the distance, the police lights grew brighter. He walked shakily to the burning embers of the forest where the road barrier lay on its side. A drop of blood trickled down his face in the cold night air. “Airy!” He called out. The name was familiar to him but he didn’t know why. He looked back briefly at the hole and could not remember what had occurred.

The most likely scenario was that his father had taken his eyes off the road when the car veered right and flew off into a treacherous ravine, sixteen-feet deep with trees all along the way. It was wedged between four trees. He could see it, red and shiny with his mother and father still in it sitting straight up. He had been in the back seat. He didn’t know why he wasn’t still in the car with his parents. “Airy!” He called out again. Nothing. He saw nothing in his mind. He remembered the face of his mother, pretty and green-eyed turning back to him to say something…. And then the world had gone blank for a moment.

Where were they headed to in such a hurry? He didn’t remember. He felt a sting on his side. The rear door handle of the car was wedged into him like a plastic dagger. It was rigid and deep inside of him. He fell to the floor on seeing it, feeling weak. His heart beat faster. A man with an axe came and picked him up from the road, then proceeded to the bottom of the ravine where the car was. He felt like a hallucination but Billy said it again to him in almost a soft whisper before the man put him in his arms, “Airy,” he said, quietly but the night was dead ominous silence. It almost sounded like a loud voice, a loud lost voice.

The strong smell of plastic syringe entertained his eyes with the idea of opening. They did not, not immediately. Small angels in robes were running around doing “The Lambada” in his dreams and he didn’t want to interrupt for some unknown reality. However, this was cut short as the Latin music suddenly shut itself off. His eyes opened to a large empty room with a nurse on his side checking a machine. Beside the bed was his mother bandaged on one arm with a sling around her shoulder. His father looked beaten and bloody from the eyes but his other limbs had not been hurt. He looked distraught for a minute.

His father was a short man, only one-foot above his four-foot-nine mother. He had a rugged face with lines crossing his cheeks grown from stress and drinking too much afternoon whisky. The old man loved his beard and mustache but for Billy’s recovery he had shaved, which Billy thought was a normal reaction for his father, who often wanted things to be perfect during imperfect times. In his right eye there was a tattoo dash. It had been a foolish decision his father had said. His mom said he’d run from the chair but by then it was too late. The ink was now faded and dark-green. In public, he wore a fancy hat to cover it up. He was in blue jeans and black cowboy boots with the belt and fancy tucked-in gray shirt to match. The buckle bore the symbol of a bull with rubies as eyes. It was to scare off the tall people, or so his father said. A tear escaped his eye when Billy turned to look at him. “You okay, Billy?” His mom asked, as he woke. She put her hand on his cheek and bent to kiss him on the forehead.

Her voice was soft and he could feel the hurt in her words, almost as if she’d been the one who had been stabbed with a doorknob. “I’m fine,” Billy said, softly. He wasn’t fine. His head was spinning and his dreams had been too weird lately. “I dreamt about midget angels in a ball room, is that normal, mom?”

His mother turned to look at his father with a smile. His father just shook his head, frowning at the comment and proceeded to cross his arms. He wiped a tear from his eye. “Told you,” he said to his mother, “You were worried for nothing.” Then, without saying another word, left the room. The encased room’s walls were see-through and he could see his father outside leaning against the frame, crying.

He thought about asking his mother why but he asked her a different question, instead, “Who is Airy?”

“What?” She asked him.

For a moment, Billy lost his train of thought. He looked deeply into his mind but couldn’t remember asking anything.

“Sorry, mom, I—what did I say?”

“Exactly, what did you say?”

“I don’t know…it’s this thing. I, when I saw you guys in the ravine, I thought—but who is Airy?”

The second time, Billy’s mind got a firm grip. He even remembered that he had asked the question before, though it was like a shining light that grew more dim as he tried to remember it.

“Why did—I don’t know, Billy. Who do you think it is?”

“I don’t know but I called out the name after the accident. Maybe, for a moment, I thought Airy was a relative, someone I knew…personally. It was just a thought, just some silly dream. Like I said, I have been having weird ones lately.”

“The doctor said you would grow fat,” His mother said, changing the subject.

At this comment, Billy frowned and turned away from her. “Does that mean I can’t play soccer anymore?”

“Well,” his mother said, “It’s a possibility that it could go away over time but the door handle caused some damage to the place in your body that strengthens metabolism, which is what breaks down food. You are going to stop being skinny.”

His father walked in at that moment. “Well, that’s your mother, with the blunt truth. Stop scaring the boy. Of course, you’ll play soccer. I don’t want you to become some kind of bully after all.”

Billy didn’t even respond to the comment. He concentrated on other things, things which were making his head spin. Had his mother lied about Airy? Would he ever know the truth? Who was Airy? Maybe, it was just a trick of his imagination and the name, like the angels, just didn’t exist.

Two years later….

It felt weird to be accompanying the loud-mouthed Meryl to school. He'd been nearly as unaware of her as she had of him, until a recent group of bullies started hanging out near the corner of the neighborhood, gauging the younger kids, a certain group that Billy knew personally. It was the six-foot freckled-faced Larry, the crusher, and his side kick Likeable Terry, except no one liked Terry because of his lazy eye and the way he pushed people onto fences before speaking to them. The term “bully” had lost some of its glory to Billy, since the neighborhood changed for the worst. The expansion of a sort of person began to take over the school. Little fat-nosed children with oversized T-shirts had begun to sprout in every part of the school yard like well-watered tomatoes. Billy was not even factored in as competition, anymore. This left the suffering population of less-thin kids in a form of “innocent” suspense, as they tried to hide from these new somewhat dominant peoples. Billy was with them when they formed groups to try and evade colliding into other kids, as, when they were in a group, they were easily avoided. It even encouraged other, smaller kids to associate with them because of the interesting way in which the school introduced school functions. The new groups could be thought of as clubs with financial backing from the school (this was ten dollars to be spent on “one” five-dollar pizza on Fridays), encouraging association. Of course, this led to a lengthy debate over the last slice, which eventually led to six broken chairs, one wide table somehow stuck in a broken window sill half-way through and a few chalkboards unbolted from the walls and leaned to one side as though they were standing on crutches. The club, then, disbanded, formed anew as a violent protest against smaller children, and left Billy out of it completely, even if he was one of the bigger bullies and more prone to violence when it came to missing out on free pizza. He saw a smaller kid on the floor of the school and looked away as a former member of his club, one named Scrogan, a red-haired teen like himself, struck the younger’s boy’s backpack with a foot and held him on the ground, his face to the concrete. The black pack in question was then ransacked for a brown lunch bag and the kid was free to run away as Scrogan dug greedily into the bag, taking out one green apple and then nonchalantly throwing it over his shoulder in disgust.

“Wasted food,” Billy growled under his breath. Billy was at that time mid-sized and losing weight according to his mom's puberty rule. He wore a bright red T-shirt and long blue jeans that over-rode his black steel-toe boots with awesome brown shoe laces (now on sale). He was the distinct opposite of Meryl, who simply wore a white dress over a frail and thin body with pink lines and black flat top shoes with small white socks. Her hair was in pigtails and golden and she would sometimes smirk at him in an awful way that was irritating but which made her look pretty. Meryl looked over to him and gave him a frown, almost as if she were disappointed at his comment. Did she like seeing that poor boy suffer?

On the subject of Meryl, his dad had agreed but his mom had tried to argue with Mrs. Kinson that her son had nothing to do with her daughter's safety. Billy didn't care but he didn't see why he should play the role of bodyguard to Meryl. Couldn't he have played that roll for Karyn, the prettier black-haired girl in school? No. She already had an older brother. In the end, the term “good neighbor” got thrown around once or twice and the contract was made. Billy had to escort Meryl, for better or worse. By then, he was counting his steps along the edge of the sidewalk.

The street lines changed from the dull gray of concrete to a bright red. Some idiot neighbor had left their small black thrash can out in the middle of the street and Billy stumbled onto it as he walked the edge of the side walk. It hit him on the knee. He rolled to one side onto a grassy square growing on the sidewalk. A minute later, Billy got up and argued with the garbage can. "Stupid thing, what the heck, didn't you see me coming?" He was being funny for Meryl’s sake but she was ignoring him at a distance. They may have walked together for a brief period of time but they never really talked a lot.

Meryl stopped walking, looking back at him. Her long strides kept her a good distance ahead. She was nearing a two-story green house with an open gate. It had an extended front yard, green grass shining against the glimmer of the sun. The sun was so bright that people did anything to keep to the shade. Rumor had it that the world was coming to some sort of end or, at the least, headed toward some very bad things. The media couldn’t keep track of its own stories, so it just made up a bunch of them because, eventually, one of them would be the truth. The heat before the summer gave Billy a hint of the end, the impending apocalypse. What the media had adopted was a feeling of “whatever, just quit” because so many prophesized the end of the world. Billy didn’t care. He was happy playing video games or going up a tree and sniping innocents with a bag of rubber bands at his sides.

A tall, five-foot jock-type came out of the gate. His name was Cal Richmond. He had the look of a rough tug with his black leather jacket and wavy blonde hair. He was tall for being fifteen. He was regarded sometimes as the school bully and sometimes as the school hunk. Billy did not understand how those two fit. He was probably attractive to the ladies, unlike Billy, whose newfound belly denied him even a look. At least, Meryl looked at him but she had the most awful voice. It had to do with her braces, or so she said. Still, the Cal boy approached her. He was about to shove her with the heel of his black boot.

Then, he saw Billy coming with a thrash can lid in one hand. Billy was already upset, so there was no need to further aggravate him on the matter of Meryl. He came across a problem. Did he care if Meryl got hurt, if she was bullied around by Cal with his blue eyes or not? Maybe, she'd like that sort of thing. Well, she hadn't said anything to him about the thrash can thing and Billy felt that was quite descent of her, almost human.

"Lose something, Cal?" Billy asked him, tentatively.

"You...again. No one was about to boot you in the butt, huh?"

Meryl turned back around in shock. She hadn't even heard Cal approach. She smiled at him for some reason. Idiot.

"The girl has some contract with my parents. If it were up to me, I'd care less what you did to her but my pops denies me allowances."

Cal laughed. "So honest all the time, Billy. Keep your poor-boy stories to yourself!" He shoved Meryl toward him. Billy was forced to catch her in his arms before she fell. He could have let her fall but then that would have resulted in some kind of deduction to his allowance. Not that he was broke. Cal was dead-wrong on that sore debate. It was his father that was stingy or, rather, as he had put it, not prone to having a son spend his days wasting his father's "hard-earned" money. The old man had over two million in the bank. It was just sitting there, too. Billy didn't get more than five dollars a week, if that. The agreement came with clauses, just like every part of Billy's life. If he could eat chocolate cake, then he had to take out the thrash but then if he had to play video games, he couldn't be a bully because that's not what bullies did. Was there a fair in-between that Billy could step on? Strange as it seemed, Meryl smiled up at him too, with her green eyes. Billy held her up and made her stand away from him by stretching out his hand to denote the distance rule, two feet, minimum.

"Follow," he said, "But not too close."

Meryl had a book in her hands. It was the worst thing to have in your hands in that neighborhood, what with all the bullies competing for favor within each other’s groups. This is why there was a neighborhood watch but then, the watch was mostly bullies themselves. Huge, bulky fellows, ex-wrestler-types had taken over the watch just one week back, having won the initial choose-and-pick-out-of-a-hat process by cheating. Billy had not witnessed the event himself. The local people rumored about it and it trickled down to Billy by the school's kids. Billy had bullied some kids before himself but it was for a sandwich or for a piece of candy. Then, he found, it was just less hassle to a menacing way with a bit of hunger in the eyes. Less teachers sent you to detention for asking.

Cal eyed Billy for a second before closing his gate and walking off. They were descending downhill, so the walk seemed less troublesome. Billy hated any sort of exercise. It was tiring but he had to do something about the weight. People still thought he was too tough. Why put it on him to be a security, when he could just as easily be a nerd? Still, the video games weren't as fun as the rubber bands. And the tree was strong enough to hold him, so why not? He had turned into a rebel since he was thrown out of the soccer team for being too fat. His father had disapproved of the coaches decision and had immediately installed a new set of rules for Billy to follow, including an extensive list of chores and a significant cut in what used to be a good forty-dollar a week allowance. Eventually, it became simpler just to change into a bully, to stop his father from being overly-generous with the “list.” One of the items on the list was run two miles like he used to do when he was in soccer camp but Billy had trouble running one these days and it irked him because it wasn’t his fault.

"You were rude to him," Meryl said, quite amused.

"That sounds about right," Billy said.

"Well," Meryl said, "I can't have you be rude to everyone just because of me. In fact, I would prefer you not walk me home or to school anymore. Your lack of care for everyone and anything around you disgusts me."

Billy was about to say the most irrational thing to her. Damn it all, he just grabbed her book and threw it on the sidewalk. A car swiftly ran over it. Meryl was fast to retrieve it carefully but now there was a brown tire mark running across its very fine white cover. It had the picture of the number three and in the background was a C delicately drawn in white. It was smeared in brown in places. It looked more like a straight line now.

"Well," said Meryl, "I guess this is my proof. And you can bet my mother is going to hear about this."

Billy sighed and continued to walk downhill, ahead of her. He looked back from time to time. For the moment, he had still made a bargain. Even if he had other, better things to do like asking Simon for his peanut butter and jelly sandwich, he had still promised to protect the girl, annoying as she was.

The next day, Billy felt a pang to his empty wallet. Twenty-five cents is what he could bring out of it this week. He had lost four dollars because that's what a new book like the one Meryl had somehow dirtied--as was Billy's excuse--had cost. His father, in the middle of a living room full of luxury which included a large black forty-inch plasma television on the wall and on the ceiling, along with big cases displaying Yankee and Dodger team sets and baseballs on a platform signed by whole teams for five generations, was pacing back and forth angrily. "One job, that's it, you had one job, Billy."

"I did my job," Billy complained.

"I saw the book."

"Keeping her book clean wasn't part of the deal."

At this part, his mom walked in.

"Jane, did you hear what your son did?"

"Oh," Billy's mom said, "What are you blaming him of now, Frank?"

She went to the kitchen which was right next to the living room. The house was so open from the roof to the floor that it stretched at least fifteen feet high. And there were light sockets up there dug into the walls that illuminated the whole room in a blinding fashion. Billy tried not to look up in his own house for fear of burning off his eyes. His mom had to walk around some black crystalline tables she'd bought from an auction last week. Billy didn't get a dime from his dad but he was glad that, at least, his mother wasn't as neglected in that respect.

"Blaming? He's mocking me, Jane. Mocking me. I tell him to protect the girl and he's the one she needs protecting from. This is the third time he's done it. Ha, but that's the last straw. Yes, sir. It is."

His mother sniffed and said, "Again, you blame my son. Not once do you think, oh, what did the little princess next door do to provoke him, huh?"

Billy felt that was an un-fair assumption of his mom and he felt surprised that he thought that. Well, he had been the one to lose his temper. It wasn't Meryl's fault she was a loud-mouth.

"No excuses, Jane. You don't need to protect him. Yes, he's fifteen but he should know better. I knew better at fifteen. At fifteen, I had straight A's in class. What's this another report card full of B's!"

Billy sighed. For some reason, he couldn't get a sense of justice in his house. Grades weren't good enough; his attitude wasn't good enough, his health wasn't good enough, was there anything good enough? His dad always played the grade card. He kept recent copies of his report card in his pocket just to tease him about it. Usually, it was sarcastic and good-natured but when he was mad, he used it as a tool to make him feel bad. The worst part was that loud-mouthed Meryl hadn't said a word to him the whole way back from school. She had reason to be upset with him, at least. It made the long trek uphill from school like crawling up a sweaty tunnel with glass and dirt stopping him from time to time.

"A lady said she saw you arguing with a thrash-can, even! Is that right? No. Don't answer."

His mom had come back to the living room with a purple crystal cup and a bottle of wine. She sat on one of the fine dark-blue all-silk-embroidered couches. Billy wasn't supposed to sit on them, that was the rule, so he sat on an old oak wood chair near the entrance to the house, instead. It was uncomfortable and lumpy at the sides. He had his head down. Billy wished they would beat him. It would be easier to deal with than the yelling and especially the robbing of his allowance thereof.

So he found himself walking to school alone. In the left corner, across the street from the school was an ice-scream store. He would sometimes go there to feel the cold icy pleasure of a pistachio-flavored scoop of deliciousness. Now, he was sad to see that his wallet wouldn't approve of the action. All because of that stupid Meryl. Damn. He was going to school too early. Simon was coming up the street at a run.

"Hey," he said to Billy.

"Simon," Billy said, "How is your lunch?"

"Don't worry, Billy. I got you."

"You got me, ey?" Billy asked. This wasn't the way it was supposed to go but Simon seemed to be a good person, never mind that Billy bullied the poor kid for his lunch every day. What was his ploy? Did Simon want something from him?

"What is it you want?" Billy was often curious about the needs of the weak. Unlike others in school, Simon was a nerd. He wore glasses and a yellow sweater. Ugly wasn't the correct word for it; more like, unnecessarily almost white, as if bleach had gotten in a fight with yellow and lost. He wore the most tacky green pants one could think of, bright eye-draining green. And his shoes had been fashioned from metal. They were obviously shiny-gray and meant to blind bullies as he ran away from them. This was an actually smart move and probably the only part of the suit that made sense.

"You play Space Dreg," Simon said.

"I do not," Billy lied but he was no good at it. His eyes kept darting from right to left as if the lie police were going to get him.

Simon actually laughed. Didn't he know that Billy would pound him? Well, no, Billy wouldn't pound him. He couldn't afford it, literally. He put the quarter back in his pocket. Maybe, if he ever got another one to accompany it, it would come in handy. Billy looked at his watch. He was still too early for school. He wasn't, after all, a geek. The difference between geek and nerd, to Billy was simple. One did way too much homework; the other played too many video games. Usually, people expected a combination of the two but this was not true of Eric Dimpson. He was addicted to a video game, an online multiplayer thingy. He got bad grades but was good at games. In nerd town, perfectly reasonable. In the geek world, an abomination. Such was the way of peers and groups. Billy had to choose one, it seemed. And it was startling to find that he was intent on joining Simon's, despite his distaste for both nerds and geeks. It was partially because Space Dreg was a descent game. It was a place where you fought for justice in an unjust planet. It was similar to real life.

"I won't tell anyone," said Simon, coming up to his side, "You going to Joe's like always?"

"Not today," Billy said, "I'm a quarter short of a scoop."

"Oh? Well, I just happen to have a favor. He owes me."

"You'd do that for me? Even though I steal your lunch every day?" Billy just couldn't figure the kid out.

Billy had most his books in a locker where he used to stuff the new students but then that proved costly, so he was like a tame lion now. Still, he felt he had to keep some kind of distance from the geeks, didn't he? Imagine if people knew that he got all B's in class or that he played Space Dreg? No, he had to keep a close eye on this one. Now, Simon here was a short one. He was at least one foot shorter than Billy, although Billy's height wasn't so imposing as his weight was. Simon wore glasses and had a small nose, so they kept falling a little short. They were glasses he would eventually grow into apparently. He had blonde hair and a missing tooth. Simon didn’t need a distinguishing feature such as that, though, since it was his unfaltering smile that made him noticeable. In a school practically run by bullies, it was odd to see a short middle-school kid smiling so much.

"I want to play with you, actually."

They started to walk down hill toward the ice-cream shop.

"Space Dreg?"

"Yes," said Simon, "Because the Shimitar is on a rampage again. I die consistently to a flying dagger or a space-clone trap. How does she even do that? It takes three million Space coins to purchase a clone. True, one could get that from the Everlast, pill of the dead, but then you'd have to survive the escape of planet Erk."

"I did that once," Billy said, "But I did not purchase a space-clone. So. You require my assistance with Shimi, good friend of mine by the way. I'll tell her to leave you be."

"You know Shimitar!"

"Yea, I'm Droolmonger, what did you think? I play to win."

"You're the legendary player versus player champ who retired on the west side of Planet Q to fight in respect of justice as a judge for the battles of clong?"

"Yes," Billy said, annoyed. He felt weird being excited by the game. But it was interesting to see how other people reacted. It was like having a conversation about something no one else would understand. In a sense, geek-talk but since it was video game related, was it really just nerd talk? Billy couldn't decide what to do. He had been snared into talking about the game. "You see," Billy said, "While there might not be justice in the real world, one could have hope for justice in the game. Whenever anyone came to me in the council of Clong, I gave them the right to state their case and judged them fairly. Now, the game developers sent me a message saying they wanted to dissolve my character if I kept playing fairly. It was a game; it was supposed to be unfair."

"That's why I haven't seen you on."

"The real world interrupted the game world," Billy said with a sigh, "So until I fix it out here, I can't help you in there. I know Shimi's game-mail, so all I can do is send her a message."

"You'd do that for me? Even if you think you're stealing my lunch?"

"Think? You always give it to me when I ask."

"But you ask."

"Saves me the effort of pounding you."

"But when you ask," said Simon, smiling, "I am seen with you and, people think we're friends, so the other bullies leave me alone. I just tell them I know you."

Ha, so the truth came out. Simon was just using him like his father had, like Meryl had, although he tried to help her.

"Well, I guess that's fair," said Billy, who really didn't want to get into it. He much preferred just to get his ice-cream and continue to ignore Simon. He walked past Cal's house with a frown but continued down the street, not wanting to stir up another reason to lose his allowance. Simon still followed him.

"I want to be your friend, for real," Simon said.

No. Billy hadn't got to the point. "Let me weigh the options, as you buy me ice-cream," Billy said.

They were in front of Joe's ice-cream parlor. He was surprised that time had gone by so fast.

They sat in the back, away from windows. It was so early that people weren't there. Joe himself served them. When they came in, Joe smiled at Simon and said, "Little Man, you going to let go of my strings today?"

Here was a tall black man in a white apron and white hat with the word scream written across the top in multi-colored sprinkles and he was afraid of the tiny Simon.

"Yea, yea," said Simon, "Give my friend here a free-bee."

"Well," Joe said and paused looking at Billy up and down, "Okay but it's just a shame what you're doing to the poor fellow."

That was probably a shot at Billy's weight but Billy ignored it. Free ice-cream was free ice-cream. After getting their ice-cream, Joe saluted them and they sat in the back.

"Here's the thing," Billy said, "I have a problem meter. Not a reputation, not like you would think. I don't try to hold up to any thing but this: justice. Maybe, sometimes I can be unfair to the weak but then I find that I've been helping you. Hence, what kind of justice is that?"

"A pretty fair one, if you ask me. I like not getting my head pounded on as much as the next guy."

"Justice for me, I mean. At least, in that respect, I get your lunch. Or, how are you working out the lunch bits? You don't seem pale or un-healthy."

"My dad's a cook," Simon said, "And he works at a meat and bakery store. It's the reason why Joe owed me a favor. He borrowed a set amount of ice from my dad's shop one day and I had to overlook it."

"So," Billy said, quite impressed, "Others steal from you as well."

"And I get free ice-scream, so who is stealing from whom?" Simon said, with a smile on his face. There were the remnants of a chocolate chip cookie on his lip. He continued to spoon ice-scream with multiple toppings on it into his face, while Billy slowly enjoyed his Pistachio ice scream, one spoon full at a time. Billy didn't put any toppings on his. What a waste of ice scream that, to spoil it with additional bits and such. It only made a mess of things.

"I like that you always get back at the thieves, including me. I may be the worst one of all."

"Not really," Simon said, "Most of the lunches I give you are old sandwiches from three days back, which we usually throw away at the end of the fourth day. What you're getting is our thrash, so again, who is stealing from whom?"

"I stole a lasagna from you once," Billy said, remembering a distinct taste of cherries in the thing. It was so good. It was his most successful lunch stolen so far.

"Mom's cherry surprise," Simon said, cheerfully. How could the kid be so happy? "Yea, I got over that. Mom made too much again, so I had a couple more stored in my locker. Ate them both by the way, before you could steal it again the next day. I got you a rotten sandwich that next time."

"Hmm, well that's just wrong, isn't it?"

"Fair is fair," Simon said with a distinct and commanding tone, although it was hard to see him as commanding with a flake of peanut attached to his lip and his glasses almost falling off his nose.

"So it is," Billy said.

As he was saying it, almost like it was destiny, in came Cal with a new leather jacket. It was brown and shiny and it complimented his brand new brown shoes, too. Here, Billy saw an opportunity.

"Simon," Billy said, "I will accept your friendship under a few set terms. We don't betray each other, one."

"I agree."

"Two, none of this talk of Space Dreg until I can come back into the game and fight for justice."

Sadly, he said, "Whatever, it's fine."

"And three, should any of these fellows you call bully come to you again, you do not need to pronounce that I am your friend. If they do harm you in some way, then all you need to do is name them to me once. They will not get in your way further, I can assure you of that."

"Good," said Simon, "I was thinking that saying you are my friend was going to be a lame excuse eventually."

"Not really," Billy said, "Unless your lunches had continued to be bad. Oh, and there's a fourth."

"You said and," Simon said, interrupting, "It's not fair to add after an and."

"Wait," Billy said, thinking, "I didn't say finally. From now on finally is the end of a pact between us, as friends, I mean. Finally is where it ends, I should say.

"Good, okay, well you better say finally then because school is about to start and I do like to get good grades."

"Okay, okay," Billy said, looking at his watch. They were still way early but geeks thought differently about time and school. Billy knew that. He was close to being one but he just couldn't cross that threshold into A, although he did try. He wasn't stupid enough to try and lose his allowance by getting C's. He couldn't be that normal in his house because C's said that he just wasn't trying. In order to get B's, Billy had to get to school early and employ the services of the student tutors who were all too wary of his reputation as the bully that asks. Still, they taught him math and science, his two worst subjects. "Finally," Billy said, "We have to agree to help each other, no matter the cause."

"Oh," Simon said, "That part. I figured that was just part of being friends. There's no need to be a pact for that."

"I see," Billy said, thinking that would be the thing that kept Simon away and he would both lose a good lunch and a potentially valuable ally in the battle versus his parents and other bullies. His battle with love, well, that was yet to be fought. He had yet to step into a field that required his services in that respect.

Again, something slammed against the door. Keya had run. On the other side of the door were men, angry men who had gone too far. Keya was on the Face of the Earth. It was called Ilecaradetier, an Indian outpost in the middle of the Mahami desert. It was true that arranged marriages were fake and stupid stereotypes made up by American novelists and television shows but it was also true, that rarely, when the mother and father of a princess were killed, in order to take the throne, men, in their lust for power, would try and kidnap her. Keya wasn't kidnapped. Instead, her aunt, Cecilla had tried to sell her off to a rich noble family but they weren't a rich noble family just a bunch of traders from the south, white men seeking gold, who wanted her for whatever reason. She was fifteen and three-quarters, what could she give them? The thought caused her to run away from the temple.

She remembered her heavenly home fondly. She remembered it now, when she was cold, hungry and scared. She remembered the large stone walkways and the myriad of purple blossoms and red chrysanthemums and blue lilies on the temples gardens. A gold-embroidered drape with the picture of a Tiger hung before the entrance. Two guard men were in white uniforms were always at the gate and they smiled at her when she went in. The gates were white and twelve-feet tall and she could hear them open smoothly as she walked on toward the garden. On her right were stone pillars on top of which lay the foundation of her castle-like fortress. On her left was nothing but large pines and a road between them that led to a sort-of hidden garden that everyone knew about. She could play in the garden forever, without the thought of a husband or a man in her life. Especially if that man was going to be arranged like she was a piece of cake to be sold to the highest bidder.

The door began to crack as a soldier from the Common army kicked at it. Its wooden frame splintered inward, shedding light into the room of the shack. She had gotten inside through the roof but they hadn’t noticed how. Well, she was small and agile, that was how. How else would she have escaped? She had slipped her hands through the handcuffs when they’d been busy talking about the princess and her royal estates and how well-to-do Steven, her would-be husband, would be once he got her back to his estates in England. Now, this Steven person had that look of a handsome man, with golden hair and gray eyes but there was something not quite right about him. He had a disconcerting smile and wore gray trousers and army boots with a rifle of some sort slung across his back. He also didn’t wear a shirt for the occasion, probably to show off. What was there to show to Keya, she was fifteen?

Finally, the hinges were torn off the door.

Men came in but only two. The rigid odor of their sweat trailed after them. These men wore all-green Army uniforms and caps with insignias on them. They yelled after one another, searching her out.

She saw them pulling back drapes and dumping aside barrels of whatever was in the shack. One of the barrels had spilled out a gray and gold powder that spread all across the room evenly. It touched her feet, just as she was wishing to be anywhere but there.

As the men approached, they saw her shoes beside a barrel and knew she was ducking behind it and they ran at her. One of them slipped on the powder and broke his neck. The other wasn’t so stupid. He pushed his comrade aside, coldly kicking the other barrel aside. He walked up to her, attempting to grab her hand but then Keya was gone. The soldier stumbled back, stunned. That was the last she ever saw of Ilecaradetier.

“Are you sure you want me to do this?”

“Yes,” Billy said, with a sigh, “Justice must be had.”

“But you’re going to get in trouble for this, Billy.”

“Don’t worry, Simon,” Billy said, from the booth in the ice-cream shop. They walked past the glass casings where kids watched an arrangement of ice-cream flavors in display in buckets with metal plates on the sides describing their flavors. These were pointless to Billy, since he liked pistachio and since it was so rare that he got ice-cream that it didn’t matter that he remember names. If he had, he would probably have an even bigger weight problem and Billy just couldn’t afford another problem. But, maybe, he could afford this one.

Simon stopped walking in front of Cal, who was still in line.

Cal had noticed them in the back and just pointed and laughed with his two buddies that were also in line. Lackeys. Billy just regarded them as standbys. The real problem was Cal. Well, Cal needed a lesson in something but Billy didn’t know if it was the right thing to do. Suddenly, Simon got up. It was a good attraction to Cal because he liked to chase after geeks who panicked. Simon telling Cal that he knew Billy wouldn’t work. There was already a dire animosity between them. Billy was a step or two away from Simon, and as Cal broke the line to chase after him, Billy pulled a chair from an empty table up in front of him, and Cal stumbled forward and hit the door with his elbow. He probably broke it from the way he screamed.

“I’m so sorry,” Billy said, “I was just...I mean I meant to move the chair out of my way and my clumsy hands.”

“You did this to me!” Cal screamed but there were enough witnesses that saw Billy moving the chair out of his way almost nonchalantly enough for his story to be true. Cal lay on the floor holding his elbow. At least, one bully was out for the count.

As Billy left the shop, he marveled at his victory. Yesterday he’d been giving an unfair task and an unfair punishment, yet today he had one good friend to count on, who gave him lunch every day and his most hated enemy was on the floor, seeking vengeance. It had been a good day.

The good days continued. With Simon’s help, Billy managed to get a grade above a B in a subject. His problem had been those fractions and their evil ways of tricking the mind into thinking they could be added like other numbers. Billy couldn’t help thinking of fractions as an enemy and him their favorite victim. Simon explained about multiplying on both sides top and bottom. He, then, explained something simpler with a dollar bill. He said that if two quarters were half a dollar in real life, then it had to be true in fractions. So 1/2 literally meant fifty cents or simply .50 as a decimal. There were many simple explanations like these that Simon gave him which helped greatly on exams like 7/10 being like seven dimes because a dime was ten. So in a sense it was the same as seventy cents or .70. This new insight into the corridors of the evil fractions gave him a very interesting edge. He still wasn’t good enough for A plus but he thought he might get there with enough practice. An A meant a dollar more on the allowance meter, which meant, possibly two trips to Joe’s, which, also meant, more talking about nothing with Simon. Despite it being in the clause he kept bringing up Space Dreg. Billy just ignored him and answered yes or no on what he could. He really didn’t want to break the truce.

Throughout this time, he would see Cal come into Joe’s in a cast.

“Ah, poor guy,” Simon said, “Messing with the fated one like that.”

“What are you talking about? No more Space Dreg talk.”

“No, I mean it. You’re like destined to be someone great. Look at all you do.”

“All I do, ey?”

“You stopped me getting messed with by bullies before the real trouble started. I know kids who are way worse. So many bullies around. It’s like we’re bully central over here. Ken Strangert got his shorts stolen in Gym, had to stay in class all day in just a gym shirt. He’s already skinny. He looked like a girl trying to hide inside a skirt.”

“That’s a good story,” Billy said, smiling.

“But I mean, you stop bad things from happening to others, Billy. That’s a good thing. Makes you the fated one.”

“Fated? I don’t think so.”

“Have you spoken to Meryl lately?”

“I rather not. I suppose I could apologize for dirtying the book.”

“Well, I personally never believed you did that but now that I know you did do it, you owe me an ice-cream.”

“Aw, come on man, you know how my dad is about my allowance.”

“Whatever, fair is fair,” Simon said, sternly.

Billy found Simon to be a bit odd. At any point in their relationship, he’d be smiling and telling him all about how he’d conquered certain realms because Shini had left him alone but if he found something that Billy had done wrong and something would happen to Billy because of it, like when Billy dumped a plant into the garbage because he failed in growing it and got sent to detention because of it, Simon had said that fair was fair. Simon had his own sense of justice and he believed that Billy had to cope with that.

“I don’t like that,” Billy said, frowning, “I mean I could be unfair if I like. I am a bully, myself.”

“But not like them,” Simon said, motioning at the table where Cal sat with his spoon. They were on a booth in the back, where they’d first agreed on their friendship. Now Simon sat looking to the outside while Billy sat with his back to everybody. Billy preferred it that way. Simon’s glasses were the only danger of reflecting evil people to him. “Billy, what you need is something to keep you busy. Now that you’ve bitten the bug of math, you need to relax. I have Space Dreg; you don’t.”

“You think so?” Billy asked. Simon might be right but he didn’t know what he could do. Could he work at his dad’s office in the afternoons? What did a man with two million in the bank do? He probably spent his days buying things and who, besides some stumbling Hollywood princess, would find any pleasure in that? “I don’t know, Simon. Unless they need me to crush cans with my brute force, I don’t think I’m apt for anything.”

“My aunt is a librarian and she needs help.”


“Twenty dollars a week, Billy.”

Billy almost spit out his ice-cream. Simon mocked him by laughing. Billy smiled but said, “You punk. I’ve known you what, two weeks, and you bring this up to me now? That kind of money, wow, I could buy my own lunch.”

“Oh, nah-uh. I’m already sad enough for throwing away food and I won’t have you--?”

Billy shook his head at him seriously. “Fair is fair,” he said.

Simon sunk into his seat with a frown, feeling ashamed.

Keya broke a chain. Again, she was caught. This time by a group of women who called themselves witches. Keya tried to translate that to her own dialect. It wasn’t really working. They looked nothing like witches to her. They had on Hollywood-style clothes, short-sleeve, belly-cut blue shirts and tiny blue shorts with light blue shoes and socks. One was named Teresa and she kept eyeing Keya from the other end of the cage. As soon as she’d appeared on what looked like a flying ship, they’d locked her in a box. Keya hadn’t moved nor had she been moved by people or hands. She had been in one place one time and in another the next. Her white and blue dress, which extended down to above her ankle and complimented her flowered sandals was now dirty and ripped at one sleeve from when the chains had been put on her. Keya now realized she hadn’t broken the chain. They had released her.

“Who are you?” Teresa asked, releasing her from her chains and from the box. She led her by the hand, gently it seemed onto a stool, where she sat. The wind blew harder now. Was the ship going faster?

“My name is Keya, I used to be princess of the land of Chalibia, but I disappeared from the face of the earth.”

“Yet you’re here,” Teresa said, crossing her hands.

“I mean, that is the name of the nearby town of Chalibia, Face of the Earth, in a strange language. A French and Mexican couple had named it Ilecaradetier. My father and mother were killed by assassins. Then, I escaped my aunt, who tried to marry me off to a stranger named Steven.”

“Wait, wait, stop,” One of the other witches said. Teresa was blonde-haired but the other two with their black hair didn’t seem to have distinguishing features. They looked like twins to Keya, which was remarkable. She’d never seen such a thing in India. They were a distinct color of brown, not like Keya's deep brown skin but a lighter shade of it, almost like cinnamon. “She’s giving you her sob story.”

“But Lisa,” Teresa said, “The girl is almost in tears and there’s a sincerity in her eyes.”

“She looks like she’s starving,” the other witch said.

The one named Teresa made a large bread appear in her hands. It was a wheat bread loaf the size of her hand. She cut it in half and made the other half vanish with what had to be a form of magic. The women didn’t even seem to be concentrating on using any magic. They no more looked at the bread than they did at the other prisoners in cages all across the corner of one end of the flying ship. Keya marveled at how big it was. It had a sail with rings as drawings, big gold rings that shone against the sun. Was it summer here? It had been near winter in Chalibia. Teresa handed her the bread.

Slowly, Keya took it. It was much too soft in her hands. Or was it just the absence of food for the past day and a half? It was hard to hide from soldiers. She remembered a basement, where her guardian Leo had stashed her. After she’d escaped the handcuffs, she’d run to Leo’s house. Unfortunately, her aunt had suspected the man as soon as she’d escaped. It had taken three soldiers to restrain Leo, the big bulky man. He died that day. Keya didn’t see it, thankfully. They gave her that much. India wasn’t home to cruel men or women, just cruel traditions, sometimes. If it weren’t for her personal crisis, she’d believe the rumors of arranged marriages to be completely false, an insult to her people. He had been taken to another room. There was a loud bang and a thump. A tear escaped her eye, as she bit into the bread. It surprised her. The whole thing tasted like spaghetti. Before she could eat most of it, Lisa yelled.

“Well, take her back!”

“What?” Keya asked, dropping her bread. “No,” she pleaded, “Please, leave me here or keep me captive but don’t take me back to that! I’m an orphan!”

Keya’s pleas went unheard to the one called Lisa.

“Jane, you do it,” Lisa said, referring to the other witch.

“Lisa, it’s not right. She’s just a girl and Mark said we didn’t have to send them all back.”

“You want to mess with the destruction of the universe, are you like Mark?”

Jane put her head down and shook her head no. It wasn’t looking so good for Keya.

Teresa sighed, her arms crossed still. She’d been staring at Keya the whole time with a frown on her face. Suddenly, she grabbed the girl’s hand. “Don’t worry,” she whispered at her, “I will send you somewhere...different.”

“Teresa no!”

“Maybe, she’s fated for something good back where she’s from but for now, we’ll save her from this torment.”

“But the curses, Teresa!”

“Don’t be a fool!” Lisa yelled at her.

“It doesn’t matter, we’re done with this one,” Teresa said, and Keya vanished....again. The last thing she saw was the glimmer of sympathetic green eyes.

The library was a place that was so very quiet. It was a local place, about six blocks downhill from Billy’s house, everything was downhill from Billy’s house. He was living on a slope, where the neighborhood seemed to be always up on the hill so that in both directions people would walk downhill from where his house stood. The library was the opposite way from the school yet he didn’t have to walk further up hill, thank God. It was a smooth walk downhill and he had to be there at six, which was perfect, since that gave him two hours to answer his mails about Space Dreg. The censors had already sent him another message saying not to intervene further in the gaming process of certain individuals or his character would be erased. Apparently, they knew about Simon and his recent successes. It didn’t matter because Simon was his friend. He didn’t need to mail him to tell him the secrets of Space Dreg. Their friendship clause now excluded Space Dreg as a banned conversation. It was just much too familiar with them and Billy felt a little like he was playing the game through Simon, even if Simon was now just a minor lord. He’d risen to minor lord, now that Shimi had gave him free reign.

Recently, Billy was bothered by Cal’s presence. He was in class yesterday, listening to Mrs. Kromel explain the phases of photosynthesis, when he saw Cal up front with a disconcerting smile on his face. It was like watching a small gremlin. He was up to something, that much Billy knew. In any case, Billy finally reached the library, after a long walk. It probably wasn’t that much of a walk to Simon, who had decided not to come along. Billy had dressed up for his would-be job in brown slack pants and a long-sleeve button shirt, green for this occasion. He didn’t have dress shoes, so he ended up in a pair of old work boots, he had gotten as a gift from his mother, during the procession known as his birthday. He remembered blowing out a candle and then being told by his father not to feel like he was special and that he was in fact to go directly to his room after the ice-cream. It was chocolate, not pistachio like he’d asked but that didn’t seem to matter to him at that moment. The ice-cream seemed like a consolation prize for his father’s affection.

The place was square with a slanted roof. It wasn’t a roof, more like one long wooden beam smashed askew on top of a square dome. At least, the doors were properly shaded, tinted like a fancy car. He opened the door and went inside to find himself smelling book. From left to right the place was adorned with books. There were books on shelves, books on counters, books on the floor and various books were set atop a barrel in one corner, spilled to the sides. Billy found a disheartening quiet inside the place. There were maybe two people there but he still couldn’t find them. He saw an old woman with glasses at a counter. The counter could only be seen after avoiding a few stacks of books laid on the floor, almost as if purposely to obstruct his view. “Come in, come in,” the lady said. More books were poured on her counter, all in a mess, piled up to the tipping point. When he’d walked in, a couple of piles had fallen to the side and spilled all over the floor from his right but that didn’t seem to matter. They made a noise like “taratatat” when they fell. Billy had smiled at it, preferring to think of it as a joke. Here was a bully walking into a library.

Billy felt inclined to ask, “Is this library new?”

“No,” the lady said, “One of the few still standing in the world after fifty years, what with the internet and all.”

“Why are all the books in a mess?” Billy asked, remembering a book store from his past. He’d visited one with his mom once. She’d told him that it was nice to be in a bookstore because things seemed so organized. Books had been neatly placed in various wooden baskets, aligned alphabetically. Billy wondered if that was a sign of how disorganized everything else was. This library certainly was. He looked up at the roof which if he’d been five feet taller he could almost touch. It was like a hovel inside, much too small for a person to fit. As he walked toward the books in the shelves, he noticed the room got bigger, as though it were in the shape of a triangle. In fact, way in the back, the room was so big that most of the book shelves there looked like grandiose wooden statues, rather than shelves. A ladder was on its side to reach the top-most shelves. Billy looked back at the lady, who was staring at him.

“Are you here for something?” She asked him, eyeing him warily now.

“I know Simon,” said Billy.

“So do I, what of it? The intellect of that Simon fellow is intriguing."

"Fellow? He's fourteen."

"Interesting. You seem to be stuck on age. Yet, still, I wonder what it is you're doing here."

"Oh, that. Simon said..." Billy paused, thinking this might not be what he wanted and that he probably just ruined his chances at getting twenty dollars a week and going back to the daily routine of nearly-rotten sandwiches, "Job."

"A job?" The lady asked, "Curious thing, that. Are you sure Simon sent you? He seems like a better judge of character to me."

"Simon sent me, that's for sure," Billy said, now looking sheepish. He really didn't want to be a part of the clean-up crew that this library needed.

"Come on, then. Your lack of manners will have to do."

The lady led him behind the counter to a room in the back. It was smaller than the rest, since it was so close to where the roof ended. The lady was un-strapping a set of keys from her waist. They were backed into a corner because there was a shelf of books blocking their path. It was just a straight path to the room's door on the right. They could barely fit the two of them side by side. Billy had to walk in back of her of course. She opened the door which opened toward the inside, thankfully. If it had opened the other way, she would have had to go in first, for him to go in after her and he would have felt a little trapped, not that he felt comfortable following this strange lady into a room in the back of a library crowded with books. Billy saw strange things inside the room. It was small for one, so that the lady was ducking to fit inside. Like five feet of height there was in the room, so that Billy seemed to fit but his hair scraped the edges of the ceiling. Billy felt a pang, then. He would be doing way more work than twenty dollars was worth, if it meant he had to organize anything in this library. In this sixteen by sixteen square inch room, there was a neat pile of books stationed and ordered in one corner, existing, it seemed like a formal protest to the rest of the library’s mess. It was the only orderly thing in the library. A three-foot stack of blue books just sat on the floor placed in a square shape like four by four feet. “What am I going to do here?” Billy asked.

“You’ll see,” the lady said, with a sigh. “It won’t take long now.”

The books began to float off the ground. Billy stepped back, almost running out of the room but its height stopped him. “What is this? Are you doing that?”

“Not me,” the lady said, “Unfortunately. Oh, there it goes.”

The blue books vanished after floating to the ceiling. In their place was a swirling abyss of black and purple that the lady was very cautious about. “Don’t step near it,” she warned, putting a hand to Billy’s chest.

“Okay,” the lady said, “Let me explain.”

“I’m not here to organize books, am I?”

“Organize books? Dear boy where would we organize them in? Haven’t you noticed? We got more books than we know what to do with. Never could give away books, not in the heart, see, so I just kept them. Then, this blasted thing came, oh, watch your head.”

A book, blue and with golden pages, spat out of the void. It landed sprawled behind Billy, who had ducked. It barely missed him.

“What the heck!”

“Yea, it’s amazing isn’t it? Well, I tried to throw them back, it just spat back two more, all different titles. Quite the most intriguing thing I’ve ever seen.”

“And you trusted me to know about it?”

“You’re fifteen, who’s going to believe you?” Suddenly, Billy felt a pang. He was being used again, without his notice. Well, she would pay him twenty dollars, that was the deal, fair was fair.

Another book flew out of the void and it hit the roof with such force that one of the pages ripped but didn’t completely get shredded.

“Burning sun! Again. Well, at least it wasn’t torn off the page. Stay here. I’ll be back. Try to catch one boy, where are your reflexes!”

She picked up the books carefully and left the room. Billy waited for a few minutes during which time two more books were spat into the room from the void. One hit him on the shoulder and he thought he felt the pain that Cal had when he’d hit his elbow on the door but, no, this was less; Cal had broken a bone or something.

“Your job,” she said, coming back with what looked like a catcher’s uniform, a leather vest and a catcher’s mitt, “Is to catch my books. See that one over there, all the pages torn, stupid thing spits them out. Just catch my books, that’s all I need you to do.”

“For how long?” Billy asked, realizing that this might be a fruitless job if he spent all night catching books. During her talk, he put on the catcher’s mitt and almost caught one of the books but it flew right over his shoulder. “Sorry,” Billy said.

“Don’t panic. Some books land perfectly fine, just get the ones you can. You’ll be saving me a lot of money on tape and a lot of time searching for the correct pages to attach. Some of them aren’t even in English, can you believe that?”

“You care about the books?” Billy asked, not really concerned with books himself. They were good for getting the grades he needed to up his allowance (now at a glorious six dollars, thanks to Simon). Otherwise, they were objects to be tossed at unsuspecting nerds and geeks like Simon, who weren’t really Simon.

“Yes. Of course. That is what I do, Mr. I like books. And mind you take care in here. If you get hungry, I’ll get you something but it’ll be off your pay.”

“I won’t get hungry,” Billy said quickly.

“Ah, right. Really? Well, if you want a snack, the machine just needs a little push but mind that you don’t take more than one chocolate out of it; it tends to be a little iffy.”

“Your snack machine is alive?”

“Not, well, you’ll see. It is a very interesting machine. Oh, watch yourself.”

He caught the book with his chest, now that he was wearing her protective gear. The cover survived the impact. The book was okay but Billy felt a little winded. He fell to one knee. “Good job! Oh, look one intact, out of the whole bunch. What a wonder. Oh, yes, you’re going to save me lots of tape!”
Was this lady crazy? “Isn’t it a bigger concern that there’s a void there?”

“No. I don’t much care for it. The books, however, wow, they’re treasures of the mind. So long as it keeps spitting them, you keep catching them. Oh, and it only lasts an hour, so try and not get disappointed from the boredom of it.”

“The books--” He paused as one landed neatly in his glove, “They do this every day for one hour?”

“I could not enter this room when I came in last week. You can imagine the confusion, books littered everywhere, some torn in half; others with pages so torn you couldn’t tell up from down, some outside the library, blasted so hard that they went through my window, broke it in half. You can’t repair a window with tape. I checked. I paid a pretty penny for them to hole it up and make a wall there. Then, I fixed them and was happy to find really interesting titles like Theories of Evolution Not by Charles Darwin, Gregory’s Asylum, Dr. Frankenstein’s: Confessions. Can you imagine these things?”
“Who wrote these books?”

“People who don’t exist,” the lady said, creepily, “At least, not in any author list I’ve ever seen. It seems these books are from another dimension. I wonder why it’s happening. Hmm, best not to speculate too hard or they might stop comin--” Another book landed and almost took Billy’s leg out. He slapped it down with his glove. “Oh, you’re a natural. Have fun.”

With that, she was gone and the books began to spit out of the void much quicker and in numbers higher than one. Sometimes two at a time, so that Billy had to sacrifice one and save the other. Also, these books were coming at him so fast that he had to use a lot of effort to not get hit. A minute later, the librarian woman came back in and threw a catcher’s face plate at him. Oh, Billy though, now my face is in danger as well. He put it on hurriedly, not wanting to know what kind of damage flying books spat out from a void could do.

After the hour was gone, the room looked like a small library itself, with books stacked on all places. The void vanished and in its place was the square of blue books again. Billy was sweating from all sides and his bones ached. He twisted from side to side, feeling at his fingers. They hurt. Every part of him hurt. It was like he’d been Karate training.

The lady came in with a punch drink in hand. She handed it to him. Billy hesitated, breathing in and out hard, “You going to charge me for it?”

“On the house,” She said with a smile. She kicked a book or two to the side. “Damn, some still broke in half. At least you got most of them. Go on, then, see you tomorrow.”

“That’s it? You don’t need me to carry them out?”

“Oh, boy, I believe you’ll have enough work ahead of you. I’ll do this. This is the easy part.”

Billy looked around himself at the room and didn’t see any part of cleaning the mess up which included “easy” in its title. There was a smoke of torn book pages. Some of those books had come in so fast that they hit the wall opposite him and burst into dust. Others, the ones he could catch, he was able to save from that fate. Still, at the end of it, there had to be at least eight or nine stacks of books in the room along with eight or nine more stacks of books that had either survived or died during the event.

It was morning and the clock kept going tick-tock, tick-tock. Did he really want to get up so fast? He was awfully sore from work the previous day. Billy kept thinking that Simon had set him up for the job. But, no, Simon was his friend, how could he think that of him? Speaking of, a few pebbles at his window announced his presence. Yet, when he got up and looked down from the second story of his house where his room was, he saw Meryl on the grass of his backyard. She waved up at him with a smile. Billy hadn't considered that Meryl knew how to do such a thing; well, not in his direction, anyway. With her pretty red hair down to her shoulders, she almost looked attractive. Something about her braces made the effect last less than it should have.

Billy found a shirt to wear and hurried down stairs, wearing an all-green T-shirt and some baggy jeans. He didn't really think they were baggy because of his weight but that's what the store clerk called them. For once, they seemed to fit just right. He found his work boots and put those on, even though they brought back painful memories of a day catching books in a small dark room. Working at the library seemed to be like protecting Meryl had been, a task that required strength and effort and no one wanted to do it but now he was stuck doing it.

His mom let Meryl in through the kitchen door. Billy looked over the fancy tables and crystalline everything curiously. Had Meryl come to further complicate his life? Billy was sure that she'd gotten over her notebook being run over by now. Surprisingly, Meryl said, "I came to apologize, Mrs. Brant. I lied about Billy. He didn't rudely throw my book in the road. (here her face pained) Cal did it because Billy stood up to him when he tried to bully me. Billy, then, got in his face and Cal cowardly ran away."

Billy's mom raised an eyebrow. "The cameras got your speech," she said to Meryl.

Billy knew that the house was wired from all sides with cameras and audio. Nothing escaped his dad's notice, that's why Billy had to get good grades. Another reason was that it gave Billy an allowance. So, his mom, took out her purse. She said to Billy, "Come." And pulled out five dollars. "I believe your dad gave you a quarter when you messed up. It seems, however, that you've been vindicated. Here's ten dollars. Your reward for a job well-done. Thank you, Meryl for coming forth with the truth."

Billy couldn't keep himself from grinning. An ice-cream would be a most fitting reward after last night's pain.
There was more, though. Meryl wasn't leaving. "Um," Meryl said, smiling herself, "Also, I was wondering if..."

"Spit it out, Meryl," his mother told her, annoyed.

"Can Billy walk me again? I feel safer with him around."

Billy was stunned. From the time he was in fourth grade Meryl had hated him with a passion and now she had come to his home and apologized and wanted to actually spend time with him. Was the world a really weird place all the time? What about yesterday's freaky void in the library? Billy guessed that he was doomed to be in odd situations his whole life. Things didn't add up. Here he was, a bully, friends with a geek, and now bodyguard to an enemy, who, it seemed, was trying to flame up a weird sort of friendship. She waved at him again, smiling. Was she on drugs? He doubted that. The neighborhood had never heard of anyone on drugs. It was all very weird.

Billy watched her pass him by through his living room. At first, he thought she might laugh at his home but after stepping inside, she stood in shock right next to him. "Two plasma televisions?" She whispered at him.

"Let's just go."

For a moment, she seemed different like the old Meryl, full of wise-cracks and frowns. She even seemed to be getting more upset by the moment as she surveyed Billy's home. Her eyes were stuck on the glass displays. "My father said a ball signed by Mickey Mantle is worth a million dollars," she said, breathless. Her hand reached out for the glass, but Billy caught her hand quickly. His mother gave him a look. "Dad would be upset. He doesn't like stains."

As they walked out of the house, down the steps, she said to him, "I really am sorry, you know."

"I suspected that," Billy said, "But I don't yet see the why of it."

"Really? There has to be a why? I can't just be, like, a good person?"

"Well," Billy said, "I suppose you can, if someone knocked you on the head."

Meryl giggled, smiling at him. Billy felt odd at her strange behavior. She gave him a playful shove, even. "I can be nice if I want."

"Well, that's to be seen, isn't it?" Billy said, not letting himself be shoved this time. He just put two fingers on his eyes as if to mockingly say, "I'm watching you." And Meryl stopped herself but then she laughed and held onto his shoulder for a bit as they walked down hill. Where was Simon? It really bothered Billy that the kid would show up whenever he liked. He was a kid, too, but Billy felt apart from Simon somehow, as though he were older and since he was friend to him now, he was also his protector. Not that he had to be. Simon had a clever way of avoiding bullies and it mostly involved not being around them. It was an easy trick for Simon. Billy was his friend and even he couldn't find him at his house most of the time, although his addiction to Space Dreg was getting worse. Was it a mistake to tell Shini to go easy on him? Perhaps, he'd send another e-mail later.

When they reached the bottom of the hill, Billy came across a problem. It was still too early to go into the school and his newly-found "friend" was still irritatingly hanging out with him. "So," Billy said.


He cleared his throat once, motioning across the street at the black school gates. One of the gates was open and a cross guard waited patiently sitting on a lawn chair. He only hurried out of his chair for students if they decided to cross the street toward the school. Crossing the street toward the ice-cream shop got students a nod from the man.

She smiled at him standing beside him, swaying from side to side. Billy was forced to gesture like a lackey for his queen, "Yea, we're here. Off you go."

"You're not walking me in?" she asked, looking as though Billy was trying to steal her favorite toy.

"It's way too early. Look at Rick," Billy said, motioning to the sleeping cross guard, "He's not even awake yet."

"You don't go to school early? I've seen you walk this way a lot at this time."

"I go to the ice-cream shop," Billy said.

"In the mornings?"

"It gets hot here in the summer," Billy explained, with a shrug.

"Let's go, then," Meryl said, starting to walk across the street to Billy's left.

Billy now felt awkward. What did he care if Meryl accompanied him, so long as he got his ice-cream? He sighed and walked alongside her. He had promised to protect her...again. He never had the displeasure of walking into it with a girl before. He almost forgot to hold the door for her but Billy only remembered it because to not have done it was a part of his allowance. His dad had strict rules on what constituted as depriving him of money. Not getting B's was major. Not opening a door for a girl, that was five dollars off, and he had been getting only five at the time. He wouldn't fall to that mistake again. He had failed to open the door for his mother once and when allowance time came, with the heady taste of pistachio roaming around his head, came a very assaulting disappointment in the amount of zero cash. Rules could be downright cruel sometimes.

Billy didn't need to order because way in the back, he could see Simon sitting there, hiding behind a comic book. He waved at him with a cup of pistachio ice-cream already there. "Oh," Billy said, "I guess--Simon got my ice-cream already. I'm just going to--will you be okay?"

"Sure sure, go," Meryl said, then looked toward Simon. She waved at Simon, too.

Billy came up to Simon who was looking as though he'd lost his favorite toy. He was very scared. "Wzup, bud--?"

"I don't like her," Simon said. He looked serious. He even tucked away his comic book in a hurry. It amused Billy to see him this way, upset over nothing.

"It's just Meryl, Simon. You know Meryl. I was opting to be her body guard."

"Oh, that's Meryl?" Simon asked, "I still don't like her. Maybe, if I had known the mean Meryl, yes, I understand that. Women are usually mean, it's in their nature but this, the happy Meryl, who waves at geeks and likes--"
"Likes who?"

"Well, she's just evil."

Meryl had ordered her ice-cream and was approaching them.

"I have to go," Simon said.

"But Simon--?"

"Not around her. I got something important to show you. After."
"Simon. It's just Meryl. You could trust her. She even apologized to my mom, in person and all."
"Meet me at the yard tomorrow, it's a place two blocks down from the library. You can't miss it. There's a Don't Enter sign posted on the gate."

Billy was getting upset over this but then, instead, he felt rather sad that Simon had left. He hadn't even tasted his chocolate chip and multiple toppings ice-cream. Did Meryl really bother him that much? Maybe, Simon saw something in the girl that Billy completely missed. Simon was a smart boy, that much Billy couldn't argue but did he know anything about girls? This was, in fact, the reason why Billy had stayed because there was that possibility that Billy knew more than him in this respect, if only because of his father's rules, which, for once, were working in his favor.

Meryl saw Simon walk by her and eyed him with a smile. Simon said nothing and just gave her a mean stare, rushing by her so fast, Billy didn't see him exit.

Meanwhile, Meryl approached him with a cup of ice-cream. "It's Rocky Road," Meryl said.

"Oh," Billy said, "I didn't ask."

She sat next to him instead of opposite him. He could smell her shampooed hair. What was it about girls that a descent boy with rational thoughts could just about forget everything with the smell of their hair? It rested gently on his shoulder because she was just a little too close. "Anyway," Billy said, and began to play with his pistachio ice-cream which had melted some but was still good enough, "I still feel there's a reason you're being nice to me."

"Well," Meryl said, "There is."

"Aha," Billy said, eyes brightening, "I knew it. It couldn't be true that--"
She kissed him. Dead on the lips. It was brief like maybe two seconds and he didn't feel her braces, just her soft lips against his. Then, she continued to sit at his side. There wasn't even time to react or to run away. Why would he run away? He was the bully of the school, not her. And how dare she kiss him! "I," Billy stammered, "Well--I--that was soft, yes, very."

"Thank you," Meryl said, blushing at his side.

"Er, seems to be you're being nice to me because you like me?"

"I thought that was clear," Meryl said, her tone changing. Now she was mad, as was appropriate or getting there at least.

"I don't think that would be--?"

"You're my boyfriend now."

Billy looked at his ice-cream. "Now, let's get one thing clear. I'm the bully around here, Meryl." He shoved her almost out of her seat but it was just so she could get out of his way. She got up, nearly spilling chocolate syrup on him. "And I'm the one who says if you're my girlfriend or not. And you are."

Meryl's mouth formed a thin line across it. Her eyes squinted and she looked almost upset. "Okay," Meryl said.

"And I'm not holding your hand."


"I have to go," Billy said. "Unlike you, I need my tutors."

"But you're still going to protect me, right?"

"You're surrounded by grown-ups," Billy said, "Meet you at the gate after school. And don't be late. I don't tolerate that sort of thing."

"Why? Are you the jealous type?" she teased.

"Yes," Billy said, looking back at her with an honest seriousness, "And why shouldn't I be? I got a pretty girl."

Meryl blushed.

Good. He'd leave her at that and let her think. Billy just couldn't get over the fact that his actions just recently were way too close to what Simon had said of him, of being a person that made other people’s lives better. It wasn't true. He didn't make those unsuspecting people who he shot with rubber bands that happy. Yet, since he had met Simon, he'd been up on his special tree much less and there was so much work to do at the library. With that thought in mind, he went to school to learn. He hoped it would distract him from the disturbing void at his work and the disturbing feeling in his stomach, leftover by the knowledge that he now had a girlfriend. He didn't even like her that much but that was okay. She was pretty, even with her braces, a little less if she smiled but still.

The class room had a setting so familiar to Billy that he couldn't tell the differences in it. Well, there were the first signs of Easter. A bunch of bunnies, pink, red, white had been hung up on the wall by Mrs. Daniels, his teacher. It wasn't that impressive to a room full of tenth graders. They were paper-drawn renderings of rabbits that the fourth graders had drawn out a few days back. It had their names on some of them. Mrs. Daniels, who sat in front of a wooden desk most of the time that Billy had known her was standing. She wore a plain old robe, gray and hanging loosely from her shoulders. She kept asking if people knew how to spell awkward. It was a strange thing to ask students, six of whom said they knew but got it wrong.

"Well," Mrs. Daniels was saying flipping her dark red hair to one side, "If you don't know how to spell it, do you know what it means at least?"

Billy looked up at the bunnies, then at the teacher. Then, he looked out the window, where a large open field lay before him. It was a football-stadium-sized grassy area, where some of the local teams played soccer. The irony was that he used to be out in that same field not long ago playing soccer. Now, there was an array of girls in blue and white uniforms playing soccer. A ball almost came through the window but it bounced back. Cecilia Emonds was explaining what it meant. She was at least as tall as Billy but skinny and she had on a red and white dress and she had on black heelless shoes. There was even a goody-too-shoes red bow on her hair. She had it combed down and neatly cut at the shoulders. "Awkward, A-W-K-W-A-R-D, by the way," she said, pointing at those that had gotten it wrong, "Means to infringe upon normal society in a strange way."

"No," Mrs. Daniels said, "It doesn't mean that, although your understanding of it is quite awkward."


Mrs. Daniel shook her head at Cecilia. "Have a seat, please. Billy?"

Billy was still looking out the window. He concentrated a little too hard on what Meryl was doing at the moment. For some reason, this thought roamed around in his head like an air balloon he couldn't pop. Was that ridiculous? He hadn't cared before. Lips, was his thought. Soft lips. He realized he was smiling uncharacteristically and then began to frown as was his usual.

"I-" Billy said, "Well, it's a matter of perspective really."

"Ha," Mrs. Daniel said, "That's an almost perfect answer, Billy. Where did you learn to think like that?"

What the hell, it had worked. This "matter of perspective answer" was his escape. He didn't even know what the question had been. He hoped they were still talking about the word awkward. "I work at a library now," Billy said, smiling. The truth will set you free, some commercials and bad movies said.

"Yes," Mrs. Daniel said, "But librarians think about orderliness, not awkward situations."

Billy almost broke out into a laugh. Thinking about awkward situations, it seemed, is all his boss, whose name was Francine, did.

"I think it has to do with the perspective of people because no one sees a situation like anyone else," Simon, who was seated in the front of the class, said. He looked back at Billy, who sat in the corner chair in the back, and smiled.

"Great answer, Simon," Mrs. Daniel said, "We're all starting to think like college students now."

Cecilia raised her hand, "Isn't it social studies hour? Why are we talking about a word?"

"Good question, missy. And we are studying this word because, Cecilia, our society doesn't know how to deal with awkward situations. Our leaders always think rationally in un-rational situations. Maybe, there is something that our future leaders--that's you people-- can do about it."

The class laughed at certain points.

"I thought we were going to learn history like the Mexican-America war, where America was unfairly set onto a war with its southern neighbors."

"Hmm," Mrs. Daniels said, "Now that's an interesting perspective. I might even say a strange one. Who started the war isn't really of importance, Cecilia. It's important that we, as the superior power, chose to act like a tyrant. Instead of ending an obviously unfair war, as you say, before it costs both sides a lot of lives, we decided to take from Mexico, a large amount of their land for our own reasons. But, no, there wasn't a real decided winner in the war or an importance to who caused it. All that matters now, it seems, is that we created an undesirable animosity between one country and the other and we, for certain, didn't act like people. When you steal a candy from your friend, do you feel bad?"

Most of the class nodded.

"And what do you do?"

"Well," another student answered, "When I feel that way because I've done something wrong, I usually buy my friend a better piece of candy or I give it back to them."

"Hmm," Mrs. Daniels said, "That sounds rational to you, doesn't it? But you tell that to the president and he would say that it was the most awkward idea he'd ever heard of."

Most of the class laughed. Cecilia blushed. "I don't think it was unfair for them. They were trespassing anyway."

"Oh?" Mrs. Daniels asked, "Correct. Please name off the first five streets on the way to your house, Cecilia."

She almost hesitated to do so, as though she was barely noticing there was no point to her argument. "Santa Cruz, Gregoria, San Felipe, Rio Ondo, Canales."

"Ah, it’s true, isn't it, your argument? But, no, we shouldn't see people as trespassing, just because they find themselves feeling strange after an unfair war, wouldn't you agree Billy?"

Billy felt like this was all about him. He had a situation where Simon and Meryl were two sides at war, didn't he? He sensed the tension between the two when he'd gone into the ice-cream shop in the morning, although Meryl had done nothing but smile. Still, what was fair? Should he be like the United States and just take what he wanted, Meryl, soft lips, and leave the other side to fend for themselves? Would Simon even be protected from other bullies? And so what if he was taking Meryl, she didn't belong to Simon but Billy's loyalty, well, that was something that was torn between the two. How would he see Simon, if he found him on the street, after having cut ties with him because of Meryl? "It's," Billy said, sighing, "Unfair to your friends to leave them when they need you most."

"Oh?" Mrs. Daniels said, "Billy, you're getting so good at this. And you see the U.S. and Mexico as friends?"

"Best of friends," Billy said, "But if I wanted something and it would leave Mexico alone for a while, then I would probably take it and come back to Mexico when I could. People need space for themselves."

"Selfish," Mrs. Daniels said, "It means to be all about the self, me, me, me. But that doesn't seem to be you, Billy. I know you from before and it has to do with something simple like pencils. Listen to this story, class. It bears meaning to what we've been talking about all along. It was in fourth grade and one student had spilled a packet of pencils all cross the floor. It was after class and most students were on their way out. Now, Billy, who some said would steal the lunches of the young for sport and throw rubber bands at peoples necks, un-substantiated facts by the way, or rumors for those of you who don't know what that meant, looked back at that person and started helping them put away their pencils, while the rest of the class filed out and laughed. Do you think, Billy, that you would leave Mexico, truly, even if there was something you wanted more?"

"Not if they needed my help," Billy said. Billy knew that he couldn't leave Simon alone to fend for himself, not at a time like this when every bully in the school was trying to outdo the other. How had it become so tension-filled? Other students had piled up in a line for his protection during recess and Billy had had to turn them down. There was just too much to do. He couldn't deal with everyone else's problems. How to cure them of their need for a protector? Couldn't they protect themselves? Well, he would have to talk to these so-called bullies. He was one, after all, and a top-tier one at that, because no other bullies messed with him.

As he was thinking this, he looked out the window again, where the girls were playing. He thought he saw a glimpse of one of them, kick the ball really hard not seconds past. Then, he turned to look at Mrs. Daniels, who was now openly arguing with Cecilia about who had better equipment in the war. It wasn't even about the right war, anymore. Billy thought he distinctly heard Cecilia comment ignorantly that the Mexicans had a big advantage on their camels. Then, he looked back out the window and a soccer ball was coming, round and white with a blue star in the center. It wasn't supposed to go through the window or, at least, if it had gone through, it was supposed to break the window because of it. For a second, like the swirling void at the library, a small circular opening had appeared in front of the window, the ball came through, smashed a kid's desk, and spilled some papers over the floor. The void vanished right after.

"Well," Billy said, trying to look unconcerned, "That was awkward."

The class laughed.

The dark streets of the place were colored purple in some places. Buildings on her left and right looked abandoned. Tagged-up walls showed stressful signs of a recent war of some kind. Across the whole eight-foot wall of a building were the words "Hail Nosferatu" written in crimson. Where had they gotten such life-like paint? Cats were everywhere on the streets. Never in her life had Keya seen so many cats. In her old Indian town there had been a large garden where blue jays nested by a pond in numbers she could not count. The mass of cats roaming the streets reminded her of these blue jays, looking so odd in a transparent green place. Here, though, the cats were white and black, to the contrast of a foul odor, like that of a dirty sock and buildings either burned black or tagged with unknown phrases and words. She thought she had heard the footsteps of men earlier, but, no. There was nothing. She could hear nothing but the stray ruffling of cats in thrash cans. It was strange. The cats didn't even seem to "meow" in response. Did they see her? What kind of strange place had the witch sent her to? Well, she seemed kind at first but here was a place that was perhaps worse than where she'd been. At least in India she knew who her enemies were.

Here she wandered trying to keep her dress from slipping off her shoulder, both straps, now suffering from large gaps. It was strange that just a few days ago she'd been in the middle of a ship, sailing with her father toward the Island of Ilecaradetier, and now she was without a father or mother, both found dead, daggers through the chest. Where was she?

A darkness engulfed the streets. She kept walking hurriedly from street to street but all of them seemed the same. Large buildings with billboards everywhere showed signs of life but no one was around. The streets were surely different but not the buildings. Keya noticed very few houses around, if any. Through the corner of her eye, she kept catching a flash of movement, but she gave it no mind. It was way too fast to be human.

Keya was confused about her mother's parting words. In her hands, she had her mother's head cuddled like she was a newborn. Her mother had said, "Be strong," and choking on her own blood, "In the coming days." Keya wasn't sure what she meant. Did her mother know about the witches and the arranged marriage, which wasn't supposed to be really the way of her people? It was possible that she didn't know about the witches. The waves of the sea swayed, when the assassin's had left the ship in their scuba outfits. Her knees had felt like jelly, then. And strong wasn't the word for how she felt when her aunt had been declared the successor of her parents wealth, including successor of Keya herself. Chalibia had just lost two of its most celebrated monarchs and in its place had won a tyrant. She didn't want to think about it.

The wind picked up, as though disturbing a warm filthy air with a less foul odor. It still smelled everywhere she went and she couldn't quite place the smell. It was the remains of something, something burned.

Then, she rounded a corner and was shocked to find a building with lights. They were high up on a floor she couldn't see from her height. Then, the lights were gone. Somehow, as she had turned, the wind blew in her direction and then, the lights were gone. It was strange. She felt wrong.

Suddenly, a pang on her neck, like pain but burning and itchy struck her. She was taken, lifted off her feet. Her mom had told her to be strong but this was too much. She couldn't escape these beasts. Then, she saw one, a man, dressed all in black with a collar that was un-collared with red eyes and a beard and two large teeth like those found on a wild boar or a fierce tiger. She couldn't hang on anymore. The pain was gone but so was her strength, drained, she felt drained.

As the shades opened, light poured through a window into the room. Keya heard voices on the other side. She couldn't move. Her feet and arms were strapped to a table with large leather straps that constrained her from the whole arm. She tested their strength but she was too weak and too young to even begin to pull at them. Keya opened her eyes, too scared to witness what was happening to her. She wished she could feel at her neck. Was she taken by vampires? Weren't they old legends and fairy tales told to children to scare them at night? Were had that witch transported her to that was different?

She remembered how she was taken. Why hadn't she screamed, she asked herself but then, she knew the reason. It was the same reason she didn't or couldn't scream now. Those men with the high-collars and black suits had a magic to them. They had the ability to disappear in front of you and could only be seen when they wanted to be seen. They were a real problem, indeed. This was like a puzzle, that her father always tried to test her at. Her father. A tear escaped her eye as she remembered his lectures and his stern looks when she'd walk down in the middle of the night for a little cake. This was how she'd got to them before they were completely dead, in fact. Her shuffling in the kitchen had alerted her to noises in the boat, that weren't supposed to be there, the clanging of lamps, a yell "No!" Stray motions, knocks on the walls and two heavy thumps. Was there no justice in her world? There seemed to be much less justice elsewhere. Why had the witch sent her here? Did she know she would be attacked by these creatures? Perhaps, she did. Keya had mistaken her for a good person, unlike her counterparts. She eyed the ceiling for a bit. She saw pikes. These were purple too. They stuck out of the ceiling downward, as if put there to scare captives.

Another person was in there, she realized or else who had put up the drapes, so that the light would come in?

A door burst open of a sudden with a clang. The man who had captured her walked in the room. He wore a cape that was black on one side and red on the other, all silk it looked like but it was shiny. He growled, as his nose turned into charring smoke. "Blasted it all," the man cursed. He waved a hand and the blinds closed by themselves. The room now was as dark as it could be but Keya still saw the spikes. She was scared of what would happen. Who was there to save her? She was dead. There would be no reason to stay strong once that happened.

"What are you, huh? A magic user, perhaps you're more valuable than that, a spell caster? What the heck, where is your scar? Such a pretty scar I'd left on you and now it's gone. Great Lord of Hell, you're a healer!"

Keya started to feel odd about her circumstances. This man said he wanted to place her as something she was not. She didn't even know what he was saying. She, also, felt a chill at his words. She knew she'd felt that thing on her neck. Now, here was this man, and he said she didn't have a scar from his bite but she'd felt those two teeth dig into her and her blood, as it left her body.

If that wasn't bad enough, another man dressed in the same clothes came into the room. He was much taller than the first, who'd been five foot six, now here was a five foot eleven man, with a gold pin on his shoulder. It probably meant something of importance to these people. Now that Keya knew her wound had healed and she wasn't in fact a werewolf or a vampire, she threw out the idea that they were vampires. It was still roaming around in her head but she liked to rationalize it better. Again, the image of her father and his unsolvable puzzles came to her mind. How do you fit a triangle into a square if the triangle is three times the size of it? She never had an answer that was within the realm of possibilities. She'd said to make a bigger square, which was the obvious answer and he'd just laughed at the suggestion.

"Wrath, what is it now?"

"A girl, sire," Wrath said to the man in the gold pin.

Wrath waited as he looked at her. "Sounds about right. We hadn't seen one of these in weeks, though. Where'd you find her? She a captive from another raid? You know, that Piersley fellow just doesn't quit."

"No, sire, she's not one of those. She was wandering around in the streets, walked right into our trap, all nonchalant and stuff."

"She was roaming? That's a strange thing. Don't you find that strange, Wrath?"

The other man actually looked nervous and he scratched at his large teeth for a brief second. "I, er, sire, to inform the Highest would be to disobey a direct order."

"This isn't just some girl, you nit-wit--what the hell is that?"

"What, sire?"

"The blinds, why are they like that?"

"Oh, somehow when I came in, the girl had opened them with her magic."

"She's a spellcaster?"

"A healer, sire," Wrath said, excited, "Check her neck, no holes at all, and all the damage from the straps, gone. Can you imagine, a healer in our army?"

"Healers are dangerous tools, Wrath, but useless to our cause. Wait. You said she used her magic?"

The other man's mouth stood open in shock. "Stand very still, Wrath."

"What's wrong, sire?"

"Healers don't have magic. Not like you think. They can't open shades at will, even as a defensive mechanism."

In the blink of an eye, the blinds popped open. A man, regular and human-looking in a brown coat and wearing the ugliest brown hat with its edges torn appeared in front of Keya. He used a knife like an expert cook and had her un-strapped in seconds. Who the hell were these people?

The man named Wrath had been too close to the blinds and he burst into flames when the light hit him, dropping to ashes in front of the table where Keya had been. She stumbled off the table to the side. The other man had a blade out and had, in a flash, taken the lead vampire man's head off. The beast turned into ashes.

"What the hell, huh?" He asked of Keya, shaking her, "Where have you been? We thought you were dead."

"Mark," A voice said from behind him. Teresa, the witch from the other world, appeared, now wearing an all-purple dress cut short at her ankles with flat heel pumps and sunglasses. Her hair had been curly blonde, now it was a fiery red. "Mark!"

The one named Mark had her by the shoulders. Keya realized she was shaking. "She's not your sister, Mark," Teresa said, "And you know it."

"But Teresa, we lost so much, so, so much," Mark said, near to breaking down in tears.

"Be strong. Let it go. Come."

"I guess," Mark said. "Good bye, sis."

They aimed to leave her in the dungeon alone? Why save her to leave her there?

"But--?" Keya began. The witch waved a hand at her, as though in goodbye but, then, Keya vanished again, and she could see her body becoming a void.

"Where did you send her to?" She heard Mark ask.

"To correct our mistakes," the other one said, and then her world was a room of darkness.

Billy had strapped the baseball glove on too lightly he realized. Every other book or so would slam against him so hard that his palm burned with pain. The room was a quizzical blue color today, not that it hadn't been as blue the day before. Was the void growing more vivid? The purplish-black hue it emitted was making his eyes hurt. He would have to wear sunglasses the next day. It had been a week now. His idea of a girlfriend had included telling Meryl where and when she could kiss him. She'd done so, at last count, at least three times by then. Once, for having saved her from her clumsiness. As he was walking downhill toward school one morning, some confused youth had thrown his skateboard out of his yard and it rolled sideways onto her path, almost tripping her, if it weren't for Billy's beefy hands that grabbed her by the waist and stopped her. That got them embracing and then Meryl giggled. It was a thing she did more often now. Before she'd visited his house, Billy didn't even think Meryl had the ability to giggle. The first one, of course but that hadn't counted as a real kiss because a real kiss, it surprised Billy to find, lasted a little longer than a second. Six. The third had lasted ten and it tended to be quite dismissive. Soft lips. His head was in the wrong state to catch books. He'd managed to save far less than the day before.

Throughout the week, Billy had saved at least six-hundred books from exploding or having their pages torn by the speed at which they were launched out of the void. How did Francine do it before him? Billy smiled at the thought of Francine wearing a baseball uniform crouching in the small room, to catch books. Billy was wearing a suit that day. There was a dance at the school at eight. With the effect of the books coming in more and more each day, Billy promised to help Francine for a half an hour longer than usual. He no longer sweat as much, he realized, and he also realized that those baggy jeans his mom had bought him two months ago were starting to live up to their name. He might even have to buy a belt. In this respect, the void had paid off. In other respects, like him getting ten dollars, instead of the promised twenty, well, things were just down right wrong. He suspected it had something to do with Simon's free lunches. Well, it kept Billy healthy at least. It seemed that Simon's dad really liked to pack a sandwich with vegetables, even the chicken ones tasted more like broccoli than anything else. In any case, he'd make it to the dance on time, that was for sure.

As he was thinking this, the void became a rumbling noise of eek, eeek, eeek. Could Francine hear that? The last book spat out of it and Billy was sure that the hour was up, since he couldn't see the void clearly because the room was so full of books and book dust. Plus, he could feel it in his bones now. When the hour was up, he usually felt winded and weary, as if his body had a response time to the void. It anticipated when it was going to close. He had mentioned this to Francine and she had speculated that it was nothing more than just a normal reaction. Francine didn't say much more about it than that and Billy was grateful for it. He didn't need another distraction. EEEEEEK. Finally, Billy took off the face plate and walked out of the room.

"Francine!" He called out to the librarian. She was a fairly attractive lady for a forty-year-old aunt of a geek. She wore glasses, which diminished the effect, somewhat and was sometimes prone to clumsiness, not unlike Meryl. She twisted in her chair at her desk, and walked over to him through the narrow bookshelf pass. Billy was now thin enough that both of them could fit side by side but just barely. He let her brush past him. "It's making a noise," Billy said, closing the door behind him. It was her daily routine to close the door and clean up the books in the morning and that's why she had brushed passed him, her keys retrieved from her belt pouch at her waist. Today, she wore a sun dress with flowers drawn in purple around it to the background of a yellow field of falling leaves.

"What's that?" Francine asked him.

"There's a noise in there, why do you think I closed the door?"

"Hmm," Francine said, "Let's see this noise business, then."

Billy opened the door, and began to take off his uniform. Francine stopped him. "It's been forty minutes, Billy."

"Really?" Billy asked, wondering why his body had responded to the closing early.

When the door opened the noise was gone. Francine sighed, starting to walk over to her desk but then she peeked into the room. "Hmm, that's odd."

"Pardon?" Billy asked.

"There's a girl there. Where the void should be."

"And the void?"
"It's gone."

Billy walked into the room with her, while Francine crouched low. They both stared at a dark-skinned girl about Billy's age with the face of someone familiar. Billy certainly didn't know her but she was the prettiest girl he'd ever seen. She didn't look so good as far as her dress went. It was a light blue dress but all the shoulder straps were torn and her hem was falling off at the sides, so that Billy saw most of her stomach. Francine left the room and came back with a blanket. By that time, Billy was covering himself from blow after blow that the girl was dealing to him. "Who are you, huh? You're going to try and kill me too? I know that witch sent me somewhere horrible again. I just know it! All the world's I've been to are all full of lies and unjust crimes, even my own." She cried for a bit as she continued to pound on him, although Billy was trying to play the part of gentle giant, as he protected his face. Her hands weren't all that rough on him, not any rougher than the books had been. She had gentle hands that felt soft as they struck him. Then, she stepped on his toe.

Francine came in just in time. She dropped her blanket and restrained the girl by grabbing her hands. She then began to kick and scream. "Help! Help!" They got her quickly out of the dark room and through the narrow hallway into the actual library, where she dropped to the ground, exhausted form her display of bravery. Billy had never witnessed someone so determined to escape. She definitely had heart. What she didn't have, was proper attire. Billy found himself blushing a couple of times, when her dress didn't quite cover her belly.

"Oh," Francine said, "Child. What to do with you? Come, calm down calm down. We're not going to hurt you. Oh, him? Yes, he's a bully but I'll keep him at bay, you can count on that."

"With magic?"

"Magic? Where did you get such a wild idea?" Francine giggled consoling the girl. She'd let her go and was now just observing her on the floor, sitting with one leg folded and one not. "What we need to do is get you some clothes."

"You don't use magic at all?"

"What kind of place you think this is?" Billy found himself asking.

The girl gave him a mean stare. "Billy, shush, now go. You'll be late for your dance."

Billy looked at his watch. Time had changed. It was nine. How had time changed by more than an hour in a few minutes? What was happening?


"Yes, what, what is it, Billy?"

"Time changed," Billy said.

"What do you mean?"

"It was five forty when we went into the room, now my clock says nine and it's dark outside."

"And these are all things that seem strange to you?" Keya asked.

Billy decided to leave after that, not wanting to ask any more questions of the strange girl for the time being. Plus, it was going to be a hell of time explaining to Meryl why he hadn't been at the dance.

"Well," said Francine, concern growing on her face, "Why wouldn't they seem strange to us, deary?"

Keya looked up at the pretty woman with a tear in her eye. These weren't weird people that were going to do bad things to her. These were normal people who had rescued her from the bad things. She wondered what to do now. Maybe the second version of Teresa had been good and she had sent her to a more pleasant world. If so, she hoped she never found that Teresa woman again. And what of the poor boy she assaulted during her rage? He didn't deserve that kind of treatment. Not after he had helped her up and all and especially not from a princess. She would have to apologize to him later. "I'm sorry," she said to the woman with the glasses. She had on a most enchanting dress. It was part of the reason why Keya had taken her as a witch. Teresa's dress had been just as alluring, and mysterious. From what Keya could gather she was in a library and they had taken her out of a very secluded room. She wondered if that was a secret hideout or something. Why would a librarian have such a room and it was full of books? Maybe, the boy was her helper and he happened to be bringing a book to the back, when he'd seen her. It still didn't explain why he needed knee pads. Keya's stomach grumbled. In all the commotion she'd forgot of her hunger but now that she was back in a world with not so much turmoil, it started to come back to her.

"Oh, my, child you must be starving," the librarian said. "Come, we'll get you something right away. It'll hold you up until I can pick up pizza."


"Don't tell me you've never had pizza, child. Where are you from anyway?"

"Chelibia, near the face of the earth," Keya said.

The lady raised an eyebrow. "I'd figure you were from India from the way your thin eyebrows go up and down. And from your small nose of course."

"Chelibia is in India," Keya said, brightening. Was this her world and she was only in another country?

The lady helped her up and they walked along a wall of books. Everywhere she saw were piles and piles of books, all littered on the floor or arranged in shelves but even some of those arranged in shelves were sticking out, as though the shelves themselves were about to burst. Next they passed a small square metallic thing with a button. "What is that, miss?"

"My name is Francine, and yours?"

"I am Keya, heir to the throne of Chelibia."

"Oh, royalty is it? I would have expected a better dress."

"It's been a rough trip," Keya said, truthfully.

"I can imagine, you traveling through dimensions and all."

"What?" Keya asked, confused, "What is a dimension."

"Another world. It's like, there's an onion and it has all these layers even thin ones and if you peel them off one by one, it would take you forever to finish, that's how dimensions work, multiple earths, all peeling off one by one. It's written in one of these books. You see that room back there was spitting them out one hour a day in great numbers. Strange thing, when you appeared it just happened to stop."
"It just stopped?"
"Ya, Oh here we are, just give it a good kick."

Keya felt like she should ask more about this dimension thing but she was too hungry to care.

Keya and the librarian had passed a place that was two-people wide and then broke into a corner of the room, where smaller bookshelves held great quantities of books. In between two bookshelves was this large black eight foot metal machine. It had a small door at the bottom. "What is this?" Keya asked, untrusting of it.

"It spits out chocolates from time to time."

"Chocolate!" Keya exclaimed. Chocolate was the rarest of delicacies in her world. Here they had a machine that gave them to you for free. She wouldn't have imagined it in a million years. It was a wonder of science. Keya kicked it and hurt her foot. "Ow, ow," she hissed at it. Then, something dropped. Clang!

Francine stuck her hand through the small black door and she came out with something wrapped in plastic.

"This isn't chocolate," Keya said.

"Oh, no, silly," Francine said, "It's inside the wrapper."

"Chocolate is wrapped like a gift?"

"Well, I guess you could say that. It's more so that it won't melt."

Of course, the machine by itself couldn't keep chocolate cool. These brilliant scientists had thought of everything. When she saw the brown substance that Francine pulled out of the wrappers, her mouth watered and her eyes brightened as though she'd never seen food before. She snatched them from Francine's hands, chocolate or not, she was starving. She ate these so fast, almost too fast to enjoy the amount of flavors. The chocolate hit her head so fast, that she almost fainted. Was there candy inside that chocolate? Candy and chocolate in one go? This place was fantastic. It was like being in the land of kids. The second Teresa had definitely sent her to the right world and she did not intend to leave it.

Keya was about to kick the machine again but Francine scolded her, "No, no, not yet, not today, child--oh, bullocks!"

A loud siren rang, like an alarm.

"You set off the fire alarm. Here come the sprinklers."

Water came out of the ceiling as though it was raining. Was it magic again?

"Don't be scared," Francine said, taking her by the arm. "Come on, let's go get you that pizza. You ate so fast, I'm surprised I still have my fingers."

"But the water, where is it coming from?"

"Well, that infernal machine only gives one chocolate to people. Then, if you try and get two, it kind of gets upset."

The machine was magic? Of course. It had to be. How else could she explain the taste of honey on her lips and the taste of so much chocolate in her mouth in one fell swoop. After that, the unexpected rain seemed like a welcome relief from all the stupid changes she'd gone through in the past week.

Yet, when they burst through the doors of the library, the rain stopped. There was the faintest evidence of daylight. There was daylight in this world. It definitely started to look like her world and, if it was, at least she was far, far away from the bad guys. "Where am I?" Keya asked, "I've only ever seen one other people with your color skin and I'm thinking this is America."

"Correct. California, to be exact, a small town in the south, believe it or not. We used to call ourselves, Evertington Grove, now it's called Louiseville."

"Why did the name change?"

"Things change, honey," Francine said, "Like it or not, they do. Now, tell me about your parents. Maybe, we could reunite you with them soon."

A large spoon stared at him at the breakfast table. His father had been so proud of him recently, that Billy was allowed to have breakfast with them in the morning, again. He would have to excuse himself to Simon later. Billy was bothered by what Simon had told him that day when he'd first met Meryl. He had said to meet him later and later it had been. Simon had waited outside the library that day but Billy hadn't come out until seven thirty because he'd decided to help Francine put the books away. Away wasn't the right word. They put the books in random places where they fit in the library. That day, Billy had been confused about the weird location of the vending machine. The big black thing was attached to the wall, according to Francine, who said it was there when she'd acquired the property. She had just put shelves around it to make it part of the scenery. Billy had been confused as to how to use it that day, too. The machine didn't have a number pad or a coin slot or a dollar bill slot. He couldn't even see the candies. The glass was tinted. Even if he put his face close to it, it was unclear what was in the machine. Francine said just to kick it. He kicked it and a candy bar, clanged to the bottom like it was magic or something. He put his hand through and was surprised to see that it didn't get stuck. With other fat people, it was a gamble. With Billy, it was fifty-fifty but that time he'd been like a skinny person, who just took his hand back out of the hole wit no hassle. It was a cookie chocolate thing that tasted a lot like bon-bon dipped in peanut butter. He didn't even see a name on the wrapper. It was a clear black-gold wrapper. The mystery of the vending machine would have to wait. Then, he met with Simon, who was in a suit. Why did Simon have a suit?

He met Simon beside a dumpster outside. "Hey," said Simon, his old chirpy self returning, "How are things, big guy?"

Billy shrugged in pain. "You wanted to talk to me, right?"

"Stop being cryptic."

"Well," Billy said, "It's just I just had a long day, Simon."

"Tell me about it. Did you see the old man?"

"The old man?"

"This is what I came to talk to you about. At around noon, an old man appears in the library. I didn't believe my aunt when she'd mentioned it to others but, yes, he appears there."

"So," Billy said, confused, "This isn't about the void."

"That?" Simon asked, "That's simple dimensional science, Billy. It's part of the whole that makes Space Dreg a reality. I would have thought you knew that."

"Yea," Billy said, "But this is the real world and there is a big difference."

"Yes," Simon said, sighing, "We'll leave that part of the discussion for another day. But let me tell you about this old man."

"You really believe he appears there? Francine is a joker. She might just be messing with you."

"I seen it with my own eyes. My aunt brings him tea."

"You skipped school?"

"Called in sick, what does it matter, I'm a straight A student."

Billy blushed. "So what?"

"He knows what's happening."

"What do you mean?"

"It's too hot, even the summer here."

"It's California, Simon," Billy said, "It could be hot here in the winter."

"No. You're not making sense, Billy. You could enjoy the Easter dance with Meryl next week because of this guy."

"What do you mean?"

"He says he's here because he needs to keep dimensional stability."

"And what does that mean?"

"Don't you see?" Simon asked, brightening up. "He says that people are traveling from one dimension to the next and this is what's causing the books to appear, a dimensional break, which allows for books to be stolen. Here, in this library, is where the bad guys are coming to."

"Someone's stealing the books?"

"And they're going to come here to take them back," Simon said.

"We'll need to talk to this guy one day."

"Saturday," Simon said, smiling.

"But Simon, the library is closed on the weekends," Billy said.

"The library is closed every day, that doesn't stop you from coming."
"Well," Billy said, "I'll think about it. Meryl invited me to go fishing with her family."

"Meryl? That girl again? Please, Billy, listen to reason, she's evil."

"Evil?" Billy had asked him, feeling a little betrayed, "C'mon Simon, try and act cool around Meryl. Look we said we'd help each other out no matter what."

"Fair is fair," Simon whispered at himself, as if it was a curse.

Tomorrow was Saturday, Billy thought with a sigh. Today was the day he made it up to Meryl. He had been aware of the breakfast thing and had invited her over. She'd never had breakfast at his house before this. Billy wondered how a girl he'd known for three years had never seen the inside of his house or had breakfast with him. Perhaps, it was because she hadn't shown an interest in him until just recently. Billy thought about this fact for a minute or two each day yet didn't know what to think. Meryl was nice and she'd held his hand when he'd apologized to her about the dance. She wasn't overly harsh or quick to yell at him, though she was rather upset. She said, "And you left me there holding my purse all day, waiting for you, worried sick. I have a mind to not kiss you ever again!"

This brought a worry crease to Billy's forehead. He promised he'd make it up to her and this fancy breakfast might just do that. His mother and father, Billy suspected, ate like rich people. They were brought their breakfast in trays by maids that Billy had not seen before. Maybe, it was because he never had breakfast in his house. During this time, he usually skipped out to the ice-cream store. He couldn't remember the last time he had had breakfast in his house. It certainly was during the time when her mother was still cooking burnt eggs and serving spoiled milk. Billy remember that part of it. Now, he couldn't step into the kitchen without permission. There was just too many things valuable in the living room that Billy couldn't step into or aside of or close to.

An enhanced smell of bacon hit him on the face. He fell victim to it. For a second, he forgot about Meryl and Simon and his problems at work. A lady in a black and white maid uniform was carrying a covered tray. "Master Billy, your breakfast."

His mother and father sat on both ends of the table, as usual. Their eyes only ever darted away from their tasks to look at how well the servants did. His mom had this unknowing and mysterious glance that Billy couldn't figure out. He knew that she was not against him, what with arguing with his father about the allowance thing but then he saw his dad, engulfed in a newspaper, and rubbing on his beard. Then, he would adjust a silk purple tie that he wore everyday to work and look back at his newspaper. It was strange to watch them. Billy hardly could have guessed that they were together. His father had never guessed Billy's question but he had said to him one time, as Billy watched them with confusion, "There's a proper time to act uncivilized, Bill." What the hell did that mean?

"I invited Meryl to breakfast," Billy said, uncovering his tray to reveal a plate with ham and cheese and scrambled eggs and bacon in heavy quantities. In the middle of the table they set a plate on a stand with large honey breads on it. Billy looked toward his mom for approval. She nodded at him. Was this real?

"It would have been rude of you not to," his father said, not taking his eyes off his newspaper.

His mother said, "Sweet girl, her. And what are you to up to, nowadays?"
"She invited me to go fishing," Billy said, "Over the weekend with her mom and her dad. I wanted to bring it up but--?"

"Shhh," his father said, "You may go."

His mother didn't even say anything. She looked down at her coffee cup and then at a servant woman standing beside her patiently. She tapped the cup and the lady rushed to fill it, nervously. Luckily, the woman was gentle or she'd have spilled it and gotten fired on the spot.

"Except," Billy said, "I might not go, you see."

Meryl showed up just in time. A maid ushered her inside. She was wearing a white and blue dress with black slippers. Her hair was tied with a lace ribbon. She looked a lot like a fairy tale girl, even with her braces. She smiled and shyly walked over to the table.

"Sit, sit, missy," his mom said, smiling at her. She sat opposite Billy's side. The table was wide enough that Billy had to speak up for others to hear him.

"Sorry I'm late," Meryl said, looking over at Billy's plate, which was halfway empty.

His father cleared his throat. "Oh," Billy said, nervously, "This is my father Meryl. Father this is Meryl, my girlfriend."

His mom raised an eyebrow at him but she knew already, didn't she?

He didn't put down his newspaper to acknowledge her. "Great," he said, "It's about time."

"And might I add," his mother said, "What will you be doing in the fishing trip, dear?"


"Uh," Billy said, getting up, not having the heart to finish his meal, "I'm not going, I've decided."

His mom shot him daggers with her eyes. Those piercing black eyes regarded him, as if to ask him if he was testing her patience. Billy didn't know what limits his parents had. They could be the example of pristine calm one moment and a complete and utter mess the next. "Uh, something has come up at work, I mean," Billy said.

"You're leaving me for that stinky library!" Meryl snapped.

"We should really just talk outside," Billy said.

His father cleared his throat before Billy got up.

"Excuse me," Billy said, quietly.

His mother raised an eyebrow at him. Really? What was she thinking? If only one time, they'd tell him what they expected, he could be less lost in the world.

Meryl looked upset, her eyes flaring.

She did follow him out. Billy would have thought that wasn't going to happen. A maid followed her out.

She was courteous to a point, standing aside as they got downstairs and then calling after him. "Your lunches, master Billy."

Great. Now, they made him lunch, too. He took the bags. He didn't have the heart to inspect them. Meryl was already so upset. "You!" Meryl snapped, "What are you thinking, huh? I exist too, not just your work and your little friend with the wavy hair."

"This has nothing to do with Simon, Meryl. Look, if only you two could get along."

At this she gave him a stare quite like his mother's. It was so similar that Billy took a step back in shock.

"Did I say I was sorry about the dance? Well, I truly am but I can't go with you tomorrow. Something unexpected came up. It's not like I was trying to intentionally ignore you. Besides, you don't know how hard it all is, Meryl. Do you think I like leaving you? Well, no, I don't. And quite frankly, I didn't like leaving you to yourself at the dance but that had to do with work, too and I hated it."

"You should quit, then!" Meryl yelled at him.

"Really? It's the only thing that's made my parents reasonable all year long."

"You would consider quitting for me?" Meryl asked, sounding surprised.

"Yes," Billy said, "But I still have to see to work on Saturday. It's something important."

"To do with Simon, always Simon. Simon this. Simon that. What about me?"

"I just explained that I do almost everything with you!"

"Oh, shut-up Billy!" Then, she turned her back to him. "Go, go," she pleaded, "Do you think I need to be protected right now? I dare a bully get at me at this moment."

Billy didn't doubt the truth in those words. He didn't even want to be near her when she was fuming like this. She would calm down later, then. He tried one last time to touch her shoulder. She grabbed his hand and pushed him away.

"I said go," she said, the formation of a tear was in her eyes.

Billy left, now feeling drained from the discussion.

The next day, Keya had to adjust to the brownness of the library. Most of the books were brown and dusty. The one named Francine had been true to her word. A large amount of life was in this thing called pizza. Her eyes nearly watered at its flavor. Francine had frowned at her for eating so much of it. Keya promised never to do that again, though she doubted she could control herself.

"Yup," Francine said to her as they entered the library, "As I expected, the floor is completely dry. I could wager that the machine stopped the sprinklers as soon as we stepped out. Most of the books from this earth are in shelves, at least."

Keya gave her a look. It was curious that she thought about these books so much. Not one of her concerns were about the chaos in the place, just that her chaos wasn't wet. Keya explained to Francine about her parents the night before but Francine only laughed and said that that was the world that Keya knew and not this one. Was she really in another earth, a different dimension? Upon further inspection, the library looked to be more like a run down cottage than a library. It was five feet in the back room and close to fourteen feet way at the back. It lost a lot of height because of the slanted roof. It was a restructured building. Keya knew when buildings had been rebuilt just by looking at him. She had studied the structure of her palace and other palaces in her earth's India. There, she had been to a place so grandiose, in the kingdom of Kreska, near Chalibia, where one could get lost in the garden of it. The palace had red bells that announced the entrance and exit of the king and queen and of nobility. It had blue bells to announce the arrival of monarchs from other countries. These bells were huge, about seven feet tall, with loud gongs that it took seven people to ring them each. They had been built on the city walls, like strange forms which belonged to the formation of the city itself. She had told Francine about these and she had tsked at her saying, "Yes, grandiose but where there are nobles, there are armies. And armies mean war."

Keya doubted that Kreska and Chalibia would ever go to war. Her parents had made quite an impression on the king. They even exchanged horses, the highest form of honor among friends in her India. Francine explained to Keya that in this earth arranged marriages were all-too-common in countries outside of the United States, even some to the point where girls are given the option to either agree or be put to death. Well, Keya had not been given such an option but she almost died because of it. She still had unnerving memories of those men with the teeth and their scary yellow eyes. Those spikes she remembered most. Purple and pointing down. Had they intended to put spikes through her? And then what? She shuddered to think of that. People had probably died on that table she was strapped on. What of her saviors? They had to stay in that world and fight on. She shook her head, getting the thought off of her mind.

When she entered the library, she counted the aisles of books where the shelves were separated in rows. There were six aisles but none were arranged in any order. Keya had to walk around piles and piles of books, all without order. "Yea," Francine said, "I can't seem to get around to putting them in order. I did at first, of course. I can still find the authors from A through G, at least. After that third isle there, I started shoving books in everywhere. They were coming out of that hole too damned fast."

Keya smiled at her curse.

"Oh, pardon me, my queen."

"Quit calling me that. I'm not even a princess. Not anymore."

"Ah-ah, what did we talk about?"

"Remorse doesn't solve our problems."

"Correct. And what's the solution?"

"To move on," Keya said, sighing. It was hard to move on but she would try. It was more than she had done to save herself from the vampires. Well, she'd been strapped to a table. It was nearly impossible to move on from that.

"I'm still looking into your parents. What did you say their names were?"

"My father's name was Paka Rungi and my mother's Estelle Branghim. They were married in India but I think my mother had a mother from France. She knew French."

Francine laughed. "Not necessarily. Maybe, you were too young before they started, but some members of nobility are taught a different language from their early years. Your mother probably learned French. Child, you never met your grandparents?"

"We didn't move away from the palace much. My dad loved to fish. We went fishing so much, I got a love of the sea, going out to the middle of the ocean and--?"

"Ocean? India is close to the ocean? Well, there's one example of how your world is different. Still, ah, here we are. Come over here to behind my desk. Quit looking down the aisles."

Keya turned around from the aisles and walked passed six or seven piles of books before she got the front desk of the library. It was a big podium going from one end of the room to the other, ending at a doorway that opened to the side, so that people can get to the other side of the podium. It had a flat top, on which rested piles of books clustered close together, so that anyone entering the library would have to go around almost the whole room to see Francine.

She was looking down at an encased table. When Keya, opened the door and walked beside Francine, she saw a screen through the table. Francine was typing on a keyboard like they do on television. "What is that?" Francine asked.

"Apparently, there's some technology problems. This is a computer, dear. I searched your parents names on the internet. Ha, there they are. They died here, too. That's a curiosity, isn't it?"

"How do you know they died?"

"You can't read, Keya?"

"No," Keya said, blushing, "I never learned. I was sort-of a flower picker. My parents never encouraged me to learn or not to learn."

"A princess indeed," Francine said. "Well, the first thing is this." Francine brought out a book. "You'll have to learn how to read this because it's very important to what I'm talking about."

Keya examined the small but thick book.

"What's it called?" Keya asked.

"The Time Travel Inconsistency by Mark Piersley. Do you know this name Keya?"

"No," Keya said, "But there was a boy named Mark. Do you remember when I mentioned someone saving me?"

Francine nodded, excitedly. "It was him. But then, I heard his name again, when I was on the flying ship. The witches mentioned a Mark. I don't know about the last name, though."

"A curious thing, that. Four Marks in one place."

"Four, miss? I'm not too sure how math works in this planet but I only counted the three."

"Well," Fracine said, off-handedly, checking the computer again, "The fourth one will be appearing here any minute now. He may be a bit older than you remember him."

"Says your parents were murdered on a cruise ship off an island close to Africa."

"That sounds familiar, miss."

"They do have a daughter. Your age. Gone missing..... I'll be. You've landed somehow in another earth almost exactly like yours. Not yours, of course. Not if you never heard of pizza. I'm pretty sure everyone's heard of pizza by now."

Keya didn't know what to think. Her own world was full of mysteries she yearned to discover. In the garden of her palace, she'd found a small wooden complex, like a shack but bigger. Inside it were a set number of knives and katanas. When she'd asked her father about it, he said he wanted her to stay away from that place. Had her father been some sort expert in weapons?

"I don't know if they had," Keya said, "Like I said, most of what I did was in one palace or the next. The chocolate machine, however, I'm almost certain there is nothing of the sort in my earth. Chocolate is very rare, almost as rare as gold. I've only had chocolate once and I'm a princess. My dad traded a boat once for a large block of it, at least the size of a piece of cheese."

"Wow," Francine said, "What about the cocoa bean? Didn't they figure out how to extract chocolate from it?"

"What's a cocoa bean?"

"That means you don't have coffee!"

"What's coffee?"

"Oh, yes, your world has suffered indeed. I could not imagine a world without morning coffee. You need not worry yourself over it, child. It's not really something for teens, anyway."

"I'll get you started on this reading business, not that I will like it any better than you do. I'm a librarian, not a teacher. I thought of putting you in that school down the street, so that you might mingle among your own kind, strange kind yours, almost teenagers, going about causing mischief, refusing to learn or learning to refuse. I almost envy your opportunity. I never had the chance of a personal tutor myself, always had that bothersome room full of rules and uncaring students. Only a few wanted to actually learn."

"Ugh," Keya said, "I don't think reading is an opportunity. It might be worse than a servant's chore."

"Well," Francine said, "I won't have any more of that princess talk from you, missy."
Keya had grown more accustomed to Francine by the minute. She was so magnetic that it made it easy for Keya to get used to her. She was definitely not like her mother, who would tell her to do as she wished. Francine had made rules for Keya, one of them being, not to get out of her sight, unless Francine said so. This rule had made her smile, since she was still a little shaky from her past. She didn't want to be out of range of any people for a while, nice people anyway. Keya felt that Francine was a nice person, if a little strict and a lot weird. Who put on Elvis movies at all hours of the night? At least, even in another world, people knew about the king, Keya thought.

In the back, near the magic chocolate machine, a blue light erupted, blinding and bright. It was so fantastic, that Keya dropped the book Francine had handed her and almost turned to run for the door. "Calm," Francine said, "Calm, Keya. Jeez, what have I said to you?"

"Sorry, Francine, it’s just it's so bright."

"I swear if a few little lights scare you, how are you going to handle real life, huh? Well, you're young yet but you have to learn some time."

In a few seconds, just as fast as it had appeared, the light faded. "What is that?" Keya asked.

"It's Mark," Francine said, as though she didn't care, "I should go make tea. He gets so irritable."

"It's the man you said knew about dimensions?"

"All he talks about, kind of gets annoying."

"He wrote the book," Keya said.

"Good, that's deductive reasoning. But, no, I mean, yes, him but not this him. A him from another dimension. Who knows, a you from another dimension could have written a book just like that. Now pick it up and try not to drop it again."

Keya went over to pick up the book but she almost dropped it again when she heard, "WHERE IS THAT DAMN TEA, WOMAN!"
"You see how he gets?" Francine said, her eyes rolling. She already had a tea cup and a plate in hand. "You go give it to him. He's receptive to children, although you wouldn't think it with that growling voice."

Keya looked at her and hesitated. "Um," Keya said, "I'd rather not. I mean you know, you said not to leave your side."

"Well," Francine said, "That's true but, in this case, you should be okay. He's a self defense expert."

"Really?" Keya asked, "I never met one of those, so he can fight?"

"Fight?" Francine asked, "Well, I never seen him move more than an inch from beside that vending machine but, as much as he boasts, I assume he can. Take the tea, girl, quit being so scared. Ha, it'll do you good to see him. He'll take that fright right out of you. Gave me quite a scare the first time, too but I got over it and if I can get over it, so can you."

Keya took the tea but her hand trembled a little.

"WOMAN!" Another shout came. Keya almost dropped the tea and the book. She had to give the book back to Francine just to keep the plate steady. And slowly, now wearing, blue shorts and a descent top, which was just a cloth of cotton with sleeves and close to not covering her belly but with a stylish flower printed dead center, and slippers, Keya approached the last aisle of the library, where at the end, there sat a man on a chair. He was staring at the chocolate machine. He kicked it and kicked it while he sat. For some reason, he kept getting the chocolate bars to fall. How come it worked for him and not for Keya?

He didn't see her coming or didn't care that she was coming because he screamed again, "I SWEAR IF I DON'T GET--?" He saw her, then.

Here was a man dressed in a white suit with a purple tie. He even had a hat like the other Mark, brown and torn at the edges and ugly. If there was anything that Keya remembered from the previous Mark, it was that stupid hat. In the vampire dimension, he'd been wearing a black suit, slack pants and shirt tucked in, with a belt of some sort. She didn't get a good glimpse at it. It was too dark. She also couldn't get a handle on the shoes. Were they purple or black? Yet, this man, was all in white.

In a calmer voice he said, "Oh, er, sorry. I thought it matter. Is that my tea?"

Keya couldn't speak. His voice was so dangerously like that of an old man, although his face put him at near thirty years old. His hair grew down his forehead to one side. "You're my little sister."

Keya almost dropped the tea at this.

"In another dimension," he said, quickly, "Not here. Your skin is much too dark. In that world, you were English and your weapon of choice was the slingshot. I do find it curious that I see you here, of all places."

Keya approached him slowly.

"Um," he said, taking the cup. "Did she mention me, by any chance?"

Keya was still mute, stunned by how close his face was to the vampire Mark. Keya nodded in response.

"Good," Mark said, "That'll show her."

"What was your sister's name?" Keya found herself asking, although she kept looking at the machine he was kicking in wonder.

The chocolates kept dropping at his touch.

"The trick is," Mark said, "To not open the door. You open the door and grab a chocolate and this thing becomes unstable the next time you kick it. Please, go ahead at take them all out. Oh, and keep the door open as you do so because it plays by rules. If the door closes, then the chocolate becomes forfeit. It just...disappears."

Keya smiled. He'd shown her how to get more than one chocolate and it was so easy.

"Don't tell that to that woman," he whispered, "She'll just grow an unhealthy habit."

He almost made her laugh. It was hard to trust anyone outside of her own dimensions. She already trusted Francine but that was because Francine had fed her and taken her home and given her something to look forward to. Keya sighed, realizing that was one of the rules.

"I can't lie to her," Keya said, softly.

"Darn it! It's her insane addiction to rules, isn't it? What's she got you wound tight around her waist. I know her; she wouldn't use fingers."

Keya listened to him, smiling, as she picked the chocolates out of the machine, making sure she kept the door open.

"Well," Mark said, "Now that you're here, I suppose I aught to talk about dimensions. Where are you from anyway?"

"India," Keya said, still pulling chocolates out. How many were there? She had a pile of at least two dozen.

"Really, that far? Parents dead, I suppose."

Keya nodded.

"Ya, sad story. It's the reason why you're my little sister in the other dimension, except there you're from England and are white-skinned. A little bit of an old attitude on you, too, unrefined some would say. Of course, then, you're also an expert with the slingshot. One doesn't make the other better, but it does make you funnier, bit less attractive to the boys, a boon to me. Never thought of you as pretty and nice, that's a dangerous combination, going to have to keep them off you with a stick."

"I don't think about boys," Keya said in a hurry.

"Oh? Good. Keeps me from using my weapon of choice, good old katana. Got it from Ming back in my days in Japan, when I met his would-be band of misfits to defeat a horde of vampires. Not what you think of as vampires, it's just a figure of speech. Ah, the good old days."

Keya was wide-eyed at his mention of vampires. "In one of the dimensions I visited, a whole town was full of vampires and it was dark and no one was around and the streets were purple and buildings were dark as could be with red letters across them."

"Ah, yes, the Tenth dimension--but wait... You're a traveler? I would not have pegged you as a traveler. To think; my own little sister."

"What's a traveler?"

"What's a--? Are you not learned in the ways of dimensionality? Wait, you didn't get the book, did you? Well, it doesn't matter. I could explain some of it before the vanishing. Don't let it scare you; I'll be back tomorrow. It's just a bit creepy at first. Umm, that's good tea. See, the traveler's are people who can dimension shift at will, from one dimension to the next, whenever they wish. Lucky fellows, going around changing the world every time they appear in one dimension they change something and then travel to the next. Ha, but there's the gist. That's the easy bit, you see, going around traveling and shifting and whatnot, easy. I used to do that. But, then, things went wrong....people started changing things for the worse, dimensions began to break-up, worlds merging into one another, chaos, displacements families dying from one place to the next."

"Is that how my family died?" Keya asked, finally grabbing the last chocolate.

She let the door slam closed.

"Ha, no, no, miss?"

"Keya," she said.

"Keya, right. Serena is the other one's name, going to be a close call on the memory chip. It's a joke. I don't have a chip in my head. Anyway, there's people who have stable dimensionality--you didn't know this?--what are they teaching people in school nowadays, tsk, tsk? If you got this thing, this stable dimensionality, no matter where you go you'll find that the same thing has happened to you over and over, you might be Indian and a hell-of-a-beauty but still, even in my world you've got those pretty eyes, even in my world your parents were assassinated, is that right, am I right?"

Keya nodded, unwrapping a chocolate.

"Slowly, miss, I won't have you eating too much of that. Unhealthy, that. One or two is okay."

Keya smiled at his nature. She sat with her feet crossed, as he kept telling her about dimensions and how Keya was another person in his world. "Everyone else is a dimensional token, and these are people that could be the same or could be quite different from dimension to dimension. Unfortunately, I don't fall into any of those categories. There isn't one dimension that I've visited where I am not a central figure of a war I do not want to be in but such is the way of leaders, except Lincoln, he was a token."

Keya laughed remembering a small part of her studies in history but not much. She was so interested in those gardens. "What the traveler's union, that's something established as soon as our dimensional world found out how to do it, concluded was that the science was right but the action was wrong. Later they even changed their name, can't quite remember. It was good to know how to travel but it was bad to travel because dimensions are fragile like pieces of paper. If you went around poking holes in those pieces of paper, they would eventually become something resembling grated cheese."

"Then, they gave me a name. An unstable dimension shifter, who knew how to travel, but decided not to for the good of humanity. However, the union didn't like this because it was a political maneuver to travel, bringing gold from other dimensions to what the union considered the "real" earth. This world is the real earth, by the way. It hasn't been infested with those foul creatures yet."

"The vampires!" Keya exclaimed.

"Seen them around in your travels?"

"I don't think I'm one of those?"

"One of what?"

"A traveler, mister."

"Mark, please."

"Yes," Keya said, "I know your name, mister."

"Oh, well, good. How'd you get so far from your dimension, then?"

"I don't know. When I first vanished, there were barrels and one of them spilled a gold and black dust, then I wished to be somewhere else and I was in a flying ship with witches. Then, they sent me to that Tenth place, then a witch and you saved me, and she sent me here to a dark room with a boy in it."

"You came across the royal treatise. Those are the ladies in the flying ship. They're trying to stabilize accidental dimension shifts. You see that dust is what remains of a dead traveler, ashes if you will. Guy must have died or something and it produces unexpected results. The ladies are traveler's themselves and they're not witches, no magic, I mean. In some dimensions, yes, they do have magic. Not in the platform--that's what they call their ship-- a platform. In the platform you probably saw people in boxes, small jails before they sent them back to their own dimensions, where things would progress as they should. Yet, I find you here."

"I asked one of them not to send me back. Bad men were trying to marry me off to an older man named Steven."

"Whoever sent you to the Tenth dimension has my thanks. Even if you are not my little sister, I would still not wish her to suffer in another dimension."

"But she sent me to an evil place," Keya said.

"Not her fault," Mark said, "Under pressure, these ladies are forced to randomly transport people. I suppose she thought anywhere was better than where you had been. The tenth dimension, not exactly better. The tenth dimension is an evil place, one of the worlds that has fallen to those evil men. Not vampires, as you call them. Not, in the sense that you think. If it was me you saw, then it was probably the only band of resistance left in that world."

"They were good," Keya said, "They played a trick with the blinds. The vampires didn't even see they were there until it was too late."

"Invisibility is the first skill of the traveler," Mark said, smiling, "I remember learning that. I was about your age when it happened. A lady walked right into me."

Keya laughed.

"You think that's funny, walking into a poor kid and getting his perfectly good ice cream all over her shirt? Well, no. I wanted that ice-cream. Never mind that. Let me explain about the vampires before my tea is gone. These are people, who were turned into weapons in one of the dimensions. Not vampires. These were real people, chained and poisoned with magic, thought it was a real nice way of fighting those wizards of the past, with an enemy that couldn't be defeated, immortal and such. Of course, you cut their heads off and they're good as dead. The poison seeped into the blood and made them inhuman somehow but then, the wizards had not counted on, that just like Frankenstein, their own creations would turn against them. Some of these vampires had magic but they had not known as people because they didn't have the senses to suspect it. As vampires, all their senses were enhanced, they were even smarter and quicker than normal people and they chose not to serve their masters but to become masters of their own destiny. This mess with the vampires was the worst thing since the three curses."

"Three curses?"

"Another story, child. Let's stick to this one. In any case, as soon as the vampires found out how to affect others with their poison, through the draining of human blood and waiting a period of a day or two with their bodies hanging like bats off a ceiling, their armies grew to uncomfortable numbers. Then, among them, were travelers, so the disease of the vampire spread from dimension to dimension. Some say the only hope of saving us from the vampires or saving any dimension from the vampires is the resurrection of the fated one."

"What is the fated one?"

"Oh," Mark said, "Him. He's a special traveler. Not only could this traveler shift from dimension to dimension at will but he could, also, control the time of reality. Because time has a weird relationship with dimensional shifts, it has been studied but never practically worked on. Time is a messy thing, could be worse than the process of dimensional instability that may doom us all. Even if the vampires travel everywhere and spread evil, there is still hope for those who stand up and fight. However, if rogue traveler's of the union keep traveling, poking holes in dimensions, for the purposes of financial gain, like stealing gold from palaces of other dimensions, then every earth will unravel, becoming unstable with voids appearing and making parts of reality disappear forever."

"What do you mean?"

"It’s like undoing a roll of string," Mark said, "It might be slow but eventually, there will be nothing left."

"The same people who are trying to save us are killing us?"

"Not me," Mark said, "I try to keep stability; that's why I'm here every day."

"And what of the special guy?"

Her answer didn't come, as a white light, made her get up and scatter back to where Francine was studying a pile of books, a cup of tea in her hand. She yawned and said, "Finally," she said, "You learn something from him?"

"He said the world was going to end," Keya said.

"Yea," Francine said, sipping her tea, "He always says that."

It was the end of the day. He crossed the street in comfort, knowing that Meryl would meet him on the corner, next to the guard. Billy's cross guard now was a different man, a man named Willy. How did cross guards get paid, if there were two of them working two different shifts? They only worked for maybe two hours. Willy was a short dark-skinned fellow with an orange best and wearing a white shirt and black slacks underneath with purple and faded cloth shoes. He spoke in an old tongue. "Ey, you nearin' that ther'um, youngin' an' such?"

This question stunned Billy. Meryl wasn't there. He had put his back pack away in his locker, he remembered, and Cal had given him a smile, an unnerving knowing smile and had left. Billy was still uneasy near Cal. He had got in his way on purpose but Cal's cast was off by then. Billy felt weird and tense around Cal, yet he refused to blame himself over what had happened. True, it was partially his fault but Cal had the option to move out of his way. Besides Cal was okay now, what did he care? There were bigger problems.

Where the heck was Meryl? Simon came walking out of the school's gate on the other side of the street.

"Young blood, I ask, oh--wait-n'um--'er come's that fellar."

Willy got up quickly and put up his sign, growling after a speeding car that almost took him. The car stopped in steep, its wheels screeching.

A big-gut man in an apron came out. Simon ran across the street to meet up with me. In the background Willy yelled, "Kid's're crossin'! Kids're crossin'! Is you nuts, mister!"

"So, are we going?" He asked Billy.

"I don't know," Billy said, "Meryl's pretty mad at me."

"Oh, her. Don't mention her around me, please."

"What's wrong with you, huh?"

"Don't act like nothing's wrong," Simon said, looking disgusted. He adjusted his glasses. He was looking up at Billy with a sense of desperation. "The world is wrong Billy. Don't you feel it, doesn't it feel weird, being this hot in the spring?"
Billy sighed. For days now Simon could not get rid of the lingering feeling that something was wrong with everything. Billy liked to think of the things that were wrong with one person or one thing. "Well," Billy said, "We can't fix everything. Let's try and take one at a time, and, first and foremost, is your hatred of Meryl."

"She's part of it," Simon said, almost too loudly, "She's part of what's wrong."

"Everything alright, Simon?"

He wasn't his usual happy self. He, then, touched Simon on the shoulder, trying to get him to fess up with the truth. Instead, Simon chirped up in a jiffy and brushed his hand off his shoulder with a shrug. "Eh, don't worry about it now. I think we should go see him. The guy who keeps talking about dimensions and such."

"Er," Billy said, not wanting to say how much he wanted to see him too, "Meryl is very upset. She didn't show up today because of it."

"Ha, she finally let go of your leash?"

"I'm not on a leash," Billy said, smiling. They began to walk up the hill, when they saw Willy come back to them and grab Billy's shoulder, "Sonny, hey, holdasec, sonny. I tole' you ta wait'asec, no? Frivolous kiz, 'ways on the run. The girl--I reckon--she was one, with'um pink shoes, nay, its a certainty, think I got oh-wiff of ole number 5, perfume, sonny, donna get confuse--she said, a thin' hada'come up, tole ole Willy ta deliver the news."

Simon just shook his head. "Worried about nothing," he said. "She might be evil but at least she's courteous."

Billy smiled. It was the nicest thing he'd ever said about her. "Let's just go. I have to be at work soon."

Simon walked alongside him. "Hey, about Space Dreg, something's happened. I got a lot of people attacking me."

"Can't help you," Billy said, smiling because Simon had started to look like he was actually getting some sleep, "Shimi refuses to talk to me, since she found out I might get banned for playing fair."

"Isn't that always the case?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, if you're playing fair, then all the corporate bullies want to teach you a lesson but, then, if you're a bully, they just leave you alone."

Billy thought about Simon's argument. Again, Space Dreg related almost identically to his life. It was unfair that he had to choose between Simon and Meryl but only when it was unfair was his life at home better. His dad had even called him Billy and had made sure he had gotten a lunch. Billy didn't know if this was because of two consecutive A's in math or because of his fond relationship with Meryl but he found that he was happy at home, for what seemed like the first time. In another respect, the bullies seemed to be getting more aggressive with the geeks and even normal students, who were just weaker. Well, Billy wouldn't stand for that forever. Billy was waiting them out. It took so much to wake the giant. Did he want to fight them? No. Bullies were his kind and he had a weird respect for them. They kept things balanced. Yet too many bullies wasn't fair, that was job endangerment. He would keep an eye out for them. He found a girl stuffed into a locker right next to his that day. No. It definitely wasn't fair.

"You've got that mean look in your face, is it because you can't play Space Dreg?"

"Let's just say," Billy said, "That Monday, I'm going to make a choice. I'm going to fight back or leave them be."

"Who, what are you talking about?" Simon asked, concern showing on his face. Billy made a turn on a block. It was called Street C. A few houses down was Simon's house. "Never mind. You can make it from here, right?"

"Yea, yea," Simon said, starting to skip. "You can't come up today?"

"Work," Billy said, "And it's your fault, by the way."

Simon smiled back at him. Yea, Simon was definitely his friend now. How did he do without the little guy before? Simon had taught him the art of the sandwich. Now that Billy had his own lunch, Simon's sandwiches were the hit of the lunchroom and for a small fee of a buck a piece, Simon was making money for his father's business and at the same time promoting it. It was very interesting to observe this on the side. Something working while bullies roamed free and stuffed girls in lockers. Really, a girl? He would definitely have to make a choice on Monday.

His mother saw him out of the door before leaving to work. She tried to get one of the servants to give him another lunch bag, a dinner bag to be exact. Billy waved it off as he skipped the steps of the front of his house saying, "No, not that important."

It was the first time Billy had refused a meal. Billy was in a hurry to get to the work of catching books. It was good work and it gave him time to think about things. And he definitely needed time to think. Besides that, he was curious to see what Keya was up to. He had learned her name from Francine but Francine had kept her at a good distance since she came out of the void four days ago. Keya didn't even seem to notice him, too engulfed in a "How to Read for Beginner's" book, which was a thin book from another dimension and a title which had shocked Billy when he saw it. She was reading The Time Travel Inconsistency, curiously enough, it was the book that had actually avoided being caught by his glove. This book actually tried to, magically, pull itself back into the void. Billy was in time to catch it and he felt like he was in a tug-o-war with it and the person casting a strange magic on it from the other side of the void. He finally won the battle, but five or six books had been turned to dust because he wasn't there to catch them, being somewhat fixated on fighting the war for the book.

What had Keya been doing reading it? Could she even read it? She had her attention mostly on that other book. And a journal, from what Billy saw. She was on the floor, because the library had zero seats, other than counters on which multiple books sat or had spilled onto. It reminded Billy of a little city with tall buildings made of books, multiple and in large numbers. She had been writing words down, too, but he saw her mostly involved in reading. It was a curious thing to Billy, since he had been almost staring at her and she paid him no mind those past three days. He had gone passed her and right into the void room to catch more books, although Francine had said the void would no longer appear. She was wrong, of course, but Billy didn't know why. Something about that made Billy worry a little.

This time, he was a few minutes late because he was taking a shower and had put on clean clothes, a striped black and gray shirt and black slacks with purple shoes. He looked almost ready to go play golf, professionally, and what was worse presentable. Billy didn't really much care how he looked but recent changes in his home had included him looking good wherever he went, despite his weight, which was becoming less of a problem. He had lost ten pounds in the past two weeks.

He went into the library, shaking the door a few times. It wouldn't open of its own accord anymore. Billy had to shake it a little more each time. The library was a mystery to him. It had voids, too many books, a weird vending machine and a dimension-man who appeared only during the day, according to Simon. It was like all those stories in the books were becoming real and popping out into the library itself.

He'd mentioned Simon's theory to Francine, who had nodded and told him to get back to work. Was the library going to be attacked for its books? When would the thieves come, if Simon was right. Simon was saying that someone was stashing these books that came into the library, so that they could later come and get them all at once. Would they decide to take the library itself, Francine, Keya and old man and all? It seemed like the least possible thing to happen, to Billy.

This time, Keya was reading books. She was putting away a set of dishes. He turned to look behind him because Keya had turned to look at him. Billy had this odd notion that if a girl was looking at him, then it was either because he was in the way of the real target or that he had something on his face. He wiped his face. Nothing. She was really just looking at him.

Keya was in a pair of silver boots and an above the knee green skirt and blue top. She looked much too mismatched for a girl but Keya had come from another dimension. Maybe, girls didn't like to match in other places. "She said not to talk to you. Not for a while, anyway," Keya said, "Because she thought I was scared of you, can you imagine that?"

Billy shook his head, smiling.

"And you had saved me from the books and I yelled at you. I'm sorry about that," Keya said, smiling back at him, "I was scared at the time. wasn't your fault. I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"Oh,," Billy said, "I'm glad you're okay." Billy thought about Keya as no more than a good friend at the library, though. He hadn't gotten dressed up for her, that was for sure. He had got dressed up because it was professionalism and he had been made to do it. Yet, he realized, if he had really wanted to, he could have put on some jeans and a t-shirt. It was hot enough for a t-shirt. Was he trying to be noticed by Keya, simply because she'd ignored him the past three days?

He was looking almost too intently at her green eyes. How had she come upon green eyes in India of all places? Billy stood transfixed by her, standing there holding a plate in one hand.

"I should get back," Keya said, "Francine is showing me how to wash dishes. I never got my hands wet before to do work. It's quite refreshing."

Billy nodded at her as he stepped from one side to the next, dancing around piles of books to get around the counter to the back, where he almost had to duck to get into the secret room with the void in it. It had probably been used to store old dusty books in it before but now it was empty, except the pile of blue books that represented the void. When Billy went in, the blue books were gone. It was time but the void hadn't showed up. The pile was gone, too. He tested the room a little. He went back out and came back in. It was still gone.

"Francine!" Billy called.

Francine came out of the kitchen with yellow gloves and soap in hands in a rush, as though the building were on fire.

"Oh, sorry," Billy said, looking at her from across the room, "It's just..the void is gone."

"Good one, Billy. Now get back in there. I'm not paying you to stand around and play jokes on people."

Billy went back into the room. He came back out. Outside, in the darkness of the narrow hall, he found Keya, a foot shorter than him, staring up at him, "So?"

"Francine sent you, didn't she?"

"She's my third-dimensional mother, well, that's what she said to call her. She said that when I called her Francine, it sounded like I was making fun. You're saying the void is gone?"

"Yea," Billy said, "But it's not like it's the first time."

"Francine said it vanished the first time because when I came through time changed, so the hour changed. Maybe time changed again. Are you sure the void isn't there?"

Billy walked into the room. He pointed at a corner. "Wow," Keya said, "You weren't making fun of Francine."

"Why would I do that?" Billy asked.

"Well," Keya said, "I do that all the time. I put salt in her tea. I gave her a chocolate bar with nothing in it but that was tricky, since if she sensed the bar with her fingers, she'd notice the trick but Mark showed me how to do it. Then, one time--"
"Who's Mark?" Billy asked, quickly. Then, he cursed under his breath. It wasn't his business, was it? It didn't matter was more like it. Why was Keya playing tricks on Francine?

"It's how I show her I care," Keya said, "Mark said that in his world, people played tricks on each other all the time. It makes life more interesting."

"Well," Billy said, "It sounds mean to put salt in one's tea. Maybe, if there was a rule like no mean tricks, then yea, I'd go for that."

"You like rules?"

"No," Billy said, "But I live by so many of them. One more isn't going to hurt."

Keya giggled. Couldn't girls just laugh? It made Billy nervous. He didn't want more problems with Meryl.
"You want to meet him?"

"Oh," Billy said, "Yea, I'm meeting him with Si--my friend tomorrow."

She grabbed his hand without his permission and had to struggle to drag him along. "C'mon," Keya said, looking back at him with a smile, "You should meet him. He's really smart."

"I thought he only appeared in the day."

Keya shrugged still holding his hand. She was so much like Simon, it made him smile just to look at her. Touching her hand was making him sweat almost but he was glad to touch her soft gentle fingers. "He doesn't make the rules," Keya said, "He just follows them. He's been here five hours now. We talked about so many things. I told him about you and he really wants to meet you, too."

"You talked about me?"

"Oh, well, Billy, I know about you from Francine, of course. Too bad Simon couldn't come. I really wanted to meet him."

"Well," Billy said, "I'll bring him tomorrow."

"Francine is taking me to the movies tomorrow," she said in a serious tone, "You want to--?"

Before she could finish asking him along, Billy replied, "Let's go talk to Mark, then."

Billy let her lead him to the back of the library passed the last aisle where less piles of books littered the ground than in other places. Billy still had to kick some of the books aside in order to sit. Keya took a seat in front of a man dressed all in white with a young face but a frown on his face and a weird dirty hat and she motioned for him to sit next to her. It was like Billy was about to attend a session of story time like the seven-year-old section of a bookstore. This was the old man Simon had spoken of? He looked to be in his mid-twenties or younger, Billy couldn't really tell.

His voice was deep when he spoke, unlike what Billy expected. "Hello," he said, "Are you the one making all that racket in the backroom?"

"You can hear that?" Billy asked, "I thought you only appeared in the day."

"Sometimes in the night but that woman refuses to make me tea."

"What woman?"

"He's talking about Francine," Keya volunteered.

Billy gave her a smile, then made sure he looked back to Mark quickly. Mark's eyebrow raised at seeing this but he didn't make a comment. "What's your name?"

"Billy," he said.

"Oh, nice to meet you, Billy. What's the matter, then, you look worried?"
"Well," Billy said, "It's just that the void always appears at five, yet today, nothing."

"A curious thing," Mark said, "Can I ask you a question, Billy?"

Billy nodded.

"Not a man of many words, I see. Or maybe just shy. Anyway, since I have your permission now, have you seen any voids like these elsewhere?"

Keya laughed, "Don't worry. He asks everyone that question. Francine said he asked her the same thing but she told him to stop being a foolish young person."

"Yes," Billy said.

Keya stared at him in shock, her laughter cut short. "What?"

"Indeed," Mark said, "When, if I may ask?"

"One of them appeared in my classroom, a ball came flying in through it and then it was gone."

"Oh," Mark said, "That's just poor dimension control, Billy. I would like you to stop doing that, if you please. I don't want to lose a hand or anything of that sort."

"Doing what?" Billy asked. "I haven't done anything."

"Oh, deny it, then! Keya, take him away, just as stubbornly as you brought him."

"But," Billy said, "I don't know what you're talking about. I came to ask about dimensions, not about me."

"That's the same question, boy," Mark said, "Didn't you explain to him about the fated one?"

Billy looked at both of them in disbelief. Simon had said that he was the fated one, too, but he hadn't mentioned anything about dimensions.

"No," Keya said, "I barely just today got permission to talk to him again."

"Permission?" Mark asked, "That blasted woman and her rules! Where's my tea?"

Keya got up. "Let's go," she said to Billy.

"But I haven't got any answers."

"He won't talk to you when he gets like this and after four Francine refuses to make tea for him."

"He's just going to stay here all alone?"

"Alone?" Mark asked, "No, no, my dear boy. I'm surrounded by books. The knowledge of the world. I left one there on the counter. Tell that.... Keya's keeper to give it to you."

Mark had stopped himself because Keya had given him a mean look. Those two had a weird relationship as well. Keya had surely changed since the time when Billy last saw her. She was much less aggressive, for one. And she acted much more like a girl than he had expected, despite her ugly blue top. Who had dressed this girl?

It wasn't a surprise to see Francine, sitting before the counter looking at the see-through tinted glass in front of her. From close by it was clear but from far away it looked tinted. "This internet thing is fabulous," she said, "Oh, and Billy, why don't you take the book with you. Apparently, it’s part of your job now."

"What do you mean?"
Francine gestured toward a four by six inch green book on the counter, sitting all by itself. It was not in a pile like most the books in the library and it looked old and dusty. "Claims he put it there but I never seen him set a foot off that chair of his. I swear that young man was put in this earth to irritate me."

Billy cleared his throat and let go of Keya's hand, who he realized he was grasping a little too tightly, "What do you mean about the book and work?"

"It's to do with the job of you making a void, so that the books can start rolling in again. What did you think I meant? And, were you holding Keya's hand?"

"No," Billy said, "She was holding my hand. It's quite different."

"Is that the story you're going to stick to boy? She's much more attractive, her word against yours?"

Keya looked at him, an eyebrow raised then she smiled and said, "I held his hand, jeez."

"For what purpose, missy?"

"Just to lead him around, so he wouldn't get lost?"

"Lost? He's been in a dark room catching books for a week now. I doubt he needs to be led around by the hand like some three year old. Now, no more of this holding hand business."

Billy would have said "gladly" but felt that it might send an almost too accurate portrayal of his feelings toward Keya. Billy wrestled with himself over if he really did have feelings for her.

Then Keya, like all girls near his age, rebelled. She put her fists down on her sides, stomped her foot on the ground and grabbed his hand all the while saying, "I'll grab his hand if I like, how's that, huh?"

"Always the little princess."

"And quit calling me that."

Billy wanted to leave. "Yes, well...I have to go." He grabbed the book quickly and had to be ushered out by Keya who refused to let go of his hand until she was out of Francine's sight. The piles of books helped to make it a short trip out of Francine's sight. Billy was almost out the door, when he felt her hand on his and stopped. He looked down at his hand, and Keya waved at him with her other hand. "Open sesame?" He asked.

Keya giggled. It almost made Billy growl. "So annngry all the time, what's wrong, huh?"

"It doesn't matter," Billy said, "I have to go and read this book. Maybe, it'll have more to say than that mean guy."

"He's not mean," Keya said, defensively. She even let go of his hand. "He's just.... not used to the afternoons. You really should meet him tomorrow during daylight."

"I guess I have to. I promised Simon."

"But--the movies, you see me and Francine go but--?"

Billy interrupted her, "I'll see you tomorrow when you get back." And dashed out of the library at a sprint. Thank God she hadn't been holding his hand. He would have dragged her home with him. And then what? He dared not to think on it another second. He had to call Meryl because he finally had a day off.

Keya felt that a smile was forming on her lips. She tried to hide it from Francine, as she came back into her line of sight but slowly. "Free spirited much?" Francine asked.

"Mark said I could do it," Keya said, "If I wanted to."

"Naturally," Francine said, "Mr. Fancy pants gets what he wants. He keeps undermining my authority and we'll see who makes him tea from now on."

"I will," Keya said, tipping a stack of books over on her way to the vending machine.

"Where did you put all those chocolates?"

Keya stopped herself. She had seen the chocolates? "In the library. Not at home."

Keya knew this was Francine's concern. At home, the rooms were so neat and in order. Even in the refrigerator all the vegetables were standing just so and inches from each other just so and alphabetically, Keya thought. Apples next to celery next to cucumbers. Keya guessed that because she couldn't have order at work, Francine might as well have it at home. But she couldn't have order in Keya's life. Mark had told her that. After a few days of following rule after rule, Keya had simply decided to stop following Francine's rules and make up her own. This was also part of what Mark had said to her. He had explained, "Well, it's all well and good to follow some rules but to follow rules for the sake of following them, well, that's controversial to thinking and most people are used to thinking for themselves. What's the point of being free of danger, if only to be tied to safety?"

Keya had got really stuck to this point. She didn't want to be tied to safety. She had been tied to safety all her life in the palace and it had led her to act scared and insecure around people. She had been led to weakness, is what Mark said but she could be strong if she chose to. Then, Mark had somewhat idly pointed to a section of the library that held self-defense books. She was currently studying Mr. Lee's Philosophy of the Inner Chi. The inner chi parts kept referring back to personal freedom, to be free of oppressive forces. Keya had taken so much reading lessons from Francine before learning how to do the reading herself. She was a quick learner with the ta's and sh's and ch's and differences in consonants and verbs and nouns but she had spent a lot of time deciphering her book. It seemed that the other Mark, her other savior, wasn't concerned with teaching her how to be rude to Francine or how to disobey elders but rather how to become a better person. The other Mark, time-travel Mark as she'd come to call him, had a deep sense of honor and respect for people of all periods in time. Time-travel Mark told her to keep her senses in all situations, even when captive, which she'd not done at the time of her capture by the evil men. Now that she knew they were an experiment of man, she no longer referred to them as vampires. It made them seem less threatening to her.

Time-travel Mark reminded her of Billy, who in a sense treated people kindly, even when he himself got treated badly. She found Mark engrossed in a book about roaches and their habits.

"Fascinating," Mark said as she approached him. How could he even see her without turning his back? "The boy gone?"

"Well, yea. You kind-a kicked him out."

"Good," Mark said, "I never liked bullies."

Keya regarded Mark, frowning. She crossed her hands. "You will be nicer to him tomorrow."

"I think," Mark said, "I shall act toward the boy as I wish. You think that guy is the fated one, don't you? Him? A bully? Please, Keya, I thought you were smarter than this."

"It's not his weight or his face that speaks of what he is, you told me that yourself."

"Ha," Mark said, "And since when do you listen to me? Did you listen to me when I told you Francine was the cause of all this, this torment? No. You keep trusting that woman."

"She saved me from a hell unknown to me before but now I understand that the only break and difference between the two of you is that you love nothing and she loves me."

"I only try to help you, Keya and her, at all times, imposes rules on you."

"Well, that's where you’re wrong. She tries to protect me like maybe no one protected you. Why are you the guardian of this gate, anyway? You like to talk about everyone else but never mention your own situation. Why are you here, huh? Is it to manipulate me into hurting people I care about?"
"You care about the boy?"

Keya blushed, "I was talking about Francine," she said quietly.

"Okay. I will tell you why I am the stupid one involved in this dimensional stability thing. However, the three curses, that's a topic you're still too young to hear about. I'll have none of that nonsense. Me? You want to know how I came here? Well, it's a love story, that's why I despise telling it. A long time ago, let's say ten years or so, I was younger at the time, not like I am now, and gullible. I had a set of friends that went and fought vampires in raids, or what some would call in a group. We had different types of specialty fighters. Me and Leroy fought with Katanas. Leroy was a young man, about my age, with about the same build but think of a big forehead and a sense of humor. He also had this rugged nose and a frown on his face, a worried look on him always. Another, you met her twice, her name was Teresa, a witch. She could make magic happen with a wave of her hand but there was restrictions to her magic. You see in those days, magic was split into two groups. Those that could cast it by saying a word and those who could use what was around them to create it. The healers and others came later, because of parental seeds being passed from one child to another. Dimensional breaches weren't yet real in those times but me and my team knew about them. The fourth one in the group was named Michael and you, of course, just imagine your beauty and anger and spirit all put into a white girl with blue eyes, same hair. Michael was an expert in most types of armor, and he fought with guns and bows and crossbows. You fought with a slingshot, a bag of marbles hanging by your neck."

"I was your sister, you said," Keya reminded him.

"We found you deserted in alleyway crying over the loss of your parents. The, then, me thought to train in you in the art of fighting, a mistake I later found. It got you into a lot of trouble. Anyway, at the time, we were fighting in alliance with a very unique individual named Arthur Lacroise and his wife Karla. He was a detective and she was a retired New York City police officer. He dressed up in an overcoat and black suit while she wore a police officer's uniform, badge and all.

"During the time of when we broke the first curse, and got rid of the vampires in my world, you see, not yours or others, in order to save his wife from a much more evil enchantress in our world, who had sided with the head of the vampires, Dracula, as he liked to call himself for obvious reasons, Teresa made a void. You see Teresa knew about voids but not where they led. Arthur knew about voids, too, as the evil enchantress happened to be his sister."

"His own sister was evil?"

"You play the cards your dealt, Keya," Mark said.

"But how did you guys not get at her sooner if she was the sister of one of your own?"

"Arthur was hard to change to our side. He wasn't really a bad guy to us. He was just doing his job as a cop, investigating on us and all that. When he found that we were doing something good, fighting against the vampires and not just upsetting things as newspapers and political groups liked to advertise, he joined our cause. Well, there was that and his sister had somehow had his wife enchanted by a trance or a spell. The deal was that Arthur was to retrieve a book that would have prevented me from breaking the curse and thus undoing the reality of our world, and by that same token, destroying it. The love story here being that I was to save a marriage by saving Arthur's wife and the world at the same time. Me and Teresa arrived at Dracula's castle too late. Arthur and his sister were already fighting it out. He had some kind of orb that prevented her from hurting him with her magic and she was pouring fourth magic from the ground, making things come to life to attack him, not that she had to, vampires were surrounding him from all sides.

This was a fight that was had in the gates of a big castle. When we arrived, we blew up the gates, causing vampires to scatter through the gardens and hide underneath the shadow of violet flowers and other weird vines that had sprouted in the place. It was definitely a place of evil. In order to save his wife, who Arthur's sister had underneath her blade flying eight feet above the ground, Teresa decided to create a void and let it slip over Karla. Well, what happened then, was a tragedy.

You showed up and took your shot, killing the witch."

"That doesn't sound like a tragedy."

"Your shot went through her body, striking Karla dead as she disappeared into the void. Arthur saw this and bowed revenge. Little did we know that he was a dimensional traveler. He killed you in my dimension, creating a side ways void that split your body down the middle, the void absorbing you from the belly up but the rest of you remaining in my earth, a horrible death. I could not have been more upset by what happened. For days, you could not get me to fess up to what happened. I'd erased it from my mind. Arthur escaped to another dimension, a fact we later learned from books and reading but by then it was too late, Arthur had gone from one dimension to another, killing your parents. He didn't want to kill you in just one earth, you see. And killing your parents? He wanted you to suffer first."

"Is that why my parents in all dimensions are dead?"

"I'm sorry," Mark said, "It's all my fault."

"According to you, it's all my fault," Keya said.

"Your fault?" Mark asked, blinking, "Please, don't." He looked sad and shaken.

She touched his hand, "Does it help you to think it was your fault?"

"I said don't!"

Keya fell back a little. It was weird to talk to him. Still, he hadn't told her how he had gotten into this dimension, this weird wonderful earth with chocolate everywhere. She stepped away, afraid. She'd talk to him when he was calm. As Keya walked away she thought she heard him whimpering and, at last, as though by magic he vanished.

In his mind, Billy saw Meryl coming over to his house and them playing a game of Tower. Tower was a game invented by Phillips and Co. The initial premise of Tower was that you didn't let the Tower fall, while taking it apart piece by piece. These pieces were of course triangles, squares and large blocks that made up the Tower, all metallic and the slightest bit magnetic, so that it was a challenge to remove them. His dad had bought him the game back when it came out and when it was very expensive but Billy had never had anyone to play with. Since his mom and dad had gotten butlers and maids most recently, he tried to catch them being lazy, so he could play a game of Tower with them. They were, unfortunately, quite good at what they did and always kept busy by his mother hanging some frame or moving some desk around. Billy's living room had much more walking space now. Most of the trophy cases had been moved to a room in the backyard built specifically for the purposes of keeping the treasures stored. What had prompted the move, Billy wondered?

When he got home, his father almost shoved him back out with a finger. He pointed at him disapprovingly his shirt sleeves up to his elbows as though he had been working hard, "So, explain to me why I'm looking at you right now, son."

"Uh," Billy said, not knowing where to begin. He hadn't counted on explaining his lack of work to his father.

"And a book to read? Is that your good bye gift? Did you get fired?"
Billy had almost forgotten about the book, his answers to the many questions regarding the voids and dimensions. Well, according to Mark, who Billy had found to be really just a nuisance. Mark was like a mixture of evil and helpful in the same person. He wanted to thank him for the book but also punch him for being so rude. He wouldn’t treat Simon that way, that was for sure. Billy would make sure of that. As for the bullies this Monday, he already made his decision.

“No,” Billy said in a hurry, “They just didn’t have as much work today.”

“Oh, really? And what’s your afternoon plan, then?”

“I was thinking of calling Meryl,” Billy said, truthfully. He was less scared of his father now that he was being given a decent allowance and a lunch.

“Good,” his father said, “But you can’t come in the house now. Your mother would kill us both. Here, ten dollars, take her to the movies or something.”

His father gave him more money to take Meryl out? Who was this strange person, now holding the door open to his house?

“Robert!” His mother called.

“Jane, wait, it’s Billy--what are you doing to that wall?--No, no Jane, it goes on the right--Go, boy, go before she engulfs you in the madness!”

Billy laughed and ran out of the gate of his house, taking his father’s warning seriously. Who did a bully run away from? Other more female bullies.

At the end of the block, the light across the sky started to grow dim. Or was it his imagination? In any case, it stopped him abruptly and a car zoomed by in front of him. A black BMW, he noticed. It had happened so quickly that it almost put Billy out of his stupor. Billy was genuinely happy and excited to see Meryl. Sure, they had argued but this was good news. He finally had more than a few hours at school to spend with her. Usually, they would go to lunch together, the whole time Simon eyeing her like she was an evil demon, and chat. Meryl was uniquely kind to Simon, even calming his stare from time to time. Billy didn’t know if that surprised Simon or not. He surely was better company when Meryl wasn’t around, smiling and joking all the time. Billy had to stand for it but Monday, things would change, for better or worse. Yet, first, the movies.

He looked both ways before crossing and noticed that down C street Simon was coming out of his house. Cal was walking near his house and he had an arm around--No.

Billy is a fish! Billy is a fish! The crowd of fourth graders chanted around him. He looked at them, as he lay on the floor, face up. In the next few seconds, his stomach began to burn from the kicks. Mean tall kids, kids taller than him, Cal among them were kicking him as he was down. Meryl was among the faces. She chanted, too, just as eagerly. He couldn’t breath.

“Can’t I have a cookie like the others?” Billy had asked Ms. Green, the teacher, a round woman with distinctive glasses and the odor of cabbage rising from her sweater. He had been put in a corner for reading too loudly in class. For three days they’d been taunting him with their cookies. Billy for one reason or the other had always gone to the corner. The first two days had not been his fault, Cal Richmond, had stuffed a frog down his pants. And it had croaked, revealing the trick, but too late. Ms. Green blamed him, although he rebuked the call. He knew it was cookie day. His father still was mad at his C average, so no lunch and no allowance. Here he was a chubby kid, starving with the promise of cookies ruined by a bully. The second day, Cal had put the wrong words in his book. In his daze from lack of sweets, he had read out loud “Columbus wrecked the freaking voyage” and that kind of language wasn’t to be tolerated. Billy, then, put out a hand for his cookie but he had gotten a ruler, pointing straight at the corner, where he had to go stand yet again.

The class had laughed at this.

When he asked Ms. Green for the cookie, again, the class laughed. Billy’s stomach growled but much worse was the disappointment of expectation. He had expected a cookie on the third and final day of the extended cookie day but no, none came. “We’re out,” Ms. Green lied, taking another cookie from her purse and biting into it.

At this, the class laughed.

“Now get back to your corner.”

At this, the class laughed.

On his way back, Cal tripped him and Ms. Green saw it, but she let him fall onto the fish tank of the class, his head ending up inside it. Next, Cal said loudly, “Billy is a fish.”

At this, the class laughed.

During lunchtime, Billy confronted Cal. “You tripped me,” he said.

Cal Richmond being a much taller fellow and having more muscles rose to his side with Meryl not so far away giving him a look, batting her lashes, “What’s it to you, fatboy. Didn’t your daddy teach you how to walk?”

Billy eyed him silently, his fists bunching up.

Cal punched him first, in the gut. Winded, Billy fell to his knees. More tall boys came, Roy Richardson, Allen Granden, James, Romano, Loius and watched him on the ground. Then, they began to kick him and chant, “Billy is a fish! Billy is a fish!”

He eyed them now, a crowd chanting, making fun but not Simon. Simon was at the front but his eyes were fiery lightning. He was upset for some reason. Billy didn’t remember Simon being upset before. He’d certainly been kind enough to hand over his lunch to Billy without Billy needing to punch or having to ask. Why was he so nice? His enemy was on the ground being pounded.

All over a freaking cookie, Billy thought.

The pain was great and it was taking over his thoughts, all thought. One got him on the knee and he growled.

At this the crowd grimaced. Then, he grabbed Cal’s foot and the crowd booed him but there was nothing they could do. Gravity was in play now. He fell on his friends that had been kicking him. James and Louis, cowards from the start, ran away. Billy got up. He wasn’t going to be their bait anymore. He was the bully. Billy. Not Cal. Not Ms. Green. Forget her cookies; he was rich, he could buy a cookie.

Cal looked up at him in fear. No longer was he looking down at a bully. What? How does the bully look down on someone not even ugly enough to be his counterpart? Billy smiled at him, blood curled around his lip from the cheap shots. “Now,” Billy said, staring him down, “Who the hell called me a fish?”

And at this, like the wind blowing from the east, everyone scattered at a run.

The block was narrow, now on the hill itself. It was even ground. They still hadn’t seen him but Simon saw them. Simon didn’t look shocked. He kept walking toward the gate of his house. Cal was about to pass his gate with Meryl at his side, Cal’s arm around her. With his fingers he curled her hair and Meryl looked as happy as could be chewing gum. Her braces were gone and she was the old Meryl again, pretty and popular. She was wearing make-up. Who had showed her how to put it on?

Billy watched, his eyes like the ones Simon had when he’d first met him, on fire. A block back, Billy saw on D street were Cal’s friends from before. James and Louis were joking around, kicking at each other. In front of them Roy and Allen. Romano was in the front, leading, a dangerous boy with freckles, and wearing a large black leather jacket. He was Billy’s height and size, except now Billy looked like a more fit version of Romano. And he was more pleasant on the face.

Simon came out of the gate. As if on cue, Meryl shoved him to one side, where Cal was. Cal got a good hold on him, a headlock.

“Let me go, let me go,” Simon complained.

Billy sighed and walked up the block, wanting to be seen now. Meryl was with her back to him, pulling at Simon’s hair. Was this his Meryl? This girl had apologized to his mother. He wasn’t a bully anymore, Billy realized. And everything was happening too fast. He felt like Cal had stolen his cookie again. He could fight him and win but how did that bring Meryl back to him? Would he take her back now, knowing the trick they had played on him? It was Meryl, who he had kissed in the closet of her house because she thought it would be fun. It was Meryl, who had stopped him from fighting Romano over a spilled pudding. He saw the reasoning behind it afterwards but not during. When his pudding had spilled, he’d been the bully, mad and without remorse but that wasn’t him anymore.

Despite his differences with Cal, Billy couldn’t be the bully anymore. He’d made a decision about that, especially when he’d dealt with Mark. Mark had changed his mind or made it up for him. Similar to when he realized that good grades got him an allowance, he now realized that to not fight against the bullies would be an injustice. More importantly, a bully couldn’t fight a bully, so he had made up his mind. He was no longer a bully.

“That looks fun,” Billy said, surprising all three of them, “Mind if I do it to you?”

From the corner of his eye, Billy saw the friends from a block too far running at them.

“Billy,” Meryl said, ducking under Cal’s arm. She took his hand off her, “It’s not like you think.”

“Like I think?” Billy asked, “I thought I was a fish, isn’t that what you were chanting?”

“That was a long time ago, Billy,” Meryl said, her head bowed.

Was she ashamed of something? Good. She should be. Seeing that Cal had still not let go of Simon, Billy stepped up to him and grabbed Billy’s hand and forcefully pulled him out of the headlock. Cal scratched Simon’s cheek as he left. “Oww, oww!” Simon yelled.

Afterward, there were blood marks on his face. “Oh?” Billy asked, “Now you hurt my friends?” Billy went up to him and Cal was still shocked to see him, so he didn’t move. Billy punched him in the gut. Cal went to his knees. “Notice how I don’t kick you while you’re down. Take it as a lesson. You shouldn’t either. I came to call a truce but bullies seem to respond to only one thing!”

“Cal!” Meryl cried, kneeling to protect him, it looked like, “But you are a bully!”

“No,” Simon yelled out, “You will not call him that! You, of all people, he liked you and you treated him like this?”

“Come on, Simon,” Billy said, dragging him away. A tear had started to form on Billy’s face. To think, he’d been wanting to spend time with Meryl and she had betrayed him. He felt as if his heart were about to burst. That evil Meryl that Simon had known about all along. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked him, as they walked side by side. Part of him burned with anger but he had to put it aside for now.

“It would have hurt you,” Simon said, “And that’s not helping. We promised to help each other no matter what.”

“What are you doing walking out of your house at this time? Do you see that--oh, shoot, they’re coming after us. Run, Run!”
Billy and Simon ran through the neighborhood, down hill toward the school, just because it was easier to run downhill. The six of them gave chase. Meryl ran but she fell back a lot. Was any part of her real? Still addicted to Cal, as when he’d first saw her back in fourth grade. Billy had thought she’d changed.

It was inevitable that they catch up to them but Billy was hoping for luck or to see a police officer drive by. Nothing. The only thing that happened was that time, now his enemy, stripped the sun from the sky. They were in a semi-darkness, the background of the neighborhood shaded in a dark orange color. Simon was beginning to slow down, his smaller feet having to run twice as fast just to keep up. Billy was a fellow who wasn't used to running, so he was out of breath quickly.

At the bottom of the hill, they slowed down. They came onto the school gates. They crossed the street and Billy leaned against them, breathing hard. He went down on his back, sitting. "Guess they got us," Billy said, "You ever get a black eye?"

"A black eye?" Simon asked, "You think that's all they want to do to us?"
Billy didn't really know what they would do to him but he couldn't run anymore. Also, he realized, that to not be the bully he had to stop fighting like one. Meryl may have been wrong to betray him but she had been right to call him a bully. He had, after all, taken advantage of Cal's weakness. At the corner where the intersection dead-ended at the school and the streets broke off in two directions, one toward the park and the other toward down town, the five boys stopped.

Romano's leather jacket was the first thing Billy saw from across the street. He was standing by the ice-cream shop. On the other side of the street, where Willy liked to sit and help kids cross, James and Louis cracked a smile. They were surrounding them, so they wouldn't escape. Billy and Simon sat in front of the gates, eyeing them nervously. "You got some kind of plan, right?"

"I think I can wing it," Billy said to him.

"And please tell me that translates to plan in bully talk," Simon said, looking from one side to the next.

Roy and Allen appeared behind Romano, who was just standing by the ice-cream shop, pounding his fist. Roy, on the other hand, was walking away from them. He was going home. Allen chased him and tried to talk him out of it but Roy waved a hand in front of his face with a frown and walked off. What had that been about? Roy had been among those chanting against Billy in the fourth grade. Billy watched them with sincere interest. It was almost more baffling than Meryl's betrayal.

Billy sighed, "Under the circumstances, I'm trying to remain rational and calm."

"How about getting angry and fighty like we need you to be," Simon said, watching Louis and James cross the street. They definitely looked eager. James had a smile on his face and Louis couldn't stop from laughing at James's side.

"Hey, Billy," James said, "You lost?"

Billy looked at the gates of the school. "Just thought about getting some afternoon lessons."

Just then, Romano appeared on the other side of them. Billy and Simon got up, now less winded. "Oh," Romano said, "We'll be doing some teaching all right."

"Fellas, fellas," Simon said, quickly, "Can't we learn to talk our way out of situations like these? Perhaps, you'll accept a bribe of some sort. Okay, okay, Billy's girl is yours, if you let us go."

Louis laughed but stopped himself as Cal, a foot taller than mostly all of them except Billy and Romano, pushed James aside and approached. Then, Meryl, dressed in a purple skirt and purple top without her braces and her lips painted red, crossed the street. She didn't look as happy as when she'd been holding Cal's hand. Cal, on the other hand, was grinning.

"You guys ran from us," Cal said, "Normally, I would stand that for that. You can get away with a black eye or a bloody lip for something like that, you know." Louis and James laughed at this. Allen showed up right behind Romano and turned his back on them. He was the look out.

Billy looked stricken. He didn't want to see Simon get beat up. "Cal, look, I'm sorry for--?"

Cal raised a hand to shut him up. "Really? You're sorry. Let me think on it. Was it for trying to steal my girlfriend? Breaking my hand, perhaps? Or for that little display of whatever back there? Huh, which is it, fatboy?"

"For all three," Billy said, "But Simon has nothing to do with it."


"Simon," Billy said, pointing at the now trembling Simon.

"The kid? I had completely forgot about that one. Yea, sure, he can go."

Simon began to walk away but then Cal pushed him against the gates roughly. Simon hit the gate back first and fell on the ground.

"Simon!" Billy went to Simon's side.

"Ow, ow," Simon said, "I'm good, I'm good, just a little bruise. It's going to hurt like heck in the morning." Simon leaned against the gate in pain. He had a bruise on the side of his stomach where he'd hit the gate.

"Sorry," Cal said, "That was just, what did you say to me in the ice-cream shop? A mistake?"

Meryl had stood back watching the exchange and she now had both her hands on her face. "Cal, what are you doing?"

"Shut-it, Meryl. Go home."

"What are you going to do?" Meryl asked, looking concerned.

"What do you care? You just used the fat one for your own purposes, didn't you? You'll come to find that your father has moved the trophy case in your house because of a missing rookie card. It's what paid for my girl's outfit, isn't it, baby?"

Meryl cleared her throat. "I, it was a mistake, Billy. I didn't mean--?"

"Not necessary," Cal said, interrupting her, "Why do you need to explain anything to this fish? Remember, I got him good that time. He's not even a proper bully, defending wimps like that. Is he even one of us, why do we put up with it?"

"You follow the bully code, don't you?" Romano asked Cal. For a moment, they exchanged glances.

"He doesn't consider himself one of us, anymore. He said he doesn't kick people while they're down and that bullies only respond to one thing."

"I guess he's fair game now, then," Romano said, smiling.

Romano and Cal approached him, as he knelt down beside Simon. Billy's huge self could think of nothing else but to cover Simon. Bunched up in a corner, a darkness engulfed them both. Billy was shadowed by Cal, Louis, James and Romano, as they approached. Unfortunately, bullies did kick people while they were down. The blows came from all sides. First, the belly shots, which felt like burning coals running through his belly. One hit him so hard, it caused a tear to involuntarily come to his eye. Another shot got him on the tip of the elbow, as he moved his hand over Simon's body. "Stay calm," Billy whispered at Simon, who had no choice but to watch Billy get pounded on. Billy was with his back to them, covering Simon's body with his own.

Some voice yelled, "Stop! Stop it, Cal! You'll hurt them really bad that way! Don't! What are you doing!"
The boys laughed.

A boot caught Billy's ear and he stumbled aside, away from Simon. Then, they tried to kick at Simon, who was leaning against the gate already hurt from Cal's "accident." The pain took a few seconds to subside but it stunned him long enough for a shoe to kick Simon in the stomach. Simon cried. "Ughhmm, uggmm, please, please," the tears welled up in his eyes. It was more horrible to watch his friend in pain than to be hit by the shoes.

What could Billy do to stop them? He had no weapons and all his good friends worked at a library. What would Francine do? Make these bullies tea?

Billy covered him again but this time, as another boot tried to kick him in the face, he caught the foot, and got up quickly, pushing the boot aside. "Aaaaaah!" He yelled. There were tears and anger in his eyes. The bullies broke their formation and Billy pushed Cal aside. "Enough!" He told Cal, who wanted to keep kicking at him. Billy let himself be kicked two more times, both kicks only by Cal, who was the only one still resisting him. Billy took the hits, on to his shin and one to his thigh, as he leaned down to pick up Simon, who lay whimpering on the ground. Then, Billy touched Cal on the shoulder and more calmly told him, "Enough."

"What's enough, huh?" Cal asked Billy, "That because of my broken arm I couldn't be the captain of the soccer team this year? That because of my broken arm I was made fun of, instead of being respected at school?"

"And who's fault is that?" Billy asked him back, his eyes still flaring, and he walked away limping now because that last kick had hurt him badly.

Cal and his friends walked behind him slowly, chasing after them at a walk.

"You think this is over?" Cal asked, no remorse showing in his face yet clearly Simon was hurt and crying.

"Stop it, stop it," Came the hoarse voice of Meryl, who was down on her knees on the other block being restricted by Allen. So much for their lookout.

Billy put Simon down. "Can you walk?"

Simon nodded at him and wiped away his tears with his sleeves. Billy didn't want to put the kid down but if they had to run, they would. At least they weren't surrounded anymore. Still, the band of bullies behind them didn't seem to be fading away. Instead, they were laughing.

"So, fish," Cal said, "I can expect you here for another beating tomorrow?"

Billy looked back at him. He said nothing to him. He had hurt him and his friends, and stolen a girl he'd cared about, yet Billy didn't see the reasoning. Even if his arm had been broken, Cal had healed. Billy didn't know if this was Cal's plan all along, to get him and Simon together for a session of beat downs but he was definitely not ready for a second one. His ear still throbbed from the pain and his stomach still burned at the sides. None of them had kicked his back, thankfully. One or two had got in kicks to the thighs but these were thankfully covered by the baseballs pads underneath which he'd had expected to have worn at work but work had not happened.

"Take her home," Cal ordered Allen.

"Fish, I'm talking to you. We're not done yet!"

"We're done," Billy said, looking back at him.

In his mind, the pain came back yet this time, he could do something about it. A large white light appeared in the darkness above his head. And there he thought he could grab a hold of the stars. He stretched out his hand.

Suddenly, a void appeared like the one that spat out books but this was round and the size of Billy's body if not bigger. It appeared right in front of them. Simon walked into it by accident, so Billy had to go after him.

They were gone. The void closed as soon as Billy stepped into it.

Meryl, who was being led home by Allen, turned to look back and Billy and Simon had vanished. She ran at Cal, who looked both shocked and upset. Meryl punched him on the face so hard, he took two steps back, "What have you done to them! What have you done!"

The darkness faded away like the smell of summer. Here, it was chilly but not raining. Simon was so cold, he shivered but he looked less shaken up by the fight. Romano had kicked him on the belly once and head twice. He had a bloody nose but that was the extent of his injuries. Billy on the other hand had a swollen lip and a bleeding ear.

The streets were paved, clean and proper. A sign ahead of them directed them with hands, pointing out Wizard's Way with the right hand and Gambler's Alley with the other hand. Where the hell were they? The roads even had green neon lights on the edges of the sidewalk, tiny and spaced out about an inch from each other. Simon stared at the streets, as he sat. "What just happened?" Simon asked him.

Billy had let go of Simon's hand. He'd been more than worried about him but now Billy just looked up at the sky. It was dark and he could see stars, despite the street lamps and neon colors of the street. The moon shone like it was directly in front of him, close enough to touch. "Wow," Billy said, "There's stars up there glowing different colors."

"A trick of reflection," Simon said, "When the Earth is closer to certain moons or further away from them, things become clearer as they truly are. Not all stars are white, you see."

"How do you even know this?"

"It's in the Space Dreg instruction manual, Billy."
They got up and began to walk down the street. It was no longer slanted or curved, but a straight road with houses on either side of the streets. They had somehow ended up in the midst of a neighborhood with houses everywhere they looked. These had yellow bright rooftops with matching colors underneath. Dark blue and yellow houses, black and yellow houses. All the houses had dark colors and yellow to them. "Wow, it’s all yellow."

"Are we in Kansas?" Billy asked.

"Not funny," Simon said, adjusting his glasses. One of the lenses was cracked, so the effect was lost.

"You okay?"

"Yea," Simon said, wiping his dried blood with a sleeve, "How did you do that by the way?"

"I have no idea," Billy said, "But there was like a light that only I could see. Then, I reached out for this weird chart of stars that appeared and the purple void appeared."

"Sorry I went through," Simon said, sadly. They came upon the end of the block. Billy stopped to look both ways. As if on cue, a police siren stopped them both. Billy turned to look at it as it drove in front of them. The siren didn't wail. It just did two beeps and a man in a black uniform and red badge got out. He didn't have a belt like regular police officers but he did walk with command. "You two, what are you doing lingering out here in the night?"

"Well," Billy said, "We just came from--?"

"You're a traveler," the police officer said. He tapped his shoulder with a hand. "We got a zero complex situation here. Come with me, then."

Billy looked at Simon who just shrugged. "It's better than getting beat up by bullies."

He put a hand in front of Simon. "Not you. The intelligence team will come for you."

"He's my friend," Billy said, stopping in front of the door.

"Don't worry. You'll see him again. We never travel alone, anymore."


"Come on, get in. We don't have all day. It's dangerous here now."

A van pulled up behind the car. It was yellow and black like some of the houses. It honked twice.

"Well?" the policeman asked of Simon. "Go. They're talking to you."

Simon hurried to the van.

Billy got in the car and looked behind him, as the van backed away and suddenly vanished.

"What just happened?"

"They're scientists," the policeman said, "It's better not to ask questions with them."

"One of those scientist is my friend," Billy said.

"You came here, right? To the master earth and you don't wish to give up your rights as a traveler?"

"I don't even know what that means," Billy said, "I'm fourteen. Isn't all this business with the science and junk left to the grown-ups."
"You look grown-up enough," he said, now acquiring sunglasses from a glove compartment. Billy had sat in the back seat. There wasn't anyone else in the vehicle, just the smell of oranges. "Why does it smell that way?"

"It confuses the enemy," the policeman said.

"The enemy?"
"Vampires or the poisoned ones, depending on your dimension. I'm sure you've heard of them."

"Yea," Billy said, smiling, "The vampires, anyway."
"What is it that amuses you?"
"They're fantasy."

"What's fantasy?"

"Like books. They're not real, you know."

"As real as I've ever seen any," said the man. "So, in your earth you say they've heard of the vampires but they're only in books?"
"Yea," Billy said.

"Your books live?"

"Nooo! What? No. I mean you can read about them but they're not real."

The car stopped, its tires screeching.

"You say you come from an earth without vampires?"

Billy shrugged, "Why is this important?"

The man tapped his shoulder again, "I was wrong. This is a unique situation I got right here, master. Traveler has no record of vampires existing in his world."

He listened to his ear for a second, "Ahem, Ahem. Okay, I shall ask."

The car continued to move.

They passed streets so fast, Billy couldn't really see them. It was like traveling in a blur or in a whirlwind.

The driver heaved a sigh. "I'm supposed to ask if you've been drugged in some way."

"No," Billy said, "Who are you talking to?"

"The masters. You'll meet them when we get there. There's always an investigation with the new travelers. We had one years ago, looked like you about your age. He never claimed not to have vampires in his earth, just that he had to get back. He was a hard one to train in the arts of dimension hopping, although he seemed to have a handle on hand-to-hand combat."

"Hand-to-hand combat? Am I going to go through that?"

"After the trial, yes."

"What's the trial?"

"The questioning. All travelers go through it. Don't worry yourself. It never lasts very long. Although in your case, it might. Not hearing about vampires is quite rare for a traveler. What kind of earth hasn't heard about real vampires?"

"A sane one?" Billy asked, thinking the whole situation was pretty crazy. Not minutes ago, he'd been defending Simon from bullies and now here he was going to trial for doing something he didn't understand.

The driver laughed.

"The other you was humorous as well."

Keya looked really closely at the pages. Were they changing? Her copy of Francine's book had been taken by Mark during one of his fits. He was getting more irritable lately, even after Keya made him tea with honey. The book was replaces with Tests in Time by Mark Piersley. It was no wonder Francine didn't want to give it to her. It was hard to read. The words seemed to move from one side of the page to the next, as if trying to trick the eyes. Keya knew what they said, though, not like words could hide from her. Ever since she'd learned to read, all those words having hid from her during her early years now popped out at her. They were tricky, especially those words with "R" in them. And the "w" and the "th". Francine still got made at her for mispronouncing width and with.

Tests in Time was a book that, ironically, had not tested her patience. It was a love story. The title had nothing whatsoever to do with the book. In this page, she read about Mark and Wendy, two members of opposing families that couldn't be together because their families were at war. She knew that a book similar to this had been taught to her at the palace but the words had been rhymed and all in a spectacular fashion. She had had no part in the reading of it, though. Mark's recollection of Wendy was more simple. He said things like "blue eyes" and "blonde hair". Basically, words that Keya had come to know right after escaping her arranged marriage.

Keya smiled at the book. These wonderful things had taught her all about arranged marriages and how extremely common they were in the modern day India. Not in her dimension but in this one. And, she even found, a book on dimensions, which described a lot of dimensions and how they lived. It was curious to see that each of these were at war with either vampires or "poisoned ones." Mark had mentioned these. Keya had seen the work of vampires herself.
Still, there was no mention of vampires in her new book. Wendy, Wendy, Wendy, that's all she read. Mark wrote in a weird way:

Wendy corrects herself. As we fight the vampires at the castle, she keeps evading me. Is she captured? Why is Wendy making fun of me so much? I guess she's not. Messages delivered by Leroy and Ruben say she has been captured. How do you capture Wendy? Is it even possible? I think she's making fun of me. Why would she capture herself, knowing of the danger, knowing that the queen Lacroise herself is in this castle. She's another problem, bigger than Wendy. No. Not bigger than Wendy, just more evil. Evil has a way of coming together in the end but Wendy, she may never like me.

Why is it I can't touch her without the pain? Is this what the first curse is all about, pain, pain, pain. Even when I get near her, this sickness enchants my mind. Sometimes, I'm glad she's not close to me but then I remember her eyes and the way she yells at people just so. Not love. That comes later. Definitely not love. Where is Wendy?

To some degree, the book was cryptic. Twice, Mark had mentioned Wendy's absence. He was certainly worried about her and if that isn't love, then what is? Keya preferred to guess that it was something mysterious. She certainly didn't have any notions about it, not now anyway. Francine said that the mystery of the book was not in the title but in reading it. Keya could read it just fine but there certainly wasn't any mystery to be solved in it. It was quite clear that it was simply a journal about Mark's relationship with Wendy. He'd mention the vampires from time to time and people she didn't know or were probably fictional but never did he stray away from the idea of Wendy. Her name came up more often than Teresa's and Francine had made a connection about how often Teresa's name came up on these books that the dimensional portal had spat out. After some time, Francine had told her about the void and what Billy was really doing in the library.

Billy was someone Keya often thought about. Here he was, a bulky fellow but with a kindness in the eyes, brown eyes, too. He kept looking at her from the corner of his eye but she knew he was looking, that was the point. Yet, how fast he'd left the library. What had scared him off so fast? Was it her? Billy could be Keya's Wendy. No. Keya thought. Billy isn't so evasive. If he had wanted to talk to her about dating, then he probably would have been up front about it, just like he'd been about the character of Mark. Keya knew the meeting had been unfair. Mark was upset at something and had taken it out on Billy, who had in turn been demoralized by Mark. It wasn't right but it could be fixed. Francine had told her that mistakes among people were normal, unless they couldn't be fixed. This one could.

She waited. It was nearing ten already and still he didn't come. She went back to Tests in Time laughing at certain parts here and there. Well, the book certainly was a joy of time but Billy was starting to test her. She didn't know if she could pass.

A large stone pillar stuck on the floor popped into Billy's view when the door of the car opened. A man all in white, like the milkmen of the 1960s, rushed to the side of the car and opened the door. He saluted Billy, even.

Billy looked at him with awe. "Put your hand down, sir," he said.

The man blushed and ran off quickly. Billy's eyes chased him. He was running toward a sea of grass. Nothing but grass was in front of them, separated in huge sixty by sixty square rectangles. In between these were walkways, so that people could walk in between the grass. At the onset the pillar, blue and crystal, shone with an almost magical quality. It was a square pillar that was at least a hundred feet up like a tall building but only about two square feet long. Billy wondered how it stayed up. "What is that?"

"It's the equivalent to every dimension in existence. The coordinates of each dimension are written in each of the triangles. If you look closely, you'll see that square tiles make up the entirety of this tower. Each square holds two coordinates, as it should be obvious that two triangles make a square."

"There must be thousands of them," Billy said.

"Nine-million to be exact."

"Nine-million?" Billy asked, "But this tower doesn't look like it has nine-million thingies."

"Oh, no, us travelers can't remember all those coordinates. There's more than one of these pillars around the courtyard. This one stands here because these dimensions are harmless or, as we call them, with minimal infestations of the poisoned ones. They've all heard of vampires, though. It still is a measure of surprise to me that you haven't. Are you sure no one found vampires on your earth? Even remotely?"

"Not that I've heard of," Billy said. "But then, I didn't get out much."

"No matter. The council of elders will sort it out during the questioning."
The officer waved at his car where he'd parked it on the curve and it vanished.

"Don't ask," he said, "It's a thing we can do but you need to be taught."

Billy sighed. Well, if he could open a dimension at will, he could guess where the car was. "You sent it to another dimension."

The man stopped walking along the stone path witch grass on all sides. Even the area was a measure of big grass squares. "Good observation," he said. "Perhaps you already know more than you let on. Come on then, let's hurry at a brisk jog."


"Call it part of your training," the officer said, pausing at his last word to inspect him up and down. Billy guessed that it was another joke at his weight. It could be a joke directed at his age but he doubted that much. He said that Billy would go directly to training. Did they have that kind of time? Billy had a problem with how to get back to his own time. What was he going to do?

They began to jog forward. Ahead, Billy saw multiple buildings, all square-shaped but some of the buildings were surrounded by big towers. A bridge was above them fifty feet in the air. It was an overhead walkway that shadowed them. How did the grass even grow without the sunlight? It was yet another mystery of this earth Billy had to get used to. As they walked underneath the bridge he saw the walls on either side of them that was connected to it. Big stone walls, about twelve feet in the air that were curved downward from where the wall was in a / shape and then straightened out at a height of about ten feet until the end of the walkway where a set of stairs met them. The stairs led to the buildings and towers all white and shiny in the darkness. It was so chilly that Billy was glad to jog, even if he had just been through enough running for a lifetime. Billy checked his ear. It still hurt but not that much.

Another problem was Simon. Where had they taken him? The officer had said not to worry and this seemed like a good idea, considering the alternative had been dealing with a gang of bullies set out on exacting years of revenge on both of them.

The building where they stopped had a five foot door shaped like an arc. Guards dressed in all white and with white hats like the milkman that opened door stood on either side of the arc. These had on black utility belts and had a foot-long stick in their hands. They pointed these up and a light came out of the ends as they approached. "Don't blind me, Greg!"

"Sorry, sir," the guard said to the officer.

"James," the man said, "My name is James."

James hurried into the arc still jogging. They hadn't even slowed down at the stairs which was tricky for Billy. He almost tripped. The guards put down their sticks and the lights were gone. Inside, the hallway was lit but just barely. The walls were colored beige and the doors a sickly-looking dark-brown that almost made them look like they were still part of the tree. The doors had lines across them, check off with a black X. Some didn't have the X on them. They had, instead, a check mark or an O. These doors were on either side of the hall way spaced about two or three inches apart and the hallway extended fifty yards ahead.

At the end of the hallway was another arc with more guards. These were so tightly enclosed that they stood one in front of the other or else no one would be able to pass through the arch without having to shove each other aside. The hallway broke after this arch into a large room.

When they passed all the doors, they entered a room sort-of like a courtroom but with a large number of stadium like seats on the walls themselves. They looked like big couches popping out of the walls. They were all at the termination of the jog. A wooden wall about three feet high stopped the jog. James came up in front of the wall and stopped short.

On either side of the aisle were people seated in benches, a lot of people in black, dressed almost exactly like James, except some had pins on their arms. Men and women but some were Billy's age. None looked like Billy, meaning that they were all a little too skinny for Billy's tastes. Billy watched them uneasily. So many people had showed up at this time of the night for a trial?

Of a sudden, all the couches on the walls, sixteen from what Billy had counted, had people on them. These were older fellows with red baseball caps and wearing buttoned shirts and blue jeans like cowboys on television did. This all didn't add up. The council was full of country people who happened to like couches?

The couches were so high up that the council people could look down on everyone easily.

"If it pleases, the council, I present the unknown traveler, Billy."

One of the men spoke in a strange accent but Billy couldn't tell which one. They were all looking down at him.

Billy looked to the side of him where a row of kids that were just about his age were smiling at him. They were happy to be here.

"Another? Well, we'll have to send this one back. It doesn't look like we can do much to train him."

"With all due respect, sire, this one here claims there are no vampires in his world."

"Are you daft? Obviously, the boy is scared. He knows the value of good traveler training. However, you know the consequences of the worlds merging and the dimensional breaks that this is causing. To maintain stability, we have to send those back who we deem will not pass the tests."

"But, sire, we are going to send him back where? Every dimension that we know of has vampires in it."

"We'll find out his sign. Take him to the trained, James. And pick up the little fellow along the way. He is much too inept to be trained as well."

"We're sending both of them back, sire?" James asked, as though this was the most unfair thing in the world.

"Why do you question the council, James? Look, the kid obviously belongs to an earth with vampires. If he says he's not heard of them, then that is ridiculous. We can not tolerate such a misuse of justice. It is yet another reason why he can NOT be trained here. The boy lacks integrity. I sensed it the moment he walked in with his confused demeanor and lying glare."

"Very well," James said, staring meanly up at the judges, "I respect the council's decision. However, I employ a service in return."

"Do you now, and how do you propose the council will respond to a bribe?"

"Then let it respond to a threat," James said.

The crowd now "ooohed" in response.

"If I do not get my proposed service, then I will seek the judgment of a seeker and the lineation may take so long that Billy here may be done with his training or at the onset of taking and, as you say, failing the tests. Seekers are known for their patience in determining the nature of their travelers."
"We will hear of your proposal and see to its consideration among the council. Please, speak."

"My wish is that the next boy I come upon with the talent will be accepted for training without question."

The crowd uttered phrases aloud at this. "That's ridiculous!" And "What is that man thinking!"

Some even said, "Forget this man. Let the fat boy come to training. We'll show him a thing or two about what it really means to travel."

Yet the crowd fell to stunned silence at how quickly the council responded.

"Yes, yes, James. Bring your son and he will be trained."
Without warning, a void opened and Billy was dragged into it along with James.

They appeared in the same cold street from where he had come.

"Are you sure there weren't any vampires in your earth?"

"No," Billy said, "I never seen any or even heard of them until I picked up a book."

"Okay," the man said, kneeling to explain something to him, "Since there's no real time to train you, you should know this much, traveler Billy. The void that you opened at first, it was because of the light. And you can invoke the light as you see fit and reach for those stars. The stars are coordinates like the X check mark and O you saw on those doors. When you move these three stars around, the void will open. Below the stars are numbers, maybe you seen them, maybe you didn't. Advanced travelers do not see the numbers, Billy. Pay attention because this next is important and we don't have much time. The councils orders are obeyed immediately upon the closing of the decisions. Look at the stars, that's how you're able to travel. Only by night or if you can see stars during the day. In some earths, you can. There's no time for questions, just listen. In case these travelers do not send you to your exact earth, you may open a portal to travel away from it, should you find that you want to leave. I give you this choice, Billy. Make sure you want to leave an earth before you do it because traveling is forbidden by the council outside of your own dimension. No, no don't ask. It's like teleporting but what you're doing is moving into your own dimension at a different location, it has to do with the light and how it's opened. In order to read your coordinates, you have to think them up, like X2, O3, check mark 2, these are the coordinates to this place, very easy, probably why you ended up here the first time. Your earth may have complicated coordinates. In particular because no one's heard of it. All earths have vampires. Remember that. And, that's it."

Another void opened and they entered into a large room with a single man at the front. There was a bubble shaped sphere rotating next to him. The man had blue gloves on. He waved them to come forward. Then, Simon appeared almost stumbling. Simon looked back at the darkness of nothing in a confused way, shrugged and waved at Billy with a smile.

"Horrible place," Simon said, "The ice-cream is good but you should see their television shows. Craig and the Bee. It's a show about a bee catcher, can you believe that?"

"Where were you?" Billy asked him.

"Waiting room," Simon said, "Then, they said, there was nothing they could do. They were sorry but I was going back to where I came from. Like I had just lost a bet or something. It's the best news I heard all night. It's too freaking cold here, Billy."

"I wish I'd talked to Mark before coming here," Billy said with a sigh.

James interrupted their talk. "Mark?"

The other man echoed him. "Mark?"

His blue-gloved hand went to his chin and he stared at them pensively.

"Yea, a strange man with answers about dimensions," Billy said, "But he was really mean to me."

James and the blue-gloved man exchanged a look.

"Step into the globe while we talk."

Billy and Simon stepped into the sphere. Rings appeared around it and they began to spin slowly.

"You think they're talking about Mark Piersley?"

"Who else?"

"And the council wants to send them back?"

"Appears so."

James was the man with the two-word answers.

"Don't you think they should know about this?"

"They made their decision without even questioning him. What do you think they'll say about this?"

"But every traveler that knows Mark Piersley has been great and there hasn't been one in a decade."

"Time changes in the dimensional world," James said, "Maybe tomorrow we'll get another one that knows a Mark Piersley. It's not our concern. The council has made its decision."

"Oh, here comes the coordinates. Hmm. Strange."

"What, what's that?" James asked, distracted.

The blue-gloved man was looking at a digital device on the side of the spinning sphere in which Simon and Billy stood. The rings didn't touch them; they were digitally formed like neon lights but these were pink and red and they glowed. They had spun slower and slower until they stopped. That's when the blue-gloved man had spoken about coordinates. He was staring at the readings.

"There's an extra X here where there should be just one."

"When you look at the light, do you see an extra X star?"

"No," the blue-gloved man said, "But I got their coordinates. It shouldn't take long."

James was writing something down. "Do you mind if I do it?"

"I need the practice. There's talk in the office of promotion to ambassador."

"Yea, yea. I'll just oversee it. What are you writing there?"

"Just notes. I never done this sort of thing before, you know."

"You never traveled?"

"No, I mean traveled others out. I'm trying to record what I find."

"Of course. Can never be too careful with traveling. Don't step out of the globe kids. James can do it from here."

James walked forward and looked like any normal person to Billy. Yet he had an extraordinary gift to teleport wherever he wanted. Billy was impressed by this. "Did you want to leave?" Simon asked.

"Oh, yea," Billy said, "I'm mostly interested in finding out if Meryl will apologize to me."

"Yea," Simon said, "The great mystery of life, if a girl that never liked you will suddenly fall in love you, yay."

"Shut-up, Simon."

"Ooops!" James said, stumbling onto Billy. A paper fell out of his hands but he made it vanish into a void. And he was careful not to let the blue-gloved man see it for some reason.

"Sorry," James said, "Just nervous."

"Take your time, James," the blue-gloved man said, "And remember the coordinates. Usually, that's the most important thing."

James took a step back and he said to Billy, "Good luck, traveler. Remember what I told you."

Suddenly, they were gone.

In the next instant, all Billy heard was the sound of dimension skipping. It was like a small ing-ing-ing sound. Billy had heard it the first time he'd traveled but he doubted that Simon could. Then, they were back on the sidewalk, where they had fought the bullies. It was day light.

"I'm going home," Simon said.

"Okay," Billy said, "But wait."

Simon stopped walking, as he was in such a hurry to be anywhere but here. "Is it colder?"

"No," Simon said, "In fact, I think it's just about the right weather for this time of year. If anything, it was much too warm for comfort before, if you ask me."

"Anyway," Billy said, "That's not why I told you to wait. James, the man who brought us here said that this might not be our earth."

"What are you saying?"

"Just," Billy said, pausing to look at his side thinking someone was watching them, "If you notice anything strange, meet me at the library, okay?"


"Let's meet every night," Billy said, "And if this isn't our earth, well, I don't want to be in it. I don't care about this rip in the dimensions stuff that James was talking about. I want to go back where I was. Those bullies can't get away with what they were doing to people back home."

"You were planning on fighting them back?"

"Well," Billy said, "At first, I want to think about it, you know. They're still people. We can't hurt them like they hurt us."

"Because we're not bullies?"

"Also," Billy said, smiling, "Because we don't have the numbers."

Simon laughed at this. Billy noticed something about him then. "You have new glasses. They look...are they sunglasses?"
"The ner-scientists in the other dimension said they would look cool to you but like any old pair of glasses to me," Simon said, shaking his head, "I was almost starting to believe it wasn't working until you said something."

"Those are nice," Billy said. "You put yourself in a gray suit and you'll look almost cool enough to hang out with."

"Shut-up, Billy," Simon said, laughing, "I'll see you at the library. I have to be home now or my mom...oh, well, I'll come up with something."

Crap! Simon was right. What was Billy going to tell his parents? As Simon left, Billy thought he saw the sign "C" street but pointing in a different direction. It was probably just his imagination playing tricks on him. It had probably always pointed in that direction.

As he walked up hill toward his home, he saw a For Sale sign on a big blue house that had always looked brown to him. It still looked brown. And it was no wonder it was for sale. It was dirty and the weeds and grass had grown to an uncomfortable height. He passed C street and watched Simon walk up through his lawn into his house. A lady with an apron answered the door, it looked like and she wasn't happy. Billy sighed. No sense in delaying it.

Then, he got closer to Cal's house but passed it without a second thought. He saw Meryl up the street on the other side of the block. "Meryl!" Billy yelled at her. She was wearing a blue dress and black flat-top shoes and a bonnet. Her hair was in pigtails and she was looking down at a basket in her hands, counting something. Chocolates, it looked like. "Meryl!"

The girl looked up at him and waved shakily but then laughed and ran away from him.

Why did she laugh? Did she find his pain funny? Despite it all, his ear still hurt a little.

The fear of Billy's parents was dulling the pain away. Besides he probably looked a mess to others. With dried blood on his ear, welts on his belly and his shirt ripped in places and dirtied from being thrown about so much. James hadn't said anything about his injuries which was curious to Billy. Maybe, they found a lot of traveler's all beat-up from their adventures. Billy didn't see it as much of an adventure as a situation he got himself in that he could have probably got himself out of. Even the traveling thing was bothersome.

They tell kids to reach for the stars all the time but he never figured that it was a literal thing. They were probably just telling people to seek better futures, which would have been more clear. Well, his dad had said to reach for the stars during one of his more somber lectures. Billy didn't understand it at first but he hoped his dad knew nothing about traveling. Would he, then, come after him dimension through dimension just to punish him? Billy still had a twenty from his last allowance payment.
The things he would do with twenty bucks, if only he had the chance to leave his house and spend it.

In the next moment, three things happened that were very strange to Billy. It made him wonder if he was really in the right dimension. First, the lights went out on the whole block, followed quickly by the lights coming back on. During the day? It was probably just an outage because that happened all the time in California. Second thing was that Cal, Romano and Louis walked right past him, Louis's big nose marking him out as obvious. They all wore black leather jackets, not just Cal. They didn't even give him a nod or a mean glare. Billy walked along the house fences his hand slowly caressing the metal when they turned onto his street and they paid him no attention at all. Cal even said, "So, the homework is to figure out why the vampires appear at night and not during the day."

"It's stupid," Romano said, "We know why they appear at night only."

"Still," Louis said, "We have to do it."

They were talking about vampires. James had said that every dimension had vampires but Billy's own dimension had never heard of them, unless they were in a book. Well, Billy would find a way to figure out the puzzle. They were probably just messing with him. How did they know about vampires, though? Were they travelers? Is that why all of them were wearing black? No. It was probably just a trick. He walked faster after passing them.

The final thing that made him wonder was that his dad was outside his house, sitting on some steps and he waved at him with a smile.

"Ah," He said, "You're back. Good. Let's get started on that game of catch, no?"

Had his dad gone crazy? He never wanted to play any game with Billy. Billy passed into his house and then was relieved to find that the walls were a different color. The remodeling had happened as planned. "Yea," his dad said, as they went past the living room, holding gloves in his hand, "She really did a number in here."

There were chairs and a table, black and square. It was too small to eat on. Billy stared at it with some interest. In the kitchen the tables had been replaced by counters and stools like a bar. It was an interesting choice.

"Hmm," his dad said, "We never get to eat together anymore, ey?"

They reached the backyard and Billy felt his heart pound, as they played catch. He really didn't want to leave this earth, his home. Did he have a choice? James had said that leaving would cause a rip in dimensions. What did he mean by that? Billy said he didn't care but he cared a little.

Billy refused to speak. He was scared that his voice might be different. "You're grounded," his dad said, "Two months, no allowance. But that was a good catch."

Billy smiled. He was really home, after all.

Keya approached Mark slowly with a plate in her hands. She didn't want the tea to tip over like last time. It had splashed all over Mark's white pants and had stained them. The next day he appeared without a hint that it had ever happened. Did he go to a different place where he had a free laundry service? Why was he always in a different suit? Yesterday, it had been a blue one. It was still Friday, though, at the library, now in the evening. For some reason, Francine wanted to wait Billy out, although it was almost seven-thirty. In the book, Mark and Wendy had figured out how to be together but for some reason Wendy had decided not to accept Mark in her life. What was wrong with that girl? Mark seemed to be as lost as anyone when it came to love.

Keya couldn't place her feelings on the subject. If she had any interest at all, it was in Billy, her rescuer but he happened to be so absent lately. It wasn't even his face, though. He wasn't the most handsome of people. He did have a smile that was nice to look at, though. As she approached Mark, she found herself blushing and put all thought of Billy away.

"Ah," Mark said, "More careful this time. You should be faster, instead. Spilled tea is still tea."

Mark took the plate and cup and drank it down in one gulp. He didn't burp. Keya found that ability mysterious and at the same time disturbing. "It's weird that you do that."

"Just a matter of exercising the tongue in the appropriate manner. Nothing to worry yourself over."

Then, Keya asked what she had come to ask. He seemed in a better mood. "So, is Wendy the reason why you're here?"

"Blasted woman, she tell you about Wendy?"

"No," Keya said, "I read it in the book."

"What book?"

"Tests in Time by you."

"Oh, that," Mark said, smiling, "I remember that. That was before I started traveling. Or was it after? I forget time. Time is always... rather strange. The me you see now is the result of a lot of time looking for that girl. Never did find her but what would you care, right? I'm a nobody from a different dimension."

"Well," Keya said, "It would be inhuman not to care."

Mark looked at her upset. "You used to be good company. Leave me, please."

"You used to be good company, too, Mark Piersley!" Keya yelled at him and slapped the plate out of his hands.

Keya didn't know if it was because Mark reminded her so much of her father or because she was so genuinely upset that he couldn't love Wendy again.

Billy looked at his watch. It was seven thirty and still light out. He checked in with his father. His father was in the kitchen, sitting on a lawn chair that some servants had brought in for him. A butler handed him a cup of coffee. "A little early for coffee," Billy said.

His father laughed. "It's late now," he said, "But a good sunlight is to be appreciated, Billy. Yes, yes it is. Pull it down now, Stuart."

Stuart was the butler, who pushed a button on the wall. Suddenly, the room became dark like an instant night button.

"Yea," his father said, "It was part of the renovations your mother made. Don't you remember?"

"No," Billy said.

"Yea," his father said, "It seems like a long time for me, too. The sunlight is a good trick, no?"

"So, its late out now?"

"Close to ten at night," his father said.

"I guess I'll go to sleep, then."

"Good night, boy."
Crap, it was way late. He hoped Simon would wait that long. He went to his room on the second floor, where a rope helped him get down onto his backyard. A gate was back there with a lock. Billy didn't remember the lock but he just jumped over the gate, anyway, stumbling upon a dark alleyway. He almost landed on his own thrash cans. He ran to avoid being seen by his father. He was sure that whatever he did made a lot of noise.

His mind itched for the light but he still was sure that he was home already. At the library, Simon would be first to convince him otherwise. He passed house after house that looked....different. He made it to the library but it was too dark around the building. He paced and paced and even walked around it a couple of times. Simon wasn't around.


It was late. Simon had probably given up.

Well, Billy thought, tomorrow is another day.

Before she completely left his sight, Mark turned to look at her and said, "I'm sorry."

Keya stopped in her tracks. He had actually apologized to her.

She turned to look at him and he had his head down and was actually adjusting his hat. He always looked composed and ready for anything, yet now Mark was down and out like he had been defeated by something. "In the world of dimensions, Keya, things get mixed-up. It's hard not to get angry but I try, you know. The tea helps."

"I see," Keya said, "And talking about Wendy makes you upset?"

"It didn't used to," Mark said, "I used to-- talk about her with Francine. Except now, this dimensional prison keeps me here. I say to you that I'm here to keep dimensional stability but you should ask that woman for the truth."

"What?" Keya asked. "What does Francine have to do with you being here?"

"You have to understand that dimensions are like fairy tales. It's good to read about them but they're not good to think of as real things. People are real in these dimensions but there are only three true earths. Like anything of importance, it all comes in threes. The dimensional breaks are caused by the inexcusable actions of the council but their covert actions are being revealed, so now they're sending away travelers. I know all about their tricks."

"Where do you go when you disappear, Mark?"

"Back to my earth," Mark said, "But not like you think. I'm in a semi-coma. You think that a traveler like me, with all that I know, would be here right now if I was free. In a dark room of a castle, that blasted vampire has had me poisoned with sleep. My enemy, Arthur Lacroise helps him keep me there."

Keya looked at him in fear. "You're trapped forever?"

"Until my team comes and rescues me. Yet, they are in fear of something. They fear saving me without Wendy. Wendy, you see, is lost in some dimension. When we broke the first curse, we had traveled a lot but somehow the vampires were able to track us and they took her from me, traveling to some unknown dimension. It was bait. By the time I made it back to my earth, it was too late, the trap was set. Arthur knew exactly where I would be, him being a traveler himself, and they set me in chains from all four limbs on a flat table, then injected me with this poison. The tea helps alleviate the effects, so I can travel here while ignoring my comma."

"You're traveling in your sleep?"

"It's an old talent, called dream-streaming," Mark said, smiling, "But I only just found out about it. As for the reason why I can't travel elsewhere or remain here for extended periods, that has to do with Francine. I suggest you have a good long talk to her about such things."

"Wendy is lost in some dimension with vampires? How do you know she's even alive?"

Mark laughed at her question. "She's got a very special talent that even the vampires don't know about, not when I left her, anyway. We didn't know about it until just before she left me. The pixie dimension helped to explain it. You and that boy should visit the pixies one day; they will explain a lot. Before going off to travel everywhere, by mistake, I came upon a set of coordinates hidden in a deep chamber inside an old library book case, drilled into the shelf itself. It was written in a dusty old scroll. Personally, the pixie dimension isn't so impressive to go through all the trouble but my guess is that some old traveler had thought it was very intriguing. Intriguing enough to hide it from other travelers. When we got there, there was nothing but poppies, white fields of never ending poppies in all directions. I was to my chest in them. Then, one of them flew up to my arm, the small stems revealing themselves to be tiny pixies. Millions and millions of pixies as far as the eye could see. They're immortal, you see. They have thousands of translators and it took about six minutes before they decided on someone to translate but they finally spoke to us. They reveal information, you see, but never quite speak to you directly. You can't ask them questions, either. They're just going to give you random answers to things you either didn't want to know about or didn't want others to know about.

"At one point one of them said, 'The companion of the traveler has the ability to read peoples minds. In addition, she may block others from reading hers. In addition, she can change others' minds. In addition, she can bring up images of things in their minds. In addition, she can telepathically speak with anyone around her and confuse them. She can not move things around with her mind; this is silly human movie magic.' I laughed hard but then Wendy did the idea thing in my head and I got scared for a second. In those times, we were still not fighting."

"You and Wendy were fighting, when she was taken from you?"

"Yes," Mark said, "Please add coals to the fire, why don't you?"

"Don't start getting mad, Mark," Keya said, shaking a finger at him.

Mark smiled at her attempt to cheer him up. "There's a problem with traveling now, though. I don't know what it is. I can barely sustain it now. It's a talent like any other and when it's not working, I can sense it right away. Most other travelers out there will tell you the same, if they were not under the councils control. The council is telling them lies to keep their own agenda hidden."

"Again with the council," Keya said, "Quit it. I know they're a bunch of liars."

Then, of a sudden, a thought occurred to her. Where was Billy? It surrounded her so unconsciously that she found herself making a fist on her dress. She had on a blue dress now because Francine didn't like the belly-cut outfits. From time to time Keya would still wear a small top but nothing too out there. She did like to have some kind of parent, even if Francine was somewhat negligent on buying her pizza. It seemed, Keya had examined, that eating pizza was an unnatural occurrence and that Francine had only done it to calm her nerves. Now, Francine liked to cloud her mind with thoughts of vegetables and fruits which Keya had no choice but to eat. However, the chocolate bars she'd hidden all throughout the library were her own and those she would cherish until she was caught.

"It's easy to lose yourself," Mark continued, "In traveling. I loved to travel, you see. There was a world, all green, nothing but plants and vegetation all around. You couldn't take a step without killing a few flowers. The world itself was beautiful and you could run on fields of grass spinning circles forever without some constant worry over bugs and stuff. It was as though nature welcomed people. Never came across people in that world, though, just a few tigers and lions. They were wary of me and gave me a nod and a push in the right direction like tame cats leading you somewhere. They didn't take me anywhere but to more fields of grass. I don't understand animals, you see."

"You weren't scared of them?"

"Hmm? Oh, that part. That was when I ran, yes. But, in the end, you can't really run from either tigers or lions. They have claws and more feet. They looked at me curiously but never growled or gave chase. Matter of fact, they caught up to me at a trot, as a I rested on one of the grass fields, winded from running."

"They were smarter than you," Keya joked.

"Well, either that, or just not worried about me running. Something strange about that world, though. Very strange. Mind you tell that Billy kid to set his coordinates on it."

"Coordinates?" Keya asked.

"The green book," Mark said, "Full of coordinates to appropriate worlds or dimensions that a student traveler should visit on his way to becoming a master traveler. He wasn't foolish enough to leave the book here, was he?"

"No," Keya said, "But you never explained to him what the book was for."

"What am I, his keeper? I'm not his teacher, either, nor am I yours. I just find you pleasant, since you look like my sister and I feel that you shouldn't be ignorant of what's out there in case you involve yourself with some kind of traveler at some point in your life."

At this, Keya blushed, then bunched her hands in a fist. Where was he?

Billy returned home. In the alleyway, he felt that feeling of someone following him but he made it home without anyone bothering him. If anything, the night seemed too quiet. No one was around, not even cars. On nights like this, where he could see the stars like he could see them before with lights on in the street posts, he tended to see cats in the alleyways or hear the dogs barking as he walked past certain houses. None of these showed.

As he broke into another alleyway, crossing the street and looking both ways, he thought he caught of glimpse of Cal, Romano and Louis. They were walking, clad in black, with black t-shirts striped with one big white stripe across the front. They didn't see him right off but Billy was curious for a second and wanted to follow them, yet he decided that enough was enough for one day. He needed the sleep.

In the morning, Billy found clothes laid out for him on the side of his bed; a half size too-long pair of black leather boots, torn blue jeans, a black T-shirt and sweater, and a black cap with the letter N embroidered in white across the front. Regularly, he'd never pay attention to his appearance but his clothes were ragged and wrinkly from the previous day and he had blood, Simon's blood, on his pants. He went to shower first before coming back to his room and putting on the strange garments. He thought he might end up looking just like the bully everyone thought he was. Yet, somehow, he looked way more cool than usual, even un-geeky enough to not want to hang out with Simon. At this thought he asked himself why Simon hadn't showed up.

On his way downstairs, he saw something on the wall that disturbed him almost more than the newly-installed Persian rug that ran all along the floors. It was a family picture with his parents and him kneeling down in front of his father, smiling and making a sign like an N with his fingers. Billy didn't remember taking the picture ever but the disturbing part was that there was a fourth person in this picture, standing over his father and mother. A young man in his twenties, it looked like, with hair combed to the side wearing a suit and tie was smiling down at Billy in the picture.

This really wasn't Billy's dimension. He kept himself from frowning at the thought. At least, that explained the quiet and the lack of cats and dogs. He turned his mind toward school. If Simon was going to be anywhere, it was school and it was morning, so he might as well make the most of it. At least, he'd gotten a good sound sleep without disturbing dreams, not that he'd ever had disturbing dreams. He figured that traveling might bring them about but it was good that it had not.

At the bottom of the stairs, Billy found himself staring at his own living room. Where the kitchen had opened up from the living room with no visible walls, just a table signifying that people were now in the kitchen, now there was a big wall. A brown door existed where none had been there before, which separated both the kitchen and the living room. This wasn't very strange to Billy, since he remembered his mother suggesting such a thing to his father back in the other dimension and then having to hear his father argue over the appropriate time to do such a thing and how it would take hard work and dedication and it just wasn't prudent at this time.

He looked over his shoulder at the stairs. The rug stuck out of them too. It was a pink-purple rug with interwoven shades of green here and there. He looked at it with a measure of awe but took his eyes off of it quickly, when he heard his mother calling from the kitchen. "Get in here, already, sweety."

Sweety? Billy's mother hadn't called him anything more affectionate than "you" since he was five years old. There was an eagerness in her voice, as though she were happy to see him at the breakfast table. Billy had only just recently been allowed to eat breakfast back in his earth. This dimension certainly had qualities that would make people want to stay in it. He, then, thought about Meryl and his own mistakes back in his earth and put that thought out of his head. He definitely had to get back.

Billy went in the kitchen to find that not much was different in it, except there was now only a round woman serving them breakfast and his mother was helping her cook. "Stay, miss, stay put," she told her, as his mother tried to touch the pans. The smell of bacon hit his eyes, his nose. Before then, all the cooking had been done before he was awake and the smells would only come to him after the tray was lifted off the plate. It was so good to smell eggs being cooked. He heard a distant sizzling as he sat on one of the chairs. As usual his father sat on the end of the table but he didn't read a newspaper. He had reading glasses on and was looking affectionately at his mother, instead. He even winked at her once or twice. "So," he said, addressing Billy, "Why'd you come back?"

What was this man talking about? Billy had to make something up.

"Well, there were problems," he said.

"Problems?" his dad asked, looking concerned, "At the camp you asked us to send you to?"

Then, Billy came upon a natural conclusion, something that hadn't occurred to him before. There was another Billy just like him in this dimension. This was his life, not Billy-from-a-less-good-earth's life. A camp? Now, that explained the leather boots and the military-like hat with the N across the top.

"Nine-Vampire Academy," his dad said, "Gave you problems?"

Vampires, Billy thought, James said there were vampires in all dimensions. Weren't vampires dangerous? Yet this man--his father-- mentioned them as though they were simple cats or dogs.

"Oh, no," Billy said, "Girl problems. I came to talk to Meryl, then back to camp I go."

"Oh, you're here for one day only, Billy?" His mother asked. "Well, you certainly can't go to school on your one day off from camp."

"Oh, about that," Billy said, "Well, Meryl's going to be at school, you see."

"Oh, nonsense, we'll call Meryl's parents, Jim and Marsha, they'll be more than happy to spend time with us and won't a day off from all this vampire fighting be good?"

"Well," Billy said, "Yes, I mean, that's good. No one's trying to argue that point," Billy said, trying to get himself out of a corner, "But, also, do you know Simon, he needs my help at the library."

"Ah," his father said, "And there we see the gist of it. I knew it."

His mother gave him a shake with a spatula, although the cooking lady was trying to take it back from here, "Now, now, what did we tell you about all that learning?"

"Leave him be, Jane," his father said, "If he wants to frolic about in a pointless task, who are we to judge?"

"Well, if you do go back to camp today, please stop by the house before you go, Billy."

"I'll do my best," Billy lied. He really did like his new parents but they were not his own parents. They were the parents of the other Billy. And who knows, maybe this other Billy enjoyed hunting down vampires. He definitely seemed to be eager to do it. They even had caps that proclaimed them as hunters of vampires. Billy felt like taking it off but it would be too obvious and he really wanted to blend in.

Luckily, his parents had mistaken his bloodied clothes as jelly stains or he'd have to dig himself out of more than just the camp problem.

He ate quietly but his parents kept rambling on about Billy's use of the word library. They were, in particular, really interested in knowing who had taught him the word. At last Billy said, getting up, "Well, while I was passing the school, I met Cal and his buddies and they were talking a bunch of junk about places where books were stored."

"Ha," his father said, "Just don't you mind those boys. They pretend they graduated from Nine-Vampires but they're just a bunch of hooligans looking to cause trouble. Mind them some. In any case, say hello to Gambit for me, will you? He was always a good instructor, old buddy of mine from the old days in the academy, you know."

His mother rolled her eyes.

"Go before he tells you about his poker buddies. I won't have you gambling away your life in the academy. Gambling-Gambit--oh, my god, leave now!"

His father laughed. His mother gave his father a wink. They were flirting with each other, even now. His own parents had never before been open about their relationship and especially not in front of Billy. He wondered if he could change his own parents to be that sincere with each other. He went back upstairs and grabbed his pants. Even if he had a new uniform, his pants had been a gift from his father and he wouldn't see them left behind in another dimension. He found an old backpack just where he remembered putting it in the previous dimension and slung it over his shoulder. With the pants in there, he finally walked out of his would-be house.

More important matters intruded on his thoughts. He had to get to Simon and get back to where he came from. The problem was that he had to wait until it got dark. James had explained that traveling wasn't possible in the day, when the stars weren't out. Billy saw the back of his door and didn't recognize it. There was the emblem of an eagle in the center of the door, all in gold. He stared at it, as he walked down a set of stairs that led to the walkway toward the gate to his house. The gate itself was surprising with its iron black bars so close together. He remembered the bars being at least five inches apart. These were so close together, the gate almost looked whole like one big black blotch.

He remembered, as he walked down hill, the first time he had walked Meryl down the street. He had been thinking of Karyn, then. Karyn was a popular girl in his school, who had this tendency for pink shirts and pink skirts. In her eyes, Billy could see a phantom green like a lake or a smooth-looking pond. Karyn had never showed the slightest interest in Billy or anyone for that matter. It was good that at least some of them still played the role of nearly-twelve-year olds.

Billy had grown up too fast, he thought. One rejection led to some pain but, in his head, Billy couldn't let go of it like a lasting headache. Why had she done it? Meryl was his, to a point not just because she had kissed him but because, at one point, he'd been holding her hand and he thought that he liked it and that she did, too. Looking at the sidewalk as he walked downhill, he almost hit the post with the big "C" street now obviously pointing in the wrong direction to Billy. It was another dimension. Even if it seemed too real and too good, did he really have to leave? Simon would probably not want to stay.

Then, Billy saw something quite strange. Simon was coming up the street and leading him by the hand was an older girl, probably around sixteen or seventeen. She was the popular blonde-haired type. She wore a short pink blouse and blue jeans. Simon was coming down C street with her in hand and smiling like it was the greatest day ever.

In another sense, Billy thought, it might be hard to convince Simon to leave. As Billy crossed the street, Simon and his sister, Billy guessed, crossed paths. Simon stopped. The girl smiled down at Billy, since she was at least a foot taller than him. "Hi," she said, "Wow, you're so much thinner now, Billy. That camp sure is working."

"Thanks," Billy said, "Simon, let's get some ice-cream."

"What's wrong with you, huh?" The girl asked him, suddenly, "You know that the ice-cream shop's been closed for years now and still you don't stop teasing. Well, if you're going to act superior, Billy, like you did before, you best get back to your little camp and--?"

"I'm sorry."

"And--wait, what? Did you apologize?"

Billy nodded, not knowing what to do. He had stopped walking because the girl had a hand on her hip and was pointing a finger at him. She retracted her hand. "Oh," She said, "Well, that's good. I'm glad they are teaching you something in camp. This little champ said he was back for good yesterday. Can you believe that?"

"Oh," Billy said, "That's, yes, well the camp can be tricky on everyone."

"You're telling me. I missed my little toy so much. He does such good work on the nail-polish, especially the toes." As she was saying this, she patted his head and Simon snuggled closer to her, smiling all the while.

Simon had touched this goddess's feet? He was definitely going to be hard to convince. "Well?" the girl asked.

"I was going to walk with Simon," Billy said.

"Nope," the girl said, shaking her head, "Nope, nope, nope. I promised and I don't break a promise. I'm going to walk my toy all the way to the gates myself. He wants a kiss, too, doesn't he?"

Simon blushed.

Why was he so silent? "Oh," Billy said, under gritted teeth, "I bet he does."

He kept walking. Once they got into the school, Simon would have some things to answer for.

Mark was silent. It was Saturday morning now. Billy had not come back. It was probably accurate that he wouldn't come back but Francine had been sure he would. Still, it didn't matter. At no point in the night did the void reappear and as soon as Mark vanished around nine at night, they had closed the library and gone home. Francine said they weren't going to the movies this morning. Some things had come up. She was sitting on her chair by the entrance behind her computer which only she could see. Francine had been on the internet all day, looking for answers to dimensional problems that she was finding. She said that something about the dimensions that Mark had mentioned to her didn't seem right and she was investigating it online to see if she came up with similar problems. So far, she'd found nothing is what she told Keya but Keya suspected that Francine kept certain things secret from her. It wasn't because Mark kept telling Keya not to trust Francine but because certain things at home didn't make sense, either.

Francine would put the milk cap back on the milk but then, if Keya were to use the milk, she'd go and take the cap off. Then, she'd leave a trail of books to her room, all blue and Keya would follow it, only to find that when she looked back, all the books were gone. Also, there was a sort of magic to what happened in the morning. Usually, Keya and Francine would sit and have breakfast in a small table in a corner of the small apartment. At around seven in the morning, all the spoons would begin to float up toward the ceiling, a phenomenon that Francine explained as Dimensional Instability but why were they floating up? Then, they would all fall everywhere making clanging noises, and Keya would be forced to pick them up. Didn't dimensional whatever mean that it had to do with dimensions? Yet, there were no voids.

As Mark thought, Keya kicked the machine. Another chocolate dropped. She was at eight before Mark spoke to her. "You're bothered by something."

"I think she's a witch," Keya whispered at him.

"Oh," Mark said, "Nothing new, really. You have to understand that there's good ones, though. That's the trick, anyways. It doesn't mean you can trust them, only that you can trust they won't make a knife float in through your back while you're not looking. People who deal with magic are always somewhat strange."

"Like you?" Keya asked, "Because you act strange sometimes."

"It's because I know too much," Mark said, "Or know too little. Yet, I think you're more worried about the fat boy."

"Oh," Keya said, looking back at the chocolates, "I haven't thought of him lately. Although, he promised he'd be here."

"Not yet noon, is it?"

"No," Keya said, "But you'd think he'd be on time. I mean, this is important."

"Only the true traveler can save this library, girl. You think he is the true traveler? He isn't even trained by the council."

"I thought you said the council was corrupted."
"Yes, but they give good training. I was trained there myself, that's how I found out all their tricks to make innocent people criminals for them. The travelers steal and the council profits."

"I think Billy is more than you think," Keya said, smiling a little. Another chocolate dropped.

"Watch it now, if you leave that door propped open, you'll have Francine upset with you for setting off the fire alarm."

"You know about the fire alarm?"

"Yea," Mark said, "I set it off every day for fifteen days, when I first started appearing here. The thought of losing Wendy forever was....somewhat upsetting for me. That woman kept insisting I stop doing that. She has spirit for a witch but, ugh, such disrespect for others."

"I don't think you know her like I do. She treated me good when I had nothing."

"You still have nothing," Mark said.

"No," Keya said, "Now I have the library and a pen and a notebook."

"Love to write, don't you?"

"I finished reading Tests in Time," Keya said, sadly.

Mark cursed.

"But before I ask, I have another question."

"Shoot kid, you got five minutes before that woman comes here with the tea."

"How is it you can kick the machine?"

"The machine is magic, so a semi-ghost like me, a limbo traveler, you could say, can interact with it as though it were real. If it were a normal vending machine, I could not touch it."

"But you can touch the tea," Keya said, pointing a finger at him.

"Yes," Mark said, smiling, "And what part of Francine is a witch doesn't add up to magic, to you?"

"Oh, my god!" Keya said, stunned, "The tea is magical tea!"
"It took you long enough, child," Francine said, from behind her, stunning them both.

"I, well," Keya said, blushing, "I mean, I thought you were a nice per--?"

"No need girl. I don't mind my talent, just don't put a demoralizing name behind it. I'm not a witch. I'm practiced in magic. And that should be the end of it. As for your little discussion about it with this one, please don't refer to him for information on the subject. He may know about dimensions but his knowledge of witches is minimal. Here's your tea and don't try and snatch it from me or I'll send you back to your coma."

Mark took the tea cup and plate from her carefully. He had a frown on his face. "Too hot, too hot!"

"That was for telling her I was a witch!"

Francine left.

Mark yelled after her, "She figured it out on her own, woman!" He set the tea cup down beside him, some of it spilling. He blew on his fingers, although in reality, Mark had explained to her that he didn't feel things like normal people did. "Still," Mark said, smiling after Francine, "You have to admire the trick."
Keya was still a bit shaken. "She couldn't have just told me?"

"No," Mark said, "That's not her way. She's like a real-life teacher in that way. She likes to test your deductive reasoning, which is more than a school will do for you."

"She still could have told me."

In the back of the school, a whole table was reserved for Billy and his friends. Billy didn't even have friends in his old school. Yet here he was at the lunch table, surrounded by Cal, Romano, Louis, Meryl and Karyn. He sat in the middle, between Karyn and Meryl while the three boys sat on the other side of the table.

"In the academy," Cal was saying, acting like his usual confident self, "We have battle tactics training, where they let you use real weapons. Billy got cut five times, the first time they let him use a katana, that's like a really sharp thin-blade sword from Japan."

"And what did you do at the academy?" Karyn asked him, getting closer to him. She was wearing a pink sweater and a knee-cut pink skirt with pink tennis shoes.

"Not much," Billy said, not wanting to make up another lie.

"Really?" Meryl asked from the other side of him, "But rumors say, you got back last night and they only let you go home early if they know you'll be accepted in the Nine-Vampires crew."

"You're going to be part of the crew?" Louis asked him, "That's high-class, man."

"C'mon, Billy," Karyn said, touching his shoulder with her hand, "You can tell us."

"Well," Billy said, thinking quickly, "I, I mean we learned, me and Simon, team tactical espionage, like to be spies. But it takes two guys who are really like opposites to do it, that's why I chose Simon."

"No wonder Simon is back, too!" Meryl exclaimed, excitedly. Billy still had trouble looking at her with her braces off, the way she had looked when he'd seen her with Cal wearing that same blue dress.

"That's high-tech," Cal said, smiling, "I bet you had gadgets and stuff to play with like electronics from the government, even."

"No," Billy lied, "But here, in my backpack, I have a set of dirty pants. I wore them when they tested us."

Billy thought he might get away with impressing them with the pants that he'd worn when he'd been kicked at by the bullies. Some of their boot prints were still on them. Still, they were new pants and a good wash would remove boot stains.

The five of them ooed him. "They tested both of you at the same time?"

"No one's the same after the tests," Romano said, his head bent down. "But they never tested me with someone else. That would have been rough."

"Yea, well," Billy said, "You know, that's secret, no one's supposed to know."

"Of course," Cal said, "You see, Billy's always been about honesty and all that. He knows that we can discuss anything we want in school but we have to be dedicated to the Nine Vampire Academy in the end."
Then, Billy broke out into a laugh. Not because of what CAL had said but because the acronym of the institution he mentioned spelled N.V.A. Billy didn't even know how to play basketball. Maybe, the other him did.

"Well," Meryl said, getting closer to Billy, although he was trying really hard to ignore her, "Obviously, that's not the truth. What's the secret Billy?"

"They found out I could do other things," Billy said, "And they let me and Simon go for a brief period."

"Like how brief?" Karyn asked.

"We have to go back," Billy said, "Tonight."


"Wow," Louis said, "When we graduated, they said the academy was closed to us forever. Now, they get to go back after only one day. Lucky."
"Why won't they let us go to the academy?" Karyn asked.

"Girls," Cal said, "Wouldn't survive the training. There's a part where you have to do one-hundred push-ups. It's so much easier for me to do that than for you."

"Ha," Meryl said, smiling, "I can do a hundred easy."

"But your father is the leader of the Academy," Cal said, "How fair is that?"

Billy saw Simon from afar, across the way in an area with swings placed above a grassy field. Some of the students were eating on blankets below trees while teacher's oversaw them from atop a tower above the school with binoculars. The tower wasn't in his real world, nor were the swings but Billy had gotten used to the unexpected changes of the new earth. Aside from Billy was a terrace where students sat on benches and tables eating lunch. Like in most schools, they were separated into groups. Billy seemed to be the leader of the N-group, or the Nine-Vampire Academy Graduates. It seemed that, according to Cal, boys from ages nine to eleven were trained for two years in the academy and then pushed back into the educational system. Billy only found this out from Cal mentioning it off-hand. He was so clever with words, unlike Billy, who only knew English well because of his need to get a better allowance. Their bench was the only one in the grass area away from the terrace. Obviously, they were the popular kids of the school, all clad in black, except the girls, who wore black jackets with the N in white embroidered on the back. These were given to them by members of the academy. Otherwise, their use of pink and white flourished underneath their jackets, especially Karyn's.

"Excuse me," Billy said, hurriedly, "I need to speak to, partner about the return to the academy."

They gave him a nod. The girls were sad to see him leave but Billy left them to their foolishness.

Simon had his own entourage of white-gloved individuals, all wearing glasses. There were only two of them but they remained at Simon's side like eager puppies, waiting to be petted. These boys wore the ugliest squared brown and red shirts one could imagine, and Billy had, in his worst days, never seen something so horrible and brown slacks. Simon, on the other hand, was also clad in black like Billy and had his cool shaded glasses on, that only looked like regular glasses to Simon but like shades to others. What was up with the gloves? "Simon," Billy said, calling out to him, "Simon." He was ignoring him.

Billy grabbed his shoulder and Simon turned around, snapping his hand away. "Okay, okay, we'll talk." He turned to his lackeys who were frowning up at Billy. "Leave me."

They walked off hesitantly toward the shade of the terrace.

Simon took off his glasses, "What you fail to realize, Billy, is the importance of being happy."

"What are you talking about, Simon?"

"Me and my social network have discussed it thoroughly. We're putting an importance to returning to misery, Billy. Yet, here we are, the age of perfection, yes there's vampires but we're happier here."

"Simon, there's another two of us here," Billy said.

"So, you can send them away with your trick."

"It's not a trick," Billy said, "It's called traveling and the people at the council can detect, I saw them, when you use it wrong."

"So, let them come, we'll be happy here, at least longer than in our world. Don't make me bring out the friend card on this. Fair is fair. You got me involved with those bullies and they hurt me. Now, here you got me involved in this world and I like it. Why are you trying to send me back to pain?"

"Pain?" Billy asked, "There's people you love in the other world. The people here are fake, fake to our mind, don't you see that?"

"My sister is not fake to me!" Simon snapped and walked away.

Billy sighed. It was going to be really hard to convince him.

"So what's your real question?" Mark asked her.

Keya was staring down at a half-eaten chocolate bar. She was getting sick of them already. "You said that this Arthur Lacroise was looking to kill your little sister in all dimensions. How come you didn't try and stop him?"

"I was looking for Wendy, first," Mark said, sighing. "My search for Wendy blinded me to what his true intentions were. In my world, the other you is too dangerous to be hunted like he hunts the others. If anything, I regret having showed him how to travel."

"You showed Arthur Lacroise how to travel?"

"We were together in fighting the vampires," Mark said, "Friends, you can call it. But when Arthur's would-be wife died, he turned against us, blaming me mainly, for failing to save his wife's life. He also blamed me for getting them into the mess we were in, seeing as how I was the one rebelling against the vampires, while the rest of our world was under a pact of non-violence."

"Do you have a way of finding him?"

"No, but here you are safe from him."

"You said that before. Why am I safe here?"

"Oh,"Mark said, "That's a lengthy explanation."

Keya sat, staring at him, "Go on."

"There are three earths," Mark said motioning with his hands, a thin blue smoke formed a triangle, "Which are considered real earths. Let's call the edge of the triangle, a true earth and this line between one earth and the next are traveling dimensions where one can travel to. These are the infinite number of dimensions one might come across before even locating a real earth. Coordinates for the real earths are not really known but this is one of them."

"This is a real earth, one of true ones, not just another dimension?"
"Yes," Mark said, "And only travelers can tell which is which because from a true earth, a traveler may travel out during both day and night. I may not have mentioned this earlier but travelers can only travel out of a dimension at night when they can see the stars. In some earths this rule is exempt because stars come out during the day, yet in earths where there are no stars at either day or night and traveling is still possible, these are what form the process for dimensional stability. Now, let's see what the council is doing. You see the lines between true earths are earths themselves and if a traveler takes away something from an earth repeatedly, then what they're doing is distorting the lines. If you break the triangle, disconnect lines from one true earth and the next, traveling will be impossible and all those people traveling for the council will be stuck in those dimensions, unable to return home forever. Worse, these earths will go spiraling off-course, colliding into each other in dimensions in time, causing dimension voids like the one in this library, where earths will end up merging with one another, causing chaos and destruction. It may undo the very fabric of time and space itself, just so that the council can have its spending money."

"And how do you expect Bil--anyone to fix that?"

Mark shrugged, "Destroy the council, I guess. Not really possible without an expert traveler like myself but that's the way things go. And, to answer your question, about why Lacroise won't follow you here...well, he's blinded like the council. You see, they believe there's only three coordinates to each dimension, causing their dimension total to be in the millionth position, nine million to be exact. Yet," Mark said, smiling, "I know the truth. This earth needs four coordinates to travel to, and Lacroise will be looking and looking on other dimensions for however long he wants but will never be able to get to you here, as here we can not be detected by the council's radar because they know nothing about it."

Keya laughed, "We're in the fourth dimension."

Mark sighed, "Not funny and, inaccurate. We are in a dimension that needs four coordinates to travel to. There are multi-many others like it. Now, if only we could find the third real earth."

"You haven't found it yet? I thought you were the greatest traveler ever," Keya said, a hand on her hip.

"Don't mistake me for some amateur like your would-be boyfriend," Mark said, smiling when Keya stumbled, "I know how to get around from dimension to dimension and how to get back to my own world, the second real earth, and that I only know because of its position in the standard dimensional chart drawn by Isik, an old friend of mine, back in the council. At first, I was hesitant to believe him because all this traveling started giving me headaches about what earth should really be like and what to expect from people. I saw harsh worlds, where there was nothing but kids in cloths begging for food, worlds where houses were on fire, people burning alive in them, setting themselves on fire for some fake god that promised them eternal life. It hasn't been an easy road traveling."

"I know," Keya said, sighing, "I didn't mean that it was easy. I just thought you would have found the third one by now."

"Not from lack of trying, missy," Mark said, "What do you mean, you know?"

"I've only been to a few worlds myself and, at first, I thought the prospect of a flying ship was pretty nice but not really. Not if it's used to keep people locked up in boxes, only to send them back to their own version of hell. What's the purpose of sending people back, if they wanted to escape their dimension? And then, she sent me to the vampires, as though she were doing me a favor, ha!"


"A girl, a witch. They called her Teresa."

"Oh," Mark said, "Her. I told you about that already. But let explain more...accurately. You have to understand that witches can't control traveling like travelers can. Their dimensional teachings are not about coordinates; they're about control. Inasmuch as I know women, they always want to be in control of things. Foolish thing, that, to be in control all the time like you were some nutcase without a thought in the world but yourself. What kind of world is that to live in? Teresa, of whatever world you ended up in, may have made you travel during the day because witches magic isn't affected by night or day, but she has no control over coordinates or dimensions. She randomly sent you to another dimension. It's true she could have sent you back to your own dimension but that's what is called reverse magic, not traveling. If something happens magically, a witch has a period of hours to reverse that magic before it becomes a sustainable spell. Doesn't work with death. Trust me, I tried it. It's the reason Arthur Lacroise hates me so much. After the vampires killed his wife, did you think we did not try and save her life? Arthur was instrumental in our world in creating a resistance against those blood-sucking demons. He was a good friend," Mark said, sadly.

"How does your good friend kill your sister?"

"People are just people, Keya. We're governed by desires and Lacroise, albeit smarter than most of us in our vampire hunter club, got upset and he was engulfed by a darkness, revenge. He set his mind on vengeance and forgot all about fighting the vampires. He's the reason I'm in a comma. My dearest friend turned into worst enemy, all over a mistake. I truly can't say if we could have saved Karla's life. I can't. Too many people were storming the castle where the vampires were. We had the Army and U.S. special forces behind us, along with you and your deadly slingshot and snipers. Karla was captive and we were sent to rescue her. Unexpectedly, Lacroise's sister, an evil woman, a witch, cast a spell on the castle, like a web that wraps itself inward and bursts into flame. The entire castle burned with army and special forces groups in it. Many escaped but others did not. Lacroise's sister, I suspected was evil, and the cause of the fire but Lacroise didn't want to listen. He had loved his sister and she had been a close ally to him and had never intentioned against him before. Thinking that it was all a trick that I set up, Lacroise turned against us, slashing at me with sideways voids. It's what's called Tactical Dimensionality. They don't teach that in the council but its like battling with traveler's magic, using dimensions as a weapon. Half of my body would have been transported elsewhere, while the other half remained on that castle roof, had it not been for quick thinking on Teresa's part. She sliced a wave of air, witches' magic, and sent the created void tumbling into the sky as if she were throwing a frisbee on a roof. In the next instant, two things happened that ruined many friendships and a lifetime of fighting vampires in my planet. First, Lacroise used Multiple Dimensionality on me. It's battling with dimensions but in a special way. He opened up three voids at the same time, hardly a feasible task, but I'd seen it done before. Then, three more opened all surrounding me, as I was afraid and against a wall, trembling. He went through the three he was close to, skipping from one dimension to the next as though it were of no consequence but to do such a thing takes skill and practice. He had had to have created six voids just to accomplish such a thing and six others to surround me with three more. He came out of all three voids, believe it or not, a strange thing I'd never witnessed before and punched and kicked me from those voids, all at the same time. The second thing that happened, was a menacing laughter came crashing down on us. Lacroise stepped beside me now, and closed all the voids. I lay on the floor panting, with a swollen eye and blood coming out my nose. Teresa was too far away to do anything but she hid behind a wall in the castle roof. It was so thin that it barely hid her. His sister, a woman with blue eyes, and black curly hair was flying down upon us from twelve feet in the air. Nothing was making her fly. She was wearing a white pearl dress and black-heel shoes and that's all we saw as she landed. She waved her hand and Karla appeared, a girl in a brown skirt, brown-skinned, black hair, shorter than Lacroise's sister, obviously she was unable to move. She was being held captive by a form of magic. Lacroise's sister said to us: 'Enough squabbling, Mark. Give us what we came here for or the girl gets it.' I don't know what they wanted," Mark said, putting his hands on his chin, "Yet here I was bargaining for the life of Karla, a woman we knew to be the newly-engaged to Lacroise. 'Time, Piersley, time.'

"Arthur complained, giving his sister a mournful look, 'Why, why are you doing this?'

"'What do I care if the girl lives or dies, brother? I want the book and I know that derelict time-traveler knows where to find it.'"

"It was at this time that I was looking for a book to break the three curses because as much as we loved or didn't love each other Wendy and I could not touch. We can't get close to each other without feeling unbearable pain. Never did find that book. They call it the Epilaptily, Book of Woven Spirits. Never mind that, the three curses aren't important in your earth, only mine and if I live through this, they will be mine to break. Lacroise's sister took a breath and with it, time seemed to slow down, so that neither me, nor Teresa could move. In that instant, she waved a hand to Karla who was inches from her and Karla went flying off the roof, moving faster than we could, as though time only worked for her. I tried to create a sideways void but magic stopped me from doing it. I could see Teresa stretch her hands out and shooting a laser of blue fire at the witch. The problem is, she was aligned with the vampires and one of them, a strange one that could fly like she could, grabbed her from the air and lifted her away. Then, we were surrounded by vampires. I still couldn't move because of the witches magic. Karla fell to her death, while Teresa went to try and help her burning up vampires one after the other but it was too late. We heard a tragic thump. Then, Lacroise gave me a sinister look and his face became unreadable. He created a void without looking and passed through it, leaving me alone surrounded by vampires. Teresa escaped, creating a teleportation void, one that witches could do but we can't. The vampires took me. One of them created a void and passed me through it roughly but by this time my talent had come back and I created sideways voids beheading at least a dozen of them before one of them booted me on the knee and all I saw was pain. After that, I was sedated and taken to some dungeon, where I remain, in a comma, living out the rest of my years without Wendy."

"Your vampire hunter group can't come rescue you?" Keya asked.

"The vampires were smart. They sent me to some unknown dimension. My group may never know the coordinates."

"Do you know the coordinates?"

"Maybe," Mark said, "If I could open one eye or two, I could concentrate long enough to read them but that's a talent that takes concentration and I only briefly practiced it in the council."

"How long have you been their captive?"

"Two years," Mark said, "And I doubt they're keeping me alive the natural way."

"What do you mean?"

"They're draining people of their life force to keep mine from slipping away. I can feel them doing it, the magic involved."

"Oh, no," Keya said, quietly, "That's horrible."

"I must go now," Mark said, starting to vanish, "I'll be back in a few hours to see if he has come back. You should be more active, then, I think. I've not seen you in such a mood before. He really made an impression on you, didn't he? And you've only seen him, what? Twice."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Keya said, blushing.

Billy looked out the window of the class. It was already late. Two minutes ago, he'd been thinking about a pistachio ice-cream but now he thought that was too good for him. So many things had changed in so little time. It was ridiculous. And so was Simon. What was going through his mind? Sure, it was better here but it wasn't their world and if they stayed, they'd only be stealing the life of the other them. Also, they were lucky that when they'd traveled here, they hadn't ended up in some weird earth with vampires roaming around.

Billy tapped his pencil on the desk gently, waiting for the bell to ring. The council had brought him here. They were good at traveling; that was probably why they hadn't ended up in some out-of-place earth. What would happen when Billy used his talent to travel? He certainly was itching to find out but scared at the same time. What if he took Simon to some earth where no one wanted them? What if he, worse, took them to an earth and the council travelers came after them because he broke the rules? Billy hadn't thought about that before. Those council people didn't look to be all that nice to him before. He didn't want to experience what it would be like to be in their jails, although he did find that Simon's experience with them to be different a mystery. They had treated Simon almost like a welcomed guest, rather than a burden. And, Billy only knew, how much more fun Simon was having traveling than he would have at home, being pushed around by bullies.

Still, the air around the classroom here was suffocating. It smelled too much like chalk and used pencils and erasers. Kids here were all too eager to take notes or write in their notepads and at length. Billy wrote nothing, just stared at the teacher, who was drinking from a water bottle. She eyed him for a second and then went back to her writing. Why hadn't she reprimanded him? He was obviously the only one not writing in his notebook. All the other students were hurrying to get back problems writing on their notebooks intently, as though their life depended on it.

Billy tapped the desk with his pencil more hurriedly. The bell rang. Billy got up but the other students were still writing.

"What is it you're doing, Billy?" the teacher asked him.

"Going home," Billy said, "I can't go home yet?"

"Well," the teacher said, "You have that option or you can stay in your seat and write like your fellow students, which do you think to be a wiser choice?"

"I think I'm going home," Billy said, "Because I'm hungry."

Suddenly, the whole class got up.

The teacher raised from her chair and took her glasses off. "What's this?"

The students began to leave, smiling back at Billy. "Well," one of the girls said, "That seems like a good excuse." She handed the teacher a good six pages of writing. The other students followed suit.

Had Billy started something?

"But is that a wiser choice than sitting on your seat and expanding your mind?"

The students looked back to Billy for a response. They halted their steps even. Was the teacher provoking the students to stay here after class? "I don't know about that," Billy said, "But if you measure intelligence without your family, then how smart are you really?"


"I mean, if you spend all your time away from your parents, then how can they teach you to play catch or clean your room? Really," Billy said, "I think it’s smarter to learn by doing, than by scribbling it down on a piece of paper."

Then, the class began to shuffle out, once again, satisfied with his answer.

The teacher immediately slammed a ruler against her desk. The students stopped shuffling out altogether.

"Remus, close the door. No one else leaves this classroom!"

A blonde boy, shorter than Billy, stopped and almost closed the door.

"No," Billy said, "And if you try and stop me from leaving again, I might tell the teachers at the Nine Academy school that you're against them." Billy didn't know if the trick would help but vampire teachers had to be more important than regular teachers.

"But they're the ones who set the curfew so that the kids wouldn't be hurt," Mrs. Daniels of this world complained.

"And are they the ones who are stopping kids from going home to their parents where they're probably safer than here?"

This even brought up cheers because Remus had ignored the teacher and left himself. His page count was in the dozens. Now, a freckle-faced Meryl stood beside him at the door. "Ugh," she said, "How'd you manage to leave?"

"Manage?" Billy asked, "I got up and left like the rest of the class." Meryl hadn't even noticed that Billy was holding the door open, making sure every single student left. This wasn't evident to the teacher, who grabbed the wrist of a small girl, the last one to leave, in his class and stopped her from leaving. She gave her a stern look and a demand with her finger to go back to her seat.

"Let's go," Meryl said.

"One minute," Billy said, going into the classroom.

Mrs. Daniels looked at him, afraid. He crossed his hands and raised an eyebrow at her. Did he really have to play bully? The little girl stared up at him and ran away. "It's the way it has always been, Billy," Mrs. Daniels said.

"Change is good," Billy said, "It keeps your mind from going crazy."
Meryl followed him out of the class, laughing at his side. "But Billy this whole thing was your idea. I mean before you left to the Academy, you said you'd see that these kids would stay in school longer so they could study and you did it, now you go back against yourself?"

"That wasn't me," Billy said, truthfully, "I am a different person now."

Meryl smiled at him in her buttoned-up white shirt, "That's for sure."

After passing through some empty hallways, Billy decided to go room to room and knock on the doors. "School is out," is all he said as he poked his head in them. Most students left the class but some stayed. Yet, after hearing a commotion in the hallways, all the students took heart and left the school. It was starting to feel like his good old earth again. Billy figured that the one's most surprised by this would be their parents. No wonder they had tried to give him a goodbye in the morning. They didn't expect him to come home in the afternoon, despite his lie about the academy.

Simon came out of a classroom, as Billy walked with his head held high in the hallways full of students pacing back and forth on their way home. Billy had never seen a group of people so happy. The only one that seemed to be wearing a never-ending frown was Simon. He even came out of the classroom in shock to find Billy smiling down at him, while Meryl came up on his side and put her arm through his.

"In the event that you think this is somehow a fix to the what we talked about before, then you're highly mistaken!" Simon exclaimed and walked off.

Billy sighed. Now, he had to be a bully, without wanting to.

Billy didn't return home after school. Instead, he called a meeting between himself, Romano, Cal and Louis, who, he hoped, still had an inkling for trouble like they had before in his own world. This happened in the game Space Dreg that he'd played what seemed like ages ago. From time to time, galactic planes from different planets would ally with each other to take down a bigger foe. In this case, it was to put Simon in a right state of mind. Simon was much too adamant about stealing this life from his other self. This couldn't be allowed to happen. Billy didn't know what would happen if he encountered his duplicate in another dimension but he didn't want to find out, either.

Meryl had pleaded almost to the point of tears, as he waited for the others outside the school's gates, to go with him. Billy couldn't have this sort-of thing involve girls. Their sentimental side might get him to change his mind, despite what was right and what was wrong.

The gang of three came in their Nine-Vampires Academy gear, all-black leather jackets of different shapes and sizes. It was apparent that the academy changed clothing from generation to generation. Romano's jacket looked more like a sweater with a shiny vest than Billy's. Louise's didn't have sleeves. Cal's was identical to Billy's, except his had the insignia of the school as a "NV" in the back, instead of a simple "N." In their ears they wore something that Billy didn't. Billy suspected these were communication devices but they looked too small and cool for that. They were like a single half-inch wide black circle. Billy only saw them because Cal had turned to look behind him.

Cal smiled at him, as they approached. Billy still couldn't believe that this was the same Cal that had put him on the ground with his friends not a day or two before. The whole dimension traveling thing had put Billy's sense of time out-of-tune. He still didn't know if it was the summer yet. The non-winter weather of his dimension definitely showed signs of summer.

"Billy-man, how's it going?"

Billy-man was Billy's new nickname in this group.

They each had distinct hair, that's the only way Billy told them apart in this dimension. In the other dimension Romano had been a little wider than Billy himself. In this one, he was as thin as Cal and Louis but had red hair. Louis had black hair with a tinge of blue on the end, as it was the type of hair that was combed to the sides and not spiked like Cal and Romano's.

"Nothing new," Billy said, "You guys ready to do this?"

"Yea, yea," Romano said, "Let's get it done."

"You did this in the academy a lot?" Louis asked.

"Yea, sure," Billy lied, "We always kidnapped someone just to see how the mind of a criminal works; that way you were able to stop him easier. It's all part of the spy training. And there was always someone designated general, who never got involved in any of the fighting. You know, like a strategy guy."

This last part was hard for them to grasp. Apparently, they really wanted to see Billy fight. Billy had zero skills in fighting, other than grabbing up smaller individuals and using them as shields. He just hoped they knew enough of it to drag Simon out of his room without hurting him.

They crossed the street, now running across the street to block "C" with the sign pointed outward instead of inward like in Billy's dimension. Open gates in houses were signs that students had gone home instead of staying at school, another one of Billy's rebellions. Billy didn't really see it as something that he had started but something that needed to be done. Keeping kids in school day and night was simply wrong and he didn't know why no one else had thought of getting them out of it. He had been under the ropes with the bullies but they wouldn't catch him by surprise again and, if he needed to, he'd fight against them, somehow, although he didn't see himself being very useful against three other bullies, especially his world's Romano, who was as mean as they came. This Romano at least had no freckles and was skinny. He looked about as menacing as a garden snake.

"Be back soon, boss," Louis said. He was the only one that actually skipped down the street as they approached Simon's house.

Luckily, Simon himself hadn't gone inside the house yet. He was about to. Yet, at the door to his house, he met up with his beautiful sister, the seventeen-year-old with the too-perfect hair and distracting walk. Billy himself would be lost in those eyes. He wondered if it was the girl that had enchanted Simon to stay in this world or his new-found friendships at school. He seemed to be increasingly more popular among his peers in this school, although Billy didn't like the new Simon that much. The new Simon walked around with his head held high and he thought he saw Simon push Brian Gates into a bush. That Simon was not Billy's friend. It was definitely the girl. Billy had included the girl in his plans, at least.

Pink skirt and blouse didn't seem to faze Cal, who approached the girl with the air of a confident gallant about to make his move. The other two broke to the sides behind him. The girl became almost too-quickly attracted to the younger Cal, who was simply asking her for directions to the nearest library. Billy had made out a plan to kidnap Simon behind his sister's back if need be. Otherwise, the plan would be to approach his parents house and ask for Simon and then things would have gotten complicated with the parents tied up on chairs. Billy was happy that it hadn't come to that. Simon was outside on his yard, holding his sister's hand.

When his sister saw Cal, she had a brief talk with him, Billy was too far away at the end of the street to hear but he saw that it had something to do with directions because she was pointing. Suddenly, Simon was just gone. Louis and Romano were good. They had almost ninja-style stealth. Billy had seen them come behind Simon but had turned to look between streets before looking back and seeing Simon vanish. Billy wasn't too concerned about that. This team of Nine Academy crazies seemed to be good at following the plan. He could use them for other things but, then again, they didn't belong to him. They belonged to this world and he wouldn't put them out of it.

Maybe, Billy had accidentally put himself out of his world but he wouldn't do that to these poor bullies. In any case, Billy had been betrayed by those council guys who had promised to send him home. This wasn't home. James was a nice guy and he hated to go against his warnings but this just wasn't Billy's home. And Billy, who had started to like the attention, had also wanted to go back for various reasons. He needed to make up to the real Meryl for one or talk with her, at least and he needed to learn how to travel wisely from that old man in the library.

In the back of his mind, also, was the image of Keya. He wanted to replace it with Meryl's face but Keya kept replacing it. The way her soft hands had touched him before leaving the library the last time. He shook his head, now seeing from afar that Cal had thanked and shook Simon's sister's hand and was walking over to him. Louis and Romano were nowhere to be seen.

"Don't worry," Cal said, "Before I left her she asked where Simon was. We told her he had gone into the house to get something. That should buy us some time."

"Not much," Billy said, "You took him where I told you?"

"Yes," Cal said, "But it'll take us a while to get there. It might be close to dark before we get back."

Billy raised an eyebrow. Something was wrong with the darkness in this place.

"What happens when it gets dark?" Billy asked him.

Cal laughed, sincerely. Billy still couldn't get used to that. He still wanted to punch this guy in the face. He restrained himself. "You know what happens, geeze. You were top of the class in the academy. They even called you back."

"Yes, just messing with you," Billy said, with a smile, not wanting Cal to back down from the plan. "Let's go catch up to them, then."

"Let's talk and walk, bud."


"I wanted to talk to you about Meryl."


"Yes," Cal said, frowning as he did so. "Because I was kind of starting to really, really like her. I mean, don't hate me for that, that's just a thing that happened."

"I'm not mad at you," Billy said, keeping a steady pace up hill.

They said nothing as they passed Billy's house, where the road was even. A few minutes later they were walking downhill.

"Good," Cal said, "I mean because when you got back she tried to get on your good side. And, everyone knows that you and Karen--?"

"Me and Karen what?" Billy asked, looking at Cal with wonder.

"Well, went out for a while before your parents sent you away to nine-vampires, that is."

"I see," Billy said, now walking faster. He was finding ever more reasons to stay in this dimension but, then, the bad news set in.

"And me and Meryl were happy together like you but then, she said she wanted to go out with you, now that you were back."

"You want me to tell her I'm leaving?" Billy asked.

"I mean, it would help. Don't get mad, I mean, I'm not trying to make you mad, Billy."

Cal was actually nervous. Did he think that Billy would hurt him? Maybe, once upon a time when he hadn't been influenced by good things or how good things could be, he would have beat up Cal, out of spite. Billy had been on the other side of that punch now and he didn't want anyone to go through that. Billy touched Cal's shoulder and he flinched a little. Billy smiled, "No, don't worry about it. Look, give Meryl the news yourself. I guarantee I won't be back for quite some time."

"How long, Billy?"

"How long ago did I leave for training?"
"Two years ago, Billy," Cal said, "And usually if you don't come back after a year, it means you died on your final test, you know where you kill a vampire alone. That's why when you said you were on the spy team, we knew you were one of the best. You had to be or you'd be dead."

Billy from this dimension was dead, then. He could stay here and make some people happy. Yet, Billy thought, it would be wrong to stay because staying would be tarnishing the memories of those who had really passed away. Billy walked a whole block down before thinking up of an idea to fix the situation but first he needed to know something.

"Cal," Billy said, "Can I ask you a question and you promise not to ask why I'm asking it?"

Cal thought about this. "Okay but I get to date Meryl."

"Deal," Billy said, almost too quickly. It revealed to him, a little, of how he really felt about the girl. Was he so quick to dismiss Meryl? The girl who had kissed him when he was feeling at his worst? It may be that he needed to rethink about talking to Meryl. If they were breaking it off, he'd rather not be around for the crying.

"Was Simon sent off to nine-vampires at the same time as me?"

"Yes, of course," Cal said. He bit his lip, after realizing the deal he had made.

"Cal," Billy said, "I need you to do one more thing for me."

"What's that?"

"Well, I told you guys to leave me alone with Simon at the back of the library after you delivered him to me there. Let the others leave. I want you to pay attention to what happens."

Billy planned to let Cal see them go into the void, and that bright light at first would make it seem as though Simon and Billy were ghosts going back into the world of the dead or, at least, he hoped so. Let Cal tell his parents that they were gone forever, vampires or no vampires.

Unfortunately, plans like these are doomed to fail from the start.

At some point in their walk, they had lost track of time. They were walking downhill and from every direction they saw houses on either side of the block and one triangle-shaped building right in front of them. "Run," Cal said, "There's no time for whatever, Billy. Just get Simon and run."

"What are you--?"

From the houses themselves, sprang forth like evil creatures, black wolves with yellow glowing eyes and growling. Not one or two but six or seven. Billy and Cal were out of their range so far but they were appearing so fast, it would only be a matter of time before one sprang in the yard of a house near them. These were four-legged beasts at least one foot taller than a regular wolf with spiky black hair at the fronts, making them look like they were wearing spiked collars.

Billy blinked. He hadn't blinked because it was dark or for having had some leaf or fly go into his eye but because a knife was thrown by Cal from within his jacket so fast, that the howling of the wolf near-in-front of them startled him to reality. The knife was stuck deep into the wolf's front mid-section, dripping yellow-red blood. "Night hounds," Cal warned, "They come before the vampires but you know this."

"Yes," Billy said, "Why didn't you knife him?"

"I have to consult with Simon before then," Billy said, "Because there's some things about this situation we must discuss."

Billy ran and found himself confronting three wolves in front of him.

He saw the stars. And blinked them away. He ran again but the wolves approached him slowly. Again, the stars appeared, now obviously the shape of a check mark, an X and a O. He remembered from James that he had to make up the numbers for the coordinates. The wolves were now only sixteen feet from him. Why were the stars appearing before him, even before the light? The stars appeared again, now before his eyes so bright that he was almost forced to reach out to them. Then, the light came of its own. The void formed in front of him but the wolves glowed blue now. The color suggested a direction. He saw the shift. He could move the void. So he moved it toward the wolves.

Then, he blinked. It broke the shift but the dimension had been created. Half the wolves were gone. The other half remained, now dead. They dropped like stumps of wood onto the ground, while their other halves disappeared into the void that was now gone. Cal approached him. Had he seen the void appear?

"Wow," Cal said, "They don't train you to do that sort of thing in the regular academy do they?"

Billy sighed, looking at his hands. They were okay but he felt them shake a little. Was it the result of opening voids? He knew why the stars appeared now. Billy could reach out for the talent in the darkness but that was the easy part. He now knew that he could reach out for it when he was in danger much quicker, as though driven by adrenaline and fear. He also knew that he could move the voids to where he needed them. That talent was probably one that not a lot of new travelers knew. He now felt sad that he hadn't been trained at the council. They could have taught him so much about traveling. And James didn't seem so bad, not really.

As he ran to the back, he saw Romano being chewed on from the leg. Louis came quickly and killed the wolf. "Crap, we have to take him to a healer," he told Billy. "Simon is right there, shaking by the thrash can. We saw three more wolves on this side."

Cal approached and helped him bring Romano to his feet. "Go, go to Simon," he told Billy, "We'll take him to Karen, she's a healer. It has to be fast before he turns into a vampire on us."

"Shut-up," Louis said, "That's not funny."

Billy looked at Romano's leg in horror. It looked like it was almost completely gone.

Billy turned the corner and went around the back of the triangular library to find a litter of wolves. Romano might be hurt but they had fought these wolves hard. One wolf was missing both its legs and six or seven lay near Simon, surrounding him, all with a knife on the head. Who were these new bullies? And what kind of training did they get at this academy of theirs? It definitely was more training than Billy had ever had in his life.

When Simon saw him, he screamed at him, "This is all your fault! This is all your fault! You ruined my perfect world. I never wanted to go back but you always want to do what's right, don't you!"

Finally, Billy opened a void right in front of them. A wolf jumped from the roof of the library and got Simon by the leg. Billy did the trick and cut it in half. The wolves' whole back vanished. It might have bitten Simon but that's as far as it got. With his hands, Billy detached the teeth and dropped the lifeless head on the floor.

The stars came back fast, almost faster than lightning. He reached out not caring for coordinates and another void appeared.

Billy grabbed Simon and carried him through, hoping that wherever he was taking them to, there would be healers.

Simon was still in a rage and was only calmed when Billy having been silent for so long whispered to his long lost friend, who he carried in his arms, "Fair is fair."

Keya was putting a pile of books in the back of the library, moving piles one book at a time toward the back. Francine asked her, "What are you doing?"

"Disobeying you, as usual," Keya said, smiling back at her.

Francine was still engulfed in her computer, looking up different things having to do with dimensions on the internet.

"We must talk," Francine said.

"Oh," Keya said, "I was just kidding, Fran--er, third-dimensional mother."

"No, no, not about that, child. You think your disobedience insults me? I'm very impressed by it, missy, although it’s not harsh enough to merit a punishment. You go off and kiss a boy without my knowledge, well, that's a different matter altogether. However, I'm not one to boy-talk with you. I'll leave that to you and your other friends, when you get any. Our talk is more about...Mark."

"Oh," Keya said, "I like Mark. He's like a book of mysteries and stories. He knows a lot."

"What do you think of his...special situation? Has he informed you of it?"

Keya nodded. "Yes, it's sad."

"I thought so myself but burn that man for being stubborn as a mule. You'll not get a single tear from him, not while anyone's around anyway. From time to time before I would hear a form of whimpering. He tried to hide it with screams of 'tea' but it was really noticeable. Not that magical coma tears are of any use to him now."

"You want him to cry? I wasn't allowed to cry," Keya said, complaining.

"This is different, Keya. He needs to cry. You need to be strong. You two have different needs. He's smart enough to get himself out of his mess but he refuses to. And he knows that Billy is the one that will get him out of it."

"Billy is that important?"

"I knew, of course," Francine said, off-handedly, still looking at her computer, "That's why I hired him. Who knew that Simon fellow would be of actual use."

"He's your nephew," Keya said, smiling, "Why do you keep calling him a fellow?"
"It's a family thing," Francine said, "He actually likes it, that's what makes me worry. He'll more than likely get into a world of trouble than stay out of it."

Keya was in a pink dress Francine had bought her but that Keya had picked out. She was also wearing pink shoes, now that Keya had seen other girls in matching uniforms, as though everything needed to be perfectly matched. It impressed Keya so much that she had to get a matching outfit but to impress who? The dress cut off before the knees too, which made her glimpse at herself once too often. She almost felt like she was wearing too little. At least her socks reached her ankles.

Francine kept talking about Mark's problems with Wendy. "He loves this girl but he has lost hope that he'll ever find her. That is the real problem, Keya."

"Yes," Keya said, "I know."

"So," Francine said, "I've decided that it will be your job to get him to have hope again."

"Why me?" Keya asked, crossing her hands. "Isn't there someone else you can torture with this?"

"Well," Francine said, "There's Billy but he's been absent lately. So, you get to do it. Try not to upset him."

The light flashed but at the same time a rap rap rap noise came from the outside. Someone was knocking at the door.

It was...a girl, about Keya's age. Now that some of the piles of books had been thinned out, they could see the doors clearly. She was in a blue dress similar to Keya's but she wore gloves, too. And her hair was in a pony tail. What was that on it, a blue rubber band? It was much too big to be a rubber band. Keya would have to get one of those. They looked neat.

Francine looked up from her computer. "Now, it gets interesting, doesn't it?"

"You want me to let her in?"

"Oh," Francine said, "It's your choice. I could care less either way. Just know this: there are consequences to every choice you make."

What was that supposed to mean? Did Francine know something about the girl standing outside that Keya didn't?

A scream for tea woke Keya from her trance.

Keya ran to the back and told Mark, who was looking inside one of the library books with interest, "Hey, be quiet for a minute, there's a strange girl outside. I'll bring you your tea in a bit."

Mark looked up from his book and didn't say anything. He nodded at her.

She ran back to the door. The girl was still there. She had her hands cupped and was looking inside the library with her head leaning on the doorway.

When Keya opened the door, the girl stepped inside and then looked Keya up and down and said in an upset tone, "Who the heck are you?"

"Me? You're the one who knocked."

"Okay, okay," the girl said, "Quit looking at me like that. I'm Meryl. Is Billy here?"

Keya dared the girl to lock eyes with her again. What did she want with Billy, anyway? This was something that was going to bother her more than seeing Billy himself. Where the heck was he anyway?

"Well," Keya said, "If you see him first, tell him the librarian is looking for him, too."

The girl put a hand to her hip in a menacing way, "Are you the librarian?"

Keya pointed at Francine with a finger, staring right back into those fierce blue eyes. She was in a temper and Keya hoped she was making it, at least, a little worse.

The girl did an about face and put a stomp on her steps, knocking books down from certain piles and stormed right out of the library. Keya's eyes flared after her for a moment, then she calmed herself. Without realizing, she released a fist that she'd formed with her right hand. How had that happened? It didn't matter. She had to get to her mission of giving hope to Mark.

As she was re-entering Francine's sight, Francine looked up from her computer and smiled at her, "Well," she said, "That was certainly interesting."

"Not the time, Francine," Keya growled, walking right past her toward the back of the library.

She would need another chocolate to calm down.

Billy almost stumbled onto an empty dark road. He carried Simon still, who probably was still in shock. His eyes were closed and he wouldn’t speak. His back felt softer in his hands, as though the boy were growing hair. Crap. Not more problems. One thing Billy certainly didn't want was to get into an even worse situation, what with leaving behind three innocent people to fight whatever those were, werewolves? The place where the wolf had bitten Simon looked red but not infected. It had even started to heal a little.

This new earth had trees growing on either side of the road, making it look that much darker. The trees blocked his view of the sky almost. The road seemed to go on forever with no end in sight, not that he would be able to see anything in the darkness. In the distance, he thought he noticed something, though, a faint light. Good. Maybe, real people that could help him out, instead of giving him more problems.

As soon as he'd left the earth that was supposed to be his, he had felt a form of regret. He'd left behind a good life. Simon had a sister in that dimension and he had an unnatural affection toward her. Billy was glad to leave that part of it behind. Yet, Simon had something he'd never so easily get in the real earth, friends. Billy did, too, in a sense, if they were friends he attained from lying all the time. The lies were partial truths, Billy guessed, since he didn't really know what had happened to his twin Billy of that earth.

The glimmer in the distance was like a light post at first. Then, he noticed that it was the opening of a portal. Billy could read, somehow, how the light entered. He knew these coordinates. He could see the X, check mark and O and the numbers that made up coordinates. James had said that only experts didn't see the numbers. Yet, Billy hadn't seen the numbers when he traveled. He saw them when someone else traveled. How did he even see their light? It must be something that travelers' were accustomed to seeing. Again, another thing that the council might have taught him, had he been allowed to train with them. Well, as far as Billy knew, the council wasn't at fault for returning him to his own earth. Billy shouldn't have left it in the first place.

Billy doubted that not leaving his earth would have been good for anyone. If he hadn't left, those students in the other dimension would still be staying at school until late hours of the night, instead of being at home with their parents, where they should be. This is one thing he was glad he did for them. At least, in some way, he had helped that dimension to live better. In another sense, he'd also left three boys defenseless against those night hounds. This thing bothered him more than the actual leaving. Could Billy even go back to that dimension? He didn't remember the coordinates, that was the problem and he doubted he could just conjure up a portal without being in some sort of problem. Both times he'd done it, he'd been in grave danger or actually, had just gone through some tormenting ordeal that put him in great danger. The danger part wasn't so bad; it was the getting hurt part that bothered him.

The thing was, about the light of the council traveler that was coming, probably James, was that Billy was glad he was coming. Simon was probably going to get sick off of the wolf bite. They could help.

In the next instant, the portal formed, then three other portals just like it above it. Kids, his age, one brown-haired, one culry-haired and one red-haired eyed him from five feet above ground. They came through the portals fast. The portals vanished and Billy noticed that they were flying. Billy had stopped walking a long while ago. He was waiting for them to show up. The last one was James and he was looking at Billy with a degree of horror and contempt. They all dressed in black and the kids had red dragon-shaped pins on their collars. "Not even going to run, ey?" The red-haired boy asked.

Billy stared at them with a frown. "Hey, James."

"He's not going to give us any problems, guys. I told you this before I came," James said to them, waving a hand for them to halt what they were planning to do.

Still, the three kids made portals appear in every direction in front of Billy, so that no matter where he looked, he was seeing a portal. He was trapped in a square, so that no matter what he did, he had to walk into the other side of the portals. Then, Billy noticed, that he could see the other side of those portals. It was a prison through each one, each one was the opening of a jail. He looked back up at James. "It was all my fault and not his," Billy said. "My friend here can't travel and you have to help him."

"Shhh!" The curly-haired boy said, "This isn't about you, anymore. It's about us. Now we're going to take your little friend where we see fit. This isn't some democracy. You think that these jails are in the council's dimension, don't you? Ha. All transporters that break the law think the same. Those are jails in other dimensions where no traveler can open portals. Good luck escaping from one."

Billy now thought it was a good time for him to get his talent working. And it did.

The light shone. The kids and James didn't panic. All four actually laughed. Here Billy had to think and be creative. His dad's advice for getting out of abnormal situations was to think and be creative. Now, they said I can't travel inside those prisons. Ha, Billy thought, but they don't know about dimensional shifts. I'll just make a portal inside their prisons from here. Was that even possible? It was worth a try. Billy reached out for the stars but this time, he noticed an extra Y. He reached out anyways, and the portal appeared in the other world right in front of him.

"See kids," James said, looking at them, "I told you we blocked him good from traveling. Blocking, Billy is what travelers do to others in order to stop them from traveling, only the most trained of travelers can do it."

"Why'd you tell him that, I wonder?" The red-haired boy asked.

"Let's just push him with--?"

Billy stepped into the portal. In the next instant, he noticed that the portal in the jail was shrinking. He jumped with Simon in his hands and barely made it through. Part of the heel of his boots was lost forever in the jail cell. He was glad that it wasn't part of his foot, though and that he wasn't stuck in the council's jail.

He landed in the same earth with trees and road and all but the people from the council were gone. He hit the road a little hard but Simon was still in good shape or not awakened by the fall, at least.

It was starting to get much too dangerous, Billy thought. He couldn't get his friends in more trouble. No. It wouldn't happen to him again. He made a portal for what he in his mind thought to be the headquarters of the council chambers and walked through it.

Men in white rushed to his sides when he stepped through.

"Who are you, traveler, What are you doing in the science department?"

Good, Billy thought.

The man that had spoken to him had on white gloves. He handed Simon over to him quickly.

"I'm on a much-needed assignment," Billy lied, opening a portal so fast with a wave of a hand that he surprised himself, "Take care of my friend. He was bitten by a werewolf from another dimension."

"Oh, another one," the guy said, with a sigh. "Ya, ya, we got him. Is he any good?"

"He was accepted for science tech before I left," Billy lied, again and stepped through the portal, turning to look at the man who held Simon with just the hint of pity in his eyes. Good, Billy thought, he didn't need to worry about Simon getting hurt anymore and he would probably be cured.

This time, Billy landed on a world with sunlight and on top of thousands of poppies. The softness of them put him to sleep almost instantly, as if by magic.

"Someone traveled a little too much just now," Mark said, "I could feel the fabric of the real earths starting to rip."

Keya was staring up at him with a frown on her face. She was really worried about Billy. How was she going to give Mark hope if he believed that the world was ending? Worse, the universe was unraveling, he kept on saying.

"Calm down," Keya said, touching his arm, although that still didn't make sense since he was just a shadow traveler in a comma in another world, "What you need to do is relax a little."

"Ah," Mark said, "Is that what that woman does to you? Make you relax whenever there's a serious problem in the world? How do you even solve anything?"

"I think," Keya said, "She does it, so you don't make any rash decisions. I think it's so that you can clear your mind and think about your problems instead of causing more of them."

"I never caused more problems than I solved," Mark said.

Keya almost laughed. "You caused yourself to get caught. Instead of thinking about how to save Wendy, you went and tried to save her without even having a clue as to where she was or where she could end up in."

"You don't understand that. What would you know, you don't know anything about that!"
Mark was getting upset, so Keya just left him be for a second. After a minute of silence, he calmed down. He really did love Wendy. Whenever Keya mentioned her, he would get so upset. It wasn't that she hadn't mentioned Wendy before but most recently, he'd been real edgy.

"It's the council," Mark said, "They're hunting down travelers and putting them.... somewhere. I don't know if it's just me but I can sense traveling and they're doing a lot of it. In groups now. One group is looting and another is capturing other travelers forcing some of the clever ones to travel more and some of the less clever ones to fall to their traps. I mean, I know it's the council because they're the only ones that know how to do it, so expertly. There could be any number of travelers out there but they're not traveling everywhere and making the universe unstable."

"You know who is traveling?" Keya asked, surprised.

"No," Mark said, "I mean yes, I know who is traveling but I can only sense traveling, not detect who it is. I can also detect when a traveler has left an earth. Billy, for example."

"Billy what?" Keya asked, standing.

"Billy," Mark said, testily, "Is no longer here."

"Well," Keya said, sighing, "Of course not. He had to go home."

"Not on this earth," Mark said, softly.

"Where is he?"

"I don't know, all right. I don't know. Stupid kid left without me noticing it until just recently. I gave him a book, too but he probably didn't even take it."

Keya rushed away from Mark with her lips in the shape of a dash. In the front of the library, Francine was putting some books on top of a pile.

"I have to go save him," Keya said, "You lied to me again. Well, I don't know who the grown-up here is and I don't care, quite frankly, but I do know what I want and we have to go. Now!"

"Why do you care for that fatboy?"

"Shut-up, don't call him that," Keya said, near to tears from anger. "You take good care of me and I appreciate that but you're not my mother and one way or another I'm going to reach him, so either you help me get to him or I get lost dimesion hopping by myself. I have a book that opens dimensions, so ha. You either help me or you don't but get out of my way."

"Uh, where do you have this book, huh?" Francine asked, crossing her hands.

Keya walked to one end of the aisle and leaned on a book case. Her fingers caressed the back cover of an all-blue book. "Will you help me?"

"No," Francine said, "Not like this. You're being selfish and stubborn. How do you expect to help anyone--Keya!"

Keya pulled the book out and was two seconds away from opening it. "One more time. help or don't help?"


"Goodbye, then!"

She opened the book and a blue light swallowed her entire body. Then, she and the book were gone.

She really messed up now. Where was she? The darkness in the place made her wince. She wasn't as scared as the last time, though. Immediately, she recognized that she'd traveled to a place where she had been before. She was in the old downtown again with big tagged-up buildings. All the lights in those rooms were out, making them seem spooky and deserted. The noises were few, only of scattering vermin or the tap of a door as it rattled against the wind. It smelled faintly of rotting flesh. Yes. This was the other earth, the one with the vampires.

Why had the book sent her here again?

She looked at the book's title again and caressed the words, Book of Destiny. It had no author and no copyright date. The words stuck out like they were stitched to the front cover, all painted in white. Keya didn't have much time to prepare her departure but she did learn a neat trick.

It was pretty cool that she was a healer, as she'd been called the first time she appeared in this dimension. Her trick was making sunlight, anywhere she wanted. She had done it so many times during her time alone in Francine's house that she doubted if Francine didn't know about it. She could consume her entire body in yellow bright light with the flick of her fingers. The problem was that she had to concentrate really hard on something that wasn't moving. In her room, it had been the sturdy wooden board of her bed, which held it above ground.

Keya concentrated because she was starting to sense the familiar footsteps that she had before. She wanted to consume herself in the light and she could bring it upon herself almost at will but she, also, wanted those vampires to get close. She waited by an empty alleyway where she knew she was most vulnerable and concentrated on a cardboard box that was leaning on a thrash bin. The wind wasn't so crazy that it made it move. Soon enough the power of healing filled her but the light didn't come. She could control it that way. It was the trick with healing that she could hold the power until she needed it, although she really had to concentrate for it to work.

Keya had learned this from a book called, Reaching the Light by Francine Olmera. It was ironic that her world's Francine had given her the book. After a moment, Keya felt really alone in the place, even with the power filling her belly. It was in the gut where the power was stored, she figured. She felt very warm at her stomach. It didn't tickle, at least. That's what happened, not now. Now she needed to focus and not worry. Worry had made her do something foolish, just like Mark had. Why hadn't she seen that her decision was identical to the one Mark made when he'd lost Wendy in another dimension, except Keya hadn't lost Billy. Billy was a traveler and he probably knew how to get back to his world, yet Keya would probably never in her life find Billy.

The darkness of the street became a swirl of shadows. She lost sight of the box but she didn't need it anymore. It was enough power to light a whole block but she only needed a little of it. She could store the rest for later. It was uncomfortable but necessary like wearing a backpack full of things to make it all the way to the top of a mountain.

As she rounded a dark corner into an empty alleyway, sharp fangs tried to snatch her from the street. Keya's eyes opened and light poured out into the alleyway. It was so blinding that she doubted normal people would have liked to have seen it. Vampires died but there were more than she had thought. The count before had been two and here were two dozen behind her and in front of her. With the light, they turned to dust but these made other vampires nearby come running at her. Keya worried because she didn't know how long she could maintain the light. She had thought her trick would work but hadn't thought long-term.

Vampires, in black coats and red neckerchiefs, like sophisticated men from clothing magazines appeared in the alleyway about one hundred yards away. She thought it was like magic but then she noticed that they were jumping down from out of the windows of the buildings on either side of the alleway. Could she send the light away from her? No. That would be a mistake. They could get at her that way. She maintained the light for a few seconds more before she felt like she would be drained by it.

The light around her began to dim and this made the vampires farthest away smile and howl like angry werewolves. Their fangs were pointy nails that could fly away from their hands. She saw them fly toward her but since they were made of vampire, they turned to ash before they hit her. Yet, as the light faded, her attackers didn't grow weaker but stronger. Their numbers were past the dozens in the alleyway. Behind her, none remained but ahead of her was a swarm of vampires, hundreds even.

Then, as the light went away from her and her knees began to weaken, Keya saw above her a woman in an all-green outfit, green tiara, dress and flat-top shoes fly into view. She was sixteen feet above her but Keya saw her clearly, flying up there. It was the old Teresa.

Teresa's voice ripped through the sky, "OPTIMUS -SHARRRFIRE!"

Of a sudden a rip in the earth happened, like when a void is created but it was coming out of Teresa's hands. The rip was blue and red and swirling in circles and it shot out of Teresa's hand, a heavy eight-foot boulder of red and blue and ran over multiple vampries. From the other side of the alleyway, vampires began to turn to ash, as though something else was acting upon them other than the ball of fire the witch had created.

The swirling ball spun as it ran over vampires and stopped a few feet short from the last of them. Some of the vampries survived when they jumped out of the way or moved to the side but the swirl had taken most of them out, except at the end of the alleyway where none had been hit. Minutes later, she could see a sword flashing. It was Mark! She saw him kick-jump off a wall and do a back flip as he avoided a vampire fang and returned with an unavoidable slash to the head. Then two other vampires went down as Mark spun his sword over his head and with his other hand he brought out yet another sword. Where was he getting them from? The strange glint of silver glinted in the darkness, as vampires died in its wake. Mark was taking vampires down so fast that if Keya blinked, she would have missed it. He was closer to them now, as the last of the vampires fell brutally to his sword. One vampire grabbed Mark's arm and slammed him against the wall but Mark got up so quick, it was as though, he hadn't even been hit. He took out one of the vampires legs, slashing in an arc while on the floor and then his head came off and the vampire turned to ashes.

Teresa flew closer to a few of them and waved her hands at a them. They simply ceased to exist.

Keya remained on the floor, the light she had emitted was gone now. The vampires were gone, it seemed. Keya didn't see them anymore.

Mark came closer to Keya, "Well," he said, "We lived."

Teresa flew at his side, "It's her again. Should I send her away?"

Mark shrugged, "You trying to rip my heart out of my chest, right? Twice, my sister comes back and you want to send her away both times? No. I can't handle it, Terry."

Teresa sighed, "Well, if she's going to stay here, she's got to be more careful. And a little bit on the up and up on how things work around here."

Then, a thought struck Keya, one that brought her hope for the world. First, she needed proof, though. Keya smiled so broadly at knowing that they would let her stay that she made them stumble. It wasn't an evil smile, she hoped. It was definitely a smile of a triumphant break-through. Yes. She was definitely glad she had left the library but now, it wasn't because of Billy.

When Billy woke up, he found that he was being lifted off the floor by the poppies. Then, he got up and the poppies scattered away, as though they were alive or something. Billy walked for a second on a grassy area with poppies growing at either side of him. When he had arrived at this world, there had been nothing but poppies. Who had created a grassy road for him? Did they know he was here? Well, Billy thought, at least it's not vampires.

As he walked, he saw a world with trees at twelve-foot intervals on paths of poppies, growing from the ground to about fifty feet in the air with heavy branches and green barks. The poppies dominated the area, though, escalating four feet of the ground in any direction, except along the path they had created for him. The path swiveled in an S shape downhill but it zig-zagged so much that Billy couldn't really figure its direction. In any case, he followed the path because it wasn't dark and the sky looked full of sun with no stars around anywhere. Billy couldn't leave now. He was stuck here.

Every once in a while he decided to look over his shoulder, thinking he might catch those people from the council trying to capture him, again. Yet, they didn't come. He walked and walked in a serene form of silence, the only noises were coming from the poppies themselves like thousands of tiny little whispers. It was like hearing roaches rattle underneath the floorboards. He really didn't hear what they were uttering, if it was true that they were alive at all. Well, Billy thought, someone had to be alive...someone who made a path for him to follow.

As the path wound, he came upon one of the big green trees and was instantly under shade. It came up on him so fast that he blinked in response. The shade even seemed to dim the light even more, forming a semi-darkness that Billy only guessed was a trick of the tree itself. Then, he looked down and the poppies filled in the path. He lost view of it, anyway, now clouded by a foggy army of white poppies. From within the four-feet host of poppies came a leaf, green and it broke off from the rest of the poppies slowly.

Billy hesitated to reach out for it, not wanting to harm the poppies any more than he needed to.

Suddenly, from the leaf a voice rang out. "Wonder of science, gents, it's a traveler!"
The voice sounded amplified as though through a speaker. Billy blinked and saw that he was not surrounded by poppies but rather smallish fire-flies with white tails. They had faces but he couldn't make them out. They were tiny.

"Calm, calm, I say," the voice uttered.

"Sorry," Billy said, "I didn't mean to--did I say anything to upset you?"

"You didn't hear the cheering? No matter. No-no, boy, not you. These ruffians here, all rowdy from the local brew. Immortals and such like to have a bit of the old rum to forget the whole business. Of course, not audible to you, since you' of the legendary humans and such."

"Where am I?" Billy asked, crossing his arms at the sound of "legend" and his people. Billy wasn't much of a legend and neither were half the people he'd met so far, except maybe Simon but you put a pretty girl in front of him and he wasn't that much of one either.

"Oh, the great one honors us with a question!"
This was then met with silence. "Silence, you farble-gasted maribels! Sorry, your legendary-ness, I forget myself."

Billy frowned down at the leaf. He saw it moving but it was hard to make out the speck of dust on it speaking to him through a magical microphone of some sort. It resounded throughout the earth. "It's okay," Billy said, "So where is this now?"

"Norwagia, South East, at your service, your legen--?"

"Just call me Billy."

"No, no, I mean, that is to say, Mr. Billy, sir, that's not an appropriate title for the one, the greatest of all, the merciless rebounder and savior of all the worlds..."
"Billy is fine," Billy said, growing impatient.

The leaf-man was still going, "Ruler of Three Earts, Realm-owner, the cross-treader of wounded earths, Sewer of--?"

"Can't we just say etcetera etcetera and get it over with!"
And in a sheepish voice the magical microphone boomed, "etcetera, ectera Dimensional King, er, etcetera--now Billy, I guess."

"Norwagia?" Billy asked, "That's the planet's name?"

"Settle down, ruffians, I missed the question again..gosh blernit! Sorry, your honorable--?"

"Dont' start," Billy said, "Nevermind my last question. Why are you calling me all that, what do you know about me?"

"We are the Nordit people and we know all because we never die. Stop cheering, I'm explaining it all now, don't you buggarts have any respect? Sorry, your-Billy--we got a hold of a moon rock in the upteenth million years ago your time and since then we have awaited the return of the greatest traveler of all...Markus Edicius Pierslious...but then, he, um, he...."

"Mark was here?" Billy asked, "Well, that guy is just mean."

"He called us little maggots and had his witch turn our village to ashes."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear--?"

"No, no! Stop cheering, silly flim-flams! Anyway, Mr-eminan-Billy, The great Markus revived us, you see. We are not like the greatest legends of all, Billy and Mark, we are dependent on fires and other frivolities now henceforth forbidden from mention because of Alice the Lusty (as if under his breath) well, you know there's that one friend you got you can't take them to the dance because they drink all the punch and start dancing with other people's boyfriends and all that junk, (clears his throat) but the book of prophecy also claimed that a second man would visit us here on the so and so century--you know with all the gambling and drinking and other, let's just say other for mercy's sake--we don't even know what century we're on. Simon knew but then he wanted to go to--?"

"Can you simplify it?" Billy asked, "I have to go when it gets dark."

"Our apologies our glorified--what, what's that?--you want me to tell him about traveling? He's the greatest legend of all time and you want me to tell him--oh, for creeps sake, yes, you tell him then, here take the thing."

Billy hadn't noticed it before but there was more than one firefly on the leaf. It seemed now like the leaf was growing with them. Then, he noticed what it was. At first, he thought the leaf had been floating up and down in front of him of its own accord but then he noticed it was being lifted up by multiple fireflies, maybe a hundred but it looked like the flies were disorientated, other activities indeed.

"Um, hello?" This was now a ladies voice or a voice much less involved with itself.

"Hello, my name is Billy," Billy said.

"I am Roberta. And I came to explain some things. Shhh. You said I could. Anyway, the moon orb that Dr. Ingot was trying to explain about shows us everything that happens in other dimensions but not like you think. We, the Nordits, can only see things in the future, not you per say, but when we look really hard, there it is just the future. We don't see the now of it. It has resulted in some.... rather early marriages. Shh. It's not indecent if you explain it the right way, Jeenus. Anyway, then we saw you, just as you are now, asking us questions probably that you think we understand but we don't. How come you don't know us, ey? That's my question but then everyone shushed me, saying you were the greatest this and that. Anyways, I was thinking that maybe you don't see things in the future--don't all look at me like that, as if I stole his girl-- yea I'm looking at you Carlos--so maybe some things needed to be explained about traveling and such."

"Well," Billy said, "You're right. About most of it. I don't see things in the future and I don't know about you, I mean the Nordits but I it's not like I was trying to hide from you or something. I just been busy doing some things."

"Now, some people are volenteering answers on this side on account of what you said, giving you direct hints about your future. Keya's name comes up a lot but don't you worry about it, Billy-sir-the-legend or whatever," Roberta said, "Don't listen to them, all that jeebirish that you might not make it when you face true evil, jeez, it was your first turn at it, I'd'a have failed too, okay. Don't you worry yourself over it at all."

Now Billy looked down at her with a frown. Another thing to worry about and the girl had tried to keep him away from it or sounded that way. It all sounded like she was being directly sarcastic, ignoring her own advice about not telling him about his future.

"I got money on you," Roberta said, "And if I lose, its ten days with Graham. Graham is okay but, ugh, so tired of Graham when I could be with Ted."

"This is starting to sound a touch indecent and above my age restriction," Billy said, tentantively.

"Oh," Roberta said, "Sorry. We lose our manners sometimes, us Nordits, did you just pinch me, fool? I told you I'm talking here! Now, git. I'll explain it from here forewith, the prophecy book said so. Besides look, he knows what I'm saying better'n'what you were babbling to and fro, all this mess with the forbidden things and such. Anyway, traveling. Look, there's this book. The greatest of all Markus--er, Mark gave it to you before you left your earth. They want me to tell you where the coordinates are. Whatever, they're in your old pants. James wrote them down and slipped the paper in your pants pocket before you left the council the first time. There, I told him, now quit pulling on my skirt. The green book has coordinates of all the places you should visit before you can become the greatest ever. I mean, we all thought you knew that but since you can't see the future, well let's just say you've been downgraded a lot around here. We'll have to delibare really on what to name you now. It's going to be like weeks and weeks of drinking and messing around with roses and messying about in the mud in tiaras and togas. They don't even want to call you legend now. Semi-legend. Oh, someone said pre-legend, I like that. We'll get back to you."

"Wait, wait," Billy said, "You're saying that the pants inside this backpack I've been carrying around all day has the coordinates to my exact home?"

"Yea," Ramona said, "Jeez, you people who can't see the future get so iffy around us. I'm going to downgrade you to warrior at best."

"Tell me how to use them," Billy said, "I mean, because I'm not exactly sure on how to travel to certain coordinates. The numbers don't show up for me."

Now the other person on the microphone took a deep breath, "That's it! Someone take the mike before I bite him! Oh, now you want a piece of him, too? He doesn't even know how to travel right--!?"

Then, the sound of a clearing throat came on the microphone, "Sorry, sorry, um, your eminance, we're still unsure what to call you, sorry. Billy's not going to work, we're pretty big on names around here. For example, our leader is called Big Henry Who Sleeps With Threes In One Night at The Temple of Sins. It's not a dirty name. He sleeps surrounded by trees. There was some key errors in the writing of his name and it just kind-of stuck, an on-going joke, sort-of like when you just now revealed that you can't read coordinates. That'll go well in the pub for a few weeks, you see. In any case, to use the coordinates of the paper, you just need to look away from the light because the light catches on your eyes, see, then if you look away, the digits become clear, even to experts. I told him, now settle down, flingings!"

"But--?" Then Billy paused because the darkness came upon them. It was so sudden that Billy blinked twice.

"Oh...yea, it gets dark here in instants. You might as well go. Nordits don't really bite people but they get really drunk at night and if anything, they might try to get friendly with the wrong way."

Billy smiled, thinking this world was, if anything, very odd and quite humorous. He would definitely have to bring someone with him next time. Billy opened the gateway in front of them, making them scatter. They certainly were careful, if not rowdy. He took the paper from the pocket where they had said it was and sure enough, he found a piece of paper in his old dirty and blood-stained pants. On it were coordinates X3321 X2311 Y2221 O 2131 check mark 0. It definitely had complicated coordinates but he saw the letters then, when he looked away from the light. All of them. It was just a X, O and a checkmark but the council had very confused notions about what it meant to be a traveler. It looked like zero denoted a letter that wasn't used to travel to Billy's dimension. In this case, he didn't need the checkmark. He thought of the numbers and they appeared on the off-light chart. It was like a black bar right next to the bright light all marked with red letters on the inside. It was small enough to be missed by the naked eye but Billy saw it just fine. Then, he stepped through the void and it closed. As he left, the voice said, "Good riddance. What a big fat traveler."

"Just walk," Mark said, looking up at the sky, hopefully.

Keya was fascinated with the girl, Teresa, in her fancy green dress floating above them. "That's pretty neat," she said. "I mean, the flying thing."
"Yes," Mark said, "Whenever the vampires spot us because of her obvious flying, I think it's pretty neat, too."

"Whatever," Teresa said, now landing on the floor beside Mark.

They walked toward a well in the middle of downtown, Los Angeles. Cars here and there had swerved onto a building or been left stranded. Some were burned and others looked to have landed through the buildings themselves. The deeper Keya went into this world, the more frightening it became to her.

"They don't get too close to here," Mark said. "But you need to be more careful, missy. What are you doing traveling like some crazy person, anyway?"

"It's my book," Keya said, "I'm not really a traveler."

Mark and Tersa exchanged a look of either concern or worry. Then, Mark shrugged, "Stranger things have happened."

"To us," Teresa said, holding onto Mark's hand.

Then, Keya realized that Mark and Teresa might be involved with each other. "What about Wendy, Mark?" Keya asked.

"Who is Wendy?" Teresa asked, looking at Mark's face with some concern.

Again, Mark shrugged, "No idea. The girl must've met a different me."

Keya certainly had met a different Mark. Blasted it all, she'd let herself be fooled by traveling. This wasn't her friend Mark; it was another Mark, who in this world had gotten involved with Teresa, a witch. Keya figured that Mark would certainly be an interesting person no matter what dimension he was in but she never imagined him not being in love with Wendy.

Keya also noticed Mark's obviously more youthful features. His cheeks were more full of life and round and he had those blue eyes that the other Mark had said he had, though, in her world, the in-a-comma Mark had brown eyes. His hair was black, which was a thing that Keya herself would never have guessed. Of course, she couldn't really see how it was combed, since he still wore that ugly brown hat. She couldn't escape that stupid thing, not even in this dimension? She wished she could grab it and dump it on the floor, except maybe that Mark would pick it up with her shoe print and put it back on his head.

"Nevermind Wendy," Keya said, "I've been here, twice and twice you saved my life, how did you know I was here?"

"Well," Mark said, "That has to do with her."

Teresa waved a hand at her. Her now red fiery hair made Keya remember the golden-haired version of her. How alike and different they were! This one wore earrings at least, which made her that much more human to Keya. "I can track humans," she said, shrugging, "It's a talent."

"What does that mean?"

"Radar for real people," Mark said, "She sees it all in her head like a big map, you could say. Then, we just teleport to you. It's something that witches can do but travelers have some trouble with."

"How did you make sunlight appear when the shades opened last time?" Keya asked, thinking she'd been captured at night.

"It's a trick of the eyes, missy," Mark said, "We got into a bit of trouble with the vampires back in the day because they could trick the eye into thinking it was surrounded by darkness. In your case, enough time had passed, that you missed the daylight coming right upon you. Lucky, by the way. If their boss had come, we would have had more trouble getting you out of that hell-hole. Never had I fought so hard to escape a death-trap in my life."
"You just teleported me," Keya said.

"True," Teresa said, now leaning against the well, "But we weren't alone right after that. Many more came, all asking after the healer. I think they may have even let us go, despite me burning up everything in sight."

"Why?" Keya asked, curious.

"Because of you, missy," Mark said, poiting a finger at her, "They really want to convert you into a vampire, so you can heal them."

Suddenly, the howl of wolves startled all three of them. Mark nodded at Teresa.

"Hold still, missy," Mark said to her, "Teleporting long distance is a tricky business."

A bright blue light surrounded all three of them and Keya noticed that Teresa's hands were glowing green. In an instant, Keya's whole world spun in circles. The feeling of it made her almost instantly sick to her stomach. She dropped to her knees and squirmed. Mark walked up to her. "It's over now."

It took Keya a few seconds to adjust her vision. Everything looked blurry. When she her eyes came back to normal, the feeling in her stomach settled down and she felt normal again. She saw Teresa going off to some room. They were in a cafeteria with tables all around them and it was daylight or at least plenty of it was coming in through the windows. Mark smiled down at her but had to look back to do so. She was on the floor of the cafeteria while he sat with his back to her, eating a sandwich of some sort. "We get sloppy-joe day here," Mark said.

A round woman in an early fifty's dress with an apron draped over it approached her. She helped her up. "Don't mind them. As soon as they get here, they want to be pampered like five-year-olds. Where did they save you from, now? Oh, a book, you brought a book with you deary? What are you some sort of scholar now, really Mark, where did you dig this pretty little thing from?"

"Oh," Mark said, mouth half full of sloppy joe, part of it stained orange from the meat, "You know, the abyss of time and space, at Deadman's alley."

"Oh, fancy talk from Mr. I-need-a-napkin."

Now that Keya's sight had come back, she could see drapes over the windows. All around the place, it was covered with curtains or drapes but sunlight still streamed through. It was a huge place, big enough to fit at least two-thousand people but there were only a scatter-set of five benches and various chairs all grouped together in the middle. Farther along the auditorium-like cafeteria she saw hallways and doors along the walls. Then, she spotted a basketball court, now fallen sideways on the floorboards. It was an old stadium.

"Yea," Mark said, looking down at her, "The great stadium where basketball greats played, now the seats are gone. Teresa used magic to move them. They're outside blocking the entrance, you know, to keep the bad guys out. Up there, where it used to be domelike and huge, we built another room or set of rooms, whatever you want to call it. Used a bit of magic for that too but once that place up there was built, we could look down on the vampires and viciously shoot them down with guns. They don't get anywhere near this place, although their numbers, according to Teresa, are expanding. Apparently, some of the travelers are dumping their thrash in our earth."

"Whatever is your name?" asked the woman in the apron as she took a seat next to Mark, who was hoarding over a tray full of those sloppy joes.

"I'm Keya," Keya said, "And I came here to ask your help."

"Came here?" Mark asked, smiling, "Don't you mean, stumbled upon?"

"Well, yes. I meant at first," Keya said, "But I really need your help."

"You want Teresa to magic you back to your world because its too late for that. You know, she can only reverse magic after a set time or something. I don't get too involved with it but I do know some of the rules."

"He doesn't want you to leave, deary," the lady said, with a sigh. She took one of the sandwiches on the tray and picked at it.

"No," Keya said, "I don't want to leave. I mean, not yet."

"Not yet?" Mark asked, mouthful of meat, "You staying for good, I would think."

"My book," Keya said, lifting up the book, "It can take me back. All I have to do is write the coordinates--?"

"Perfectly out of pens," Mark said, quickly.

The lady procured a pen from her apron. "Here you are."

"I don't need to go home right now," Keya said, smiling at Mark's trick. She took the pen and put it under her sweaters sleeve. She had worn a green sweater for this occasion. "I'll just keep it for later, thank you miss--?"

"Adrian Rosales," Adrian said, extending her hand. Keya hesitated to take it, since it was completely orange.

The woman took her hand back. "Right," Adrian said, "So what's the deal then?"

"I think," Keya said, "That I was fated to be here."

"Oh, great," Mark said, "Fate. Don't talk to me about that. Millions of people out there dead and here we are, six or seven survivors, 'fated' to live, some would say. Cursed, I would think."

"They have one of them alive," Keya said, "The vampires."

"Say who?" Mark asked, dropping his sandwich in surprise. "Look, we would have...?"

"No," Keya said, "Because he's, I don't know, different than others."


"Is there a place where you see them a lot, where its the most dangerous to be, are they guarding some place that is extremely dangerous?"

"You're saying," Mark said, smiling, "That there's a me and you...that the vampires are holding captive under my very eyes that Teresa can't detect on her radar?"

"I'm almost certain of it," Keya said, smiling at Mark. She took a seat next to him and grabbed one of the sandwiches. She bit into them, not realizing how hungry she had really been. She ate the thing almost too fast, licking her fingers afterward. "These are great!" Keya exclaimed, "What is in these?"

"Well," Adrian said, "It's not really as important as eating them is."

"Trust me," Mark said, "You don't want to know what's in these."

Still, she grabbed another one and ate it a little slower this time. She didn't want to look too eager.

They took a minute to eat in silence before Teresa came out of one the doors, now dressed in her nightclothes. She was wearing loose pants and fluffy clown-nosed slippers and a short-top shirt with a heart in the middle of it. Teresa eyed Keya for a minute because Keya had been licking her fingers eagerly at the time. "You had the meal of the day, I see. At least, someone's a fan of Adrian's cooking."

"Plenty of it left," Adrian said with a deep smile. She herself had eaten three of the sandwiches in the meantime.

"Its sleep time," Teresa said to Mark.

Keya wondered what that meant. Outside it looked like it was a nice sunny day.

"You don't go outside?"

"What part of city full of vampires didn't you get?"

"They come out in the light?" Keya asked.

"What are you saying?" Teresa asked the girl. "No, they--the blinds are a trick. It never gets light here anymore. The vampires have their own wizards and witches. And they invested quite some magic in making the earth a permanent dome of darkness."

"But it looks like sunlight!"

"That's a trick, like when you open that book. You don't really have the traveler's talent but the book does. We don't really have light but the trick does. In this case, a big man named Chris."

"A person is making the light?"

"Yea," Teresa said, "He keeps it up like a shield overnight or over day--we can't really tell. One of us had a watch but genius here lost it fighting the vampires like a week ago. He's up there," Teresa said, pointing at the lookout post that Mark had mentioned earlier.

Keya looked up and saw the wooden platform up there. It wasn't see through but it sure did have enough holes in it. She could barely decipher something that looked like a television screen.

"So is there a place that's all guarded or not?" Keya asked.

"What's she talking about?" Teresa asked.

"She keeps going on and on about some person that we can't detect."

"Oh," Teresa said, nodding. "I guess that could be right."

"Don't give the girl high-hopes, Teresa. She seems too eager to be at it. Who knows, she might even try and go by herself."

"That," Teresa said, "Was a mistake. And it happened a long time ago, mind you."

"What are they talking about?" Keya asked Adrian pulling on her sleeve to one side. Whispering Adrian said to her, "Mark's little sister got killed by the vampires. He thinks that, in any case. We never got her body. Now, that's him, a defeated man but good as heck at slicing at them fellows that took her."

Keya nodded, remembering Mark's katana blade as it fenced off claws and cut down vampires neck-first.

"Well," Keya said, "I'm not looking to get you guys in any trouble. And if you don't tell me about the place, then I'll just go looking for it myself."

"You know we won't let you do that," Teresa said, giving her a mean stare.

"One way or another. I can wait until you're asleep. This is too important."

"Who do you think the vampires have in custody, girl?" Mark asked, looking confused and hurt.

Keya was sad that she had to play the part of little sister but she had to save Mark. This could be her only chance.

"Tell the girl, then," Adrian said, "You brought her here to tell her certain things. She might as well know everything."

Mark sighed. "Now that you've spilled it and told her that there's an everything to talk about. That kind of talks gives girls like her ideas, you know."

"She's not your sister, Mark," Teresa said.

"She might as well be," Mark said, turning his back to Teresa. It started to dawn on Keya that in this dimension Mark was in some kind of relationship with Teresa.

Suddenly, it was a little darker in the room and a six-foot tall black man dressed nothing but large army trousers came into the auditorium from one of the doors.

"What's all the rucus?" He asked. "Well, I'll be, it's the girl! Where did you find--this isn't her.. or is it? You been getting a tan over there with the vampires, girl?"

"Hi," Keya said, smiling shyly.

"It's not her," Teresa said, "She's a traveler. Or, rather, she's got a book that does it for her."

"Fancy book," Chris said. "You guys have trouble on your outing?"

"Yes," Mark said, "But we found her anyway and she was...doing a nice trick. I don't know what it was but all I saw was vampires vanish."

"You didn't see the light?" Keya asked him, now amazed.

"Light?" Teresa asked. "Missy--?"

"My name is Keya."

"Well, Keya," Teresa said, "We came upon you and you had your eyes closed. Mark thought you were asleep. Then, vampires began to vanish. We thought you were sending them to another dimension or something but light--no. There wasn't a light."

"It's my talent," Keya said, "I guess you guys can't see it. I can make a light that only I can see, I guess, and it surrounds me. It kills vampires just fine. I guess they can't see it, either. No wonder they kept running into it!"
"A healer?" Chris asked. He came to a table and sat on it after grabbing two of the sandwiches from the nearly-empty tray. "Yet with a distinct other talent. Everyone sees the healing light."
Teresa had a hand on her chin and was looking at Keya with some interest. "We should tell her."

"Teresa!" Mark snapped, "Now look this is ridiculous, people! Tell her, tell her, that's all I hear around here. How about we do what we intended to do in the first place, like protect people by not telling them we're surrounded by vampires in this dome."

Chris and Teresa shared a look. "There's something to her story that rings true, Mark."


"I kept something from you..."

"You did? Wait...about my sister?" Mark asked. He looked distracted and hurt.

"There's a faint bleep on my radar, something human."

"You said there was nothing else!" Mark yelled at her.

Now the dome was silent with only the small sound of Chris taking a bite out of his sandwich.

"You can't blame me for that. We were surrounded by vampires and you wanted to stay and fight. We would have died and you know it! But you refused to leave, despite our odds. I had to do something. However, now that I find we can actually win this little war of yours...I think the truth is in order."

"Why didn't you tell me--did you just say you think we could win?"

Teresa nodded, smiling at Mark. "Oh, yes," Teresa said, "The girl's talent will definitely be of good use. But we need to teach her how to use it better. You willing to learn that much to save your friend?"

"What if it's my sister and not her friend?" Mark asked.

"It doesn't matter," Keya asked, "I'll still help. If there's an area that's well-protected by vampires, it must be that way for a reason."

"Okay, okay," Mark said, "But you have to learn all that we're going to teach you, even the hard parts. And I won't have you going outside alone, again....ever."
"I have my book," Keya said, "I'm never alone."

In the middle of the game of Kansas State versus Denver, a fat boy dropped in mid-court from a six foot height on the coach. The coach was in his usual black and white striped shirt and slick black pants with dress shoes while the boy wore black everything with a jacket that had embroidered on its back a white V. Through the leather jacket one could see him wearing a shirt with a white A painted down the middle. He fell on the coach, some say crushing him but the five-moot man with the white hair got up a series of minutes afterward and after a series of whistles and various "boos" from the audience for an obvious missed foul shot-call, some securities managed to get on the court to escort Billy toward a backroom. As Billy passed the angry audience of people, he brushed his leg on what he thought was the creator of Space Dreg, who was looking at him with a desperate awe, if not complete admiration from the expensive section of the game. Billy turned to look at him with a smile and, just for sport, winked at him.

Now Billy waited on a bench, while security guards made some rather disturbing calls across state lines to his home. Billy had no serious control of traveling. He had somehow ended up in Denver. And he had to get home quicker than this. If anything, just so he wouldn't be in so much trouble with his parents. He couldn't afford any more trouble.

He tried again, same coordinates but this time thinking of his home.

A hand grabbed him as he came out of the void. It was like the hand was expecting him yet Billy wasn't surprised to see who it was.

"About time," Mark said, sitting back down to enjoy his tea. "Do you know the trouble you caused for skipping town like that?"

"Trouble?" Billy asked. "I wouldn't be in any of this mess, if you had explained the whole traveling to me when I first asked. Instead, I had to find out about it from some drunken fairies and a very disagreeable set of people who are hunting me down dimension to dimension."

"You don't have to worry about the council. They're silly pages can't catch you here. They don't know about the fourth dimension."

"I thought they knew about every dimension," Billy said, now relaxing a little after knowing that he wasn't being followed by James and his lackeys.

Then, Francine came, hurrying down the last hallway. "Where have you been?" She snapped at him. "And where's Simon?"

"Oh, right, the skinny fellow that went with you."

"I left him at the council," Billy said.

"You did what?" Francine asked, adjusting her glasses. She looked really upset.

Billy's feet floated up in the air of their own accord and he felt a form of air close in around his throat.

"Francine," Mark said, "Let the boy down. I'm sure he has a perfectly reasonable explanation."

Billy eyed Francine with a new set of eyes. She was a witch! Well, he'd met people with talents in other worlds. It just surprised him to see that Francine was one. She had been so quiet the whole time.

"Well," Billy said, after she freed him from the invisible neck ropes and a brief fit of coughing, "I, you see, had kidnapped Simon because he didn't want to leave and I told him it wasn't our dimension. So, finally, as we were leaving, part of the group was attacked by these things called nighthounds and Simon got bit by one. I didn't know what to do. After we left that dimension barely escaping with our lives, the council came after us but then I tricked them creating a dimension inside their prison, I like to call it shifting, and I don't think they know the trick but you can do neat things with it. Like move a dimension into another dimension, I'll take credit for that, if there's credit to be taken. So, then, after escaping them and not being held in a prison of their choice forever and ever, I went back to their science ward and dropped Simon off there with some white-coat man wearing gloves, who I think knew how to cure people from the problem, but it's not like I meant to leave him there. And then, I traveled by accident to this world full of poppies, except they were really things called Nordits, small flies with white backs, that wanted to tell me all sorts of things about the future but especially how to come back home, so now here I am."

Francine eyed him for a minute, as Billy was so scared because he was still a foot or two up in the air. She moved a hand down and Billy fell to the floor. He sighed in relief. "You may have saved Simon's life. That was really quick-thinking on your part. I wouldn't have pegged you as a quick-thinker, Billy."
"And he wasn't," Mark said, "That trick of yours, Billy, I invented that and it's not fair that you steal the name. It's called inter-teleportation, the council sanctioned the name after I invented it but they still gave me credit for it. Of course, the council then decided to keep it a secret from all other travelers in existence, for their own reasons. I'm glad you met those fellows with the drinking habits. I had a friend of mine burn their village down, once, such drunkards they are, talking nonsense all hours of the day. Not the important bits. Here are some key notes you should know that you may have missed. Francine would tell you but she's too busy eyeing your potential. I, on the other hand, would rather try and fix the mess I made in your absence and be done with you people. I need to die in peace now. I've done all I can for the stability of the world. Here is the gist of it.

"Let me explain first about traveling through dimensions. Pay attention, this is your one and only lesson that you'll get from me. If you are the promised one, who is doomed or destined to save the universe from an untimely destruction, then you should know this about the grid, that's the separate chart in which the coordinates are numbered. The others don't see the grid but you should or you would not have been able to inter-dimensional travel on these council jerks. I'm glad you figured it out. At least, that shows that you have some potential or talent in the field of traveling. It's not really my concern, since I, myself, can only travel in my sleep. Have Keya explain those bits to you when you see her. The grid will show you, if your talent awakens to its full extent, a map of the universe, I don't know how to explain it because I've never been the one, never going to be, too old and too tired to go roaming around dimensions fixing things, plus, not my fault, I didn't break them, etcetera, etcetera.

"Something will break in your persona that will make you change, Billy. I don't know what that is either. But I can tell you this, once you have acquired the talent to see the universe--to picture the map in the grid--you will be able to travel to any place in any dimension` that you so wish without even opening voids. If you think of it, you'll be there. This can cause some confusion, since you're thinking all the time but it doesn't work in that aspect. Let's just say you'll be able to travel anywhere you want, if you so wish it. Traveling does not take away your free will, it gives it to you.

"Another point on traveling, just so you don't mess up and end up in Denver again, tsk, tsk by the way. Rule number one of travelers is to be focused. You could've ended up on the inside of a volcano or in the middle of an ocean and then be in a bit more trouble, master traveler or not. The trick is not only to get the coordinates right or to think of a place that you want to be in. When you reach out to those stars, you're reaching out for something, Billy, something that should be out of our reach. For anything like those stars to come within our grasp, we must look within ourselves for the talent, like when you look within who you are to try and travel. If it happens that your talent activates on its own, it's because the inner part of you is trying to warn you like that you're in danger. You have to trust that your talent will take you where you need to be but that doesn't necessarily always put you where you want to be. In order to achieve a desired location, in any dimension, it is important to focus on something symbolic about the place where you want to be in. Now, to focus on a sport, that will get you in trouble any time. You don't want to end up in the middle of some Nascar race, now do you?"
Billy smiled at the joke, now realizing why he had ended up at the Kansas-Denver game. He had been thinking of Space Dreg and the creator of it had been sitting front row of that game. "How did I end up in the library then?"

"That was easy," Francine said, now more relaxed than before although she was still frowning down at Billy who was with his back to the wall sitting next to Mark, "Once the ghost traveler here detected you had come back, I used my magic to limit your traveling and he did a trick to pull you out of the void before you ended up some place nasty."

"You guys could do that?"

"Only on certain occasions," Mark said, smiling, "Although I taught her how to do it."

Francine rolled her eyes and began to walk away, "Here we go. Come see me before you leave, dear."

"Leave?" Billy asked, "I just got here, why would I leave?"
"There's also a bit of another matter that we must discuss. We do believe that you are talented in traveling, Billy," Mark said, "And that it might be your destiny to save us from this mess. The books coming out of that room, well they've began to pile upwards. I think the messy business with the universe coming to an end may be soon approaching us. It's kind of like the storms approaching and we must do something about it before the end and we decided, not on a whim, but because you're our only hope--you know that deal, right, it's in every movie ever made. Of course, we also decided to let you choose if you wanted to be our only hope."

"Oh," Billy said, "In that case, I vote no. You know what, I'm tired. I'm hungry. I'm heartbroken by what I've seen in one world and the next and I think my best friend is now a werewolf. My life is disastrous enough without adding another disaster on top of it."

"But the universe is about to end," Mark said.

"Not soon enough," Billy said, angrily, "Do I look like glue? Am I the band-aid you're going to use to heal the universe's deep-gash wound? No. Thank you. I've seen what the universe is like. And I want no part of it."

"Keya went ahead," Mark said, off-handedly.

"Ahead where?" Billy asked, curiously. "You mean she's outside or something?"

"No," Mark said, "I mean, she traveled away to some unknown dimension."

"Of course," Billy said. "Why wouldn't she, right? Everything else has gone wrong."

"Are you saying you like the girl?" Mark asked, bringing his tea cup to his lips.

Billy stood up, "Keya made her own choice," he said but then looked back at Mark as he walked toward Francine, "Just let me get the stupid book and I'll go look for her."

Mark smiled. "I'm not saying it's going to be easy to find her."

"Easy? Since when was any part of this easy?"
"Correct," Mark said, "But it might have been easier if I hadn't been a jerk to you from the start. For that, I truly apologize, my dear boy."

Billy left Mark, now more upset than when he'd left him the first time. What was Keya thinking, chasing after him like that? Was she crazy? She probably hadn't heard of the dangers of traveling through dimensions. Billy doubted that was true what with all the time she spent around Mark, who was almost too proud of the things he'd taken credit for inventing when he was a traveler.

As he was nearing Francine's counter, Billy recognized an unsettling organization to the place. "Is this my earth?" Billy asked her.

"Don't be funny," Francine said, "It doesn't suit you. I put the books away, since they're piling up right in the back of my library regardless. I magicked them into a different existence."

"Yea," Billy said, "About that, why was it you kept that from me?"

"You would have worked for a witch?"
Billy thought about it and said sincerely, "Maybe."
"Right," Francine said, "I needed a less concerned answer than that. You need not worry, boy. I didn't create the void, that was the work of many years of selfishness by evil people in need of a good lesson or two. As Mark probably explained to you, we're hoping you're the one that could teach them such a lesson."

"You wanted me to wait for a reason?" Billy asked, impatiently. Billy realized that he was very worried about Keya. He'd only seen the girl once or twice but it wasn't her fault that she'd been put into this world or was it? Still, his concern for her was unsettling. He certainly hadn't thought about Meryl that way. In fact, Billy hadn't thought about Meryl at all.

"Such anger," Francine said, "Tsk, tsk. Talk to the girl first. I won't have her coming here all hours of the night looking for you, giving me a freight."
Billy noticed with a sudden regret that Meryl had her nose to the door as she stared inside the library.

"She can't see me?"

"It's a trick of magic," Francine said, "The doors aren't really tinted."

Billy went straight out of the library, now that the piles of books were not creating an unnecessary maze.

Then, as inappropriate as everything else was, Billy stepped out into a semi-darkness. The sky was fiery red with the distinct haze of purplish night at its horizon. He looked at the stunned Meryl, who was not dressed as usual. In a skin-tight red dress and black slippers, wearing make-up, she stood there, staring at him. He looked her up and down, noticing that her dress cut almost at her knees. "You're okay!" Meryl said, giving him a big hug.

Billy enjoyed it for a second trying to cling to the memory of her as his girlfriend but he needed to move on. Things had changed, almost too much.

Billy separated her form him but for a moment his hands stayed too long on her waist. He shook his head. "Perhaps," Billy said, "We should talk."

"I'm sorry, Billy," Meryl pleaded, taking him by the hand.

Billy took his hand back, looking at her directly in the eyes. "No, no," Billy said, "Don't get all mad about it, Meryl. Don't--none of it is your fault, really. I mean, I just can't be with you anymore. I wish I could say you betraying me had nothing to do with it but...a large part of it has to do with Cal and the other part...well, let's just say, you are better off."

"I'm not better off, Billy. I like you and only you. Cal means nothing to me; he's just another bully!"

"Well," Billy said, "I don't think that's very fair. I played right into Cal's hands, playing the same games as him but there's no more time for games and I haven't got time for this...whatever we had. It's over. Maybe, it was meant not to work. I been on vacation, Meryl and, during my trip, I learned that I could fix a lot of things but, matters of the heart, well, those are things that can't be fixed."

"It's her, isn't it? You're in love with that Latin girl!"
Billy frowned, staring at the now teary-eyed Meryl, whose make up ran partly down the side of her nose. He did her the favor of clearing it but said, "Oh, Meryl, no. No other girl, no other love. I don't know how I feel about Keya but I do know how I feel about you and I feel bad that it has to end."

"But it doesn't have to end!"

Billy looked at her, as if his eyes could make her understand. And, as he left her there crying, to go back inside the library Billy muttered to himself, "In the words of an unfortunate friend of mine 'fair is fair.'"

Thinking about Simon put Billy ill-at-ease, now saddened even more by the girl on her knees outside of the library with her hands on her face. "No time," Francine said looking at him. Because there was no books to block her sight, he was obvious to her. "You don't have time to worry about her."

"Or anybody, it seems," Billy said. "What did you want to say to me, Francine?"

"Shush, boy," Francine said, "Just take this book and go rescue my would-be daughter."

A green book floated on its way to Billy in clean sight. Billy was not shocked at all. Francine being a witch was just another piece of the puzzle that he had to solve. Billy looked at the green book again. He had a good hold of it now and wouldn't think to let it go again. He still wore the backpack on his shoulders, too, so he took it off and put it in there in a hurry.

"You're not traveling?" Francine asked him.

"Not dark yet," Billy said, "Plus, there's one more thing I have to ask Mark."

"I thought you were done with him."

"I thought so too," Billy said, sighing, "But there's just one thing that keeps bothering me about what he said to me. It has nothing to do with you or Keya."
"No one mentioned Keya," Francine said, "Except the part of saving her. None of this nonsense where you try and kiss my daughter, Billy."
Billy blushed but then gave her a reassuring smile. "Keya and me? Like that could happen. She's so not interested in all."

"Well," Francine said, "Not that I care to tell you but you should know that she skipped off to another dimension chasing after you. What irrational behavior and I know just who put the thought in her head."

"I don't know much about Keya," Billy said, "Except that when I touched her my bruises from the book catching felt different somehow."

"You touched her!"

"She was leading me around by the hand, relax. Don't get all fly-me-around the room for fun. Besides, the question and my quest have nothing to do with Keya. If I happen to save her, good but, if not, then so be it."

Billy decided on a whim that Keya should be Francine's problem but only decided this because of the consequences of thinking of Keya. Billy couldn't handle not being focused on traveling at the moment but first his talk with Mark part two.

Keya saw a big red statue in the upper floor of the Convention center now turned vampire hunter headquarters. Here, a set of digital cameras followed her every move and screens above her head showed her walking into the room but then the images dissolved showing various city streets and buildings and dark corners in alleyways, all seeming to live at night with vampires going to and from a building. At the back, was a control room with three people sitting in front of a huge twelve-foot by twelve-foot screen on spinning wheel chairs. They wore black headbands that almost resembled ear phones, except they didn't have the speakers. When they entered the room, Mark nodded at them, as the cameras followed him around as well. These were so small and hidden that Keya only saw them because there was just so many of them. It was a surprise that the vampires hadn't found them around the city and destroyed them. Then, Keya asked the question of Teresa who was now standing beside her.

"It's a trick," Teresa said, "Of luck. You see, most of these vampires here were dumped by travelers from other dimensions into our dimension, so these vampires are not aware of the cameras and those that seem to be aware of them don't know what they do or just plain ignore them. The original vampires of this city were wiped out a long time ago during the vampire wars, when the army and city watch got involved in the fighting. Me and Mark were about your age at the time and his sister was still...well, it was a different time."

Mark sighed. "It's okay," Mark said, "I'm used to the story now. I wish that I could tell you, you were the first one we told it, too but not so long ago we met another traveler, that's how we know they exist. His name was Arthur Lacroise, kind-of headstrong and always boasting about his knowledge of superior things. He extracted from us a book that we had found in the midst of a building during one of our planned raids. Back when we had a team, before we lost most of them because of travelers dumping more and more vampires here, we would constantly go on raids, which are like planned events that proposed mostly the death of multiple vampires. It was something that took a lot of time and effort to plan and took only a few minutes of fighting to complete. That's how they went, before we encountered mass attacks from all sides which destroyed our group at the heart. We're mostly still together, but we lost Tuny, Ruben, Wren, Spike, my sister--you, I guess but the white version--Leroy--that was my best friend, by the way--Ruby--his girl--and another girl, whose name I refuse to acknowledge."

"She betrayed us to the vampires," Teresa whispered in her ear.

"Now the seven of us, me, Teresa, Chris, Adriane, Nester, Lupe, Jim and Brenda are all that's left. A pathetic few of us, if you ask me."

"Do they have talents like you do?" Keya asked them, as they reached the controls.

Two men in black uniforms like those worn for rock-climbing got up from their seats and saluted Mark. The other was a woman in a brown silk skirt and brown dress jacket with the buttons all the way up and a white undershirt but she remained seated. The girl had long black hair to her waist at least and bright blue eyes as if they were made of marble. Keya couldn't keep from looking at her.

"Oh, sir, there's a girl at your back. She seems to have fallen into the trick."

Teresa stepped in front of Keya. "Don't look at her directly in the eyes," Teresa said, "Brenda has a let's say special talent. As for Jim and Lupe, well, they're just technical mechanics. I guess they're good for pushing around and such."

The one that Teresa had motioned to as being named Jim was talking to Mark on the side, while Teresa sat in his vacant chair and looked up on the screen as she typed something on the main control system. This was a panel that stretched outward from the wall and had growing green or red buttons in lines covering the entire length of the screen. "These are the different cameras," Teresa said, "From here, we can see the training room."

She pushed a button and up on the screen, they saw a room with mirrors on either side of the walls and three blue seven-foot mats laying on the floor. The floor was shiny and wooden.

"Good," Teresa said, "It's empty. Before we go, I'll have to show you something neat," Teresa said with a smile.

"Bring up the zone, Brenda, will you?"
"Really, miss? To bring up the zone at this time might compromise our plans for future--?"

"Yea, yea," Teresa said, "But let the girl see what we're up against. Maybe, she'll change her mind about going there."

The room in the screen dissolved to a scene of horror. In the screen was a pointy-ended sixty-or-more-story black building with all the windows cracked or cut in parts. A wall surrounded it and it was made of stone and it was twelve-feet tall. Yet, still Keya could see the front of the building, a path made of blue marble with guards, it looked like. These were men wearing red capes and black suits. They had blue ribbons tied at their wrists and were holding rusty halberds. A file of them lined the path of toward the building on either side. They held those halberds close to them and were like statues. Keya even thought they were not real until she saw one of them move.

A bat approached the stone walls. Something flickered in the air like fire and the bat was suddenly singed into nothing, ashes of its flesh falling on the stones at the top of the wall.

The horrible part was not this, though. It was that the broken windows formed the face of pure evil. In the middle of the building was a face with upturned fangs closed. The smiling figure had dark, soul-less eyes, making the rooms in the top floors look like blackened dungeons which seemed to disappear to the naked eye, as if that part of the building was gone.

Flying around the building were large gray gargoyles. These loomed close to the cameras, as if they knew they were there but decided not to bother them. What was worse, on the right side of the building was a pile of what looked like old bones, all brown and dirtied sitting on what was a makeshift lawn with a wishing well on the side. On the left, dogs, vicious-looking with yellow glowing eyes were lined up in rows, too but these growled at each other and from time to time broke out into a brawl among themselves yet there seemed to be no one wanting to stop them or needing to. The wolves enjoyed their sport, it seemed.

Teresa sighed, "Think, girl. This is going to be the easy part of it."

"What do you mean?"

"There's the part of this area that you're not seeing. But let me show you this. You see the dark eyes where nothing is visible? The building is accessible to us through the air but those gargoyles can shoot blue fire from their hands. They will burn our flesh in a second. Not true of the ones with the halberds. They are just there for show. We'll dispatch them easily and Mark, of course, knows this. Here's the thing, though, your girl or our girl or whomever is trapped inside one of those eyes. The vampires aren't stupid. It would behoove us to respect this. My radar can barely detect a living thing here," Teresa said, pointing at a place not on the face. It was higher at the top of the building, near the tip.


"Ah, good. You're paying attention. The eye is like a transport point, one will lead us probably to a dungeon and then perhaps to our death. The other will take us to the prisoner and perhaps to our death. As you can see, our options are limited but we'll be well-trained and prepared for their tricks. Should something go wrong, there's an emergency plan but know this--Mark is not good with emergencies. Last time we used our emergency plan, half of Los Angeles ended up buried inside itself engulfed in a eighty-mile chasm created by our so-called emergency plan. This half, at least, we can maybe sort-of live in, if we succeed and we, have to or we all die. Basically, little girl, I'm telling you before we start that we're going for it all. You're either in it to win it or you're out completely and we continue living as we do."

At this the men at the control panels groaned as though it were a terrible thing to stay alive.

"I'm still in," Keya said, "And I don't appreciate you trying to talk me out of it."

Teresa breathed in heavily, "Okay," She said, "Okay. I didn't want to do this but let's go, then. Brenda activate the training session."

"Yes, ma'm," Brenda said.

"Don't panic, little girl."

"Keya," Keya said.

Teresa shook her head, "Until you pass these tests you're a little girl, got that?"
Keya nodded but her fists were in a bunch.

"Good, now like I said, don't panic. I'm going to magic us to the room."

Keya blinked and missed the whole thing. Suddenly, Teresa and her were in front of a jungle area with trees on either side.

Teresa sighed. "So, it begins. Good luck, little girl."

"You're not coming, are you?" Keya asked Teresa.

"Always like little girls, asking to be led by the hand. You expect me to feed you, too?"

Keya stormed away from Teresa into what looked like the entrance to a maze. So this was her first test, to find the other side.

"You're going to be late," Mark said to him as Billy approached from a different side of the library.

"Not worried so much," Billy said. "If that girl made it without me before, then she could do it again."

"No one mentioned Keya," Mark said.

"It's good to focus on one thing at a time," Billy said. "Or else you end up worrying about multiple dimensions in your head and things get all mixed up. Then, if you're all confused, who is there to save the universe?"

"Well, if it's you, then no one really," Mark said, smiling at him. Billy noticed that Mark could make a blue tie on an all-white suit he was wearing turn different colors. It was pink now. "Why are you back?" Mark asked.

"Funny," Billy said, "That you should ask that. I noticed something earlier, when you pulled me through. I mean, I suspected you were a traveler like me but then when you pulled me, it felt as if the air was pulling at me."
"You came to ask me about my coma-state?"

"Why you appear in the library, I don't question the why of it, Mark. It's a mystery between you and Keya, something she might or might not tell me if I find her. As you said, I don't have the time for explanations. One thing, though, I do have the time for. And here it is, then. When you pulled me out, your hand felt like the pull of dimensions. My question is, do you know about the pull, have you ever felt it?"

"Ye--I mean," Mark stuttered, putting his plate down, "You really are the one, aren't you?"

Billy smiled at Mark with a knowing suspicion. "You're sending me out to solve your problem but still you don't believe in me. I think you need to have a measure of respect for those who are to carry out your plans, don't you?"

"I-that is to say--I'm not apologizing again. Don't get mad about it. It's in the nature of us Piersleys never to apologize more than one time, has nothing to do with you being right or wrong. It gets in the way of progress."

"Speaking of," Billy said, "I'm going to rescue you. Can you make a pen appear or something, like from another dimension."

Billy had the book in his back pack but now he took it out and turned to the last few pages. They were blank, as he expected.

"Rescue me?" Mark said, "How are you to manage that? You're not even trained to travel yet, boy!"

"But I know your coordinates, now magic me up a pen before I forget them."

"You can read my coordinates without opening the portal?"
Billy blinked. He didn't really see Mark's coordinates. What he saw was the black board on Mark's forehead and the red-lettered sequence of letters and numbers flashing across it. Billy motioned across his own forehead. "Right there," he said, "But on you like fancy Vegas neon lights. Scared me at first when Francine picked me off the ground but I wanted to avoid the questions. You know, she can be scary when it comes to certain things. Plus, I think she may have thought I had gone crazy."

"Why wouldn't I think that myself?" Mark asked, crossing his arms.

"You're a traveler," Billy said, "I figured it happened to travelers."

"Certain ones," Mark said with a sigh. "There's a pen on the book. You have to turn the pages slowly."
Billy did as instructed, turning the pages back. A white pen marked only with a black V in the center rolled into view. Billy was surprised to see this happen. "Not magic, not traveling but still curious," Billy said.

"It's all magic," Mark said, "But traveling, at least, we could have avoided."

Billy looked at the V a little closer. "I think I may have run into something of your doing. The Vampire Academy."

"Never mind them or the vampires or me. Here's what you need to know. I shouldn't have spoken so much about other things, anyway. The fake pull you felt was because of my coma state. I'm in a coma in another dimension being fed innocent people by vampires to keep me alive, while in my mind I have traveled to this dimension in an attempt to keep stability. You see, when the council started to travel everywhere, they poked holes in the universe of traveling, causing the universe to unravel slowly. What I had first wanted to do by traveling here was try and put those holes together. In part, the reason why the books started popping out right here is because I was trying to centralize the location of where travelers were junking their knowledge, instead of creating big holes, only one hole was created, thus providing a form of stabilization. In essence, if I'm not here, the void shouldn't be either but lately I haven't been able to keep it open. My powers outside of my body are now being drained and soon enough I will be nothing but a memory in this dimension."

"Unless I save you," Billy said, without the smallest hint of worry.

"Or, rather, die trying," Mark said, "Why don't you start off on a simpler quest? Go rescue your girlfriend."
"As much as that would be...preferable," Billy said, shaking his head at the thought of Keya in trouble, "It's not something that I would do. As a player of the famous game, Space Dreg, I am bound by rules of honor." Billy held up the book, "Our teachers come first."

"Great," Mark said, "But you won't be able to save her dead, that's all I'm saying."

"The fairies don't believe in me either, those little punks," Billy said, "But I won't be deterred by their negativity either. Do you have any advise for me before I go save you?"

Billy had already written down Mark's coordinates and was putting the book back in his back pack.

"Page twenty-three!" Mark said quickly.

"Um, there's a dimension there with a red asterisk. Yes, the council can trace you to it but they...won't go after you. When you get there, you'll run across nothing but grass but then, the inhabitants will come. Maybe, you'll get more out of them than I did."

"Like with the Nordits?"

"No," Mark said, "I mean, I hope not."

Billy waved his hand up and down and a portal appeared. "Oops," he said, smiling at Mark, "Wow, I can open it without reaching for the stars now, is that a new trick?"

"It's called direct traveling, now quit trying to steal my tricks and go," Mark said, smiling briefly at Billy.

Billy saw the look on his face. In the end, Mark may not have wanted to give Billy permission to go save him but that didn't mean he didn't want to be saved. Billy saw that in Mark's eyes as he stepped into the portal.

In the next instant, it was windy. Keya had to run to keep herself warm in the forest. The trees were at least ten feet above her head and the road was an-inch deep with yellow leaves. They whipped in the air making circles as Keya ran through them, one hand in front of her. They felt like soft butterflies hitting her skin but Keya was just glad they weren't cold because the wind was making her feel uneasy. The road then zig-zagged, bringing her to a place where nothing but tall blue bushes grew to a height of about twelve feet. They were too thick to see through but the path narrowed through them. The path was barely the size of three people before. Now, Keya almost brushed up on the sides of the bushes. Luckily, there was enough room to run without being scratched-up by the pointy blue leaves sticking out of them.

Then, from the corner of her eye, behind her was the sound of paws on dirt. Whatever was behind her wasn't slow-moving and it definitely wasn't about to stop chasing her now. Keya ran again after having stopped briefly to catch her breath. This was worse than when she'd first arrived outside of her earth. At least, she knew, if those men had caught her, she would have been kept alive. Here, she thought she may be at the mercy of hungry wolves or wild dogs.

The sky above her was all purple, so it was definitely some predatory animal that hunted only when it got dark or in the evening.

Oil appeared beneath her feet like magic. Keya was running fast and coming up on the edge of the turn. She needed to slow down or she would slide into the wall of thorny leaves. She turned, instead, her shoulder hitting the bush full-force. She broke through it tumbling downhill. Ahead of her was an inexplicable scenery. She saw mountains along the edges of the world looking like mirages, as they shimmered red and brown in the distance blinking on and off like broken static. In her stumbling state, she managed to get a full view of where she was exactly. Here was a place that was a hill on all sides but like a football stadium with all the seats acting like hills. She was on one of these hills tumbling in circles downward while at the bottom was a pool full to the brim with a brown goo that she rather not find out what it is.

As she slammed down on her elbow, she finally came to a halt right before the oozing pool.

Keya breathed in hard and squirmed loudly. "Aww! awww!" The initial pain came to her at once. The strange burning at her elbow, then the feel of a pinch at her sides. It brought a tear to her eyes without her noticing it.

After a few moments of breathing in and out hard, she got up from her place before the pool and began a small trek back up the hill. She had obviously been forced off-track and needed to get back to the maze. Keya figured it was all just a program and that she would need to get used to the dangers of it, when she tried the next time, although the scratches that those pointy leaves left on her shoulder were anything but fake. One of the leaves had drawn a fancy squiggly line from her forearm to her wrist with its pointed end. When Keya looked at it, bleeding slightly, she thought she might have a scar from it, not that the pain of it was making it any less significant.

She went up the hill but therein she found a problem. It was dark and there was the distant sounds of hungry growling. Right. She was being followed. She decided to skip the maze and go straight across the football field to the other side of the maze, where the edges of the other hills introduced pathways to those shady mountains.

Those mountains must be there for a reason, she thought.

She ran around the brown gooey pool, looking back only to measure the distance of her pursuers. It was so dark she could only make out glowing blue eyes two hundred yards behind. Ahead of her was a climb upward toward the entrance of the maze again or she thought that's what it was, since more blue bushes blocked her view. She was scratched along her arm and yet she still needed to push aside the bushes up on the hill to get through them while her entourage was closing in on her. She decided to head full-force again, slamming against the bushes with her other shoulder. She pushed through them onto another set of bushes on the other side but here was a path at least. It wound in an L-shape ahead of her with bushes on either side. At the end of the road where it turned, she saw paws on the floor. Fudge. More wolves.

Suddenly, the whole thing was gone and she was in an empty basketball court. Teresa, in blue jeans and a white T-shirt, stormed into the place with sneakers on. "What the heck was that, little girl?"
"Well," Keya said, dazed from what had just happened, "There were wolves behind me, too."

"Hmm," Teresa said, "I think that you're missing the point. You don't need to see what's behind you. You need to focus on what's ahead, the future, that's what's going to hit you next. The past is the past."
"Were those wolves real?"

"You mean could they bite you?" Teresa asked her, "Because they bit me pretty good the first time. You preferred to run around and get scratched up by bushes."
Then came Mark in a brown coat and his ugly brown hat with tears at the edges. He was sporting a bulletproof vest underneath and blue jeans with a sword belt around the waist. Keya could see two swords at his sides. The one on the right was slightly longer in length than the other. "You did good," Mark said, "Considering that most people just stand there frozen by fear their first time."

"It wasn't fear," Teresa complained, "The thing had glue on the ground before."
"Your oil didn't help," Mark said, frowning, "Girl could have gotten seriously hurt."

"She looks just fine to me," Teresa said, her eyes dancing around Keya's face. Was she jealous or angry? Keya couldn't tell.

Keya looked at her hand and winced. "It didn't look this bad before," Keya said.

Mark took her hand and looked at the scratches. "It's your healing ability," he said, "Good for others, bad for you. The more you use your magic, the greater it affects your own health. It's primarily the reason why I don't want to take you to that evil place."

"But I must go," Keya said, "No matter what."

Mark frowned at her, "Yes," Mark said, "To save your friend, or whomever is trapped there, as we suspect."

"My plan will work," Teresa said with a smile, "You just gotta stop being a wimp, little girl."

Mark eyed Teresa for a second. "We need to talk," he said, grabbing Teresa by the hand. They left to consort in another area of the basketball court, while Keya sorted out through her things, trying to find something to put over her wounds. They had given her a first-aid kit to take along with her but Teresa had thrown it around in some corner of the place.

Keya decided to search for it. She could really use a band-aid or three.

In the next instant, she heard some yelling, "She's my little sister and I won't allow you to hurt her this way! And stop calling her that. She's got a name!"
"IF you don't like the way I train her, then you do it!"

Mark stormed off, shaking his head.

Teresa walked over to Keya who had found the first aid kit and was trying hard to open the box. Teresa kicked it out of Keya's hands. "You ready for part two, little girl or should I magic you up a dimension hole?"

Keya got up, now almost as mad as Mark. "Just do the trick," Keya said, "I'm ready."

Billy took Mark's suggestion as something of a joke. He wanted Billy to travel to a dimension where the people from the council could see him. And now Billy understood why they could see him. The council was limited to third-dimensional traveling, traveling using three coordinates, while Billy had the ability to read and to travel to all six. It was just a matter of adding an X or an O or a checkmark to the already registered coordinates. In this respect, there could be an infinite number of earths, as there most certainly were an infinite number of numbers. What restricted traveling was the fact that coordinates tended to be in the early thousands and would not go higher or lower than 2,350. It meant that there were 2,350 possibilities to the sixth power and then to the sixth of that power and it could variably include many other earths but Billy hadn't seen coordinates with numbers higher than 2,350. He had looked enough at Mark's book waiting for something to happen in this new earth, that he had made some mental notes about dimensions and the numbers they represented. His own dimension he memorized, so that Billy only had to think about it to go back there and, as to the extent of traveling there accurately, well, Billy had figured that out as well. Mark was right; it was just a matter of focusing on the correct object or the appropriate need, while focusing on Space Dreg might have disastrous effects. Billy decided to add some stuff on the blank pages for any future travelers. His first sentence of wisdom read, "When traveling home, remember to focus on what is needed. Avoid objects of fancy."

He had landed on a landscape of yellow. The grass was withered from the Fall, it looked like. Yet the hill where he was, was slightly slanted downwards at a ten degree angle, so that the climb out of the field of grass wasn't very tricky. He found a tree there, beside what looked like a bike path and decided to rest with his back to it. He was reading the book now, making notes about dimensions on the last blank pages.

One thing he wrote surprised him. "Ensure not to travel for selfish reasons." Well, Billy thought, he certainly hadn't followed that rule. If anything, he had traveled for very selfish reasons, to escape his own bullies, to free himself of others, to save his friends. All these might seem heroic, but they were his own problems and he had decided to use a means of escape, instead of facing them. This was a thought that was passing through his mind, when he saw a tiger and a lion walking calmly side by side.

Billy got up, looking at the animals strangely. Well, he thought, Mark did say they would come for him. "Reo," said the lion, which Billy had to blink at since he had never seen a lion speak, "You have to understand what the buffalo wants. Big Mike is being stubborn. Now, Racy, he'll be part of the food chain no doubt."

"But Mr. Martin," said the tiger, "We're trying to conduct friendly business with those fellows now. What is it they truly want?"

"Food," said the lion, "Isn't that what we all want?"

They laughed and stopped right in front of Billy.

Billy was tempted to run but said, "Um, Hello," instead.

"Another one?" Mr. Martin asked, "Well, I haven't got time for you, son. Go on. Go on."

"It's not dark yet," Billy said, looking up at the sky.

"Clearly," said the tiger, moving its head to the side, "Sir, I think, the boy is confused."

"Hm," said the lion, "Since when are the hunters the hunted? Boy, don't just dwindle there, leave, go on, shoo."

"It's the talent, you see," Billy explained, "It only works at night."

"Oh, sir, but he is daft. He thinks he can only hunt at night. Only vermin hunt at night."

"And the smart ones," the lion said, now making another one of his jokes, "Sit, then, boy. We must teach you a lesson, I see. Then, you must go. We all have to hunt, after all."

"We do?"

"To live," the lion said in a serious tone, "You must hunt. To hunt, you must live."

"It's a metaphor," the tiger whispered at him.

"Well," the lion said, "Yea, you can't expect rabbits to hunt, now can you?"

They laughed.

Billy felt uncomfortable with their strange humor.

"Enough," the lion said, growling.

The tiger and lion became quiet.

"Watch closely," he said to Billy, "We only do things once here."

Then, the lion nodded at the tiger and the tiger took off running quickly down the hill toward the same place where Billy had landed. The tiger was a good three-hundred yards away.

The lion eyed Billy and Billy stood up to see them more carefully. The lion traveled. A blue light surrounded him and Billy could see that the lion was not controlling coordinates but inventing them. How was he doing that? The lion could manipulate the star chart to however he liked and he even drew a white line somehow between one tiny star and the next. He didn't need a black and red bar on the side telling him exact coordinates. The lion just knew where he was going by looking at the star-chart. In the next instant, he vanished. Then, Billy saw the tiger and in the next instant, the lion appeared growling and pounced on the tiger from three feet in the air. They fought for a second, growling and pawing at each other.

The tigers claws scratched the lion's face, tearing his beard away but then the lion cut at him with his own, leaving nasty scratches on the tiger's belly. Then, it was the tiger's turn. His glow was green and he could move the same way, creating his own star-chart, drawing the same white line between two stars and he vanished, just like that without portals. In the next instant, he appeared before Billy and the tiger said, "It's a neat trick, huh? Now, boy, you must leave or Mr. Martin will eat you. You passed the visual part, now to pass the active. Just don't think about it. In the meantime, I will try and keep him busy."

The tiger didn't seem to be kidding. He ran at the fields, where the lion awaited him. The lion would try and draw his coordinates but the tiger would be there with a paw to erase them or keep the lion from focusing too hard on traveling.

What was Billy supposed to do, sit there and wonder about how to see the stars during the day? He didn't. Billy ran as opposed to everything that had just been said to him. He had been told to find a way to travel during the day but Billy knew that wasn't really possible, even Mark never mentioned anything so ludicrous to him before. Maybe that was why Mark had sent him there in the first place, to learn something that other travelers couldn't. Billy tried to make sense of it as he ran along the bike path with yellow three-inch grass growing on either side of him. He was on the only path in the whole place, while everything around him was a blinding yellow and the sun was refusing to go down. How stubborn of the stupid sun to stay up there while Billy struggled with an intellectual problem involving traveling. If only he had stayed in the library to wait for Keya, he wouldn't be in this mess. Well, Billy knew that that was the last thing he would find himself doing. After all, what was he going to do in the library besides talk to Mark about traveling and get lifted into the air by Francine for not bringing her nephew home in one piece.

Billy missed Simon right then. He was good at analyzing situations like these, where he dug himself into a hole that he couldn't get out of. o

In a second the lion was right in front of him.

"So," the lion said, "You chose to fight. But why? This is not your world. You do not know the terrain and you choose to stay here. Go hunt, boy. It is in your nature to hunt as it is in mine, so let one or the other hunt or one or the other will fall here and let fate choose which one."

"How about, we flip a coin instead," Billy said, nervously, "Because as far as fate goes, she hasn't been that good to me lately."

"She's never good to any of us. Poor Reo. He was a good friend to me."

"You killed him?" Billy asked, shocked.

"No," the lion said, "There are no deaths here. In the mountains to the south of here a new cub will be born bearing his name and his features. He will be the same Reo that I knew in due time. It is a pity that he gave his life to save yours, as you so little value it."

"I value it plenty," Billy said, now stopped in front of the lion that was circling him, "It's just, I'm pretty certain that traveling during the day is impossible."

"You see with your eyes," the lion said, "When you should see with your heart."

Billy tried to reach out for the stars but nothing happened. He even winked his eyes as though the effort of it were part of his technique for traveling.

The lion laughed first, then growled.

"You do not see the true way," the lion said, "But this is not my concern. I shall attack you now. Prepare yourself, boy."

The claws of the lion were one-inch big and as wide as a pen's tip and black on his chest. They clawed through his clothes, as though they were dirt and dug into him. He felt a burning at his left breast as they continued to go down into his flesh but then....

he felt it, a strange sensation...

When the leaves of the fall cleared and the chocolate-covered strawberries on the ice-cream shop had gone out of style and summer came, Billy encountered Cal one last time before they separated for a while. In Billy's mind, he saw him, still wearing blue-jeans with a confident walk and smooth brown side-combed hair wearing a blue-button shirt with the sleeves cut like the cool kids used to wear.

The last time they had encountered each other, Billy had come out on top and people in the ice-cream shop now knew not to mess with Billy, although Billy hadn't really wanted to be an outsider. He yearned to be in the company of someone that wasn't absolutely afraid of him.

It was the past, Billy's mind thought. Not the present. In the present, he had a friend, one like the one he had searched for all along. His name was Simon. But Billy had let go of Simon. He searched his mind and he couldn't find a reason why. Why had he left Simon? Billy's memory of Cal, as he walked into the ice-cream shop, toward him was returning.

Why was it fading in and out?

Cal came up to him, now holding onto a card. Was it a letter from Meryl? Billy hadn't been introduced to Meryl yet. She was Karyn's friend and Billy knew only that Karyn went to his school, not the measure of her friends. Karyn was somewhat afraid of him at the time.

Cal handed him the card. It wasn't from Meryl. Now, Billy remembered the horror of it. He remembered why it hadn't gone so well and how he had lost the respect of the girl he liked.

Cal handed him the card.

Dear Billy,

Quit staring at me in class. You give the creeps!

Please stop, Karyn.

With a smile, the sneaky Cal had handed Billy the letter, almost threw it at him as Billy was buying a cup of ice-cream. It landed in his cup and Billy read it off hand on his own booth. He crumpled it up in one hand.

Being one to confront situations head-on at the time, Billy had waited for Karyn to come out of class that day and stopped her along a hallway with lockers on either side. The sun shone through the hallways giving them a translucent brown glow and the feel of a place that was unrealistic, as though it were a dream. Billy asked, "You gave me a letter saying not to stare at you in class but I don't. If at all, I glance at you after class."

"I didn't send you a letter. Who do you think you are, anyway, like I care if you look at me or not. Is that the way you come on to girls by insulting them?" Then, she slapped him and walked off.

Another trick, Billy thought. This time, there wasn't a revenge plot like in his earlier days. He had to let this one go his mind went back to answering the question: why did he let Simon go?

Because he needed to. Simon was hurt. Why could he see the light now, during the day, he had a green glow about him, which is what made his glow unique above the regular travelers. He couldn't bring up the star-chart before because the lion was right. He couldn't see the truth. It was like when Cal had handed him a false card. He had seen the lies written on the card and not the truth behind them.

He traveled, instantly, without needing to open a portal.

He didn't bring up a map like the lion and tiger had but he traveled, to just behind the lion and dropped on him.

The lion laughed. "Go in for the kill, boy."

"I can't," Billy said, "Kill you."

The lion got off of him. "Maybe not today but, for now, you know the ways of the hunt. And you take with you, a battle wound, which is more than can be said for Reo." Suddenly, Reo appeared beside Billy.

Billy took a step back, "Ohmygod!"

Reo laughed. "Don't panic. It's just a trick. You humans, always in such a hurry to feel something." Reo wasn't dead but he was limping and one of his paws looked broken.

"You didn't kill him!" Billy said.

"I lied to you and you lied to me. It's even," the lion said.

"I never lied to you," Billy claimed.

"You tried to claim that hunting during the day was not possible," the lion said, "And you yourself proved that to be a lie. Now get off of me. I'm not your pet."

Billy got off the lion, who straightened up and started walking along the bike path alongside the tiger. Billy followed them.

Billy looked at the lion with a measure of surprise. As it turned out, Billy had lied, if somewhat without wanting to, which is the definition of his life. Things often happened without him wanting them to, except for Keya. He had not expected Keya but had been surprised and happy by her presence, even if it was just for a brief time. He wondered if his pointless journey to save Mark would render any results.

Suddenly, the lion growled. "They come. Run, young one or become a victim of their tricks."

The lion and tiger vanished, traveling away like Billy had just learned to do.

At just that instant, at middle of the field where Billy had appeared, there opened up four portals. Great. He'd be stuck here until night. The boy with the red-hair now wearing a black T-shirt and clad in black leather jeans atop a flying motorbike with his lackeys in similar gear and James at the lead, wearing a cap to denote that he was in charge with a white star in the center of it appeared. The only thing that seemed different was that James was riding a red and black bike.

It wasn't a shock to see them. Billy just held onto his chest where the lion's claws had pierced him. They burned like red ant bites but he had to deal with it for now and, at least, he wasn't bleeding. They were like small craters on his chest.

James extended a hand toward him.

This time, Billy felt a different sort of sting. He had an aura stolen from him, as if they were taking a part of him, then it came back to him...but it was locked. Absently, Billy knew that they had taken his talent for traveling and somehow put it on hold. Did they know he could travel during the day? Probably not. He had to keep that secret to himself because then it might lead to them destroying the fabric of the universe further. Billy didn't want to trust Mark but from what he'd seen himself, the council weren't exactly promoters of order or good will. He waved to James, as though nothing had happened.

James blinked. "What are you doing here Billy?"

Then, the red-haired boy drove up beside him and kicked Billy in the stomach, taking the wind out of him. Billy fell on his knees.

"He's obviously lost, sir," said the red-haired boy with a smirk on his face, "Thinks he's clever traveling out of the jail like that, as if we wouldn't notice."

James frowned at the red-haired boy. "Patience, Fred. We haven't got permission from the council for corporal punishment yet."

Fred said, "Permission for him? He escaped. He forfeited his rights when he did that."

"For now," James said, "We need to know where he traveled from and why we couldn't track him, so no more hitting."

Fred crossed his arms and flew his motorbike close to his lackeys'.

"Billy, could you please tell us, what you're doing here?"

Billy was a bit disorientated from the unexpected kick to the stomach but he got up slowly and said, "Uh, well, there was this witch and she was mad, so I left, then there was a lion and a tiger and they weren't that upset but then they were like let's hunt the human and I was like oh, no, what to do but then--?"

"What is he saying?" Fred asked James.

"I've seen this before," James said, "It's called psycho-traveling neurosis, a brain disease caused by too much traveling. My guess is the boy has traveled to one-too-many earths trying to escape us. Look at him, he looks beat up, and with that backpack on him, well, it's perfectly reasonable that he'd snap and go crazy. Your kick might be what did it."

Fred frowned. "Great. Now I don't even get to kick him. These crazies have more protections that regular prisoners."
James smiled at him, "Come, let's find a place to camp. It'll be dark soon, then we can travel him to the council's jail. He won't so easily travel out of there, I guarantee that, although I doubt he's in any shape to go anywhere."

"You blocked him, right?"

"Yes," James said, "But he didn't even feel it. The boy just waved at me."

"He really is crazy," one of Fred's lackeys said.

Then, Fred picked Billy up from the ground and shoved him on the back of his bike and they flew into the air in search of shelter. Billy smiled, as he held onto the mean boy's waist. He was the one with the fake letter now.

Keya felt her hands burn up as she climbed a rope. Teresa had told her to wear uncomfortable and sticky tights under her shorts but she just couldn't get used to them. She had always been in a dress, from the day she learned how to walk. Well, Keya had no need for tights, in those days. And purple, ugh. Was Teresa aiming to kill her? She wore a vest, too, underneath a black t-shirt. Teresa said that it would help camouflage her in the main castle that Keya had been shown not two days before, when she had re-entered the maze. They seemed like distant memories compared to the real training. This was a room like the open basketball court in which they still ate sloppy-joes at different intervals of their training. Keya couldn’t even keep track of time now; there was so much going on.

Two days ago, she’d gotten lost in the maze twice and had dumped herself in that brown gooey pool at least six times. After that, Teresa had insisted on her wearing something other than a dress because of the clean-up afterward. She just couldn’t keep her original dress clean, even with magic. Teresa promised that she’d have it back at the end of the training.

Keya couldn’t even think, at that time. She had contemplated the maze for so long and the wolves were the least of her problems once she knew how to navigate the turns and learned to avoid the sudden appearance of oil on the ground. Teresa had made so many appear on her last run that Keya was sweating from jumping over them when she finally reached the finish line. As it turned out, the maze could be completed easier than she thought. She didn’t have to make it all the way to the mountains, just reach the end of the original maze without being side-tracked by the fear of being caught by those damn fake wolves. They were fake, true but they bit her twice. Keya guessed they were mechanical or something. Still, they left nasty bike marks on her leg, which Teresa cured with magic. Keya could do the same thing but only to others. Teresa explained that the healers magic worked only to heal others. This is why she could sustain the light within herself for only a short time. If Keya had the kind of power Teresa had, she explained, she could keep the light glowing for longer than just a few minutes.

Teresa had showed her, in her spare time, when Keya wasn’t climbing ropes or running the stupid maze, which Keya knew by heart now, six lefts, a right, a right, bushes, bushes, jump the puddle, duck the suddenly appearing branch (it had dropped her on the floor twice, making her nose bleed the first time) and just sprint for the finish. Keya learned after a few of those tries that if she didn’t sprint or rather sprint faster near the finish line, then the wolves would catch her. Some still got to her but by then she was already across the line, where a basket of fake candy awaited her. Keya didn’t know if it was fake candy but it tasted fake or it tasted a lot like sloppy-joe meat. Keya had enjoyed the first day or two of them but now they were like a heartache to eat. Teresa said that was the only thing they’d eat around the place for a while, until they could get food from other places without being haunted by the vampires.

This was a world with so many vampires roaming the streets that it was commonplace to see brawls break out over dead bodies inside tombs. The vampires went tomb-shopping, opening dead peoples caskets and retrieving their dead bones and bodies. This was all visible through the cameras stationed all over the city in the main communications room upstairs. In it, Keya often felt safe from Teresa’s constant coaching.

She had climbed the top of the rope only twice today but it was a twenty-five foot climb. As it turned out, Teresa could use her magic to make the roof of the gym increase in height. Keya hated it. She hated sweating through her back. She hated climbing with one leg tied behind the other but that was the fastest way. She hated being targeted by Teresa’s lasers. At one point in her training, Keya stood on a large blue mat in front of a white wall. She was the target, basically. Teresa shot her with lasers that shocked her a little if they hit. They hurt like a punch to the face but Keya had gotten good at dodging them. Ducking at just the right time. Teresa could tell how good she was getting because every time the laser missed, it left a dark circular impression on the white wall behind Keya. After her laser training that day, the wall looked like a black splotch. Keya had even dodged three lasers at once. One laser came at her face and she ducked, the other at her waist but she moved aside and the third should have hit her dead center in the stomach but she back-flipped against the wall and it missed her. To which Teresa remarked, “Wow, you’re almost ready, little girl.”

The only fun thing about training was slingshot practice. It seemed that across dimensions, people and their other selves had at least one thing that connected them. Keya was an expert with a slingshot and Keya didn’t even know it. She could spin the thing between her fingers like it was a seven-inch baton without a rubber sling attached to it. The sling didn’t even get in her way. And she shot at every single target quickly. With Teresa’s magic, she stood in front of a black board. She was at least fifty feet away from it. Every so often Teresa would change its distance. It wasn’t really a black board or a wall, just an electrical mirage and the computer generated red dots that acted as Keya’s targets. On the side, in the corner of the black screen, was a small square that marked her score in blue numbers. Her last score had broken a record, according to Mark who had only just recently appeared to watch her practice. For some reason, Mark stayed away from her training with the maze and with almost every other thing, except the maze. He loved to watch Keya practice.

She put one hand over the other and made it all the way to the top of the gym. Then slid down the rope, holding onto it with one hand, as though it were just a simple thing that anyone could do. It didn’t burn her hand as she slid. The gloves that Teresa had made for Keya, some blue and white baseball player gloves, were made so that they gripped smoothly and didn’t hurt the hands but going up the rope was another problem. The gloves were still gloves, so the rope burned as she went up. Teresa was at the bottom of the rope in a blue sweater and blue pyjama-style shorts wearing pinks socks and slippers. Mark came up beside her, wearing a white T-shirt and blue shorts. He still wore that ugly brown hat for some reason, although it was still the most unappealing thing Keya had ever seen.

“She’s ready,” Mark said.

Keya stumbled down off the rope but only because she was so tired. She had really gone out of her way these past two days to train hard and be ready for whatever was coming.

“I’ll be the judge of that,” Teresa said, crossing her arms.

Keya remembered when Mark first told Teresa that she was ready. This was a day ago, when Keya had first held the slingshot in her hands. She had spun it so expertly when she first touched it that it surprised her.

Then, Teresa had turned on the computer screen and she explained that she had to shoot the red dots that appeared randomly. They were computer-generated dots, so they could come from anywhere and the best part was that they weren’t controlled by Teresa’s magic.

The first time she shot the slingshot, she had hit one of the red dots dead-center but the marbles were only about one inch smaller than the red dots. From fifty feet away, Keya started to pull back on the string faster and faster that day, almost to the point that she was sweating. The marbles were on a tray in front of her and running low but Teresa would make more appear with magic when she saw that the tray was getting low. Keya’s score that day had been six-hundred and seven out of one thousand. In the afternoon, after passing the maze three or four times, she had scored seven hundred. The next day, Teresa had moved the target to one-hundred yards away and Keya had still hit more than before, a whopping eight-hundred targets.

"C'mon," Mark said, "She's had enough. She isn't afraid of those wolves of yours and knows the maze by heart and she even learned how to avoid your tricks."

"That's just in case there's vampires that use magic," Teresa said, "It'll help her, so don't judge me."

"I'm not judging you," Mark said, "I just think you could have been nicer to her."

"Well," Teresa said, with a hint of sympathy in her eyes, "Nice won't help her live."

"You guys," Keya said, breathing in and out hard, as she lay on the floor tired, "I'm too hungry to train anymore today. I mean, I went to the maze at least six times."

"Six times, Teresa? Really?"

"Upon request, Mark."

"You asked her to take you through the maze six times?"

Keya was about to say something but she just lay on the floor, breathing hard. Teresa answered instead, "And to climb the rope four times and to let me shoot at her for the better part of an hour. Hmmf. She left my hand shaking and my pretty white wall can now be used as the background for a starry night. Not to mention her insane target practice with the computer. Thank god, I didn't have to be there for that. Chris at least has taught her to limber up quite well."

Apart from Teresa's training, Keya trained in stretching with Chris, who taught her a lot in three or four days, Keya couldn't really keep track of time what with all the running and shooting. Chris did teach her on a flat wooden beam that was inside the gym. It was a locker room turned weight room and Chris's huge muscular self had been bench-pressing two-hundred and fifty pounds when Keya walked into the gym shyly. Chris had smiled at her, which gave Keya confidence. At the time Keya had had a bunch of leaves in her hair from the maze and she was dirty everywhere from the cleaning up after falling the brown goo so often. Chris started teaching her slowly how limber up before doing anything. Chris stretched his hands up and she just copied him. They started with a few easy things, like touching her toes with her hands and putting her elbows up and doing regular exercise like jumping jacks. Then, it got harder, but Chris was a lot of help in showing her how to back flip. Yet, Keya had only ever back-flipped the one time. Not even in her training had Keya managed the trick, not without Chris's hands to help her get to the other side.

"She's had a long day," Mark said, "It looks like. And her own fault. I'd say you give her that last test of yours tomorrow."

"No," Keya said, getting up quickly. "No, no. I'll do it today."

"You must be sore as heck, little girl," Teresa said, "You sure you want to shoot your slingshot right now? It'll damn near kill you."

Keya laughed. "I didn't come here for the sloppy Joes."

Teresa and Mark shared a look. "Neither did we."
The three of them walked away from the rope which vanished and then the ceiling became its normal height of fifteen feet. After walking a few steps in the center of the basketball court, there appeared a bar-like center top and fifty feet away a black screened materialized itself. Then, a voice from overhead was heard. It was pretty Brenda's voice. "Run the regular scenario?"

"No," Teresa said, "Run the test."

"Really? You think she's ready?"
"She thinks she's ready," Teresa said, crossing her hands, "It's been her day all day today."

"I really think she should reconsider."

Keya was walking back and forth from the ends of the counter. On it were six trays of marbles. Chris came wearing a chef's white apron atop a green leather jacket and army-green pants and black boots. He gave her a white wooden slingshot with a sturdy sling. This was a different slingshot than the one before. Keya felt it in her hands. It felt like it was made of chalk, it was so smooth. "The Elephan'ts Horn," Chris said, "Reserved for his sister but you'll do nicely."
"She is my sister," Mark snapped at him.

Chris laughed and walked away.

After some arguing, the overhead voice said, "Are you ready?"

"Yea, yea," Keya said, pushing Teresa and Mark aside. "Give me some room."

Mark and Teresa took a few steps back. Keya waved at them to step further behind her. Then, Keya turned to look at Teresa and she spun the sling shot around in her hands a few times. It spun faster than the one before it, since it was less heavy and more sturdy. Even the sling had a bit of smoothened-hair attached to the back of it. It pulled with a crisp force that made the snap-back less, so that the person shooting it only had to worry about reloading.

"Wait," Keya said, "I want you to do something for me, Teresa."

"Little girl?"

"Well, first quit calling me that. I passed your little tests."
Teresa nodded at her with a smirk, which surprised Keya. She was really going to stop calling her that.

"Um..can you make the marbles float in the air as though they were suspended in time like in a straight line."

"That's cheating," said the overhead voice.

"I know that," Keya said, "I'm just asking if she could do it."

"Yes," Teresa said, "That's easy. A simple floating spell that I learned when I was a kid."

"Good. I want you to do that at the end of the test. I want to show you something."
Keya turned around and her eyes became focused. She had one hand free and her slingshot in the other held steady. The black screen showed two red dots. Keya's hands didn't move but the score on the board changed. Mark looked at Keya more closely. She had moved, that was true. She was now over the second tray of marbles and some of the marbles had fallen on the floor. Keya knew that she could move faster than the red dots because she could anticipate them. After a bit three red dots began to appear at the same time, and if they blinked off, Keya lost three points. Keya bet that all they saw was a slingshot wave across. Three marbles shot simultaneously out of the slingshot at unknown speeds and Keya got the points. Teresa had a hand on her chin and was trying to keep her eyebrows from showing surprise. Then, the dots began to appear one by one faster and faster, that's when Keya could be seen moving from one side of the table, picking up marbles faster than the screen could bring up red dots. She missed one or two here and there but where she'd missed marbles had flown there seconds later. It was a matter of timing, not that she hadn't had enough time to reload. Keya was starting to sweat after a while.

In one instant, she did something that Keya didn't know she could do. She picked up the slingshot and put six marbles in her hand, and made two of them go flying at the same target but as they flew, the marbles spun in circles. In another weird instance, she put the marble in the slingshot and bounced it off the table onto the target. She could bounce marbles onto targets, it was crazy. And in another she could move her feet in such a way that she cloud completely turn in a circle and send marble after marble toward the same target as she spun around. Then, she grabbed marbles and flicked them at the target with her left hand and they flew at the same speed, as though she'd put them in the slingshot. This part wasn't in her training and it was quite foolish to experiment with these new ways of shooting during her test but Keya was learning as she went and, she had to admit, she was having a lot of fun that day, winning at every event that she faced.

In the end, she had nine-hundred and fifty-five out of one-thousand, which proved to be the best passing grade that anyone had ever gotten.

"Don't stop the dots!" Keya yelled.

"What?" asked the overhead voice.

Keya nodded at Teresa.

Marbles began to float off the trays, forming a straight line. "Keep the dots going," Keya said.

"Okay," Brenda said.

Keya, then, did something that no one of them had ever done and Keya thought it made them believe that they could actually win this fight.

With the back end of the slingshot, Keya began to hit the marbles at the targets and they flew faster than when she'd used the slingshot. This wasn't a trick that Keya had learned just then. It was something that she had done by accident before but she didn't know she could do it with such accuracy until now. Before the straight line was formed, the marbles had vanished from the air and Keya thought only she had seen where they'd gone.

"Um, Keya," Teresa said, "You definitely showed me something. How exactly did you do that?"

"I think," Keya said, "I'm more than just a healer."

Mark said with both his eyebrows raised, "You're going to save my little sister. The irony. My sister saves my sister."

"Or you," Keya said, "You know, admittedly, I'm trying to save a Mark Piersley from another dimension."

"Now that," Teresa said, "Would have been good to know from the start. For now, you need some rest. Then, we prepare."

And with that, Keya's knees finally gave in and she dropped to the floor, exhausted.

In the back of his mind, Billy thought about Simon. He was really worried about his old friend and wondered if he'd ever see him again. To Billy's disappointment, he did see him again. As they traveled out of the weird dimension at dark, Billy noticed they were traveling into a dark jail cell. Inside this jail cell, was Simon but there was something odd about him. He had on a yellow shirt and yellow pants. They were humiliating him with very bad clothing. Billy frowned. They had taken his glasses away. They put Billy in a jail right next to his. Simon was sleeping, so Billy let him sleep. It wasn't time to wake him, anyway.

It was a small place that smelled faintly of burned paint but big enough that Billy could walk around in circles and pretend to be crazy.

Inside the jail cell Billy found a bunk bed and door. The room the door led to was a simple bathroom with a sink. Billy guessed that every jail cell in the place had one. Although the most dangerous people were kept here, as James had explained, they had, at least, been kept in a healthy condition. And, of course, they thought he was crazy. Why did James explain the bathroom thing to him if he thought he was crazy? Maybe, James still believed he was somewhat sane. No one slept at the top of the bed. The jail cell was basically empty, except for a barred window beside the bunk bed. It looked like the bars up there were glowing blue. Maybe, they were electrified bars. That was a fancy new trick Billy had never seen before, not that he'd been in many jails. His first, as a matter of fact but he was only fifteen. A life of traveling would probably have him visiting many jail cells.

They intended to take him to see the main head honcho of the council in the morning, so he could tell if Billy really was crazy. Billy felt insulted by that. Hadn't he proven it by spinning in circles for the better part of ten minutes? The Fred kid is the one that suggested the idea, to the disappoint of James, who had been happy to just leave Billy in the jail cell. Or, at least, James had complained about taking Billy to see The Him, as they called the guy. Billy thought it was The Hymn at first and had asked what kind of hymn the guy was which only contributed to James's theory about him being crazy, as he was now joking during a time when he should be serious.

In the end, James had to concede with Fred to take Billy to see The Him. At least the jail was moderately clean and no one had asked him to change out of his clothes. The black leather jacket of his buddies from the Vampire Academy held some good memories for him. The old Cal might have been a real jerk but his friend Cal had saved him from ravenous vampire-wolves. Billy couldn't just forget that kind of generosity. They had taken the backpack off him, though. No reasonably insane person should be allowed to carry a backpack after all, Billy thought. The problem was, he now had to get it back to read Mark's coordinates or the whole plan of saving Mark was out the window.

Then, Billy remembered that it wasn't really much of a plan. The better part of it was spent trying to figure out how to avoid fighting a lion by traveling during the day. This presented a big problem for Billy. He couldn't travel at night because of the block James had put on him but the block disappeared during the day, as though it were timed. This made sense to Billy, since it was possible to expend a lot of energy keeping a block like that on someone. Billy knew how traveling made someone feel. It was like taking a ride on a horse for the first time but it also drained you of something. Billy figured that was why James would get rid of the block during the day, although he also figured that it was because James didn't know that he could keep the block on him during the day. It was like traveling had been restricted at some point and no one had bothered to note why. Was it that simple? Did traveler's just forget like that?

Another of Billy's problems involved this whole mess with being the one to save the universe. It's true the Nordits had mentioned it and he very well would rather chew his own foot off than believe them but if it was true, then traveling during the day wasn't part of it. It wasn't because, Billy thought, other travelers could do it. They simply refused to remember how. Billy figured it had something to do with the council.

As he walked around the place, he noticed that he was extremely tired. He lay down on the flat bed. It had a cushion but it felt like it was full of straw because he felt prickly grass on his back. The burning sensation of the lion's wounds was doing a good job of diverting his attention from it. He tapped his chest a couple of times, then fell asleep.

He awoke but not by choice. A scolding hot thing hit him on the cheek. At first, he thought it was a serious threat but when he got up, he realized that he had been hit by something no bigger than a pea. Still, it scared him pretty good. He shook his head. Then, another one hit him on the other cheek. Someone was flicking the stupid things at him and they burned like nothing else. What the hell were those things? The burning was brief like the prick of a needle but it was annoying. He looked up and saw Simon staring down at him from the adjacent jail cell with his glasses off. He crossed his hands and dropped what seemed like a handful of the peas. They scattered across the floor echoing to the hallways.

"Welcome back," Simon said, "I hope you had a good time, Billy. Really. I did."

"I'm sorry," Billy said.

"Oh?" Simon said, now taking a step back from the jail cell. "Good. Because now seems like a good time to apologize. I mean, never mind six months ago, when you ditched me. That would have been out-of-hand, right?"
"You would have died," Billy said, "What could I do?"

"You could have come back for me or what, did you forget the number one rule of Space Dreg?"

"Wasn't it save your teachers?" Billy asked, now worried that he had the rules to his favorite game wrong.

"It's be true to your friends, Billy! But, good, you're back. Maybe, you could get us out of this mess."

Billy shrugged. "I guess. I mean, I could try."

"You can't get us out," Simon said, sinking down to the floor, sitting cross-legged, "It was a joke. Remember that? You made a good one when you left me. Something about fair. Was it fair when you went off adventuring while I was here being cured or whatever you thought was going to happen?"

"I really didn't know you'd end up in jail," Billy said, "Not one like this anyway."

"Oh," Simon said, "Not this. This isn't jail. This is where they put me after they put me in jail. Death row, I guess you could say. I mean, there's no escape. And, every so often, you see a jailed person leave. They never come back."

"What happened?" Billy asked.

"Well, about six months ago, the science department and the traveler's agency were getting along quite well. Then, most recently after they cured me or semi-cured me, I'll explain or you will see later, the science department made a discovery. They came up with the idea that traveling all around dimensions was creating gaping holes in what they were calling the Dimensionality-Universe Mapping System, even so much so that some dimensions had begun to merge with each other. The Travelers Department brought this information up to the council, them being the voice of the Science Department. The council decided to arrest us, because by this time, the science department had accepted me in their ranks. You made a good judgment leaving me with them, that's not why I'm so mad at you. Anyway, we were charged with treason and going against the wishes of the council by ignoring their laws of good order and justice. They arrested everyone sending people arrest orders with two or three travelers at their heels to make sure they didn’t escape. Most of the arrests were made quickly and without warning. As for reasons, well, basically, it was the same kind of political thrash we see in our earth but less clever and more coated in mystery. I have come to conclude that the council is very, very scared that what they’re doing is wrong, so just like scared little mice, instead of facing their problem, they’re choosing to hide from it, not realizing that someone’s setting up a trap for them right below their noses.”

“Who?” Billy asked.

“You,” Simon said, with a smile, “And you better be good at it. It’s true I’m so upset with you for leaving me here but it’s damn good to see you, Billy. So much time I spent looking at you, a tear in my eye, torn between hating you and fascinated with the idea of you saving us this morning.”

“Well,” Billy said, now smiling himself, “Not yet. I have to learn something important first. They’re taking me to meet The Him. Don’t worry, I’ll come back for you, no matter what happens.”

Billy went over to his friend. They hugged through the bars. “Glad you’re back, big guy,” Simon said. “You do this to me again, I’ll kick your ass.”

“I fear you might actually succeed in that,” Billy said, grabbing his chest. “You got a lion’s grip.”

Simon smiled. “Well, some things about me changed for the better.” Simon turned and the sun hit his eyes coming in through the bars. They shone golden for a brief moment. “Others didn’t,” he said with a sigh.

Next, down the hallway came James and Fred.

Billy and Simon parted ways quickly, not wanting the traveler’s to know they were acquainted, although James had seen both of them come to the world.

“Billy,” James said. “Oh, good, you’re awake. Come on, then. He will see you now.”

“Good,” Billy said, “So, how’s breakfast around here, anyway?”

As soon as Billy stepped out, Fred kicked him in the stomach, dropping him on his knees. Simon reacted by frowning and giving Fred a mean look. Billy thought he heard a distinct growl but it must have been his imagination.

“Eat the floor, fatboy,” Fred said, meanly. He kicked him and Billy fell on his side.

“That’s enough,” James said, “We want him conscious.”

After what seemed like forever on the ground, Billy's stomach began to growl from hunger, not from the pain of Fred's kick. They picked him up, hurriedly and walked with him at a fast pace. Ahead of Billy was a path with barely enough room to fit all three of them. On either side of the path were jail cells up to fifteen feet high. Fred and James stood on either side of him but it was obvious that James was leading. Billy felt his hand on his arm pulling a little more than Fred's, although Fred pinched him from time to time, all the while smiling down at Billy in an uncertain way.

Billy refused to talk to them. It was better that they still believe he was crazy. Billy didn't know much about being crazy, only that abnormal things happened to him from time to time. Still, he figured that crazy people only talked when it was the most surprising. After having been punched, it was true that Billy was upset but he didn't want to cut Fred in half with a dimension like he had done the wolves. Fred wasn't, after all, trying to kill him. Not yet, anyway. For the moment, Billy was being quiet and doing as they wished.

After five minutes of walking, they came upon a black door with chains. James knocked on it three times. The door changed to yellow and the chains fell off, vanishing to some other dimension. Billy didn't need to remember the door but he took a good look at the floor. It was brown and green and full of plastic leaves, which was odd. The inside of the jails were fairly clear of any leaves. Billy said, "Look at the pretty leaves."

Now that surprised his captors a little. "Just come on," James said, pulling him inside the door. It opened at his touch.

Once again, Billy was inside the odd courtroom. This time there wasn't any travelers on the benches. They were empty. The only people in the room seemed to be James, Fred and Billy.

James brought him up to the front. There was a podium now, like a judges seat but there was no judge. Billy looked up remembering the vastness of the room. In the walls themselves were squared openings where the council members sat on what looked like comfortable couches. These were like indentations on a wall that went so high up, it almost seemed like more people were in the council than there were travelers. Then, a square in the middle of the wall shot straight out quickly. It was fifteen feet above them, so the man inside it looked like a tiny dot. This did nothing to take away from the boom that was his voice.

"Hey dad," Fred said.

The Him's voice changed. "Oh, it's you. What is it, child? I have no time for your nonsense today."

"This fat boy claims to be the one. We found him in the empty dimension, walking about--?"

"To be truthful, sir, the boy seems to have gone insane," James interrupted
"SILENCE! Sorry, sorry, pushed the button by accident. Yea, yea, just get him out of here, will you? All this mess with the one traveler, why can't I just eat lunch in peace?"

"But dad, he disappeared from the grid for days! Where did he go?"

"Gone crazy," The Him said, "You know, that sort of thing happens with the crazy ones."

"He's so not crazy," Fred said, crossing his hands.

"James what do you have to say about this?"

"Well, sir," James said, "We chased him before and how he escaped the dimensional jails is a mystery but, as of recently, I've declared him insane. He even commented on the leaves on his way out here."

Then, Fred took out his wild card. From what seemed like nowhere appeared in his hands Billy's green book or as Billy liked to call it The Traveler's Guide. "He had this. It's full of dimensions with titles."

"Let me see that book!"
"It's nonsense," James said, "Sir, doesn't the council trust that I would have brought this book up to them first hand if it had actual viable coordinates? This book has nonsense, made-up coordinates like in fiction books."

"Made-up coordinates?" The Him asked.

Billy eyed the book with a form of satisfaction, a plan forming in his head.

The sunlight was bright here and Billy could easily travel. Sunlight streamed even from the highest of windows. It was probably so that they wouldn't see the face of The Him, not that they could see it clearly from the ground.

Fred patted Billy on the head with the book gently. "I think," Fred said, "That he may know something about traveling that we don't and that he's acting like he's crazy."

"He knows something we don't?" The Him asked, "No one--SILENCE--I MEAN NO ONE KNOWS MORE THAN THE HIM! TAKE HIM AWAY!"
"But dad--?" Fred asked, now lifting the book over Billy's head again.

This time Billy snatched it from his hands. Billy punched him, this time, wheeling around and ducking off James's grip. Fred got most of his fist on the stomach and fell to the floor.

The Him seemed to jump off his seat but it was too late, Billy was glowing green already.

In his head, Billy thought about the leaves. "So long, James," he said, "And thanks for all your help."

And, in the next instant, Billy vanished.

It was a long pathway, Billy saw. He ran toward Simon, not knowing if he could really travel with so little sunlight coming through the bars. They may even have to stand on the beds. How was he going to open the jail cell? that was the problem. Once he was in the hallway, the prisoners were surprised to see him still wearing his black clothes. For once, a desperate hope shone in their eyes. "Don't leave us here," some cried while others said, "How is it you're here?"

Billy ignored them until he reached Simon's cell. Others in adjacent cells were poking their hands out, wishing for assistance.

Then, the jail cells began to disappear. Black metal curtains were draping over them downward like a blade. This made most prisoners step away from the bars. The curtains were getting dangerously close to Simon's cell and what was worse they were blocking out the sunlight. Could Billy travel without sunlight? He doubted that.

He didn't wait to find out. He grabbed a hold of Simon's hand through the bar. "This will either work or you'll be left without a hand," Billy warned.

"What are you going to do?" Simon asked, eyeing Billy with surprise.

"Same old, same old."

The curtain came over Simon's cell and it pulled itself downward with a crushing might.

Blink! They were in the library.

Blink! They were inside a jailhouse.

Blink! They were in Billy's school.

Blink! They were back in the library.

Francine stared at Billy. "What just happened?" Billy had transported them to the exact same spot before Francine's counter twice before getting a steady hold on his traveling.
Simon ran at her and gave her a hug. Billy was shaken. He looked around. "I have to get more control over daylight traveling," Billy said. "It's much easier to do than at night."

"You can travel during the day?" Simon asked him.

"Well," Billy said, "Mark could have been clearer as to his intentions. I got caught by the council."

"Wait, wait," Francine said, now un-gripping Simon's hold of her neck, "You can travel during both day and night?"

"You really should talk to Mark, miss," Billy said, "He knows more than he lets on."

Francine frowned. "That man is getting on my very last nerve."

"Well," Billy said, "He won't be here much longer or, rather, I won't be. I only came to leave Simon here."

"Leave me here?"

"I have to go off, adventuring, as you say," Billy said. "I mean, that's what you call it."
"You're forgetting the first rule of Space Dreg, again."

"You're safer here," Billy said, "I can't let you come to this. There's going to be vampires in that dimension and probably not so nice people."

"Let's go," Simon said, "We shouldn't have come here. You're wasting time."

Billy thought about this. He didn't want to take Simon with him and be worried about him all the time but this seemed like a battle he was fated to lose. "We have to rescue him."

"Why?" Francine asked, "Why are you so intent on rescuing that annoying failure?"
"Because," Billy said, "That annoying failure knows everything about traveling that I don't. And I won't be bested by him again."

Simon smiled at this.

"Come, then," Billy said and he threw the dimensional book at Francine. "Keep it. I memorized Mark and my coordinates. I should be able to get back, if we live."

"Simon," Francine said to him. Billy stopped glowing for a second, "I need you to consider what Billy said. This isn't going to be an adventure. It will be dangerous and hard."

"Sounds like fun," Simon said, with a smile.

"He's not the same Simon that went with you," Francine said, "That's for sure."

Billy considered this and said, "He's from this dimension, if that's what you meant."

"I don't think that's what she meant," Simon said.

Billy smiled, walking with Simon out of the library.

Across the street from the library was his old neighborhood, so full of white houses and cars passing by on the main streets. He was even happy to see a local store and people walking out with white bags full of groceries in their hands. Also, Meryl was there coming closer from across the street. She waved at him desperately. Billy smiled and waved back. Then, Billy and Simon vanished.

She saw the darkness behind the walls. Light tried to shine at these but there was some foul magic stopping it from coming in. The streets were illuminated by a witch behind her and her companions. One of them was called Chris, a tall black man wearing camouflage gear. She could barely see him but she could sense him there, as though she were a lion, able to smell the fear in her companions.

It wasn't like she thought. The witch's plan was too simple. They walked the streets.

Los Angeles was a beaten city. Some of the buildings were shattered in half, cut where the construction had begun or cut at the seams leaving pointy edges poking out at pedestrians. She didn't see any of these, though. There was too much darkness for them. The witch wore a red robe and black boots. The robe was cut short at the sleeves. It showed the witch's brown elbows. If she didn't know better, she'd think they were related somehow.

Mark walked behind her, almost at a menacing pace. She couldn't look at his eyes. They were too focused on something. Something she couldn't quite see but that he saw clearly. Was there a dimension where Mark was not supremely talented at something? She doubted that, although in her life she'd never heard of another person with the last name Piersley. Maybe, it was French.

As they walked, glass crunched under their feet. They were near an abandoned junkyard where cars had been crushed for profit. Now, it seemed desolate and empty. All the gates were closed. Ahead of them lay a blocked street. Or rather a street with a large building fallen across it sideways. They would have to climb over the rubble. The smell here was of burned tires but the witch had explained it was something more sinister. For some reason, she refused to remember what it was at this time.

She fought hard to ignore it. Too much was riding on this one event. Yet, with the light that Chris was making above them, everything looked a sickly color green, although still better than complete darkness. She remembered the buildings now, marked with red, tagged in crimson, probably an innocents blood. Some of the letters were purple now from how dried the blood had gotten. "Live Dracula!" The half-buildings proclaimed. "The Master will Return!" Was written on others. Most of these were obviously written by claws, as the letters zig-zagged like static. It was hard to believe at first, that the world was full of vampires.

It had been hard for her to accept the first time, when they took her away in the dark room.

"Steady," the witch said. "Steady."
Mark saw something, that much they knew. The witch was brazing herself for the worst.

Mark was smiling. Smiling! Was he insane?

They stopped walking, then. The crunchy sounds of glass stopped. She heard a noise, distant and zooming. Missiles!

Suddenly, the whole street was white. A tearing blast or explosion caused the side-ways building to explode sending debris and dirt everywhere, blinding them. Red eyes, she saw. Red eyes through the dust.

She was glowing, then. They were safe for the moment. It was their last resort. If the enemy got the drop on them, then she'd have to use her talent and they'd retreat and come back another time.

The problem was, Mark was gone.

Then, she realized the problem. The vampires scattered, she heard. Thousands of click-click-clicks as claws scraped on the walls, looking for an escape. She got so mad that the light burned through the streets, expanding. It left her but stayed alive, as though she could send it at them. When the light was gone, she saw Mark in Teresa's hands. She was crying. A sword was poking through his chest. And Chris was a vampire.

Keya woke. She was sweating. Brenda held her hand. Her unsettling eyes kept her in sight. Keya looked away, not wanting to fall into her spell. "What's wrong?" Brenda asked.

"Bad dream."
"You had a nightmare?" Brenda asked, looking concerned.

"Yes," Keya said, "Why?"

Keya was on a black couch in the middle of the control room, which they used to sleep in when they had the chance. Keya had been so tired that she was given almost a days time to rest but she had had more than one nightmare about how it was going to go. The last one was at least merciful to her. In most of her nightmare scenarios, Keya had died.

Brenda got up and went to the front desk, about fifty feet away. Here she pressed a button which Keya guessed turned on the microphone because she could hear Brenda's voice, "Hey, lovebirds, get over here."

Teresa and Mark showed up promptly. Keya saw that Teresa was wearing the black and red robe from her dream, except this robe was full-sleeved. "It seems, she's been keeping something from you," Brenda said.

"Just bad dreams," Keya said.

"Nightmares," Mark whispered, a hand on his chin.

"She's from a different dimension. They shouldn't affect her like they do us," Teresa said.

"You die in these nightmares?" Mark asked.

"Yes," Keya said, "How did you know that?"
"So they can manipulate dreams, those bastards!" Mark exclaimed. He pushed some papers off the main control desk to Brenda's discontent.

Chris came inside the control room a moment later. Keya almost took a step back but remembered that he wasn't really a vampire. Still, he wore almost the exact same black outfit with bulletproof vest and black boots that he had been wearing in her dream.

Teresa looked like she was about to growl. "What do we do now, then?"

"Nothing we can do," Mark said, "We have to go with the plan. It's a plan, at least."

"What's wrong?" Keya asked, groggily. She grabbed her head, as it was still a little shaky.

"They know part of the plan now, girly."
"Well," Keya said, "Unless we were planning on walking there, they don't know much."

"We were walking?" Mark asked, "What else happened?"

"Well, I don't remember much from the other dreams, except that maybe I died once or twice. But in my last dream, we walked into an area with half-buildings. It was a trap. Missiles hit a building and hid the incoming vampires. Mark died. Teresa was crying. And Chris was a vampire. I think he stabbed you with your own sword."

"Oh," Mark said smiling, "Good old reliable Chris."

"So," Teresa said, "Fifty percent of the dream is true."

"Less," Mark said, "Let's consider that less is true."

"That still leaves us with one dead, either one of us gets turned into a vampire or we're dead. I'm not sure if I want to take the risk now."

"You're scared?" Keya asked, looking up at her teacher with a measure of surprise. She'd never thought that Teresa was scared of anything.

Teresa and Mark exchanged a look.

"Stubborn is more like it," Mark said. "I'll be fine."

"The one without magic is usually the one hurt. You can see how this affects me," Teresa said, looking to Keya.

"A lot of love in the room," Chris said. "But I'm still in, if you guys don't mind. Vampire or dead is fine with me, so long as I get out of this hell-hole. Do you know how tired I am of those damned sloppy joes?"
Keya laughed but Brenda didn't seem to find Chris's attitude all that humorous. She even hmmfed a couple of times.

"If you'll excuse me," Brenda said, walking away from the control room. Chris followed her down the ladder.

"Is everyone here together?" Keya asked, "Because this whole high school in a box thing is getting super-annoying."
"She's just itchy to get her slingshot back," Teresa said. "But no, she's much too dangerous with it. You'll get it back before we leave. Trust me. Now that there seems to be no objections except for me but since I don't seem to count--We leave in the morning. Prepare yourself, Keya."
Teresa stormed out of the room. Mark followed after her quickly. He didn't even bother to look at Keya. Keya frowned. Great. Another day full of bad dreams.

Blink! They were in what looked like the inside of a bank, except there was no tellers. Billy opened a drawer and took out a ten dollar bill. Blink! They were inside a fast food restaurant.

A mother and her three girls were in line, waiting to order. "What's this?" Simon asked. "And did you just steal that from a bank?"
"I'm hungry," Billy said, trying to justify the crime, "Besides, if you're about to save the universe, I'm sure people will not look down on you for choosing to eat some greasy food before you go."

This restaurant encompassed the basic necessities for people to eat. The seats weren't fancy, just plain plastic chairs and the tables were flat and not evenly spaced out. The mother and the girls were ordering everything on the menu, it seemed, although all four of them looked to be as thin as poles.

"Six Premiun Burger Dogs with chili, an order of Fries with the special sauce, a--is that a new toy? Oh, I have to order the cream-puff cheesecake and it comes with it, shhhh, Marlene, okay, we'll take two then, oh and a what? Right four milkshakes, strawberry, vanilla, chocolate and...hmmm, I guess I'll take a chocolate-chip shake with banana. Yes, that's it. No, wait. Do you have onion rings?"

As this happened, a television above the menu was reporting current news. The woman on the television was an international correspondent from Japan, "As you can see, the ocean waves are just disappearing. Well, as of now, sources in Japan say it could be just a natural phenomenon, Phil, but if it keeps happening, well, it may just prove Christopher Columbus wrong, as the world may end up being flat."

The lady was ordering something else. When she saw this....Pause.

"Isn't that something?"

Billy cleared his throat.

"Oh, right, sorry, dear, I guess that's, Alexa! Oh, that's right. A chocolate chip cookie, also, please. And..."

"Look, look," the Phil on television said, "A whale just went into the void and vanished. Wasn't that something?"

"Oh, my!"

Billy cleared his throat again.

"Right, right. Of course. No, no that's it."

The mother and girls finally walked away from the counter.

Simon and Billy exchanged annoyed glances with each other.

The girl behind the counter greeted them with a nonchalant attitude but she looked like she was about to refuse their orders.

"What are you two some kind of young rock group?"

This was a remark aimed at Billy's all-black gear and Simon's all-yellow jail suit.

"Just give us four burgers, two fries and two drinks."

"Ohmygod, you're going to eat all that?" The teenager at the counter asked.
"Please," Simon said, "We're hungry and we're tired."
Billy looked out through the revolving doors. Out in the street a swirling purple and black void had formed the size of two-cars side-by-side but round. It ate a car up as it zoomed through the streets.

"For here or--?"

"To go, make that to go!" Billy interrupted of a sudden, catching the attention of the customers nearby.

"Bad day, ey?" the girl asked.

"Just long."
After a few minutes of waiting, while no other customers showed up, the girl finally handed them their food. Before traveling away with food tray and all, the news woman on television began to report, "And in other news...two local youths rob the Lionheart's National Bank for ten dollars. Authorities are still dumbfounded by how they managed to do it. The alarms were set off just after they vanished."

"It's you!" The teenager exclaimed.

"Of course," Billy said, and they vanished.

In the fields of yellow where a lion had once pounced him with his claws on the chest, Billy and Simon sat talking about Space Dreg and how the rules of the game were not the reason for the foundation of their friendship.

"Well," Billy said, taking a burger and biting it, "It's because of Space Dreg that we met the first time but it's because of the free lunches that I stayed your friend."

"It's because of my charm," Simon said, "Even the ladies like it."

Billy laughed.

"These are the best burgers ever," Simon said, eating his second one hungrily. Billy was amazed at how fast he had eaten the first, almost with an animal-like hunger. He even thought he saw something like a fang come out of his mouth. Were Simon's teeth different now? How exactly had the people at the council cured his friend? Sure, he wasn't the same Simon as before but he was still his good friend.

"How was it?" Billy asked, "With the scientist and junk?"

"Weird, actually. Six months passed, you know."

"Really?" Billy asked, surprised, "Not that much time passed for me, trust me."
"I figured that when I saw you were still wearing the same jacket. Have your bruises from the beating we received disappeared."

Billy poked at his stomach and winced. "No, but this new bruise may be from that Fred kid's punch. Not that I'm not a kid but he acts like one more than I do."

Simon raised his burger, "Sure, I see your point."
They laughed.

The sunlight in this world seemed to provide a perfect mood for things. Billy liked the place. He may have to come here again. Maybe, with Keya. At the thought of her, he shook his head, not wanting it to become about her just yet.

"What was the pretty girl telling you?" Simon asked him, as though it were of no consequence.

"Hmm?" Billy asked, mouthful. "Never mind her," he said after a few seconds, "She went on her own adventure."

"I see," Simon said, "So now you know how it feels."

"Not that it was for vengeance," Billy said, "But because of some weird thing she went looking for."
"You mean you?"
Billy shrugged, "Maybe. Girls have done crazier things. Remember Meryl? She wanted to get back together with me. Came all the way back to the library, too."
"What happened, you left that girl?"

"Turns out she was with Cal all along, was tricking me."

"Oh," Simon said, "I'm glad I'm not old enough for all that. It tends to get confusing, you know."
"What about your sister?" Billy asked him, teasing.

Simon shrugged, "I got over her. With science, you can get over things. They showed me how to do some pretty neat things in the council. I mean before they took everything away and put all of us in jail."

"Oh, yea?" Billy asked, "Like what?"
"Well, you know those things I was throwing at you in jail that burned like all-heck but didn't really make marks on you?"
"Yea," Billy said, eyeing him, "I remember. By the way, I owe you a punch on the shoulder for that."

Simon waved it off. "Sure-sure, later. Well, we called those things sparkies. They used to spark but now I just make them for fun."

"How do you make them?”

“With rocks and then magic. It's always like that with those sparkies, rocks and magic."

"Magic, where'd you get magic in the jail cell."

"Well, we had a wizard, you know," Simon said, "But the lab was all hush-hush about him. We weren't supposed to tell anyone about where he was or what he was doing. When the council sent for all of us to go to jail, the wizard just vanished. His name was Henry and he wore glasses and had funny long white hair like Merlin with a sight problem. He didn't wear any funny hats or anything like you see in the movies, just dressed normal or as normal as scientists get in their white lab coats and protective gloves. He made magic dust out of rocks. So we just built the sparkies out of regular rocks and magic dust."
"How'd you hide magic dust from the council?"
"We didn't," Simon said, smiling, "That's the trick. When the council found it on our person, they just littered it on the floor. I just picked it up with my hands. I have a knack for seeing things that others can't."

"How do you build the sparkies?"

"I don't. I just place a rock in my hand and put it next to the dust. They build themselves. That's the magic part. But that's not the important bit. One day, our leader, the man you left me with, his name is Greg, told us that we had to build a gun. So we did, except it didn't look like a gun, that was my doing. It looked just like, well a bullet holder." Simon dug inside his yellow clothes. It turns out that they had a pocket sewn into them on the thigh. Simon sipped it down at the seams. The zipper seemed to be made of loose string but it zipped back up almost as if by magic by itself. "It's neat what you can do with magic dust," Simon said, pulling out what looked like a bullet clip. It was blue and translucent and about eight inches wide. "You don't need a button," Simon said. "You just point it and it responds to your reflexes. If you're scared and want it to shoot, it will shoot."

"Wow," Billy said, examining the thing with awe, "And you built this just like that, because this Greg man told you?"

"Not just like that," Simon said, looking insulted, "He gave us instructions, you know like that we should be careful about what we build because the council is always suspicious of creativity. Imagine how most of the scientist felt about that, when their whole thing is creating new things and making cool new inventions."

"So," Billy said, "Did you guys make anything else? This gun seems like it would be useful but if all it does is shoot sparkies, then we're doomed against those vampires."

Simon smiled, "The gun's bullets are sparkies of a, special type. Watch."

Simon grabbed a hold of the bullet clip which was all enclosed and didn't look to have an opening from where to shoot. Suddenly, a small circle appeared on one of the edges. Something red flew out of it from the side and launched forward. "Crap, duck, Billy!"
Billy ducked in time. The red rock missed him by inches.

"Phew!" Simon said, "A second too late and you would have been cooked."

The rock flew high into the air and exploded in an at least ten foot wide area of fire, as though a napalm bomb had dropped in mid-air and halted right above them. Billy could feel the heat of it in his eyes.

"What the hell was that?" Billy asked. "And you almost killed me! Um, again."

"Relax," Simon said, "I almost killed Henry, too and he didn't get all fuzzy about it. It's the nature of science that when you build something everyone wants to criticize and call it dangerous."

"Well," Billy said, "It definitely has some use against the vampires but, um, just try and keep a good distance from me when you use it, please."

Simon laughed. "You sure are the same old Billy. I shouldn't have changed so much but six months is a long time. When they put me in jail, I blamed you but now I think about it, you're not to blame for what the council decided to do. If it weren't for you, I wouldn't have learned how to make this."
"Well," Billy said, finishing the last of the fries, "It's time we left. But before that, a little more crime won't hurt. After all, I can't have you fighting vampires all in yellow. I'm not a girl, so I don't mind tacky but I do mind if you get claws on your chest. Let's go get us some bullet proof vests. Maybe your magic dust can turn the things our size."

"How did you know I still had some?"

Billy smiled, "I imagine that magic bag can hold an infinite number of things."
Simon smiled, "We're not just getting bullet proof vests, are we?"

"Well," Billy said, "Although the vampires aren't our problem, per say, let's make sure that they're, at least, less of a problem to the guy we've got to and are on our way to try and save."

"Fair is fair," Simon joked.

Billy smiled, remembering old times.

This time, she was close to getting up there. The twin eyes of the building were like huge black voids in a world of perpetual darkness but she was using her talent to light her way. There were stairs here, leading up in a spiral. She guessed it was to scare people and prevent them from seeing what was up ahead. A neat trick but it wouldn't work on her. She had chosen a side already. She didn't have a lot of strength left but she had to get there.

The building was falling apart, which was bad news. Finally, she reached a place where there was a form of solid ground. The opening was a square archway leading to a floor made of orange bricks. When she stepped on them, part of the floor fell apart to some unknown place below. She adjusted her light and saw spikes on the bottom.

This was a trick or a test, just like Teresa's maze. She had trained in this. She knew what to do. She ran across it, not bothering to look back. There was no doubt in her mind that she was being chased by vampires now or those awful bloodhounds that she'd seen at the bottom of the building. The bricks fell below her as she ran. Worse, she had to duck unexpected rocks that were falling from above, as the building was falling down, just like the oil spills, she thought. She ran across to the other room without a problem but there was an unopened door before her. She decided to try and smash herself against it but then the door didn't open that way and the floor below her gave way. She found herself clinging for her life on the doorknob. The door opened, then, and a hand helped her get up.

She was rushed inside, only to be trapped by a tall man with blue eyes. This one didn't look like a vampire but he had the shape of one, tall and muscular with an evil smile and black hair combed to the sides. Was it Arthur Lacroise, Mark's enemy? Is that who Dracula really was?

But, no, this man had fangs and was about to bite her neck but she turned into fog. Then she moved smoothly through the room. Here there was a jail cell guarded by tall vampires and an old woman with a cane. These vampires wore vests, unlike the others. They carried swords at their hips and had metal face masks that covered their eyes only. Around their necks were chains, so all hope of cutting their heads off was gone. It was like they were well-armored versions of the regular vampire. Whoever they were guarding, they really wanted to make sure, that person didn't leave.

Then, she saw something she couldn't quite make out. She was fog and there was a mirror here but she saw herself. What was happening? Was she a white cloud of fog or had she turned herself that way? Then, she saw the prisoner but it wasn't a prisoner just a fading in-an-out of different people. First, she saw Mark, then she saw Francine, then Billy, then some woman she didn't recognize.

"I'm not who you think I am," said the voice of the formless person.

"It's time," Keya heard, waking up. Her eyes popped open to see that Teresa had cut the sleeves of her black and red robe and she was wearing black boots.

She lay on the flat bench of the kitchen where they'd eaten sloppy joes again for what seemed the twentieth day in a row. At least, her stomach wasn't growling at her. It had been doing that for some time now but now it was steady. Her focus was on the light, her part of the plan.

Teresa's plan seemed to be a little complicated now. She had changed it so many times.

It turns out that Chris was a helicopter pilot but that Teresa had somehow used her magic to make the helicopter autopilot them to just the right place where the gargoyles stood in the castle. Teresa and Keya were going to drop into one of the eyes of the castle, while Mark created a distraction at the gates. Brenda was going to be a point man, or in other words a sniper in one of the buildings far away from the fighting. Then, Chris would be the other sniper in the air, in a moving helicopter, where Chris would supposedly come to rescue them if they made out alive, firing a .50 caliber gun out of the helicopter if need be. The part of the plan that didn't fit into any of it, was that they would need to reach the wall first and then be picked up by Chris from the helicopter. So, first Keya, Teresa and Mark would make their way to the gate and then Chris would pick them up with the helicopter. It didn't make sense to her? Why couldn't they just fly straight into the castle and avoid the walls? Parts of the plan were being kept from Keya and she didn't like it.

Keya cracked her knuckles with a smile. It was still a descent plan and she didn't doubt that Mark could create a diversion.

It was just that those high walls worried her. There was no way that Mark could break in through the gate and it was going to be anything but easy for Brenda to get Keya and Teresa through that wall. How was she going to shoot at anything with that in their way. At least, she would protect Mark, which put Teresa somewhat at peace.

All these weapons, seemed to be at hand for Mark and Teresa, something that Keya had been completely unaware of until she just recently learned of the plan, not that she was privy to any information about it before this. Mostly, some things of the plan had not been told to her.

"Well," Mark said, "Basically, we're going to try and get most of the city back and rendezvous in an abandoned warehouse in the middle of downtown--here--pay attention--here." He was saying, putting the Map right next to Keya's head. Keya got up, not liking the joke.

She was still wearing her old battle uniform, a pair of blue tights under a white T-shirt and black zipper jacket. Now, she was to change back into her white dress with a simple bullet proof vest underneath.

She went to change quickly, as they were pressed for time.

Mark was already in a black suit with red tie to match. He said it would help him blend in with the enemy but both Keya and Teresa suspected that if he was going to die, he was trying to do it with a bit of style. Keya didn't put it past Mark to try something so stupid. Even in her world, Mark was less than rational. Why did he want to keep coming to the library? What did it matter that he keep a form of stability? Didn't he ever worry about his love, his precious Wendy?

Keya knew better than to ask him that question but it was one that burned at the back of her mind. She wondered if Billy would ever worry about her that way. She doubted that. Billy was too involved with learning how to travel. He was probably trying to concentrate on traveling now.

Blink! Amee's Military Warehouse had everything they had thought to want from a store. Billy used his newfound talent to travel them from one part of the store to the other. Most of the things they needed were protected by glass cases, so he had to be a little creative by making voids move across glass, so it would get cut in whole squares, so they could retrieve some of the more protected ammo. Billy got a few bombs and three or four smoke grenades. He also got a grenade that if it exploded, it released a nauseating gas that stunned people for a one mile radius. Billy couldn't explain to Simon what he needed it for, so he had to shush him with a finger for now. Simon just nodded and put the items in his magic pockets. He was carrying the yellow pants now because Billy had gotten him some proper camouflage gear. He was now wearing green and black army pants and an army hat. with an army jacket over a blue and light bulletproof vest. The magic dust had made it fit him and also lighter. For Billy's purposes, it had just made the vest a little bigger.

Blink! The gun department. Two forty-fives.

Blink! A whole row with dart boards. Skip.

Blink! They appeared in a place full of sports accessories. From here, Billy got some knee and elbow pads and put them on. He still wore his original Vampire Academy jacket but over his vest. He also sported some fancy new blue and black camouflage pants that the Air force was sporting in this dimension. It certainly wasn't Billy's dimension. He didn't have the heart to go back there for now. Too much of his earth was being torn apart by the council's foolish traveling.

Blink! They were in an area of experimental rifles, all around them the whole room was protected by glass. Jackpot. Tired and out of patience, Billy rapidly traveled them to the sports section again and grabbed two bats.

Blink! They were back.

"You get this row and I'll get that one. Watch your eyes and crush these glasses. Get as much of it as you can. When the owners come, we'll Blink the heck out of here."

They were picking up what looked like small metallic bugs. Some were used as cameras and these they ignored but others were remote-controlled bombs that they could easily use to explode on some vampires. Billy didn't know much about war and tactics but he knew that if you were far away when something exploded, you were safer than your enemies. He just hoped he didn't blow up anyone that didn't deserve it. After some minutes of glass shattering everywhere, the authorities did show up and Billy and Simon's hands were full of gadgets and junk. Billy put his arms around Simon and Blink! A lion stared at him.

"Oh," said the lion, "It's you."

Simon fainted.

"Great," Billy said, "Now look what you did."

"They came again yesterday looking for you. Not that I care. Not that I care. I'm just saying. They were looking for you but I don't care. You didn't impress me with the way you hunt, is all I'm saying."

Reo sat right next to the lion and was licking his paws. "He gets like this when he likes someone."

"No-no, I don't care. You're trying to make me care because you fixed...certain things but I don't."

"What did I fix? What's he talking about?" Billy asked, stuffing items into the side pockets of the pants.

The lion and tiger didn't seem to be surprised at seeing the items disappear inside, nor that the items were disproportional to the size of the bag.

"You fixed the air," the tiger said, "When you made that boom."

"That wasn't me," Billy said, "It was Mr. Faint over here. What was wrong with the air?"

"The voids were appearing, as though a hunter was coming through but no hunter was coming."
"You mean that the explosion fixed the void?"
"Yes," the lion said.

Billy frowned, thinking. So, they could be repaired but an explosion like that would do a lot of damage to the surrounding areas. "That's actually good to know," Billy said. "But I have to figure out another way."

"You hunt again, child?"

"I hunt forever," Billy said, "It's my destiny."

"Shoot," the tiger said, "Now he'll love you forever."

Billy smiled at them and slapped Simon's cheek. "You awake?" Billy asked him. Simon got up. "Sorry," he said, "I'm still not used to traveling so much at one time."

"Let's go meet our destiny, my friend."

And they vanished. As they left, the lion said, "Quit looking at me like that. I don't care that they're fixing it. I don't."

"The girl insists that you bring it, so you will bring it," Mark said, handing Keya her book.

"And where are we going to put it?" Teresa asked Mark.

"Just do the trick and stop being foolish."

"Very well," Teresa said, biting her lip.

Suddenly, there appeared on her dress near her chest a string zipper. Teresa zipped it down and put the book close to it. The dress ate the book and zipped itself back up.

"You just have to say book and it'll spit it out. Be ready to catch it, too. These magic bags can be rude, you know."

"Wow," Keya said, "Why didn't you want me to have the book?" Keya was rarely ever concerned with figuring things out but this was something that would later bother her, if she didn't know.

"Um," Mark said, now looking from Teresa to Keya, "Well, you better tell her."

Teresa crossed her hands, "Let's just go."

"She didn't want to let you go," Mark whispered at Keya, "Let's just say that I'm not the only one that loved my sister."

Keya smiled, a tear forming in her eyes. She gave Teresa a hug from behind. Teresa turned around slowly. In her hands appeared a slingshot. Teresa kept the bony white thing in her right hand for a minute longer. The holsters was a shiny emerald green now. "I," Teresa said, choking up, "I'm going to miss you, my precious little girl. Take it. Now, I got you a little something of my own devising. The other girl loved it, as well. It's just another trick to me, you know. But you, you do tricks without magic, that's amazing."

Teresa brought out a necklace with a small pouch in the center. "You don't have to say rock," Teresa said. "If you're aiming to hit someone, the rocks will come," she whispered in her ear as she tied it around her neck.

Keya examined the pouch. "Thank you so much."

Teresa gave her a stern stare and said, wiping away a tear, "That's enough of that. Let's go. You look ready enough."

Ahead of them was an orderly set of bunched up benches that had been put in front of the entrance to guard from intruding empires. Teresa waved a hand and they parted to the sides forming a path for the three of them to walk through. Brenda and Chris waited for them in the other room, a small hanger, Keya guessed.

In the next instant, they were fifty feet from what looked like a beaten part of Los Angeles. "It's here," Billy said, "Keep a sharp eye out for vampires."

"During the day?" Simon asked him. "I'm sure."
"For some reason," Billy said, "I don't think it'll be day for much longer."

Billy looked up and saw that black and gray clouds were forming.

"Crap," Simon said, "Is that magic?"
"Or a weather system gone extremely wrong."

Simon stared at him.

"No time for jokes, I guess."

Here, there was a mountain of dirt with an edge. They could see over it to where the city loomed in utter despair. Streets were littered with garbage and, in places, nothing but glass was on the streets. A few cars were overturned on the streets and in various places there were vehicles through the buildings themselves. "Tsunami, you think?" Simon asked.

Billy shook his head. "I don't think so. Vampires have a lot of free time."

A part of a building had been completely demolished by something, a missile or rocket it looked like.

"Hear that?" Simon asked.

"Hear what?"

"There's an eee sound coming from somewhere."

"It's time to travel," Billy said. He touched Simon and they vanished from their rocky promontory.

Blink! They were at the top of a building close by. Billy had set his eyes on the ceiling of it earlier. He, then, realized he was staring at a kid his age wearing dirty goggles and blue overalls. He had a rocket launcher and it was aimed straight for them.

"We're human, we're human!" Billy exclaimed.

Then, a loud boom distracted them.

Another person walked out of the room. She looked extremely like Francine, only a lot younger. She had on a blue robe with the sleeves cut. "Travelers? Here?"
"Not travelers," Simon said, standing up proudly, "The traveler. The one. Billy."

"Travelers who aren't from the council? Now, that's good news," the girl said, putting a hand on the rocket launcher. The boy lowered it, giving her a mean stare. The two exchanged glances for a second.

"That's a good boy," The girl said. "So, what are you two doing here?"

"We're here to rescue Mark," Billy said. "What was that explosion?"

"My fault, my fault," the guy with the rocket launcher said, "I thought you were vampires."

"That explains the eee sound," Billy said, looking down at Simon with a frown, "It's not the first time someone younger than me almost killed me."

The girl went over and shook his hand, "Teresa, at your service. But, once again, what are you doing here?"

"I'm Simon and this here is Billy and I'm not sure what exactly we're doing here."

"We're here to save a pompous ass."
Teresa laughed, "You've met Mark, I see. We've been trying to save him for days now. Ran out of ammunition a long time ago."

Billy smiled, "Well, I believe we can help with that."

Billy shoved the pants into her hands. Teresa almost dropped them, "Oh, no, we don't need undergarments."

"Simon, open the bag for her."

From the pants, they took out six bombs, three smoke grenades, sixteen remote controlled bees, an array of gadgets that he didn't understand, three knives, a slingshot for some odd reason, two 45's and, of course, two bats. Teresa eyed everything with a form of awe while the other just went over the stuff.

"Could be useful. Just a bunch of junk. It looks like you raided an army store and completely avoided the useful stuff--wait, is that a slingshot?"

Teresa raised an eyebrow. "Don't mind Ruben. He doesn't see real value in things that go boom. A slingshot, though, that will come in handy. Our last one broke."

"I don't know how that got in there, actually," Billy said.

Simon looked down at the floor and whistled. "You know, I wanted to try one out."

Behind them was a small shack that Billy guessed they were using to hide in. The clouds were looming closer over them.

From the shack, came out another girl, one with white skin. If not for that, she could be the exact replica of Keya with beautiful blue eyes, instead of brown ones. Billy sighed. Great. He really wanted to forget about his world's Keya and now here she was. "Serena," Teresa said, "Just in time. We found you a new toy."

At least, her name was different.

"Bugger!" The girl cursed, "Ain't this a new day. Is that a slingshot! Brilliant!"
She ran at it but something held her in mid-air.

"No, no!" Ruben yelled. He, then, sighed in relief. "Phew. See what you get for dumping your junk on the floor. She nearly held it in her hands."

Billy watched the girl stuck in mid-stride. Only her eyes moved. "Um," Billy said, "I'm guessing one of you froze her with magic."

"Guilty," Teresa said.

So, the young Francine was also a witch.

"What's wrong?" Simon asked, staring at Serena. He was so fascinated with the way things changed from dimension to dimension. He'd been staring that same way at Teresa for a while.

"Our young heroine here plus a slingshot without enemies nearby are the wrong combination. If you don't mind," Teresa said, picking up the slingshot from among the things. She held it, carefully, then made it vanish. "Safe in a pocket now."
Serena unfroze, "Never get to have any fun."

"Well," Teresa said, scooping up all the grenades and making them vanish, "This changes things, doesn't it? Do you have a plan to save Mark, traveler?"

"Billy is fine," Billy said, "Because if you start calling me a long name, I'm going to get really annoyed and might just decide to skip the whole thing altogether and the universe can go and mend itself for all I care."

"Yes, yes, don't get upset. Billy's it is."

"What do we need them for? Let's just go get Mark, I can solo this whole mission," Serena complained.

"She's not wrong," Ruben said, "But the more people the better is my guess."

"We're in what you might call a vampire stronghold," Teresa said, "But luckily, I've managed to keep them centralized to one location. See the origins of the dark cloud in the center of town? That's where most of them are dwelling now."

"That cloud is your work?"

] "Took me days," Teresa said, "But I think I got the lightning bolts to go just right. Like I said, you came just in time, almost like it was your destiny."

"Don't remind me," Billy said, trying to forget that the Nordits had warned him that he would fail.

"Our plan is to strike here as a diversion," Teresa said, "While me and you and the boy you brought with you, go into that building up ahead."

Billy looked over the city to where Teresa pointed. A hundred-story building stared at them in the face. It even had a peak. "There," Teresa said, "On the top floor, is where they're keeping him, I can feel it."

"I was going to do it by myself with the lightning acting as a diversion while Ruben acted as a point guard. You know with a sniper rifle but we don't have one of those. The launcher will do, at least he has plenty of bullets for it."

"Leroy, our other member," Teresa said, "He's going to be stationed on the building right across from the dark clouds on the other side of the building. He's our point guard. He's actually got a sniper's rifle. We only hope he made it to the other side alive. He took our large armored vehicle with him but even that may not be enough to get across streets full of vampires."

"Your plan is to create a diversion, so that we could save him?" Billy asked. "We can't just kill them all."

The three people not from Billy's dimension laughed. "No," Teresa said, "Their numbers are....Let's just say we're going to infiltrate an ants nest to try and kill the queen."

"It sounds dangerous," Billy said, sighing.

"To say the least, fool," Serena said. "But you brought me a slingshot, I'd say that makes things even."

Teresa eyed Serena for a minute. "Yes," she said, "Maybe a little unfair...for them, that is. Still, I don't trust you with it. You'll get it as soon as we're clear from you."

"You really think that she shouldn't have the sling shot?" Billy asked, "I mean, what's the harm in it?"
Teresa crossed her hands and frowned. "Just tell me that you're a good traveler and keep the opinions to a minimum."
Billy looked at Simon. He shrugged. Billy shook his head. Well, he had been under worst leadership or, rather, more ghostly leadership. Then, a thought popped-up in Billy's head. "How do you know Mark, exactly, then? I mean, he isn't from this dimension, not the one I'm trying to save."

"Oh, we know that much," Teresa said, eyeing Billy with suspicion. "We're not either. We're Mark's, let's say, team from one of the true earths."

"So you're like, his real friends and you traveled here to save him?"

Teresa nodded. "That's amazing, who traveled you?" Simon asked.

"We got a book," Serena volunteered. "But the witch keeps it in her pocket."
"But wait," Billy said, "Where is the Mark from this dimension?"

"Dead, actually."

"Oh, good," Billy said, "Because I'd hate to think that he was a vampire or something."

"Er," Teresa said, now annoyed, "You know I've been wondering why they've kept him alive this whole time. He may be..."
"Crap," Simon said, "Now, we got more than one problem, don't we?"

"Or less," Billy said, "At least, it didn't catch us by surprise."

Teresa walked them into the shack, "C'mon," she said and they followed her out. Ruben and Serena followed suit at a slow pace. Ruben was wearing his goggles around his neck now, looking ever more weird in a place so torn apart by war.

The shack led directly to stairs that wound downward for a long time. By the time they reached the floor, Billy was winded and the beginning of a tormenting rain had begun.

"And it gets closer," Teresa said, smiling.

"Are we close enough?" Keya asked, eyeing the gray floor full of debris. She had to ask this because right after Teresa had given her the slingshot, she'd magically taken it away. As it happened, Keya's hands were caressing it a little too much. She had, by accident, Keya assured them, put on a hole in Mark's already-torn hat but only at the edge.

Teresa had been more upset that she had missed. "I thought I taught you better than that."

"I'm actually glad she missed," Mark said, smiling.

"Can I get the slingshot back?" Keya pleaded.

"You'll get it back, but not now."

There was a blue parked car in one corner of the street, where nothing but tires littered the pavement. It was dark but a magic light created by Teresa's hands let them walk better. This part of Los Angeles had so many buildings surrounding them that they could get lost in it easily. The helicopter loomed about sixteen feet above the ground before Keya, Teresa and Mark jumped down. A blast of air levitated them for a second before they landed. Good. Keya thought. Teresa was paying attention, even in this windy darkness. Keya's hair had to be put in a ponytail because it was so windy. It was probably just the propellers of the helicopter. Chris and Brenda were lifted up. They were going to take their positions as point guards.

"We need better transportation," Mark said, dusting off his suit.

Was he really worried about how cleaned he looked?

The sound of rotating blades dominated the area until the helicopter was gone from sight. They saw it disappear in darkness. "I guess," Teresa said, letting the light she was making go, "We have to walk from here. This remind you of your nightmare at all, Keya?"

Keya still felt shaky about her dreams. The fact that she had died in two of them still gave her shivers. She shook off the thought. "Let's concentrate on the bad guys," Keya said, now stepping carefully on the glass on the floor. There was so much of it, it was hard to avoid.

The scenery was the usual chaos and destruction she remembered. Buildings toppled over on their sides and smoke coming out of the taller ones. Cats still lived in this place, somehow. Why had the vampires left them alone? Around them there was a weaker light now. It illuminated them in a green hue in the darkness that was Los Angeles. As the helicopter took off, the dust around the area cleared and Teresa had to settle the air down with magic because of the glass. The ground seemed to be littered with every kind of dirt possible. On top of blackened thrash cans there was a finger, Keya noticed. It still had a round golden ring on it. Gold was of no value to the dead, Keya guessed.

She looked away quickly disgusted and because Mark had begun to march at a quicker pace right beside Teresa. After a minute or two it became hard to keep up with them. They were running, ignoring the dirt. Teresa's magic was pushing it to the sides, so they could run right through it.

Still, Teresa had not handed her the slingshot again. What was she waiting for? Keya's hands seemed to itch for it, as though it was part of her. After a minute of running she was opening and closing her hands, nervously wishing she had the slingshot. She looked all around her and the green light was getting dimmer and it was getting darker. In the sky, not even the moon showed. Their destination was not far off, not at the pace they ran. It was visible even in the darkness. A looming hundred-story-high building torn in the middle with cave-like indentations, as though it had eyes. This was where Teresa planned to levitate them up to, if the plan went well. What Keya had not expected was how well-encrusted the building was with things that weren't part of it.
Run, Keya, Run. It was a voice in her head but Keya wasn't sure if it was Teresa's. Where had it come from? It must be the influence of something within the vampire's grasp. She kept hearing it though. Run. Run. Run. At the rate of a heart beat, some derelict voice like Teresa's but softer was humming in her head. This didn't stop her from running but she did almost run onto Teresa's waist.

After a minute the running stopped. It became quiet. The only noise was of Mark unsheathing his katana-like swords. He held the two-foot weapons one in each hand one in front of the other. He was standing sideways, as though he were about to practice fencing but Keya had seen something like magic to his fighting. Flashing swords in the wind is all Keya saw that day when he'd saved her from the alleyway. She had been different, then, not thinking thoroughly about what it meant to fight vampires or realizing, truly, in what kind of danger she'd put herself in.

She remembered the continual monitoring of the vampires in the main base. The castle area wasn't the only area infested with the beasts. They were everywhere, it seemed.

The voice still rang in her head.

"A voice," Keya said, deciding that it needed to be told, "It's in my head. It's telling me to run."

After that, the voice stopped.

They couldn't hear anything now.

Keya stood in front of Teresa and Mark, who were looking at their sides in silence. They came upon a mountain of gray and black rubble. It was this mountain that led, as though downhill toward the gate of the castle.

"Shh," Teresa said, putting a finger on her lips, "Ignore it for now."

"Bring us up," Mark said.

Suddenly, the ground from under them began to rise. Teresa's eyes began to glow purple. Keya had not really seen Teresa do magic for long periods of time. Now, she looked like she was about to drain herself in it. It felt bad enough after she held the light, Keya thought. Teresa must have suffered a lot here in this vampire world. They rose until they came in sight of the hill and gate.

Then, like dark shadows appearing out of thin air, vampires in ranks stood in front of them, hundreds of them. They stood wearing black bandanas on their heads and carrying pitchforks, knives, staves, swords, bucklers and clubs. Some of them had two-hand war hammers that they carried with no strain from the look of it. Their faces were painted black, so as to look camouflaged in the darkness.

Mark and Teresa didn’t react. Did they see the vampires right in front of them? They were not even six feet from the soldier-looking men in ranks. These vampires had to be at least six feet tall and they bared their teeth. Still, however, there was a distracting silence.

“Good,” Mark said, “They know we’re here.”

Keya stared at Mark. “In front of us,” she said, quietly, “They’re right in front of us.”

“Not the time to forget your training,” Teresa said, turning only a little to acknowledge her presence.

Then, something went “click” in the distance.

“Slingshot,” Keya breathed, “Slingshot.”

For the first time in weeks, she saw Teresa smile. Unexpectedly, Mark put away his weapons and smiled, too. “Not yet,” she said. Then, the ground under them exploded.

Keya watched unbelievingly at her feet as they dangled in mid-air. She bounced against unseen walls. She was screaming, too. "Aaaah!" Bounce. "Aaaah!" Bounce.

Mark and Teresa were arguing and leaning forward as they bounced through the vampires, crushing them under their feet as though they were inside a large bowling ball made of magic. "You see what happened?"

Bounce. "Aaaah!"

"What, what?" Teresa asked, "She needs more focus."

"You needed to warn her of this."

"Well, she's calming down now."

Bounce "Aaah!"

"She's going to throw up," Mark said, looking back at Keya who's hands were shaking.

"She just has slingshot withdrawal. It happened to your sister, too."

"That thing is not a drug."

"Oh? Want me to hand her the slingshot, then?"

"No, no. Let's not get crazy. I was just saying you could've explained this part."

"It's too late now. Besides she's doing just fine, aren't you honey?"


"Yes," Mark said, sighing, "Just fine."

The explosion in front of them had been the click of someone's weapon, probably Brenda's, as she was the one that had the grenade launcher. Now, the ground under them exploded at three or four second intervals.

"She's reloading too fast," Mark said, "It's going to burn her hands."

"Brenda's an expert," Teresa said, "And it's not nice of you to question her."

Keya understood more of what was going on now. They were being pushed into the castle walls by the suddenly exploding ground, while Teresa maintained them in some sort of invisible bubble of magic that crushed any vampires that got within range of them. At the bottom of the hill, they stopped rolling abruptly as the bubble hit the concrete wall. It made a gaping hole in it but didn't go all the way through.

Keya stood up breathing in and out hard. She stopped screaming, at least. She looked around and still saw vampires. How many of them were there? They were in a sea of them, it looked like and surrounded from all sides. Of a sudden, she realized Teresa was waving at her with the slingshot.

"Not yet," Teresa said to her, but had to yell since the growling of wolves and the clamor of war cries filled the air. "Do your trick first."

For a long time, Keya had been holding the light in and Teresa had taught her how to procure enough energy in the gut in order to maintain it without feeling weak afterwards. Now, she let the light out and it permeated farther than she expected, blasting like a bomb outward in all directions. It's brilliance exploded.

Mark and Teresa couldn't see it but, with the greatest of confidence, they stood there and waved at the incoming hordes of vampires. These vanished instantly in puffs of gray ash.

After ten seconds of the light shining brilliantly in all directions, Teresa touched her hand and Keya fell on her knees, weak. The light shut out but as this happened it blasted its way through the area, shooting itself out throughout the whole of Downtown, Los Angeles. Any vampires in its vicinity would be dead in seconds. However, some still hid in the large buildings and maybe that protected them. At least, the entrance to the huge castle-like building was now clear of any danger.

Teresa smiled down at Keya. Mark put his blades away. "And," He said, "Now we wait."

"We're not going in?" Keya asked.

"Do you remember when we said Mark was going to be a distraction?" Teresa asked.

"A distraction for what?" Keya asked, "The vampires are gone."

"But it’s not the vampires that we're worried about. If you thought this whole time that what was stopping us from being free this whole time was vampires, then you're highly mistaken, Keya."

What could be worse than Vampires? Keya thought.

Billy was shaken and happy at the same time. He worried about Simon mostly. He led them in the search for vampires, every now and then saying that he could smell them nearby. How could Simon smell vampires? He was happy because it was almost over. He could feel the dimensions breaking and that was sad but once he managed to rescue Mark, things would be so much better.

The path they followed was so dark they could barely make the design of the streets out. They were clear to see, however, because of the fires on either side of the block. The fires were high up because on either side stood tall buildings, some with whole concrete chunks missing or whole glass windows cracked or torn. They walked in almost uphill way toward what looked like a Bank of America. It really read Bank of Vampirica, a red sign that brightly shone within a one-mile radius. The vampires were apparently not afraid of being found out. Why would they be? They were vampires. Billy inspected his surroundings often, shaking a little from time to time.

As they got closer, he could see the gray clouds standing over the building. They were raining down lightning bolts on it repeatedly but to no avail. Some weird metallic shield was covering the building. Teresa whose eyes radiated a purple glow from time to time kept cursing to herself. “How are they doing that?” She asked no one, frustrated. Serena walked beside Teresa, every so often her hand would open and close. She really was eager to hold the slingshot. There was a disconcerting smile on her face. It’s too bad they had left Ruben behind atop some building, Billy thought, he looked to be twice as normal as these girls.

Simon was ahead of them by at least six feet. Suddenly, he stopped moving. “They have a trick,” he said, “If you were going to give that girl a slingshot, this would be the right time.”

Billy looked from Teresa to Serena and back to Simon. What the heck was he talking about?

“Damit, he’s right,” Teresa said, under her breath. “They almost got the drop on us.”
“What is it?” Billy asked.

“They got invisible shield on them. It must be one of the reasons why so many people can’t escape them. And, another, why so many travelers fall prey to their tricks.”

“So others have fallen prey to these and you knew about it?”

Teresa turned to look at him. “Mostly, ignored it since Mark was safe.”
“What’s so important about Mark, anyway?” Billy asked her.

Serena and Teresa looked at him in shock, “Well, that’s okay, I guess. You don’t know. In our world, Mark is the center of a very unnerving curse that’s causing the people in our world to have consistent bad luck. We’re talking about whatever can go wrong, will go wrong and keep going wrong until there’s such a wrongness to everything that it becomes complicated to get out of or into any situation. We barely managed to travel out of there. Why is he so important to you?”

Of course, these people didn’t know about dimensional stability. “Well, the universe is collapsing in on itself because all these other travelers from other worlds are stealing artifacts from multiple earths, so in an effort to retrieve said items, these earths are crashing into each other, merging, as they say.”

“The interplanetary dimensional breach thing was correct?” Teresa asked. “Hmm, we thought he was just kidding, you know.”

“Can we talk about this later? The vampires are so close, I’m nearly gagging from the smell.”

“Quit panicking and hit one,” Teresa snapped back at Simon, “Once he’s revealed, it will reveal the rest of them.”

Simon stood there nervously for a second, then his eyes turned a deep yellow. In an instant, he was howling at the moon and he transformed into a five-foot-tall werewolf that ran on four legs and pounced on something invisible with his ferocious claws. It happened so fast that the invisible thing screamed in surprise.

Then, the hordes of vampires were revealed and Billy’s jaw dropped to see how close they were to being ambushed.

The gargoyles came first. Well, Keya thought, I think they came first. Everything happened so fast during her two-minute lapse that she couldn’t figure out exactly what happened first. First, she had almost passed out from using so much of her magic. When she had gathered her wits, they were being attacked. Teresa lay flat on the ground face-up. Mark was off somewhere being chased by gargoyles that shot lasers from their eyes and a vampire-wolf, a white dog-looking thing with large quarter-foot teeth was running at her. Teresa’s hand pulled her down.

“This is it,” she whispered, “The distraction.”

“This?” Keya asked. “It’s just a few dogs and some gargoyles.”

“Um,” Teresa said, “You might want to know that your little trick didn’t kill all the vampires around. Also, the statuesque vampires we saw on the video. They didn’t die. They’re immune to magic. You have to kill them the old-fashioned way. Oh, crap..wait….shhh,” She said pushing Keya down on the floor beside her with a hand on her chest.

The wolf came close to them and circled them a few times. It ran off shortly afterwards. “What was that about?” Keya asked.

“They can’t sense us,” Teresa said, “As I suspected, they’ve been experimented on so much that their sense of smell is out-of-wack. They can sense males but not females.”

In the distance, they heard an explosion.

“Finally,” Teresa said, sighing, “She sure took her sweet time repositioning herself.”

“Right, she had to move closer, since the vampires were mostly dead,” Keya added.

“Well,” Teresa said, “Look who catches on quickly. Time to move. How do you feel about flying?”

“Um…” Keya said but too late. She was already being lifted off her feet into the air by magic. From twelve feet in the air, they could see over the walls. In the front of the building with the huge eye-like gashes through it nearly-eighty stories above the ground, were the statue-like vampires holding halberds.

“Aim correctly, girl,” Teresa said, “And for the love of whatever, please control yourself.”

Teresa handed her the slingshot as they levitated higher in the air side-by-side. At around fifteen feet, the levitation stopped and they began to float forward.

These vampires stood on opposite ends of a trail like an honor guard. The path led to the front doors of the building. Keya doubted they’d be entering through the front door.

As soon as the slingshot touched her hands, Keya found herself unable to stop from using it. She didn’t even have to think rock and the rock was in her hands. She shot down so fast, it looked like it was raining black rocks. In the shadow of the night, they caught the unsuspecting vampire guards below by surprise. An explosion further from their position made the same guards scatter. The formation of guards broke and they ran.

They held their halberds up and out of them shot out red laser beams that cut through the sky at lightning speeds. One almost hit Teresa, who maneuvered herself out of the way. Then, Keya fell because Teresa couldn’t keep doing the magic trick on her.
“Shit,” she cursed.

Teresa flew down at her but already vampires were getting closer to catch her. Of a sudden, the shining gray of a katana burst from through the broken front gates of the wall. Gargoyles appeared in the sky, giving chase to the crazed man.

“Book,” Keya called out.

Teresa looked at what was happening and called out after her. “What are you doing, no, Keya, keep fighting.”

The book shot out to Keya from her magical pocket and she caught it with one hand.

Teresa touched her hand, as Keya grabbed a hold of Mark’s wrist. She opened the book.

A blue light engulfed the world they were in.

Voids appeared out of nowhere and cut them down at different angles. Some of the vampires were so astonished by this trick that they sometimes took measures to avoid the voids and were cut in half by doing so. Billy tried to be careful and stay away from Simon, who was doing a lot of cutting of his own. Simon’s sharp claws pounced on vampires as effectively, if not more than Billy’s voids. So far, Teresa and Serena just looked in shock at what was happening.

Billy looked up and saw vampires on the windows of buildings ready to jump but for some odd reason they wouldn’t. In the next instant, Billy saw why this was so. These vampires burst and left shards of ice in their wake. It was Teresa. She had frozen most of them, while Serena with her slingshot was pinging them out of the windows. More and more replaced them quickly.

The vampires weren’t entirely helpless, though. They came in huge numbers and advanced a step or two, even as Billy killed them by the dozens. At one point, he had opened so many voids that he lost track of how they were being opened. He even forgot to close one or two of them. A live vampire managed to jump into one. Billy would have to go back to that world and give his apologies, as he may have inadvertently caused innocent people to be stuck with vampires. He didn’t care much for coordinates now. Using voids for violence was easier than using them to travel. Billy didn’t need to think so hard about where he was going. He just needed the voids to be a certain shape or to direct them to close or open at a certain time. This wasn’t so hard as it was challenging. Hew was multi-opening voids, closing one and opening another but never two at the same time. For some reason, this concept seemed foolish to him. Time and space were connected in sequences. Having two of the same sequence open at the same time might create the merging of two worlds unintentionally. Billy hadn’t even thought about this until he started using voids against vampires.

Suddenly, vampires began to disappear, as though they didn’t even exist. It was like something was making them vanish. An explosion a little ways forward from their position announced that everything was going as planned in the foreground.

“Okay,” Teresa said, breathing hard, “We’re doing good. Apparently, Leroy made it to the other side. Look they’re being pinged off nicely. Now, Serena, remain in control.”

The little girl’s eyes were shining red. “I’m trying, I’m trying.”


“Duck, duck, you fool!”

Billy hit the ground and all the voids he opened vanished, leaving Simon to fight the vampires alone. Then, Billy realized this was anything but true. All the vampires in their sight became victims of flying black rocks. Billy looked at the red-eyed Serena standing four-and-a-half-feet tall with her legs in a stance. She was shooting rocks so fast that her right hand was a blur and it seemed like there were two or more slingshots in her hand. Never before had he witnessed something so strange. “Is that a talent she has?”

Teresa said, “Talent? It’s her curse. It’s the reason why nobody ever hands the girl a slingshot. Hopefully, the rubber on that thing grows dull or the handle breaks down or something. She’s unstoppable now.”

“We need to move away,” Teresa warned him, “Or we’ll be killed.”
“She does know who we are, right?”

“As far as she’s concerned, we’re targets,” Teresa said, “As long as there are vampires near, we’re safe.”

“What happens when the vampires run out?” Billy asked her.

“Well,” Teresa said, “You know, no one likes to think about the bad things good guys can do.”

Billy traveled without opening a void to Simon’s side. He got Billy by the hand and traveled back to Teresa. “Neat trick,” Teresa said, “Now get us the heck out of here.”

“What about her?” Billy asked.

“Well, if you want to take her with us, but I’d vote against it.”

“Ditto,” said Simon, who was now back to normal or as normal as a kid werewolf got. He took a rock from his shoulder. “It didn’t hit me, thank god. It ricochet off the wall after it hit some poor vampire.”

“Yes,” Billy said, “I never thought I’d be hearing the words poor vampire in my life.”

It took them a long time to get up from the ground and slowly move away from the lethal weapon that was Serena. Any vampires nearby or above them had been smart enough to try and run away. "Won't she run out of ammo," Simon asked.

"Um, no," Teresa said, "It's a magic pouch."

"Sometimes," Billy said, "This magic thing could be a double-edged sword, you know that?"

Teresa nodded. "Do your thingy and get us out of here."

Billy closed his eyes and concentrated on traveling to the main building's doors. They were there instantly. As guards, whoever led these vampires, put men in halberds. These were tall seven-foot types with black concrete-made armors. Teresa waved her hand and they turned to dust.

"It's good to have the sword," Teresa said, smiling down at Billy.

Billy looked at the door. "Locked," he said. They were at what looked like a set of double-doors, which Billy expected to open of their own accord like they did when he went to the mall or to a department store. Nothing happened. He almost ran into the doors. These were a non-see-through dark tinted black. "Now what?" Billy asked.

"Well, you know," Teresa said, "I thought you might do your void thingy."

"This close?" Billy asked, "I would cut us in half before I could even start."

"And you wolf boy?" Teresa asked Simon.

Simon shrugged. "I have no clue. I can turn at will but only if I'm in imminent danger. The door is pretty safe, I think."

"My magic is being monitored," Teresa said, "If I use it again, it'll be like ringing an alarm to every vampire within a twenty-mile radius."
"So what do we do?" Billy asked.

"I got an idea," Teresa said. "Step back a little but not too far. If we back up too much, the invisible alarm will sound."

Teresa then spoke to her wrist, "Um, Leroy, can you snipe the door open?"

He did much worse. He shot the door and the glass shattered, making loud clattering noises on the floor.

"Well," Teresa said, shaking her head, "So much for our distraction."

"I'm going to ask a stupid question now," Billy said, "Did the alarms sound?"

"What do you think, genius?" Teresa asked, stepping over the glass to go into the building.

They went into the building. Billy immediately noticed how big the room was on the inside. It was fifteen feet tall on the inside. And to the far wall they saw men in black suits, leading a--it was Mark. They had Mark in their hands and they were dragging him along. He was passed out with a tube of some sort coming out of the suitcases they were carrying.

"Freeze!" Teresa yelled. "Shoot, magic. They can steal my magic, those sonsof--?"
Simon got them first, ripping apart one man's entire shoulder with a claw.

Then, Billy felt a pang to his heart. He saw Simon vanish. So many voids had been opened at one time that he almost didn't see how it had happened. He had enough experience with traveling that it was obvious to see how the voids opened and closed. He wasn't just gone. He had been ripped to pieces.

Mark lay on the floor.


"We have to go, boy or we'll be next."
Billy gave her a mean stare. His eyes were glowing green. "We'll see who the bully is."

Impossibly fast and without knowing how, he grabbed Teresa by the waist and opened four voids. They covered him from four sides like a square and he opened one last one on top. It was like watching purple darkness move. On the inside was Billy and Teresa.

"How the hell are you doing that, huh?"

Billy was too focused to explain to her that he didn't know. He was acting on impulse, on pure fury and anger. Simon had been his friend and he doubted he'd be stopped now.

He let go of the void in front of him and dragged Mark, suitcases and all inside the voids. But before he knew it, they all left him.


Behind them, on top a control room was a figure in all red. He simply flicked his fingers and Teresa's outstretched arm fell off her body. Blood didn't come out but it was clear that her veins had been singed at the bone. She fainted but Billy caught her in his arms. Then, like the trial with the lion, he vanished before the man finished flicking his fingers again.

Something like white flowery dust surrounded them. Keya couldn't tell what it was but it felt soft and squishy like it was alive or something. Then, a loudspeaker announced, "Oh, hi! You guys failed so awesomely!"

Keya looked around and the white powdery stuff flew off her body. "Um," Keya said, "What happened?"

"We cured you," the loudspeaker lady said.

"Who are you?"

"Nordits, at your service, ma'm, er, missy," the voice said.

"Where are you?"

"Down here," said the voice.

Keya looked down and found that she was talking to a floating leaf. After having fought vampires, she found the whole thing quite annoying.

Mark and Teresa were right there in front of her. Mark looked to be healed of any wounds he may have sustained in battle. Even the blood was gone.

Teresa's black and red outfit was sparkling clean.

They woke right after the leaf said "Nordits."

Mark said, "Great, Nordits, bunch of drunk immortals."

"Hey!" The voice said, "Yes, calm down, I know its accurate but its not just a bunch of us. Of course, I'm setting him straight, why do you think I said 'hey' for? Who's the mike leader anyway?"

"But they healed us," Teresa said, smiling. She hugged Mark so hard, he fell back a little. Mark laughed. "Wow," Mark said, "A world without vampires."
"Mind you, there were some," the voice said, "But we set them straight."

"You did what exactly?" Keya asked, still a bit shaky.

"We made them stop being vampires and then they were people but then a lot of us insulted them for not being vampires and someone said that they were bad at being vampires, so they left to some other part of the planet, which quite frankly, I thought was very rude of them, don't you think?"

"Not," Keya said, but rethought her phrasing, "I mean, I guess."

Then, something even more strange happened.

Billy fell from the sky.

The white powdery stuff flew from all directions to catch him.

A girl who could be called the replica of Teresa in a black and white outfit fell from the sky but was missing part of her right hand. Basically, there was a vein-filled and blotchy dark spot where an arm should be. The powdery white stuff caught her too.

And, finally, the Mark from the library fell from the sky. He, too, was engulfed by the white powdery stuff.

"What the hell?" Keya asked. She ran at Billy, who seemed to be passed out for the moment.

"Oh, yea," the voice said, "The failure, Great Traveler of Worlds, who is doomed to Fail once, but everyone thinks will succeed in the end, has returned."
"What are they talking about?" Keya asked Teresa.

Teresa shrugged and began to make out with Mark, who had dropped his katana on the floor and had forgot all about the flying leaf or the Nordits.

"What are you talking about, leaf?"
"It's Ariana, Conqueror of the Weak in a Milkmaids Dress but you can call me LustMaiden, thank you very much."
Keya thought about this. Then said, "Ariana will do, I think."

"Told you she wouldn't do it, now quit asking me to do that."
Keya held Billy's hand. It was cold. For a moment, her heart felt like it would burst. "Why is his hand cold?" Keya asked, forgetting the Nordits for the moment.

"The master of dimensions is being healed, you ditz."

Keya grabbed the leaf.

She heard through the speaker shouts of complaint,

"Dernit, dagon she-lion, whatinblazes, ohmygod,ohmygod, she has the leaf of justice!" This last came from the female.

"I didn't come here to be insulted. Now, tell me, is Billy okay?"

"Oh, Billy, ey? Gone behind my back now, everyone's going back to that ole Billy thing. Look we take names of our saviors seriously around here and his name is....uncertain at this time but we're working on it, you see, so none of this foolish Billy business."

"I'll call him whatever I want!"

Keya shook the leaf to make her point.

"SonoJervintheGreat," one loud-mouthed Nordit yelled through the speaker, "LettheweelasscallemBuggertbut donna letr do that again. The whisky's gone to me head!"

"Okay, okay," Adriana said, "Billy for now, master of dimensions, blah, blah, the point is he's fine, she-witch."
"Keya will do, I think, don't you?"

"Yes, yes, let the leaf go. Gently, gently, miss Keya."

Keya let go of the leaf with a smile. This was one fight she could easily win.

She stayed for what seemed like five minutes looking down at a passed-out Billy. Had he come after her? She was the one that was supposed to find him and it was quite unfair that he found her or did they find each other? It was more accurate to say that this happened than to be upset by the other thing.

In the end, Billy was Billy, a seriously confused boy with remote feelings of affection for Keya or so Keya hoped. She had grown so much over the past few months in other dimensions. She wondered if time had passed as much for Billy, who traveled everywhere to try and save the universe. And he had found the real Mark Piersley. If only he would wake up, so she could ask how the heck he did it.

And, as if on cue, Billy's eyes opened but his face was one of confusion. Immediately, he came up to her and gave her a hug, which was surprising. But then, he started to cry which made Keya wonder what had happened. "Um, it's nice to see you, too, Billy."

"Simon died," Billy said, through broken tears, "He died. I failed him. The Nordits said I would fail but I didn't believe them. I shouldn't have taken him with me. How could I be so dumb!"
The leaf was silent for once.

"You knew!" Billy snapped at them. "You knew and didn't tell me!"
"Knowing is our curse," the female voice said, pity in her tone. "We knew the girl would come back too but you never asked those questions. Do you not think that we weren't dying to tell you everything and, even now, we wish we could tell you the truth of it all, the truth of the end but it is not up to us. We are made of a cruel magic."

Keya consoled Billy a minute longer. "We must go back," Keya said. "There's still someone trapped in the other vampire world, where those two come from. Right now, we can't be consumed by this."

"What will I tell Francine?" Billy asked, still crying, "That's her nephew. He was my best friend."

"And he saved my life," a white-haired Mark Piersley said, now looking as young as his replica. The two Piersley's looked at each other for a moment.

"Not the strangest thing I've seen," they echoed to each other.

They stood apart, distancing themselves.

Teresa, the one in red and black, was leaning on Mark now. Mark was so happy to not be around vampires that he kissed her again.

"We go back," Teresa said. "The girl is right. There's someone in that place and as good as this is, it isn't our world."

"And my friends are in that other world," the other Mark said.

"One earth at a time," Billy said, "First, let's go save the stranger. Serena seems to have things in order where you were kept captive."

"Serena died, Billy," Keya said to him.

"That's strange," Billy said, "Because I met a Serena." Billy turned to look at the Teresa dressed in black and white, who was on the floor. Her hand had grown back.

She looked at her arm strangely. "These Nordits and their stupid magic. I was going to get a cool robotic arm like in the movies."

"I believe Billy is looking at you because Serena is back?" the white haired Mark said.

"So I stole a Serena from another dimension and duped her into thinking that her Mark Piersley was our Mark Piersley, big deal, sue me."

Both Marks looked at each other and said at the same time, "Our little sister is alive?"
Keya rolled her eyes, "Yes," she said, "Just don't mistake her for me again."

"But wait," the white-haired Mark said, "Before we go, you and the others go make friends," he told Keya and Teresa, "I have to talk to the...traveler."

Keya gave Mark a look and rolled her eyes. She didn't like to be separated from Billy but she was also somewhat shocked to see that the slingshot she had had in her hand was in Teresa's right back pocket.

Billy looked at Mark expectantly as the others walked down a trail that was made for them by the Nordits. The Nordits were not speaking to them which probably meant that they were off drinking somewhere. Billy still had strange feelings for the Nordits but he was amazed that they could heal so well. "I know what you're thinking," Mark said, "But the Nordits can't cure all vampires from the decease. If anything our little friends got lucky that they could cure them. You know they're so immortal that they love anything involving pain. They think they die every time someone steps on them. That's why they could heal you. Their immortal blood has inert curing enhancements. Do you know how they cured us?"

"No," Billy said, "But you're going to ruin my hopes and dreams by telling me aren't you?"

"They spit on you."

"Ugh," Billy said, swallowing, "Really? I was spat on by those things? Am I drunk now?"

"Try not to dwell on it. I really wanted to speak to you about dimensional stability. Now, listen. Yes, we'll go back and go into that castle to save the mystery person in their filthy lair. However, you must know this about the man who with the flick of his fingers killed your friend. He is not Arthur Lacroise. Not the Arthur Lacroise I knew, anyway. The real one may still be loose out there somewhere traveling from dimension to dimension still seeking his vengeance. You can't feel the breaking of the universe on this earth but you should be able to feel it like an uneasiness in your stomach. I feel it here because of my special connection to it. Did you want me to save you from this mess? No. I can not. Like I said, this dimension thing is not my problem."

"You never said that!" Billy complained.

"Well," Mark said, "It's not. It's yours."
"Why isn't it yours?"

"I have bigger problems okay? Now, you're the kid destined to save the universe, accept it and deal with it or we're all going to be in trouble. Let's go save this person and keep your nerves. What I was trying to tell is to watch your back. There are parts of the universe that are collapsing in on each other and if a disconnection happens where we can not travel to all three true earths, the fabric of the planetary universe might collapse. Think Billy. The three earths are shaped like a triangle. Earths in the lines of those triangles are crashing against each other, merging. If too many of these non-true earths collide and merge, they will break the triangle, causing the true earths to spiral away from the triangle, which will disentangle the triangle, as though it were a pile of marbles and were hit by a boulder, scattering earths everywhere. Climates on different earths will change, the universe will be undone, and we might all die. Now, keep your head straight and remember what I said."

"What about Arthur Lacroise?" Billy asked, curious as to why Mark had brought it up.

"Oh, yes, he might show up unexpectedly at just the wrong moment. He's good at that."

"I see," Billy said, "So I have to put the earths right and deal with some rogue traveler set on revenge against anyone that looks like Keya."

"Pretty much."

"I hate you."

"But you don't hate Keya."

Billy stayed silent and gave Mark a mean look. They walked back to a place full of grass. The Nordits could make anything in their white foggy earth appear from thin air or maybe they made it with their magic. Now Mark sat next to the Teresa dressed in red and black. A tree was there and the black-haired Mark sat with his back against it, smiling as Teresa stroked his hair. The Teresa dressed in white looked at her earth's Mark and gave the other couple a look of disgust, "Really? You went for Mark? Hmmm. I would have stuck with Ruben."

The other Teresa cleared her throat. "In our earth. Ruben didn't make it."

"I'm sorry," Teresa said to her other self. It was weird to watch it. One doppelganger feeling sorry for the other. Billy shook his head, wanting it to be over already. It was like the nightmare had just begun. Before, at least, he could see his enemy. Now, he was fighting to keep the universe from falling apart. Why was he always fighting? He didn't want to be the bully anymore.

The final void opened into an already fought battlefield. Inside the castle gates there lay dead gargoyles and a tall black man in nothing but army pants and steel-toe boots. He was sitting on the bodies of the Halberd-carrying vampires. "Ey, mates," he said, "I got a mighty good hold on reality now, don't I?"
But in the next instant, they had traveled back, away from that earth. Mark cursed.

"Not today," Billy said to the white-haired Mark.

All six of them were in the darkness of a clear street. A little closer and they would be at the castle walls where a huge hole had been made by the impact of Teresa's magic. They stood alone. "Why did you send us there, huh?" Billy asked Mark.

"I thought I could end it sooner," Mark said. "How did you figure it out so fast?"

"I didn't," Billy said, "But I saw you travel out and it was wrong. Everything about the way you did it suggested you weren't going the right way."

"And how did you know the right way?" Keya asked him. She was staring at the wall and Billy figured that she recognized the place. Gargoyles roamed the skies vigilant.

Every second or so, they heard the gargoyle's wings flap in the air. It was like the meshing of electrical wires.

"Is this the place?" Billy asked.

"Yes," Keya said.

"Hmm," Billy said, "I didn't know. I just fixed Mark's travel."

"Fixed?" Mark asked.

"I traveled not to where you thought you should be but where you needed to be," Billy said.

"Oh," Mark said, "But you didn't open any voids?"

"Yeah," Billy said, smiling, "Remember when you told me to visit that dimension with the lion? Well, they know something you don't know and now so do I."

"You might just be the one after all," white-haired Mark said. The other Mark stayed relatively quiet, Billy noticed.

"Why don't you speak?" Billy asked him.

"I'm more of a fighter," the other Mark said.

Billy walked closer to the wall and he noticed that a gargoyle had stopped in mid-air to stare at them. Billy held a hand up and it was cut in half. The other Mark was busy sending most of the wall into another dimension. Now, the ranks of angry werewolves were clearly visible to them. In addition to guards with halberds, seven-foot demons with horns and stone-like armors, there were werewolves on the front of the building. They were all ranked, as though it was a private military installation. Billy had never seen anything like it. He figured it was to do with a vampire's sense of honor. It didn't matter to Billy because he wasn't there to worry about vampires anymore.

Part of the gargoyle fell from the sky into a void. It's other half shattered to pieces on the street. Keya took a step back, not wanting to be hit by the debris. "Really? That's your trick? Well," she said, "I'm not really that impressed."

"You're not?" Billy asked, "I mean, I wasn't expecting...but I thought it was real neat the first time I did it."

"Love birds," Keya's Teresa said, "Let's get on with it."

The two Teresa's split up. Keya's took the right side of the wall following her Mark. The other was on the left following a path that directly led to the demons wearing halberds. These were either cut in half by voids or burst into fire but then were put out, since the magic didn't affect them. The voids weren't magic, so they were still cut in half. After realizing this, the other Mark's Teresa started shooting down the gargoyles, which were increasingly affected by magic. Teresa shot a three-shot ice-beam from her wrist like a bullet but consistently. It hit one of the gargoyles and it paused mid-flight, frozen. Its eye moved from left to right as it fell, then shattered into tiny ice crystals on the ground.

"Now that's a neat trick," Keya said, smiling.

The traveler Mark cut things completely out of the picture but they weren't quite living when he did so. A gargoyle flew straight at Keya but then Mark put his hand out and the gargoyle's head hung slightly off its neck, then vanished completely right before it crashed into Keya. Billy tried to figure out how he was cutting them so fast. He concentrated hard on the gargoyles, since there was so many of them, there was no way Mark could cut them all out of existence before Billy figured out the trick.

Keya took a step back and almost stumbled onto a concrete rock on the road, leftover from previous explosions. "The non-coma you is scary."

"How'd you learn my trick so fast!" Billy exclaimed, realizing that Mark had not opened a void to make the gargoyle travel to a different dimension.

Mark smiled, and adjusted his shirt. Dressed mostly in a black suit whose buttons were missing over a sweaty T-shirt, Mark was the not-so astute possible hero of all worlds. Billy couldn't really place him. Was he really the dull Mark in the library who loved tea and to tell boring stories? Well, the Nordits had definitely healed whatever it was that was bothering Mark earlier.

The other Mark had run into the building itself. He was now by the entrance. A trail of chopped off heads and halberds lay in his wake. The werewolves had not chased him.

Meanwhile, growls were heard from all sides, as Billy walked closer to the wall, his every step crunching on fallen pieces of ash mixed with broken concrete. "They know who you are, I think," Keya said.

For a second, Billy had forgot she was there. Why hadn't she stayed in the library learning things? It would have been simpler, that's why. As far as Billy knew, none of his ordeal with traveling to different dimensions had been easy. Of all of it, losing Simon had been the worst. He was not eager to see another good friend of his hurt because he couldn't fix the universe in time.

As if on cue, above them appeared five gargoyles, circling them like innocent prey. Luckily, one of the Teresa's had remained by them. She clicked her fingers and blue rays shot out of one of her finger nails. All five gargoyles were obliterated from the sky. "I got," Teresa said, "Better tricks. Where is your slingshot, little girl?"

Keya looked at the other Teresa with some interest but she didn't look like she got along with her. She simply shook her head.

"You're afraid you might hurt him. Him? The fat one?"

Now, Billy could see that Keya was getting upset and he fought hard not to blush. Billy doubted Keya could hurt anyone but if she was afraid to use a slingshot, it must be for a reason. Maybe, she wasn't so good with one. Billy remembered that he had some skill shooting people from the four-foot height of the local pine tree with rubber bands. It couldn't be much different, could it?

"Not now," Billy said, his face focused on the wolves ahead of them.

"Mark," Teresa said, catching up to him, "Mark!"

The white-haired Mark stopped walking. He was heading alone toward the wall but waited for them to catch up.

The wolves began to run at them. They were inches before Mark's feet before a sudden impact made the world go boom in an instant.

Keya breathed in hard. She didn't scream this time. She smiled at that but was still not happy to be bounced around in some magic balloon like a toy. Billy held her hand, which was important to her. It was almost as important as how he reacted to the explosion. He wasn't refusing to scream. Instead, he looked around as they bounced on top of the wolves in the magic bubble created by the new Teresa, and smiled. He actually smiled.

Mark and Teresa looked like they were practiced in this. Mark got ahead of them on purpose. It was to lure the wolves out. Keya smiled at how clever the trick was. Again, though, they had left her and Billy out of it. What was up with that? Couldn't the younger generation get a heads-up on the motives of the grown-ups? It was, after all, Keya's idea to come and save this unknown person from the grasp of the vampires.

The armies of wolves that lay before them couldn't be crushed all at once with simple explosions, though. Keya started to see this and so did Teresa and Mark.

Before them were wolves in leagues of a thousand standing side-by-side before the entrance, where Mark and Teresa were busy fighting them off. How had they passed by them without being attacked? Well, Keya figured, Teresa is a witch. If anything, they had cloaking capabilities. Hadn't this new Teresa shot blue lasers from her hand and defeated five gargoyles instantly? No one commented on her trick. Was it because she was a girl? Or simply because she was a witch and that kind of thing was expected of them? Keya didn't like it either way.

They got in the middle of it all, and the bubble vanished. Billy began to open voids, not to kill but to get rid of the werewolves. They were surrounded by the ugly white-haired mongrels. Two of them jumped at them. The white-haired Mark, unsheathed a hidden sword and cut them in half, blood dripping off his sword. A wolf head with glowing yellow eyes landed by Keya's foot. She kicked it away from herself in disgust.

"Slingshot?" the other Teresa asked.

Keya shook her head. The slingshot was too dangerous. She now realized why they didn't want her to have it before. It was ecstasy, pure joy to hold it in her hands and shoot with it. It was like her senses shot down and she could only think of shooting the slingshot. Was that like a curse or some sort of magic put on her? Why didn't it affect others in that way? Keya figured it had something to do with being Mark's little sister in other dimensions. The talent for the slingshot seemed to be connected somehow.

Of a sudden, everything became like a lingering sensation on her ears. She felt the hairs on her hands stand on end. Throbbing, she put her hands on her head to stop some unheard noise from bothering her. Something was using magic on them. Billy too was on the ground but he had a hand up. He began to do something quite amazing that Keya didn't think any of them was capable of.

The wolves scattered away from all of them, as the silent noise began to get audible slowly. It was a scary "Eeeeeeeee" sound that was surrounding them like a rapidly spreading virus. Keya's knees hit the ground from how much it hurt her ears and it started to create a ripple effect on her skin. She could see her skin moving up and down, as though they were an ocean. But, then, that too stopped. Her skin became stable again and the noise was gone.

Billy, somehow, had them in a half-circle void that they could see through. But everything that was being thrown at them, including the noise was being swallowed up by the outside of the void. Inside all of four of them fit fine, as Billy had opened the void ten-feet wide. How was he even doing it? Was he really that much more powerful than the rest of them.

Teresa and Mark were looking at him in shock, while the other Teresa and Mark lay on the floor, unconscious near the entrance to the building.

"Holy, crap," Teresa said.

"What is the boy doing now?"

A man with a red cape and a hunter's green beret with a white feather sticking out of it, floated down from the top of the building. He had on unique ruby shoes and red slacks with an ugly matching suit-coat. He also wore a blue tie. The biggest problem that Keya now saw was that this person floating down on them was, in fact, not a vampire. Yet, he smiled.

He had worrisome green eyes and a fair complexion, though the color of his hair was uncertain, as the hat covered most of his forehead. "La croise," Mark sighed, dropping his swords. "He's got magic now."

The man came close to the void but took care not to get too near. He obviously knew a lot about traveling. He stared down at Keya and the rest, including at Billy who was glowing green now. He didn't look to be the least bit tired. His talent was not like hers, then. Keya would never be able to hold the light for so long. She would be weakened by the effort and probably pass out.

"A nice trick," The man said, "Where did you learn that from, Mark? Oh...but it's not you doing it, is it? I sense....something different." He put a finger inside the void and part of his finger was lost. The man smiled as he pulled what was rest of his finger back. The finger reformed itself. "You know what I found about the past, Mark, would surprise you. All this time, this whole mess with the universe collapsing in on itself. No one wanted to ask, well, how can we capitalize on the situation? The girl looks nervous. Don't worry, dear, I long since gave up on my petty vendetta. Karla? Old news. Markus, it's been a while. Your witch friend there made sure of that, didn't she? I lost everything and you gained everything, didn't you, Mark? I bet that's not how the great Piersley tells the story, is it? Did he tell you he was cursed? Is he still going on and on about how the vampires are his problem? Well, one thing is certain, they were my solution. My solution to the downfall of mankind. I no longer seek the vengeance I did before for your...betrayal, Mark. I know you claim that we were friends, while the whole time you only plotted to use me for your own purposes, weren't you? What was it that made me so mad? You got the girl and I didn't? Was that it? Some petty fight, jealousy, envy?" The man smiled, "Such petty things to worry about. Why? When the universe holds so many better and more advanced pleasures. I found a world of women, quite nice but they tried to enslave me. The Nordits were the worst. I obliterated half their race and all they could do is cheer magically. They spat on me so much that for two or three weeks I felt quite healed and dirty at the same time. Damn matter, in a day or so, they'll be like you, trapped with nowhere to go."

"What have you done, Lacroise?" Mark asked. He looked upset.

Both Teresa and Mark were eyeing the man, nervously.

"Mind stepping out of that bubble to speak to me?" Lacroise asked.

With one hand he karate chopped Billy's bubble and it broke apart into nothingness. Billy tried to put it back up but Arthur waved a hand in his direction and Billy became so frozen stiff that he fell on his side. On the floor, he still didn't move. Keya ran to his side, worried.

"Brings back memories, doesn't it?"

The good thing was that the sound was gone. Keya looked back but the old Teresa and Mark were gone.

"Lacroise, what have you done?"

"I did what you couldn't," Arthur said, "What did you think, I was keeping you alive in some other world for nothing? That you could escape me so easily? This was planned. So you killed a few vampires, who cares. There's endless worlds out there full of vampires."

"But you'll destroy our universe!"

. "Those earths do not belong to our universe. You know that! It's about time we broke away from what we have known. All I did was travel consistently between the true earths. It has created a neat array of displacement in your triangular universe. You think that making true earths would stop me, that you could stop the universe from expanding. You and your precious little libraries? For those of you who are not savvy, opening a void in certain libraries makes an earth distinct from the other, thus making them true earths. Otherwise, they would roam uncontrolled in the universe, not quite suitable for life, either."

"It wasn't like that La Croise. If you spin the triangular universe out of control, it will spiral multiple dimensions in all directions and destroy all earths as we know them....why would you even try such a thing?"

"Because, it was time, don't you think? Isn't it time now, that me and you put our grudge aside? Back in my world, in your world, your Detective agency waits for you, what is it now, the second curse, your ill-fated luck, everyone's having a bad day there, why would you want to go back to that? Wouldn't you prefer that your luck change?"

"I don't know how good it has gotten," Mark said, "Keeping me in a comma for years, while I await rescue from some dream, the supposed traveler of worlds."

"The one traveler, yes. I remember that. Those Norditz are good at the drinking and the tales they tell...pure fantasy, I assure you. This boy, is that who they chose? Don't be taken in by the lies, boy. Wake up. You think you're the one that's going to save these people? The girls can't even use their magic. I stopped all six of you with a sound spell, not even a strong one. How can your little voids defeat me?"

"It's not about defeating you," Mark said, looking down at the motionless Billy.

"He knows how to fight the spell," Lacroise said, "Creating voids to absorb it, how clever. Is that what Mark taught you? Yes, a traveler has his defenses but not in this case, boy. Do you know where I've been? I've seen the top of a mountain that only spews fire and came out with the glowing red orb that allowed me to heal myself of all mortal wounds. During my petty vengeance, one of the girls actually got a hold of her slingshot in time. Had I not traveled away in time, I would have died a gruesome death. The girl is more dangerous than any of you but, I see, that she is weaponless. Nice pouch, honey, is that pure gold silk thread? I saw that in a world a few years back. Where the heck? No matter. Now, let's see...what the....?"
The man flew away.

Multiple voids appeared in the air all of them the shape of a circle but the voids copied themselves, appearing right under Lacroises feet but every time one appeared, Lacroise flew higher. So many appeared at one time that Lacroise had to fly fifty feet in the air before they stopped appearing beneath him. A fifty foot cylinder of voids remained.

Billy was on the ground but he was glowing green again, and he was smiling.

The magic of that man was strong but he finally figured out that he could absorb it. It was, after all, only energy created by the air. The whole of the magic ropes that bound him was made of an invisible air but since he could feel the ropes, he could also figure out a way to make them go away with dimensional rifts. Tiny ones. However, this wasn't working and Lacroise kept using his magic to hold him tighter, yet now Billy saw something that others perhaps couldn't. He could see that he was being held not by magic but by voids. He could see the voids. They were gray and black and they were chain-linked to each other. They formed a curling rope around his body that criss-crossed over and around his shoulders and neck.

It was then that Billy figured out something cool about traveling. Something he had forgotten about. The lion had told him about the hunt. He didn't need darkness to travel. But, also, he didn't need voids to make things travel away from him. Thus, he made the whole rope itself travel to another dimension and as, for some odd reason, Lacroise felt a need to tell everyone his life story, Billy just lay there pretending to be ensnared with the void-made chains. When the right time came, he used a multi-void attack that Billy had only just recently figured out how to do. It was becoming tiring how often he learned new tricks with his talent. Nothing he did was going to be good enough to capture this man, though. He was much more talented than Mark had let on.

And, as fast as Billy had made the ropes vanish from him, they reappeared again. He made them vanish to another dimension again but they reappeared again. This was now a race with traveling skills. He would create the dimension-chain and Billy would get rid of it. Somewhere, in some unknown earth, there lay a pile of invisible void chains that was quickly escalating to new heights.

This didn't mean that Teresa or Mark were not trying to help but they too were bound by the ropes and Billy couldn't exactly keep the ropes off of himself, let alone all three of them.

"It's too easy," Lacroise said, smiling. "To think, a child challenges my talent. Come, come. Keep trying, boy, you amuse me. I know everything about you, Billy. You know next to nothing about traveling. You lost a friend with a click of my fingers. What makes you think you won't lose another? The girl, perhaps?"

"NO!" Billy yelled.

The ropes could no longer stay on him, though the magic was still being cast on him. Billy's eyes only saw a blinking on and off of grey and black chain-linked void ropes appear and disappear.

Lacroise was about to click his fingers but then both of lacroises hands were gone.

"What is this?" Lacroise asked, looking at his hand. "What is this trick, huh? No one should be able to do this!"

Lacroise's hands began to heal themselves. "How did you do that, huh? You made my hands disappear without voids...are you a magician as well, some Piersley-born child, is he your son?"

Mark couldn't speak.

The other two Mark and Teresa were sneaking up behind Lacroise who was now only ten feet off the ground.

Teresa's hand went up and Lacroise became an ice cube but as soon as this happened, so did Teresa. Mark was careful not to step on her. Billy blinked in her direction and sent her to the Nordit world. The other Mark looked at him and crossed his hands.

"This is our fight, too!" That Mark complained.

Billy shook his head and blinked him to the Nordit world as well.

"Mark!" Keya yelled.

"Relax," Billy said to her, "I sent them somewhere safe."

"What are you doing, Billy?" Keya asked. She was afraid.

"Not right now," Billy said, "I can't have you be afraid of me, right now, okay? I just need you to trust me."

"His weakness!" Lacroise growled.

He put a hand out, now it was fully-healed and re-grown. Keya was lifted in the air. The ropes were on her but they were so intricately woven around her body that Billy could not possibly make them leave her body without hurting her.

"Leave her alone!" Billy snapped.

"Ha," Lacroise snapped back, "Like a child with a lost toy. Do you want this girl back?"

Billy checked Lacroise's eyes. Yes. He could see it now. Something about him was wrong. Keya vanished. Billy smiled. A second later, he too was gone.

"So," Lacroise said, "It's just you and me now Mark and Teresa. What shall I do with you, huh?"

Billy caught Keya from falling into a pit of flaring lava. Lacroise was true to his word. He had definitely been in an earth made of entirely huge mountains of lava and brimstone. Billy could barely breathe in this world.

It comes to mind that even after all that has happened, a man will win this fight. Most of the fights are won by men, some say. Keya didn't like that sort of thing but this was how it was going to be, it seemed. Keya was in Billy's arms, which was the only place she wanted to be but he was falling to their doom into a fiery pit from hell, it looked like. Below them lay a black and red pool of lava that meant it was about the end of their travels together, which made her sad. As far as Keya was concerned, it was about damn time. She was tired of fighting. Since she had left her world, she had been fighting with herself, her people, and her friends. It was time to stop, stop all this craziness with traveling from one world to another.

The fight in the past, that was not her fight and the fight of the future, well, that was Billy's fight. It didn't matter now. Soon, they would be dead.

Billy tapped her on the forehead gently with a finger. For a moment, time seemed to stop. He smiled down at her and she looked up at him dreamily.

"Is it over?" She asked him, in a whisper?

"Don't give up on me yet," Billy said and he smiled. He smiled so sweetly that Keya almost lost track of something that Billy put in her hand. It was handle-shaped and bone-made. It was a freaking slingshot!

She looked down. Before they hit the lava a black void appeared under their feet.

Maybe, a girl could be the hero for once.

It happened so fast that if Billy had blinked, he would have missed it entirely. A rock flew at Arthur Lacroise's head. Lacroise vanished. Rocks began to fly everywhere and Teresa and Mark took cover. Billy landed on the ground beside Keya, who was shooting rocks off at irregular speeds and at anything near her without control. The bag around her neck spat them out at incredible rates.

Glass from the building in front of them shattered. Billy made the slingshot travel elsewhere and re-appear in his hands.

Keya fell to the floor and looked at her hands.

Some of the rocks he had to travel to other dimensions or they would have killed Mark and Teresa.

Mark and Teresa opened their eyes. Mark examined his body nervously. "I'm not dead, thank god!" He exclaimed.

Billy looked at the slingshot in wonder. Mark snatched it from his hands and gave Keya a mean look. "That wasn't a good plan," Mark said, "I mean of all the plans to have, that scores an eleven on the scale of idiotic. Rather leave us to that man's incessant rant than to the mercy of that one's slingshot."

Teresa got up and dusted herself, "Well, so long as you kids don't ever do that again, I guess I'll be fine."

In the next instant, three things happened that Billy just couldn't explain.

Mark fell on the ground and began to convulse. A vampire in chains fell from the sky and died right in front of them. And, a woman of undeterminable age fell with him, except Teresa made her float lightly on the ground. Then, the third thing, she began to go into convulsions.

"Travel him to the Nordits, please," Teresa told Billy.

Billy shrugged and obeyed, although he had mixed feelings about seeing Mark in pain.

As soon as Mark vanished, the young woman stopped convulsing. She was wearing nothing but a white dress. Her bare feet were scarred in places but otherwise she was okay. She had golden hair and pretty blue eyes. She was among the top two most beautiful women that Billy had ever seen, next to Simon's sister from that other dimension. At the thought of Simon, Billy frowned a little but he shook the thought of him out of his head.

"Now," the girl said, "Who do I have to thank for my stupendous rescue?"

"What was that whole thing about?" Billy asked.

"Oh," Teresa said, "This is Mark's would-be girlfriend. As the first curse is broken in our world, it's not broken in this world, so when they get close to each other, a fair amount of pain is inflicted to both of them."

"Why didn't you ask me to send her to the Nordits?"

"The little princess doesn't like them," Teresa said, "Never accepts anyone's help. It's probably the reason why we got to rescue Mark first."

"Mark is safe!" the girl exclaimed. "Not that I care because I don't. But he is safe, right?"

Teresa shrugged. "You see? Both of them are crazy, if you ask me."

"You're Wendy," Keya exclaimed at Billy's side. "Oh, of course. You're the one who we were supposed to rescue but how did you escape?"

"Well," Wendy said, "That has to do with luck. One of the magical vampires up there slipped up enough for me to get into his mind. After that I took over and he was doing things to his buddies that it will never forget, except it has to forget since it did those same things to itself."

"She can control your mind," Teresa said, "It's creepy."

Wendy looked at Billy and Keya and smiled. "Well, well, well, we have a situation here, don't we?"

"Don't read my mind," Billy said, looking down at his feet.

Keya shrugged. "Can I get my slingshot back?"

All three of them yelled, "NO!"

"Oh, sorry," Billy said, "I mean, maybe that thing is best kept away from you...for now, Keya. For now."

"It's a joke, okay, wow, when did everyone get so pushy?"

Billy realized he was still holding it in his hand and when Keya had asked for it, he had squeezed it in his hand. Billy, then, traveled everyone back to their own world and traveled to the Norditz with Keya on his side.

He threw the book that Keya had to Mark and Teresa from the vampire world. "Find a world," Billy said, "And take your friends there with you. Lacroise is that guy's problem and, from the looks of it, he has friends that can take care of themselves in this matter."

The white-haired Mark was leaning on a Nordit-made tree eating an apple. "Coulda killed Lacroise, Keya. You coulda. But no, let him escape to some other world, didn't you?"

"We have to go," Billy said, "The best thing to do now, is to travel to your own world."

"The idiots came here," Mark said.


"James and his band of misfits."

"What did you do?"

"Well," Mark said, "I explained the finer details of traveling to them."

"You sent them to the world with the lion and the tiger didn't you?"

"Did you know," Mark said, "That if you don't learn your lesson from the lion and the tiger, that stupid tiger and lion will keep on messing with you? I believed that twenty tigers had died before I realized it was the exact same one he was eating every day."

"So you gave them the power to travel during the day, smart," Billy said.

"Ah," Mark said, "Now you're giving those fools too much credit. They'll never learn their lesson. I hope they like rabbit. That's all those fool tigers eat in that world. Twenty days there and nothing but rabbit, sometimes not even cooked right."

"Ugh, raw?"

"No, overcooked," Mark said, "Tigers love fire."

Billy and Keya laughed.

Keya was still holding his hand for some reason. Well, good, it was reassuring him that he had to go back to somewhere real.

"It's time," Mark said.

For a moment, Keya didn't know what was happening because Billy let go of her hand and she looked shaken by this, as though it was one of the greatest crimes committed against her. And she could tell that Billy didn't want to let go of her hand, either.

"Don't panic," Mark said, "He's just letting you say good bye."

"Oh," Keya said, "I get that."

"Saved our lives back there, you know that right?"
"Well," Keya said, "I still don't know if I could ever control it."

"Work on that," Mark said, "But you might never need that sling shot again, that is to say, not anymore."

"Well," Keya said, "How do I keep him in good order, then?"

Mark sighed with a frown but said, "I think, you should relax. You're young and you never know what the future might bring."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I wish you the best of luck, Keya, I mean that with all my heart. You were a dear and kind friend to me, when I thought I had none. But now, I know different. I could feel her alive out there in my world again. I have a reason to live and it feels wonderful, even if there's still a few vampires out there to deal with."

"What about the pain you felt when she got back?"

"Actually, that felt better than you think. It was like a reminder of what it means to be alive. I hope you never forget that, Keya. I truly do. Be careful out there. The world is...unexpected."

While Keya talked with Mark, Billy traveled one last time, to a world that he had been avoiding this whole while. He knew that it led to somewhere important because it was a shiny dot above the universal triangle that connected all their earths together. This dot shone to him only, or that's what Billy thought. It didn't have correct dimensional coordinates like other worlds, either. If anything, the symbols for this world would all show infinity because they were not part of the triangle. This world was like a star inside of the triangle shining brightly.

When Billy got there, he had expected some grand earth with shiny roses everywhere and an enormous measure of light.

Instead, he found himself in a room not unlike the Traveler's court from before, except here there were no judges but three men in black cloaks, whose faces were covered the whole time. They did, however, speak to him in respectful tones and knew that he was the one traveler. Their voices boomed like a loudspeaker.

Billy looked up in wonder trying to find the speakers.

"At last," one of them said, his tone deep and as he spoke the room became purple and darker, "Welcome, traveler to the domain that is but is not. You may ask your question."

Billy thought about this. He didn't know the rules of this dimension but he knew what the important question was. In his heart, he kept thinking about Keya and how he had enjoyed holding her hand but this was different. It was time for a change now. His heart kept asking for an answer to his Keya question. Did she like him, was she as fond of him as he was of her? But, no, this was more important that.

He chose, instead, the lingering question and the reason for this whole thing.

"How can I keep the universe from collapsing?" Billy asked.

"This is a wise choice," the voice said, "We will deliberate. When you return to us, you shall have your answer."

Billy returned to Keya. Keya was happy to see him and even held onto his hand. It was as though she was holding on for dear life.

"Do you want me to travel you to your home, Piersley?" Billy asked the only Piersley still left in the Nordit world.

"No way," Mark said, "And go back to constant bad luck? I think I'll stay here for a day or two, let Wendy take the heat for a bit. She can read minds, you know."

"We know," Billy and Keya said, looking at each other with a smile.

"I've decided that it's going to take me three or four days to be able to travel again. Besides the Norditz aren't so bad," Mark said (Billy thought he heard faint cheering from below), "Even if their wine is horrible."

Now, the noises from below sounded like complaints from drunken men and women.

Billy and Keya waved goodbye with a smile.

At last, Billy and Keya had their moment. The library was quiet and Billy and her sat in the tiny room from which Keya had come. "I attacked you here," Keya said.

"Well," Billy said, "It isn't the first time you attacked me."

Keya looked at him and put her hands on her sides, "That's not really me, you know."

"Oh," Billy said, "I know, I know. The you I know would never throw rocks at me."

"Rock," Keya said, a blue rock spat out of her pouch, and she threw it at Billy, who let it hit him. She hadn't thrown it with much effort. "Don't expect me to treat you differently than I did before just because you saved my life."

"Ditto," Billy said, "I mean, because you saved mine and then almost killed me right after."

"That's not fair," Keya said, "You can't just..."
Then, Billy found that he couldn't keep the charade going for a second longer. He pulled her to him and kissed her and forget if she didn't like him or not. That fact had long since stopped being the issue.

"Also, not fair."

The door burst open and Francine walked in with a fly swatter. She hit Billy over the head with it once. "What are you two doing in here, huh?" She pointed her fly-swatter at Billy and said, "Get out, you!"

"Also, not fair!" Keya snapped.

"I have to go," Billy said to Keya, with a hand above his head trying to avoid being swatted but failing miserably.

"When will you be back?" Keya asked, pushing Francine aside.

"Soon," Billy said, traveling away from her.

"He returns," the voices said. Now they spoke in unison and the room was near black. "We have an answer for you, young one but you will not like the outcome. You must make a choice."

"What is it I must do?" Billy asked.

"Choose, to save the universe or leave it be. You would live happily for many years but the universe will be no more if you choose to stay in your world. If you choose to save the universe, your future is uncertain at best, as has been the lives of all travelers."

"I must make this choice now?"

"Yes," the voices said, "We are sorry, young one. There is no other way."

Billy thought about this. The Norditz had known all along. Damn those drunken fairies! Of course, he hadn't asked, so they hadn't told him. He would get them back for this, that was for sure. Mark seemed to know something of it, too. No wonder he wanted to speak to Keya before they left.

What could he do now?

"Can I ask a question about the nature of my saving the universe?"

"It is not forbidden, young one. In order for you to save the universe, you must travel from earth to earth, consistently. Only the true one's talent can link earths with enough energy to hold them together. This is the only way, young one."

"I have to travel from earth to earth, forever?"

"No," the voices mumbled, "Your destiny is uncertain. An answer to this may lie in another dimension but this you must do now, to save the universe from collapsing twenty years from this day."

"And if I do not?"

"Then we are all doomed, all universes, not only this one."

"There is more than one universe?"

"There is a universe out there, young one, shaped like a triangle, as this one, and as there are infinite earths, there are infinite universes made like triangles and infinite made like squares, an infinite amount of true earths, all of them with their own unique traveler that could travel to all coordinates and all earths."

"But to save them all, I must do this, travel from earth to earth until I find the solution?"

"Starting in two days, young one. That is your timeline. You may remain in your earth a total of one more day. Should you choose to stay the second one, then we know what decision you have made, to live happily for twenty years more, while the universe fades away."

"No need," Billy said, "I'll make my choice right now. I'm going to save the universe. No more people will die because of me. No. Not anymore."

"Your friend, Simon, he lives. The Lacroise man traveled him elsewhere. You may yet find him. Is this still your choice?"

Billy thought about it but a smile was coming across his face. "Simon lives," a tear formed on his face. Billy shook his head, "I've made up my mind. I'll say good bye to my parents and to Keya and that's that."
"You choose to save the universe, then?"

"Yes," Billy said, "And I will not fail."

"An unwise choice."

"You'd think you'd appreciate it more, what with that I'm saving your lives," Billy said, frowning at them.

"We didn't say it wasn't the correct choice. Things of that nature are for destiny to decide but, if it were up to us, we would have chosen happiness over nobility or the ability to do the right thing."

"It's kind of my problem," Billy said, "It's kind of the reason why I almost got kicked out of Space Dreg."

"Oh, so you're the one who...hrrm. Carry on, traveler."

"Wait, you guys play......?"

"We will speak again traveler."

And he was forced to travel back to his home. Billy smiled, as he thought about how the men who gave him his answers played Space Dreg, too.

After getting a backpack on him in the morning, his mother said to him, "You don't look the same, Billy." She didn't just mean that he was wearing black jacket with the letter V stitched on the back. He had almost forgot about his friends from the Vampire Academy. Maybe, that's the first earth he would visit and teach those vampires a lesson for messing with him.

"I'm going to miss you, mom," Billy said.

"It's only camp, dear," his mother said, "How bad could it be?

Little did she know, that Billy's ruse of going on a camping trip for the summer with Simon's family was so that he wouldn't have to say good bye to his parents forever. He did talk to his dad who told him to stay away from the beehives and to try and act respectable in front of the young ladies.

When he got near the library, a very upset-looking Meryl in pink shorts and pink blouse looking prettied-up with a bonnet on her golden hair and with red lipstick on her lips waited for him. He didn't want to deal with her, so he traveled her to a laundry mat across the street from the library. She ended up on top of one of the machines looking confusedly at a boy that resembled Billy, except that other boy had freckles.

Billy smiled, thinking that's how things got started for him. He had traveled to some unknown place and had made strange new friends.

Keya, on the other hand, he couldn't escape. She was in a blue dress that day with a red flower on her hair. She rushed out of the library and hugged him. Then, she planted a kiss on his cheek, retracted her grip and held onto his hand. "What are we doing today?" Keya asked.

Billy didn't know where to begin.

Keya's eyes marveled at his in a glamorous way. She was enchanted by him and his new jacket. There was something about this boy with the heavyset arms and the charming smile that just got her to hold onto him for dear life. She didn't think she could ever let go of him.

But then the dreaded words came out of his mouth. Keya felt her world spin. It was worse than when she'd been drained out of magic. Her heart felt like it was dropped off a cliff. "We have to talk," Billy said.

But she wouldn't let it happen, "Talk about what, huh? Let's not start out this beautiful thing between us with we have to talk, please."

"There is no--okay, okay, there is but there can't be. I have to travel and you can't come with me. I would worry too much. You have Francine here and someday, I'll return Simon here."

"Simon's alive?"
Billy nodded at her with a smile, "I think I made the wrong decision, deciding to leave you in order to ..... maybe, I could leave my parents, that was hard. Leaving you, it's like leaving part of me behind."

"I can come," Keya said, "Just give me..."

But Billy held onto her hand.

"You know you can't."

Both of them were sad for a moment until Keya said, "Fine, leave me. Always, Billy, you're choosing to leave me behind. You leave without saying good bye and now you leave me and you say I can't come with you. Well, that's just selfish."

"But Keya--?"

"No, go!" She was crying now.

When she came back in the library, she looked back. Billy looked at her through the glass and he made a heart-shaped void. He smiled at her as he walked into it, out of her life, forever.

Keya looked back at him and put her hand out to the door's glass touching it, as though it were part of Billy, her Billy. "Good luck," she whispered at him, at the nothing that remained.

Then, she fell on her knees and cried.

Francine rushed to her side and hugged her.

"It's okay," Francine said, "It's okay. Oh, girl, if only you knew how many traveler's I had to say good bye to. If only."

They say that right afterward, the last instability that was felt was in an airport near downtown, Los Angeles but then, the media wrote it off as the antics of an overweight man who was jumping up and down on the plane. For once, the media actually got it right. Maybe, Keya thought, the world was truly safe now from dimensional destruction and she didn't care. She even threw the remote and broke the television, that's how much she didn't care.

It was winter in the next dimension and Billy had to run into the front steps of a closed shop to get away from falling wet snow. The steps of the place looked familiar. They were black and silver and white lines separated the two colors. He liked the S-shaped designs that narrated the entrance to a very fancy black and white door. It looked like an entire S intermingled with tiny black and white S’s that made it whole.

The double-barrel of a shotgun poking through a hole in the door caught Billy’s attention straight-away. He backed-up a little. The voice of a female wasn’t something that he expected to hear. “It’s me, Airy, come in, come in.”

Billy’s mind wavered for a moment. After all that had happened, he had not once thought back to his conversation with his mother two years ago about the incident in the woods. Why would he find Airy in a random dimension? Did his long-lost friend whom his mother claimed not to know, know about traveling to different dimensions, while he himself was new to the subject?

“Come in, Traveler, I’ll tell you what you need to know.”

The thick glasses on the young girl’s face introduced her to Billy as a geek but when she opened the door, he saw that she was actually fashion-forward. She was in a white linen dress with flat dress shoes on. She had come home from a ball, it looked like. She moved smoothly over to a wooden chess game-set sitting on a black porcelain table. Billy scanned the room and noticed only pictures of the universe scattered in different places along the walls. In some pictures, numbers were marked like coordinates to different dimensions.

“What is this?” Billy asked Airy.

The chess pieces moved as Billy walked into the room. “Don’t mind that,” Airy said, “Chess is a man. Like most men, they tend to do as they wish.”

“The person moving the pieces is named Chess?”

“No, the entire game is called Chess. You’ve never played chess before? Surprising, really.”

“But it’s a game, not a man.”

“Ah, now you’re back to thinking in the box, that tiny little box you lived in with something-something a girl with brown skin, whatshername.”

“You know about Keya? But how, this thing between me and her happened in another dimension.”

“Didn’t you see the big S on the door? I’m a seer. I can see into your past. Not the future, I’m afraid, don’t have the talent for it. Chess, there, can see everything but he often would rather stay out of mortal affairs. I do have the talent to inform, though. Please, sit.”

A chair appeared before the self-playing chess game.
Billy sat, nervously, not knowing if he should trust her. “The game is a man. Despite his universe-wide popularity he’s still a man but, also, a game. I am not Airy. I don’t have a name. The other one called me an Oracle. You know, the other one, he’s old and sits in a library and drinks tea all day. I liked him. He had a unique set of skills.”

“You mean Mark Piersley?”

“Yes,” Not-Airy said, “I liked his name too. Piersley, so unique.”

“So, if you’re not Airy, then who is Airy? I mean, I called out to her after my accident a long time ago. Is she my sister or something?”

“She’s not a she,” the Oracle said, “She’s a… well, she’s like Chess, only on a grand scale. In some ways, it was a mistake to have had her become human.”

“She’s real, then?”

“She is and she is not…like I said, she was human. Airy is the art of creation, she’s an expansion to the universe and she used to be your sister.”

“My sister, I had a sister?”

“Your parents are not normal. They have powers like you or did you think it was a normal thing for you to be able to travel? No. That kind of thing has to be passed down and, especially, the way you do it. Your parents have been… shrunk, however…at their request to the human level by people from the council. Or it happened a while back, things are in between that I can’t see, magic… strong magic was used to block me from seeing it but Airy was there when it happened. An abnormal blue light had sunk into the ground creating hand-sized craters into it and then…Airy vanished. I think your parents sent her away…. To protect her, yes. They didn’t want you to be hurt over her absence, so they used a strong… something magical but not hurtful… to erase her from your memories. How would they explain that your sister is a part of the universe that evil men from the council were after to create a doomsday device?”

Billy almost fell off the chair when she said this, “My parents knew all along?”

“No, they planned it first, then had someone carry out their plans after they erased their own memories of Airy. I think they loved her that much, that it would not be enough to just send her away. Someone… hmm. I don’t remember his name, he was a traveler though.”

“It was Piersley!”

“No, not him. Someone who works for the council. I think his name was James. He didn’t do the magic, just carried the messages to the right people like a post-office man.”

“What else do I need to know,” Billy asked, feeling upset.

“I don’t know, I just tell you the past. Airy is a big part of yours and you remember her, that means that somewhere inside you… magic dies. You are resistant to it. Traveling isn’t magic; it’s different. It has to do with your connection to the universe and you… Billy are like super-speed Wifi while the rest of the traveling world is still on dial-up.”

“Am I supposed to find Airy, is that how I can unite the universe, so that it won’t collapse?”

“Now that,” the Oracle said, “Is an interesting question.” She moved closer to the chess table and looked down on it. “Chess doesn’t usually play his hand like this. You must be special.”

“Chess, the man, is stumped on his own design?”

“No, he’s not stumped; he’s just… unexpectedly defensive… look all the pieces have crossed the board and not one of them is dead… he’s trying to tell you something. Not one of them is dead… that’s interesting. Someone has to die, Billy, that’s how you play the game.”

“This isn’t a game,” Billy said.

“But someone has to.”

“But this isn’t a game!”

“I know,” she said, touching his arm, “But someone has to, Billy… and you must make that choice.”

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