Beth stepped out from behind the tree she’d once sat beneath. The sun was shining on the grass covered lawns of Parell Prep and along the concrete paths students were strolling from class to class, or enjoying a lunch period out in the fresh air.
Amy Parell and Kelly Rivers walked past Beth less than ten feet away without stopping or commenting on her presence at all.
She felt like a ghost.
For a moment that idea grabbed her imagination and she had to pinch herself to be sure she was still real. Her conversation with Jin and Way felt like it had happened both an aeon ago and to one of her past lives. The idea of being only a shadow, untethered from her own life was still eerily present though. She hadn’t thought she’d make it back, so it was easy to wonder if she really had or if the world around her was only an ephemeral projection on the mists of her imagination.
Then someone whispered in her ear.
“We’ve been wondering when you were going to show up,” Lagressa said from directly behind Beth.
Beth whirled to see a girl her own age with light brown skin and eyes that ran through all the colors of the ocean. Even without scales or claws, the girl was clearly Lagressa shifted into a form more compatible with Beth’s Earth.
Beth blinked as her breath dried up. She tried to take in what she was seeing but the pieces wouldn’t fit. She’d known that a trip to Oblivion would probably destroy her chance to return home, but even with that problem overcome, the loss of the friends she’d shared her adventure with had seemed like a given.
She’d lost the two of them in Gamma City when Biers pulled her to the Battle of the Bulge. Without her around to anchor them, Lagressa and Starshine should have faded back to their homeworld. Or faded away entirely.
“How…how are you here?”
“I go to school here,” Lagressa said. “Now.”
“You never closed the passage between our worlds,” Lagressa said in much quieter voice. “If wasn’t hard to follow the path back here rather than my own world or Starshine’s after you left us in the city with the mechanical woman.”
“You can do that?” Beth asked.
“I can do a great many things,” Lagressa said. “Though, to be fair, most of them are unpleasant. Your parents are much kinder than mine were.”
“And Starshine?” Beth asked, feeling like she was asking for too much to have both of them still exist as more than words on a page.
“She teaches here, now,” Lagressa said. “This world, or psycho-plane as she calls it, seemed to be more comfortable with us assuming a role within it than staying as we were in our native lands.”
“Does that mean you’ve lost who you used to be?” Beth asked.
“Your world is not that persuasive,” Lagressa said. “Think of this more as a mask I wear. I used to love to play dress up, at least before I knew that my family used it as training for subtlety in assassinations. This has all of the fun of my old games with, I suspect, far less of the blood shed.”
“And Starshine?” Beth asked.
“Pretty much the same,” Starshine herself said. She was dressed in the sensible skirt and blouse favored by many of the school’s faculty. The glasses were an affectation, but there was a superheroic quality to them that somehow made them fit despite the lack of ultratech chrome styling. “Though I can’t say dress up and bloodshed ever went together for me. Seems like a great way to ruin some perfectly good costume clothing.”
Beth didn’t wait any longer. She pulled the two of them into a tight hug, unable to believe they were actually still with her until she felt their arms wrap around her.
The three of them drew a few glances from the passing students but no one was all that interested and so the crowds, thin as they were, kept moving along to their own destinations. That wouldn’t last forever though, so Beth released the two of them and stepped back, reluctantly giving voice to the question that was gnawing at her heart.
“Ok, so you were able to come here, but why would you?”
It didn’t make much sense. Lagressa lived in a world of magic, and Starshine came from a galaxy of adventure. They met larger than life heroes and villains on a daily basis. What could there possibly be for either of them on a boring, normal world like hers?
The two of them looked at each other and for a moment Beth wondered if they had suddenly realized what a terrible idea being stuck on her Earth was.
“We’re here because of you,” Starshine said in the patient, gentle tones one uses when one’s friend is being a trifle dim.
“This world is a nice change from our own,” Lagressa added. “There powers that would use me as a pawn can’t reach me here.”
“And I can get in a good night of shuteye without my ship being shot up by nebula raiders,” Starshine said.
“Most importantly though, you’re here,” Lagressa said.
“We were talking about it,” Starshine said. “And we don’t think you found us on your own. We think you heard our call.”
“Your call?” Beth asked.
“I’m a wanderer,” Lagressa said.
“And I’m an adventurer,” Starshine said. “It just runs in my blood. The desire to see a new star, or discover something strange and wonderful lurking in a spot no one’s ever looked before.”
“There are so many sights I haven’t seen,” Lagressa said.
“And so many people we haven’t met,” Starshine said.
“But, if you’re willing, you can change that,” Lagressa said.
“We know that you read about us,” Starshine said. “But we can only show you one place, and one time.”
“You can do so much more,” Lagressa said. “With you, we can see places and meet people we could never dream of.”
“I guess what we’re saying is, if you’d have us, we’d like to keep traveling with you for a while,” Starshine said.
“Where do you want to go?” Beth asked, the tears welling in her eyes tiny drops of liquid joy.
“Everywhere,” Lagressa and Starshine said together.