After walking among the stars and talking to the spirits of long forgotten worlds, the last thing Kari had expected she would be doing was waiting on tables again. With the bustle of the people around her and the delicious scents of summer wafting in the air though, she had to admit that it felt like coming home.
Not that the village she’d grown up in had ever played host to as diverse a population of cast-offs as she saw scattered throughout the crowded table of the outdoor cafe she was working at.
From smooth scaled fishmen to thick-furred northern bearlings, from willowy Glasslight Gentlemen to rocky dwarven valkryies, everywhere Kari turned there were peoples of different races and species and even time periods.
With a skill backed by years of mundane practice and just a hint of paranatural dexterity, she wove a path through the tables carrying a tray of honeyed sweets to one of the more newly arrived party of guests.
“But I don’t see how we could have reached here!” a elf with gold and sapphire-blue hair said.
“You’re reading of the pole star must have been wrong, there’s no other explanation,” an older elf said. Though the elf was wizened and bent by the passing of centuries, Kari felt the lingering traces of great mystical power in the old woman. She’d been a formidable spell caster in years past and was probably still more adept than most of the people of this world would ever manage to be.
She was also wrong.
“Your navigation probably wasn’t in error,” Kari said as she set down the plates of treats in front of her guests. “You were fleeing from your homeland correct?”
“Yes,” Yulura, the younger elf said. “But how did you know that?”
“You’ve come to the Last Island,” Kari said. “This is the home for those who have lost theirs and fled to the sea. What storm and surf would drag under to a watery end, the Last Island can sometimes save.”
“But we were sailing on calm seas,” Yulura said. “And, by my sightings, we were in empty waters that have been well traveled for centuries and were clear of reefs or shoals.”
“Yet here we are,” Hanyana, the elder elf, said. “So your sightings were incorrect.”
“I’m sorry,” Kari said. “It’s not your ship that might have been lost at sea then. You are from the nation of Atlantis aren’t you?”
“Yes,” Yulara said and looked over at Hanyana anxiously.
“There is something you should know then…”, Kari began to explain.
In the kitchen of the cafe, Jin pulled a tray of steaming rolls from one of the great ovens while Way sliced fruit into sections with the kind of impossible skill seen only in the hands of master chefs and those who may perhaps have cheated just a little when dreaming up an identity for themselves.
“She has a talent with people doesn’t she?” Jin asked, nodding past the counter to where Kari was breaking the news of their plight to the new arrivals.
“Another one for the Diplomats,” Way said. Technically they were both part of the Diplomatic Corp of the Parliament of Time, but even within the Corp there were distinctions between the diplomats themselves and the guardians who protected them. Between Kari, Healer Grida and the young girl Samantha, Jin been responsible for awakening and inducting more new diplomats into the Corp before she was even an official one herself than most dream walkers would in a lifetime. Way liked to tease her that, since she clearly wasn’t going to stop awakening new dream walkers and dream weavers however much the Parliament disliked it, she should at least try to awaken a few more guardians. Otherwise, Way argued, they’d never get a chance to see each other.
Jin popped a warm roll into Way’s mouth and then kissed her on the neck and ear.
“The more diplomats there are, the more vacations I get to take. Like this one,” Jin said.
“Technically this isn’t a vacation,” Way said. “When Jess approved this project she said I would need ‘help from the diplomats to make sure the Storm Lost would be able to cohabitate’. You are here in a purely professional capacity.”
Jin tried to step back but Way caught her around the waist and gave her a kiss on the nose first. Even after years together and years (somewhat) apart that still put a bouncy smile on Jin’s face.
“In my purely professional opinion then, I think you’ve done a great job here,” Jin said. “How did you even think to conjure this place into existence?”
“It took a little bit,” Way said. “There was a long standing reality tear here from when the world’s first dream weaver awoke. The first thing I tried to do was find them but they’re long gone. Then I tried to seal up the tear.”
“Tried?” Jin asked. “How big was it?”
Sealing a reality tear the size of an entire Earth was something Jin had seen Way do already. The thought of one so big that Way couldn’t handle it was daunting and hard to match with the fact there was still a real world under their feet.
“Small for how long it had been around,” Way said. “The problem was that when I tried to close it up, I saw how rigid reality was going to be without it.”
“So you came up with the idea to stabilize it instead?” Jin asked.
“More or less,” Way said. “I think we can do even more with this though.”
“Like what?” Jin asked as she put in the next batch of rolls.
“The Last Island is tied to this world, but it’s not fully a part of it,” Way said. “It can be tied to other worlds too.”
“Wait, so we can do the same thing with other worlds that have tears too?” Jin asked. “We can tie them all together here?”
“Exactly,” Way said. “We get fewer “hard and fragile” worlds and a common nexus point where all kinds of people and ideas can meet. There’s just one problem with this approach.”
Outside the cafe, the large brick terrace eventually ended at the glistening white sands of the beach. In the distance sparkling blue waves crashed on the shore, jostling the boats that had anchored at the piers and docks. Far beyond them, and yet still quite easy to see due to its gargantuan size a Kraken from the days of myth rose and screamed a hunting cry to heavens. It turned its monstrous head towards the beach town and acidic drool dropped from its jaws to ignite the ocean below.
“We don’t just get the storm lost people,” Way said. “We get all of their monsters too.”