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…turned into the sound of people having a blast.


Based on the way the day had gone so far, the trouble around every corner, evil, militaristic fascists chasing us, warriors trying to kill us, we were unprepared for what we now saw all around us.


We found ourselves outside, surrounded by the most eclectic group of people I had ever seen. Everyone was wearing costumes of one sort or another. In one area we saw people wearing animal heads and tails but adorned in some of the most beautiful tailored clothing from the French revolution era. Close by them, there were others doffed in very similar wardrobes, but they wore only the skulls of the animals they portrayed. 


We saw many dressed in armor much like Captain Starwounder's first mate had on. There were some others who wore outfits a bit too like the Realm Initiative uniforms. In another area were knights, elves, and princesses. Very near others who wore schoolgirl outfits with tails, furry ears and outlandish, but adorable painted faces.


We saw superheroes and supervillains that could have come straight from Mega City. There were also those who I could have sworn were real, supernatural monsters pulled directly from a nightmare. 


The best part about it was that they were all here, in this one place, together. They shared ideas, knowledge, advice, and comfort with one another. After the day I had been living through, this gave me a sense of hope. As for Molly, she was in fandom heaven.


"These look like the people that were at Ancient City when we crashed into each other. But these costumes are so realistic. I've never seen such detail before," Molly explained. 


"What is it they are doing though? It looks like a huge costume party of some sort," I said.


"They are playing," Molly explained. "They just like to get together and pretend for a while; a little escape from their everyday, dull lives."


"In my realm, adults do not play. That is left for the children," I told her.


"That's pretty sad," Molly said. "There's nothing wrong with playing at any age. I think if people played a little more and worried a little less we could have much happier worlds."


"Ok," I said. "I see your point. But how do they play? I see them showing each other how to build these armored suits with every kind of blinky little light in them. I see them talking about the beings they are supposed to be, but where are they actually playing?"


"Come with me," Molly said, grabbing my cloak and pulling me along with her. "Look right here,” she said.


There was a group of people gathered together forming a huge circle around a few combatants. Those inside the circle were fighting with staffs, swords, and all manner of weapons. But as they struck each other, there was no anger or pain, no blood and no death. They joked with one another and laughed. They were fighting, make no mistake, but they did it for sport, for fun. 


"You could probably jump in there and do quite well, based on what I saw from you earlier," I said.


"I suppose I could. What about you?" she asked. Do you know how to fight?"


"Learning swordsmanship is standard in my realm. We don't have all these blasters and other gadgets there. We are a society devoid of 'tech'. You must think we are a very backward people," I said to her.


She smiled and said "Nah. I actually think having a little less tech would be nice. Nobody really talks to people anymore. And even less do they actually listen. It's a bit sad, really. But I think you should jump in there and give it a go!"


"You think I should?" I asked.


"Sure. Why not?" She said. 


So I asked to join in and was happily accepted into the group. Some of the swordsmen were well trained and immensely skilled in the craft. I bested all that I faced as I had been raised with a blade in my hand, but instead of complaining or decrying me a cheat, they asked if I could teach them a move or technique and I was more than happy to do so. 


Our spirits were high after a while. The day had been full of adventure and dodging death, but this place was a needed break for both of us.


We sat amongst these costumed friends, listening to stories and sharing some of our own. I learned from these cosplayers that the desire for community and friendship still exists in some realms. I wished others could witness this place.




Inexplicably, everything about that day went horribly wrong. Off in the distance I saw something in the sky that could in no way be a part of this world. It was large and spewing smoke from its engines. People began running in every direction as long as it was away from the rapidly descending behemoth. 


When it touched down we could feel the ground beneath our feet begin to rumble. It was moving fast but began to dig into the field where so many festivities had been taking place just moments ago.


Every time we jump to someplace new, some awful thing shows up to attack us! When I woke up this morning, all I planned to do was sit in a shady spot back home and think about Uncle Ma'. But instead, here I am, about to have a standoff with a person I don't even know. 


"TJax!" Molly yelled from well behind me, "Get out of there! It's a Gorlan ship! They found us! We have to get away from here!"


"No!" I shouted back. "This has to stop." I stood in front of the ship waiting for whatever it was that was in there to come out. This time, I wasn't scared. I wasn't unsure of myself. 


I am of the Norivian race. We are a peaceful people, avoiding conflict as much as we are able. But not once, in all of our history, has anyone invaded our lands. And that is because deep inside, we are genius level smart, we are devious by nature, we are absolutely unpredictable, and we are blessed with the ability to fight. Only when necessary mind you, but when left with no choice, it' to leave us alone.


Right now, it would be best for the Gorlan to get away from here. The ship ground to a stop and I refused to move. I may not be able to defeat a Realm Initiative army but I refused to back down any longer. 


A large rectangular opening appeared in the hull of the ship directly in front of me. Behind it was a walkway and on that walkway a figure approached. As it moved closer, I began to make out the figure of a man. A short, self important, balding man. Close behind matched two of the Gorlan bounty hunters. 


"Undersecretary Bivens,' I said. " You should turn around now and leave these peaceful people alone."


"No problem," he shot back. "Get in the ship and we'll fly away back to the Initiative. "


I simply replied "No."


"Fine," he said. Glancing back to the Gorlan he said "On my mark."


Both of the Gorlan raised their weapons directly at me. "Are you coming?" the Undersecretary asked.


"No," I said again. 


"Fire," he ordered the Gorlan. 


There will never be a day in my life when I will not remember the impact of those shots. Everyone, hundreds of people in all, were well away from where I stood. Two-hundred yards they were. And when that shot slammed into me, I found myself at their feet. 


Molly ran from where she stood and my side. "Tearan! Are you hurt? Are you alive?" 


I couldn't speak for a moment but once I had recovered my breath I said "I am hurt. But I am alive. Which means I do not back down."


I pushed myself to my feet and stumbled back toward the Undersecretary. As I approached, he finished cleaning his glasses, put the cloth he was using back into his pocket, and asked, " Are you coming?"


I took as deep a breath as I could and said simply, "No."


With not even a glance in my direction, he said "Fire."


The shots came again and I found myself in roughly the same spot as I landed on before. My head swam and I couldn't feel my extremities. Molly, who had once again come running to my side said "They'll kill you. Stay down."


"I can't," I said. If I do, they will kill everyone."


I once again pushed myself up, struggled to gain my balance. and walked back to the ship.


"Are you coming?" he asked again.


"No " I spat back at him. 


"Fire," Bivens said nonchalantly. 


This time there was no struggling to my feet. I was in agony. As I lay there, I heard Bivens call out, "Just so you are aware, next time I shoot the crowd, starting with your girlfriend. 


I waited for the sarcastic answer from Molly, but there was none. Even though she is one of the bravest people I have ever known, she was really scared.on that moment.


"You have ten seconds," Buvens announced.


The Gorlan raised their weapons, ready for that single word from the Undersecretary. And then a strange thing happened. Each person in the crowd started to change. And I don't mean they switched outfits. I'm saying they changed. 


Shifting away were all the elves and knights and superheroes and cute little ones with their school girl outfits and painted faces. As I watched what was taking place, we were suddenly surrounded by hundreds of Tearans and hundreds of Mollys. 


"Are you serious, right now?" Molly whispered."Tearan, are you seeing this? They're all shapeshifters!"


"It's incredible," I said. "Why are they becoming us?"


One of the Tearans kneeled beside me and said "You don't need to let them kill you, or imprison you, which would be far worse. We can take care of these fools long enough for you to get away. We can buy you some time."


And he was off. I watched hundreds of myself swarm the Gorlan ship. It looked like they could tear it apart bare handed. And they seemed to be trying to do just that. 


I was starting to come around again and I wanted to join the fight. Molly grabbed my hand to hold me back. I turned to look at her and said "Are we dating?"


"Shut up," she replied in a voice that was hard and determined but at the same time understanding and gentle. "I know you want to stand up. I know you want to take them down.  And there will come a time when you can do that. But right now is not that time."


She was right. I hated it but I knew she was right. There would be a time to tear that organization down to the foundation. But right now, I had to get away. 


I grabbed another random card and held it above me where I was still on the ground. My eyes were closed and I knew the jump was coming. I could hear the shifters making their way through the Gorlan vessel and the cries of Bivens and his goons. But somehow, it was peaceful in that moment. I could hear a soft breeze blowing through the grass. I felt connected to this realm. Then, as the jump came upon us, I went from near tranquility to…


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