We landed in the middle of a table around which sat a group of, I don’t know, people? They all looked as though they could be humanoid but not completely. They also didn’t look especially happy with us either. While they were upset with our disruption of their meal, they also had a look of flabbergasted astonishment. Why wouldn’t they?
“Excuse me” came a voice from the table, “but could you please…”
I realized I was still sitting in the middle of their table. I started to remove myself and began apologizing profusely. But the “person,” or more accurately, the creature cut me off as I had cut them off before.
“No, no! What I wanted to ask is where did you come from?”
“That’s a very long story,” I replied. I was about to explain things for what felt like the hundredth time that day when my new friend and traveling partner began talking. And talking. And talking. I cannot remember all that she said but it went something like this:
“OMG You will NOT believe this story but I swear, like hand-on-a-bible-do-you-promise-to-tell-the-whole-truth-and-nothing-BUT-the-truth, standing in court kind of swear that it is all true because I have just lived part of it and it is like the greatest adventure I have ever been on in my whole life and I never want it to end because why would ANYONE want this kind of adventure to end, right? So I’m standing in my home town at a comic convention and this guy right here just appears out of nowhere and BOOM we smack right into one another and I’m thinking, like, WHOA , where did you come from and then I say out loud Whoa Mr. Blue Guy which isn’t his name but I didn’t know his name at the time so I didn’t know what to call him, right? So he says that he wasn’t positive but he thinks he came from a WHOLE OTHER REALM meaning that he just jumped from one world to another world and then I accidentally got caught in a jump with him because I handed him a card and he accidentally popped into this cool place that was like a “ren faire” which is short for a renaissance faire where people dress up like they are from medieval times and sell crafts and eat kettle corn and turkey legs but this one was different because the people actually dress that way for real and there were REAL WIZARDS who were selling potions and spells of which we bought one and it worked so it was AMAZING and then POOF right to another world filled with superheroes and this evil dude who wanted my blue friend here to follow him and work for his evil, fascist realm police kind of thing but only for rich and powerful people to keep everyone else down and suffering and my guy here said ‘NO WAY YOU FASCIST MAN!’ I want to bring all people together and be awesome and stuff and we’ve been running from him from realm to realm and when we got here we landed on your table.” Then she paused and took a breath and said “His name is Tearan Jak-Sera by the way.”
Everyone around the entire cafe had turned to listen to what by all counts appeared to be a lunatic rambling off incomprehensible nonsense. Absolutely true nonsense, yes, but still…
After an extended silent pause Molly finished with “But I call him T-Jax because it sounds cooler and is much easier to say. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Most of the eyes in the room slowly moved from Molly and fell upon me. As I had no idea what to say that would make sense of any of it, I simply said “You should ask her about her friend Lucky sometime.”
A very large form moved towards us from the back of the room. As it got closer I could see it was covered in fur except for right in the front where it had armor covering most of its body. It had yellow eyes and as it smiled slowly I saw brilliantly white teeth, jagged and sharp, between the blackest of lips.
Molly moved behind me and I heard her whisper “I wish Lucky was here”. All I could think was “I do as well my friend”.
We had jumped from realm to realm and seen many things. So wrapping our minds around what this creature, this Beast, could want with us felt quite difficult. It moved slowly, as if trying to intimidate us with each passing second, and stopped inches away from where Molly and I were standing.
My uncle had always taught me that, even if you were frightened to your very core, you needed to be confident. Even if you didn’t feel confident, you had to believe in yourself, believe that you were equal to any challenge, and make yourself look confident. So I stood my ground. I kept my head high and showed no hint of fear or doubt. And there we stood, face to face. Well, face to belly if truth be told because this creature was huge. But, as it looked down at me, I looked right back at it directly in its eyes.
The creature filled its lungs and when it spoke its voice was booming and dangerous, its breath flung our hair back and the stench made our eyes water! That’s what you thought would happen, correct? But it didn’t. The creature's voice was soft and lovely and warm. It said to us “You must be very tired and quite hungry from such a journey. Please come sit and tell us your tale.”
So we did,
We were led to a table near the back of the cafe and seated at the far end of the table, surrounded by some of the most incredible beings I had ever laid eyes upon. Some were small and covered with scales, some human looking with varying skin and hair colors, some with amazing physical features, some with the appearance of animals adorned in the wardrobe of royalty, and even a few with the casual coolness of my newest friend. All of these beings of different races and backgrounds here, together in this place, sharing their life essences and learning from each other. It was beautiful.
Our host ordered a vast selection of food and drink, then sat at the opposite end of the table and finally introduced itself. “My name is Edna, Tearan Jak-Sera. It is an honor to have you here with us.”
Molly, who seemed to always have an odd thing to add to any conversation, looked at Edna and asked “Wait… Your name is Edna?”
“Yes,” the creature replied. “Is that a strange name from your realm?”
“Not really,” Molly replied. “It was actually a very common name in my realm. But you look nothing like any Edna I have ever met. Most of the Ednas where I come from are little old ladies who sit on their porches and watch the birds. They sure don’t look anything like you!”
“Well,” Edna began to reason, “I am 723 of your years old and I very much like to sit in nature and watch the different birds of the world, for birds are beautiful, wouldn’t you agree?”
I had to grin as Molly’s jaw dropped just a bit at the thought of Edna, adorned in the armor of battle, sitting quietly watching birds fly. Edna finally said "Yeah. I think birds can be beautiful."
"My name should then be normal for you, should it not?" Edna told her.
Then Molly, looking embarrassed told her "I didn't mean any offense or anything, you just don't look like any Edna where I'm from"
A huge smile came across Edna's face and she said "My full name is Ednaraniahs Selatenasius Jordivenian Mayun Delarious."
Then Molly, with her eyes very wide, simply tells her "Edna's good."
We settled in, had an amazing meal and wonderful conversation. But Edna had said something that made me curious and I really needed answers if I was to return Molly to her realm and have any chance of getting home to mine.
"Edna," I began, "we have experienced so many new worlds and beings we could never have dreamed of before today. And at every stop, I have felt as though some people were unsurprised by a blue skinned being simply appearing before them. We have also met those who seem to know who I am. Why is that?'
Edna looked all around at the friends sitting near the table and in that moment, I realized that this special cafe had become silent. All eyes were affixed on Molly and me. Molly looked at me.out of the corner of her eye, speechless (which is unusual in itself). I won't speak an untruth by telling you we were quite uncomfortable being the center of attention here much as we had been on all the realms we visited.
Edna bowed her head, a sweet but apologetic smile spreading on her lips as she began to speak. "It is time, Ma’Lek Neh-Sera, my dearest friend."
Once again hearing my own uncle's name on the lips of a random creature in a realm that was not my own was unsettling. But I had been through much on this day and was growing weary of cryptic answers. "Tell me how you knew my uncle." I said.
"Your name is Tearan Jak-Sera and you are the nephew of my friend, Ma'Lek Neh-Sera."
"This I know. But I need to make.sense of all.of this," I told her.
"I know Tearan, but let me explain. Ma'Lek was more than you or anyone else in your realm ever knew. First, let us all express to you our deepest sympathies. If you are here with us, it means your uncle has passed from his world. This pains each one of us."
As she spoke these words, everyone in the vast cafe bowed their heads, held their right fists on the very center of their chests, and said in unison "To your honor, Ma'Lek Neh-Sera."
Molly, holding back tears, touched my hand as if to comfort me. It was an appreciated gesture. Everyone's heads remained bowed for just a moment, rising only when Edna once again began to speak.
"Your uncle was a realm weaver, as you now know" she began.
I nodded my head and waited for her to continue, now grasping Molly's hand as well. I was glad that happenstance had brought this new friend to my life.
Edna continued. "Realm Weavers require a lifetime of study and training to hone their craft, to be able move from world to world. Some realms are forbidden from learning the art and the very existence of weavers."
"But why? Why keep this from any race of people?" I asked.
"Oh, for many reasons, I suppose," Edna answered. "Your world was forbidden from the craft because of the lust for wealth and the exploitation of knowledge. The Time Initiative deemed Corden Baal not trustworthy enough to have weavers. But Ma'Lek disagreed with this and became a self-taught weaver, which is incredibly difficult, extremely rare, and absolutely illegal."
"That certainly sounds like Ma'" I laughed.
Chuckling to herself she said "Yes! It really does! He worked many years to be able to weave and many more perfecting the craft. And on one visit, he told me about his nephew. He told me about you, Tearan.
You see, there are almost no weavers who were born with the ability to weave any longer. In fact, I know of not a single weaver in my lifetime who was ability-born. Until I talked with Ma' about you.
You were no more than a toddler at the time and had been staying at your uncle's compound with your sister. On the day in question, your sister was behaving in a very unkind manner toward you causing you to become quite angry at her.
Your uncle had been cataloging his realm keys and, unknown to him, one had fallen from the tabletop. Your sister had been throwing things at you and naturally, you retaliated. You picked up the fallen key and threw it at her. As it left your hand, the glow of an active weavers key filled the room. Now a key will glow when it is active but not to the intensity of this!"
As she spoke, I had a vague recollection of the event and I broke in. "A realm opened up as the card fluttered towards her! And when she caught it, she began to be pulled into a different realm! I remember that!"
"Yes! That is exactly correct" Edna exclaimed. "You, a mere toddler, had opened a passage between two realms. You were a once in a millennium gift, Tearan. You were a born weaver."
"Why didn't he ever tell me?" I asked her.
"The Realm Initiative" she said. " Have you heard of them?"
"Just recently, yes. They 'introduced' themselves to me earlier," I told her.
Edna nodded knowingly and said "Then it is time to give you your actual inheritance from your uncle. He said he wanted me to give it to you if you ever arrived in this cafe." She took a small device from her satchel and handed it to me. It did not look like it belonged in this realm at all. It did, in fact, look like something we would've found at the Gamer's Ball.
Edna motioned her hand just to the left of where I was sitting and said "There is a small room just beyond that door. It will give you a private place to hear what your uncle intended to be his final words to you. We will remain here with Ms. Molly. Maybe we can convince her to regale us with the story of Lucky!"
Molly couldn't contain her excitement and began to act out every detail as best she could. As for me, I went to pay my last visit to my beloved uncle.
It is hard for me to speak of what Uncle Ma' said. For now, it must be private, between him and I. It will be a story for another time perhaps. I can tell you that a brand new sense of peace and assurance fell over me then. I now had a new, fantastic path for my life to follow.
I stepped.out.of the room and expected to see my travel companion standing on the table, talking of pirates, "besties" (her word for her friend I assume), and giant magical robots. But this was not the case.
Instead, I saw everyone in the cafe sitting in a chair, silent and staring straight in front of them. I saw Molly, rigid and unmoving, with eyes that seemed to vibrate in their sockets. The only movement in the room came from a table by the bar at which sat a tall, thin, grayish skinned man wearing a uniform that anyone who saw it would immediately recognize as one worn by a military officer.
Behind him stood a group of guards armed with the same sort of weapons with which we had previously been attacked. I walked to where this man sat with no apprehension or hesitation.
"Well look what we have here" he said with a voice that could make one's blood run cold. "Tearan Jak-Sare. Your uncle hid you from us well. Smart man he was, as well as shrewd. It was foolish of him not to explain who and what you are prior to his untimely death. But he was a foolish fellow so I suppose I understand. Do you have any idea who I am, fledgling?"
"Silly ill-fitting suit, skinny as if a skeleton, unflattering little military hat for the pretend man of importance… You must be Xavier Zed of the Realm Initiative" I spit out. His name was bitter on my tongue and I wanted him to hear the contempt in my voice. "What have you done to everyone?"
He straightened his suit and sat a bit higher in his seat before saying "Yes, Tearan, I am Director Zed. I assure you they are all fine. I do not intend to damage anyone here. I merely wanted to speak with you in a quiet environment."
I looked at him and simply said "Undo it."
"Oh I will," he said back. "As soon as I have had a chance to explain things to you that your uncle did not. You see, the mixing of realms is dangerous, not.only for the weaver but also for the worlds themselves. There must be regulations. There must be oversight. There must be rules. And these rules must never be broken."
"And who makes these rules?" I asked him. "And why do they think they have that privilege? "
"Those who make the rules are the leaders of these worlds, of course!" he laughed. "They have earned the right to do so because they have the lives of those who should be in charge! These are powerful and wealthy members of each of the societies that make up the realms. And they do not like an unpredictable element introduced into a very balanced and well planned system."
I could already tell where this was going. My uncle had told me stories of those who want to control others for their own vanity and it always made me sick inside. Seeing it up close and personal only made the feeling worse." After a moment, I said to him "I would assume that a once in a millennium, pure born, realm weaver would be quite an unpredictable element, yes?"
Zed nodded slightly and said "Your assumption would be correct."
"And you think that having me as a part of the Initiative would be the best thing for everyone involved. Yes?" I said.
Giving the same slight nod he replied "Again you are correct."
I knew I had him hooked now. He saw an opportunity to bring me in easily and without any resistance. So I asked him "As a part of the Initiative, I would be made wealthy? I would have the luxuries of royalty if I choose?"
That thin, wrinkled face looked almost giddy at this question. He was clearly filled with excitement at the idea of me becoming an ally willingly. "Of course!" he replied. "Having the only individual with innate, natural weaving gifts would be a dream come true!"
My expression changed to one of inquisitiveness and I asked "But shouldn't the gifts of the realm weavers be used to make the lives of every being both happier and safer? Not just the privileged few?"
Zed suddenly looked as if he had smelled something particularly foul and said "Look around you at these beings. They are beneath you. Your friend there even comes from a world so backward and violent that the very idea of being able to travel from realm to realm would be beyond most of their understanding! And those who could grasp the concept would be motivated to destroy and conquer any other realm with which they came in contact! Don't you see, Master Jak-Sera? You are better than them"
He was now showing his true self to me, even if it was unintentionally. And I am embarrassed to say that although I did find his views repugnant, his reasoning was sound. There were dangers of letting those who would choose to do ill to others have access to other worlds. My gift, my abilities, carried with them a responsibility that must be prevalent in every action I take.
But at the same time, those gifts were being distorted and given to those who should not have them, those who have been manipulated into serving the undeserving privileged? As it was so, I had a decision to make. Join the Initiative and try to bring about change, or stand on my own and have fun bringing people together.
I really like having fun.
"You know… my friend that you pointed out, actually told me the very same thing. That her world shouldn't have the knowledge or gifts of the weavers. She said just what you said."
Zed looked smug and I could almost smell the conceit emanating from his entire being. He puffed himself up and stood to his feet. "So you can see that I am correct! Come with me and we can remove ourselves from this…'' he looked around at the cafe I had quickly come to love and appreciate with a sneer, "...filth."
He turned to leave assuming I would be following close behind. His assumption was incorrect. He only noticed I was still.in place when I said "But…" At this he spun on his heels and faced me with a sincere look of surprise. I had a feeling my fun was about to start now.
"It was my friend, Molly is her name by the way, that told me her world shouldn't have access."
"And?" Zed sneered back.
I said "if she can understand the responsibility of weaving when she just learned of it earlier today, then I believe others can as well. I think it's those that control the Initiative that have disregarded and abused this gift. So to them, and you, I refuse."
Zed flushed with anger and yelled at me now "I had hoped we could do this without incident. I had hoped that once I disposed of the uncle this distraction would be gone as well. But as I do not have time for any more games, you will be coming with us."
"And then there is that one word," I continued, ignoring Zed's attempts at intimidation.
"What 'word'?" he sneered back.
"Weaving " I said. "If I'm just jumping from world to world, then what I can do is not a gift. It's a parlor trick just like the ones Uncle Ma'Lek used to teach me as a child. And who could control the realms with parlor tricks?"
"What exactly are you trying to say? Get on with it so I can leave this hovel " he snapped at me.
"Weaving doesn't mean jumping. It means mixing things together. Many strings that make a whole," I said.
Zed motioned for his guards to detain me but before they could take even a few steps in my direction, I stepped back and put myself in a showman's bow yelling "STOP!' Each of the guards stayed in place while Zed stood behind them rolling his milky white eyes.
He was clearly exasperated when he said 'What? What is it now?"
I extended my arms revealing a group of cards held in my hands. "I have a.magic trick.I want to show you. I learned it just before you arrived."
"Just like your uncle," said sighed. He turned to the guards and said "Can you please just detain him now?"
"When I was just a small child, before I had ever heard the words realm weaver much less knew what that was, I almost sent my twin, my dear sister, to another realm to be lost forever."
"And?" Zed shot back, clearly exasperated by further delay.
"And I did it like this." As I spoke those words I let go of the cards and they began to float in the air. I wasn't sure I could execute the trick because Ma' had taught it to me one summer very long ago. But it worked to perfection. I grabbed one of the cards at random while the rest began to glow brighter and brighter. Suddenly the cafe began to fill with people from the Players Ball, Wonderful Woman and The Dark, the young girl that Molly slapped, and they just kept coming.
Then, I grabbed one of the cards and flung it in Zed's direction. As it flew through the air, it began to fill.the room with bright, dazzling white light. Upon hitting the floor at Zed's feet, a portal to another realm opened up. Zed screamed in fear and fury as he began to be pulled into this entryway to an unknown plane of existence.
Once he fell away, the paralyzing thrall that held the cafe's patrons captive slipped away. Everyone in the cafe began to regain their ability to move and to speak. They all began to stare in the direction of the disappearing Realm Initiative Director who was now grabbing desperately at his guards. They tried to pull.his hands away but made too little progress before they followed him into the portal. Once they were gone, Tearan slapped his hands together and the portal, all the portals, instantly closed.
Mesmerized by what they had just witnessed, every individual in the Creature Cafe was quiet. At least they were until Molly shouted "HUZZAH!!" And everyone in the cafe shouted it back to her in response. To say she was happy would be a massive understatement.
I continued to stare at the spot where the portal had closed with a sinking feeling inside. I had just picked a fight with an enemy I don't even understand. I made the correct choice, but I fully understood the potential consequences.
As I stood there, I felt a hand, soft and heavy, fall upon my shoulder. I turned and found myself once again face to belly with Edna. She leaned down and in almost a whisper she said "I don't understand what just happened. You only today were told of your abilities. How did you do that?"
I thought about all the summers I spent with Ma'; the days upon days having him teach me all of these silly magic tricks. I remembered all the times he made me promise to practice knowing that if I promised to do it, I would follow through.
"He's been teaching me the practice of realm weaving my whole life. I just didn't realize it," I told her.
I could tell that the experience of our meeting and the events of the day had had an emotional effect on her. "How did you know him?" I asked her. "Who was he to you?"
She began to cry just a little and I took her hand in mine remembering the comfort I felt when Molly had taken mine earlier. "He was my brother," she told me. "Not by birth of course but by commitment and love. He saved my life and I will forever be grateful for having known him."
I had so many unanswered questions but they would have to wait. Molly had come bounding over to us with her ever present overabundance of enthusiasm. It is a trait I have come to adore in her. "That was UNBELIEVABLE! I always thought magic tricks were kinda corny but not with you! A never ending amount of HUZZAHS are yours, T-Jax!"
With that, she threw her arms around me and I reciprocated in kind. How can someone crash into you one moment and in a blink become one of the most important people you have ever known? I don't believe it is something I will ever understand.
There was quite the celebration for hours afterward. We had the best time meeting all of these new and cherished friends. But as is always the case, everything must end. That doesn't change in any realm. At least I don't believe so.
Edna once again embraced us both and we said our goodbyes, promising to see each other soon. It was a promise I intended to keep. Molly was subdued and I could tell she was very tired. "I need to return you to the City of Ancients" I told her.
Her reply was precisely what I expected it to be. "We can't." she told me. "We lost the key and without it I can't go back. You said that yourself."
I couldn't resist showing off at least one more time. I held my hand up in front of her and produced the card that was the key to her realm.
"Where did you find that?" she asked, trying to fein surprise.
"From your jacket pocket. I saw you slide it in there when I crashed into you at the Players Ball. I can be very observant, you know!" I said to her.
She looked at me sheepishly knowing she had been caught. "I wasn't trying to steal it. I swear I wasn't. I just didn't want to go back right away."
I understood completely. "I'm not mad," I told her and that was the truth. But I upset some very powerful beings today. I have a target on me now and I need to better understand what I'm up against. Until I do, you're not safe with me."
"I know," she said, her expression one of severe disappointment.
"Besides, you can't just disappear from your life. Your mother would be worried sick about you. And what of Lucky? Wouldn't he be desperate to find you?"
"You have no idea" she replied and I could see her countenance lighten at her thoughts of home.
I held the card out to her and it began to glow. She took the other side of it and I asked her if she was ready. "No." was her short reply. "But go ahead anyway. You better not forget about me!"
"I sincerely doubt that that would even be possible" I said.
She looked directly into my eyes and said a final "huzzah" as we disappeared in a blinding flash of light.