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During the aftermath of the battle, Michael looked at the destruction around him. Several trees had been knocked down, and the rainbow pool had been turned into a murky shade of discolored gray. Made sense—given the fact that colors slowly turn black in the absence of light, and all dark energy was was the absence of good, lighter energy.
The crowscar had made it to safety, indicating a survival of the good energy it had collected. Several of the creatures Michael had seen before were nowhere to be found. Whenever one creature sustained a wound, it would become discolored. If the wounds appeared to be mortal, they seemed to vaporize.
Michael stood on the hill from afar, with his mouth agape at the absurd atrocity to which he had borne witness. As the tornado of hamsters had struck, a battle commenced where all of the creatures on the light energy side had banded together and launched what appeared to be weaponized balls of light energy towards the hamsters.
The frogs dropped the weaponized balls of energy from above, but at great personal sacrifice. Once their energy was used, there wasn't enough to power their wings, causing them to dissipate. One by one, the frogs fell into the tornado, as gravity was no longer their friend, and were consumed by the hamsters.
“They aren’t dead,” stated Conrad, who seemed to have some sort of quasi-psychic ability to pick up on Michael’s thoughts and provide him with encyclopedic knowledge about the strange dream-world around them.
“What happened to them?” Michael asked, with an image of the triceratops being pulverized after having been overcome with hamsters. Some of the hamsters met the same fate in the process; the triceratops put up the kind of fight which Michael would expect a miniature dinosaur to put up.
“They are merely forced into energy redistribution. In this world, death is not possible, only energy redistribution and revitalization. Oftentimes, this can have a very similar effect to death, yet nobody can say we die here.”
“What do you mean?” asked Michael, clearly not taking the reassurance in Conrad’s words the way Conrad had hoped.
“It’s not so much that they have died as much as they have ceased to exist. It’s also not saying that they won’t ever exist again; there are ways for them to come back. It’s just a long way back.”
Perhaps it would be best for Michael to remain ignorant on the subject matter. The ideas Michael couldn’t already grasp about the concept were ideas which hopefully he would never need to grasp in the concept anyway.
“What happens next?” asked Michael, who after what he had seen, was beginning to entertain the possibility of some cruel twist of fate making this life his reality.
“Next, we return to where we came from, as it will be nightfall soon. Unfortunately, neither of us are equipped with the appropriate skills necessary to have fought the hamsters or to clean up after them. We were right to escape to safety. Now we will let the color nymphs and crowscars do their job to get the area looking nice again after this disaster.”
It had never occured to Michael how fast time had seemed to go in this situation. It seemed like the day had come and gone in the blink of an eye, and he was yet to figure out whether or not it was because the days were legitimately faster or if he had simply lost his concept of time.
“Let’s go,” he directed, despite having no reason to feel as though he had any control over the situation.
Along the way home, as he passed the patches of feathers sprouting from the ground and the trees of grass sporadically being grown, including some damaged by the tornado, Michael began to wonder if Earth was just a hallucination and this new world around him was actually reality all along.
“Reality is perception,” an unfamiliar voice stated in a cool tone.
Conrad did not look up in surprise the way Michael did. He seemed unfazed with the presence of an ostrich with an turquoise hue walking alongside them, as if she had been with them for the entirety of the outing.
Never mind the fact that she seemed to have the power to read his mind even more than Conrad. Conrad seemed to be able to pick up on emotions and predict questions, as opposed to this creature being able to pick up his direct thoughts. Michael didn’t even seem bothered by the fact that he was now seeing a colorful, talking ostrich. For the life of him, he couldn’t comprehend where she came from. She must have been the stealthiest large bird he had ever seen.
Before he could even ask where she had come from or who she was, she had already picked up on Michael’s skeptical thoughts.
“Sorry! I completely forgot to introduce myself. My name is Laura Strayer. I am a friend of Conrad’s.”
“Not a friend,” Conrad snapped with more emotion than he had shown thus far.
“Come off it, you old sod! It was literally a thousand years ago,” Laura cheerfully replied.
Unfortunately for Michael, he somehow knew that she was not misusing the word literally. He wondered if he was also doomed to spend a thousand years in this new place. He still didn’t know what this new place was, and he was too caught up in time to remember to ask. Not to mention, at this particular moment, he was still wondering who this Strayer character was.
At this point, Laura Strayer’s psychic abilities seemed to be superseded by her high levels of energy and tendency to switch topics of conversation.
“So who is the new guy?” Laura asked, obviously talking about Michael.
“None of your business,” snapped Conrad.
From what Michael could tell, there did not seem to be a malignancy between Conrad and Laura, but it was obvious to see why Conrad would view her as annoying. Also, when the hell did he become known as the new guy? If she were able to intrude upon his thoughts, she should at least take the time to learn his name.
“Nice to meet you, Michael Staats,” Laura quipped, partially as a way to annoy Conrad and possibly also as a way to demonstrate consideration while she read his thoughts.
Clearly, she understood the fact that the pleasure was not his, and switched back over to Conrad, who was actively doing his best to ignore her.
“How can you stay mad at me?”
“By doing what I’m doing.”
“It was an accident. It’s not like I murdered your sister or anything. Why can’t you get over it?”
Michael continued to wonder what “it” may have been, but had firmly decided he didn’t want to know. Staying out of others’ problems had suited him well for long enough, and he wasn’t about to take an interest now.
For some reason, though, not even his decided blissful ignorance could fall his way. Conrad finally piped up, giving her quite the earful.
“Let me tell you precisely why I am annoyed, since you can’t seem to take the hint and leave us alone. You are a curse. You accidentally released the vortex of evil over society, which still hungers for the disembodiment of our kind to this day. Had I had a sister, she may have died due to your lack of functionality.”
“But the vortex was contained, if you recall. You and I contained it together, remember? And it’s not like I released one on purpose! Remember, I am the one researching how to get rid of all vortexes and all dark energy. That’s kind of my purpose.”
“Really? I thought your purpose was to make my life difficult, along with the lives of several others. Or at the very most, perhaps you were meant to use your drive-thru approach to psychic powers to help the world. You are the only being I know with the ability to read the thoughts of other individuals out there. I mean I know there are others, but your skill is rare, and you are wasting it.”
“But at least I now have you acknowledging that I have skill.”
Conrad was visibly unhappy to have been bested in logic by this ostrich. Michael was visibly unhappy that he had to be present for this discussion at all. She was also still yet to explain why she was here in the first place.
Conrad seemed to share the sentiment, for he finally uttered in a maintained sense of annoyance, “What are you doing here now? Don’t you have somewhere else to be?”
“That’s the thing. My psychic powers, which you have already acknowledged were both real and useful, have brought me here.”
“That’s absurd, what could you want with me? Have you caused another disaster? Created another incident?”
“Will you stop?” she shouted, with a heightened presence. “I am not even here for you. I am here for him,” she said, motioning towards Michael.
He still loathed being called “him,” especially since Laura obviously knew his name, and now was even less inclined to associate with her now. In spite of the drama which followed him, Michael wanted nothing more than to be left alone, in his own bed, and in his own home.
Before another word was said, a large bolt of discolored lightning cracked a matter of feet in front of them. On the spot ahead where the lightning touched, a massive hole opened up and grew at a rapid pace.
“Get back!” Conrad and Laura shouted in unison. While it was nice for them to agree on something for a change, they all seemed to have much larger problems now.
“This is what I mean when I say that you’re bad luck. You are a true disaster on legs!” Conrad shouted, as the two of them sprinted about a hundred yards back.
Michael did his best to keep up. Obviously if they were running, it would likely be a productive idea to not fall incredibly behind. Suddenly, he got the suspicion that whatever this growing, gaping hole was, it would likely prevent them from returning home before dark.
The hole kept expanding, moving ever-closer towards Conrad, Laura, and Michael, the latter of whom had breathlessly caught up to them.
They seemed to be at a safe distance, but nevertheless, staring into the pitch black abyss inside the hole had left Michael shaken. He got the feeling that whatever was inside that hole was something from which he should stay away.
Conrad confirmed his suspicions. The hole had slowed its expansion and had crept to a full stop about thirty feet away from them.
“That holds the same property as the holes through which the frogs were jumping earlier. It is definitely a good idea to stay away from them. It’s a good idea to stay away from them, among other reckless things,” he said, attempting to fit in another shot at Laura.
At that moment, it seemed as though somebody had flipped a switch. Night had turned on immediately, and Michael’s entire perspective had shifted. The world looked so similar, yet entirely different at night.
“Great, Laura. Now it is dark outside. Thank you for making us late coming back from the disaster at the rainbow pool.”
“You saw it?” she questioningly exclaimed. “What was it like?”
“I don’t have time to tell you about it. In case you haven’t noticed, Michael, your precious cargo, should not be out after dark right now, and quite frankly, neither should you. Who knows what kind of incident you would cause?”
“In that case, I should probably come stay with you! Thank you, Conrad!”
“That’s not what I meant!”
“Come on, your house is literally a few dozen feet away.”
This caught Michael’s attention. He had no idea how far they had walked, but they had made it back more quickly than expected. Sure enough, he recognized his street, or at least the street he had thought he lived on.
“The answer is no.”
Michael subconsciously nodded in agreement.
“I promise I will not cause any commotion, and will be out first thing tomorrow. I have to come back anyway, to talk to Michael some more. You might as well help me expedite the process.”
“I don’t know you at all,” Michael finally piped up, having realized he had been silent for too long and could say something in his own defense.
“Well, be prepared,” Laura replied, getting a scoff from Conrad in the process. “With all due respect, I have been called to you, and I physically am unable to leave you until I have fulfilled our calling.”
Michael turned to Conrad, ignoring her opinion entirely. Surely Conrad would agree with him, given his distaste for this ostrich.
Unexpectedly, though, Conrad nodded in agreement with her. “Unfortunately, she is right. On both points. At the very least it might get her out of my hair faster if she stayed with us.”
“I know just how much you want me out of here,” Laura chimed in with a smile, “The easiest way to do that is to let me stay with you now, and cause you less havoc later.”
With a sharp eye roll, Conrad nodded in approval. “Fine, you can stay with us for one night, and one night only. But if you cause a single disaster in my house, I will personally snap you with my snout.”
“Thank you!” Laura shouted.
She ran over to try and hug Conrad, who instantly rebuffed her with a flick of his tail.
“Come on,” he said reluctantly. “And no hugging.”
“I don’t like this idea at all!” Michael shouted as he stamped his foot like a child, regaining his full voice and his ability to think about priorities other than his own. He had almost entirely forgotten that he was trying to turn someone away in a house at which he was a guest as well.
“If we operated solely based on your likes and dislikes, Mr. Staats,” Conrad began with obvious tire and sarcasm in his voice, “We would be a lot worse off. You are a guest here. You would do well to remember that.”
At that, an appalled Michael was about to shout more, with a significant increase in obscenities, but before any words could come out, he heard the rustle of another pack of hamsters in the distance.
After what he had seen, he had decided it was likely not a good idea to go against the beings who clearly were protecting him and knew much more about this land than he did. With a silent and somewhat angry nod, he agreed, and the trio finished the journey back to Conrad’s home.