"You can see me?"
Nova stared at the girl in the green raincoat. Nova gave her a perplexed look since the question was unexpected. It was only then that she realized none of the rain touched the girl. She was in an invisible bubble. It should've been impossible. Nova tightened her hand on her umbrella.
Nope. Time to go.
Nova backed away. Her umbrella tilted to the side and rain drenched her right shoulder. A testament to just how strange it was that the rain didn't touch the girl.
The girl's hand snaked out, grabbing Nova's wrist. Her grip was tight. Nova panicked and yanked her arm away. She took another step back, ready to bolt when her eyes met the girl's gaze. She looked to be about 14 or 15. Her face was red and splotchy like she had been crying for a long time.
"Please, help me," the girl pleaded.
Nova bit her lip. She shouldn't have approached the girl. It was just that she was having an extremely bad day and seeing the girl crouched on the ground, crying her eyes out had felt so relatable. Now, the girl was staring at her, with a hint of hope in her eyes.
Against her better judgment, Nova took a step forward. She was sure this was how horror movies started but she couldn't make herself abandon the girl.
"I can try to help. Are you lost?" Nova asked.
The girl smiled at her. "I'm-"
Then the world tilted.
Nausea curled up in Nova's stomach. It was the worst feeling of vertigo Nova had ever felt. Instinctively, she tried to grab onto something but the only thing around her was air. Looking around, she was met with a dizzying number of colors swirling past her that she was forced to close her eyes or risk puking. Closing her eyes was almost worse. There was this sensation of falling and then suddenly she stopped.
Nova's hand slapped against something hard and her knees buckled. She snapped her eyes open and gasped.
All around her were clouds and an endless sky. Streaks of color painted the sky, reds and golds mixing with teals and purples. It was a beautiful sight that became surreal as streams of floating staircases weaved between the clouds. Nova looked down and felt her stomach turn. She was standing on a step of one of the floating staircases. From what she could see there was nothing underneath her besides more clouds and sky. There wasn't even anything holding up the staircase.
"What the hell?" Nova shrieked and clutched onto the step for dear life. She looked around her at the floating staircases and took a deep breath. "It's okay. I'm just having a nervous breakdown."
"I guess it could seem that way."
Nova jerked at the sound of the voice and almost lost her grip on the step. She looked around, searching for where the voice was coming from, and then she saw him.
He was dressed in black slacks and brown leather boots with the cuff folded over. He wore a long dark brown leather vest over a billowing cream shirt. A burgundy sash was tied around his waist. Topping it off was a dark brown tricorn hat. The whole outfit screamed pirate.
Noticing her attention, the man grinned at her, his gold eyes glinting with mischief. He then took off his hat with a flourish, revealing a head of bright red hair. If all that wasn't enough, he was floating.
"I've completely lost it," Nova said. She felt almost calm about that fact. She never expected to be so aware of her own insanity.
The floating pirate laughed. "You're not crazy."
"Uh-huh," Nova said, being careful not to look down.
"Trust me," the pirate said, giving her a charming smile.
She didn't trust him one bit even if he was a delusion. It must have shown on her face.
"I'm trustworthy," he said, his expression shifted into one of mock offense. The expression didn't last that long before he was grinning at her again. "Welcome to the Paths."
Nova arched an eyebrow.
"You must be curious how you arrived at this fantastical destination." He spread out his arms dramatically. "You have been chosen."
"A chosen one story," Nova said. "Unbelievable."
"That's an interesting reaction," he said, looking at her curiously. "I never bought into the chosen one stuff either. Well, not until...In any case, that's not what I'm talking about." He rubbed his chin. "Actually, I guess it's not that you have been chosen but you chose."
"I didn't choose anything," Nova said as she shifted her position on the staircase. Her hands were starting to cramp up from clutching the step.
"Didn't you?" the man said and pointed behind him.
Nova frowned and twisted awkwardly to look behind her. There, two staircases over, was the girl in the raincoat. She looked like how Nova first saw her. Crouched down, her arms wrapped around her knees as her shoulders shook with sobs.
Nova frowned. "What is going on?" A new thought occurred to her and she glared at the pirate. "Did you do this to her?"
He shook his head. "I don't know who picks Soul Travelers but it definitely is not me. Most moved on through the portals but she didn't. The lass has been stuck here ever since."
That entire statement brought up enough questions to fill an afternoon. She looked at the girl, sitting there, alone and crying. With a sigh, Nova stood up. She felt wobbly but she managed to get on her feet. Taking a deep breath, she started walking.
The first steps were nerve-wracking but after a while, she got used to it. It was just climbing steps after all, though she made sure not to look over the edge.
"Do you know how I got here?" Nova asked.
The pirate drifted beside her as she made her way to the girl. The staircases shifted whenever she paused, providing her a path to the girl.
He shook his head. "It is a mystery."
She grunted. "And you said she's stuck here because she didn't go through a portal?"
The pirate nodded. "That would be the tale of it."
"Portals," she muttered to herself. Another insane notion in a growing line of insanity. At this point, she figured it was best to hold off on her questions for a bit.
One issue at a time.
She walked in silence until she reached the girl. She stopped a step away from her. The girl didn't look up. Her face was still buried in her knees as she cried.
Nova wasn't sure what to do. This definitely hadn't been what she expected when she approached the girl in her world. "So...you needed help?"
The girl's head snapped up so fast it almost hurt to watch. Her eyes widened and then she threw herself at Nova without a second of hesitation. "You're here!" Her fingers dug into Nova's blouse. "You're actually going to help me?"
Nova wasn't sure what to say. She wasn't sure if she could help her. Was she supposed to get her unstuck? The logical side of her wanted to say as much but was promptly shut up as she felt the girl trembling against her. Nova patted the girl's head and said the only thing she felt she could. "I'll try."
She looked at the pirate, hoping he might have a direction to point her in. "What do I do now?"
He shrugged. "I haven't the foggiest."
The girl looked up at Nova. Some of the hope in her expression faded. "You have to go through a portal or you'll get stuck like me."
"What portal? I haven't seen anything like that?" Nova asked.
There was a loud noise like waves crashing and then a flash of light. Together, they all turned. To the right of Nova, clouds parted and a large opening appeared. It was framed by tree trunks and rolling clouds curled overhead. A shimmer of what Nova could only think of as magic covered the entrance like a sheer veil. It was translucent, revealing the image of a beautiful picturesque world beyond.
"Guess that answers that," Nova said.
As she watched, clouds drifted towards the portal and began to solidify. They transformed before her eyes into a new set of staircases they climbed down to the portal until they stopped in front of Nova. They waited and she felt a tug, gently beckoning her.
Nova swallowed. "I guess that means it's time to go." She looked at the girl. "Ready?"
The girl reluctantly pulled away from Nova and shook her head. "I can't. It won't let me."
Nova frowned in confusion. "What?"
"One portal, one soul traveler," the pirate said stiffly.
Nova groaned. "Of course. That would've been too easy." She looked at the portal. "And if I don't go, I'll be stuck here."
"That's the bones of it," the pirate said, plopping down on a cloud. His movements were casual but Nova noticed there was an intensity in his gaze.
Nova looked down at the girl. It was a novel experience since her own 5'4 height meant she was often looking up to people than the other way around. A wave of protectiveness shot through Nova.
"What's your name?" Nova asked.
The girl gave her a shy smile. "I'm Michelle Yang, but you can call me Miko."
Nova smiled at Miko. "Nova Davis."
"I'm Captain Jace Helms if anyone is asking," the pirate said.
Nova ignored Jace and looked at the portal again. Somehow she was in this bizarre place after meeting Miko. It couldn't be a coincidence. "I think we're going to have to brute force it. Want to give it a try?"
Miko shuffled and looked unsure, but she nodded.
Nova turned to Jace. "You coming with, Captain?"
Jace looked startled. "I...yes..." He straightened up, pushing off the cloud. "I guess I will."
Nova turned back to the steps. The pull grew stronger. "Then come on."
Together, they climbed the stairs to the portal. Nova's every movement felt like wading through a dream. She wondered if at any moment she would wake up and find herself knocked out on the street.
They reached the portal. Nova peered through the veil of magic to see mountains and a field of flowers. Thick trees stretched to the sky. It was beautiful. Looking at it, Nova was struck with the thought of what if this wasn't a dream. Countless times since her parents' deaths, she wished to be whisked away from her life. To not worry about college, about aunts and uncles who couldn't be bothered with her.
That makes it even more likely this is a dream.
She tore her eyes away from the portal and looked at Miko and Jace. "We should hold hands."
Miko quickly grabbed her hand, her grip almost painful. Nova squeezed her hand back. Jace raised his hand and then lowered it.
"I'll just stick close," he said with an easy smile.
Nova frowned at him but decided not to fight him on it. Instead, she turned to the portal. "Ready?"
They both nodded.
"Go!" And they surged forward.
Nova slipped through the portal easily. It was like gliding through water, a little resistance, but nothing difficult. She could see swirls of colors and light in her peripheral vision like tiny galaxies being made and unmade around her. She took another step and then was suddenly jerked back.
She couldn't move forward, it was like her hand was stuck on something. She turned and she could see Miko, panic on her face. Nova twisted and grasped the girl's wrist, yanking. She pulled with all her strength, her muscles straining to drag her a little further. For a moment, it worked, and then abruptly Miko was dragged back.
The girl opened her mouth, screaming something but Nova couldn't hear her. It was like all the sound around Nova was shut off. Even so, Nova could guess what she was saying. It made her hold on tighter.
She strained against the portal. She could feel it tugging her, each pull becoming more insistent. Nova dug her heels in, unwilling to go forward without bringing Miko with her. Then she saw Jace. He was moving closer. He reached out, grabbing Nova and Miko's wrists.
"What are you doing?" She tried to shout but no sound came out.
Jace shook his head and then clamp down on her wrist. An electric shock shot up her arm. She flinched back, her grip loosening. At that exact moment, Jace ripped Miko's hand away.
"No!" Nova shouted, but it was too late.
Without Miko as an anchor, Nova was yanked through the portal. A rush of color passed her by as Miko got further away. Then she was spat onto the ground. She scrambled to sit up but it was already too late. The portal was gone.
Nova plopped back on the grass. A wave of defeat crushed her. The image of Miko's face danced in her head. She didn't know the girl but she felt responsible. She had given her hope and then failed her.
A blue screen popped up in front of Nova with a ding.
[Welcome to the World of Galius!]
[Name:] Nova Davis
[Unique Class:] Soul Traveler
[Secondary Class:] Pending
[Skills Unlocked:] 0
[Stats Unlocked:] 0
[You must pick your secondary class before fully unlocking your system. Would you like to see your options?]
Before Nova could begin to comprehend what she was seeing, a sharp screech sounded beside her. She turned her head and stared into the slitted golden eye of a kraken.