Unexpected Angels (COMPLETE!!!)

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Re: Unexpected Angels (nearly complete!)

Postby Rowena » Wed Feb 29, 2012 6:38 pm

Chapter Fifteen

Despite her speed, Shagreen managed to duck out of 'Taube's grasp and kick open the door to the Captain's quarters.

Captain Barbacoa was there, half the treasure in his chest already stuffed into his baggy clothing. He was holding Shagreen's staff, and when the sorcerer burst in, the large pirate raised the sturdy staff like a club.

"Hand it over, Pirate," the sorcerer spat. "I am in no mood for games-sss."

"The worth of this staff is well known to me," the pirate snarled through his beard. "And I'll not let it go so easy. Come and claim it, if your fishy heart has the courage to face me."

Shagreen bared his pointed teeth and lunged. Barbacoa dodged and swung, but stubbed his toes against his treasure chest and howled in pain. The sorcerer took advantage of his opponent's distraction and snatched the staff from his hands.

"Oh no, you don't."

Shagreen turned at the gruff voice behind him. Wolverine hulked in the doorway, blocking his exit. The winged woman stood behind him, beside a dark man with golden eyes.

The sorcerer snarled, then smiled. Brandishing his staff, he took a half-step back and said, "Fools. You can't stop me."

"Wanna bet, fish-face?"

Wolverine stalked menacingly toward him, claws extended. The sorcerer's eyes widened and he cringed back another step, then another, holding the staff out before him as if in supplication.

"Logan-" Nightcrawler cried out, an instant before the cramped cabin lit up with a blinding, yellow light. The light disappeared a moment later with a sizzling SHAZZP, leaving behind a sharp electrical smell.

Wolverine and the sorcerer were gone.

"What in all the blue blazes...!" Barbacoa roared. He struggled to climb to his feet, only to roar in pain and fall back. "Argh, me toe! I've broken me big toe!"

"That shark-man—he opened a portal," Nightcrawler said, and swore behind clenched teeth. "This complicates matters. 'Taube, do you think-"

A raucous cheer broke out on deck, and 'Taube felt small hands tugging at her legs, her wings, her arms. More little Boggies flooded into the cabin, where they swarmed around the wounded Captain Barbacoa, lifting him into the air and dropping the howling pirate high in the crow's nest at the top of the main mast.

'Taube and Nightcrawler followed the Boggies' insistent pull out onto the upper deck, where they saw the rest of the pirates had been soundly defeated. The crew stood tied to the masts in groups and clusters, and hordes of Boggies danced around them, spitting, kicking, taunting, and waving their winged arms.

"Look-look! Fieryboggie has defeated the pirate-leader! This Fieryboggie—my own dearest friend!"

The harsh, little voice carried above the cheers, and 'Taube realized it was the drunken Minion shouting. Only now, the swaying Boggie seemed to be high on the cheers of his comrades, and clearly seeing an opportunity to gain their favor by association. "Fieryboggie is a hero! Yes! My own friend—my friend, the hero!"

"A hero, a hero!" the celebrating mob cheered, flapping and hopping and clapping. "Fieryboggie, the hero!"

"And she will lead us, now," the little Minion cried. "She will lead us to free those who remain enslaved. To the mines, the mines in the clouds!"

"Lead us, yes!" the Boggies cheered. "Freedom for those enslaved!"

'Taube's gray eyes roved over the crowd with calm composure, but Nightcrawler lashed his tail in frustration.

"Truly, this is a great victory," he called out. "But, although you have beaten the pirates, a dangerous enemy remains at large. A man with the features of a shark has used his staff to open a portal to another dimension, and he has taken our friend, the Wolverine, with him."

The Boggies' cheers died down, replaced by angry, worried mutters.

"Sharky is loose...Sharky is free..."

"Fieryboggie can catch him!" Minion shouted.

"Fieryboggie must lead us against the cloud miners!" an older Boggie shouted back, to a roar of approval. "Our Fellow-Boggies must be freed!"

"Yes, yes, that is very true," Nightcrawler called out. "But listen, please. Sharky kidnapped my daughters. They are here now, on this ship. Please, I ask that before you continue on your mission to free your friends, that we first return to Sharky's island. My wife is waiting there for our girls' return. As for 'Taube leading you—this is not something you can force upon her. You must allow her to choose for herself whether she wishes to return with us to our dimension, or stay here with you."

The Boggies burst into a wave of animated chatter. Nightcrawler turned to 'Taube.

"'Taube," he said, "I need to ask you something. Something important. You saw what happened to Logan. He's trapped out there, in an alternate dimension. I can't just leave him."

"Yes, I am aware," 'Taube said.

"You have already proven yourself a great friend to my girls. No matter what you choose to do about the Boggies, could you please make sure the children are returned safely to my wife?"

'Taube gazed over the heads of the Boggies to where Forge stood with Marti, Suzie, and the other children. Slowly, she nodded.

"I will watch over your Marti, Suzie and their friends as if they were my own sprout."

Nightcrawler favored her with a warm, sympathetic look.

"Forge and I will find Logan. We'll return as soon as we can. 'Taube," he said sincerely, "I can't thank you enough."

Leaving 'Taube on the upper deck, he teleported to the little group by the railing.

"Forge," he said the instant he appeared. "Logan's gone. Sharky opened a portal and they both went through. I need to know if you can track him."

"Well, I-"

"Bitte, Forge," Nightcrawler said. "We cannot just leave him stranded."

Forge nodded and got to work.

"Dad?" Marti said. "Can we-"

"Nein, Liebchen, you are not to come with us," he said. "I have asked 'Taube to bring all of you children back to Alice, on Sharky's island. No matter what happens, you are all to stay with her, all right? Do you promise me?"

Marti, Suzie and Kurt shared a long look, but finally they nodded.

"We promise, Dad," the girls said.

"I promise, sir," Kurt chorused.

"Sehr gut," Nightcrawler said. "Then I will put my trust in you."

"I hate it when he says that," Suzie muttered.

Nightcrawler shot her a knowing look.

"Once Forge and I have located Logan, we will return for you," he said. "So you must all stay together, and stay put, so we can find you easily. Then, we will go home, all of us, to our own dimensions."

Kurt smiled, and held Crawler closer. "Hear that, little one?" he said. "You're going home."

"OK, I think I found their trail," Forge said. "See that yellow line, there?"

He held out the scanner. Nightcrawler squinted at it, and nodded.

"Can you take us there?"

"Coordinates already programed. You ready?"

"Ready," Nightcrawler confirmed, and watched as Forge opened the glowing yellow portal. "You children be good, OK?"

"Best behavior," Marti said, straightening to attention with a smart salute.

Her father grinned at her, then led the way through the flickering tear in space/time, followed closely by Forge. A few seconds after their shadows were swallowed up, the light vanished with a fizzing SHAZZP!

*******
The blinding light of the portal vanished, revealing a world of water and endless sky.

Nightcrawler and Forge looked around, and realized they were standing on the deck of a wooden ship, not that different from the pirate ship they'd just left. A small, rocky island lay to starboard, its craggy shoreline lapped by gentle waves.

"How strange," Nightcrawler commented. "It is as if we have landed on the flip side of a coin."

"Whoa, look at that!" Forge exclaimed, pointing to a black, long-necked creature swimming past the ship just under the surface of the water. "What is that thing?"

"It looks like a giant penguin," Nightcrawler said. "But so graceful! It really does look as if it is flying beneath the waves."

"If you two are done admiring the wildlife, I'd like to get off this boat."

The two men turned.

"Logan!" Nightcrawler exclaimed. "Where is the shark-man?"

Wolverine growled.

"He ain't here," he snapped. "Soon as we got here, he opened another portal and I ended up stuck on this wreck."

"This ship does look to be in pretty bad repair," Forge said, looking up at the tattered sails and splintered masts. "What happened here?"

"How should I know," Logan grumbled. "I wasn't here for it. What I do know is this thing's takin' on water pretty bad below decks."

"Then it's a good thing we showed up when we did," Forge said. "So, ready to go back?"

Wolverine and Nightcrawler shared a long look.

"What do you think?" Nightcrawer asked.

"It ain't safe havin' that shark-face on the loose," Wolverine said. "Look at all the mess he's already caused. I'll leave it up to you, Elf, but could we really sleep easy knowing we left him free out there?"

Nightcrawler closed his eyes and pinched his lips together, his head nodding slowly.

Forge smirked knowingly, and plotted in the coordinates for the next jump.

"Ready, guys?" he asked.

"Jawohl," Nightcrawler said, and straightened his posture. "Duty first, ja? Such is the IX-MO way."

"IX-MO?" Logan queried.

Nightcrawler smiled. "I'll explain later, mein Freund. Forge?"

This time, the portal that opened was more of a yellow-green. The small group stepped through-

-into a glowing furnace of flowing magma, interspersed with tiny, rocky islands. Nightcrawler yelped and hopped from foot to bare foot.

"Gah, these rocks are white-hot!" he exclaimed.

"Well, fortunately for us, Sharky didn't stay here long," Forge said. "Let me just-ah, there! Here we go-!"

Kurt dove through the flickering portal before it had even fully opened and sat rubbing his singed feet. Forge and Wolverine followed closely, and stared up...and up...

"What the hell kind of place is this?" Wolverine said.

Nightcrawler stood gingerly on the narrow strip of cool, shaded sand, and followed his friends' gaze.

"The forest..." he said. "It seems to be growing...upside-down."

Forge couldn't hold back a giggle.

"Just look at those trees! All those leaves spreading over the ground, and a tangle of roots high above. It's like the whole forest's doing a handstand!"

"I wish I had a camera," Kurt said. "Alice would love to see this. Not to mention the children!"

"Hey-there's a thought! I can made a video recording with my scanner!" Forge said, and started tapping. "There-recorded for posterity: an upside-down forest. Heh, if the trees are like this, I wonder what the animals look like!"

Wolverine sniffed the air.

"You're gonna know soon enough," he said. "Somethin's comin'."

The three men looked up at the sound of snapping twigs and rustling leaves. Whatever was coming, it was coming fast.

"Sounds big," Forge said.

"And it's not alone," Wolverine said. "I think it's chasin' something."

"Or someone," Nightcrawler said, and pointed. "Look-isn't that the shark-man, there?"

"Yeesh, and look at that thing behind him!" Forge shuddered. "It looks like one of those what-do-you-call'ems..."

"A star-nosed mole, I believe it's called," Nightcrawler said. "Edmund pointed them out to me last time we visited London Zoo. But those were barely the size of a mouse."

"This one's more like a bear!" Forge said. "So, what do we do? Wait for them to get here, grab Sharky, and hope that star-nosed monster doesn't trample us all to paste?"

"Not a bad idea, kid," Wolverine said.

Forge stared at him, incredulously.

"Open that portal," he said. "Sharky'll be sure to take the escape route. We'll catch him on the other side."

"OK," Forge said, and shrugged. "I'll go for it. Now, where'd I store those coordinates for that floating-island world..."

"You might want to hurry, Forge," Nightcrawler prompted, his golden eyes fixed on the fast-approaching monster.

"Hurry it up, Forge," Wolverine growled.

"Forge!"

Forge fumbled the scanner slightly, then pushed a button. A shimmering ice-blue portal flickered opened a few meters ahead of them.

Sharky ran toward it frantically, waving his staff like a relay race baton, his fishy eyes wide with the terror of a hunted animal. Wolverine and Nightcrawler jumped through after him, followed by Forge. The snuffling, lumbering mole was left alone to blindly scour the beach for its vanished quarry.

-A quarry that was, at that moment, stuck motionless in an expanse of purple sky so thick and viscous it dripped and rose in globules, like the slow-moving blobs in a lava lamp.

Wolverine strained to reach the snarling sorcerer, but the sticky sky was like an adhesive jelly. It would stretch just so much before bouncing back and continuing its oozing plunge toward the swishing purple sea far below.

"Ugh!" Forge groaned. "This stuff is disgusting! It even smells purple."

"Don't tell usss about it, fool-sss," Sharky snapped, jammed into the goo deeper than any of them. "Get us-sss out of here!"

"OK, OK, I'm working on it," Forge said, straining to reach his scanner. It took all his strength, but he managed to hit the button with his nose.

The swirling, pink portal sucked them in one by one, dumping them unceremoniously into the clear, shallow waters of a breathtaking lagoon.

"Mein Gott..." Nightcrawler said, his indigo curls dripping over his forehead.

He and Forge stood slowly, awed by their picturesque surroundings. The trees and the water, the sweet birdsong...it was unspoiled perfection, all tinted with the romantic, fiery gold of a tropical sunrise.

A loud splashing shattered the moment, and Wolverine shouted: "DON'T MOVE!"

Still, Shagreen fought to slip away with all his might.

"I wasn't plannin' to skewer you, bub," Wolverine growled, "but you keep squirmin' and I'll spear an' gut you right here, like the slimy fish you are."

Shagreen lay still at once, glaring up at the Wolverine with eyes that spat pure hate.

"Good choice." Wolverine grunted and hefted the sorcerer to his feet. "All right, Forge," he said. "Take us back to that surrealist's nightmare so we can get this crazy adventure over with."

Forge started to comply, but a sound from the trees him made him pause.

"Uh, guys..." he said. "Did you hear-"

"Down!" Nightcrawler shouted, ramming Forge back into the water. A pair of red laser beams shot over their heads.

"What...what...?" Forge choked and sputtered on the water.

"Gott im Himmel!" Nightcrawler exclaimed. "Did you see that? And there-another one! Mein Gott, it's a sphinx! A living sphinx!"

"A living sphinx that shoots lasers from its eyes," Wolverine said dryly. "Forge, any progress on those coordinates?"

"I just need a minute-oop!"

Forge dived again as another Sphinx appeared from the shadows, her red eyes glowing dangerously. The twin beams missed him by a hair.

"In mythology, the sphinx was always a guardian," Nightcrawler said. "They must be protecting this lagoon. They think we are intruders, or desecrators."

"Well, aren't we-sss?" Sharky snapped. "Here, let me."

Twisting out of Wolverine's grip, Sharky brandished his staff and an orange portal opened just ahead of him.

"Ha ha!" he crowed. "Sss-so long, ss-ssuckerss! Ssssss!"

He snickered and dove for the flickering tear-only to cry out when it vanished before his eyes, leaving him to flop face-down into the water. He felt a sharp tug at his staff and pulled it back, but the tug was insistent. The staff was wrenched from his wet, slippery hands.

Sharky surged to his feet in a dripping rage, only to stare in disbelief at the sight of his staff hanging suspended over the water, as if being held by invisible hands. He heard a giggle, bright and feminine, then small, invisible fingers dug into his shoulder.

"Ow! What iss-ss thiss-sss!" he hissed.

"Almost got it... I just need another second," Forge said, then gasped. "Hey-let go!"

Forge pulled at his scanner, fighting whatever invisible force had grabbed hold of it, but all too soon the scanner had joined Shagreen's staff, floating over the lagoon's crystal waters.

The disembodied voice giggled again, and the group found themselves caught in a swirl of wind and bolts of flashing light. The wind stole their breath and made it impossible to cry out.

As suddenly as it had begun, the whirlwind stopped, depositing its disoriented cargo onto a smooth, cold, marble floor.

The men groaned and rolled slowly to their feet, peering dizzily at their new surroundings.

They stood in the middle of an airy, white-marble room with many windows, its high ceiling held aloft by delicately carved pillars. Curtains of gossamer silk floated and billowed in the gentle breeze, lending to the place's dream-like feel. Tucked away in a corner, a chess set perched on a crystal table, its pieces holding the stations of a paused game in progress.

Sharky ran frantically from window to window, but apparently he saw no escape. Reluctantly, he returned to the center of the room and sat on the floor, his shoulders hunched and his sharp teeth clenched in a fierce scowl.

"OK, I give up," Forge moaned. "Where are we now?"

"Not a clue," Nightcrawler said. "But, at least we're dry."

"Hm," Wolverine grunted. "There's something about this place. That smell... I feel like I've been here before. I just can't remember..."

"Oh, there you are!"

The group looked up to see a young woman stride into the room. She wore a brown suit and trousers, and her chestnut hair was pulled back in a long braid that fell past her knees.

A gust of wind blew past them, and they heard the same giggling voice from the lagoon.

"Wisp, you were supposed to bring them straight here," the brown-haired girl scolded the invisible voice. The voice giggled and whispered, and the girl shook her head.

"You know that kind of sporadic cross-dimensional traffic wreaks merry havoc with my work. A comprehensive history of the multiverse isn't supposed to write itself, you know. What's my staff supposed to do when lines and notes appear in their texts from out of nowhere?"

The ghostly whisper swirled and laughed. The girl sighed.

"Yes, well, it's done now. We'll sort it out, like always. I'm just not fond of this kind of unpredictability. We historians interpret facts already in evidence. When you insert undocumented materials without first consulting the proper channels... Don't you call me a bureaucrat you absentminded ghost! All right, all right. You'd better go, anyway. Roma's expecting your report. I'll deal with our...visitors."

The ghostly breeze whisked away, and the girl turned her sharp, brown eyes on the four men.
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Re: Unexpected Angels (nearly complete!)

Postby Rowena » Wed Feb 29, 2012 6:38 pm

"I suppose I should welcome you to Otherworld," she said, striding toward them. "I'm Rowena, Head Historian here. You must be Forge, Wolverine, and Nightcrawler." She shook hands with each of them, lingering slightly when she came to Nightcrawler. "Mistress Roma has spoken often of you, sir." She smiled.

Nightcrawler smiled back and ran a hand through his wavy hair.

Wolverine raised a wolfish eyebrow, and Kurt elbowed him.

Rowena turned to Shagreen, sulking on the floor, and her smile vanished.

"Shagreen," she said. "Self-proclaimed 'sorcerer.' It is my duty to inform you that you are under arrest. These officers will list your offenses and inform you of your rights."

She motioned behind her, and five female soldiers in elaborate uniforms marched forward in formation. Shagreen started to struggle, but the soldiers clamped his wrists in a complicated-looking set of mechanical handcuffs, and set a little round robot floating over his shoulder.

"Make one false move, fish-face," the lead soldier said, "and this little 'bot will zap you senseless quicker than you can blink."

"Trust me, Sharky," a second soldier said through a shark-like smile of her own, "you won't want to live through the headache this thing'll leave when you wake up."

With that, the officers marched Shagreen from the room, rattling off his myriad legal infractions as they went.

"And now for you," Rowena said, and pulled Forge's scanner from her pocket.

"Ah, so there it is!" Forge cried in relief. "If I could just have that back-"

"Have it back?" Rowena looked incredulous. "Oh, no. This device is much, much too dangerous to be left in untrained hands. I'm afraid it'll have to stay here."

Forge straightened.

"Untrained! Excuse me, Head Historian, but I've been studying trans-dimensional travel most of my life!"

"And clearly, this is the result," Rowena said, tapping at the scanner with the familiarity of someone who used similar devices every day. "Hm. Primitive design, crap memory, but still...

"Tell you what," she said.

"What?" Forge asked.

"I have this friend, Bert. He works in my sister's department, repairing temporal inconsistencies like unauthorized tampering with the timelines...or whitewashing the unexplained disappearance of an individual who's been recruited from their reality to join our staff here on Otherworld. Bert goes dippy for stuff like this scanner; comparing all the different ways minds from different realities can reach the same basic design. If you like, I could get you a place on his team. Then, you could put your creative mind to work on trans-dimensional travel in a real laboratory among top Otherworld experts, whose careers are entirely devoted to this kind of thing."

Forge's eyes opened wide.

"Sounds like your dream job, kid," Wolverine said. "Whaddya say?"

"Well I... I don't know! It sounds great-really great! But, what was that you were saying about whitewashing?"

"Every non-native citizen of Otherworld has been recruited to work here from across the span of dimensions," Rowena said. "Once they accept their post, they must agree to abandon their former life and place in history, and accept that their primary duties and loyalties must always rest here."

"Is that what you did?" Forge asked.

"No, I grew up here," Rowena said. "But many of my staff are recruits from other dimensions. And, while most of them do miss their families, they have all expressed great satisfaction with their work here."

"You mean, if I accept your offer, I'll have to live here, and you guys will erase me from history in my own timeline? So, it'll be like I never existed there?"

"Not quite," Rowena said. "The impact you had on your timeline will remain, but you will be recalled only distantly, if at all. If you were to return, you would be recognized, but only as a distant acquaintance, or a face glimpsed in a crowd, even by your closest friends."

"So, essentially, you're asking me to give up my life, my business, everyone I know and care about."

"And in return, you will join a team of scientists dedicated to the study of inter-dimensional travel. You will embrace a new life and new learning and, eventually, you'll make new friends who share your inventive passion."

"Another fish in the pond," Nightcrawler commented.

Forge blinked at him, and his angular face looked pinched.

"You don't have to decide right now, Forge," Rowena said. "You can stay here for a while on a trial-basis. Get to know the place and the people. Then, if you decide not to join us, we will return you to your home dimension, no questions asked. Your memories of your time here will be erased, and it will be as if you never left. But this scanner, and all the notes and blueprints that go with it, will have to stay here, in our archives."

"Oh, great choices. Stay here for life, or go home with a memory wipe."

"Not an ideal situation from your limited perspective, perhaps, but necessary nonetheless. What is your choice?"

Forge looked to his friends.

"What would you do?" he asked.

"If I were in your shoes, I believe I would give it a shot," Nightcrawler said. "Truly, mein Freund, what do you have to lose?"

"Well, you guys, for a start," Forge said.

"It sounds like a great opportunity," Wolverine said. "An' if you decide you don't like hangin' around with these stuffed-shirt Otherworld types, you can come back home. They'll wipe your memory, but I've a feeling they're plannin' that for us anyway. Am I right, hun?"

"It's standard procedure," Rowena said. "And for good reason. I could list them, but there's no real point since you won't remember them anyway. And before you ask, yes, you have been here before."

Wolverine raised his eyebrows.

"So, Forge, what's it going to be? Will you stay here for a while, or do you want to return with your friends?"

"I think..." Forge paused, then tried again. "I think I'll give it a shot."

"Fine choice," Rowena said. "Let me just see to these two, and I'll bring you to meet Bert. Ready to go home, boys?"

"What about my wife, Alice, and the children?" Nightcrawler said. "They are stranded on that island world where that shark-man had his laboratory."

"Wisp has already sent them home to their proper dimensions," Rowena said.

"And 'Taube?" he asked. "We left her with those Boggies, and-"

"'Taube is a special case. Her people are well known here in Otherworld. For the time being, 'Taube has chosen to stay and help lead the Boggies out of slavery. She and her infant have been reunited, and her license to cross dimensions has been renewed through official channels. But this is not a good-bye. She and your team will meet up again-quite soon, in fact.

"And now," Rowena said, "if you two gentlemen would step up to these windows..."

She tapped her fingers against a hidden panel and two separate portals opened, one next to the other.

"Wolverine, your portal home is to the left. Nightcrawler, yours is to the right. Forge, if you wish to leave now-"

"No," Forge said, and straightened his back. "No, I'll stay. For now. Good luck, guys. Don't miss me too much back home!"

"Auf wiedersehen, mein Freund," Nightcrawler said. "Until we meet again."

Forge smiled, and watched as his friend hopped up onto the widowsill, then stepped through the glowing portal.

"Good luck, kid," Wolverine said, and stepped through his own window home. Once was through, the portals snapped closed with a sharp, sizzling SHAZZP.

"Fascinating," Forge whispered, his eyes wide with wonder. "Will I get to learn how you guys do that?"

"If you choose to take a permanent position with us, then certainly," Rowena said. "Bert's waiting to meet you. Are you ready?"

Forge took in a deep breath of warm, Otherworld air and grinned.

"You bet, Historian," he said. "Just lead the way."

Rowena smiled and strode from the room with Forge by her side.

Behind them, a giggling wind tickled the curtains, coaxing them to brush playfully over the glass chess men in the corner-each carved in the likeness of the members of Excalibur. One piece-that of a tall, Native American man-looked particularly transparent. As the curtains rustled and billowed over the set, that transparent piece seemed to fade, growing fainter and fainter until it might never have been there at all.

And the curtains billowed.

And the giggling wind blew on.

THE END

Next Time: The Epilogue. Stay tuned!
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Re: Unexpected Angels (COMPLETE!!!)

Postby Rowena » Thu Mar 01, 2012 12:44 am

Epilogue

The wooden pirate ship hovered over Braddock Manor, casting its shade over the party below.

A year had passed since their adventure with 'Taube and, while this party was, on its face, a birthday celebration for 'Taube's one-year-old daughter, really it was more of a reunion.

Otherworld's policy of memory-wiping unlicensed cross-dimensional travelers had been used to positive effect on most of Sharky's kidnap victims. Kurt had been returned to the moment he'd been abducted from his high-school bathroom, the Boggie had been returned to his family, and Crawler-after a brief stay at Otherworld's cutting-edge children's hospital-was sent home happy, healthy, and whole. Their respective timelines refreshed and reformed around them as if they'd never left.

Excalibur was a different case, though. Situated as they were on what was, essentially, a dimensional lynch-pin, handling cross-dimensional turmoil was part of their mandate. Captain Britain himself was one of Otherworld's handpicked agents in the field. Because of all this, Nightcrawler, Alice, Marti, and Suzie were allowed to keep their memories of the Sharky and the Boggies, their memories of 'Taube and her infant, and their memories of Forge. The only memories Nightcrawler had lost on his trip through Otherworld's portal had been his memories of Otherworld itself.

Forge had decided to accept the position on Otherworld. In fact, it was practically all he could talk about at the party-how much he was enjoying his training course under Bert. Bert, for his part, was so impressed with Forge's engineering skill, and his knack for mechanics, that he promised to set Forge up as head of his own research and development team once he'd finished his mandatory training.

Finally, the sun began to set. 'Taube stretched her wings and looked up at her ship. Dozens of little, indigo Boggies peered back down at her, beckoning her to return.

"Seems the crew's getting restless," she said.

'Taube had become something of an icon to the Boggies during their fight for freedom against the cloud miners. The past year had been difficult-a year of skirmishes and sabotage, guerrilla tactics and pitched battles. But, under 'Taube's leadership, the argumentative Boggies had learned to band together, how to compromise, and how to plan. Together, they managed to free the enslaved Boggies, push the cloud miners back to their own dimension, and seize the means of production for themselves. That was where 'Taube had been most instrumental. Sharky had actually stolen his staff from 'Taube's home dimension. Once she learned it had been confiscated and placed in Otherworld's archives, she'd put in an official claim. After navigating through what seemed like endless forms and red tape, she was finally awarded ownership of the staff, and she'd used it to put the infiltrating cloud miners back in their rightful timeline, and seal them there. To the Boggies, her actions on their behalf seemed nothing short of magic, and they revered her as their own personal avatar.

Alice came up to 'Taube and warmly clasped her stone-gray hands.

"Thank you again for accepting our invitation, 'Taube," she said. "It's been wonderful seeing you again."

"Time to go already, is it?" Alistaire said. It was clear how disappointed he was. Alistaire had become very attached to 'Taube's little girl during her time with Excalibur, and 'Taube had even named him the child's godfather. The way he'd been cuddling and playing with the baby all afternoon had set most of the grown-ups whispering about when the Stewarts might have a child of their own.

"Time to go back to your mommy, sweetheart," Alistaire said, and reluctantly handed the baby back to her mother. "I'm really going to miss the little sprite."

'Taube favored the spectacled scientist with one of her rare smiles. "She will miss you too."

Alistaire flushed, then tickled the baby's fuzzy chin one last time. "Come back soon, OK?" he said, and backed away with a wave before striding off to find his wife.

"Kinder," Kurt called out. "Kinder, come say good-bye to your Tante 'Taube!"

Marti, Suzie, Edmund, Samuel, and Eliza left the food table and crowded around 'Taube and her baby. 'Taube wrapped her wings around them all, then spread them wide and took off at a run, rising into the air.

"Bye!" the kids shouted, waving up at her as she and her child alighted on the ship's upper deck. "Bye!"

"Farewell to you all!" 'Taube shouted back. Then, with a sharp shout and a motion of her hand, the Boggies set sail and the floating ship began to move. As Excalibur watched in wonder, 'Taube brandished her staff and opened a wide, flickering portal in the evening sky. Slowly, the wooden ship soared through the glowing hole in space/time, then the hole snapped shut with a massive SHAZZP!

"And there she goes," Captain Britain said. "Off to spread justice and whatnot across the omniverse. Not a bad job, if I do say so myself."

"Sounds not all that dissimilar to what we do," Dr. MacTaggert said wryly, and she yawned. "Well, I don't know about you lot, but I'm beat. Time for me to call it a night."

"You know, this party really was wonderful," Eliza said in the chipper way that made Suzie's skin crawl. "All this time out of doors, and I didn't see a single spider. I think we should have parties like this more often!"

Suzie rolled her eyes, only to spot a flicker of motion in the grass. She crouched down, and caught the little creature in her hands.

"Why, hello, little froggie," she said, her smile turning wicked as the prankster wheel in her brain began to spin.

"Hey, Suzie," Edmund said, coming up beside her as she stood up. "What do you have there?"

"Nothing," she said, walking quickly across the lawn. "Well, actually, it's something, but it's not for you."

"Suzie, you're not going to put another spider down Eliza's back, are you?"

Suzie looked scandalized. "Just what kind of a person do you think I am?" she said. "That old trick's been done to death. This will be much better."

"Suzie," Edmund said, trying to catch up with his sister's longer stride. "Suzie, no-Suzie, wait! Suzie!"

Eliza's scream was high and shrill, but the look on her face kept Suzie laughing for years.

The End

All done! Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed the ride! :D
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