From the outside, the Sallawalla Diner looked like it might fall apart at any second. It certainly wasn’t a place that could sustain any form of human life, let alone serve food. And yet, the melody coming from within meant that someone had to be there, so Eden decided to head over. The “off-road” experience a few minutes ago had drained her newfound enthusiasm, and so she approached cautiously, as if the pressure and choking gloom could return at any moment.
A single wooden door stood as the only entrance to the building, and as Eden pulled it open, she had a momentary flash of confusion. She looked at her arms gripping the handle. Something was off about them, but she couldn’t tell what was making her so uncomfortable. They looked normal…but she had a feeling she was forgetting an important memory about them. No, she was being ridiculous. They were just her normal arms…
As she stepped inside, the music became clearer. A woman was standing in the corner of the room; singing in a language Eden couldn’t place. Despite the foreign lyrics, the song resonated with Eden and drew her further into the diner, a haunting melody that was almost ethereal. It sounded as if it contained an assortment of instruments, a string quartet in perfect harmony, but the woman stood alone.
The Sallawalla itself was more dive bar than diner, dimly lit and squalid, as if a thin layer of grime had settled across every surface, including the patrons. Besides for the singer, it was surprisingly quiet considering how crowded it was. Almost every table was filled, yet the people shared evidently nothing in common besides for their unwillingness to talk. They just sat in their chairs, staring at their drinks, or a wall, looking off into space.The only person remotely active was the bartender, an old grizzled man with a thick white beard. Noticing Eden, he waved her over and began pouring a beer. As she sat down, he paused and looked her over.
“Now hold on a minute. You sure you’re old enough to drink?”
Eden began to answer, but stopped. Was she old enough to drink? How old was she anyway?
The bartender slapped the bar and laughed, his voice echoing through the quiet room. “I’m just messin’ with ya,” he said. “I pull that on everyone who comes around. If you’re here, a beer’s the least of your worries.”
He offered her the glass and she hesitantly took a sip. Clearly the look on her face said enough; the bartender laughed again and switched it out for a soda. Before he turned away, Eden grabbed his sleeve.
“Excuse me,” she said. “But, I don’t really remember…well, anything.”
The bartender gestured to the rest of the patrons. “Welcome to the club.”
“Is that why they’re so quiet?”
He shook his head and put his finger to his lips. “No, tonight is a special occasion. Well, it will be. Everyone can feel it, and…they’re scared.”
The bartender took her empty glass and nodded to the front door, where someone was entering. “Because the girl is back.”
The woman who entered the Sallawalla had thick red and gray hair, wild and tangled, to the point where it almost covered her face. It was lucky then, because her head and arms were covered in scars. The ones on her face were jagged and brutal, but the ones on her limbs twisted in spirals like a full-body tribal tattoo. She wore what looked like a trenchcoat, but modified into a battle uniform; heavily armored with an uncomfortable amount of holsters, although most were empty.
The woman looked directly at Eden. “Shit. When he said you’d be here I kind of expected you to be a bit…older. Figures.”
Did the woman know her? Eden gave up trying to understand what was going on, and just stared at the woman.
“Well, you’ll have to do, I guess,” said the woman. “Still got your tree powers or whatever?”
Eden felt something stir in her hands, pushing to get out. But…the woman wasn’t making any sense. “I’m sorry,” said Eden. “I don’t think I’m the person you’re looking for.”
The woman smirked. “Yes and no. But I can explain along the way. You coming?” The woman turned to leave, and looked back expectantly. Eden realized that everyone in the diner was looking at them; even the singer had paused to see what happened.
“If I go with you…what happens?”
“Well, apparently I train you to be a badass and then you’ll forget about me like the ungrateful punk you are. But first I was thinking we break out of here through the portal your boyfriend made and…Wow, none of this is ringing a bell, is it?”
Eden shook her head. “I don’t really remember anything.”
The woman sighed. “No, it’s not that. All this time travel alternate dimension bullshit makes it really hard to keep a story straight. All right then. Let’s start at the beginning and try to clear things up. The name’s Jade, and two hundred years ago, my death started a chain reaction that almost destroyed all worlds. Now you’re the only one who can make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Eden held up her hand. “Wait. None of what you just said made any sense.”
“Eden baby,” said Jade. “I’m just getting started.”