“Are you sure we’re allowed to go this way?”
After following Jade out of the Sallawalla Diner, they had gone off along the road the way Eden had previously come, and something in Eden’s mind was sending off warning signals.
Jade stopped and looked around. “I don’t see anyone saying otherwise, do you?”
“But, I just feel-“
“Relax. It’s a false sense of danger, meant to keep you moving forward. This place is like a funnel, so it has to take precautions to make sure everything flows smoothly. Everyone’s gotta get to the end of the road at some point.”
Eden rubbed her forehead. “So what’s at the end of the road? For that matter, where are we?”
Jade knelt to the ground, as if looking for something. “For simplicity’s sake, let’s just call it purgatory, although technically, it’s just a sub-dimension of the religious fiction genre, like “Paradise Lost” or “The Divine Comedy”. Apparently, a bit on the lighter side, cause, you know…the Sallawalla Diner. That name’s just stupid.” Jade picked up some dirt and let it fall from her hand into a small pile. “This spot should work.”
“Yeah, you know…” said Jade. “Horror, Romance, Action. Turns out that across multiple dimensions, reality tends to adhere to fairly strict literary tropes; it was this big revelation in some of the techno-thriller dimensions a while back. They were the genres that broke through, initially. Figured out a way to open up portals between genres, and the next thing you know, you’ve got your 19th-Century period dramas intermingling with young adult post-apocalyptic dystopian romance, and everything’s gone to shit. Anyways, this place is just one of the infinite amount of afterlife representations out there, but that doesn’t make us any less dead. Speaking of which, let’s go.”
Jade turned and began to walk off the side of the road, but Eden grabbed her arm. “Don’t!” she said. “The area off the road isn’t safe. I walked off by mistake, and I thought I was going to…” Eden trailed off, realizing what she was about to say. “Am I…are we really dead?”
“That’s what I said, isn’t it?” asked Jade, pulling her sleeve free.
“But you said I was going to save the world from being destroyed.”
“All worlds,” said Jade. “Worlds are destroyed all the time, no big deal there. But if every dimension ceased to exist at the exact same moment…that would be bad. Which is why I need to make sure you’re ready when you need to be. Got it?”
“That didn’t stop me when I was a kid.” With that, Jade walked off the side of the road and disappeared.
Eden stood there for a moment, waiting at the side of the road, but nothing happened. Wherever Jade had gone, she wasn’t coming back. Eden looked down the road, and realized that the Sallawalla Diner was again just a tiny speck on the horizon. “Dammit,” she muttered, and walked off the road. But this time, instead of the terrible pressure from before, the landscape around her became clearer and a thin winding path emerged from the fog, leading off perpendicular to the road. Jade stood on the path, hands on her hips.
“If you’re going to be this slow for everything, I’m leaving you behind, savior of the universe or otherwise.”
They walked along the smaller path mostly in silence. Eden felt that Jade was looking more tired than she had been at the start, but mentioning it to her seemed like the most dangerous option yet. After some time, the grey void around them began to take shape, and Eden could see a ground and sky forming, although lightly, like a faded TV screen coming into focus.
“From what I’ve gathered, this area was never supposed to be here,” said Jade. “I guess no one had expected that people would actually try to step off the main road, and once someone did, the dimension tried to compensate, and something broke.”
“You say that as if the dimension was alive,” said Eden.
Jade shook her head. “Nah, to be honest I have no idea how this stuff actually works. I’ve just been around long enough to know the general rules, and I do my best from there. All I know is, these genres are fairly flexible, but everything has its limits. Think about it this way. Let’s say you have a sports themed book series. Ten books, each of them is a realistic drama about baseball. Now, on the eleventh book, a new author takes over and decides to add aliens. What happens?”
“Well, the story completely falls apart.”
“Exactly. That’s my theory for what happened here. You have a dimension made for a specific purpose: act as a rest stop between life and whatever lies beyond. For years, eons maybe, that’s what it does. And then some fool decides that’s not what he wants to do, and mucks about with the fiction. Well, the show must go on, as they say, so the world basically pulls something out of its ass and plops it down. In this case, it just so happened to be…well, this.”
Eden had been so caught up in the weird metaphor that she hadn’t noticed where the path had led them. They were standing in on a plateau looking over a chasm filled with an odd assortment of large metal boxes that rose multiple stories into the air, like skyscrapers with no windows.”
“Hundreds of years ago, a group of people lived here and tried to find a way to return back home, to escape death essentially,” said Jade. “All because one man took a step in the wrong direction.”
“Who was he?” asked Eden.
“You actually knew him before his death…and after. When he came here, he had forgotten almost everything about his past life, just like you. So he took a new name.”
Eden felt something, a memory, pushing to the surface. “Peter?”
Jade nodded. “Peter Braunwald before he died. Scoria, after.”