The giant arrow went flying, chasing after Black Lotus and Little Monster as they rode on a machine they had borrowed from a local Rockalot knight. Black Lotus pulled on the wheel, swerving the gold and white vehicle to avoid the bolt fired from the wagon rolling behind her. The two-headed ogre was already cranking the next one. Little Monster leaned out the side, tossing a sphere that a friendly elf witch had given them. The ball exploded. The shadow of a dragon passed overhead.
“I don’t think we’ve lost ‘em, Helmethead.” Little Monster said. Black Lotus channeled the universal energies to flow through the machine they had borrowed. It was remarkably similar to their own, likely this reality’s version of their ride. The machine phased out just like their own as it detached itself from the world to the steady hum of the engine.
“Haha! Helmethead! Look! It’s the breach thing!” Little Monster pointed gleefully at the shimmering portal. In the air. Between a chasm. Black Lotus looked above them as they could feel the grasp of reality pulling them back. The dragon was descending.
Their foot hit the gas as they pushed the medieval machine to its limit as the wheels spun. They shared a look with Little Monster. They were going to have to jump.
They were flying as the dragon swooped down. The Ogrenaut Arbalister readied its next shot as the twang of its bow sent the arrow flying towards them. Black Lotus focused only on the portal, kicking the doors to the machine open as they and Little Monster leaped out to the breach below. The dragon roared as it grabbed the Knight’s ride, while the two seekers left Rockalot behind.
Once more, they found themselves in the void between space and time. Floating. Falling towards the next breach. Sometimes the trip through the Astral Sea was instantaneous. Other times, they had time to themselves and think as they traveled.
Black Lotus turned their head to Little Monster.
“For someone who doesn’t talk much, you’re a lot more fun than most adults. But how do you do this stuff? Are you a Metal God?”
Of course. The Sect had done well in spreading its message. Even those who ignored it, like Little Monster, knew of the Metal Gods. Black Lotus crossed their legs, entering a meditative pose as they continued to float gently through the sea.
“I am no god, though they likely walk between the worlds as well. They are creatures of power, fed through the thoughts and beliefs of those who worship them. Some are born in the space between universes. Others are formed within their own worlds.”
“Then, what are you?”
“I am human.” They said. After a moment, they added, a little reluctantly. “Mostly. I seek to understand what that truly means.”
“You mentioned that…you find what you seek along the road, right? Is that sorta like me trying to find my dad?”
“In a way.”
“But looking for Papa didn’t allow me to just create these portals!”
“Did it not? We are a part of the broader Universe, Child. Most are blind and deaf to its calls, but we all draw its energies around us, like eddies in the currents. Those who free their spirit from the mortal shell can find the infinite possibilities that float in the Astral Sea. You shaped our path as much as I.”
Little Monster said nothing, seeming to contemplate the words. Black Lotus did not expect it to be easy for the young child to understand. The pair floated down to the next breach.
“Urgh! It’s cold here!”
A snowball struck Black Lotus in the helmet. Little Monster had wasted no time making one, pelting them with it. The world was ice and sleet and snow. An endless total winter. Nearby, a man swung a pick at giant ice blocks. His bulldozer had pulled down one of the massive ice walls nearby.
“Hmm, no papa. He’s not here either. Hey! Old man! Do you know the Champion?”
The man turned. Rampage. He looked similar enough to their version. “The Champion? A title that I haven’t heard in some time. Before the Witch… Before she ruined the world! There has not been a tournament for a long time in the World of Winter.”
“Heeey! I remember this! I still owe the Lady of Winter a knuckle sandwich for using her magic on me!” Little Monster said, grinding her fist into her palm. “But they killed her!”
“Hah!” Rampage scowled. “The Lady can’t be killed. Not even the Judge and Stingray together could defeat her. The best that can be done is living in… their cities.”
“Maximatics.” Rampage growled. Black Lotus noticed the man’s teeth grinding in his jaw. “Those of us who refuse to serve them make do out here in the ice.”
As he spoke, the earth began to shake beneath them. The ice broke, revealing the cold soil beneath. A giant mechanical worm burrowed its way out from beneath the earth. As the ‘worm’s’ mouth opened, an Urbancrawler rolled out, fully automated.
“Drilling Prospector Unmanned Vehicle has completed its survey. Verdict: Habitable. Establishing new capsule city: Delta Beta Zeta.” The drone opened its chamber. An automaton with a green plate rising atop its skull stepped out. It held a capsule in its hand, tossing it over the area the worm had emerged from. The capsule began to expand and unfurl, creating a plan of a city. Little Monster and Black Lotus had to sidestep several expansions as it did its thing. “Rebuilding.”
“MAXIMATICS!” Rampage roared, throwing his pick to the side. He was climbing into his Snow Piercer already. The drone turned, scanning Rampage’s machine.
“Hostile encountered. Initiating self-defense procedures.”
Black Lotus gestured to Little Monster that they should leave, lest they get caught in yet another fight. Little Monster huffed, upset at missing the fun, but followed Black Lotus as they ran.
“So where’s the next breach, huh? I’m freezing!”
The two walked through the wasteland. Black Lotus followed the trail, allowing their inner eye to guide them. Their steering wheel began to glow, emitting a gentle warmth that Black Lotus felt even through their gloves. The glaciers continued without end, only broken by the cities built by the machines of Maximatics, fighting back against the endless winter. Along their path, they saw a man sitting alone in the frozen wastes. He wore a dark cloak, though Black Lotus could recognize the power of the gods about him.
“Hey, it’s the pointy hat!” It seemed Little Monster had recognized him as well. “What are you doing here?”
“I am living the life of a penitent fool,” Metal Herald said, lowering his hood. His skull-painted face greeted them with the usual contempt. “For I have failed my world. The Gods have cast me adrift to wander without end.”
There was something about the Metal Herald that seemed off to Black Lotus, but they stayed silent.
“Hmph, well, we’re lookin’ to go to another world. My papa’s not here, so there’s no point in staying longer.”
“Your father? Yes…” Metal Herald stroked his chin in thought. “I do believe I remember seeing the Champion in my travels.”
“You have?!” Little Monster all but leaped at Metal Herald, grabbing his collar as she shook him. “Where is he? Where’s my papa!”
Metal Herald smiled. Black Lotus readied themselves for a fight, though they could not explain why. Something about the traveler set them on edge.
“I can show you. But I will need your help. I cannot walk as easily through the Astral Sea as you both.”
“C’mon, Helmethead! He’s gonna take us to father! Let’s make the breach right here!”
Black Lotus said nothing, but they allowed the energies to swell around them once more. Their feet rose from the ice as they paved the roads between worlds. They drew from the thoughts and wills of their companions. There was a darkness that entered the anchor.
They were transcending once more. But something was wrong…
The world fell away from around them. They were being hurled through the space between worlds. Eldritch screaming followed them through the Astral Sea. Screaming and…laughter?
They hit the earth with a slam, dazing even Black Lotus. As they and Little Monster pulled themselves up, they noticed that Metal Herald was not with them.
“Where… are we?”
“We are… home.”
The world was their own. Yet they were in a part that Black Lotus did not visit often. Broken roller coasters rose and fell. The carousel turned endlessly with haunting music. A giant clown face stared down at them, with a flashing bright red nose. In similarly flashing neon lights, a signed informed them:
Welcome to the Unamusement Park.