To be honest, Alph rather liked Skymoore.
He wasn’t fond of being stranded and fighting for resources, and he wished the city were of a more convenient size, but it was nice. Back on Ernadam, everything was metal and factories and smog. Skymoore had a little metal and a little smog, but mostly it was quaint. And their blue sky and green plants were much more pleasant than the purples and reds of home.
But it was nice to breathe normally.
Yet Alph couldn’t bring himself to care about getting home as much as everyone else. It wasn’t home he wanted. It was peace.
But there would be no peace today.
In the small square that contained the Well (small relative to other areas in Skymoore, utterly enormous relative to the Minitoa), a large team of competitive dancers were practicing for their upcoming competition. They danced and jumped and tapped their feet to a catchy violin melody, accompanying the music with clapping every few seconds.
This resulted, from the Minitoa perspective, in minor earthquakes and a wave of deafening sound.
“Fate tests us this day,” Deacon observed.
As a devout follower of the Thread, it was not Deacon’s place to question or predict where the Thread might take him. And yet, at times, he faltered in this. When he had been chosen to join Captain Ernad VI’s expedition, scouring worlds to prepare for the Forever War – a millennia long battle across all of time and space in which terrors unimaginable will be committed and unleashed – by allying themselves with similarly-sized species, Deacon thought that his destiny had finally revealed itself. The ultimate destiny to which the Thread lead all creation was an endless corporeal paradise which resided on the other side of the Forever War.
So why, then, was Deacon left behind on a floating city in a strange world with no clear hope of leaving? A test, to be sure, but had he not proven his faith enough. Or perhaps it was Pif and Alph and Almo being tested. Perhaps he was their guide.
See, this is exactly the kind of questioning Deacon was not meant to do. No wonder he was tested so.
Amidst the thunderous dancing, Deacon whispered a quiet prayer of nondetection and moved his hands through the air in a complex pattern, his fingers manipulating portions of the Thread, which became visible strands of blue and green light as he did.
Alph, a nonbeliever, made a snarky comment, but it was trampled beneath the dancers.
Still, Thread or no Thread, Alph couldn’t deny that Deacon’s spells were a boon to the trio. The three cautiously made it across the field of feet without notice and, thanks to some well-timed sprints, without being smashed. With some effort, they managed to scale the Well.
“Welcome back,” the Well said as they climbed atop it. “You forgot your gems.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Pif muttered as she pulled herself over the ledge. “Wait, where are they?”
“A dog took it. Belongs to one of the dancers.”
“Dog. Small thing, well not to you, got four legs, lots of hair.”
“Is it…very long?” Alph asked.
“For a dog, sure.”
“Okay. I think I see it.” Across the way, a long, hairy quadruped with stubby limbs and a pointed tail was curled up on the floor, a few feet from all the dancing. “Why would the monster take our gems? Do they need them to breathe as well?”
“No. He probably just liked the feel of your bag.”
The three Minitoa exchanged confused and concerned looks.
“Sorry I can’t be of much help,” the Well said. “Being sedentary and all.”
“Let’s just get this over with,” Alph said.
That which the Well called a dog was sleeping, they realized as they approached it. The beast was using their bag as a pillow, which seemed odd to Alph, considering the bag was so tiny and gems could not have been very comfortable. But what did he know of dogs?
They debated silently, with a series of glances and gesticulations, about who would be the one to sneak up and retrieve their tiny bag. It would be Alph, they agreed, because work as a private investigator surely gave him deft hands and quick feet.
And at first, this seemed to be the case. Alph pulled the leather pouch out from beneath the gargantuan in three gentle tugs. First tug, then a pause. The creature’s snoring continued, sending vibrations throughout Alph’s body. Second tug, then a pause. The snoring went on, and Alph could feel the sound in his teeth. Third tug, then a pause. The bag was free.
The snoring stopped.
The dog’s enormous black eyes stared blankly down at Alph. It tilted its head curiously, and leaned forward. Alph took a step back. Its nose, soggy and cold, collided with Alph’s face, knocking him onto his rear and sending the jewels scattered across the floor.
Now Deacon and Pif darted toward the scene, the former helping Alph to his feet and the latter scooping up the gems. The dog let out a short, piercing bark, and the three Minitoa ran.
The dog only waddled toward them lazily, but with the size difference, the Minitoa could only just keep away from the pursuer. Then, as it shook the sleepiness away, the dog began to salivate and pant, and it began to run.
“Into the crowd!” Alph shouted, and the trio sprinted. But the clapping and stomping seemed to only excite the dog further. As the Minitoa weaved about and dove beneath feet, the dancers began gasping and cooing and parting, making way for the dog, and granting it easy access to the three.
Deacon muttered a prayer and called upon the Thread once more. The dog bumped into nothing, as a barrier separated it from the Minitoa. It pawed at the barrier gently, its breathing increasing, its tongue growing longer. It tilted its head again.
“It’s kind of…cute,” Alph said.
“It’s trying to eat us,” Pif observed.
“Are you sure?”
“It plainly is.”
“It could just be trying to play.”
“I think it would kill us if it did.”
The dog whined gently outside the barrier. The dancers were surprised by the small magic people. The small magic people needed to be gone and fast.
“Deacon, lower the barrier. I have a plan,” Alph said.
“Deacon. Do not,” Pif said.
“Be quick,” Deacon said to Alph.
The detective sprinted toward the dog and jumped for its leg, grabbing two handfuls of hair and beginning his climb. The dog didn’t take kindly to this, and shook Alph off. He landed painfully on the cement.
Pif and Deacon watched on helplessly as the dog bit the collar of Alph’s coat and shook him about like a doll. Alph’s hat soared into the crowd (where it was found and put to use by a single mother in search of clothes for her son’s dolls), revealing preposterously long silver hair. The dog whipped its head back and Alph’s collar tore, sending the tiny humanoid rolling across the dog’s back. He grabbed a fistful of hair near its behind, and secured himself.
Alph, dizzier than he had ever been and hoped to ever be, began to climb once more, making his way toward the dog’s head. The dog shook, and twisted itself to try and bite at Alph, but the Minitoa held his ground. Back in Ernadam, Alph took down Grick Logston, a cunning and brutal criminal who evaded Civil Protection for years. He wasn’t going to let this large, cute creature take him out. He wasn’t going to let this world boss him around anymore.
Alph made it to the dog’s head. The dog didn’t like that. “Okay you big, scary, furry, monster, cutie thing. I’m in charge now, okay?”
The dog whined.
“Oh, don’t give me that attitude, I’m not gonna hurt you. Besides, I climbed you fair and square.” The dog was still uncertain. “Come on. I just want you to help my friends and I get home.”
Against Alph’s wildest expectations, the dog lowered its head. Deacon lowered the barrier and, hesitantly, joined Alph astride the dog. Pif followed.
“That was an awful idea,” Pif said.
“Maybe,” said Alph, “but it worked.”
The dog dropped the trio outside Odd & Ends just as evening fell over Skymoore. It looked down at them expectantly. Alph reached into his pocket and produced a piece of cheese. The dog took it eagerly, and whined softly when it was gone.
“That’s all I got, big guy,” Alph said. He patted the dog’s paw. “I’ll pay you back some day. Promise.”
The dog barked once, and licked Alph, knocking the Minitoa on his butt, and then it ran off into the night.
“Well that was nice.”
“Not that nice,” Deacon said. “We attracted a lot of attention. We’re going to need to find a new home.”
“Yeah…” Alph said. “But we’re making a lot of friends today.”
“Temporary friends,” Deacon said. “I’d rather have a roof.”
Pif, meanwhile, was working on lowering their makeshift pully elevator, crafted from string, a spool, and two cups, down into its proper position. With the Minitoa loaded in, Deacon hurled a small pebble into the other cup, raising theirs.
They’d carved a flap into the side of the shop, which allowed them to enter atop a high shelf, not far from the ceiling. From there, Pif deployed a MagiMart Expand-a-Ladder – a small stick embedded with a button that transformed the stick into a very tall ladder when pressed – and the group climbed up.
It was a tiring routine.
“We’re lucky it’s just the four of us,” Pif said as they climbed. “We waste so much air every day, if there was any more, we wouldn’t be sustainable. As it is, these gems only buy us about two weeks. I don’t know what we’re going to do when Almo wakes up.”
“We’re going to go home,” Deacon said.
“Almo, we’re back!” Alph called as he finished the climb, the last of the three to reach the rafters. Deacon and Pif were just standing there, staring at their camp. “What’s up?” Alph said, standing on his toes to see over their shoulders.
Standing over Almo, starring back at them, was another Minitoa. It was one of their less-humanoid members – essentially a one-eyed head supported by four legs. She had long, brown hair, and looked to be young for her kind.
“Whoa,” she said. “There’s a lot of you.”