A Tour of the World Between Worlds
“Who are you?” I asked the stranger. He made a gentle smile, perhaps made more gentle by how his eyes betrayed his view of me; I must have looked weak and pathetic at this point—like I was some puppy on the side of the road.
“Just a traveler.” The stranger didn’t give me much to go on as I stopped several steps from the back of his wagon. Inside I could see several boxes and barrels, hopefully containing food. He looked back to his supplies and chuckled.
“Would you like something to eat? I have plenty to spare.” With a motion, he invited me into the covered wagon.
“Careful, Kiko,” Azul cautioned, but he didn’t need to say anything. I had already pulled out one of my golden daggers and held it close to my side. A little caution wouldn’t hurt, even if he didn’t seem big enough to be a threat.
“I hope you don’t mind if I keep this out,” I said. The man laughed at my words.
“Fair enough, as long as you tell me how you got gold on the blades.”
I climbed into the wagon and accepted his food. It was simple bread and water but going so long without anything made it taste like the best meal in the world. The stranger watched quietly as I chowed down. Once I realized I may have been tearing into my meal the same way the monsters of this world did, I paused a moment. My throat cleared as I regained my bearings, though I had no idea why, before eating the meal more slowly and calmly. A smile sat on his face like he was seeing something joyful. I turned away slightly and finished my food.
When I finished, he offered me a bag of flat brown candies covered with sprinkles. I put the first one in my mouth cautiously, but the sudden burst of sweet flavor convinced me to eat more. As I ate two more, the stranger spoke:
“So, may I get your name?”
I turned away and looked to the front of the cart. The monster that pulled it might have taken my attention if I didn’t see something else. Sitting near the edge of the carriage was a familiar green frog. It shook its head at the sight of me and turned away. Considering the stranger probably couldn’t see it, I held in a shout and turned back to him.
“Kiko. Would you mind telling me yours?”
He rubbed his bare chin for a moment before replying.
“You can just call me Nonpareil for now.”
“Nonpareil?” I said as my eyes grew narrow. What an odd name.
Azul pointed to the candy in my hands with his blue tail.
“Those treats you are eating; he thinks he’s being clever.” As I realized this, I rolled my eyes.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Non,” I said. He didn’t seem taken aback at my dismissal of his fake name and instead laughed.
“Mister makes me sound like an old man!” he replied.
In fairness, he looked to be pretty young, maybe around my age. The solid black hair on his head had not yet given way to grey, and his chin was smooth and free of any hair that might add more years in any observer's mind.
“Well, thank you for the food.” I began to move to the back of the wagon.
“Wait! You haven’t told me about the gold!”
I sighed. Telling him the truth might sound like a bit much, even in this monster world. Then again, perhaps, I could humor him and escape all at once. I turned back and began my story.
“It started when I washed ashore on a grey world….” I began to regale him with my tale. Leaving almost no detail out—I wasn’t about to tell him everything—I did my best to describe the grey world and the strange inhabitants. At some point, he would think I was out of my mind and I could slip away easily.
As I finished describing falling into this world while on the back of the monster, he nodded knowingly.
“I see you have had quite the adventure,” he said with a gentle smile. That was not the reaction I had hoped to see. Was this man just as insane? “If you’d like, you can join me on a trip I am taking.”
“Kiko, we ought to excuse ourselves,” Azul said from my shoulders.
“And before you can make any excuses of where to go, let me remind you that there is hardly any food or water out there,” Mr. Non replied before I could say anything. Azul spat.
“Kiko, we will be able to find plenty of food elsewhere. This man is not to be trusted.”
“I can understand your mistrust, given I’m not someone you recognize. What can I do to change that?” he added.
If I didn’t know better, it was almost like Azul and Mr. Non were speaking to each other. I pushed the odd thought away and opened my mouth to answer the stranger. No words came out as I pondered what to say. He didn’t feel threatening, and the food wasn’t poisoned—I would have tasted it otherwise. I sensed no danger from the strange man, he was more the sort of fool I could take advantage of, yet he had a niceness that annoyed me. Perhaps he was similar to Orrin in some sense; the green-clad man’s smile didn’t seem too different from this man’s at a glance, and, at the same time, it felt different. I sighed and responded.
“I can travel with you for a while.” What was the harm?
“Kiko!” Azul hissed. His voice suggested frustration, though I could not tell why he was so opposed.
“Fantastic!” Mr. Non said through a laugh. His face was lit with joy at my agreeing to come. Hopefully, I would not regret this in the future.