[Content note for mention of anti-genderfluid bigotry]
[Sam appeared in my first Four Realms fragment, the arc of Sam and Micah (and Nia, the succubus) is outlined in a post where I complained about having trouble writing it.]
[This is positively the most in depth I've gone about what it means for secondary dimensions like Limbo to different from the Four Realms of the setting name.]
"You ok?" Sam asked as soon as he could see the kid again.
"Yeah," the kid said in a way that made Sam think the kid wasn't sure, "thanks."
"This is my home," Sam said, gesturing to the grimy alley with a spinning flourish; "who would I be if I didn't take care of guests?"
"You live here?" the kid asked, looking around.
"Here, there," Sam said, "wherever."
"Does . . . do . . ." the kid asked uncertainly, "is it always that dangerous?"
"Muggers come, and muggers go," Sam said, "but usually no. You just picked a bad day to be here with fresh clothes in bright colors."
The kid didn't seem to understand.
"You look like you've probably got something worth stealing," Sam explained.
"I've got nothing," the kid said. A moment later the kid added, "And I didn't choose to be here today," defensively.
"There are a lot who don't choose," Sam said, "always sucks. You got a place to stay?"
"If I had a home I'd be there," the kid said, a hint of anger.
Apparently Sam still hadn't attained the strange and esoteric skill of being a "people person".
"Ok, this is going badly," Sam said. "Let me try again. I'm Sam."
"Micah," the kid said.
"So, Micah," Sam said, "would you care to tell me what brings you here, or is that something you'd rather not share?"
Micah shifted uneasily.
"It's totally ok not to tell me," Sam said. "Also--" he didn't get to say, 'lying is always an option.'
"My dad couldn't stand a 'son' who was a 'sissy'," Micah said with associated air-quotes, "and my mother was pissed off at me because 'being a woman isn't a part time job'."
"You're gender fluid?" Sam asked.
"What?" Micah responded with the same kind of bafflement a Heaven-fresh Angel responded upon learning that someone who broke bread with gods, Angels, and Demons could call themselves an atheist.
"It means that sometimes you're one gender and sometimes you're not," Sam said.
"There's a word for that?" Micah asked as if it were some minor revelation.
"Yeah," Sam said, "There's a word for that. No need to restrict it to just the favored two, either."
"What other genders are there?" Micah asked.
"I am totally not the person to ask that question," Sam said. Besides there was a need to deal with the problem that Micah didn't have a place to stay. "You had to run away from home?"
"They kicked me out," Micah said. Defensive, angry, sad, annoyed, dejected, resigned, and a few other things all at once.
"I might know a place you can stay," Sam said. "You human?"
"Of course I'm human," Micah said. Just like those people who didn't think the sky could be colors other than blue and didn't understand why you asked. Why couldn't people sent into Sam's territory all get informative pamphlets or something?
"The place I know of," Sam began, "it doesn't come with an 'of course' on that statement."
"Are you crazy?" Micah asked. Not condescending, a sincere question.
"Not that I know of," Sam said. Sometimes honest answers were the easiest. "You can decide for yourself what you think of the place. It's this way if you're coming," Sam said as he walked passed Micah.
Sam heard Micah following. Micah couldn't have gone more than five steps before asking, "Where are we going?"
"Ever hear of Limbo?" Sam asked.
"Isn't that some Catholic thing?" was Micah's response.
"It's not part of official doctrine, or wasn't the last time I had cause to know," Sam said. When was the last time he'd gone to a library and checked up on such things? Too long. Libraries were nice.
"So what is it?" Micah asked.
"They say it's the edge of Hell," Sam said. "The name comes from the Latin for 'edge'. It's not a true realm in itself but rather the meeting of our world and Hell. Think of it like a seashore or tide pools or some such, it's not a fixed place but rather the result of two places --the metaphorical land and water-- meeting."
"Uh-huh," Micah said, "and how sure are you that you're not crazy?"
"I make no claims to not be crazy," Sam said. "I just said that I'm not aware of being crazy."
"And I'm thinking of Limbo as being like a seashore why?"
"Because the place I know where you might be able to stay," Sam said, "that's in Limbo."
"The cosmic tidepool," Micah said. Disbelief was to be expected from someone who said, 'Of course I'm human.'
"It's just an analogy," Sam said. "Limbo takes form from both Earth and Hell, but it's important to remember that it's not a thing in itself. We're here, you can have a look in a moment."
Sam looked at a blank wall and said, "I can never remember exactly where it is." He took out the pouch that had a mix of iron filings and ground-up Demon keratin in it. He thought for a second over how much to use, decided that it was best if Micah saw some nice results, got twice the normal amount of the mixed powder, and threw it at the wall.
"What was-- is that?" Micah asked with shades of disbelief.
"Oh, you mean the the hidden sigil made of various arcane symbols inscribed within a magical circle?" Sam asked playfully. The powder suspended in the sigil, which hovered about an inch off of the wall, would only remain for a few moments before succumbing to gravity like the rest of the powder had, but for the moment it made a nice visual representation of things that probably lay outside of Micah's worldview.
Micah made an "uh" sound.
"Still think I'm crazy?" Sam asked.
"I think I might be," Micah said.
"That's probably healthy," Sam admitted. Then he indicated a spot on the wall, "you put your hand here, and I'll put mine here," he lay his right hand on another spot on the wall, "and I'll mumble some syllables with strong assonance and medium alliteration. That's if you're still following me."
"And then what happens?" Micha asked.
"Then I show you Limbo," Sam said.
Micah lay nir hand against the wall.
Sam mumbled the syllables.
The world seemed to change around them. Ground and buildings ripped apart and reconfigured, objects crunched, elongated, just plain got bendy, or otherwise changed their shapes, the sky took on an orange hue, smoke with no source dimmed the air and created patterns as it moved in eddies that hadn't been there moments before.
Heatless sparks danced. The temperature increased by three degrees.
"How is this possible?" Micah asked.
Awe. Awe was better than disbelief. Awe was appropriate when traversing worlds, disbelief could lead to nervous breakdowns.
"There are more things on Heaven and Earth than . . . something or other," Sam said. "I know that you're supposed to learn Shakespeare if you want to get English language culture, but I've never found it that engaging."
"Me neither," Micah said as ne looked around in wonder.
Micah got on nir hands and and knees and peered into the void beneath the floating island of ground and wall they were on.
"It seems to go down forever," Micah said.
"It may," Sam said. "I've always felt that the surface is roughly spherical, just like Earth, but the thing you have to understand about Limbo is that it isn't solid the way Earth, or Hell for that matter, is. Distance, size, and even time can change here. Sometimes at random, sometimes following the whims of it's stronger inhabitants.
"You can never count on the distance from here to there, top to bottom, or now to then to remain consistent. What's under our feet could very well be bigger than the surface we're walking on could contain in any true realm."
"Is any of that supposed to make sense?" Micah asked while looking around more.
"Just remember that it takes on the appearance of Earth, not the substance," Sam said. "On the more passive side of things, you could try to pull what looks like an ordinary brick from a thin wall and find that it's a mile long. On the active side of things, a Demon might stretch a simple doorway into the longest hall you've ever seen in an attempt to slow down your entry into some room or other."
"If things can change like that," Micah asked, "doesn't that mean the walls can snap together and crush us?"
"Yes," Sam said slowly, "but it's not as bad as that sounds," he said more quickly. "Human beings don't usually exert and conscious control over Limbo, but there is a degree of subconscious influence and that little bit of survival instinct that says, 'Please don't kill me,' is just enough to make it so something like that will never happen in such a way that you can't avoid it.
"Provided you're willing to run as fast as you personally can go --or whatever-- if someone wants to kill you they'll have to do it themselves, not use their control over the architecture."
"That's very comforting," Micah said in a way that was clearly not intended to be taken seriously.
"Other general rules are that it's possible for things to use their influence to keep you in, but never to keep you out. Slow you down, yes; keep you out, no. So if someone traps you they always have to be within the trap themselves, meaning that you can reach them, and dealing with them --say beating them senseless-- springs the trap."
"Ray of sunshine, you are," Micah said.
Sam liked that turn of phrase. Didn't comment on it though, just a slight smile, then he said, "Not that I recommend getting into fights. I prefer to run away."
"But if they can keep you trapped with them. . ." Micah said.
"To do that they have to know where you are generally and be willing to stay in the trap however long it takes to find you specifically. Proper run and hide technique can really do a lot to keep that trick from forcing you into a fight."
There was silence, a bit awkward, for a time.
"Right, general rules," Sam said, remembering where they'd been. "Walls trying to crush you are really the exception, usually if dimensions are different in limbo they'll be larger. Yards instead of feet, gallons instead of quarts, minutes instead of seconds. The surface is like Earth, something to do with the effect of Earth life all knowing what Earth looks, feels, and smells like, I think. That's the influence Earth has instead of being able to change it like the creatures of Hell.
"But the thing about Earth is that if you go deep enough, then there's really not much in the way of Earth life there. So if you want to get some spelunking gear and see if that really does go down forever," Sam looked over the edge, it did seem to go down forever, "you're going to find it less and less Earth-like as you go.
"Unless you have some pressing business with the Dark Elves then I really recommend sticking to the surface."
"Dark Elves?" Micah asked. "Like Drow?"
"Less Dungeons and Dragons, more Norse Mythology," Sam said. "I prefer calling them 'Dark Elves' over calling them 'Dwarfs' because if you use the latter people think they're the size of human dwarfs and with the exception of Dark Elves with dwarfism, they're really not. The average Dark Elf is shorter than the average human, sure, but it's not nearly so big a difference as people would have you believe."
"And they live underground in Limbo," Micah said.
"Exactly," Sam said, "and they do metal working like you wouldn't believe. But, like I said, it's best to stick to the surface unless you've got a good reason to do otherwise. Your humanity confers the most benefit up here."
"And your humanity?" Micah asked.
"So you've gone from thinking I'm crazy for talking about things beyond mainstream human thought to wondering if I'm not even human myself?" Sam asked.
"I wasn't trying to--"
"It's fine," Sam said. "And, for the record, I'm almost entirely human."
Another pause, this one not awkward.
"Now we keep getting sidetracked and we haven't even started moving," Sam said. "Which rules and guidelines and such have I already given you?"
Micah counted off on nir fingers, "Not a static place; things can change. Stick to the surface unless have a good reason to see the Dark Elves who are not Drow and do not have dwarfism as a species-universal trait. When things are different they tend to be bigger here than Earth. Demons can change the landscape just by willing it but can't trap you without trapping themselves and can't kill you with the landscape if you actively try to stay alive. Don't fight; run and hide. The edge of Hell. If you're crazy you're not aware of it. And I think that's it."
"Ok, then. . ." Sam had to think about it; what else was there? "As time has gone on Demons --also Angels, and the various types of god-- have become less able to fully manifest on Earth itself. That means that they tend to come to Limbo instead. From here they can use vessels on Earth and blah."
"Great Cold War between Heaven and Hell, social engineering, fight for the souls of humanity, oppression of the already oppressed, class warfare, just lots of blah," Sam said. "I don't get involved. The point is that since they have an interest in Earth but usually can't go the whole way there anymore, Limbo is where you'll find the largest Demon population outside of Hell."
"That's nice," Micah said.
"Not as bad as it sounds," Sam said. "The place I'm taking you? Mostly Demons living there. They're good people. Now, if you're coming, let's get going."
"You do remember the whole 'looks like it goes down forever' thing, right?" Micah asked.
"Yup," Sam said. "This is the fun part. Running, jumping, climbing trees." Sam broke into a sprint and jumped over the gap between the island they were on and the next piece of ground on their way.
"Putting on makeup while you're up there?" Micah asked.
Sam noted that Micah recognized the quote, looked back to see Micah following, and said, "You can, I'm not into that."
Sam had never actually heard Eddie Izzard's routine, but his friend Julie talked about Izzard often.