The windows of the Emblem tattoo shop erupted in blinding brilliance. Ben and Wayne, the proprietors and, at that time, only occupants of the shop reacted as though a bomb had gone off. Wayne dropped face down behind the counter, wrapping his hands over head and neck. Ben fell backward and slid against a wall, clawing for traction. On the floor, he flipped onto hands and knees and crawled quickly toward the back offices.
“Peace be with you,” an angelic voice proclaimed.
Ben paused in his tracks and, without turning around, whispered, “And with you?”
“The hell is happening?” Wayne yelled. “Are we dead?”
“Oh,” the angelic voice said. “Sorry. Let me get the light.”
The original lighting in the shop was suddenly restored as the brilliance receded.
Ben turned, blinking rapidly and squinting as his eyes adjusted. A figure of a woman appeared to him, standing just inside the shop door. Flowing red hair framed a gentle face and settled upon muscular shoulders.
“Who…” he asked, “What are you?”
Wayne opened an eye and peeked at Ben, who was now rising to his feet. Wayne very slowly rose to peek over the counter at the mysterious newcomer.
“My name is Bubbliel. I am a businesswoman from the heavenly realm. I sell and trade collectables. None of that is why I am here.”
Wayne asked trepidatiously, “Why are you here?”
“I have come for your assistance in the heavenly realm.”
Ben and Wayne looked at each other, then back at Bubbliel. Ben asked, “Are you sure you’ve got the right guys? I mean, I’ve been told I sound like Edward Norton.”
“Who told you that?” Wayne asked.
Bubbliel identified them. “Ben and Wayne. Tattoo artists and proprietors of Emblem Tattoos, LLC.”
“Well, I am the artist,” Wayne corrected. “He’s more accountant than anything else, really.”
“Dude!” Ben scoffed.
“A friend of mine is in trouble,” Bubbliel said. “I mean, I wouldn’t call him a friend, per se. He’s a nuisance and a criminal, and I’m the one that got him in this mess. So, I suppose we’re enemies. But still, I need your help. He needs you.”
Ben shook his head, trying to clear it. “You need us to help you rescue a non-friend, more like an enemy, from a bind you got him into?”
“Yes,” Bubbliel said, “I need your help to get Drou out of the mess I’ve gotten him into.”
“Drou?” Wayne said, rising to his full height. “Yes! I recognize your voice.”
“You do?” Ben and Bubbliel said in unison.
“Yeah,” Wayne pointed a finger at her. “You are the ‘party on’ girl.”
“The what?” Bubbliel asked.
“Her?” Ben asked. “She’s the girl from your fever dream?”
“She is,” Wayne confirmed. “As soon as you said his name, I recognized your voice. Drou. Who is he?” Wayne pulled a folder from under the counter and flipped to his sketch of the elf-like demon. “Is this him?”
Bubbliel stepped up to the counter and looked at the sketch. “Yes. His nose is a bit less–”
“What the hell is happening?” Ben interrupted.
Wayne did not wait for an answer. “What do you know about the end of the universe?”
Bubbliel cleared her throat. “I know it is not why I am here. Drou needs your help. I am here to escort you both to the heavenly realm so you can save him.”
Ben interjected. “I think we all need to take a step back. Bubbly, I am going to set aside that you and Drought exist.”
“Bubbliel,” she corrected.
“Drou,” Wayne added.
“Whatever. I’m not going anywhere with anyone until I get answers about all of this. Is that clear?”
Bubbliel took a step back. She said to Ben, “You’re right. I’ve just barged in here unannounced and uninvited, assuming the two of you would be ready and eager to follow me to some unknown dimension to fulfill destinies you are very likely unaware of.”
Wayne and Ben again looked to one another, nodded, and Ben said, “Yeah, that about sums it up.”
“Okay,” Bubbliel said, choosing a seat in the lobby of the shop. “Ask me anything. I promise to tell you the truth.”