Slowly, wondering why he could feel the sun on his face when he was certain that he’d fallen asleep with the curtains closed, Luke opened his eyes. At first he thought he must be dreaming. That was really the only logical explanation. He didn’t know any other reason he’d be lying on the ground at the very edge of a forest. Of course the only problem with that idea was the fact he’d woken up. In none of the dreams he could remember having had he woken up. Dreaming seemed to be less of a transition than waking did, so then he began thinking what the other possibilities were.
Like everyone else Luke had heard stories about the effect fae magic was having on fictional worlds. Some were becoming real, or maybe the fictional worlds had been real all the time and the writers were simply connecting with them to write their stories. Yawning, he stood up, trying to work out which fictional world he might have found himself on. He hadn’t read any of the books that were known to occasionally toss their readers into other worlds, he didn’t think he’d watched any of the movies or TV series, and he hadn’t heard about any games doing the same thing. That didn’t mean that hadn’t, because it had taken years for anyone to realise what was happening to the books. People read them to see what would happen if they got tossed into the fictional worlds, knowing that they would return to the world at the exact moment they left it.
That had never made sense to him, but magic was one of those things that had its own logic. Like a lot of the humans who didn’t have any magical ability it seemed impossible to understand and Luke wasn’t certain that the fae understood it either. For the first time it was something he was grateful for, because it meant he wouldn’t worry his family, unless he’d found himself somewhere that didn’t follow the same rules. Maybe, if it had been a game that had tossed him into another world, it was more likely that it would follow different rules, but that wasn’t something he should be worrying about right at the moment.
Instead he should be working out where he was. Luke had been playing a new RPG, that his cousin had recommended because he’d played other games by the same creator. Like with all the games he played he hadn’t read the instruction manual, the way his sister always did, wanting to be surprised, and the game was definitely different to any of the others he’d played before. After picking a race and a class he’d been tossed straight into a battle with no tutorial that he was lucky to survive. When he did survive it he started wandering, hoping for something that would teach him how to play, but if there was a tutorial in the game he hadn’t found it.
Worried that he might have found himself in the same situation Luke started looking around, hoping he might find something that he could use as a weapon. In the end the only thing he could find was a large branch, but that was better than nothing. Feeling a shiver of trepidation go down his spine he thought about walking in the hope he might find somewhere he could ask for help before someone or something found him. That was no guarantee that anyone he found would be friendly though.
Before making a decision Luke looked around himself one last time. He didn’t know what he was looking for, but when he didn’t find it he was disappointed. Finding himself on another world was more terrifying that he’d thought it would be and as he had no idea where he was he didn’t know if anyone else had travelled there, so it was possible he was the first human there. Shaking his head he did his best to push all his fears to the back of his mind. Focusing on his next step he started walking east, wrapping pieces of fabric he’d found in one of his pocket around branches as he went so he could find his way back to where he started if he needed to.
“Who are you?” a female voice asked from behind him, about ten minutes after he first started walking, although he wasn’t certain because he didn’t have his watch.
Turning, Luke tried not to let his surprise show when he realised that the voice came from an animal. “I’m Luke,” he replied, managing to keep the tremor out of his voice. “Who are you?”
“Twyla.” The lion-like animal looked him over from top to bottom. “What are you?”
“I’m a human.”
For a longer time than Luke was comfortable with there was silence before Twyla said, “That isn’t something I’ve heard of, I’ve never seen anything like you before, and your scent is strange. Come with me. I must take you to Mouse, so he can decide whether you are friend or foe.”
Twyla took a couple of steps forward and nudged him. Luke knew he had no choice but to go with her, because he didn’t doubt that she was much stronger than he was, and as he started walking he dropped the branch. Against something as big as a lion it wasn’t going to do any damage if she decided to attack him. Moments later he unexpectedly found himself in a small town.
“The town is warded,” Twyla said, sounding unworried about telling him too much. “It was created by one of the last mages, before the Great War, and we were lucky that Mouse found it. There are so few of us now that we need a place like this in which to be safe for a time, until we are needed in the world again.”
“Why were you outside the wards?”
“I’m a scout. I keep an eye out for friends, foes, and strange creatures like you, human. They’ll never see me if I don’t want them to.”
“You wanted me to see you.” Luke wasn’t certain whether he was scared or not, because there was something about Twyla that made him think she might actually turn out to be his protector. He didn’t know why he thought that, though, and that worried him. “So you could take me to Mouse.”
Twyla nodded. “Mouse was our leader even before he found our sanctuary, but finding it proved that we were right to chose him. He believes he is one of the last of his race and I, as much as I hate to, think he might be right. Other scouts have gone out looking, trying to find others of his kind, or mine, or any we know is dwindling, only to return with bad news. There might never be good news, although…” She studied him. “Your arrival might be.”
Luke bit his lip. “Why do you think that?”
“The way you smell. I rely on my sense of smell, and my ability to hide, so I know when someone smells like they’re a good person and when they don’t. You, Luke, definitely smell like a good person, although I do have trouble with your appearance. Unfortunately you look like one of the races we were fighting in the Great War, which means there is a chance someone might attack you when we enter the city. Be prepared for that, defend but don’t kill, understand?”
“I will protect you too. They will listen to me, because I have been a scout for many decades.”
“Does that make you old, by your standards?”
“No, silly two-legged. My race lives for hundreds of years and by our standards I am still very young, but that is even younger when compared to some of the other races – Mouse lived through the Great War, which lasted for over a thousand years, and he remembers what our world was like a thousand years before that.”
“My race only lives for around 70 years, so if I’d been a scout for decades I would be old by my races’ standards.”
“Really? That is a very short time. I cannot imagine living for such a short time, although many lives were cut short during the Great War and I know that I was lucky to survive it myself. My mother died in childbirth and if another of my race had not come across us when he did was would have died too. We were fortunate to survive. Unfortunately that has become normal for us, now, and that is why I have not yet had my first litter, although that is not normal.” Twyla sighed. “Knowing that two of my sisters are already dead is hard for me to cope with some days, as I work with some of her children. Most days it doesn’t have that much of an effect on my every day life, but there are those when it hits me all over again that they really are gone, and it still hurts.”
“The pain of losing someone is one that never really goes away.”
“You have lost someone yourself?”
“I have.” Luke sighed. “No matter how much time passes I still miss them and I will feel the same way about the family I left behind when I came here.”
“How did you come to be here, Luke?”
“Even though I’m not certain I believe that magic is the reason I’m here. On my world there came to be a race called the fae and their magic has affected it in ways that we never expected it to. The most surprising thing it did, or at least the most surprising thing to me, was that it affects works of fiction, so what I think happened is that I played a computer game and playing that game is the reason that I’m here. I doubt there is any way back, no matter how hard I wish for one, so all I can do is accept what has happened as best I can, and hope that I don’t end up dying because of the similarity between me and the race that brought about the destruction of others.”
“Hopefully, if you can speak as well as you did then, I think you will be safe.” Twyla looked at him. “Be ready with your words, Luke, and convince Mouse that you will be an asset to us, because you will, of that I am certain.”
“Thank you… I think.” Luke managed to smile at her. “I do appreciate the help, Twyla, because I do want to survive my meeting with Mouse.” He brushed a hand through his hair. “Is there anything I shouldn’t ask him?”
“No, Mouse likes questions and by needing to ask them you will hopefully prove that you are not one of them. They know all about Mouse’s race, which is why they have done everything they can to rid the world of them.”
“I take it they have a form of magic that the other race wanted to eradicate.”
“Clever two-legged.” Twyla nodded. “They do and so does my race, but I will not tell you too much about that, as you need to show that you don’t know anything to Mouse. It will makes your survival much more likely.”
Luke nodded. “You want me to survive?”
“I find that I do, yes, even though I do not know you all that well. Like I said you smell right and I trust my sense of smell. You are meant to be here, Luke, you are meant to survive, and I will become your protector when that happens.”
As they stepped through the gateway that led into Twyla’s sanctuary they both fell silent. Until that happened Luke hadn’t realised how close they were to it, which probably had something to do with the wards, and he did his best to appear calm, even though he had difficulty slowing the rate of his heart beat. There was a chance he might end up dead, if Mouse decided he was too much like a race that had tried to kill him, which was understandable. Of course understanding why didn’t stop Luke from hoping that Mouse would listen before acting.