There was something about how real the village felt that made it hard for Layla to believe she was dreaming, but that was the logical explanation. Yet, as she walked down the main street, the smells, the noises, the sensation of people brushing past her, made it feel as though she was actually there. None of her dreams before had been so full of sensation. The skirt she was wearing rubbed against her legs. The breeze that blew past her was full of scents she didn’t recognise. One of the woman who brushed past her had strands of hair that stroked over Layla’s shoulder. It was all too much for her to accept it was a dream, but there was no reason for it to be anything other than a dream. She remembered going to bed, and the sensation of slowly dozing off, before the found herself standing in the middle of what could only be a medieval village. Obviously she’d been watching too much of something.
A coat was wrapped around her shoulders. Layla turned, trying to find who it might have been, but no one was paying that much attention to her. Obviously she was normal to them. None of them had a reason to think she wasn’t meant to be there. Uncertain about the gift she put her hands into the pockets, only to find there was money in one of them. It wasn’t a lot. A few coins she didn’t recognise, that felt cold, and hard, and like she was truly holding them. She nibbled her lip. Had the coat been given to her by someone who knew she wasn’t meant to be there? Were they helping her out? She knew she should give it back, because of the money, and if she’d had any idea who’d given it to her she would have done. Before she’d really thought about what she was doing she stepped into an alleyway in order to look through the rest of the pockets in the coat. If there was money in one of them there might be something else in the others.
Layla took it off. It was then she felt the breeze again, as though the coat had been protecting her from it. Did that make sense? Even less certain than before she studied the coat. There was nothing unusual about it. The coat appeared to be just that, a coat, but when she wrapped it back around herself the coolness of the breeze faded away. Weird. Very weird. Wishing she knew more about where she was or what had happened to her she took the coat off once more, and looked for pockets. One the outside the coat appeared to be entirely normal. There were four basic pockets, one of which had money in. All of the others were empty. Then she checked for inside pockets. What she found was something that didn’t seem possible, and yet it was her hands touching each of the openings. In one, which seemed larger than the others, she found a small book. For a long time she stared at it. Why would someone have given her their coat when it still had something of theirs in it? Nothing about it made sense. Nothing about the fact she’d found herself in a village that seemed so real made sense.
Finally she opened the book. If she could find out who the coat belonged to she’d be able to give it back… only she found herself staring at her own name, and an address she didn’t recognise. The coat belonged to her. Layla brushed a hand through her hair. That was impossible, unless she had a doppleganger in the village, which at least would explain why she’d been able to walk down the main street without anyone asking who she was. Did she go to the address? It was the only idea that made sense. She could give the coat back to her other self before she woke up. With the decision made she felt a little less uncertain, but there were still little niggling doubts in the back of her mind. She wrapped the coat back around herself, trying to ignore the niggling doubts, and focused on remembering the address in the book.
Still no one looked at her. They didn’t care about who she was or why she was there. It made sense. They all had their own lives to live, so why would they care? There was no way they could know the position she’d found herself in. Layla kept walking. Soon enough she had to wake up. She had to. It couldn’t possibly be real, no matter how real it felt, and as long as kept that belief in her mind she was certain she’d be able to cope with whatever happened next. Of course the real issue, the one she was really stopping herself from thinking about, was how she knew where to go, because she shouldn’t. As it was a dream it did almost make sense. Why wouldn’t she know where she was going in a dream? Her thoughts were all over the place, and that wouldn’t stop until she did wake up. Breathing deeply, in an attempt to calm herself, she pushed aside all the questions she couldn’t answer, all the thoughts she didn’t want to be thinking, and did her best to cling on to the belief she was dreaming.
When Layla reached the house she stared at the door. Her doppleganger was going to answer it. She stepped forward, onto the step, and knocked. No response. Without letting herself stop to think about what she was doing she tried the handle. The door was unlocked, and she didn’t know if that was a good thing or not. For a few seconds she looked around, knowing exactly how suspicious she had to appear, before stepping into the house, telling herself she was making a huge mistake. She shouldn’t be breaking into someone else’s house. Yet, as she stepped inside, she felt something, and she knew if she wasn’t supposed to be there she wouldn’t have been able to get in… although she had no idea how she knew that. As she closed the door behind her she looked around.
“Hello?” Her voice echoed. Layla almost laughed at herself for being stupid enough to break one of the biggest rules of horror stories. Making a noise was likely to cause more problems than it helped, but she didn’t know what else to do. “Is anyone there?”
As the sound of footsteps filled the house she shuddered. Leaving the house was the logical thing to do, but Layla couldn’t bring herself to walk away. She wanted to know where she was and why she was there. Soon enough the footsteps turned into a man, who studied her. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
“I didn’t believe him when he said he’d called you, but here you are.”
“Called me where?”
“Lothere.” Their eyes met. “I know you have a lot of questions, Layla, and I promise you I will answer them. Most of those questions will, however, just lead to more questions, so maybe this is a conversation best had sitting down somewhere comfortable.”
“No.” Layla shook her head. “For the moment I’m comfortable here.”
“There’s no one in this house who’d hurt you. We’ve been waiting far too long for that.”
“Far too long?”
“Until recently we couldn’t call on anyone. Then he found the right spell, and he cast it, to bring you to us, because you’re the person we need.” He sighed. “For so long we’ve been fighting without a chance of winning. You being here… it changes everything.”
“The right spell?” That made her even more sure she had to be dreaming. There was no chance of her being on a world with magic. It just wasn’t possible. “I don’t even know why I care.”
“You aren’t dreaming. This is real. I have no way of proving that to you right now, but you will come to accept that’s the truth. When you return here tomorrow you won’t have any other option.”
“Why am I here?”
“Like I said before you’re needed.” He shrugged. “Without someone like you it would be impossible for us to get any further. Most of us have very little magic. Those who had more were executed, by the man we want you to help us fight, because, at least for now, he doesn’t know about you.”
“Will he execute me if he finds out about me?”
“I don’t know. It’s possible. We will do everything we can to protect you from that, and teach you how to protect yourself, because you will be a hundred times stronger than we are. I promise you we haven’t brought you here for no reason, Layla. If you’d come with me this would be a lot easier.”
“Maybe it would, but that doesn’t mean I’m going anywhere with you.” She ran her tongue over her dry lips. There was no reason for her not to go with him, if it was a dream, but there was this niggling doubt she couldn’t get rid of. What if it wasn’t a dream? Going with him could well lead to her death. Layla hid the shudder that she felt at the thought of dying. “I don’t trust you. I don’t even know what your name is.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. I’m Dieter, the leader of the freedom fighters here, and I was asked to meet you here, because he said you’d know this house.”
“How would I know it?”
“That’s a question I can’t answer. I don’t know enough about the magic that brought you here. All I know is that we didn’t think it was going to work.”
“We didn’t believe he had enough power. There was no reason to think he did, because he’s never been able to cast spells like that before, but he said it would be different.” Dieter brushed a hand through his hair. “I should have asked more questions. I should have tried to understand what he was going. I was more focused on working out what we were going to do next than I was on the possibility he might be right. For the first time I truly am glad I was wrong.”
“Did you stop to think that I might not want to be called?”
“Yes, but in the end it wasn’t down to us who was brought here. The magic simply called on the person who was most likely to help us. You were that person.”
Nodding, Layla tried to work out what her next step was going to be. If she hadn’t made her way to the house would things have been different? Sighing, she studied Dieter, and came to the conclusion she wasn’t going to get the answers she needed to the questions she had. Not from him. He didn’t know enough. He didn’t care about knowing enough. He could see that in his eyes. The only thing he actually cared about was beating whoever it was they were dealing with, and that was something he would be willing to talk with her about. She just wasn’t certain she wanted to talk to him.
“I need some time. Is there somewhere I can go to be alone?”
For a long time Dieter was silent. “There is. I just… promise me you’re going to come out again.”
“We both know I can’t make that promise. I can understand why you’d want me to, but that doesn’t change anything. I don’t know you, I don’t know this world, and I need some time to come to terms with the position I’ve found myself in. The other option, as far as I can see, is that I walk back out of this house, which I don’t think is a good idea. I have a feeling that coming here changed things, for everyone. Therefore the best thing I can do is find somewhere in the house I can be alone.”