* Pocket Woods *
“I can’t believe we found him after all these years.” A female voice cut through Jandor’s semiconscious mind as he slowly woke, finding himself lying on a small, comfortable bed.
“I’m more concerned about what else we found out there,” came a male voice.
The voices were coming from the room adjacent to the one Jandor was in. He lifted himself gingerly but found, to his surprise, that he was in no pain. He put a hand to his chest. There was a slight tenderness that suggested recent injury, but it was completely healed.
“That thing was a pog,” the man voice was saying now. “A huge one, way bigger than I remember. Those monster rumors we heard in town, this can only mean one thing; it’s happening.”
Jandor looked around the room. It was sparsely furnished. Aside from the bed he was on, there was a small, white chest of drawers, a simple desk and chair, and a window, where a faint glow of dusk sunlight was streaming in, filtered by the many trees beyond.
He stood and saw that his staff was leaning by the bed. It was clear that wherever he was, he wasn’t in danger. Whoever brought him here hadn’t restrained him and had even left him his weapon. Encouraged by this, he started toward the door that was cracked, allowing him to hear the two people talking in the next room in hushed voices that nevertheless carried. He could smell something cooking.
“Anyway, you should go tend to him,” the man was saying now. “His wounds looked pretty serious.”
“That’s the thing,” the woman said. “I think his wounds weren’t as bad as we thought, either that or his adimus immunity is really strong and he healed quicker than normal.”
Jandor pushed open the door and found himself in a cozy cottage living room. Two people were sitting next to one another on a small sofa, facing away from him.
“Hello?” Jandor called, not wanting to sneak up on them.
They both jumped. The woman was the first to face him.
“Jandor you’re up!” It was Terri. She beamed at him.
“Terri?” Jandor could hardly believe his eyes. She looked far different from when he last saw her. Her wavy brown hair was longer than he remembered, coming slightly past her shoulders, and she wore an unfamiliar long-sleeved green and brown dress.
The man was slower to turn. “Hey Jandor,” he said a bit sheepishly. It was Daniel. He too looked different and not just because of the rugged looking clothing he was wearing. He had a neatly trimmed beard, his short-sleeved tunic revealed muscles he didn’t have before, and his normally stocky physique was far more toned.
Jandor was taken aback. “Okay, how long was I out?” he asked with a nervous chuckle.
“Only about thirty minutes or so,” Terri said brightly as she walked around the sofa, clearly not understanding the reason behind the question.
Before Jandor could probe further, his stepsister flung herself on him, wrapping her arms around his neck to hug him. “I can’t believe you’re really back,” she said in his ear.
Jandor returned the hug and waited for her to release him before saying, “Back from where? What’s going on?”
“Terri, why don’t you grab the roast,” Daniel said. “Jandor, have a seat; we have a lot to tell you.” He gestured to the wooden table that was in the small living area. It had enough seats for four. Beyond that, he could see a kitchenette, and this seemed to be the source of the food he was smelling.
“Okay Danny.” Terri was still beaming at Jandor but hurried off to get the food from what looked like some sort of oven. When she opened its door, Jandor could see a blue fire inside as she pulled out a roasting pan.
Jandor caught something in their interaction that troubled him. It was clear that he was the stranger in this scenario. This house seemed to belong to Terri and Daniel, and it was also evident they had a routine, one that had been disrupted by the appearance of Jandor and the pog. But how could this be possible?
Thinking that answers would come soon, and hearing his stomach growl in anticipation of food, Jandor took a seat at the table, still feeling a bit uneasy that he was now the odd one out but trusting his friends implicitly.
Daniel sat opposite him, giving Jandor an appraising look. “Do you know where you are?” he asked.
“Well, I’m guessing in your house, in some woods, somewhere on Mendala,” Jandor answered, a little disturbed by the tone of Daniel’s question.
Daniel seemed to relax. “So, you’ve been here a while then?”
Terri sat the roasting pan, containing what looked like a large ham, on the table, before hurrying off again like a bustling housewife.
Jandor chuckled as he watched his sister. “Well, clearly not as long as you two. I just got here a little while ago with Fantasma.”
There was a crash from the kitchen. Terri had dropped one of the plates she was holding. “You were with the Fantasma?”
“Where is he?” Daniel asked excitedly.
“I don’t know; he disappeared,” Jandor said. “I was actually hoping you guys knew.”
Terri returned to the table with three plates and a handful of cutlery. “What do you think that means?”
Daniel put a hand to his chin. “I’m not sure, but that, plus the pog we saw…It’s definitely happening.”
“Guys, what’s going on?” Jandor asked looking back and forth between the two of them.
“Danny, you should just tell him,” Terri said, though her tone was deferential as she started to cut into the meat in the roasting pan.
Daniel accepted a large piece of the pinkish meat from Terri as he stared across at Jandor. “Well, the truth is: Terri and I have both been here about six years,” he said bluntly.
Jandor was silent as he processed Daniel’s words. Somehow, he expected this, or something like it. This explained the house and how they had changed, but he still had a lot of questions.
Terri examined him as she piled meat on his plate. “Are you okay, Jandor?”
“Do you know how it happened?” Jandor asked finally. “And what about the others?”
Daniel swallowed a mouthful of the meat before speaking. “As near as I can tell, when we were on Earth, we were quickened here to Mendala. During that transport, Terri and I, and probably a lot of others, were thrown back in time and across the world. Apparently, it’s not completely unheard of. There’s an entire field of study on it, but it’s still really new.”
“But what about the others?” Jandor asked again, his tone more insistant. “Did you find anyone else?”
Terri sat between the two of them. “Well, we didn’t even arrive at the same time. I got here about three months after Danny.”
“I ended up in a cave near here on the shore of Pocket Lake. I’m guessing that’s where you landed too if you just got here today,” Daniel said.
“Yeah, it was a cave on a beach,” Jandor confirmed. “Then I heard screaming from the woods.”
“Yeah, that was me,” Terri said. “I was on my way home from Riverbed when I ran into that pog. You saved my life.” She beamed at him again.
“And then I saved both of you,” Daniel added briskly. “But I’m glad you were able to hold that thing off until I got there.”
Jandor smirked at this. “No problem.”
Daniel had never been the type to jump into a fight, least of all a battle with something as dangerous as the pogs, but he was beginning to realize that this wasn’t the same Daniel he’d left in the cave on Earth.
“I’m just glad you weren’t hurt too badly,” Terri said. “Your adimus immunity is pretty strong. You heal faster than the mind mages I’ve treated.”
“Well, that’s a good thing, I guess.” Jandor’s stomach gave another rumble and he decided to eat while he reflected on everything they told him. The meat tasted far sweeter than regular pork, making him wonder if it was a different animal all together. It dawned on him that he’d never seen Terri cook before, but it was clear that she was quite proficient at it now.
“Anyway,” Daniel continued, “I landed there first. I was staying in Riverbed and then Terri showed up a few months later in the same cave.”
“At first we thought maybe everyone would just end up there, just spaced apart, but after about a year of waiting, we decided to start looking in other places,” Terri added.
“We had to hire a quickener to do that, so we did odd jobs here and there to make some centars.”
Jandor looked up from his food. “Some…?”
“Money,” Terri corrected before putting a hand on Daniel’s and saying, “Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.”
Daniel shrugged. “Anyway, several months in, we finally found Stephanie.”
Jandor brightened at this. “Stephanie’s here? Where is she?”
Daniel shrugged again. “She’s living at one of the Order of Nature animal preserves, but there are a few. I’m not sure to be honest.”
Jandor put down his fork and knife and stared across the table, trying to read his friend, who seemed so different from when they last spoke, which for him was only a few hours ago. “Okay Daniel, I know this is all normal for you, but you’re going to have to explain to me how the answer to the question ‘Where is Stephanie?’ is that you’re not sure. How do you find someone in our group and not bring them with you?”
Terri put a hand on Jandor’s now. “We did Jandor. Steph was with us for almost a year, but she’d lived with the summoners for a while, not sure how long. It was like home to her, so she went back when we gave up the search.”
“Gave up the search!” Jandor almost spit out his food in shock.
“Jandor, we thought everyone else died, or maybe they were still on Earth and we were the only ones that came here,” Daniel said matter-of-factly. “We searched on and off for a while, but we couldn’t go on forever. We decided to make the best of things here.” He gestured around at the small cottage.
“We still held out some hope though,” Terri added quickly. “That’s why we settled in these woods: in case someone came out of the cave at Pocket Lake.”
“The pog changes things though,” Daniel said gravely. “We hadn’t seen one of those since Earth.”
“What does that mean then?” Jandor asked.
“It probably means we’re catching up to the present—our present.” Daniel stuffed another slice of the ham-like meat into his mouth.
“That’s great; we’ll go get Stephanie and then find the others,” Jandor said excitedly.
Daniel shook his head. “Even if I’m right about the timeline, that still doesn’t mean we can find the others, or that they’re even out there to be found. It’s been years. Mendala isn’t as big as Earth, but we can’t just go running around without any sort of plan, especially if those monsters are around. What if they find us?”
“We’ll fight them,” Jandor said as if this was obvious. “We’ll find our friends, we’ll find Fantasma, and then we’ll find a way back home.”
Daniel shook his head as if exasperated.
“What?” Jandor asked, annoyed by his reaction.
Daniel’s fork clattered to the plate. “Don’t you think we’ve tried to do all of that already? We searched for almost two years. We tried to get an audience with the Fantasma but couldn’t even get into the mountain. And forget going home; there’s just no way. To even do it, we’d need to know where the rift is and we’d need a quickener with dimensional sense, both of which are practically impossible to find. As for killing those creatures, you barely held up to the one that attacked us today.”
Jandor seemed completely unfazed by all of these facts. “You managed fine with that whatever-you-had. Give me a sword or a gun—do they have guns here? Anyway, I’ll be fine. Besides, what’s the alternative, just sit here and do nothing? I can’t accept that.”
“Well maybe you should!” Daniel said hotly. “You know this isn’t a game. This is real life.”
Jandor laughed harshly. “Are you lecturing me?”
“Jandor!” Terri gave her brother’s hand a squeeze.
“Well, I know we can’t just run off recklessly like you did when you got us in this mess to begin with.”
“Daniel!” Terri gave Daniel’s hand a tight squeeze now. She was holding both their hands as if acting as a tether between them, afraid the argument would escalate out of control.
But Jandor pulled his hand away, crossing his arms in front of him, his expression pensive. “Is that what this is about? You blame me for all this?”
Daniel folded his arms as well, but in a more stubborn way. “If we hadn’t followed your plan, hadn’t snuck down into the basement, hadn’t followed you in that tunnel…” he looked to Terri for validation.
“Danny, it wasn’t Jandor’s fault,” Terri said soothingly.
Jandor nodded in agreement though. “You’re right. I’m the leader, it was my plan, and I got us into this. But you have to know I didn’t mean for any of this to happen, and I’m sorry you guys had to deal with this all on your own for six years.” His tone was sincere. It was clear his friend was hurting.
“We managed fine,” Daniel said, still a bit angry, but Jandor’s abrupt apology had taken some of the venom out of his retort.
“If it weren’t for Danny, I don’t know what I’d have done.” Terri interjected. “He really stepped up.” She smiled and gave Daniel’s hand another brief squeeze before letting go.
Jandor smiled as well. “I don’t doubt it.” He finished eating the meat on his plate before speaking again. “Listen, I’m not trying to downplay what you went through, but I’m telling you, I think things are going to be different this time. We need to get Stephanie and find Fantasma. I’m sure he can sort all this out and help us find the rest of our friends and get us back home. If it doesn’t work, if I’m wrong, then we haven’t lost anything for trying.” He looked back and forth between the two of them.
Terri looked a bit hesitant but then nodded before turning to Daniel. “I think we should at least try. Didn’t you say that if we had a way to get to Fantasma, we might be able to get home? It could be possible now.”
Daniel gave her a look of incredulity but then sighed, knowing he was outnumbered. “Fine, I guess, but it’s late. We should probably get some sleep and then we can head out tomorrow.”
“That sounds good.” Terri stood, a relieved smile on her face. “I’m going to clean up. Danny, would you help me? Jandor, you can get some rest in the spare room; I’m sure you’re exhausted.” She pointed to the room he’d woken up in.
Jandor stood and stretched but he eyed the two warily, still knowing something was off about the entire interaction. He was tired though and decided to chalk it up to the fact that he’d missed six years of their lives.
“Thanks,” he said finally and headed to the bedroom, intent on getting some much-needed rest. He walked into the dark room, closed the door, and collapsed onto the bed, fully clothed. Within minutes, he’d drifted off to sleep.