Kyle woke, cold, sore, and stiff, face down on hard ground. He rolled over, and grunted softly as the slight exertion sent pain lancing from his muscles, and twigs poked at him. He looked up at the crystal clear sky, and rested for a moment, before trying to move again.
The crystal clear sky, with no clouds in sight.
Or trees. Or mountains.
Kyle sat bolt upright, soreness forgotten as the memories of what had just happened crashed over him. He looked around frantically for the portal, but it was nowhere to be seen. He was sitting on the side of a low hill covered by small plants with purple and white flowers. He thought they might be heather. Scattered throughout the heather, all down the hillside, were huge blocks of stone, and although they were now worn by the weather and covered in patches of moss, they clearly had been intentionally carved into rectangular shapes, as though they had once been the building blocks of some huge structure. At the base of the hill, forest began, almost as if there was a line where the forest would grow no farther.
He looked behind him. There was a low wall circling the top of the hill, easily forty or fifty feet across from what he could see, but only eight or nine feet high. The top was jagged and broken,As though it had once been a tall tower that had since been shattered. The stones that made up the top of the shattered tower were now scattered all down the hill.
Kyle stood slowly, and looked around. He was certainly not in the Appalachian Mountains, but he was at least on solid ground, and somewhere on Earth again, not floating in a tornado. Maybe I was dreaming? It had seemed so real, but the idea was so extraordinary that he could not think of another explanation. He must have experienced some kind of unconscious dream, and woken up here. Wherever here was.
“Well, I guess I need to try to figure out where I am.” His backpack was gone, and along with it his camping gear, his food, and his cell phone. Not that it was likely the cell phone would have done any good here, but it would have been nice. He grimaced, and looked around again, trying to get his bearings, but the hill was too low for him to see over the trees. The sun was almost directly overhead, so he could not even get a bearing on which way was north.
It also meant that it was noon, and he had been unconscious for a full night and half of the morning, if not longer.
He took a quick inventory of what he had, patting his pockets to assure himself. His pocket knife, matches,
Then he almost smiled. He had been using his compass the day before, and had dropped it in his pocket instead of returning it to his pack. He pulled it out, and looked at it, hoping to at least get his bearings.
He grimaced again. The needle was moving erratically, and certainly not pointing in any one direction. There must be a lot of iron in this hill, he thought. Damn.
He heard a noise, and looked up. Is a cracking, crunching sound, the sound of someone or something moving through the forest, disturbing the undergrowth. It was getting closer, coming toward him. Kyle clicked closed his compass and slipped it back into his pocket.
A figure burst out of the forest at the base of the hill, running at a dead sprint. It was a woman, a girl really, no more than sixteen or seventeen, moving straight up the hill toward him. She wore a brown leather skirt and matching vest over a rough brown shirt. She had a leather quiver full of arrows over her shoulder, wooden arrows with feather fletching, and was carrying a wooden bow in one hand as she ran.
She could have been at home as a native on the set of Pocahontas. She even had several feathers tied into her long braid of hair, which was flying out behind her as she ran.
Just like Pocahontas, he thought. Except that she was very clearly Caucasian. Her hair was bright blond, and her skin was very fair. She even had freckles.
In that moment she saw him as well, and her eyes widened in surprise.
She changed directions a little, sprinting straight at him now, and she yelled…something. It sounded a lot like gibberish. Definitely not Spanish or French. It almost sounded…like Arabic? He only spoke English, but he watched the news, and he would have thought he would be able to recognize most major languages. But this was…different. A sudden feeling of panic washed over him. He must be a long way from home.
The girl seemed to realize that he did not understand, and pursed her lips in frustration. Kyle just stood and waited for her, not knowing what else to do. She stopped in front of him, and with a disgusted look on her face, said “Talagi. Fredin thilinith givorni. Alsicati isith hard to figure how you got yourself lost out here when you don’t even understand the trade tongue.”
Kyle was shocked. She had not stopped talking gibberish and then started speaking English. She had flowed so smoothly into it that he had not been able to distinguish exactly where she had switched. He blinked, a little confused, but said “Thank god you speak English. Was that Arabic?”
“What?” She looked a little confused as well, and more than a little annoyed. “No time for games, nobleman. This was a bad time to get lost in the woods, and a bad patch of woods to do it in. There are orcs after me, and they will certainly kill you if they find you here.”
At that moment, there was more crashing near the forest edge, and the girl grabbed Kyle’s arm and turned him around, up the hill. “Run!” she yelled, and shoved him. He staggered a little, surprised by the strength of her push, but kept his balance and started to run a little.
“Faster, nobleman!” the girl yelled again, darting past him at a full sprint. She sounded a scared, and a little frustrated. There was more crashing in the forest, getting closer, and a guttural yell. Kyle decided it might be a good idea to listen, and started to run faster.
There was another guttural yell, and a bigger crash, and Kyle glanced over his shoulder just in time to see three figures burst through the undergrowth.
They were tall, all of them over six feet, maybe closer to seven, and broad shouldered and very muscular. Kyle was reminded of how some football players looked close up. They were wearing some kind of armor, plates dull metal sewn onto thick leather pants and jackets. The plates covered the fronts of the thighs, the shins, the forearms, and the chest, somewhat molded to fit. It looked crude, but strong.
They wore helmets of the same dull metal, round on top and reaching down to cover the cheeks and nose. And under that, they wore…some kind of monster mask? Greenish, with big tusks. Kyle had heard of some African tribal warriors wearing masks to war, and thought perhaps this was similar. They carried crude weapons, the one in the middle carried a spear, and the other two held axes. They were made of metal, and looked…effective. And the men held them like they knew how to use them.
They were running, and as they got through the brush at the edge of the forest they looked at Kyle and started to run up the hill. They were shouting something, wordless snarling yells, and-
Twang, swish. The feathered tip of an arrow sprouted from the thigh of one of the men. He fell, hard, but was getting up almost as soon as he landed.
“Run!” the girl yelled again, and Kyle realized he had actually stopped to stare at them. The yell snapped Kyle out of his surprised stupor, and suddenly those weapons seemed much more real, and certainly meant for him. A surge of adrenaline flooded Kyle’s veins, and he started to run, really run, up the hill.
Something whisked past him, and the spear the middle man had been holding buried itself in the ground ahead of Kyle. He veered to the left, running faster.
Suddenly his toe caught on something. A small rock, hidden in the undergrowth. He fell, moving to fast to stop himself. A tiny touch of instinct left over from a year of childhood martial arts rose to the surface, and he tucked in, leading with his shoulder. He hit the ground hard, face in a heather pant and shoulder into the dirt and-
Through it. The dirt was soft, and crumbled away into…nothing. Kyle fell, face first, surrounded by crumbling dirt, small stones, roots, and heather plants, into the dark.