Keira woke to find a cool, damp compress against her forehead. Looking up, she saw wide amber eyes staring down at her, a look of concern clouding their turbulent surface.
“How are you feeling?”
Keira blinked, barely comprehending the question. She started to sit up, then thought better of it as the room spun. Gingerly, she lay back down, clamping her eyes shut against the swiftly tilting room and wishing for all the world that she had some Dramamine right about then. Hushed murmuring brought her back to the present.
“—to be expected, honestly. It’s quite the shock to the system.”
“—stumbling out of the forest by the river . . . looked somethin’ awful.”
The first speaker sounded British, she realized, with the posh-sounding accent of a BBC reporter. Listening more carefully, she thought the second one was American, but he had a soft lilt to his voice that reminded her of rolling hills. He pronounced the words “rivaa” and “aawful” with the elongated vowels of the East Coast, maybe Boston? Her muddled brain resented the burden of thought and rebelled in nauseating vertigo.
After regaining her sense of proprioception, she committed resolutely to reopening her eyes a sliver. From there, she could see that the British speaker was the amber-eyed man with the damp cloth from before. Keira paused for a moment and, sensing no impending vertigo, opened her eyes a bit wider. She could see now that he was an older man, maybe middle-aged, with long, russet auburn hair streaked with silver above a high forehead. The other one was the man she’d seen at the river. He was much younger, maybe early twenties, with sandy blond hair that flopped into his eyes as he spoke. While she was watching them, he turned light olive-green eyes in her direction, and a wide, toothy grin lit up his face, making her want to smile back despite herself. Seeing the younger man’s diverted attention, Amber Eyes turned toward her.
“Oh, well done! Tell me, how are you feeling?” He strode toward her and, picking up a steaming cup from the bench beside her, offered it for her to sip. “Careful now, it’s quite hot.”
Keira eased herself into a sitting position and grasped the proffered mug, tasting warm, not-too-sweet tea sliding down her suddenly parched throat. Remembering the man’s warning, she had to stop herself from gulping the near-burning liquid as she realized just how thirsty she was. While she drank, the man continued.
“My name is Elliott,” he explained. “Danny here found you stumbling out of the woods by the river fork looking quite the worse for wear. He brought you here hoping I might be of some use. I have a penchant for the healing craft,” he confessed. “And you, what’s your name?”
Keira cleared her throat before croaking, “Keira.” She shook her head. “Keira Altman.”
Until this point, Keira had paid little mind to her surroundings. She now realized that the room she found herself in closely resembled the living room of a hunting lodge, complete with burning fire and wooden furniture, like the somewhat uncomfortable cot she found herself on now. More to the point, peering at the pair of men in front of her, she realized with a start that they were decked out in garb that would not have looked out of place at a Renaissance faire. The older man, Elliott, wore a long, sage-green robe made of rough-looking fabric and belted at the waist. The younger one, Danny, wore a loose cloth tunic belted over leather pants. Looking back to Elliott, who’d been explaining something about the tea, she interrupted, “Sorry, are you both reenactors or something?” Confused, Keira caught the wary glance that flashed between the two.
“Not exactly . . .” Elliott replied. “Keira, do you remember what the date was when you left?”
“Left?” Keira stared at him, uncomprehending. Then the memories flashed before her and she sat bolt upright. “The car!” Turning to Elliott, who looked curious but calm despite her outburst, she begged, “Please, you have to help me find the car! My mom and I, we were driving. It was raining and w-we started spinning out. I don’t remember what happened, but when I woke up, I couldn’t find them.”
She was pleading at this point, and her eyes stung. “It’s my mom and cousin, about seven years old. Sh-she’s got blonde pigtails, and her dress is pink, or blue, or something. Please, you’ve got to help me.” Keira started to get up off the cot, but firm hands eased her back down. Confused, Keira said, “Please, she’s just a little girl. She needs help, and my mom, well, she’ll be looking for m—”
“Keira,” Elliott interrupted, giving her a long, piercing look. “They’re not here.”
“What? No, I mean, they can’t be far. I must have been thrown from the c—”
“Keira,” Elliott said again. “This will be very hard to understand, but the place that you have come from, it is very far away and very different from where you are now. In fact, you could say that it’s another world entirely.”
Keira searched around desperately, trying to think of how to communicate the urgency of finding the car. Seeing her lack of attention, Elliott tried a different tack.
“Keira, where and when do you think you are?”
Keira stared at him, wondering if she’d heard the question correctly. Seeing that she had, and that he meant it earnestly, she replied slowly, “I don’t know, just off the five north?” Seeing his confused look, she clarified, “Northern California.”
Elliott nodded, as if this made sense.
“And the date?”
Seeing his expectant look, she said slowly, as if to a small child, “2017.” Elliott smiled widely, and behind him, she saw Danny’s eyes widen.
“That is where you have come from,” Elliott said. “Where you are is a country called Loren in the year 236 of the Marian Era, in a world that differs greatly from that which you have known.”
Keira opened and shut her mouth, trying to think of how to reply. This had to be a joke, but neither man seemed to find it particularly funny. Keira could hear Elliott continuing to explain something, but she was having a hard time focusing and caught only snippets as her head swam again.
“. . . between worlds is uncommon, but possible . . . particular ability lets you cast your essence . . . serve the Legion . . . called pneuma—”
Keira had had enough of this. Shoving off the blanket, she spun her legs off of the cot and stood up, brushing off helpful hands in irritation. Turning on both sets of curious eyes, she said, “I’m leaving now.” The stern set of her mouth dared either of them to contradict her. Neither did. “Where is the nearest town?” she demanded.
After a brief pause, the one named Danny spoke up. He had been silent until this point but now said, “Just south. You can follow the path that runs along the river.”
“Thanks,” she snapped, her irritation making her tone harsher than intended. She turned back to Elliott.
“I appreciate the tea, but it’s time I was going.” She strode out the door, and neither of them tried to stop her.
Danny hadn’t been able to tear his eyes away from her. She’d been in and out for the first few minutes, but eventually she was sitting up and drinking the tea that Elliott had prepared, color slowly coming back into her skin. While they’d been waiting for her to come fully to, Elliott had explained that this was largely to be expected when one’s pneuma crossed worlds. The body it entered was an exact copy of the one it had left, but it still took some time to adjust.
Thinking back, Danny remembered waking up in Loren with a splitting headache and puking his guts out. He thought this girl seemed to be doing better, though—physically, at least. Mentally, she seemed more than a little terrified by the whole situation. When she said she was from the year 2017, he felt his mouth fall open. He quickly shut it but struggled even harder not to stare at her, taking in the blue jeans and long-sleeved shirt she wore with a hood on the back. He was seventy years older than her! And he’d thought they’d have so much in common. Who knew how much had changed between his time and hers?
He’d only been in Loren for a little over a year. Could time really move so differently between the two worlds? Danny decided that this was a thought for another day and turned his attention back to Elliott and an increasingly agitated Keira. Elliott was trying to explain all about pneuma and the Legion, the organization that Elliott and Nazor served. In typical Elliott fashion, he was providing way more information than she could possibly process in the present moment.
Give her a minute, Danny thought with futility. She’s only just arrived. Of course, Elliott couldn’t hear him, and Keira’s emphatic head shakes became fiercer, until clearly, she’d finally had enough. When she demanded to know where the nearest town was, Danny decided it was best she saw for herself and gave her the directions.
She thanked him and promptly strode out the door without a second look back, clearly fed up with their antics. Elliott turned to Danny with a sheepish look. “I guess I might have gotten a bit carried away.”
Danny gave him a sardonic smile. “You think?”
“You’ll follow her, then?” Elliott asked. “If she feels overwhelmed now, it’ll only be worse when she sees Abalás.”
Danny nodded and bent to grab his cloak.
“I’d keep your distance at first, though. Wait until she needs help, and then let her know she has a place here if she’d like.” Elliott shrugged. “That’s really all we can do.”