The Journey Begins
Once Tierra had recovered enough from shock to actually look around, she was able to fully take in the scene around her. The golden rays from the sunset lit the valley, and she could see what seemed to be a village in the distance.
I'm dead. I just died in the plane crash.
But where am I now?
Tierra pinched her arm multiple times until she squinted in pain. That didn't make sense. If she had died, she shouldn't hurt, should she?
She looked around, expecting some sort of explanation. What had happened?
hesitantly, she drew forward. A narrow, unpaved path wove around the hill and, apparently, into the village. Tierra made her way down the hill cautiously. There was no one in sight, but the silence made her anxious. She broke into a run. Maybe, once she reached the small town in the distance, someone could explain to her what was going on.
It did not take long to reach the village. As she approached the outermost buildings, she knew there was something different about it. Lining the dirt-paved roads were numerous cottages and houses, built from wood and stone, none of them rising over two stories above the ground. It was the farthest thing from New York she had ever seen.
Tierra stood there for a moment, staring in wonder. She leaned up against a tree, feeling its smooth bark in disbelief. A sharp, cool wind brought her back to attention. Looking up, she saw the darkening sky above. It was getting late.
Worry crept through her. What was she supposed to do? There were no people along the streets, and she had no idea where to go. Tierra turned around, analyzing the nearby buildings. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a farm not too far away. Behind it, so old it appeared to be falling apart, was a barn.
Having no better idea, Tierra headed toward the barn. As she approached the propped open doors, she stopped in her tracks.
There was someone standing in them.
A man, clothed in all black, took long, slow steps towards as though he had all the time in the world. Tierra had paused, but she knew the man could see her. Her eyes widened as a sword appeared in his hands. No-that wasn't possible!
"You're not supposed to be alive."
Frozen in surprise and fear, Tierra watched as the man grew closer. "What are you doing?!" she finally asked, snapping out of the shock. He raised his sword. Then the realization hit her and she jumped out of the way of the swinging blade, narrowly avoiding being sliced in two.
He intended to kill her.
"Are you sure that's necessary?!" she cried. "Can't we, um... discuss this? I don't want to fight..." Tierra didn't get a response. After dodging the sword again, she turned and ran as fast as her legs would take her into the barn. Looking around wildly, she searched for somewhere to hide. But the barn only contained a few battered, wooden boxes and a pile of straw.
Not that it mattered. Even if there had been a good place to hide, Tierra would not have time to reach it. The man had appeared behind her again, and now she was trapped.
She ducked only just in time. The attacker glared at her with dark eyes as she scanned the area for an escape. He tried to strike again. Tierra jumped backwards, tripping over a board that had fallen off one of the wooden boxes.
The man gave a sinister smirk and raised his sword. Tierra knew she could not run. Her heart racing in her chest, she grabbed the board and braced herself as she lifted it above her head as a shield.
The impact of the sword was sudden and strong. It took all of her strength to keep the board from being shoved down onto her head. Tierra pushed back with as much strength as she could manage. Then the pressure lifted.
Tierra stood, eyeing her attacker, who had withdrawn a few steps to analyze the situation. Her hands shook; it was the sword against an old board. Did she really stand any chance? The man attacked again with an almost inhuman speed, leaving Tierra barely enough time to defend herself. This time, the board was knocked out of her hands.
His gaze hardened as he attempted to strike her with the sword again. Tierra jumped back, almost getting out of the way. Almost.
She let out a cry as she felt the sting in her right side. Looking down, she saw her torn shirt and a gash in her abdomen, just below her ribcage, that was already bleeding intensely. If she hadn't died already, she was probably about to. Clutching herself with her left hand, she tried to stumble away. She didn't get more than two steps, however, before the sword slashed again, coming within an inch of her face.
Tierra knew she stood no chance, but she wanted to go down fighting. She took the opportunity to kick the man in the shins as hard as she could. Pain crossed his face, and in the moment his sword was held loosely at his side, Tierra lunged for it. Her hand grasped the hilt over his. Suddenly, she was wrestling the man for his own weapon. She kicked him again and managed to pull the blade from his fingers.
For a moment, she stared at it in wonder. How on Earth had she just done that?
Now, she had the advantage, even though her side was screaming in pain. Tierra hesitated, not sure what to do. She held the sword awkwardly in front of her as tightly as she could as the man rushed towards her.
Does he have no fear? Or common sense?
Before she decided how to react, he had reached her. His fist struck the side of her head and, suddenly, the world was swirling around her. She was struggling to remain on her feet. The next time he tried to punch her, she slung the sword towards him.
To her own surprise, her blow hit his chest. A look of disbelief crossed his face as he collapsed to the ground. Tierra continued to grasp the sword tightly.
She dizzily stumbled backwards toward the pile of straw and collapsed to the ground. A wave of pain washed over her, then the room disappeared into nothingness.
As soon as Tierra opened her eyes, she knew someone was watching her. Eyes flying open, she quickly took in her surroundings. The sword was lying on the ground about two feet away from her. Sunlight filtered down through shafts in the ceiling, illuminating the barn with a soft, golden light. Tierra barely had time to wonder how long she had been unconscious when she noticed a figure standing in the doorway.
Without thinking, she grabbed the sword and sprang up, wincing at the pain in her side. It was a girl, maybe a year or two younger than she was. But Tierra wasn't going to trust anyone after what had just happened. "Don't... don't make me fight you, too," she said in a weak voice.
The girl eyed the sword. "Why would I want to fight you?" she asked. Then concern spread over her face as she saw Tierra's blood-soaked shirt. The side of her head, too, was already bruised. "Oh my gosh. You're hurt!"
"I'll be fine, just... go away!" But Tierra was beginning to feel dizzy and struggling to stand.
She rushed forward. "No, I can help you. My father is a skilled healer; he can-"
"No! The only thing you can do to help is explain where I am and what is going on." Just then, her legs gave way.
The girl grasped her arm and pulled her up. "Listen, everything's going to be alright. You must have gotten hit in the head, but you'll be fine..."
Tierra didn't struggle as the girl led her outside, although she kept one hand on her sword. "I'm fine already; I just want to know where I am." The girl did not reply, and Tierra allowed her to take some of her weight. The two managed to walk inside the closest house, where Tierra collapsed on a couch.
"I'll be back; don't move!" the girl rushed away.
Like I really have much of a choice, Tierra thought. She couldn't make it five steps. Instead, she stared at the fireplace built into the wall across from her and tried to ignore the pain from her head and side.
"Where am I?" she asked herself quietly.
Then the girl reappeared, a bottle containing some sort of liquid in her hands. She poured it on a cloth and began to clean the wound in Tierra's side. Immediately, most of the pain ceased. Tierra blinked in confusion but didn't say anything.
"How did you hit your head?" the girl asked.
It was a moment before Tierra processed the question. "I didn't... He hit me."
"I don't know who he was; he just attacked me with the sword and then punched me in the head." Tierra was talking rapidly now, but the girl silenced her.
"You must have gotten hit really hard. I'm pretty sure you've had a concussion. There," she said, standing back. "That's the most I can do right now. Why don't you rest for a while? You look like you need it."
"Wait; can you just tell me where I am?"
The girl frowned. "I'm not sure where you think you are. You must have been hit very hard."
"No, seriously, where am I?"
She sighed. "We'll talk once you've come back to your senses." Walking away, she said, "Get some rest."
Despite Tierra's confusion, the world effortlessly gave way to sleep.
When she woke, her head no longer hurt. Tierra kept her eyes closed. I dreamed I was attacked by a strange man. He had a sword. It was a dream.
She opened her eyes. Across from her, the sword leaned against the wall. She shut her eyes again. What had happened? Surely she was dead now; it was the only logical explanation—after all, the plane had crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. But that hardly explained the sword.
Cautiously, she opened her eyes again. The sword was still there. This time, she recognized her surroundings. Dim light came through the window, suggesting it was nearly dusk. Suddenly, the girl who had helped her appeared in her field of vision.
"How are you feeling?" she asked.
"Better." Tierra hesitated. "Thanks."
The girl smiled. "It was nothing. Is your head okay?"
"I think so." She gingerly touched the area where the man had hit her. "What happened?"
"Well, I was hoping to ask the same to you," the girl replied.
"But where am I? And how did I get here?"
Confusion swept across her face. "You really don't know where you are?"
"I must have died; that's the only explanation," Tierra murmured to herself. "Am I dead?" she asked.
The girl shook her head. "Definitely not."
"Then where am I?"
"You're in Wygant. I'm Elona, and this is my father's house."
"Wygant? Where's that?" Tierra had never heard of it before.
"Are you sure you're feeling okay?"
"Yeah, I just... I don't know where I am."
"I just told you: Wygant."
"Then how did I get here?"
Elona shrugged. "I can't answer that. All I know is I found you in the barn this morning, quite delusional. What exactly happened? You said someone had punched you."
Tierra nodded. "I don't know. This man attacked me with his sword and I ran into the barn to hide, but he cornered me. I grabbed a piece of wood from one of the boxes and used it as a shield until he knocked it out of my hands. Then he attacked with his sword again and cut me. Somehow I managed to get the sword from him; I didn't know how to use it and he punched me. Then I..." she trailed off. What exactly had she done? "I swung the sword at him and I think I... sort of... stabbed him." Her voice was shaking.
"You stabbed him?"
"I was only trying to defend myself."
"Did he get away or did you... kill him?"
"I don't know. He collapsed right there, but then this morning, I didn't see his body."
Elona considered it. "Perhaps you didn't notice him escape."
"Maybe. I don't remember anything after that."
There was silence. Eventually, Tierra realized Elona was studying her with a complex, bewildered expression. "What?"
"I'm sorry," Elona began quickly. "It's just that people don't randomly appear in your barn without any recollection of where they are or how they got there. Do you remember who you are, at least?"
"Of course. I'm Tierra Westgate. I think I'm dead."
"You're not dead." She paused. "This doesn't make any sense. Perhaps my father will be able to figure it out. He'll be home later tonight. We'll have to talk to him in the morning."
She nodded. "You can stay here if you'd like tonight, Tierra, seeing as you probably don't remember where to go."
Tierra wasn't sure how to respond, but she didn't have much of a choice other than accept the offer.
The next time Tierra opened her eyes, the room was silent. Then a door creaked, and two people entered, walking towards her.
"She's in here." It was Elona's voice. At the sound, Tierra did her best to sit up.
Elona approached her, followed by a tall man who could only be her father. Apparently, Elona had already told him everything she had said, because he didn't ask for an explanation. "Tierra?"
She nodded. He studdied her for a moment, then turned around and picked up the sword, examining it. "This has Niamel's symbol on it," he murmured.
"Who's that?" Tierra asked loudly. Both Elona and her father turned to face her slowly.
Suddenly, he dropped the sword, a look of comprehension crossing his face. "Niamel?" When Tierra shook her head, he brought his hand to his face in disbelief. "It can't be... I never thought..."
"What?" Elona and Tierra both asked at the same time.
"You don't know where you are? Or how you got here?"
"I don't believe it," he said to himself. "Tierra, where are you from?"
She hesitated. "New York City," she finally replied. This man was making her uncomfortable.
"Do you know what Inreya is?" When she shook her head, he was silent.
"I'm sorry. What does this have to do with anything?" Tierra asked.
"It has to do with everything. Inreya," he paused, "is where you are. You are an 'outsider'."
Elona looked as though she might faint, but Tierra still didn't understand. "What do you mean?"
"You're not from this world at all. I don't know which Power summoned you, but it didn't happen on accident."
He nodded vigorously. "One of them must have called you here. They're the only ones who can."
"But who are they?"
"There are twenty. Niamel is one of them. Each has control over a certain aspect of life."
"What?" Tierra was confused. None of this was making sense.
"Like the air," Elona tried to explain. "One of the Powers, Ventus, has complete control of the wind."
"But that's..." she tried to find the words to express her opinion. "Completely impossible. No one can command the wind to their will."
"Of course they can; it's magic!"
At that statement, Tierra stood up. "That's impossible!" she repeated. "Magic doesn't exist." Looking around at the shocked faces of Elona and her father, she continued, "I don't know what kind of trick you two are trying to play on me, but I don't believe it. Now, will someone explain to me what's going on?"
The room was quiet. Her outburst seemed to have offended Elona's father. "It's no trick," he finally said in a serious tone.
"But magic doesn't exist," she repeated. "Therefore, these 'Powers' can't exist either, or you're all out of your minds."
The man facing her scowled. "I wouldn't say that, especially if I were you. Your world doesn't have any natural magic. Because of this, the Powers are mortal there, so they do not reside in your world, rarely even making contact with it. But here, the immortal Powers and magic are very, very real. It would be in your best interest to accept them before they try to kill you—and one already has." Suddenly, he stopped talking and picked up the sword. Speaking to Tierra, he asked, "Have you ever been trained to use this?"
Surprised by the instant change in subject, she just shook her head.
"Amazing," he murmured. "The chances of an outsider fighting a Power and surviving—well, I thought they didn't exist."
"Are you saying the man who attacked me... was a Power?"
Elona's eyes grew wide as her father nodded. "Niamel. Yes."
"Couldn't it be a coincidence?" Elona asked. "Just because the sword has Niamel's symbol on it doesn't mean he was the one wielding it, right?"
"It would be unlikely, although possible," her father replied. "However, it was brought to my attention today that Niamel returned to Lidell to recover. From what, I wasn't sure. But you must have nearly killed him."
Tierra spoke. "I thought I had," she said quietly.
He nodded. "You would have. But the Powers are immortal. If they are fatally injured with a mortal weapon, like this sword, their consciousness returns to their city of Lidell. It will be several days before Niamel recovers enough strength to leave." His eyes widened. "At which point, you should be far away from here."
He jumped up. "You must leave. Already a day has passed; we have no time to waste."
"I don't understand..."
Elona explained as her father rushed out of the room. "You didn't actually kill Niamel. All you've done is temporarily injured him and made him really, really mad. The first thing he will do is come after you."
Tierra bit her lip, anxiety filling her stomach. She found herself clinging to the Locket around her neck. As soon as she realized it, she pulled her hand away, tucking the necklace under her shirt. Then she shook her head, trying to clear her mind. "I'm not sure whether I believe it at all. None of this is possible. It doesn't make sense."
Elona stood up and offered Tierra her hand. "Listen, you have to trust us! I know you don't want to believe it, but you need to understand what's happening. You have to get out of here; unless you'd rather fight Niamel again."
Before Tierra could respond, Elona's father burst through the door again. He carried a leather pack and was haphazardly stuffing it with supplies from around the house. Suddenly, he stopped and swore.
"I can't leave, not today," he said to no one in particular. "If I cancel the meeting tomorrow, people will suspect something. If I disappear altogether, Niamel will know that I am with you, and he will guess where I am headed." He turned to Elona and Tierra. "But you can't go alone. You wouldn't make it all the way to Meletin-env." He paused. "Elona, do you remember the road to Roulban?" She nodded. "Take that same road all the way to the coast. I need you to make sure Tierra gets to Meletin-env. She must see Credus at any cost."
"Credus?" Tierra asked.
"He's another Power; probably the closest around that will actually help you. Here," he said as he tossed something to Tierra.
"Hey, that's one of mine!" Elona protested as Tierra held up the dress.
"I know, but she needs it more than you do. Your clothes," he explained to the confused Tierra, "are very out-of-place." It was only then that Tierra turned to Elona and noticed her dress. If this was what people wore, her jeans and t-shirt would definitely stand out. "Go ahead and change in that room." Her father pointed to a door.
Tierra entered what must have been a bedroom. She quickly changed into the comfortable brown dress and studied her reflection in a mirror. Her long, brown hair was unkempt and her eyes, usually green and sparkling with intelligence, appeared to glimmer with doubt. She frantically tried to smooth out her hair. The image in the mirror, however, seemed to be distant and unreal. Tierra paused and stood back. This simply could not be happening.
A moment later, she reappeared in the living room and was handed a leather pack. "Food and clothing, plus extra supplies in case you need them," said Elona's father. "I already gave Elona a map, but take these." He slipped a small purse of silver coins into her hand. "You may have to stop in Roulban to buy more supplies." He paused. "I wish I could send you on horses; unfortunately, I only own one. And take the sword with you, although I hope you will not have need of it."
He handed Tierra a jacket and began walking her and Elona towards the door. Then he looked Tierra in the eye.
"Get to Meletin-env. See Credus. Hopefully, he'll be able to tell you about your quest. If one of the Powers summoned you, there was a reason. Credus is wise and well-informed; he should be able to help. Now," he stood back, watching the two girls standing in his doorway. "Farewell."
Elona turned to Tierra. "Ready?"
And the door swung shut behind them.