Chapter 1: Adventurous Types
SLATE LAKE, CENTRAL PLAINS DISTRICT, NATION OF FRIDALA
TWO WEEKS LATER.
A shovel pounded downward meets a hard rock and bounces off. Clang.
A new meadow of high grass and yellow wildflowers on the edge of a soft, pastel forest. The sky beyond is turning faint for the coming sunset in the distance.
Cory Danby pulls the shovel up out of the hole, a ditch three feet deep, and rests his head down against the handle. His arms, legs, and face are splattered with dirt, black bandana tied around his hair. He looks down into the hole he's spent the better part of the last hour digging, one of many now littering the field.
He spreads his arms out in a shrug, speaking to the hole like a person. "That's it. Give me something good tomorrow, will ya?"
A small concrete outbuilding sits on the edge of the clearing. There's no glass left in the windows, the door is gone, and the bare interior is choked with spreading weeds and mold. Cory peeks back inside, and reads the graffiti message printed out on the back wall. X MARKS THE SPOT, painted in gaping red letters.
He tosses his shovel into the room and walks away.
A small road cuts down through the rolling fields of the Plains, looping down towards a small valley of orange roofs. Cory trods slowly down the road, back to their home base, done with his work for the day.
In town, a shingled three-story building sits snug up against a street in clean, old architecture. A noble sign hanging above the front door designates it as The Copper Cricket.
A hostel and inn, and up on the third floor, a small room of a few bunk beds, a table, and a window. Aubna Brummet is lying on a lower bunk, halfway through reading a weathered copy of The Wizard of Oz.
Cory stands in the doorway. "Hey."
Aubna looks up from her book. "How'd it go?"
"Nothing. I really…think this is a dead end. Nothin," he shrugs, tired and discouraged.
He slips off the bandana and drops it to the floor. "Gonna go take a walk around, I'll be back for dinner."
"Need me to come with?"
"Nah…I just need a little time to think some more." He gives her a tired smile and closes the door on his way out.
He leaves the building and sets out on one of the narrow roads leading out of town, up into the open pastoral fields rolling around.
Strangest place I've ever been.
I'm not sure how much I should enjoy being here. I feel like there's such a cloud of guilt hanging over me whenever I show an ounce of happiness. Erika and Natalie, both gone. Trapped in time, or stone, or whatever this is all made up of. I took Jack at his word, but there's no guarantee.
He'd begun to learn the lay of the land, some of the local landmarks and secret hideaways. A well maintained path branches away from the road, and he follows it through a few groves of trees to a fast flowing creek. Cory sits up on a high rock, reflecting over the gushing water and chirping frogs as the sun drops down.
Even if there's a very simple way to bring them back and reset, it hasn't been done yet. We're in the right town, and haven't seen or heard anything about the man with the bullet. The only clue I found is the paint out in the field. Maybe it's nothing.
And even if we find it tomorrow, this Vinland Bullet, I still half to wait around for more than a year. A whole year. I haven't seen all that many years, that's a long time to me. I'm not even 18 yet, I should have better things to do right now.
I wish he would have told me more.
The dining hall of their building is a long room of wooden tables and benches. Aubna and Cory are sitting by the back wall, looking extremely bored, surrounded by other young adventurous types gallivanting and buzzing about their world travels.
Cory holds up his bowl of soup to slurp. "So, did you find your dream house yet?"
"Come on, I thought you were Miss Memory. You said you wanted to live here when-"
"-Oh, that." She blushes slightly from embarrassment. "I didn't look much."
"Bet you did."
"Honest, it's a specific place, I must have seen it before when we had one of our big drives across the country. I'll know it when I see it, I don't think I'll have to dig too deep. Pretty little garden house, white picket fence."
He gulps down the last of his soup – you got what you paid for here – and drops the bowl down. "I'm gonna dig one more day, I think there might be some kind of pattern to follow. If there's nothing there, I think we should go back to Port City. He might have just sent us on a wild goose chase out here."
"This is just…urgh! Nothing's happened, nothing! It feels like we're still on the first day. I know we have a year and two months, but it feels like time's standing still."
"And you're sure there wasn't any other clue?"
"No. Yes, I'm sure. Get the bullet, or get…one of…somebody's somethings. Katt. We don't even know who that is. That's all he said."
"I thought maybe the Wizard would have some advice," Aubna grins.
"Did you try tapping your heels?"
"I did," she laughs, before lowering her voice back down. "I'll come and help you tomorrow. Sorry that I'm not doing more."
"Thanks, Aubna." He glances around the room. No one was paying them any special attention, each with their own radical adventure in mind. "Do you think they have any idea?"
"Who knows? They're could be off on something even more exciting. Did you ever think about that, Cory? What makes you and I special? What if the person right next door, or someone across the world we've never seen before – what if they're onto something just like we are, something massive and unbelievable hidden away and secret that they stumbled upon. There could be a third world, a second system we don't even know about. And we'll never know."
"Just like how no one knows about ours."
Aubna leans back against the timber wall behind their bench, fiddling a toothpick around in her mouth with her lip.
"I bet at the end of it all we find your friends. The worlds are too big for there not to be a way. If there's a cause, there has to be a solution. Negatives and positives, checks and balances. That's the way everything works."