Henry woke up and stared at the ceiling for a moment before he remembered what happened before passing out. He was currently lying on a rustic, handmade bed in what looked like a cabin made of rough-hewn logs. He glanced over and saw Jason still asleep on another bed, slightly drooling.
Henry shook his head and tiredly rolled his eyes. He got up and after looking around, it seemed like he and Jason were alone. Then he wandered around trying to figure out how to deal with his call of nature until he walked around the building and found an outhouse out back. After relieving himself, he found the duffle bag and his equipment at the front of the house. He sat down to think for a while then took the mysterious box with the spheres out again. He reread the notes from Dolos and thought about the two mysterious balls that came with the letter while staring off into space.
Eventually Jason stumbled out of the house, yawning. He winced and asked, “Does your whole body hurt too?”
Henry nodded, “Yeah, fighting for your life tends to have that effect.”
Jason stretched and asked, “Is there a toilet anywhere?”
Henry mutely pointed behind himself with a thumb and went back to pondering their situation. By the looks of things, it was getting to be late afternoon, almost twilight. He and Jason had not slept as long as he first thought. Either that, or days on this new world were longer. He decided to shelve the matter for the time being.
One thing was painfully clear; if he and Jason were ever going to get home, they had to get stronger. The also needed intel. Badly.
When Jason got back from the outhouse, Henry told him what was on his mind. Jason nodded and said, “Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. We almost just died. We’d probably do better if we could just look the other way when we see messed up stuff, but we both know that isn’t going to happen.”
Henry scratched his chest and said, “Yet knowing you, you probably have an idea.”
Jason grinned, “You bet. I want to let it sit for a little bit more, but let’s find out about how magic works in this world and about the races mentioned in Dolos’ note before we make any decisions.”
Henry nodded, it made sense. He wasn’t surprised, either. Over the years, he and Jason had come to realize that when it came to quick, decisive decision making, Henry had the edge. But when it came to strategy, Jason was like a fish to water. In fact, Jason mentioned before that he played chess in high school in the past and was actually pretty good.
The two friends got up, lost in their own thoughts again and wandered around. They soon realized that the cottage they woke up in was one of several small buildings. It looked like a few families had settled down in the area. Once they realized what sort of place their hosts had taken them to, they started looking for where all the people went.
They eventually found everyone in the biggest house in the center of the small clearing. They could hear the sounds of voices before ever actually seeing anyone. The door to the large cottage was open, and when they glanced in, they could see a group of people sitting down while two men stood talking. It looked like a town meeting of some kind. Henry tapped Jason on the shoulder and put his finger to his lips and Jason nodded. He wanted to observe for a bit first too.
After paying closer attention, they could see that one of the men standing up and addressing the rest of the group was the grandfather they’d rescued from the goblin cave. The other man had swarthy skin and looked about the same age, but while Mareen’s grandfather was calmly speaking, the other man was angry, yelling and gesturing violently.
Henry watched the crowd and based on what he could see through the door, it looked like about a dozen other adults and a few children were present. He caught a glimpse of Mareen in the crowd. He was glad she seemed to be doing alright but she looked worried.
Henry wished he understood what was being said, but everyone was using a language he wasn’t familiar with. To his ears, it sounded like a cross between German and Spanish. That said, he had never been very good with languages so he knew his guess probably wasn’t the best. After his grandmother had moved to the United States she was appalled that his father never taught him Japanese and immediately spent a few years trying to remedy this. By that time it was probably too late, though. Henry could speak just enough Japanese to know how bad he was at it. He definitely would not call himself bilingual.
As he watched, one of the children in the crowd glanced over and gasped. She excitedly tugged on her mother’s skirt and pointed at Henry and Jason standing outside. Then she said something and the town meeting stopped. Maureen and her grandfather walked outside while some of the villagers watched from in the building. Most were obviously curious but others were afraid. The old man who’d been arguing with Maureen’s grandfather looked angry and glared at them.
Maureen’s light brown hair bounced as she came to a stop and her green eyes twinkled. She was wearing a clean, plain dress that looked like it was made from cotton. She greeted them with her broken English, “You awake now good!”
Her grandfather patted her on the shoulder and said in accented English, “Yes, you two were sleeping for such a long time that we were beginning to worry. Well, I suppose it’s to be expected, you did clean out an entire goblin cave by yourselves and I’m assuming you just got to this world too. Ah, where are my manners? My name is George.”
As George shook hands with him and Jason, Henry mentally shook his head. He didn’t know how long they’d been sleeping, but seeing George and Maureen behaving somewhat normally despite the ordeal they’d just been through meant they must be very tough people. Maureen’s healing magic probably had no way to fix emotional trauma. Then again, he was currently standing in the middle of a village in a fantasy world. These people would have to be tough to survive.
While Henry pondered the people they’d rescued, he heard Jason say, “Nice to meet you George. I’m Jason and my friend here is Henry. I’m glad somebody around here speaks English.”
“Izit? I’ve actually been jawin to Maureen in English when you were sleeping so I could be a little less rusty. It’s been about 10 years since I actually spoke with someone else like you lot. You can probably tell by my accent that I’m not from the United States like you are. I was actually from South Africa and working as an expat in Brazil before I was taken to this… place,” George’s smile dropped. “That was over 30 years ago.”
Henry cocked his head, “There are more of us here from our world?”
“All humans on this planet are originally from our world. Dolos has been shuttling us here for a couple thousand years from what I understand. Right now there aren’t too many people still living who can remember the Earth, but more than you might think. Of course, we’re from all over the place on Earth and scattered all over the place on this planet so…”
Jason nodded, “It’s probably hard to keep in touch. So what is your meeting about?”
George frowned, “I am actually the mayor of this village. The majority of us have decided to move; our recent kidnapping drove home how dangerous this area has become and there aren’t enough of us to protect the place. Not everyone is happy about the decision. Actually, if you could wait for us back at my house where you woke up, Maureen and I should be done soon. We can talk more then.”
Henry knew a polite dismissal when he heard one and swatted Jason on the arm after turning around to walk back. He thought about their situation while he walked and realized he and Jason still knew very little about this world.
Jason whispered, “Hey Henry, I thought I saw some books with English written on them in the house before we left. Let’s go take a look before George and Maureen get back.” Henry nodded.
After the two got back to the rough house, Jason showed Henry where he’d seen the written English. It looked like an old, battered, hand written journal sitting on a rough shelf with a small number of other books. Jason flipped the book open and the first thing he saw was a date at the top of the page, lines of blocky hand writing, and old water marks.
Henry was suddenly struck with a feeling like he was intruding on memories without permission and glanced up. His eyes met Jason’s when Jason looked up too saying, “Let’s put it back.” Henry nodded. They needed information badly, but he wasn’t about to go rooting around someone’s diary or journal during his first day or two on a new world.
Henry walked outside to sit down and Jason followed. Henry scratched his goatee and said, “I’ve seen you looking off into the distance a few times and I know that look. What are you thinking? Since we’re alone right now, this is probably the best time to talk without other ears around.”
Jason nodded and said, “I’ve been thinking about the note that Dolos left. I think we should take it literally. He found the note in the duffle and read it out loud again:
Each device will confer one magic type of your choosing as well as the ability to understand all languages on Ludus. When you are ready to accept your blessing from the great god Dolos, swallow one device and think of the magic you wish to learn all day and right before you fall asleep.
Jason folded the note and put it back in the duffle, then continued his train of thought, “If we take this note seriously, and at this point we have no reason not to, we can logically assume a few things.”
Henry nodded his head and payed close attention. He had a lot of respect in his friend’s power of insight as well as Jason’s superior background in fantasy and scifi. Who knew that Jason’s geeky hobbies might possibly save their lives one day?
Jason continued, “We are at a huge disadvantage right now in that we don’t speak the local language. We have been incredibly lucky to meet another English speaker in our first day or two here and also that we are in a relatively uninhabited area.”
Henry scrunched up his forehead, “What do you mean?”
Jason stared forward at nothing and said, “Think about it. If these orbs just do what the note says they will do, they’re incredibly valuable. What happens to tourists carrying pockets full of money in rough areas of town in foreign countries?”
Henry immediately understood. He’d seen first hand what happened when people carrying valuables were not wary enough. He made a circular motion with his hand, “Go on.”
“So not only did we luck out with the language issue, but we’re still alive and nobody has stolen our stuff. We also have a little bit of time before making a decision on how to use these orbs. That said, I think we should do so as quickly as possible.”
“What if they do something messed up to us, like change us into lizards or something?” asked Henry. He really didn’t trust Dolos and he didn’t like situations where he didn’t understand the other party’s motivation.
Jason nodded again, “That’s a fair point and why I think we should pump our hosts for as much information as possible when they get back. We did save their lives, and they seem like pretty nice people. At the very least we should be willing to answer a few questions.”
“Okay, that makes sense, but what else are you thinking? I know there has to be more.”
“Yes,” said Jason. He looked oddly excited. “Think about it, Henry. Magic. Real life magic. We’ve actually seen it. And the note implied there are different types of magic we could choose.
This is the part I’ve actually been thinking about the most. Based on what we’ve seen so far, this world is eerily similar in some ways to some of the RPG games I’ve played on Earth. The monsters have seemed similar so far, the entire setting is a variation of things I’ve already seen. If this is a sword and sorcery world, there are going to be several types of magic. This jives with what the note suggests too.”
Henry frowned. He hadn’t seriously thought about that portion of the note yet despite witnessing Mareen using healing magic. He realized he needed to be a little bit more flexible in his current situation and resolved to be more open minded.
He said, “Okay, Jason, I get your point. Now where are you going with this?”
Jason grinned, tapping the ground near where he was sitting, “I think what type of magic we choose will be critical. So before we make that decision, we need to know what types of magic there are an how popular or common each is.”
“Because we want to choose uncommon types.”
“Okay, you lost me.”
Jason’s expression got more serious and he said, “Look, our goal is to pretty much take over the whole world. That’s nuts. It’s crazy. But I’m trying to focus on the solution. Realistically, in order to do anything even close to that amazing in our lives much less avoid getting killed, we need all the advantages we can get. Right now the greatest advantage we have is that we are humans from 21st century Earth.”
Henry shook his head, “Yeah, but we just heard there are other people from Earth here.”
Jason said, “No, you don’t get it. Technology and culture has advanced exponentially in the last 40 years on Earth. The odds of there being that many new earthlings here is slim or we would have heard about more dissapearances back home. I think we can definitely think of this as an advantage because we are going to think about things different than other people. It gives us the advantage of surprise.”
Henry slowly nodded, “Alright, so what about the magic?”
Jason smiled, “What’s more surprising that choosing one of the least most popular magics on purpose? Furthermore, any kind of power is only limited by one’s creativity to find uses for it. Think about it. Before someone invented a water wheel, a stream wouldn’t be all that useful at grinding wheat, would it?”
“I dunno man. I still don’t get it but I don’t have any better ideas so I’m going to trust you on this.”
“Okay, good to hear. Now there are only two other things we need to make sure to find out from our hosts ASAP and they’re both pretty obviously important. One is to find out about the other races. I need to know where humans fit in in this world. And the other one… Did you notice there weren’t any metal tools in this village?”
“Yeah,” replied Henry. I saw a bunch of wooden and stone tools, but not metal. It was weird.”
Jason gestured behind him through the doorway in the cabin, “If you look around, you won’t see any steel or iron anywhere.”
Henry thought about the inside of the cabin and realized Jason was right. “Okay, why do you think this is?”
Jason answered, “I have no idea, but I bet it’s related somehow to the fact we haven’t seen any technology. We should be seeing at least some crude electric tools if people have been brought here from Earth for the last few decades. Dolos made it sound like he’s been doing this forever.”
“You’re right,” Henry was impressed. “Okay, let’s recap what we need to find out.”
Jason ticked the listed items on his fingers, “First we need to find out about the orbs that Dolos gave us. Then we need to learn about magic in this world. Next we need to ask about the different races of people on this planet. Last we need to ask where all the steel is at and why there is no technology.”
“Okay, sounds like a plan. Now all we have to do is wait for our hosts to get back.”
Sitting on the front steps of the cabin, the pair waited. They were looking forward to making sense of the strange new world they were in, but each was lost in his own thoughts and rested in silence until George and Mareen came back.