by Nicki Tate
New Adult Portal Fantasy
| Chapter 2: Off the Wall
Nagalia knelt down and began to rummage through the dead man's clothes. A moment later she seemed to find what she was looking for and sat back on her heels to examine it. I leaned over her shoulder to get a closer look at her prize. Resting in her palm was a small burnished gold medallion about the size of a sand dollar. On one side facing up was a strange symbol I couldn't quite place but I felt like I had seen it before. As the fog of a distant memory tugged at me, she flipped over the coin. On the back was a crudely carved word.
"Nidra" said Nagalia aloud as I read it silently.
As soon as her lips finished pronouncing that last vowel, the body collapsed into a pile of sand and began to blow away with the slight draft in the cottage. I didn't realize I was falling until my butt hit the ground with a disgraceful Whump. Nagalia turned at my sudden noise and simply looked at me. Her features were completely flat and I could read nothing in them until she seemed to force a smile, slapped her knees and stood.
"We should go, there could be more Sandmen around here and we have a long journey ahead of us." she said and pocketed the medallion.
As she put it away, I noticed the word was no longer carved into the back of it, and had been replaced by a smooth surface. For some reason, it was that small detail that finally made me crack.
"Ok, ok...Nope, No. WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?" I yelled.
"I will explain once we get to a safer place. Right now we need to keep moving." Said Nagalia, her eyes constantly roving around the cabin, searching for threats.
"Let's go." she said and turned for the door.
I merely crossed my arms and stood my ground in response. I didn't care if I was acting like a petulant child. In the last hour I had woken up to an arrow sticking out of my mirror and half of my electronics mysteriously fried, my powderpuff roommate had turned into freaking Xena, and I had been yanked through a magical mirror into another dimension before being attacked by a sword wielding psycho. Then said psycho had turned into freaking sand. So ya, I was getting some damn answers before I went any further on this bad acid trip.
Nagalia didn't seem to notice my pose of defiance as she walked out the door, which diminished its effect greatly. I stood by myself in the empty cabin for a few moments before beginning to doubt my resolve. If she just left me here, I was screwed. I had no idea where I was or how to get back home since our ride seemed to have shattered. I had just started to uncross my arms when Nagalia stormed back into the cabin. Which left me in the unfortunate pose of slightly holding my elbows, a state that probably made me look like I was hugging myself instead of taking a stand. Damn.
"Just what are you doing? Are you trying to get yourself killed? Because if suicide was on your to do list today please just let me know now so I can stop wasting my time." She said.
Her snarky tone managed to fan the flames of my ire once more and the half hug became fully crossed arms again. I even added a cocked hip for maximum sass.
"What am I doing? What am I DOING? Well let me see, apparently I am following a complete stranger into a strange world through an inanimate object, getting attacked by other strangers who burst into sand when vanquished and generally having the world as I know it turned upside down and back ass wards! I think given the shit I've had to just roll with in the last hour or so, I'm doing a pretty damn good job of keeping calm. But I've gone about as far as I will go without some sort of explanation. So you can either start talking or leave me here if you are so afraid of the bogeyman." I said in the half shouting tone my mother would use when I was being a pill in public.
Nagalia just blinked at me in surprise. In all the time we had spent as roommates I had given her the impression that I was quiet and maybe even somewhat slow if I had read the sideways looks right. It isn't that I had been purposely trying to hide my real personality from her, I was just a fairly private person when I was at home and we didn't socialize together so she had never really seen me interact with anyone else. I couldn't blame her for not knowing I had a spine. She managed to collect herself quickly and said,
"Sandman not bogey...it doesn't matter. You may ask me three questions now, however I reserve the right not to answer them. Your world has the saying the walls have ears? Well here everything has ears, it would be unwise for me to speak freely in our current situation." she said matter of factly.
"Fine. Ok first question: Who are you?" I said.
"I have told you, I am Nagalia." she said with an edge of impatience.
"No, I didn't ask for your name, I asked who you are. Why did you live with me as Francine for so long?" I said slowly.
She let out a resigned sigh.
"It is too much to explain now but in short I am your guardian. You did not need to know my true purpose while we lived together so I chose a name from your world in order to better assimilate." she said with a casual shrug.
"So you chose Francine?" I said shaking my head. "Wait my guardian? Ok second question, why do I need a guardian? Does everyone have one or just me?"
"That is two questions, the first I am not at liberty to answer, the second is no, not everyone has a guardian, just you. Now can we go?"
"Hold up I get one more question, that one didn't count as two, it was merely a two part question."
Nagalia let out a slight snarl in response but waited for my next question.
"What was that thing and why did it try to kill me?" I said gesturing to the pile of sand behind me.
Nagalia rolled her eyes.
"You and your two part questions. That was a Sandman, a construct of sand sculpted into a being and spelled into flesh." she said as though reciting from a textbook.
"Oook, so what about the coin? If they are magicked into being human, why did he turn back into sand?"
"A Sandman is still only sand and its human form is bound to a coin with its name inscribed upon it by its creator. If the name on the coin is spoken aloud, the magic is dispelled and the creature reverts back to its original state. The same happens if the Sandman loses his coin or is parted from it for too long." said Nagalia in a bored tone.
"So can just anyone make a Sandman here? Could you?" I said.
"No, there is only one known person in all of the worlds that can do it."
"Ok and what about the second part of my question? Why did it want to kill me? Because I get the feeling that these Sandmen don't just kill everything they come across."
"That is another question that I cannot answer. Its is quite frankly above my paygrade as the saying in your world goes."
"Above your paygrade? So you are part of an organization? Is that what the Sandman meant when he said Arideth? Is the name of your organization Arideth?" I asked.
"You have more than exceeded your three questions and now we really must go. You getting killed would be a very large black mark on my otherwise spotless record. So move it Princess."
Princess? If anyone deserved that moniker it was the bubblegum pink persona she had created for herself. I wasn't a pathetic Princess, I was just tired of being bullied by my roommate. Ignoring the jibe I silently followed Nagalia out of the cabin and into the bright white outdoors. I threw an arm up to shield my eyes as they adjusted to the light. Everything was covered in a thick layer of snow for as far as I could see. A bitter wind ran across my bare arms and I shivered.
"Um Nagalia? I don't think I'm really dressed for this weather." I said as I untied the flannel from around my waist and shoved my arms in.
The thin material did absolutely nothing to stave off the chill and I shivered again. So much for not being a princess, I grimaced inwardly.
"It-so." Nagalia frowned. Then went back into the cabin for a moment.
When she returned she had the large filth covered coat the Sandman had been wearing thrown over her arm. The fur lapels along the front were now matted with congealed blood. Nagalia held the coat out to me and I barely managed to not recoil in disgust. I would freeze to death before I put that thing on.
"Um, no thanks." I said quietly.
"Come on princess, you will freeze if you don't put it on." she said impatiently.
"Nope, not happening. That is just gross. I'll just have to use mind over matter, think warm thoughts you know?" I said not quite believing myself.
"Thinking warm thoughts doesn't help when it's 30 below idiot. You are already turning blue, just put the damn coat on!"
Well now I kind of missed her calling me princess, idiot was much worse. Instead of obeying, which probably would have been the more logical choice since she was correct, I was in fact turning blue, I closed my eyes. I thought about the beach on a hot day, but that wasn't really working for me. There was too much sand, and boy was I not a fan of sand right now. So I switched to thinking about an apple orchard at the end of summer. The orchard I used to visit with my parents, we would spend the day apple picking and then go to the the little town nearby for cider and pie. I imagined the snow melting away and being replaced by green grass and rows of trees, the grass between the trees slightly yellowed from so many people walking through. I smelled the apple blossoms and heard the buzz of the bees. I could picture it so clearly in my mind that I could practically taste the cider. From behind me Nagalia gasped.
"It-so, It's true!" she said in an awed voice. I opened my eyes to see what had her reacting in such a way and blinked. The snow was gone. The image of the apple orchard in my mind had been transposed over the scene before me. I realized that I was no longer shivering as the warm sun beat down on me, and I really could hear the buzzing of the bees carried on the slight summer breeze.
"Holy shit." was all I managed to say before something hit the side of my head and my world went black.
I awoke some time later slung over something that swayed gently to and fro. I opened my eyes and found myself staring at the rapidly moving ground.
"AEeeeiii!" I yelped as I tried to move my face away from the floor.
My struggling caused me to start slipping off the other side of whatever creature I was riding and I began to flail in a panic. A large, strong hand clamped down on my wriggling posterior and shoved me roughly back into position. Afraid to move and lose my balance again I remained where I was for a few moments as my heart beat slowly returned to normal. Only when I had managed to collect myself did I dare risk lifting my head to sneak a peek at my captor. From my position I could only manage an upside down view of the giant man, but it was enough to take in the high cheekbones sharply accented by the dark beard beneath them. His inky eyebrows sat low on his face in a scowl that shadowed his eyes, and he had shoulder length dark hair tied back at the nape of his neck. The man carried an overall air of foreboding and severity, although that feeling could have been less about his features and have more to do with the fact that he had me slung over a horse.
It seemed like I was going to be in this position for a while so I propped myself up the best I could in an effort to prevent the blood from rushing to my head and took in my surroundings.
To my surprise we were still in the apple orchard, though that gave me no indication of how much time had passed as the orchard had seemed to go on forever. There were still rows of trees for as far as the eye could see in any direction, but they had begun to change. More leaves were on the ground than on the branches now and the apples had rotted, covering the floor in a sticky overly sweet smelling mulch. The air had also turned colder, the warm summer breeze replaced with a crisp November wind.
"Jesus, how long was I out for?" I muttered. The man in front of me let out a cough that I would have mistaken for a chuckle if his face hadn't remained so stern. He cleared his throat and finally spoke,
"You were only unconscious for a few minutes. It wasn't that hard of a hit." he said casually, as though he regularly knocked women unconscious, which I thought, he very well might.
The gravity of my situation suddenly came crashing back to me and I realized that I had been calming laying across the back of this horse with a complete stranger who had already attacked me and knocked me out. Inwardly cursing myself for not being more aware of my own mortality I began to casually look around for a weapon. My eyes fell on a small hilt sticking out of one of the packs slung over the horse. Moving carefully so as not to alert my captor or accidentally disembark myself, I reached for the dagger and slowly pulled it out of its home. Once it was free I slid it into the side of my combat boot and checked to make sure it was concealed by the cuff of my jeans. Feeling a bit better about my odds now, I decided to see if I could get any information out of the viking leading this parade.
"So, care to explain why you knocked me out?" I said in what I hoped was a flippant tone.
"I wasn't the one that hit you, she did." he said nodding behind us. Perplexed, I struggled to turn and look in the direction he pointed. On another horse behind us, unbound and free to do as she pleased was Nagalia, whose cheeks flushed bright red at the accusation.
"You? Why would you hit me? I thought your job was to protect me!" I said.
"I panicked!" she squeaked.
"You...what?" I stopped short.
"You had just done something no one has been able to do in centuries! For most of us you were just a myth we were told about around the campfire. The Other Worldshaper. When I saw what you could really do, I panicked! Imagine if you suddenly came face to face with...with Santa Claus or something!" she said in a rush of words.
"I'm...Santa?" I said in a bemused tone. The Viking as I had taken to calling him in my head rolled his eyes at Nagalia and said,
"You are the Other Worldshaper, Santa is not an accurate comparison. Your coming has been foretold for hundreds of years. The one who could save us from she who shares your face. Who also has the abilities to change the landscape of our world. Our savior." He said.
"Great, so I'm Jesus." I said jokingly.
"Yes that would be a more accurate representation of your meaning to our people, except the whole dying for our sins thing of course." he said with a slight nod.
"Although dying isn't necessarily out of the question, the prophecy was a little fuzzy on that detail." added Nagalia.
"Wait, seriously?" I said looking back and forth between Nagalia and the Viking. Nagalia just shrugged as though she dropped mind bombs like this every day.
"No. Nonononono, I am not freaking Jesus! Are you insane? I'm no one's savior, I can barely take care of myself! You sooo have the wrong girl." I said, my voice raising in pitch until I was practically shrieking. Viking winced slightly and said,
"Like it or not your return has been foretold, but we should not be speaking of such things to you. The Honeran will explain everything when you meet him."
"The Honeran? Who is that?" I said starting to get more than a little frustrated with their game of informational keep away. This wasn't a spy movie, and I was so not ok with the need to know basis.
"The Honeran leads our people, it was he who foretold your return over two hundred years ago." said Nagalia.
"Two hundred...?" I began, but was cut off by the Viking.
"Enough, we have already said more than we should. It is time for a change of subject."
We were all silent for a moment before I said,
"Wait a minute, are you telling me that you meet Santa and your first instinct is to clobber him?" I said, sending an incredulous look at Nagalia.
"I...Oh, it-so." said Nagalia who at least had the decency to look ashamed.
"What is that you keep saying? Eet so? What does that mean?" I said feeling a teensy bit sorry for her.
"Roughly translated, it is shit." said Viking.
"So Nagalia is a bit of a potty mouth then, huh?" I said with a slow grin.
"Yes, it drives our mother to distraction." said Viking.
"Wait, your mother? As in, you're siblings?" I said.
"Indeed, although we look nothing alike. Garik takes after our mother and I have been told I am the spitting image of our father's mother." said Nagalia.
I looked between the two siblings trying to find a similarity but found none, they were almost the exact opposite of each other. Night and day, yin and yang.
"Huh. Ok then." I said and we fell silent for a moment.
I burned with thousands of questions but knew I wouldn't get many answers until I met this Honeran guy. The silence bothered me though so I cast about for a safe topic.
"What should we talk about, the weather?" I said. Then, realizing that was actually a very good subject to bring up I said,
"Wait, if I was only out for a few minutes, then what happened to the orchard? The trees are all dying and the apples are rotting."
"She is taking the land back. Without actively concentrating on the orchard you cannot prevent it from returning to what she wants it to be. You are not strong enough yet." said Nagalia.
"Who is She?" I said.
"The Worldshaper." replied Garik.
"What? I thought I was supposed to be the Worldshaper?"
"No you are the Other Worldshaper." he replied.
"Well that isn't confusing at all. Does this Worldshaper have a name?" I snarked.
"She does, but it is not spoken aloud by any who wish to remain among the living." said Garik.
"Of course it isn't." I sighed.
"So how do you factor into all of this Garik? Other than being Nagalia's brother that is. If I was only out for a couple of minutes where did you appear from so quickly?" I said suddenly suspicious.
"I was on a mission in the area, I believe you met my target actually." he said nodding to the filth covered coat slung over Nagalia's horse.
"Ugh why do we still have that?" I said.
"Your orchard will not last forever, the temperature will quickly drop back to well below freezing soon and then you will be grateful for the coat." said Nagalia with a disapproving sneer.
"Ok but can't I just sort of reinforce the orchard when it starts to get to cold? You said it was disappearing because I wasn't concentrating on it. What if I concentrated on it?" I said.
"You really dislike this coat, don't you?" said Garik, a hint of amusement playing around the corners of his mouth.
"Um have you seen it? Would you like to wear a coat covered in at least three miscellaneous bodily fluids?" I said with a shudder. This earned me a chuckle from Garik and a glare from Nagalia.
"You already risked revealing your existence and our location when you created the orchard in the first place. It is too dangerous to continue to use your powers, at least until you understand more." said Nagalia.
"Well then instead of waiting for this Honor Man to explain it to me, how about you fill me in?" I said.
"Honeran. And no, it is his duty and his alone. My duty is to see you to him safely." she said.
"Garik, what about you? What is your duty?" I asked.
"I am an Outlands Ranger, I investigate reports of Sandmen sightings and work to keep our borders hidden from the Worldshaper's many eyes." he said.
"Your borders? You have your own nation?" I gasped.
"Not exactly. It's more of a large refugee camp/ base of operations. Garik works to make sure it stays hidden, and if the Sandmen or the filth they command get too close, he organizes our escape." said Nagalia proudly.
"Well I don't do much, I merely ring the warning bell, everyone already knows what to do." said Garik with a dismissive wave of his hand.
"Yes but they know what to do because for every new location we reach you create a detailed escape plan and have drills run once a week to make sure everyone knows exactly what to do. He is being modest Riley." said Nagalia with a roll of her eyes.
"Wow that's impressive, but I'm sorry that it's necessary. How often are you forced to flee?" I said, a knot forming in my stomach.
"Too often, and the attacks are becoming more frequent as of late. We have had to move thrice in the last four months." he said a shadow falling over his face.
"Three times?" gasped Nagalia. Garik nodded gravely.
"It is good that I ran into you, our location has changed six times since you were last here. It would have cost you precious time and resources to track us from the last location you knew of." he said.
"Indeed." she said, a distant look on her face.
"I fear we will soon need to move from this location as well, that Sandman was too close for my liking and he had clearly been staying there for a while which means his horde cannot be far."
"Hoard? Like treasure?" I said.
"No horde like small army. The Sandmen are the Worldshaper's generals, they are never far from their troops." said Garik.
"He also had a mirror, which is how we ended up there. Cotton brain over here couldn't manage to keep her mind still as we passed through." said Nagalia.
"Yes I saw that, a pity it was destroyed, it would have been good to get a backup. But it is very troubling that such a powerful tool was in the hands of a sandman, and so close to our hideout." said Garik.
"How close exactly? How much further have we to go?" said Nagalia.
"Not far, about an hour's journey more." said Garik. He and Nagalia exchanged a dark look and fell silent.
After listening to that exchange I didn't feel much like talking anymore either. Whatever world I had been thrown into was clearly in a state of tumult and I was supposed to be its savior. I had been attending university for the last seven years because I was too afraid to graduate and join the real world, how the hell could I be expected to save theirs?
Garik's horse took that moment to stumble slightly on the uneven ground of my rotting orchard, causing whatever I was laying across to dig painfully into my stomach.
"Um, since we are all friends here, do you think I could ride this horse like a human instead of a sack of potatoes?" I said.
Garik pulled up on the reins and brought the horse to a stop, Nagalia did the same behind us. In a lightning quick move, Garik had grabbed hold of my belt and lifted me easily into the air, resettling me so that I sat astride just behind him.
"Whoa, head rush. Ok you look really strong but I'm not exactly light, how the heck did you do that so easily?" I asked.
"Gravity can work a little differently here if we want it to. There is much you yet do not know about this world." was all he said in response.
I was about to retort with something snarky but before I could even open my mouth, a black streak whizzed past my face so close that I could feel the displacement of the air on the tip of my nose. The streak embedded itself into the tree to the other side of me and I had just enough time to recognize it as the same type of arrow I had found in my mirror that morning, before all hell broke loose.