Before ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’

Like the title suggests, these were my original ideas for it before turning it into a CYOA.

“The Wizard, the Lizard, the Driver, and the Artist”

	Arthur clutched his staff and tome. He was hardly 35, disappointed with himself that he needed to use his staff as a crutch already. He walked purposefully through the alleyways on his way back to his tower. Arthur had a respectable black goatee that still conveyed his high magic prowess, a set of grey robes covered his body, the short black hair on his head was covered by a tall pointed dark grey hat with a wide brim. The staff he carried was topped off with a blue crystal at the top of the gnarled branch. The book he carried was a tome of summoning.

	Vera was pushed out of the basement and back into the alleyway by the merchant’s henchmen. The salamander grunted and struggled against her restraints. The slave collar may have prevented her from making aggressive actions, but it didn’t stop her from having violent thoughts. Her brown skinned and muscular form was covered in brown tattered rags. Her short and messy dark red hair was a bigger mess than usual. Her captors wished to sell her off to the highest bidder. Unfortunately for them, there wasn’t one that night. 

	Curtis yawned as he walked out of his job. He just wanted to go home and drink. His blond hair blew in his face that particularly windy night. The coat he wore was military green, the jeans he wore were ripped, the athletic shoes on his feet were brand new. He felt his jacket, flask of rum-- check, lighter-- check. Keys and wallet in his right pocket, Phone and pocket knife in the left. He gave a relieved sigh as he made it to his jeep undisturbed by the homeless people that wandered the streets. A shiny coat of red paint covered the vehicle. He pulled the door open and sat in the driver’s seat. 

	Stephanie sat in a cold dark cell. A collar choked her neck. The damp floor of the cell was gross to touch. The werecat’s white fur was well kempt despite her poor conditions. She wore ragged cloth as a dress. She stared longingly out the window at the full moon. She wished for a prince to come rescue her.

	Arthur grimaced as he happened upon Geoff Goldberg and his group of cronies, “Ah, just the wizard I wanted to see!” Geoff called to him. 
	“What do you want, Goldberg?” Arthur demanded. He didn’t want to talk to this scummy man.
	“Have I got a deal for you my friend!” Geoff waved his hand and the salamander was brought before Arthur, “For just five gold, this wonderful specimen can be yours! A war criminal, perfect for experimentation.”
	Arthur took a look at the salamander, she hissed at him, “You attempt to sell me damaged good for THAT much?”
	“D-damaged?”
	“The scars on her face and arms! Bruises too! As a future official of the kingdom of man, I should turn you in for this offence!”
	“N-now, Arthur, be reasonable! T-three gold, no lower!”
	“Hmph, fine. Give me her gear as well.”
	“B-but--”
	“Do you desire a curse upon your blood line for generations, Goldberg? Give me the monster’s armor and weapon.”
	“Give it to him,” Goldwell begrudgingly agreed. He took the three gold from Arthur and handed him the keys to the salamander's restraints. Vera wanted to bite the head off of all these men. Goldberg and his cronies disappeared down the dark alley after handing over Vera’s armor and sword. 
	Arthur helped Vera up to her feet, “Here,” Arthur reached up to her neck and took off the collar.
	Vera stared at him, dumbfounded, “You would remove my collar just like that? Even after I hissed at you?”
	Arthur nodded, “Yes. Goldberg is a liar, I am sure you are not a criminal.”
	“I Thank you, wizard.”
	“Follow me to my tower, I will remove the restraints there so we do not attract the guard’s attention.”

	Curtis slowed his vehicle down as he neared a stop light. The cold night air felt good on his hot face. He had a full tank of gas, a small smile on his face and a new bottle of booze in the trunk. His jeep turned off suddenly as he neared the light. Confused, he tried to start it up again. There was a sound and a flash like lightning as a dark purple aura surrounded his car. 
	Curtis was nearly thrown from his car as the purple light subsided. He felt like his brain and stomach had been turned upside down. He leaned over the side and lost his lunch, “Ew!” A small voice cried. Curtis fully drained his stomach and looked up at where the voice had come from. He was in a dark field, a red moon glowed ominously above him. The air was thick and choking. He could not see anyone as his vision was blurry. He could see the shape of a few people, but was unable to make them out. Curtis heard a voice in his head, “Darkness is coming, Curtis. Become the hero the land needs.”

	“There are other slaves?” Arthur asked, setting his tome onto the ornate stone table. 
	“Yes. Goldberg will be transporting the last of his slaves to the next town tonight,” Vera explained as she put her brass armor on. The flames of her tail had finally returned to her, “I know where they are. The bag on my head could not stop me from knowing where their camp is!” Vera told Arthur smugly. 
	“I will summon the fastest chariot in the land so we can get there quickly. Come,” Arthur led the salamander outside after he picked the tome up once more. 
	“Have you done this before, wizard?” They stepped outside and into the cold night air once more. Arthur wordlessly pulled the material components from his pouch. A small iron rod, a miniature clay horse and some gems. They were cast upon the ground into the wizards usual summoning circle. He quietly recited his magic arcane words. There was a crackle in the air as magical energy was pulled into the circle. The crystal on top of his staff flashed as the spell finished.
	The wizard and salamander stood awestruck. Before them was a red chariot made of steel with four rubber wheels-- The jeep. A stranger poured out of the vehicle and lie on the ground, dry heaving, “What is this?” Vera asked. She had never seen something of this construction.
	“What have my spells wrought?” Arthur asked himself in horror.

	Stephanie cried in pain as the guard grabbed her arm and dragged her into a small cage along with a few other girls. They whimpered in fear as the cage was loaded onto a cart. A young weresheep held onto Stephanie. She wrapped her arms around the girl to try and keep her calm.

	“What the hell is going on?” Curtis gasped as he finished heaving. 
	“Who are you?” Arthur asked in wonder.
	“Curtis Bradley. Who the hell are you?” Curtis stuck his hand in his pocket over his knife, “What the hell is that?” He pointed at Vera, “You’re on fire!”
	“I am Arthur Maximilian, future court wizard of the human kingdom. Is this your chariot?” He ignored the human’s silly question about Vera.
	“Chariot? This is a jeep.”
	“We do not have time for this!” Vera interrupted, “We have to stop Goldberg from moving the slaves!”
	“Slaves?” Curtis asked.
	“Yes. Sir Bradley, please, we request your aid. Please carry us upon your chariot!” Vera asked.
	“Uh, where am I? This isn’t Seattle,” Curtis fell to his knees as he dry heaved again. 
	“Bradley, please get ahold of yourself!” Arthur pleaded, “We do not have much time.”
	Curtis stood up on shaky legs, “You owe me an explanation once this is over,” Curtis seethed, “Get in,” He told them through clenched teeth.
	“Excellent!” Vera clenched her hands. Curtis got into the driver’s seat and forced the other two to climb into the back. Arthur struggled by climbing onto the tire and then into the back seats. Vera easily hopped into the back in one leap. The jeep rumbled to life as Curtis put the key into the ignition and turned it. Curtis thanked whatever god may exist in these lands for letting his truck work. Vera and Arthur both prayed to their gods to protect them on this chariot of steel.
	
	Stephanie sat sullenly in the back of the wagon along with the other prisoners. She had a twinge of hope. A hope that heroes would rescue them. The cold air caused the prisoners to huddle together for warmth. The rags that made a poor excuse for clothing hardly provide any warmth. As the moonlight broke through the clouds, the sad group looked up. A quiet prayer was whispered amongst them. A prayer that someone would rescue them.

	Curtis let up on the gas as he neared the supposed location of the slavers. There were tracks leading from this area into the woods. The brights on his jeep let the group see them easily, “You two holdin’ up alright?” Curtis teased. 
	The salamander was looking more green than red and the wizard had turned a ghostly white, “Y-yes. We are fine,” Arthur lied. 
	“Follow those tracks!” Vera insisted as she snapped back to reality from her inner happy place.
	“You got it,” Curtis violently changed gears as he chased the wagons, “What do you want me to do when we see them?” 
	“Get in f-front of them and block the road,” Vera instructed, “I will handle the situation from there.”
	“I will aid you with my spells, salamander. You shall not face them alone,” Arthur told her.
	“I’ll stay with the car, I guess,” Curtis told them as he turned his eyes back to the road. He was going 35 on the gravel road. The loose dirt and rocks were kicked up into the air behind the vehicle as he sped along. Curtis wondered if he would have to shoot somebody. 
	“There!” Vera exclaimed as wagons came into view. She could see the light reflecting off the metal cages through the small gap between the curtains of the wagons. 
	“Hang on,” Curtis instructed her as he drove off the road and into the grass next to it. Both of them heeded his warning and clutched their seats. He hit the brakes as he pulled in front of the first wagon, blocking the path. The horses pulling the wagon stopped in their tracks, afraid of the metal beast before them.

	Stephanie heard a rumbling as something sped past the wagons. She had only caught a glimpse of the beast. The guards started shouting and swearing to each other. Stephanie wondered if their prayers had been answered. The other captives murmured anxiously amongst each other.

	Vera lept from the vehicle, sword drawn. A dark metal two handed sword glinted in the moonlight. Vera wielded it in one hand-- her left hand. Guards apprehensively formed a defensive line between the salamander and the first vehicle. Arthur carefully climbed out of the car and stood behind Vera. Curtis climbed out and readied himself to help in some way, “Arthur! What is the meaning of this?” Geoff Goldberg screamed from the drivers seat of the first wagon. 
	“Your trafficking ring ends now, human,” Vera seethed.
	“Lay down your arms and you shall not be harmed,” Arthur tried a bout of intimidation before fighting began. He knew it most likely would not work, but hoped that the presence of a salamander might cause someone to back down.
	“Whoever brings me their heads will get a nice bonus!” Geoff told his men. No one stood down, “A pity you have to die here, you would have been useful later in life, Arthur. Kill them.”
	Two fools stepped towards Vera and were both cut down in one swing. Their armor was thrashed and their bodies were afflicted with the demon realm silver. Their energy was drained instantly. Vera stepped over them as they groaned from the instant exhaustion. Eight this time approached Vera. Arthur waved his staff and summoned roots to halt their movements. Six were affected by the spell. Curtis watched in awe as the two did their work. The seasoned warrior and the powerful wizard easily cut down their foes.
	Geoff realised he was losing. He would be captured and turned in to the government officials. His fat body shook in fear as he scrambled to get away. There was no time to get a horse off the cart and ride it into the woods, the salamander was almost upon him. He hopped down from the seat and tried to dash into the woods. A bolt of energy whizzed past his head, “Blast!” Arthur swore as his Bolt of Restraint. He yelped in surprise as Curtis shouldered past him.
	“On your left!” Curtis shouted at Vera. Without a word she cut down the soldier in his way. She was surprised at how quickly this human moved as he shoved another guard who was unprepared out of his way.
	Geoff panted as he struggled to move quickly through the trees. He turned around to see the combat. He screamed as he saw the other human dress in strange garb catch up to him. Curtis threw the rotund man onto the ground easily. He drew his weapon, the pocket knife. He flipped the blade open and pointed it at the slaver, “Ya gonna come quietly? Or am I gonna have to gut ya?” 
	“N-never!” Geoff feigned bravery and tried to stand, his shaking arms and legs struggled to stand him up. His old age was slowing him down immensely. He received a swift kick in the ribs, “Please, let me go! I’ll pay you anything! Anything!” He cried as tears poured down his face.
	Curtis felt a twinge of guilt for a moment. He then remembered the crimes this man had committed and that feeling washed away instantly, “Maybe I should let the pissed off lizard deal with you. Would you like that better?” Curtis growled. Geoff whispered.

Stephanie could hear combat. Metal on metal as swords crashed into armor. Cries of pain and shouting was heard. The sounds of arcane powers crackling through the air made her ears perk up, “A wizard? In this part of the world?” She whispered to herself. Salvation had come. The sad murmuring was replaced with loud chatting as girls wondered what their heroes looked like. 
“It must be a party of at least ten if they are beating this many guards!” A holstaurus said.
“Ten handsome men come to rescue the fair maidens!” A mermaid sang loudly from another cage.
	“I hope they are single,” A succubus interjected.
	Stephanie sat quietly. She just wanted out of that cage.

	“Got the bastard right here,” Curtis threw Geoff onto the ground before the wizard and salamander.
	“P-please! A-anything--” He blubbered.
	“Save it for the officials,” Arthur told him.
	“Give me the keys, scum,” Vera threatened. Geoff did as she asked and handed them over with shaking hands and tears in his eyes.
	“Nice work, Sir Bradley!” Arthur clasped him on the back before casting a binding spell on Geoff.
	“Thanks. Glad I could help,” Curtis gave him a small smile. He pat Geoff down, taking anything he deemed of value from the man. Gold pocket watch, bag of gems and coins and a nice gold ring with a big green gem on it. Arthur did not stop him, if anyone deserved to have his precious coin torn away from him it was the man who tore these woman from their homes. 
	There was cheering as Vera released the monsters from their cages. Vera received many hugs as the sweeter women were released. She shrugged them off as she continued to release them from cages. Soon, there was a crowd of roughly 25 monsters following and pestering Vera.
	“Did you defeat all those men on your own?” One asked.
	“No,” Vera growled, returning to the front of the caravan.
	Stephanie followed close to the salamander, “Who else helped you?”
	“Them,” Vera pointed to two men. Stephanie realised the one in a cloak was a wizard. The young man leaning against a large red vehicle was less obvious.
	“Are all ladies here really pretty?” Curtis asked Arthur quietly.
“All monster girls are quite beautiful, yes,” Arthur replied just as softly. There was a noticeable disappointment in the lack of handsome men in the group. 
Vera stood next to the wizard with Curtis standing behind them leaning against his precious jeep. An elf stepped forwards, willing to talk for the others, “We thank thee, heroes,” She began, “May we ask what thy plan is with this man?” She pointed to the whimpering slaver.
“Turn him in and collect the bounty,” Vera replied, “Can I trust you to get these girls home?”
“Certainly. We will take these carts to travel home,” The other monsters were taking anything they could from their previous captors before moving their groaning bodies off the road, “I wish thee the best of luck.”
The monsters quickly loaded into the wagons. Only the werecat remained, staring a the three heroes. The heroes were talking about how to load their captive into the red chariot, Stephanie slowly approached them, “Excuse me, heroes?” She inquired quitely. 
The salamander loaded the captive into the trunk after Curtis retrieved his bottle of alcohol, “What can we do for you?” Arthur asked.
“May I come with you, please? I don’t have a family to return to and wish to aid you three.” 
Curtis looked at Vera and Arthur. He was up for it, the werecat was very cute in his eyes. Arthur was skeptical but felt a fourth could round out the group. Just from a glance he could tell that Stephanie was a skilled thief. Vera turned to her, “I do not believe we are going anywhere. Other than back to town.”
“We do owe Curtis an explanation, Vera,” Arthur reminded her.
“Hmph, you did get us here, and you caught that scum. I shall join you. Do not expect me to stick around much after that.”
“Fair enough,” Arthur conceded. 
Curtis climbed into his jeep, “Hop in,” He told the others with a wave. The caravan of wagons was eager for them to get out of the way.
“What is this thing?” Stephanie asked as she ran her paw-like hand over the red paint. Vera hopped into the backseat and Arthur struggled to climb in. She shivered from the cold.
“My jeep. You sit shotgun, cat-lady. Oh, and here,” He tossed Stephanie his jacket.
There was a glimmer in her eyes despite Curtis’s harsh tone. She climbed over the closed door into the side seat. Curtis turned the key in the ignition. The vehicle rumbled to life with a shudder. Stephanie gasped in wonder as Curtis slowly turned around and headed back towards the town, “This is amazing! Did you build this... jeep?”
“Hell no!” Curtis laughed, “Where I come from, these are mass produced and sold in huge lots!”
No one could wrap their heads around the image that Curtis explained, “You are from the other world then,” Arthur deduced. Curtis looked at him through the rearview mirror and nodded, “How did you come here?”
“I was driving then, poof! I was here, vomiting!” 
“So, Arthur brought you here?” Vera asked.
“Lizard-lady, I just realized I don’t even know your name. But... no he didn’t. There was someone else. I...” Curtis trailed off as he tried to remember who he had seen.
“I am a salamander, not a lizard. The name is Vera. Why are we not moving as fast?” Vera suddenly demanded. She was exhausted from a long day of being a slave then fighting a horde of ill prepared men.
“I am Stephanie, by the way. I am a werecat,” She told Curtis as she curiously pawed at the buttons and knobs on the dashboard. She has figured out she could raise and lower the volume of the music that seemingly materialised out of nowhere. The stereo blared punk rock from Curtis’s phone. 
“I much prefer this slower pace, thank you very much,” Arthur commented.
“I don’t like speeding while off roading, especially at night!” Curtis shouted, “Don’t turn that up so loud, please,” He turned the music down and turned the A/C off.
“Arthur, what kind of wizard are you?” Stephanie asked.
“Conjuration, my dear!” Arthur told her proudly. He had been working towards his wizard status since he was just a small boy. He had shown signs of arcane prowess at birth. 
“Think you could summon us some more gas?” Curtis joked, the fear of running out of gas eventually hung in his mind.
“Possibly. What kind of gas?”
“Diesel fuel. It makes this machine go,” Curtis explained.
“I would need a sample of this fuel. Perhaps I could synthesize it,” Arthur wrote notes in a book.
“What is your story, werecat?” Vera changed the topic to something that could be at least mildly interesting to her.
“Oh, I’ve grown up stealing to survive. Didn’t know my parents. Rumor is some gang family killed them. A guild picked me up eventually and taught me how to fight and steal professionally. I got a little careless around here and got captured by those thugs,” Stephanie explained briefly. She kept information away from the others like what guild she was a part of, “What about you, Fire-Tail?” She lovingly chose a nickname for Vera.
“I am a warrior. I have been my entire life,” Vera was unwilling to part with personal information. 
“Hey, we’re here!” Curtis told them. Curtis looked at the narrow, dark streets. He couldn’t take his beloved jeep down them. He parked next to the tower and hopped out. 
“You three are welcome to stay here, but I recommend heading to the inn,” Arthur slowly climbed out. Stephanie and Vera followed suit.
“What about the prisoner?” Vera asked.
“Ah, yes! I had forgotten. It is terribly late,” Arthur waved his staff in the air and summoned a floating black disk, “I will take him to the guardhouse. The guards here are not very kind to monsters,” He waved his staff again and Goldberg was placed magically onto the disk, “Sir Bradley, could you please rent a room for you and the girls? I understand you wish for an explanation, but it is late. I promise you that I will tell you all I can tomorrow,” He passed Curtis a piece of paper. An IOU from a Mrs. F.
“Alright. I just give this to the innkeeper?” Curtis began to walk away with Vera and Stephanie in tow. Arthur nodded, “See you tomorrow, Mr. wizard.”
The gravity of his situation was slowly weighing Curtis down. The trio trudged through the dark cold streets. The three were alone in their thoughts. Vera wondered when she could get away from her current group of “Friends.” She just wanted to go back to wandering the world. 
Stephanie wondered what Curtis was carrying on his person. She had already found the small metallic object that would open to reveal a strange opening. The other objects were a flask with alcohol in it, a bag of money and a pocket watch. Stephanie was only interested in the small metallic object.
Curtis thought of home. His parents, sisters and friend. His dog, his pet lizard and even the small plant in his window. He suddenly felt alone and cut off from the world. A dark feeling closed around his heart and soul. He didn’t know if he could go on. He was unsure if he could survive this ordeal. His pace slowed to a crawl, then to a stop, then he fell to his hands and knees as he realised he wasn’t dreaming.
Vera groaned, “Get up!” She demanded. She lifted Curtis by the back of his shirt and looked at his face. Curtis stared at the ground, a dead, hollow look in his eyes. She knew that look. It sent a chill down her spine, “It will be fine, Curtis,” Vera had an idea of what was bothering him. She was familiar with despair of this kind. She picked him up over her shoulder and kept walking.

Arthur had made it to the guard house. He had not spoken to the night captain in some time. He pushed the wooden door open and entered the small wooden room followed by the criminal. The guard captain looked up at the wizard, “Arthur! It has been too long,” He greeted, “What did you drag in today?” He laughed.
“A slaver. He was the ringleader of a roving band. I believe he is the one you have a bounty on,” Arthur explained in his usual grandiose fashion. 
“Ah, excellent! Another fantastic job. Can I trust any information we squeeze out of him on to you?” He quickly moved to a safe and produced a bag of coin.
“I suppose so. I have a project currently, but, a friend of mine would like to hear it,” Arthur took the bag.
“I have not heard of you working on a project since that time you tried to summon a rain storm!” The guard laughed.
“We... do not speak of that time. I trust you can keep a secret. A man from the other world has appeared to me. I am going to research him for now. Perhaps send him home or he will find purpose here.”
The guard laughed again, “You are pulling my leg! That realm does not exist, just a rumor passed between monsters to keep their spirits high.”
Arthur decided to drop it, “Perhaps I am being tricked. It is late, I should rest.”
“Sleep well friend. Watch your back.”

Vera dragged Curtis into the inn. Stephanie worriedly followed, her tail flicking back and forth. The bar was empty, the half melted candles glowed softly. The night worker had fallen asleep at the bar. Vera slammed the wooden surface next to their head. The human woman clutched her heart, “What? What is it?”
“Two rooms,” Vera growled, slamming the IOU on the bar.
“W-we do not serve... monsters,” The bar keep whispered.
“Then serve him! He is unwell,” Stephanie pointed at Curtis’s limp form. He was obviously awake, staring off into space.
“Are you two his servants?” The woman asked skeptically, “How do you know the wizard?” 
Vera could not call herself a servant. Stephanie had less standards, “Yes. We are. Our master is ill. He is friends with the wizard Arthur.”
“Well... here,” The woman handed Stephanie two keys, “I will pray that he recovers swiftly.”
“Thank you!” She took the keys and dashed upstairs. 
Vera uncharacteristically carried Curtis gently. She felt a strong urge to protect him. She walked into the small room with Curtis in her arms. There were two small beds, a small table with a chair and an unlit candle on top of the table. Vera unceremoniously dumped Curtis onto one of the beds, “Should we leave him by himself?” Stephanie asked. 
“No. I will watch him. Sleep in the other room, Stephanie,” Vera replied. Curtis had curled into a ball and started whimpering.
“Make sure you get some sleep Vera,” Stephanie told her as she left for the other room.
Vera looked at Curtis one more time before getting on her bed. Vera was close to seven feet tall, this bed was not built for someone of her size. She struggled to get comfortable on the thing mattress. Defeated, she moved to the floor. She listened to Curtis’s shaky breathing, angry at herself for suddenly empathising with him. She had been in a similar situation many years ago. She didn’t want anyone to have to go through what she did. 

Stephanie slipped into the alleyway and dashed north. She crept towards the blacksmith’s shop, making sure to stay out of the light. There was a guard loitering around the front. Stephanie impatiently climbed the side of the building across the blacksmith’s and jumped across the roofs. Stephanie dropped down into the backyard and uprooted the bush. She opened the concealed container and took the set of armor and the cloak. The armor was dirty and old, no one in the guild had been to this town in a long time. She concealed the box once more. Stephanie slowly returned to the inn across the rooftops. 


“The Roadtrip”

I sat my now empty glass down, groaning quietly. My friends talked indiscriminately around me as I trapped myself in my own mind. The sounds of the bar, glasses clinking, people talking and music playing did nothing but aggravate me. I couldn’t believe that I had to do a major assignment over my spring break! ‘Go on some sort of adventure or volunteer in a foreign company,’ My journalism professor had said. As if I had the money or time to go anywhere. Maybe I could volunteer at that animal shelter or farm and take photos there and turn it into a presentation. Why did I even want to be a journalist, you may ask. I loved learning about people and events, writing, photography, all of it. 
A friend, Logan, slapped me on the back, “Hey, bro! You can’t just mope here forever! You’ve got one more term until you graduate! Then you’ll never have time to hang out!” He was tipsy, slurring his speech slightly. 
“I’m not in the mood, Logan. I’m gonna head out, I’ll talk to you all tomorrow,” I got up to leave.
“Don’t let that shit get you down, Anon. Maybe we can go out to the coast soon? A little road trip! Like you used to talk about! Take pictures of the bird and whales and homeless people and shit! Write about homeless people and interview whales!” Logan might have been a little more than tipsy. 
“Maybe. See you around,” I reiterated. Sadness and dread filled my stomach more than the alcohol did. I checked my pockets for my phone, wallet and keys. Found ‘em all. I walked out into the cold night air and pulled my jacket tighter around me. It was an old army green military style jacket with pockets on the outside and inside. Made it a little easier to smuggle a camera into somewhere. The holes on my jeans were getting a little larger every day.  My shoes on the other hand were newer, black athletic shoes. I made it to my jeep parked along the street without much trouble. Black paint, 1 set of doors, which were removed, two rows of seats and no top. 
I climbed into the driver’s seat and turned the ignition. I sighed as the vehicle rumbled to life. A roadtrip in this thing could be fun, I thought, the warm spring air was starting to roll in. Would that satisfy my professor? I didn’t know. I didn’t care-- at least I claimed not to. I started down the street towards my parent’s house. The cold night air bit at my exposed skin as I drove. 

I pulled into the gas station. I was getting low on gas and knew I wouldn’t do it tomorrow. I put it in park, got the pump going, and wandered into the convenience store. The lights blinded me as I pushed the door open. The clerk hardly looked up from what he was reading as I meandered past the counter. I headed to the back and grabbed a twelve pack of beer. Maybe I’d be in the mood to drown my sorrow tomorrow. I put it on the counter as well as a pack of sour gummy worms. The attendant had a TV with the news on, “...Following a recent outbreak, ten more women have changed into ‘monsters.’ Scientists say they have no idea what is causing it and urge people afflicted with the--” The attendant turned the TV off quickly.
“Dark times, eh, stranger?” He said with a nervous smile. 
“I guess so,” I nodded. I just wanted to buy my poison and leave.
“This is some shit outta a sci-fi book, dude! At any moment, you could forcibly be changed into a freak! Forced to cut yourself off from society!” 
“They said it’s not a spreadable affliction. I’ve covered this phenomenon myself,” I informed him.
“What about what they just--”
“Just sell me this shit so I can go home,” I interrupted him, eager to rest my head. He got the message and quickly scanned my purchases. I paid and dashed out to my car, throwing the beer and candy in the trunk next to my camera equipment.

I drove my jeep home, half asleep. I glanced at the houses and street lights that went by too fast for me to perceive clearly. I felt like the drive was taking much longer than usual. That gas station was a 10 minute drive away, it felt like I had been diving for three times that. I squeezed my eyes shut, willing the weariness to leave me. I opened my eyes as the smooth road beneath me turned bumpy. My heart immediately started to pound as my first instinct was that I had gone off the road like a dumbass. I hit the brakes. I took a few deep breaths before I looked up from the wheel. 
The radio had stopped. The street lights and buildings had melted away into dark trees, the only light coming from my dimly glowing dashboard and the headlights of my jeep. I leaned over and looked underneath my jeep, a dirt road stretched before me with grass on either side before turning into a treeline. I slid back onto my seat. With sweat on my brow and a pounding heart, I drove onward. 

I checked my phone, no service. I had no idea what I had wandered into. I could see a grouping of houses directly ahead, across a field of grass. I turned down my lights as I drove down the narrow road. I could see stars in the sky, hundreds of them, with my naked eye. A sight I had not witnessed in ages. I glanced around, the bright light of the full moon illuminated the scenery around me. The gently blowing wind made the grass move back and forth slowly. I felt at peace, despite being horribly lost. I made it to what I had assumed was a town, but getting closer I could see it was more of a medieval village.
I slowed down as I drove onto the narrow gravel streets. There was no one out on the dark streets to ask for directions. I made it to a small center of the village. There was a small stone fountain that gently poured water into a basin out of a small opening. There was only one building with the lights on, “The Sleeping Bear- Inn and Tavern,” A sign read. There was no parking out front so I tried the back. The alley way in the back was empty enough. I looked around for any signs that told me NOT to park there. I shrugged as I didn’t see any. 
I heard a noise behind me as I shut off my car. My vision swung to where I had heard the noise. I couldn’t see anything. I nearly sprinted around to the front of the establishment. I threw the door open and was greeted with a feeling of warmth. I slammed the door behind me and sighed with relief as I entered. I looked around, everyone in the building was looking at me. All four of them. A group of three sat at a table in the middle of the room.
They eyed me suspiciously. A huge muscular woman with short red hair, dark skin, an eye patch over one eye and clad in bronze armor glared at me. A man in a dark grey cloak peered up from his massive book at me with concern on his face. The third of that group was a woman with thick white hair, with what looked to be cat ears sticking out the top of her head, dark clothes covered in pockets, and a white fluffy tail that flicked side to side as she gave me a small sly smile.
Behind the bar, a balding man scowled at me. I approached him nervously, “Hey,” I greeted casually.
“What’ll it be? A room? Some ale?” He asked gruffly.
“Uh, I’m a little lost. Could you tell me where I am?” I asked.
“The Sleeping Bear. If you ain’t interested in a room or ale, then the door is over there.”
“I’m just trying to get a grasp on what is going on, sir,” I pleaded politely, “I am incredibly lost. I just want to get home.”
“Goldcrest. That help?” The bar keep didn’t really care.
I looked around the bar again, the group of three still stared at me. Their intense gazes had turned into curious looks. I noted the girl with red hair had a long flaming tail. I had an intense desire to leave, “Uh, yeah. Thanks.”
I made for the door, headed for my jeep. The woman with white stood up, “Hey, you!” She shouted excitedly. I hurried out the door, ignoring her. I jogged back into the alleyway, heart pounding. I made it to the jeep, breathing heavily. I didn’t know where I was going, it didn’t matter. I was going to drive until I made it home or got cell service. I was about to climb in when I heard a noise, a whistle.
I turned around, watching three men step out of the shadows, weapons in hand, “What’ll it be kid? Your gold, or your life?” He asked gruffly with a yellow toothy smile. 
“Gold? I don’t have any gold,” I said nervously. 
“Then It’ll be your life!” He laughed, brandishing a metal club. I pressed myself against the wall as I was quickly surrounded. A sword was put to my neck as the three cackled. My heart pounded as I realised that I would actually die. The guy with the sword to my neck suddenly cried out in pain as he fell to the ground. A bolt stuck out of his side. I slumped down against the wall and sat on the ground. A line of white energy struck another of the bandits, binding him in glowing white chains. A person ran up to the third and brought the sword down and through him. This all happened in roughly three seconds.
I looked up at the people who had saved me, the three from the bar. The cat-woman squatted to get to my eye level, her green eyes sparkling at me, “You alright, stranger?” I nodded, too shaken for words. She stood up and looked at my jeep, “Arthur, what the hell is this thing?”
“Perhaps you should ask the man we just helped, Delilah,” The man in grey robes suggested. He was clutching a staff with a green gem at the top. He had brown eyes, short black hair and a . Despite looking around 40, he was leaning on it as if he struggled to walk without it. He wore a pointy hat with a large brim that matched his robes.
“Here,” The lady with a large sword reached a clawed hand out to me, she had red scales. She looked at me with a very uninterested look in her hazel eyes. I put my hand in hers and was easily pulled to my feet. Despite her cold demeanor and warrior attire, she had a small black bow in her hair that held her hair back.
“So? What is it?” The cat, Delilah asked. 
“M-my jeep?” I stammered.
“Jeep?” She asked as she ran her paw-like hands over the body, “I’ve never seen anything like this! Slick and clean like an automaton but loud and powerful like a gremlin invention!”
“You’ve never... seen a car?” I asked in disbelief, I started to have a feeling as to what was going on.
“Car? Is it a car or a jeep?” Delilah pestered.
“Delilah, calm down. Our friend here is afraid and confused. Can you tell us your name, Sir?” The man, Arthur asked.
“Uh, Anon.” I asked.
“I am Arthur Maximillion, conjuration wizard extraordinaire!” He gave me a small extravagant bow. 
“Delilah Orwell, master thief, at your service!” The cat smiled at me with sharp teeth.
“Joan,” The flaming lizard woman grunted, still looking disinterested.
“Where did you get this car-jeep, Anon?” Delilah asked me, climbing onto the driver’s seat and putting her paws on the wheel.
“I bought it at a dealership,” I told her. She looked blankly at me.
“Anon, do you know what kingdom you are in?” Arthur asked.
“Kingdom? There’s a kingdom near Salem?” I prayed he would say yes.
“I have never heard of a Salem,” Arthur thought aloud. He pulled papers from his robes and reviewed his notes, “Have either of you?” He asked the other two in his party.
“Never,” Joan grumbled, slightly interested now.
“Same here,” Delilah got down from the jeep, “Are you making up towns, Anon?”
“Oh god,” I mumbled.
“Anon? Are you--” 
I blacked out.

I woke up from my slumber violently. 

“The Roadtrip V2”

I sat my now empty glass down, groaning quietly. My friends talked indiscriminately around me as I trapped myself in my own mind. The sounds of the bar, glasses clinking, people talking and music playing did nothing but aggravate me. I couldn’t believe that I had to do a major assignment over my spring break! ‘Go on some sort of adventure or volunteer in a foreign country,’ My journalism professor had said. As if I had the money or time to go anywhere. Maybe I could volunteer at the animal shelter or farm and take photos there and turn it into a presentation. Why did I even want to be a journalist, you may ask? I loved learning about people and events, writing, photography, all of it. 
	I watched the TV mounted on the wall, the news came on, “...Following a recent outbreak, ten more women have changed into ‘monsters.’ Scientists say they have no idea what is causing it and urge people afflicted with the--” The barman turned the TV off quickly.
	“Dark times ahead, eh?” He said with a thick accent. 
“I guess so,” I nodded. I didn’t want to talk.
“This is some shit outta a sci-fi book! At any moment, you could forcibly be changed into a freak! Forced to cut yourself off from society!” 
“They said it’s not a spreadable affliction. I’ve covered this phenomenon myself,” I informed him, “They’re playing it up to get a rise out of you.”
“What about what they just--”
“Do your own research,” I scowled. The barman frowned and walked away from me.
A friend, Logan, slapped me on the back, “Hey, bro! You can’t just mope here forever! You’ve got one more term until you graduate! Then you’ll never have time to hang out!” He was tipsy, slurring his speech slightly. 
“I’m not in the mood, Logan. I’m gonna head out, I’ll talk to you all tomorrow,” I got up to leave.
“Don’t let that shit get you down, Anon. Maybe we can go out to the coast soon? A little road trip! Like you used to talk about! Take pictures of the birds and whales and homeless people and shit! Write about homeless people and interview whales!” Logan might have been a little more than tipsy. 
“Maybe. See you around,” I reiterated. Sadness and dread filled my stomach more than the alcohol did. I checked my pockets for my phone, wallet, camera cases and tape recorder. Found ‘em all. I walked out into the cold night air and pulled my jacket tighter around me. It was an old army green military style jacket with pockets on the outside and inside. Made it a little easier to smuggle a camera into somewhere. The holes on my jeans were getting a little larger every day.  My shoes on the other hand were newer, black athletic shoes. 
I pulled out my phone to call for a taxi. I closed my eyes, trying to stave off the cold. I adjusted my jacket, moving the shit around in my pockets. My phone beeped at me. ‘No service,’ it told me. I looked at the bars on my phone. It confirmed the lack of service. I looked around. The bright neon signs around me had changed to a dark forest. I stood in a small clearing of waist high grass and flowers. The full moon shined overhead, illuminating the flora around me, “What the hell?” I asked myself. I slowly started walking deeper into the forest. I held my phone in front of me, trying to get reception so I could figure out where I was.
	I wandered for what felt like hours. The dark trees of the forest confused and turned me around constantly. I had no idea where I was or where I was going. I had put my phone away long ago in an attempt to conserve battery life. I stepped over a downed log before pausing for a few moments, trying to get any sort of idea where I was. I scanned the dark horizon around me. I still had no idea. I took three steps and felt something tighten around my leg. I was quickly lifted into the air giving me horrible whiplash, causing me to black out.

	I woke up with light shining in my eyes. I sat up from where I lie. I was outside still, in some sort of camp. I was in a small cage and my arms were bound behind my back with rope. My jacket was on some boxes nearby. There were tents on the far side of the camp with a few people sitting around a fire. I struggled against the ropes to no avail. I slumped back down with a sigh. My head still throbbed in pain from passing out. I pushed myself up against the bars, taking a break before I struggled again. A hand quickly placed itself over my mouth, a knife to my throat. I felt the sharp steel grazing my neck as a woman giggled behind me, “Shh,” She whispered teasingly. I whimpered. The knife was removed from my throat and was used to but my binds, “Get near the opening,” She whispered. I nodded and did what she told me.
	She came around to the opening of the cage, moving quietly. She fiddled with the lock for a moment before the door was swung open, she motioned for me to follow her. I went for my coat, snagging it and running into the forest after my saviors. I threw my coat on just before I was pulled behind a tree and into a woman’s chest. I pushed myself off of her in a panic, before I could speak, she grabbed my mouth, “Stay quiet,” She told me. She was dressed like a ninja in a dark pink and black. She was covered in knives and pouches on her garb. Her black bangs covered half of her face, the rest of it was pulled back in a ponytail. I did what she told me. She stared into my eyes with her bright blue eyes. A small smile behind the cloth that covered her mouth. I heard horses approaching quickly, “Our ride is here,” She told me. A horse pulled wagon pulled up alongside us. 
	“Hop in,” A man who was driving the cart told us. There was another woman in the cart. The ninja woman grabbed me and threw me into the cart. I instinctively protected my camera as I hit the wooden floor of the cart with a thud. The cart rumbled off as the other woman picked me up off the floor and sat me next to her.
	“How are you feeling, human?” The woman next to me was a huge muscular woman with short red hair, dark skin, an eye patch over one eye and clad in bronze armor.
	“Fine, fine. Thank you for--” A powder was thrown in my face before I could finish. I blacked out again.

	I woke up violently, clutching my heart with a shout. I was without my jacket again. I was lying on a bed. All my things were laid out on a table nearby, all the cards and money were pulled out of my wallet, my cameras were set on the table. I grabbed my coat off the back of a chair and put it on. I shoved everything back into my jacket after making sure everything was there. I was in a decently sized room with another bed in it. I peered out the window to see a blue sky and another building. I cautiously tried the door. Unlocked. I threw it open, ready to make a break for it. I took a left and immediately my wrist was grabbed, another hand placed on my stomach picking me up and throwing me onto my back, knocking the wind out of me. That large woman from last night stood over me, “You startled me.”
	“What the hell, lady,” I sputtered and coughed.
	“You startled me,” She repeated, “I came to fetch you.”
	She pulled me off the ground and set me on my feet, “Where am I?”
	“Sleeping Bear Inn.”
	“Uh, alright,” I looked at her awkwardly. She stared at me intensely. I coughed, “You came to collect me?”
	“Yes. This way,” The woman turned and walked away from me. I saw now that she had a tail. A flaming tail and clawed hands and feet. A monster. I had never seen one in person before then. It was a little jarring. I always felt they would look... stranger. I followed her like a lost puppy. We walked out of the inn into the center of a medieval town. A small fountain sat in the middle of the circular area, pouring water into a basin. Humans and monsters roamed the streets, going in and out of stores and buying and selling at stalls. I had never seen a place like this before. I undid my coat as the warm spring sunlight warmed me up. I was wearing a blue t-shirt underneath my coat. 
	“Welcome to Goldcrest, human,” The lizard woman said to me. As if it were second nature, I pulled out my camera and started getting pictures, “What is that? Another trinket?”
	“Uh, its my camera,” I took a quick of her and showed her the preview on the small screen. She looked at it with concern, maybe a little bit of anger, “Have you never seen a camera before?” She shook her head and scowled before turning her back to me. I was about to take a few more of her just to mess with her, thankfully I noticed her huge sword before that. She wasn’t wearing her armor, trading it for a tight fitting tank top and pants. I tried not to look at her ass. We walked through alleyways, anyone who was foolish enough to be in the same place as us cleared a path for the woman guiding me, “What’s your name?” I asked.
	“Joan,” She said bluntly. 
	“Forgive me for asking, but what are you?” I was apprehensive to ask but curiosity drove me forward. 
	Joan stopped dead in her tracks and leaned down to me, staring me in the eyes. My eyes darted around, trying to avoid eye contact. It was like she was trying to read everything about me just by looking at my eyes, “Salamander,” She finally said before turning once more and walking.
	I took a deep breath to try and get my beating heart under control. Once I finally had a grip I pulled out my audio recorder. I cleared everything on it before speaking into it, “Uh, coming to you from Goldcrest,” I laughed at how stupid I sounded. I quickly recapped the events of last night and gave a brief description of Joan. 
	She kept glancing over her shoulder at me, confusion on her face. I played some of the audio back to her rather than explain with words, “Cease with your witchcraft,” She demanded. I obliged, putting it back in my coat pocket. We neared the edge of the town, a stone path led to a hill with a stone tower sitting atop it. I snapped a picture of the tower before Joan led me that way. 
	It was only about a three minute walk at a brisk pace. The base of the stone tower was surrounded by a wall of hedges. Joan led me through a metal gate with spear-like points at the top of it and into a courtyard. She led me past things like a bird fountain, fruit trees, bushes and a white truck. It reminded me of a jeep, “Cool truck,” I commented. Joan ignored me as she pulled the wooden door to the tower open and waved me inside. I took a deep breath and walked inside.
	The inside was much larger than the outside would have you believe. I looked at the tables strewn about the room, each one had numerous objects on them, silverware, electronics, golf clubs, very mundane things. Joan gave the tables a wide berth as I started poking around curiously. I took a few photos of the interior, “Arthur!” Joan shouted, “I brought him!”
	I heard slow footsteps accompanied by what I assumed was a cane. I turned to see an older man in grey robes, a wide brimmed grey pointed hat, a staff in hand with a green gem at the top. His face was withered and old with a beard that was beginning to turn silver, “Welcome, friend. I am Arthur Maximillion, at your service,” He gave me a small bow, “I apologize we were unable to locate you before those miscreants grabbed you.”
	“Who were those guys?” I asked, putting my camera down as Arthur approached me.
	“Slavers planning on selling you to the highest bidder. Most likely a person who wishes to use technology from your world for evil.”
	I didn’t understand, “What do you mean, from my world?”
	“My apologies, Sir. Like the objects you see around you, you have managed to slip through the between and into our world,” Arthur explained slowly. Joan stood nearby looking disinterested, “I understand if this is difficult for you to take in. I will do everything in my power to aid you in getting home.”
	I picked my camera up again, looking at the shutters. I looked up at the wizard in front of me. I struggled to speak, “Thank you,” I said, excitement coursing through me.
	The front door opened again, two people entered. The ninja and the man from last night. The ninja was wearing a black dress, she still had her mouth covered. The man had long blonde hair and blue eyes. He wore chainmail armor, carried a sword at his hip and a helmet in his hand, “Good to see you up and awake, stranger,” The man greeted me with a smile.
	“Anon, is it?” The lady asked, she had a long black tail that ended in a heart shape with a bow tied to it.
“Yeah,” I replied, “Did you dig through my stuff?” 
“I apologize, Anon. Arthur asked me to do it,” She quickly pushed the blame onto someone else.  
“Now, Rose--” Arthur began.
“Stop,” Joan demanded, silencing both of them, “Introduce yourselves so we can begin.”
“I am Rose, kunoichi thief and assassin extraordinaire!” The ninja woman struck a pose.
“My name is Brandon Orwell. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Anon,” The large armored man said.
“Nice to meet you both,” I gave them both a small smile.
Joan stood near some stairs impatiently, “Joan, do we need to have a meeting currently? Anon here can help me--” Arthur was cut off again.
“Yes. We do,” she growled.
Arthur sighed as Brandon moved towards the stairs, “Anon, if you could, please move anything of note to that clear table. I will make it worth your while, of course.”
“Can do, boss,” I put my camera away as Arthur left.
“Anon,” Rose whispered from directly behind me. I whipped around, startled, “What do you want for that green paper with the silly old men on them?”
It took me a moment to realise what she was talking about, “My money?” I produced the 17 dollars from my wallet.
“That is what your currency looks like?” She looked at it in shock, “It is so light, it must be easy to steal. I could just steal it from you...” She mused. I couldn’t tell what face she was making behind her mask, “But, I wish to make friends with you. What is your price?”
“Offer?” I said without thinking. It was just 17 dollars. 
“How about this, Anon?” She produced a dagger out of a pouch using her tail and presented it to me. I pulled it out of the black leather sheath. The hilt was a light brown wood, the pommel was a pink colored metal with a small red gem in it. The blade was a similar metal. I looked at her in confusion, “It is made of demon silver. It does not kill, it incapacitates by draining the stamina of your enemy,” She explained quickly. Joan was giving her a death glare. I shrugged and handed her the meager amount of cash, “Yes! Thank you!” She gleefully ran off to join her friends. Joan gave me one more scowl before leaving me alone. 

“Roadtrip V3”

	I sat my glass down and shifted slowly on the squeaky barstool. The sounds of the party around me, fellow students and other people celebrating the start of summer and the end of another year of university, the joking and laughing, the clinking of glasses and people whispering gossip with each other... Everyone else seemed to be happy and having a good time. Everyone but me. All I felt was aggravation and anxiety. I picked a second glass up from the counter and brought it to my lips, letting the foul liquid pour into my mouth and over my tongue. I shuddered as I forced myself to swallow it. I didn’t drink it for the taste, rather to numb the feeling of existence. My already horrible mood was only worsened by the liquor. I coughed and sputtered as the drink hit my stomach. I looked around behind me with a scowl on my face, I scanned the group of people for any of my friends and couldn't find a single one. I didn’t know very many people here and just wanted to go home. I didn’t know why I let someone else drive me here but I was severely regretting it. I turned back to the counter and frowned angrily, I was out of drinks. A man approached me at the lonely counter and sat next to me, “Hey, Curtis!” He grinned at me.
	“Hi, Jackson,” I held back my anger in front of my friend.
	“You can’t just stay here moping all night, bro. Come play beer pong with me!”
	“No thanks,” I sighed, “I just want to go home, man. I’m so tired and frustrated,” I stood and grabbed my bag and threw my coat over my shoulders and shoved my arms down the sleeves. I put my messenger bag over my shoulder and quickly called for an Uber.
	“Hey, come on. You’ll figure something out for that senior project.”
	“Thanks, I hope so. Everyone else is gonna be taking trips to foriegn countries or what have you. I don’t have the money or time to,” I hissed, “I guess I’ll volunteer somewhere and take pictures of cute animals. Maybe I can get a D with that and pray the professor takes pity on me and passes me anyways.”
	“You’ll be fine, bro!” He gave me an awkward pat on the back.
	“Thanks,” I repeated, giving him a small smile. Jackson walked me out, watching me as I stepped into the cold of the night. The full moon was bright overhead and there were few clouds in the sky. I zipped up my old grey coat with four closable pockets on the chest and a few more on the inside of the coat. My dark blue jeans were worn and torn from long time wear, they carried my phone, wallet and keys. My black running shoes were pretty new compared to the rest of my outfit. I had a dull army green messenger bag that held a few more items, my camera and a hardbound journal with very little writing in it along with a nice metal pen. It also held chargers for my phone and camera. I glanced around the streets at the houses and parked cars along the street. I knew this area quite well, the downtown area was a five minute drive from here where my favorite little burger joint was along with the game store where I used to play Dungeons and Dragons and various card games. Right next to that was the auto repair shop that my uncle owned. I worked there when I wasn’t at college, doing homework or studying. Twenty minutes past downtown was where I lived with my parents and little sister. From home and from downtown, the college I went to was about thirty to forty minutes away. 
	I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I slowly reached into my pocket and grabbed it, bringing it before my face as I stretched. I expected it to be my driver, telling me that they’re here to pick me up. I frowned as I stared at the incoming call screen. The number was unknown, a series of numbers that looked to long to be a real phone number. I shrugged and slipped the phone back into my pocket. I closed my eyes and stretched, popping my back as a strangely warm wind blew past. It was oddly comforting and forced a tiny smile on my lips despite my anxiety. I stretched, raising my arms into the air. I opened my eyes and looked around, searching for my Uber. It was dark. Much darker than it had been a few moments ago. The overhead streetlights were gone and the cars that drove by were gone as well. I was in the woods with nothing around me but trees and bushes softly illuminated by the glow of the moon. 
	I was suddenly wracked with pain from some unknown source. I quickly felt weak like my strength had been completely sapped. I stumbled forwards, the confusion of where I was could not overpower my sudden feeling of exhaustion. I fell to my knees and panted heavily as my stomach churned horribly. I slowly fell to my side and lie there, gasping in pain as footsteps approached me. My eyes closed slowly as my consciousness faded.

	I woke up slowly. I lifted my head and looked around. My eyes were foggy and my head was aching. My back was pressed up against a hard wooden surface and my butt was planted on the cold hard ground. My coat had been removed and I was left shivering in my black t-shirt and jeans. I tried to get up and find my coat but my wrists were bound behind me. I let out an involuntary pained moan as I tried to move my aching body. I slumped again and tried to regain some strength, “Did you hear that?” A gruff woman asked.
	“Hm? I did not hear a thing...” A man with a strange accent commented.
	“Did one of them get away?” Another, more peppy woman asked with a concerned voice.
	“Impossible. I saw exactly five bandits. Could another have wandered into camp?” An old man wondered aloud.
	“Are you awake?” A close voice asked into my ear. I shot up, bashing the back of my head against the tree and making another pained cry, “Easy now,” He whispered again, grasping my shoulder, “Did they hurt you? Can you speak?”
	“Uwha?” I was still completely disoriented and unable to see, “Who... Where...What’s going on?”
	“Hey!” He stood and called to the rest of the group, “We’ve got a live one over here!”
	Numerous feet came rushing towards me, chattering and whispering nervously. I looked up again and blinked hard, trying to see, “Well, don’t leave him sitting there. Cut him loose!” The old man ordered.
	“On it!” The peppy girl from before grasped my wrist and cut my binds. Her hands felt strange as if they were covered in fur. It reminded me of poking my cat’s feet, “Up!” She and another person pulled me to my feet.
	“Are you well?” The strange sounding man approached me and placed a strangely delicate hand on my shoulder.
	“I can’t see,” I complained, rubbing my eyes, still only able to make out light levels.
	“Here, see once more, friend,” He commanded. He mumbled a few words and I felt a surge of power throughout my body. I felt stronger than ever before, like I could run ten miles right then! I shook myself as the group took a step back.
	I looked around at the people, finally able to see. The darkness of the night shrouded most of their bodies but I could make out a few details. I saw three men and two women. The women looked weird, one was hugely tall with horns on her head and the other was smaller with large round ears on the top of her head. I tried to take a step but stumbled again, “Careful,” The man who found me commanded as he caught me, “Can you tell me your name?”
	I blinked at him. He wore chainmail armor and caried a bow over his shoulder. He had shoulder length blonde hair and piercing icey blue eyes, “Curtis,” I said finally, “Curtis Bradley.”
	“Good. Good. We need to be moving out team,” He ordered, “Make sure Curtis here makes it on the cart back to town with us.”
	The group dispersed and started digging through piles of items or crates. I needed to find my coat. I turned around and stumbled around the camp looking for my things. I found my coat thrown over a box. I brushed it off and put it on. I started looking for my bag only to run into the smaller woman. I finally got a good look at her. She had grey hair on her head in a sort of messy bob cut. She wore a red blouse and white spotted bloomers with a black cloak thrown over them. She definitely did have big ears on the top of her head and fur on her forearms and ankles, “Here!” She held up a familiar green bag as her purple eyes gleamed, “I smelled you on this!” Something flicked back and forth behind her-- a tail.
	I blinked at her and gently took the bag from her, “Where am I?” I asked as I threw the bag over my shoulder. I was getting the feeling like I was dreaming.
	“The forest outside of Goldcrest, Curtis. You’re dressed funny. Do you come from somewhere far away?” She asked me.
	“Is... There any other towns near here?”
	“Crossroads, Trinity and Spurred Love are all near here. Oh, my name is Rose, by the way,” The mouse woman smiled at me. She was cute for sure. I started thinking this was some kind of weird renaissance fair thing. 
	“Rose,” The man that had healed my affliction approached, “Did you find anything?”
	“Just his bag. Anything neat in there, Curtis? This is Rael, by the way.”
	I looked up at Rael. He was a large man with no hair and a milky white right eye. His left was a dark brown. His head and face were all covered in horrible faded scars, “Pleasure to meet you, Curtis,” He gave me a small, polite bow with a blank look on his face as his plate armor clinked softly. It looked like it was once adorned with markings or paint that had long since been scratched or worn off, “Where do you hail from?”
	“Uhm... Oregon,” I shrugged, still not believing what I was experiencing. 
	Rael stared at me for a few moments before turning his head, “Arthur. Come look at this man.”
	An old man in dark blue robes and a conical wizard hat approached us. He had a long grey beard and long grey hair to match it. His eyes were a softly glowing green, “What is it, Rael?”
	“His attire. Does it not seem strange to you?” 
	“It sure smells weird,” Rose grunted.
	“Hmm, yes. It does let off a strange aura. Are you... Of this world, boy?” Arthur asked trepidatiously. He tapped his staff on the ground causing the end to glow as he tried to get a better look at me.
	“You know that is not possible,” The other woman growled as she approached. She had long brown hair and yellow eyes. Her skin was tanned and she wore light leather armor. Her legs from the knee down were covered in hair and ended in hooves, “If he was he would be... Unresponsive. He could have stolen those clothes off someone.”
	“That is quite unlikely, Joan. The aura and smell is quite fresh.”
	“Team,” The last person of this five man crew approached, “We need to head out. The guard will be here soon and I don’t want to be stuck doing paperwork for a week. Come on,” He waved as he headed into the treeline. 
	The rest of the group agreed quietly and started to follow him. I stood still, completely confused still. Rose turned around to me, “Come on, Curtis! Its not safe out here!” She grabbed my wrist and dragged me along with the rest of the group. I put up no resistance.
	The man I still didn’t know the name of climbed into the drivers spot of a horse drawn wagon. The rest of us loaded into the back along with a small box. I sat on the floor and hugged my legs to my body, “Are you alright?” Arthur asked me as the cart began to rattle as it moved through the sparse woods. 
	“Where am I?” I asked again.
	“The woods just a short distance outside of Goldcrest,” He told me the same thing that woman had.
	“Please. I’m lost. I woke up here and I have no idea where I am,” I was starting to panic.
	“Curtis, stay calm please. When we get back to Goldcrest, we can start figuring out where you came from.”
	“Look, man,” I was obviously losing it, “I’m freaking out right now. Like, that chick is a mouse and that one's a cow and you’re a wizard and--”
	“Sleep!” Rose shouted. Her hand glowed as she shoved it towards me. I blacked out again.
	
	I woke up on my back staring up at a wooden ceiling. I felt refreshed, unlike the other time I had passed out. I was lying in a comfortable, warm bed. My coat, shoes and socks had been removed. I looked at a table in the middle of the room, all of my things had been laid out and organised. My camera, journal, pen, charging cables, everything. I slowly got up and collected everything after checking my camera. It still had good battery life but my phone was dying and still had no service. I sat at the side of the bed and stared at the red striped rug on top of the stone floor. It was incredibly soft and made of a material I had never felt before. I stretched and looked around. This room had no windows and the only exit was a wooden door with an iron handle. The only furniture was the table and bed as well as the rug. I put my coat over my shoulders as well as my bag. 
	I turned the handle and slowly opened the door. I clutched the strap of my bag nervously as I peeked into the stone halls. Sunlight flowed in through glass windows. I approached one and peered out. I saw sweeping grassy hills dotted with farms out in the distance. I was probably three stories up above a decently sized village in some kind of stone tower. I watched people wander around town and purchase goods at an outdoor market. I wondered to myself if this was that wizard’s tower. I heard footsteps coming towards me. I turned to see who it was, it was that tall cow woman, “You feeling calm now?” She growled. She was wearing a sleeveless brown shirt that showed off her muscular arms and shorts.
	“I-- I think so,” I turned back to the window.
	“Arthur wishes to speak with you. Come.”
	I nodded and followed her down the hall. I could feel her stomping on the stone floor with her hoofed feet, “Can I ask you something?”
	“If you want my name, it is Joan Orwell. If it is about what I am, I am not a dainty dairy cow or holstaur,” She seethed at me, “I am a minotaur,” Her tail flicked back and forth angrily. She didn’t look at me at all as she continued to stomp down the hall.
	“Are--” I held my tongue. I wanted to ask if those were real, but I felt like she would slug me. She was probably just deep in character, I thought.
	“Do not touch any of his things. Arthur will have a meltdown if you break anything.”
	I nodded as she opened the door for me. I entered a large room filled with long tables. I was confused as I looked at the objects on the tables. It was common items to me like kitchen appliances and silverware. A computer and a laptop sat on the edge of a table. A radio sat amongst cassettes and CDs. I could find something new and very mundane. Arthur approached me, his head stuck in the pages of a book. There were small objects floating around him, namely a few DVDs, “Ah, Curtis. You are awake. How are you feeling?”
	“F-fine,” I reached up and plucked a DVD out of the air. I chuckled, “Die Hard. Classic. How are you making those float, anyways?”
	

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