Falling Between Worlds II

As they watched the flickering light from Brendan’s friends slowly come closer, Jeff saw the light split into smaller lights.

Brendan suddenly perked up, “Yes!” he whispered triumphantly, “My friends contacted some more friends, Bards- They’re having a drum circle- They’re strong enough- in about an hour, maybe two- they’ll be able to open a portal. You’ll probably be able to drive out of here-“

Jeff tried to gaze around outside his van, into nearly pitch blackness. His forehead tightened with something very close to acute anxiety, “-How-?”

“Is your battery good? Can you turn your lights on for a couple minutes? Xyrean’s going to fly down to us.”

“Xyrean?”

“Yeah, Xyrean, the Qeaglen, the bigger guy with the wings-“

Jeff shuddered, but he turned his lights on.

The headlights cut twin beams through a foggy, moist atmosphere. Very dark (wet) grey with hints of brown and lines of quartz, grey or white or clear; rock surfaces glistened in front of him. The stone hadn’t quite been black. He realized for the first time that the van was pointing down at a slight angle. Maybe 5 degrees? There were stalagmites everywhere. Not a bit of flat surface in view. And then, maybe twenty yards ahead, there was water. The water’s surface was punctuated intermittently by more stalagmites. He got the impression that the water was running, flowing from his right to his left.

His eyes followed the water upstream until the surface disappeared behind slanted rock. Light was scarce over there to his right, foggy impressions of bigger stalagmites and maybe even columns blended in with the deeper darkness all around. But his gaze tracked up and a bit to the left to see the flickering lights of Brendan’s friends.

Jeff sighed, he couldn’t imagine that they could get to him in less than two hours.

That was the moment that one of the lights launched itself away from the rest. Jeff couldn’t see them, but he imagined large dark wings spread out as a person he guessed might be dressed like Brendan, only bigger, had leaned out a bit and cautiously hovered in a scary dark landscape.

Then the light swooped and came toward them.

For a moment Jeff almost saw his van from above, a very slight hint of dark blue surrounded by puddles of red, yellow and white light. And the van came up at him so fast it shocked him back into ‘normal’ consciousness.

He glanced sideways to see Brendan staring back at him, intently, maybe even impressed. Then he turned quickly back to see the rapidly approaching light dip almost into the headlights, then swoop slightly upwards.

Then it dropped straight down to a soft landing. Very large wings, probably twelve feet wide, maybe wider from tip to tip, dark brown, caught the light from the headlights for a few moments before they folded behind a young looking man with dark rust coloured hair, about as long as Brendan’s, maybe- but scaled up- Xyrean? Was that his name? He wore darker suede pants and a darker blue shirt, a darker suede vest. He also wore some kind of harness-like straps, which he quickly unbuckled and swung what looked like a dark suede rucksack around and under his wings.

In the confusion of the moment, Jeff guessed that it was probably not the easiest thing in the world to get a loaded back pack between his wings and over his shoulders and hook it up in front, but the bird man had made taking it off look easy.

Jeff realized that Xyrean was wearing suede gloves with a wide cuff when he realized he was standing out in front of the headlights with one hand in front of his eyes, probably half blinded.

“Oh- sorry-” Jeff reached forward and turned his lights off.

Xyrean held up his lantern and moved his arm, apparently looking for the safest or quickest route to one of the van’s doors. In the lantern light the facial features looked sharp. He did not have a huge nose, but a slight ridge between his eyes and a bit of a down turn at the end of the nose did accentuate the hawk like appearance.

The van’s window radiated a cool temperature, almost cold. With the imagined dampness, Jeff shuddered, shivered. He felt Brendan worrying slightly. He shrugged to himself. The undeniable reality that somebody with wings was walking around the front of his van in a cold, damp darkness was almost dizzying- “I guess I’m in a slight bit of shock-” he mumbled.

Brendan, now standing beside Jeff’s sandwich, nodded assuringly, “Probably-“

Xyrean finished negotiating his way to the passenger’s door, looked inside, held his lantern high-

Jeff leaned toward the lantern, pointed to the door behind Brendan’s seat, pantomimed opening it, then leaned forward and pushed the button that unlocked all the doors at once.

Xyrean found the handle and pulled twice before it opened, and then seemed a bit shocked as the door rolled back alongside the van. The winged man spoke in a language that sounded somewhat like northern European.

Brendan answered in the same language and the only word that sounded anything like familiar was “English.”

“Ahhh Englisher-” Xyrean smiled, “I speak that almost little-” he nodded.

“Not bad-” Jeff nodded, then gestured, “Climb in, I guess-“

Xyrean gave the back of the van a suspicious glance, then shuddered, shifting his wings slightly, “Does maybe second seat fold down?” his accent sounded almost transylvanian that time.

“Uh- I think so-” Jeff began to reach-

“I think-” Xyrean held up his hand, “Wait, I stand out here for moment-” He gazed intently at Brendan for more than a moment.

Brendan nodded, turned to Jeff, “He’s got to fly back to the rest, there is a sort of path out there, but it isn’t easy to find it. He’ll leave his pack here, if it’s okay, and-” Brendan gazed at Xyrean with his eyes half closed for another moment, “It should take them about an hour to get here, not much longer.”

Jeff looked at Xyrean and nodded. Xyrean’s eyes were piercing, intelligent- They reflected a bit of understanding and empathy, and just a glimmer of caution as well as an inner strength. He nodded, they both nodded. Xyrean set his pack on the floor just inside the open side door and backed away into the darkness. A few seconds later the wings snapped open over the van and Xyrean took a running step and leaned into the air, flapped his wings and rose steadily, casting shadows, often obscurring the lantern, flying from side to side and then straight at the other lights which were making slow progress toward the van. While the light faded inside the van (Jeff realized the open door had kept the lights on for a couple minutes) Brendan gazed up at Jeff, pointed to the sandwich, “Will you eat this thing so I can cure you of the additives in it- the smell is making me nervous.”

Jeff shuddered, the really scary thing was, everything Brendan said made perfect sense. He unwrapped the sandwich and ate mechanically, then felt a bit of a breeze as Brendan flew up to his shoulder.

Something warm touched Jeff’s neck and a warm, sweet, watery feeling flowed through him. His arms dropped helplessly beside him and he stared up into a friendly darkness that glowed a deep blueness that outlined every rock and bit of water in the cave.

The cave was huge- long and never quite straight, never quite level- It looked like something- like the insides of something.

“You’re right,” Brendan’s voice was friendly and impressed, “The folks who found this cave called it the ‘Dragon’s throat-‘

Jeff’s eyes were very heavy. His head fell back and the darkness rang with the sound of millions of tiny bells and running water.

“Hey buddy, you in there?” a warm, friendly voice asked. A tall man with a shock of red hair and a heavily freckled face was leaning across on the passenger’s seat. Brendan was flying in the back between Xyrean and two other shadowy forms.

“I am gesSchtan-” the friendly red head looked serious.

Jeff nodded, “Scht- Stanley?”

He shook his head, ‘Ge-Schtan, accent on the ‘Schtan’-” We think maybe derivation of ‘Ashton’, is old family name of person who named me.”

Brendan sounded like he had flown up to Jeff’s shoulder, “GesSchtan is second generation, born here, of two earthling parents.”

Jeff nodded as if that almost made some kind of sense.

“Can you maybe wake up enough to drive if we tell our friends to go ahead and make the portal?”

Schtan’s accent was very German.

Jeff glanced back again, and Xyrean had gone all the way back, folded one of the ‘Stow and Go’ seats into the floor and was more or less kneeling- bracing himself. Brendan flew between the two guys in shadows beside each other on the other seat in the far back- Ge-Schtan? was sitting beside Jeff, trying to hold his attention-

Jeff yawned, “Should I start the engine? or wait until you say we’re ready?” he shuddered.

gesSchtan pointed-

Jeff checked his seat belt as he turned to stare at a point of blue light that swirled and expanded, purple, yellow, red, orange, green lights joined the blue and swirled madly for several seconds before they formed a ring and solidified- light from torches and a campfire streamed through the circle.

Jeff leaned forward and turned the key. His van started easily, he turned the light switch- headlights lit the night in front of him. Two men stepped forward with their hands raised, “Stop, don’t move yet-“

Four very large shadows, carrying what looked like a huge plank between them, rushed forward and slid their plank up to the wheels on the passenger side.

The two guys with the raised hands kept their hands steady.

The same 4 huge shapes ran back and returned with another huge, wide plank and ran that up to the driver’s side. Jeff realized some short, muscular guys were pounding spikes through the planks at the other end. The big guys ran back and the guys with their hands in the air backed slowly beckoning cautiously-

“Go slow forward- very slow-” gesSthan leaned forward with his hands braced on the dashboard.

Jeff held his breath as he eased up on the brake and let the van move slowly forward. First the front tire on his side, then the front tire on the right side rose slowly and found something solid and flat- the guys who were beckoning forward remained cautious-

Jeff glanced sideways and down and realized that one of the short, muscular guys was beside the van, staring intently at the tires as they rolled slowly forward.

His ears popped as he rolled (still slowly) through the circle of lights that were still spinning around him- then the guys who were beckoning cautiously stepped aside and made a quick gesture that gave Jeff the idea that they wanted him to speed up a bit.

“Can you see the trail?” gesSchtan asked.

Jeff nodded, “Looks like gravel- goes up and around to the right-“

gesSchtan nodded, “Goot-” then turned to look behind, “Was not made for vehicles, so going fast, you don’t-“

Jeff grinned as he nodded, glanced through the mirrors to see the short guys racing through the lights and the huge guys sitting around, playing hand drums.

The van rolled slowly through a turn, tires on each side rose over bumps and slowly rolled back down- Then a couple dozen people with torches pointed to the trail that continued slightly up and around to the left. Jeff drove slowly along until his headlights rose toward the sky, then came back down to light a large bonfire with dozens of stumps and a few folding stools spaced fairly evenly around the fire.

A rather large and imposing fellow pointed to an imaginary track where he apparently wanted Jeff to pilot his van away from the fire. Jeff nodded and drove along a path for a short way and then stopped, shifted into park, turned off his light and turned the engine off.

gesSchtan jumped out of the van, ran to somebody and gave her a big hug.

Maybe a dozen tiny flying people flew toward the windshield and around to Jeff’s side of the van as he opened his door.

Brendan flew out around Jeff and it looked like a clan reunion, buzzing wings and happy laughter. Somebody opened the side door on the passenger’s side and gesSchtan signalled, several of the most normal looking humans came forward to stand in a fairly tight ring, trying to look non-shalant as they were probably trying to screen the less human looking people away from Jeff’s field of vision.

The huge lumbering guys with their drums came up the path behind the van and the short muscular guys were close behind them. Everybody looked happy.

A thinnish, but healthy looking red haired woman in what looked like a regional skirt and ‘peasant blouse’ almost shyly stepped forward to offer Jeff what looked like a wine skin.

When he pantomimed drinking, she nodded, glanced back to the men and women who were watching with baited breath (probably half hoping he was friendly and ready to party with them, maybe half ready to jump forward and defend her if he turned out to be violent or crazy or both.)

Brendan flew up to Jeff’s shoulder- “It’s berry wine, somebody says it tastes like raspberry wine.”

Jeff nodded, accepted the wine skin and raised it to his mouth, squirted a bit of the wine into his mouth, smiled, squirted some more and swallowed as he handed it back to the young woman.

She smiled.

He nodded, “Good-“

She spun around on one foot and beckoned to her friends who came forward to take Jeff’s hands and pulled him toward the bonfire.

Jeff turned his head toward Brendan, “Hey,” he whispered, “Let them know I’m married-“

Brendan laughed, “They’re more interested in whether you’re a drummer or a dancer.”

Jeff felt momentarily terrified, “Probably more a drummer than a dancer.”

Brendan translated something and they laughed and led him to a spot where several drums of various sizes, shapes and descriptions were sitting unused.

Jeff focused on a drum that was about a foot in diameter, maybe a foot and a half tall, on legs that were probably more like two and a half feet tall, and had a couple sticks with what looked like rubber balls on one end. He picked up the sticks and gave them a few test strokes, broke into a rhythm that felt right- nodded, smiled, realized that dozens of drums had joined in with a similar beat- and quite a few dancers leapt into action between the drummers and the fire.

Brendan was still with him as he drummed along, “This is a celebration of Spring- You chose a rhythm that is very traditional and calls for the quickening of sap to awaken the trees and call their leaves to burst forth.”

“I did?”

“You did-“

Somebody brought him something that looked like a bit of meat on a stick, it had been cooked at the fire. He ate it and smiled. The young woman with the wine came back and held the skin up to squirt a stream toward his mouth.

Boom boom boom boom- boom buh boomboom boom buh boomboom, boom boom boom boom. The drums became louder and the dancers leaped higher. The food and wine kept coming.

Jeff woke up with the red haired wine woman curled up (fully dressed) against him. He checked in a hurry and sighed with relief when he realized that he was fully dressed, too. They were on a soft blanket, beneath a cloth lean-to.

Brendan was snoring a few feet away, with a corner of the blanket rolled around to cover him.

Jeff sighed and yawned and fell back into a dream.

He dreamed the red haired woman woke him up and offered him breakfast.

Somebody prodded him lightly. He opened his eyes, the red haired woman was offering him a metal plate with what looked like scrambled eggs and fried potato slices.

He smiled and sat up- realized they were near his van, which had been covered in an instant garage of interwoven pine boughs. People in vatious stages of waking up were staggering around, yawning and blinking and smiling at each other.

Xyrean, gesSchtan- people he thought he recognized, were standing near by. Brendan was flying around with someone that Jeff guessed might be his wife or girlfriend.

The red haired woman asked him a question and Brendan was there in a second to translate, “How are you feeling?”

“Pretty good-” Jeff said, nodded.

She said something else, Brendan translated, “She says she told her all about your wife and assures you that you were a perfect gentleman.”

Jeff blushed and nodded, “Thank her.”

She smiled, almost beamed.

He blushed again.

She laughed and hurried away, came back with her own plate full of breakfast and sat beside him.

“Her name is Aislynn, she says her grandfather came from your world, a place he called Ireland. She wants to know if you know the place.”

“I know of it- I never went there. A lot of Irish people came to where I grew up when a potato famine threatened the whole country with starvation…”

Aislynn nodded, she’d heard the same story. Her grandfather had been on his way to a port to take a boat to the new world when he got drunk and woke up on the pier in Birken.

“Birken?”

“It’s a medium sized city on the coast about fifteen miles from here.”

“Where’s ‘here’?”

“We’re in the forest about five miles from Two Rivers- which is about ten miles from a larger city named Three Rivers-“

Jeff laughed.

Brendan grinned, “You’re right, the names aren’t that hard to understand.”

Aislynn said something, which translated to, “She says she’s a half elf- she’s guessing that you’re a half elf too- you’d be surprised at how many people from your world turn out to be half elves.”

Jeff swallowed as he nodded, then stared away for a few moments.

“The shock of your situation is sinking in-” Brendan whispered.

Aislynn was looking into or through him with something like empathy.

He swallowed and lowered his eyes.

She touched his chin and raised her hand to get him to look at her, said something.

“It’s okay- she understands, she is a healer as well as a bard, and she has quite a talent for, um, reading people and making them feel better?”

Jeff looked at Brendan with a question in his eyes.

Brendan shrugged, “She’s made it her mission to make sure you learn to accept your situation here? something like that.”

Jeff turned to Aislynn and was almost overwhelmed by something that looked like pure impersonal love that was beaming from her face, her eyes, her entire being.

Brendan sighed, “You may be able to get back to your world. If you want to get back to your wife and family it might take several months, maybe even years to find the right portal or the right person to send you back- She’s just committed herself to staying with you as long as you need her.”

Jeff was about to say, “That’s scary-“

Brendan’s voice, inside Jeff’s head, vibrated, “Yes, she knows it’s scary- she thinks she recognized you as someone who was her friend or lover in a previous life.”

Jeff swallowed, almost gasped at her.

She chuckled easily back at him, said something that translated to, “Thinks like that happen all the time here.”

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