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Epilogue

  “Did that convince you at all?” Detective West asked his partner.

  Portman shook his head, as Matt departed in the beat up old truck. The rain drizzled off the awning above the doors to the station in a curtain. Portman felt perplexed as he shivered in the cold night air. He’d not been sure what to expect from letting Carl talk to his friends, and it hadn’t exactly flagged any real triggers, but it was still bizarre to say the least.

  Back inside, he had a high school kid with insane delusions of magic and a fantasy world he’d supposedly traveled to, plus a missing friend that Portman believed he was responsible for disappearing to some degree. He couldn’t make heads or tails of Carl’s demeanor though—not after the confrontation with his friends.

  Portman was never one to let a case go easy. His dogged determination to follow threads to their very end, when he could just as easily walk away at the first opportunity to clear a number and bump his statistics, had driven away more than a few partners in his career. West was just the newest in a long line.

  “I don’t know about you, but—”

  Portman interrupted him. “I’ll take care of Stokelson. Go get the car. We’re following them.”

  West grinned. “Just what I was thinkin’.”

  Portman smiled as he hurried back into the station. West seemed like a good fit.

  They didn’t bother with sirens or lights, not this late at night. The roads were calm. Most people were asleep. West sped them through hazy strings of green lights shining through the rain, then took them into the maze of streets that made up the suburbs.

  Just as they pulled up to the Silverdale residence, Portman caught a lucky break. He tapped West, who’d slowed to a crawl, and pointed further down the road. Past the sheets of downpour, they could just barely make out the taillights of the pickup, turning the corner and disappearing from view. A few seconds later, and the detectives would never have seen it.

  What followed was the quietest of police chases. There were no cars to be seen anywhere, and barely a sound beyond the pouring rain and the purr of the engine. Surreal, thought Portman. Like they were cruising through a dream, with faint patches of color glowing through the raindrops from the red taillights, the light yellow beams of the headlights, and the dim street lamps above them. The moon was hidden behind the thick cloud layer, and as they drove further and further off the main roads, even the street lights vanished.

  West killed the lights, and their car was black, so Portman didn’t expect to get spotted. If Matt was even checking for people following him.

  If the kid was innocent, why was he driving out this way at three in the morning? Portman couldn’t figure it out. Was that another silhouette in the cab in the truck? He couldn’t be sure, not at their distance and with so little light.

  As they rounded another corner, rising up into the hills, Portman glanced around in surprise. He’d been so busy trying to make out the details of the car, he’d not kept track of their location.

  “Where are we?”

  “Outside our jurisdiction,” grumbled West. “Wait… Holy shit.”

  “What?”

  “I think… Yeah. We’re going to Cyraveil Park.”

  An alarm bell rang furiously in Portman’s mind. “Are you sure?”

  “Can’t think of anything else this way worth mentionin’.”

  Carl’s story pushed his way back into the back Portman’s mind. Was it possible?

  No. It was absurd. It couldn’t happen. It was the wishful, escapist thinking of a kid who’d seen something terrible and couldn’t cope. Carl was disturbed and needed serious psychiatric help.

  Yet Portman couldn’t explain what he was seeing. They just had to keep following Matt, wherever this was going. Maybe he’d lead them to a body, buried deep in the woods. Portman shivered at the thought. Was he about to catch a murderer?

  He placed his hand in his coat pocket and double-checked that his pistol was still there on his hip.

  
  

***

  
  

  “Careful,” hissed Portman.

  “I hate the woods, okay?” West picked himself back up from the dirt and shot him a glare. “Just go ahead without me if you have to.”

  They were a few hundred feet back from a bobbing lantern, travelling deep into the forest. The pickup had pulled off the road a short while after the sign for the park, and three people got out—Matt, his sister, and a girl neither of them knew. Portman’s paranoid brain instantly jumped to the conclusion that Matt and his sister were about to murder the girl, but he brushed that away. The body language was all wrong. They were helping her through the woods. Matt’s sister lead the way, just outside the lantern light, while Matt lead their friend by the hand through the more difficult thickets.

  West had no such companion, and tripped over every root and bramble in the near-total darkness.

  “Just keep that lantern in sight,” Portman whispered, seriously annoyed. He started ahead while West struggled to keep up. The light was fading away, but Portman was determined not to lose them. The chase went on, deeper and deeper into the woods. He was getting thirsty and tired, having spent far too much time awake, but he still refused to let them out of his sight. He’d figure it out and close the case, no matter what it took.

  The forest had grown quiet, he noticed. There were no crickets, no frogs, nothing. Only the wind, rustling the leaves around them. He felt anticipation knotting in his chest, and knew something was going to happen—sooner, not later. Just as the feeling struck him, he saw the lantern swing to a halt.

  How close did he dare get? Portman crouched low, trying to move as quietly as possible. He could hear murmuring ahead, as the light shifted around and shadows moved all about. From what he could tell, they’d set down the lantern behind a tree, blocking out the light from the clearing they were standing in. Why would they do that? What are they planning?

  He needed to get closer. He edged forward, step by step, his feet crinkling the sheets of ivy beneath him. Finally, he could make out a few words.

  “...and I stand here?”

  “I don’t think it matters. We… to hold hands.”

  “You aren’t sure?”

  “Vack dou, I’ve never done this before.”

  A nervous laugh. What was going on in there? He tried to move closer, but he could see thick patches of ivy and leaves in front of him. They’d make too much sound. The risk was too great. If he revealed himself now, he might not hear everything important. He could only trust that he would hear them if they started moving again, or if anything seemed about to happen.

  “Ready?”

  “Can you ever be ready for something like this?”

  “Oh, stop grandstanding. Let’s just do this.”

  “Okay.”

  “You two are gonna be a bundle of fun. Okay, hang on tight.”

  More muttering, and this time in what sounded like a foreign language. It was too quiet to hear the word—if they were even words he could understand. Portman spoke a few languages fluently, but this definitely wasn’t one of them. Wasn’t even in the same family.

  Abruptly, the voices stopped. Everything stopped. All he could hear was the wind.

  He waited. For minutes that dragged on and on, he waited. The lantern light flickered in front of him. He watched carefully for any sign of an escape attempt. Finally, with West creeping up behind him, Portman could wait no longer.

  He burst out from the underbrush, rushing into the clearing.

  It was empty. Completely empty.

  The lantern flickered again from behind the nearest tree. He looked down at the ground, at the tracks scattered in the dirt floor. There was a small depression at one end of the clearing, where a heavy rock might have sat.

  “The hell?” asked West, looking around at the surrounding forest. Tall, dark shapes surrounded them, thick trees and indistinct shadows alike.

  Portman crouched down and picked at the grass in the clearing. The dirt was already dry, though the rest of the forest was still soaked from the rainfall. He sat down, and looked up at the circle of sky above them. Directly above, through a gap in the clouds, he could just make out the twinkling stars.

  “They’re gone.”

 

 

 

 

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A note from Etzoli

and so it ends.

Thanks for the support, everyone. This story got way more attention than I expected, and it really pushed me toward getting it done quicker. There were a few rough patches, but I'm really proud of what I managed to write here, and I stuck with the concept all the way to the end. I don't think I'll be publishing another story straight off of finishing each chapter again, this was a bit nuts... but it was fun! Hope you had fun too.

Please, tell me what you thought, and leave a rating! (Ratings, and especially reviews/advanced reviews will help more people find this fiction) This is the first complete story I've published anywhere to the internet, so I'd love some feedback. Also, if you enjoyed this but want something much more substantial in scope, please go check out my (much larger and longer) ongoing contemporary fantasy series, The Last Science, right over here. I also have a Patreon you can join, if you like, and a Discord to hang out and talk about who's evil or not.

let's do this again sometime <3

—etzoli

 

edit: additional note: I've now launched my next fiction! Check it out over here: Ætla Verǫld


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About the author

Etzoli

  • Oregon
  • Amateur Technological Thaumaturge
  • https://etzo.li

Bio: Sysadmin, student, wordsmith, TV obsessive, pretzel addict.
Many keyboards have perished in my pursuit of wordcounts.

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mars @mars ago

This... was wonderful, a genuinely engaging story of what would realistically happen after the wonderous madness of fantasy that encompasses the lives of children leaves them dumped back where they once were, in a world of the mundane. It gives a harshness that should be present in isekai things but just isn't and benefits for it, it gives a harshness to the everyday lives we live and have lived from a perspective not many can give and likewise benefits for it. It did not shy away from those broken and lost but neither did it shy from showing the strengths of those forged under chains and moral strength.

Thank you for the read.

    Etzoli
    Premium
    Author

    Etzoli @Etzoli ago

    Thank you for reading it!

    That was one of the primary goals, for sure. I've read a lot of isekai stories over the years, and I've always wanted to really dig in and explore just what it might be like to come back from something like that. It sounds like it really got through, which is giving me all the warm and fuzzy feelings. <3

    If it's not too much trouble, could I possibly persuade you to leave your comments as a review on the story? I'd love for more people to give this story a try, and reviews are the most important way to get more readers in here. You write in a very insightful and concise way that I think more people should benefit from, instead of all the way at the end in the comments :X

    thanks again!

Raiser01
Premium

Raiser01 @Raiser01 ago

Carl got backed stabbed by Matt so hard it isn't even funny. I like how Mattt was slowly trying to justify his actions of going back and leaving carl behind and taking all the glory in that world. 

    Jayr @Jayr ago

    What could Matt have done?

    Seriously, if Matt starts agreeing with him there, it's 3 people in a mental institution instead of one. There is literally nothing that has even a remote opprotunity of a good ending in that scenario.

    Matt was trying to make the best out of a really shitty situation. And he was right, btw, clealry if Carl is nearly killing people just so he can go back and do the same thing to others then it's not the best place for them.

      Lvl 999 Noob @Lvl 999 Noob ago

      I don't think you are quite right there. Carl wanted to get back, and he was willing to do bad stuff for it. But it wasn't to do what he did here, there. If I were in his place, with a bad body, no family, no friends, and I had all of those and more there, I would definitely try to go back. If at this moment, someone tried to play me a fool and was too good at it too, I too wouldn't want to just accept that it was a lie. That he had been a troll. Our brain is quite good at justifying itself and it doesn't feel when it's investment is wasted.

      Moreover, if anyone could have stayed here, it was Matt, not Carl. Matt had gotten his life under control here. He could handle his mom after his sister runs away. And he was the only one who wanted to come back anyways.

      As for his promise to Blake and his mom, he could have passed that onto Carl. He could have him promise that he would take care of his sister and the kingdom. Carl's seems a little more suited to controlling a kingdom with his contacts and subjects anyways. He could just install a dummy monarch to make the required laws and do the big changes while handling it all from the shadows. And now that the war is over too, I think he would be able to leave his past behind and become a new man altogether.

      AkoyPinoy @AkoyPinoy ago

      Not sure but didn't Matt only find out about the way back when Carl was already in Whiteman's apartment? And I don't think Jayr is blaming Carl, he's just saying that Matt had no choice.

      Lvl 999 Noob @Lvl 999 Noob ago

      I think Matt already knew about the way back ever since he came back. Just like he could always come back at any time, he could always go back at any time here too.

      Etzoli
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      Etzoli @Etzoli ago

      Chapter 1 (Matt), right at the end:

      Something I’d kept hidden deep inside my soul, that I dared not reveal to anyone. She’d told me how we could return to Cyraveil.

      Jayr @Jayr ago

      I agree that Matt would have handled staying behind better, but in that specific moment he really didn't have any other choice. You're also overlooking a lot of the terrible stuff Carl did while he was there too, the torturing and killing civilians and all.

      Lvl 999 Noob @Lvl 999 Noob ago

      You are overlooking that Carl 'spawned' in a den of thieves and he only tortured and killed to get to his goals. Furthermore, I don't think he would break his promise to Jen which they would have gotten him to make as a condition to go back. Also, it isn't like the other's didn't torture or kill. They might not have gotten up close and personal in the torture bit but you can't deny the killing part and that they allowed their subordinates to do these things. Wars are basically which side can be more cruel, in a way. And being there, in a familiar setting, with a good head, loyal subjects, maybe even a loving wife and a few good promises at the start, would do a lot to turn him into either a very good king (maybe not a generous one but an innovative, advancing, just one) or a behind-the-scenes guy controlling the main positions and keeping the kingdom stable.

      Etzoli
      Premium
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      Etzoli @Etzoli ago

      Carl 'spawned' in a den of thieves

      It's worth noting here that Carl, Matt and Blake were together for a fair amount of time in Cyraveil. Only Jen was split up from the group immediately.

      See Chapter 4 (Carl):

      Back in the first year or two, before we’d gone our separate ways, Matt used to go on for hours about Sara, a girl he’d had a crush on.

      and Chapter 2 (Carl):

      I’d spent years searching for him [Blake] when we got split up

      An unspecified event later caused them to split up, with Matt and Blake going a different direction than Carl.

      Lvl 999 Noob @Lvl 999 Noob ago

      Thanks for the correction.

Seviradi @Seviradi ago

Hard, punchy, and dense enough that even without a ton of chapters, you don't feel like you're missing stuff or skipping over necessary info.

Easily one of the best short(?) stories I've read in a long time, and I've honestly got little but praise for this series. Obviously I wish I could read a little more about what happens, but yknow? That mystery is what keeps this whole thing as fresh as it is. You've given enough to justify what they've done and shown what they're planning to do - and let the reader fill in all the gaps with their own imaginations.

Maybe they make it back. Maybe they end up somewhere completely different. Maybe time has shifted five hundred years in their absence and nobody remembers them or their actions anymore. Maybe all of their sacrifice is for nothing.

In so many other stories, that not-knowing would be uncomfortable, but it feels pretty alright here.

Very well done with your nanowrimo, friend.

    Etzoli
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    Author

    Etzoli @Etzoli ago

    Thank you so much for the kind words! Yeah, going any further would be a different story. This story is done.

    As for "short" story, it's certainly a lot less than a typical serial, but we're still at nearly 100k words =P This is longer than a typical commercial novel. I suppose it might feel a bit shorter though given the small time-frame and very tight focus.

    Please, consider leaving your comments as a review if it's not too much trouble! I'd really love for more people to find this story, and reviews are a huge way to boost visibility.

Renatus @Renatus ago

My heart can't take it. This was an amazing journey. Broken characters are the most fun and this had a fair share of them. Can't wait to imagine what will happen next. Great ending I'm thoroughly satsisfied.

Cogcro @Cogcro ago

Thanks for the great read, not to mention it was a nice change of pace from what I usually read on this site!

    Etzoli
    Premium
    Author

    Etzoli @Etzoli ago

    Thank you so much for the kind words, and for the review! I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I hope I can provide you with more great stories down the line.

Critstreak @Critstreak ago

This is gold... Wait no, it's more, it's platinum. This is the type of story this site desperately needs more of. Less of those blue boxes and more well thought out deep story filled with wonderfully crafted characters. You nailed it Etzoli, thank you.

If you ever choose to write a prequel or one of two potential sequals, I'm in.

    Etzoli
    Premium
    Author

    Etzoli @Etzoli ago

    Thanks <3

    There are no plans for a prequel or sequel at this time. Their story is done. I'd never rule anything out, of course, but for now, I need to focus back on TLS and the other short(er) novel ideas I've got cooking.

Iron Vale I @Iron Vale I ago

This is a satisfying ending. Bittersweet like coffee. Also like coffee, it will keep you awake thinking about the characters.

you sir are an awesome author. I'll recommend this to my students when we'll talk about the difference between antagonist and classic villains.

    Etzoli
    Premium
    Author

    Etzoli @Etzoli ago

    I'll recommend this to my students

    That may honestly be the greatest compliment I've ever received. Both my mother and my sister are teachers. Thank you so much, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

PinoyKoakai @PinoyKoakai ago

I love this story. The characters are fantastic and everything is perfectly paced especially with each different style for each characters thought process. I just wish the ending was happier. The tone you were going for was nailed perfectly, I want to add, I just wish that it didn't have to end with 4 close friends being torn apart so viciously...

    Dramen @Dramen ago

    Definitely an awesome read and gets into the nitty gritty on the ramifications of suddenly being sent home after 7 years of war, tragedy, and that people don't perfectly accept change and how it breaks them