The stalls and vendors gave way to quaint stone houses and buildings, and the dirt streets became lined with cobblestone sidewalks. Essairyn treaded attentively along the cobblestone on the left and searched for the Knight Mage Academy regional school. After a couple minutes, she reached an intersection. She peered down each street and on the left, noticed lettering above a door on the right side of the street. It was a few buildings down, and it read, “The Academy, Reisparte Regional School.” Just as she began turning the corner, she heard a loud commotion from behind her on the right.
“A man just fell from the sky!” a passerby proclaimed to the surrounding people as he stomped past Essairyn. She swiveled in the direction he was going and saw the people amass in the middle of the street.
“Is it another traveler? They sure have been appearing frequently,” a woman commented to her friend as they hustled over. At the mention of traveler, Essairyn rushed over to the growing crowd and nudged her way inside.
“He landed in the middle of town no less!”
“It’s a wonder he didn’t injure his back falling. Perhaps because he’s a traveller?”
“Aww, the poor boy looks so confused. He’s rather cute, don’t you think?”
At the center, a young man, who looked to be around her age, was sitting on his behind on the dirt street. He was rubbing his lower back and holding his head in shock. He wore a powder blue button-down, dark navy jeans, and yellow ocher boots. Essairyn strode over to him past the gaggle of onlookers and stretched her hand out in a greeting. He had sandy brown hair that messily yet handsomely framed his angular face, vivid chestnut eyes that shone up at her in surprise, and a light honey complexion that complemented his ruggedly boyish looks. He blankly stared at her hand for a moment before extending his own. She grasped his hand as soon as it was within reach and quickly tugged him up.
“Come on!” she exclaimed as he stumbled onto his feet.
“H-Huh?” he stammered bewilderedly as she held his hand and dragged him away from the crowd.
“I’m a traveler too! The name’s Essairyn.” She grinned back at the boy as they raced away. “What’s yours?” The girl was often obstinate when it came to making new acquaintances, but she was erratically so. In some cases, she was rather bold, especially when her mind settled on something. In this instance, that something was snatching a traveler like herself.
“Darren,” he shouted as they ran around the corner. “Um, where are we going? And why’re we running so fast?” The bewildered boy hardly had energy to think as they raced.
Essairyn slowed down as they neared the school. “To get away of course. And we’re here!” she announced. She dropped his hand and looked up at the school. It was a old-fashioned stone building barely three stories high with an indigo roof that served as an attic floor. The wooden door matched the roof, and the inscriptions etched above it were painted in gold. A window laid on either side of the door.
“The Academy, Reisparte Regional School?” Darren read.
“Yes, I arrived in this world two days ago and learned that this was the best place to learn about it,” she cheerfully explained.
“This world?” Darren uttered perplexedly, “What do you mean—?” He stopped as he took in the sights around him. “Where the hell is this?” he blurted with wide eyes.
“Sol’h’meyr,” responded Essairyn calmly.
“Soul-hey what?” he replied loudly. Darren gripped his head in confusion and closed his eyes to deliberate this bizarre turn of events. He couldn’t believe what was happening. He had just been walking downtown with his friends after university classes when suddenly he found himself plummeting through nothingness. When he landed, his surroundings were completely different. He was in a rustic town with strange people all around him, and a random girl who casually dragged him off to a school. Apparently he was a ‘traveler,’ and so was she.
“It’s a lot to take in, I know,” she expressed gently with concerned eyes. It was just the other day that she felt the same rush of emotion as he was feeling now.
“It’s just—” Darren began. He squeezed his eyes and continued with slow words, “I was just with my buddies in the city. We had just left the campus dorms, and we passed by this store that had this beautiful painting in the window, so I stopped to look at it, but they had gone ahead, so I went to catch up to them but then suddenly I was—” He shook his head in disbelief and stared blankly into space. This had to be a dream or some nefariously well done scheme by his friends and family. But it just wasn’t logical to suddenly find oneself on a highly realistic and expansive movie set. It was also unlikely that he got knocked out. But then he thought maybe he had and that this was, in fact, a dream while he was unconscious.
Reading the change in his expressions as he tried to deduce his situation, Essairyn remarked, “If you’re thinking that this is a dream. It isn’t.”
Darren looked her in shock. She had read his mind. “You do realize that’s exactly what someone in a dream would say?”
Essairyn snorted. She felt like that line belonged to her had she not been thrown in a forest as opposed to a town. “Sorry to break it you, but I’m 108% real.”
The boy blinked. “108%?” He couldn’t help catching that eccentric detail.
Essairyn coughed, a little self-conscious. “Er yeah, it’s my way of saying more than 100%. Instead of 110%, I thought 108% was more meaningful because 8 is infinity on its side. So, 108% means everything plus infinity…” She had made up that idea when she was little, and satisfied with the symbolic reasoning behind it, 108% had stuck with her since. She waved the air to divert the conversation back on track. “Anyway, this definitely isn’t a dream. I and Sol’h’meyr definitely exist along with you. I arrived here the other day, and when I woke up, I was still here. Can’t you feel it? It feels too real right?”
Apprehension creeped into a corner of his mind. She was right. He felt very much awake; this world looked very much real, and she looked very much alive. Earlier, he hadn’t really registered the feeling of her hand in his. So in a daze, he reached for the girl to double check if she was actually real. He hardly realized that his arm was moving until she clasped his hand. Startled, he tried withdrawing his hand, but she firmly gripped it. With a fierce gaze, she yanked his hand, and his body stumbled forward. Essairyn stopped his body by clutching his shoulder with her other hand. Then in a smooth motion, she slapped a palm on his face.
“Do you believe me now?”
Stunned, Darren was transfixed on the girl’s lavender eyes. At first they looked to be a gray-blue mixed with light sienna, but she, in fact, had purple irises. This in itself was unbelievable, an almost clear indication that she was imaginary, like a fictional character. But the transient, subtle feeling of being deprived of air as she yanked him forward was contradictory. Even now, he could starkly feel the pain ebbing away in his wrist and the sting of her slap fade away. All he could feel now in this moment was the intense pounding of his heart and the pleasant warmth of her hand on his cheek. Closing his slightly ajar mouth which he had opened in shock, Darren got his bearings again and glanced away in embarrassment. Observing this, Essairyn dropped her hand.
“Yeah, it hurt,” he admitted while clutching his chest. His mind instantly spun into a frenzy. If this world is real, then how did I get here? Where is everybody else? His brows furrowed in distress. Does this mean I won’t ever see my family and friends again? He glanced at Essairyn who still watching him.
“You…aren’t you bothered at all by this?” His words came out softer and more strained than he had expected.
She narrowed her eyes at the question. “I was. I probably still am. But this is my—our new reality. There’s likely no way to return to Earth either.” She paused for a half-breath as she realized, “Wait, you’re from Earth, right?” Considering this was a different dimension, she wouldn’t be surprised if he said he wasn’t.
Darren picked up on the challenge in her eyes that had promptly turned to curiosity now. From her sharp gaze, it felt he was being tested whether he was strong enough to accept the situation. “…Yes.” It was obvious from her question that she was from Earth too. But something about her made him doubt this. If she had just arrived the other day, then he couldn’t understand why she had accepted it so quickly. Is she really not at all affected by not being able to return? We might never be able to see anyone we know again. He sighed and turned his head to the side, slightly upwards. “It’s like that painting teleported me to another world…” He murmured. Suddenly, his eyes lit up. “You don’t think—?!”
Essairyn shook her head, knowing what he was going to suggest. “I arrived in a forest actually. It’s located on top of this huge cliff several miles away from this town. I wasn’t near any painting before I found myself here. I’m not yet sure how or why we traveled to this world, but apparently it’s not uncommon for people from Earth to appear here.”
Darren wrinkled his brows. “Then..” he trailed off and looked into space again.
“Hey.” Essairyn patted his arm. “It took me some time to believe that this wasn’t a dream. And there’s probably some part of me that still doubts this world is real.” She looked directly into his eyes and smiled softly. “But it really is real. This isn’t some dream.”