Untitled and Unfinished, Ch. 2
I don’t have time to ponder my literal miracle because I hear Melinda say, “We’re here.”
I look up to see we stopped at a stable right next to the tower in the middle of town. It bears a great resemblance to a lighthouse, now that I’m studying its details more closely; it just has no actual light fixture at the top. Window slits dot the outside walls, though wider ones exist on the top floor. The tower itself is made of white bricks and topped with brown shingles. According to the sign next to the door, this is the village watchtower. Handy.
Melinda motions for me to follow her, so I set the plank ex machina under my seat and hop off the wagon. For the few seconds I’m walking and studying my surroundings, I feel like a director who’s just walked on set. Everyone is dressed in simple medieval clothes, but a few people standing beside the watchtower are dressed in the same uniform-type armor as Melinda and Donovan. Meanwhile, I’m trucking around in jeans and a golf shirt. You’d think that would make me stand out like a fashion disaster, but no one’s giving me the funny eye here. I may as well keep acting casual; the last thing we need is a town-wide disruption to happen just because of my clothes. So into the watchtower I go.
Inside, a table’s set up on the wall opposite the door, and in the middle sits a woman writing something down on a sheet of paper. A few more sheets sit to her right. The rest of the room is occupied by round tables with matching stools, and they form a circle with an open space between them. The woman at the back table has a brown cloak draped over her shoulders, but the rest of her outfit looks the same as Melinda’s. I’m going to assume she has some kind of authority here.
Melinda, meanwhile, salutes to her. “Commander Redford, I’ve returned.”
Ah-hah. Right on the money there.
Redford looks up and nods to the one who addressed her, but her eyes narrow soon after. “Where is Donovan?”
“We were ambushed by Shadow Snappers, and he remained behind to fight them off. He had urged me to go ahead without him so that I could transport a civilian here safely.”
I poke my head up when that last part comes up just in time to see Melinda gesturing to me. Though she’s swiveled her body a little in the same motion, her eyes don’t stray from Redford. The commander’s then meet mine, and I can see they’re a very focused blue. Her gaze could change from warm to cold in an instant, I bet—but maybe the only reason I’m saying that is because she’s walking over here right now, and I can’t read her face very well at all.
I’m not thinking about anything else when my hand rises to shoulder level to wave. “Uh, hello. H-hello, Commander.” Wow, I could not have sounded more brainless if I had tried.
No reprimand comes, though. Instead, Redford crosses her arms over her chest, her gaze still unreadable. “Where did you find this civilian, Melinda?”
“Along the main road a short way north of here,” comes the reply. “I don’t know from where she hails, but she claims to be from out of this country.”
“That’s easy enough to believe just from the look of the clothes she wears,” says Redford. “Did you not find any volunteers in your search?”
“I’m afraid not. I apologize, Commander.”
“It’s all right. With any luck, the other lieutenants of the town guard have found volunteers. And hopefully, Donovan will be with them.” Redford finally takes the seat in front of me, leaving me without any doubts about who she’s addressing when she speaks again. “What is your name, stranger?”
I get ready to give my real name, but I stop myself. Have you ever run into a story where a character knowing another character’s true name gives the former a huge advantage over the latter somehow? I have, and considering my situation, I have no idea if this book has anything like that in play here. Call me paranoid if you want, but I’m not taking the chance. It takes me all of two seconds to settle on an alias as simple as Jane Doe: “Claire.”
“And where are you from, Claire?”
“I’m, uh… I’m from a country called Whitiger.” That’s actually the name of my home city, but it gets the point across well enough; I don’t need to delve into that much detail, I hope. “It’s very far from here. This might sound crazy, but I actually have no idea how I wound up here. I think I may have been warped here by magic.”
“Then someone must’ve cast the spell to summon you. Do you know who it was?”
I shake my head. “No. I know opening a book triggered the spell, which means someone must’ve rigged that to happen without my notice. But I couldn’t tell you who did it. The only other thing I know is that I seem to be stuck here.” I probably shouldn’t tell her about the arrangement I made with you, huh? Nah. No one would believe me if I did.
“Curious….” Redford clasps her hands in front of her face such that they cover her mouth, but her eyes turn away from me. The gears turn in her head for a while, long enough to remind me just how much a minute or two can drag when nothing else is going on.
When I hear the door open, though, I know I’m going to have to wait to hear what the commander was thinking about. A group led by two more town guardsmen come filtering into the room. I see Donovan among them—woot!—as well as a trio of commoners, two guys and one girl. The guy in the middle is a brunette dressed in reds and browns, and I think he has a short sword strapped to his belt. To his right is the other guy, a blond dressed in green; to his left is the girl, a redhead dressed in blue. They’re just a few bits of armor and a couple swords short of looking like a textbook adventuring party.
Melinda rushes right up to Donovan, and the two of them share a high-five; I wave at him when he happens to turn my way and he smiles back. Other than a few scratches on his armor, the guy looks no worse for wear. I nod my head to everyone else as they gather around Commander Redford, who rises from her seat to greet them all in turn.
“We’ve returned with volunteers,” says the town guard in the lead.
Redford nods in approval. “Excellent work, Wendell. I trust you and Natasha are going to break in the volunteers?”
“We’ll do it right now if that’s what you wish,” says the second guard.
Both this Wendell and Natasha wear helmets that obscure their faces; all I can tell from their exposed chins is that they both carry semi-dark complexions. I only tense up when Natasha points to me and asks, “Is this another volunteer?”
“A visitor, more like. Leave her to me,” Redford tells her quickly. “To our volunteers, I say only that your help is much appreciated. The foes we face are dangerous, so no matter how much you learn tonight, you must remain cautious at all times.”
“I understand loud and clear,” says the guy in red with a bow. “I promise my friends and I won’t let the people down!”
Spoken like a true hero. Now I’m wondering if he’s the actual protagonist of this story. Guess I’ll find out at some point, whenever that’ll be. As the volunteers are escorted out by Wendell and Natasha, Redford motions for Melinda and Donovan to stay in the room before returning to me.
“Claire,” says Redford, “your circumstances are indeed strange. If I understand what you’ve told me, you did not come here by your own will. I don’t mean to drag you into a conflict you have no part in, but at the same time, I fear we may be short on guards for tonight. So I must ask… are you able to fight?”
“Not really,” I admit. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t be. You’re far from the only civilian who can’t fight, and it’s clear to me you mean us no harm. Nonetheless, the means by which you’ve come to us bears investigation; we just have little to go on and no time to start before we start the patrols. I want to assure you, though, that we will look into your situation.”
“Thank you, Miss—I mean, Commander.” I bow my head quickly to avoid showing her the sheepish look on my face.
Redford turns to the two guards without missing a beat. “Melinda, Donovan, both of you are to remain with Claire for the time being. So long as she’s here, she’ll need protection, and she’s acquainted to both of you already. As for you, Claire, you can spend the night in the watchtower; we can arrange for you a different place of lodging in the morning. I’m going to prepare the other troops for tonight’s patrol. Between us and the volunteers, we may have just enough to tide us over.” The commander nods to her subordinates. “You are dismissed.”
The two guards stand at attention and salute. “Yes, ma’am.”
The one in question stiffens. “Yes?”
At this, Redford’s stern face turns warm. “I’m glad to see you made it back safely.”
“We all are,” adds Melinda.
I can’t help but add something myself. “You rock, dude.”
Donovan returns the warm looks, even lowering his hand. “Glad to be back, all of you.”
The commander leaves us then, so it’s just me and the first two people I met after entering the book world. With nothing else to do, I rise from my seat and stuff my hands into my pockets. “So, uh… what do we do now?”
Melinda’s face suddenly beams like she’s trying to project sunshine. “I say we take you around town. You might as well get to know the place while you’re here. You also heard the commander. Once she sets her mind on something, she goes through with it to the end, so I’m sure we’ll get to the bottom of your mystery soon enough.”
“That’s a relief,” I say.
Nearby, Donovan gives and nod of his own and heads to the door. “If the commander has determined you’re no spy, that’s good enough for me.”
“That’s also a relief.”
When Donovan opens the door, Melinda grabs me by the arm and rushes out with me in tow. I have no idea where this energy’s come from all of a sudden, but it is a nice change of pace from all the formality from a few seconds ago. Donovan follows close behind enough for me to hear him lightly chastise us for acting like kids, and then Melinda and I are next to the wagon she was driving earlier.
She even points to it once we stop. “Hop right in! We’ll be able to tour the town faster in this and be back once the patrols begin.”
“Is it okay if we’re not so formal now?” I ask. “And are you sure we’ll have enough time for the tour?”
“It’s springtime, almost summer, so the daylight hours have been growing longer. And if you have further questions, there’s always tomorrow for a more thorough tour. Oh, and don’t worry about the formalities—not when we’re going to be hanging out with each other for a while.”
I let out a laugh. “Sounds good to me.”
With that, Melinda motions for me to hop into the wagon. Once I do, I search under the seat for the plank ex machina I stashed away earlier. Yup, it’s still there; it hasn’t upped and left as instantly as it appeared on me. And now that I’m looking at it, I have to wonder…
Oh, heck, let me just ask. “Say, Melinda? What’s this plank for?”
She answers first with a curious glint in her eye, then a slight cock of the head. She holds the expression long enough for me to wonder if she has no idea where the plank of wood came from, either—
—until she says, “That must be from the group we picked up yesterday. They had an awful lot of equipment with them, and they took their own wagon home this morning.”
“Really?” I’m not sure what to think of this because, adrenaline cool-down period aside, I know what I saw—the plank just poofed its way into existence—but then, I’m not exactly a normal denizen of this book, now am I? That’s why I don’t say much more on the subject; I just say one little thing: “I should thank whoever left this here, then. It saved me from that Shadow Snapper.”
Melinda and Donovan laugh, and then the former says, “It did serve you well, didn’t it? We should get you a better weapon than a plank of wood, though, for safety’s sake.”
“Right, right. Never know when the wood will snap, after all. Besides, you might need it later.”
So the tour begins with Melinda driving the wagon and Donovan providing most of the commentary. I pay attention well enough, but the back of my head is trying to think of possible reasons why and how the plank ex machina has been securing its existence.
Let’s start at the beginning. I went on the wagon and it was completely empty. The Shadow Snapper hopped on, and I went into full-adrenaline mode. I kept thinking to myself, I need a weapon I need a weapon now—and then I saw the plank of wood. A few whacks later, and I sent that Shadow Snapper packing. I wonder… did the plank of wood appear because I was so desperate for something to fight back with?
Hold on. It makes sense, but the implications are kind of nerve-racking. And by kind of, I mean I think an explosion has gone off in my head—metaphorically speaking, of course. Because if it’s true… does this mean I actually have some influence on how the story goes?
Let me cool my jets a bit. I don’t know how true this is. But if I’m going to find out, I’ll need to test it out.
And I may very well get my chance tonight.