Jerryck sank. Everything went completely blank. He didn’t see the abyss that sometimes loomed when he blacked out from too much magic. It always belched out sulfurous smoke, accompanied with tortured screams and pleas for mercy. There was none of that. No light. No dark. No sense of anything until he started dreaming. Tajor and the blonde were talking. Beside them stood a large guard wearing glowing armor. It matched the armor of a second large guard that stood by Jerryck. The blonde told Tajor to hit him. From Jerryck’s angle he couldn’t tell if it was Tajor or the large guard who knocked him to the ground. Either way, Jerryck followed it up with fire. Good thing it was just a dream, proven by the fact than neither of the guards with glowing armor were affected by the flames. A large fire could have been dangerous in a city of tents. Somehow, he found himself outside without any idea how he had gotten there. He staggered around a bit like a drunkard. People ran around shouting a lot. He stumbled into Tajor and grabbed him for support. Then the dream lurched and shifted. Strange words he couldn’t understand washed into his ears. Why couldn’t he understand them? That wasn’t right. The dream was his. He should be able to understand words in his own dream. Periods of light and dark took turns passing. Sometimes he bounced and jostled. Sometimes everything was still and quiet. Always, Tajor was nearby. He waited for his wife to shake him, tell him he’d overslept. He really should get up. His mouth was dry. Grit filled his eyes. Someone talked, and this time they didn’t speak nonsensical syllables. “Gerhardt wants you and the magician to leave.” It was the blonde’s voice. “He says you should try to connect with the three men that escaped Andreno. He has two packs with supplies for you in the other room. It is not much. But it will have to do.” “Just like that?” Tajor asked. “He’s releasing us? He’s demanding nothing in return? I’m supposed to believe it’s this simple?” “It is why he did not allow our medics to dose the magician again,” the blonde said. “He does not want war with Brend. He will not be part of this. Help me with your friend.” Jerryck tried opening his eyes. Light stabbed through them. He groaned. Hands gently shook his shoulders. Tajor said, “Wake up. Open your eyes. We have to move.” “Move where?” Jerryck asked. At least that’s what he tried to ask. What came out of his mouth was so slurred he couldn’t even make out his own words. “Anywhere but here.” Tajor must have understood it anyway. “Open your eyes.” Jerryck slitted his eyes open. He groaned again. This time, he kept them open long enough to see Tajor’s blurry face looming over him. Someone hooked their arms under his shoulders and heaved him into a sitting position. The world spun. He closed his eyes against the vertigo. “Where’s Leanne?” Jerryck still had trouble understanding himself. “We’ll go find her,” Tajor said. He and the blonde pulled him to his feet. “Open your eyes again.” “Need sleep.” Jerryck got much closer to enunciating the words that time. He tried more. “Need Leanne.” “Who is Leanne?” the blonde asked. “His wife,” Tajor said. “He’s married?” “Why sound so shocked?” “I was told magicians did not marry because—” “Are we leaving or not?” Tajor sounded irritated. “Jerryck, move your feet. Walk forward. Put one foot in front of the other. Good. Now do it again. No, with the other foot.” Jerryck’s body did not want to follow the commands, no matter how hard he tried. They moved anyway. He managed a little of it. Mostly, Tajor and the blonde dragged him through. He strained until he got his eyes back open. The memory of the blonde hit Jerryck. He was the one who had brought that wretched medic to Andreno’s tent. Jerryck twitched with revulsion where the man was touching him. The twitch must have been more of a lurch, or a jerk. Tajor shifted his grip, supporting more of Jerryck’s weight and saying, “It’s all right.” “There are the packs,” the blonde said, pointing at something on the ground. He let go of Jerryck. “I will go make sure no one is outside.” He left. Jerryck looked around at the drab canvas walls of their small enclosure. “Where are we?” “In a tent.” Tajor didn’t help. Jerryck sagged. He didn’t have the energy to ask for clarification. Tajor sighed and gave it anyway. “We’re in the mountains.” Jerryck let go of Tajor and leaned on a small, sturdy table. He couldn’t think with all the fog in his head. He gathered his energy for magic to clear it up. “Careful,” Tajor said. “Make your spell something that has no lingering magic so I can help you if you need it.” Jerryck nodded. The motion set the world to spinning. Had he heard right that some medic had dosed him with something? Stupid medics. He set his spell to cause a chain reaction in his body that would purge itself of the affects of whatever they had used on him. His alertness would be slower than a quick spell that kept hold of him. But the magic wouldn’t linger. The blonde re-entered from the outside. “We are clear for now. We should go while we can. How is he?” “He’ll manage.” Tajor hefted a pack on his back, and lifted another. The blonde took the second pack in his hand and led the way outside. Jerryck leaned heavily on Tajor, still prone to dizziness. He staggered at the drop in temperature the moment they left the meager cloth structure. They moved in halting bursts. They ducked behind tents. The blonde would check an open space. Then they’d cross it and duck again. A couple of times he left them, talking to someone else, or something. Then Tajor would call him Adam and he would come back and they would move forward. Or did that happen only once? Twice? Once. Maybe. No, it had to be multiple times, because one of the times Tajor had to call him to come back when he took too long away. After several hours… or was it only a couple of minutes? After some time the blonde let Jerryck have a rest. Either that or something had distracted him. Tajor said, “Adam, how far can you get us?” The blonde turned his head at the name, and pointed in the direction they were heading. “To that line of trees over there past where the tents end. You will have to move quickly over where we cleared away the brush to where the trees start. The faster you are, the easier for me to make sure no one sees you. After that, you are on your own. Try and find those three men…” He stopped talking mid-sentence. He was looking past Tajor to a large lump on the ground, halfway behind one of the tents. Jerryck rubbed his eyes. If only that would bring them into better focus. The blonde dropped the pack he carried and headed for the lump with a frown. “This can’t be good,” Tajor said, his nose flaring. Jerryck sniffed, and caught the coppery scent of blood mixed with excrement. He shuddered, then checked to see if he was the one bleeding. He didn’t find anything. He wasn’t hurting anywhere. Just groggy and addled. This was the smell of death. And he was very much alive. “Stay here,” Tajor whispered. He let go of Jerryck and left him. To his credit, he didn’t fall over. To his discredit, it took all his concentration. There was some sort of commotion over by Tajor, the blonde, and the lump. There were more blurs over there that might be people wearing crimson and gold. Someone shouted in that harsh language these people used. Jerryck looked around, hoping no one else heard it. He didn’t see anyone running their way. Of course, with how blurry his vision was, he couldn’t really see much of anything at all. He rubbed his eyes again. “You can’t kill him,” Tajor said. “He’ll raise the alarm,” someone responded. “You can’t kill him,” Tajor repeated. “We can’t leave him here to send everyone after us,” the same voice argued. “Problem solved,” a different voice said. Tajor came back to Jerryck. With him was a somewhat tattered and bedraggled elite guard. The guard picked up the pack the blonde had dropped. “On your feet,” someone said over by the lump. Jerryck checked his feet. He was still on them. And he’d done pretty good to stay that way. The same person said, “Let’s get out of here.” They walked. Uphill. Of course, Jerryck might have felt like he walked uphill even if he’s sat on his butt and slid down a slope. He put one foot in front of the other, over and over, trying not to fall. Tree roots and rocks and bushes kept throwing themselves in front of him, tripping him up. When they crossed open spaces with no trees the very ground worked against him, slipping out from under his feet. And every time he tripped someone was right there, pulling him back upright and prodding him forward. His breathing labored with the exercise. His vision cleared. The ground slipped because they walked on shale. They really did climb uphill. The trees were conifers interspersed with groves of aspens. The bushes were sage. And his breath was labored not just because he exercised, but because the air was slightly thin. There were six of them altogether: Jerryck, Tajor, the blonde, and three disheveled and dirty elite guards. One of them walked with Tajor and the blonde. The other two helped Jerryck. The group entered another stand of aspens and came to a small dell. They descended to the bottom and stopped. One of the guards with Jerryck stayed at the lip and disappeared back into the trees. The one with the blonde said, “Sit.” Jerryck sat. The guard remaining with him tugged on his sleeve, whispering at him, “Not you. You won’t like this part. Come over here with me.” He refused to budge. He was still slightly groggy, still had difficulty piecing everything together. He needed to catch his breath and figure things out. Drawing up his knees he rested his arms and face on them, trying to even out his breath before he hyperventilated and brought all the dizziness back. After a few moments, Tajor asked, “Got your breath back?” Jerryck nodded. “Good,” Tajor said. “I have a few questions for you.” Jerryck couldn’t possibly answer any questions in his current state. He lifted his head. Tajor’s focus was entirely on the blonde between him and the third elite guard. The young man sat on his knees facing Tajor, his hands behind him, his face a grim mask of resolute acceptance. “Oh, come now, Adam.” Tajor clucked his tongue. “No need to look at me like that. It’s not difficult. I ask a question. You answer the question. Simple. And the first question is, what year is it?” Confusion flitted through Adam’s eyes. Understandably so. Who were they? Where did they come from? Why were they here? How had they come? What weapons did they use? What types of magic did they use? Those were all logical questions. Why ask what year it was? As if every culture even used the same count. The guard smashed a fist into Adam’s face. Jerryck gasped. Adam didn’t put his hands forward to catch himself, or straighten back up. Tajor helped him with that and said, “Oh, I didn’t tell you that part. If you don’t answer fast enough, he’ll hit you.” “You do not count years the same as my people,” Adam said. “Why do you need the year?” The guard hit him again. His nose bled. Jerryck swallowed down the nausea that rose up. The guard next to him stepped in his line of sight, blocking his view. He leaned over, unable to tear himself away. “That’s another thing,” Tajor said to Adam. “I ask the questions. You don’t get to, unless I give permission. Let’s try this one more time. What year is it?” Adam hesitated. The guard raised his fist. Jerryck inhaled to tell him not to hit, just as Adam flinched and said, “1949.” The guard lowered his fist. Tajor sat back with a slight frown. Maybe because the number was ridiculously high. What kind of nation was nearly a couple thousand years old? “What year did the war start?” Tajor asked. “1942,” Adam said. Tajor’s frown deepened. “It wasn’t in the late 1930’s?” “No.” “When did the Great War end?” “1925.” “So late…” Tajor murmured. None of this made any sense. The last great war had been back when the districts had all joined under the banner of the man who ended it and became the first King of Unified Brend. But then, Tajor wouldn’t have any cause to ask after Brendish history. Of course he wasn’t. Jerryck still had cobwebs in his head. Tajor would be asking about the nation Adam came from. “Have the Americans entered the war?” Tajor continued, asking this time about something Jerryck had never even heard of. How did he know to ask? “Yes,” Adam said, his expression getting more and more confused. “What provoked them? And when?” “In 1945, when the Japanese sank their fleet in San Francisco Bay.” “San Francisco?” Tajor straightened up in surprise, startling Jerryck. “They didn’t sink the American’s Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor? Why did they skip Hawaii and go all the way to California?” “They were in control of Hawaii at the time. They would not attack themselves. How do you know these names and places?” The guard struck. He left a reddening, swelling ring around Adam’s left eye. Someone had to stop this. Jerryck pulled his feet under him to stand. The guard with him gently gripped his shoulders and whispered, “Leave it alone. It’s part of the job.” Tajor glanced in Jerryck’s direction. Then he grabbed Adam’s coat front and sat him up straight. Blood still dribbled out of his nose. He sniffed. Jerryck clenched his hands, itching to get over there and work some healing magic. “You remember when we talked about you being from another world than this one?” Tajor asked. “Yes,” Adam answered quickly, his eyes flicking momentarily to the guard’s fist. “If there are two worlds,” Tajor said, “doesn’t it stand to reason that there are bound to be more?” Adam’s eyes unfocused. He frowned and shrank back slightly. He didn’t answer the question. The guard raised his fist. Tajor held up his hand. “That question was only to make him think.” Adam’s focus snapped back. He warily watched the guard lower the fist. Tajor poked him in the chest and said, “Something you should know, and you can pass this on to your leader. Your people, in this war, you lose. Always. One way or another, something happens and you lose. Sometimes it’s a major event that turns the tide, like the storming of the beaches of Normandy by the Allies. Sometimes it’s sabotage of the war machine from within. Sometimes it’s a slow process of attrition, everything winding down due to lack of resources. Sometimes with that one, your leaders go underground, feigning surrender and leaving the populace to the mercy of your enemies. Sometimes it’s a sudden halt, such as a fire weapon dropped on Berlin that’s so hot and destructive it razes buildings to the ground and melts people’s flesh from their bones.” That was the most horrific thing Jerryck had ever heard of. Adam gulped, but didn’t look shocked or surprised. Or confused. Just how bad was this war his people were embroiled in? Adam opened his mouth. Then he looked up at the guard and closed it again. Tajor said, “You may ask a question.” “Why do you talk like my country is in many different worlds?” “It is.” “How?” “Some events are so large, they splash across many worlds. It’s like echoes in a canyon, or ripples in a pond. They spread out from where they originate, bounce around, and touch everything around them. And just like echoes are sometimes distorted, or ripples are broken, as the event spreads out into neighboring worlds, variations occur. The biggest distortion in your world seems to be the timeline. Your dates are all late. It’s throwing off the major events. Let me guess. When you invaded Russia, it wasn’t the worst winter they’d had in over a century.” Adam shook his head. Tajor nodded. “Usually by the time the Americans enter the war, your people are running out of resources and supplies. That was four years ago?” “Three and a half,” Adam said. “Why haven’t you run out of resources?” Adam clenched his jaw. The guard hit him, splitting his lip open. Tajor kept him from falling and asked, “Who’s winning the war?’ “No one,” Adam slurred his words. Even with Tajor holding him, he tipped a little to the side revealing the cords around his wrists. The guard grabbed the back of his collar, tipping him back fully upright. He and Tajor both let go. “Is it because you’re getting your resources from another world?” Tajor asked. “Like this one?” Adam clenched his jaw again. He flinched right before the fist smashed into him, knocking him over completely. Jerryck couldn’t take any more of this. He shouted, “Stop it!” “Now look what you’ve done,” Tajor said, sitting Adam upright. “The scary, fire-throwing magician is upset. You should answer the question before he gets any angrier.” Adam closed his swelling eyes and braced. Jerryck stood speechless. If he said anything more, Tajor would twist it again. The guard raised his fist. This time Tajor held up a hand, stopping him. He leaned close to Adam. “Your silence speaks volumes.” The third guard who had disappeared into the trees came sliding on his feet down the side of the dell. “Visitors coming. About ten of them. We have less than two minutes.” The guard who had done all the hitting drew his sword. Adam’s breath hitched and he cringed. Tajor jumped to his feet, holding up both hands. “You can’t kill him.” “We can’t take him with us,” the guard said. “Leave him,” Tajor said. “So he can tell them what direction we went?” The guard didn’t lower his blade. Tajor shrugged. “How? If he can’t see or hear us go?’ Jerryck would have to use magic to make him sleep. He focused, gathering energy. The guard brought the hilt of his sword down with a sharp crack on the base of Adam’s skull just under his ear. He fell over, motionless. “Hey!” Jerryck shouted. “Don’t argue.” Tajor took him by the arm and ushered him up the opposite side of the dell. “We only have seconds before he starts coming around.” “I could have done that in a way that would have been a lot better for him!” Jerryck moved his feet where Tajor directed him. “I don’t care what’s better for him,” the guard growled. “Stop talking,” Tajor said. “Focus your energy on walking fast, not on needless spell casting.” He tossed a triangle leather pouch off to the side. The guard bent to pick it up. “What are you doing?” Tajor grabbed him, stopping him. “Two things will make them pursue us. One, if we kill their interpreter. Two, if they think we have one of their weapons. Leave it.” The guard left it. So did the other two. The three of them and Tajor all hustled Jerryck farther away from the dell, sticking to the cover of trees.