Helge-Dag wakes up dizzy, sore and confused. The first thing he sees is a worried and naked young man standing over him. As the first shock fades, he recognizes Birni. The werebear has charged back to his human form. Even that first quick glance reveals that his wounds are gone. His skin is unbroken all over.
Helge-Dag is not so lucky. His entire right side hurts, but the leg is the worst. Trying to move it sends new waves of pain washing over him, and he cries out despite himself. "Oww! My leg ... I think it's broken!" "Could be. I dared not wait and risk another jump." Birni does not exactly sound guilt-ridden, and rationally Helge-Dag can understand him. He doesn't have to like it, though.
"So where are we? And what do we do now?" "We are almost certainly in another world, but I do not know which." "You don't know?!?" "I am no more a transport mage than you are. The jump dragon was no doubt taking us to another world. The thwart spell would make sure we did not go there, but we could be anywhere else. I have only traveled with Theelene in the local cluster, but perhaps the jump dragon has a wider range." "But Theelene will get here pretty soon, right? After all, she sent us here." "I am quite sure that is not how a thwart spell works. It just messed up the jump. Theelene probably knows less than we do about where we are." "We are lost in a strange world and nobody knows which?" "That would be about right. But perhaps we will find a civilization here and they can tell us where we are."
Helge-Dag glances quickly at his comrade. "So Theelene won't be here in a couple minutes with your clothes." Birni laughs softly: "Minutes? Unless there is an advanced city behind that hill, we will be here for days at least. Quite possibly weeks or more." "You're going to walk around nekkid for 'weeks or more'?" "Does it bother you?" "No, but ... Yes! Darn it, you can't just walk around like that! That's not how humans do it. I don't mind when you're a half-bear, but not in human form. It's just too embarrassing." "For you?" "I'm not used to hang out with nekkid guys, and I don't want to get used to it!" "Then give me some sage advice on how to make clothes from elm and oak leaves, for those are the only raw materials I see around here."
Helge-Dag had not thought about that. "I guess you could borrow my shirt." He starts to unbutton. Birni looks at him: "I'm afraid your shirt would be too small for me." He briefly flexes his monumental shoulder muscles. Helge-Dag continues to unbutton. "I mean for you to knot it around your waist. I am not overly concerned about staring at your nipples, you know." "But you are overly concerned about staring at my ...?" "No, darn it, it's just that it just ain't right!" "Actually I appreciate your caring and sharing. I am just more used to nudity, being a werebear. I do not usually run around naked in human form, either." "I am sure the girls are less than insistent on the matter." "They stopped hiding my clothes after I reverted to bear form instead." "I forgot you could do that! Why did you change form at all?"
Birni takes the shirt and quickly ties it around his waist, covering his front. It is a thick shirt and quite opaque. "At my age, I am not able to stay in battle form all the time..." "Your age? How old are YOU anyway?" "21." "Only 21? You look like 19, so I guessed you to be 100 or so." Birni laughs again, a surprisingly soft and light sound for such a body. "I am not an elf. We age like humans while in human form. In bear form we age even faster. Only our magical forms, usually a battle form, do not age. As we grow older, our magic grows stronger, and we spend more and more time in those forms. But even then we would revert to a basic form to heal or regain strength after a battle." "But you're already fully healed!" "No, HD. My human form was never hurt, but my battle form is still wounded. I can still feel the pain, in all of my forms." "Oh. Sorry." "I am invulnerable to normal weapons, but those demons had magic claws. Still, I would do it again to protect you." Birni suddenly grins: "Quite apart from the very generous pay."
Helge-Dag has been sitting roughly upright, but getting up turns out to be a very different matter. He collapses with a small scream. "Oww oww oww! I can't move it! Much less stand on it." "Sit here, I will find some wood for a splint." Birni soon returns with a dead branch, which he breaks in suitable lengths. "We need something to tie it tightly together. I see your trouser leg is already broken." "Just take it. It's not like it's cold here." Birni nods, and starts to tear strips from the leg, all the way to mid-thigh. Helge-Dag is again surprised by the strength of the young man, even in his human form.
"You know," Helge-Dag frowns, "with only one leg, these trousers are ruined anyway. May as well make them into shorts. Which means you could possibly wear them - your hips are not that much broader than mine, unlike the rest of you. And they were pretty loose on me - I always had to use a belt anyway. It might work." "I am not used to them. I usually wear tunic and kilt. Besides, I already have the shirt." "It doesn't cover you all the way around." "It will not cover you much more. You already said so." "But unlike you, I would not be stark naked. I have boxer shorts." "I think the translator gem just had an accident." "Underwear. Smallclothes." "Ah. That would indeed be better than nothing."
"Fish??" asks Birni incredulously as the younger boy slips out of the trousers. "Never mind that. My boxers were not chosen for public consumption. If I like fishies, that's my problem, right?" "Hey, it was not an insult. I was just surprised." "If you have never seen boxers before, then I am sorry, but you are not going to see them any more either. I want my shirt back once you're safely inside the shorts." The werebear nods, takes the trousers and removes the last leg. Soon after, he is kind of wearing the remains. It is partly unbuttoned, but not revealing anything essential. "Uncomfortable." "But decent." "So you say. It is certainly nothing like a kilt. You don't need much imagination to ..." "I don't have much imagination. Now help me up. We have a civilization to find."
It is clear from the onset that there will be no stepping on the foot. After hopping a few steps on one leg making small whimpering sounds, Helge-Dag accepts his friend's arm and leans on it rather heavily as they walk and hobble towards the hill. From there they should be able to get a better view of the land, and look for any sign of human habitation. There is nothing to see so far: No roads, no smoke, no planes crossing the blue sky. Nor is there any sound or smell of human industry or transportation. Of course, there wasn't much of that in Satyaloka either.
Progress is rather slow, as Helge-Dag still can't step on his right leg, or make too sudden movements. The one leg still in use soon tires from the unnatural movements. "Birni ... we are going pretty slowly, aren't we?" "Yes." "It would probably have been just as easy for you to just carry me." "Easier." "Then why don't you?" "You have not asked me to." "I need to ask you?" "Would you rather I sweep you off your feet?" "You could ask me." "Your world has some unusual customs indeed." "You don't know the half of it. So, will you?" "Will I what?" "Carry me?" "If that is what you want." "It is not what I want, it is what I need! I'm not trying to be lazy, I am trying not to slow us down too much and destroy my good leg too in the process." "Well, since you insist." "Hey!"
They make better speed now, but Birni still moves more clumsily than he used to do. "Are the wounds in your other form hurting you still?" "Yes. But it is the hurt of healing, not of poison. I am lucky that the claws were only magically sharp, not charged with poison or rot or evil. They were not deep demons. I have seen their ilk before. Cheap stuff." "I thought you might still be hurting. You move, like, stiffly." "That is not the wounds. That is your stupid trousers. Much too tight." "Don't take them off!" "I will not, since you ask." "Thank you. I really appreciate that." "You should." "Oh, and one thing Birni. I would really appreciate if you don't give the girls the details of this journey." "Trust me, HD. I am not even going to tell my own father."
Even Birni is panting as they finally stop at the top of the hill. The climb has been rapid and fairly steep. "You can put me down now if you want. I'd like to look around too, and the view from here is somewhat restricted." "If you insist." "Actually I just plead. But you could probably use a rest too." "Something like that." Birni puts him down and turns to the other direction. "Let us look for any sign of civilization." "What if they are hostile?" "Hostile civilizations tend to not last so long. Most are friendly. Your own is an exception, and the Stone. But even though we may not be attacked on sight, we could still be in trouble when people realize your power. So we should not seek out mages before we absolutely must. And then, the less powerful the better." "Gotcha. Say, that line to the south-west, could that be a road of some kind?"
Birni quickly steps past him a couple steps and gazes in the same direction. "Yes! It is far too straight to be made by animals. And too broad too." "Pretty far off, though." "Yes. Still, we should reach it before sunset." "Umm. That's a while, and it's been a while already. Mind if I, like, use the bushes for a moment?" "Use the bushes?" "For bodily functions. This place is poorly furnished with bathrooms." "Ah. Actually, I guess I have business of my own to attend to. You can take the bushes to the right, and I those to the left. Scream if you're attacked." "Always the cheerful one, are we not?"
Birni did indeed have business of his own, and more serious business too, for Helge-Dag finds himself waiting. He doesn't mind, really. The hill is lightly forested, like the terrain they have passed through. To the southeast, there are more hills, gradually rising towards mountains. To the southwest, the forest grows ever thinner, and the hills smaller. The small road, or large straight path, crosses what could be meadows or pastures, perhaps even green fields. It is hard to say, for the road loses itself in the haze of distance. But whatever it is, Helge-Dag feels that it will not shock or even surprise him. Elves, trolls, werecritters, demons, dragons ... there is only so much more left for fate to throw at him.
Index of chapters.