“Bind her!” I heard the rider bellow, and immediately a pair of hands seized me. I struggled against their owner, but my feeble strength was no match against his. He wrenched my hands behind my back and forced me to stand back up. I became aware of the rough texture of a rope as it was wrapped around my wrists.
“S-sniper!” I called out, not knowing what else to do. I don’t know if he could hear me, but sometimes the Pokémon knew when he was needed. Right now would be a wonderful time for him to burst from his Poké Ball on his own.
“What is she doing?” a soldier demanded.
“She’s summoning a Beast! Silence her, quickly!”
A hand wrapped around my face, muffling my begging cries. I nearly gagged at the metallic taste that tainted my mouth. As soon as they finished binding my hands, a coarse piece of fabric replaced the gauntlet. I kicked and screamed for that brief moment when my mouth was free, but for once in my life… I was helpless. I lost this battle.
The rider brought his horse-thing up behind his men, looking down at their handiwork with satisfaction.
“Leave the mutt,” he ordered, indicating poor Lilly, who was trying to limp towards me. A footman kicked her in the face, sending back into a miserable, whimpering wad of hair.
I cried behind my binds, tears welling up in my eyes. I’m so sorry, Lilly, I wanted to beg for her forgiveness. This is all my fault…
The last glimpse I caught of her, she weakly raised her head. Then the men forced me into a merciless march.
After trudging through the woods at an unforgiving pace, the men stopped at a nearby brook. I suppose they wanted to let the horse rest, not really caring about me. Either way, I took advantage of the break. Collapsing in exhaustion, I sobbed into the grass. My Stoutland… my poor Stoutland. If I had paid better attention to her, none of this mess would have happened. The armored men—they were ruthless. I couldn’t understand why. What did they want with me? Where were they taking me?
A suspicion played around my thoughts then. It whispered to me, making me wonder: I wasn’t in the same world anymore, was I? Watching the men, how they drank from the stream alongside the horse-thing, I realized how primitive they were. Apparently, they had no fear of the micro-organisms that possibly swam around in the stream—or else, they didn’t know about sanitation. Their weapons and shields looked a little too real for my liking, as well. Had I... gone into the past?
What had I dragged Lilly and myself into?
My gaze met the rider’s, and I stared loathingly at him. Lilly
, I promised there and then. I will come back to you. Hang in there.
The rider returned my stare, unconcerned and unmoved. I hate to admit it, but I was the one who finally broke away from that intense staring-contest.
My bag had been confiscated, but my Poké Balls still hung from my belt. If I could just use one… I tested the rope tied around my wrist, seeing if I could slide my hands around any. The footmen’s knots were tight, however, and I couldn’t find any leverage. But if my elbow could knock one off, maybe I could stand a chance.
Keeping an eye on the soldiers, I experimentally twisted my body. Ignoring the complaints from the bruise on my side, I could actually slide my arms over the spherical capsules. If I bent forward enough, the crook of my elbow could maneuver underneath the last on my left. The unusual movement could attract attention, so I had to be quick. Waiting until they were facing the opposite direction, I bent over and slid my arm over a ball, then jerked back. Missed. I tried again. And again.
A footman casually turned his head.
Panicking, I had to think fast. Bending all the way over, I pretended to scratch my nose on my knee. The man grunted, and returned to combing the horse’s fur. I waited a moment before trying a few more times. Eventually, the ball grew loose, ready to pop off at any moment.
“What is she doing?”
I froze, staring like a Deerling caught in the headlights.
“Witch curses,” spat one, glaring at me like I would bring the plague. “She’s prob’ly try’un ta place a hex on us.”
The rider glanced up with a frown. “We should continue on, now. We’re not too far from camp.”
“Aye, the sooner we get rid awf ‘er, ta bettah.”
No! This might be my only chance! In a final desperate lunge, I finally knocked the Poké Ball free. It fell to the ground with a satisfying thump!
The men leapt to their feet, alarmed at the sight of the strange technology. Before they could race forward to stop me, I brought down my foot on the lock and kicked it into the face of the closest soldier. He shouted in fright as the capsule opened, the sudden white light blinding him. Seconds later, my hero appeared, all ten feet of him.
About time, Sniper.
The massive green snake took in the whole scene for one second, red eyes darting from my bindings, to the oddly dressed strangers, to the rearing horse-thing. He immediately jumped to the conclusion that the men were bad news. With a warring screech, the Serperior swung his powerful tail and knocked back the men closest to him. The horse bolted, dragging off the unfortunate rider who had tried unsuccessfully to calm it. Three men were left standing, but none of their previous confidence showed.
“Stand down!” one finally braved forward, drawing the sword from his sheath. The others followed suite with grim expressions.
Sniper hissed, scales bristling. He coiled his lengthy body around me defensively, daring the men to attack. I ducked my head, knowing what he planned to do next. Razor-edge leaves suddenly swirled out from beneath his scales, pausing in midair before suddenly flying forward. My kidnappers soon were engulfed in a tornado of knife-like leaves that mercilessly hacked at any exposed flesh.
I felt the ropes around my wrists give out as Sniper sliced through them with the blades at the tip of his tail. Hands free, I ripped the gag from around my face.
“Good boy,” I half-mindedly thanked my Pokémon, most of my wary attention focusing on the shouting soldiers tangoing with Sniper’s Leaf Storm. Deciding not to wait around to see what they would do next, I scooped up the empty Poke Ball , and ran for it.
My legs burned as I crashed through the undergrowth. To afraid to stop, I kept racing, even after I could no longer hear the shouts of the soldiers. Beside me, Sniper easily kept pace; in fact, he probably had an easier time maneuvering his limbless body through the trees and shrubs then I did. He was in his element—I wasn’t.
Eventually, we reached a road block: sheer cliffs that caged us into the forest. I had to tilt my head back to see the rim of the impressive wall, but when I did so my knees gave out. I fell on my back, and I stayed there, panting until my breath caught up with me. Sniper watched me in concern before up next to me. Gingerly, he laid his head on my stomach and trilled in the back of his throat.
“What am I going to do,” I moaned, rubbing my face with one hand while resting the other on my Pokémon’s head. “We must be a thousand years in the past, but… How is that possible?”
Sniper silently opened an eye.
“Or… or maybe this is just a dream. Yeah, a dream—a really horrible nightmare,” I concluded, figuring I was close to the truth. It made sense, too. None of this could be real. Maybe I did knock my head against that rock last night, and all of this was mere delusions. “I’ll just close my eyes, and wake up. Then everything will be as it should be.”
My Serperior lifted his head a few inches, cocking it in puzzlement. I ignored him and squeezed my eyes shut. Let this be a dream, just a dream
; I repeated a self-invented mantra, crossing my fingers. None of this is real. It isn’t happening. I’m still back in the year 2011…
Placing all my hope in this silent plea, I sat up and re-opened my eyes.
And I came face to face with the dead end of an arrow.
Sensing my alarm, Sniper whirled his body around. He let out a sharp hiss as he tensed his muscles, preparing to strike once again.
“Move, and I shoot,” the arrow’s unshaken owner threatened, keeping the projectile aimed straight at me. He was close enough that I could neither dodge nor deflect—if I could do even that.
I stared aghast at the archer, a young man looking only a year or two older than me. He looked as rugged as the soldiers I met before, with a regal air that made him seem princely. His sharply angled face stared back fiercely at mine through sea-green that would have made even a Watchog glance away in shame. I didn’t doubt for a second that he wouldn’t execute his intentions, if provoked.
“Down, Sniper,” I whispered to my Pokémon. The Serperior lit out another low hiss, but reluctantly recoiled.
“Who are you,” the young man demanded with a commander’s strict tone. I got the feeling that no one ever disobeyed him.
“Who are you allied with?” he didn’t blink for a second.
I strained my brain to try to understand, “I… what? I’m not aligned with anyone.”
The archer pulled his bow farther back. “Who?”
“Look, guy, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” my hands flew up in the air. He was crazy!
“Tell the truth,” he narrowed his eyes.
I wanted to cry, but I tried to hold myself together. “Fine, then,” I took in a deep breath. “I’ll tell you the truth: I’m lost, okay? I woke up on the wrong side of the universe this morning, and not long after a group of men tried killing my dog and kidnapping me. I only just escaped, having ran a million miles through the jungle, so can you back off some?”
Maybe I got a little out of hand with that last part. The kid was intimidating, but it seemed easier to face one man instead of several well-armed soldiers. Kind of. Besides, I was getting tired of this life-endangerment business. After the second time someone points a weapon at your face, it gets old. Can I go home, now please?
“You expect me to believe that?” his voice was devoid of humor, only tipped with ice.
“Will you relax, brother?” a new voice entered the scene.
I turned my head to see another young man emerging from the woods. He favored a leg, I noticed, but waved cheerfully to the three of us. Up close, I saw the remarkable resemblance he shared with the archer—the same, sharp face, sea-green eyes, and regal air. Yet instead of having white-blonde hair, the newcomer had a darker tone of brown. His eyes sparkled with mischief, and I liked him immediately. So far, he was the only stranger I met who didn’t want to attack me.
“You’ll have to excuse my brother,” his mouth curled into a genuine smile, a goofy yet charming grin. “He’s always been the type to jump to hasty conclusions.”
“Zekarus,” the light-haired archer muttered in a warning tone, glancing distrustfully my way. “Stay your tongue. We know nothing about this girl.”
“Remish, just trust me on this one,” Zekarus stepped aside to argue, tossing me an apologetic look.
“But how do we know we can trust her?” the archer, apparently named Remish, growled back in agitation.
How could I trust them?
I wondered at the same time. Grateful that Sniper backed me up, I continued to evaluate the boys.
“Faith, brother. Besides, just look at her. I do not think that she will harm anyone. She looks rather lost.”
Remish narrowed his eyes. “She looks like a witch to me. Look how that Beast obeys her whim.”
Zekarus’ expression turned grim as he replied, “Then are we any different from her?”
I watched as Remish suddenly backed down, averting his eyes almost shamefully. His brother rested a hand on his shoulder, adding so softly that I almost couldn’t hear him, “I think she can help us.”
I blinked in curiosity. What could I do to help them?
A smile sprouting on his face again, the dark-haired brother turned back to me. “My apologies,” he bowed like a prince. “He just needed some reassuring. My name is Zekarus, son of Rhoan, and my brother is Remish. I’m afraid I didn’t catch your name, however.”
“Um, it’s Zayna… Zayna White,” I repeated, exchanging an uncertain glance with Sniper. The Serperior had quietly observed them, but I couldn’t tell what he thought of these young men. I wasn’t even sure what I thought.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Zayna,” he gallantly took my hand, kissing it. A blush involuntarily found its way to my cheeks. “Though I wish it could have been under better… circumstances.”
“Uh, yeah… Nice to meet you too?” Gosh, I sounded like an idiot.
“We should not stay out in the open for too much longer,” Remish declared, slinging his bow across his shoulder. “The armies are not far from here.”
“You show much wisdom, brother,” the brown-haired teen agreed, and then asked me, “Will you come with us?”
Do I have much choice?
I glanced over my shoulder, thinking of the men who had kidnapped me. I didn’t know if they were hunting for me, but I didn’t want to stick around to find out. Admittedly, I also had no clue where I was. If these boys were offering some assistance, then maybe I should take advantage of that.
Sniper hissed again, still glaring at Remish. Obviously, he felt some distrust as well. I’m not sure if we can trust them, either
, I thought to myself, examining them closely. But sometimes, you got to take a leap of faith. They were just two boys—maybe my team could handle them if they did prove to be dangerous. Yet Zekarus seemed nice…
“Yes, if that would be okay,” I caved, offering a cautious smile.
“Of course,” Zekarus turned aside, offering his arm.
Yeah, I’m not doing the whole medieval game
, I laughed inside myself. Instead of taking his arm, I patted it and followed behind Remish, leaving Zekarus with a baffled expression.