“Mom! I see it! The place we had the picnic when I was little.” A tall young man with ruddy brown hair said excitedly.
She huffed at the exercise. Her lungs were starting to hurt and she welcomed the rest. She saw her son sit down in the fine dirt next to a huge rock on the trail. They heard the rumble of thunder and a darkness moving in near the tree line.
“It wasn't supposed to storm today.” she said getting out her phone and checking the weather, “Damn, no 4g here.”
“Let’s go sit under that overhang until it passes.” He was already headed in the direction of the half cave.
She hoped it would not be a hard rain. They sat and ate a snack as the rain began to fall. Gentle and trickling at first. Harder and more musical, then it came down and came into their shelter, threatening to soak them. She moved closer to the inside wall, pulling her pack with her.
“Is that…” her son stopped mid-sentence.
“What?” she said a bit irritable. She didn't like being cold and the temperature had dropped noticeably.
“Purple lightning, but it isn't touching the ground.” he said astonished.
“Probably just heat lightning.” she said without looking up.
The wind howled and then roared. They held hands as they began to get nervous. Fog seeped in and set her skin to shivering. It grew increasingly thick and she could hear the pops of what could only be static electricity giving off a spark here and there. She realized she couldn't feel his hand anymore.
“Xan? Xander?” she called. He did not answer her. She moved cautiously on her hands and knees on the ground feeling for her son. She smashed her face into a low hanging rock.
“Ouch!” she sat back and put her legs in front of her and held her head. She started to worry, “Xan?”
She decided that waiting for a Park Ranger would be safer than trying to crawl around in very little visibility. She made herself as comfortable as she could and bit back all her fear and sadness. She closed her eyes and rubbed them, shifting her weight again. She hugged her backpack close to her chest. Then she felt her skin buzz and vibrate and the last thing she heard was a very loud pop.
She woke to bright sunlight. Shielding her eyes, she sat up slowly and looked around. She wasn't anywhere near the overhang. It didn’t even look like the same forest. The trees seemed wrong and out of place. The ground was flat for as far as she could see. She was in a forest, but no longer in the gorge. The trees all seemed willowy and swayed slowly to a tempo she could feel. The forest had a living heartbeat. Thump, thump, thump, her body slightly vibrated and the trees swayed. She heard light whispers and a slight disorienting buzz in her head. She stood and picked up her pack that was lying about a foot away. She then dusted off her jeans. She pulled out her phone and discovered the battery was dead. She put her phone back in her pocket. She then pulled out her compass, and it was spinning wildly. She swore under her breath. She shook it, but the compass would not stop spinning.
“Xan!” she shouted, repeating herself every few moments while she walked. Her hand itched slightly and she scratched it vigorously.
She didn’t hear any birds or animals except a few lonely calls she did not recognize. She tripped over a root but didn't fall. She was about to call once more for her son when she realized she had been hearing a low rumble of a crowd. It had been there a while, but now it grew louder. Her hand began to itch worse and worse with every scratch, but she couldn’t stop scratching. She looked down and her hand appeared to be freshly tattooed with a green leaf symbol.
“What the hell?” she said to herself and tried to rub it off licking her fingers and trying to scrub.
She wondered where and when she had gotten it. It wasn't there when she first woke up. She got into her first aid kit and tried the cortisone cream. Her hand only itched more and nothing seemed to relieve it. She rubbed it against her clothes and tried to ignore it. She was thirsty and hungry. She began to realize how miserable she was. She looked for her water bottle, but it must have fallen out of her outside pouch. The trail mix had been left behind at the overhang. She kept going toward the noise which now sounded like a lot of people yelling. Then she started hearing the clash of metal the closer she came to the noise.
Then she heard metal grind and grunts of effort much closer to where she was. She quietly hid on the other side of a tree and waited. She soon saw two combatants. One in a full suit of armor and a gleaming jewel in the forehead of the helm and one wearing little armor except for a breastplate and metal gloves. They were fighting with swords and the man with long red hair was on the seemingly losing end. She saw the pointed ears poking from his hair. She must have stumbled upon a Larping event. She smiled to herself, relieved.
“Excuse me, I hope you all don’t mind, but I got lost in the storm last night and I have to find my son. Could you help me?” She interrupted while stepping out from the tree.
They both turned to her for a moment, then the Elf took the pommel of his sword and smashed the stone. She saw a tiny wisp of smoke come from it. Then the Armor fell to the ground in a pile.
“How?” she stuttered, “That’s amazing.”
“I am Faris, you must be the new storm traveler,” he said between gasps for air. Sheathing his sword, he smiled and took her hand to rest a greeting kiss upon it, then saw the fresh leaf, “I see.”
She looked at him baffled and took back her hand. Her head was buzzing again and she felt slightly dizzy. She shook her head and focused, “Do you have a phone? My battery is dead, it will be a while before it is charged. I'm not sure I can get a signal. Have you seen a young man about twenty with brown hair and a red beard, his name is Xander?”
“Follow me please.” is all he said.
“I am so thirsty. Do you have a tavern at your event?” She said hopefully.
“Event?” He was puzzled.
“Larping.” She said and then was quiet. She bit her lip and habitually pulled out her phone and then returned it to her pocket. She could feel the tears of frustration trying to come, so she dug her thumbnail into her index finger as hard as she could. She was trying not to panic. She was just so worried.
She could see a camp growing closer and in the distance a pitched battle. The source of the noise she heard. All the tents were cloth and looked like the kind at a Renfaire. He walked her past other tents to a moderate one and motioned for her to go inside. Her stomach growled and her mouth felt like cotton.
“Please wait here,” Faris said and left.
She poked her head out of the tent and looked around. A soldier came walking up and took off his helmet.
“I wouldn’t go anywhere. Here,” he handed her a flask and she took it gratefully. She tasted the contents cautiously, it was water and she drank deeply.
“Thank you,” She said, “Is there a port-a-potty nearby?”
He looked confused.
“I have to pee,” she elaborated. A light went off in his head and he lead her to a hole that looked to have been hastily but deeply dug and used a lot. She choked back her disgust and pulled down her jeans and squat while the soldier looked the other way. She pulled up her pants and walked back toward the way they came. The soldier then led her back to the tent and pulled some jerky from his pouch and gave it to her. She accepted graciously and began to eat as she went back into the tent.
It was sparsely furnished. A metal fire pit, a wooden chair and a small table. She sat in the chair and let out a big sigh. The soldier brought in a piece of a chopped log and sat on it. He smiled at her and took a deep breath.
“So, where are you from?” he asked making conversation, the buzzing again made her feel a bit disoriented, but less so this time than before.
“Lexington.” she shrugged when he looked confused, “Are we anywhere close to the gorge?”
He still looked at her funny. And then he looked down at his feet, “No what world?”
She laughed. Loud. Then recovered herself and felt bad she had made light of his role-play.
“Oh, sorry. I get it. Stay in character.” She smiled graciously, then she frowned, “But seriously, I need to find my son, we were separated in the storm last night.”
“Don’t fret, Lord Faris is getting everything you need.” The soldier kept his smile and his cool.
“This looks like a very expensive, well-done event, and I didn’t pay. Is this part of it? Is this some kind of henna?” she asked pointing to the leaf on her hand.
“No, I’m afraid that is permanent.” Lord Faris said stepping through the opening. The soldier excused himself and took his wood stool with him.
“What!” She became very angry and stood up.
“We did not do that.” He held up a hand to stay her. She sat down with angry tears in her eyes.
“Where is your game master? I am ready to go. I am tired of this.” She glared at Faris.
“I understand that you are confused and overwhelmed. I will try to alleviate this,” He said with all the compassion he could muster. She nodded and used her sleeve end to wipe her eyes. She sniffed and snuffled.
“You are on the outskirts of my land, Farin. You were brought here by a Kalestral storm, and given the Kalestral mark of the healer. You have been given a great honor.” he explained as best he could.
She frowned and sat up and went a bit rigid. She seemed calm but then unexpectedly stood to face Lord Faris her jaw clenched.
“Look, this was all cute to begin with, but I am sick of the crap. I am looking for my son, Xander, and I need a damn phone to call my family. You can’t keep me in this tent and I am going to leave to find one or the other.” She then moved very purposely toward the tent opening, daring those gathered to step into her way.
She left the murmurs of Faris and the others behind her. She walked steadily through the camp toward what she hoped might be a parking lot and someone willing to let her use their cell. She noticed some movement behind her and off to the side. She was being followed.
She moved into a well-lit area and then noticed the lights were floating and unattached to anything. She was impressed with the level of authenticity. She then waited for her stalker to move. They never approached the light. So she decided to walk straight to them. The shadow and that is the only way she could describe it leaned in and grabbed her hand, that had the mark, and her skin burned. She screamed and tried to pull away. She heard a very loud commotion around her, and someone yelled an unfamiliar word. A flash of intense light swallowed the shadow in front of her. She cradled her hand close to her.
“What the fuck!” She screamed, then with less intensity, “Just what the fuck!”
“Tell Lord Faris we need to make security on the camp perimeter tighter.” She heard a man say in a familiar voice.
“Xan?” She queried of the strange shape before her, just out of the light.
“Mom!” he said happily and then gathered her in an enthusiastic hug.
“Owe, oh, let go, let go, you are crushing me.” she gasped while trying to maneuver herself from his armored embrace, “You’re safe!”
He lifted the faceplate on his armor and she could see deep scars and a face much more mature than what he was yesterday. She had so many questions and none of them could get out. She just reached up and touched his face and stared at him.
"Let's get you back to my tent," he took her arm and escorted her to the tent. The soldier who had sat with her was there.
Xan brought her in and sat her in the chair. She was in the same tent as before. This was Xan's tent she realized. Her son gruffly told the soldier to get a healer quickly, and the man stumbled out of the tent before finding his feet and rushing off.
"So, have you talked to Ben? Your Mamaw or Papaw?" Hin asked anxiously.
"No." Xan drew out the lone syllable.
"Why not?" Hin asked looking very confused.
"What do you remember mom?" he asked cautiously. He removed his gloves and took her injured hand carefully.
"The storm. The loud pop. Then nothing until I woke up here." Hin said confused about what this had to do with now.
"That storm brought you here. It brought me here too," he paused and she looked at him like he was crazy, "Please, Mom, I am telling you the truth."
"Then where are we?" She was sad and a little angry, Her words wavered.
"The planet of Kalestra." He opened his palm and produced a small ball of light and let it float up towards the ceiling in the tent.
The healer came into the tent and Xan kissed his mother on her head and excused himself from all the new activity. He rested in a corner and talked to the soldier who had been here with her the first time.