My eyes flew open as my arms jerked and spasmed around me. I kicked my legs and felt my back arch while pain continued to flair in my chest. As my vision began to darken, I finally realized that I wasn’t getting any oxygen and forced my lungs to take a shuddering breath.
The air wheezing into my lungs was almost more painful than the lack of oxygen had been before. I pulled at the front of my vest, but my brain and hands still didn’t seem to be cooperating. Eventually I was able to get the vest yanked over my head.
The freedom of not having the restrictive vest on felt better than damn near anything I could think of right now.
I rolled over onto my knees and one hand, with the other gently probing my tender ribs. I felt myself still choking and wheezing as I tried to even out my breathing but I counted myself to be lucky as hell to still be breathing. Getting shot point-blank like that could have been the end for me, but miraculously, the vest did its job and stopped the bullet. Never thought I’d be so damn thankful for having that bulky thing on.
I looked down at my right hand bracing me on the ground and noticed the blood trickling down and staining the dried, brown grass.
What the hell? Where’d this grass come from?
A hand suddenly descended onto my shoulder as I felt someone leaning over me from behind.
Covering my right hand with my left, I drove my right elbow backwards, catching my assailant in the face with my elbow and spinning him away from me with the force of my hit. I ignored the sound of his pained grunt and covered the distance between us, standing up and grasping a handful of long blond hair to wrench his head backwards and out of his hands.
I wasn’t sure what had happened to my Glock, and it would take too long to grab my backup from my ankle, so instead, I easily slid a long white knife from the sheath at his side and pressed it below his chin to the white expanse of his throat now laid bare.
His struggles immediately ceased and the strange words he’d been muttering to himself as he cupped his bloody nose fell silent.
He was perhaps half a head taller than I was, but it wasn’t anything I wasn’t accustomed to. I was only five-foot eight-inches. Woefully average for most women. But I fisted my hand more tightly in his ridiculously long hair and pulled his head backwards, pressing my lips close to his ear.
“What the fuck do you think you’re gonna do to me, Goldilocks? I’m not the kind of woman you fuck around with,” I furiously whispered in his ear. Looking over his shoulder and taking in our surroundings, I became even angrier. “How the hell did I wind up out here in a forest?” I pressed, yanking his head back even further.
“Unhand me, woman. I have done you no harm, yet you cannot say the same. I was merely checking your well-being when you attacked me without provocation,” he angrily bit back at me. Even angry, his voice sounded clean and light. And inhuman.
Jerking his head to tilt it to the side away from me, I craned to look at his ear. It was smoothly pointed. “Goddamned fairies,” I swore as I swiftly pushed him away from me. His own knife wouldn’t help me too much, not with how fast they moved and me hampered by the wound still bleeding in my arm. But I kept the long knife in my left hand as I drew my compact .40 from my ankle holster with my right.
Fear insured that even through the slickness of my bloody hand, I was able to hold the gun steadily on the fairy before me. Life—and the Marine Corp—had taught me that when fear gripped you, you had to use it to become deadlier, or fear would use you and make you dead.
I let my voice slip easily into Silva, their own language, so he’d know I wasn’t ignorant of fairies. Or how to kill them. “I don’t know who the hell sent you, or if you just got lucky finding me, but I won’t go anywhere with you. Not over your dead body and not even over mine.”
His hands had returned to cupping is bloody nose, and I heard the crunch of him forcing the bones back into place. But still he looked at me with a strange, maybe curious expression. It was almost impossible to tell the age of a fairy, but even a young one should have known more fear of guns and their cold iron. This one seemed to have no real fear.
“I do not understand your language, woman, but as we both speak Westron, perhaps it would be best to converse wholly in it.”
“What the hell? It’s English, you moron.”
“Moor on? I do not understand this term,” he said, his brows drawn together as he wiped the blood from his face with his sleeve.
I was completely confused myself. A fairy that didn’t speak Silva? It wasn’t really something they had to learn. It was a knowledge they were born to. Maybe he was a half-breed that had somehow been born to look as a fairy, but didn’t seem to have many of the other traits, like knowledge of Silva or any discernible magic.
But to look so much like his people, he had to have more Fae blood in him than I did, and I’d been born with the knowledge of Silva even with my mixed heritage.
I reached out with my mind to catch the tenor of his thoughts. Perhaps it’s all just a ploy on his part to make me drop my guard; wouldn’t put it past one of their tricky, treacherous kind.
Instead of thoughts in Silva, or even in English, I heard another almost melodious language. One I had never heard before. What the hell is going on?
Still, it didn’t matter what language he spoke. He had to be a fairy, and I knew one thing for certain. “Go somewhere else to find yourself a breeder. I share no man nor fairy’s bed unwillingly. If you think you’re going to force me back with you to Tar-Na-Leigh, you had better think again. I don’t ever want to see the Land of Light, and if you force me to go there, you better be prepared never to sleep again, ’cause the moment you do, I’ll slit your throat and bathe in the blood.”
I heard others come up behind the fairy as I spoke, but a quick glance told me that none of them were fairies, so I returned my attention to where the true danger lay.
The blond fairy looked horrified, and actually took a step backwards. What, I thought to myself, never have a woman who fought back and promise to kill you?
I was surprised when someone else stepped forward—a scruffy man with dark chestnut hair—and said, “My lady, I know not what you think has transpired, but no elf would commit so heinous an act, and no man worth the breath in his lungs would either.”
Elf? What the hell? Never heard of an elf before, not even among the creatures most never see. Well, not outside of children’s made-up stories anyway. I quickly looked over the slack faces of the others. Four of them were quite small, they could have been brownies I supposed, but where the fairies were sickenly fair and beautiful, their cousins were truly sickening and hideous. These four just looked like small versions of men. Though, they did have hairy little bare feet, and the pointed ears of the Fae—guess not just like little men then.
“What the hell is going on?” I groaned. I reached out with my mind, but all I was getting from this odd group of nine beings was that same sense of horror apparent on their faces.
Another man stepped forward, old and gray in appearance. “Who are you and where are you from, child?”
I bristled at the term but something drove me to answer nonetheless. “Detective Rowan of the Chicago Police Department.”
The old man looked puzzled. “I do not understand many of your words, child. What are you called?”
I began to feel weak and dizzy, reminding me that the wound in my right arm continued to bleed. “People call me Lane.”
The man with the chestnut hair took half a step forward and gestured with his hand. “Please my lady, put down the knife, you are injured and bleeding. Let me attend to your wound.”
I looked the group over again. They were all dressed in clothes that were hundreds of years out of fashion, and none of them seemed to be wielding any kind of weapon more advanced than knives and swords. I expected that from the fairy, but they were known for eschewing modern weapons and fashions. Most of them were quite old and preferred the older styles of their younger days. They also knew how easy it was to use steel (which was made from iron) for the bullets. Fairies could heal from many wounds, but iron made them as vulnerable and weak as humans.
The man with the chestnut hair and the other man with the sandy colored hair looked and felt like normal humans. So what the hell are they doing with swords … and bows and arrows!? What the hell is going on? And how the hell did I get out here in the middle of some damned forest?
I felt dizzy again and unsteady on my feet. Crouching down, I used the tip of the long knife to steady myself against the ground. Chestnut-hair started forward again, but I swung my gun on him and growled, “Stay right there, dammit.”
He stopped moving, seeming confused by the gun, but also apparently recognizing it as a weapon. “Please, my lady. You are injured and confused. Allow me to help you and tend your wounds,” he pleaded.
I quickly glanced down at my wound. Blood was still oozing and I knew it needed to be bandaged at least. I wasn’t even sure where I was, let alone where else I might find help or medical attention. “Just you. The fairy stays the hell away from me,” I told him.
“We have been known as the Fairy Folk, but I sense we are not the same as these fairies you speak of. I am an elf, Lady Lane, and I assure you I would never intend harm to a woman.”
I glared over the shoulder of the chestnut haired man as he cautiously crouched in front of me. “Fairy, elf, whatever you wanna call yourself. Doesn’t make any damn difference to me. I know better than to trust one word of your lying kind.”
“Woman, neither I nor any other elf would so lie to another being. What right have you to spout such falsehoods,” he angrily attested while stepping towards me.
Chestnut-hair put his hands up in a placating manner then gently pushed down on my shoulders when I tried to rise. He jabbered something to the fairy or elf—whatever he was—and the blond stopped his advance.
“Be watchful she does not break your nose or some other part of your body for your troubles, my friend,” the blond spat, then turned on his heel and stalked into the forest.
Chestnut-hair chuckled. “I’ve never seen Legolas worked into quite a state.” The name rang a bell, but the man in front of me was asking more questions before I could place it. “Would you please sit down and put your weapons away? How came you to be alone in these woods and so injured?”
“I have no idea how I got here. Last thing I remember we were in the basement of a brothel raiding the place and a young girl got scared and shot me. How I came to be here, I haven’t a clue.”
I sat with my legs crossed as I spoke and slipped my gun into my waistband at my back. The knife however, I kept laid out across my lap.
The man gestured to my arm. “May I look at your wound?”
“Knock yourself out.” He stopped with his brow furrowed. “I mean, go ahead,” I clarified.
“Your speech and many of your words are strange to my ears. Where do you hail from?”
“I live in Chicago.” As I answered, I watched the rest of the strange group gather around the old man. He seemed to be speaking with them in hushed voices, but they were all keeping furtive eyes on me.
“I have not heard of this She-cog-o. What realm is this village a part of?”
I laughed at his pronunciation. “Chicago’s in the great state of Illinois. Come on. Everyone’s heard of Chicago.”
He was trying to peer at the wound through the whole in my blouse sleeve, so I quickly started unbuttoning it down the front.
There were several gasps from the little group and Chestnut-hair seemed suddenly unable to look at me. But his hands reached out to gently still my own when I had only half the buttons undone.
“My lady, perhaps we should move to a more private area before I attend the wound.”
I looked at his face and couldn’t help but laugh. A guy who looked to be at least in his 30s, blushing and unable to meet my eyes because of my half-unbuttoned blouse.
“It’s not a big deal. I’ve got a bra on. I haven’t got anything I’m sure you haven’t seen before.”
His blush deepened but he didn’t address what I’d said. Standing, he gestured over towards some thicker underbrush and where I could hear the soft sounds of trickling water.
I stood as well and followed him to a small stream where he removed strips of cloth from his bag. He gestured to a rock near where he knelt. “Please sit, Lady Lane.”
“Just Lane. None of this ‘Lady’ crap.”
“It is a strange name. One I have never heard, least not used as someone’s name. Where does it come from?” he asked as he wet some cloth and began pulling out and arranging various herbs from his bag.
I carefully pulled just my right arm out of its sleeve and kept my blouse pulled up around my chest. Not that I had any modesty myself. If I’d had any to begin with, years in the Corp would have squashed it. The shirt was a dark blue, but the blood soaking the sleeve darkened it further and I knew from experience that I’d never get the stains out.
“Lane is short for Elaina. It means shining light in French,” I finally answered. He used the damp cloth to begin wiping the blood away from my hand and up my arm to the wound. For the first time, I took a good look at the wound as he worked. The bullet had sliced through the inside of my upper arm, leaving a long gash spanning it. If it had been any further to the center of my arm, it would have been a straight penetrating wound, probably would have hit bone as well. The gash was deep and would need to be stitched, but it was nothing worse than I’d had before. Only muscle had been torn. Nothing that wouldn’t heal well enough with a little time or would hinder the use of my arm or hand.
“So what’s your name? You never said.”
Startled, he looked up from his task to meet my eye. “Forgive me, you are quite correct. Your unusual appearance has made us all forgetful of our manners. I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, a ranger from the north. The others you will meet shortly,” he answered with a dip of his head.
“Aragorn…” I trailed off, and then remembered, “and Legolas.” Maybe it was shock from the blood loss, but I immediately broke into great rounds of laughter as I doubled forward over my knees. The man jumped backwards from me in surprise, but I couldn’t stop. I laughed so hard that my chest and lungs began to burn and my breath started coming out in wheezes. I’d forgotten about the pain in my chest until now. The vest may have saved my life, but it had left my ribs badly bruised and perhaps even broken.
My laughter had finally stopped giving way to the wheezes and my coughs. I pulled my shirt away from my chest and saw the area over my heart was already turning a dark purple.
The man—Aragorn he claimed—hissed a breath through his teeth. “How did that happen, my lady?”
“Bullet from nearly point-blank range. At least the vest saved my life, pain in the ass though they normally are. And it’s just Lane. Not lady anything.” I’m not a dog in some Disney movie.
“What is a bull-it? Your words are still very strange to me.”
I waved it away, unsure what to think about all of this or whether to believe these people didn’t seem to have a clue about anything modern.
He scooted closer and resumed cleaning the wound. “This wound needs to be stitched. Will you be able to withstand the pain of stitching the wound, my lad—Lane?”
“It’s never been a problem. Stitch away.”
Once again, he dug into his bag and came up with items for stitching the wound. He moved quickly and deliberately, though he was surprisingly gentle. His manner told me he had experience stitching wounds. The stitches were slightly larger than I would have used, but they were straight and evenly spaced. He kept glancing at me to see if I was in pain as he worked, but I urged him to continue.
Once he was done and had wrapped bandaging around the wound, he began to repack his supplies.
I finally broke the silence. “So what’s your real name?”
He frowned and said, “I have already given you my name. I do not understand why you ask again. I am Aragorn though I have also been known as Estel.”
I chuckled. “Yeah, and you and the rest of those guys are the Fellowship of the Ring. Come on, I don’t give a shit about your little role-playing group. I’ve been shot and somehow ended up in the middle of some forest. I need to figure out where I am so I can get back to CPD before they fire my ass for disappearing in the middle of a raid.”
The Aragorn-wannabe stood until he was towering over me. “How did you know of our Fellowship?” he whispered in a deadly voice.
I stood as well, not willing to let some crazy guy stand over me and attempt to intimidate me. My left hand still held the knife I’d acquired, but my right itched to grab my gun again. Unwilling to have things escalate again, I waited and calmly held my ground.
“I think the lady is a spy of dark purposes,” the Legolas-wannabe said as he slid into our small clearing with bow in hand and an arrow knocked. It was held at ease, pointed at the ground. His nose and around his eyes were swollen and starting to turn a dark purple from where I’d broken his nose. I knew from experience that it was painful, but I didn’t know what he was so bent out of shape about. If I’d put more force into the blow, I could have killed him; he should be thankful.
“Would the two of you knock this shit off and grow the hell up. Look, I appreciate you doing a stitch job on my arm, but I need to get to a real hospital and get real medical attention before an infection sets it.”
“Tell us the truth,” Wannabe-Legolas continued to growl. “Are you a spy sent against us for dark purposes?”
I fought a childish eye roll and lost. “Yeah, that’s exactly why I’m here. My jewelry box just seemed so empty without a mythical ring of power.”
I knew how fast fairies could move, but this one still surprised me, getting behind me, and wrenching my arms behind my back before I could react. But then again, maybe I was still shocky from the blood loss. He started shoving me forward until we’d entered another clearing now illuminated against the deepening evening by soft glow from a campfire.
“Mithrandir, what shall I do with this creature?” Wannabe-Legolas demanded.
I tried reasoning first. “You can get your goddamned hands off me, or I’ll bust your fucking nose again, Goldilocks.”
His grip tightened, and between my aching chest and my throbbing arm, I’d had enough. Kicking backwards with one leg I connected with his shin, then threw my head backwards trying to connect again with his face and nose as he leaned forward against the pain in his shin. He was quicker this time though and scrambled backwards while releasing me to avoid the blow. He’d somehow gotten ahold of the knife when he’d grabbed me, but I spun around to face him, once again drawing my gun on him.
“Enough!” an authoritarian voice rang out behind me. The old man stepped around me and away from the fire so I could see him as well. Goldilocks had drawn his bow again for our standoff.
“Put your bow away, Legolas. I do not believe she means us any harm. You can see by her dress and speech that the child is not of these lands. She is merely frightened.”
“I’m not a fucking child and I’m sure as hell not frightened,” I spat.
“Forgive me,” the old man conceded with a dip of his head. Stepping closer, he laid a hand gently on my arm as he beseeched, “Please put your weapon away.”
Power and magic unlike anything I’d ever felt before seemed to radiate from him and lick across my arm where he touched me. My hands dropped to my sides as I stepped back away from him. He had just looked like a normal old man. Ridiculously dressed of course.
“What are you?” I whispered staring at the gray-robed old man in shock.
His head tilted with curiosity. “I am a wizard,” he answered simply and sincerely.
I felt my world spin, but forced myself to hold my ground. I glanced at the figures gathered around the fire. Reaching out to their minds, I was surprised that there weren’t many thoughts in any language I could understand, but there was no feeling of deception. Not even from Goldilocks, who had lowered his bow when I lowered my gun.
“Hobbits, elves, and dwarves, oh my,” I mumbled to myself. Was it really possible that I was somehow transported to a place that should have only existed in storybooks?
Why’s that really such a shock? Most people in my own world think fairies and other creatures only exist in fairytales. You know they actually exist and are far more akin to the dark fairytales of the Grimm Brothers. So this really shouldn’t be a shock.
The old man—Gandalf, I supposed—cleared his throat, interrupting my internal musings. “Perhaps you should sit and tell us how you came to be here so strangely clad and wounded,” he suggested motioning towards the fire.
I made my way towards the fire where hobbits, men, a dwarf, and an elf were gathered around. “Definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto,” I grumbled.