Chapter 1: A Good Day
I am determined to have a good day. It's going to happen. I've got everything ready in my backpack, and even packed enough food in my smaller ice chest to last me the whole day. The weather is finally bright and sunny without being too hot. Butterflies are migrating through town in calming waves as they flutter without a care in the world. The park near my apartment isn't very busy and from the looks of it as I approach the picnic table I plan to use is not only unoccupied but miraculously free of duck poop.
"This is going to be a good day," I say to myself as I watch another wave of butterflies waft by ahead of me.
I've got a long sleeve shirt on over my tank top to keep my nearly twenty five pound bag full of writing gear from chaffing my shoulders. Once I'm settled in my seat, with my laptop, solar charger, lunch and whatnot laid out I plan to doff the long sleeve shirt so I can get some much needed vitamin-d. I'll also take my Covid mask and sunglasses off so my face can get a little sun as well.
I grip my cane, which is really too long and more of a walking stick, and start toward the picnic table. My lunch box hangs from my other hand. My boots crunch through leaf litter and over rocks, a sound I've missed since I've been staying inside as much as possible.
One moment I'm in the park, the next I am surrounded by swirling smoke and mist, no longer treading across autumn leaves my feet are planted squarely on hard glossy stone tile.
"Behold, my lord! We have finally summoned a mighty wizard!" A voice from beyond the mist says excitedly. "Lo the wizard has a massive crooked hunched back! A wondrous staff...that is...admittedly rather short...uh..."
I'm a bit dizzy from whatever's happened and can't seem to focus, but the mist around me starts to clear as the voice continues though less confidently than at first.
"My lord, see the white hair? Surely this wizard is aged, wise, and powerful," the voice says.
"What?" I ask. "My hair went white from stress. I'm only thirty four," I reply to the person beyond the mist.
"Is...is that a woman?" A gruff voice asks accusingly.
"My lord, there could be some curse upon the wizard," the first voice replies. "Let me clear this mist."
A wind kicks up and the fog surrounding me is blown away. I square my feet and stand my ground, leaning forward. There are gasps from a ring of people who surround me. Each person wears finely tailored clothing that looks like they're from a high class Renaissance fair. Given I've never actually heard of a high class Ren fair existing and my own familiarity with isekai stories I quickly realize what has happened. I've been summoned to another world...at least I didn't get hit by a truck first. 2020 continues to hold dreadful surprises.
"Your Highness, behold! The wizard has a mask, likely obscuring a hideously decaying jaw, and dark lenses to protect the eyes from the light of day. Surely, this is a necromancer of the highest order," a woman wearing a spectacular purple robe with silver embroidery explains while gesturing at me. Her eyes are silver like the embroidery standing out against her dark skin. Her long pointed ears, partially hidden by beautiful black hair wiggle a little. She looks far more nervous than me, to be honest.
The big man with the gruff voice approaches me. He's older, has a big beard and wiry eyebrows. If not for the golden crown that rests on his head I would say he looks more like the wizard the first person had been describing but he's some sort of king.
"You, wizard from another world," the king begins. "What manner of magic do you possess?"
I don't have any magic, I think but am not foolish enough to say it out loud. Instead I square my shoulders and take a deep breath.
"My lord, I am a writer."
He narrows his eyes before looking back at the woman behind him. "What is a 'writer?" She shakes her head and shrugs. The king looks back to me. "What is a 'writer?' What do you do?"
"I tell stories," I explain. "Mostly science fiction and horror but sometimes I like to dabble in fantasy..." My stomach sinks. I'm in another world and left my own world during a pandemic. I don't know if I'm asymptomatic or not. "I have to be honest with you, there's a pandemic in my world," I say quickly. "I don't know if I have the disease or not but-"
The woman who spoke before holds up an elegant dark hand and shakes her head. "Fear not, wizard. The summoning ritual cleanses transmittable illnesses from those summoned. It can not cure curses or other afflictions, however. It will not heal a wounded leg, but it will prevent one from spreading any manner of plagues."
I breathe a sigh of relief. "That's wonderful."
The king stares at me. "Test this wizard. See if there's any magic at all. Even a bard can be useful if they can wield magic."
Several of the robed people move forward as the king steps back.
"Wait, 'bard?'" I ask. "I'm a writer."
"You said you are a story teller," the king replies. "A bard."
While that's not exactly correct it's also not entirely wrong so I stand as still as possible as the robed people wave small glowing crystals around me as if they're checking me with metal detectors for hidden knives. I do have several knives on me but none of the people seem to react when they wave a crystal near where I have a knife. After a few moments of being scanned everyone backs away and looks to the king and the woman who stands next to him again. They shake their heads and retreat to their previous positions.
"No magic, Sire," the woman finally says while hanging her head. "This person has no propensity for magic at all."
A frown cracks the king's face which then begins to turn beet red. His eyelid twitches. He glares at me a moment more before grabbing his cape and spinning around to leave the great stone chamber we're standing it. He holds up a fist as he leaves.
"Dispose of the failure," the king says. "As with the last ones."
My stomach sinks again.
"As you wish, your Highness," the woman replies.
I stand as still as possible. No one in the room moves until a large door down the hall closes heavily. A few moments later everyone lets out a collective sigh of relief. The woman in purple races over to me, her face nothing but concern and guilt.
"Are you alright, traveler?" She asks. "Do you have pain anywhere?"
"I'm fine," I say. "I'm just...uh...he just ordered you to kill me, didn't he?"
She bobbles her head a little as she tries to squirm away from the question. "'Dispose' can mean many things," she finally says with a wince. "Rest assured you will not be killed on this day, you have my word on that as a Mage of the Kingdom."
"You can send me home, then?"
She looks even more guilty. "Sadly no, we can not." The woman takes a step back in surprise. "You know what is happening here?"
"I'm a writer," I reply. "I can figure things out."
"I see," she says. "Unfortunately you can not wield magic, however. So we must make an effort to...dispose of you." She wraps an arm around me but mostly around my large backpack. "Please, come with me. Glossary, please, bring the items from their hiding place, please. We must hurry."
Hurry we do. It doesn't take the mages long to whisk me down a winding flight of stone stairs then take me to a large wooden gate built into a huge stone wall somewhere outside. I'm guessing it's the back of the castle because I figure these mages were in fact supposed to murder me.
"Take these," the mage in purple instructs me. "May they guide you."
She shoves an auto wringing mop I've seen on TV into my hand along with a 3 by 5 floppy disk I'm pretty sure no one makes anymore.
"Do the wise thing, Writer, and leave this place as quickly as you can," the mage says.
"You mean go back to my own world, right?" I ask.
She shrugs and pushes me backward. I didn't even hear the gate opening and suspect the sound may have been dampened somehow. Either way I stumble backwards out of the castle grounds onto a well traveled cobblestone street that runs the length of the massive wall. The gate I was pushed through closes swiftly leaving me alone, with my writing gear, lunch, and newly acquired mop and disk.