They say death is only the beginning. I don’t know who “they” are, but I’m fairly certain they didn’t mean it literally; yet here I am, waking in an unfamiliar room in what appears to be the wrong freaking century.
I’m not supposed to be here, wherever here is. The last of what I remember is fear. My body going numb, air leaving my lungs in a chilled and quiet breath then darkness; I had died.
But through that darkness came a wild spark. I heaved warmth into aching lungs; darkness exploded into light. My fingers warmed. My eyes opened.
Now I’m sitting wide awake on a rickety wooden bed with a lumpy mattress that smells of soot and musk.
Where am I?
Admiring the unusual room, I discover that there’s no TV. No computer. No phone on the bedside table. There are no lamps or lights, only candles. There is a dark brown door with a crudely carved iron knob and brackets surrounded by splinters. A castle of some sort?
I swing my legs over the bed. My bare feet twitch when touching the icy floor. Leaning forward, my hair drapes over my shoulders, curly red locks—
Wait. Curly red hair?
I have brown hair though!
“What the?!” I hiss, staring at the frizzy red strands. Feeling my face, I try to inspect it and even that feels different!
This isn’t my freaking body!
How? What? Why?! There has to be a mirror, where’s a mirror when ya need one?!
I scan the room, spotting a bedside table with a thick book but no mirror. Luckily, there’s a hand mirror inside the drawer, though, along with a freaking dagger and some string. Whose room is this?!
I snatch the mirror to stare at the reflection. A stranger is looking back at me. Round green eyes, a small button nose, a full upper lip and thin bottom, wavy red hair, and pointed elf-like ears, none of which are mine.
“You’re dreaming, Faith,” I tell myself, but the voice, that’s definitely not mine either.
The last of my memories isn’t all that pleasant; my death. If one were to ask me how it happened, I wouldn’t be able to say. I recall a pain that lingered for what felt like an eternity then a numbing sensation. I remember crying, wondering why and what’s going to happen next. I thought of Mom and how death wouldn’t be so bad if it meant I would see her again. I regretted not being able to say goodbye to my dad and brother. But I was also angry, not understanding why or what I had done to deserve death, then darkness…
And now this.
“Kaeda!” A knock rattles the door.
Not knowing who is there or what’s going on, I linger in bed, hoping I’ll wake from this nightmare. But then a stranger emerges from the shadows, wisps of black smoke twisting around the form of a man that steps into the light. The darkness filters to the floor then slithers back into the corners of the room. The shadows settle as if they never moved to begin with.
How the hell…?!
This stranger, like this weird new body of mine, has the same kind of pointed ears. Long white hair is pulled back into a tight ponytail so that the skin is stretched around his pale forehead.
“You’re up? Why didn’t you answer the door?!” He waves his hand. “No matter, come along, we’ve found it! His Majesty has called for a meeting,” he says as if I’m meant to know what he’s talking about, which I probably am because now it’s a bit obvious this body belongs to someone called Kaeda.
“Found it?” I ask.
“The map to Arlador, you fool!”
I hold my tongue because, based on how he’s speaking, he’s higher up than me in whatever ranking exists in this strange place. Even his clothes are more elaborate, dark maroon robes with golden trim. The ends of his garbs barely graze the floor. My own attire is not so flourishing. I’ve got some ragged black trousers on and a boring white top. I’m certainly not a royal judging by this room and the way he’s speaking to me. If this isn’t a dream then I must play my part.
What dumb luck. Aren’t these types of stories supposed to consist of me waking up as a princess or something? If I’m going to be body swapped, at least make it a good body swap!
“You’ve had enough rest for that head injury. Emperor Daithi will be in need of a spy soon and who better to send than you? Come with me to the throne room. Immediately.” Unlocking the door, he exits normally.
It’s only then that I finally set aside the mirror and ask myself, “Arlador? Daithi? Kaeda?”
Why are those names so familiar?
“This is all a bad dream. Faith, you need to wake up,” I hiss while jumping out of bed. This body seems to still be tired because I drop to my knees immediately. I grip the bedside table, which crashes to the ground. The book and mirror skid across the floor. I’m lucky the mirror didn’t break, but I’m even luckier now that I see the book. I recognize it immediately for two reasons.
One, the book, like myself, doesn’t belong in this world. It looks like a hardcover that just came off a bookstore shelf. The cover is a soft blue with cursive golden writing and a magical sword embedded into the center of the cover.
Two, my mom read it to me when I was a kid. It was our nightly routine, even after she read it once we’d start all over again; The Tale of Meredin.
Could it somehow have answers?
I open to the first page with newfound hope. There’s an author’s note about the process of writing the book as well as talking about phone calls with their editor.
So I’m not crazy to think I’ve somehow been body swapped? And this book must have traveled with me to this fantasy world. If my memory serves me well, there are elves and some sort of magical system, but certainly not phone calls, so how did this get here? How did I get here?!
“Kaeda!” The stranger shouts. His footsteps close in. “Stop lagging, let’s get a move on!”
I grab the satchel that was resting on a chair to shove the book inside. The door swings open with Grouchy pointing a long claw at me. “Follow me. Now,” he hisses.
“Sorry, uh, I was still a bit tired so I fell over.”
Grouchy says nothing, only beckons with a skeletal finger to follow. I do exactly that, hoping to blend in until I figure out what’s going on, how I got here, and if I can go back.