“No… not good. This is not good…” Ian muttered. Currently, he was crouching and holding his head in his hands. The sudden disappearance of the portal frightened him. It gave him a sense of loss. What was he supposed to do now that it was gone? Not only was his gateway to the future cut off, but he had also dragged others into this unwittingly. Now, they were stranded on Earth.
“Haaah… to think Earth feels so distant now,” Ian whispered to himself. “Man… what am I supposed to tell them?”
“Tell who what?” Gaelan asked from the doorway. The sudden question startled Ian enough that he fell forward onto the floor.
“Gah! Where did you pop out from?” Ian said, sitting up.
“I walked over here like a normal person. So, something wrong?” Gaelan persisted with a raised brow.
“Uhh… kinda,” Ian paused for a moment since he was not quite sure what to say, but then bluntly answered, “The portal is gone.”
“Really?” Gaelan was obviously surprised. A quick glance allowed Gaelan to verify Ian’s statement. “Well, that puts a nail under the wagon wheel…”
“Yeah… I guess.” Ian replied, even though he was not totally sure what that saying implied. It was probably like saying it put a dent in things.
“Hrmm,” Gaelan placed his forefinger and thumb on his beard and sank into thought. Ian waited for his mentor to speak again. After a few moments of silence, Gaelan said, “Well, it probably isn’t the only portal, right?”
“Ah, right. Other people like Crawford and Sarah would not have gone through this one,” Ian nodded. “But, where would we find another portal?”
“How should I know?” Gaelan answered with a shrug. “I suppose we will just have to search for one.”
“Haaah…” Ian calmed down a little now that a visible goal had been placed on the table. “I guess we need to figure out what to do next, then.”
“Yes. I’d rather not leave Aella alone for too long,” Gaelan muttered with furrowed brows.
“Does she get lonely or something?” Ian asked. A change of subject was very welcome right now.
“Hmm… I suppose that would be a good way to put it,” Gaelan said quietly while turning his gaze toward the small wooden table that had been sitting behind the portal until now. “It’s a long story.”
* * * * *
Meanwhile, back in Regnoras, Aella was reading a book while drinking tea and eating a pastry. Enjoying the tranquility of an empty house, she sat in a chair on the small front porch of their home. Without a care in the world, she tuned out everything around her in order to focus on the book on her lap titled: War of Attrition. As per Aella’s normal reading habits, it was a non-fiction book about a period of time in Regnoras when there were many wars. While immersed within the vivid details of politics, sophistry, and warfare, a voice from behind startled her out of concentration.
“Hi~!” A childish voice exclaimed.
In response, Aella jumped up from the chair and turned to face the intruder. The quick movement caused the book to fall from her lap and thud against the wooden porch. The pages rustle and folded over.
“Oh, it’s you,” Aella muttered. Upon seeing a familiar face, she lowered her guard.
“Yep~! Wanna play?” The ‘child’ asked.
“No. What are you doing here?” Aella asked in frustration. Not only had her reading been interrupted, but also the appearance of this ‘child’ was not something that boded well.
“Aww… You’re no fun. Big bro is more fun…”
“Yes, yes, I know. You always say that. So, why are you here?” Aella asked, trying to get the intruder to focus; a monumentally difficult task.
“Oh~, I forgot. Ummmmmmm… Oh! I came to tell you the portal closed!” The intruder said with a playful grin on his childishly impish face.
“What? It closed? Why?” Aella asked with growing unease. Things were not going the way they were supposed to. Wasn’t the portal supposed to be kept open for at least a few more years?
Holding his small head between his hands, the ‘child’ whined, “Too many questions.”
“Tell me,” Aella commanded. Impatience budded in her heart and bloomed just as quickly. Her generally calm demeanor was crumbling.
“Okay, fine~! It closed because it closed!”
“…” Aella glared at her intruder.
“You’re no fun…” the ‘child’ whined again. The following seconds passed with the two staring at each other. Eventually, the ‘child’ crossed his arms and pouted, “Hmph, it doesn’t matter. I told you it’s closed. Bye.”
“Wait!” Aella yelled. However, it was too late. The intruder vanished into thin air more quickly than he had appeared. “Ugh… that kid is going to make my hair fall out with how he comes and goes as he pleases,” Aella muttered. “Well, if he’s telling the truth, it will be quiet around here for a little while.”
Feeling lonely, she looked at the home she had lived in for several years now and grimaced. It seemed her anxious thoughts about her family getting dragged into things had come to fruition.
* * * * *
“So, you’re saying we are trapped here?” Sarah asked skeptically.
“For now, yeah,” Ian answered.
“You know I’m screwed if we go anywhere with an identity scanner, right?” Sarah asked.
“Oh, right. Playing dead and tax evasion,” Ian muttered. “Yeah, this is troublesome.” Due to frustration at the situation, he let his head slam on the dining table.
Standing by the sliding glass door to the small veranda, Edmund looked out the window with thoughtful eyes and said, “So, basically, we need to find another ‘portal’ back to Regnoras, but it could be anywhere.”
“Exactly,” Ian replied. He followed up with a groan.
Sitting at the dinner table with Sarah and Ian, Bianca gripped her skirt. Being around anxious minds discomforted her. On top of that, she worried how long her mother would have to live alone until they returned.
Noticing his daughter’s anxiousness, Gaelan stood behind her and placed a large hand on her head. Turning his gaze to Ian, Gaelan asked, “Do you want to figure something out tonight, or wait until morning?”
With his face still on the table, Ian thought for a moment. If he tried to figure this out in his current state of mind, he would end up scraping at the walls. Well, of course that was exaggeration, but it was still going to be rough on his psyche. That being said, he answered, “Waiting until tomorrow will be better. I think sleeping on it will do us good.”
“Agreed,” Gaelan affirmed.
“I guess that might be a good idea,” Sarah mumbled while leaning back in her chair with arms crossed over her chest. She gazed at the floor with a troubled expression.
“Something wrong, Sarah?” Ian asked when he noticed her taut face.
Lifting her gaze to look at Ian, she opened her mouth to speak but shut it again before saying anything. However, the silence quickly became deafening for, so she grumbled, “Nevermind… It’s not something you need to worry about.”
Obviously, such a statement only served to make everyone else more worried, especially Bianca who could see pieces of Sarah’s mind.
“Haaah, okay, then,” Ian muttered. One of these days he might accidentally prod Sarah for answers even if it shattered his morals.
From there, the five of them finished getting ready for bed, although Gaelan and Edmund were the only ones maintaining a decent composure. Like Ian had suggested before, Bianca and Sarah slept in his bedroom while the three men slept in the living room.
For several minutes, Ian rolled around restlessly in the dark. Sleep evaded him like a scared rabbit. Amidst the silence save for Gaelan’s snoring, Edmund whispered, “You are still awake, Ian?” Their backs were to each other and Gaelan was sleeping further away on the couch.
“Yeah, can’t sleep,” Ian whispered back.
“Well,” Edmund whispered “it’s a new adventure for me, so I can’t say much, but when I can’t sleep, I try imagining a treasure chest and picture myself stuffing all of my worries into it. Perhaps give that a try?”
“A treasure chest? I guess I can give it a whirl,” Ian replied. Once more, the room fell silent except for Gaelan’s snoring. In his mind, Ian imagined the treasure chest as Edmund had suggested. Only a few moments passed before Ian realized what he was doing was like counting sheep. Perhaps it would actually work. Eventually, he fell asleep.
Over in Ian’s bedroom, Bianca and Sarah were both having trouble falling asleep as well. Since Ian’s bed was fairly wide, they were both laying back to back in a similar way to Ian and Edmund in the other room.
“Um… why didn’t you tell him?” Bianca whispered sheepishly.
“Say what?” Sarah asked aloud. She immediately clasped her hand over mouth and switched to a whisper as well. “What are you talking about?”
“Umm… uh… the thing… at the table before. It seemed like you wanted to tell him,” Bianca replied.
“Oh, that… It doesn’t matter.”
“But… um… uuu~” Bianca whimpered quietly. The whimper made Sarah half-grin at how adorable this girl was. Sure, there was a large disparity in breast size which generated jealousy, but Bianca’s cute factor was enough to lighten Sarah’s heart by a smidgeon.
Not realizing that Bianca could see parts of her memory, Sarah whispered, “It’s okay. It’s something I can worry about when we get back to Regnoras.”
“Umm… that could be a long time, right?”
An awkward silence fell upon them. A good minute passed before Bianca whispered, “I’m not supposed to tell people, but, um, since you are Mr. Ian’s friend, I think it is okay…”
“Hmm? Tell people what?” Sarah asked curiously.
“Um… I- I can see, um, pictures… in people’s minds…” Bianca stammered.
Sarah froze. She could already see where this was going.
“So, um, I can see a little… of why you are worried…” Bianca finished off her explanation.
The words were like a knife in Sarah’s heart. So, for the past two days, this girl had seen the one thing Sarah wanted to keep a secret from Ian. No, not just Ian, but everyone. Of course, she wanted to tell him, but it was too frightening when she actually imagined doing so. Now, someone near Ian knew the secret. Then, she bit her lip and whispered, “You can’t tell him. Like, seriously, don’t tell him.”
“I won’t. I promise,” Bianca quietly yet firmly replied.
“…” At first, Sarah was silent, unwilling to believe this stranger would not share her secret. However, she noticed that Bianca had been very firm in promising to stay quiet even though every other sentence of hers contained hesitation. Perhaps Sarah could trust this girl, if only a little. “Okay, I’ll believe you.”