“What’s he looking for?” Jack wondered.
She gave him a reassuring smile. “He seeks the way back to your world.”
Jack knew that the giant man in the suit of armor and the woman dressed like a primitive were not a part of his natural world, potentially not even the human beings they appeared to be. And he knew that the odds were that they could make short work of him. He concluded that the prudent plan was to be a non-threat.
He wasn’t necessarily able to be any kind of a threat to them anyway, when the man was some sort of wizard who could stop his bullets in mid-air. The woman had been ready to pull some trick of her own, too. He’d seen the weird light dancing on her fingertips. So, he needed to stop looking belligerent. He holstered the Beretta and clipped his mini unit, which had failed to receive any signal at all in the time since he arrived anyway.
The armored giant seemed to be watching, or listening, or feeling, for something very subtle, as he moved along with his hand spread over the stonework wall. The animal-skin-clad woman trailed close behind the man, watching him patiently as he did whatever he was doing. She clearly found his behavior normal, and understood what he was trying to do.
Jack considered the woman. She had an unidentifiable accent, but spoke clear English. Despite her primitive garb, festooned with totems, feathers and beads, her manner of speaking suggested a life spent largely in Britain. That squared with the big man’s brogue, spoken with a cadence which hinted that he had cleaned up a much thicker native dialect for the benefit of the non-Scots around him. From their ethnic features and the hints of another tongue hidden beneath the woman’s cultivated English they might have hailed from somewhere on the Indian subcontinent… except that Jack doubted either of them were properly of Earth at all, which negated his entire analysis from the start.
He joined the slow procession. They worked their way back, backtracking his steps, and the walls and floor of ancient stone that continued around the corner confirmed his growing suspicions. They were not looking at the ordinary wallboard from the generic office building hallway where he remembered battling the subject only minutes before. Somewhere during the chase the world had somehow changed around him.
Which matched up with something he’d just heard. He decided to try out the concept himself. “To… my world?”
The giant man continued to follow his hand along the wall, although his head jerked occasionally as if he had seen or heard something. He shifted to a different height on the wall after each time he did so.
The woman nodded to Jack. “He is trying to trace our trail while it is still warm. He previously backtracked our quarry’s route this far, but he has never found the precise transfer point. He has been waiting here for the quarry to come through, but it seems the quarry sent you and I through, instead.”
Jack began to get the sense he was watching one movie while hearing the soundtrack to another. His companions looked like a pair of strangers dressed like costume hobbyist nuts, but they had the behavior of…
His dawning thought about them was crazy, but almost had to be on target. “He was waiting for your quarry?”
She nodded. “We have been hunting him for a great while now.”
It felt right, even if some of the words were different, so he voiced it. “You two sound almost like cops. What are you, exactly?”
The woman regarded him, looking almost puzzled.
“Well of course we are your colleagues, Officer. Your quarry is a criminal on our world as well.”
She considered a bit longer, as if only now realizing that he hadn’t already figured this out. “You and we are of the same profession, and hunting the same quarry. We are fellow hunters of criminals.”
The armored man froze, then looked over his shoulder at them and announced, “I have it. Brace yourselves. I’ll be spinning us to Earth, now.”
In the next moment, Jack’s vision of the castle corridor and his companions turned translucent and surreal, with strange additional imagery blending into the stonework. The added sights overwhelmed and replaced the walls, which faded to outlines. Visions from the inside of an enormous furnace, or straight from Hell’s depths, now dominated his sight, imagery that rapidly became a blazing reality that now surrounded him.
Raw, intense heat struck him, as they stood in the middle of that furnace. Jack recognized the same office corridor where he had passed only a short time before, now cast in hideous new colors. The building was fully involved in a massive blaze, with the ceiling already hidden in black smoke and rippling flame.
In less than ten minutes since he had been there, the place had gone from sleeping offices to raging inferno. The heat began to overwhelm him. He grabbed for his radio, knowing that he might not live long enough to put out the call. Beside him, the woman began sweeping her hands above her head and outward and around, projecting from them a purplish glowing ribbon that wove a barrier around the trio as she worked.
The armored man yelled, barely audible over the roar of flames, “Hold on! I’m spinning us back!”
Jack’s awareness began fading out as the radio slipped from his hand.