A cool Autumn breeze washed over Chris's face as she stepped from Bishop's house. She was quick to note that "house" wasn't exactly the right word needed to describe Bishop's home. Tower or citadel would be far more appropriate. A gothic estate surrounded by an iron gate, tall leafy hedges and a number of what looked to be gravestones. The place was practically a piece of art in itself. Chris turned and opened the gate, then walked along a path that passed through the hedges. After this she took in her surroundings to try and get a bearing of where she was.
"The rose gardens?" she questioned in surprised.
Washington Park was home to the famous Japanese Rose gardens of Portland. This was where families would come on pleasant Saturday afternoons for picnics and play about in the sun and take in the local fauna. Chris often came here on her days off, when the season and the weather permitted it, to read or watch some amateur Shakespearean production being given at the open-air amphitheater. It was this amphitheater where she found herself now.
"Odd," she thought. She had known that people owned homes or ran bed and breakfasts nearby the gardens. But she had never heard of anyone having a home within the confines of the gardens themselves, let alone a large stone tower and a graveyard. Chris wondered why she had never noticed them before. She made her way out of the park. The skies had grown overcast since she had awoke, for which she was grateful. Her eyes were still quite sensitive to the light and she wished she had pair of sunglasses on hand. The heavy gray clouds however were a welcome relief to the sun's radiance.
She made her way to the bus stop where she was able to get a ride back to her home. She quickly discovered that it was much later in the day than she had first believed. She looked at the illuminated digital numbers on the clock and saw it was twenty after three. She was due at work by five. Maybe she should call in sick and go see a doctor. After all, it's not every day one gets assaulted and almost killed.
Chris dismissed the thought quickly. She didn't feel all that bad. In fact she felt quite well and all she wanted to do was to put this whole event behind her and get things back to normal. She stepped into the bathroom and started the shower. She undressed, then looked at her reflection in the small mirror over the bathroom sink. The cotton bandage that Bishop had put on her stood out boldly on her neck. She reached up and touched it delicately. There was no longer even a hint of pain, so she pressed on it harder. Still nothing.
Slowly Chris pealed the bandage off and saw that her neck looked fine. Except for some discoloration, lavender in color, due to bruising. There was no sign of a wound at all. Perhaps she had not been as badly injured as she first believed. She balled up the cotton bandage and tossed it into a wastebasket then stepped into the warm shower.
In years to come, when Chris would look back upon these events, she would say the incident at the train station was her first step into the real world. But it would not be until the next day, on her way to work at Druther's Books, that the depth of this new world would truly dawn upon her.
It started off simple enough. Chris had gotten out of the shower and quickly toweled herself dry, then dressed. She ran to the train station near her apartment where she caught the train going into Portland. She sat back and relaxed onto the red seat to wait for her stop. There was nothing unusual about these events. She had done them day in and day out for years now. But it was when the train reached the Beaverton Central stop that Chris started to notice things that she had never seen before.
Beaverton Central was a stop that was still under construction. A series of huge girders formed the skeleton of what would one day be a building. As the train stopped to drop off some passengers and pick up others, Chris happened to glance over at the half formed building. And saw a dragon in the structure, looking right back.
The dragon wasn't looking directly at her, of course. No, it was more or less looking in the general vicinity of the train. Still, Chris's eyes opened as wide as silver dollars and her jaw dropped open at the sight of it. The dragon was a huge yellowish creature with scales like a lizard and wings like a bat's. It was sitting on its back legs like a cat does. Chris looked at the other passengers on the train. None of them seam to have the slightest reaction to this gargantuan creature that was just outside of the tiny train car. "The doors are closing," the recorded female voice boomed over the loudspeakers. With a hydraulic hiss the double doors of the train slammed shut. Then with a lurch the train started to move once more. The dragon seemed to lose interest in the train and started looking about the rest of its terrain. Chris watched it as the train raced away until she could no longer see it.
"Couldn't be," Chris said to herself. "Just couldn't be." She looked again at the others on the train and saw that they all seamed calm as if there was nothing out of the ordinary going on. Maybe it was some promotional thing. A big inflatable dragon shaped balloon, like those at Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York. "That must be it," Chris chuckled to herself. "There were no such things as dragons," she told herself. "But man, didn't it look real."
The rest of the ride was uneventful. Chris's next step into the new world would be on the short walk from the train stop to the bookstore. There were a lot of people about. But then at this time of day there often were. Some going home. Others going out to eat or catch a show, or just getting out for the evening. That's when she noticed the sound of metal striking against metal.
It can be said every city has something of a heart. A place where almost everyone passes through at least once while they are within the city. For Portland there could be little doubt that Pioneer Courthouse Square was the city's heart. A place where people would gather to play games of chess, meet up with friends, buy a drink and kill time or just hang out. Venders sold every type of food from hot dogs to the exotic dishes of the Far East. There were small coffee shops that surrounded the square and candy stores. Chris passed through Pioneer Square everyday on the way to work. Up till now she had never found anything odd about it. Today there were two men fighting with swords in the middle of the square.
One had long blond hair tied back in a ponytail. He was dressed in what Chris took to be dried leather hides. He swung his sword with the grace of a man who had been doing this sort of thing for many years. But there was something very odd that stood out on him. It took Chris a moment to pick out what it was, but then she was able to pin it down. His ears had pointed tips on the ends. They didn't look human at all. She heard his laugher as he leapt into the air and did a backwards somersault to land in a large stone fountain.
"Oh you have to be better than this my friend. That's if you want to catch Delvon of the clan Amberwood!" He bellowed at his opponent. His opponent was very strange looking indeed. Not that Delvon looked very normal. But in Delvon's case, if he covered his ears he might at least pass for human. The opponent could never have such an opportunity. His skin was charcoal black, as if someone had cut out a piece of the night sky and fashioned it into a human shape. His hair looked like burning, blue flames. He wore what looked to be armor made up of bits and pieces of rocks. When he spoke, it sounded like two stones being ground together.
"You dared to enter the barony of the lord Braxiatel. You violate our boundaries and bring shame to your kin, elf!" he shouted, his sword held tight in his grip.
"Oh mellow out a bit Gloum," Delvon said with a theatrical sigh, "I don't bother to keep up on all these little treaties and who rules what and where in the city. I go and do what I please."
"That attitude shall cost you your life fool!" Gloum shouted in a voice that boomed like thunder. Chris watched as he swung his sword down hard. But Delvon was no longer there. He'd leapt into the air once more and with the grace of a dancer, spun about to land behind Gloum. Gloum's sword slammed home into the fountain.
"Missed, missed, missed," Delvon taunted as he started to run from Pioneer Square, "Better luck next time old friend."
"We were never friends!" Gloum shouted at the departing elf. With a sigh, Gloum sat down on the edge of the fountain and put his sword away, "Bastard elf. I'll do him in one of these days. Just you wait and see." he muttered to himself.
Chris couldn't believe what she was seeing. None of this made any sense. What was worse was no one else seemed to see what had been going on. They just kept going about their daily activities as if nothing was happening. And then Chris started to laugh at herself. "Of course," She said, "Some sort of amateur theatrics." She had seen people recite poetry, or re-enact scenes from plays in the square from time to time. And in those cases people would still go about their business as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on. No doubt the two men were doing some play in full make up.
Chris chuckled to herself. It was well done, she had to admit. It looked as if Gloum was really trying to kill that Delvon fellow. And the costumes and make up they wore were extraordinary. She wondered what play they had been doing. Maybe they would be putting on another show later and she might be able to catch the whole act. Chris shrugged her shoulders and continued on her way to work.
"You'll never guess what I did last night," Niki Walters said as she came behind the coffee bar.
Chris looked up at the perky young blond girl for a moment before she went back and finished up making a cup of espresso. She then handed it across to an elderly woman and with an artificial smile said, "Have a nice day." The old woman snorted and walked off to a nearby table. Chris rolled her eyes and then turned her full attention to Niki, "Okay, so what did you do?" She asked.
"Guess," Niki said as she put on her apron. The word "Druther's Books" were written in bold red letters across the middle of the apron.
Chris sighed, "Can't you just tell me?" she snapped, "I'm not in the mood for games today."
"My, we're in total bitch mode I see." Niki said, sounding a little hurt.
"I'm sorry," Chris said, "Just had a rough night is all."
"OK, I understand," Niki said, "But you'll never guess who I went out with last night."
"I give up." Chris said.
"Ian." was all Niki said.
"Ian?" Chris questioned, "The religious guy who runs the Christian section? That Ian?"
"What's he doing? Slumming it with the sinners?" Chris asked.
"No, no, no," Niki said, "I just bumped into him after work and he asked me if I'd like to get a cup of coffee or something."
"How ironic that you just happen to work in a coffee bar," Chris said deadpan. Niki just glared at her for a moment.
"Anyways, one thing lead to another and we turned up back at my apartment," Niki said.
"If I remember right, your apartment looks like it was a set for one of Mason's videos," Chris said. "He must have felt like he'd stepped into hell or something."
"I don't know, cause we'd hit the sheets a few minutes later." Niki smiled.
"Oh I see," Chris said with a smile. "Corrupting the holy people again."
"He was so good. When he put his tongue-"
"Let's hold off on the intimate details," Chris interrupted. Niki only laughed at her.
"I would like a tea, please." A soft voice said across the counter. Both Chris and Niki turned. Standing on the other side of the bar was a man who looked built out of solid granite. He had red glowing eyes and stood well over ten feet tall. He carried a laptop computer with him.
"You want anything in that," Niki asked, "Sugar, cream?"
"Just the tea." the granite man said.
"One tea coming right up." Niki said and went back to fix the drink. Chris, on the other hand, was frozen to the spot looking up at this colossus being. She simply stood there looking at the granite man with glowing eyes. She watched as he took the mug of tea, then handed over a five-dollar bill. Niki rang up the drink and handed back the change. "Have a nice day," Niki said cheerfully to him.
Chris watched the granite man make his way over to one of the tables in the cafe and sit down. For a moment, she was sure the small plastic chair would collapse under his extreme weight. And although it was obvious that chair was under a considerable strain, it didn't however brake. 'Sturdy chair,' Chris thought.
The granite man handed the mug of tea over to a female gargoyle who sat across from him. 'A gargoyle?' Chris was amazed and shocked at the same time. 'It's a fucking, god damn, real gargoyle! Wings and all!' she thought. It was also obvious the gargoyle was extremely pregnant. She watched as the granite man leaned across the table and kissed the gargoyle on the cheek. Chris turned around, closed her eyes and shook her head.
"A dragon. A sword fighting elf. Now a pregnant gargoyle," Chris muttered to herself, "This is getting too fucking weird."
"What's that?" Niki asked. She looked at her friend, "You okay, Chris?" She asked.
"No," Chris said simply. She then opened her eyes and looked at Niki, "Quickly! Tell me what you see at table three."
With a puzzled look Niki looked out to the cafe at table three, "Just the guy I gave the tea to. And his girlfriend or wife. Nice looking couple," Niki said. "Why do you ask?"
"That all you see?" Chris said, "Just two people having tea? You don't see a gargoyle or a guy made of rock or something."
Niki gave Chris a very concerned look. "Uhhh, no." She said worriedly, "Are you all right Chris? You smoking some weird weed?"
'God I wish it was that,' Chris thought. 'This might make some sort of sense then.' She started to untie her apron, "I gotta go. I'm sorry." she said, tossing the apron underneath the counter.
"Anything I can help with?" Niki asked.
Chris didn't say anything, she just ran from the store. Niki watched her go, then looked back at table three. The man and his pregnant wife were still sitting there sharing their tea. "A gargoyle and a man made of rock." She muttered to herself. What had Chris meant by that?
She was tired now. Chris had run from Druther's blindly. She had not cared where she was going; she just knew she had to get away. Now she sat on a stone bench deep in a grove of trees near the Draven Frost galleries. Around her were statues of the founders of Portland which local pigeons where sitting upon and paying the high forms of respect that pigeons often do.
Night had come and from time to time people would pass by her. For the most part they all looked like normal humans. But then something odd would come by. Sometimes the difference would be subtle. Such as they would look human enough, except their eyes looked more like a cat's and glowed. Other times the difference was quite distinct. Like a woman whose body was composed entirely of ethereal mist. Later came a dark skinned demon in a business suit. The list of oddities just grew from there.
Chris put her head in her hands. She wanted to cry. Everything was so confusing now. How could this be happening to her? Yesterday everything was normal. She had a normal life, normal friends and the world was normal. Now it was like she had stepped into an episode of the Twilight Zone. Ever since she was attacked at the train station last night things have been off kilter. God, she would give anything to get things back the way they had been.
There had to be a way. But Chris was stuck as to how to go about it. Then she remembered Bishop. Dare she go back to him? He was so creepy and strange acting. But then everything about today had been pretty creepy and strange. Perhaps that's the way people act when confronted with all this madness. She didn't know if she should turn to Bishop for help or not. Less than a moment later, Chris saw a small group of Leprechauns riding upon the backs of several dogs. They were hooting and hollering at one another and having a jolly good time.
That was enough. Strange and creepy he may be, but Chris needed help, and Bishop was her best hope. She got up and started her way to the nearest train station. From there she would ride out to Washington Park. Chris only hoped she wouldn't regret this later.