She said it was just a quick shopping trip, that it would take ten minutes at most. She said that we'd be in and out of the store, that all she needed were some school supplies (paper, notebooks, etc.) She promised it wouldn't take long.
"So, where are we?" I say, turning the map I took from a store window over, trying to figure out how to read it. There are no labels, just strange symbols and pictures scattered across it.
"No idea," Maxy says, looking around. "But it's pretty nice here, isn't it?"
I glance up from the map. The cobbled street we're on is bright and busy shoppers bustle around us, going from shop to shop. From somewhere, music and birdsong drift into the area we're in.
"Yeah, I guess," I say. "But still. Where are we?"
"Maxy. Come on. Aren't you at least a little worried?" I say, running a hand through my hair nervously. Maxy squeezes my hand reassuringly.
"We'll find a way home. Don't worry," she says.
I look around again, trying to find some clue as to where we are. When we left the store, it was still raining and windy. A particularly strong gust of wind had blown my umbrella out of my hand, and one frantic chase through an alley later, we had ended up here. Wherever here was.
I look up at the sky, trying to gauge what time it is.
"Maxy." I say, trying to keep my rising panic out of my voice. "Look at the sun."
Up above us, the sun is a strange crescent shape, and a darker orange color.
"What the hell . . ." Maxy mutters.
"Now are you worried?" I say. A note of my alarm leaks into my voice.
"Hey," Maxy says. "It's going to be okay. Let's just . . . let's just take this one step at a time. Maybe we can try retracing our steps."
"Okay, that's a good idea," I say, turning around. As we watch, a section of the street we're on disconnects and swings away, taking all the shops and people with it. Where it left, a brick road attatches to the street we're on.
"Or we could not do that," Maxy says.
"Okay, what's going on?" I say. "Like actually. What the hell is going on?"
"I don't know. Maybe we're like, I don't know, the Chosen Ones or something."
"I don't know. But doesn't this always happen in books? You know, seemingly ordinary day, except then there's magic or whatever or they find a magic world. Which we just did."
"Yeah, but," I say. "I can't be the Chosen One. I have school."
"I know," Maxy says. "But still. Isn't this like a pretty normal opening scene in like most fantasy novels? Wait, what if we're just characters in a cliche book? Oh no, that would make me the sidekick. What if I'm going to die?"
"No, you're definitely more of a protagonist person," I say. "Which would make me the sidekick. The sidekicks don't always die, do they?"
"I guess. There was this one book I read where the sidekick lived but the protagonist died," Maxy says. "I don't want to die."
"Okay, but this is ridiculous. There's no way we're in one of those stories. Like, come on. How could we be-"
"The Chosen Ones?" A voice from behind me says.
I turn and see a very short man wearing a patterned suit with a very big, very busy mustache.
"Um, hi?" I say.
"We've got to hide. Quickly," he says. He speaks with a strong accent that I can't quite place.
I turn to Maxy with a questioning look. She shrugs, so I turn back to the man.
"Okay, but why? Where do we go?" I say.
"Just come with me. I'll explain everything once we're there," he says, grabbing my hand and pulling me behind him. He pulls us into a small shop that appears to sell tea and takes us into the back room.
"Okay, what's going on?" Maxy says. "You said you'd explain everything."
"Well, about five years ago, two young girls like you came into this world. They fit our prophecy exactly, and we believed them to be the Chosen Ones. After they slayed our tyrannical dictator, though, they left. Without our leader, our society crubled. Even though he was evil, he kept the peace and order. Our new leader had to pick up the pieces. It took years to fix the cities and rebuild infrastructure, and our economy still hasn't recovered. Ever since then, Chosen Ones have been banned. However, there are some of us who believe what our society needs is another Chosen One to fix things. We believe you are the ones we need," he says.
"I don't know," I say, scratching the back of my head. "To be fair, it seems like your new leader has a point."
"Yeah," Maxy says. "Wouldn't we just destroy everything again?"
"We just want to go home," I say.
"It seems like your society is recovering pretty well," Maxy says. "We wouldn't want to mess everything up again."
"But, you have to save us. There is darkness gathering. Great darkness! We'll all perish if you don't do something about it!" The man says.
"Have you told your leader about it?" I say.
"She wouldn't listen!"
"Have you even tried?" Maxy asks skeptically.
Before the man can answer, I hear banging on the door. The man gestures for us to hide, then opens the door.
"Hello gentlemen," he says, his voice squeaky. "Can I help you? We only sell tea here. No chosen ones. None whatsoever. I don't know why you'd think that."
"Robert, we . . . didn't mention Chosen Ones," one of the people says.
"Yeah, we just wanted to buy some tea," the other says. "But now that you mentioned it, why are those two girls hiding back there?"
"Um, no reason! They're not Chosen Ones! Just perfectly innocent young girls. I was showing them my tea selection."
"Come on out, would you?" one of the people says. Reluctantly, I straighten up and leave the room, Maxy following behind me.
"Hello," one of them says.
"H-hi," I say. Their eyes narrow, and they glance quickly at the other person.
"We're going to have to ask you to come with us," they say.
"No! Wait! Sawyer, Em! Take me! They're innocent," Robert says.
"We're going to take you as well," one of them - Sawyer, I think - says, giving Robert a strange look. "You're a witness."
Em gestures for us to follow her. She handcuffs our hands behind our backs.
"Just a security measure," she says apologetically. "Just in case you're, well, you know."
"Robert, come with me," Sawyer says, sounding tired. They pinch the bridge of their nose and exchange a glance with Em. They turn to us.
"Look, most of our otherworld visitors are completely innocent," they say. "So you probably have nothing to worry about. But Robert here has a habit of cornering most people who aren't from here and giving them his whole spiel, so we have to question you. Just in case."
"Even if you are, you know, you don't have to worry. If you're well along your journey or quest or whatever, then we may keep you in our custody for a while, just to keep an eye on you. But we'll probably just send you home," Em adds.
I relax slightly.
"Wait, you can send us home?" Maxy says, glancing up.
"That's all we want, you know. Just to go home," I say.
"Well, we can probably arrange that. First we're going to have to question you. If you are Chosen Ones, then you may have methods of getting back in. We just need to make sure that's not the case," Sawyer says.
Em and Sawyer load us into their vehicle (I'm not sure what else to call it), Robert protesting the whole time.
"They're innocent!" he shouts.
"We believe you," Em says. "They probably are. But because you told them everything, we have to question them."
A short ride later, we arrive in front of a large, impressive looking building.
"Come on," Em says, gesturing for us to follow her. Sawyer walks behind us, one hand on Robert's shoulder. They look bored and exasperated. Neither of them seem that concerned.
Once we're inside, I look around. Light slopes through the large windows on either side of the room, and there's a thick carpet on the floor. At one end of the room, there's a desk, and sitting behind it is a woman writing something on papers. She looks up when we enter.
"Em. Sawyer," she says. Though her voice is quiet, it carries through the room. "What have we here?" She glances at Robert and sighs. "More suspected Chosen Ones?"
"Yes ma'am," Em says.
"They're innocent! I swear!" Robert shouts.
"Sawyer, do you mind putting Robert in a separate room?" the woman says.
"Yes ma'am," they say, taking Robert by the arm and leading him out of a doorway.
"Is there any evidence other than their involvement with Robert?" the woman asks.
"No ma'am," Em says.
"Then just send them home, would you? And if this happens again, don't bother bringing them to me - just send them home."
"Yes ma'am," Em says.
"Thank you, dear. I don't know what I'd do without you," the woman says.
The last thing I see is Em and the woman exchanging a fond look, before Em raises her hand and snaps her fingers.
I stumble a bit as I land back on the rainy, wet pavement. I look around and notice our umbrella propped up over our school supplies. Stuck to one of the notebooks I bought is a small post-it note, with the words, "Sorry for the inconvinience" written in small, loopy handwriting.
"Wow," Maxy says. "Did that actually just happen?"
"I think so," I say.
"Well, this will be a great story to tell at parties," Maxy says.
"Ooh, we can do the thing where we tell the story and they ask if it's true and we just shrug and smile mysteriously and they'll always wonder if it actually happened or not," I say.
"That," Maxy says, "is an excellent idea. Now, let's go home, shall we?"
I nod, and we link arms, walking down the familiar streets back home.