He stared at the candle in the center of the room. In his eyes it seemed to violently vibrate up and down in his vision. His stomach lurched, and his bound hands instinctively covered his mouth. It has been a few days since the incident, and the vertigo was still attacking him once or twice an hour. A strange man, almost human yet with features obviously alien, spoke English with an even more strange accent.
“You appear to be unwell,” the stranger said quietly while looking over the collection of effects on the table between them. His hands, lean, lithe, and pale carefully traced brass accented revolvers before him. “We should start. What is your name?”
A sigh prefixed the prisoner’s words before he spoke, “Seamus White. Sheriff of Fort Griffin. My friends call me Shay. Y’feel free to call me Shay if y’want. I don’t mind being a friend despite,” he paused while gesturing his bound hands upwards, “my current situation.” Shay remained curious as to how these semi-humans spoke his language so fluently. Were they an Indian tribe unknown to America? They appeared to be on par, if not superior, in technology to him. Nothing added up.
“Seamus White Shay, you do not need to be concerned — yet. This is a routine check of strangers in our land.” The captor looked down at the collection of items before him: a cowboy hat, two revolvers accented with brass, a long rifle with a bayonet affixed to the front, a thick blade as long as his forearm, and, most strangely, the sun-bleached skull of an unknown, horned creature. He gingerly picked up one of the revolvers and passed it to the alien on his right. Their features placed them in the same tribe at least.
Shay shifted in his chair. It was ornate, high-backed, and comfortable. The inlays on the arms seemed to amplify the reflected candle light. He looked up to the bottom-lit face of the alien, “Y’can just say ‘Shay’, y’know?” He lifted his bound hands together and raised his right thumb up while making a ‘pop’ sound with his mouth. “What can I call ya?”
Seeming to ignore his question, the alien replied with his own question, “Where did you get these weapons, Shay? They are unique to say the least.” He looked to his right and spoke in a language unlike any Shay has heard before. It flowed like water like the European languages he’s heard, but it lacked any guttural or sharp sounds. The musicality of it, rhythmic and rhyming, brought a calm despite the situation. “My second tells me that the weapon is broken.”
The other man, Second, was repeatedly pulling the trigger of the gun. With ever-increasing irritation he pulled it harder and harder. The hammer never budged even when cocked.
“That’s mighty weird, sir. They were working before I got here, wherever here is. As far as where I got them: I made them.” He looked towards the guns with comically feigned confusion.
“You made them?!” exclaimed Second, holding the weapon as if it had fangs to bite him. He continued in that exotic language for some time with the captor. The conversation was marked by beckoned attention to the refined details of the firearms. Brass accents with etched florets, mother of pearl inlays on the handle, and perfectly polished and oiled mechanisms. It was beautiful by American standards, and Shay could only imagine how an Indian would take it in.
Shay had enough experience to see that this was some form of military encampment, and he was conversing with an officer of sorts and a subordinate. The officer paused and turned to Shay, “You must be a very talented crafter where you are from. Where did you learn this?”
“Ah, that’s quite the story, sir. I will try to keep it short: My family was a gunsmith for the local militia and plantation owners. ‘White Powder’ they called us. We oft’ had fancy requests and whatnot from those with the coin. That gun there was made by m’family, given to the militia leader, who then gifted to me on my way out.”
“Your way out?” The leader had moved on to the second revolver at this point. He seemed to have spent just enough time to confirm that it was, like the other one, broken.
“Of the army. You see a war broke out in our country. Brothers fightin’ brothers. Fathers fightin’ sons. It was a hellish mess. I didn’t want any part of it, but able-bodied and all. I didn’t have much choice. That militia leader became a confederate officer, and all us men had to join up.” Shay relaxed into the chair. He felt at home with these alien-folk. It at least reminded him of speaking to fellow veterans of that bloody war.
The captor’s face distorted with disgust. He spoke quietly and with noticeable reverence, “You are of the warrior caste then. It is deplorable to have family members kill each other. Your…”, he paused on the next word as if it was foreign,”…country asked for too much from its people.”
“It really wasn’t our choice. To fight that is.” Shay spoke with his hands despite their situation. “The country was too big, and we, north and south, had lived too differently for too long. It was bound to happen, at least that’s what the thinkin’ men told us before it started.
“I am lucky to have made it through.” He paused and stared into the space around the tiny flame, “Most didn’t.” Shay couldn’t be sure, but he felt that this unnamed officer and Second would be able to relate to his story. Their silence seemed to confirm such.
“You ‘got out’ and then came here?” asked the officer.
“Oh no, sir. I got out, became a lawman of the west.” Shay pointed with bound hands to the star on his chest. “They said the best place for my skills was out in the untamed brush. I couldn’t really argue. If I may, I believe that I was a great lawman.”
“I am sure you were.” The officer spoke in his language to his second who them immediately left. “Your clothes are as unique as your weapons, yet you appear to have nothing of particular worth except your gold ring. Is it the sigil of your township?”
Confused, Shay looked at his ring, “What? Oh this? It is a marriage band. I am — at least I was — married. She was very beautiful.” He sat quietly and pondered if he should be offended or not about his apparent worth.
Another Indian entered the room wearing lightly made clothing. He was holding a large book with an elegant leather cover. It was the largest book Shay had ever seen. It also seemed to leave a trail of dust behind it as it moved. Second followed shortly behind him.
The leader spoke to the book-man. The newcomer began to make sounds and move his hands towards Shay and the table. A light glow surrounded Shay and the things on the table.
“Hey there! I don’t know about any voodoo stuff, but I can tell you that this isn’t necessary.” Shay tried to wipe the glow off his legs. The room was lit in a blue light. He looked up and took in as much as he could. The Indians he’d been conversing with were dressed in exquisite armor. Every visible inch of it reminded Shay of snake scales, but these shimmered with an opalescent light. They were clearly metal, but they made none of the expected squeaks or clacks Shay expected. They wore cloaks that seemed to absorb the light in their shade leaving a pitch-black void. Two sword pommels could be seen protruding from hip scabbards.
Soon the glow dissipated, and the room was plunged back into near darkness. The newcomer shook his head with a disappointed sigh and was dismissed with an equally disappointed wave.
Shay, relieved, mumbled under his breath, “See — I told you I wasn’t cursed.” He was aware, for the first time, that these Indians were exceptionally dangerous, and that he lacked any understanding of their capabilities. Shay had read many books in the past and could be considered very well educated where he was from. In all those stories and histories only one resembled his current situation. His head lowered, eyes closed, as the gravity of the only explanation hit him: he was in Atlantis.
“We did not suspect you of curses, but we did need to see if your belongings were magical.” Shay raised up and with wide-eyed bemusement stared at the speaker. “As noted before. It appears you have nothing of value here. Why have you come? Where are you from?” Despite being in Atlantis, to have a people who would openly speak of ‘magic’ either confirmed his prior conclusion, or everyone around him was mad.
Shay was beginning to feel that he was boring to these soldiers. Boring was probably good, he decided. “Where is easier than why. I am originally from Kentucky, but came from Texas. Why. Well that’s a little difficult to explain.”
“I am quite capable of understanding complicated stories. Please continue.” The leading elf impatiently rested his hands on the table and leaned forward, closer to Shay.
“Of course you are, no offense meant, sir.” Shay uncomfortably shifted on his chair, preparing for what he was about to explain. He took a few moments to debate whether the truth or a lie would be a better story. He chose his method and went head-long into his story.
“I was dealin’ with banditos from Mexico. They had teamed up with some confederate stragglers and were robbing the rails and wagons.” The officer’s face seemed to contort with confusion. Shay assumed that most of those words would be unknown to Atlantians. He continued.
“I had dealt with these sorts before, and brought many of them to the noose. This time was different in some ways. This group raided my town when I was away dealin’ with somethin’ else. They had killed many in my town,” Shay paused for a deep breath, and continued, “my wife included. So y’can say it was personal.
“I probably shouldn’t have gone out, but I knew where they were and the posse was ready to go. We were ambushed. We scattered. I had a gut-shot. A slow death definitely. I just rode back home.
“I don’t think I made it back. Last thing I remember, heat overtaking me, was falling from my horse to the dirt.”
“Shay from Kentucky, Texas, I do not know many of the words you have used, but I understand you lost your battle.” The leader leaned back, apparently relieved to no longer feign interest. “You have lost much it appears. Do not worry about losing any more. I have decided to release you as you seem absolutely harmless.”
“Well that’s a relief! Of course I am harmless — I mean” Again Shay was left wondering if he should be offended or not.
“I do have a last question, if you would humor me one more.”
“Of course, sir. What can I do for ya?”
“What is this skull, and why are you carrying it?” The Indian placed a pointed index-finger on the ‘forehead’ of the skull. It had a red X on it.
Shay had hoped that he could get away with not talking about the skull. He again considered lying, but it seemed they didn’t find any reason to keep him around. He chose to tell the truth, despite how weird it sounded. “To be honest, and I am sure you will understand why I didn’t mention it after I tell you this, falling to the dirt was not the last thing I remember.
“I fell to the dirt from my horse. It wandered off, and, after it felt like days had past, I saw it collapse in the horizon.
“I crawled to find shade somewhere, but none was to be found. I leaned up against a rock, sun burning my skin. I was ready to go. Meet the maker, all that mess. Then, and I am being as honest as I am here, I heard a voice from this steer skull.
“It said, ‘I am not done with you yet, ‘ and finished with a word I did not know. It sounded like a name, and it felt like my name. Deep within those sockets I could see the faintest of a green glow. It seemed to float before me. The world spun faster than any twister I’ve heard of. Now I am here.
“I woke up on some grass and the skull was by my side. All my wounds were healed up, and all my belongings dropped next to me. Even some things I left at home. It was all very weird.”
The two Indians looked at each other and appeared to be worried. They exchanged some words and then Second left with haste. He seemed to try to keep as much distance from Shay as possible on the way out. Only the captor remained. “Shay, that is a very interesting story. Such stories can only be bad portents of things to come, sad to say. I hope, for your sake, that I am incorrect.
“Maintain your honor and you will be welcome in our camp. While I am certain my soldiers will not do so, if any confront you tell them High-lord Mez has vetted you. You are free to go, Shay. May the Hollowlight guide you.”
Mez made a few gestures and the ropes fell away from Shay’s arms. They landed on the ground and slithered away like skittering slugs. The room, previously dark, lit up. Shay could not help but squint in the new light.
He looked around and realized he was in a tent not unlike a commander’s tent. Shay quickly gathered his belongings. He holstered the guns with a flourish, and deftly slung the rifle around his body. He picked up the skull with his right hand. Finally, with his left hand, he picked up his hat, flung it into the air with practiced spin. It rolled up his arm and, with a timed pop of the shoulder, landed on his head. He settled it down on his head and tapped the brim with a nod. “G’day to ya then, Mez. Was a pleasure.”
Shay walked until he felt he had gathered some safe distance from the commander’s tent. He pulled one of the revolvers out of its holster, removed a small metal wire that was disabling the mechanism, carefully put the wire in a hidden fold in his hat, then re-holstered the gun. He repeated this with the other revolver and his rifle.
“This is Atlantis,” Shay thought. He was glad that his introduction into this world was with a man that seemed to be a great man. Shay told Mez all the stories, and he hoped that Mez would consider him a great man as well.
Shay thought back to those stories he told Mez. Those were great men in those stories, and he was having difficulty remembering if he actually did any of those things. He felt like he could have been the star in those tales, or he could have seen them happen.
As he walked further through the camp, memories flooded his mind: growing up with a man named Seamus, apprenticing in his family’s shop, following him into the war, shooting him with a rifle from an ambush, and finally placing a bloody wedding ring on his finger. All of these memories could have equally been his own or someone else’s.
“It doesn’t matter,” Shay concluded. “He was, or I was, a great man, ” he thought. He walked towards the setting sun, the dried mud on his jeans flaking to the ground. “In this world I will be that great man.”