I might post this before I'm finished with it, just so that if anyone else wrote themselves in the same time and place as me, I can either change it or collaborate or something, for consistency. Also, if you made up any details about the dimension that don't match mine, you can tell me and I'll change that. Consistency is very important to me, and can be slightly difficult in a story with loose boundaries that we're all writing together. :p
"Oh," Aretha said, not pleased or irritated, just surprised, and maybe a little amused.
"It would appear that we've left the demonstration," Niccolo added, in a similar tone.
"Yes, it certainly would. So..."
"We've been shunted. There were a few mages tampering with the machine recently; it is safe to assume they are the cause of our current situation. It is also safe to assume that they have ill intentions. They succeeded in gathering many high-ranking government officials in one place at one time, so it is also likely that there are others from our dimension who have been stranded here, and that this dimension is meant to compromise us in some fashion." He paused for a moment, closing his eyes, and I could feel him searching for a way to shunt back. He shook his head. "Its energy is too unbalanced. I'm more likely to shunt us into oblivion than back to the demonstration."
I took a deep breath. "Then I guess we just survive." He nodded.
I think it best that we communicate mentally from this point forward, he thought, his voice just as rich in my mind as it was out loud, if this dimension is meant to harm us, there may be any number of surveillance methods employed against us.
Right, I replied with a curt nod, and looked around a bit. Of course, from the moment his feet touched foreign ground Niccolo had been absorbing all sorts of information about our surroundings. There were squirrels in the half-dead trees- they'd appeared in some kind of forest- and a few rodents and raccoons scurried across the ground. There were a few deer, too, but it seemed as though the whole planet was half dead, so it was probably best not to kill those. If we were there long enough to need to eat, we'd take a squirrel.
The trees grew healthier in one direction, so we followed it until we came to a river. Niccolo gave the water a glance and tasted it before I had a chance to warn him. Of course, he knew it might be poisoned, and I knew he could handle poison, but I didn't want him to use too much of his energy early on, since we'd probably need it later. Luckily, he determined that while it wasn't perfectly fresh, the worst it would give me would be a headache, so it should be safe to drink.
Well, I started, we should probably-
Don't let your guard down, he cut me off, because as much as I knew I shouldn't I had started to let my guard down, and I'd probably continue to do so without some source of stress, but yes, I believe we ought to create some form of shelter for ourselves here. And for a moment I marveled at the fact that suddenly being thrown into a new dimension didn't constitute a source of stress in my mind. It isn't that you've changed, he commented, explaining, only that you've lost so much. Everything you might have longed to return to in your dimension is gone. Your duties are not, but as you've been stranded here in the line of duty, you need not concern yourself with those for the time being. He was right, of course. And we headed off in search of a place to make camp.
Soon enough we came across the shambled remains of an old factory, and took shelter beneath a large fallen concrete slab. We returned to the forest to catch two squirrels, and Niccolo cooked them over a small fire. He kept the flames hot and put the fire out quickly, unwilling to allow too much smoke to betray our location. I went to retrieve some water, and we teleported back to the overhang so that if anyone had seen the smoke, they still wouldn't have any tracks to follow, and I struggled to fall asleep as the sun fell over the rusted sky.
It's beautiful... And actually very steampunk, in a way. Dying forests, dilapidated factories, and red skies... The twins would have loved it. To the mortal world, I was dead. And a murderer. My life there was over, and of course that meant I could never see my mortal friends again, no matter how much I wanted to. Six sisters, gone.
You say that as though they've died. One of them has, I know, but the rest are alive and well, despite your absence.
Well is a relative term, I replied, a few tears slipping out. They were never really happy, and I-
Aretha, listen. They may not have spent their whole lives happy, but neither have they spent all their lives suffering. They are moving on, and you need to as well.
I took a deep breath, and nodded, letting the tears dry on my face. He was right. Again.
And now you must rest, he reminded me, tossing his heavy (and surprisingly soft, for a garment full of knives) jacket over me. He shifted into a cat and curled up beside me, purring softly, and even though I knew he wouldn't sleep, he stayed there long after I was calm enough to slip into dreams.
I woke before sunrise, but wasn't especially tired, so I decided not to try to fall back asleep. You're still here, I commented, surprised to find the black cat still at my side.
Of course, he replied smoothly, where else might I have gone?
I don't- oh! A quick glance at his memories gave me my answer. You kept the nightmares away.
You know they don't really bother me, though. I mean, I know it's just a dream...
I am fully aware of that. He kept them from me anyway.
Ok then. Do you want to sleep? He politely declined, having already slept for exactly two hours, and after splitting another squirrel for breakfast we headed off to explore. Teleporting wouldn't be wise, Niccolo explained, because the places we remember from our world were probably drastically different and potentially dangerous here, so we went on foot. Well, hoof. We were sitting ducks if we kept still, and we wanted to find whatever traps the strangers had set before they found us. We needed a way to move swiftly with minimal fear of recognition, so Niccolo shifted into a black horse, making certain the bottoms of his hooves were soft so they wouldn't clack against the ground, and I wore his coat, the hood that he made in it covering my face. We raced out of wherever we had been, flying past a sleeping stranger beneath a sign, and kept just outside of the road.
We determined it unsafe to talk to any locals. Or anyone at all, really. If we saw someone we knew, we would make sure they were really who we thought they were, and then follow at a distance. The safest thing was to make sure that no one knew where we were. I imagined we looked like some sort of specter, tearing down the edge of the street with the long black coat flying out in the breeze, my face shrouded in shadow, and although Niccolo's hooves pounded in quick succession against the ground we remained completely silent.
Wait, slow down a bit, I asked him as we entered an old city. Let's look around. He slowed to a walk so I could glance about the broken buildings, occasionally picking up his pace to jump over bits of rubble blocking our path. The air was laden down with eerie silence and stagnation. Dust was everywhere, as if the buildings had just collapsed one day and no one ever touched them again. I found a hand sticking out from under a large piece of cement, put it was already old and decaying.
It doesn't look like anyone's been here for years. Like, even the dust is perfectly intact, save for where we just stepped. If this is a trap, it's a really overly elaborate one. I pointed out, beginning to doubt that we had anything to fear from the city. Where we first appeared was a different story, but here- it would take so much effort for one group of people to construct and age a whole city entirely from scratch, and just as hard to turn an existing one into a death trap without leaving so much as a footprint, and on top of that the people who sent us here had no guarantee we would come to this city. They made their adjustments to the shunting machine last minute, so it wasn't likely they would have created something so detailed, and if they had, they wouldn't have left so many variables.
Excellent observation, he agreed, I've been considering this as well. It seems unlikely that anything about this dimension we've observed thus far was specifically designed to harm us in any way. While that possibility still exists, it is more probable that they intended to trap us here indefinitely, or even that sending us to this particular dimension was unintentional. Either way, for the moment, we were trapped, and all we could do was just keep living until we found a way out.
We kept our pace at a walk as we made our way through the city, conserving our energy in case we might need it later. "Stop!" I suddenly yelled aloud, our agreement to refrain from speaking forgotten.
What is it? He came to a halt immediately, and I could feel the concern radiating off of him. Too struck to respond, I slipped lightly off his back and ran towards a nearby building, quickly slowing down as I approached. When I was only a few feet away, I knelt down and reached out a hand. "Hey, little kitty," I cooed softly, "What are you doing here?"
Niccolo breathed deeply, relieved, and I felt his amusement. If silence weren't valuable he would have laughed. You care too much, he suggested fondly.
You care too little, I replied in the same tone, but we both knew that wasn't true. "Come here, little kitty," I kept spoke softly as I slowly approached the yellow kitten huddled in a crevice of crumbling brick, "I promise I'm softer than those bricks." Eventually the tiny cat pricked up his ears, and I stopped a few inches away, waiting to see if he'd come to me. He did. "Aww, look at you," I murmured, scooping him up, "You are so small." He fit easily in my hands. I moved a thick knife from Niccolo's coat to my pocket, and tucked the shivering kitten into my pocket, which had become quite warm, and headed back towards Niccolo.
Aretha, he warned gently, Much as I know you wish to, we cannot keep the cat. Before you refuse, consider how difficult it may become to keep him alive, should any dangers emerge. I thought for a moment, then sighed with resignation. He was right. I kept the cat in his coat anyway, waiting to put it back until it stopped shivering. After a few minutes, I heard a meow stronger than one any kitten was capable of producing, and I set the kitten gently on the ground before running back towards Niccolo. The second cat was a fully grown calico, who quickly lifted the yellow kitten by the scruff of his neck and ran off again. I smiled, and we kept walking.
This is not yet finished- I have to write the rest of the second day and then the third, which is when we'll be shunted again. If you guys have any notes or want to collaborate or anything, let me know, otherwise I'll just keep writing on my own.