The Long Road Home

1) Culture Shock

Don Grace's PoV

Don Grace = Garrett Victor Rios = Dwayne Jarrod = Joseph

Today was the day of the Summer festival, the dawn of the rule of Summer.

All kinds of celebrations and festivities were going on. From concerts to medieval competitions to drinking yourself into unconsciousness. Changelings gathered from across the state to partake in the beginning of what is sure to be a fantastic summer. Which was why I was here. When you mix booze and sword fights, you get accidents requiring medical help. Inevitable, thus I am happy to provide my services.

I spent the greater part of the morning healing sword wounds, repairing broken bones from the participants of the mosh pits, and pulling stray arrows out of innocent bystanders. It was mid-afternoon when I finally got a break. I began strolling through the festival, trying to get into the festive spirit. But the faint sounds of a commotion invaded my peaceful state of mind. I had thought I had distanced myself from the medieval competitions… But upon further inspection, I noticed that the commotion was coming from the front entrance. An unsanctioned fight?

I made my way forward, and hid behind a building upon seeing a group of people arguing by the front gate. A large blue ogre whom I believed was the gate-guard named Godwin, Brad Pitt, and a scary looking man with briar tattoo’s on his right arm, leading down to a hook at the end of his arm.

Brad Pitt was leaning on an old cane and imitating the Sheriff, which I found odd since the real sheriff was a mere fifteen feet away, with a cluster of guards watching the transaction. He seemed to be ok with it, so no harm there.

“I’m sorry, but there is no way you are taking anyone here. It’s just not going to happen.” Brad Pitt proclaimed, causing the hooked man to storm off, pissed at the world. Crisis adverted it seemed. The guards stayed around for a moment, but when it became obvious that nothing more was forthcoming, they drifted off in pairs. Brad Pitt went off to the truck posing as a bar. I looked off to the gate entrance, seeing Godwin chilling, on watch. I looked back to the bar and saw a figure climbing on top of it, rifle in hand. This was a sanctioned gathering! Why does he have a weapon here?!? How did he even get it in here?

I began to march towards him, when he yelled out “We’re under attack!” What? I followed the barrel to the front entrance, seeing Godwin on the ground, headless, and The Hooked Man stalking towards the Festival, slaughtering all in his way. Sound erupted as battles took place all over the festival. I saw the Rifleman shoot down The Hooked Man, then shift his attention to the chaos that the festival had become. I looked over to the King and Queen, and blanched. The king laid there, dead. The Queen was fighting off attackers. “PROTECT THE QUEEN!” I screamed, then charged towards them. A spider like assassin dropped down onto her, but before it could stab her, it recoiled from a rifle bullet implanting into its shoulder. Damn that guy could shoot! The creature snared at the Rifleman atop the bar, then beheaded the Queen as she spun around.

“NO!” I wailed, but I could do nothing. I saw my compatriots being butchered left and right. This wasn’t a minor attack, this was a freaking war! I saw the enemy begin to charge towards me, so I ran to the safety of the hawk-eyed Rifleman. The Rifleman took in the situation, then jumped off his perch. He yelled for his allies to run to a hedge gate that apparently just opened up. The hedge? No! It took me so long to escape from there… I was not going to risk being captured again! Seeing me standing there, frozen, he grabbed me and hauled me towards it.

I struggled, attempting to detangle myself from him, but he pressed on. He carried us past a Wizened with 20 too many clocks, and a huge ogre behind him. My eyes began to water as the hedge gates closed behind us… All of our friends, our brothers, our allies, our neighbors. Were all dead. And the only sanctuary we had, was here within the hedge… I seemed to buckle under despair. Everything went south pretty fast, true, but this was no way for a member of the Dawn court to act…

I noticed that everyone were introducing themselves. Brad Pitt was Victor Rios. The Rifleman was Jarrod. The Wizend with too many clocks was named Tik-Tok, Ironically. And the big ogre was named Big Frank. A sigh escaped me. Well, we might as well make the most of what we got. Look on the bright side and all that jazz…

I assessed the condition of our group. Blood and gore covered Victor, Jarrod, and I. But I could tell that we were relatively unharmed. No, the carnage covering us was not our own, but that of our fallen allies… Tik-Tok asked what caused the commotion, and Victor replied that the guy with the briar tattoo and hooked hand, named Hound, was here looking for Jarrod. The rest of us weren’t going to give him up freely, thus here we are.

Tik-Tok nodded sadly, then began discussing a safe place for us to hide out, and started to lead us forward, but I refused to move. “Why should we trust you? What is your angle in all this? Why are you helping us? I find it convenient that in the midst of chaos, you just happen to stroll onto the battlefield with a ready escape waiting for us. I’d rather stay put until I know your true intent.”

Tik-Tok turned and glanced at me. Big frank took up an aggressive stance, but Tik-Tok waved him off. “Understandable, considering you just survived a coup. You should trust me because I am the only help you all have. As of now, the invaders are destroying everything you hold dear. Your friends; family; roommates; dog; house; cars… all gone, I regret to say. Your life as you know it has ended, again. I do not ask you to follow me blindly, but know that I am not here to deceive you. My name is Tik-Tok, I find Lost changelings, and bring them to the numerous Freeholds around the world. That is my angle, though you should know that I didn’t go to the Summer Festival with the intent to help you. No, I went to enjoy myself and relax for a while. But circumstances change, apparently. But since I was there, and you all needed help, why should I not offer my assistance? Are these answers suitable to you? Any more questions?”

I sighed, content to believe him. His story sounded jacked up enough to be true. “Just the one. Why so many clocks? And… are some of them running backwards?”

Tik-Tok chuckled, and stated “That was two questions. Come! We have much traveling to do!” Tik-Tok turned and begun leading us through the Hedge. I followed him pretty well, but the rest of the party seemed to be fumbling through the hedge, unsure of themselves. Next thing I knew, Tik-Tok’s head turned from a corner that wasn’t there previously, and gathered our group together again. After a few hours of walking, we emerged through the other side of the hedge.

We came into a clearing with a stream running through it. We took the time to grab a drink, then clean ourselves. I noticed a shift in temperature and air pressure. We were no longer in the heart of Texas, that much I was certain. Upon asking Tik-Tok, he informed us that we were in Nashua, a small town in New Hampshire.. We headed to a local Denny’s to discuss future plans. He was kind enough to buy us food. Once settled, Tik-Tok asked if any of us had a trade skill that could be of use. He looked at each of us in turn.

“I can act theatrically.”
“I can shoot things.”
“I can heal people.”

Tik-Tok nodded, then pointed at me. “You can heal, huh? We can use that. What is your field of expertise?” I smiled up at him. "Whatever is needed of me. If you require medical help, then I’m your guy.” He shook his head. “No, you misunderstand. What field of medicine do you major in? Are you a surgeon; a doctor; an on-scene medic; What?” I nodded to him and simply replied “Yes.”

He eyed me, then nodded. “Fair enough. I have a friend in the local hospital by the name of Dr. Gray Mcdowell whom would appreciate your assistance. I’ll set up a meeting. Until then, I have a place that you guys can crash short term. Tomorrow, I will bring you to the local freehold.” We gave our thanks, then all piled into his station wagon. We passed buy a building listed as the mage tower or something (I forget :P ) and Tik-Tok announced that the building was the freehold we would be going to. But for now, we passed it and eventually emerged in front of a small house, and Tik-Tok handed me the key.

I opened it up and we went in. The fellows looked around, so I decided to check the fridge. I found a gallon of milk that looked to be far past its expiration date. Tik-Tok shrugged, saying he never really got around to throwing it out. I nodded, grabbed a permanent marker, and drew the hazard symbol onto it. We could use it as a sort of modified tear gas or something. “Why didn’t I think of doing that?” Tik-Tok questioned, looking at the drawn picture. Then they made motions to leave, promising to bring breakfast with them tomorrow. I thanked them earnestly. He truly was going out of his way to make us feel comfortable, and my gratification was real. We all took our individual showers, and decided that sleep was very welcomed.

I awoke to the sound of a knock on the door, but made no moves to get up. Luckily, Victor was prepared, and he let Tik-Tok and Big Frank in. They brought in breakfast burgers and the like, providing enough motivation to get me up out of bed. I grabbed my share, halved it, and hid the rest of it in the fridge for later. After we ate, we jumped into the car and headed towards the freehold.

I felt rather nervous, sitting in the back next to big frank’s whopping hammer of doom. But it was a rather short drive. We soon arrived in front of the freehold. It looked like a basic two story house, turned into a gaming site judging by the posters on the front of the glass doors. But, upon closer inspection, I noticed that both the games and the group meeting dates were majorly out of date. A front, then. A lackey seemed to be guarding the front door. Looking more like he was protecting the place than merely hanging out. Tik-Tok introduced us to the lackey, and received an annoyed glare from the guy. “Well, I wish you guys good luck! Me and Big Frank have places to be. And Kyle, remember to head up to the Hospital when you’re through here, Dr. Gray Mcdowell is expecting you.” And thus, they headed off…

The lackey watched them go, then sighed as he looked at us. “What do you want?” Thus we described to him our situation and our need to join the free hold. He cut us off mid-speech and waved us into the door before him. We were led to a room occupied by a few Changelings, with the Freehold’s king in the background. The lackey announced that we were found and sent here by Tik-Tok, earning an annoyed sigh from the king. He faced us and sneered “What do you want?”

We introduced ourselves, slightly offended by the less-than-polite welcome. Victor stepped forward and proclaimed. “We’re refugees. Privateers wiped out our freehold and we’re the only survivors. They seemed to be searching for Jarrod here,” Victor nodded his head towards our Rifleman. Earning a raised eyebrow from the ‘king’.

“Why would Privateers seek him out specifically?”

Victor nodded, expecting this question, and prepared to go into speech mode, but his efforts were pushed aside by Jarrod, whom apparently thought Victor was ratting him out. Jarrod described Hound, down to his hooked hand, causing a stir in the surrounding Changelings. Jarrod then claimed to have personally killed him, earning a doubtful expression from the ‘king.’ He explained that he and Hound had the same master and that Hound was apparently charged with returning him to their master.

It was like I was in a horror flick, I watched helplessly as the ‘king’ grew more and more furious, and I could do nothing to stop it. Finally the ‘king’ had enough, and ordered us to leave. It wasn’t an official order, but the effect was the same either way. Our offer to join the Freehold was being turned down. We were stuck in a random city, with no help forthcoming. “Just think, things couldn’t possibly get any worse.” I murmured, receiving an angry look from Victor.

“Relax, We will find a way through this, guys.” I’ll go check out that job Tik-Tok proposed. That will get us some basic necessities. If all else fails, and we cannot get to a sanctuary here, then we can just move onto another city.”

But Victor was thinking. “No… That may not be necessary. We only saw like 14 people at the freehold, and this is a big city. Plus, you saw the reception we received. I’m sure there must be more Lost here somewhere, having been turned down like us. You go do your thing, Jarrod and I shall split up and scour the city. We will let you know what we find.”

I nodded, then headed off. I Appeared at the Nashua, Emergency Room, and walked into the lobby. The front lady asked my name, and I showed her my Identification. “Dr. Don Grace, Maam. A Dr. Gray Mcdowell was expecting me?” She nodded then directed me to the third floor. I thanked her and proceeded up to the designated floor. I arrived to Dr. Gray Mcdowell’s room and knocked. A wizened answered, smiling once he saw whom it was. “Ah, Doctor Grace, it is an honor to meet you. The name’s Dr. Gray Mcdowell. I was rather happy when Tik-Tok called me up and called in his favor. I have to admit, I was rather nervous of when he asked me to get a random person hired onto the ER, but your status with Houston’s Medical center was rather impressive. Both of them actually.” He gave me a little wink, and I shrugged. I was fine with this wizened knowing about my previous life, and thus the fetch taking my place. We talked shop for a while, then proceeded to get me set up in my own room.

After a while, I heard my cellphone buzzing. I looked down and saw a text from Victor.

‘I found a group of Lost. They are preparing to attack the ‘king’s freehold in order to support the free people and remove him from his corrupted reign, and they need our help.

We don’t have to wander around, Lost anymore…

We’re not alone.’

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