When he woke up, Kenta wasn't where he was.
His head was throbbing. His whole body was hurting. Something felt cold.
Groggily, he opened up his eyes. Gone was the schoolbus. Surrounding him now were four unfamiliar walls of dark stone, the only light coming from the gap beneath the door. It was barely anything, but it let him see that the room he was in was tiny, completely featureless bar the high slab of rock he was laid on like a bed. That was the coldness, the chill that pressed against his back and his legs.
For a second, fear flashed through him, and he sprang up like a jolt had run through his body. But then, a calming wave washed over him. From somewhere distant a song was playing, a melody of drums and soft flutes that soothed his body. His headache dissipated, and his body relaxed. He laid back down, trying to control his breathing.
Where am I?
Faced with unbearable curiosity, Kenta slid his legs over the side of the table, rising to a sitting position. Gingerly, he pressed his feet against the ground, feeling the same coldness he had when he had first woke. His shoes were gone... his feet were bare. The teen moved his hands to his chest, feeling that his other clothes were gone as well. In their place were some kind of white robes, silky and soft to the touch.
This is... strange.
Sitting there, he tried to remember what had happened.
Last he could remember, he was on the bus, headed home from school. Kenta lived in the exact spot on the edge of the school district, where if he moved just a house down he'd be attending Lower Mulligan instead of Willow Creek. That meant that the drive was a long one, and more often than not he was able to take a quick nap. And he had been napping, before... well, before he woke up in this place.
Wait. No. He had already woken up... there had been screaming? Screaming that had woke him up, just in time to see that...
A car had hit the bus.
Suddenly, the door creaked open. Kenta could see an eye peek in from outside, a weathered one that belonged to an old man.
"Good." he said, looking back at someone out of sight to the teen. "Another of the heroes is awake."
Four young men and women sat in the back of a cramped covered wagon. They had yet to take off the the king's castle. Just a few minutes ago, none of them had known each other, or known of the king's castle, or of his kingdom, or even of the realm they were in now. All four were quiet, stunned... none of them had quite grasped what was happening to them.
Then... the silence was broken.
"So, how'd you all die?"
In the back corner was Kenta, the last to board. How'd you all die... what a strange, strange question. He had expected some kind of greeting to come out of the golden-haired boy's mouth before anything else. The only other guy in this group of four, he had a crooked nose that looked like it had been broken a few times before, contrasted by a perfectly white smile. Also white were his clothes... he was dressed in the same kind of silky robes Kenta was. Everyone else in the wagon had that outfit.
When no one answered him, the boy cocked his head. "What? Am I the only guy who died here? I figured we all did."
Hmm. Seems like I'm not the only one wondering about that. Kenta thought. I died before coming here... stands to reason everyone else did...
"How about you go first?"
Snapped out of his contemplation, Kenta looked over to the source of the gruff, feminine voice that had just spoke. It was a tall girl, much taller than any girl he could remember seeing before. Her forearms were thick - she definitely worked out or something. She sat opposite from the blonde, so she was able to look right at him as he talked.
"Well... I can't really remember, y'know?" he tapped his chin in thought. "I was at a party, then... well, I was seeing the light down a tunnel."
A pinprick of light in a sea of inky blackness... that brought back memories to Kenta. I saw that too!
"Then you woke up here?" he said. The boy's eyes moved to him.
"Yeah! Well, in that weird stone room thing, I mean."
The stone room... Kenta remembered being lead out of his by an orange-robed monk, the same one who had peeked in before. From there he had entered a larger, circular chamber, with four other doors and two openings for a hallway that lead outside.
Those four other doors... four other rooms. They must've been where the others had woken up.
Speaking of the circular chamber, it was a strange place. It had looked like the inside of some sort of old church or temple, and monks were busily moving to and fro through it. One group of them were even playing instruments - that's where that song had been coming from. As far as he could tell, it was part of a complex of similar structures. He had spotted two nearly identical buildings on the way to the carriage.
The chamber just.... stuck in his mind, for some reason he couldn't quite pin down. Stained glass windows depicting strange events made up large portions of the walls, the high, domed ceiling was painted with a faded mural, and there were five stone support pillars that had statues of unfamiliar figures carved into them... hold on.
He had recognized one of the figures, but only now that he was thinking about it, visualizing it in his mind: that... that was a statue of me! And as he looked around now, he realized that the three others had all been represented too.
Wait... five doors, five statues... but four people here? That's one short...
"Had you been drinking?" the last quiet person, a girl that had been sitting next to Kenta, finally spoke up. She was like the big one's polar opposite, being tiny and frail, with a rounded face bordered by a chin length bobcut. Her hair was silky and colored coal-black, the same shade as his own.
"Uhm, yeah?" the boy laughed. He seemed... well, not very affected by the strange situation he was in. "It's a party. You drink at parties."
"How much?" the girl asked.
"I see where this is going. You think I OD'd, or something?"
She nodded. "That, or maybe you fell asleep, then choked on your own vomit."
The other girl let out a half-snort, half-laugh. The boy just winced.
"Oh... yuck." he smacked his lips, then Kenta could see him swishing his tongue around in his mouth. "Huh, well, I don't taste anything..."
I... I don't think that's how it works...
Suddenly, sounds could be heard from outside. Everyone looked to the two tent-like flaps that served as doors to the back of the wagon, which were being pulled open from outside. When they parted, two people climbed inside - an elderly monk in red robes, and a beautiful girl with a frightened face, eyes darting back and forth. Kenta recognized that fear... he had felt it just a while ago. The monk gestured for her to sit down next to the blonde boy, so she did. He smiled at her warmly, but it did little to soothe her.
Unlike before, when Kenta had been brought to the carriage, the monk stayed behind. He sat down in front of all the teenagers. The old tried to keep a straight face as he looked them over... but failed, bursting into a toothy grin.
"Welcome!" he said. "We have been waiting a long time for your arrival... I'm sure you are confused. Scared, even. Do not be."
From his robe, the monk pulled a scroll - like the man who held it, it was marked with signs of age. He unrolled it a third of the way, displaying it to the five bewildered teens moving it from side to side as he talked. It was an illustration, seemingly of them. They stood on one side together, clad in knight's armor, while on the other side was a painting of some sort of cloaked figure, hands above his head. A ball of blue fire floated above him, and legions of similar dark warriors stood behind him. This was a war - something out of a fantasy story.
"You are no longer on your planet Earth - you are in the Kingdom of Tropeia." he explained. Kenta had his eyes glued to the scroll in front of him... this is insane. "Many, many years ago, the king's oracle was given three bleak visions of the future."
With that, he unrolled the scroll completely. Kenta could see now that there were three segments to the image, and that the one he and the other four starred in was last. At the top was a single man standing off against an army of weird, green men, and in the middle were three warriors facing down a tornado, in the center of which was a man's silhouette.
"In her first vision, she saw the Kingdoms of Men bowing to the Orcs, starting with Tropeia. In her second, she saw the God of Winds betraying his fellow deities and ravaging our lands. And in the third, she saw a threat greater than either of those... a lich, with an army unlike any other and impossible power at his fingertips. If we ever wanted to stand up to these dark forces, we'd have to perform an ancient ritual - one that would summon young men and women from the world called Earth to our realm. They would be our heroes... they would save us all."
This was... a lot of information to take in.
"Heroes..." smiling, the blonde boy leaned back. "So I'm a hero? I like that."
"Do not be mistaken." the old monk said, closing up the scroll and tucking it back in . "Your quest will not be easy... according to the oracle, the lich should appear in a year's time. For that period, you five will be training at Highest Keep."
Keep... Kenta tried to remember what that word meant... well, in that context. Something like castle?
"Highest Keep?" the big girl seemed to be as curious as he was about the place. "What's that?"
"A fortress, high in the mountains. It was built after the very first hero arrived long ago, specificially to provide the next heroes that would arrive with a place to stay." the old man explained. "It's been added to over the years - the training grounds are the best you'll find in all of Tropeia."
Standing, the monk brushed himself off, then let out a sigh. "Well... you should be headed off now. I wish I could accompany you to Highest Keep, but I must attend to my duties as the head of these temples." he pulled at a necklace of large, spherical wooden beads that he wore around his neck, as if they were some sign of his leadership. "Hopefully I may stop by sometime and train with you five..."
With that, the monk began to disembark. But before he could slide out of the wagon, the girl who had been sniffling through his speech called out to him hurriedly.
"W-wait! I still have questions!" she was nearly out of her seat. The old man looked back at her, smiling calmly.
"Do not worry. At Highest Keep, you will meet a man with all the answers."
A strange feeling hung in the air... Kenta couldn't quite tell what it was. Fright? Confusion? Anxiety? No one was talking, even though they had been riding for what felt like an hour. The blonde boy was fidgeting nervously, the big girl had her arms folded across her chest, the small one had hers in her lap, and the last was hunched over, covering her face with her hands. She had been sobbing lightly, barely audible from beneath her fingers.
Well... Kenta thought. Someone has to break the ice. And with something better than "how'd you die?"
"So..." the teen began, raising his voice higher than it's usual volume to draw the attention of the people around him. "If we're going to be spending the next year or so together, I think it'd be best if we got to know each other."
All eyes were on him now... he was a little nervous now. But he pushed those feelings away and continued to speak.
"My name's Kenta. I'm from Mulligan, Virginia. And.. I'm sixteen." he threw in some random information after his name - it couldn't hurt.
"Randy. Randy Fowler." said the blonde boy, getting the idea. He extended a hand towards Kenta, which Kenta took. A handshake felt weird in this situation, but, well, everything felt a little weird right now. "Well, Randall Fowler, but, you know, like..." he shut himself up. "I'm seventeen. Philly."
Next to speak was the short girl. "I'm Beverly, but everyone just calls me Bev. I'm sixteen too." she said, looking at Kenta. "And I'm from Wisconsin."
"Like the cheese place?" Randy asked.
There was a pause.
"Uh... yeah, the 'cheese place.'" said Bev.
"I guess I'll go..." the big girl grumbled. She didn't seem to want to talk, but she was one of two people left. "I'm Alina Ukhobotin. From Yekaterinburg."
"Yekaterinburg?" Randy scratched his head. "Where's that? Oregon?"
"Russia." Alina said simply.
"Oh." Randy nodded. "That's... pretty far from Oregon. So, what's Russia like?"
Alina thought about her response for a bit.
With Alina seemingly finished with socializing, that left one person. Everyone's eyes were on the last girl, who still had her face buried in her hands. She seemed to realize what had happened when everyone stopped speaking, so she looked up.
"Um..." she stammered. "I'm... I'm Sae." it seemed to take a lot of effort to splutter that out, and after she did, she went silent again.
Hmm... she's cute, but she's awfully shy. I don't see any reason to push her for more than that right now.
"It's nice to meet you, Sae." Kenta said. "It's nice to meet all you guys. So..." he tried to think of something else to add on, but couldn't, shaking his head.
Heroes... heroes... I can't get that word out of my mind...
"Jesus... this is all so crazy!" he said, half-laughing. "I mean, we're, we're gonna be heroes?"
"God, I'm nowhere close..." Bev had a grimace on her face. "I can barely get through P.E., and that monk guy thinks I'm going to kill that... that l-lich thing, or whatever? Obviously, they summoned the wrong person."
"I mean, we'll get to train and stuff." Randy said, smiling at her. "No worries."
"Yeah..." her palms were sweaty, so she rubbed them off on her robe. "No worries."
Randy settled back in his seat. "Personally, I think being a hero is gonna be awesome. I mean, I'm gonna look great in a suit of armor." he leaned in towards the rest of the group. "And not to brag, dudes, but I've taken fencing lessons. Got a head start on training."
Alina snorted. Randy shot a look at her.
"What?" he said. "Fencing is sick."
"You're making me sick." she said, cracking her knuckles nonchalantly. "And fencing is just a game. Wont do you much in an actual fight."
"Oh? And who are you, Floyd Mayweather?" Randy asked.
"Nope." Alina said. A smug grin spread across Randy's face. "But I got two gold medals at the Youth Olympics. Boxing and weightlifting."
That smirk evaporated.
"Oh... well, good for you."
Kenta laughed. Well, maybe this wont be too bad.