Day 5
I think it's been five days—but I could be off, one or two. Been out of it a lot. And now I'm finally out of the doctor's office. Hosta thinks I'm hilarious. Refusing to stay in bed, but with nowhere to be. I can't just sit around waiting to heal. I have to explore, even if I can't get very far. Today, I saw Hosta's bakery, and she gave me this tart wedge thing. Then I stopped at what constitutes a general store here, and bought myself better clothes with money from Telford. They're still not what I'd choose to wear, but at least I have pants now, and boots that fit me. And sturdy leather gloves—to hide my hands with. Telford is fascinated by my prosthetics, and swears he won't tell anyone about them. I don't have much choice but to trust him.

She sits on her cot in Telford's practice, slowly, painfully bending her legs, and tucking them up against her chest. She maneuvers a crudely cut copper coin between her fingers, concentrating on keeping the coin in motion. Time and again, it falls to the wrinkled bed sheets, and she sighs softly, watching her fingers fold and clench around the coin, lethargic as if weighted beneath a mile of water. Seized by frustration, she hurls the coin across the room, where it dings harmlessly against the front door, and she pounds her fists against the bed, crying out in the sudden flash of pain that sears across her burns.

Day 10
Got my own place now. Funded by Telford, of course. Paid a month in advance for a room in the inn. He let me take a bunch of his books with me, and my reading is improving, if very slowly. Their language may strongly resemble ours, but their alphabet does not. Not in the slightest. Anyway, I get to see the crappy bard that Hosta's always talking about. He plays downstairs in the tavern, so I'm gonna try and listen every night, learn whatever I can from his tall tales. There's so much to learn—an entire world to understand. I feel like it hasn't sunk in yet. If it weren't for the complete lack of magic, I wouldn't even know I had left Tyria. I have to keep reminding myself that this is an alien land. I am stranded, many of my most valuable possessions lost. I don't know what's going to happen to me, but just as in Tyria, it seems I can't look back. Only ahead, at what bridges I haven't already burned.

She perches upon the stairs coming down from the second floor of the inn, and watches the bard attentively. An older man, with a plain face and plain clothes, but a rich, sonorous voice. Gnarled fingers strum effortlessly upon a fine lute, and stories of fallen kingdoms fill the hush of the tavern, seeming to bring life back to the worn wooden walls, reminding them they were once great trees. Marea strains to understand the even more melodic lilt of the Middle-Earth accent when sung, and every now and then, her concentration is shattered—blackness and silver stars fill her vision, assaulting her in rare moments of peace, and she jerks her face away, trying to hide, though the void always returns in time, a lingering tune that she can't get out of her head, that haunts her with its sweet, empty melody.

Day 30
I've memorized some of the bard's stories. A few of Telford's books, too. Not much else to do than read and listen. I've talked some with the townspeople, though I try not to be too friendly. They all know who I am, the strange foreigner from the south that showed up looking like she just rolled out of a bonfire. I don't want to accidentally do anything that will arouse suspicion. I should have the upper hand here, but without guns and magic, and with my skin too fucked up to move fast with a dagger, I can't risk a witch hunt. The people are nice, though. Curious, but harmless, so far. In a lot of ways, talking to them is just like talking to someone in Tyria. The farmers talk about their crops, shopkeepers gossip, and kids stare at me and whisper, until I lunge at them and go 'boo!' Then they scatter like roaches, good riddance. Still, even with all they have in common on the surface, these people feel different. I can't put my finger on what it is. Every time I think I understand them, some small thing puts me back to square one. One of those teenage habit-things tried to steal a cupcake from Hosta yesterday, and when she spotted him, he ran off laughing with his prize, and she only shook her spatula and yelled at him. Just let him go without a fight. I guess it's not that strange. I guess.

She goes downstairs in the wee hours of the morning. Dreams interrupted by starry space, she seeks respite in the waking world, though her eyes droop with the weariness of many sleepless nights. She sits at the empty bar, staring at the sparsely stocked shelves. She perches on the edge of a table, rolling a salt shaker between her hands. She crouches down before the fireplace, ashes still simmering faintly, and in those ashes she sees a thousand twinkling universes. So she quickly turns away, and spies a pile of bags by the double front doors. Atop them rests a small harp, fit to be carried around with ease while slung over one shoulder. It fits perfectly in her hands, the arms on either side formed of delicately carved ivory, silver strings glinting like pale silk spiderwebs.

She closes her eyes, imagining the practiced caress of the bard's knotted old fingers, and she strums a chord. The fleeting music fills the shadowy silence of the deserted tavern, and a smile finds it way onto her face. It feels as if it has been years since she smiled. Even while she looks to the future, the reality of a new reality weighs heavily on her shoulders, and as she clumsily plinks out pretty tunes on the harp, that weight is lifted, and suddenly she can breathe again. Breathe as she did on the deck of the Horizon, high in the skies of Tyria, far from that world and the next. As if she were in her own bubble of space and time, and nothing but the rain could touch her.

A hand grasps her shoulder, and she yelps in surprise, fingers slipping and striking a comically hideous chord on the harp. The bard comes up behind her, one eyebrow raised over a crooked smile, and throws open the front doors, where a horse-drawn wagon loaded with hay awaits him. Marea steps back, watching in confusion as he grabs the bags by the door and throws them up into the wagon, then climbs aboard himself, raising a hand to wave goodbye as he perches upon a golden bale.

“Wait!” The wagon pulls away, the clopping of horse hooves echoing upon the cobblestones of the silent town. “You forgot this!” Marea takes a few hurried steps after the bard, harp held aloft, but her nerves scream in protest, and the man is growing farther away by the moment. He gazes up at the dawning sky, perfectly at peace without his ivory harp. And Marea stands in front of the inn with her new prize, clutching it tightly to her chest.

Day 50
Came to the first town I've seen since leaving Archet. Been practicing a lot between there and here, so hopefully they'll comp me a room at the inn. Sleeping outside here is lovely, but I can't shake the feeling that I'll be unpleasantly surprised by some hitherto impossible threat, native to Middle-Earth. Not that I've found any reason to worry about that here. Almost everyone's been fucking harmless. But there's plenty of time for the universe to prove me wrong. I'm heading south, to a place called Rohan. I've heard the name before, but I don't know where—it almost sounds like a dream, to me. An unreal concept. But I know I've heard it, and if I need a direction to travel, I might as well go there. I have the bard and his tales of 'riders' to thank for that.

Marea plops her butt in a chair on the makeshift stage in the tiny village inn. Only the cook and four grizzled men occupy the room, so hardly a crowd, but even still her skin tingles with nervousness, and she knows her hands would be leaden if she could feel them. She clears her throat, and strums a starting chord, followed by a dramatic, fully unintentional pause, before finally she spits the words out. She sings one of the bard's simpler tales, a silly song about forest critters stealing food from each other, and when she finishes, she promptly gets hit in the eye with a copper coin. The offering seems to be in lieu of clapping, as one of the gruff men stares at her expectantly.

“Thank you, thank you,” she blurts out, shoving the penny down her bodice. “You're too kind.”

The man grins, whether because of her stage presence or the fact that his money went to rest beside her boobs, she will never know. She isn't offered a free room that night, but after singing an hour of songs with her best attempt at a legible accent, she buys herself a bowl of hot meat stew, and cherishes every savory bite after weeks with only roots and berries. When she has licked up every drop, she finds herself a little shelter beneath the trees outside the village, inspects her injuries to ensure none have worsened, then lies down her head in the lush green grass, and dozes with the crickets under a bright full moon.

Day 100
Horses are fucking awesome. God damn, if I ever go back to Tyria, I absolutely have to hunt one down and take it for myself. There's gotta be someone in the world that still has horses, or else we wouldn't all remember them so well. Right? Anyway, this ones name was Lila, but I'm renaming her Indigo. Another play on Inigo, I know, real creative. But she's kinda colored that way—like me, she has a black mane, but it shines blue when it catches the light just right. She's so beautiful. Smaller than a lot of the horses I've seen, but full of energy, and crazy. The other day she went off after a bunny for miles, and I could barely get control of her. Could say it's just because I'm inexperienced, but I think she's extra spunky. And to think, I didn't even have to kill anyone to get her. Just walked off while no one was looking. These people are so damn trusting.

She sits on the edge of the well in the town square, carefully tuning her harp. She must be very careful about it, since she was never properly taught, but she learns quickly through trial and error, and if she doesn't do things in the most practical way, at least she adapts herself as needed. A few families have gathered before her, waiting for the show. A starting crowd of fifteen, the largest she's had.

“May I have your attention,” Marea interjects through the chattering crowd, who immediately go silent and stare at her in confusion. “The accent works wonders, huh?” she jokes, to which the people only stare some more. “Today I will be testing out a new song on you guys, not the classics you know and love, but something that really comes from the heart. So if it sucks, be honest with me afterwards, okay?”

A lone voice calls out from somewhere on the street: “'Sucks?' How would it 'suck?'”

“Not important!” Marea chimes cheerfully, rolling her eyes, and with a careful flick of her damaged fingers, the tale begins.

Day 150
These people love the Ode to Ascalon, holy shit. I'm getting free rooms and meals and kids are singing along with my own accent. I can almost see why people think kids are cute, for the first time in my life. People even recognize me in some places—I step through the gates and they go hey, that's the foreign bard with the one red eye! Damn straight I am, harping my way right into your hearts. I've never been involved with music before this, but it seems I've got a knack, especially when I put my own words into it. I still feel like I'm attracting too much attention, sometimes. If these people saw me the way the Ferny family did, when I first arrived, I'm sure they'd turn on me in a second. But as long as the gun and the prosthetics are tucked away, I'm just a woman from a distant fishing village with odd mismatched eyes and a knack for made-up myths. Although Ascalon is neither made-up nor myth. I wonder if they'd feel differently, knowing it was real.

She sits at the bar of yet another tavern, braiding her hair while she awaits her morning meal. Her once-charred locks reach her shoulders now, and although the braids are stubby and stick out a bit goofily, she's missed having them. Now her frizzy dark halo will stay closely plaited to her skull, out of her eyes, right where it belongs.

Alongside her hair, her body has been healing, too. The skin of her back and her legs is hideous—without the advanced medical knowledge of Tyria, there was nothing to be done except cut away the dead skin, and keep what remained from becoming infected. A patchwork of leathery browns and reds covers her concealed flesh, and she tries to think of it as resembling the bark of a sylvari. But when she looks at her reflection, and confronts the pale whiteness of her chest to the mangled mess of her back, she can't help but feel a certain repulsion. Far worse than the scars of whippings and fights that she once had. Where once she was a map of of brutal tales to tell, now she is the chewed-up and spit out remnants of one tale, one story, a story that still haunts her when she closes her eyes, so that sometimes, she forgets to blink. And when she does blink, those eerie stars rush at her, and she flinches away, much to the concern of those around her.

She can't tell anyone about the visions. As it is, she is only strange. Strange only raises eyebrows. But madness raises weapons.

Day 200
It came upon me so suddenly. I reached the pass between the mountains, just like I was told I would. There was a great tower, easily the most imposing thing I've seen since coming here, but I kept to the shadows and the trees, since it was mentioned at the last town that a powerful wizard resides there, and being a powerful wizard is a much bigger deal here than in Tyria. I'll make it a mystery for another day. All the better to reach my destination.
Though at first I was hesitant to believe I actually made it, it's been a few days now, and there's no questioning that I'm here. I'm on my way to the capital, I think. Most of the people here don't speak the same language as the humans I've been dealing with, so it's been difficult getting around, but they're still nice enough. I've sang a few songs for them. I like to look at them, in as non-creepy a way as possible, because they're familiar. Blue eyes and blonde hair, a fair number looking like they just got back from bench pressing a charrcopter. If I needed more assurance than the land itself, that would do it.

Indigo races across the plains, long grasses parting for her obsidian hooves. In the distance, Marea spots a gaggle of other horseback riders, and waves to them, spirited in the crisp evening air. At first she receives no reply, but after a moment, one man waves back to her, shouting something unintelligible, and Indigo gallops on, over rolling hills bordered all around by massive white mountains. Where the Shiverpeaks are imposing, these craggy, snowy peaks seem to beckon her onward, onto horizon after horizon, forever chasing the last gleam of sunlight as it passes beneath their crystalline pinnacles.

Before she reaches the city, she pauses by a rushing river so Indigo can drink, and she splashes her face with the chilly water. She licks it off her lips, and she tilts her head back to the pale rosy sky, the wind snapping her cape through the air.

“'A place of verdant plains and roaming horses, nestled between two great mountain ranges and a wide, flowing river.' Welcome to the homeland, Marea,” she whispers, a broad smile lighting up her face. She gets on her horse, and they turn towards Edoras, the city on a hill only a mile in the distance. They ride the fading light to a place to rest for the night, and many nights to come.

Day 300
I almost feel sorry for Raigar, that he had to leave this place, for whatever reason, and travel to Tyria. Sure, it isn't perfect. It's backwards and poor in comparison to what I know. But at the same time, there is so much—spirit. There's a wholeness to the people that Tyrians lack. Even when they fight and they suffer, there's none of the bitterness I know from home. If I could call it home. I don't know how I'd get back. And I don't want to go back. I'm learning the speech of the Rohirrim, very, very slowly, but it's not as important in Edoras, since more people speak the common tongue here. They still sound extra funky, as I must to them, but they enjoy my music and I enjoy their fleeting company, so it's not a problem. They take great care of Indigo in the stables, so I never have to worry about her. And there's so much open space—endless open space. It's like something out of a dream. I may not have a ship, but I have a horse and rolling fields. And I think that's more like flying than anything I've experienced before.

She starts the hike around noon, and finally reaches the lookout point in early evening, when the sun is just beginning to sink in the sky. Halfway up one of the smaller mountain peaks, the breeze blowing her long braids behind her, she feels like she beholds the entirety of the world before her. She can see from range to range, river to river, she can see Edoras and half a dozen other villages scattered like crumbs in the distance. Only a fraction of Middle-Earth, an impossibly small grain of sand in the stars of the void. But it is the only world she needs.

It hits her suddenly, and wet tears are streaming down her face. Warmth fills her veins from head to toe, and her heart swells with emotion. She clutches her hands to her chest, and she laughs and she sobs as happiness overwhelms her. She can't say why she is happy, only that her bliss is complete, she watches the sky darken and flush with color as the sun sinks ever lower, and she silently cries that it should never leave her. For when the sun leaves, she feels in the pit of her stomach that she will lose it. She will lose the sun, and though it will rise and set every day to come, it will never be the same, and she will long for the joy that she felt in that moment, for the rest of her life.

Gazing out over the mountains cast in burnished golden light, she feels as if she were lost in a beautiful dream. And if only she could remain lost forever, she would never want for freedom again.

As the sun dips below the mountain peaks, casting the valley in shadow, her ecstasy fades. Even the memory of it grows faint, though she will never forget that it happened. She wipes the last tears from her cheeks, and starts down the path, carefully picking her way through rocks and gravel. About halfway along, she pauses, hearing the crackle of footsteps in the woods nearby. It could be anyone, out for an evening walk, just like her. But for some reason, she finds herself immediately drawn off the trail, into the copse of trees, treading light as a fawn as she searches for her fellow wanderer.

He stands in a small clearing, and gazes at a lone little sapling sprung up through the grass, in contemplation. Tall and broad-shouldered, with long golden hair framing his angular face, in which striking blue eyes are set like sapphires. Though he wears the clothes of the noble Rohirrim, the face is unmistakable, and Marea nearly shouts out his name before she manages to tear herself away, fleeing back to the trail and all the way down the mountain, her mind racing with a thousand questions and confusions.

Later that night, she closely watches the entrance to the city. She sees him return on horseback, greeted warmly by name by villagers and vassals. As he passes her tavern, he catches her eye for a moment, and time seems to stop—she prays that he will recognize her, that he will say her name as Tyrians do, that he will leap off his mount and sweep her up in his arms because he has missed her so much, his dear friend, his sister.

But clear blue eyes merely glance over her, and he continues up the road, high into the city.

She doesn't sing that night, or the next night, or the night after that. She climbs the mountain trail, and she stares out over the plains and the hills, and she waits for that beautiful dream to return. But she can see nothing but Raigar's face in her mind's eye.

Day 310
I'm going back. I have to. I'm so confused. I had never felt so, so happy, so at peace, until I came here, and now it all feels so wrong, just like Tyria does. Raigar is here. He is still here. But he left! He left a long time ago, and barely even remembers this place. I don't understand. How can there be two of one person? Did something happen to him? But it doesn't matter how it happened, because here, he doesn't know me. And I can't live in a world like that. It's one thing to leave behind your best friend, another to find him again, but be a stranger to him. I feel like I should've seen this coming. Something was gonna fuck up my stay in Middle-Earth. And of course it's a Tyrian, if I could call this Raigar that, since I guess Tyrian Raigar isn't even Tyrian, technically. But yeah. Going back. I have a hunch and I desperately hope I'm right, 'cause if I'm not, I'm trapped here.

She rides for months, only pausing so she and Indigo can rest. She stops in no towns, she eats in no taverns, the picturesque countryside races by in a blur that she can't be bothered to look at. All she sees is the path ahead of her, and the void on either side of it, shooting stars filling her chest with cold dread. Yet she keeps her feet firm in the stirrups, and clenches her teeth to stave off the terror of what's to come.

Day 370
I left Indigo with Hosta. She wasn't home, but I wrote a note, and I know she'll take good care of her. I wish I could bring Indigo with me, but I can't imagine what the void would do to an animal, if this is what it does to me. Not worth the risk. I suffer because I understand what I've chosen to do. Wouldn't be fair to make a horse go through that.

At sundown, she hitches her belongings on her back. Like a pack mule, buried under a huge bulging bag, with a sheet of white metal, her prized Horiz remains, strapped over top of it. She strides through the clearing where she crashed a year ago, heading due north. The forest grows thicker, untouched for decades, if not centuries. A small patch of woodland mysteriously avoided by the locals, who likely never even realized it was there. And in the heart of this overgrown grove, she finds a standing stone, two stories tall, almost completely buried in vines. Although the air is still and lifeless as only it can be in a land without magic, the second her forehead touches the stone, the breath is knocked out of her.

In the moment before she goes, she hears Raigar's voice in her head, and suddenly she remembers a series of waking dreams from long before, when she was still over the Unending Ocean, in search of the otherworldly storm that would take her out of Tyria.

You'll get there. And then you'll know what home is.

“You,” she says quietly, even as a wail of panic builds in her throat, voice trembling. “Home is wherever you are.”

And this time, instead of falling into the abyss, she dives.