The first thing David noticed as he began falling was that he was gripping his ruby-tipped staff in one hand.
The second thing he noticed was that someone was looking up at him from the floor as he plummeted toward the water.
David splashed down, kicked back up to the surface -- orienting himself more readily than the first time -- and turned toward the stranger. It was a human woman in her early 20s, with shoulder-length brown hair brushing the neckline of her gleaming silver armor. That armor, edged with green leather and padding that matched her fierce eyes, hugged the curves of her chest, body and hips, with molded plates covering the outsides of her upper arms, knees and shins. Her lightly tanned left arm was wrapped in a silver bracer with an inset emerald, and her right hand was laced into a dark leather glove that had three gleaming, wicked silver claws mounted on a silver band.
The woman stood a step back from the edge of the stone, pointing those claws at him. "Who are you, and what are you doing here?" she demanded.
David swam sideways to catch the pool's edge. "My name is -- ah ..."
Suddenly, in this brand new world with far more potential than Pitt Creek and its dead-end high school, "David" seemed wholly inadequate. He stammered and substituted the name of his favorite Dungeons & Dragons character. "I'm Scipius. Who are you?"
The woman narrowed her eyes and studied him, ignoring his question. "I don't recognize your clothing. Are you working with Eversor?"
Eversor! Kevin had mentioned that name ... something about controlling the shadows that attacked them earlier. Wouldn't that make Eversor the bad guy?
"No!" David protested, horrified. "His little shadow men attacked us yesterday."
She nodded, and David felt a surge of relief at having apparently given the right answer. The last thing he needed was for mistaken identity to turn the first person he met into an enemy.
"When I arrived, there was nobody in the hall but the shadows," the warrior said. "Where did you come from?"
"Um ... don't you see it?" David asked, pointing. "The glowing magical portal right up there. Between the ramps, near the ceiling."
The woman looked up and shook her head. "Well, that's where you fell from," she said, "but there's no portal there."
"Yes there is!" David insisted, getting out of the pool and sitting on the ground to rest. A thought tugged at his memory. "Oh. I guess you can't see it if you haven't worn the pendant."
The woman lowered her hand, and David noticed the mounting band on her glove had an inset emerald. It looked like the same claw glove he'd seen in the weapon pile earlier. "But I am wearing the portal pendant," she said, reaching inside her armor with her left hand to display a small silver star on a metal chain. "I've never opened a portal in the Hall of Heroes."
David's mouth fell open. "There's more than one?!"
Startled, the armored woman looked down at her pendant, then put it back inside her armor and walked over to offer a hand up. "Scipius, we may have a great deal to talk about. My name is --" and she hesitated, just for a moment -- "Emile. I am a Dragon Knight from the kingdom of Dontahn, though I suppose that name means nothing to you."
"No! No way!" David said. "Seriously? Dontahn, in the east? Near Highland Falls and the Endless Savannah?"
"You've," Emile said cautiously, "heard of it?"
"Heard of it? Are you kidding?" David said breathlessly, standing up. She was from Dragon Legend 3! "The Dragon Knights are Lord Blue's guard! Oh my god -- am I going to actually get to meet him? Is he here?"
"No," Emile said frostily. "Just me, I'm afraid. Sorry I don't live up to your standards."
David's face flushed red. "No, no. I'm sorry. I just thought -- well. Are you familiar with Rosalind at all? She's a friend of Blue's. She helped out one of my friends."
"I've ... heard the name," Emile said. "Who are you to be asking so many questions? What city are you from, to look so strange yet recognize my homeland?"
"It might be a long story," David said. "Here, let me give you a granola bar, and ..." He did a double-take. "My backpack!" After scrambling for the straps, his hands immediately flew to his jacket pocket, and he felt some slight relief that at least he had the two bottles of healing potion.
"I had one with me when I started, filled with food and money and my game notes. Now it's gone. Shit!"
"I'm sorry you lost your gear. I have some rations I can share back at camp."
But David ignored her, caught in his train of thought. "So apparently items from our world can't enter the Shadowlands either -- all we can take is our clothes. With the exception so far of the controller. Emile -- you've got a pendant too. What can you bring between worlds?"
"... Huh?" Emile said, caught off guard.
"Oh!" David said with a start. "But my potions came back, so somehow it tracks inventory for us separately in both places."
"Well, I didn't have a problem --" Emile began.
"Of course, maybe the bleedthrough is random. The controller was an awfully arbitrary item to come through. And why clothes but not a backpack when they're both being worn?"
"That hasn't happened to --"
"And all this is even assuming the pendants all work the same way!" David interrupted.
"Scipius!" she snapped. "Hello!?"
"Huh?" David said. "Oh, sorry."
"Gamers," Emile muttered under her breath, too soft for David to hear.
"What was that?"