Charlotte wasn't alone in the forest.
She had realized that as soon as she heard the movement in the distance, but part of her had been hoping that it was some wild animal. Not that she wanted to get mauled to death by a high fantasy bear. She really didn't. But she knew that her clothes were going to make her stand out like a sore thumb, and she doubted that she'd actually understand what anyone from here was saying.
It didn't make sense for her to.
Still, she couldn't exactly stay silent when a trio emerged from the darkness of the woods. It didn't matter that they looked...weird. They were from another world. Wasn't that to be expected? She could barely make out their faces underneath the cowls of their too-large cloaks – shady, much? – and their silence was honestly a little intimidating. Charlotte had been feeling as good as she could have been about the whole other world thing, but every little bit of bravado and confidence left her when she realized just how unfamiliar the three were.
“...Hi,” she awkwardly said. It was funny. The tallest and smallest of the three were looking her over, but the other member of the trio only looked in her direction after she said something.
It was almost like they didn't know where she was.
Tallest and Smallest exchanged a look from within the shadows of their cloaks. The third part of the group just kept staring at her, almost like they were trying to get a glimpse of her soul. Or maybe, just maybe, trying to figure out what the fuss was about.
“Hello,” the tallest member of the group said. His voice masculine, suave, and surprisingly young. It was so young that he could have gone to her school – he might have just been a few years older than her.
There was a long, awkward silence.
Charlotte felt justified in her silence. She wasn't from here. She wasn't even sure how you were supposed to interact with people from another world. But, to these three, she was supposed to be some strange girl in the wilderness. A girl whose clothes really weren't made for a place like this, and who really shouldn't gone into a forest barefoot. They were supposed to have some kind of reaction. Outrage, confusion, worry – heck, they should have even been slowly backing away from her!
But they weren't.
They were just standing there.
And Charlotte, who really wanted them to just go already, really wished that someone would be smart enough to say or do something.
At least, that was the case until the third member of the trio pushed their hood back. Charlotte had been under the assumption that Tallest was the leader of their little group, but then the other two quickly followed suit. She found herself looking at boys who seemed like they could have almost been from Earth.
Tallest had an appearance that was just as suave as his voice. His long, raven hair cascaded down his back as he lowered his hood. It framed a surprisingly pale face. Something about his hair, his piercing blue eyes, and little nick he had in his right ear made him seem like he was some kind of model.
Smallest had to be around the same age as Tallest, but he looked far younger. Big, brown eyes peeked out from a childishly round face – topped by short, messy bright green hair. It was the brightest, most unusual hair color Charlotte had ever seen.
And then there was the apparent leader.
The other two had been...odd, but he was the strangest of all. Dark brown hair just barely touched his shoulders. He was pale, too, but not nearly to the same extent as Tallest. What made him so strange was the cloth that was tied around his eyes. It was stained and torn, but he didn't seem to notice or care.
Maybe that was why he hadn't looked at her earlier. With that cloth around his eyes, he couldn't have possibly been able to see her that well.
“Who are you?” the leader demanded.
Well, that was rude.
She crossed her arms. “Who are you?”
“I asked you first,” he replied, straightening in irritation.
Smallest glanced between the two of them; Tallest just let out a sigh.
He put his hand on the boy's shoulder.
“Ren,” Tallest said, in the same suave voice from earlier – this time with a scolding yet gentle tone. “She's probably a little confused-”
“She's the reason the forest is off,” he growled. “I'm sure of it.”
Charlotte had been hoping that she'd magically be able to avoid any mentions of her not being from around her. No one had commented on her clothes, and no one had commented on how woefully unprepared she was for the wilderness. Not that any of the three were any better in that last category. They didn't have a single pack on their backs, or any other way of carrying supplies.
“I don't know what you're talking about,” she said. Was it really a lie if she didn't know why that portal had appeared or why it had brought her here?
The leader – Ren? – frowned. “I don't believe you.”
“I don't care if you believe me,” she shot back.
She wanted to say more, but she soon became too flustered to. Smallest darted over to her side, a little skip to his step as he rushed over. He tilted his head ever so slightly to the side.
“You can't see her clothes right now, Ren,” Smallest commented, “but they're so different! I've never seen anything like them before. Her pants are made of this weird, thick fabric, and her shirt has little characters on it. It doesn't look like something royalty would wear, but I bet only royalty could afford clothes like that.”
There was a pause.
Charlotte took a step back from Smallest, but he only moved closer.
“...Also, she's not wearing shoes,” he added.
Tallest gave the sort of strained smile that implied he dealt with Smallest and Ren's antics on a regular basis. “Which is why I said she might be confused.”
Smallest nodded in agreement.
“I was about to finish with that,” he admitted. “But you beat me to it, Lucas.”
“I'm not confused,” Charlotte protested. “I'm perfectly okay.”
The words sounded weak to her own ears, but what else was she supposed to do? She couldn't just confirm their worst suspicions. That would definitely be a lie, and wouldn't exactly help her in the long run. She glanced around the forest. It was dangerous to run around barefoot, but she didn't want to deal with these guys if she could help it.
Ren's frown deepened.
...Then again, maybe the truth was the best way out of this.
Charlotte pushed down the writhing mass of worries in her chest and gave them a smile she didn't really feel. If they thought she really had lost it, they'd have to leave her alone. Smallest and Lucas both seemed like they might be okay with a lapse in sanity, but Ren would definitely have none of it.
“I mean,” she added, “I'm in another world. I just walked through a portal that showed up in my bedroom and ended up right here. I don't even know where here is, so...”
She awkwardly fell silent.
The three of them were glancing at each other. It wasn't in a way that Charlotte liked. Instead of sharing a look of mutual discomfort, they were sharing a look of mutual understanding.
Charlotte started to slowly inch her way towards the edge of the clearing.
“She was brought here by a dragon?” Lucas whispered.
“That's not necessarily a bad thing!” Smallest hurriedly said. “It-It could mean that she...she...”
Ren suddenly pulled his hood back up.
The hood cast shadows on his face. She could barely make out above his nose now; it seemed like his cloak was a size or two too big. But that didn't really matter. Now was Charlotte's chance to get away from these three, and her chance to figure out what exactly she needed to do to get back home.
She started to dart off into the woods.
But then Ren was suddenly beside her, grabbing onto her arm with a startling amount of precision for someone who supposedly couldn't see.
She glanced down.
The cloth around his eyes was now dangling around his neck.
“Where are you going?” he hissed.
“Do you say everything in a growl?” she replied.
Ren faltered. “I...I don't.”
“Why don't you ask your friends? I'm sure they could tell you-”
“It doesn't matter,” he interrupted. He gave a shake of his head. “What matters is that you were brought here from another world, and that it's a death wish to wander around in the woods without any idea where you're going. You're coming with us to the next town.”
“Ren, I'm not sure that's a good-”
Ren spun back to presumably glare at the dissenter.
“We're bringing her with us,” he said. “Do you want to let her die out here?”
Charlotte tore her wrist free. “Do I get a say in this?”
Ren pulled his hand back and crossed his arms. When he turned back to look at her, she got the feeling he was glaring at her, too. “You do if you have a better idea.”
Charlotte mulled over her options.
Option 1: Wander around the woods aimlessly until she stumbled onto the town that Ren mentioned. She'd probably have to find food, water and shelter. She didn't even know how to find the nearest path. And there was a very good chance she'd fail at least one of those things – she had never been on a camping trip in her entire life.
Option 2: Accept her fate as the protagonist in what had to be some kind of cliché isekai anime. She could get information about how she ended up here, what to expect, and where exactly they were on the way to town. Once they got there, she'd be on her own again.
“I don't,” she grumbled.
Ren turned around with an overly dramatic swish of his cloak.
Lucas and Smallest exchanged another look.
Lucas sighed; Smallest shrugged.
And Charlotte was left with scrambling after all three of them as they left her and the clearing behind without a second glance.