[Outworld] Others Are Out There

Author’s Note: Previous Chapter.  Musical Accompaniment.

I stared up at my imminent death, the all-consuming fog of happiness still keeping me paralyzed. All I could see was the dark red of the creature’s maw, surrounded by haphazardly placed fangs. A tiny voice in the back of my head shouted to run, to strike out, to do something, anything, but its cries were ineffectual. The long, twig-like arms, fingers spread and interlocked to form a loose cage, surrounded me and kept me from fleeing, even if I had the willpower to resist.

Suddenly, the creature jerked, once, twice, three times, as loud cracks rang out from behind me. As the body of the monster reeled, some small measure of sanity returned to me. Those sounds – were they gunshots? I railed at my muscles, sluggishly pulling myself to my feet.

Two more reports rang out, the sound seeming to come from the edge of the clearing. This time, I caught sight of the rounds tearing through the bestial creature, leaving splatters of dark ichor across the grass.

I didn’t know how long my protector would stay, or how many shots he had. Turning to face the cage of branched fingers, I swung my foot around and was pleased to see the bars shatter like toothpicks. I kicked several more times, widening the hole and eliciting another roar of pain from the broken monster. The hole was now wide enough for me to duck through, and I wasted no time in escaping the trap. I half-ran, half-stumbled to the edge of the clearing as the last vestiges of the happy fog retreated from my mind.

As I reached the edge of the clearing, I scanned the shadows for my savior. Looking around, I saw one shadow that seemed deeper, more substantial, than the others around it. I stepped forward towards it, but pulled up short when the muzzle of a decidedly-nasty looking automatic weapon emerged to point back at me.

“Don’t move if you value your brains,” came a raspy voice from the shadow. I was more than willing to remain where I stood as a burly, muscular man moved cautiously out of the shadow. He said nothing more, staring at me, rifle still raised to his shoulder. There was little for me to do but stare back, examining the man who would become the closest thing Outworld has to a friend.

I estimated that my mysterious protector was in his late thirties, although his face was obscured by stubble, a black eyepatch, and a filthy-looking handkerchief wrapped around his forehead to hold back a shock of unkempt black hair. He wore a vest of black combat armor, panels wrapped over his hefty shoulders to further add to his bulky appearance. He looked thoroughly imposing, especially with the scowl currently plastered across his features.

“So,” he said at length, biting off the end of the vowel. “Who are you?”

Once again, I strained to remember anything about myself, but once again came up empty. “I don’t know,” I said honestly. The most common phrase in Outworld, it turns out.

“When did you get here?”

“Hold on,” I interjected, momentarily forgetting the situation. “I don’t even know where ‘here’ is!” In response, the man simply adjusted his grip conspicuously on the assault rifle in his arms. My burst of outrage deflated rapidly. “About two days ago,” I added. “I think. The whole day/night cycle seems to be kind of wonky here.”

The man lowered his weapon at this response, and I took the opportunity to grab a quick breath. “A newbie,” he said. I couldn’t tell if the emotion in his voice was disgust, resignation, frustration, or some combination of the three. “Well, allow me to be the first to welcome you,” he said, briefly adopting a false air of jollity.

“Welcome to where?”

The man spread his arms wide, gesturing with the assault rifle at the trees around us. “Outworld,” he said simply. “A whole new world, going on forever, filled with all sorts of wonderful sights and unique creatures, like the one you just met. “ He dropped the act, and spoke the most honest words I have ever heard another human being utter.

“You’re going to hate it here.”

Will he?  Perhaps the next chapter will be revealing . . .

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