For a moment, as my vision swirled, I thought that I saw three copies of the man, standing over me.  All three copies wore the same identical scowl as they glared down at me.

“Come on,” I heard his voice through woolen ears.  “Get up.  We’re going again.”

“Come on, Cain,” I groaned, even as I rolled over onto my stomach and put my hands beneath me to hoist my tired, aching body up from the hard ground.  “Haven’t you beaten me up enough today?”

Still, I pulled myself up, trying to force my fingers to once again tighten into fists as I squared off against my opponent.  Although I felt like my entire body was covered in scratches and bruises, Cain looked as fresh as he had this morning, without a single mark on him – at least, none fresh.

“Now, this time,” Cain suggested to me, “maybe try not to choreograph your attacks so much.  I can tell when you’re about to swing at me from a mile away.”

I groaned back in response.  Of course Cain knew when I was going to attack!  He had, during my time with him, demonstrated the uncanny ability to beat up anyone and everyone we came across.

On the other hand, although I still couldn’t remember any of my past, I knew that I definitely hadn’t been a fighter.

Still, facing off against this man who seemed as solid and implacable as a force of nature, I took a deep breath, trying to steady myself.  “Okay,” I said, more to myself than to him.

And I charged forward.

This time, I decided to try and be as tricky as possible.  I held my fists high, intending to drop them to a low swing at the last second.  But although I started to bring my fists down, I abruptly switched direction, launching them back up towards the man’s jaw.

For just a second, I felt his skin brush against my knuckles, and I thought I had him.

A fraction of an instant later, however, Cain moved like a snake, and I found myself spinning through the air, my legs flying out from underneath me.  My hand still hit something, but I couldn’t focus on it, and barely had time to exhale before I hit the ground on my back.

This time, Cain offered his hand down to me to help hoist me back up.  “Not bad,” the man gave in reluctantly.  “You actually connected with me, that time.  A nice feint.”

“Didn’t help me much,” I grumbled back, although I accepted his help back up.  Now, not only did my ass hurt, but my knuckles ached as well.  What was the man’s jaw made of, steel?

Groaning as a shoulder popped, I took a deep breath, trying to get ready to go again – but Cain glanced up at the sky through the trees.  “Sun’s setting,” he announced.  “We ought to get moving.  We’ve got further to go before we set up camp.”

“Not making it to a town?” I asked, although I already knew the answer.  If there had been a town nearby, we wouldn’t have paused for the sparring session.

Cain just shook his head as he picked up his pack and slung it back on his shoulders.  I bent down to do the same with my own pack, trying to ignore the complaints from my joints as I maneuvered the heavy load up onto my shoulders.

With his pack in place, Cain picked up his rifle, checking it with swift movements of his hands.  I did the same to mine, the movements almost automatic now.  Another skill that my guide had drilled into me, I thought to myself with a shiver.

With his weapon secure, Cain headed off into the jungle.  “Come on,” he called over his shoulder, not bothering to glance back to ensure I was following.

I grimaced at how much it hurt to even walk, but I didn’t let the man get too far ahead before chasing after him.  Cain might be trying, but I knew that I wouldn’t survive a night without him.

Up above our heads, as the sun dropped towards the horizon, some creature let out a long, mournful call.  I felt a foreboding chill run down my spine, and I tried to pick up my pace, sticking close to Cain.

Despite the bruises he’d inflicted on me, I was glad to have him on my side.

Writing Prompt: Meeting the Author

I kept on running.  My heart was pounding in my chest, my legs were aching, but I couldn’t stop.  I couldn’t even spare the second it would take to glance behind me.

Besides, I knew that they were getting closer.

I sucked in a deep breath, trying to control the precious oxygen.  Focus, Jack, I told myself.  You need to focus.  Running will only keep you alive for a little while longer.

You need to think.

I glanced back and forth as I took another corner.  I was on a street, both sides lined with small shops.  I could feel the sun shining down on me, warming my wind-ruffled hair.  If not for my pounding heart and screaming inner voice, it could almost have been peaceful.

Up ahead of me, I saw one of them come sweeping into the intersection in front of me.  They were getting smarter, trying to cut me off.  The shadowy mass, at least a dozen feet tall, rippled with the suggestion of bones, sinews, strange and abhorrent limbs hidden beneath the almost merciful blackness that ate all light.

I didn’t even slow as I turned.  A shop came in front of me, and I hit the door with a lowered shoulder.  It yielded, and I came flying inside.

I skidded, but stayed on my feet, staring around the shop.  It looked to be some sort of coffee shop, someplace filled with tables and students on computers.  No one looked up, of course.  They couldn’t even see me, couldn’t perceive that I was even there.

Except one young man.

For a moment, we made eye contact, and I saw him freeze.  His eyes widened, and his hand, halfway to the coffee cup beside his laptop, froze in mid-grasp.

I rushed forward, slamming both my hands down in front of the man, making him jerk in surprise.  “You!” I growled, my voice halfway between a roar and a pant.  “You’re him, aren’t you?”

“Oh my god,” the young man in front of me stammered, staring up at me.  “Oh god, I’m having a stroke.”

Outside the shop, a loud thud echoed through the room as one of the Unspeakables slammed into the door.  The wood held for the moment, but I could already see tendrils of blackness sneaking in through the cracks.  I had a minute, maybe two.

“Set take me, I don’t have time for this!” I snarled down at the confused young man in front of me.  Up close, he was anything but intimidating.  He looked soft and weak.  I doubted he’d last ten minutes in my world.

But it wasn’t my world – not really.

It was his, wasn’t it?  He had made it.

The young man was currently staring past me, his eyes locked on the shaking, sweating doors.  “What the hell are-” he began, but I was already moving around behind him.

“Hunters,” I said, snapping my fingers in front of the man’s face to break his spell.  “Now, write them away!”


I shook my head back and forth.  “Ugh, I don’t have- look, you made them!” I shouted, stabbing my finger towards the door.  The wood was slowly splintering, and I could see the entire frame starting to give way.  “So you can write them out of existence!”

“I – I mean, I imagined them, but I didn’t create anything,” the young man in front of me stammered.  He really was useless.  And soon, we’d both be dead.

“Write!” I shouted again, stabbing my fingers down at the slim laptop in front of the man.  And, his fingers trembling, he started to type.

The Unspeakable howled in rage.  All it knew was blind rage.  It had no concept of satisfaction, even of itself.  All it knew was blind anger, hunger for the destruction of its target, hidden behind this puny and fragile defense.

“What – insight?” I snarled, staring over the young man’s shoulder at the words on the screen.  “That won’t help us!”  The door had almost broken away from its frame.

“Just give me a second!” the man snapped back, and his fingers kept moving.

The Unspeakable pulled back, about to throw its entire weight into the flimsy barrier.  But even as it charged forward, the whole building shimmered, fading away.

The Unspeakable didn’t have eyes.  It perceived what was truly there, seeing through any illusions.

But a moment later, the building truly was not there.  It had faded, not just from sight, but out of the entire plane of existence.  The Unspeakable’s quarry had escaped, and its howls of impotent rage threatened to tear its entire being asunder as it searched helplessly for a trail that was no longer there.

I lifted my head, staring out the windows of the building.  The loud cracking of the door slowly splintering had stopped.  So had all other noise from outside.  I could hear nothing, and all that swirled outside the windows was mist.

“But, I- what just happened?” stammered the young man in front of me.  “I mean, my writing isn’t real!”

I reached down and slowly patted him on the shoulder.  “It is here,” I told him.  “Now, come on – they’ll figure out our trick soon enough and be after us again.”

Listening intently, I slowly advanced towards the door.  “Come on, Author!” I shouted over my shoulder.

Behind me, the young man stood up, tucked his laptop under one arm, and then hesitated.  “I mean, I bet there won’t be a good coffee shop for miles,” he muttered to himself, looking down at the table.  “Maybe I can grab a to go cup?”


“Coming, coming!” the young man yelled back, tossing back the rest of his coffee as he scurried towards the door, following the protagonist he created years ago.

"We are just simple farmers."

Of course, we didn’t put up much resistance as the raiders came rolling into our little town.  They didn’t even need to fire off a shot, although they did so anyways.  One of those idiots was leaning out the side of their stripped-down Jeep, firing an AK-47 up into the air like he was Rambo or something.

What an idiot.

We, of course, instantly had our hands up.  What are we going to do, fight back?  We’re farmers, not mercenaries!  And it might be the Wild West out here, society collapsed and every man for himself, but we have a healthy respect for many things still.

For example, none of us is much inclined to replace our internal organs with chunks of hot lead…

They had two cars – the Jeep, as I mentioned, and what looked like the world’s most battered SUV.  The thing was missing its roof, for god’s sake!  Four or five raiders in each car, all of them armed to the teeth.  I suspected most of it was for intimidation – ammo’s as precious as gold out here – but it did the job.

They came pulling to a stop in the dusty little town square, right in front of our big communal town hall.  ‘Course, it’s also a schoolhouse, church, and meeting room, seeing as how it takes a lot of work to put up a building when it’s all done by hand.  The gasoline’s long gone, or being hoarded for plowing equipment.

I came strolling out of the hall as soon as I heard the gunshots.  “Howdy there, folks,” I greeted them politely as they all came piling out of their dirty cars, doing my best to ignore the guns.  “What can we do for you here?”

The leader was pretty clear – he had a red bandana and a pair of those old Aviators sunglasses covering up his face.  “What the hell does it look like, old timer?” he shot back at me, his voice filled with barely controlled rage.  “This is a damn raid!”

“A raid?”  I raised my eyebrows, tried my best to look surprised.  “Friend, I’m afraid that we’re nothing but simple farmers, doing our best to survive.  You won’t find much of value in our little town, although we’d be happy to provide you and your friends with a hot meal.”

The man jabbed his rifle at me.  “Watch it, old man!  You might have white hair, and get respect around here, but I won’t hesitate to shoot you.”

I shrugged, but kept the slight smile on my face.  I knew that my words carried the ring of truth, and as I waited, I think it began to sink in to the leader of the raiders as well.

After a long, uncomfortable minute, the man jerked his head at a couple of his associates, also toting their own big guns.  “Go poke around,” he ordered.  “See if you can find anything worth grabbing.”

The men looked a little angry that they had to do this menial labor, and I saw one of them open his mouth to complain, but the leader raised his gun threateningly.  The other fellow hastily closed his mouth and they went trooping off.

I placidly watch them disappear into the fields around the little gaggle of buildings.

With his men dispatched, the leader turned back to me.  “Now, why don’t you take me inside this building of yours,” he said, his tone making it clear that this wasn’t a request.  “And no sudden movements, or I’ll cut your spine in half.”

I shrugged, not rising to this threat.  “Follow me, son,” I said gently, and headed back into the town hall.

We pushed through the doors, moving towards my study.  The man was still hefting his gun when I glanced back at him, despite my disarming smile.

Inside my study, he poked around, sidling up to the large plant in the corner.  “You farmers sure like your plants, huh?” he asked, prodding it with his gun.

I winced.  “I wouldn’t agitate it, if I were you,” I warned him, but the man was having none of it.

“Agitate?  Screw this damn thing!” he bellowed, lashing out with one foot at the base of the large plant.

The foot didn’t come back.  With lightning speed, the tendrils of the plant lunged out, wrapping around his ankle.  The sudden jerk threw the raider off balance, and he went tumbling down to the floor, the gun knocked from his hands by the hit.

I slowly strolled over and used my foot to push it further away from his grip, just in case.  The plant had already managed to advance up the man’s legs to his thighs.  He stared up at me from the floor.

“Please, old man,” he begged, confused and disoriented.  “Please, it hurts!”

I turned away.  The plants injected a mixture of paralytics and hallucinogens that kept their victims from fighting back, but it still wasn’t too pleasant to see.  Instead, I bent and picked up the fallen gun, and then strolled back outside.

Out in the circle, the other farmers were already emerging from their fields, carrying the rifles of the other raiders.  They looked at me, and I just shrugged.  “We’ll put them in the back with the others we’ve collected over the years,” I said.

“And the vehicles?” asked another farmer.

“Drain them of the gas, and then we’ll burn them outside of town.  No point in keeping them, they’re useless to us.”

The men just nodded and turned away, no one hurrying much.  We weren’t in any big rush.  There was never any danger.

We were just simple farmers, tending to our crops.  But in exchange for us nourishing them, they watched out for us in turn.  It was the great circle of life.

Radioactive, Part I

Author’s note: What’s that you’re asking?  Does this piece have a soundtrack?  Of course it does!

The oddest thing about waking up, Protis mused, is that he never expected it to happen.

For a while he simply lay in place, savoring the feeling of sensation as his arms and legs regained their functions.  He could feel his cells moving, growing, emerging from the stasis in which they had been imprisoned.  He gazed at the cracked concrete ceiling above him and, slowly, his thin lips grew into a smile.

He could feel it.  The world was different, now, much different than when he had last been forced to sleep.  But some things would always be the same.  He would always find a place for himself.

Protis began to lift himself up, rising out of the coffin in which he lay, but paused, momentarily concerned.  He was feeling exceptionally weak; there was something that he was forgetting.  Something important.  Ah yes, breathing.  He drew in a deep breath, filling his lungs for the first time in far, far too long.  His smile widened as new oxygen rushed to his tissues.

Still half-sitting, half-reclining, he tasted the air as he took another breath.  The levels of fluorocarbons and exotic pollutants were far lower than what he last remembered, although the sulfide and carbon dioxide levels were higher.  So, the high-tech machines were gone, replaced by the old-fashioned fallback of fire and coal.  This was perfectly suitable to him.  Protis was, if anything, adaptable.

Now that oxygen was flowing through his system once again, Protis sat up in the coffin, looking around the room where he had lay for many years.  A thick layer of dust covered everything beneath the heavy cement ceiling, and most of the computer equipment along the walls was no longer active.  Smashed displays and dark instruments were everywhere.

It looked like the facility had been abandoned for some time, Protis mused, but they had kept the power on; all the machines had still been running, and he had still been forced to sleep.  However, some sort of natural disaster must have struck after that.  Large sections of the ceiling had caved in, smashing several important-looking machines to pieces.

A foggy and unpleasant memory drifted past Protis’s eyes, and he turned around in the raised coffin to look behind where his head had lain.  Several thick tubes and cables spiraled down from the container, running off to some of the larger machines around the room.  A single chunk of concrete had fallen onto this bundle of tubes, neatly severing the entire cluster.  Protis grinned happily at the sight.

Swinging his legs up over the lip of the coffin, Protis dropped heavily down onto the dusty floor.  “Ugh,” he groaned, with vocal cords similarly dusty from disuse.  He patiently waited for his muscles to fully reboot.  After several minutes, he climbed easily to his feet, his movements now fluid and confident.  He lifted a hand, flexing and relaxing the fingers in experimentation.  Ah, it was good to be alive again.

Protis raised one hand to his temple, squinting as he tried to collect his jumbled thoughts.  He knew that they had poked around in his head.  They hadn’t been gentle with their probes, either; their goal had been to rip out every enhancement he had installed.  They had been fairly successful.  The sheer fogginess of his brain was indication enough of that.  But had they gotten everything?

The door to the chamber, a heavy piece of reinforced steel, sat crooked in its track but still blocked the exit.  Protis eyed the door, sizing up the slab of metal, and then cocked back his fist.  Bouncing on the balls of his feet, he hit the center of the door with a light jab.

He watched with a surge of pleasure as the steel crumpled and the entire frame pinwheeled backwards across the floor, literally torn from its hinges.  He inspected his unharmed fingers.  No, they certainly hadn’t gotten everything.  And there was always more room for enhancements.

Without a glance back over his shoulder, Protis lightly strolled down the newly opened corridor, leaving the chamber behind.  However, he paused about halfway down the hallway.

Turning on one heel, he sprinted back into the chamber, back to the coffin where he had lain for countless years.  One kick split the coffin in half.  More attacks reduced the computers and machinery around the room down to balls of torn and splintered metal.  Protis didn’t stop his strikes, circling the room in a blur of destruction, until there wasn’t a single control panel or display left intact in the entire room.

He glared around the room, his prison for so many unfelt years.  Standing atop the pieces of the coffin, he mentally checked his pulse.  Low and stable.  With a deep breath, he forced the anger and rage to drain away, leaving him cool and composed once more.

Once again, he began walking down the hallway, away from the chamber, seeking enjoyment in the simple freedom of moving his limbs.  “Ah, tabula rasa,” he said aloud with happiness, seeing the glow of sunlight up ahead.  “Let’s see what my children have been up to.”

Outworld, A Primer – Chapter 2, Geography

Continued from Chapter 1.

Okay, here’s an overview of navigating around in Outworld, summed up in two words:

Good luck.

Oh, you want more detail than just a sarcastic remark?  Fine, I’ll do my best, but I warn you that Outworld has a tendency to . . . shift. Although the immediate geography (aka the location of your neighbor Dan’s barn, or the outhouse) tends to remain the same, the background is much more variable. I once spent two weeks hiking towards an especially tall range of mountains, only to find that, by the time I reached the foothills, they had become a small inland sea. Be ready for disappointment and abrupt course changed.

Descartes, one of the most brilliant and well-known philosophers of Outworld, once tried to track these shifts, by planting long lines of coded stakes in hopes of tracking their movement. As he was creating his ninth set of replacement stakes, he realized that the landscape was staying the same, and only his measuring tools were vanishing. This experiment eventually became a footnote in his larger announcement: “The gods of Outworld are total dicks.”

Now, to make matters worse: the biomes of Outworld tend to be fairly patchwork and haphazardly scattered, due to these shifts. This means that a tropical rainforest can abruptly become a desert with no explanation.

There is one useful fact for measuring biome shifts, however. Over time, the borders between these shifted areas become less and less distinguishable, and the physical climate equalizes. Deserts in warm, humid areas are reclaimed by foliage, mountaintop lakes freeze or drain away, and lush forests that have the misfortune of appearing in cold and inhospitable climates are rapidly reduced to dead skeletons, crumbling trees with twisted, leafless branches.

On a larger scale, just how large is Outworld?  Nobody has quite ascertained this fact, and the answer will likely remain undiscovered. Some measures of curvature suggest that the world is spherical, although guesses at diameter have varied from less than 10,000 miles to greater than 50,000 miles. The High Priest of the Light, Sanctis, claims that the gods informed him that Outworld is an island, adrift in an endless sea. “It is no one size – it grows,” he informed his gospel. While this theory is hotly contested, it does also lend some explanation to the constantly shifting biomes. However, it is unclear where this land is being added, as travel times between the larger cities remains fairly constant.

A whole new set of splits, shifts, and general chaos was opened up by the Ascension, but I’ll get to that in a later chapter.

Finally, a few words on demographics. The population of Outworld is constantly in flux, but the majority of sapiens tend to be humanoids of various forms. There are also smaller but significant populations of androids, sentient animal races, and other consciousnesses that don’t fit into other categories.

Most of the stable inhabitants of Outworld reside in small, self-sufficient towns. Most towns are rural communities, relying on some combination of farming and/or trade. Peddlers travel between towns, carrying goods and news of the larger world. Most peddlers tend to have prescribed routes, often passed down through generations, in an attempt to avoid the many dangers that lurk off the beaten path.

Several larger cities do exist, producing intricate goods, serving as bases for manufacturing. Governments exist, usually dictatorships, but they have little power. Most of their limited military forces are required to defend against the onslaught of monsters. Few leaders bother to waste time with dreams of conquest.

[Outworld] In the Heart of the Slaver Queen’s Hive

Finally, we were in the main chamber of the hive.  The tunnel suddenly opened up into a vast, open room, and I stared at the pulsing monstrosity of the slaver queen before me.

Above us, countless thousands of drones zipped back and forth, the buzzing of their wings melding together to create a constant hum that vibrated through the underground maze.  They paid us no attention.  Only the queen, bloated and reposed upon her disturbingly organic throne, bothered to spare us a glance.

“So, you’ve come to me,” she hissed, shifting her bulk slightly so her face could stare down at us.  “A wise choice.  Many do not willingly come to serve.”

Behind me, I heard Cain grunt, but I didn’t hold back my anger.  “We aren’t here to serve – we’re here to destroy you!” I shouted.  I hoped that the undercurrent of fear didn’t show in my bravado.

The slaver queen blinked, for a moment appearing disturbingly human.  “To destroy?” she repeated.  “You have come to the seat of my power, the very heart of my hive, and you make threats?”

I was worried that she would attack us right then, and I could hear the almost imperceptible creak as Cain shifted his stance, moving to get a better grip on his weapon.  I knew that he was a fraction away from attacking.  But the queen was rising up, towering above her twisted throne.

There was nothing to do but continue, to press onward with my speech.  “You’ve stolen the people of the neighboring towns!” I yelled out.  “You’ve corrupted them, turned them into mindless drones!  This isn’t right!  For what you’ve done to them, you must be punished!”

“Ah, humans,” the queen spat, gazing down at us.  “So torn, so frustrated by life.  You speak of the freedoms you seek, of the horrors of being a ‘mindless drone’, trapped here.”  She raised one long arm, encased in plates of chitin, and a squadron of drones changed course overhead, buzzing down to land alongside the throne.

I stared at the drones that had landed, wondering if they had come from the nearby town.  The enslavement process was acting rapidly, twisting their limbs, rupturing their spine as wings burst from their backs, and stimulating the formation of chitinous plates that grew across any exposed skin.  However, one of the drones still seemed slighter than her male cohorts, and strands of thick, lustrous reddish hair poked from between the armored plates.  My breath caught.  Sue.  The barmaid, who had graced me with a dimpled smile before bustling off with her tray of drinks.

“And despite your insistence on freedom,” the queen continued, swaying back and forth as her many legs wriggled back and forth, “you humans are so quick to embrace order.  You insist on choice, but you are happiest, at peace, when you have orders to blindly follow.”  She smiled.  “And now, this is my order.  Die.

At this command, the drones leapt forward, their arms rising to brandish claws and spines.  My draw was only a millisecond behind Cain’s, and our bullets stitched holes across heads and chests.  I felt a brief but deeply penetrating pang of regret as the drone that had once been Sue fell back, her wounds gushing ichor.

The queen was already calling down more of the drones, and the hissing sound that filled the chamber was rising in intensity.  I turned my pistol on the queen, but her armor was thicker, and the bullets failed to penetrate.

Cain had a different idea.  “Hold them off!” he shouted, closing his eyes as he focused.  I didn’t know what weapon he was magically calling into existence, but I kept my eyes skyward, carefully placing my shots to keep the drones at bay.

Through the hum I could hear a lower pitched sound, growing steadily closer.  The guards, larger than the drones and outfitted with ranged, shooting spines, were drawing near.  “Cain?” I called over one shoulder as I slammed another clip into my pistol.

The only sound I heard in return was a brief, mirthless chuckle.  I turned, just in time to see the four rockets streak past me in tandem.  Cain was standing in a brace position, the smoking quad-launcher still on his shoulder, grinning slightly as he watched the missiles tear holes in the slaver queen.

As she fell, the queen let out a high, keening scream, picked up and amplified by the drones.  As her massive body hit the floor of the chamber, sending a shock wave through the floor, the drones dropped as one, like marionettes with cut strings.  With the queen dead, there was no central mind, nothing to control the drones, and they would all cease to function.  Staring around at the insectoid corpses, I felt a rush of melancholy, mingled sadness and frustration.  We had avenged those people, stolen from the nearby towns by the slavers, but we had not been able to save them.

Cain punched me in the shoulder, interrupting my reflection.  “We better get out,” he said.  “No telling how these tunnels will hold up without the queen.”

I nodded, following my companion as he picked his way through the cracked and shattered bodies littering the floor.  I spared only a single glance at the massive remains of the dead slaver queen.  Cain had seen hives like these before.  I made a mental note to ask Selene about the origin of these slavers.  For now, however, I focused on escaping from this gigantic underground hive before it became our tomb.

Outworld, a Primer – Chapter 1

So, if you’re reading this, welcome to Outworld.  My apologies in advance.  You probably won’t like it here.

Assuming you aren’t having your face gnawed off by some monstrosity with more tentacles and eyes than a giant squid convention, you’re probably wondering what sort of place this is.  By the way, if you are fighting a monstrosity out of nightmare, by the gods, put down this journal and focus on staying alive!


The best description I’ve ever heard of Outworld goes like this: “[Outworld is] a temporal garbage pit for a thousand other, failed Earths – a place where all the wreckage eventually washes up.”  This description was uttered by a sentient robot, who was drunk off its ass at the time on electrified ether laced with jet fuel, but it’s still an apt way of summing up this whole, wretched place.

In the next few chapters, I’ll do my best to cover the population, landscape and geography, history, religion, and the economy of Outworld.  As such.  This place is incredibly fragmented, and it’s tough to really put together facts about history when, outside the tavern, a guy with stone-tipped spears is dueling a cyborg with laser pistols.  And, if previous fights are any indication, Johnny Caveman is going to be the one who comes back in for another drink in a few minutes.

I know you’re going to ask.  No, Johnny Caveman isn’t his name.  We all call him Ugg, since that’s about all he says.  Yet despite his limited vocabulary, he can be quite expressive with his hand gestures.  Which is how he got himself into this duel, by the way.  Implied that the cyborg’s father was running Linux, I think.

Now that you’re in Outworld, please take your time to enjoy the sights.  Meet the people, although you’ll probably want to keep a healthy distance from most of them.  Healthy, in some cases, is measured in miles.  Admire the views, solitary and undisturbed by tourists.  Although keep in mind that the reason these views are so undisturbed is because the tourists are usually torn apart, devoured, and digested before they can make too much of a mess.

After reading this primer, you may be thinking to yourself, “Outworld doesn’t quite sound like my cup of tea. (Or motor oil, or plasma, or whatever you prefer to drink.)   How do I get out of here?”

If you have just asked this, let me congratulate you.  You have asked the most common question in Outworld.  More common than “What is that thing!?”, more widespread than “What’s this place gonna throw at me next?”, heard more often than “Help!”, “I’m dying!”, and “I hate this place!”.  Although, to be fair, those last three are statements, not questions.

Unfortunately, that’s one question that I can’t answer.  You see, I’m still stuck here too.  Everybody’s searching for a way out.  As far as we know, nobody’s found one yet.

Well, maybe one person knows.  But he carved out the largest empire Outworld has ever seen and ascended to become a god, so it’s not exactly an easy solution.  But I’ll get to that soon.

On that note, settle in for an informative read, stranger.  You’ve got the time.

Continued in Chapter 2.

[Outworld] The New Age

Author’s note: Unrelated to the Outworld saga, simply set in the same universe.

The drone was confused. And this was a problem, because it wasn’t programmed to be confused.

Normally, one advantage robots hold over people is that they never need to seek out their purpose. While people must find their reason for existence in life, a robot needs only consult its programming. And the drone knew its purpose. It existed to destroy, to pursue and hunt down its target, not stopping until said target had been annihilated. It would then be recalled to its metal berth until the next target was selected.

To most people, this would not be a fulfilling life. But the drone was satisfied. It had been given a devastating array of instruments for inflicting damage and pain, and it was very good at its job. The drone knew this, just as it knew that its purpose was to destroy its target.

One problem, though.

The drone didn’t know what its target was.

Normally in these circumstances, the drone would contact its mothership for new instructions. Unfortunately, the drone wasn’t able to reach its mothership either. It was, as far as it could determine, alone.

The drone deployed itself, unrolling from its compact ball to reveal six jointed legs, a small “head” loaded with sensory apparatuses, and three arms, each equipped with a unique method for wreaking destruction. It extended its head, scanning the surroundings.

It was located in a lush river valley. The drone could sense a small settlement of humans off to the southwest, the traces of carbon unmistakable in the air. Oddly enough, there was no sign of the drone’s ballistic trajectory, no scars in the earth to indicate how it had arrived in this place.

Robots aren’t programmed to be confused, which is fortunate, because otherwise that is exactly what the drone would be feeling. It searched its memory banks for its next action.

No answers were forthcoming. The drone waited patiently while its processors churned. Predictive algorithms suggested potential solutions, each of which was plotted against known capabilities and data. Finally, the best scoring solution was selected.

With the new decision tree active, the drone began lumbering through the undergrowth towards the human settlement. As it crashed through the brush, it began warming up its laser array. It fired a few rounds from its autocannon, making sure the chamber was rotating smoothly.

The algorithms had made clear the best course of action.


[Outworld] Spirits

The first chapter in the Outworld saga.  The previous chapter in the Outworld saga.


Why are we brought to Outworld?  What is our purpose?  These questions plague many adventurers, arising in the dead of night to deprive them of sleep.  Some seek out places of power or influence, while others want to merely find an escape, a place where they can live out their days in peace, free of the bizarre.  Still others are driven by their search for answers, desperate to fill in the holes in their memory.  Nearly every adventurer has some quest.  Few of them find the answers they seek.

I stared at the rock rising from the center of the lake. “That’s a hand in there,” I said, staring.
Cain slowly lowered his rifle. “Yeah,” he replied. “Doesn’t seem to be doing much, though. We’ll leave it alone, dodge this encounter.”
His speech concluded, Cain turned away from the oasis, dropping his pack and grabbing some dry branches for a fire. I couldn’t turn away from the trapped hand, however. Only reluctantly did I tear my eyes away, joining my companion in opening a few cans of food to heat over the fire for dinner.
With our meal concluded, I continued to gaze out at the center of the shallow pool. “It’s a girl’s hand,” I said finally.
What if she’s trapped? What if she isn’t some sort of monster?” I pressed.
Cain shrugged one shoulder. “Doesn’t matter. Not worth the risk of finding out.”
I turned to glare at him. “You know, you make out to be this experienced, well-traveled explorer,” I snapped at him. “But despite that, you don’t seem to care about anything that’s out there! Don’t you feel curious?”
Despite my outrage, Cain didn’t seem too put off. “Curiosity tends to lead to trouble,” he replied cryptically. “I’ve seen a lot, and most of it I’d walk right past if I could go back and do it again. I’m not set on searching out trouble. And things like that,” he nodded towards the crystal, “are trouble.”
I sat and considered this for a long moment, but finally dragged myself to my feet. “Well, I’m not going to walk past it,” I said, my mind made up. Picking up a heavy branch, I began wading into the pool, heading for the center. Behind me, Cain growled in frustration, but when I glanced back I saw that he had picked up his rifle and was covering me.
As I had suspected, the pool was fairly shallow – the water had barely reached my armpits by the time I stood at the center, next to the crystal and its enclosed prisoner. Now that I was closer, I could see that the hand was definitely feminine, and seemed to be stretching out as if trying to escape. “Here goes nothing,” I muttered to myself, and raised the branch over my head in an overhead blow.
The heavy impact of the branch left a spidery crack in the clear, smooth surface of the rock. I raised the branch again, slamming it down again and again on the rock. Finally, as I paused for a moment to catch my breath, I cocked my arms back for one more blow. By now, the crystal was entirely covered with thin cracks, distorting the view of the arm within. I brought the splintery branch down once more.
The crystal shattered, sounding like breaking glass. From the interior came a dazzling blue light, shining up like a beacon into the sky. Caught by surprise and half-blinded from the intensity, I staggered back a few steps in the water. As I blinked to adjust my eyes to the sudden brightness, I stared in awe at the pillar of illumination rising up from the ruins of the crystal.
Over a few seconds, the light began to coalesce, condensing inward to form some sort of shape. I raised one hand to shield my eyes, still holding the branch off to one side. As I watched, the light condensed and dimmed slightly, revealing a luminous female humanoid hovering above the water in front of me.
Oh god,” I whispered, as the figure gazed down at me.
Behind me, I heard another groan from Cain. “Couldn’t leave well enough alone,” he complained. “Now we’ve got a spirit to deal with.”
I stared up at the girl, still slowly edging back out of the pool towards the dry sand of the shore. Her gaze turned to follow me, her pupil-less eyes glowing white. I wondered whether I should have heeded Cain’s advice and never touched the crystal.

[Outworld] Chapter openings

Author’s note: This is not a chapter in the Outworld saga, per se; instead, it’s a series of small bits of information that will precede each chapter, as an opener.  They are only tangentially related to the voyage of our narrator and Cain, but do pertain to the same world.  

Salvation was built on hope.  In earlier days, when Outworld seemed smaller, tamer, there was a push to civilize the wilderness, to construct a line of cities and roads stretching across the territories.  At one point, some visionaries even dreamed of a railroad, linking the ends of Outworld.  Salvation was built as a rest stop, conveniently located near a water source, a railroad train.  But construction of the railroad never made it out to Salvation, and the town built on hope began to wither away.


The territory of Outworld is patchwork.  The landscape shifts abruptly, changing from forest to desert to ocean within miles.  Sir Charles Raymond, one of the best-known explorers of Outworld, claims that each biome came from a different world, dropped like a puzzle piece into the landscape.  As evidence, he points to the City of Dis, a square mile of ruined towers with no surrounding buildings.


Many gods in Outworld are feared, but even the Godsends themselves shy away from confrontation with Furor.  The self-proclaimed “god of madness,” he is known for entering thriving towns and slowly infecting the landscape, subtly shifting reality until the minds of the citizens can no longer handle the strain.  Furor is followed by a trail of twisted impossibilities and gibbering husks, capable only of carrying out his commands.  Only Hastur’s name commands more respect.


Where does godliness begin?  The Godsends don’t have an answer, but they know that it ends at the tip of a blade.  Although the founding of their order is shrouded in mystery, the details known only to the highest members of the order, they task themselves with hunting down the gods that roam across Outworld, slaying them so that balance might be maintained.  It is unclear whether their efforts are having any effect.


What is human?  The pervasive magic of Outworld has a tendency to creep into and infect those who visit its plane, leaving them changed in some way.  Some discover new abilities, while others find that they have been irreversibly altered in some way.  Some accept their changes as gifts, but most denizens of Outworld do their best to ignore the footprint left on them by their world.