« Kian † Willow »
I awoke to the muffled sounds of metal striking metal. The ruckus had a cadence that, if it hadn’t been in such close proximity, it could have lulled me to sleep. In my drowsy stupper, I stared up at the dark ceiling. Listening. Agitation stewed in my gut as I could faintly guess that the disturbance must have been Ms. Agatha from across the street. She was the old mayor of DC. The corrupt hag had been ousted five years ago, she’d caught having an orgy with a couple of wealthy “investors” for her side business.
Despite this, as politics always did, she had a sense of self that usually involved stepping over everyone around her. In that fashion, it’d been an open secret that she was sleeping with half the HOA board to get her way. This allowed her to call in “guests” at odd hours, or last the other week, in the middle of the night. If there ever was a disturbance on his street, it’d almost always been her fuckery.
As my blood pressure rose, I stared up at the dark ceiling. Had I been in a clearer state of mind, I would have noticed that… Drastic changes in my bedroom. But, an odd fog had settled around my mind and the red flags fell away to my agitation. Flaring my nostrils with a single fed up huff, I decided to get up. I’d be giving that big-titted walking sack of shit a piece of my mind again.
I tried to sit up, hell-bent on starting another fight with the neighbor… That was when it all came crashing down.
Searing pain cut down my back, like tens of molten hot knives. The pain made my entire body stiffen, and I threw myself back down. That’d been my second mistake. From the sudden call, searing hot pain shot across my chest. The pain forced a loud cry from me that turned into a long whimper as I finally began to relax my muscles.
(“Relax, keep calm, and breath. Slowly. No matter what, if you can do this. You can get through it.”) Jacob’s words echoed in my head. Words that he’d always tell me whenever something had gone wrong. That was before he left me alone.
My whimpers turned into staggered breaths as I inhaled through my nose. Exhaled through my mouth. My back continued to burn, but the edge was dulled. Slowly and methodically, I stretched one muscle one after another. I forced myself to focus on breathing and stretching to dull the burning. For the most part, it worked. That was when I noticed the red flags.
As my eyes adjusted, I noticed that the roof overhead was not the neat drywalled ceiling I had seen day after day for my entire life. No. It was a material I could also call straw. Held up by large thick wooden beams that rose high into the air to meet the apex. I wasn’t in the McMansion anymore. I was in a cottage.
On my left was a wall. Around the foot of the bed, there was a shuttered window. Closed and latched. That was where the next wall was. To my right, a bedside table with a wooden cup and a chair. Then the next wall. Across from the window, a closed plank door rested. Closed as well. I then noticed I have not clothed anymore. A roughly made thick blanket had been draped over me.
Everything rushed back in that moment…
Ripped from my bed by my brother. The barking of gunfire in my house. The dead bodies. The barrage of gunfire that skipped around me. Watching someone die. Being evacuated and… The nuke. The rush of memories made my heart race as tears threatened to fall. My breath came faster, my heart rammed against my chest. Then the final pieces slipped into place. The roar of gunfire in the darkness. Illuminated by the moonlight, thousands of red beads in the forest. Their barbaric and guttural cries taunting us.
The large goblin…
I felt fear, confusion, and guilt seep in as I realized, I alone, had survived that slaughter. There couldn’t have been any other way. Unless… Was this a goblin village?! Just as that thought floated into my head, the door opened. More light poured into the room and a man appeared in the doorway.
“Are you okay?” Was the first thing he asked as he briskly walked to the window and threw them open.
The room came to life with light and crisp air poured into the room. The air had a certain stink to it, but sure enough, it was fresher than any city air I had smelled.
“Call me Doc, everyone does,” The old man said as he stepped over to me and sat on the chair beside the bed.
He wore a grey robe, adorned with a tan apron that was speckled with what I assumed was dried blood. His face was slightly gaunt. His skin dropped slightly and he wore a kind smile. He looked over me with soft blue eyes, and he had long white hair that he’d tied back.
“I heard you so I came as quick as I could,” Healer said as he pulled at my blank.
I quickly pulled them back up, more out some fickle sense of privacy I held than anything.
“Calm, boy,” Doc said with a tone as gentle as his eyes. “I am a doctor, tried by the Church of Saint Angelica. I’ve been tending to you for the last few days.”
“A few days?” My asked.
My voice came out raspy and my tongue felt heavy with I tried to pronounce the words.
“I see you speak our language,” Doc chuckled. He handed me the cup from the table. I drank it greedily. “I was worried I had to get a translation spell from the Mayor when you woke up.”
“Spell? What do you mean?” Confused by what he meant, I looked at him exasperated. ” And a few days? Do you mean I was–”
“Hold up now,” Doc held up his hand. “One question at a time. First off, yes. A spell from the Mayor. I don’t just have translation spells on hand, only the government keeps those. I could easily get one to talk with you since the Mayor is also interested in what you had to say.”
“And how long have I been here?” I asked with a heavy heart.
“This is the fourth day,” Doc answered. “Strange enough, you haven’t needed to be cleaned up or given medication. We couldn’t give you soup, as much as we tried, but just as strange, you didn’t die.”
“You tried?” I asked.
“Mhm,” Doc nodded. “We tried to pry your mouth up to give you both, but not even the smith could do it. We gave up after an hour. The Mayor was okay if you died.”
“What an asshole,” I blurted out.
“Maybe,” Doc looked bemused by that.
“So…” I trailed off, staring at the old man as I grappled with asking if anyone survived. I know that answer. However, I just needed to know… If I was the only one alive..
“You’re the only one alive,” Doc said softly before he patted my hand.
His hands were soft and gentle. He reminded me of my grandpa in a way, just less sailor mouthed. The room fell quiet. I felt cold inside as the full weight of that pressed on my shoulders. I took a few staggered breathes to calm myself but to no avail. Hot tears began to stream down the side of my face.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this…” I muttered as I sobbed.
“Soldiers die all the time in battle,” Doc said, not realizing what he said. “They fought valiantly. Your comrades would have been proud.”
“They’re not my comrades…” I looked to him, hot tears clouding my vision. “I’m not a soldier… My brother is… Or was…”
“And how did you come to be among them?” Doc asked. “They fought to keep you safe, so you must have been important, yes?”
“My dad was their General,” I said as I gained ground in the fight against the tears. “We were escaping the battle. My home… ”
But holding them in only made me feel sick with myself. That I, the person they fought to protect, was weeping like some stupid newborn. The sadness turned into guilt then into some primordial rage as my hands tightened. I wanted to kill the little monsters who killed them. They had fought to protect me. The least I could do was avenge them. That was what you were supposed to do, right?
I felt Doc’s hand gripped over mine as he held it.
“Calm yourself, they’re all dead,” Doc said. “The joint assault force wiped them all out.”
“Who?” I asked.
“The joint assault force,” Doc smiled. “It was made up of Adventurers and Fourth Division soldiers. They went out when they saw the commotion going on the cliffs. They hadn’t gotten through in time to save your friends, but they got there in time to pull you out.”
“Ah…” I said. I felt better knowing those little shits were dead. It didn’t absolve the guilt I felt in surviving, though. “Could you help me up? I tried but my muscles aren’t agreeing with what I want to do.”
“Haha!” Doc gave out a hearty laugh. “Of course they won’t. You nearly shredded the muscles in your shoulders. You fought a Hobgoblin and lived to tell about it, I’m surprised your wounds weren’t worse. Here, let me help you up.”
Doc slid his arm under my back and helped me sit up. As the blanket slid down, I saw what he meant. My skin had turned a light purple over my chest. There also was a large purple mark in the shape of a hand on my right wrist.
“They were worst when they brought you in,” Doc said as he began to examine the purple marks. “They’re good enough to lightly use, but try not to move them quickly or lift heavy objects. I don’t want to have to use a lot of mana on them. With the state, they’re in now, a few more days with a mixture of light healing spells and natural bodily healing with fix this.”
“That’s good…” I was curious about this magic the man spoke of, but in the current unknown climate, I figured adopting a passive stance would bring fewer headaches. People loved to talk from my experience. I could piece it together later.
(“If you can’t trust the people around you, and you have the time, just take in information passively. That’s how we did it overseas.”) Jacob’s voice echoed once again in my head.
“So what do we call you?” Doc asked. “We can’t keep calling you Boy, but everyone thought you were a girl at first. Well, only me and the important folk around here know you’re a man.
“Name’s Kian, Kian Willow.” I gave him a weak smile.
« † »
I leaned in the wooden rocking chair Doc had on his porch. Much to my surprise, the old man’s cottage sat in quite the spot. His cottage rest on the mountainside, and by the mountainside, not a rocky slope. The village, or “Settlement” as Doc called it, had been built upon a ridge. From where Doc’s home was, I could see the dancing waves shimmer in the midday sky. I could see tens of thatched roofs, tightly packed together along the ridgeside before it ended abruptly. From there, a tall palisade had been erected.
Beyond was densely packed trees. Maybe oaks, or beech trees, or maybe a different kind I’ve never heard of. The view would have been astounding, if not for the large swath of land on the border of land and sea. There, I could see the crashed Osprey – broken and burned. I could not see the bodies of the soldiers. I didn’t see the dead monsters who’d terrorized us.
A few colorful birds glided across the air, and a cool ocean breeze caressed me. It was peaceful. Terribly peaceful… That was until I noticed that everything had gone silent. The hammering had stilled. The birds in the sky remained suspended mid-turn. The ocean waves still reached forward. The trees still slightly rustled. The world around me had stopped.
“Welcome to the land of the living,” A sweet voice spoke up beside me.
I stiffened at the words. Slowly, I swiveled my neck to see who said that. To my left, sitting in an identical wooden chair, was a beautiful woman. She looked no older than me – two years younger at most. She had flawless porcelain skin, topped with silky white hair. This framed the two pools of gold, cut by ink-black pupils that stared back at me. A lovely small nose with pursed lips that seemed to repress a smile.
She only wore a black dress, adorned with a golden paw above her heart. Nothing else as she brushed her hair over her ear – while holding a bottle of Coke.
“Kept me waiting much.” She said, and a smile bloomed across her lips. Her pupils narrowed slowly, and I felt a snake was posing to strike me. “You do sleep quite a lot. Though, they did give you sleeping drugs. You might not want to trust those doctors. Much up a bunch of plants and all, crazy stuff.”
She took a sip of the drink. The entire scene felt out of place as she did it. A mix of fantasy, myth, and modern jumbled into one beautiful mess.
“Who are you…?” I asked cautiously. I had a sudden feeling of nakedness wash over me. It reminded me that I no longer how my ballistic vest or pistol. I had a nagging feeling that I needed it now.
“Relax,” The girl sang as another bottle of coke appeared in her free hand. She leaned towards me, extending the bottle over. “If I wanted to hurt you, I’d have done it already.”
Timidly, I took it from her; more alert because of her words. As if reading my thoughts, verbatim.
“Chill,” She rolled her eyes and kicked up her feet onto thin air. They stayed there as if there was a table or something. “I came to extend you the best deal of your life. Greatest deal. Magical deal.”
“You still haven’t answered my question,” I said. “Who are you?”
“So stuck up~” She groaned, rocking back and forth irritably. “I ain’t a lot of time, you want my deal or not?”
“First off, you haven’t even told me what this deal is,” I said with matching irritability. “Second, who the fuck are you?”
She glared at me, and I glared back. It was bravado stemming from somewhere. It was a bravado I felt would kill me if I said the wrong thing as well. For a few moments, we stared each other down before the woman rolled her eyes.
“Questions questions questions~” The girl sang before she sprung to her feet and wagged her finger at me – laughing. “You’re a hard nut. Name’s Cyril. Creator of this fine dysfunctional world – You’ll hate it here.”
The words took me off guard. Hate it here? Was this woman off her rocker-
“Got you there!” She laughed “Yes. I am indeed off my rocker.”
“Are you reading my thoughts?” I blurted out.
“Indeed,” She smiled. “Thanks for compliments about my body, I like it too.”
Jesus fuck is this woman cr–
“Not crazy,” She hummed. “Maybe sad; Maybe Malevolent; Maybe a tad, itty bitty fucking pissed. But not crazy.”
The smile she gave me screamed crazy, but I made sure not to think that anymore. Because her eyes were glowing slightly brighter now. I didn’t want to know if they were power gauges, or she was going to punch me. Honestly, anything was on the table at this point. And when I didn’t say or think anything else, she continued.
“Since we got that settles, I guess I could explain this deal~” She cooed and threw herself back into the chair. “Anyways, I guess I’ll go through the list of questions the others keep asking. No, you’re not on earth anymore – you’re on my world. Yes, there are ways to go back. No, you don’t want to go back. Your world is dead, killed with nuclear fire! Now, interested in that deal?”
She tossed the bottle away. It crashed somewhere around the smith’s house. She then leaned forward and looked to me with expectant eyes.
“I-I’ll hear it out…” I gulped, feeling that this woman was definitely not all there.
“So, here’s the deal, I will make you my Champion. In return, I’ll give you cool-ass powers.” She winked and sat back. “In return, you do my bidding~”
“That sounds like slavery,” I said.
“Only if slaves got world-altering powers that could change the face of the entire geopolitical scale. Then sure.” She shrugged.
“That doesn’t sound like a good deal at all!” Exasperated by her go-lucky demeanor, I yelled.
“Hey, hey!” She pointed her finger at me. “I’m only giving you this deal as repayment!”
“Repayment my ass!” I pointed back. “The hell kind of repayment is this, and for what?!”
“Psh, it’s repayment.” She huffed. “You landed in some deep shit, and I didn’t clean it up in time. Thus, you are here, and I am offering you this deal.”
“Wait, what do you mean ‘didn’t clean it up in time’?” I asked, feeling a disconnect.
“Ah, right… ” She looked at me and muttered before sitting back. “Forgot that part – duh. Anyways, long story short. Some new gods down south wanted to summon some Heros to go kill some demons they really hated. Your world nuked itself at the same time they opened a portal to kidnap some poor folks. Amazing luck you know? The odds for that has to be fucking smaller than a mana atom.”
“Wait, wait -” I jumped in. “What does that have to do with me?”
“Don’t interrupt a girl when she’s speaking, “The girl glared at me and I just sat back and zipped my mouth. “Anywho – the nukes supercharged the spell, and kinda ripped a lot more people than it was supposed to. Literally blew up the summoning chamber. Thankfully, the nuke’s blast didn’t reach into this world because I sealed it in time. For fuck’s sake, had I not woken in time, they would have wiped their country off the map.”
“And I was one of them,” I couldn’t help but say as she wasn’t actually answering my question. However, I figured she couldn’t actually keep a thought straight enough to answer. So I had the idea to slowly nudge her towards the answers I needed.
“Ah, yes. You were one of them along with a few hundred others.” She confirmed while her head bobbed softly.
“So… That means all those people died… For nothing?” I asked, feeling anger well up in my stomach. Not at this girl, no, at whoever fucking did this.
“In the context of what you’re asking? Totally – no meaning what so ever,” She no longer smiled. “But that’s the grand thing. You survived. Despite being dropped in the middle of a large goblin raiding host, you survived; even if by the skin of your teeth. That’s some serious luck – and something I could get behind.”
I’d given her the benefit of the doubt and didn’t blame her. However, her nonchalant attitude towards them was seriously pissing him off.
“Don’t take it the wrong way,” She added. “What happened down there was horrible. Through and through. However, that’s why I’m handing you this deal. Yeah, sounds shitty, but you might like where I’m heading with this.”
I took a deep breath and took a few moments to simmer down to hear it.
“Okay, shoot,” I said.
“I’m aiming to humiliate those fucking idiot upstarts for wrecking my world,” The woman said. “And I’ll give you power. I saw you had some guns and armor. Gave me some ideas about what I’d do for you. However, should I do this for you, I want you to go after those assholes. With some conditions.”
“The people who pulled me into this world?” I asked.
“Mmm~hmm~” She hummed.
I paused for a moment. I hadn’t done much in my life that amounted to anything. Neither had I have people die to protect me nor almost die. I delved deep in myself. I lurked and tried to find what I wanted. Did I want revenge? Did I feel a need to kill the fucker who did this?
A moment later, the answer came – but I had one last question.
“Can’t I take the down without this deal?” I asked.
“How strong are you?” The woman eyed my, admittedly, slender frame.
I had muscle, and I could do anything a guy my age could do. Effeminate looks aside.
“Average guy stuff,” I said.
“Your world average?” She asked.
I felt the question was a trap.
“Yes…?” I said.
“You’re gonna die out there.” She pointed out into the forests beyond the village. “You’d probably survive in the village if you sell yourself.
“How so?” I said, feeling offended.
“No offense, but men from earth, on average, are weaker than men here.” She stated. “Men here are mostly farmers, knights, soldiers, or other heavy labor types. That is if they’re not rich or powerful. All the same, that also doesn’t account for the monsters and other hostile forces that roam the land.”
“Isn’t that–” She waved me off.
“Not like your world. Safety here is far and inbetween. Wars are constant. Death is normalcy. Your days aren’t guaranteed. My world is twisted, malformed. Of the utmost degree, it is violent. The best person to have in your corner is a powerful figure – and whos more powerful than gods?”
“I see…” I said. “And will this require me to sacrifice unborn children or virgin girls?”
The serious expression that’d formed on the girl’s face twitched.
“No,” She said with a very, very deadly tone. “And if you do try it, I’ll make sure your soul burns in the deepest fucking pits I can find. Up for the deal now?”
“Y-Yeah, I’ll take it,” I said. I felt slightly cold now.
“Good!” She beamed,” Cross your heart and hope to die~”
She made an “x” over her heart, and I followed suit subconsciously. The skin above my heart began to sear for a moment, and I yelped. Before I could try and figure out what happened, a familiar object was shoved into my hands.
“Gotta go,” The girl said. “We’ll talk later.
“Wait!” I said.” You never told me your name!”
“Names Cyril, Creator of the World.” She smiled mischievously.