Peace, quiet, and subservience; that’s all Nick wanted. That was all he ever wanted. Was that really asking too much? He worked hard to get where he was, to be in the positions he was in, and, without fail, there was always that one kink or flaw or wild card that just completely decimates all he worked towards and quash his hopes and dreams and put him all the way back to square freakin’ one! Nick simply sought a plain life, one with wealth and integrity. A cool mil in each of his four savings accounts and half of that sitting at any time in his checking; was that really too much a stretch for the world? Rather, was that asking Fate too much?
Nick might not have been much of a believer, but he still had his quirks, his irks about beliefs. Specifically, one of the ideals he had a problem with was the notion of freewill... They, humans, did not have it. Even from the word “Go” they were always destined to doom themselves and be cast out of “paradise”. Humans were made supposedly in the image of their creator, of which was known to be all-knowing and all-powerful. The all-powerful part wasn’t important here, but that bit about “all-knowing” was what always threw everything into a loop. They knew that humans would eat the fruit, even when warned. They knew they would be cast out into the half-finished mud-blob that was the “real world”, yet They still allowed it. They allowed humans to follow through with it. Whether they intervened or not, this was a perfect example of the lack of free will, that everything was predetermined.
When Nick brought this point up that balmy Saturday in April to his teacher and couldn’t get an answer, none whatsoever, he knew that religion was complete bollocks. At the ripe old age of sixteen, he did not become an atheist. He did not become agnostic; instead, he became a full-blown, genuine Theist. He might not believe in religion, but he believed in a higher power, a force that governed all. Whether it was God, Yahweh, Allah, Budha, Shiva, Rama, Zeus, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Ra, Osiris, Isis, Saturn, Jupiter, Pluto, Kukulkan, Cabrakan, X’blanque, Odin, Baldr, Tyr, Santa Claus, Krampus, a writer’s world taken literal, or just plain vanilla Fate; it didn’t matter what name it had, just that it was in control and there was no way of stopping it or making true contact with it. Whatever They were, it was quite apparent they were simply God.
Case and point? His predicament. And how, even now, he was getting screwed over at the exact precise times. He was already having enough of a day as it was, which, if he didn’t destroy those pickaxes, if he didn’t shoot down what’s-her-name’s proposal, if he didn’t return in a tiff midday, he wouldn’t have had the daylight to walk under. He wouldn’t have had the opening to do what was necessary nor the heart to truly turn Naiyala away at the road. It would have been dark when she made her way through that wooded path, and she would have fattened those butter scorpions for sure.
Instead, it was still very sunny as Nick reached a new pair of crossroads. The white sun hadn’t even neared the horizon yet, still hanging on along the five o’lock mark, if he had to gauge it. As for Naiyala? She may still be fattening up some scorpions but now it wasn’t a certainty but a probability. There was now a chance, if slimmer than a swimsuit model that attempted to go under muscle and organ removal to become the first AAAAAAAAA-sized model. Truly a role model for all the young ladies of the world, though dad’s would hate her. She would get pregnant just from their mere thoughts.
But now he was at a crossroads. Which path did he take? Should he continue west, continuing the straight and narrow? What about the northern path; things could look up that way? But there was always the one leading deep south. He could hear the banjos warming up just looking at it, but the most important question was which one had the village with actual children in it. Even after all this time, Nick had not seen a single child of the Reyla. Close to eight months in Leyshun, and not a single birthing that entire time, nor even belly bumps from being forced inside during the monsoon seasons; Nick knew they understood the idea of fucking, so that didn’t make any sense. In fact, he started to wonder if they actually did reproduce via eggs and that they were kept deep in the mounds until they were old enough to hatch and add to their ranks. They were reptilian in nature, so it would make sense- but then where were their tails?
He growled, knuckling his brow. Even after all this time, there was still so much he didn’t know about them. He learned their language, their culture faster than he learned their basic anatomy and life cycle. One required you to be entrenched and wallow in it to learn, and the other was dissecting the bodies he slaughtered. He had more than enough test subjects at that point; if he had to put a number, it would have to be up to 85. Eighty-five of the race killed, seven of them he took his time with; he could have mutilated and looked inside to see exactly how they ticked... Then again, he would have to understand how he ticked first.
He lowered his hand from his brow to his chest, still so quiet, so hollow. Every other part of him was working, alive and well after he had died except for that seven-pound pump. In fact, it was its absence that was blaring on the senses, the fact it wasn’t beating that deafened whenever he paid attention. The only time it ever felt like that was that day, his last in that office, now forever plaguing him, a reminder of his paradise lost... Nick wondered, if maybe, just maybe, he got it beating again he would wake up and return home. Perhaps he didn’t really die at home and this was all one big dream, that he was in a coma in the hospital, running up billions of dollars in medical debt that he will never be able to repay but, by God, will he be a glamorous vegetable when he does wake up.
That, though, was even less of a possibility than the idea he was in a virtual world. Not because it couldn’t happen, but because he knew his parents. They would have pulled the plug a long, long time ago. Out of love. Even if he did get his heart started, even if it meant he could wake up... He would have nowhere to wake up in. This, right now, was his life, and he needed to stop procrastinating and choose a damn road already.
He had hoped a trader was coming from the three paths before him –if they were coming from behind, he doubted they would be in any mood to talk with him. It had to be those three, those that were ignorant to his atrocities. Sadly, he knew it was a false hope. The traders followed a routine, and not a single one had started to pack up their wares in whichever village they were at. Even those that were on the road would be closer to or further from their destinations, far and away from any halfway point such as this.
That left him with his gut, which was cursing him for not grabbing the fruit in Lon’s place before they departed. Those poor orange noodles would never be truly appreciated –not by Lon, at least. There were still others there, those that didn’t gather on the mound, those that actually were doing their jobs, so there was hope, even if it was another false hope. Though that was another factor he had to add to this whole choice. The idea of an angry mob was not exactly a pleasant one; time was of the essence.
His hand had slid to his belly, returned to his brow as he pinched and creased it. What did he know about this world’s geography? How were the villages set up? Why? What could the more southern region have that the north didn’t, the east compared to the west? If he had to wager a guess, he would assumed Ralai was the central village of all of them, given how much traffic they had at any given time. He, also, surmised that there was a village back passed Leyshun, further to the east, up and over that cliff, but he couldn’t really justify going back... though it would be the last thing they would expect.
He looked down each path, giving each one twenty, full breaths exact before moving on to the next, and he did this five times. The one heading west was still heading west, still a straight path. The northern path had a sharp decline a bit further along, which made him wonder if it was near a sea... but... Nick’s attention kept drifting south, to that path and what laid beyond, the ashen mountains always present. Out of all of the paths, that one both had the most available options... and the least palatable ones. He never met the dregsao, but, from everything he was told, every reaction he saw from when they were brought up, he would rather not. But, if the worst came to pass (which usually did), it would give him an out.
Nick shook his head... and his gaze fell upon his spear. The once-black tip was dyed to a deep purple, the blood that trickled on the haft dried like candle wax. He doubted it ever saw any action before, and now, for its maiden voyage, it had a right gang bang. It had taken so many heads to the hilt and brought so many to their knees. Its tip was still pristine, though, not a nick nor hink anywhere to be seen.
It was needed once again, already, but not to slaughter. He placed it in the center of the crossroads, laid it as flat as he could until it stopped rolled. He prodded the blunt side with his foot, back and forth, making sure it would rotate and not simply roll off, then gave it a sharp kick... which hurt a lot more than he expected. He did not have any idea what kind of wood it was [in comparison to Earth’s], but it was as dense as it was flexible. For that, he shall dub it ironwood... and demand it pay to set the cast on his foot.
Sadly, he doubted it would agree to his terms. Long, hard wood tends to be stickler like that, plus he was already asking it for something. It would call this whole exchange even... and Nick would have no room to argue it. So he did a little dance as it spun right round until it stopped, pointing down to Georgia. There must be a soul there to steal, and, given his track record, Nick knew he was the best that’s ever been. He picked the spear back up, a bit more forceful than he had hoped, and hobbled his way south.
The spear wasn’t without compassion. It lent itself well as a walking stick, holding him until he could walk wholly again sometime in the night. His body still ached from the day before, but he did not feel tired. His mind was not addling nor idling, still fresh and sharp, puzzling about what to expect from whatever village may come. That close to the ashen mountains, where the raiders of nightmares descend from? The denizens there would have to be made of tougher stuff than the soft-skins he had the pleasure of dealing with –which reminded him: He never did find out what lurked in the forest nor why they slept so lightly. That would be another mystery he would never have solved.
But what would the village be like? Would it be war-torn? Would their fields be trampled and on fire. Like, literally burning all the time? What about their kitchen? Would they have need of one- maybe the village specializes in corn! At last, his mastery of popping it would prove invaluable; he would be considered a warlock, a god amongst them. Maybe, with this uncanny ability, he could drive the marauders back. Tremble, monsters, for he is the Maize Runner.
Maybe this was his calling the entire time. Maybe this was why Fate put him here. At long last, he can be the Jimmy of this world. He could crack all the corn and nobody would care still. But they would care. They would care so much that they would summon the almighty John... Jangle... whatever the rest of the name was. He couldn’t remember it- for, in remembering it, he would spell his own demise... yes... Dawn came and went several times, going mercifully faster than it had in weeks, and his feet never stopped plodding along that path. His eyes never stopped scrutinizing that path.
Everyday, every hour he drew closer to those mountains, their sleek appearance finally broken by the nearing, showing off deep crags along its surface. They were, also, much, much taller than he expected. He thought, at first, they could rival at least Everest; now there was no doubt that each one made Olympus Mons look like a molehill. He didn’t think anything could be that... grossly large, but, then again, he was only in a small part of this world. He had only experienced a footnote of what it probably had to offer. In truth, if he had to compare it to back home, he had seen only about the entirety of what was known as Morgantown... on a single planet. And it already seemed far larger in that comparison.
Just how large is this world? He thought, swigging a bit of water from his hip flask. It was starting to run low, and it would be emptied over the next four days. With still no sign of a mound or trader to be had. He wondered if this was a mistake, that it was a fool’s dream. It would make sense that there wasn’t a mound out here, given the potential threat, but then, if that was the case, why was the road still pristine this... w...
It finally occurred to him.
“The road.” He stated, looking from it to the ashen mountains. “The rock used.”
And, as the sun came over the horizon that morning, it caught the window built into the rock, built facing towards the road, towards the north, rather than to the east. It was a brief flash, but he saw in its gleam a lake just a bit east of it, cast with an array of color before fading into the landscape again, reflecting the mountains it was in the shadows of. Instead of a road leading up, it lead down into the mountain, disappearing into a refined archway where he could just make out the signs of carts waiting along its entry.
He picked up his pace, running, practically sprinting, the rest of the way. As he drew closer, he could make out the typical kitchen and market off to the right of the entrance, and, as morning continued to press, he saw people exiting the mountain. And they saw him, dashing at them, with a spear.
“Why are you running?” He called out, hearing their screams as they returned to the mountain. Others came rushing out to meet him only to reel back and join them, even as he came to a stop before the entrance. “Seriously. Why are you all running?”
He sighed, shaking his head. Out of all the villages he has been to, this has been the rudest introduction he had yet. Truly shameful.