Chapter 1: A New World
The ebony dragon loomed ferociously over our heroes, swaying a taunting tail and cocking its head at them with a maniacal look in its eye. The dragon seemed to smirk just before blowing a terrifyingly hot wreath of flames around the five who were left, trapping them. It had been a thrilling adventure, with touches of romance and epic fights that had made blood pound in his veins. This had to be Jack’s favourite new novel series.
In fact, a new one just hit the stores today - and it was the last one! - with stacks lining every library window, the sweet smell of all those new books wafting over the heads of townsfolk. He couldn’t wait to get his spindly little fingers on it! But he knew that he couldn’t, now. Not today nor any other day of the year. Instead, he had found himself in a dark, ivory vortex. Not a thing was clear to him on why he was in there, or how he managed to get there in the first place, but as he felt himself getting lurched into the heart of the storm, Jack knew something was afoot. Aside from the entire being trapped in a vortex thing, anyway.
In the center of the vortex was a light, a brilliantly white light that shone closer and closer; it was blinding. Jack shielded his eyes, a warmth passing over him, and after a moment past he felt something brush against his cheek. Now wasn’t exactly the time for any butterfly kisses, but he was open to new ideas. Oh, he was falling. Wait. Jack gasped, wrapping his arms around himself, unable to find the air in his lungs to scream as he descended. He didn’t fall far, mind, but it was enough to make his knees buckle and send him to the ground with a nasty thud. He exhaled, taking in great amounts of air and was amazed that he was alive. Jack blinked and stared at the grass in front of him. Grass? He had been inside his room, last time he checked. Afterwards? His mind grew fuzzy. With a grunt he got back to his feet and dusted the grass off his...hands?
Instead of hands that he looked down at, he saw two rather large cubes in a skin-like colour. Stubs. He had to make sure he wasn’t entirely crazy. Jack lifted his head and gazed around at the scene before him. He was literally in the middle of the woods, without any other soul around him. Well, unless you counted the rectangular cow grazing a little ways away from him. Wait, rectangular? He stared open-mouthed at the cow, his mind still processing the teensy fact that his entire world was just a glorified square. He wasn’t quite sure he would be able to fully get used to these hands. How could he possibly give the finger to someone?
Jack shook his head and started walking. He was probably better off trying to find someone else, or at least some food. He wished he had had breakfast after all that day. Jack furrowed his brow, the same fuzziness blurring his thoughts. He wandered through some trees, a few curves and turns and hills, and was thrilled when he found a pond. Jack ran to it and drank gratefully. He didn’t bother to ask whether or not the water was necessarily clean, but it didn’t have any swamp monsters lurking inside it, so that had to be a good sign. Jack gasped for air, again realizing that he was unfortunately not a mermaid, or merman. He always thought that the term ‘merman’ sounded stupid.
Jack looked at his reflection. He guessed that the rest of his body had to be a cube, too. But that still didn’t mask any of his prominent features at all. Black, fluffy hair that curled at the tips seated itself on top of a tanned, baby-like face. Below that there was a scrawny nose that had been broken a couple too many times, complimentary dark eyes; Jack’s pale face reflected back at himself through the clear water. He had been wearing the same clothes that he had that day - worn jeans and a navy sweatshirt with the hoodie strings tied in a loose bow. At least that hadn’t changed about him. Jack blinked, squinted, and jumped back as another face appeared in the water.
“You really shouldn’t doze off like that. You’ll end up dead - bam! - just like that.” a pale girl with long red hair tied in a loose ponytail with big, blue eyes gave him a questioning look. She wore a simple green and navy blue plaid shirt and black yoga pants that fitted around her waist comfortably.
“What was that for?” Jack panted, still mentally recovering.
“It’s not like I tried to sneak up on you. You just stood there staring all dramatically into the pool of thought. Oh, woe is me. Life is a misery." The girl dramatized. She stopped and grinned, extending a stub. “Seeing as we’re the only two souls here...I’m Ami. It’s, er, nice to meet you.”
“Jack,” he replied, fist-bumping. “Same goes to you.” The duo stood in silence for a few seconds until Ami cleared her throat. “So, what do we do from here, do ya figure?”
“Um,” Jack glanced around. “A house or something would be nice to spend the night in. I don’t think we’ll find a tent-convenience store anywhere around here, though.” Jack saw Ami smirk out of the corner of his eye.
“Agreed.” Ami nodded seriously. “Well, I guess we should build our own house.”
“I’m sorry?” Jack shifted his feet.
“Buiiiild ooooour oooown houuuuse,” Ami sounded out. “It shouldn’t be that hard! We can start by chopping down some of these trees...” She was already several steps ahead of him.
“Wait, i never agreed to thi-”
“Then you’ll be sleeping under the stars,” Ami tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, shooting him a devilish eye. “Alone, in the dark, not to mention freezing your butt off. Oh, the horror!"
“I have no choice in this, do I?” Jack sighed.
“The thought never crossed my mind,” Ami flashed a toothy smile. “Don’t worry. We’ll make a fine place to stay, and then we can try to find a McDonalds.” Jack snickered.
“Fine.” He crossed his arms. “What should I do first, boss?” Ami raised her eyebrows. ”Boss," she mused. “I like that. You, simple peasant, can start by chopping those trees over there.” She gestured to a patch of Birch trees behind him. Jack gave her a mock bow and marched straight off to work. He heard her giggle behind him. Jack was about to chop the tree when he stopped.
“What seems to be the issue, soldier?” Ami stiffened beside him, taking an army general’s stance.
“Sir! There is nothing for me to chop this tree with, sir!” Jack saluted.
“Nothing to chop with?”
“An ax, sir! We don’t have any axes at all, sir!”
“So it would seem,” Ami said gravely, pacing. “I would advise in this situation that we make use of our new bodies.”
“Use your stub, you dunderhead.” Ami grinned, breaking character. Jack raised an eyebrow. Ami rolled her eyes and went up to a tree. She punched it a number of times, sugar cubes of sweat trickling down the sides of her face. Jack was about to say something when suddenly the section f the tree disappeared. What was more concerning was that the rest of the tree remained stationary. The top half of the tree, which should have toppled to the ground, remained as it was, as though it weren’t missing a bottom.
“The physics of this place concern me.” Jack shook his head, looking to a tree beside him and mimicking what Ami did.
“We also have an inventory,” Ami said. “Just think of where you want to store something - that’s how mine popped up.” Jack nodded, then focused, scrunching up his face. A faint, white box appeared in front of his face, slightly transparent. Several boxes and even a view of himself presented itself before his eyes. In one of the boxes was an item labeled ‘Birch Wood.’ Jack smiled, dragging it over to the front most boxes. Suddenly a block of wood appeared in his stub, not different from the tree. Maybe he could get used to this.
The time passed on, and it was apparent that the sky was getting darker every second.
“Hey, uh, don’t mean to be a downer or anything, but we might need a house or something to sleep in. All we’ve done is chop wood all day.” Ami called from several feet away, stopping her wood-chopping to wipe her sweaty brow.
“Oh, right. Guess we got carried away. Is it too late to start building?” Jack stopped tackling the tree, his stubs considerably more red and splintered than they had been earlier.
“Yeah. Maybe sleeping under the stars isn’t the worst thing that could happen,” Ami blushed.
“Oh, so now it looks like a good idea.”
“Shut up,” she smirked, pushing his shoulder and looking for a reasonable spot to lay down. They didn’t have anything to make beds out of, after all, so Jack and Ami made themselves comfortable on the cool grass. The stars peacefully glistened in the night sky, each of them burning brightly, though Jack spotted some that were seriously slacking in their work. Ami had started pointing out several constellations to Jack. He was surprised that she knew so much about little lights.
“See that? That’s Ursa Major. All the books I read said it looks like a bear, but I think it looks more like an insect with its arm missing.”
“I find it hard to believe that anyone else would think the same thing,” Jack laughed.
“Hey!” Ami shot him a look.
“I meant it as a compliment, really!” Jack insisted. “Besides, I’ve never known someone who knows so much about stars. It’s quite impressive.” Ami exhaled. “It’s not all just stars. Astronomy includes planets, the Sun, black holes, all sorts of things.”
“That doesn’t make it any less amazing.”
“Well, I am self-taught. Think of it like I’m a nerd who reads too much about science.”
“I read books, too, you know.” Jack chuckled. “I was reading the Tales of Vuleptia series. A new one just came out today and I was going to get it, but...” he stopped himself. He was here instead. Stranded with a stranger.
“If it makes any difference, I really appreciate the company.” Ami looked at him. Jack lifted his head and looked at her wildly blue eyes. They reminded him of an electrical circuit.
“Yeah, so do I.” he breathed.
The night was especially quiet, almost serene, like everything else in this world. There weren’t even any bugs about, chirping or buzzing or crawling up his nose. But apparently this didn’t change anything, because Jack couldn’t sleep at all, no matter how hard he tried. Ami, on the other stub, had fallen asleep so quick it was like flipping a lightswitch. She was still and motionless, aside from the rhythmic breathing that matched the rise and fall of her chest. Jack stretched, his joints feeling like rubber. It was then that his eyes caught something in the dark. Something...almost camouflaged - it approached. He stood quickly, heart jumping into his throat.
“A-Ami...” Jack stuttered out, shaking her with his foot. She grumbled awake, shooting an annoyed look at him. “What?”
“Company, Jack gulped.
A green creature that walked on four stubby legs, just as tall as they were, was padded in different shades of green, Jack discovered as it came into the light. It’s coal black eyes stared at them, blank of emotion. The thing’s mouth hung open as well, giving it a peculiar look. Or, a permanent scream. He tried not to think of the latter.
“Who are you?” Ami asked, fully alert and standing beside him. When did that happen? Nevertheless, Jack hit her on the shoulder. “Ami! We don’t even know if this thing is friendly, let alone if it can talk!”
She scowled. “I might as well try. We’re in a different world, aren’t we? Nothing is stopping this from being a fantasy world. Might as well make some friends.” She took a few steps towards it despite Jack’s protests and spoke again. “Can you help us? We’re new here, and I just wanted to ask...” Her words faded away as Jack saw the creature start to make a sizzling noise, flashing a bright white, its body expanding so it became nearly round in shape.
“GET DOWN!” Jack yelled, yanking Ami’s arm and shoving her to the ground, shielding her on top. A loud explosion echoed across the forest seconds afterwards. He heard Ami scream, and felt a sharp pain embed itself in his back. Jack also thought he felt liquid dripping out of his back, too. The dust settled, Jack and Ami both gaping at each other.
“I told you so,” Jack panted.
“Thanks,” Ami said. She looked a thousand miles away.
“Ami?” Jack touched her shoulder. She flinched.
“We need to get out of here,” she suddenly said, standing.
“Hey, hold on a sec,” Jack rose with her, offering a gentle stub.
“Come on, we need to find somewhere safe. Let’s go!” she bolted in the other direction.
“Ami hold up! We can’t split up! You know what happens in horror movies!” Jack broke into a run to keep up with her, but he slowly started to slow down, the pain in his back spreading. “Wait!” he called desperately. Jack felt like his back was about to split apart, as though someone were slowly peeling off his skin with a scalpel. His energy was fading fast, his vision dizzying. He really wished he had gotten a sandwich before coming to this world. Maybe it would have helped with the pain. He crumpled to the ground in exhaustion, unable to continue any further. The last thing he saw was a faint, yellow light in the distance and two figures running towards him.
“Jack? Jack!” Ami’s voice grew faint. Jack couldn’t respond, and he finally fell unconscious.