Shades of Light

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Chapter 14

The radio gave out exactly when the tower came into sight. Drying it had only restored its functions for a short time, it seemed. Nevermind that. He had what he wanted. Playing around with the different functions of the device, listening to the sounds it produced, as well as careful study of the pictogram inscribed on it, had lead him to a small building with a metal tower on it. The building was solid, made from some featureless gray stone, with only one door. The tower was just a collection of poles which crisscrossed into the sky. Alex had seen things like these in his home realm. The soldiers used them to communicate, he had guessed. They guarded the things with their usual ferocity. This one seemed completely abandoned.

He cried out in pain the first time he threw himself against the door. It seemed that some of his wounds hadn't quite healed yet. The impact had left a large dent though. He took a few steps back and launched himself forward again. After another two attempts the thing shifted and he was able to wriggle himself through. It was dark inside. This darkness was completely unlike the one he had known for most of his life though. He waited in silence while his eyes adjusted. There were a few pieces of furniture in one corner, carefully folded into each other so as to take up as little space as possible. Most of the space was taken up by wooden boxes. Alex recognized the smell coming from them. He bared his fangs in an approximation of a smile. There was a map on the wall opposite of the door. The light coming through the crack of the door was more than enough for him to study it. His teachers had used maps, drawn in dirt, to teach him the geography of areas. It was how he had managed to navigate the world in between this one and his birth realm. In this world people didn't seem to feel the need for such tools. Like the building, this piece of paper radiated the arrogant ambition and pragmatism of his enemies. The sides were mostly covered in the little drawing that represented words. He made no effort to decipher them. It would take too long, if he would succeed at all. Instead, he concentrated on trying to recognize some of the landmarks on the map. It was incredibly detailed, drawn with an almost inhuman precision. Alex wondered if they had a machine to make these. Extensive consultation of his deep memory eventually allowed him to find where he was on the map. It required an estimate on the distances he had traveled from the city to the forest and then to this place but there were very few cities and the layout of each one had been precisely recorded. His recollection of the city only left one candidate. To his surprise there were other building like this one. They were placed in a large circle, with his presumed entrance point at the center. The lines drawn between them suggested that they were used as reference points. The communication machines could make this possible. If he wanted to throw off their ability to coordinate a chase he would have to take out these towers, at least in the direction he intended to go. The map made it very clear that it depicted only a small part of this realm. Did the soldiers even know or care what was beyond?

His attention was drawn by a drawing of some kind of animal. The only other living things that were shown on the maps were humans, presumably the important Alphas of the natives. A drawing of the Empress sat atop her throne in the city with spires. The animal had wings extending from its arms and large eyes and ears. The face was oddly proportioned. It did seem to be humanoid though and was drawn next to a mountain. The accompanying notes were difficult to read but Alex did recognize the three signs that formed the name for his world. Was this something else that had escaped? Was it intelligent? Most of the things in his home realm were more intelligent than they seemed, even if they didn't speak. Perhaps it was a portal directly to his realm, or even another realm entirely. He cursed his own curiosity as he realized that he now had no other choice but to investigate it. Perhaps he could get some tips from whatever had taken shelter in that mountain. One of the beacons was on the path there and it was only a small detour to the next one. He didn't really have a choice.

The boxes contained the weapons he expected to find. They were cruder than the ones he had seen the soldiers use but that just made them easier to use. Each box even contained a leaflet explaining the basics of operating the weapon. It was quite enlightening after a lifetime of guessing. The instructions were illustrated in such a way that even a child would understand them. Were the soldiers preparing to arm the natives? He doubted they would be successful if they tried. He chose one of the smaller weapons and one of the larger ones. He also shouldered a bag of the little packages that contained the actual fire over each shoulder. They were heavier than he had expected but nothing that he couldn't handle. He put them down again when he got outside so he could climb the metal tower unhindered. The structure was sturdy, considering how little metal it was made of, but breaking a few of the beams also weakened the entire construction. Swinging from side to side eventually caused it to collapse to one side. Alex hit the ground hard as it fell but rolled to bleed momentum and avoided agitating his wounds. He observed his work with a wide grin.

He left for the next beacon. The bags and weapons slowed him down but he was still able to keep up a good pace. He must be the fastest thing in this realm. He reached the next beacon that same day. This time he didn't even bother to break open the building and immediately went for the tower. It went down as quickly as the other one. The soldiers constructed their building to be exact copies of each other. He had seen this behavior before and had once admired it. For someone who grew up in a world where every moment offered a new and horrific danger, symmetry and repetition were a blessing. Now it bored him. He looked at the tower, which was now on its side next to the building, collapsed into a completely different form. His mind wandered to what he might find at his next destination.

Something was approaching him. A bipedal gait. The steps were confident and moving straight towards the station. Alex quietly grabbed his new weapons and skulked away between some shrubs. He hid the bags under the bushes and silently observed the station. For a moment he thought the female from before had caught up with him again but this female was different, though still clearly from the same realm as her. She looked around carefully, with her gun swaying from side to side as she walked. Alex slowly let himself slide to the ground and got out his own gun. He had been right. This woman was following him just like the other one had. The thought of being hunted by a female was almost laughable and at the very least a bit insulting. Whatever made them think that this would be enough to catch him? Killing a female was shameful but it looked like he wouldn't have a choice. Their technology made these women more dangerous than the ones he was used to. Besides, he was itching to try out his new toy. He aimed the weapon as he had seen the soldiers do and, after checking again if it was loaded correctly, pulled the trigger back. There was a loud bang which gave way only to a ringing that consumed all other sounds. The woman jumped up and fell to the ground, but not from being hit. A puff of dust next to her showed where the bullet had impacted the ground. He growled a curse, which he couldn't hear himself, and shot up from under the bush. The flashes of light told him that she was firing but the world was still filled with the incessant ringing. He jumped from side to the side two times after which he had closed the distance and descended upon her. She tried to aim the weapon at him still, but he pushed the smoking thing against her chest. It burned his hand a little but he hardly noticed. He grabbed her throat with his other hand and his fingers dug deep, drawing blood and pushing her down. She gurgled and started struggling. The weapon fell to the ground. He was now on top of her. With his other hand now free he lay his hand on the side of her head in what almost seemed like a clumsy caress. He pushed hard and twisted with his other hand. There was a loud crack and she went limp under him.

A hiss of relief and anger escaped him as he jumped off the dead female. He stared at his handiwork for a moment before reaching for the radio on her belt. Twisting a few buttons produced a loud rustling sounds. Twisting another button lowered the volume of the sound. He kept it on as he want back to his bags. He would have to practice before he could use the weapons again. Once he was proficient with it, however, killing would become a lot easier and perhaps even somewhat more elegant.

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