Shades of Light

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Chapter 16

Alex carefully approached the large, stone head and skittishly peered inside the mouth. He was ready for the the jaws to snap shut at any moment but, after a few tense seconds, it didn't happen. Perhaps it wasn't a real creature after all... or maybe it was already dead. He found it hard to imagine it was a natural formation. Was this the reason for the drawing on the map? The soldiers must have had a more important reason to make note of it. A suspicious rock formation was hardly notable in this realm of wonders. A rumble came from deep inside the stone throat. Alex slowly moved between the 'teeth'. It was incredibly dark inside. He tried to make himself as small as possible as he sneaked deeper inside. Warm air was blowing in his face now. The 'throat' narrowed until he had to move sideways in order to continue. After only a short distance it widened again and grew into a large cavern. The rumble was more noticeable here and every sound he made echoed back at him. The young traveler stood completely still and listened. His gaze darted around the dark space but there didn't seem to be anything but naked rock. Yet, there was a hint of a scent in the air. It smelled old but familiar.

“Another,” a low, beastly voice echoed through the cavern.

“Show yourself, kinsmen,” Alex said back. His eyes pierced the darkness easily but could not locate the owner of the voice.

“It speaks of kinship?” A hint of amusement in the voice.

“Are you not of my world?” Alex said as he slowly backed up against a wall. “Or at least more similar to me than any other thing in this realm?”

“Truth.” There was a rustling of wind and something big suddenly descended from the ceiling and landed in front of Alex. Large red eyes looked down on him from deep inside a wide head that was perched atop a muscular body. The thing was taller than the biggest Alpha he had ever seen and almost twice as tall as Alex. It extended its wings and seemed to grow even larger. The 'wings' were made from a membrane which extended from its arms to its legs. Alex decided to leave the obvious attempt at intimidation unchallenged.

“We share our origins then.” He made himself sound calm. He had been the smallest and weakest individual around for most of his life and had experience with being intimidated.

“Perhaps,” the thing said and looked closely at him. The head was distorted but still recognizably human. The eyes, nose, ears and mouth were much larger than seemed possible and left little room for anything else. The head stuck out of a large mane of what could have been hair but wasn't. It rattled as the thing bent forward to look at him. Alex looked back defiantly. The thing smiled, showing the teeth of a carnivore. “I looked like this one once, yes.”

“I find that hard to believe,” Alex said. “How old are you?”

“OLD!” The creature roared and flapped its wings. Alex stood his ground. “I have lived many of the Alpha's lifetimes. Feasted on the things of this plane. Hide now. Learn and observe. Will fly once more.”

“Is this what we change into then, if we live here for long enough?”

“Change, devour, learn.” The thing nodded. It sounded like a child still, after all this time it claimed to have lived. At least it spoke. Alex didn't think it could provide many useful insights.

“What is your name?” Alex decided to ask.

“Was this one an outcast too?” the thing asked him.

“Yes,” Alex answered after a moment of hesitation.

“Men with pointy sticks? They hurt you?”

“What?” Alex said, getting increasingly annoyed with the creature. “Men with guns tried. Women as well.”

It seemed to think about this. Then its attention was suddenly drawn by something and it whirled around. Without an explanation it flew away into the more spacious part of the cavern. Alex lost track of it quickly.

“Did you hear that?” a man said somewhere further back the way Alex had come. It sounded like a soldier. Alex looked around for an ambush point but the cave provided little shelter. He knelt down behind a few rocks which had fallen from the ceiling. Two lights approached. The two soldiers coordinated their movements in whispers. Before they came into jumping range, one of their bundles of light came to rest on him. It was blinding. The man shouted something and he could hear them readying their weapons. Alex stood up and held out an opened hand.

“Wait!” he shouted. Words had power. He could see the man who was pointing the front light at him, as well as some sleek, thin weapon that took him a moment to recognize as the dangerous end of one of their fire machines. The man didn't hesitate and blasted him. Alex closed his eyes and tried to shield his face with his arms as he let himself fall backwards. As he scrambled away he heard a terrible shriek and a whooshing sound coming from above. There was a crash as something impacted with the soldier. The soldier screamed, first in anger but quickly turning into a cry of pain. Alex turned around, determined that this was the best chance for an attack. There was only one way out of here for as far as he knew.

The large monster thing was on top of the front soldier, evidently tearing him to pieces. Large chunks splashed against the rock around them. There was a wooden box on the ground in front of them. On instinct, Alex lunged for the box. A deafening rattle, and subsequent echoes, went through the cave and the thing that had once been human shrieked again. It launched itself with its powerful legs and flew away. It took a large part of the soldier with it. When Alex looked up he saw the same female that had hunted him all this time. Her attention was focused on the flying creature. Just as she seemed to take notice of the second creature present, him, he threw the box at her and leaped after it. The projectile hit her directly in her chest and forced the air out of her. Alex hit her right after the box had. One punch to the face finally broke her balance and she slipped. He went for the weapon but a strap that went around her shoulders made it difficult to disarm her. He put his foot against her chest for leverage and pulled again. He wasn't sure if it finally snapped or whether it has slipped loose somehow but this time he could throw the weapon further down the cave. Just as he was internally celebrating that fact he suddenly found a knife going into his abdomen. The female soldier twisted it around and looked up at him with a savage sneer. Using the foot that was still on her chest he jumped back and pulled out the knife. For a moment he looked at it, then around him, as if to see if this was really happening. He threw it to the side as he ran deeper into the cave.

The cave started to subtly glow red the deeper he went. He found a small recess and hid in it so he could inspect his wound. It was pretty bad, but it had stopped bleeding and in this Realm he would probably be fine within a few days. He laughed quietly and drew the smaller gun he had taken from the station. It was easier to aim, he had found out. He got up and started his way back, waving the little weapon in front of him. The woman was almost right behind him, it turned out. She was also waving her small gun in his direction. With her other hand she clenched her chest. Her breathing was shallow and quick. Her expression was determined, however, and she gave him a hateful sneer. They both looked at the others gun.

“Why do you fear me so, that you would hunt me across this world? I could not destroy this harmony. Just like my predecessor could not,” Alex said, recognizing the stand-off and knowing that time was on his side. He really didn't want to find out what a shot of that weapon in his head would feel like.

“We do not fear. We can not bear your existence. There is a difference,” Caroline said through clenched teeth. “A difference that justifies our desecration.”

“I do not understand you.”

“Of course, you can not.” She smiled with a mad glint in her eyes. “We are the those who drove back the Deep Ones. When they came for our land we stood unified and we stood tall. We are one who tore down the Veil to free our Sun. We exacted justice on the Could Have Been King and his Army That Never Was. The Holder of the Frost rots in our dungeons. Leviathans cower in the face of our guns, in the sea and in the sky. We call ourselves the Republic now, but we have used many names and will use many more. You will never be allowed to escape our gaze and you will never escape our judgement. There will be Peace. There will be Order. There will always be Progress.”

“Nice story.”

“It's the beginning of our oath,” she said and spat at him. He didn't respond and kept his aim steady. “You will never understand what that means.”

“It sounds like I'm not missing much.”

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