Shades of Light

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Chapter 4

Alex felt better than he had ever felt before. Going back to gorge himself on the large food storage had been one of his better ideas. He had had a lot of good ideas lately. Had he been familiar with the concept of gratitude he would've probably felt this way towards his teachers in the Below. The first one had been a pregnant geologist from Midgard, as that was the only source of knowledge available in his home. She probably hadn't been pregnant when she'd been exiled to his Realm but one of the men of Alex' race had been fascinated by these being from another world. That was also the only reason she had lived long enough to impart some of her knowledge to a pathetic runt that the rest of the pack only barely tolerated. The runt survived her though, and lived to see the next batch of exiles being cast out into the wasteland. As the pack fed on them, he managed to secure and protect an old man with barely enough flesh on his bones to last a day. The man was a historian who told him about the other worlds beyond his own. He told of their history but also the lives of those who lived there now. It sounded glorious to the (now) young man. The man gifted him with the name of Alex, from one of his stories about a great protector. After that, the old historian kept Alex fed for a few days. He started to observe the movements of the otherworldly invaders more closely. The pack didn't accept him on the hunts anyway so he was free to hunt where he pleased on his own. He listened to the invaders speak and learned about firearms and how much they hurt. A plan started to form in his mind. He would never live long in this world or have as much as those in the other worlds. The attempts he had made to secure a woman had almost cost him his life. The people of the other worlds seemed different though. They were weak. Their intelligence could not be matched by the average male of his species but he wasn't average.

His third and last teacher was an ex-soldier of some kind. A 'warrior of words' he titled himself but Alex hardly cared. The promise of escape secured the warrior's cooperation. The man told him everything he could think of that might help him survive in the other world. He helped him mask his accent but they couldn't get rid of the inherent differences of his voice. Alex fed on him to get the strength to hijack one of the otherworldly vehicles that the invaders always traveled in. In the uniform of one of their soldiers he guided the machine back to their base. When he finally reached the portal to the other world it seemed so strange and alien. It was just big enough for a person to go through. Somehow, they knew the moment he did. He was hunted across the Realm from that point. The men, and women to his surprise, tracked him with incredible precision. He was no match for their guns but they struggled to keep up with him. Through the memories of maps, which the warrior of words had drawn in the ground, he managed to navigate his way to the portal to this Realm. It was different than the portal he had used to leave his home. It felt even more alien. He had almost regretted having to leave that Realm behind. Something like him could thrive there, given the chance. Surviving there was easy, navigating it almost trivial with all the straight lines and helpful signs. He knew he would've been worn down though. His pursuers probably also had a few tricks up their sleeve which would've hastened his demise. No, this had been the only viable option. The historian had said that the people of that world don't want to come here. The warrior had confirmed it. Alex had taken their word for it but now that he could see it all around him he didn't understand why.

Alex burped as he jogged down the road. His body felt like it was filled to the brim with energy. It was a good thing that he had left those men behind because they wouldn't have been able to keep up. They had probably wanted him to be the Alpha of their pack but he didn't really feel much for that. He didn't know enough of this world to lead and he knew absolutely nothing about leading itself. None of his teachers had been able to tell him much about that. He thought about what the Republic would do to stop him. It seemed strange to him, this powerful shadow of an entity that the people of the other world liked to invoke. Its reach did not extend to this world but surely it would be able to send something after him. For a moment he feared that it might send an army of dogs after him. They had released thousands of them in the Below and the vicious, but organized, creatures had torn through several packs before their numbers were reduced to harmless levels (to the standards of that Realm anyway). Dogs were dim-witted though and probably couldn't be trusted to leave the natives alone. The frightening notion kept nagging at the back of his mind though.

Light was breaking through the dense wall of trees in front of him. Had he been walking on the road he would've been able to see the city in the distance. The road had seemed utterly pointless to him though. A large moon provided more than enough light for him to see as well as he would've been able to in the day. A giggle put him on full alert. Back home a sound like that would've meant imminent death, like most sounds did there. Now it alerted him to a young man and woman sitting on a log. They were huddled close together, which couldn't be for warmth, and looking at the moon. Every once in a while one would whisper something to the other.

“My father would never approve,” the girl said. When she turned to look at the man, Alex could see that she was stunningly beautiful. Her skin was perfect, bone structure as if it was sculpted by a divine artist. Eyes large and bright, full of love and happiness. He had noticed the same of the serving woman. It was starting to look increasingly likely that there were no ugly women in this Realm. It made him feel uneasy.

“I'm not afraid of him,” the young man whispered back. They locked eyes and Alex noticed that the man also possessed impressive looks. Like the men from before he also looked weak. Alex sneered as he started to walk in their direction. They were too absorbed in their little play, or game or whatever it was, to notice him. Loudly hissing contempt, Alex grabbed the man by the back of the neck and jerked him back. He screamed as he flew a few meters through the air and landed against a tree. He quickly got up and rubbed his back. His eyes were wide as he stared at Alex. It seemed the denizens of this Realm were quite resistant to harm despite appearances, Alex noted.

“What in the Blazes is your problem, mate?” The man asked, seemingly calm. The woman just looked annoyed. Alex was lost for words. He looked back at the woman, the pale moonlight reflected in her eyes. He hit her with the back of his hand. She yelped like a dog as she fell from the log. The man started a clumsy charge. Trying his luck, Alex kicked him in the stomach. He could feel the man's organs give way before he bounced back. Physics were strange in this place.

The woman had started sobbing, clearly expecting to halt his attack that way. Alex did feel like he had made his point. He wasn't quite sure what that point was though. The man started to groan as he finally managed to get air back in his lungs again.

“Do you even know what pain is?” Alex said and turned to the woman. She immediately stopped her antics to look up at him. “Do you know what loneliness is? Despair?”

He bent towards her and smiled. She flinched. Understanding dawned in her eyes. He smiled. His hand slowly stretched out to her and, after she had closed her eyes, picked the flower from her hair. Alex took a quick whiff as he marched towards the crumpled heap that was her...lover? He deduced that they were somehow bonded. He had tried to defend her after all.

“Let's see,” Alex said and cast the flower to the side. The man looked up, desperately drawing in air in strained gasps. “I am oh so curious.”

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