Shades of Light

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Chapter 8

Alex howled in frustration as he tried to crawl forward. He couldn't feel his left leg and a large part of his right shoulder. He had lost precise movements in his right arm and it felt like it was on fire. Breathing became harder with every passing second as his lungs filled up with blood. He tried to suppress the need to cough it up. By grabbing the large strands of grass and kicking the ground he tried to move forward. He could see edge of the forest just a few strides ahead. Like the days before, the sky was turning orange and made long shadows which he could almost reach. It felt like the trees were taunting him. He cursed in the wordless language of his own kind which eventually turned into a pathetic whine. That's when the hunters arrived.

First there was a woman, A WOMAN, who stood in front of him and waved her infernal death machine in his face. He tried to growl defiantly but his lungs wouldn't cooperate. It now took all his energy just to keep breathing. She looked down at him with her strangely colored eyes, her expression impassive.

“Bitch!” He spat at her.

“It speaks,” she said and knelt down, her weapon securely aimed at his head. He felt a force on his back push him to the ground. When he turned his head up, he saw a man smiling back at him. The man's steel-toed boot held him in place.

“Yes, it already showed that back home,” the man said. His killing tool was longer and he held it casually with one hand. Typical.

“Does it understand what it's saying?” she got up and looked at the man. They obviously felt quite secure with his current predicament. He could use that.

“I understand you, woman,” Alex said.

“Good for you,” the man said. “You're still going to die.”

“You should've known that we would get you if you came here,” the woman said.

“You have obviously never been to my home,” He replied and tried to force a smile. “No matter what you do I will have won if I die here.”

“Congratulations, winner,” the man said and pointed his weapon at him.

“Stop,” the woman said and knelt down next to him. “Why did you come here? Do you know how much suffering you have caused?”

“I came here because your world wouldn't have me.”

“Don't you see that you would never know rest here? You would always be an outcast.”

“What else is new? Back home I was also an outcast. Of course, everybody is an outcast there but I was different in that I didn't like to fight and rape like the rest of the men. I was busy learning about other worlds from the many visitors we had. They never lasted long, even with my guidance. I never quite figured out why you sent them to us.”

“Yes, you are a saint,” the man said when the woman remained quiet. “I have half a mind to just let you bleed out here. That never gets old.”

“Maybe we should,” the woman said quietly. “So many people died because of this...this thing.”

“We aren't judges, Caroline,” the man said. “, but I like it.”

“At least it wasn't dogs,” Alex said and relaxed a little.

“Dogs?” the woman names Caroline said.

“Terrible creatures,” he continued. “I believe all dogs came from your world. They are as organized as lesser creatures can be. Like you.”

The man laughed while the woman just stared at him.

He may have lost consciousness for a while. The next thing he knew Caroline was sitting one stride away with the man just out of sight. Alex could hear the man's breathing. They were waiting for him to die. Caroline didn't look disappointed when she noticed him looking at her.

“You know,” she said in a conversational manner. “, it is said in our world that cats originally came from your world. Solitary creatures which hunt in the dark and prefer to exploit the weakest of prey. Just like you.”

Alex grunted as a response. He could feel something rise in his throat and managed to expel the blood in one long coughing fit. It formed a small pile next to his head. He tried to estimate how long he had been out by the clots in the blood but gave up quickly. He had other things to worry about.

“I don't think it will be much longer,” the man said. Now Alex knew exactly where he was. The fool had obviously seen many of his kind die, but he was forgetting something. Those individuals probably hadn't been wounded in this magical realm and been allowed to gorge themselves on the many things it had to offer. He had reserves. There also didn't seem to be any unseen contagions in the air. No flesh eating air or nerve replacing fungi. Even with a large hole in his back and leg he still felt better than he ever had back home. When the woman looked at the man and started to respond he launched himself in the air, throwing a clot of earth in the man's face as he went. He crashed into the woman and tried to wrestle the gun from her. The man recovered quicker than he had expected though and he ran as soon as he saw the metal device being raised in his direction. In two strides he was amongst the trees and after a third he was completely invisible to them. He could hear the two hunters chasing after him but he was faster than them and knew that they would have trouble navigating the forest in the dark. The bright moon would help them but not for a while at least.

The forest was a strange place, even for this world. He could hear life all around him but when he tried to grab it, his hands would close around nothing. Strange shapes and movements would occasionally appear in the corner of his vision and existed only for a moment after he had focused on them. Trees rose to the starry sky all around him but for the first time since he had arrived on this world their light was actually blocked. The bark felt cold and rough and the branches reached around like claws. Alex laughed at this. He would like to see one of the things try to grab him. Something else joined in with his laugh. It didn't sound like one of his pursuers but he crouched down anyway and peered in the direction it had come from. There was a clearing but it was darker than the ground under any of the trees around it. Alex approached it, fascinated. In the light of the moon he could see the darkness move like clouds in the wind. Except it wasn't shaped like clouds. It looked like children. A large group of cloud children dancing in a clearing under the light of the moon. The laughing continued and was joined by giggles and other sounds of happiness. Alex recoiled and prepared to move on when the dark children suddenly left the clearing moved to block his path. They all held each others hand as they moved around him and formed a circle with him at the center. The sounds of delight grew more intense, drowning out everything else. Alex felt the strong urge to move his body in the same way as the children and join in their dance. He snarled. The circle of children slowly closed in on him and the urge grew stronger inside him. He tensed every muscle in his body to resist it. The children called to him in a language he didn't know. He could now see tiny points of light where their eyes should be and the suggestion of smiles. With one flat hand he squashed the closest apparition. It rose from beneath his hand as a harmless wisp of smoke. He growled as he swiped through several of the other figures, easily dispelling them. The small figures screeched and cried as they broke the circle to dart away from him, back to the safety of their shadows. Alex got to a few more before they were all gone. He sniffed in disdain and spit on the ground. Nothing ever grew again on the place where his saliva fell.

Whatever life existed in this forest gave him a wide berth after that. Once, he saw a big rat stand in his way. It stood up as if to address him but he had crushed it and eaten it before it could produce a sound of any kind. After that meal he walked on through the night, sure that the hunters would catch up if he rested for even a moment. The moon was in the sky and light broke though the canopy to show him a small house in the distance. It was simple and compact, made from common wood. Entirely unlike any house he had seen in this Realm before. Besides the house was a small pond with a wide ranging selection of water plants. There was also a small garden next to the pond which was being watered by a woman in a dark green dress. The morning sun made her blond hair glitter. He tried to ignore her and quietly made his way to the house. Perhaps he could find some weapons there or-

“Oh, hello,” the woman said, pleasantly surprised. Alex froze and just stared at her. As soon as he laid eyes on her, it became hard to think of anything else. His eyes greedily absorbed every detail of her being while his mind tried imprint everything into memory as accurately as possible. He was completely transfixed.

“You must be the one everyone has been talking about,” she put down the watering-can and brushed some non-existent dust from her dress. She actually blushed when she looked up at him again. His knees felt weak and if it hadn't been for some transcendent force that felt like it was lifting him up, he would've surely fallen down before her by now.

“My name is Selene,” She said with a radiant smile. “, and you are?”

“Alex,” he said. He tried to force the growl from his voice but his dry throat didn't help. She didn't seem to mind.

“It's been a while since I've had any visitors. Would you like something to eat or drink? I've made tea.” She indicated table with a pot and a plate full of vegetable and fruit. “I'm afraid I don't have any meat. My only friends in this forest are the animals. I understand you already ate. Don't worry. Nobody liked him anyway. He was probably going to involve you in one of his schemes.”

“I...” Alex said and swallowed. “This is a trap, right?”

“No, no, I wouldn't dare,” she said and brushed some hair out of her face as she looked away. “I know what you did with the sprites when they tried to trick you. It'll take them a few nights to reform.”

“You are a siren of this world,” he said with more certainty. “We have your kind in my world as well. They aren't usually”

“What?” she said with a playful smile.

“This is too good. I need to get out of here. I need to get out of this damn forest!” he said as he slowly backed away, back the way he had come from. He had completely forgotten about his pursuers. All he could think about was this woman and how bad he wanted to just sit down with her and talk and live here with her for the rest of his life and how he could under no circumstances ever do that.

“Look, I would just hurt you anyway. It's better for both of us if I just...” he turned around and started walking. This simple movement cost him more energy and willpower than anything he had ever done before. When he finally allowed himself to look back he felt emptier than he had ever felt before as well. It was almost like he had lost something he never knew he had.

What use did it have if he hadn't known about it. He moved on.

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