Story 4

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Playing cutscene…

A man stood in the middle of a large city. People walked past him, blind to his existence. And he was blind to them. He had wrapped a piece of cloth around his eyes, while also keeping his eyelids firmly pressed shut. Wax was placed in his ears. He didn’t want to hear. It was another sensation that brought information. The same was true for his nose. Breathing was something he hadn’t needed to do for many years. It was still strange, and he caught himself sometimes trying to breathe. But it was better this way. Smelling was worse. It gave him more information. He reached for his head and groaned, “Need… to turn… this off.”

The man knew more than anyone else about everyone who walked past him. He understood them better than they knew themselves. A shadow reached out from him and wrapped around everything, invisible tendrils interacting with the shadows cast by those around him. It was a connection, a bridge of sorts, opening a path between souls. A road only he could walk. He knew every small embarrassing fact about those around him. But there was far more information than just that. Even the most mundane, irrelevant information was delivered.

The man groaned again and pushed his way out of the city. Just stepping foot inside was enough of a struggle. Reaching the city’s main square was somewhat of a personal victory. But standing there for five minutes was the most he could handle. One on one, he could tap into a soul, delve into the depths of a being. Truly understand them. And then change them. Small bits and pieces or massive chunks of memory and knowledge. It was a power he’d had since a young age. One he trained, day after day without rest. It wasn’t nearly enough.

Each step became harder. Just reaching the city gates was a challenge. His hands were tightly wrapped around his head and he screamed in pain and agony. People turned their heads, looked at him. They were confused and scared and a million other emotions. They all flooded his mind. He couldn’t filter them. It just kept bashing into his being, filling him. I need a greater understanding of destruction. I can’t keep creating more information. This isn’t doable. I need to… “Arghhhhh! It… hurts…”

This is the early life of a man who later became famous as the Soul Stealer. He spent the next thousands of years comprehending the depths of Destruction, searching for a path to destroy information before it could reach him. His hard work paid off. When he re-emerged from seclusion, he was a man reborn. He had cut off his nose and ears and dug out his eyes. All the nerves in his body were cut off. The only sensation he allowed inside his body came from the power in his soul. He saw with it, smelled with it, heard with it. Even tasted with it.

The Soul Stealer became a feared existence. His disfigured form the main cause for this, though his habit of leaving his victims mentally destroyed but alive didn’t help. Across the vastness of existence, an order came. To kill the man known as the Soul Stealer, for he threatened the society as it existed. He could enter a soul. Alter it. And no one would know. It was a terrifying knowledge, knowing that every thought could be fake, a result of his making.

Rumours spread and myths were born. One children’s story became especially famous. Parents warned their children of the Soul Stealer. He would hunt children who had been bad, feasting on their souls and replacing it with something else. If the kids were lucky, they could still think; if they were unfortunate, they ended up dumb and mindless.

Some of the most powerful existences born came together. They agreed that the soul was sacred. Murder was acceptable. Actions and consequences. But the soul was pure. It couldn’t be touched, by no one. So they teamed up and set their sights on the Soul Stealer. They went to kill him.

Nine existences levitated in a stretch of empty space. The Soul Stealer on one side. He stood tall, proud of his deformed face. It made him into the man he’d become. Strong. All powerful. There wasn’t a soul he couldn’t touch. And after he gained entry, everything was possible. He could change memories, push on emotions, or take out the little pearl of Creation that bloomed at the very center of a soul. The fuel of life. His soul told him how delicious it tasted. So he hunted for it. He ate it. And revelled in bliss. The thought alone made him drool in anticipation.

Eight of the most powerful creatures had come to slay the Soul Stealer. They stood with righteous justice on their side. A golden dragon far greater than anyone else was at the front. A roar blasted from its throat, carrying with it the tongue of Dragons. “Surrender your soul! A seal and you may live.”

Tendrils shot from the Soul Stealer, connecting with the invisible shadows of the eight creatures. His raspy voice sounded out in their souls, “Bow. You live. Stand. Dead.”

A rat who was so small next to the gigantic monsters that it was easy to miss her suddenly increased in size. She glared at the Soul Stealer, “Back off!” Then she cut at the tendril, destroying the connection between the two. “You can’t touch me!”

The Soul Stealer turned his head towards her, looking at her through his empty eye sockets. Her soul was open to him. Disobedient. He didn’t need a tendril connected to her. It was just something he enjoyed. A move of power. To show everyone how far beneath him they were. The tendrils were only to strengthen the connection.

The Soul Stealer focused on the rat. Brethia. Youngest. Insecure about her position. Naked. He knew her weak points. A path to reach her appeared before him. Memories of her were slightly altered, enough for her mind to come to new conclusions. She didn’t even look confused. She just accepted this new path. She was inferior to everyone else, most of all the Soul Stealer.

Brethia opened her mouth, completely believing that her mind was her own, and said, “My apologies. I spoke out of place. Let me punish myself, so you do not have to expend your energy.” She turned her claw towards herself and without hesitation struck out at her chest.

“BRETHIA!” the golden dragon roared. “STOP!” Time paused. Everything froze, except for the golden dragon. His claw flashed by, knocking away Brethia’s attack on herself, and then locked her up. Time resumed as quickly as it paused. But Brethia was suddenly locked up. She argued, fought against the injustice done to her. Complained that she had to punish herself. But the golden dragon ignored her. He turned to the Soul Stealer and roared, “UNDO! NOW!”

The Soul Stealer grinned and shook his head. His voice, hoarse and deadly, echoed in the golden dragon’s mind, “Too… late. Seven… it is.”

An alligator swam forward, knocking the golden dragon back before he could strike. He sent a message, soul to soul. “Patience, brother. Follow the plan we prepared.”

The golden dragon abruptly turned to the alligator. It wanted to argue, but was stopped by the laughter sounding out from the Soul Eater. “Plan… Joke… Try.”

The seven remaining creatures formed half a circle around the Soul Stealer. The golden dragon, most powerful of all, stood straight opposite their opponent. To his right was the alligator, followed by a turtle and another dragon. On his other side stood a human. Small horns on his head and wings on his back. Left of him were two more creatures. A black panther and a qilin.

The Soul Stealer watched them, grinning. He knew their plan; he could see it in their souls. Memories from the past and trajectories for the future. The weapons they fought with and how they’d trained with those weapons, he knew it all. It was one of the wonders of the soul. Once the information was inside, it was there. He didn’t need to read it, watch it, or anything like that. It was part of him, as though it always was there. The countless years of training to master a technique and the small troubles they were still experiencing, he could understand their struggles. But in this understanding, he also knew how to counter it. Every attack they could throw at him, he was prepared.

The golden dragon fired a beam of pure red mana. It lit everything up, even the nothing. But the Soul Stealer knew the ability. He knew everything there was to know about it. It burned the skin, there was nothing he could do but use a technique to strengthen it. But this beam didn’t cut the illusory yet. The golden dragon was stuck at the bottleneck. So, in the eyes of the Soul Stealer, this attack was pointless. He ignored it.

The Alligator opened its massive maw and bit down on the Soul Stealer. Yet another physical attack. A waste of time. The Soul Stealer didn’t care for it. He just worked, slowly but deliberately, to alter the souls. Change them, piece by piece. Make the enemy fight each other. He didn’t need a body to do that. He just needed his soul.

The qilin fell to the might of the Soul Stealer, soon followed by the weaker of the two dragons. A green one, full of life and Creation. But it didn’t possess the strength to keep the Soul Stealer back. Their minds convinced them they were on the wrong side. They had to protect their real ally, the one who’d always been their ally. The Soul Stealer! So they fired their most powerful skills and abilities at the golden dragon, who was clearly in charge of this assault. They attacked him with everything they had, and he was forced to move his attention onto them. And away from the Soul Stealer.

The Soul Stealer laughed. He watched the eight struggle, saw them fight each other. All he’d done was play with who they were. They never had a choice. It was always completely in his control. The chaos that followed was what he loved most. That moment in time where the enemy were convinced they were his allies, and fought for him. Died for him in a battle they believed to be truly righteous!

The golden dragon’s scales cracked. Blood seeped from its skin, but its overpowering presence still stood strong. He fought off three of the most powerful beings in all of existence. He stood at the apex. That knowledge burned fiercely within himself. It burned stronger, brighter, until he finally became convinced that there was nothing he needed to beat anyone. All his possessions were worthless. He dropped them into the void. Tossed them away. They only slowed him down.

The Soul Stealer grinned. Even the ones where his influence wasn’t apparent, they were under his control. He’d touched them. They were his. Their souls altered exactly as he wanted them to. He reached out with his hand, passing through space, and grabbed the rat. Brethia was back to her small size. She struggled against the chains, but couldn’t break free. The Soul Stealer watched her, grinned, and then an invisible hand reached inside of her and pulled a marble out.

The marble’s vibrant, pure green colour blinded everything in existence for a brief moment. The seven righteous fighters paused, covering their eyes. Planets that were too closeby disappeared. Gone, as if never there. Then the Soul Stealer threw the marble into his mouth and chewed on it. His soul told him how it tasted. Delicious. Pure bliss. He smiled, smacking loudly and marveling in the moment.

The Soul Stealer’s brow twitched. A strange sensation. Minuscule, but new. He observed it and saw nothing, so he shrugged. His attention turned back to the fight. The qiling died to a blast of pure energy, obliterating its existence. But right at the moment where the soul moved on, the Soul Stealer reached out with his invisible claws. His fingers cut through the soul, until they pulled on the vibrant green marble at the center. And it ate this marble, sighing. Mhm… Good. Best.”

Two more monsters died. The Soul Stealer didn’t let them enter the cycle of reincarnation. Their soul was the most delicious food in all of existence. He grabbed the power, fueling their life, and smacked his lips as he ate them. Each next one, something happened to his body. Small spasms. They confused him. But they were small enough that he ignored them. The bliss from the small marbles was too great to give up on. He ignored the signals. The warnings his body was giving him. And by the time the golden dragon finally fell, the last of the eight, and he ate the core of its existence, he finally realised something was wrong. Truly wrong.

The Soul Stealer suddenly realised memories were missing. He had so many, he didn’t notice it at first. But it suddenly happened so fast. More and more was disappearing. He couldn’t find it, no matter where he searched. “WHAT!” he roared from his mouth. Then he saw the cuts and gashes. Small imperfections in his soul. He searched for where they came from, their origin. That was when he noticed the green marble at the center of his being. Eight monsters were there. Attacking it. Blasting it to pieces with their most powerful attacks. Its eyes went wide. It wanted to fight. It wanted to purge these monsters from his soul. But he’d invited them when he ate their marbles. They were part of him now. Killing them was the same as killing a part of himself. So he hesitated.

That hesitation was enough. The golden dragon was more powerful than he predicted. Somewhere, something had gone wrong. He didn’t know what. He never would. His consciousness started to slip. Little by little, his life faded away. He wasn’t just dying. His entire being was disappearing from existence. He could never rise again. In a final, desperate attempt to leave something of himself behind, he tossed knowledge into the void. It was tainted with his being, so that if it was ever used. In one form or another, he’d live on.

End of cutscene…

Story 3

A deserted sect. Ransacked buildings. A single room lit by weak candlelight. Cracks ran along the wall and into the ceiling, moonlight creaking through them. A young boy knelt over in front of a small bed. There was an old man laying on the hay. His skin looked a sickly pale yellow and he coughed blood every couple of minutes. The rims of the boy’s eyes were red and swollen. He’d spent twelve days watching over his master, who’d suddenly collapsed. The young boy hadn’t closed his eyes to rest since. They were fixed on his master, his father, the only person he belonged with in the entire world. Please, Master, don’t die! Please don’t die!

The young boy was an orphan who’d been taken from the streets by his master. He had no recollection of his real parents and as such had placed that burden on his master. Even his very first real memory was of the day that changed his life. He was laying on the streets, bruised and starved, when his master reached a hand out to him. Why did Master pick me? I wasn’t the only one there. I-I think there were more like me. We were all begging for food. W-we were so hungry… Did Master see something special in me? Is that why he took me? He fed me and taught me. The young boy’s eyes suddenly went wide. He reached out to his master and felt the old man’s forehead. “Ma-Master! You’re burning up! What do I do? Tell me what I need to do! Master!”

“Eloi…” a tired voice crept out from the old man’s mouth. His breathing was weak and laboured. Like a candle at the end of its wick, his life flame flickered weakly. He was struggling right now just to hold on for a few more minutes.

“Master! I-I’m here. I’m here! You’re awake! Thank god you’re awake!” Eloi answered, frantic. He quickly wiped the fresh tears from his eyes and shouted, “Tell me what to do! How can I save you!”

The old man smiled and said, “Hah—Uch UCH! It, uch! It looks like this is it for this old sack of bones…”

“N-no! Master, you’re the strongest! You can’t die! Strong people don’t die! Y-you’ll get better! You have to get better! PLEASE GET BETTER!” Eloi shouted. He grabbed his master’s hand with both hands and squeezed down tightly. Despair flitted across his face. He bit on his lip, fighting back more tears, and begged, “Y-you can’t leave me! Not now! I-I still have so much left to learn! What about my training, Master? You promised to teach me your mysterious Shou style! B-but you haven’t taught me everything yet! Don’t leave me! Please don’t leave me…”

The old man forced himself up, but his arms wouldn’t support the weight of his body. He finally relented and waved Eloi closer with his hand. “That’s enough, Eloi!” he said sternly. “Listen to what I’m about to say. These are probably my last words as your Master…” He looked at Eloi and weakly smiled. His tone softened as he added, “And as your father.”

The old man groaned in pain and forced back another coughing fit, then said, “Eloi, I, Sylas Shou, hereby officially recognize you as the 14th generation successor to the Shou style. You may be young and inexperienced, but I have passed down all the fundamental knowledge to you. With your talents, I believe you’ll become a great martial artist.” Just this small speech took much of the lifeforce he had left. He coughed and the world twirled darkly before his eyes. But he forced himself to stay conscious as he continued, “I… I regret not being able to guide you on the last stretch of your training. Do me proud. Continue polishing… your techniques. The Shou style… I entrust it to you. Eloi, only you can unlock the secret techniques…”

Eloi sniffled and had held his tongue through the entire speech. Only when his Master finished did he nod and say, “Yes! Your disciple understands and accepts the burden, Master!” He paused for a brief moment before adding, “But you can’t die! You still have to teach me so much! You promised me! You promised!”

“Eloi, my boy…” The old man’s eyes closed. He reached them with his hand and tried to push them open, but the strain was too much on his sick body. “As your…” He took a few short breaths, the previous speech having taken most of what little energy he had left. “… father.”

“M-master! Spare your energy! Please! You still have so much to teach me! You can’t die! Don’t die! Please, don’t die!” Eloi begged, weeping.

A weak smile spread on the old man’s face, from his lips to the wrinkles on his forehead. He felt for Eloi’s head that rested on the bed and patted it. “Hah… hah… Eloi… I’m not leaving you. This body is. I will always be with you…”

“NO! NOOOOOOOO!” Eloi screamed. He grabbed his master by the shoulders and shook him violently. “MASTER! MAAAAAAASTER!” But there was no more response. The Master had spent what little energy he had left to leave his young student with some parting words. But Eloi was only 12 years old. The only family he knew was his Master. His only friend in the entire world was his Master!

“Don’t joke with me, Master! This isn’t funny. Just open your eyes! Please open your eyes! I need you, Master! How can I ever master the Shou style without your guidance? I’m just an incompetent student! I need your guidance! I can only improve with your guidance! Master! MASTER!” Eloi screamed, crying.

“Hahhh…!” A youth in a martial arts uniform readied a stance. His eyes were closed. His breathing was steady as he circulated the energy within his core. The energy flowed out from his core into the energy channels that ran throughout his body. It permeated deep into his flesh and bones, saturating and reinforcing them. And it overflowed. It seeped out from the pores of his skin and shrouded his body in a faint blue aura.

The youth’s eyes snapped open. He punched out at the boulder in front of him, unleashing all the energy within him in a single focused point. 


The boulder that was at least three times the size of the youth shattered into rubble. The hard rock was like brittle glass in front of the overwhelming force.

“Still no good.” Eloi shook his head and frowned. “I’m still nowhere near Master’s level.” Five years had gone by since his master’s passing. He’d followed his master’s wishes and continued to hone his techniques every day. He had grown to the point that he could handle the wild bears in the forest with ease. The monsters in the forest, like the goblins and kobolds, also didn’t pose a threat to him. Half a year ago, he had even become famous in the surrounding villages for defeating an orc chief.

Eloi wiped the sweat off his brow. He looked around the forest clearing, then up at the sky. The sun was already high up in the air. “Phew, lunch time already? I better start heading back.”

The clearing was located in a small valley within the forest. To get out, Eloi had to pass through a passage sandwiched between two cliff faces. Then, he had to cross a small river to get back on the forest path. From there, it was about a half an hour’s journey to get back home, barring any detours.

As he was making his way out of the valley, Eloi heard a strange noise in the distance.

“What was that?” Elo muttered. He was already used to the sounds that came out of the forest, but this one stood out in particular. His ears perked up, and he listened closely.


“A goat…? Out here in the forest…?” Eloi wondered. The Small Valley Forest was full of dangerous beasts and monsters. A hapless goat wouldn’t survive long here. “Maybe it wandered off from a nearby village. But this deep in the forest?”

Eloi rubbed his chin. “I should catch it before it gets turned into a meal by a party of goblins or a passing bear. Then I’ll bring it into town next time and ask if anyone’s missing a goat.” He nodded with a satisfied smile. “Mhm! That sounds like a good plan.” 

Eloi set off in the direction of the bleating. He passed through a dense patch of undergrowth, then emerged out of the other side to a small clearing. There, he stood at the base of a cliff. He scratched his head, confused. “I swear it was coming from here.”


“There!” Eloi looked up and saw a goat resting on a ledge high up on the cliff face. It appeared quite relaxed as it grazed on the small plants growing on the side of the cliff. “How did it get all the way up there?”

He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted at the goat, “HEEEEEY! MR. GOAAAT! IT”S DANGEROUS UP THERE! COME DOWN!”

“BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!” The goat glanced at Eloi briefly before looking away. Then, it gracefully leapt onto another ledge on the side of the cliff, farther away from him. 

“W-what?” Eloi murmured. He wasn’t surprised that he’d been brushed off by a goat. No, he was mesmerized by its movements when it leapt onto the other ledge. It appears as if its hooves were stepping on clouds as its body lithely traversed the air. 

That looked like Master’s Flowing Cloud Traversal Step… What? No way. Eloi shook his head, brushing the thought aside. But his interest was piqued. He followed the goat from the ground and shouted, “MR. GOAT! DON’T IGNORE ME! HEEEEY! COME OOON. COME DOWN!” 

“BAAAAAH!” the goat bleated at him again, then  hopped away to a further ledge.

Eloi tried to coax the goat down for the next 15 minutes to no success.  “Seriously, what’s with this goat? Why won’t it just come down?” He stared at the goat in exasperation. He gritted his teeth and said, “Fine. if you won’t come to me, I’ll just come to you!”

Eloi walked up to the base of the cliff and placed his hand on a hold. Then he started slowly climbing up. When he was about 30 meters off the ground, he looked up at the goat. It was about 10 meters away. For the time being, it appeared content to stay where it was. So he continued to slowly make his way towards it. 

A few minutes later, Eloi was only a meter away from the goat. It was still grazing on the plants growing on the cliff face, paying no mind to him. “There, I’m finally close enough!” He reached out his hand to grab the goat. But then it raised its head from grazing and looked up at him. 

“BAAAAAAAAAAH!” the goat bleated, and leapt away to another ledge.

Eloi’s expression dropped.”Really?” He sighed. He placed his foot on another hold  and followed after the goat. But whenever he drew close to it, it would bleat at him and leap away again. In his eyes, the goat was starting to grow more and more smug by the second. He was being looked down on.

“This stupid goat! Does it never get tired?” Eloi grunted, slightly out of breath. Even for a trained martial artist like him, climbing a cliff face like this for this long was exhausting. But it wasn’t like his efforts were wasted. He’d been observing the goat’s movements this whole time and he gained some insights on the Flowing Cloud Traversal Step. 

The Flowing Cloud Traversal Step was a high level movement technique of the Shou style. At the early stages of mastery, the user could close small distances on the ground in the blink of an eye. But at higher stages, the ground was no longer the limit. The user could move in the air as freely as if they were stepping on clouds. 

Eloi had been stuck at the bottleneck of the early stage for the past two years. Without his master to guide him, he was left to forge a path forward on his own. But now, he’d finally broken through that bottleneck. He was also confident in catching the goat! 

When the goat jumped to another edge, Eloi slowly made his way toward it like normal. But when he was five meters away, he came to a stop and observed the goat. It was ignoring him and grazing on the ledge. “Good. It’s not paying attention to me!” He grinned. He channeled his internal energy, then activated the Flowing Cloud Traversal Step. His body became as light as air as his feet left the ground. 

Eloi rapidly closed in on the goat. Before he could reach it though, it looked up at him and bleated, “BAAAAAHHHH!.” And it leapt away again.

But while the goat was still airborne, a silhouette came diving down from higher up on the cliff face. Eloi immediately recognized the creature. It was a juvenile gryphon, and it was heading straight for the goat! Apparently, it had been observing the two of them the whole time and seized this opportunity to look for a quick meal!

Eloi shouted, “WATCH OUT!” He leapt after the goat with the Cloud Traversal Step. But he realized he wouldn’t make it in time. The gryphon had already closed in. His face fell and his heart sank to the pit of his stomach.

But then Eloi’s eyes went wide like saucer plates. As the gryphon came dive bombing down, he saw the goat kick off the side of the cliff face with a front hoof. Then it spun around and delivered a powerful hind kick to the gryphon’s throat. 

“SCREEEEEEH!” the juvenile gryphon croaked out a cry and flew away to nurse its injuries.

The Flowing Cloud Reversal! T-that’s Master’s signature technique! Eloi’s heart swelled with shock.But he had no time to linger on his doubts. After kicking the gryphon, the goat was plummeting towards the ground below. He immediately kicked off the side of the cliff with the Flowing Cloud Traversal step and dove after the goat. In the blink of an eye, he closed the distance and grabbed onto it.

“BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” the goat bleated.

“M-master…!” Eloi cried, recalling the last words his master spoke before passing away. “Though I may no longer be here in this form, I will always be with you…” He shut his eyes and brought the goat into his embrace. Then he rotated his body so that his back faced the ground.

The young man and goat plunged from the sky to the forest floor.

Eloi slowly opened his eyes. He was lying on the forest floor, and the sun was shining down on his face. The last thing he remembered was blacking out after hitting the trees. He looked around at the broken branches around him, then at the man sized hole above in the forest canopy. The trees must have cushioned my fall… Then as if remembering something, his eyes snapped wide open. “MASTER!” 

Eloi looked down on his chest and saw the goat still in his embrace. He was a martial artist. His flesh and bones had been strengthened to the extreme by more than a decade of training. He was confident in surviving a drop from more than a 100 meters. But the same couldn’t be said about a goat. 

“Bahhh….” the goat groaned. It was barely breathing, and there was a gash on its lower midsection. 

“Oh no! One of the gryphon’s claws must have grazed him! He needs treatment…!” Eloi said. He lifted the goat onto his back. After making sure it was firmly secured, his eyes flashed with determination. “Master. I won’t let you leave me again! Not this time!” He channelled the Flowing Cloud Traversal Step to its fullest and sprinted out of the valley.

“Master! How’s this!? Is my stance correct?”


“Then how about this?”


“Oooooh, I seeee! I should have tucked my foot inward here, and my energy flow was off there! Thank you for the guidance, Master!” Eloi said. He looked out at the courtyard, where the goat was grazing on grass.  Then he readied another stance and continued with his training.

A month had passed since Eloi brought the goat back from the valley. It turned out the goat was only unconscious, and the gash on its midsection wasn’t nearly as severe as he initially thought. After some quick treatment, it was back to normal by the next day.

Eloi had spent this time pampering this goat like his own master. He prepared a soft bed in his master’s old room, and allowed it to graze freely in the courtyard of the martial arts hall. Sometimes, he would seek out the goat for guidance. Other times, he’d glean some insights from observing its movements. Though there were a few incidents in the beginning with the goat chewing up some of the books in the technique repository, life as a whole passed by peacefully.

After finishing his training for the morning, Eloi wiped down the sweat from his face and body. Then he  looked out at the courtyard. It was much more barren compared to before. There were patches of bare earth, and many of the flowers had been eaten. 

“Master, those blue peonies were your favourite” Eloi said, looking at the goat grazing on the plants in the flower garden.


“Haha! I guess since they’re your favourite, that’s why you’re eating them!” Eloi chuckled. Then he scratched his head. “Still, we can’t have you cleaning out the whole courtyard. We should probably head to the village today and buy you some feed.”


“Alright! That’s settled! To the village we go!” Eloi said, clapping his hands together.

The nearest village, Lakegrove, was located north of the Small Valley Forest and south the Great Capricorn Lake. Normally, it was a three hour journey for Eloi to get to the village. With the recent advancements in his martial arts, he was confident in making it in an hour.

After securing the goat to his back, Eloi set off for Lakegrove. He channeled his Flowing Cloud Traversal Step and flitted across the forest floor with ease. 

About an hour later, Eloi arrived at the outskirts of Lakegrove. He came to a stop as his brows creased with worry. He could see smoke rising from above the village. “What’s going on? An attack on the village?” He glanced over his shoulder at the goat on his back and asked. “Master, we should go check it out!” 

“BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” the Goat bleated.

“Alright! Let’s go, Master!” Eloi dashed off. When he arrived at the entrance of the village, he noticed there were no guards. But he could hear voices and shouting coming from inside. 




Ekoi glanced over his shoulder and made eye contact with the goat on his back. “You heard them too right, Master?”


“Yes, it’s a bandit attack. I’m going to see if I can rescue the villagers.” Eloi lowered the goat from his back and let it back down on the ground. He pulled out a rope and tied it around the goats neck. Then he tied the other end of the rope to one of the wooden posts near the entrance. “It’s too dangerous inside. Master, you wait here for me!”

“BAAAH!” the goat replied, then started grazing on the grass around the entrance. 

“Good! I’ll be right back, Master!” Eloi ran into the village. As he arrived at the square, he could see two groups clashing at the square. The villagers were trying their best to hold off the bandits, but they were slowly being overwhelmed. One bandit in particular was especially fierce. He was wielding a giant greataxe and cutting down the villagers with ease. 

Eloi immediately jumped into the fray and started helping the villagers. With the Flowing Cloud Traversal Step, he got behind the bandits, then started knocking them out one by one.

By the time everyone reacted Eloi had already knocked out six of the bandits. Only four other bandits and the leader were remaining. 

“Eloi! You’re here!”

“ We’re saved!”
“You came in the nick of time!”

The villagers were the first to recognize Eloi. 

The bandit leader stepped forward and eyed Eloi up and down. “Oh? I didn’t expect there to be a person that’s actually somewhat strong out here in these sticks.” Then he glared at Eloi and said, “Kid, you better scram out of here while I’m still feeling merciful. Or else you’ll be leaving here without a head.”

“Fat chance!” Eloi shouted and read his stance. 

“Why does everybody always want to play hero?” The bandit leader charged forward with speed that didn’t seem possibly with a man of his size. He arrived in front of Eloi in an instant and swung down with his greataxe.

He’s strong! I can’t take any of his blows head on.  Eloi’s expression turned serious.He dodged to the side and evaded the swing. The greataxe struck the earth, digging out a large hole in the earth and sending an explosion of debris flying everywhere.

Eloi stared at the crater with a  wary look on his face.

“Haha! What’s wrong? Scared? Too late to back out now! Your head is mine!” The bandit leader grinned sinisterly. He brought his greataxe back to his shoulder, then charged at Eloi again.

He’s built tougher than an orc. My normal attacks won’t work on him. Eloi analyzed as he calmly evaded the bandit leader’s wild swings. What can I do? He thought back to the fight between his master the gryphon and his eyes lit up! That might work! I’ve been training hard for the past month! I should b e able to pull it off!

Eloi immediately put some distance between him and the bandit leader. He stared at the bandit leader, looking slightly out of breath.

The bandit leader looked at him,amused. “What, running away? Or is that all that your fancy martial arts is good for?” He heaved his greataxe on his shoulder and closed in on Eloi. As he cleaved down on Eloi’s head, he saw Eloi dodge to the side to evade again. “Hah! I knew you were gonna do that!” The bandit leader changed the trajectory of his axe mid swing from a vertical slash to a wide sweep.”I’ve got you!”

But Eloi was already prepared for that. He immediately bent his head and back down, dodging the axe. Then bracing one arm against the ground, he pushed off at an angle. FLowing Cloud Reversal! Taking advantage of the opponent’s momentum, he delivered a powerful blow to the bandit leader’s throat.

“GAHHHK!” The bandit leader’s eyes glossed over. His mouth foamed with saliva and blood. And he collapsed to the ground.

Eloi turned around to glare at the four remaining bandits. Their faces paled, and they dropped their weapons to surrender.

After rounding up the bandits, all the villagers crowded around Eloi and cheered. They showered him with gratitude and threw a small celebration. Then the village chief insisted he stay the night for a feast. By the time the villagers let him go, the sun was already starting to come down.

“Oh, right! Master! I left him there” Eloi said. He hurried back to the entrance of the village, but he was shocked to find that the goat had disappeared. All that was there was the rope tied to the post.

“M-Master! Where are you?!” Eloi’s expression sank as he started searching around frantically for the goat.

One of the villagers happened to notice Eloi and approached him. “Hey, Eloi. You okay? What’s wrong?”

“H-have you seen a goat near here! It was tied to this post?” Eloi said.

“A goat? No, I don’t believe I hav,’ the villager said, puzzled. Then as if remembering something, he smirked and inched closer to Eloi. “This was supposed to be a secret. But the chief called for all the goats in the village to be slaughtered earlier so that we can hold a big feast in your honour!”

“W-what!?” Eloi’s eyes widened in terror. Then he scrambled back inside the village and cried out, “N-NO NO! MASTER!”

After asking the village chief about where all the goats were, Elroi was led to the area where all the goats were being butchered. There, he saw many goat corpses hanging from hooks. He looked around frantically, but he couldn’t distinguish any of them from his master. 

In the end, Elroi could only give up. He was forced to accept the reality that his master had been stewed. Of course he didn’t blame the villagers. How could he? None of them were aware of the fact that his master had been reincarnated into a goat. 

After coming to terms with this fact, Elroi recalled his master’s last words. Not as a goat but as a person. “Though I may no longer be here in this form, I will always be with you…”  He let out a deep sigh and smiled. “That’s right, Master. We’ll meet again for sure, I know it!”

That said, even though Elroi had gotten over his Master’s death, twice, he was in no mood to eat goat any time soon. To the disappointment of the villagers, he declined their invitation to the feast and decided to return home.

“Sigh.” Elroi walked out of the village and gazed out into the horizon. There, he saw a silhouette atop a hillside standing against the setting sun.His eyes widened in shock and surprise.


Story 2:



My restaurant is located in The Border, a small town at the edge of Thundercock Forest. I’ve lived here all my life. When I was young I worked in the kitchen of my parent’s restaurant and as I grew older it became my restaurant. Many years of tourists and students passing by. We really are just a small town, maybe a thousand permanent residents. But we’ve got ten times that number of people sleeping here every night. And we make a killing on these tourists. The bazaar is always full with rich kids, and a night in one of the hotels costs a small fortune. I sure as hell couldn’t afford it. But despite the many opportunities to make good money, there’s only one restaurant in The Border. Mine. We’re the only one that has survived this long.

It’s these damn cultivators. Mind you, we make all of our money off of them. But they’re miserable sacks of shit (Don’t tell them I said that, please). They come for excursions into Thundercock Forest, which is supposedly the final resting place of the immortal Sietse Thundercock. I know, who comes up with this shit? But these cultivators seem convinced of it. They pray to him before they enter the forest, asking for his guidance and protection. Then they fight demonic creatures or try and locate the immortal’s final resting place. It’s all a load of bull if you ask me. But really, I should be happy. These cultivators make me a rich man, in common folk terms.

But right, these damn cultivators. I remember when I was maybe 8 years old, I had a good friend. Jack. He was a few years older than me, but our parents both owned restaurants (the last two in The Border). So we spent a lot of time running through town and daring each other to get closer to Thundercock Forest. Until one day two of his patrons got mad at each other. That was nothing strange, happens all the time. But these two had brought their uncles. Two old and very strong men. Jack was serving a table. His father was in the kitchen, and his mom was behind the register. They were minding their own business. And then they weren’t of this world anymore. The two old uncles, I couldn’t tell you which one, flattened the restaurant and everyone inside. They just killed everyone. But that’s exactly how they are. Crazy cultivators.

I’ve spent many years in my restaurant. And the stories just kept presenting themselves. Gossip I heard while waiting tables and fights that were fortunately small enough that I still have my restaurant. Now I find myself with a young boy who shows promise. But all the money I’ve made, a fortune for us common people, isn’t enough for a day in school. I want the best for my son, so I’m writing this in the hopes of it taking off. So I can give him all the things my parents couldn’t give me. A chance at a better future than Jack ever had.

Legend of the Thundercock

We have a golden rule. Groups are safe. Individuals are dangerous. Logic would dictate that we turn down individuals. And I would, if I could. But they are cultivators and I’m only a common man. I have no rights. They can kill me and never face any consequences. So we accept that. But we get them tables that are out of view, in nooks that are hidden from the entrance. Just small tricks so people don’t notice these individuals. Sometimes, though, we fail at that. This was one of those times.

A man walked in covered in blood, his clothes in tatters. He stood out, but not enough to turn him away. Honestly, I wouldn’t. Even if he came in naked. Remember, a flick of their wrist and I’m dead. So I approached him and asked if he wanted to make use of our bathroom to get the blood off of his body. He just laughed. I saw his teeth. Two rows behind each other. “No. Show me to your best table,” he said to me. So I did what I always do in such situations. I showed him to our best individual table.

“No. I said that I want your best table,” the bloodstained customer said irritably.

I quickly apologized, and knew right then that this man was trouble. Just that there was nothing I could do about it. I don’t have the money to hire a cultivator, so I can’t protect myself against these people. I took him up two flights of stairs, where our premium tables were. These have a good distance between them, and we can even put makeshift walls between them within minutes.

The bloody customer looked around at the empty floor and smiled that harrowing smile again. Then he turned to me and said, “This’ll do. I’ll take the floor. Here.”

He threw a pouch of something at my feet. I bowed to him and apologized again, then told him a server would be up soon to take his order. Now, I bowed also to grab the pouch of coins. A swift movement was the plan. It failed. Those weren’t coins, the currency used for mortal trade. King Devshard doesn’t allow us to own spiritual stones. Those are reserved for cultivators. But this man had just paid me in spiritual stones. I was sure of it! I hid it on my chest and bowed again to the man. This time truly being thankful. These spiritual stones were a fortune I couldn’t earn in a thousand years!

Back downstairs, I instructed our most beautiful female server to bring the man some drinks. And to give him everything he wanted. And then they came in. I should’ve seen it coming. The signs were everywhere. But the pouch of spiritual stones had briefly made me forget about the precautions I should’ve taken. A group of seven people stormed in. An old uncle at the lead. He snapped his fingers and I blacked out.

When I regained consciousness a minute later, I saw blood. It was everywhere. Customers were dead. More than a dozen of them! I looked around and found that my servers were still alive. Like me, they’d lost consciousness and were only now waking up. Other than them, the place was empty. Deserted. I looked at the bodies. They were all dead. “Go. Clean them up. Prepare for when their families come.” That was going to be another headache.

I stepped over the corpses and found my way to the entrance. There were countless people gathered outside, but they were just watching. “Shit.” Something was going on. And it wasn’t downstairs. I turned around and looked up the stairs. There wasn’t any sound coming from up there. But that wasn’t too strange. These cultivators could manipulate air. Killing off all sound was easy for the slightly stronger ones. I wish I knew more about them to say how strong they were, but I don’t. Strong and stronger is as far as my knowledge goes.

I made sure that my servers properly prepared the bodies, and that they didn’t try to steal anything. The older servers knew better. But sometimes a younger one tried. They always died. I’ve got no clue how. But they always do. Through all of this, an uneasy feeling stuck in my stomach. Something was wrong. People were standing outside. I glanced up the stairs, but still couldn’t hear or feel or see anything. “Don’t go upstairs,” the small voice in my head kept telling me. “You know better than that. Look for the damages later. If you go up now, there might not be a later…”

“Curiosity killed the man,” these cultivators always say. I know. I knew! But I just really wanted to take stock of the damage upstairs. So, against better judgement, I slowly made my way to the stairs. There, I looked up. Nothing. I felt in front of me, searching for an invisible barrier. Again, nothing. It looked safe, it felt safe, so it probably was safe. Or so I convinced myself.

I went up the stairs, one step at a time, always feeling in front of me like I was a blind man. And honestly, I was and still am. I can’t see the world as cultivators can. There’s something missing in my vision compared to theirs. So I felt in front of me, looking for the smallest warning that I shouldn’t go any further. But nothing came. I made it all the way up to the first floor, unharmer. “I’m alive?” I remember mumbling to myself in utter and complete surprise.

The second floor was a little different to the first. There were no bodies here. But the windows were shattered. It was clear that everyone had heard the disturbance on the ground floor and had bolted out of the window. You didn’t grow old as a cultivator if you didn’t know how to look for the signs. Honestly, the same holds true for normal people like me. And really, I should’ve turned back there. Only I didn’t. I couldn’t get myself to stop. I knew that it was probably going to kill me, but I just had to know. I had to see what was going on. So I walked towards the stairs leading up to the third floor, with my hand ever out in front of me.

One step… Two… I hadn’t realized it until then, but I was sweating. My shirt was soaked and several drops fell into my eyes. It burned and I wiped it away with my sleeve, which was equally wet and didn’t help one bit. Still, I kept going. There was one more floor I had to check. I just had to know what was going on there. And I knew something was going on there. There had to be. Why else were there still more people gathering outside my restaurant? I turned my head away from the window and looked up again, feeling for that invisible barrier that had to be somewhere. That was the only reason I could think of as to why I didn’t hear any sounds coming from up there.

There were a few more steps until the doorway entry into the third floor. I felt and searched and… My hand passed through the barrier. It happened so suddenly that I jumped back in shock and fell back down the stairs. Scarier than anything though, and this is something I’ll never forget, was that voice. “–ve eyes but can’t see Mt. Thundercock!” You have eyes but can’t see Mt. Thundercock. The biggest, thickest, highest mountain. And only the intense fires burning at the core of our world could raise it up towards the sun. No one jokes about Mt. Thundercock.

My head stung as I fell to the ground and there was that sweet bitter taste of blood on my tongue. But I was fine otherwise. I still had all 10 of my fingers and I could get back up. That was more than many people could say after entering a sound barrier. I looked up the stairs, rubbing my head painfully, and waited. “They’re coming to get me. They’re going to ask what I heard… And they’ll kill me even though I don’t know anything. I’m not a cultivator…”

That is the feeble life of a normal person. Hear the wrong conversation and end up dead. I gritted my teeth and cursed at myself for not being more careful. If I’d only touched the barrier and then backed away, I’d been safe. Now I wasn’t. Suddenly there was a good guy and a bad guy. Whoever put up the barrier was the bad guy. They were going to kill me. I had to help the good guy. That intense urge rose up in me, though I knew very well there wasn’t a single thing I could do.

I pushed myself back to my feet and crawled up the stairs again. At the top of the third floor, I stopped just before the barrier. It was on the final step. The door was creaked and I could see inside. The bloody customer looked even bloodier, deep bags under his swollen eyes and a large bulge below his stomach. He grimaced, his hand down his pants moving frantically back and forth. Then he shouted, “I earned his inheritance! I made it to the end and solved the puzzles! It has already merged with my soul! I can’t give it to you even if I wanted to!”

“He’s lying, uncle!” a young man in a white suit shouted. “I solved the puzzles! He stole the reward from me! I did all the hard work! It should be mine!”

“Shut up, idiot!” the uncle rebuked. “Our clan spent thousands of years tracking this inheritance down! Then we nurtured you for it! Do you know how many resources we pumped into you? And when you finally get to pay us back, you fuck up to this little piece of shit? You ungrateful bastard!” He slapped the man in his face, lifting him up his feet and knocking him against the wall. Though that was the end of it. He didn’t knock him through the wall, which would’ve been easy for him.

“Young master! Young master!” the five other people in the room screamed, running over to care for the young man in white.

The uncle turned back to look at the bloody man and said, “Look. It’s simple. Surrender yourself. We’ve got a method to extract the inheritance. You won’t have to die. We’ll even let you live a cozy life. All the women you want. Just bang them all day everyday. That’s what you kids want these days, right?”

The bloody man started laughing, revealing his two lines of razor sharp teeth. “You think I don’t know about your method? Your nephew over there told me all about it! He kept going on about how he never had to cultivate another day in his life, because he wouldn’t be able to! You were going to ruin his cultivation and then give him everything his little heart desires. As if! You were planning to just kill him off!”

“No, he wouldn’t! Uncle wouldn’t do that to me!” the young master in white shouted.

The uncle turned around and glared at his nephew. “You’ve said enough.” Then he snapped his fingers and the young master together with his five lackeys collapsed to the ground, unconscious. The uncle turned back towards the bloody man and said, “The brat is right. I won’t toy with karma. My promises are good. You’ll live a comfortable life! So, what do you say about it?”

“I say, fuck you and your mother and your sister!” the bloody man shouted, laughing wildly. Then he turned to look at the door. “Come on in. You’ll want to see this.”

I was found. They had noticed me. FuckFuckFuck! I wanted to run away, but an invisible force pushed the door open and then wrapped around me. I walked into the room and got a better look at everything. The roof was gone. Most of the walls were gone. The tables were gone! There was no more third floor! My restaurant had a brand new balcony. I grimaced and started wondering if someone else would take over my restaurant, or if this was the end of the last restaurant in The Border.

The bloody man laughed. He pointed at the bulge in his pants and asked, “You see this?” I nodded and then he continued, “I inherited the Thundercock cultivation manual, as well as an attack scripture. I’ve only learned up to the first large gate, but its power is immense. An immortal made it, after all. What the uncle over there doesn’t know, is that I’ve had a good reason to be jerking off. It’s just that he’s too ugly.” He sighed, then started laughing. “But then he started promising me those girls. Man, that aroused the heck out of me!” He suddenly let his pants drop and came, a deep white substance shooting at the uncle.

The uncle’s eyes went wide. He stared down at his chest, where he’d been hit. “YOU DISGUSTING PIG—” He clutched at his chest with both hands. Then he tore his shirt off and looked at the sperm chewing away at his skin. He started convulsing. “I-impossible! H-how…” He collapsed to his knees and tried to support himself on his arms. But the army of white ate their way straight into his chest cavity. Then he fell face first on the ground.

“HAHA! Taste the power of my COCKATTACK!” the bloody man laughed maniacally. “The Immortal himself taught me this technique! Nothing can beat his army of semen! MY army of semen! HAHAHA!”

I stared in horror as the bloody man killed the five lackeys with a powerful jet of white horror. Then I watched him grab the young master by his collar. He dragged the young master through the dirt, staining the white suit, and then found a long piece of bread. The signature dish of the region. Thundercock bread. “In his honour,” the bloody man said. Then he started slapping the young master.

I sat there, transfixed. The young master’s face turned red. Soon after, blood was drawn. Hit after hit, little by little, the skin was slapped off the young master’s face. Then the nerves, the flesh, the muscle, and the bones. The bloody man didn’t stop slapping for hours, until there was no more head left to slap. Then he grinned at me, threw another coin pouch at me for the damages, and jumped off the building.

I’m still not sure how I survived that day. But it was definitely my closest brush with death. I thought for sure they were going to kill me. If it wasn’t the uncle, then the bloody man. And when it wasn’t the bloody man, then for sure the uncle’s family when they found out what happened. But the family came, and they didn’t find out what I knew. We were normal people. They didn’t even consider the possibility for one of us to go upstairs. So we weren’t interrogated.

I’ve wanted to share this story forever. The legend of the Thundercock is real! But I was afraid the uncle’s family would hunt me down. That worry is gone. Word recently came that the Thundercock’s reincarnation annihilated the uncle’s entire clan. Everyone was killed, the young, the old, and the invalid. Then every last bit of their heritage was burned to the ground.

As for the spiritual stones, I lost them. I buried them somewhere underground and I forgot where. I’ve dug up almost every inch of my land and I haven’t found it. I don’t know how I could forget. I just hope that this story can get me a few more spiritual stones, so that my son can go to school.

Story 1


Note by Sietse: This story seems to have been written sometime in the 103rd year after the Great Invasion. It is the perfect example of my fears. Please continue with caution.

| It’d been a hundred years since the last invasion. We lost our fears. The monsters were still there, nagging at the backs of our minds. But they were memories from a distant past. Drawings in our history books. Most of us hadn’t seen them with our own two eyes. It’s scary how our minds can convince us of the lies we tell ourselves. Our grandparents warned us. They spoke to us about the Great Invasion. The deaths. So much bloodshed. But how were we to understand their pain and suffering when we hadn’t lived it? We lived comfortable lives within the confines of a big city. High walls wrapped around the outer perisphere. We rarely even got that far out from the center of the city. That was where the monsters would attack, or so our parents warned us. Stories they told to scare us, we thought.

As we grew older, that big city wasn’t all that big anymore, and our eyes turned towards the walls. They were the only escape from this hellhole. Because that was what this city was to us. The smell on the streets was sickening. The prices of food were so high that most of us were poor. And even the rich didn’t have the money or resources for a proper bath. So we went to the walls and we scaled them. We looked over the great barrier to see what was beyond. Land. Forest. Plains. Something glistening in the far distance. It looked like water. A lot of it. There was so much beauty, and no monsters. One of us had brought a book full of drawings. His grandfather, a man who’d fought the monsters and lived to tell the tales, had made them.

There were no gates in the walls. We were prisoners in our own little world without even knowing it. Until that first day we stood on the walls. There was a greater world out there, something far larger than the city we grew up and lived in. It was green and blue and so many other colours, pleasant and welcoming. A change from the mud and dirt. The dried sand. The smog clouding our vision a little more every day. A change from the stench of piss and poop and humanity. Here, atop the walls, we could breathe through our noses. Freely. That first day, we just stood there, breathing in and out the fresh air.

Over the next few weeks, we snuck away when we could. We climbed atop the walls and stared off into the distance. Everyone had warned us, “There are monsters out there! Be careful! Don’t go near the walls!” So we searched for them. To the East, to the West, to the North, and to the South. We searched for anything that would suggest their presence. A large print in the ground, something moving in the distance, maybe even spotting one in the flesh. But none of that happened. There were no monsters. Not here. Not that we could see.

I don’t remember who went first. All I remember is how fast my heart was pounding in my chest. It blocked my throat. It felt like I couldn’t breathe as I saw them descent. The sweat dripped down my forehead, down my nose, and then over the edge and down the side of the wall it fell. My hands were trembling. I was biting on my tongue, trying to get my knees to stop wobbling. But they reached the bottom. There was no monster waiting for them. They looked up and I saw happiness. I saw an emotion I wanted to feel. So I grabbed the rope. I was the third to go down. Or maybe the fourth. I don’t remember that well, it seems. But I climbed down the side of the wall by a rope we’d worked on since the first day we climbed up the wall.

When my feet touched the grass, before I even hit the ground, that was a moment I’ll never forget. I wasn’t wearing shoes, none of us were. I felt the wet, soft grass wriggling between my toes, tickling. I let myself further down into the grass. The grass that grew up to my waist and higher. I couldn’t see where my feet were and found my heart right back in my throat, where it was when I watched them go down first. But again. Nothing happened. I looked around and saw my friends running, jumping, rolling around in the grass. I could hear them shout. Happy shouts. Full of joy and without any worry. There were no monsters attacking them. There were no monsters. There were no monsters. It was an odd realization. Our single greatest fear from the moment we were born vanished completely at that exact moment. There were no monsters.

We never planned to leave the city, until we stood in the grass, looking at each other. There was always that fear when we were planning to go down and check the outside. A fear the monsters would come and have us running back up the walls. Maybe it weren’t even monsters, and something completely mundane. There was, however, one thing we didn’t expect. We didn’t expect this grass to be so soft. We didn’t expect the air to be so clean. So we turned our backs to the city and told each other not to turn back, for what was behind us was the true horror. The real monster. Our lives cooped up in a tin of steel and stone, prisoners, slaves of our own lives. So our gaze went in the opposite direction. There was a forest, off in the distance. We could chop for wood and make a simple camp. We could hunt for wildlife. We could live our lives.

There were seven of us, each with a big backpack full of goods and tools. We walked, expecting to hit the forest by nightfall. But no one had ever taught us how far away something can be. There was no need for it in the big city. It took us two days to reach the edge of the forest. Two days in which we were full of hope. There were berries we found along the way and rabbits for a bit of meat. It tasted so much better than the delicacy we ate back at home. Rat stew. Just the thought has me gagging again. Another two days came and went as we searched for a place to call home. Somewhere near the forest with a nice plateau to build our huts on. And through all of this, through nearly a week of travel and building and breathing in fresh air, the thought of monsters escaped our minds. We were free, free of the monsters in our minds.

An entire month passed. We made ourselves busy every day. We worked to build a new home. It wasn’t something society forced upon us. No, we built something we thought was beautiful. We were proud to call this home. And with that pride came something else, something primal. It was the need to share. We wanted to show the world what beautiful things we’d built. The perfect lives we were living. And our world, as hard as it was to accept, was that big city. We felt our eyes go in that direction, time and time again, and I knew that all of us wanted to go back. We wanted to go and tell everyone we’d left behind of the world we’d found beyond their high walls. And to this end, our minds convinced us this was the right play. So two of my friends left early that morning. They would go on a nine-day roundtrip to tell everyone they could of this place. Maybe more would join us. Then we could share this beauty with them.

There were more people coming. They had to! This place was too beautiful. Too perfect. When our friends told them about it, they’d come. Or so we convinced ourselves. So in preparation for their arrival, we got about making a feast. We hunted for meat and scavenged for fruits and vegetables. There was no telling how many people would come, but we believed there’d be many. So we prepared for many. It never struck us that anything else might happen. We started working on makeshift huts, a place for the newcomers to sleep in, until they helped build something better down the line. It just made sense. It did to us.

Time flies when you’re busy. The sun came up and went down again, while we were labouring away, working as hard as we could to get everything ready in time for the feast. But we weren’t even halfway of where we wanted to be when the sun came up for the ninth time. That was the day. We’d secretly been hoping the night before would be the night, but we knew the chances were slim. Our two friends would have to scale the walls and inform our family and other friends. That’d take time. That was why we weren’t worried yet. In hindsight. We should’ve been. The signs were everywhere. But when you’re busy working towards that singular goal that is in front of your eyes, you don’t see the obvious. You gloss over them and move on.

By day 11 we got worried. We weren’t worried that our friends were eaten by the monsters. There were no monsters. Except for those in the big city. Maybe someone had seen us cross the boundary. But then they’d come here. Or perhaps their parents forbade them. We were good children. It made sense. Whatever the case, our food was going bad. And maybe they’d come tomorrow. Or the day after. We had to be ready. So we set out again, in search of food, hunting and scavenging. That was when I found it. The ruins of a village. Grass and earth had done a good job hiding the horror. I was confident I’d find bodies if I dug around a bit. A thought that came to me later. Because in that moment, when I saw the scar of four claws ripping through the entire town, I fell back. I scrambled away. Tears flowed from my eyes and I screamed and yelled for my friends. “Monsters! MONSTERS!”

They heard my screams and yelling as I scared all wildlife away. All three of my friends met up with me at our home. Our safe haven. All three were still there. All three. I looked around. There were only three. With me that made four. One was missing. Maybe they hadn’t heard the screams. Or perhaps they’d gone in the direction of the big city in search of our other two friends. There had to be a good explanation. I nodded to myself, reminding myself of the beauty we were living in. Of the fact that I hadn’t seen a single sign of monsters. Well, except for just now. That was definitely a sign of monsters. But it was just one. I told myself that if there really were monsters, I’d find more signs.

Hindsight is so much easier. Three friends were missing and there were now clear signs of monsters. I suddenly found them everywhere I looked. Deep imprints after an especially large rain storm. Trees damaged by claws. Piles of poop that were larger than of any normal animal we’d learned of. The heavy breathing in the air. Things that we put to the back of our minds. Signs of a time long since behind us. Including that town. I went back to look at it several times over the next few days. I was scared for nothing. There were no monsters here. All that was here were the ruins of a town. And whatever had happened to this town, it’d happened so long ago that it was not something I had to worry about.

We spent another day peering into the distance, looking through the trees in the hopes of finding our friends. Maybe they just got lost. These woods were confusing at times, sort of. Never enough to get any of us lost, but still. Maybe. Then it happened. It was the exact moment that there was no more denying. A loud scream cut through the air and hit us. It felt like my body ruptured. My vision turned dark and my ears started ringing, the sweet iron taste of blood on my tongue. I grabbed my ears and tumbled to the ground, screaming and yelling in pain. Then it all went dark.

I thought that was the end. Somewhere deep inside, even while unconscious, I had enough understanding to know that should’ve been the end. There was a monster and it’d found its next meal. And though I wasn’t conscious, it still felt like I was waiting for it to eat me. But then I woke up. I opened my eyes and everything looked good. Our home was still there. Jack and Jill were still unconscious, but they looked fine otherwise. And. My eyes went wide and my heart stopped beating. Thomas was gone. And there was blood. Oh god, there was so much blood. It was everywhere. Our home was coated in it. I was coated in it. My hands started trembling and the pain finally arrived in my brain. I lifted my hand up. Three fingers were missing. The world spun before my eyes again before it disappeared in darkness and my consciousness slipped away.

Jack, Jill, and I. We looked in the direction our friends had fled in. They hadn’t come back. They hadn’t come back. Then we looked at our hands. Jack missed one finger. Jill two. Me three. From the pinky up to the middle finger. It looked clean. On purpose. It was done by someone who knew what they were doing. It was done by a monster. There were monsters. There really were monsters. We looked at each other, hoping someone else would have the answer. It was dawn. The first rays of the sun started coming up. We had to move, or do something. Anything to get away from here! But in one direction were the ruins of an old town and to the other our friends were lost. So we looked in the other two directions. Neither seemed inviting. But something heavy was coming our way. We could feel the earth trembling under its weight, beating to a faster drum. We had to run!

One finger meant one day. We learned that quickly. As the sun rose up high in the sky, and we were running through the woods, searching for a way out, it attacked again. This monster that towered over the trees. Its claws sunk deep into the hard, stone packed ground. There were deformities that didn’t make any sense. Even in that instant, because that was all it was, we saw them. The monster looked mangled, with one eye missing. Its eyes that were set back on its skull, making space for a jaw that by all rights shouldn’t be that big. Nor should it have such big teeth. Nor so many fangs. It ran faster than we did. Jack didn’t stand a chance. None of us did. But it left us alone. To it, this was a game. To us, it was our lives.

Two fingers meant two days. We didn’t run. It’d proven pointless. So we hid. We found a quiet corner, somewhere far out of the way. There was an opening into the ground. It didn’t go deep, but it was enough to hide. We didn’t stop there. After hiding in the hole, we started digging. We still had several more hours. The farther away we got, the better our hiding spot, the bigger our chances of survival. Or so we thought. We were still digging when the claw tore through the ground. It looked effortless as it accurately wrapped around Jill, who was right in front of me, and lifted her up out of the ground. I was exposed to, allowing me to look up and into the jaws of this monster. Drool dripped down from its mouth, wetting the earth. Three rows of teeth chumped down on Jill. Blood flowing from its mouth and onto me. But I was petrified. Scared stiff. All I could do was watch. Helpless.

Three fingers means three days. That much is clear by now. I’ve given up hope. There’s no escaping this. I’m writing this from my new home, the one I worked so hard on building. Friends, humans, anyone who reads these words, please heed my warning. Turning back. The walls are there for a reason. It isn’t greener on the other side. It is red and full of death and pain and agony. I’ve watched my friends, the only people I cared about, die. They were torn apart, ripped apart, and toyed with. We were its toys. In a few hours it’s my turn. I’ll be the final item on its menu. But I won’t be alive for that. I’m not doing that to myself. This is my farewell. Please, don’t be me. |