Nova had always been good at running. In high school, she had been on the track team. She was short and many of the runners that were taller with longer legs would tease her. That was until they saw her run. She was fast, unbelievably fast, and none of her team could catch her. She didn’t join a team in college but that didn’t mean she stopped running. She ran every day in the morning and sometimes in the evening when she just wanted to clear her head. Running was one of the times when everything melted away and she was free. There was nothing that could give her the peace running could.
Nova was a runner.
It was why instead of running away from the flesh sethers she ran towards them. Or at least in their general direction. But there was no peace in this run. A loud squawk sounded in her ears and she felt Briney’s tentacles wrap around her neck.
This is insane. I’m insane.
Even though she was running straight at the monsters they didn’t hesitate. They launched themselves at her. She could see the glint of teeth coming toward her. Nova didn’t slow down. She veered to the left and swung out with the branch she picked up.
The branch smacked into the heavy body of one of the flesh sethers with a thump. It fell back, into some of the others, knocking them back, but the other monsters weren’t deterred and launched themselves forward. Teeth racked over her arm and pain lashed up her body, but Nova didn’t pause. The swing had thrown her off balance and she leaned into the motion to get herself out of the way of the monsters.
She caught herself and she kept running. Pain ached down her arm and fear battered at her mind. She refused to look at her arm. She was afraid to see what it looked like and she needed to focus. A quick glance behind her showed her that at least eight of the sethers were chasing her and they were steadily gaining. She kept running.
Her breathing was off and slightly ragged. Nova forced herself to change it, to make it fall into the rhythmic inhales and exhales she knew from her training. She veered closer to the area where Mathius was huddled. One of the flesh sethers had broken through and Mathius was desperately trying to fend it off while preventing the others from piling on him.
Just hang on a little more, Mathius.
Nova let out a yell as she ran past them. Then she flung the stick into the crowd of monsters as hard as she could, pausing only for a moment before running once more. Some didn’t react but a good portion turned and began chasing after her. It wasn’t as many as she liked and she swore but she couldn’t slow down. She kept running. The next part was the hard part. She didn’t have time so everything she did would have to be fast.
She put on another burst of speed, pushing herself as fast as she could go. She needed to create just enough of a gap between the monsters and her. Then she reached her destination, the left side of the ruin.
I’m going to regret this.
Against all common sense, Nova focused her mana sight on the ground. She had seen the orange light and she was almost positive that it had been a crystal. She just had to find it. AS soon as her mana sight triggered, a kaleidoscope of colors and lights hit her. With it, a pain similar to nails being driven through her eyes stabbed through her. Nova rocked forward and immediately fell to the ground. She squinted her eyes, trying to make the pain bearable but it only grew.
“I can’t…stop.” She struggled to her feet but running was impossible. Instead, she concentrated on one of the threads and pulled. She could feel the energy pulling into her and to her surprise, some of her headache started to ease.
She straightened up and then something slammed into her. New pain slid through her back and she was knocked to the ground. Briney let out a sharp screech and his tentacles unhooked from her neck to slap at the flesh sether burrowing into her back. Nova reached behind her, grabbing at the monster. Her fingers slid over its slippery skin, and she curled her finger to stab her nails into the creature, yanking it from her flesh.
She felt something tear as she tossed the monster off her. Wetness slid down her back. Briney let out an angry squawk and leaped off her, jumping on the flesh sether and attacking it. The flesh sether bit down on one of Briney’s tentacles, snapping a chunk of it off. It slurped down the tentacle as Briney cried out and jerked away from it. Luckily, the monster was more interested in her. It turned away from the injured kraken to watch Nova as she stumbled back to her feet. Nova faced it, turning to the side so she could see the rest of the oncoming flesh sethers. They were almost there.
Nova reached down and grabbed a stone from the ground as she eyed the flesh sether. Its mouth spread open wider and a sharp shriek poured out. Nova leaped to the side as the monster threw itself at her.
She felt mana slide from her fingers, pouring into the stone gripped in her hand. The stone began to glow. She began to count to herself as the glow grew brighter and brighter. No message popped up to warn her.
Spinning around, Nova threw the stone at the group of flesh sethers. Some of the flesh sethers dodged to the side, while others kept moving, undeterred by the rock. The one that attacked her was much closer than the rest and simply ignored the stone and leaped on her.
Nova jumped back but couldn’t get out of the way of the creature and found herself once more on the ground. Pain lashed her back as the debris dug into her wounded back. She gritted her teeth and hung onto the creature. It let out a horrible screech as its toothy head tried to bite down on her face. She turned her head away and caught sight of the shining stone. Instinctively she knew it was going to explode and she was too close.
Nova shoved the monster off with as much strength as she could gather, throwing it off her. She scrambled to her feet. She took a step and then a loud boom sounded behind her. She felt herself lift off the ground and tossed into the air like a ragdoll. Pieces of flying debris dug into her skin as she fell back onto the ground. The pain was excruciating and Nova could only curl up into a ball, trying to protect herself from the blast.
When she felt the debris stop pelting her, Nova forced herself to sit up. Where the flesh sethers had been was a pit into nothingness. Almost all the monsters were gone, almost. Several of the flesh sethers were floating in the air, as they scrambled to the edge of the pit.
“Flying snakes? Are you freaking kidding me?” Nova said as she watched several of the flying flesh sethers float and then fall into the pit. It occurred to her as she watched them fall that it was strange that the ground here was hollow
More and more flesh sethers struggled to the edge but whatever magic kept them airborne wasn’t enough to get them to the edge. A wave of relief went through Nova at the sight but it was short-lived.
“Mathius!” She shifted in his direction, struggling to her feet when Ava’s voice cut through the air.
“Danger! A new monster is approaching from the north.”
Nova whipped around and as she did she saw that the flesh sether she had been fighting was still alive. It threw itself at her with an angry screech. Nova tried to move but her body was sluggish. She raised her hand, trying to block the attack.
A blur of movement and then the monster was gone. She looked down. On the ground, the monster lay, dead, sliced into four pieces. Nova looked up from the sight to stare at the creature that had killed it. Her heart beat frantically in her chest because she knew she couldn’t survive another fight.
What she saw was not a creature but a boy. He stood there with long black claws spreading from his hand and an annoyed expression on his face.
“You’re an idiot,” he said.
Nova blinked, not quite comprehending what she was seeing. “Korn?”
The boy huffed and crossed his arms. “Yeah?”
Nova shook her head, trying to come to terms that a ten-year-old had just killed one of the Flesh Sethers with a flick of his…claws.
“You have claws,” she said dumbly.
He put his hands behind his back almost shyly. “So, what of it?”
Nova had a hundred questions but they would have to wait. She turned and began running to where Mathius had been or at least she had planned to run to where Mathius was. Her leg collapsed under her. She flopped down on the ground, confused. She looked at her leg. A large piece of rock was embedded into her thigh.
“Oh, that’s not good,” she said to herself, staring at it blankly. A part of her was saying she should be freaking out but all she could do is stare at the rock. “I need to help Mathius.”
Korn didn’t seem concerned. “How are you going to do that? You can’t even walk.”
“I can walk,” Nova said.
She attempted to push herself up from the ground but this time her arm gave out. She looked at it and saw long grooves in it and blood pouring from it like a miniature fountain. It must have been when the flesh sether got her. She wondered vaguely if her back was just as mangled. Still, she tried to get up again.
“What are you doing?” Korn said and this time he walked over, pressing his hand down on her shoulder. She could barely move against it.
How is he so strong? Isn’t he just a boy?
“Let go. Mathius could die,” Nova said.
The boy frowned. “He might already be dead.”
Nova froze at that. Mathius had been barely hanging on and though she had managed to draw several of the monsters away, several had stayed behind happier with easier prey. How much time had passed? Was it wishful thinking on her part that he was still alive?
“I have to check,” she said stubbornly.
“Stupid,” Korn said and then he sighed. “Wait here. I’ll check.”
Nova shook her head. “Too dangerous.”
Korn laughed and held up his hand. His hands were almost entirely black and covered in long claws. “Remember, I have claws.”
Then he was gone in a blur of motion faster than she could perceive. She had so many questions. So many but one in particular danced in her head as she laid on the ground, watching blood pool around her body.
“Am I going to die?” she asked.
“You are losing blood rapidly.” Ava’s voice sounded in the air. “If left untreated you will die.”
There was a distressed warble and Nova turned her head. The motion felt much slower than it should have been. Briney was wiggle-hopping towards her with his now seven tentacles.
“Thanks, Briney. You really helped me out back there.” Her voice sounded weak and hoarse.
Briney made another warble and hopped closer to her until he finally reached her. The purple kraken rubbed its head against her cheek.
Nova closed her eyes. She felt wetness roll down her cheek.
She had always run, always rushing to the next task. After her parents died, she lost herself in all the tasks she had to do – taking leave from college, handling the funeral, managing the estate, dealing with relatives who had pretended she didn’t exist all her life but suddenly came from all over to give her ‘advice’. It was just one rushed moment after another. And she was there, constantly running
Then as soon as she had finished the sale of her parent’s house, she met a girl in the rain. From there it was more running, planning, and trying to figure out the next step in a new world. There had been no time to process anything. Maybe a part of her didn’t want to process it because then she would have to deal with losing her home, her family, her world, of being alone in a fantasy world that shouldn’t exist. It was better to just keep moving, planning, running.
In all that time, it never occurred to her what to do when everything finally stopped.
Everything had stopped. She had stopped.
I miss my Mom. I miss my Dad.
Grief swallowed her. Maybe she hadn’t cared about being thrust into another world because she knew that even if she went back to her own world her parents would still be dead.
She was alone.
I am alone.
Darkness crept over her. A chill began to settle over her skin. She knew what that meant and raw fear filled her.
I don’t want to die.
Even if there was nothing left, she wanted to keep living. But it wasn’t about what she wanted. It was about what things were. She was dying.
In the distance, she could hear shouting and then a voice cut through the darkness in her mind. It was loud, so loud it blocked every thought in her mind.
The voice giggled. So fun! This is going to be so fun. I can’t wait.
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