Chris landed on his back with an explosion of breath. His mind reeled at the unexpected ejection from the diginet, and the even more unexpected impact. Just moments ago, he'd been slinging spells with his guild in a newly released MMO.
Now, above him, were rows upon rows of strip lighting and white ceiling, furrowed with scratches, flecked with filth.
He looked around. Where was he? And where was Allison? His girlfriend should have been in the pod right beside him.
He was lying on a grime-streaked floor, surrounded by scattered bones and scraps of rotted meat. The floor might have once been white, but now it was gray and cratered, long and large claw-marks running from wall to wall like map-lines.
As the disorientation from the ejection faded, the stench of rot and shit caught up with him. He turned to the source of the stink, seeing a heaving mass of clotted filth heaped up in the corner.
He gagged and backed away as a blue screen appeared before his eyes.
Welcome, Christopher Hill of Earth (Formal Planetary Designation – VNX-761394726), to the multiverse. To facilitate multiversal seeding of Humans, you have been deposited on Xal (Formal Planetary Designation – XAL-480018739), 0.4 Standard Galactic Units and 12.9 Standard Universal Units from Earth. To return to Earth, find a teleportation hub and pay the required fee. Alternatively, you may journey through connecting Rifts and find your own way home. Since Earth is a new addition to the multiverse, chances of finding a connecting Rift is low. More Rifts will generate over time as mana levels stabilize.
Your species' cohort is #18504 in the queue for the Tutorial. You are eligible to join the Tutorial. Due to the large volume of humans arriving at once, your time until teleportation will be delayed.
Estimated time until Tutorial: 137 minutes
What was happening? Multiverse? Teleportation? Rift? Tutorial?
Chris got to his feet, bones clattering and scattering around him as he pressed himself up. At the far end of the dirty white room he saw a small door with a viewing slit.
He looked through it. Beyond the slit were row of doors just like his, he saw great hulking beasts moving inside some of them. Was he in an alien prison? A cage? A zoo? The mess at his feet and the feral shapes behind the other doors indicated the later.
He looked at the filth in the corner. It looked fresh. So where was the animal that lived here? He edged toward one of the longer bones, one that looked strong and metallic. One of its ends had been gnawed on, leaving jagged points of splintered bone behind. He didn't want to meet the thing that could do that to metal.
He picked it up, wielding it like a spear. He inched forward, muscles tensed. Then he lunged and drove the sharpened head into the pile of refuse. Nothing happened.
Chris released a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. At least there wasn't a poop monster hiding in there.
He thought back to the blue screen. It hadn't looked like a holographic projection. That didn't seem possible with the current level of tech. So where was he? This could still be a game inside the diginet, but that seemed unlikely. Games didn't make their players wait in locked rooms full of animal bones and leaving.
Had he been transported to another world—like the portal fantasy books he'd read? That seemed equally unlikely… yet he couldn't shake the nagging feeling that it was the correct assumption. The screens seemed familiar, a bit like those in the MMOs he'd played, however, there was something intangible to them, something that couldn't be fully fathomed, much less replicated by any games he knew.
He wasn't certain, but he had his suspicions—just as he suspected that whatever had been eating in here was going to come back.
He began testing out certain words, trying to see how far this 'multiverse' mimicked a game.
"Menu. Character. Character Sheet. Attributes. Help. Inventory. Main Menu. Exit. Settings. Stats. Stat Sheet. Stat Screen." Nothing. No screen appeared. He tried again.
Name Christopher Hill
Race Human (F-1)
Traits Human Potential, Enlightened
System Coins 0
Chris' eyes immediately flicked down to his Luck. Yep. That looked about right. In fact, it pretty much guaranteed that the monster would be coming back. He gripped his bone spear a little tighter and checked the two traits.
Human Potential: Increased rate of Cultivation and Skill improvement.
Enlightened: Indicates that individual belongs to an Enlightened race, affords certain System protections.
The rest seemed like fairly self-explanatory standard MMO fare, except for the letter 'F-1' next to his race. Was it because humans were weak? Or was it upgradable? And what was the Dao part? Wasn't that some Chinese thing?
Chris shrugged and looked around the room. The monster that lived here would be coming back sooner rather than later. He needed to get to work.
He looked around. He had nothing but poop, scattered bones, rotting meat, and the clothes on his back. Was this how it was going to be?
Chris sighed and began stripping down, cutting his clothes into strips with his spear of metallic broken bone.
He gathered up more of the scattered bones, breaking their edges on the walls and tying them together with torn cloth into oversized, makeshift caltrops.
Chris had just finished with the last scraps of his clothing when the ceiling began to part with a mechanical whirr. He quickly scattered his caltrops around the room and readied his spear. The air was chilly and he was butt naked, not that his clothing would do anything against a creature whose claws could scar stone.
A monster descended from the ceiling, suspended by a cradle of dirty rope. It was the size of a bear and wicked, curving claws tipped each of its four feet. The creature's head was vaguely lupine, except that it lacked fur to cover it. Its skin was black and shiny, like sealskin, except for its left side, where a horrifying extension of scarred and reddened skin bubbled into an unnatural mound of ruined and weeping flesh, topped with a nest of snakes.
It was a sickening hybrid of creatures, like Medusa's scalp had been spliced onto the side of an alien.
Chris quickly stepped forward, using the tip of his spear to reposition the caltrops beneath where the monster would descend. Then he retreated and looked at the hybrid monster more closely.
It blinked blearily as it slowly descended. Its eyes rolled groggily within its skull as it snapped at imaginary enemies around it. Chris let out a breath he didn't know he had been holding. The beast appeared to be sedated. He might just get out of this alive.
One side of the rope cradle released at that moment. It flicked down and around, like a lizard's tongue, scattering many of the caltrops beneath. The rope retracted into the ceiling, the hole closing behind it with a snap.
The monster fell the final few feet, landing on the remaining caltrops with a sickening squelch. The caltrops broke under the hybrid monster's weight, but the upright prongs drove deep into its belly. The monster let out an inhuman screech and pushed itself to its feet, the bones of the shattered caltrops making horrible sucking sounds as they shifted within its seal-black skin.
Chris charged the monster. He thrust his makeshift spear into its neck, then danced away. The monster screamed again, but its head turned, its gaze falling on its tormentor. The confusion began to fade from its eyes, replaced with rage and pain—although its pupils still seemed to expand and contract at random.
It barreled toward him, swiping at him as it hurtled into the wall. Chris dived away just in time. He landed hard, agony flaring in his stomach.
He didn't have time to look.
The bubbling flesh on the beast's side stretched, the snakes—which seemed unaffected by the sedation—snapped at him, jaws dripping with purple venom.
Chris rolled to the side, the teeth missing him by a whisker. He stood, feeling something shift within him. Bone shards protruded from his belly, but he didn't have time to pull them free. He lunged with his spear once again, this time targeting the snakes on the side of the creature. They hissed their displeasure at him.
The monster had collapsed on the ground—the combination of the impact and the sedatives too much for it to handle.
Chris stabbed again in the same place. His spear dug deeper, eliciting more hisses from the nest of snakes and an animal moan from the monster as well.
Now the beast rose to its feet, murder in its eyes.
It charged again, then turned, catching Chris with its claws as he threw himself away. Lines of pain seared down his side. Blood gushed from the four parallel lines scored into his flesh. He landed on more jagged shards of bone, gasping in pain. In front of him he could see purple poisonous blossoms of liquid where the snakes' venom had dripped on the floor.
The monster had collapsed again, the confines of the room too small for it to charge with ease and also slow down.
Chris heaved himself back to his feet and charged at the monster again, aiming for its hind leg this time. If he didn't hamper its mobility, he wasn't going to last.
With a shout, he thrust his spear forward.
The monster whirled, just as the spear buried itself in its leg. The makeshift bone spear was ripped out of Chris' hands. It turned, slowly, limping now, its wolf-like mouth baring in a malicious, lupine grin.