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Once More into the Breach

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            A flash of white light.  Painfully blinding; eyes forced shut as a sickening feeling builds up in my stomach.  Spinning, falling, down and up; it’s all too much.  What was that sound?  What’s going on?  Thrashing and unfocused; oh god, is this what drowning feels like?  Help!  Help me, please!  Where am I?!


            For a moment, everything was quiet; muffled and blurred, as if waking from deep sleep.  Meryl opened her eyes, all the while fearing what she would see.  Would she meet the gaze of some horrid entity?  Was the void that she had passed through still there, with its nauseating bombardment of light and thunderous noise?  Putting her fear aside she peered through the cloud of dust that had gathered around her.  It was like looking through the murky depths of ocean water; she knew she was alone, and yet there was the inkling of something watching her—something with dark, fathomless eyes, hungering for her very soul. 

            From what little she could make out in the haze, her older sisters, Vienne and Helen lay on the ground, both frighteningly still, but the youngest, Knute, was coming around; his eyes wide with confusion and his mouth had frozen into a stunned “oh”. 

            Meryl looked from side to side, trying to piece together where she and her siblings were. Beneath her splayed hands and knees, she could make out a solid base of dirt and rock with the distinct trails of wagon wheels and hoofprints.  “So, we’re on a road,” she thought.  But where? What road? 

            What her initial thoughts had simply interpreted to be clouds of dust had revealed themselves to be a sickly green mist; emerald light flickered and spasmed, sending out muffled explosions that rumbled in her newly-sensitive ears as if thunder from a distant storm.  Meryl had lost sight of her sisters and brother, as all three were swallowed by the swirling, ethereal mist leaving the young woman alone. 

            “Hello?!”  Her cry rose to a panicked scream as she fought to bury the terror that reared within her.  Claustrophobic; her breath came out in rasping gasps.  “Please….  Is anyone there?!  Knute!  Vi—Please!”

             Suddenly, a bone shattering screech pierced the air, like chipped nails scraping against the surface of an ancient chalk board.  Meryl gritted her teeth as she pressed her bleeding hands against her ears, desperate to drown out the ghastly noise that seemed to bounce around her, magnified in the mist.  “Wait,” she thought with a flash of realization.  What happened to my ears?! 

            For a moment, she let her fingertips trace the delicate grooves of a pair of elongated ears that were twice their original size.  She barked a laugh, distracted by the oddity of them.  The distraction was short, and the feeling of minute hilarity was replaced by sheer terror as a monster beyond words burst through the ground in an explosion of earth and light.  The creature was unbelievably tall, its physique mere skin and bones with long limbs and claws just begging to rip her clean through.  Meryl was horrified to see a gaping maw that overtook everything that should have been the creatures face.

            “I’m dreaming,” she thought as blind panic began to overtake her.  This is all just a nightmare!  Oh fuck…!  Frantically, Meryl looked around to see if there was anything she could use as a means of self-defense, but the mist, as well as the flood of hot tears that welled in her eyes had clouded her vision.  She was barely able to make out the shape of her brother who was desperately trying to revive they’re sisters.

            “Knute!” she cried.  My brother!  Please, don’t hurt my brother…!  “Knute, hold on! I’m coming!”  As she scrambled towards him an ear-splitting scream from the demon snapped Meryl back to her present situation.  She turned to see the monster clawing its way towards her.  The mist enveloped her siblings once more, leaving Meryl to face the abomination before her alone.  Desperate to get away, Meryl hastily crawled away as the monster raised one gangly arm for a killing blow.

            Panic rising, her scrabbling fingers closed upon a rounded stone.  I’m not going to die.  I don’t fucking care if it’s a lost cause, I am not going to die like this!  Gritting her teeth Meryl turned to face the demon, now towering above her, raising her arm to hurl the stone at its hideous face.

            Just before the stone left her hand, she barely made out the sharp twang of a bowstring.  The creature let out a guttural death-cry as it fell to the ground, the feathered shaft of an arrow protruding from its throat.  Meryl stared at the withered abomination in shock.

            “What..?” she gasped.  Just as quickly as it had appeared the lifeless mass dissipated into a rapid state of decay, the remains returning to the mist that had apparently borne it.

            “Oi! What do you think you’re doing?!  Pull your head out o’ your fuckin’ arse!”  Meryl turned to see a woman, possibly no older than Vienne, clad in full body armor, sprinting towards her.  “Do you honestly think a fucking rock was going to do anything against a demon?!”  Meryl felt her cheeks grow hot with embarrassment, and after a glance at the stone in her fist, quickly tossed it away.  Before she could spit out a retort, another rumble from within the mist heralded more hell-spawned enemies. 

            The woman nocked another arrow in her bow, ready to fire.  “You better get out o’ here if you don’t want to end up like a pin-cushion, knife-ear.”

            Meryl didn’t have to be told twice.  Forcing her trembling legs to move, she picked a direction and she bolted, leaving the woman to whatever else was coming.  She did not get far as a pair of gloved hands suddenly grabbed her by the arm, sending a sharp pain shooting through the limb.  Another soldier. 

            “Come on, this way! Move, move!”  Meryl was in no position to argue with the man who was roughly yanking her behind him.  She swallowed her relief when she caught sight of Knute being dragged in the same direction. 

            “Dude! What the hell’s going on—where’s our living room?!”  Knute swiveled his head back and forth, the long strands of his hair were plastered to his scalp with sweat and blood.  He felt the throbbing sting of gravel imbedded in his arm, compliments of his initial impact with the ground.  He saw Meryl struggling to keep up with the guard dragging her along to what he hoped was relative safety.  He shouted, “Meryl!  What happened, are you okay?!”  No luck.  Over the boom and clang of armor and steel, Meryl was deaf to Knute’s calls. 

            Two other soldiers had Vienne and Helen, both still unconscious, slung over their shoulders, carrying them to what appeared to be the entrance of a large fortress.  Meryl tugged on her guide’s sleeve, hoping to grab his attention.

            “Please!”  She felt tears brimming as she cried out to the soldier.  “What is going on, where am I?!”  The soldier did not answer.  All around them Meryl could hear the shrieks and clatter of battle as the two of them stumbled toward the gate, and without a word the soldier flung her forward onto the hard ground. 

            “Umph!”  The impact stirred up the dust, stinging her eyes and open wounds.  Hot pain seared inside her mouth and the distinct taste of blood spread across her tongue.  “How is this possible?” she asked herself.  Her mind thrashed around in her skull trying to make sense of what had occurred.  Why did this happen?  How?!  Behind her the gate let out a loud clang as it sealed shut.

            Meryl slowly got to her feet, taking care not to brace her shaking legs.  As she took in the surroundings her eyes widened with amazement.  All around her were groups of soldiers, running this way and that, others in grouped formation, their weapons held at the ready as their officers and commanders gave out orders.  On either side of her stood ashen-gray stone walls which towered several dozen feet high, clearly designed to keep the unwanted out.  She knew this place all too well but never had she experienced it in this way.  “Is this even possible?”

           “Meryl!  Hey, Meryl—over here!”  The sound of her younger brother’s voice brought her back and before she could stop them her tears pooled down her cheeks.

           “Knute!” she cried as she sprinted toward the disheveled young man.  She flung her arms around him, pulling him into a tight embrace, ignoring the dirt and blood caked onto his clothes.

            Knute stood there frozen before finally asking, “Fucking Christ Meryl—are you okay?  Are you hurt, please tell me you’re not hurt?  And what the hell are we doing inside the game?!”  He could tell from his sister’s expression that she was just as lost as he was. 

           “I don’t know—I don’t know Knute, I have no idea what is going on!”  Her shoulders shook as she let out heaving sobs, trying to make sense of their situation.  We’re in the game… Fucking Christ, we are in the fucking game!  Knute fell silent, and he scrubbed his brow to try and rid himself of the ache in his head, only to suddenly realize that his glasses were not on his face.  “Probably long gone by now…” he thought. 

           Putting the thought aside he gently released himself from Meryl’s tight grip before saying, “Vienne and Helen are starting to wake up.  We should probably get moving before we draw too much attention.”  He smiled when Meryl nodded in agreement.

          They slowly walked over to their older sisters who were now looking around in dazed shock.  As they helped them to their feet Knute let out a burst of laughter after Meryl softly asked, “Did that lady call me a fucking knife-ear?”