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A Thousand Natural Shocks

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PROLOGUE

Tongues of red and gold flame rose from the blazing wreck, briefly illuminating the dark night sky. Despite the intensity of the fire, however, it did not spread; it sputtered and died against the dark tree trunks. It desperately consumed the branches and shards of wood that littered the forest ground, but to no avail. If not for the remaining gasoline in the car acting as fuel, the fire would have died within minutes.

A solitary figure stood at a safe distance from the disaster, staring at the conflagration with visible dismay.

"Fuck," he muttered, dragging one hand through his hair. "Fuck. I can't believe the bastard did that to my car. How the hell did Rico track me all the way here?"

MYSTERIES OF LIFE, I SUPPOSE.

"Yeah… Geez, shoulda known from the start that the guy was bad, but going after a man's car?" The figure sighed. "Guess I'm just lucky that I got outta the El Diablo in time. For a second there, I thought-"

The realization came in steps. "…Oh. Oh, no."

YES.

"Dammit, no, no, no. Not now. It's a mistake, I swear, you've got the wrong guy - "

THERE ARE NO MISTAKES.

"You don't get it! I - I need more time. My brother, he's still on the other side of h-his dumb nerd project. I need to get him back –"

THERE IS NO MORE TIME.

"There has to be," the figure gritted out through clenched teeth. "…I'll make a deal. I don't care what it costs. I'll do anything. Please."

I DO NOT MAKE DEALS.

He sucked in a breath. "I - Whatever. You ain't taking me, ya hear? I'll – I'll fight you. I gotta warn ya, I have a mean left hook – urk!"

The figure clapped a hand over his left shoulder with a gasp of pain, eyes wide. "S-Shit, what the hell was... This is fightin' dirty, I'm telling ya –"

There was a pregnant, thoughtful pause. THIS IS NOT MY DOING.

"Yeah, play another one, would ya? Tryin' to con a conman –"

He gritted his teeth and fell to his knees as another flash of pain lanced through his being. "…I'm not a genius or anythin' like that, but dead people ain't supposed to, uh, feel pain, right?"

HM.

"…An answer would be nice, y'know."

GOOD-BYE, STANLEY PINES. WE WILL NOT MEET AGAIN.

"What?" He forced his head up. "Wait, the hell does that –"

His companion had gone. The flames of the wreck had finally died out, exhausted.

The night was dark again, and this was when he noticed the eerie green glow that emitted from the brand on his left shoulder.

"This - ?"

Dozens, hundreds of eyes opened as one, decorating the dark forest expanse around him like sickly green lights. Six of them swiveled and pinpointed him with uncomfortable accuracy.

WE CAN GIVE YOU MORE TIME