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The Legacy of Man: Empire Rising Ch. 1

The Legacy of Man: Empire Rising

Chapter One

Everything happened too quickly, too much. One moment, Derek was just sitting in his chair, watching his pet rats play and explore his room. The next thing he knew, it felt like he was thrown out by a typhoon, like a giant grabbed him by his shirt and yanked him hard.
And now, here he was, staring at the sky. Or what was supposed to be the sky. He couldn't see the stars, or the black void of space. It was just an ominous purple, with violent streams of what looked like thick clouds obscuring every conceivable sight, down to the horizon, with bolts of lightning dancing and flickering across random surfaces.
The air was heavy. It felt somewhat warm. That strange area between cold and warmth. Like you're both feeling a bit chilly, yet also warmed up at the same time.
He felt his chest seize up, his lungs not working and his mind a blank. What the hell is going on? What happened? What is this place? Where is everybody?
Slowly standing to his feet, he finally mustered the strength to tear his gaze from what passes for the sky to look at his surroundings. The first thing that came to mind was that this was some Stranger Things shit going on. He could tell that this was his neighborhood, yet...not. The houses were there, the streets and the lawns looked similar, but they were off. Not right. Was this a parallel dimension?
Or worse, was this some kind of psychotic break in some mental illness he never knew about that just now manifested? A nuclear war finally broke out and this was just some made up dream that his brain created for his final moments?
Just as Derek felt he was on the verge of completely breaking down, he was jolted out of his panic by a clearly monstrous voice. Shrill, like a shriek from a banshee. Punctuated by inhuman clicking.
Fighting through his paralysis, he looked around for a hiding spot. There, an opening in Henry's deck. Bolting forward, he dived to the ground and then crawled underneath, turning around to keep an eye out front.
Derek poured every ounce of concentration into controlling his breathing. He's played a shit ton of video games over his life. While others may be confused or even offended at the idea that you could apply keystrokes and finger movements to real life, this was all Derek had to draw from. He's no soldier, no officer or agent. Just some college dropout who has no idea what's going on.
And when the encroaching monster appeared, Derek's heart stopped. A Lovecraftian being. Just a pulsating mass of flesh with writhing tentacles and a large, bony beak, floating lazily in the air. Derek's willpower over his breath shot over a hundred percent at this point, his eyes locked on the monstrosity.
His gaze was pulled away by movement. It was another person, slowly creeping along a wall of a house opposite where he was. Derek immediately ran through every thought in his mind. This monster was an unknown. Could it see, or not? Can it hear, or no? The fact it's levitating implies that there are other rules of nature it's broken in regards to its existence, so Derek can't take chances.
As sickening as it was, Derek had to accept that there was no way he could get out of this alive if he tried to help the other person. All he can do is survive.
When the other person, a middle-aged man now that he got closer, saw the monster, he let out a quick shout of surprise. The monster let out loose an ear-shattering shriek. The man screamed in response and ran like hell, but the monster grabbed him with its tentacles. Within moments, Derek had to endure the sounds of that thing eating the man alive.
Even when it was done, even when it no doubt moved on, Derek remained. Thoroughly paralyzed by terror. Right now, the only thing he can think of is that, so long as he stays where he is, he's safe.
How long did he stay there? How many hours, or days, did he stay put, content in letting this evil new world run its course around him? Does time even work here? Are there no longer a finite amount of his life to live?
He may never know. When he finally returned to this reality, it was by the gentle prodding of a hand. "Sir! Sir, we're here!"
Feeling relief, he uncurled himself to greet his new friend. Yet he was shocked into silence by what he saw.
It wasn't human, not entirely. It had the shape of one, but as Derek's gaze focused, he realized it was a rat-man. And it actually spoke English.
"Sir, that thing is gone now, we're safe!" It spoke to him, its voice expressing assurance.
"Wha...who are you?" Derek finally spoke, the ability to speak returning to him, yet hypervigilant about the rat-man.
"It's me, sir, Scarface, remember?" It said, a sense of hurt in its voice now.
Derek squinted as he studied the rat-man's features. And a wave of realization choked him. He saw the scars on its...no, his face. It was those same scars that were born from when he was rejected by his mother. "H...How...?"
"I...I don't know, sir." Scarface replied with a sigh. "One minute, I was playing with Albert and Splinter in your room, and then...we were just thrown about, I...I hit something hard and it knocked me out. When I came to, I was...well, like this."
Derek's eyes drifted to the ground, struggling to process everything that was happening. What happened to this world...and now, what happened to his own pet rats. He then looked back to brown-furred rat-man. "You haven't seen Albert or Splinter anywhere since this happened, right?"
"N-No, I couldn't find them anywhere." Scarface answered as he shook his head, shuddering with a shaky breath. "I was actually starting to think I'm the only one left...then I smelled your scent."
"You smelled...oh, right." Derek said initially with confusion. He remembers that when he read up prior to getting the rats. Considering how long he's had them, it's a no-brainer that they would recognize him, though considering what's happened...
"S-Sir...I...I'm scared." Scarface said with a stammer. "What...what are we going to do? How will we stop that...thing from killing us? How-"
"Hey, calm down, Scarface." Derek said, a sudden burst of courage surging in him when he saw Scarface starting to break down. "And also, I guess I never said my name, eh? I'm Derek."
"Derek...okay. And, s-sorry, Derek." Scarface nodded.
"Alright...let's think here." Derek began, shifting into a crossed-leg sitting position. "The, uh...world has gone to shit, obviously. People are getting killed by monsters, as I've...seen. And apparently, unless you or you three are the exception, it seems animals have become more human from this..."
"It's odd, Derek." Scarface commented, sitting down as well. "Everytime I think back to your room, I can feel just how different it is. I can't even figure out what I was thinking then, I just went and did things."
"Not that it was a problem...well, most of the time." Derek shrugged with a little smile. "It was fun watching you guys figure things out, playing with your toys and such."
Scarface let out a sigh and then wrapped his arms about his knees, curling up some. "Derek...? We...we can't go home, can we? It's gone...right?"
Derek felt the sharp zing of pained realization before he quickly fought it down, making sure to look at Scarface with a determined face. "Let's not think about that right now. Let's focus on finding Albert and Splinter. Once we do, then we figure out if we can leave this shitty hellhole."
"But...I couldn't smell them anywhere, Derek." Scarface reminded him.
He reached out and placed his hand on Scarface's shoulder. Even though Derek was expecting it, he still felt somewhat surprised at the warm fur that he felt. "Doesn't mean they're dead, alright? Unless we find bodies, we keep assuming they're out there and we don't stop until we find them, okay?"
Scarface took a few moments to purge his fear, shown by him letting out a deep huff and then displaying a determined look of his own. "You're right. I may not have smelled them, but, even with the scent of death, none of it was from either of them. We'll find them, Derek."
"Good, that's what I want to hear!" Derek grinned and patted his shoulder. "Alright...uh...I think it's clear, but we keep an eye out at all times, okay?"
"Got it." Scarface affirmed, moving to his fours.
After a quick survey from their hiding spot, the human and his rat-man emerged. Taking one last look at the damage done to their former world, they began their search for the missing duo.
It was the same as what Derek had seen when he initially came to. It was a dark and twisted imitation of his home. It may have the appearance, but it is extremely obvious that something was wrong.
However, after their encounter with the strange, almost Lovecraftian, creature that was most definitely hostile as far as they're concerned, the appearance isn't what bothers them. It's what this strange new world now hides and holds.
It was when they arrived at what was the town playground that they found another soul. A human, though younger this time. Probably around his age, though Derek doesn't recognize him from the college. Seems to be an edgelord though, given the way he looks.
"Hey!" Derek said as he made his way over. The man turned to face him, a casual expression on his face, as if this was just another day to him.
"Yeah, what's up?" He responded once Derek stopped at conversation distance.
"You alright, you okay?" Derek asked him.
The man just shrugged. "I mean, we're dead, aren't we? No real problems."
"I don't think so." Derek shook his head, then crossed his arms. "Something's happened. I'm thinking some fucked up shit, like from The Mist. Heard of it?"
"Nah, we're dead." The man asserted casually. "And I think we're better off for it. We can finally start ignoring stupid things, like hunger, famine and all of that."
"Uh, kay?" Derek responded, unsure of what else to say. "Well...have you at least seen anyone else?"
"A few people, yeah, but I don't know where they went." The man shrugged. "And it's not my business anyhow. I'm actually going to go ahead and look around for those who already died before us. It'd be awesome to hear what they have to say."
Derek just stared in abject confusion as the man casually walked away. But what he did say definitely started some thoughts in him. Are they actually dead? And what they're seeing, walking around in, is the true afterlife? Not caring whether men have been sinful or not, just a one-stop destination for the departed?
But what about that creature Derek witnessed? How do they fit in? If this truly is the real afterlife, what role do they play here? Is this just an entire ecosystem, and that the souls of humans are just another species within that system? Unaware of where they fit in?
"Derek!" Scarface cried out softly, gripping his arm. "I can smell them now! Albert and Splinter!"
"Oh shit, alright let's go!" Derek snapped out of his thoughts quickly. "Lead the way man, your nose is better than mine."
Scarface already took off in a careful jog, Derek following closely. They would stop here and there, Scarface confirming the scent he was following. They traveled through several areas of neighborhoods, separated by parks or good stretches of the main highway in town.
It wasn't until that Derek was about to ask Scarface for a quick rest due to his aching feet that he turned, apparently with a rat's version of a smile. "They're close by, I think they're around here!"
"Okay, try not to be too loud, alright?" Derek suggested, still keeping a lookout. "We don't know what we'll attract if we start shouting now."
"Right...that's a good idea." Scarface nodded. "C'mon, let's go."
With a quick little huff, Derek prepared himself for one last stretch. He was never an athletic man, and he was surely paying for it now. While not exhausted, his feet are just killing him.
Thankfully it wasn't long. Scarface stopped over by a corner, making sure to stay low. He started to call out for Albert and Splinter in a semi-hushed voice. Derek too got down next to him, looking at every spot, both for the rest of his now-intelligent rats and for any possible danger. Each time Scarface called out without answer, their worry and concern grew. Derek was starting to think that maybe they had just now moved on. As he was about to suggest that to Scarface, he shot out of his cover, letting out a small, happily-relieved chuckle.
There they were, approaching from the other side of the street. Albert and Splinter, the duo unmistakeable. It was good enough that Scarface was here, now that they both are here too, things are starting to look up, he thinks.
"There you two are!" Scarface exclaimed once they got close, though true to what Derek had grown to expect, he immediately took on an angry tone. "Do you have any idea how worried I was?! I thought you two were dead!"
"Glad to see you too, Scarface." Splinter chuckled dryly, the black-furred rat leaning against the wall.
"Master!" Albert cried out happily, wrapping Derek in a big, tight embrace. "I thought you were dead...both of you...I...I didn't know what I'd do if-"
"Hey, hey, it's okay, Albert." Derek said soothingly, holding him back. "We're all here, alive and well. And I'm really glad that you're okay, all of you."
"I am too, Derek." Scarface said with a smile, his angry-voice disappearing as quickly as it arrived. "Oh, right. Albert, Splinter? Master's name is Derek."
"Always thought you had a name." Splinter commented. "Wasn't sure if I'd ever hear it."
"Derek, what do we do now?" Albert asked once he let go. "I mean...our home. It's gone, and I don't know any other places."
"We'll figure something out." Derek said confidently, feeling the same surge he did when he saw Scarface's struggle earlier. "Just...not sure what to do about those...things running around here."
"You saw them too?" Splinter said as he stopped leaning. "Giant monsters with the weird...arms and mouths?"
"Had to hide from one." Derek nodded grimly, the sounds he heard already sickening him. "And...well, got to hear what happens if you let it catch you."
"Derek..." Splinter muttered once he realized, then taking in a sharp breath to recompose himself. "All the more reason not to let them catch us then."
"Well we need to find somewhere safe, we can't keep moving forever." Derek stated. "Have you guys seen anything that'll do? Like, a large place. Stores or warehouses, those things?"
"We've seen pretty big buildings, but, I don't know what you mean by stores or something." Albert said with a shrug, then looking somewhere else with a confused face. "Hey, why is Scarface over there?"
Derek looked to where he meant. Scarface was down the street, standing still, his gaze locked on something. After motioning for the others to stay put, Derek jogged over to where Scarface was. "Hey, what's up?"
Scarface then pointed out what he was watching. "There, see them?"
He saw. It was like a sea of ghosts. A discomforting undulating motion across the collective, yet they're moving, if slowly. Moving towards them. Derek saw a couple of them actually go inside a few buildings.
"If those things are hostile, there's too many to take on." Derek stated, feeling the almost burning sensation of adrenaline from his very bones in his hands. "We need to move, and fast."
"Agreed." Scarface nodded, though his gaze turned to the sky. "But I don't think that's the only problem, see what's going on with the sky there? In the direction away from those things?"
Derek looked where he meant. He knew what he was seeing. It was a storm brewing, dark violet clouds roiling almost fearsomely quickly in the distance, massive arcs of lighting striking the ground below. Derek looked back at Scarface, "That's a storm, and by the looks of it, a full on thunder-and-lightning storm at that."
"Wait...is it the one that makes that really loud noise and bright lights?" Scarface asked quizzically. Derek nodded in response, to which Scarface then muttered, "Albert..."
Shit. Derek remembered after a few seconds. While they never came often, they still do arrive periodically during the year. Albert is terrified of the storm, taking a day or two just to go back out.
"We don't have a choice." Derek sighed.. "We've got nothing on us. No tools, weapons, anything. It's just all four of us, with our fists, feet and teeth. And even then, it's basically ghosts that you'll just pass right on through."
"I hear you, Derek." Scarface nodded, giving a few quick glances back at the slowly approaching glob of dark ghost-like creatures. "But I promise you this. If we do have to fight, either them or something new, stay behind me. I won't let anyone touch you or the others."
"If it's anything like what you did with Splinter that one night, that'd be a relief." Derek said, desperately needing humor to keep himself calm.
"He pissed in my food!" Scarface bursted out with pure anger.
"Yeah, and you both terrified him and me!" Derek responded, giving out a half-smile. "I actually thought you were about to kill him!"
"And you wouldn't do that if someone else did the same?!" Scarface continued to shout, his teeth clenched.
"No actually, I wouldn't." Derek answered simply. "I mean, yeah it'd piss me off, but I wouldn't, like, grab a hammer and beat their heads in."
Not wasting any more time, Derek and Scarface jogged back to the others, who were clearly waiting on what was going on.
"Sorry guys, but we need to move, major trouble." Derek broke the news. "And Albert? Sorry to say this, but we'll have to move through a storm if we're to avoid that trouble."
"T...Through the storm?" Albert asked with a little squeak of rising terror. "You mean, where it makes the bright light and loud noises?"
"We'll all be right with you, Albert, don't worry." Splinter said in a calming voice. "Just stay with us, okay?"
"Albert, I need you to trust me, okay?" Derek asked, approaching the scared albino. "I wouldn't do this if I didn't think we'd have to, okay? I know how much you hate thunderstorms, so that just means how bad the trouble is coming our way."
After a few shuddering breaths, Albert nodded at him with an attempt at determined focus. "I do, Derek. Just...don't leave me alone and I'll try my best."
"Promise." Derek said with a smile then looked around for a bit. "I don't know anywhere specific to go, so with that in mind, let's just keep moving as long as we can until things seem quiet. Stay in cover, keep your heads down and your eyes open, or your noses high, or something like that, I don't know."
"Ready." Scarface said confidently. The other two confirmed with a nod. Taking in a deep breath, Derek gave the order.
Thanks to how slow the mob moved, Derek and the group were well distant by the time they reached where they were. He had no intention of seeing if they were hostile or not, not with the sheer difference in numbers they had.
Back on the road, and with his feet practically burning red-hot with aching exhaustion now, he spent most of his energy silently cursing whatever god existed for letting this happen, and at himself for continuing to be a lazy ass. Though, he will admit, this is something nobody could predict, but he doesn't care. He just really regrets not spending time doing at least a basic fitness routine.
"The, uh...storm's getting closer." Albert spoke out, his voice giving clear evidence of his struggle.
"Yeah, it is." Derek responded with a nod after looking at the horizon. "Let's try and get a little more distance, then start looking around for shelter, yeah?"
"Agreed." Splinter nodded, having his arm wrapped around Albert for comfort. "You okay there, Derek? You're walking a little odd."
"Eh...just some issues with my feet, I'll handle it." Derek waved off, focusing on correcting his gait.
"They're hurting, aren't they?" Splinter asked in a serious tone after watching him for a few moments. "There's no danger in taking a few moments to relax. Whatever those things are, they're not chasing us, if they even know we're around. I think we're safe for a quick few seconds of a break."
"Don't let me hold everyone back, I'll be fine." Derek replied with a firmer voice.
"Sorry, Derek, but we're taking a break." Scarface said in a semi-growling voice. "What happens if we get into trouble and you fall to the ground because you pushed yourself too hard?"
"I can handle it, alright?" Derek shot back, annoyance growing in his voice. "I'm not going to go all baby on you guys and complain about some sore feet, I'll keep going, however far we need."
"You know what, in that case..." Scarface immediately dove forward and sweeped his arm against Derek's legs. During his fall, Scarface caught his upper body with his other arm, now carrying Derek in his arms. "There, we can keep moving and your feet can get a break."
"Wha-hey!" Derek exclaimed, writhing a bit in surprise. "Goddamnit, put me down! I don't need to be carried!"
"Yes you do!" Scarface shouted right in his face. "Now shut up and relax!"
Derek put on a stink-face and crossed his arms. Even though he's not actively protesting, he hasn't accepted it fully either. Scarface just let out an annoyed huff and continued his pace with the others.
"Even now...I'm still basically a fucking child..." Derek muttered under his breath.
"Derek..." Scarface warned through clenched teeth, his limit fast approaching.
"Both of you, quiet, now." Splinter demanded all of a sudden.
"Like I said, still a fucki-plap." Scarface rapidly shut him up with a hard smack of his palm to Derek's mouth, glaring at him with unholy anger, while growling, "Trouble's coming."
That shut him up for good. Looking around nervously, he saw that the trio were highly on edge, as if making absolutely sure they were right.
And they were. That horrid screeching and clicking pierced the air. Piercing Derek's very own heart, surging his body with the ice-cold grip of terror. Silently, Splinter motioned for them to follow him. Dashing over to the side of a street, they were entering an alley-way when Splinter got down to the ground and looked underneath a tight spot. After spending a few seconds, he pulled away and pointed towards it.
And then Albert crawled underneath it. Derek knew what the plan was. He immediately moved Scarface's hand away and tried to get off, "I can't go in there!"
"We'll help you, Derek, but we have to hide, now." Splinter said in a hushed voice. Punctuating his point, the human-hunting monster let loose another screech.
"No, I literally can't, I can't fit there!" Derek protested again, starting to look around. "I'll...I'll figure something out, just go and hide!"
"We're not abandoning you, now let us help!" Scarface growled, already bringing him to the ground. Knowing there was no use, Derek submitted himself. With the screeching signaling its approach, at Splinter's direction, he made sure his cheek faced the ground. He felt them grab his arms and drag him in. And it was just as he feared. There was virtually no room, he can't even look up without his nose squishing against the underbelly of the building they were hiding under. The fear of that thing, the growing tension of its approach and the sense of crippling helplessness was already taking a toll on him, the air growing thin, feeling his heart race faster and faster over time.
"Derek, stay calm, we're okay." Splinter said to him, gripping his shoulder softly. "We're all right here."
As much as he wanted it too, it didn't make a difference. Derek is still feeling the struggle of keeping it together. If that thing finds them, he's a million ways fucked. He can't move, can't even turn the way he is. Are his feet in? It feels like they're outside.
And there's Scarface, turning around like it's not a big deal. So apparently they still have their old flexibility but now augmented by a more human body?
He nearly smashed himself into the building when the monster let loose yet another screech, this time, making it clear it's practically right there. With no other choice he could make, Derek just closed his eyes and tried to go somewhere else mentally. Thinking back to his old life. The time he went to Disneyland with his family, got to ride the Tower of Terror, and that Indiana Jones ride as well.
The simple times where he just sat in his chair, watching his pet rats play and explore the room. And sometimes even playing a few games as well.
"Derek!" Albert nudged him as he spoke in a hushed voice, tearing Derek away from happy thoughts. "It's gone, we can get out now!"
"Then fucking do it already, I'm fucking dying here!" Derek exclaimed. On cue, he felt his legs being grabbed, followed by him being dragged out from under the building. It was Splinter and Scarface, who immediately helped him back up.
"Derek, breathe." Scarface instructed, holding him by his upper arms. "It's gone and we're out, it's safe to move now."
Heaving and finally starting to feel calm now, Derek looked about. Albert wrapped his arms around him, holding him tight. "We're sorry, there wasn't any better choice, Derek."
"We'll keep watch, just let us know when you're ready, okay?" Scarface stated, already keeping an eye out towards the street. Derek just nodded and hunched over, trying to breathe out the remainder of his stress. Albert tried his best and continued hugging him tight, not knowing what to say to help.
"Hey, Scarface?" Splinter spoke up. "You see that? Was that there before?"
Scarface walked up beside him and looked to where he was referring to. Off in the distance, there was a bright column of light that pierced the sky itself, a water-like movement along the edges. After staring at it for a little bit, Scarface shook his head.
"Derek, what do you think?" Splinter asked gently. "Something we should check out, or just ignore?"
After getting up and seeing what he was talking about, Derek let out a long sigh, finally ready. "Better to know now. C'mon, let's go see."
It was the stuff of any fiction books or movies. Fantasy or sci-fi.
When Derek and co arrived at the mysterious column, they discovered it was actually some kind of portal, or gateway, to what is clearly the real world. It was a valley, blanketed with green, thick forest, a vibrant-green layer of grass everywhere, finished with a range of white-topped mountains. Derek wasn't sure where it was, but he didn't care. That was home, a much better bet than where they are right now. All that stood between them and home was a narrow, natural bridge that seemed to lead into hell itself.
"What do you think, Derek?" Scarface asked, unsure what to think. "Should we step in or no?"
"Of course we should!" Albert exclaimed. "That's home right there, why wouldn't we?!"
"But how do we know it's actually home and not some trap?" Splinter commented, eyeing the portal warily. "We don't know anything about this place."
"I say we take that chance." Derek said firmly, eyes never leaving the scene. "All together, okay?"
"And make it quick? I think the storm's on top of us." Albert insisted, looking above.
With one final moment of preparation, they began their entry through the portal. As the first among them was about to touch the event horizon, the storm struck. In a split second, Derek lost every thought he had, every muscle in his body clenched or flexed without his say-so. And when he came to, he was dangling off the side of the bridge, Scarface desperately holding on by his ankle.
"Derek, hang on, I got you!" He screamed. In an unstoppable tidal wave, Derek felt panic surge through his body, moreso when he saw what awaits should he fall. Fighting everything in his body, he scrunched up to try and offer his hand to Scarface.
Fate had other plans. Another lightning struck, right next to Scarface. While not making impact, it startled him, which led to him losing his grip. And as Derek felt true weightlessness, every emotion he had leaving as well upon his grim realization, he watched as his once-pet rats were leaning over the edge of the cursed bridge.
"DEREK!" Albert let loose a scream that could leave any throat raw. Scarface and Splinter just stared at him, no doubt in traumatized shock. After that, Derek met his fate.
Upon passing through a wave of pure energy, his body disintegrated. He watched his clothes disappear, as if Thanos himself came and delivered his infamous Snap. Then his flesh, exposing his inner systems. And then his bones.
And then, nothing. A black void. No feeling, no sound. Is he dead? Is this what true death is like? Just a black void of nothingness?
Is this what he has going for him for all eternity? Just...nothing?
Well...maybe not nothing. He has the crippling pain he still feels. The last thing he saw was Albert, Splinter and Scarface having become shattered at his death. They're going to be alone now. They'll only have each other to rely on. They won't have the human who, for as long as they can remember, raised and loved them. Not only that, but even if they come back to the world they thought lost, they'll have to brave it by themselves.
If there was a God, Derek would spend all of his eternity cursing them for allowing such a thing to happen. The thing that, as far as he knew, ended the world. Allowing him to die in front of his own pets, who, somehow, got more human-like bodies and intelligence. He could've talked with them, hang out with them even! As weird as it sounded, Derek could actually have had so much more fun with them now that they weren't just instinct-driven animals.
Jesse... A voice tore him from his thoughts. Startled, what he wanted to do was look around, but he wasn't sure if he was doing that.
"Hello?" He called out. At least he could talk. But what unnerved him was the lack of an echo in this void.
Jesse...? It responded, sounding surprised. Is...is that you...?
"Wh...who is this?" Derek responded, actually feeling hope. "Wh...where am I?"
Please wait, Jesse. Not much longer now... The voice, definitely a woman, said in assurance.
"Uh...I...I'm not...-" Derek felt something. The fact he felt anything was a shock in of itself. It was a tugging motion, like someone reaching out and pulling him. "What are you doing?!"
Jesse, please don't resist, I'm bringing you back. The voice answered. We'll be together again.
"I-I don't...-" And this time, the tug was far more forceful. A full on yank. And when it happened, he fell again. Just like he did off the bridge. He didn't know if he screamed to his end. And he doesn't know if he's doing that right now. But unlike the gentle, insidious slow stop when he fell off the bridge, this one hit him hard. As if he fell down onto the ground from a great height.
And when he made impact, everything rushed over him. He could feel grass and dirt. A warm breeze over him, the smell of the outdoors and he could hear faint rustling of trees.
And pain. Pain across his body, though he soon realized that would be obvious if he did actually fall from somewhere high. Not only that, but...his mouth felt weird too.
"Jesse...?" The same voice, now much clearer, spoke out in hopeful suspense. Once he got his bearings, Derek started getting up slowly, turning towards the source of the voice.
He was shocked. It was a bat. A woman, by the cleavage on her chest, wrapped in rather fancy-looking clothes, finished with silver and gold jewellery adorning her person.
"Uh...I-I'm Derek. Wh...Who are you?" He asked, not sure if that was the right move. The bat-woman's posture noticeably slumped and gone limp. No doubt whatever hopes she had were dashed.
"You're not him...well, you're alive now. Go away so I can focus." She said in a disheartened voice.
"I...I don't understand, what did you do?" Derek continued, but he noticed something when he reached out his hand. It wasn't his. There was fur on it. Staring at for several moments, he looked around. He spotted what seemed to be a pond and dashed over it, looking into it.
It wasn't his face. It was a rat's face now...his face. Staring at it in abject disbelief, it soon gave away to anger, quickly turning back to the bat. "You. The fuck did you do to me?! Why did you turn me into a rat?!"
"I said go away." She replied simply, on her knees as she was packing up some things, most likely ritual items.
Enraged, he promptly moved in front of her and promptly squatted down, forcing their eyes to meet. "No. I'm not going anywhere until you start talking, right fucking now."
The bat-woman glared at him intensely, not saying a word. He's not backing down at all, doubling down even. After many tense moments, the bat-woman seemed to have finally given up with a sigh. "Okay, Promel. You win. You're a Redrak because you lost your body. How, I don't know and I don't care. If I did the ritual any different, you would just be a spirit bound to this land. But instead, I offered up the body of a Redrak as a new host for your soul. That's why you're...what did you say? A rat? That's why you're a rat."
"Prom...what?" Derek stammered. "The fuck are you talking about?"
She sighed, one of pure, tense annoyance. "Many things have changed since your people controlled this world. Your children and their children may have forgotten what you've brought, but your people live on. That's all I'm going to tell you. If you wish to know more, there's a Redrak village nearby, or should I say, a rat village, seek them out. Bother me any more, and I will flay your soul back to the Aether."
Next Chapter
AN: This was something that's been sitting in my mind for a very long time, long before Heritage. After constantly being unsure if I should go ahead, I finally stumbled on my answer.
This is not only a story I want to write, this is a story I want. Period. Love it or hate it, I'm going full-speed ahead on this one. For readers who are wondering about my two-part shorts, The Insanity and Fury of Humans, I've decided I am indeed going to make a full series on it. I'm just going to let it develop in my head for a bit, flesh out the universe, figure out arcs and scenes, all that good stuff. Apparently, as bad as my memory is for other things, it's actually really solid in terms of stories.
And finally, since someone asked before, I truly do want to get back to writing The Devil You Make. I have a very bad habit, since I first started writing, of starting something and then never finishing it. I want to kick that habit. So that too is going to get some time in the old mind-oven.
submitted by SynthoStellar to HFY


[Melas] - Chapter 64: Pirate Attack

A young woman finds herself dead and is given the chance to reincarnate in another world with cheat-like magic powers. She accepts, only to find that the world treats magic users the same way ours did— by hunting them down and killing them for heresy.
My name is MELAS?! As in Salem backwards? Oh my God, and my mother is a Witch. I am SO going to be burned at the stake!
[Previous Chapter] | [Chapter 1] | [Cover Art] | [RoyalRoad Index and Synopsis] | [Patreon] |[Discord] | Tags: Isekai/Reincarnation, Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Weak-To-Strong Protagonist, Female Protagonist

“She’s using magic,” Ginah said, looking in my direction.
“I know,” the man sighed. “I just told you that.”
Their ship was now parallel to ours; they had a crew of dozens on deck, all armed and ready with weapons. And yet, I found my attention switching between the dangerous pirates getting ready to attack us, and my own two allies on board our own vessel.
Because I had used magic.
It was a silly thing to worry about, but I felt it was a valid concern. If they found my use of magic to be something so completely heinous that I had no choice but to kill them… Well, I guess learning how to work a ship will be on my to-do list.
The two pirates standing out front continued their chatter. Their conversation was barely audible due to the close proximity they were to us now. The fog did obscure some of their appearance, but I could vaguely tell by their body language that they
“Think she’s part of the Elise?”
“Probably. It’s a good thing we got here in time. Any later—”
Wait, part of the Elise? I frowned. Why’re they asking that?
I got up, opening my mouth to call out to them, when I saw the man raise his rifle once again. He’s going to shoot me again, isn’t he?
He shot me again.
I erected two Force Barriers this time; I overlaid them one over the other, and it took the powerful blast without shattering. The translucent glass-like protection cracked, with small shards scattering along the hard wooden floor, but it stayed strong. I pointed back at the pirates, releasing a Fireball in their direction.
The large sphere flew across the narrow gap between our ships, looking like it was about to land on where the two main pirates were standing. The woman called Ginah pulled out a hilt from her waist, and a crackling red whip of energy shot out of it. She struck at the Fireball out of the air, and the spell exploded before it even reached the ship.
I paused. “Mana tools can do that?” I asked, turning to Gennady.
“Yes,” he said. “They can do just about anything, lass. Didn’t I tell you?”
“Well, that’s—”
The man fired another shot, and this time I jumped out of the way; my Force barrier broke from the impact, letting the beam burrow a hole through the wall on the back side of the ship.
I had just got back to my feet when the first pirate set foot on our deck, getting off the wooden plank they attached to our ship. I drew my dagger, readying spells by my side. I quickly pre-cast the Explosive Orbs by my side, as I shot two Magic Missiles at the pirate.
The pirate rolled out of the way of the attacks, the small explosions going off behind him as he charged me. More pirates were arriving now, and they were rushing me as well. Gennady pulled out his own gun and fired a shot at the first pirate— the pirate managed to block the first with his cutlass, but the second grazed him on the shoulder, knocking him down.
I saw three pirates standing side by side as they made their way towards me. I was not about to set off a Fireball in my own ship; that would probably cause irreparable damage by the time I could put it out. Instead, I pointed at them and a snare shot out. It caught nothing however, as each pirate skillfully evaded the magical bolas.
These guys are good! I watched as Gennady frantically pulled out various mana tools from his bag as more and more pirates surrounded him as well. They were wary of me, and I too was of them.
I glanced back and forth between the pirates surrounding me, with the three glowing orbs still hovering around me. A man took a step forward—
And I sent the Explosive Orbs out in all directions. The pirates were quick, as expected. They leapt out of the way of the blasts, but the Frost Javelin had already finished forming; the layer of fog around us allowed me to cast the spell far faster than I could otherwise have.
The Frost Javelin shot out in an arc, dancing through the air as if it had a mind of its own. And it in a sense, it did. I could not control the exact movements of the projectile, but I was able to somewhat direct it where I wanted it to go.
Got you. It was about to skewer a pirate who was backing as fast as he could, but suddenly the Frost Javelin shattered into a thousand pieces. Icy shards rained down around the pirate, as the man with the rifle, still on his ship, lowered his gun.
“Watch out for the Goblin’s spells,” he shouted, gesturing at me. “Those are quite powerful.”
I clicked my tongue. He’s annoying. I glanced around the battlefield, surveying the situation. The pirates were good— they were overwhelming Gennady and I, and… Lisa and Jack are still standing there, dumbstruck.
I yelled at them. “Hey guys, a little help here?” I was not sure if they would heed my call to action; they might just let me die now that they know I was a spellcaster.
However, thankfully, Jack finally broke out of his stupor. Was he actually going to help? He took a step forward, leaning out of the ship’s deck in the direction of the pirates, and shouted.
“Oi, Ginah! What in Hell are you doing?”
I stopped. The pirates stopped. Gennady stopped. Lisa’s gaze snapped to her partner. He continued.
“You’re attacking out clients, you dumb bitch—”
“Language, Jack,” the man with the rifle said, before he lowered his weapon. “And what do you mean by that?”
“I mean that you guys will get our pay docked! I’m not going to call you nice things for that!” Jack snapped, pointing his short sword at the man then at the woman.
The woman, Ginah, paused. “These are your clients?” she asked, glancing over at myself and Gennady.
“Yes!” Jack, Gennady, and myself screamed.
“Huh.” Ginah looked at us once over. “Well, what about your dead crew?”
“They attacked us,” I explained. “I think someone paid them off— probably the Elise.”
“Oh, so I’m not mistaken about that then.” She nodded. “Then I guess you guys better come over to our ship.”
Lisa hurried down from quarterdeck, finally joining us as we stood amongst the pirates. I still stood on my guard since we were surrounded, but it seemed like the misunderstanding had been resolved for now.
“Why’s that? What’s going on Ginah?” Lisa asked. “Why are you guys here? We thought you left Luke once the Elise chased you out.”
“Well, we did. But we decided to come back because we don’t like those bastards. And we’ve been messing with them for the last few weeks, and were tailing a few of their ships just earlier, until we realized they were tailing you. So we can over here to warn you when we saw the fighting and thought we were too late.”
I wanted to comment on the sheer absurdity of this casual conversation happening across ships, but what Ginah said took precedence over that.
“...a few ships are tailing us?”
“Yes,” she said casually, gesturing vaguely in the direction we had come from. “They’re quite a ways back. But they should be catching up soon—”
And as if those words were some kind of a trigger, I saw the first shadow of a boat emerge from the thick, white fog. I recognized it immediately. It was a large ship, moving at an incredibly fast speed for its size— because it was powered by mana. It was The Lightbringer’s Vessel, and it was followed by two other ships at its rear.
I saw the nebulous figures of men standing on the deck of the large ship, with some of them pointing frantically at us. A figure fell as the man standing next to Ginah took aim and fired a shot at them.
“Let’s go!” he yelled, gesturing us over.
“What is going on?” Gennady asked, looking around confused.
“I have no idea,” I said, looking between the pirate’s and the oncoming ships. “But they better explain later.”
Because if we somehow got ourselves wrapped up in an entire ordeal, I would be so annoyed.

We boarded the pirate ship captained by the woman named Ginah, and fled from the three pursuing ships. The Lightbringer’s Vessel was fast, but it did not stray too far from its two escorts for whatever reason. Probably because unlike the other two, it had little in terms of firepower or combat potential. And with the cover of the fog and night, we managed to lose them after an hour.
It was only when I was sure we were safe, did I even sheathe my dagger. I had already healed up, and removed the bandages on my arm at that point, so I was less worried about getting into a fight. I was still cautious, of course; these pirates were skilled fighters as evident from our brief incursion against them, but with Gennady by my side and with both of us prepared, I felt like we might have been able to take them on— at least, until we could somehow escape.
“So,” I said, stopping in front of Lisa and Ginah as the two women were in the middle of a discussion. “What’s happening?”
“Aria,” Lisa started, then she paused. She looked over to Ginah for a moment, then she folded her arms. “First, you have to tell me what was that? That was… magic?”
“Yes.” I nodded curtly. “It was.” I didn’t clarify anything, and just stood there.
Ginah placed her hands on her hip as she turned to address me. She was dressed in nothing more than a pair of ripped pants and a tube top, with a blue coat hanging loosely around her shoulders. “You’re not part of the Dark Crusaders are you?”
I studied the expression of the two women, and saw they were scrutinizing me as well; I took a deep breath, remembering their reaction to my use of magic at the start of the battle, and decided to answer honestly rather than giving some indefinite response.
“I’m not,” I said.
“Good.” Ginah seemed satisfied with that. She turned to Lisa and inclined her head in my direction. “Seems like she really did save your asses, huh?”
The other woman sighed. “She did.” Then she turned to me. “Thank you, Aria.”
“So what’s going on?” I asked, ignoring their gratitude; those could be exchanged later. “What’s this about the Elise chasing after you guys?” I pointed first at Lisa, then at Jack who was grumbling off to the side by himself.
Lisa hesitated. “I… don’t know,” she finally said. “I had no idea this would happen. I didn’t think they would try to force us into submission, after having done nothing but put some light pressure on us for so long.”
“So those guys were after you?”
“Yes.” She nodded.
I tapped a finger on my mask before turning to Ginah. “And how about you guys? You’re pirates, right?”
The pirate Captain shot me a grin and jerked a thumb at herself. “We are indeed.”
“What’s this have anything to do with you guys?”
She shook her head. “You don’t know anything about the Elise, do you?”
“No,” Gennady piped up. “We just got to the city.”
I nodded my head in agreement with the Dwarf, and looked up expectantly at Ginah. “So… are you going to tell us?”
“I can tell you what’s wrong with them,” a voice came from the side. Jack strutted up to us, his hands hidden in his pockets, with a clear scowl on his face. “They’re an organization of the most villainous scum in all of Locke. They came and took the underground by storm, and would crush anyone who doesn’t join them so completely and utterly everyone quickly began to fear them.”
“What’s wrong with that?” I raised an eyebrow.
Everyone turned to stare at me, giving me a look, and I shrugged.
“What? Aren’t you all criminals here?”
“Yes,” Ginah said. “But that doesn’t make us monsters. We support those who help us, and allow those who don’t to go about their business. Only when they’re our enemies do we even consider such drastic courses of action.”
Jack voiced his agreement. “And they are ruthless. They don’t care if you’re in the business to support your family. They will force you to do jobs you wouldn’t want to do for them.”
“I see.” I listened as Ginah continued to explain.
“Their leader— a Half Elf named Bahr— is also said to be capable of magic. We think he might be from the Dark Crusaders. That’s why he was able to bring the group into prominence so quickly— he had their funding and their connections to help him get to where he is now.”
“So what?” I asked, frowning. “You don’t like that the Dark Crusaders are crossing into your territory to spread their influence or something?”
“No.” She exhaled deeply and turned to Lisa. “What’s with this girl? We just explained it to her. She daft or something?”
Lisa smiled meekly and tried to calm down the pirate. “She’s just… an odd one.”
I drew my lips into a thin line at their casual remarks about me in front of me. I’m completely normal! I wanted to argue, but then I remembered the time I tried to convince a rapist to stop what he was doing. Yeah… they’re probably right.
“Listen,” I said, speaking over everyone else. “I don’t care about this Elise, and I don’t care about what they’re doing. I just want to get to the Taw Kingdom like I paid Lisa and Jack to do.”
Ginah snorted. “Good luck with that. If you haven’t noticed, their ship is gone and their crew is dead.”
“But I paid them!” I protested.
“Tough luck. But that’s not happening anymore.”
I glanced over at Lisa and Jack and got an apologetic smile and a grunt in response. I turned to Ginah.
“You guys have a working ship— Gennady and I can pay you what we offered them to bring us to Taw. Or at least to a port outside of Locke.”
“Not happening,” she said simply.
“Why?” I asked, annoyed at this development.
“Because we came back to Luke for a reason, girl. We don’t like how the Elise is exploiting the people of the city. We tried to oppose them, but they chased us out. But we aren’t going to run anymore. We are pirates, but we aren’t evil. The way they do things— we can’t allow it.”
I felt my irritation rising, but Gennady placed a hand on my shoulder to stop me. “Let me talk for a moment,” he said, and I allowed him.
Jack glared at the Dwarf as he stepped forward, but did not say anything otherwise.
“So, you lot are trying to oppose this group… how?”
“We disrupt their business. Hit key locations to cut off their supply or drugs. Especially the enuim. That will ruin them for quite a bit and get their allies to leave them.”
“The enuim.” Gennady furrowed his brows. “They sell it?”
“Yes,” Jack answered the Dwarf almost begrudgingly. “They don’t just sell it— that’s their main product which they’ve gotten every other person in the city addicted to in less than a year.”
“That’s… terrible.”
I eyed the look on everyone’s faces, then slowly raised a hand.
“What’s this ‘enuim’?” I asked.
Ginah faced me, and cocked a brow. “You don’t even know what that is? Are you actually a little girl and not a Goblin or something?”
I ignored that comment, and looked at Gennady as he tried to explain.
“The enuim is a terrible drug that doesn’t just get you addicted to it, it also makes anyone on it more… amenable. If you get someone high on the enuim before trying to get them to sign a deal or do… something for them… they’ll be more inclined to do it.” His brows arched darkly over his forehead as his implication sank in.
“That’s… not good,” I pointed out the obvious.
“It isn’t. And the worst part is? It’s not natural,” he said. “It was developed in the Holy Xan Empire by a group of corrupt Alchemists. They prescribed it as a medicine to the Noxeus to some noble families for their own advantage— to scam them of their gold. This went on for almost a year before they were caught. They were all executed for their crimes, of course. But at that point, the recipe had already been shared with criminal groups throughout the continent. It’s a problem in Soli, and hadn’t been an issue here in Vitae… until now.”
“You know, I don’t—” Ginah started, but Gennady quickly cut her off and held my gaze.
“Melas,” he said my real name once again, and this time, Lisa and Jack heard it. “I know you think money solves everything. That gold is enough to persuade someone to help you.”
“I don’t think that. I think it just increases your chances.”
“Same difference.” He shook his head. “However, there’s something else that works even better than that, and that’s favors. Giving people a reason to trust you, so they would help you back. I have seen what you can do— what you’re capable of doing for others— and I trust you, that’s why I offered to accompany you to Taw. But these people barely know you. They have no reason to bring you to Jahar’taw, even if you pay them.”
“What are you suggesting?” I asked, although I already knew what he was going to say.
“We help them out,” he answered simply. He turned to the pirate Captain and two smugglers, and nodded. “If we help you guys out, will ya bring us to Taw?”
“You’re offering to help us?” Ginah asked.
“Well, it entirely depends on what my friend here has to say.”
All eyes turned to me and awaited my response. I answered without hesitation.
“We’ll help you.”
Ginah blinked. “That was a quick reply.”
I walked forward, and met the look of everyone standing there.
“If I had known about this enuim drug, I would’ve offered this in the first place. I didn’t, so I saw no reason to get involved. But if innocent people are getting hurt and I know about it and can do something about it— I’ll help where I can. I can’t save everyone, but I definitely can contribute something, can’t I?”
Plus, I had something to gain from this deal; it was practical as well as good for my conscience. I was not a hero, but even an average person would jump in to help if they saw another man choking in the streets.
“Huh.” Ginah studied my face for a moment. “Perhaps I misjudged you.”
“But”— I raised a finger— “we won’t do anything beyond stopping the diffusion of these drugs. If you try to make us get involved in some petty underground politics unrelated to that, we won’t participate.”
“Of course.” She grinned, throwing me a thumbs up. “And we’ll find you a way to get to… uh, where did you want to go again?”
“Right.” She turned to a man in the distance and called him over. “Yo, Kai, get over here. We need you to figure out how to get these two to Jahar-thingy after they help us. Think you can do that?”
The man— the one who shot me with the rifle— came at her behest and nodded. “That won’t be too difficult,” he said, then he turned to face us. “They’re helping us deal with the Elise?”
“Yes.” Ginah nodded, a savage grin spreading across her face. “They’ll help us bring them down.”
I quickly clarified. “Only where it involves innocent people, and we won’t stick around beyond that.”
“Right, right.”
[Next Chapter]

Author's Note:
HEY! After hitting a patreon goal last friday, I upped the number of chapters ahead as a reward. So if you want to read up to six chapters (three weeks) ahead, or just two chapters (one week) ahead for $1, consider donating to my patreon by clicking here.

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