An unearthly creature falls from the skies of a far away world. It doesn't mean well.
Mercer snaked his way past a thin patch of brambles, the stems clawing at his heavy grey overcoat as he passed. It had been a cold morning, an especially cold one for nation 3, and the soldier now felt grateful for the attire he had been so hurriedly given by his unit leader just a few hours prior.
The forest was silent around him, the golden light of early morn seeping through the spiderâs web of bare tree branches overhead and illuminating the sparse amounts of wet snow that clung to the landscape. Mercer watched as a deer became alerted of his presence, promptly bounding into the recesses of a few pines nearby and leaving him in solitude once again, alone with his thoughts. The layer of fallen leaves coating the ground crunched in protest as his black combat boots plodded over them, carrying Mercer to a destination he wasnât certain of in the slightest.
The man could see his breath in the air now; a foreign novelty for someone who had grown up in considerably more temperate climates. It was the first time Mercer was able to see it at all, in fact, as his unit had moved upwards into the vast and primarily undiscovered frontier that was nation 3. All he could think about as he walked was just what he had seen earlier that morning. It was apparent the brass also was curious to some extent, as they had sent him to go and investigate it.
The land began to creep upwards at an incline, forcing Mercer to trudge his way up the slope. The soldier noted a crow eying him from the wavy branch of a dark brown Golenwood tree to his left, cocking its head to the side and observing him like a curious child would.
âOh, donât mind me,â Mercer mumbled. âWas just leaving anyways.â He hit the ground with heavy feet in order to navigate what had now become a steep outcropping. He scaled it, using his gloved hands to pull himself over the last part of the gray, stony ridgeline and onto the flat land above. What awaited him there was something he expected, but was nonetheless surprised by.
Embers littered the nearby ground like scattered marbles and the smell of smoke hung over the whole area like a dense fog. Cinders licked at Mercerâs eyes as he made his way deeper into the clearing, eyes stinging a little already from the fumes. A handful of trees lay uprooted nearby, their trunks blackened by an unknown and searing heat that didnât spare the ground either by the looks of it. The soldier brushed by a lonely patch of seared bushes and stopped in his tracks upon seeing a huge, circular crater etched into the soil ahead of him. The sides were scorched even darker than the surrounding landscape, the color of burned bread.
The edges of the pit resembled shattered glass, smooth and lined with bits of disturbed rock and plant roots. Mercer peered over the side, scrutinizing the contents of the crater but having a difficulty simply seeing through the haze of billowing smoke. He just barely could discern the outline of something at the bottom though. What it was Mercer couldnât tell, however he knew it was pale and about the size of a human being, curled up into a fetal position. He felt a chill run down his spine upon realizing that the thick, wrinkled hide that appeared to cover the object in question was most certainly skin.
Mercer fumbled for the flintlock pistol holstered to his hip, removing the weapon and cocking back the obsidian colored hammer with a shaky finger. He pointed it towards whatever was in the crater and felt his nerve begin to wear thin as he further inspected the slender and malnourished-looking creature that dwelled within. âHello?â He questioned hesitantly. âIs there somebody in there?â His words were answered only by sharp pops from the fires in the background. Whatever was inside the pit remained motionless, the full portrait of its body shrouded from view. âI better get promoted for this.â Mercer began to carefully surf down the rim of the crater, being sure not to slip and fall on the loose and charred terrain beneath him. The ground evened out towards the bottom, allowing him to stand without fear of tripping as he mounted it, but he nonetheless applied the same caution in his movements as before as he began to approach the anomaly, the barrel of his gun trained on it.
Whatever the creature was, it wasnât moving and wasnât breathing, which made Mercer all the more apprehensive as he put one foot in front of the other in a delayed fashion. He stopped, bearing over the gnarled form of the creature. His shadow danced on its skin, distorted from the auburn light of the adjacent fires that accentuated just how deathly pale this creature was.
âAre you okay?â Mercer stepped back, a jolt of adrenaline running through him as one of the figureâs bony arms twitched. It looked like what happened when a spiderâs leg jerked after it was smashed, but far more unnatural and repulsive in nature. The soldier applied more pressure on the trigger of his gun, feeling sweat begin to form across his body as the thing started to spasm more. It arose to its full height while continuing the erratic motions it had presented Mercer with previously and taking a step towards him. Its exposed foot appeared vaguely human, but the toes contained serrated yellowed edges where the nails were supposed to be. The majority of the body was still held captive by the flowing charcoal puffs that climbed upwards, save the two luminous yellow eyes that were now staring towards the dumbstruck soldier before them. âYou take one more step and I will be forced to shoot you.â Mercer said, taking a deep breath and stopping his gun from shaking. As if to mock him, the creature took a single step forward. True to his word, Mercer shot.
The flash of the flintlock lit up the dim surroundings for only a second as an antimatter round cut through the hide of the encroaching terror, going right through one end and out the other with so much force dust was kicked up from the pits wall. The creature was knocked back slightly from the power, but its eyes still remained locked on its target. It didnât move an inch as black liquid began started to drip to the ground around it, forming a small pool.
âI donât feel very cooperative today.â If a voice could sound like nails on a chalkboard, it would sound an awful lot like this one. Mercer flinched, taking another step back and flicking the edge of his weaponâs barrel. The used round casing popped from the confines of its chamber with a hiss, a thin trickle of smoke following it on the brief journey to the ashen ground. Mercer reached into his coat and removed a red, marble-shaped object, placing it in the chamber, closing the hatch and cocking the hammer again. âWorked so well the first time, please do try again.â The thing taunted. Mercer hesitated, lowering his gun a little.
âWhat the hell are you?â
The thing scratched the top of its bald head with a taloned finger. âWhat am I? Well Iâm a person, of course, what are you?â The retching noise that followed was what Mercer assumed to be a laugh. âAwfully rude question if you ask me. Almost as rude as shooting someone you just met.â
Mercer shook his head, trying the best he could to stay calm. âVery well, my name is Mercer. What is yours?â
âSee, that wasnât so hard. If you must know me by name you can call me âthe Broken Manâ. Broken for short.â
The soldier standing before âBrokenâ was trying to rationalize talking to such an abomination within his head. âI shot you.â
âI couldnât tell.â Broken said flatly.
âAnd youâre not hurt? Like at all?â
The creature peered down at its torso, dark blood still falling like raindrops to the ground. âOh, this hurts. It would take at least thirty hits like it to have a chance of killing me but even so Iâm not exactly pleased with you right now,â It looked back up again. âYou would probably be dead, actually, but lucky for you I have a little job that needs to be done.â
Mercer raised his gun again, knowing full well it was probably a wasted effort. âWhat kind of âjobâ?â
At last, Broken stepped out of the smoky veil that had been obscuring a good portion of his body to reveal something out of a horror film. Long, claw-like fingernails protruded from his hands, as sharp in appearance as any blade. Mercer almost thought the skin artificial, a coating of wrinkled leathery white material stretched haphazardly across a skeletal frame. The head was just as bony as the rest of its body, sporting hollow and sunken in eye sockets housing two orbs that seemed to be floating within. It had no hair anywhere on its body, standing almost a full foot taller than Mercer.
âIâve come quite a long way and Iâm dying to meet with your superiors. It would be a shame if they had to wait any longer than necessary for me.â It smiled, revealing a set of shattered and rotted teeth from ear to ear. Mercer began taking steps backwards, paying no mind that he would eventually run into the wall of the pit. Broken focused his eyes on the soldierâs attire, his grin fading to be replaced by a more serious expression. âThat eagle insignia. Hmmâ¦â
Mercer looked down to the golden bird of prey pinned to his uniform. It still glimmered even in these surroundings; a beacon of hope for him now. âDoes it mean something to you?â He asked, mind racing for ways to possibly escape the situation.
Broken shrugged. âItâs familiar. Certainly explains why your reaction is different than I expected.â
âWeâre used to this kind of thing, although we usually fight instead of talk with what we meet.â Mercer kept a wary eye on Broken as he took a few steps to his left, seeming to glide upon the rubble underneath him in an unexpectedly graceful manner, all the while returning a similar gaze.
âSmoke doesnât seem to phase you that much.â Broken said. Mercer narrowed his eyes.
âCould say the same to you.â
âNow donât be like that. Well, anyways, I think itâs high time that we were on our way, donât you agree? Heard your Emperor isnât the most patient person.â
Mercer grunted. âIf you think theyâll let you within ten miles of him youâre sadly mistaken.â
âI can be quite persuasive, I assure you.â The Broken man impaled the wall of the pit with his right arm so powerfully that it sent a rumble through the very air, throwing a puff of dust out from the point of entrance. He repeated this with his left arm a little above the other, beginning to scale the edge like a spider on a wall. Mercer watched, trying to appear as unimpressed as possible. He turned, glancing up at the obsured area above him and to the rim of the crater.
âVault.â It felt like falling from a building, air cascading around you on all sides as you plummet towards the ground. For the briefest of moments reality became a blur, the smoke the dust and the fire all blending together into a skewed three dimensional world. Then it stopped, and Mercer stood upon the charred forest ground, back facing his original position. He didnât like using the technique that much given how often it could endanger the life of someone who didnât know how to properly control it. One second you were preparing for a go and the next, you were reduced to red paste on the side of a brick wall.
Thankfully, Mercer had been taught to reign in the techniqueâs renegade nature during training and managed to properly calculate distance and thrust. Even so, his mastery of the Cambrian language was minimal compared to his peers, thus he used it infrequently. He watched as Broken clawed himself up the last portion of the incline, throwing himself to his feet in one final motion and taking a fluid and exaggerated bow.
âYou can have the speed and I can have the style.â The creature said mockingly. Mercer scoffed and spun himself around, beginning his trek back towards base camp.
âYou coming or not?â
âOh, Iâm right behind you.â
For a while, the walk was uncomfortably silent. Mercer tried concealing just how unsettled he was, but feared that his brisk pace and occasional furtive glances over the shoulder had already given him away. They both slipped down the rocky terrain bordering the crash site without a word to each other. Mercer never expected to find anything living in the crater, let alone the monstrosity whose shadow loomed over him. It was surreal, and even now he felt adrenaline flowing through him, birthed from the fear he had of this unknown and more than likely malicious entity. Brokenâs footsteps sounded so close to his own that Mercer was surprised that their feet werenât colliding. He could only hope and pray that the creature wasnât planning on killing him in these forests, and Mercer wasnât entirely sure of that.
Mercer almost felt those two hollow eyes boring into him from behindâ¦ And see the toothy smile stretched across Brokenâs leathery face.