The company confirmed the reports: outside these walls was nothing but evil. Cultists ran rampant, killing creatures and humans alike. No one went south outside the gates, only other directions toward other civilizations. To the south was certain doom, and many of my fellow scientists had seen the evidence.
That was day one of training at my new position. We made our machines and researched many creatures and plants, all for the betterment of mankind. I was in charge of new science, a relatively new branch of the government-owned company that focused on developing new methods and technology. I thought with the dangers of the south maybe we should try to harness something into energy or weapons or other practical things. But no one went south outside the walls.
Despite the warnings, I loved to sit atop the wall and eat my lunch. I’d watch into the dark forest with black and purple trees, no doubt corrupted by evil creatures that lurked within. I never saw a cultist, monster or demon the whole first month I lived there.
I wanted to study the forest for myself, see what biological anomaly made for purple leaves and blackened trunks. I wanted to find mutated creatures and discover some new genome responsible for the physical changes. I wanted to find a cultist and study them too. But it was always discouraged and I was never brave enough to head out alone after the stories I’d heard and perpetuated.
The rumors I heard sounded like scary stories to keep children up at night. Cultists sacrificing each children, kidnapping caravans and who knows what else. I was terrified to go out there but equally intrigued.
One day while sitting on the wall, I was cleaning my pistol. Force of habit, I was always armed. I may be a scientist but I’m also a realist and no city is safe alone. Cursing under my breath, I made my way out the gate and to the south side of the wall, creeping along and hoping nothing was waiting for me in the shadows.
I got to my pistol and picked it up with a grin, wiping off the dirt and checking the inside was clean. I had just started back toward safety when I heard a scream in the distance. “It must be a trap,” I thought to myself. But my curiosity could not be quenched. I made my way past the greenery and into the black forest beyond the shadow of the wall. Carefully working toward the source of the sound, I kept my pistol cocked and my finger near the trigger. I could hear my heartbeat inside my head as the pounding sent adrenaline through my veins.
There was a scurry of leaves to my right, causing me to jump and point my gun at nothing. I followed the sound until I found it. Hiding behind a tree, I watched carefully at what was unfolding. Before me was a woman in a large hat with a bloodied arm. She didn’t look like any cultist I’d ever heard of, nor did she look evil or anything but innocent. She was fighting off what I can only assume were two very large, deformed, giant men. Honestly, they looked a lot like a troll from a fairytale would. A third troll laid unmoving to the side, head bloodied.
The woman was backed against a tree, ready to make her final stand. Still full of adrenaline and a bit confused, I lept out, took aim and shot the nearest troll in the back of the head. The crackle of my pistol echoed through the trees and, with a resounding thud, the creature fell over. The other one looked back at me, giving the woman time to slip behind a tree and escape.
It was about this time I regretted my decision to help, as the woman was gone and I had an angry mythical creature walking towards me with every intent on ending my quiet life. He looked pissed, dragging a club with a firm grip. My next shot missed and the troll ran forward, one arm reaching at me. I closed my eyes, unable to take another shot.
In a flash of light, the troll tripped and fell forward. I could see the woman holding a stick, standing where she’d originally escaped. She waved the stick around and suddenly roots were springing forth to trap the downed troll. Vines squeezed the life out of it in mere seconds, its neck snapping under the pressure. Magic doesn’t exist, I thought to myself. I have the science to prove it. What sort of device did she use to do all that? Why is she out here alone?
“How did you–” I began to ask but I was cut off by another wave of the stick and a flash of light.
The world grew around me and I fell a good distance to the ground below, landing on my hands and feet, somehow unharmed. Black trees towered over me, the blades of grass on the ground were half the size of my head and even the woman in the distance seemed larger. She ran off into the forest without a word. Confused, I took a step and noticed a furry leg beneath me. My leg was furry. I quickly realized the world didn’t get bigger, I got smaller.