I've convinced myself I'm not dreaming. It's a hazard to think that this all might be a dream, or that it isn't real; if it isn't, than I must stay alive, and I must focus to do that. Survival comes first, obligations second, everything else after.
I'm writing this because I think I might go insane otherwise. I lost my journal with the rest of my kit when all this insane debacle first occurred. I've been given several sheets of strange, smooth paper. It has lines on it that are blue, and red. I know it sounds strange, but it almost looks like a large sheet of candy, dressed in smart stripes.
Everything is different here – strange here. I don't know where Katie is... or my children. It pains me to think of what might have befell them. Once again, something that I must block out for the moment. It does not benefit me to think about it at the moment, so I won't. Thomas is almost fully grown now, anyway – he's thirteen, he can take care of himself. I'm only really worried about Katie, and Martha. I hope that they are alright.
I find it... difficult, to describe the world here. Nothing is what I would have expected, even in my wildest nightmares. Enormous metal buildings the likes of which I have never seen stand closer together than rifles in a magazine. I have been assured by those that I have met that they are not German, or American. I have already put out of mind the possibility that they are of the Queen. Even having been away from the Isles for so many years, I have never heard of anything like this. Some of the buildings are three times as tall as the largest building that I spied in London, back in my marine days.
The streets, at least in the city, are crowded on every side by these monstrous buildings, but there are scant people around. It is a strange thing, this world. Some portions of it are crowded with people, but most are silent as the grave. The sun shines rarely here, and the nights are filled with thunder and rain. The climate is most peculiar – even though I have been here long enough, not one day has it changed from overcast. I imagine this is what it is like for the poor Russians.
We mostly stay in the city, in these strange buildings. Once again, it seems that we are the only occupiers here. I imagine that a war of a kind that I have never before seen has swept through this place, taking all the inhabitants with it. It rings of something I was told by my instructors about Bonaparte – that in his exploits of the countryside he 'left no-one alive.'
The countryside here is strange, as well. It is almost that the surrounding land cannot make up its mind. With scant chance for the sun or the stars, and not a compass in sight, I have had a time of figuring out the directions; however, in the end I've been able to manage. I mark that to the south, there is a bay that I have only glimpsed from the top of one of these metal towers. To the north-west is a rang of bleak mountains that do not look at all pleasant. There is no jungle, which was an understandable change from my diet this past decade, but forest begins to the west and north of the city. Much of the rest is hills... dotted by lakes and run-down shacks. There is a watchtower that is very defensible some ways north-west of the city, towards the mountains. I must keep it in mind, should the need arise for a safe hideaway.
What I mean about the country not being able to make up it's mind is this – the closer to the coast, it is warm and even tropical, much like the climate of my post in India. However, the climate changes almost every half-hour closer to the mountains, which are capped with snow all the time I have been here. It is, indeed, quite a strange puzzle, and one I don't feel I am equipped to ponder. The greatest experts I know of would certainly be scratching their heads.
It is strange, then, that I can relax at all. Of course, it may be pointed out, I have not relaxed, at least no completely, in the two weeks that I have been here. Time is twisted here as well, with the days going sometimes slower than the last. People I have seen one day appear much older, or even younger, the next. I find myself completely encased by the foreignness of it all.
Duly, I note that I could waste several sheets of this precious paper going on about all the strange things here, but I do not believe that would be time well spent. I must endeavor to instead record the events that befell me these past weeks, and organize them into some sort of coherent whole. I should remind myself that nothing here is the same as it was back home, and even more dangerous than in all of the campaigns I have ever been in. I must endeavor to survive.
Before the Event, I was almost home. I had been given leave after the capture of one of the native's battalions in the area; it was amazing to me at the time the sheer deprivation and lowness that the natives of the area find themselves in. Their living conditions are deplorable, and, though their spirit strong, their conflict hopeless. Their battalions could hardly be termed such, especially since the capture of their capital, recorded elsewhere.
The Commander, therefore, had given me a needed break, especially as the season for campaigning ended. We were to ship back to our fort on Singapore Island, and were to stay there (comfortably), until the intervening flu season was ended. It was a shame that the climate in the area kept us from fighting for some of the year, but any excuse to get back to Katie was an excuse I did not mind in the slightest.
The boat was unpleasant, the Captain doubly so. He was a true bowl of a man, with whiskers that, rather than make him dashing, made him appear slightly like some of the apes I have heard tales of. In fact, I had to severely discipline one of my Privates – and enlisted man – for laughing at him when he first walked by. Regardless of personal feelings, certainly courtesies had to be observed, especially since this man (one Captain Braeson, as I later learned) controlled whether we got back to the colony at Singapore or not.
It does not take long to get from the mainland to the island, as I have stated before. My naval compatriots have informed me that it has something to do with the currents around Singapore – apparently, they are the best in the region, which is why the island is now a possession of Her Majesty.
However, this time, things unrolled differently, to my great dismay. A typhoon hit us the day before the Thanksgiving holiday (something which, I'm sure, has shaken my faith more sincerely than anything before), and tossed our transport vessel more readily than a small child would handle a toy soldier.
Of course, I had been trained for this, as had my fellow officers. Since most of our troops (myself included) cannot swim, the options were either to stick with the ship and pray for a miracle, or evacuate to the small boats; the advantage of this being a greater individual chance of survival if any one boat became untenable. Our group stayed with the ship as long as we could, but unfortunately, that wasn't long enough to wait out the storm. I tasted the grimy salt water of, and didn't expect to see Katie ever again.
Imagine my surprise when I woke up... somewhere else. This place. Obviously, I at first believed that I must have died, or else must be having some brand of manic hallucination. That quickly changed.
The sky was dark above me – I was in a small park much like that at the governor's residence in Singapore, only not as well manicured, and the paths overgrown and mangled. Lightning and thunder reigned above me, pierced only the brief splatter of water against the earth as rain poured down unevenly. It seemed, of course, that I had never left the storm behind me, and I still believe that, due to some strange phenomenon, I brought it through to this world with me (although I have been assured that that is not the case, I'm still not sure what to believe).
I could not, at first, process the world around me. It was just as if I had woken, startled, from a dream... It was hard to connect to my surroundings. Eventually, I stumbled up from my position, leaning against a tree, looking out at the rain falling beyond the branches. I am not proud to say that I became sick several times; my insides felt like they had the first day I had stepped onto a ship. It was like becoming a new recruit again – everything was unpleasant, and strange. There was no warmth, and precious little light, save for tall lamp-posts that I have observed glow brighter than any I have ever seen.
Overall, I had to have stood there for at least twenty minutes, although it felt like longer. I leaned against the tree, breathing heavily, and I felt for all the world like I was stripped of everything – laid bare. I wondered if this was judgment of some kind, or worse, hell. I have even now not ruled out that possibility, for some of the things I have seen seem hellish, or the worst kind of phantasm.
The first thing that convinced me that I was still alive was pain. I began to steady myself as the rain stopped, and then a flash of pain behind my eyes. I was lying on the earth, what I could only describe as a shadow man standing over me. It would almost have been comical, if I described it to anybody back in the fort. There were a pair of terrible eyes, and a salivating jaw, but beyond that, it was simply a figure made entirely out of shadow deeper than the sky above. It almost seemed to swallow the light.
I still don't know what attracted them to me, but I didn't pause to think about it at the time. I scrambled up, feeling blood drip down the back of my neck soon mingled with the rain. I became thoroughly drenched in seconds, but it didn't register compared to the chill that racked through me as the apparition moved closer. I could almost hear it's rattling breath over the sound of the thunder – it bore down on my ears and became more oppressive than any sound I have ever known.
And there were more of them; I could see them standing off under other trees, and behind me in a loose ring. I knew with a primal instinct that they would attempt to render me lifeless, most likely painfully. I didn't know at the time how close I came to a terrible fate.
I snapped a branch off the tree, and held it at arms length. Reading my previous journals, you most likely know that I am a terrible hand at swordplay – but here it was either defend or die. I had no wish to die, so I took the only other option available.
Belatedly, I felt for my pistol, but found none. As I had first suspected, my affects were completely absent – I still do not know what became of them. I may have lost them in the storm before ever I came here.
The creatures... stretched closer. They have an odd manner of movement, almost like a liquid in their viscosity, and they walk with a gait wholly unrecognizable as anything human. I have never seen it, not even among the native tribes I have fought. I am sure that these beasts were not of man – or even of God.
I fended them off with several well aimed attacks, but I knew it could not last. Their ring was slowly closing in, and I knew that the base branch I had was no saber: I could not hold them. I tried my best – I even made two of the beasts disappear.
The way they attacked was just as odd as their movement. They seemed to have a kind of rhythm to it – a pattern, almost like one of the equations they drilled into my head at school. Somehow, I managed to adapt myself to oppose this pattern – they almost signaled their moves to my beforehand, and I managed to stab off several of them.
Off in the distance, there was a yell. I do not know to whom it belonged, but they may have saved my life. The beasts looked up, sniffing at the air as if hunting dogs. I could have sworn that they could literally tell where the scream had come from simply... smelling it. I could tell whoever it was was certainly female – I felt a pang of fear for Katie.
Several of the shadows disappeared – melting away almost like smoke from a rifle. While they were distracted, I stabbed one of them directly in front of me, and broke for the edge of the park. I did not know if I could outrun them, but I calculated that my only option was, indeed, to run.
I could still hear them, following me. One stepped out from behind a building as I reached the edge of the park. Some of the streets were covered in darkness, the shade of the buildings bordering producing almost a void in the road. I could see dozens of pairs of eyes looking out at me from these spaces. I dodged away, running instead down the broad avenues that at least had a little light from the lamps.
Eventually, I knew that somehow, I had lost them. I slowed down, my heart beating faster than I thought possible. I had not been this unnerved, even during my first engagement. There was nothing right, or holy about the kind of fighting I had to engage in – simply to preserve my sanity.
There was a large, stone tower at the end of the avenue that looked more familiar than any other of the glass-covered monsters. A sign I could barely make out pronounced it the 'Manis Historic Tower,' with the date of our lord 1827. I noted that the building looked very run down for an installation built only twenty-five years before, but did not think more of it at the time.
I was cautious now, but the lamps alive at the street corners around me seemed to have kept any pursuers at bay. I took several hesitant paces around the grounds, looking for any signs of occupants, but found none. I went up to the door to find it slightly ajar.
Cautious, I pushed forward on the heavy metal hinges. Inside I could hear the gentle dripping of water on stone. The sound comforted me, for I heard nothing else. Of course, I had half expected some sort of garrison in the tower, at least – but that would have made too much sense for a place such as this.
I stepped in, taking one final look behind at the surrounding plaza. I would have to create better defenses in the morning – their were trees lining the walk leading up to the tower. Perhaps I could arrange a fairly stable position, since the tower was on a slight rise.
The door closed behind me as I walked further in. There was no sign of movement, of life, anywhere. I couldn't even spot provisions, or and of the trademarks that would have shown any occupation of the tower at all. There was only a small, leaning desk with cold paper pamphlets – such as one might find for a circus or show. I dusted the top off of the desk, to find that the layer of the stuff was more thick than any laid in the last ten years – the place must have been emptied before that.
There was a staircase that led around the wall up to another level above – and, I quickly found out, the stairs went around the tower several more floors, for a total of four. The trapdoor to the roof was locked, and I had no way of penetrating through it. There were windows on every floor at what I can only assume were the four compass directions. I looked out, but could not see anybody approaching the tower. The rain had ceased, and it made me feel marginally more secure.
I paused to consider my next step. I had no allies, no way of contacting any support. I was completely on my own, and there was an enemy outside of an undetermined number or origin. Needless to say, it appeared rather bleak. My only comfort was that it appeared that the creatures had limitations. However, I was not certain what exactly those were.
The thought, I remember, at the top of my mind was how on earth I was here, and how I could possibly get back. There was no way that I knew of: I didn't even know how I came to be in this strange place in the first instance.
"I might be able to help you with that."
I spun around, aiming my branch at the darkness. I could not tell which direction specifically the voice had come from, but I was now on the alert.
"Show yourself!" I demanded. "I have no desire injure you!"
There was a laugh. The voice seemed next to be very close by my ears, causing hairs to rise on my neck. I spun around, but there was nobody. "You're threatening me with a stick," the voice mocked.
"Who are you?" I yelled again. "Where are you."
"Please, relax," the Voice came again. "I'm not going to attack you, either."
"Prove it, and come out into the light," I suggested, breathing heavily.
A figure slowly stepped out into the middle of the floor. I was certain that no-one had been in the tower, so I was immediately suspicious.
"What nation do you call home?" I asked, a standard question for an adversary. This man, in a cloak almost as dark as that of the shadows, laughed again.
"That's... complicated," he said. I could see a grin on his face. "Let's skip that question – for now."
"Then are you a mercenary?" I questioned. A worse possibility occurred to me. "Are you – are you one of those... things?"
The man looked questioningly at me. "What things?" he stared for several long seconds until a look of understanding came over him. "Ah," he sighed. "You mean the Servants – the demons that attacked you."
"Yes," I nodded.
The man's gaze hardened. It was difficult to tell in the light, but he looked younger than I, even though he held an air of someone with power. I wondered if he was a dignitary or officer of some kind. His English certainly was not of the King's variety, but of an untraceable accent. "No. I am not with them. In fact, quite the opposite. They are our enemies."
"'Our'?" I asked. "Who is 'our'?"
"You know, I saw you back there," the man said, irreverently dodging the question. "That wasn't half bad."
"What?" I stopped. "What do you mean?"
"The Servants, you fighting them off – some people don't last that long."
"You're raising more questions, man; goddammit!" I yelled, getting frustrated, still waving my branch at him. "Where the hell am I, who are you, and what are we both doing here?"
"Well, I can only answer one of those," the man sighed again. He moved off toward the window. "Out there, it's... Auruboth. The First World. The World Between, call it whatever you want. It's not a place one gets to easily."
"What am I doing here?" I asked again, a bit more calm now. I was finally getting somewhere, even if there was no way I trusted this cloaked man yet.
"I can't answer that..." the man said. "Only you can."
"What is that supposed to mean?" I demanded. "Who are you?"
"Most people just call me Slop Doggy," the man said. I had him repeat it several times.
"Is that even a name?" I asked, not sure of what I had heard.
"No, but it's better than nothing." Under his breath, I thought he muttered "better than my real one, anyway."
"Alright, erm... Mr. Doggy," I stumbled. "What, pray-tell, do you want?"
"Well, that depends," the man said. I decided I would assign him a name other than the one he had given me, at least in my head. Off a random impulse, I settled on Russel, after the Prime Minister of several years back. Russel continued without hearing the debate in my head. "Do you want to get back home?"
I stopped, thinking before answering. This sounded like a trap, if ever I had smelt one. "Yes," I decided it was safe to answer, "I would like to get home. Of course I do. Why?"
The man... Russel spread his hands. "Well, I can make that happen," he said simply.
"There's a saying – nothing's done without reciprocal," I said slowly. "What do you want?"
"Well, I won't lie," Russel said. "I have... certain needs. We have certain needs – objectives, really. My group. For right now, you can just think of us as the Coalition."
"The Coalition?" I asked. "Of what countries?"
"Not countries," Russel said, shaking his thick head of brown hair. I wasn't sure that he had cut his hair in the past year. "People. A Coalition of individuals... individuals of talent."
"I don't understand," I said.
Russel sighed again. "Those things that you fought – those Servants. At the moment, they're restricted here, in this world. Obviously, you've figured out that this world is set apart – I can tell you're smart. However, there's a chance that they might soon expand into other worlds... yours, for example."
The thought of those creatures terrorizing all those that I knew back home sent shivers of terror through me. "No," I whispered.
"Yep," Russel said sadly. "They aren't even the worst part. They aren't the only minions of Kuroouja – he's the leader of the enemy. You could call him a king."
"This.... Kuroouja," I said. "He has armies?"
"Many armies," Russel nodded gravely. "Our Coalition's sole purpose is to stop him. To avenge the wrongs that he's caused, and to protect the worlds that haven't yet been corrupted by him."
At the center of my being, there was a feeling. A feeling of need to fight against this evil that I had just encountered, and which this man was fighting against. However, practical concerns were still at the top of my mind.
"What do you want me to do? When can you send me home? I assume you can, correct?"
"Yes, I can, definitely," Russel said, moving closer. He touched my branch which I still had up loosely, and I slowly lowered it. "All I want is your help. Your participation and expertise. I can send you home as soon as you're no longer needed."
"And when," I asked, "is that?"
He shrugged. "It depends on how effective you are. How good we all are."
I thought about it. "I don't suppose there's anybody else who could send me home?" I asked, finally. Of course, this man probably wouldn't tell me the truth in that regard, but I had to ask anyway.
"There are others," he said, to my surprise. "But none that would help you. None that would give you as easy a way out as me."
"It doesn't seem that I have a choice," I sighed. I reached out my hand. Russel looked at it blankly for a moment, but then shook. I reminded myself once again that I was in a strange land. I needed allies, and this... 'Slop Doggy' seemed to have his bearing. "I suppose you have a defensible shelter?" I asked next. Only then did I realize how hungry I was. The last food I had had was hard biscuits, and only then, they had been what seemed ages before. "And food?"
"Yeah, actually," he said. "We do." He seemed to think about something for a moment, and then nodded over to the wall. "Just walk through there."
I looked over, following his gaze, to see a slightly glowing gap in the wall that hadn't been there before. It was almost like a newly hung mirror, only filled with smoke, with only the fainest hint of what lay beyond.
He nodded again. "Go ahead." Then, he changed his tack. "Actually, how about I go first?"
I liked that better. He walked ahead, and I followed, keeping my eye on him. I had apparently allied myself with him, but I was still on guard. I hadn't made it to as high as I had without learning to turn distrust to a default system.
We walked through the portal, which felt almost exactly as I would've expected – like walking through a wall of crystallized smoke. It was as if I could feel every bead of air on my body, and then I was through.
This room was much more different than the previous. It was brightly lit, and it had bright furniture of the kind I had never seen. Several people stood up when I entered, and I saw Russel stand off to one side.
"Everybody," Russel gestured to me. "This is Miles."
I didn't remember telling him my name, but shrugged off the discrepancy. The others looked at me not quite as distrustfully as I looked at them. They were stiff, but I knew I was piercing.
They were certainly an odd looking Coalition. One of them looked older than Russel, and perhaps around my age – he was dressed in strange clothes. In fact, they all were. Bright colors, and styles I was no familiar with. My military uniform felt suddenly strangely out of place, and I almost regretted it.
There was another man, a Negro, whom looked quite intimidating. The other two, I'm not ashamed to admit, I first thought to be the other two's wives. One looked to be around the age of Russel, and the other looked only as old as my Martha. However, the look in both of their eyes was at the same time more dull and more sharp than any I had every seen in a woman before. They both bore an air that I was unaccustomed to except in the wives of my enemies.
Suddenly, I started. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted to strange creatures coming closer. One looked almost akin to a lizard out of Satan's own kitchen, and the other almost like the demon cats the natives of Singapore sometimes said guarded their dead children's souls. I will say that I was most unnerved.
"Woah, easy," one of the women, the elder, called out. The growling from the cat beast stopped, and the lizard-like creature did not come closer. I breathed a sigh of relief.
The younger woman stepped closer, inspecting me incredibly closely. "Uh... miss?" I asked uncertainly. "Miss, it is-"
"Miles, huh?" she asked, looking at my uniform. "Where'd you find him? A costume party?"
"Close," Russel said, a small smile barely tinging his lips. "Chloe, I think he's from the past... or something like that. A world in the past. It doesn't matter."
"Is he any good?" the man about my age asked, sitting down again. He drew what I could only guess was a firearm, and began polishing it with the air of a habit practiced often.
"We'll find out," Russel said. He went over to the window of the room, and I looked over to see – with a start – that the ground was very far below. We were near one of the top of the monolithic glass buildings.
Everyone started to relax, and the younger woman sat down. I did not sit, not the least reason because I was incredibly uncomfortable with the entire situation. I feel the need to point out that the women were wearing men's working clothes – something which they've assured me ever since is normal where they come from, but I have an extensively hard time believing.
Russel stiffened suddenly. Then, he looked at the group on the couches. "I'll be back," he said. "Something I have to attend to." He walked out through a door, and I suppose I understood that he had somehow gone farther than that. There was silence in the room for several pained moments.
"Alright, I guess we should... exchange names," the elder woman said, with an air of having done this before. "Since I was the first person to join up with this circus, I'll got first – I'm Momentai. Fast version: Mr. Growls-a-lot is mine. I met up with Slop after a long and strange series of events, and ever since we've been gathering more people. I can make trees beat you up. Next?"
"Momentai," I repeated, interrupting. "That sounds oriental. Are you-"
The woman shrugged. I bristled a little bit. I wasn't accustomed to such rudeness in civilized conversation, even with enemies.
"This is stupid," the younger woman grumbled, but then she relented. "I'm Chloe. I'm incredibly unbalanced, and I'll probably kill you." The woman – Momentai elbowed her. "Fine. Asumon here," she gestured to the demon lizard, "is mine. He's probably smarter than you."
"Thanks," the lizard said happily. I stared horrified at it.
"Oh," Chloe added, "and I can see everything about you. Well, not everything. But I can see... things. About you. Whatever – who's next?"
The Negro spoke next. "Spryous," he said simply. "I burn things, and I can go anywhere I want. Simple as that." He shifted uncomfortably. "And I don't like introductions," he said.
"I guess that leaves me," the last man said. "You can call me HT. I like you – I respect a good military man, and you seem like the type. I'd love to swap stories with you sometime, when we're not busy... I was in the military."
"Really?" I asked, honestly interested. "Which branch... and for whom?"
"Branch..." he paused for a moment, thinking it over. "The Special Forces branch... I'm not sure if that exists for you." I shook my head slowly. "I was inserted into... sensitive situations. Tight spots."
"Alright," I said, at least understanding the concept.
"Now what about you?" HT asked.
"Well, I..." I thought about it. "My name is James Miles of Her Majesties Service-"
"God, he's a limey," Chloe muttered. "Fucking A."
I ignored her... barely. "I was stationed in Singapore with my wife and children. I got in a storm at sea, and here I am."
"Huh," Momentai said slowly. "It never happens the same way twice. I mean, I don't think we've ever seen anybody from the past before. I wonder what caused it?"
"I don't know that, myself," I said politely. "I enlisted with this group because your leader said he could get me home."
"Oh, a means to and end, huh?" Spryous raised an eyebrow. "Wonderful." I could tell the others were a bit disappointed as well.
"Not exactly," I responded. "I assure you I will commit my best efforts towards your cause."
"You know what?" Momentai said slowly, looking at the others. "I think I believe him."
"Figures," Chloe muttered. "God. Just what we needed." She looked up at me. "I don't suppose you have any weapons... or powers?"
"I... erm... no," I said lamely.
"Slop must've had a reason for picking him," HT shrugged.
"Yes, well..." I sighed. "I'm sorry, but is there anything to eat?"
"What? Oh, sure," Momentai nodded, pointing back towards an area that looked like a kitchen – only covered in glass that made it shine under the impossibly bright lights in the ceiling. "Over in the fridge – er, icebox or whatever."
"Thank-you," I bowed slightly, and walked over to the kitchen area. It was strange. Every surface was cool to the touch. Everything shine, brighter than the silverware at the governor's table in Singapore. I opened a cupboard, only to find what looked like boxes. Colored boxes.
I took one out, and turned it over several times in my hands.
"Oh my god," Momentai sighed, watching me. She got up, and walked over, taking the box from my hand. She took out a bowl, and opened the box, pouring a stream of some kind of grains... like oats... into the bowl. "It's cereal," she said slowly, as if I were a child. She got out a spoon, and handed it to me. After that, she opened the large white box, from which cold air emanated, and brought out a smaller white box. From this she poured – to my astonishment – cold milk.
"There," she said, satisfied. "Eat."
I sat down at a table adjacent to the kitchen, holding the bowl. I looked at it for another moment, and then took the spoon in hand. The cereal tasted like... nothing I'd ever had before. It did taste slightly what I imagined oats would taste like.
"It's good," I said after swallowing.
"Jesus H. Christ, this is gonna be a long night," Chloe groaned from the couch.