Chapter 1: Arrival

This story may depict graphic or violent scenes. Reader discretion is advised.

On the shores, a body lies in the water.

It looks like a boy, barely an adult. He has short white hair and pale skin, as if he has not seen the light of day in months. Wet, worn out clothes and a remembrance of his past self chained to his wrist. He lies there perfectly still as the water flows past him, until…

“HAAHH,” he gasps as he realises he’s awake.

“W-w-where am I?” Stride asks himself.

“No, this cannot be-I… I…”

He manages to sit up on his knees. Carefully, he inspects himself, checking to see whether he’s injured. Feeling between his toes all the way up his back.

“How is this possible?”

“Haha.. ha.. hahahahaha..!” 

All he can do is laugh, laugh at the absurdity of his circumstances. He looks down at the reminder of his former life, the chains that once tied him down.

“I cannot believe it, I made it out alive.” Tears of joy roll down his face.

How long was I kept captive by Byzma? He who destroyed my will to live. There is no turning back now that I made it out of that hellscape. They will come for me.. But what of the others?

Byzma The Marauder, a feared pirate, does not take prisoners. He creates them. By taking apart every sense of humanity and instilling the idea of absolute hierarchy. Byzma dominates and everyone else follows.

Splash, Splash

Not far from here, someone is slowly coming out of the water. Moving towards Stride, at a leisurely pace.

Who is that? Is someone there?

Stride senses the presence of someone coming closer. Have his captors already caught up to him? He turns around to see what’s behind him.

He sees a person standing in the distance. Is it another slave? 

Out of caution Stride does not raise his hands to greet this mysterious visitor. He’s still unsure whether it is safe to do so. His eyes feel tired as the person moves in closer and closer. This reveals the stumble in the person’s movement. From what Stride can tell, it does not seem threatening. He assumes it is a somewhat taller older man. But how would he get here? Another survivor perhaps who lived through the storm?

However, the reality of the situation was not something Stride could ever imagine.

It was nothing like he had ever seen before. A tall, grotesque creature inched ever closer towards him out of the sea. The distorted manner of walking made Stride freeze in place.

How can this be happening?

“Wha..” He could not even utter a word, or anything that could make sense of this situation. Still down on his knees, he froze, unable to move a muscle.

The beast came in closer, and closer until it was only a few meters away from him.

Move legs… MOVE

He screams at himself to move, to stand up, and to run away. But the fear the creature instills in him paralyses him. He seems lost in despair.

Is this how it ends…?

The beast, at least 3 meters tall, towers over him. The creature’s ill intent radiates from its body as Stride shivers in fear. He knows he has to get up and run. Out of frustration, he starts hitting his legs.

Why won’t you move?!

And then, he is up and able to run. As fast as he can. Away from the monster on to the mainland.

“What do you want from me?” He shouts after making some distance.

The monster does not respond, but simply follows him wherever he goes. The tall and imposing figure makes its way in a slow and leisurely fashion, barely holding itself upright. Stride is sure that once it gets a hold of him, it will kill him.

He continues to run inland. Every time he looks over his shoulder, he can see the beast closing in on him.

The moment he trips or loses balance, it will be game over.

Just focus on moving your legs, one step at a time

“I cannot keep this up, he’s going to catch me…” He says as his breathing becomes heavier. 

In his former life Stride was taken prisoner and forced to row on a warship. The confined spaces he lived in have diminished his ability to run.

Again he looks over his shoulder…

Just as he does, he sees the beast lunging toward him. Stride is barely able to dodge its attack. As if by a miracle, he is able to keep his balance and he continues to stumble forward, carried on by pure adrenaline.

I cannot let this thing get this close to me again..

The creature’s long limbs have jagged and rough edges, that could easily rip apart Stride’s flesh. Such an injury would be fatal.

Just keep running; there must come a point that the creature will leave him alone. It is all Stride can think about: get away from this monstrosity.

The creature looks agitated. It seems to be having a hard time remaining upright after a lunge forward. Its movements look stiff and slow. Perhaps being on land has given it some discomfort and made it slow down.

However, it does not seem to be tired in the slightest and continues its pursuit of Stride after regaining its balance. It is clear the beast is fully intent on taking him down.

“…!”

Stride looks forward and spots a narrow opening in the mountain up ahead. If he can just get to that point, maybe he can find safety from the monster. This is his only chance. Running any further will only tire him out.

Just as Stride had made up his mind where he was heading, the earth starts to rumble. Both he and the creature struggle to keep their balance as they feel something moving below the surface of the earth. The ground shakes as the stones dance around them.

Both Stride and the creature come to a halt. Right in front of them a gigantic being erupts from the ground. Rubble and debris fly everywhere. Stride tries to protects himself from the dust getting into his eyes. Unable to see clearly what is in front of him, he waits for the dust to settle. Once he is able to look in front of him, he sees that something enormous has appeared…

He looks up and sees an even more menacing beast staring down at him. He shivers with fear. Standing there he almost forgot about the creature chasing him. In a second he feels all hope fade…..

The creature on the other hand does not seem to be bothered by this new monster. Perhaps its hunger is greater than his fear of the enormous serpent looming overhead.

Stride knows once he gives in to his fears, it will be the end for him.

Guessing the creature’s intentions, Stride runs towards the mountain ridge. This was the only way for him to survive either of his pursuers. He gives everything in that moment, angry at the world for placing him in this situation. He is uncoordinated, tired, and feels like passing out from exhaustion. And yet he is relentless in his attempt to survive.

“Huff.. Huff… I… made it…”

The serpentine giant glares at him through the cave entrance, with its pitch black, devouring eyes. This beast demonstrates the absolute insanity of his situation. There is no turning back anymore to his former life. Or out of this cave for that matter. He is trapped.

Stride walks away, deeper inside the cave. Still trying to grasp the fact that he made it out alive. At the same time, still gasping for air, he reflects on what has happened these last couple of minutes. Moments that should have been joyous for him as he is once again a free man.

“This cannot be real…”

Being forced to run from horrors beyond human comprehension. Fantastical creatures that should not even exist.

“If this was a dream, then why do I feel such a strong urge to stay alive?”

An urge that I haven’t felt in such a long time. The desire to truly live again!

Still afraid of the glaring serpent behind him, Stride resolves to go deeper into the cave. He musters up all his strength and slowly moves through the cave. He’s weakened, starving, and exhausted.

“I have to keep going… If I stop now, it will be the end of me..”

As he crawls deeper into the cave, it becomes even narrower. Eventually he is forced to crawl on his stomach, barely able to push with his legs. Eventually he can only pull himself forward with his arms. As he continues to move deeper inside the cave, he realises there is no way return. It is too narrow and exhausting.

He starts hearing something in the distance. After his experiences outside, Stride is fearful of what is yet to come. He keeps moving further along the tunnel until it widens into a larger space: a cave.

Here, he is confronted with yet another horror.

End of chapter 1.