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Dork #2
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all purpose cleaner.png
[a 1x1 between AreSneksSly and smolfluffball]
(We do not mean to bash other styles, please be aware: we are simply exploring our own abilities in writing with much detail, so much detail, and it will most likely be quite different with every new addition to the story. This was proposed as a dumb experiment between two friends, and we're just having fun in our own way!)
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Dork #2
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The forest was nearly silent. Save for the quiet rustling of the green canopy above, not a single sound could be heard. Paper thin columns of light trickled down from the small gaps in the leaves, speckling the ground below with bright yellow.

A small shadow waited with bated breath atop a wooden tower, clutching to his chest a carefully carved rifle. The warm, waning air mingled around him like an overbearing parent, watching over his shoulder as he stared down the sight of his gun at the moss green carpet spread before him, dark brown trunks and rich green clouds sprouting forth from below.

The shadow’s name was Brook, and his skin was the color of freshly brewed coffee. Cheeks full and face round, the 21 year old could pass as 15 if he really tried. His hair was a rat’s nest of curls and tangles, clumps of dirt clinging tightly to the strands. He’d usually comb his fingers through his hair to make it look at least a smidge more presentable, but the last few months had been a whirlwind of assignments and forest trekking. Not exactly the best time to be worrying about hygiene.

Brook adjusted his grip ever so slightly, the caress of wood against the pads of his fingers reminding him he was not just a statue frozen in place. His shoulders had already begun to ache in pain under the weight of his weapon, Source help him if he actually had to shoot anything out here.

But he couldn’t put it down. Not yet. His shift wasn’t over yet.

For a moment, Rapids’ dumb face flashed through Brook’s mind, looking down at him with that stupid pinched frown. ‘You shouldn’t push yourself,’ he could already hear him saying, before going on to complain about how much better he’d perform if he just took the occasional break or two. Oh yeah, Brook could definitely see it, his brother’s olive skin yanked back into his signature half-frown, half-grimace that he always liked to pull whenever Brook was training or on guard duty.

“You can’t just stay up in your tower all the time, Brook,” the man mumbled under his breath, mimicking his brother’s whine with, at least in his opinion, perfect accuracy. “You’re gonna collapse up there one day and no one’ll know because you also refuse to talk to anyone that isn’t another guard or me.”

“Well sorry I’m actually dedicated, Rapids,” Brook mumbled back, eyes narrowing into a glare as he continued to stare at a very interesting patch of light and grass. “Maybe I should just grow a million inches and immediately get assigned a higher position. Seems like it worked out real great for you, right? Stupid lanky little—”

His grip tightened. Brook was close to biting out another insult before a pang of pain interrupted him, this time strong enough where the man had to suppress a hiss that nearly slipped past his gritted teeth. Of course.

With a rumbling groan rolling out from the back of his throat, Brook finally lowered the barrel, letting it drop down to face the floor. Cracks echoed throughout the woods when he rolled his shoulders, the man letting out a sigh of relief as satisfaction flowed through his body. While his knees had started to ache in a similar fashion, he couldn’t take the risk that came with dropping his guard completely and leaning against the half-wall that separated him and the rest of the world. Besides, the western side of the base was sparse enough as is, it couldn’t handle one of its mere four guards getting lazy and inattentive.

With a sigh, he raised his rifle once again. Gone was the glare in those hazel eyes, replaced with placid disinterest. Although not conscious, the ache in his legs had already started to steal away Brook’s focus, a silent timer beginning to tick down in his head. And could you blame him? He’d spent most of the last hour or so on high-alert, eager to prove his skills with a gun when he shot down and killed whatever wild boar or leaf-licker came too close to the base. Yet so far, nothing had happened, dulling his interest till it was more blunt than a butcher’s favorite cleaver. Besides, Brook’d come up with some killer insults for Rapids, and damn him if he wasn’t going to use them soon before they vanished into the ether, commanding officer or not.

With the timer nearing its conclusion and the ache in Brook’s legs steadily becoming worse, the man was so close to the end of his shift before a crash bounced out of the forest.

The male froze, furry ear twitching as his whole body tensed. The fingers holding his rifle tightened, gripping onto the wooden object like his life depended on it. Which, in all likelihood, it did.

Raising the gun’s sight until it was pointing squarely at the source of the sound, Brook’s lips definitely did not tremble as he pulled them apart, barking out “who’s there?” into the woods and hoping that whatever it was wasn’t smart enough to answer.
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Dork #1
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In the undiscovered forest, full of lost things and hiding places, an enigma wandered. The age of this enigma was an astonishing ninety-seven years old, but the appearance of this enigma resembled that of a much younger human male. The exact age of the appearance of the human male will remain undisclosed, though knowledge is helpful to have: the age of the body is above nineteen and below thirty. Do you see how this being, in this wondrous forest colored in shades of serene blues and gentle greens, was an enigma? An age that does not match the body, a body that does not match the age, with skin that beautifully displays the bite marks from the undead.

Yes, that’s correct! The end of the world is here. The undead have taken over. They are hungry. They are starving. They are desperate. They are not truly undead; instead, a different kind of alive. This will be explored later, for any curious minds that happen to stumble upon this rambling story set in a magical forest full of strife and love and misery and joy and anguish and complete and utter wonderment.

Now, these marks… They are diseased marks, decorating the upper portion of the enigma’s left shoulder in a bizarre circular pattern, almost as if whatever undead human had gnawed on the enigma had a delicious feast of flesh, specifically the thin flesh of the least fleshy part of a human body. They crossed over the shoulder blade of the enigma’s back and over the collarbone of the enigma’s front and continued in an ovular shape that left the edge of the shoulder exposed to the daylight. The marks are important for a later time, though do not fear for the enigma, for he has several tricks and manipulations under his distressed newsboy cap.

The enigma did not look or behave as an elderly man would. His hair resembled the color of the river water when light reflected off of it, during the bright summery months, and his eyes were the color of mountain fern moss, though he had yet to explore the mountains where that moss grew. In other words, he was silver haired, with a dark, slightly overgrown root, and had interesting color changing eyes. A peculiar appearance for someone who appeared to be human, though all should know to not judge based on appearances. The motions this enigma made belonged to those of someone much younger - he moved like he was still spry and pluck, instead of ancient and boney. To give some credit to the enigma, he might be old truly, but the appearance of his body was not unattractive; granted, it was not as charming as some others who will be met later, but he had always been able to get out of trouble with a smile, wink and delicate words full of false flatteries. The ocean spray of freckles that decorated his cheeks and shoulders, even the bitten one, and other wider stretching parts of the body, helped add to his innocent charm, though several of the small brown spots adorning his pale skin were not from the sun's rays or from any biological cause at all. They were from something far more mystical.

These descriptions should be adequate enough to allow room for speculation, just as the enigma himself will, over time.

The name of this enigma was Charlie McKay. He was not the main character. He was not a creature of the forest, but instead some other sort of oddity. He may or may not be important in the long run. Only time will tell.

Charlie, in typical fashion for him, was lost. He had wandered too far and had not kept track of where he was moseying off to. Tending to the bloodied bites on his shoulder had distracted him, perhaps, and stress because of those wounds also played a part into the situation. One should not forgive lost old people with young bodies, though. He should have known better than to walk without a destination in mind. He knew how to keep track of his surroundings and leave hints around to guide him. He knew so much better, and he was so much smarter, so annoyingly much smarter, than to get lost in a magical forest. Or just lost in general.

Amateurs got lost. Charlie was ninety-seven years old, almost ninety-eight, this year. He was not an amateur. He continued to get lost, time and time again, for some reason that possibly related to the age of his brain. Or, perhaps not. He may have been scatterbrained, clumsy, or focused too hard on only one thing at a time, making him oblivious to the other things around him. A different writer would describe that assiduity as a positive. This writer refuses to, for Charlie, because he really should have not gotten lost in this forest. This writer also refuses to be kind to Charlie, at this exact moment, because he got the wrong end of the coin flip, so he was the first chosen. This was supposed to be Jim. Jim is now at the end, after the other two, and Charlie is lost in the forest.

Charlie did not enjoy being lost in the forest. He always avoided it, as much as he could. His old, probably undead now, friends from university, where he had been studying for his twenty-third degree, this one in media studies, had tried to trick him into entering the forest multiple times before. He never fell for it, because he had a brain that functioned at high capacity, frequently. He rarely, if ever, let practical jokes startle him, and he was too astute to be tricked by various forms of deception. He was whip-smart and attentive and logical and he tried to be infallible, so it was rather humorous that his own foolishness had gotten him into this situation now.

The forest held a darkness in it. Charlie’s connection to it ran deep and was all throughout, and he did not want to interfere with it. The balance was difficult to keep, he knew, so well. He would never be able to forget what happened with Timothy when he had overstepped. Charlie got so many freckles, so many brown spots, so many reminders, after that happened, and it only propelled Charlie to repeat his mantra to himself, incessantly: No one is permitted to interfere. No one is permitted to interfere. No one is permitted to interfere. No one is permitted to interfere. No one is permitted to interfere.

The forest, the connection, Charlie’s curse, would forever be unable to be reversed. He had gotten used to it, although it was achingly lonely, being long-lived among those who were not.

The long-lived former university student glanced over his actively bleeding shoulder, the red soaking into his torn and frayed in one specific spot alabaster sweater and staining it an unforgivable color, when he heard a gentle skitter across the leaves on the forest floor. A pinecone hopped along the floor and a chittering came from above him. He let out a laugh and approached the pinecone, crouching down to pick it up when he got near it, keeping the knees of his black jeans off the ground to avoid further staining. He tossed it once in his hand, testing the weight of it, then located the distraught squirrel in the tree, on a branch high up.

“You’re not magical, are you?” he asked the creature, tilting his head when the rodent scampered behind the trunk of the tree. “If you’re magical then you’d not have dropped this,” he mused, examining the strangely shaped collection of seeds in his hand. You’re not magical, are you?” he asked the pinecone, feeling, not for the first time, like a fool.

The squirrel squeaked above him, conversationally.

“Yes, I am, small rodent. I truly am,” he murmured, responding to the creature, answering the question it just asked him, because that was obviously completely normal (it was not). “Could you assist me, friend? I have wandered, I fear, into dangerous territory. I can feel the magic all around me here and I’d like to be away from it.”

The squirrel squeaked three times, tail flicking.

“Ah. Yes, of course. Forgive my impudence.” He ducked his head to the squirrel then lifted the pinecone up to throw it. “Please stay still. I would not like to hit you with this.”

The squirrel’s whiskers quivered and its tail twitched once more, then it moved a couple of inches to the left, almost hiding behind the trunk of the tree again.

Charlie eyed the branch then tossed the pinecone up toward it and watched it float carefully in the air. The squirrel blinked and came out to grab it with its teeth when it floated close enough to grasp, but a crashing somewhere close by startled it so badly it fell from the branch, pinecone and all.

A gasp escaped Charlie’s lips and he ran to catch the small creature, hands out so either he could grab it or it could grab him. The squirrel almost bounced away against his sweater but managed to cling onto his hands, scratching them with its claws and the sharp points of the pinecone. He felt the fluffy tail glance over the skin of his hands as the squirrel scrambled up to his uninjured shoulder, complaining very animatedly around the pinecone still in its mouth. Charlie let out a laugh, surprised by the squirrel's vulgar language, then a strangely accented voice called out from somewhere behind him.

He ducked behind the tree the squirrel had just fallen out of and looked up into the treetops. He spotted a man-made, or equivalent, this far into the forest, wooden tower and could just make out a humanoid shape on top of it. The humanoid shape had a gun pointed toward something in the trees and all Charlie had was his bag and a squirrel and a pinecone.

Oh, this was very bad.

The crashing came again, louder this time, and closer. It sounded large and angry. Heavy breathing and pounding hoof steps, fast approaching. Charlie quickly tried to recall what ungulates lived in the area but was unable to. Deer had never been one of his interests. After ninety-seven years, one would think that he’d know about all the different kinds of animals around. The fact that he did not would prove to be an issue very soon.

A large fawn colored four-legged ungulate came racing through some tall bushes near Charlie, snapping branches and stomping on leaves, thrashing its head dangerously around. A deer, perhaps, or an elk, or a moose, or a reindeer, Charlie’s mind quickly told him, as he stared at the very large, antlered animal, still hidden behind the tree. The squirrel had its small claws dug into the flesh of his neck, clinging partially onto his sweater and entirely onto him. He could see what caused the animal to behave this way - a chunk of its flesh was missing from its left shoulder, the same as Charlie. It was seeping and gooey and turning the sickly pukey seaweed green color that the bites from the undead always turned, except for Charlie’s own bites. It was trying to scream but was unable to, instead letting out choking noises and horrendous gurgling sounds no creature should ever make.

Charlie felt the nausea roil in his stomach and he stepped back. The creature heard him, from the scraping of the nails of his fingers against the bark, and turned its wide, deranged and unseeing eyes to him directly. It wasn’t trying to scream now. Now, it was panting, breathing in his scent, the delicious scent of the blood on his skin, already so easily available to consume.

Oh, this was even worse.

It was not the first time Charlie was prey in another creature's eyes. He hated the tingle that wove its way up each of the vertebrae of his spine but he stayed still, waiting to see what the undead ungulate would do. The squirrel on his shoulder had other ideas and screeched furiously at the creature, which was not the right thing to do.

The undead ungulate let out a high-pitched wheeze and charged at him, antlers first. Charlie ducked around the other side of the tree he was by and felt the air on the back of his hand whoosh over it, the antlers cutting above it. Charlie saw the new red slice on his hand and silently swore, then let out a yelp and barely managed to avoid getting impaled when the ungulate charged him again. It ran into the tree and stumbled backwards, dazed. His left shoulder protested the falling movement and reminded him it was there with a sharp pain. The squirrel continued to hold onto him for dear life.

Charlie groaned and grabbed at his shoulder, rolling it back and wincing, then took the pinecone from the squirrel. It was too distracted trying to not fall off to complain.

“You don’t even eat meat, you dumb animal,” Charlie grumbled, watching the ungulate shake its head and get its balance back. “Guess the undead don’t care about the natural order anymore though.” He rolled the pinecone between his palms and breathed out, picturing in his head what he wanted to happen.

The ungulate rounded on him and stomped its hoof against the ground, huffing. It ducked its head down and took off at him again, but this time, Charlie was prepared. He threw the pinecone at the ground in front of the ungulate and covered his face with his arm when it exploded in a bright blast of white sparks that quickly caught fire on the grass. The ungulate let out a strangled noise and scrambled backwards, terrified. Charlie crept around the white and the ungulate and took off toward the tower, waving a hand back at the white fire to extinguish the illusion.

“Hey!” Charlie called to the humanoid with the gun up in the tower when he got closer to it, ignoring the gun and the peculiar shape of the humanoid's legs. “Help! Please!”

Rylan and Brendon
Picture, if you will: Two human boys, a curly haired blond with tan skin and always stormy, suspicious gray eyes, aged eighteen, and a very short haired brunet with dark brown skin and always thoughtful, searching hazel eyes, aged nineteen. A chance encounter. Neither of them had intended to meet the other, but due to certain zombie circumstances they found themselves hiding in the same abandoned building, which was one of the few that was not destroyed by the bombings. The blond refused to speak with the brunet and told him the reason why he wouldn’t was because the brunet was several inches taller than he was and speaking would only attract the zombies to them, since he was like a massive fucking beacon. A laugh followed this complaint, genuine, surprising, bizarre, since laughter had not been heard in so long. Stunning, to the blond, but not uncommon, to the brunet. The two, opposites, but unknowingly soon to be friends. It always is better to travel with someone during the end of times, and they realized this very quickly.

One seeks to fulfill a promise he made with his older sister, before she got devoured. One seeks companionship, a way to escape from the suffocating, all-consuming loneliness and sadness.

They found each other. They would not have been friends before the end of the world, but now they would always protect each other. And they both were also lost in the forest. They were not going to experience the same problem that Charlie was experiencing. The problem they were soon to experience would lead to an interesting situation that neither could possibly be prepared for. How could they be prepared, though, when they did not believe in the magic in the forest?

“Did you hear that?” Brendon asked, scanning the trees and bushes around them.

“What, you mean the explosion?” Rylan sneered, scowling and slicing off a frond of a fern with his blood-stained short sword, which he snatched off of some poor dead man’s not undead corpse prior to the events of this scene. “I told you we shouldn’t come into the forest, but you insisted there’d be no fires here. ‘Oh, we’ll be fine, don’t worry, Ry! It’s fine! All is good!’”

“I didn’t say it like that.” Brendon pouted, watching Rylan whack another innocent plant with his blade. “No one ever comes into the forest so I didn’t think there’d be any zombies here.”

“Right, yeah, no zombies!” Rylan gasped and brought a hand to his face, mock amazed. “So then what the fuck was that explosion?” He waved his sword haphazardly over toward where the explosion came from. “Are they just blowing up trees for some fucking reason? Burning tree, zombies flee, humans are free?”

“I still think you should write a poetry book,” Brendon said, smiling when Rylan scoffed and rolled his eyes. “I don’t know what that noise was, but I don’t think anyone would bomb a forest.”

“If it was a forest full of zombies they would,” Rylan mumbled, studying his sword. He lifted his gaze and met Brendon’s eyes, which were almost constantly on him, then scanned the trees too, trying to ignore the stupid tickle in his stomach. “If you don’t think it was an explosion then do you think it was something relating to the rumors?”

“You mean the spooky rumors?”

“Stop grinning like that.” Rylan went over to Brendon and smacked his arm with his empty hand, sighing when Brendon whimpered. “I never gave them any credence, but didn’t everyone always say that if you went too far into the woods you’d never come out again? Didn’t kids at your school dare you to go into them and if no one did then everyone was a massive chicken and had to wear rooster headbands for two weeks?”

“That happened at your school?” Brendon asked eagerly. “Wait, did you have to wear a rooster headband? Do you have pictures?”

“The printed ones got blown up with the rest of my neighborhood,” Rylan said drily, reaching into the back pocket of his black ripped jeans and pulling his phone out. He swiped on it for a moment then showed the screen to Brendon, forcing the heat in his cheeks away when Brendon took his phone from him and burst out laughing. “I will stab you,” he threatened, hollowly, showing off his sword.

The threat made Brendon laugh even harder.

Rylan knew that his phone was practically useless now. It sometimes had a signal, but it was unreliable at best and useless at worst. He kept it around because it reminded him of a time when everything was normal and he hadn’t murdered anyone and gotten so much blood on his hands, even if it was zombie blood, which it, admittedly, was not (not that he’d discover that for a long time to come). He kept it around because he didn’t want to forget what his parents and siblings looked like. He kept it around because he needed to reread the last conversations he had with his family, before he lost every single one of them, all at different times, by different means. He kept it because he needed it.

There were rechargeable battery packs in his backpack. Electricity still worked in certain areas, so he was able to keep it charged. He couldn’t contact anyone for help, because no one knew what was really going on with the government ever since the bombs dropped. It didn’t matter, because the only person he’d even want to contact was standing right in front of him, wiping his tears from his annoying, always looking at him and watching him and oh so obviously full of care and tenderness and affection, hazel eyes.

He shifted his gaze to elsewhere in the trees when Brendon handed his phone back to him, taking it back without looking at him. “It really wasn’t that funny,” he grumbled, sliding his phone back into his pocket.

“It was.” Brendon nodded, moving over toward a nearby creek. “I can’t believe you agreed to put that on. You looked so ridiculous. Did you chicken out of it and not go into the forest?”

“First off, no, I did not chicken out of it. I was dragged away by someone else.” Brendon nodded again, not really believing him. “And second off, I was absolutely full of school spirit,” Rylan said sardonically, following after Brendon. “An upperclassman may have forced me into it, but that’s irrelevant.” Brendon smiled back at him, very obviously. “Why are you going over to the creek? We don’t need water. Are you going to ask it how we can get out? Are you a water whisperer and I didn’t know it?”

“If we follow it one way or another then we should be able to find a way out,” Brendon said, squinting at the water. “I think? I saw it in a movie once.”

“Yes, because the film industry never lies to the audience,” Rylan grumbled, sheathing his sword so he could cross his arms.

“Didn’t you want to make movies?” Brendon looked up and down the creek, confused.

Rylan tried to keep his surprise hidden and shook his head. “You really shouldn’t remember useless stuff like that, Bren. If you keep being so attentive I’ll have to stab you since romance is forbidden during the zombie apocalypse.”

“I don’t see how me being attentive is romantic,” Brendon mused, smirking back at Rylan. “And I do think I recall you mumbling something, while blushing, about how you didn’t mind it.”

The heat returned to Rylan’s cheeks, hot and very pink. “I hate you.”

“Mm, yes, it was just like that.”

Rylan approached Brendon and kicked his back with the dirty bottom of his scuffed up black boots with decorative red shoelaces. Brendon fell over and splashed face first into the shallow creek, flailing briefly before he realized how little water was actually around him. He pushed himself upwards and sat on his knees and wiped at the water trickling down his face, sticking his tongue out.

Before he speaks, clarification must be made: neither of these characters were the main character, either. They were simply side characters who would, in time, come into contact with the main character, but who would discover important details before they ever got the chance to meet the main character. Their journey interweaves itself into the secrets of the story, but they do not yet know that, and they would not, for a while still.

“I can’t believe you just did that,” Brendon said, pulling a disgusted face. “I got some of that in my mouth. What if it's full of bacteria and I die?”

“It’s moving water, Brendon. I think you’ll survive.”

Brendon ran his hands through his hair to get it out of his face. He was still kneeling in the creek. “Okay, tsundere. You still didn’t need to kick me. I thought we were pals.”

“I kick my pals. It’s my tsuntsun nature. It’s obviously how I show my love.” Rylan looked purposefully away from him and to the right. Up the creek, he thought. “I think the water is coming from that way, so we should probably follow where it’s flowing to, right?”

“I think it’d be a good idea to stick to something instead of wandering around like we have been,” Brendon said, shaking his head back and forth, scattering water droplets all over. Rylan stepped back to avoid being splashed. “Do you see anything down either direction?”

“No,” Rylan said, then he looked to the left, the direction Brendon was at. “Holy shit. What the fuck is that? Get out of the water, Bren.”

“I’m taking a bath,” Brendon said bitterly, squeezing his eyes shut and scooping up water. He scrubbed his face. “You should join me, Ry. It’s so refreshing.”

“Dude, seriously.” Rylan leaned down and grabbed Brendon’s arm and pulled him up and out and several steps away from the water. “We should really very badly leave. I think we pissed it off.”

“Pissed what off?” Brendon asked, looking behind himself. “The fuck?”

The “it” tilted their head and covered their mouth, an indecipherable noise coming from them.

“Run,” Rylan hissed, grabbing for Brendon’s hand and tugging him away.

“Don’t,” the “it” whispered, uncovering their mouth and holding a single hand up, a sign for stop or pause or please, wait, just a moment.

“It talks,” Brendon breathed out, stuck in place.

“If you leave now then I cannot help you,” the “it” said plaintively, bringing their hand back to wring it together with their other hand. “I would like to help both of you. Your human friendship is so endearing. It reminds me of something I can’t quite recall. Oh, but you are humans, yes?”

Rylan and Brendon did not answer. They simply stared at “it”, completely lost for words, and for good reason.

The “it” the boys were facing was decidedly not human. They may have been at one point, but that point had to have been a long time ago. Anyone could tell from simply looking at them that any biological human traces had been completely stripped from them. They were bipedal and human shaped, yes, but lanky and skinny, like a young teenager going through a growth spurt. They did not seem to be wearing clothes, though that hardly mattered thanks to the translucent and entirely androgynous nature of their body. If jell-o was transparent and could take on a human shape, then it would be this being. That is not an entirely accurate description; the being had a moistness to it and dripped every few seconds, a clear liquid, mostly from the bottoms of the bubbly hair on the top of their head. They seemed gooey, but very viscous, almost solid. Maybe they were a melting ice sculpture that came to life? That would be the best way to describe this being.

Or, perhaps they were something else entirely. Another oddity to add into the forest, or just a simple magical inhabitant of one of the many factions hidden among the tealish greenery.

Whatever they were, Rylan and Brendon, humans, not undead or magical, were not okay with it.

The two young adult boys both clung onto each other and let out very unmanly squeaks when the clear being took a step closer to them.

“If you leave without finding the purple flowers then you’ll change into something else,” the being said gently. “You wouldn’t like that, I promise. It is not pleasant. Not pleasant?” It paused and frowned, confused. “How would I know that?”

The boys took the brief confusion as an opportunity and fled together, still holding onto each other.

Was he doing this for no reason? Did it matter anymore, anyway? Truly?

The one thing he had promised to protect had been snatched from his grasp and taken somewhere far away from him, to a place that he could not follow. He had failed his family in the most awful way that a son can, leaving them to fight for themselves, without his support, when the zombies came to their door. He didn’t even know what had happened to his friends, if any of them were even still alive. He had no idea if anyone else was alive, either. He couldn’t recall the last time he saw a living human. So, really, would it matter if he found the purple flowers in the forest? Would it really save the world? How could flowers stop zombies?

He couldn’t even remember who had told him that, if anyone at all had told him that or if it had been implanted into his brain somehow or another. Perhaps aliens had brought the zombies and they were trying to fix their mistake so they told him about the purple flowers and now they were trying to get inside of his body to have a vessel to control. Why his body though? Were there none left for them to take over? He did suspect, vaguely, that the aliens from above or the forest in front of him were screwing with his head currently, drilling into it and scrambling his brain just like eggs. Someone had warned him about that, too.

Who, though? A friend? A stranger? An alien? The wind? The grass? That tree?

A distant boom came from his right and pulled him from his stupor. He shook his head to clear away the confusing fog and hiked up his backpack, then inhaled softly, adjusted his beanie and continued walking, following the magical and hopefully not alien pull that he no longer questioned.

Introducing the main character, Jim Gutierrez.

A tall, fit human man, though hardly statuesque or chiseled. He had the appearance of a working man, a forester, hiker, blacksmith, or farmer, in various instances. Darkly tanned skin, frizzy black hair that a balloon would adore, thick eyelashes and sky blue eyes, he certainly was not bad looking, but he did not pay his appearance that much mind. He couldn’t anymore, thanks to the end of the world and lack of people and his new scars and the weapons on his hip and in his backpack. The spikey baseball bat and knives were weapons he created before the zombie apocalypse and subsequent bombing happened, as was the carved wooden cross necklace that he never took off. God had long abandoned Earth, he knew, and he wasn't that religious, but the necklace belonged to his mother, and she wanted him to have it before she turned into a zombie. His father wanted him to have the silver watch on his wrist, the note said, after Jim had discovered that his dad had blasted his own brains out. His brother always wore the beanie atop his head, so he took it, since his brother's decapitated head would no longer need it.

The bright pink sparkly princess cape that was wrapped around his neck like one would do for a scarf also belonged to someone close to him, but he could not think about her. He was on this asinine journey for her. If she had not instilled in him a sense of heroism then he would not have taken up this doomed endeavor.

Because, really, how could purple flowers do anything to help stop the world from ending?

She would have believed in it. She would have made him believe in it, too.

He would try to believe in it, for her.

After all, he would always be protected, as long as he had on Princess Lulu’s cape. Wearing it makes me indestructible and invincible and all-powerful!, he heard her say, and tried to shove the thought far away where he would never have to deal with it again.

How does that make any sense?

It doesn’t need to make sense for you to believe in it, Jimmy! Does love make any sense? No, don’t make that face, the answer is, no, it doesn’t, but people believe in it anyway, don’t they?

How do you even know anything about love? You’re eight years old.

You have no idea what I have gotten up to in my lifetime, oh old one. I am invincible and immortal and amazing and all-knowing and all-powerful and unbreakable thanks to this!

Of course you are.

I am! I always have been, so why won’t I continue to be? It’s not like the zombies can take away my powers, right? They’re just brainless and stupid. They’ll never be able to get me in Princess Lulu’s cape. Right?

She grabbed his hand, then, and squeezed it tightly, doe-eyed and afraid and so young and small and naïve and seeking comfort from the only person she had left in the big wide horrifying world.

Jim stopped walking and squeezed his eyes shut. No. No. No. He couldn’t do this. It was torture.

She had been unbreakable, until he took her Princess Lulu cape for only a few hours to clean his fresh blood off of it. It hadn’t been a brainless zombie that took away her powers. It had been him. He took away her powers. He took them away from her. He made her breakable and vulnerable and she was just a child and she needed the cape so badly so she could cope with everything so he went along with it and started to believe in it too because he also needed it and then he took away her powers and—

“Fuck,” he hissed, pressing the palms of his hands into his eyes. “Get it together, moron.”

The wound was still fresh.

He took four deep breaths and made sure to keep pressing his palms against his eyes until he was composed again. He refused to break down in this freaky magical forest full of, apparently, magical creatures and mysterious purple flowers and lots of other nonsense. He’d really hate it if some magical thing was watching him almost cry, because that would be the most pathetic first impression ever to exist in the history of the human race.

He let out a long exhale and blinked his eyes rapidly. It was not okay, or even fine, or decent, and it was so far from alright that it wasn’t funny, but he had to keep going. He had to do this for her. She’d love to save the world, so he had to save the world.

It was as simple as that.

The only problem was he had no idea where to find the purple flowers.

He rotated in a circle and felt the tug in his chest toward where the loud boom had come from, so he set off that direction. He listened for any sounds from the trees or the ground and heard some soft shuffling noises and wind through the leaves. No human sounds. No alien sounds. No magical sounds, either, unless the booming sound had been magical. The tug was pointing him that way so it probably was. Did magic boom normally? He had no idea. He’d have to go and find out.

He had nothing else to do anymore, so he kept walking, keeping an eye out for anything purple on the ground.
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A deer. Dead, yet not.

“It’s not a joke, Stream!” Bog protested. The man was 30 years older than Brook, yet he still squeaked when he spoke, the sound like a siren warning others of his presence. Because everyone knew about Bog, and not for the reasons he’d want them to.

A snort. Sharp. Unbelieving. “Yeah. Sure.”

Brook liked Stream. She was a doe, but she acted out like she was a buck. With fiery red hair that seemed to light up at night, Stream was one of the tougher does around. She wasn’t built delicate or soft like most of the other women in the Root, figure resembling a rectangle more than an hourglass, and she seemed to take that in stride. Still, there were signs of unfamiliarity with rough work, from the light pink tint of her skin to her undeveloped finger pads. She was attractive, a simple fact of life. Not that Brook would ever try to approach her. She had enough hatred for bucks to last a century, and his reputation certainly wouldn’t help them get along. In a way, she reminded him of himself as a fawn, looking out at the other boys with spite stirring behind his ribs. Her reasons for hatred probably weren’t the same as his, though.

Bog, in comparison, looked like a toad trying to catch the attention of a rose. His absurdly tall height often summoned a pang of familiar jealousy in Brook’s chest, mourning his own weakness in the size department, but that was the only thing Brook envied about the soldier.

Bog was, to put it kindly, rather unsightly. His tanned leather skin was marred with scars, face shrouded with scraggly brown hairs, seemingly having stolen the sparse few strands left on his head. His nose was crooked, likely a permanent mark from some past training session, bent to the right like a mistake in the artist’s linework. One of his eyes stayed permanently closed, hiding behind it the empty red socket which once held an orb the color of vibrant blue sky, back when Bog was a younger man.

The pair was unorthodox yet not uncommon. Everyone knew about Bog’s crush on Stream. It didn’t take a genius to notice him trailing her like a puppy whenever he got back from guarding an encampment out in the woods, telling her funny little stories or bragging about whatever achievements he’d gotten out there. And usually, he’d be smiling through them, showing off his crooked, yellowed teeth. Yet this time, he looked legitimately agitated.

“It had bits torn off it, Stream. It lumbered around like a beast half-awake.” Bog was missing the tips of a few of his fingers, the tissue wrapped around his knuckles scarred pink and dark. He kept running his hands over them. “You should’ve seen the way it looked at us, Stream. It looked…”

Bog shivered, his giant frame trembling with fright.

“It looked… dead.”

Stories. That’s all they were supposed to be. Stories. Stupid, silly stories told by men too drunk on sap wine to remember what they saw right.

Yet those stories were right in front of him. Those stories were gurgling and attempting to impale a man who stumbled about, trying his best to avoid it. And those stories were giving off the worst possible smell, the scent of rot and flesh and blood permeating the air.

Brook was frozen at first. Who wouldn’t be, seeing something so monstrous? A creature trapped in a half-live state, decaying even as Brook continued to gawk with equal parts fascination and horror. His pink, stubby nose twitched as more of its scent continued to dance on the wind, brushing against the back of his throat in a way that made him want to retch out the contents of his lunch. Brook didn’t even notice the swinging of the man’s hand, a small brown pinecone crashing into the grass in front of the deer.

A bang, followed by a blinding white light.

Brook’s hearing felt moments away from cutting out completely, his eardrums trembling with the force of the sound. Although his elongated ears were perfect for capturing the most subtle of noises, it certainly was not equipped to endure the full force of what was essentially a small bomb going off a mere few feet away from him. It took him a full minute to recover, and it was only after that minute did he realize he was gripping his head, the man below waving at him. Behind him was the half-live beast, appearing to have recovered from the explosion, pulling its head down and scraping back dirt as it prepared to strike—

Time slowed for Brook. Distantly, he recalled his brother mentioning something about how when a satyr was trapped in a life-threatening situation, time would slow for them. The ‘Runner’s Instinct’ he called it. A chance for their mind to decide between flight or fight.

For Brook, the choice was easy.

With the barrel of his rifle snapped upwards, his hand yanked away from his forehead to hold the gun steady at the handgrip, the man lined up his sight with the deer’s body and pulled the trigger without a second thought.

The bullet sliced through the air. Though not as speedy as it would be were it crafted out of metal, the wooden capsule still did its job well, lodging into the open shoulder wound of the ungulate. The creature screeched in response, hooves faltering as purple powder seeped into its bloodstream. Its whole body shook, whether in anger or fear or pain the world may never know, as before long it was collapsing to the ground in a bloody, meaty heap.

Brook’s breaths were shaky. His chest sucked in air in uneven batches, more coming in than out, but not even the tangy stench of dead deer could tear away the manic grin on Brook’s lips.

He’d done it. He’d killed something.

And he’d wipe it in Rapids’ face before long.

A sound from below tugged Brook’s attention back to reality. Peering down, the satyr could see the man from before much more clearly now. His upper body was drenched in blood, shirt soaking a dark shade red that would never clean out, and a brown clump clung to the back of his neck. His expression was harried, at least that’s what it looked like when Brook squinted at him, and from the amount of blood he was losing he clearly needed a medic.

“Hang on,” Brook called out. His voice was strangely steady, likely a lingering effect of the adrenaline. “I’ll be there in a moment.”

Slinging his rifle over his shoulder, Brook grabbed onto the wooden pillars which held up his tower’s roof and jumped down, hoof hitting a familiar groove in one of the building’s logs. Using his grip on the pillar and the angle of his foot, Brook swung himself around the tower, fingers finding purchase between two logs. The pattern continued until he was close enough to the ground to jump the rest of the way, knees bending to absorb his weight.

Brook couldn’t help but stretch his legs, the two furry limbs sore from having been forced to stand all day in a stuffy tower. Closer up, one could see his longer ears, reminiscent of elves from the fairy tales that used to be so popular in the world beyond the forest. The only difference was that Brook’s ended in fuzzy brown fur, the same shade of milk chocolate as the rest of the fur on his legs.

Glancing to his left, Brook stared at the man before him with sudden confusion. Petite beige horns tilting to the side as he cocked his head, Brook’s expression one of concentration as he stared at (what he assumed to be) the satyr before him.

The first strange thing Brook noticed was that his ears were blunt. Instead of stretching out into a point like the leaf-lickers, or even the rare furless satyr, they curved down, forming something of an oval-type shape.

The second thing was his hair, pale as glinting moonlight. Brook couldn’t recall seeing any creature with such light hair, let alone one that shone so intensely.

The third thing was his legs. As Brook’s eyes scanned the figure before him, he had to suppress a gag when he realized the creature’s legs were straight, appearing forced and unnatural to the satyr’s mind, as his own legs bent slightly backwards in a manner similar to the hind legs of the deteriorating unglate that lay feet away from the pair.

Like a snap, a memory flashed in his mind.

A memory, and a question.

Where had that bang come from?

In the space of a few blinks, Brook had the barrel of his rifle pointed squarely at the thing’s chest.

“Who are you,” he growled, those cold, searching green eyes sharpened to a knife’s point. “And what do you want with the Foresters?”

”Well, well, well. What do we have here?”

Far away, separate from the chaos occurring outside the walls of the Forester base, three small, humanoid shapes came across a funny creature in the woods.

This funny creature was one of our two main characters, Jim Gutierrez himself.

The one who’d spoken first fluttered into the man’s line of vision. Figure slim and size unassuming, the small, bird-like woman might’ve passed as a child were it not for the clever spark of mischief which gleamed in those pitch-black eyes and the intimidating wooden syringe filled with some strange, indigo liquid sloshing about inside. Her feathers gleamed with green and blues, shimmering in the spots of sun that caught them at the right moment, as she posed cartoonishly midair, knees coming up to the vivid orange patch on her chest. She rested her chin on the palm of her hand, wings buzzing behind her as she stared up at the man with a wide, sharp smile. Bare was her head of hair, horns, or ears, instead sprouting more bright feathers that shone in the sun. The occasional patches of skin that peeked through her plumage were pink, her face being a shade redder as her little heart pumped faster and faster in excitement at her and her crew’s new discovery.

“Think we can eat ‘im, Capt’n?” came a gruff voice from Jim’s right.

Flying forth was a stockier, albeit still small hummingbird-adjacent creature. His arms were crossed at his chest, and growing from his chin was a mass of violet feathers that vaguely resembled a beard. Similar to the woman, the rest of his feathers were colored green with a dash of blue, though his were longer and far darker. The patches of skin which showed through his plumage were honeyed and tanned, the man’s eyes the shape of almonds and colored the same pitch-darkness as hers. Strapped on his back was the same intimidating syringe of dark purple.

”He looks upset, Roger… I don’t think we should eat him.” moaned a voice from Jim’s left, gloomy and low.

The part-avian that emerged this time was much smaller than the other two, skinny and composed mostly of feathers. Magenta was this one’s identifying feature, that and the clump of feathers which hung over his left eye. Pale fingers played with each other, fidgeting impossibly fast for a mere human to catch, as this creature tried very pointedly to avoid looking at the larger, bigger, could-definitely-crush-him-in-one-fist humanoid.

“I didn’t ask you, Liu!” Violet-Beard barked, voice echoing surprisingly far despite his size.

”Don’t yell at me-e,” Magenta whined, covering the blank spaces where his ears should be. ”Besides, weren’t we here to investigate the bang…”

“We were, until I found our next meal.” Violet puffed out his chest with pride.

”You mean Captain found our next meal…”

The woman, seemingly unperturbed by the pair’s arguing, was staring squarely at Jim’s face, mouth still stretched into that impossible shark-toothed grin.

She raised a single finger to silence them, and the two immediately clammed up. Slowly hovering close, she tilted her head at this strange, unknown creature.

”What are you looking for?” she asked, voice like dripping honey.


Dork #1
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Purple powder mixed and merged and mingled with the tainted blood of the undead ungulate as it leaked out of the gaping wound on its shoulder. Charlie watched, transfixed, when it fell to the green grassy ground, dead. Purple, purple, purple, from the bullet that had been shot and that had injected something into the creature's bloodstream to kill it. The same purple from before. The exact same purple from before.

The exact same purple of the purple flowers in the swirly chartreuse glass vase on the family table.

A memory flickered in Charlie’s mind, unwanted and unfamiliar, full of cobwebs and a life he hadn’t thought about in so long. He did not want to remember it, here, now, but memories were not meant to be controlled. How old had he been then? Seven? Nine? It was long before his body stopped aging, but it was not before he had discovered just how different he was from every single other human in the world.

The sunset filtered in through the thin cotton curtains over the windows in the dining room, bathing the small room full of oak wooden furniture and yellow plaid print with a soft, diffused orange light. Charlie’s mother hummed a familiar lullaby softly as she separated out the flowers in the vase, giving each of them their own space to breathe and thrive. Charlie, black haired, at the time, sat across from her at the table, his math homework incomplete in front of him. Charlie’s father came in through the front door, the screen door slamming shut but bouncing back, squeaking three times, behind him.

Charlie’s mother pulled her hands away from the flowers and smoothed her hair down, then did the same to the skirt of her dress. She straightened and smiled politely, in preparation for a greeting. The front door clicked closed and the solid
thunk of his fathers suitcase being tossed onto the couch came from the living room. Charlie did not smile or straighten. He stayed hunched over the table, pencil grasped firmly in his fingers, hidden, only a little, behind the purple flowers in the hand blown Italian vase that his mother was so proud of.

His father stormed past the dining room, then froze and backtracked. “Where did you get those from?” he demanded from the doorway, scowling.

No greeting. No ‘Honey, I’m home!’. No ‘Hello, Darling.’ No kiss on the cheek, or other loving gesture. He was in a sour mood. Work must have gone bad. He was a defense attorney. Work always went bad. Charlie remained still, not wanting to be seen by the man who hated and regretted his very existence.

His mother smiled halfway, hiding at least ten different emotions behind the obvious lie on her face. “Victoria told me that she found them on the edge of the forest. She didn’t know if they were an invasive species or not, and she was afraid they might be, so I offered to take them off her hands. I thought I might like to research them.”

Charlie stared at the flowers, ignoring the equations on the paper in front of him, wide-eyed. They were so pretty. How could they be invasive?

“Research them,” his father snorted, shaking his head and glaring at his son. “Have you forgotten how Victoria ruined everything with those disgusting flowers, Meredith?” He turned his glare to the flowers. “Get rid of them, now. I never want to see anything purple in my house again.”

He slammed the door to the dining room shut. Charlie’s mom flinched, but she simply smiled at Charlie sweetly and brushed her fingertips against the purple petals.

“I think they’re lovely,” she whispered, a sadness on her face that Charlie had been too young to understand. “Don’t you, Charles?”

“I do, Mother,” Charlie agreed quietly, reaching out, touching one of the petals too. It was soft and delicate underneath his skin. “They are lovely.”

He didn’t notice when the humanoid man came down from the tower, or when he came over to him and realized he was not the same type of creature that he was. Charlie kept his eyes on the dead ungulate, on the purple, then approached it slowly, hearing distantly whatever the other man was saying. The brown squirrel squeaked, concerned, wanting to leave, no longer digging its claws into his flesh but simply perched on his shoulder. It told him the smell was awful. Charlie ignored it, because he did not want to leave quite yet and he also could never smell any of the scents of the undead. He stopped walking when he got close enough to the dead creature. There were large splattered drops of diseased purple-green blood on the grass around it.

A single gunshot had killed it. The humans outside of the forest used various weapons to kill the undead, yet none of them had ever been able to fall one with a single bullet, even if they shot the brains, as was the way to kill zombies in every zombie movie. Charlie, personally, had no desire to kill any of the undead, and he no longer worried about getting infected from any disease, but it was strange that the undead humans did not go down with a single blow.

This deer had, though.

He turned to face the humanoid and only paused momentarily on the man's abnormal appearance. Ah, a satyr. That was slightly peculiar, since he had only met satyr’s in Greece, several years ago, and this forest wasn’t Greece. It was not the most peculiar thing Charlie had seen in his ninety-seven year lifespan, and it would not be the most peculiar thing he would see during his time in the forest. He ignored the odd goat legs and the small horns and the soft fluffy ears and finally noticed the wooden gun pointed at him, and he tried to remember what exactly the furry man had said.

He did not hold his hands up in surrender, since Charlie never did let people have that much power over him, but he did bring his uninjured hand up to touch the squirrel’s back in a reassuring gesture. “I am not a threat to you, my friend,” he said calmly, unperturbed. “The only thing I could possibly want with the Foresters is to not meet them. I’ve gotten lost, you see, and I did not mean to come this far into the magical lands of this forest.”

The squirrel squeaked from underneath his hand, reminding him of the gun.

“I know it’s there, little one,” he said in response to it, gesturing, with the hand formerly over the squirrel, to the satyr’s gun. “I would advise you to not use that against me. It would be nothing but a waste of ammunition. Though, I do wonder what is inside of those bullets to kill an undead ungulate in a single shot. Are they magical bullets your kind uses to defend your territories? Or have the factions merged? I think my magical history might be incorrect, since my source for it was not a magical creature, but a plain human with a peculiar mother. She was rather…”

He realized he was rambling, slightly, and bowed his head in apology. “Forgive me, friend. I truly do not want anything with your kind. I am lost and I am just, put simply, a very curious person, hence my prying questions. I can leave if you want me to, though I do not know how to get out of this forest. If you could point me in the right direction, that would be much appreciated.”

Rylan and Brendon
The two currently human boys panted in unison near a tall berry bush, working on catching their breaths. They were not as familiar with nature as Charlie or Jim were, so they had no idea what any plants in the forest were apart from tree, bush, fern, moss and grass. Knowledge is useful to have, however: the bush they were by contained a sweet berry known as a blackberry. The spiky branches of said bush deterred most creatures, except the most tenacious, from attempting to steal the succulent sweet treats. This bush would be a problem later, but descriptions for both boys were never provided, so while they are panting and reeling over seeing a magical being for the first time, more information shall be provided.

The curly haired blond had hair constantly tousled, messy, disheveled, but he wore the look like a model would, with a confidence those with shy tendencies tended to admire. He, unlike Jim and Charlie, was akin to an ancient artistic statue, though the statue would have to be a lithe one with subtle muscle definition and a near constant pout. With crystal clear pale skin, only smeared by dirt and still healing cuts, and eyes that shifted between the brightest glittery blue in the sunlight to storm cloud when he was anywhere else, he, very clearly, looked like spoilt, pampered, pretty boy brat who could get away with anything if he smiled cutely and asked nicely. His face now expressed his feelings openly, although before the world ended he was very good at masking his true emotions. He had needed to be, because he had been part of a wealthy family who had high expectations for their children, and he had constantly been sought after for his status and last name, by strangers and distant family and his classmates at all of his private schools. A demanding life he had lived, until he told his parents he liked guys as well as girls. They hadn’t been thrilled with that news and almost kicked him out, but then zombies happened and it no longer mattered. Nothing else about his life mattered, after the zombies. He became a regular common eighteen year old teenager who really just wanted to somehow survive and live to see twenty, possibly. His name was Rylan Thornton. His last name suited who he was before the end of the world: thorny, prickly, dangerous to approach. It still did, but only with strangers or weird shit or zombies or, actually, several other things, but very rarely with his companion.

The short haired brunet had straight, never wavy or curly, hair that often left people wondering about his ethnic origins, though they truthfully were not that mysterious. He was tall enough to resemble one of those artistic statues hand-carved by ancient sculptors, but the shape of his eyes and nose and his unblemished skin was too dark in color to align with any of them accurately. He did have the sought after masculinity - broad shoulders, strong arms, a toned body, good height - to fit into old society as someone desirable, although he never, in his entire life, thought of himself as desirable or attractive or anything like that. He had thought, for so long, that he was boring to look at and talk with, which is why he had so few friends growing up. See, the problem was that he was one of those people who others assumed to have shy tendencies, but he was not truly shy; just observant and quiet around people he did not know too well yet. His taciturn nature had gotten him into trouble more times than he would like to admit, but people always cut him off before he could say what was on his mind, then those people expected him to say something after emotions were already running high and people had already made their decisions. He had learned it was better to keep his thoughts to himself, and he did, but he never did with his older sister, who had taken him in and raised him after their parents died when he was nine years old. After the end of the world was announced and he saw a dead body for the first time ever at the age of nineteen, he had mostly abandoned his quiet nature and now spoke his mind much more freely. His kindness had not yet abandoned him, though, and he was trusting by default, which was not advised, during this end of times. His name was Brendon Lowery. He almost died several times before he met his companion, but now, not so much. Though, not even his companion could help him from tripping over his own feet or losing his balance and falling over.

They were opposites, and they might be foils of one another, if either was a main character. They were not, and they would never be. They would have to be fine existing as important side characters who would experience, perhaps, some of the more traumatizing things the forest had to offer.

That was not going to happen to them anytime soon.

Brendon straightened and took a deep breath, then remembered he was still wet and ruffled his hair to dry it. Rylan watched him, somewhat obviously, but Brendon did not suspect anything much of the watching, unlike Rylan. He still held onto the thought that he was boring and uninteresting and not attractive, which Rylan would protest fiercely, if he ever made the fact known.

“Do you think it followed us?” Brendon asked, ceasing his ruffling and starting up the shaking of his head, a different way to dry his hair.

“I fucking hope not.” Rylan looked behind himself, scowling. “What even was it? How could it talk? It looked like a weird ass ghost child or something. Are there actually ghosts in this forest?”

“Well, I’m sure there are ghosts in the forest, but I don’t think it actually was one,” Brendon murmured, ceasing his shaking when he started to get dizzy. “Oof, geez, that was a mistake.”

He held a hand out to help balance himself against a tree or Rylan, but did not think he was so dizzy he’d sway to and fro. He did not see the bush close by and stumbled to the side, into it, on top of the thorny branches.

A pained cry came from him, or the bush, and he struggled and squirmed around to get out of the leafy plant, feeling Rylan grab his arm to help pull him out. He still felt slightly dizzy, from lack of food, he realized, and the new small tiny cuts on his arms and back were not helping him feel much better.

“Seriously? How are you this clumsy?” Rylan groaned, yanking Brendon away from the bush to examine him for injuries. “Great! Now you’re covered in scratches and berry juice. That definitely won’t attract the zombies to us.”

“Sorry,” Brendon mumbled, embarrassed. “I think I need to eat something.”

“If you were hungry you should have said something,” Rylan grumbled, taking his yellow backpack off and rummaging through it. He produced a large plastic bag full of wheaty cereal and handed it to Brendon, then tugged on the taller boy’s own backpack strap. “Turn around so I can get the first aid kit out.”

Brendon did not turn around, choosing to take off his backpack with one hand and hold onto the cereal with the other; the more difficult decision. Rylan took the bag from him and quickly located the first aid kit, which he showed off to Brendon with a raised eyebrow.

“What?” Brendon asked, opening the bag of cereal and dumping a handful of it into his open palm. He popped the handful into his mouth and began to chew.

“I didn’t think you heard me when I said to tape it closed,” Rylan mumbled, picking at the tape to open the red plastic packaging.

“Of course I heard you,” Brendon said after swallowing his food. “You were worried we’d lose supplies if it was left as it was. Why wouldn’t I tape it?”

“Because,” Rylan started, then popped the container open, “it closes and opens perfectly fine, so there was technically no reason to. I was just being paranoid. You shouldn’t always listen to everything I say.” He shuffled around supplies, not looking at Brendon. “It’s detrimental.”

“To what?” Brendon asked, laughing. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say anything like that before. What is my listening to your good suggestions detrimental to, exactly?”

“It wasn’t a good suggestion. It was a stupid suggestion. Useless, too, because obviously it didn’t need to be taped.” He was still shuffling around supplies.

“If you suggest something and I think it’s a good idea that I can easily do then of course I’ll do it,” Brendon said, watching Rylan fidget with the kit. “Are you nervous?” Rylan’s fingers froze. “What…” Brendon trailed off, trying to piece it together.

“Nothing.” Rylan snatched an alcohol wipe and a package of bandaids from the kit, then slammed it closed and tossed it back into the backpack that he then let fall to the ground. “Let me see your injuries.”

Brendon complied, shifting the cereal to his right hand and offering up the left arm that had more cuts on it. “You’re not very good at changing the subject,” he mumbled.

“I don’t know what you mean, since there’s no subject to change,” Rylan said breezily, tearing open the alcohol wipe. He began to clean the cuts with the wipe. “But a subject we should talk about is what the fuck we’re going to do now that we’ve lost the creek and have seen whatever that ghost was.”

Brendon frowned, displeased. “That definitely sounds like you’re trying to change the subject.”

“If it wasn’t a ghost, then what else could it be?” Rylan continued, ignoring Brendon’s brilliant observation. “It looked like it was made of ice or water, but that’s not possible, because nothing is made up completely of 100% water.”

“You know I’m going to keep bothering you about it, right?” Brendon asked, smiling when Rylan glared at him. “Is it me listening to your suggestion that’s got you all weird?”

“It’s the ghost,” Rylan mumbled, embarrassed that he was, apparently, very easy for Brendon to read. He focused his attention back to the injuries on Brendon’s arms, glad his cheeks were not hot and pink.

“I’m not a ghost.”

Rylan and Brendon immediately looked around the forest to find the voice, but the owner of the voice was hiding behind a tree, fearful that the two humans would run away again.

“If you aren’t a ghost then where are you?” Rylan asked the trees, annoyed.

“I don’t want to scare you again,” the voice responded softly. “I’m sorry for scaring you earlier. I haven’t seen humans in so long. I was excited.”

Rylan gave Brendon a pointed look.

“If you aren’t a ghost then what are you?” Brendon asked, forgetting completely about his cereal.

A silence followed the question. Rylan scoffed and returned to cleaning up Brendon’s injuries, trying, successfully, to ignore the weird creature hiding somewhere near them.

“I don’t think we should interact with it,” he said, tossing the alcohol wipe onto the backpack on the ground and opening the bandaid package. “We might piss it off so badly it throws something at us with its ghostly powers.”

“I’m not a ghost,” the voice said again, soundly, weirdly, sad. “At least, I don’t think I am. I can’t remember dying. I think I’d have a memory of dying. I was in the water so long, though. I can’t recall much from before the water.”

“A drowned ghost,” Rylan whispered, placing bandaids on Brendon’s cuts.

“Do you think it might be a nereid?” Brendon asked, earning a rare, surprisingly sweet smile from Rylan. It made him pause for the briefest of moments. “What?”

“I didn’t realize you were a mythology nerd too,” Rylan said, shaking his head. The smile disappeared, replaced by the much more familiar pout. “But, I don’t know. It might be. Are you a nereid, ghost?”

“My name is not nereid,” the voice answered, sounding confused. “I don’t even know what a nereid is. I simply want to help both of you. I don’t care about myself.”

“A depressed ghost,” Rylan whispered, earning a soft smack from Brendon’s bag of cereal.

“Do you…” Brendon paused, not sure where to start with his questions. “Uh, if you know nereid isn’t your name, then do you know what your name actually is?”

The translucent being poked their head out from behind a tree much closer than either Rylan or Brendon had realized, startling, but not as badly as before, both boys. “Of course I know my name,” they said, pouting. “It’s Blake.”

A strange voice said something right in front of him and he looked up from the ground, startled. Uh. What? What was that? A parrot? Or some other kind of tropical bird? No, it had human features, right? How was that possible? Maybe it was a fairy? It was so colorful and covered in feathers that made it hard to make out most of the creature's features, but Jim had heard a voice in front of him and he did know there were magical things in the forest.

So then this had to be one of them, right? A weird… colorful… feathery… thing. Cool. Jim could handle a weird feathery bird thing with human features, probably. It didn’t seem like it wanted to hurt him, at least, so maybe he could just walk around it and ignore it and hope it returned the favor.

He was just about to move around the weird feathery thing when he heard a more abrasive voice to his right. He froze, foot lifted, and saw yet another one of the feathery things. He glanced back at the first one and spotted the orange on its chest, hidden behind its small knees. He looked back at the other one, which had darker coloration, then realized what exactly the darker one said.

“Eat ‘im?” Jim whispered, staring at the crow-sized bird thing. How would it ever eat him? He was much bigger than it was. He thought that if he punched it then it’d probably go flying somewhere else. Maybe if a whole army of them came over to him he might be in trouble.

A different voice came from his left, protesting the whole eating him thing. Jim realized he was surrounded and looked behind his shoulder for an escape and took a small step backwards, really not wanting to interfere with this weird birdy magical trio. He had purple flowers to find and flying bird people would not help him find them. They honestly looked kind of like a classic fairy, except they didn’t have dragonfly wings, they were bigger than a fairy should probably be and they probably weren’t powered by some magical dust and belief.

Two of the creatures started to bicker with each other in what Jim thought was a strangely human way, almost like a sibling squabble, then the one with the more girlish voice asked him a question. He froze, not having gotten even two steps away from the creatures.

What was he looking for? Not these things, that was for sure. Did these creatures see him staring at the ground? Did they see him almost break down? God, that’d be so humiliating.

He considered what to do. Answering the fairy things wouldn’t be a good idea. If they were like fairies from classic fairy tales, then they’d definitely be tricky and dangerous to interact with. On the other hand, they were natives of the forest, so they’d know more about everything underneath the canopy then Jim did. They’d probably be able to tell him about the purple flowers that’d stop the zombies. But they also looked like weird feathery fairies and they were magical and Jim really did not think it’d be a good idea to trust them.

She would, though. She’d be so excited to see and speak to them.

Jim sighed, then realized he didn’t have to be honest with these things. He could be as vague as he wanted to. It wasn't like they could read his mind, right? “What makes you think I’m looking for anything?” he asked in a bored tone, faking a yawn. “I’m just a wandering dude, little guys.”

Ugh, he really did not like talking like that, but he did not think telling these creatures he was looking for anything was really a good idea. He needed to figure them out just a bit before he’d be willing to give them anything they could use against him. At least, that’s what she would have told him to do, and he trusted her instinct more than his own when it came to weird magical fairy tale story things.
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