I’d like to help you tell a story.
It will all take place in your imagination. I’m just the guide.
As you read these words, the story will play out in your head.
You can read them silently, or out loud. Whatever you want to do.
This story may scare you. It may excite you. That’s alright. It’s a story, stories are meant to do that.
What I want is to help you make this story as immersive as possible for you. A chance for you to imagine, just for a while, you are somewhere else, doing something, or being someone, you usually are not.
Okay, please get yourself comfortable. Remove yourself from as much distraction as you can. I will wait.
All good? Great!
The first thing I want you to imagine is being left behind somewhere.
How does that make you feel?
Sad, I probably think. Scared, too.
How does it make your body feel?
Are you jittery? Do you look all around, darting your eyes, heart beating fast in your chest?
Or maybe you just try to wait it out and stay in one place. Someone would have to look for you eventually, right?
Well, you’re right. Eventually, when we get left behind, someone comes looking for us.
But the person we want to be found by isn’t always the one who does find us.
A stranger, maybe, comes over first and asks you if you are lost. Or if you need help.
Maybe you are nervous about speaking to them. That’s normal, they’re a stranger, and strangers are dangerous!
People tell you not to speak to strangers unless necessary. That makes sense in lots of situations.
But not every single situation.
Do you know a point in time where people often get left behind?
Think about it for a moment.
I have an answer. It might be the same as yours, it might not.
I’m thinking about war.
Battles. Invasions. Counterattacks. Back and forth movements between conflicting forces. Soldiers fighting soldiers, working to defeat their enemies.
Have you ever been in a battle like that?
I haven’t. And I don’t want to be.
If you have, it may be traumatic. I’m sorry to bring back those memories. You can stop reading this if it gets too uncomfortable.
It’s okay if you haven’t been in a battle, either. Maybe you’ve seen it in a movie. Maybe you’ve watched it play out, backed by music and visuals and sound effects.
But you aren’t left behind after the war when you watch it on a screen. You aren’t there, in the battlefield or in the ruins of a battle, among the people on both sides who have died.
I want you to imagine that, for this story, you are there.
You were left on a battlefield, after a big fight. The space it took place in is now quiet. Too quiet.
This place can be anywhere you like. A city. A fortress. An open field. By a river. Under the ground.
Make a place in your head right now; somewhere you can picture a large battle happening, and then be left scarred when the fighting is done.
The place isn’t the same anymore. The battle broke it in some way.
Think about it for a bit.
Now, picture the bodies inside that scarred space. Those who were dead or left to die.
One of the bodies looks familiar. Almost like yourself, in the same clothes you are wearing right now.
But it isn’t you, right?
Well, let’s say it is you for this story. And you are not dead yet.
But you are unconscious. Knocked out. Slowly waking up.
Can you do that for me? Picture yourself, unconscious, on a ruined battlefield?
The story is going to need your focus. I’ll be stepping in with some details, but you are the star of this show.
Breathe slowly. Slowly. Think. Imagine.
Imagine that broken place, where you have been left behind.
You slowly open your eyes. You feel hot air on your clothes and skin. It blows into your nose and mouth. You taste it.
The air tastes burnt. Sickly.
You look up. Whatever is above you is blurred. Your eyes don’t want to focus. Maybe you see two or three copies of what’s above you. You realize you are on your back, looking at things above you.
You taste something bad in your mouth. You spit it out, and that alerts your body to other points of pain. You feel tears build up in reaction to the pain. Your brain rushes to figure out the problem.
Some part of your body is injured, you realize. Your arms, your legs, your feet, your hands; some critical thing isn’t working anymore, and it hurts. It hurts to even think about it hurting.
You want to move. To get help. But it’s very hard to do so. The thing that hurts so much, it hurts even more when you try to move your body.
You want to cry out from the pain. You want to scream. You feel your voice building the sound in your lungs.
Then you hear footsteps. Loud, heavy footsteps, moving noisily along. Moving closer to you.
You don’t want to scream anymore.
Do you tilt your head up from the ground to look around? Maybe try to see what is coming before it sees you?
There’s not much time to think about it.
You have two choices.
You could try to keep moving, get away to a safe space. But the pain is still there, still telling you that it hurts to move at all.
Or you could just stay still. Try to play dead. Let whatever is coming pass on by and leave you behind.
Ah, wait. Before you can make your choice, a memory flashes into existence through the pain.
Someone else left you behind, out here. Someone you trusted. The real you, imagining this story.
Yes, this person you trust so much was there, too. You remember their name, what they wore that day. You remember the look of apology they gave you as they ran away.
It was a sad look. A haunting look. You won’t forget that look, ever.
The footsteps get louder. Closer.
What will you do?
You try to enact your plan as the footsteps come even closer.
But then the footsteps stop, very close to you.
Do you stop breathing? Try to hide the fact you are not dead?
Do you ready yourself to roll away and spring to your feet?
You hear something else is breathing. Some… creature.
It’s the maker of those footsteps. It is here, in the same space as you.
You realize you waited for too long. Moving now will put you at risk. You can’t get away in time.
Maybe, if you are careful, you can see what this creature is.
The urge to look is very strong. It pulls at your mind and pushes you to do what it wants.
Almost against your will, you look at the creature.
You can’t make out what it is very well. It’s black and big, like some beast. It smells of oil and blood.
It moves. Shifting ever so slightly, but you still notice it. You feel it looking at you.
Your heart beats wildly in your chest. The pain from your hurt body slams against you, so strong it pulls your mouth apart as you cry out.
You can’t help it. It just hurts so much.
And now you remember something else.
The creature that you are looking at was in the battle. But it was not alone.
There were others like it. Racing around like wild animals. Biting and slashing and howling. Killing people on both sides of the battle.
You strain your mind, trying to remember if you fought beasts like this one as well.
The memory comes back in fits and spurts.
You didn’t have a weapon then. You still don’t have a weapon with you now.
And even if you did, your body hurts too much to pick it up and use it here.
Maybe that’s why you’re still alive? Because you didn’t fight?
The beast growls. The sound vibrates through you, a pulse that goes into your bones.
You groan as the pulse brings more pain from your broken body. And the beast hears your voice, it was so close it hears you clearly.
It leans forward, towering over you. It’s so close to you now, it’s almost touching your skin. The smell of it sickens you and makes your eyes water. You see it has large jaws and an angled head, with lots of sharp points along the back.
The beast leans down, to your side. You feel something wrap around your midsection. You are lifted slightly off the ground by whatever holds you, the force against your midsection tightening its grip as it pulls you up.
Your skin and clothes are bitten through by tiny, sharp things. Lots of them.
You cry out again. The pain, it’s too much to bear!
In your next breath, the pain is joined by another sensation. A cold, wet, thing against your skin, where the sharp things are. The pain, all your pain, starts to go away. The cold is greater than the pain.
That must feel good, right?
Well, yes, but it soon doesn’t feel like anything. There’s just a… numbness. Your nerves aren’t going off and telling you what you are feeling, because you feel nothing except the ice.
This chilling numbness moves from your midsection to every part of your body. It travels quickly, going through your veins and riding along with your blood. No part of you is left untouched by it.
When it is done, you can’t feel anything. But you can still see and hear things. You hear yourself breathing. You also hear the beast breathing, or something like breathing, as it holds you in what very well could be its jaws.
You are still alive. For another moment. Numb to the rest of the world.
The beast moves, taking you with it. You can’t break away; you just feel so cold. So numb.
Do you think this is the end? These beasts had killed people. You could be next.
You are too numb to react to that thought.
Your eyes close, dragged shut by the numbness. Your body floats in the creature’s grip, letting go of everything else.
Just drifting in the moment. Bobbing back and forth as the beast brings you along.
Maybe your hands are dragging along the ground. Maybe they’re too high up to touch anything but air. Just drifting along with you.
For the moment, it seems like you are safe.
Think about that safety for a moment. Hold on to it. Feel it wash over you like the numbness. Providing a small fraction of comfort.
Feel the beast keep moving, always at the same pace. Every so often it wriggles its head and gently shakes you again.
Each time this happens, each time you are wriggled like a large animal cub, the cold numbness spreads through you again like a fresh wave against the shore. Numbing you once more to the pain and the bad memories and the thought of thinking.
The beast carries you away from where you were left behind.
Time goes by. You don’t know how long the beast keeps moving, but it keeps shaking you every so often. Washing everything clean and numb once again.
You know you are still breathing. Still living. Still drifting in the beast’s clutches. The journey keeps going. You can’t feel or recognize anything around you. So, you hang there, in limbo.
Maybe it feels nice. Thinking is hard work. Painful, too. You haven’t been able to let go of your thoughts since… well, you can’t remember that anymore. That probably feels good to you.
Suddenly, the beast stops moving. The journey ends. Your hands lie still, limp against the ground or in the air. Your eyes are still closed, too distant from your brain to consider opening them.
You hear a new sound. More footsteps. Sharper ones. They come to the beast’s front. Something shifts around there, moving down towards you.
Three points press into the top of your head, each one scratching delicately against your skin and moving through your hair.
“You found a living one.”
A woman says that, just by your ear. Well, it sounds like a woman, but it’s no woman you know. She speaks with a ringing quality to her voice. She sounds like she’s happy.
The beast breathes out, huffing and grunting. Your body muffles those noises but not blocking it. The woman continues scratching your head, moving up and down along your scalp.
“Well done,” the woman says. Maybe it’s to you, maybe to the beast. You hear more shuffling, and the woman’s voice comes from farther away.
“Follow me,” she says, and you know that was directed at the beast. It starts moving again, and you with it, following the sharp footsteps of the woman.
And as the three of you go on together, you start hearing other things around you. Strange, alien things.
Chattering voices, whispering like droning flies. They buzz in your mind, skittering along your numbed thoughts.
A gurgling moan, deep-throated and slow. Something very large must be making a sound that deep.
Lots of footsteps, some light, others heavy, going by you but never touching you. Other people? Maybe.
Do you want to open your eyes and look at them?
Maybe you don’t. Who knows what these things look like. They could be monsters instead of people.
Or maybe you do want to look. You want to see where you are, and who has kept you alive for this long. Why they haven’t killed you like the people who fought the beasts.
Something touches your hands as you debate this, some kind of liquid. You feel your fingers rubbing through it. It sticks to your skin. But you are still numb, so the liquid doesn’t hurt you when your fingers peel away from it.
Then you remember something that did hurt you: the sight of that person you trusted so much leaving you and running away.
That look comes back to your mind once again. A haunting, sorrowful expression. They hadn’t wanted to leave you. But they still made that choice.
Your body twitches, anger and sadness breaking through the numbing cold. The beast wriggles you again, and the pain quickly recedes.
Did it feel good that time? To forget the pains of the past?
The woman’s footsteps stop. The beast stops a moment after. “Here we are,” she says. Again, she sounds happy. You still cannot tell if she is talking to you, the beast, or maybe both simultaneously.
She steps forward again, and the beast continues following. You hear something sizzling as you enter an enclosed space. Something squeals from nearby, something in pain.
You remember you are supposed to be in pain. Your body is broken, it should be hurting. That squealing creature must be worse off than you right now.
The squealing is silenced by a sharp cracking noise. Like a large branch being snapped in two in a single blow. You shudder at the sound.
The sharp things in your skin shake as the beast wriggles you again, harder this time. “Easy,” remarks the woman in a colder tone. “Just a bit further.”
The footsteps start to echo. They walk against a metallic surface. The liquid that got on your fingers drips off the farther you go.
By the time the woman stops walking, you are somewhere with thicker, wetter air. Thrumming noises come from somewhere else, always at a steady rhythm.
Thrum. Thrum. Thrum.
The thrums almost match your heartbeat. That comforts you, even just a little.
The beast wriggles your body again. Something slides back into your brain, another memory.
You can remember more of your life before the battle. It all comes back to you. But it doesn’t hurt to remember this part.
You enjoyed your life before now. You can remember the important points, Years, months, maybe just days, it doesn’t matter.
But you don’t get very far into your enjoyment. before you hear the woman’s footsteps change to the left instead of in front of you. The memory sinks out of your head like sand through fingers.
Something hisses open from nearby. The woman steps through where that sound comes from, and the beast brings you along in the same direction, still holding you in its jaws.
The open thing hisses closed behind you.
You are inside some space, a space filled with something that resonates with the distant thrums. Metal, most likely.
Do you want to open your eyes and look around?
Maybe you get them a fraction of an inch. Just enough to notice you are, in fact, indoors.
Or maybe you keep them closed. Wherever you are, it is alien to you. These creatures may be aliens as well. Best not to take in their surroundings.
The woman speaks into the space: “Four-Seven-Two. Greetings.”
She sounds louder now, the happiness replaced by a strict formality. Her words are elegant, like she’s practiced them many times prior.
Something walks towards you, making two metallic taps with every step. A new voice speaks, croaking on every other syllable like a wizened man or woman. “Two-Six-Seven-Three,” they say as they walk, “What have you brought me?”
“A survivor,” says the woman, now known as Two-Six-Seven-Three. “Reclaimed from our most recent battle.”
The second voice loudly croaks in… laughter? You cannot tell. “Splendid,” it says, “Help me attach them to the table.”
The three sharp objects touch your head again. You hear the tap-tap several times in quick succession before several other hands grab hold of your body on both sides. The beast releases you from its jaws, the many sharp things in your midsection quickly popping out.
You shut your eyes tight.
You feel no pain as you are lifted, gently carried for a few moments, and then placed down on a flat metal surface. You can hear the small tings of metal on metal as the hands tap against the flat surface. The numbness in your body remains long enough for you to be laid down, but once you are on the table you can feel how cold it is.
You twitch reflexively as multiple clamps bind your hands, feet, thighs, arms, and neck to the table. You can smell the air in this room now. It reminds you of spices and smoked meat.
“Must the hound remain?” the croaking voice growls in discontent. A huff comes from the beast apparently still in the room.
“Excuse me, Four-Seven-Two,” says Two-Six-Seven-Three. “Leave us and wait outside,” she then orders to the beast.
You hear the beast growl like when it was near you. You feel pain coming back in that broken part of your body. It’s just barely there now, a sign of what is to come if it isn’t dealt with.
The beast’s footfalls fade as it leaves the room. The hissing noise comes again, twice, in rapid succession. The three sharp objects on your head rub a little harder as they trail down to your neck.
“The numbing agent has proven effective,” Four-Seven-Two comments by your right side. “They appear to be waking up. Let’s see what we’re working with.”
A hand comes to the back of your neck. Something presses into that part of you and punches through the skin. Your eyes open fully and clear, focusing between moments like camera lenses on the sight in front of you.
Before you are two monsters.
The one on your right, with the voice of “Four-Seven-Two”, has two thick, tree trunk-like legs and four massive arms on its hunched back. Its body is made entirely of black oil and polished metal. Three black eyes are arranged atop a piece of white, polished bone on the front of its “head”. The eyes stare at you without blinking. You catch a small pair of lips resting in the center of the eyes.
Four-Seven-Two’s arms all twitch individually as you look at them. The hands attached to them have six fingers each, all sharpened to fine points.
The woman to your left, “Two-Six-Seven-Three”, has silver scales all over her four-legged lower body. You cannot see her lower legs from your current position. Her upper body and head look like the most beautiful woman you have ever seen, but her head has nothing there except a wide mouth. She has one large yellow eye in the center of her chest.
Two-Six-Seven-Three smiles as you look at her head. She then opens her mouth, releasing a long, black tongue that twirls in the air. She raises a hand to her face, pressing the palm against the empty space there, and you see a smaller yellow eye blinking on the back of that hand. That eye is looking right at you.
“Control yourself, Two-Six-Seven-Three,” croaks Four-Seven-Two. “You as well, survivor.” The woman silently slurps her tongue back up and places her hand over her mouth. The eye still blinks at you, watching you breath racing louder and faster.
You’re panicking. Only now do you realize it, your fear so strong you are hyperventilating.
You wait for claws or fangs to cut you apart, or unseen tools to rip you open.
You keep waiting.
Nothing happens. They just… look at you.
“The survivor is afraid,” Two-Six-Seven-Three finally says after bringing her hand above her lips to mimic where a human eye might be positioned. “That is normal. That is good.”
“For the moment, yes,” agrees Four-Seven-Two as you try, and fail, to turn your head beneath the clamp on your neck. “But the more pressing issue is their injury. Is that why the hound brought them to you?”
“And they were not rescued?” Four-Seven-Two shakes its face back and forth, mimicking human disappointment. “Sad. Why should such useful resources be discarded this way?”
“Perhaps they were not useful?” questions Two-Six-Seven-Three. She moves her raised hand to the other side of her face, the eye still looking at you. You listen and breathe for another moment.
“To their leaders, yes,” says Four-Seven-Two. “A shame. We do not throw away our waste. We break it down and repurpose it.”
“Of course.” Two-Six-Seven-Three smiles again, and the large eye on her chest glows brightly for a few seconds. She looks happy to agree with the other monster’s opinion.
A whirring noise comes from Four-Seven-Two as the arms on its back start to move around. Each limb shifts and twists fluidly on its own. Its three white eyes look up and down your body, never blinking as they do so.
“Your body has been wasted,” Four-Seven-Two states. “Wasted by your own people.” The eyes draw your gaze into them; are they getting larger the longer you stare? “Truly a shame. There is still life in you.”
Two metal arms stretch from Four-Seven-Two’s back and behind your head. The thing in the back of your neck gets tugged a few times. Your body twitches in response, struggling.
“Let us not waste any more time, then.” Four-Seven-Two’s tiny mouth barely moves as the creature talks to you instead of its fellow monster. “Your wasteful body will be broken down and repurposed. But your mind will be saved for the next step.”
Does this statement comfort you? Or does it make you more afraid?
The monsters do not seem to care, because they keep on talking.
“Your mind is unique,” Two-Six-Seven-Three comments as she lowers her hand from her face. “You are unique. Your leaders did not realize how special you are.”
“We do,” Four-Seven-Two continues. “You will have a new body, made to suit your skills. But first, we must extract your mind from this broken shell.”
“I am sure you will look splendid in your new form.” Two-Six-Seven-Three’s tongue flicks out again, whipping around in the room’s spicy-smelling air.
“It will be beautiful, and completely suitable, for your new self.”
“Just as we—” Two-Six-Seven-Three starts to say.
“Just as we learned when we were rescued,” Four-Seven-Two cuts in, not looking at Two-Six-Seven-Three to see her reaction.
The female-appearing monster simply keeps smiling. “And we have been so thankful for being rescued.”
The two are starting to speak over each other, and as they talk Four-Seven-Two’s arms are still moving around on its back. They stretch out farther and farther, the metal pieces holding them together seemingly endless.
“You have questions, we recognize that,” Four-Seven-Two remarks as it brings several circular pieces over to the table from around the room. “We cannot answer them, we have spent too much time talking already.”
The circular pieces are pressed against your head. You feel each one digging into some part of your scalp. Each one comes with a spark of distant pain, leaving behind a feeling of pressure as another piece goes into place next to it.
Clink. Another piece is attached.
Clink. A new piece, just by one of your ears, is placed.
Clink. The top of your head is covered by another piece.
“You should be feeling no pain from the extraction,” Four-Seven-Two quickly croaks out as it works. “We have refined the procedure over multiple generations.”
“You will be perfect,” chirps Two-Six-Seven-Three. “No one will abandon you again.”
The pieces are all put in place around your scalp and above your eyes with amazing speed. Your head feels heavier, pain coming back as the numbness fades away completely.
Are you scared? Excited? Confused?
The monsters notice the emotions you are making but say nothing about it.
It looks like they care, though.
“Rest now,” croaks Four-Seven-Two. “When your new body is forged, we will wake you.” Then its arms reach to the back of your neck and push against the thing connected to you back there.
Your vision turns runny, everything melting together into a soupy mess.
It doesn’t hurt, but you’ve never felt anything like it before.
You feel like you’re sliding out of a tight space and into something much, much larger.
Then everything goes dark.
You’re drifting in numbness again.
Except for your thoughts.
The memories come back in full now. There’s nothing stopping them, or blocking them, with your body gone.
Your life had not been easy. You remember the hardest things you ever did just as well as the best moments. You remember your family, friends, and everyone you knew from home.
It takes a while to sort through the names and faces – there are so many of them – but you manage to do it.
You remember that battle last of all. There was so much blood, so many people dead. The people you knew helped fight against invaders, against conquerors. And then, when it seemed like the enemy had won, tens of those metal hounds came from out of nowhere. You saw blood, heard screams and howls, as the beasts attacked anyone who fought them.
The hounds didn’t care about who had won.
You hadn’t realized that before.
You remember running. Heading to safety with others in a packed throng, away from the hounds. You had thought they were the real danger.
Your trusted friend was by you, holding your hand, pulling you along as if you weren’t already running at full speed towards a chance at escape.
You remember that important part of your body breaking mid-motion, just as you were drawing another breath into your lungs. You fell to the ground, time slowing down around you.
The other people ran on. No one stepped on you, amazingly. But no one regarded your fate, except your trusted friend looking down at you.
They saw your injury. They were shocked, and then angry, and then sad as they saw what had happened. Tears ran down their cheeks. And then they turned away without a word.
Why? Why had they done that? Was there no hope in saving you?
Couldn’t they have at least tried?!
Or did they already think you were dead the moment you fell?
If that was the case, were they really “friends” to you?
You had trusted them so much. Why had they not saved you?
Now you would never get the answer.
And now you were going to be in the body of a monster, so your friends and loved ones who were still alive wouldn’t recognize you when you saw them again.
You do want to see them again, right? To get the answer from them? Or maybe get an answer from these monsters that are changing your body into something they claim will be better?
You have two choices.
If you want to find your friend again, you will have to accept your new body. Your new purpose. You can find your friend and get answers.
If you don’t want to see them again, you can act as a new person in whatever body they make for you. These creatures aren’t human, but they seem human to some level.
What will you do when you are given the chance to act?
Something prods you out of your thoughts, your memories.
You start to wake up.
Everything feels weird. Your senses are warped.
They all seem sharper. Stronger.
The world flows in around you, filling in the gaps.
You remember how you got here. What’s happened to you.
You recognize that voice. It comes from a monster named Four-Seven-Two.
So, you must be a monster now.
Six-Two-Seven-Three’s voice comes to your ears next. She sounds amazed.
You open your eyes on an impulse.
A reflective metal surface is placed before you. A creature looks at you from the reflection, different than the others you’ve seen. It is unusual. It is strange. But it is not scary to you.
It looks like… you. An ideal you, not limited by the human concept of a body.
The only limitations you see are that some parts of it are made of gray liquid and polished metal, standing a little taller than you used to be. Beyond that, you look like your most imaginative creation now come to life. Your most perfect image, sculpted to your exact specifications.
You shift around, moving your new limbs. Feeling the metal beneath you, smelling the air around you.
Then you realize something important.
You don’t feel afraid anymore.
You don’t feel any pain.
Everything is just… calm.
“You are in the fifth generation of repurposed casualties, Four-Six-One-Five-Seven.”
You turn to look at Four-Seven-Two as it talks. You can now see a spectrum of colors in their eyes.
“That is why your name has five numbers instead of four,” it adds. “With every generation, we repurpose the lost and become even greater.”
Even greater. Greater than what, you want to ask. But you don’t say it out loud because you are still trying to relearn how to speak.
A feminine chuckle rings through the room. You turn to see Two-Six-Seven-Three having both hands over its face, the eyes looking up and down at your new form. She stands away from the table, an empty table where you remember being strapped to.
“Now you can do what we have done for you,” Six-Seven-Two tells you. “Help us repurpose another wasted human being. Someone that was left behind like you and can be given a second chance.”
Repurpose someone else? Could you do that?
And as you stand there, in your new body so perfectly made for your mind, you consider what has happened to you. What has brought you here. How fate transpired to have this all take place.
Does some part of you enjoy it? Is some inner image of yourself finally released to a glorious life?
Think about that. How it makes you feel.
What will you do next?
Now I am closing the book on this story. This is the end of our time together.
But it does not have to be the end for you, the reader.
If you want, you can imagine what happens next for yourself. You can take the wheel and command this story instead of me. Or you can just leave it here and say it is done.
You have a literal world to explore, and the only limits are your imagination.
Whatever happens to you next, thank you for building this story with me.