Chapter 1: Another Arrival on Another Strange Planet
A thick fog permeated the forest, wrapped around the base of every tree and flowing up high into the leaves. It was a dark night and the thick mist did little to allow the light of the moon or the stars above to illuminate the land below. Instead, everything was oppressively dark.
It wasn’t such a thick forest as to impede travel on foot in nearly any direction, but a majority of terrestrial vehicles would find it inhospitable. When factoring in the thick foliage over the ground and uneven terrain, that situation compounded further.
Deep within the grove, sounds of tree life and the shifting fog were both disrupted when there was a sudden rip and tear of reality itself.
A moment later, Eleanor Asher appeared standing atop a small patch of sidewalk.
“Oh.” Eleanor blinked as she glanced around. The fog filling the area she was occupying a moment ago had vanished, and was quickly being replaced by more from the local environment. “This is very… green, huh? Not impressed. Seen it before.”
Messy dirty blonde hair rested atop Eleanor’s head. Glasses rested atop her nose, the frames and lenses working together to add emphasis to her blue eyes. She was a short woman, cutely chubby with an impossible to ignore backside that strained everything she ever wore.
She looked around as if she would see someone, but like usual there was no one to greet her upon her arrival. She very rarely appeared with people in her immediate vicinity even when she appeared in a densely populated area. It wasn’t something she understood, but while she’d gotten the hang of hopping from universe to universe that didn’t mean that she understood all of the why’s and how’s associated with her experiences.
Given how often she found herself in an altered mental state Eleanor was impressed she understood as much as she did.
The mechanic she’d relied on the most was the fact that every hop reset her physical and mental state without erasing her memories of the experience. She still wore the clothing she’d had from the last dimension she’d visited—a pair of small denim shorts wrapped around her impressively round ass, a matching blue denim vest over a white-tank top, and a simple pair of tennis shoes—but any physical injuries, intoxication, or mental conditioning vanished along with the world she left behind.
Carefully, Eleanor stepped away from the small chunk of sidewalk. Her last world had been a version of Earth populated entirely by people descended from dinosaurs instead of early primates. The only real difference was an abundance of electric cars and people keeping small dinosaur-like creatures as pets instead of dogs and cats.
It had been a nice place to visit, but nothing about it made Eleanor want to stay there.
“Please, try harder next time.” Eleanor blew some hair from her face as she slowly stepped through the fog. Learning about her surroundings was always very important, even if only so she could understand what she might expect to find in her temporary habitat. None of the trees or foliage looked remarkable or odd—all things considered she might have imagined being back on her own version of Earth. “This has to be Forest Planet number… twenty-five at least…?
“Now that I’ve had a repeat or two, at least what I thought were repeats, I hope I’m not just going to keep cycling through the same worlds…” Eleanor’s eyes flattened as she felt along the bark of a nearby tree to confirm its texture felt like she imagined it would. “This better not be the planet with those sentient guerilla-fighting teddy bears. I had enough after the first time. Thanks.”
There was still no one to respond, but that didn’t particularly matter. Eleanor’s performance was more for herself than anyone else. Dimensional shifting wasn’t exactly disorienting anymore, but it also hadn’t done much to diminish Eleanor’s propensity for snark.
“At least this world doesn’t have people flying through the sky under their own power, people who can make dust appear out of nowhere, or telepathic aliens—yet…” Eleanor stepped between two trees, pausing to avoid stepping on a raised root. “Though I guess I’d be the alien in this scenario. I should probably stop talking to myself out loud. I usually don’t. Bad habit to pick up from that black-and-white world… what was it… Noir 13?”
Eleanor rolled her eyes with a snort, wholly oblivious to the invisible beams scanning across her body from the trees on either side. They took careful note of her measurements, but they went deeper still. Far away, in the computers analyzing their data, they had just as much information about her brain wave patterns, her heart rate, and any other number of important statistics.
Silently, and unobtrusively, nearly every detail about the short woman had been noted and tucked away for later retrieval.
Looking closer at either tree would have revealed nothing. Both appeared to be trees with all-natural bark and no unusual shape or material that might have hinted they were anything special. The technology at work was sophisticated, and well-integrated into the natural world.
Thick fog obscuring everything, and the darkness of night helped, but their true nature would have been as well hidden were the fog gone and the sun shining brightly above.
“Just a forest planet. Night, but that’s not special. Could always be night and that wouldn’t be too special.” Eleanor carefully stepped over another branch, her foot hesitating before settling back down on the ground. “Was that a snake…? No… There are no snakes here. I’m just seeing things because it’s so dark… Brighter than the first three-night planets I visited. None of those had much in the way of trees…”
Sounds of various bugs and other life were easily audible, but Eleanor hadn’t spotted anything besides plants. Either the animal life was hesitant enough to keep its distance from the intruder or had some other reason to give the area a wide berth.
Blue eyes glanced up the height of a tree before Eleanor frowned. If she were a bit more adventurous—and a lot more athletic—scaling one of the many trees to get a better understanding of her surroundings would be an excellent idea. I don’t hear any rushing water, or any sounds of people. This planet could have a huge resort just a few miles away and I’d have no idea if they weren’t throwing a loud enough party… but all I can see are trees and fog.
May as well just stick with this direction and keep moving forward. Maybe I’ll find a cave like the one where I met Ormr to hide in for a while, or a space elevator, or this planet will be hollow because apparently the whole multiverse is full of impossible physics.
Eleanor’s snark didn’t do much to improve her mood, but it was a distraction. She still hadn’t seen anything that wasn’t the forest or the fog, and that was quickly becoming demoralizing.
A forest planet was one thing. She could stand being trapped away from other people for a short period of time. It had happened before, unpleasant as it was.
A boring forest planet was something else entirely.
Eleanor winced as she realized her foot had landed directly on a fallen twig without realizing it. The sound was loud, loud enough to echo through the forest in every direction.
It’s not like I’ve seen any other people, or any creatures, so it’s not as if that should be any kind of a bad thing for me… right…? Eleanor frowned. That sounded a bit loud for such a small twig, but… yep. Just wood.
She tossed the broken remnants of a stick away into a nearby bush. The sound felt odd enough to inspire a closer investigation, but like the trees she found nothing worth investigating.
Undeterred, Eleanor continued walking along. Her legs were largely bare, as were her arms, but either the fog was warming her, or the thick tree cover kept in the warmth of the long-ended day. Whatever the reason, she wasn’t shivering at all.
Climate controlled forests—coming to another unlikely universe near you.
A strange metallic sound made Eleanor whip her whole body around, but when she looked there was nothing to see. Whatever had made the sound was either gone, further away, or invisible. Those were the college student’s immediate ideas.
The worry of spending time on a planet full of out-of-phase or invisible life crossed Eleanor’s mind, and she rapidly shook her head. Surrounded by so much plant life, the idea that any other entities on the planet would be outside of her range of detection felt incredibly unlikely.
Was that a… hissing sound…?
Eleanor continued on in the direction she’d been heading before if only because there was nowhere better for her to go. The metallic sound had come from behind her, but it was just unsettling enough to make doubling back feel like a very unappealing notion.
If that sound came from the direction I came from… Eleanor gulped quietly. Maybe it’s some kind of a sentry hunting down whoever put a block of cement in the middle of a forest. I hope I didn’t arrive in the middle of some kind of a nature preserve… If I did, precursor sentinels, I really wasn’t trying to wreck it!
The metallic sound happened again, this time to her left. By the time she’d turned to face it, the sound was coming instead from her right.
Each time it was louder.
Okay. That’s a tiny bit unsettling. Eleanor tensed, trying to scan the forest around her as she continued to move. Her head jerked erratically as though trying to outplay whatever creature or device was following her. Not that I’m scared. It’s just not a very normal situation! Makes me wish I was back with Musk… that was a good time…
“Mmm… and just what do we have here?”
Eleanor spun around again, finding a woman standing on a low branch of a tree. Everything about her stood out from her long, bright purple hair to her style of dress. Fishnets covered her legs and arms, and a dark-tan outfit with a top that looked like a karate gi and a loincloth that hinted at a thong made her seem like something out of an anime. Somehow, even in the darkness it was easy for Eleanor to catch sight of the woman’s teal eyes, and so much of her astoundingly pale skin.
The way she stood on the branch was every bit as anime as the clothing she wore—dramatic, flashy, and unrealistic garb for anyone focused on stealth. Above where the gi met was an ample view of large, fishnet-clad breasts. The lower half of the woman’s face was hidden underneath a mask, and she wore a bandana around her forehead.
“Uhm. Someone who weighs way too much to stand on that branch…?” Eleanor frowned. The strange, anime-ninja woman was far taller than her, if more svelte, and it seemed like it should have been just as impossible for her. “Any chance you could tell me where I am? I’m a little… lost.”
“Mm. I’d say you’re lost.” Teal eyes hooded low. “You’ve wandered into Hebi Clan territory. that’s dangerous for a girl like you. I’d be well within my rights to snatch you up, just in case you were a spy.”
Eleanor quivered, but did her best to hold it in. She’s acting ridiculously, but she does have a very sexy voice. Something about her reminds me of one of my professors back at school… but I can’t remember which anymore.
“Hebi Clan…?” Eleanor blinked, looking slowly around the forest. “I didn’t see any signs. I’m not a spy, but I also can’t go back where I came.”
“Oh… that’s too bad.” The woman laughed. It wasn’t an ordinary laugh, but one that started soft, and quiet. The woman then rose her hand in front of her face, laughing louder and louder. “If you can’t go back… then I guess I’ll need to take you back with me. Only… I can’t take the risk that you’re a spy. You might not even know it. The enemies of the Hebi Clan are very duplicitous. You could be one of their agents, brainwashed to not even know it by their ancient techniques.
“But we have our own tricks, too.”
The metallic hissing filled the forest again, and Eleanor turned in a full circle in a futile attempt to locate the source.
Brainwashing, huh? Nothing I haven’t dealt with before, but I’m really not a spy! The hissing grew louder, but still Eleanor couldn’t find where it was coming from before it had moved on to somewhere else. How do you convince someone you aren’t a spy? Spies would never say they were spies! If I say I’m a spy though, that just means it’s a confession! This is an incredibly unfair situation!
“You don’t need to brainwash me! I really don’t understand what’s going on around here. I’m not…” Eleanor hesitated. There was no sign that this woman would understand what she was saying, and that felt even less likely when the woman began to laugh louder in such a bratty, haughty way that seemed almost out of place. She needed to be at least a good ten years older than Eleanor but that laugh seemed entirely too… young. “I’m from so far away I don’t even know about the Hebi Clan…! Just tell me where to go and—”
“Oh, it’s too late for that. I’ve already told my pet you’re a target.” Even with her face half-hidden behind a mask, it was easy to tell that the ninja woman was grinning. “You can try to run, but you won’t get very far. You’ll be coming with me, and we’ll be making sure you aren’t a threat…
“Don’t worry! It will be a… very thorough process…!” The woman laughed again, back arched in such a way to emphasize her breasts. The way her clothing sat over her body emphasized her hips, her thighs, her breasts—all of her voluptuous body.
Watching a woman like her laugh dramatically would have been fun for Eleanor in almost any other circumstance.
Instead, it was as unsettling as the metallic hissing that was growing closer and closer while remaining hidden. Eleanor debated running, but one look down at her short legs made that idea feel silly.
I was never any good at riding it, but I wish I had that demon cycle about now…!
“Not running? That’s too bad.” The woman in the tree sneered down at Eleanor. “I was looking forward to watching you run. I guess I can’t have all of the fun I want after all. The reputation of the Hebi Clan means you naturally realize how futile running would be. Surrender, and this can be so much more… fun for you.”
Eleanor quivered again. Something about the way that woman said the word fun was not at all innocent.
“I really don’t know the Hebi Clan, or any other clans! It doesn’t really sound like you want me to surrender and then call off your pet, though…” Eleanor frowned, trying to set herself in a defensive posture even if she had no clue what she’d do to fend off a ninja’s pet. “So, what’s the point in surrendering?”
“You’re right, after all. I don’t want you to surrender… I want you to struggle for me to watch.”
There was another loud metallic hiss, and this time when Eleanor turned her head, she saw something.