Chapter 1: Strange Lands

In a dismal room, with clothes thrown all over, a rotten stench filled the air. The only light came from a sloppy man’s computer as he tapped away.

“F***, this is boring. What am I going to do for games now?” Said Zhong Yu.

He just finished the new Three Kingdoms XIII release by Glory; it had next-gen graphics, extra cities, which meant more content, and many new gameplay improvements for controlling heroes. It was just that the cities were still too damn few, just a couple dozen. Compared to Glory’s other running series, Nobunaga’s Ambition, the stark contrast in the number of cities to be played made finishing the game a piece of cake. “They should’ve added hundreds,” Zhong Yu grumbled.

And as he said that, some great god from way down under must’ve heard his rant as the Three Kingdoms icon on the screen suddenly sent a beam at Zhong Yu’s forehead. A black vortex sprung up behind him, tearing the space apart. The next thing a blindsided Zhong Yu knew was getting sucked in.

A lush and vibrant forest spread as far as the eyes could see. A strange groan came from a creek’s bank amid the great sounds of nature’s little creatures, birds, insects, and occasional beasts. It was human.

Zhong Yu cracked an eyelid. Even with his body aching in places he never knew it could, his addled mind was much clearer now. Getting his shaky feet under him, he came to a shocking realization. All around him were trees unmarred by humans and pollution. The creek water was so clear he even saw fish dancing with the current.

‘What is this place? How did I get here?’ Zhong Yu racked his brain to get any sense out of all of this. All he remembered was, just as he finished the new Three Kingdoms game, his computer burst into light. The next thing he knew, he was lying over here. ‘What on Earth happened? What am I doing here? Is this Candid Camera? I’m just some broke NEET. I don’t even know anyone who’d be up to playing a joke on me. And no kidnapper is dumb enough to target me. Just look at me!’

He barely had the energy to shake his head, but he found doing so calmed him down enough to assess his predicament.

Judging by the trees, he wasn’t in China anymore. China had long since lost its last vibrant and virgin forests. While there were still some parts around the globe untouched by pollution, he didn’t know anyone who could take him cross-border, last he checked. ‘And those that could wouldn’t have given me the time of day.’

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Regardless, this was not the time to have his imagination run wild. He’d better get the lead on things, find someone, and get some information.

He took a slow walk down the river with the trees next to him. ‘Following the water ought to get me out of the forest.’

He learned to appreciate the wonderful nature and the forest’s sights on the way. Modern day, the only chance to see such vibrant wildlife was through a screen, and not forgetting the healthy dose of photoshopping. But those were all man-made, fakes. ‘Seeing it live is kind of a blessing.’

The fresh breath of the outdoors took Zhong Yu’s attention, bringing him a sense of innocent glee.

With a lively mood and a spring in his step, Zhong Yu hummed a tune as only one type of grass grew the most around him, which gave off the feeling of a meadow.

But Zhong Yu’s mind was consumed with spinning wild theories about how he got here and why. ‘Did I cross over? I don’t recall ever hearing about places like this back on Earth.’

A wolf howl broke his reverie, rooting him in place. A mangy wolf–reaching his waist–fixed its eerie green eyes on him. His knees went soft.

But the thirst for life won over the fear. Running as fast as his legs could carry him, with the wolf at his heels, Zhong Yu scrambled through the woods. The wolf was slowly but surely gaining on him. When it overtook him, dread crept in; he shivered.

The ten-dollar t-shirt offered no resistance to a natural predator’s claws. They ripped his flex, leaving bloody and gapping wounds.

Zhong Yu howled from the undeniable and excruciating pain. His body told him to stop, but his mind knew he’d only end up between the wolf’s jaws. To distract himself and keep his legs moving, he cursed and swore at the wolf while dodging any incoming pounce.

The wolf’s eyes flashed with cruelty, as if enjoying the thrill of the hunt from its scrambling prey. It kept a measured pace as if to prolong its joy and bring it more satisfaction when it would finally sink its fangs into its quarry.

Zhong Yu’s mind was a mess, the throbbing pain a constant reminder of the danger inches behind. ‘I’m gonna end up dead at this rate. What do I do? What can save me?’

He saw a cliff up ahead. ‘A dead end? Am I going to end up as this beast’s meal?’ Zhong Yu hesitated at the edge, his eyes darting around in his panic. He then noticed the tree below. ‘I’m saved!’ Zhong Yu grasped his chance.

The wolf crept closer, pushing a frantic and cornered Zhong Yu closer to the edge. Its eyes flashed with even more excitement. The thrill was best when its prey struggled to survive, only to be met with death.

“You rotten beast! I’d much sooner jump than give you the satisfaction,” Zhong Yu yelled as he stared at his hunter.

The wolf picked up on Zhong Yu’s taunt and pounced just as he ran for the edge.

The wolf saw him go closer to the edge and picked up the pace. It was almost upon the damn human, inches away from tearing him apart and having him in its belly.

Only, Zhong Yu jumped just in time. He managed to grab onto the nearby tree as he fell. ‘I’m alive! I’m still alive!’

The wolf was too close to stop and fell off as well. It had less luck than its prey, though. Its claws left marks on the trunks, stopping with his front claws into the tree and the hind ones frantic to find nonexistent purchase in the air.

Zhong Yu saw its fear. Oh, how the tables had turned. All that came to his mind was the thought of sweet, sweet revenge. ‘You wanted to eat me, and all you’ll get is death! You’re in for it now.’

Zhong Yu crawled over above the wolf and planted his feet on the front paws. The wolf’s eyes exploded with horror at what was to come. It whined, pleading for mercy.

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Yet only gave Zhong Yu a certain sick thrill as he stomped. With one last mournful howl, the wolf fell to his death, splattered on the ground.

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