CHAPTER ONE: Ready Player One?

"In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again." _ Lewis Carroll.

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'I really shouldn't have stayed up so late.'I thought to myself as I stifled a yawn, sitting at my desk and hunched over my computer screen, my eyes darted down to my watch to check the time and sighed at the lateness of the hour. I leaned towards the monitor and inspect my reflection off the darkening screen; I couldn't stop myself from at the tired and dishevelled face looking back at me. 'Fuck, I look like a zombie!' Heavy bags under bloodshot eyes indicating an unhealthy lack of a proper night's sleep, pasty skin usually reserved for vampires or marathon masturbators, and a tangled mess of light-brown hair made me look like the poster child for a Rob Zombie movie. I also had about four days' worth of stubble growing in around my face, giving me a more rugged look. I scratched my cheek irritably and briefly considered maybe taking in a shower and shaving before heading to bed, but decided that would probably be a bad idea to stay awake too much longer.

I made a few mental calculations in my head to figure out how long I had been awake today, how much running around the university campus I had done and chided myself for doing something so silly as to binge watch the entire first season of Breaking Bad and call it studying.

Taking my new corpse-like appearance to heart, I clicked out of my webpages and hit the power button on my laptop, sending it into sleep mode before closing it and sitting back on my computer chair. I stretched my arms over my head and my legs out as far as they could reach before slumping back into a lazy slouch. I stayed in that position for a few seconds then took another look at my watch; 3:15AM, well shit. If I get to sleep right this instant I might get in maybe four hours before I have to get up again and begin this viscous cycle of eventual self-destruction all over again.

With a groan of discontent, I pulled myself out of the comfy niche I had made for myself in the chair and began to strip down to my underwear, unbuttoning my shirt and kicking off my pants. Normally I would have dropped them into my laundry basket or folded up what could be worn tomorrow and put it on my computer chair; but it's too late in the evening (or is it too early in the morning?) to give a damn about cleanliness. I'll let Future Sam worry about that.

I glanced myself in the mirror, as I smoothed my hair out into a more presentable fashion, a pointless effort but I couldn't help but feel a little ashamed of how I goddamn awful I looked right now, hence my pointless attempts to fix it. "I'll do it in the morning." I mumbled to myself as I continued to remove my clothes and climbing into the welcoming embrace of my bed, not bothering to change into my pyjamas.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I snuggled deep into my blankets, making myself comfortable in its pillow-y embrace, and closed my eyes. I have my final exam of the semester tomorrow afternoon so as long as I don't overdo it and sleep in too late, I should be okay. My tired mind was still making half-assed attempts to calculate how many hours of sleep I'll get before having to wake up and run a few errands. I reached out, turned off the bedside lamp and surrendering to sleep.

Then my sleeping mind began to dream...

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I was dressed in my best clothes, a blue dress shirt with a pair of tan-coloured chino trousers and my best shoes. All freshly ironed and polished and my hair was styled into something resembling a normal haircut. As prim and proper looking as I was capable of appearing, as I should be. This is an important party after all, I must look my best.

I seated myself at the dining table with the other guests, all dressed in the same manner as I was. The table was very long, made to accommodate at least three dozen people, and was made out of a dark, polished wood that looked like it had seen its share of wear and tear over the years. Plenty of old-dried stains and a few chipped A long, printed tablecloth covered most of the damage, but not enough to hide it completely.

What attracted my immediate attention besides the table was the chairs; they were mismatched for a dining table, as if they had been pushed together from a number of different furniture sets, there were stools, armchairs, folding-chairs, recliners and even a lifeguards elevated seat. I myself was sitting in an antique-looking chair with wooden armrests carved into the heads of flamingo's and squishy-purple cushions. I couldn't stop myself from giggling and clutching my stomach, imagining how a game of musical chairs would go with such an astoundingly wide selection of places to place one's buttocks.

The table itself was located outdoors in a disheveled garden. The garden may have been very pretty at one time, but neglect has caused weeds to sprout and the bushes to grow to unsightly degrees, some plants had died and turned rotten brown. A lone birdbath was covered in thick green slime and moss, and birds that may have bathed in it have long since vacated the premises. What's more the entire garden was contained by thick leafy hedges.

My attention returned to the table the remains of what looked like a wonderful spread were all that was left, empty plates, bowls and glasses littered it, in the middle was the roasted carcass of a gigantic bird, possibly a turkey. It had been picked clean until only the bones were left. Colourful confetti littered the table and the floor as proof that much merriment had happened here. What a wonderful party it was-

"Wait… "was?" Didn't I just arrive?" I wondered aloud, running my fingers through my hair, messing up the neatly combed style and ruffling the confetti out of it. "That's odd, I don't remember there being a party, but surely there must have been…"

Suddenly, a great silence filled the air. Not as in everyone stopped talking to pay attention but like all the noise in the world suddenly died away, I doubt any of us could have made a sound even if we wanted to.

There was the sound of tinkling china off to the right, the other guests and I all turned our heads to the source of the new—and only—sound.

A lone figure was sitting in the chair at the end of the table, obscured by shadows. The candelabra's light did not penetrate the shadowy nook he had settled himself into, I couldn't make out a single feature of his person save for his suit. It was of fine make with excellent stitching and moulded to fit his very narrow frame; but it was dishevelled and torn like he had been in a fight or tried to tear the clothes off himself in rage. He was idly stirring an empty cup, stopping occasionally to add a heaped spoonful of sugar and begun stirring again. The faint sound of the spoon hitting the cup was the only sound I could hear.

Suddenly, movement on the end of the table. A lady smiled hugely at the narrow man, plucked the serving knife from the carcuss of the chicken and swiftly brought it down on her own hand, severing three fingers. Not uttering a sound and still wearing a huge smile, she carefully placed them on a small plate and pushed it down to the woman to her left. Following suit, the second woman cut off an ear and offered it to the next person and the next person did the same.

The figure at the end of the table did nothing but continue to idly stir his tea. Watching the grisly scene before him unfold as if it were nothing more interesting than last year's weather report.

Soon it was my turn. The woman to my right turned her head and smiled before taking her lower lip inbetween her forefinger and thumb and slowly drew her knife across where her lip met her gums, cutting it off. Her smile did not falter as she offered me her severed tissue, I smiled despite myself and accepted the grisly offering.

Unable to control my actions or the contortions of my face, I raised the fork up until it was level with my eyes. "Nononononono!" I screamed internally, scratching at the walls of my mind. Trying desperately to find the strength to pull away from the slow approach of the fork. But it was no use. My body was not my own any longer.

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I woke up.

I grimaced and nuzzled deeper into my pillow in an attempt to block out the sound of my alarm clock. Despite getting a few hours of sleep I still felt awful, I had the most horrible dream, I think there was something about a woman with a fork or tea? I don't know, I couldn't remember.

I reached out and slammed my palm against the snooze button as hard as I was able given my current physical state, which is not much. I practically just hovered my hand over the button and let gravity do the rest of the work. 'The snooze button...'I thought to myself as I tossed and turned between the sheets in a hopeless attempt to get back to sleep, 'has to be simultaneously the best and worst invention that has ever been conceived by man."

I lay in bed with my eyes closed, not quite asleep; I was more or less just resting there. The alarm didn't go off again five minutes later like it usually would, in hindsight that should have been my first clue that there might have been something a little wrong, but at the time I was still just so tired after the combination of a long night and a terrible night's sleep. I was in no state of mind to notice anything was in any way out of the ordinary.

I laid still in my bed for a while, before feeling a cold wet sensation on the back of my neck that caused me to yelp and sit up in surprise, my hand leaping to the back of my neck where I had initially felt it. It was water, dripping from the ceiling, but that wasn't my only problem; my entire bedroom was trashed, the floors were lopsided with many of the wooden planks twisted and bent upwards, and everything was scorched black as if a bomb had gone off. My desk was overturned and in shambles, my computer was little more than a twisted pile of plastic and metal. The only things that were spared were the bed and the alarm clock sitting innocently on a blackened bedside table.

"What the fuck happened in here!?" I shouted out loud to no one in particular. I stood up and looked around with a comically dumb expression of confusion on my face, I barely recognized where I was but was still in the process of waking up and felt incapable of fully comprehending what I was looking at. I recognized the things that were mine, but you will never understand how bizarre it feels to wake up and see your home devastated by some kind of disaster armed with the knowledge that you had somehow slept through the whole thing. Had I slept through a hurricane or something? Even I would have stirred if that was the case.

"Should I come back later?" An unfamiliar, feminine voice inquired. I turn around, swiftly, almost falling over in the process and saw a woman standing in the doorway looking at me. She was young, but still appeared to be older than me by at least a few years, tanned skin, short raven hair tied up in a neat style that seemed to frame her pretty, round face. Her eyes were an unusual deep violet with thick eyeliner around them, making them more noticeable.

She was also wearing a very daring outfit. It looked like a collection of various articles of clothing made from either tanned leather or hand-stitched cloth and thrown together to make up an outfit that showed off a lot of skin, namely her slim belly and ample cleavage. She wore no pants to speak of, but rather a dangerously short skirt that looked like it was one inch away from being a belt, she also wore a light and flowing black garment tied around her waist to obscure her long legs. She also had a small black backpack slung over one shoulder and a pair of tanned leather gauntlets on her hands. I glanced down at her feet and noticed that she was wearing some kind of wooden sandals that did not look particularly comfortable.

My initial assessment was that she was simultaneously VERY good looking and very… out of place, I had to stop actively stop myself from staring at her for longer than a few seconds before taking my foot out of my mouth asking the obvious question. "Who're you?"

"Who're you?" She repeated back to me, whistling, "I was expecting to find something in here but not a survivor, and certainly not like this." She gestured downward a slight grin on her face. I looked down and realized that I was still only wearing my boxers with my… ahem, 'morning glory' taking the form of a very noticeable bulge in the front.

I felt my face tinge with red for a moment as I processed how this must look and hurriedly picked up yesterday's clothes still littered on the floor and covered myself. "Erm, pardon me, I wasn't expecting any company." I said with an embarrassed laugh as I began to quickly get dressed.

"Oh no, don't trouble yourself." She said with a coy smile and a wave as she leaned against the door frame, still watching me. "I don't mind at all."

Not paying that particular comment any mind, I focused on getting myself properly attired in what had to be the fastest costume change of my entire life. 'Waking up one morning without any clothes and a beautiful woman watching me… Minus the apparent arson case, I'm pretty sure I had a dream about this once.' I thought to myself humorously.

I was wearing a black and white striped T-shirt, a cream-colored zip-up hoodie, blue jeans with a black leather belt and a pair of dark blue cotton socks. After I was sufficiently dressed I turned around to face her, my face still feeling hot from embarrassment.

"Not that I'm used to having women hanging about in doorways and watching me change, but who are you?" I asked again with a slight cough. "And what happened to the flat? It looks like a fucking bomb's hit it!" I gestured to the room around us and it's burnt, charcoal décor when it had once been white wallpaper adorned with a few posters, sticky notes and the odd photo frame. This was a real cause for concern, how in the hell did I manage to sleep through all this? And what was 'this' that occurred to put it in this deplorable state anyway?

"I don't know, you tell me. Why were you sleeping in a burnt down ruin of all places?" She asked, cheekily, moving away from the doorway and inspecting the room closely, touching a few things and picking up ruined objects that were once things I kept in this very room. I felt my body tense up, I never liked the idea people entering my bedroom and searching through my things. Especially strangers. I gritted my teeth and focused on trying to get a straight answer.

"Well, this 'ruin' is… was my flat." I answered, "I live here with three other guys while I attend university-" I stopped as I suddenly remembered that I still have an exam later today, shit, I don't think I can attend today with my house looking like THIS. Maybe I could apply for an extension or special consideration? I moved a stray hair out of my face and furrowed my brow in frustration; this is starting out to be a very bad day.

"University?" the woman repeated, her voice sharpened as she stopped what she was doing and looking at me with a quirked eyebrow, "Where do you think you are right now?"

I blinked. That is a bit of a weird question to ask, "In my flat." I answered blankly, "Or what's left of it anyway."

"Where specifically, do you think you are?" She pressed, her voice becoming hard and impatient, "Where is your 'flat' normally located?"

'Normally located? What the hell is that supposed to mean?' I thought, taking a small step back, unconsciously. "Near Waikato University in Hamilton-" I started, when she interrupted me with a long sigh. "You have no idea, do you?" She asked, furrowing her brow. "You're a new arrival."

"New arrival?" I repeated, confused as to what she could possibly mean by that, I took a few steps closer, intending to ask her what she meant by that as well as to stop her from continuing her unwelcome search of my room before she threw her hands up in the air in a 'I give up' gesture. "I could tell you, but it's much better for you to see for yourself. Look out your window."

I glanced over at the window she was referring to, slightly suspicious that she was pulling some kind of con, trying to get me to look away from her for a few crucial seconds, but I was also curious as to what she could possibly mean. I made an attempt to keep both her and the window in my line of sight as I slowly walked towards the aforementioned window in the far western wall of my room. She made no suspicious movements aside from a slight raise of the eyebrow at my behaviour; I turned my head slightly more towards the window.

The blinds were blackened and torn, but still up and covering the window despite everything, I walked over and tentatively I pushed them aside, a thick layer of charcoal rubbed off on my hand as I did so, I paid it no mind and looked outside, my jaw immediately dropped at what I saw.

A jungle, a thick, green, leafy jungle right outside my window on the second floor stretched out in front of me, the trees stood as tall as skyscrapers and utterly still, dim light trickled through the gaps in the branches casting dancing shadows and dark patches on the clearing where my ruined flat had found itself. A faint breeze wailed between the twisted and distorted trunks, carrying with it the sickly stench of wood rot from other, older parts of the deep jungle.

I stepped back from the window in disbelief of what I was seeing. It's one thing to find your bedroom wrecked when you wake up one morning, it's another to look out your window and seeing a completely different view than the one you were used to. Suburbia to Amazon Forest is more than a little bit of a change.

"I'll say this bluntly since it's going to sound insane no matter how I phrase it." The strange woman spoke up, placing a delicate hand on my shoulder, her tone laced with pity. "You are no longer on your home world, it's uncommon but sometimes, through different means, people find themselves spirited away…" She explained, but I was barely listening. This was alien, bizarre, it was difficult to suddenly process, especially since I had only just woken up and been spied on by a hot, scantily clad woman and my flat has been violently relocated to fucking Oz for all I know. I'm pretty damn sure I am not getting my deposit back on this!

I take back what I thought earlier, this is NOTHING like that dream I once had!

"-of different names, but a lot of people have taken to calling the place 'The Continent', mostly because the massive majority of it is unexplored and unclaimed, the exact location of the continent is unknown, as is the method of which some of its inhabitants arrive…" The strange woman continued, sounding more and more like my old History teacher back in high school; I could never pay attention to her either. If only they dressed more alike…

This had to be a dream; it had all the features of a dream, surrealism, strange shifting of landscape, members of the opposite sex wearing strange yet visually pleasing outfits, there's no way it could be anything but a bizarre concoction of the mind. Granted, I had never had one quite so vivid or so lucid, perhaps I fell into a coma somehow?

I pinched my cheek out of curiosity, it hurt, but I still didn't feel convinced. That's when I felt the strange women slap me across the cheek, knocking me out of my thoughts and back to reality, or wherever the fuck this place is.

"There. You felt that, you're not dreaming. Got it?" she said, rolling her eyes. Obviously this kind of thing had happened before, I wonder how many other people there are out there? I thought about this for a minute, how did I even get here? I remember staying up too late last night derping around on the internet as I often do, and then I went to bed… What happened between the time I went to be and the time I woke up?

I realized I still didn't know her name, I wasn't about to let her keep evading the question. "You still didn't answer my question before, who are you?" I asked her.

Her expression lit up for a second as she realized that we hadn't been properly introduced, and held out her hand in greeting. "I'm Alma. Alma Wake." I took her hand and shook it firmly, "Samuel," I answered. "Samuel Cheshire. But everyone calls me Sam."

She nodded, "Good. Now that introductions are over with and you're properly dressed, it's time to get to work. Help me look for any useful stuff we can salvage." She began to strip the bed of sheets and pat down the mattress as if looking for anything that might be hidden.

"Salvage?"

"Yes. The last thing you want to be in unprepared out there." She said not looking up, "When I said 'continent' and 'spirited away' in that context, I was not talking about a magical fairy tale land of milk and honey. It's more of a large mass of hostile land populated by things that want to eat you."

Huh… So I've been kidnapped and taken to Australia?

Joking aside, I immediately understood what she was getting at. If playing video games has taught me anything it's that if you want to survive you are going to need all the supplies you can get your hands on; so the thing on the agenda is to go the way of Fallout and Skyrim and fucking take anything that isn't nailed down or on fire.

Another thing I never thought I'd be doing today, assisting a complete stranger in searching my flat for loot.

I immediately went over to my overturned desk and rooted around to find something, anything. I found my schoolbag still mostly intact but none of the things it was carrying survived, just a heap of ashes. Great, those textbooks cost a fucking fortune on their own! I kicked around a few things and I managed to find an intact pair of shoes; they were my brand new hiking boots I got for my birthday last week. I'd been trying to wear them every second day in order to break them in without getting blisters but right now they seem like the best possible option.

I looked around and opened a few drawers to see if I could find more clothes to put into my bag but came up empty handed, I was stuck with what I was now wearing and an empty bag. I was very annoyed; I was dressed for a casual summer day, not a fucking trek through the amazon! The only saving grace is that my shoes are made for hiking and are quite durable, least I won't have to worry about, but they are a little heavier than normal shoes, might make running a little difficult. Let's just hope I don't encounter anything fast and hungry.

Alma was searching under my bed and in the drawers of my bedside table and lifted up a silvery object. "Found a watch. Yours?" she called. I looked up and squinted over at the object she was holding, it was indeed my watch. "Yeah, was wondering where I put that." I said, I didn't ask for her to hand it over. I had already started looking for something more important.

I opened the top drawer of my dresser and found what I was looking for; "Awesome." I cheered, "I'd hate to have to go trekking through untamed wilderness without these!" Sitting in the drawer were my glasses, small wire framed square glasses, granted I only really needed them for seeing things long distance; I could see fairly well without them but I felt more at ease having them with me than not having them at all. I put them on right away.

After I put them on I noticed that there was something else in the drawer, something that shouldn't be there. It was a small brown knapsack, the kind that hooks onto your belt and holds stuff like herbs, binoculars or a drink bottle. I did not own anything like this; so what the hell was it doing in my drawers? I cautiously I reached out and lifted it up, it felt a little heavy. There was definitely something inside.

"What the-" I wondered out loud to myself, causing Alma to look up and notice that I was holding something. "What's that?"

"I have no idea…" I certainly didn't own anything like this, I'm sure none of my flatmates did either. How the hell did it get here.

I turned it over, unbuckling it and opening its lid. Inside were a glass jar filled with a clear liquid and a small black bag, like the sort that dice or marbles are kept in. I picked up the jar first and noticed that there was something floating in it, something small, oval and metallic. I looked closer and saw it swivel around in the liquid where a small dim blue light shone at me and I realised, it was an eye. A mechanical eye.

I felt that under normal circumstances I would have been far more weirded out by this occurrence but… I wasn't. This eye felt familiar somehow, like I had seen it before, that I had held this jar before. But that's impossible, how the hell did this jar with a fucking EYE in it get into my room? Did it happen before or after the room got its little makeover? What the hell is it, even!?

I was so lost in my thoughts that I hadn't realized that Alma had taken the knapsack from me and opened the small bag for its contents, but I didn't care, I turned my attention back to the tiny eye in the jar. "I don't suppose you have any idea what this is, do you?"

Her eyes darted up to see what I was talking about and fixed on the jar, recognition shone behind her eyes for a brief second, "I might." She said, reaching out with one hand, "Let me see it."

I didn't feel like giving her the jar, or the eye inside it, she seemed to have a penchant for shiny things and I get the sense that this eye was far more important than it seemed. She didn't have a problem prying it out of my grasp, in fact I doubt she had to exert any strength at all, she merely reached out and snatched it out of my hand.

"Oh wow," she said, holding the jar up to the light and observing the eye as it swivelled around to look at her every time she moved. "This looks like an Oculus! "

"An… Oculus?" I repeated, not catching on. "Mind explaining that a little more?"

"It's a piece of surveillance technology made by the Technocracy, often utilized by trained spies and scouts in order to gather useful information. It's supposedly very useful in determining-" She must have noticed the blank look of confusion on my face, because I was making no attempt to hide it. She sighed in annoyance and simplified her explanation.

"It improves the recipient's eyesight and provides useful information on their surroundings. It's also supposed to be able to increase the person's visual recall to the point where it's like having a camera in their head. I don't know if this is the same model as I've read about, but it certainly seems like it."

I didn't understand all the terms she used, like 'Technocracy', but I did get the general gist of it. It's a 'super eye', and somehow it materialized into my room. "Sounds useful." I said, impressed but also a little disbelieving, who wouldn't be in a situation like this? "I don't know just how dangerous this place is, but if I lose my glasses I'll be at a real disadvantage."

Alma fixed a stare at me as I said that and a wide smile began to spread across her features, not like the smile she wore before; this one was all teeth. I suddenly felt very threatened, like I had just walked into a tiger's lair and sealed the entrance behind me.

"I-Is there a reason you're looking at me like that?" I said with a nervous laugh. Something about this woman seemed very… off, in a way that I cannot describe with words. Normally I'd be a little sceptical about everything she just said to me, but considering my situation and all that has happened thus far, I'd much rather not take any chances.

"Hmmmmm," she tilted her head with a finger to her lips in mock thought, still grinning like a madwoman, her eyes began to glisten with marked intent. "You remember what I said about this?" she asked innocently, making her eyes as big and baleful as she could, her grin not faltering. I wasn't buying it for a second.

I nodded slowly, not knowing where this conversation was going only that I probably wouldn't like it. "Ummm, mechanical eye, Technowhatsit, faster visual recall and… stuff. " I stuttered, hastily paraphrasing what I remember her saying about it and started measuring the distance between myself and the exit. Why the hell is she so intimidating to me? I'm sure if push came to shove I'd be able to overpower her, she may have at least an inch and maybe a bit more weight to throw around but I should at least be able to fight her off.

She stepped closer to me, swaying her hips purposely as she did so, "And did you realize something about it? Or rather… Something about yourself?"

"My…self?" I questioned, feeling confusion on top of being intimidated "No. What?"

She lifted two fingers and smiled, in that instant I swear I saw her eyes turn black. "It's an eye. But you already have two." Before I could reply, she shoved me against the wall with one hand and plunged her fingers into my eye socket.

There was a horrid squelching sound as her fingers dug deeper into my eye socket and closed steadily around my eye, my mouth was hanging open, frozen in an expression of shock and horror, I couldn't even scream. Her long nails brushed against the back of my socket and she tugged slightly, sending more shockwaves of pain through my skull, I wanted to force my face away from her but I found myself incapable of simple motor function.

For a few agonizing seconds she plunged her fingers deeper and pinched my eye as if it were a ripe piece of fruit, I released a few painful chokes of protest as I suddenly regained use of my arms and reached up to grab her arm, not certain what I was going to do to stop her or to save my eye, but just to put up some measure of resistance.

Clearly deciding there was no more fun to be had keeping me in suspense, she tugged it lightly four times as if to build up a rhythm and then plucked it out of it's socked in one forceful pull. There was a dreadful feeling of the optic nerve snapping and a sharp and stabbing pain, my breath returned to me in time for me to give a pained yelp and my hands let go of her arm and clasped over my, now vacant, eye socket.

I held both hands over it, whimpering in pain. I could feel blood pooling inside my skull and filling it up like a bowl, tiny dribbles of blood escaped through my fingers and dripped onto the floor. I gritted my teeth and squeezed my other eye shut as hot tears began to mix with the blood, a violent churning sensation in my stomach was warning me that I was going to be sick.

She held it in front of me almost teasingly, treating to the macabre sight of my own lidless grey eye staring back at me. I could hear her laugh, a high musical laugh that sounded so out of place amongst the carnage she had just caused. "You have a cute scream, boy." She said with a giggle, licking the blood from her fingertips idly. Bitch.

Suddenly I was on my knees, mostly blinded from the pain and crawling around pathetically, trying to get my bearings. My hand managed to find the sturdy overturned dresser and I hauled myself to my feet again when I felt a strong hand push me back down to my knees again. "Stay on your knees." I heard her say in a commanding tone.

I didn't want her touching me, I tried to swat her hand off my shoulder with my free hand, but she was stronger than me and held a superior position; she gripped my hair and held my head up facing her. "Move your hand." She ordered.

I didn't move. I had no desire to indulge her domination fetish.

She asked again, this time with a bit gentler but still definitely enjoying herself. "Move your hand." I grimaced, not wanting to concede, but I knew I was just acting weak, and so I obeyed and dropped my hands down to my sides but kept my left eye closed, as if convinced that if I didn't look at her she wouldn't decide to pluck that one out too.

I felt her grip on my hair loosen and she gently ran her fingers through my hair and cradled the back of my head with one hand, then I felt something like cool metal being inserted into my vacant eye socket followed by a slight tingle comparable to an oncoming headache. The pain slowly began to subside as the feeling of the eponymous Oculus began tinkering with the remains of my optic nerve with what felt like dozens of tiny, insect like appendages pulling this way and that. It made me painfully aware of its string like consistency, I would compare the feeling to having an eye socket full of bees.

"There we go." She cooed as she cleaned the blood off my face with the collar of my shirt. "Good as new." I opened my eyes and was immediately assaulted by a blinding light followed by a series of robotic clicks before my vision adjusted and sharpened. Things suddenly became clearer and I could see Alma standing over me with a nasty smirk.

"Now that wasn't so bad was it?" She said, leaning down to look at me with her hands on her thighs and purposely giving me an ample view of her cleavage. But that wasn't what I was looking at, it was her mouth.

I watched her mouth with fascination, the eye was processing at a much higher rate that I could see her lips moving a seconds before she even began speaking, I knew what she was saying before she even spoke it. I looked around the room and everything looked so clear and sharper than it did when I wore my glasses, it was disorienting and at the same time incredible, except for the obvious problem of my right eye was seeing everything and much more in much sharper clarity than my left that I almost had trouble focusing on things.

She lifted up my glasses, holding them with two fingers. "I don't suppose you'll need these anymore, will you?" She asked with another smile.

I took them and put them on; they sharpened the vision of my left eye but blurred my new cybernetic replacement. That was annoying; I took them off again with an irritable grunt and got to my feet. I should probably keep them in my pack until I can find a monocle or another replacement eye. For now, though…

I looked at her, sternly for a minute. Silently trying to figure her out, the oculus did an amazing job at making me see her better, it was like seeing someone in HD. I could see her pores, pupil dilation, dirt on her clothing's, scars on her shoulders and legs as clear as day; it was like I was giving her a Sherlock scan. I loved it, but I didn't let that show on my face.

"Don't look at me like that." She said with a pout. "You wanted the eye, didn't you?"

I opened my mouth to say something but stopped and thought about it for a second, I DID want to have the eye, and I would have experienced pain either way. You could say at least with the way she did it, it was over quickly and I didn't have to do it myself either. All and all, I'd say that was the best possible way for me to do it.

As much as I would love to pay her back in kind, I probably shouldn't hold it against her, it was painful and I certainly didn't like how much pleasure she took from causing me pain.

I remained silent and walked past her to where the knapsack was unceremoniously discarded and tied it onto my belt, stealing a glance at my new eye in the dirty broken mirror on the floor. It's electric blue pupil dilated as it looked at me and seemed to zoom in with telescopic sight as it sensed my desire to look more closely at my reflection. It looked good, very steampunk and complimented me very well.

"What's wrong? Giving me the silent treatment?"

I shrugged in response before grinning at my reflection, "Nope. It was the best thing for it, good job." I said with begrudging thanks, and turned around to face her, my expression now neutral.

She was looking at me with a raised eyebrow and suspicion in her eyes, as if she thought she'd been made the butt of a joke that she didn't understand. Clearly this wasn't the reaction she was banking on, "Good. I'm moving out after I've searched the rest of the ruin." She said, slowly.

I nodded in agreement, picked up my (empty) backpack and headed out the door and down the stairs, Alma followed suit. I glanced in each room as I passed them and saw that there was nothing left of this house save a few walls and a lot of black ash; the only part of the house that could be considered even remotely intact was my room at the end of the hall on the second floor. I doubt there was anything left to salvage upstairs, pity; I was hoping to at least find my toothbrush.

I went downstairs, most of which had collapsed and forced me to skip a few steps using calculated 'hops' from one rickety plank to another. I'm not sure how the hell Alma made it UP these stairs in the first place but she is clearly much more dexterous than her outfit suggests. I saw that the kitchen and living room were in a similar state to my room, blackened and almost unrecognizable.

I don't know what to expect in this place, part of me was scared at what I might find but the bigger part of me was excited. This was the kind of thing I had always dreamed of as a kid, no, I had still been dreaming of even into the present day; an adventure. This was a wish come true, a chance to be more than just another dumb kid spending his life going through the motions and dreaming of achieving the impossible.

"I set up a camp in a clearing a few kilometres south of here," Alma said, dismissively as she pushed past me and through the front door, hanging off its hinges. "It shouldn't take much more than a few hours walk."

I followed her out the front door and onto the mossy ground of the clearing, the wide expanse of jungle set out in front of me. I breathed in deep and felt a soft breeze tussle my hair and cool my face, still moistened with tears and crusted with dried blood, I'm off to one hell of a start but ultimately it's still just the start of my grand adventure.

It's a brave new world out there.

Authors Note: This is a new story I started writing last year after playing a few CYOA (or "Choose Your Own Adventure") comics that you can find all over the internet. Some of them seemed like really good ideas for writing and so after a lot of brainstorming in my free time, I got a good plot established and the bare bones of a few chapters all lined up. Chapters 1-4 are already written but are undergoing extensive editing at the moment to reach the (admittedly high) standards of I set for myself.

Yes, I know the dream sequence near the beginning came out of nowhere and did little to serve the plot. It was mostly an experiment to see if I could do a surreal dream sequence. Turns out dreams are really hard to write. Besides, I had to write a good transition between starting in my room and appearing in a strange new land.