The Chameleon Kingdom

Summary: Some call it Neverland. Others, the fae realm. The Chameleon Kingdom absorbs broken children, gifting the strongest with cruelty or confidence. Four such survivors encounter each other on a jungle island one day, with guns drawn and triggers ready. Survival for all of them is not possible, in this realm or the Chameleon Kingdom.

A Bad Day in the Jungle

Arun Singh once simultaneously battled in two realms, but he never considered how to battle in three. His life had been boringly predictable since he'd taken the private security job, which was twice as hot, twice as tedious, and twice as dangerous as the West Auckland neighborhoods he'd patrolled as a policeman. He clutched the weapon in his hand, a Liberator 12K revolving pump shotgun he'd custom-made for his job. Beneath his blue uniform, he wore heavy protective plates that saved his life more than once. Neither protected him from his reckless coworkers.

Arun sighed as he saw his coworker Hamish, an Australian high school burnout, downing another bottle of vodka. The Aussie pointed his shotgun into the air, and pulled the trigger as he belched. The shotgun rung through the air, and Arun found himself involuntarily diving for cover. He could not explain why he felt so exposed, but he'd learned long ago not to doubt such feelings. He turned to see the tropic jungle had melted away, as though he'd fallen into some nightmarish alternative dimension. Instead of the familiar sun and heat, a chill wind reminded him just how isolated he was.

Ana Vasquez observed Arun through the window of a burnt-out concrete tenement. The decrepit slums blended into the jungle in the distance, its vivid green contrasted the muted, sepia appearance of the urban decay. The buildings between her and her target were progressively more overgrown, until all signs of civilization were no more than mounds beneath the canopy. A rifle shot would be deflected by the thick underbrush, so she had to get in close to confirm the kill. She leveled her suppressed PT-92 at her target, and she wove between cover as she closed in to firing range.

Ana did not reach the mound of rubble she intended to take cover behind. Instead, a bright object lit up the sky above her, a glistening white-hot projectile that descended like an avenging angel. It descended with an alacrity exceeding a jet plane, forcing her to take cover as it passed above her head. She felt the wave of heat and pressure from it, even though it was hundreds of meters above her. It illuminated her position, and she turned to see that Arun Singh was staring directly at her. Both turned as footsteps sounded from somewhere between them.

The hooded stranger walked out from beneath two blazing suns. Ana felt as though the city, with its darkness and corners, suddenly shrunk behind her. The world she knew felt as though it shrunk in scale in significance, as she beheld ringed gas giant filling half the sky. Twin suns filled the other half, banishing the shadows that sheltered her. Beyond the city and jungle, she beheld a horizon of sleek domes and crashed starships. The stranger walked from a strange craft that hovered just above the ground, and he carried a long barrel pistol in his hand.

Doctor Adrian Caruso loaded another gyrojet round into his customized pistol. Each bullet was a small, handmade rocket, inspired by the starships from imagined space wars. Around him, he saw ornate, sleek palaces that rose above the sands of a wasteland planet, decayed remnants of former starfaring glory. Shards of crystal topped each, each eerily reflecting the light of the twin suns. A wind blew past him, and he felt himself once more a single man in the unbounded enormity of time.

Adrian was brought back to earth by the stares of a mercenary and assassin alike. With two hired guns against his single shot pistol, he slowly slid his sidearm back into his long coat. He raised his hands above his head, desperately trying to maintain the attention of the two parties he'd drawn. His mind selected erudite words, but his mouth only managed incoherent mumbling. As he struggled to speak, he saw an arrow arc from the sun towards him. He stepped out of the way as it impaled itself into the ground where he stood.

Arnold Reich stepped out from beneath the canopy of the ancient forest with a bow in one hand and fresh arrow in the other. Clad in a leather vest and pants, he carried a quiver full of arrows on his back. Behind him, bird calls echoed out of the dark, enchanted forest. Before him, he saw the three others. He nocked another arrow, and its tip danced between the three others. He moved his hands with the finesse of threading a needle, but he hesitated for a moment.

Arun Singh saw the three interlopers, and he turned his back to them. Footfalls in the jungle he knew tramped through the underbrush, just like soldiers in the coup he fled in his youth. His martial instincts came back as he heard the frantic shouting and gunfire on his radio. Enemy contacts, dozens of them, streamed out of the jungle. As a line of bullets ripped through the ground nearby, he dove for cover. That was only the start of a bad day in the jungle.