The Plague of Pyridian is now available in Amazon stores in paperback.

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His lifeless form shuddered crudely in a white barrel of light. Time stood still.

He had fallen into a deep sleep. He could not be awoken by touch or sound. He did not feel pain and he did not dream.

After an immeasurable amount of time, the blue sparks shot into the barrel. The electrical stimulation pinched him into semi-consciousness. The barrels of light broke apart with a snap, drifting away in a purple mist.

And then he was falling…

Connor landed in a tangled heap and lay motionless for a while, oblivious to the world around him. His skin was hot and clammy. His breath came low and rasping as he stirred to a new existence.

He sat up, slamming his fists to his head. He had the worst headache ever. Spots of purple and white light hurtled across his vision. His body felt as if it had been broken into a thousand pieces and put back together again. Painful spasms racked his thighs and calves and his neck felt as if it had shrunk several inches in both width and height.

Once his vision had cleared and the pain in his head had eased a little, he staggered to his feet and checked the palm of his right hand. The Mark was there, I for Indigo. He was a Citizen again. An alien. He wore a new set of clothes: a military-style black tunic with a metal insignia on the breast pocket, dark trousers and hefty black boots.

His stomach went into spasms. He crashed to his knees. He coughed until he threw up. The cuts on his fingers and the slash on his hand disappeared. He observed a slight change in his skin tint. The Blood Change! He felt as if he had lost a week’s worth of sleep somewhere between Tridan Entertainment and−

Where was he?

The air was unnaturally quiet. Two crescent moons stood in the sky, one white and one a pale blue. Both shone bright, illuminating a terrain that resembled semi-dry black tar. Rock formations and sandbanks peppered the landscape.

He hobbled to a nearby rock. He saw the body of a man lying face up. He gave a muffled cry. The man’s face had been gouged out, leaving a dark blue pool. The dead man wore black trousers and a ridged breastplate over his tunic. He saw no weapons around the body. Connor knew there would be no resurrection for him.

This isn’t Narrigh, he reminded himself. This is different. He hadn’t been playing the game. He hadn’t created his own player characters, and unlike his Narrigh experience, he knew exactly what he was doing prior to his arrival in this strange new world.

He swept his hands across his chest. He didn’t appear to have lost any weight. The Authoritative Voice had not popped into his head. Not yet anyway. He found his Worral Stone in one of the pockets of his uniform. It was the only item to have come through with him. He squeezed it tight. He wondered again how it was possible to leave one world and find himself in another with new clothes, memories and abilities. And why he was never prepared. He regretted packing The Plague of Pyridian gaming guide inside his rucksack without thoroughly checking it first. He needed to know what he was dealing with. He didn’t have a bag full of supplies either − or any weapons. He was defenceless.

He tried to reassure himself. He had more going for him than he did when had found himself in Narrigh; his memory for one. He knew what had happened to him, knew the extent of his abilities and he could distinguish friend from foe.

The Plague of Pyridian backstory had mentioned a city full of Citizens, who lived above ground, which meant he was on friendly terrain even if it had been invaded by aliens.

In the distance, he spotted the airship he had seen on the screen of Luke’s laptop. To his trained Citizen eyes, he calculated he could reach the ship in minutes. If he ran super-fast he could hitch a ride to the Citizen city, and if it was empty, he could use whatever contact device they had on board to radio for help.

He hadn’t taken one step when a shadow crept up on him. It was a shadow unlike any he had seen before; a distorted mass of spikes and arcs. He wondered why he hadn’t heard it. It wasn’t human and it wasn’t dead. He slowly turned around. The alien looked like a congealed blob of skin and mucus. Light bronze in colour, it stood on four stumpy legs. It had great folds of skin over the top of its eyes, a flat tongue-shaped nose and no visible ears. Hundreds of tiny spikes covered its back.

A funny growling sound erupted from the back of Connor’s throat. No scream came. He stood rigid with fear, staring at the alien. The alien stared right back. It opened its mouth. It had no teeth, just a fleshy hollow.

Jump!’ the Authoritative Voice cut into his consciousness.

‘Can’t − can’t feel my legs,’ replied Connor, thankful to hear the voice again. It was consistent with what he had experienced in the past. It made him feel less alone.

Seconds became minutes. Still the alien stared at him. Its eyes didn’t move and Connor wondered if it had fallen asleep with its eyes open and didn’t know he was there. How long could he stay as still as a rock? It was only a matter of time before he flinched, or sneezed or jumped. The alien had a long tentacle protruding from its belly. He thought that if he jumped, it would snatch him from the air and if he ran, it would drag him into its mouth without mercy.

With no warning, the alien’s tentacle sprung at him, knocking him off his feet and lashing his ankles together. It made a low wailing sound as it lugged him towards its thickset mouth.

Connor screamed in terror. Arching his back, he pulled himself upright. He dug his fingers into the slimy, rubbery limb causing the beast sufficient pain for it to loosen its hold. He then snapped his legs apart, breaking free from the tentacle.

He lurched to his feet, ready to bolt. The alien charged. Ploughing into him, it flung him onto its back. He howled as the creature’s spikes struck his spine, puncturing his clothes and piercing his skin. He grappled to get to his feet, seizing the tentacle as it bore down on him. His fingers slipped and he fell head first onto the alien’s backbone.

A spike struck his forehead. Blood trickled down his face. He bit down on his lip to shake off the pain.

The tentacle came at him again. This time he was ready. He pitched forward and seized it with his arms and legs. The tentacle flailed in his grip. He head-butted it and leaned to one side, steering the limb in the direction he wanted it to go: the ground. The tentacle resisted and held him aloft. He hit it with a succession of punches. When it showed no signs of setting him free, he breathed through his nose and bit into its flesh, feeling the slime on his lips and tasting the alien stench on his tongue. The creature’s wail became a scream.

The creature tossed him in the air. He smashed to the ground. The rocks stabbed his ribs and legs. The grotesque shadow still loomed over him. Beyond the shadow, he could see the bright light of the moons.

Spitting out the wedge of tentacle he had bitten off, he half stumbled, half dragged himself to his feet. Gargling his own saliva, he ran from under the creature’s shadow. He ran until his legs throbbed and the blood pulsed in his ears. He had lost sight of the airship and worried that it had taken off without him.

Sensing he had left the alien far behind, he stole a look over his shoulder. He saw no sign of it. He stopped, gasping for breath. He needed to rest. His lungs burned. His heart beat so hard he was afraid it would burst from his chest, and he had a gnawing pain in the back of his head.

Where to now? He saw no Peltarcks or Citizens, only rocks, clusters of shrubs, sparse trees and sandbanks.

He whirled at the sound of falling rock. He saw another alien, smaller than the first, standing by a tree. It stood on two legs. Its teeth sat on the outside of its mouth. It had dark green serrated skin, a helmet-shaped head and a short tail. It didn’t have any eyes but he could tell it knew he was there. He found the eerie clicking sound it made more disturbing than its appearance. It occurred to him that it was calling to the others. There had to be thousands of them hiding among the rocks and sandbanks. He tried to figure out which way he should run. His gaze left the alien for a few short seconds. When he looked at it again, he discovered to his revulsion that the distance between them had shrunk. The alien opened its jaws, exposing a sticky black tongue. He backed away from it.

‘Run,’ said the Authoritative Voice, ‘as fast as you can.’

Connor took bounding strides. He heard the clicking sound behind him, and then all at once it surrounded him. Something nipped his ankle. He hiked up his leg and jerked his elbow back. It met a hard solid mass. He sprinted through a clump of bushes, thick with needles and rough bark.

He came to a rocky outcrop. Not thinking of what might lurk inside, he launched himself into a crevice too narrow for the alien to follow.

Outside, the alien clicked and hissed.

Connor cowered in the gloomy rock shelter.

He knew how he got himself into these predicaments. Now, how did he get himself out?









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