Chapter 1:

Not at the Mouth

WonHal! Wonder Halls: After billions of years of respawning at the mouth, instantly dying! I don’t!

I’ve been here for ages.Bookmark here

My slice of life day to day consists of respawning at the mouth over and over again. Each time we freeze over the moment we’re made from the thundering meat. We don’t get to talk or communicate strategies. However, one time, a fellow respawnee got a word out. He said something like, “This is the worst place to respawn in the Flesh Halls! Respawning in the intestines of this thing is a lot easier!” and boom, dead, the mass of flesh absorbed us again.Bookmark here

My name is Jun Junipero, but most of my friends call me Junio. Not long ago, probably billions of years ago at this point, I used to be an uncaring art student. You’d expect me to miss that over this, right? And you are correct! Before this, I had never even appreciated the feeling of air on my skin. Bookmark here

Until I was surrounded by constant thundering meat again; Beat after beat, grasping every sense of the suddenly forming body.Bookmark here

It appeared that I gained myself again for the billionth and one time.Bookmark here

Finally, separated from the hardened nestedness of meat, guts, nerves and bone, I returned to the pleasures of having a body; one, two—I counted, but I didn’t--Bookmark here

Distant from me, a girl peered mingled in the background. She looked indistinguishable from the rest of the meat, but I chose to introduce myself, “My name’s Junio.” I kept composure, but deep down inside, the fact that I didn’t instantly die again daunted me. I didn’t die. Am I going to escape?Bookmark here

She approached me, “Call me Rubicon.” The view of her became ordered. Her neck-length hair, outlined by her distinct choker with an Omega symbol hanging off it, her face resonated calmly, and she felt a part of this place. Though her beauty quickly escaped me; Our bodies are raffled into form by bundled guts surrounding us; I spawned again, but, this time, not at the mouth? Where am I?Bookmark here

“You’ve got your body Junio, move your legs,” said Rubicon, gesturing me to move by smacking her thigh, “Chop-chop!”Bookmark here

As we walked, I felt as if my feet were standing on billions of beating hearts, so many, it felt like solid ground. But I kept balance and caught up, “I have no idea on how we’re going to get out.”Bookmark here

“Hmm… well, you don’t look like survival material,” said Rubicon stopping, turning, choosing to grab and pull at my fringe. Tugging it down past my chin and towards my chest...Bookmark here

“You’re built like a tree—a long skinny tree!” said Rubicon.Bookmark here

“Huh,” I replied.Bookmark here

A try-hard smirk appeared on her face; Is she trying to cheer me up? I awkwardly smiled back. Letting go of my hair, Rubicon continued to walk, “They wish to stay bound, wishing that at some point their body respawns like ours. However, the culmination of knowledge is the only correct way to escape this thing.”Bookmark here

Right, we should learn from each other. “What did you spend most of your time doing before this?” I say so, looking at her formal attire.Bookmark here

“Drinking and regretting my life choices,” Rubicon giggled.Bookmark here

“No, I meant, like your job. What did you do for a living?”Bookmark here

“Oh, you are trying to get to know me. That is good. I worked for a recruiting agency, nothing special. Nothing that would help us here, but I know we are in a good region. We spawned in the intestines of this thing,” Rubicon said, confident.Bookmark here

“OK, we might have a chance then, right? The mouth is inescapable, but spawning so close to the rectum, we might escape through the other end,” I replied.Bookmark here

“Indeed,” again Rubicon stopped her march, turning to me, “If this were the human body,” she demonstrated with her hand, “We would be at the transverse colon; we have to pass down through the descending like a slide, and then we emerge--”Bookmark here

{“Don’t go down this way. This path is assured absorption! The worm-people are coming!”} A part of the walls of the Flesh Halls caved in like a person’s face pressed against a bedsheet.Bookmark here

“I don’t understand what it’s saying,” Rubicon pinched her chin.Bookmark here

I stopped, confused, “What?”Bookmark here

“The shadow hands are forming—did you receive any memories?” said Rubicon.Bookmark here

“Wait, you didn’t understand what it said, and shadow hands, what is that?”Bookmark here

“Argh, Junio, never mind,” she turned away from me, “It doesn’t matter. There are only two harmful things here, the shadow hands of the flesh-beasts—those still bound that want to make us bound to the Flesh Halls again, and others who have gained their bodies from respawning like us. The flesh-beast that spoke doesn’t have any of these factors, so what it said doesn’t matter.”Bookmark here

From the flesh, ghostly black hands arose like karma, speaking in a way both of us understood.Bookmark here

{“JOIN US.”} A nightmarish growl reverberated off of the walls from no direction in particular. The screams of billions combined manifested, calling to us.Bookmark here

“Junio, we need to move,” Rubicon said, continuing her march, and I did the same. But for some reason, deep down, I felt like stopping—Why?Bookmark here

The phantasmal shadow hands of the flesh-beasts extended and tickled my back, nearly grabbing me. From the walls of the Flesh Halls, flesh-beasts; caved-in mouths and eyes burbled what sounded to be nonsense, I could understand, but not Rubicon?Bookmark here

As for the memories that surged to me, I shunned what I saw for the time being.Bookmark here

“Phew, we got away. But I wonder, Junio, if one knew the range of the shadow hands, they could use it to their advantage to get others bound again, don’t you think?” said Rubicon.Bookmark here

Rubicon seems hyper-aware of everything that’s going on. “Rubicon, how many times have you respawned?”Bookmark here

“Fifteen,” said Rubicon, looking to the side. Speaking not a large number, but I felt bitterness shone in fear at hearing how many times she supposedly had spawned and not yet escaped. Maybe Rubicon respawned at the mouth too? But she knows where we are, so does that mean she failed to escape?Bookmark here

“So you’ve respawned fifteen times? How did they go?!”Bookmark here

“Well Junio, I won’t go through all fifteen. We’d die of starvation and be absorbed again by the time I’d be done, so I will only tell you of the spawns which helped me the most. How does that sound?”Bookmark here

Rubicon began walking back and forth, the flesh squelched by the hit of her feet. She then started twirling her finger as if she were uncertain about what to say, “Hmm… My first spawn went a little like this. I met with many people, enough to populate an entire village. A pair led. It was easy because we all spoke the same language, which might be an effect that occurs when we’re respawned. This pair who led had supposedly been alive within the Flesh Halls for a severe amount of time. They, of course, explained a lot. What stuck out was their description of the surge rippling into your brain, the surge of memories. Warning all the newly respawned, describing it like symptoms of sudden visions of a lifetime which is not yours. If so, it is because someone has given you their memories to help you escape. The risk for the giver is that if the given fails, i.e. are absorbed, the extra ‘soul’ disappears and won’t be able to spawn again. That’s the sum of what they told me, but I’ve never experienced it myself, so I’m also uncertain.”Bookmark here

As Rubicon talked, I felt inclined to look at her choker again, the Omega symbol. Over what feels like an infinite amount of time which I’ve been here. I’ve become tired of looking at meat. It’s all mangled and weird, yet that Omega symbol has so much structure, it seems more beautiful than her, so much design, not loose like our clothing either. Although her trousers highlight her legs and waist. Maybe I do like meat?Bookmark here

Rubicon approached, lightly flicking my forehead, “Others also explained that before bodies reconstruct out of the flesh, we experience a state of fantasy.”Bookmark here

“Oh right, a perpetual limbo of sorts?” I replied. Even I know that.Bookmark here

“Yes, which the flesh-beasts, the faces we see extend from the Flesh Halls, gibbering nonsense are those in an intermission of their daydreams. But the more they pump and pulsate in trying to come alive, the more chemicals spread to the flesh as if sedating the creatures to calm down.” Rubicon performed funny hand movements, “And the cycle of hallucination continuuuuues~!” she said in a spooky voice.Bookmark here

“So the caved-in mouth and eyes we saw from the fractured webbed remains of meat and bone that make up the Flesh Halls are human, yet we call them ‘creatures’ and flesh-beasts. Why is that?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Human?” Rubicon’s face and hands dropped in disappointment, a heavy sigh, she crossed her arms, “Junio, do you relate to hamburgers? It comprises animal cells like you. Are you somehow feeling sympathy towards the flesh which surrounds us? I cannot understand you,” Rubicon said, distancing herself from what we once were.Bookmark here

“Neither can I. You know so much, and you haven’t escaped, for all I know, what you have been describing to me could all have happened in only a single spawn,” I replied.Bookmark here

“Fifteen is little, Junio. What matters here is the accumulated knowledge. I know why I have not, and I plan to bargain with that reason and use you as my meat shield if I have to. I hope we win, or else it’s back to fantasy,” she giggled.Bookmark here

I didn’t know what Rubicon meant by ‘bargain’. She made it sound like an entity with which we both could communicate, and meat shield? I thought she said it jokingly, but only time could tell.Bookmark here

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