“NO!!!” Jack’s luck ran out. While running through the labyrinthine cave system he thanked his lucky stars he was furthest from the door when it opened. A minor coffee incident put him about two minutes behind the rest of the relieving guards.
The first thing he noticed as he approached his post was that the first shift was still by the door. He expected them to be making their way out of the cave; instead, both shifts were staring at the tall black door intently. Their guns were drawn and trained on the ancient discovery. Then, Jack realized the door was being pushed open from the inside. It was mostly open when he stopped in his tracks to assess the situation.
Then, one of the guards screamed. He was suddenly 15 feet in the air flailing wildly, then he slammed into the cave wall several feet away. When a second guard was lifted off the ground, the rest of the guards opened fire at nothing. Jack watched guard after guard get flung against the cave wall; when only two were left he decided to run.
Jack was a coward and was comfortable with that. He only applied for the post because it seemed easy. The government found an ancient door and wanted it guarded. He imagined shooing away press and curious civilians would be the most excitement he would face.
He glanced back over his shoulder as he ran; all the guards were dead. The hairs on his neck stood on end and he knew he was being chased by something. Jack’s panic caused him to miss the turn that would have taken him back to camp, but he took the next turn hoping it would connect.
He stumbled when his next step wasn’t as low as he expected. The gritty, dusty ground became an old wooden walkway. He collected himself and kept running.
“NO!!!” It wasn’t until Jack ran into a dead-end that he remembered a mining camp mentioned in his briefing. He turned to try and run back through the cave, but stopped. The edge of the wooden walkway splinted and cracked under something heavy.
Jack considered firing his gun, but it didn’t seem to help the other guards. He didn’t feel like suffering through ringing ears in the last moments of his life. A part of him hoped that if he didn’t attack, the invisible beast might spare him.
He sat down, wanting to die in relative comfort, and watched. The wood continued to splinter at regular intervals. By the time it reached him, Jack deduced it was a four-legged beast. He sat still staring forward, waiting to be lifted in the air at any moment. He did not expect to see the thing reveal itself.
“Holy hell…,” he mumbled to himself as he realized what he was looking at. A unicorn. Its coat was the purest white he’d ever seen, it seemed to almost glow with divine light. Its flowing mane was blood-red and a single pitch-black, the same dark black of the door, horn rose out of its head. Jack was somehow surprised again when the unicorn changed.
It reared up and shrunk at the same time. Its snout pulled inward and its hooves each sprouted five delicate fingers. In moments a slim, pale young man with flowing blood-red hair stood in front of Jack. His horn was no longer visible, but a black heart tattoo with the number ’27’ in red decorated his forehead.
“What’s your favorite number?” The strange man asked with a soft voice.
“25!” Jack shouted in fear. It surprised him that he had a favorite number and that he answered at all. The man nodded and smiled.
“You’ll do,” he said. He knelt slightly and extended a hand toward Jack. “My name is Runehart. I need someone to help me get acquainted with this version of the universe, and you’re the only one left.”
“Jack,” Jack replied. He accepted the hand and assumed it was a greeting. He was surprised to find himself pulled to his feet again with no hint of exertion on Runehart’s part. “What do you mean this version?” Jack asked. He felt safe enough for the moment to ask questions. Runehart smiled, then turned and began walking toward the way he came. Jack was quick to join him and keep up.
“Do you know how old your universe is?” he asked. Jack shrugged and tossed out the first number that came to mind; something he heard somewhere.
“15 billion years or so?” he replied. Runehart nodded.
“That seems about right,” he sighed.
“Uh… are you evil?” Jack asked. He was slightly relieved when they walked past the cave that led to the exit. Runehart chuckled.
“Like all things in life, evil is just a matter of perspective,” he said. The ancient black door came into view and Jack realized they were going back in the room. He wondered what he’d see inside what he guessed was a prison cell.
“That being said,… Yes.” Runehart grinned. “I am.”
“What… what are you going to do?” Jack asked.
“Get ready, of course.”
“For… what?” They reached the door. Jack paused to ask before stepping in. Runehart was already crossing the threshold, he paused and poked his head back out.
“If I’m free, the rest of them are too. I need to prepare for my Master’s arrival. If you’re a good boy, I’ll put in a good word to him for you.”