John huffed as he ran to keep pace with the wolf Sharptooth. They had been running for several hours now without ever really slowing down. He had never run this far in his entire life. He never had a reason to. Until now. Until he’d been magically transported to this world called Karma where every animal could speak and wanted to kill him. If he had the breath, he’d laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. As it stood, he was having trouble simply staying on his feet.
“Can… we… stop?” he asked in between breaths.
Sharptooth slowed, but didn’t stop. “We’re close to the base of Black Mountain,” the wolf sighed. “Plus, we’re running from those trying to kill you. Are you sure that you’d rather take a break now and allow them time to catch up? Or would you rather continue until we get to our destination?”
“Sorry,” John breathed sarcastically. “I don’t have a lot of practice running for my life.”
“Really? Because that’s all we did when we lived on Earth. We still have to do it here, from time to time, when there are fights between the species, but those are few.”
“You don’t fight with the other species?”
“Not very often, John-John Livich. We may squabble from time to time over territory, but even then it is usually nothing more than scratches and bite marks. It almost never leads to death.”
“So, except for humans, you don’t kill here? Not even for food?”
“How long have you been here now?”
“I don’t know. I don’t have a watch or my phone to keep track of time.”
While he couldn’t see it, the tone of his voice made John think that Sharptooth had rolled his eyes before saying, “If you’d paid attention to the position of the sun and moon, you’d know you’ve been here for over a day now. Tell me, John-John Livich, have you felt any hunger yet? Any thirst?”
John was about to ask why Sharptooth said his name like that, but the wolf’s question made him pause. “No,” he said after thinking about it for a minute. “I haven’t.”
“That’s because food and drink aren’t necessary in Karma. You don’t need to kill for water and, because we don’t need to eat anymore, we don’t need to kill for that either. There is no reason for us to kill each other. There is, however, a very good reason for us to kill humans.”
He could have tried to argue his point, but he didn’t have the breath to do it. John could barely keep his feet under him. His knees were getting wobbly and the little energy he had left was fading quickly. The lack of energy caused him to not lift his leg enough and his foot caught on a rock jutting up out of the ground. There was no chance for him to catch himself or brace his fall. John’s face and chest hit the ground at the same time. He slid forward as pain raced up his front. As much as he hurt, the first thing he had to do was replace the air that had been blasted out of his lungs.
“Get up,” Sharptooth hissed.
Before he could respond, he saw the trees around him had burst into motion. Birds that he didn’t notice before flew away in every direction. Their squawks filled the air. John had never spent any time in the forest back on Earth, but even he knew that those birds had just alerted every animal in the area to his position. He cursed under his breath and struggled to get back on his feet. Between the pain and the fatigue, it took him far longer than it should have. Still, he managed to do it. With a determination he didn’t know he had, John put one foot in front of the other and started on his way again.
“Good, John-John Livich,” Sharptooth said in a voice meant to placate a child. “We’re almost to the base of Black Mountain. There is a cave close to it that we can use for refuge.”
Hearing that the end was close gave John a small burst of renewed energy. He used it all quickly and went back to running on fumes. Everything became one big blur, yet he continued to pump his legs. Moving forward was all he focused on. He didn’t notice when the ground beneath his feet changed from grass and leaves to stone. He didn’t notice that he was no longer surrounded by trees. It wasn’t until he heard Sharptooth screaming his name that he noticed anything at all. There was nothing but solid rock in front of him.
Running headfirst into stone was going to hurt. A lot. Perhaps it would even prove fatal. That wasn’t an option. John dropped to the ground, angling his body so he landed on his left side. His shoulder felt like it popped out of place when he hit. A scream echoed around him. It grew even louder when his momentum carried him into the rock wall. John’s back hit first, which slowed him down just enough that when his head followed, it didn’t knock him out completely. The impact did knock him silly, however. A new wave of dizziness washed over him while the pain in his head joined the other new pains he’d picked up in the last few hours.
It was too much for his system to take. John blacked out. What came next was a series of brief visions and garbled words. All of the glimpses included the wolf’s face and the snippets of speech he heard were in Sharptooth’s voice. None of it made any sense to him. Of course, nothing made sense to him then. Thinking wasn’t something he was capable of at that moment.
When he finally regained his senses, he saw nothing, which was disorienting. Especially since he felt himself moving. Something was tugging him along by his pant leg. He mumbled something and the dragging stopped. “I’m pulling you into the cave,” Sharptooth informed him.
“I can’t see,” John replied.
“That’s because you’re in a cave and there’s no light in caves.” Sharptooth sighed after hearing John groan. “I lived on Earth too, remember? I remember fire. You stay here and rest. I’ll go get the things you need to make it.”
John nodded absentmindedly and felt himself starting to succumb to the darkness. Sleep enveloped him a few seconds later. He thought it did, at least. All John remembered was shutting his eyes momentarily. When he opened them again, it felt like little, or no, time had passed. Yet, when he started moving, he heard Sharptooth say, “Finally! I thought you’d never wake up.”
“How long was I asleep?”
“I don’t know, but you need to hurry up and start that fire. Something about this place smells… off.”
“You can’t see anything?”
“I can see better in the dark than you can, but that doesn’t mean I can actually see clearly in the dark. Everything you need is right next to you.”
John fumbled around until he found a pile of dry leaves, some sticks, and a couple rocks. While he’d never done it himself before, he’d seen it done in movies enough that he had a general idea of how to start a fire with what Sharptooth had brought him. He struck the rocks together a few different ways until he finally got a spark to fly. It took him a little time, but he finally managed to light the dried leaves with one of his sparks. As he moved the sticks closer to the flames, he heard Sharptooth say a word he’d never heard. Before he could ask what it meant, the wolf barked at him.
“We need to get out of here,” Sharptooth ordered. “Right now.”
“Why?” John asked without looking up from what he was doing.
“Because I figured out why no human ever seen after coming to Black Mountain.”
That caused John to look up to see what had the wolf so agitated. It was easy to spot. There was a very large pile of human skeletons no more than ten feet away from him.