[This is part of an ongoing series. See my ‘Half-Life Story‘ page for more information.]
CHAPTER 7 – BACKWOODS
I awoke in a panic. Unable to breath I floundered off my back and spewed out a lungful of warm, salty water. Gasping, I noticed a pair of green three-toed feet standing next to me.
The creature they belonged to spoke, “Ahhh, the Shepherd has awoken.”
I gave a few more coughs before I could look up at the Vortigant before me and reply.
“You, you pulled me out of the river?”
“True. I de-submerged you from the water’s fury.”
“Um, right. Well, thank you. You saved my life.”
“Grievous your demise would be. Yet, endure you shall on this side of the Vortessence.”
Geez, they sure did have a funny way of communicating. Then it all came back to me.
“Wait, where are the Combine? Did you see anyone else? There was someone else with me!”
The Vortigant shook his head in a way that reminded me of a horse shaking flies off his face. “The oppressors have moved on. Of those who took the plunge, there were none but you.”
“Dammit! I let her die!” I exclaimed with as much anguish as I felt. “Why do so many have to die!” I continued, punctuating each word with a fist to the pebbly shoreline.
“Ahhh, death, the momentary transition between this world and the plane beyond.” The humanoid said the last word in a peculiar drawl before ending with a click of his tongue.
Yes, Ciril had a point about these fellows. It did nothing to placate me, though, nor prevent me from crushing innocent crustaceans under foot on the shore’s edge. After every nearby shell had felt the brunt of my frustration I noticed the Vortigant remained in his original position, patiently waiting for my attention. Presently, I returned to his side, furiously rubbing my chin with one hand and my hair with the other, trying to figure out in which direction I should take my next step.
“Whom’s passing is the subject of your lament?” my new companion asked.
“I’m not actually sure. She was with me on the bridge. We were escaping together. I—I didn’t even know her name…” I trailed off weakly as the pain of guilt resurfaced.
The Vortigaunt closed his cluster of red eyes and shook his head in that particular way again, muttering under his breath.
“Ahh…mmmm…” he mused. Such mannerisms baffled me. What was he doing? As if hearing my unspoken question he murmured, “I sense no recent cutting of the cords which bind us to this existence. No.” That last word poignantly finalized the statement in a surprisingly guttural sound that resembled the muffler of our oldest buggy.
He left no room for question, yet I was clueless as to what he meant. I decided to change the subject, as I didn’t have much time for conversation.
“Say, how did you know my name?”
“The titles of those who will go before us are plain for us to see.”
Well, that wasn’t helpful. “Right. Well, I have to meet up with the rest of my group from Station 8. I have no idea what’s become of them as they fled the Combine attack. Did you want to come with me? I could certainly use your help.”
Its central eye opened wide at the prospect, “The honor bestowed me with such an undertaking is commensurate to that belonging to the one I’d follow.”
“Is that a yes?”
“Indeeeeed. If the Shepherd would follow this way, there exists a secluded track traversable by us bipedals through the wilderness.”
I was about to question if he knew where to go, but when he began loping off at a surprising pace I decided I’d better follow before he disappeared into the forestry.