Read part one of the short story ‘To The End’ right here!
The port was abuzz with life. Circling around its centre like aboriginals around a fire, the general populace, in their hundreds, swarmed and teemed, lighting the air with an incomparable hubbub that enveloped and domed mercilessly anyone that wandered too close. At the far edges groups gathered, chattering mindlessly about the droll sanctions of the day, leaning on the precarious railings to take a deep gander at the endless drop below them. This was the state of normality for them; to stare into the bottomless abyss of the cosmos and feel excitement rather than angst or a crushing sense of totality. Like most things regarding the human race, the first space port was now a commercial mine, which companies dug and dug until they could strike no more gold and then offered bog-standard arrangements for intrepid entrepreneurs to chip away what was left. As such, business was booming, but the larger corporations had since moved on to what they deemed to be deftly more lucrative propositions; such as the first colony on Mars. Since their departure the once gloriously luxurious Space Port, first of the Human Empire, was reduced to sub-standard care and maintenance and thusly considered a less expeditious venture.
The port itself was massive, stretching several hundred kilometres, consisting primarily of corrugated metal and the so-called ‘space-alloys’ discovered by the human race some decades before, though across its massive length, in an attempt to comfort the homesick, several mountainous areas had been removed from the Earth and relocated to the port. This gave the impression of a hybrid machine; both land and metal fused into a practically monstrous image that loomed directly above (or below, or to the side, depending on your frame of perspective) the Earth. One of the several thousand engineers who helped build it, having been taken high above it in a shuttle to observe the completion of the masterpiece, aptly described it as “a high-street in space that looks like a crashed ship but is more likely actually a metal whale trying to eat Mount Everest.”
The completion brought with it an age of exploration- as man has always dreamed of reaching the stars- but no expedition travelled further than Mars. The basis for a colony was beginning to blossom there and many were hopeful this would be the second planet to be taken by humans. Many pointed out in the past they were likely to bomb this planet to oblivion too, and in fact, several calls for war-time protocols to be engaged in case somewhere in the planet an unknown, hidden Martian force were clandestinely concealing nuclear weapons that they may or may not utilise against the ‘peaceful’ humans had been raised, but for the moment it seemed humanity might remain placatory. For the moment, anway.
Into the blazing fury of the busy centre, where hordes of people rushed to and from the sides of the port- which were lined with purely aesthetical railings, since a larger, invisible force-field encompassed the entire port- and crowded the many food-carts that littered the many streets, stepped two men.
These two men were by most means un-ordinary. By most normal means, they were extraordinary. But since normality is neither here nor there, or here-here or even since-before-there-but-not-quite-here-or-anywhere it would be difficult to describe them as anything but ‘strange’.
Passed the huddled streams of people they waded, barging their way forward to the left-most railing, where they peered down at the blissfully nonchalant blue-green planet hovering in space.
“It’s pretty isn’t it?” said Sean, amazed.
“It’s certainly pretty,” admitted Legion, shrugging. “It looks like a big ball of blue and green snot to us.”
“Very poetic. Did you take creativity lessons from the Crop psycho?”
They turned back around, making their way to the closest food stall- which, in the tradition of humanity at any point in its timeline, sold specially branded food to capitalise on a new location, such as; ‘Star Burgers’, ‘Space Dogs’ and many more assortments of poorly marketed food-puns that nobody ever cared for- or asked for.
“Was he the one with the chainsaw?” Legion asked after receiving a bottle of ‘Olympus Water’.
“No,” said Sean, taking a bite of his fresh ‘Beacon-Bacon’ sandwich. “That was Joop-Joop, remember? Came from the Atlantic Ocean and tried to saw your arm off.”
“We remember the sawing. Which one was the Crop psycho?”
“The blue guy with the tentacles, kept on randomly reciting awful poetry.”
Legion stared off into space and looked around the stars but could find no answer.
“We’ve got nothing.”
“Minds of an entire world’s population, the power of a God, and the memory of a goldfish. How can you not remember this stuff?”
“How are goldfish memories bad?” Legion whined.
“Well…” said Sean, trying to strike logic. “Actually, they’re not, are they?”
“They are and they’re not.”
Sean observed the masses as they swam to and from each stall and bench, as they peered at their extra-terrestrial surroundings with awe, and found no remnants of the human distinction that previously plagued his own world- that was, the issue of race. This version of humanity refused to harbour any deep-seated notion of apartheid or segregation and the concept of separate races was long abandoned. Sean considered this a direct and happy result of humanity’s adventure to the stars. As he himself knew, seeing the world for how tiny it truly was in the grand canvas of the cosmos- and every other one- ingratiated a humbling retreat in the soul. Upon looking at Legion, he realised how redundant a conclusion that was.
“So where are we checking first?” Legion asked, growing bored of observation.
“We can take a little walk,” he answered, “have a look around, see what’s what.”
Legion stared down the inconceivably long metal path that vanished behind a towering mountain lifted from the plains of Australia.
“We don’t think there’s such a thing as a ‘little walk’ here.”
“Sure there is,” said Sean, taking two steps. “That was a little walk.”
Having finished their surveillance, the pair broke from the stall and the main centre of the port, making their way passed the mountain and into a smaller, more cosy plateau, upon which the populace surrounded a gloriously crafted fountain, complete with stone cherubs that spouted streams of water, and all seemed mesmerised by the masterful craftsmanship and clock-like dexterity that kept the fountain running.
“See, you can’t say that’s not pretty,” said Sean pointing to the outstanding jets and dancing rivulets.
“We’re not here to observe pretty things,” Legion grumbled. “We’re here to catch one.”
“I wouldn’t say that thing looked pretty.”
“In its own way.”
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?”
“If you say so.”
They took a left down a set of stairs, continuing past the parade of religious preachers that took the port as an eye-sore on creation. All spoke similarly, of the coming of the apocalypse, of humanity’s breach of God’s terms. Sean kept his mouth shut, in his brain holding the espousing thought of hypocrisy and simple ignorance frozen.
“Ygssrettfurr said the creature likes grassy plains,” said Legion, equally ignoring the cries of the preachers.
“I remember. Do you have a map by any chance?”
“Why would we have a map?”
“To help us get around the place…”
“You’re the boss, you get a map.”
Sean huffed, stopping a passing woman to ask for directions to anywhere on the port that housed grass. She directed them forward, to take a left before Kili-lunar-jaro and then follow the river Neptune. On their way they found the path remotely deserted and began to worry.
“You know,” said Legion, “we could’ve brought more people with us.”
Sean, hugging the left wall, that was actually a small hill from Scotland- complete with wet grass and all the usual minuscule bugs that called such a place home- shook his head.
“Everyone’s busy doing something. I would’ve brought someone else along if I could.”
“Where’s everyone else?”
Presently, they were sandwiched in a narrow path between a grotesquely unkempt hill and a metal barge, requiring them to traverse the path single file.
“Uh… let’s see,” said Sean, “I sent Drada and Jarn to ‘set the scene’, Gavin’s using Crock-rats for target practice, Rachel’s obviously at home and Adrian… Adrian’s fishing.”
“And what about…?”
Sean immediately raised a hand. “Let’s not.”
Legion nodded knowingly and remained silent. Halfway down the path, they suddenly burst into a rage.
“Adrian’s fishing?!” they exclaimed. “He’s fishing?!”
“He’s fishing?!” they repeated angrily.
“Yes, fishing. You know, you go on a boat out on a body of water and the whole point of it is to mercilessly drag a defenceless creature from the only environment it can survive in, then let it suffocate… for fun. Fishing!”
“We know what fishing is!” Legion shouted. “Why is he fishing when we’re stuck on a crummy space port?”
Sean shrugged. “Everyone deserves a break once in a while. This whole thing can get a little tiring and he asked for some time off.”
Legion’s face twisted into all manners of disgust.
“Why haven’t we been given time off?! We deserve time off! We work just as hard as everyone else and we demand to know why we haven’t been given a break!”
Sean delivered his response with infinite calmness.
“You’re dead, you don’t get tired.”
Almost instantly Legion’s rage deflated, though they desperately clung to it to justify their point.
“Oh, yes, that’s true. But there’s a principle involved!”
They broke from the narrow pathway which opened up to an extremely busy wooden walkway, along which raced several suited businessman, all of whom seemed too busy to take notice of the two strangers stepping out from a dank alley. Sean started right.
“What… what exactly would you do with time off?” he asked as they navigated the traffic like a spaceship through an asteroid belt.
“There’s lots of things we could do.”
They thought for a moment.
“Poetry, writing, painting… all sorts.”
Sean burst out laughing. “You? You’re going to write poetry?”
“Yes,” hissed Legion, taking clear offence. “We have some of the best minds of our ‘verse in here and we can use them whenever we want.”
“You can’t even decide on a pair of shoes to wear.”
“Yes, but… but…” they trailed off. “That’s not the point. Shut up… boss.”
Eventually, they reached a grass covered mesa made up as an emulation of a park, complete with swings, chutes, rideable plastic horses and cows and all the sickeningly nostalgic memories you could shake a plastic lightsabre at. Families had taken the place over; kids ran wild over the sporadic mounds, parents chased after wayward children like they were sheep on a farm, and the shrill bays of the fallen and the scraped rose as a discordant hymn. Sean felt his stomach churn.
“Did specky mention the creature has any yearning for kids?” he gulped.
“Not that we know of.”
“Oh good. Then it’s probably not here.”
“We better investigate.”
“Nah, we don’t need to. It’ll be fine.”
“Would you rather hear kids screaming from scraping their knees or from being clawed by a murderous beast from another world?”
They walked forward only a step as they were immediately stopped by a concerned parent, who looked Legion up and down several times.
“What’s wrong with this guy?” the pale, lanky man asked, shoving a finger to Legion’s chest.
“He has a rare medical condition,” Sean lied, “messes up his eyes.”
The medical condition excuse was the only way any of them could aptly explain Legion’s missing pupils and irises. Otherwise, it was almost impossible to explain.
“Oh, really?” said the man, unconvinced. “What’s it called?”
“What’s what called?”
“The medical condition your friend has.”
“Does it really matter?” Sean sighed.
The man took an aggressive step forward, throwing his shoulders wide and clenching his fists.
“If this guy is going to be in the same place as my kid, I demand to know what’s wrong with him.”
Sean and Legion exchanged surprised looks. Both were quietly amused by the man’s commandeering attitude. Little did he know either of them could send him flying into space in a heartbeat.
“He’s actually an entire dead race squeezed into one body and mind,” Sean said, grinning. “They got killed by the forces of an angry god and now they’re stuck in there to help me and my team take said god down. If you don’t believe, just listen to them talk.”
The man, now furious and shaking, turned to Legion expectantly.
“Hello, how you doing?” said many voices chirpily.
The man stepped back. He did a double take. He looked to Sean, then back to Legion, then back to Sean, and then flapped wildly. Humanity may have advanced in this world but they were yet to discover hidden in the stars any sign of other life. If it wasn’t human, it wasn’t normal. The truth was even harder for them, however, as Legion wasn’t simply from another world, they were from a separate universe altogether.
“I…uh-I…” the man blabbed.
“Hey man, don’t worry,” said Sean, placing a hand on his shoulder. “We’re here to fight off a raging monster from another world that somehow found its way to this one. Don’t worry about it, we’ve got you covered.”
With that, they left the man babbling incoherently to himself, floundering confusedly. As they walked across the grass, avoiding contact where they could, Legion felt the stone stares of everyone in the park fall directly on them.
“Maybe we should’ve brought glasses,” they said, lowering their head.
“I don’t think they’d have helped. You look like death… and that’s not a joke.”
“People would think we’re just pale.”
“Nobody alive is that pale.”
“Yes, they are. Just not here… or here-here.”
Legions appearence stirred a deep-seated concern in most people. Though an attempt was made by the team to present them as normal- cutting and dyeing their hair black, which was pointless since it didn’t grow anymore, dressing them up in a military jack and military boots, which was also pointless since their sickly pallid hands were still visible- Legion still transmitted a beacon of death that in the minds of those who saw them, struck terror and fear like the echoing sound of coffin nails being hammered in.
Sean stopped suddenly. His ears pricked up as did the hairs on the back of his neck. Legion froze still.
“Feel that?” he asked.
“Yes,” they confirmed.
Across the field, behind the huddled mass of families and curious tourists, on the opposing rock face of a rising cliff, a flash of deep blue skittered swiftly, then leapt from the terrifying height somewhere out of view. Immediately Legion broke into a sprint, then with a single bound cleared the last of the field and the awe-struck families, and then began their chase. Sean, electing a different approach, calculated the likely direction the creature was moving, and then moved to intercept. No words were exchanged between the pair- they both knew exactly what they were doing.
As Sean whizzed past the crowds with a ferociously inhuman speed, he couldn’t help but smile at their blurred amazement. In ‘verses such as this, where technology or biology hadn’t advanced to superhuman standards yet, the abilities of him and the rest of the team could often be misconstrued as ‘god-like’. More often than not, they chose a stealthy route to avoid exposing these abilities and interfering with the natural order but this mission was time sensitive and had to be treated as such.
He darted right, leaping a plateau, grabbed a nearby rock-face mid-jump, then bounced off to the roof of a nearby stall. He heard the owner scream in terror but stopped not to explain. Looking up, he saw a metallic plain, completely empty except for a single pipe maw opening slap in the middle. Flitting across the metal was another blaze of deep blue. This time Sean could see closer and noted the gargantuan, over-sized red claws, easily sharp enough and large enough to slice most normal humans- as he liked to call them- to pieces in a few seconds flat.
The creature, like a floating ghost immaterial, vanished uncannily into the pipe. Sean cursed.
At the apex of the pipe he waited for Legion to join him, who did moments later.
“That thing is fast,” they said, staring into the black of the pipe.
From somewhere in the darkness came metallic clinks and screeching, no sounds that could be made with a normal human voice. Sean stifled a shudder.
“Did you see its claws?”
“We did. You have to remember it evolved in a ‘verse of highly dangerous creatures and became one of the deadliest.”
“I remember,” Sean grumbled. “All right, all right, plans?”
“Lay down and die.”
“Stand up and die.”
“That’s all we’ve got so far.”
They stared down into the abyss anxiously. Sean sighed.
“Looks like we jump,” he said.
“I’m the boss. You go first.”
“Does it really matter who goes first?” Legion offered.
“No. So you can go first.”
Legion looked down. The pipe itself could easily accept ten men at once but the most frightening variable was the lack of a visible bottom, not to mention the sides of the pipe were serrated and a glide across it with a hand would have a consequence of a lot of a blood and exposed bone.
“You’ll survive,” Sean said confidently, patting them on the back.
“You’re coming down after us.”
“Once I know it won’t kill me.”
Legion breathed in deep then with a single movement disappeared into the black.
Legion limped along lamely behind Sean, groaning and rubbing their arms and legs. The pipe they were in levelled out but was narrower and more claustrophobic than expected. Faint beads of light, presented to the travellers by petite orb lamps dotted along the ceiling were their only guidance in the otherwise absolute darkness.
“Nobody told you to fall on your side,” said Sean, trying to hide his smile.
“We didn’t mean to,” explained Legion coldly. “The drop was longer than we thought.”
“Did you try acrobatics?”
“We tried to land on our feet.”
“Maybe you should do that in your free time.”
“So we’re getting free time?”
“Ask the Ogrohad.”
Legion groaned again.
The pipe split into two paths; the one on the left offered only more darkness, while the pipe to the right shone slightly brighter and looked to lead somewhere homelier.
“Do you want to split up?” Legion asked, peering down both paths. They shuffled slightly to the right.
“This isn’t a movie. We can always come back.”
They entered the right pipe, clambering forward in the dark, and were pleased to find a brightly lit maintenance hallway that split into four separate corridors- all of which were equally as cheerful and inviting. It was a well maintained place, Sean observed, as all of the connecting wires and smaller tubular conduits that ran across the walls were both clean and contemporary. A small electric box, filled with fuses and nonsensical technology hung on the right wall.
“This seems nice,” said Legion, checking the walls for dust.
“It is,” echoed Sean, scouring the floor. “You see any signs of the creature?”
“What are we looking for?”
“Claw marks, fur, drool, I don’t know. Anything that seems out of place.”
Both traced the room with an itching keenness. Sean could see nothing out of the ordinary; and the connecting hallways also seemed clean. If the creature had indeed ventured through here remarkably it had covered its tracks.
“We can’t see anything out of place,” announced Legion.
“No, I can’t either. Maybe it went down the other pipe.”
As they turned to leave, a loud clang shattered the silence. It came from the right corridor. Placing his back to the covering wall, Sean waited for the creature to approach the opening, and gestured for Legion to stand by. There was another clang, this time closer. It seemed the creature was making its way towards them.
Sean waited with bated breath. This wasn’t the first time a monster of some sort crept mere inches from his face, nor was it the first time his orders dictated its death or relocation, yet the creep of fear marched onwards. Sweat started to pour from his brow. Not a lot of information had been gathered as to the identity of the creature- what it was capable of, what abilities it might have, or even how to kill it- so all he was going on was experience.
A third clang, not metres from where he was standing, scrambled terror through the air. Legion, hardly interested in the unfolding scene, argued among themselves on the politics of a multi-verse government and whether such an institution could ever exist. Several came to the conclusion of impossibility, while the others, far more optimistic, claimed it could be possible and by the laws of the multi-verse itself should technically already exist.
Wispy blue, ethereal flames floated around Sean’s arm. They were harmless to him but at the moment he decided to send them outwards they’d burn through anything tangible in their path. He was yet to discover anything they couldn’t burn.
A figure stepped into the light. With one liquid movement Sean flipped around to face his opponent, raising his right arm upwards at the creature’s face and then halted. Copious amounts of data flooded his head in a single second, calculations and ponderings, all to ascertain the identity of his enemy. The flames flickered.
Instead of a creature’s face, however, presented to his forehead was the barrel of a gun. He froze.
Almost letting slip his control on the fire, he gathered enough of his senses to approach this rationally. The gun was unique, he noticed, made of a curious metal difficult to find or forge, and the design was frightening even without its war-time implication; the barrel stretched from a globular core that gently gifted unto the air electric blue tendrils of energy, the trigger nestled into a streamlined handle that seemed more like a blade than anything else, but most frightening of all was its overall appearance; that was, it appeared to be a slightly over-sized pistol but with the savagely daunting firepower of a tank. Sean knew this gun. Hitherto down its barrel he hadn’t stared but the gun was too distinctive and too powerful to be mistaken as anything else. Only one man was capable of wielding such a ferocious firearm.
The two men’s arms ran parallel. They stared at each other in silence at point blank range.
“Could you lower your gun?”
Jack slowly lowered his arm- but didn’t holster the weapon. Sean realised why he hadn’t immediately recognised his friend; his beard was grown out, along with his hair, and his eyes sunk depressingly low on his face. He looked grimy and slovenly, virtually disordered and uncontrolled. His clothes were usually both simplistic and ornate, and he always seemed to wear his best, yet now he wore a half-destroyed white t-shirt and shredded jeans.
“What are you doing here, Jack?” Sean asked curiously.
He shrugged. “The Ogrohad sent me to help.”
“No It didn’t.”
Jack stumbled backwards. “Okay, okay, I thought you might like some company.”
“No you didn’t.”
The former soldier lowered his head. It was almost two weeks since Sean seen him last, and although he was known to the team as being in a state of distress, none of them expected the sight of his callousness.
“You need to go home, Jack.”
“You need my help here,” he argued.
Legion stepped forward. “We’ve got this under control.”
Jack shook his head. “It never hurts to have more people. Remember the Lords of Virago? They always said three was the best number.”
“Jack,” Sean said sympathetically, extinguishing the flames, “you need to go home. It’s not okay for you to be out here.”
Jack shrugged again. Not a moment went by, Sean guessed, that the event three months didn’t plague him.
He presented a helping hand.
His offer of empathy was angrily rejected, followed by a fist of uncalmable rage that Sean barely dodged. Both men took a step back. Legion stepped into the gap. Sean shook with irrepressible fury while Jack stood coolly. The air tensed. A domestic fight was unheard of.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Sean screamed.
“You don’t tell me what to do. You might be the boss of everyone else but not me!”
The flames spurted back into life.
“You don’t hit me. Even if I wasn’t in charge you don’t hit your friends.”
“Friends don’t tell each other what to do.”
The gun, at the press of a button, whirred to life.
“Are you going to shoot me?”
“You can handle it.”
Legion raised both arms defensively. The anger frizzled the atmosphere.
“Listen,” they said, “you’re both on the same team. Don’t do anything stupid!”
“Fuck it,” said Jack.
Before Legion could stop it, the gun was raised and a fiery shot erupted forth, connecting with Sean’s shoulder and knocking him to the floor. As he tried to regain his footing, the former soldier leapt on top of him and proceeded to pugnaciously beat him. Several shots were deflected but as Sean’s shoulder took its sweet time repairing, the ferocious attack couldn’t be immediately quelled. He screamed, throwing his weight behind a hefty punch that struck Jack’s ribcage, knocking him away. Both men cried out as they now stood across from each other. Sean felt the flesh on his shoulder painfully merge.
In Jack’s eyes he saw no desire to conquer or win, only an agonizing acceptance.
Sean charged forward, grabbing the soldier’s body and ramming him into the wall, which cracked under the force. A follow up jab to the chin and punch in the stomach was enough to double Jack over but the former soldier was quicker than he ever let on, recovering quickly and returning the attack with an elbow to the chest, a swift kick at the knee, and then a shoulder barge to overwhelm his adversary. He roared as he fired another shot directly at Sean. The plasma burned the adjourning wall however, as Sean had already repositioned himself behind Jack. Exerting his mind, he focused on the centre of the former soldier’s back and launched him flying into the other wall. Finally defeated, Jack coughed and panted as he tried to get to his feet.
“You know you can’t win!” Sean shouted at him. “You might be strong but you’re not as strong as me.”
Bloodied and bruised, with his already torn shirt now ripped to shreds, Jack stood broken. Legion took their place by Sean’s side.
“Uh…” Jack moaned, spitting blood. “You could’ve just let me help.”
“Go home!” Sean roared.
He hobbled back to the corridor, grabbing his gun on the way out. He was man broken in ways most could never understand- and Sean hoped no one ever would. The last three months had been hell for all involved. Jack turned to him.
“Did you hear my home ‘verse was destroyed?”
Sean, still fuming and primed to kill, let his anger dispel.
“I didn’t… no, I didn’t hear about that,” he admitted sadly. “I’m sorry. Lilith?”
“One of the rogue Nephilim, Gelus, tore it to pieces.”
Sean lowered his head in respect. It was all right for him, jumping from one ‘verse to another with little care for what happened in any one of them, but when something so important was taken away from someone with so little left to give, it reminded him of the true reality and what they were so desperately fighting for.
“I’m truly sorry to hear that. But you have to go home, you have to.”
Without another word, Jack walked away tainted morose.
Legion and Sean stood in a respectful silence for a moment.
“You could’ve been easier on him,” said Legion eventually.
“He’s still alive.”
Sean grabbed the few various tools he kept with him at all times from the floor, which had fallen out of his pockets during the scuffle, and gestured for Legion to follow.
They were halfway down the other pipe when Legion noticed the deep gouges running through the metal.
Getting down to his hands and knees, Sean carefully inspected the scratches. The markings were consistent with talons; a three-pronged footprint that was carved almost supernaturally into the harsh metal could be nothing else. Each prong was at least a foot long and several inches thick. Legion was right- this thing had evolved into something exceptionally vicious and was undoubtedly an extreme peril to the entire port. But then, Sean wondered, why hasn’t it killed anyone? Why is it running and hiding?
“Let’s keep moving,” he ordered, taking point.
Legion trailed closely behind. Since the fight with Jack, Sean had spoken very little and only to bark orders. Many of them argued that such a battle had been in the works for a long time now and they should be pleased that no one died as a result of it, but the others argued that given recent events, this fight should never have happened, as they needed to appreciate why the team was so important to its members. Several dissenters argued further, claiming that it wasn’t really a team but they were quickly silenced.
They all knew better than to question Sean’s judgement when he was in this state. They’d be sent home as well, and whether Sean wanted to admit it or not he needed them right now.
Eventually the pipe ended at the entrance to a massive engine room. At least, that’s what it was to Sean. There were three green turbines on the left, each one reaching from the floor to the ceiling and churning madly away silently, a huge cylindrical pylon shooting from under the floor into the ceiling, and to the right discarded metal garters, wires, tubes, and peculiar unused gauges were strewn carelessly around. Above, a metal catwalk allowed access to the higher sections of each turbine. The entire room, including the floor and ceiling, were coloured a nauseating green.
“Did someone have a spectacularly large sneeze?” Legion asked, looking around.
Sean stepped forward, taking in the scene cautiously. Suddenly, the hairs on the back of his neck pricked.
In the corner of his eye, hanging upside down from the catwalk and staring directly at him, was what looked like a bundle of blue feathers and yellow cat eyes. He considered his options.
“Legion, don’t look right at it,” he whispered.
“Why not?” they whispered back.
“Because I said so.”
He slowly retreated back to the pipe, always keeping the creature at the edge of his vision. Legion followed.
The creature shook its coat as it looked down at the pair, watching with unbreakable focus as they withdrew. These types of lifeforms were unknown to it. It was used to tearing opening the most foul, ugly creatures its ‘verse could throw together but these things were different; strange even. If the concept of normality could ever occur to it, it would consider these beings considerably abnormal. And then there was the question of what they were capable of- what abilities they might have. There were creatures back on its world that hid nine inch claws in their arms, appearing friendly, only to unleash their wrath at the last possible second. Maybe these new lifeforms were like that; friendly up until the point of longer needing a friend.
“What are we going to do?” Legion whispered.
“We’re going to bring it towards us,” said Sean. “I think it’s scared or unsure- or something. It hasn’t killed anyone yet, so maybe it doesn’t have humanoids in its ‘verse.”
“Doesn’t that mean it’s trying to figure us out?”
“Uh…” he murmured. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Doesn’t that mean we’re in a lot of danger?”
“Technically, yes. But hey, we’re practically un-killable.”
“Practically,” they pointed out. “But that doesn’t mean that we are!”
“It can take its best shot.”
“We’d rather it didn’t.”
In a single leap the creature dropped to the floor and started slowly towards the pair. Against their wishes, the creature was now unavoidably in full view.
Its face was barely a face at all, consisting mainly of a protracted jaw and two thin, yellow slits for eyes, all of which swept backwards seamlessly into a body of deep blue hair that spread over its entire form. Sean could only think of one word with which to describe it: beautiful. Despite its violently squished head, the creature was bizarrely majestic and if not for the enormous talons poking out from its overbearing mane, it might’ve appeared herbivorous. As it stood, however, in the pallid light that accentuated its poorly constructed facial features, it was like a T-Rex stalking its prey.
“It’s quite pretty, isn’t it?” Legion said.
“You find that pretty but you describe planet Earth as a blue and green ball of snot?”
“Are we right though?”
“Yes,” said Sean shortly. “It’s quite pretty.”
Legion took a step forward.
“Here, kitty-kitty,” they said softly.
“Legion!” Sean shouted. “What the hell are you doing?!”
“It looks like a cat.”
“It’s not a cat! Cats don’t have foot long claws!”
“Yes, they do. And they don’t.”
“IT’S NOT A CAT!”
The creature growled as it approached Legion, sniffing with unseen nostrils to ascertain hidden details. Not surprisingly, upon catching a whiff of death it reeled back violently and took refuge behind the nearest turbine. Legion laughed.
“See? It can’t be that evil.”
“Or it’s evolved to know when something’s dead and when something’s alive… and you’ve just messed that up.”
The creature crawled out from behind the turbine and approached Sean, sniffing him the same way as before. It circled him, sussing him out, breathing in as much of his life as it could. He stayed as still as possible. He could hear the thing growling and purring as it moved, and no noise seemed to convince him of the creature’s placidity.
Suddenly the noises intensified, incrementally growing more and more hostile. Before he could defend himself, the creature jumped on him from behind, digging its sharp claws into the bottom of his back. He screeched as he slammed to the floor with what felt like a car on top of him. Immediately, he threw his mind outwards and sent a wave of energy flying, throwing his assailant several feet away. As the creature readied itself to continue the attack, Legion threw themself into the fight, catching the creature in a bubble that slowly contracted. The creature flailed its claws wildly, attacking an intangible barrier with everything it had. Eventually, Legion allowed the bubble to release after they were happy the creature was tired out.
Sean waited for his back to heal. He waited several minutes for the flesh and muscle to coalesce and when they failed to, he knew he had no other choice. Dragging his arm from under him, against the pains shooting through his entire body, he reached into the belt wrapped around him and pulled out a vial bestowed to him by Jack several months earlier and chucked the contents onto his back. There was a ruthless hissing- then an equally as brutal silence. Then all at once, there was screaming.
Legion went to help him up, only to be batted away.
“Get… fu—make sure that thing is o-out!”
Obeying, they knelt down and checked the creature intently. Thankfully it was completely cataleptic. On closer inspection, the creature seemed to have no visible flesh underneath the bountiful volumes of fur, and its hind legs were little more than stubs.
“You’re just a cute little ball of fur, aren’t you?” Legion cooed.
Sean finally got to his feet, stumbling and slightly dazed. He eyed the creature irately.
“Let’s get that bundle of ‘nope’ out of here,” he wheezed.
They found a mirror in a small maintenance closet, which was crowded with lockers and unused hazard jackets, and completed by bags of extra wires, piping, and various scientific and technical instruments. The mirror itself hung halfway up the wall and was barely large enough to include both Legion and Sean in its reflection.
“Will this do?” asked Legion.
Sean couldn’t answer; he was too fixated on his reflection. The lines of aging had taken over his face so quickly, without as much as a warning. The Ogrohad’s blessing kept him youthful but there was no denying that since the last time he truly viewed himself he had aged considerably. This stranger in the mirror was unruly and wild, stressed and lacking any sense of enjoyment, and his eyes drooped miserably, as though the mere act of staying open was a monumental task they were unwilling to undertake. There was horror there too, he saw, the type of fear and terror that only inflicts those who ‘verse travelled, those that saw the truth of reality and its endless bounty of disgusting and horrid creatures. He was utterly shocked by the strength at which time attacked him.
“Yeah,” he said, snapping back. “Yeah, yeah, this’ll do.”
Legion lifted the unconscious creature from their shoulders and held him to the mirror while Sean gripped the mirror’s frame and imbued it with the necessary energy. The glass shimmered slightly, like a rippling wave, then settled again.
“You’re all set,” he said.
Legion bounced the creature up and down like a new-born.
“You’re so cute, you little furry thing, you. Such a furry little ball of…fur. Stay safe!”
“Legion, throw the fucking monster please.”
Complying, though somewhat despondently, they launched the creature at the mirror. The glass, upon touching, bended in a way the naked eye couldn’t detect, then wholly engulfed the creature. In a blink of deep blue and impossible science, it departed back home.
“We hope it’ll be safe,” said Legion sounding concerned.
“That thing put its claws into my back!” he exclaimed. “Like- right into my back! I hope it burns.”
“You spooked it,” they argued.
“I did nothing! I stood there and let it sniff me and it still attacked me. Why were you being so nice to it?”
Legion shrugged. “It was pretty.”
“You acted like you were its mother,” said Sean, hoping to get a rise.
“Well, many of us were mothers.”
Sean was ready to argue but upon hearing the words- ‘were mothers’- he snapped his mouth shut.
“So, uh… what do you want to do now?” he asked.
“We could go home.”
“I’m not really feeling it. Wanna get some food?”
“We don’t eat,” Legion reminded him.
“You drank water earlier.”
“To fit in.”
“Then eat to fit in.”
“Do you just want to get some food?”
“I just wanna get some food.”
Sean eagerly tucked into a resplendent meal of grilled chicken and pasta. Legion sat with a cheese sandwich, pulling it apart apprehensively.
“How do you think space travel affects cheese?” they asked as they dissected the sandwich.
“Not that much,” said Sean between bites. “I think they have special containers for transporting food up here.”
“Obviously I don’t know.”
“How can you eat that without knowing where it comes from? How it was transported here- how a trip out of the atmosphere could’ve affected it?”
“Because it’s really tasty,” he answered ambivalently. “I don’t care where my food comes from, I don’t even care what it is, all I care about is whether or not it tastes any good. In fact, that’s a lie, I don’t care about that either. All I care about is whether or not it fills me.”
“That’s not a healthy way to live.”
“Neither’s getting stabbed in the back by a ten-ton ball of fur.”
They were sitting at a table in the middle of a food court. Around them the port continued to thrive and fluster with a constant flow of people. Tourism in this ‘verse was a bustling industry, it seemed. Due to the nature of the port and its apparent easy accessibility, a cheap flight could be bought for under £50 so the ebb and flow of the port never ceased or stalled, much like how humanity’s interest in space exploration could never be thwarted. There were even several cheap hotels and the like dotted across the port, allowing practically anyone- not just the wealthy- a chance at spending a night in space.
Legion looked around at the flocks of people swamping the area and felt a strange sense of pride.
“You know, our ‘verse never figured out space flight,” they said sadly.
“Mine did. We went as far as the moon but for some reason we stopped going there. Then we decided we’d go to Mars.”
“How did that go?”
Sean shrugged. “Me, Rachel and Gavin left before anything happened with it. It would’ve been cool to see though, to watch a bunch of people colonise a whole different planet.”
“You’ve seen a lot more than that now.”
He nodded. In the time since he left, which was only roughly eight months, he had battled gods, demi-gods, would-be-gods, and some terrifically inventive creatures. As the multi-verse accounted for every possibility, there was an endless amount of variables to explore.
“Hey, did you have Star Wars?” he asked, shaking his head free of memories.
“Star Wars? Never heard of it.”
“I’ll get someone to find it for us, we’ll all watch it together.”
“As long as it’s better than that other one you made us watch,” Legion whined.
Sean grinned inanely. “You mean ‘The Room’?”
“That was it. Are you sure it’s not a comedy?”
Legion shivered. The memories of that film were well ingrained in their exceptional banks.
“Didn’t a single one of you like it?” asked Sean.
“Most of us thought it was funny. But you said it wasn’t a comedy.”
“It’s not a comedy.”
“Then it’s sad.”
The general noise of the port rose exponentially. It was like a contained city, an arena of bustling streets and activity and life. It reminded Sean of home- his real home, that was, not the one the Ogrohad provided. To him, the bustle was an orchestral symphony played on the backdrop of the opera of life. Every melody and harmony, every little line of music, was an ebullient addiction- an earworm that never left the brain. He noticed however, a slight discordant note somewhere in the spectrum. At first he pawed it away, focusing on the surrounding harmoniousness, but against his better judgement he was drawn to identify it.
He whipped around and scanned the court. He noticed nothing that could cause disharmony; kids playing off to the side, loving couples holding hands and looking up at the starry sky above, newly-made parents strolling down the walkways, elderly couples sharing spaghetti- but nothing was wrong with the picture.
He focused his hearing. That was when he heard a single word drift through the noise- a single word that could uproot the harmony and infect the symphony with an incurable virus, a single word that nearly threw his flames up in instinctive defence.
He leapt to his feet and followed the drifting word. Legion, noting his blatant discomfort, trailed closely. Pushing through the crowd, Sean continued to trace. His hearing brought him closer and closer to the source. He turned a corner. He stepped on a dog. He walked through a violent altercation. None of that mattered to him- that one single word was all too important to discount.
Across the court, standing on a wooden pedestal beside several robed preachers- each of whom were championing their own ideals and philosophies- was a bedraggled elderly man, screaming at the top of his lungs the story of his ‘new saviour’ Lilith.
At this distance, Legion realised the problem.
“Want me to shoot him?” they said.
Already he was charging headfirst, bashing everyone from his path. Maybe on a normal day, he’d have let this go, but the ghost of pain haunted his back, his shoulder ached from a plasma shot, and he hadn’t finished his chicken.
Approaching the old man, he walked straight up to him. The man must’ve been in his late sixties, with a glowing bald head, sagging eyes and cheeks, and half-groomed random hairs sprouting from his chin. From his head, Sean struck his original plan a no-go, since the elderly man was too weak to survive a beating, so he tried another slant.
“Hey!” he shouted, gaining the man’s attention. “I’ve been listening to all this stuff about Lilith and I’m so intrigued. Could you come down and tell me some more?”
The old man eyed him cautiously. “What do you want to know?”
“Oh, just some more advanced information about my new favourite deity! Really! I’d love to hear more about my new lord and saviour!”
Although the old man silently questioned his motives, he took a keen liking to him and stepped down from the pedestal, greeting Sean with a friendly handshake.
“It’s nice to see someone so interested in Lilith,” he said, smiling.
Sean tried his best fake smile. On the man’s forehead, between his eyebrows, Sean noticed a slight and small scar.
“What would you like to know?”
“Oh, everything!” Sean exclaimed. “From beginning to end! But hey, I don’t want you to have to shout all this stuff in my ear, so why don’t we go somewhere more quiet?”
The old man considered it. With every passing second Sean could feel his rage boiling over. He danced nervously on the spot.
“There’s a coffee shop down-”
“Perfect! Let’s go there! You lead the way.”
The old man waddled forward confused, then halted abruptly at the sight of Legion- who waved awkwardly. He backed away, pointing an accusing finger, and started screaming disjointedly.
“Beware the white eyed devil! For… for he will lead you from the path of the fire and into the path of the false god!”
“We must be in their book or something,” Legion said excitedly.
The old man tore from the path, darting in a random direction as quickly as he could. Sean watched him closely as he ran. Several bystanders watched on in amusement as the poorly old man struggled to move his legs fast enough.
“You see the scar on his forehead?” said Legion.
Sean nodded. “He’s not just a nut-job, he’s obviously seen the Pantheon. They must’ve sent him out here to try and convert a few.”
Coldly, Sean snapped back. “When it comes to Lilith, nothing is harmless. We’re going to find this guy and we’re going to find out what he knows. Do you understand me?”
Legion nodded fearfully.
“Let’s go then.”
Donald Hanover, the old man, was extremely religious. All through his life he followed the teachings of whatever religion he deemed the most worthy of his attention and then threw himself into exposing those teachings to the world. He prided himself on his long list of sermons and that at one point or another he once represented nearly every religion or dogma that existed on the planet. Before joining with the Pantheon, and falling in love with their god, Lilith, he was a Buddhist, and thusly believed that no living thing should be harmed. He truly believed in this teaching, mainly because it excused him from engaging in fights, and could claim religious reasons for abdicating from a conflict. This all made it so much worse when, having stumbled into a dark and empty alleyway, a well-placed fist smacked him in the forehead and sent him straight to the ground.
Groggily, he opened his eyes. Staring directly at him were two pure-white orbs devoid of pupils or irises.
“Devil!” he shouted. “DEVIL!”
“We’re actually quite flattered,” said Legion. Sean nudged him out the way.
“Listen, I’m having a bit of a bad day,” he said, stifling a bout of rage. “I haven’t had enough coffee, I haven’t had enough to eat, I got into a fight with a best friend and to top it all off- what can only be described as a literal mass of hair dug its foot long talons into my back and has probably scarred me for life. So understand me when I say: do not fuck with me.”
Donald saw true rage building behind Sean’s eyes and immediately knew to stay silent.
“Good,” said Sean. “Now that we have an understanding, I want you to answer a few questions for me. Can you do that for me?”
“Firstly, what are you doing here?”
“I’m… I’m spreading the word of Lilith. The Pantheon told me to come here.”
“What number was on the mask? How many red scratches did it have?”
“Then why did you mark yourself with one?”
Donald shook. “I… I-I don’t know. I was trying to be like them, I wanted to be like them.”
Sean stood up and paced. There was an undeniable anger filling him. No fibre of his being wanted anything more than to rip the old man apart.
“Okay, okay. Explain the message of the Pantheon.”
“To spread the fire of Lilith, we must be the firewood, the wind, the embers, we must spark the flames and blow our word to the wind. To-”
“You can stop right there,” interrupted Sean. “Does it not bother you that your religion is basically telling you to set fire to things? You know what, don’t answer that. Answer me this: when and where did you last see anyone from the Pantheon?”
Donald shook his head. Legion let loose a soft punch to oil the gears. The old man cried out.
To an outside observer this scene would seem horrific indeed; a defenceless old man being beat up by two complete strangers in a dark alleyway. However, Sean never did care for the outside observer. To him, an outside observer was another enemy waiting in the shadows.
“Answer me,” Sean demanded.
Donald whimpered. “Earlier today…”
Legion stepped back. Sean attempted his best uncaring glare.
“They were setting up the North Court for… for Vox.”
Sean felt his body shiver. The name was not unknown to him- how could it be? Such a name was written across many ‘verses in blood. His mind raised red flags on every corner. The Pantheon were scary- Vox was downright terrifying. He stilled his nerves.
“Legion, go find Jack and take him home.”
“You sent him home…”
“He doesn’t listen to me. Go check the bars, anywhere he could find alcohol. You have my permission to use any means necessary to get him home.”
The words echoed. The silence was egregious but accepting.
They stared him, frightened. “Yes, boss.”
Away they walked hastily, aware Sean was at his most vulnerable. They debated belaying the order, to return to his side and stand together, but the order was clear and if Vox was indeed preparing to arrive here, Jack was of the most concern.
Sean crouched down to the old man, glaring furiously into his withered eyes.
“When’s he here?”
“Within the hour,” he announced. “He’ll bring fire and judgement with him. He’ll tear you apart! He’ll rip this infected world-”
There was a sickening crack.
There was silence.
Sean stood up. Whatever area of the port he was in had ushered an eerie stillness in the wake of his fury. His mind ran a million miles a second. As if the Pantheon being here wasn’t bad enough, their leader Vox was on his way. He hadn’t met the man but the stories were well known. Worst of all, Jack was here too. Anyone else might’ve been okay, they might’ve slipped into the shadows, found the nearest mirror and escaped, but Jack was unlike anyone else. There was no reason for him to go home if Vox was in the vicinity.
Sean rubbed his eyes. The day, as the port ran an artificial cycle of day and night, was coming to a close. A choice loomed before him- though he knew such a choice was redundant all the same. He didn’t have a choice. Trusting in Legion’s abilities, he started toward North Court.
As he walked, he felt the familiar sting of guilt. Maybe Legion was right; maybe he had been too hard on Jack, given recent events. The one and only time the team faced Vox, some three months before, resulted in a severe consequence that hurt none more than Jack. Ever since then he’d been drifting in and out of responsibility, ignoring direct orders from both Sean and the Ogrohad, and more than once had to be saved from completely losing his temper upon encountering members of the Pantheon or the Red Regime.
Sean and Rachel on many a night contemplated a strategy for dealing with him, to bring him back to reality and calm him down. No tactic worked however, as Jack was simply too much of a wildcard to be brought under their jurisdiction. Whilst the rest of the team went about their tasks with some amount of vigour, he would traipse in halfway through a mission firing riotously and blaring bloody murder. It wasn’t how they did things.
Turning right, Sean eyed what looked to be a newly constructed auditorium of sorts; a wooden stage had been constructed which overlooked ten or so pairs of parallel pews spread out in front of it. On the stage, a podium, complete with a microphone stood proudly at the front. To him it looked like an extremely basic or discount church. Beside the podium, much to Sean’s surreal horror, stood two white-masked figures, one male and one female, who peered over the incoming swarms of people- who eagerly took their seats. It seemed that whatever was about to happen intrigued much of the port’s populace.
In a mad dash he retreated, immediately looking for higher ground. He spotted a shop sign for a ‘Lunar Lunches’ diner to the right of the stage which would give him a perfect vantage point for viewing the entire affair. He felt time ticking away in his head. For some reason anxiety trickled through him. He hadn’t felt that in a long time.
Discreetly climbing the sign, he perched on its widest point, and hoped everyone would be too engrossed in the spectacle they were about to witness to notice him. He waited.
He marvelled at the sheer amount of people coming to witness… well, whatever it was they had come to witness. Every pew was full but still people crowded around the stage, zealous to witness what the strange masked figures were hiding from them. At the sight of several young children in the audience, his stomach churned. The Pantheon’s tendency was to infect any mind they could with a fanatical obedience to Lilith. This wasn’t to say that they actively engaged any mind control technique- although this was common practice in some places- but instead they relied on their charisma and often flaunted their unique abilities to prove to the world that they were capable of superhuman feats granted to them by the flames of Lilith. It was shortly after this, after the main core of the population was hooked, they would lower the curtain and from behind it would march millions of crimson-clad soldiers who would proceed to mow them down. It was their way of control.
The least-used of their psychological arsenal was the ‘false-flag’ operation- in which they’d purposefully unleash a powerful being from another ‘verse into a completely separate and unprepared one, then claim they could control this being. It granted them instantaneous public approval and put them in the chief station of command and power.
Sean waited to see which method they’d chosen this time.
There was a round of applause.
Onto the stage, which creaked under the weight, stepped a burly, slightly tanned man, whose shining hair glided wistfully along his shoulders. The stage seemed to shrink in his presence. He stepped to the podium.
“We’d like to thank you all for coming out today,” he said confidently. “For so many people to have taken an interest in our beloved Mother is truly humbling. You will all be saved from the flames, I can tell you that. Lilith is most pleased.”
There was another round of applause and several thrown ‘hoots’.
Sean peered at the man in shock. Jack’s description of him was surprisingly accurate; the roundness of his eyes, the hook of his nose, the sheen of his cheeks, and the way he held himself- the man didn’t need so much charisma when he looked as attractive as that. Unexpectedly, there was meekness in his eyes, and an age to his features, a kind of maturity and wisdom Sean found unnerving. He thought of Dracula- a Dracula that spent more time in the gym blasting sets than he spent trying to find blood. For all his apparent modesty, his extensively gargantuan form beat it to a pulp.
He continued. “Let it be known that we, the Pantheon, are not a violent order. We don’t wish to spill blood, we don’t hope for war, we don’t dream of bloody battles; we dream of peace and we hope for love and we wish for the word of Lilith to reach all ears.”
His voice sweetly rang out. He had the audience in the palm of his hands after only a few sentences. Sean couldn’t refute his flagrant magnetism.
“It is our Mother’s wish that we all allow ourselves to be loved. That does mean, unfortunately, that certain sacrifices in the name of Her must be made. Those who are unwilling to see the flames as their redemption must be made to see them as their end.”
Shockingly, the crowd applauded once more. If this was any other preacher, any other person, they’d be booed off stage and probably thrown in an asylum somewhere.
“But enough about that,” he chuckled. “Are there any questions you’d like me to answer? Anything at all?”
A volley of hands shot straight up. Vox pointed to a middle-aged woman hugging her daughter.
“You said before that the flames of Lilith are our redemption. Could you explain that a little better?”
“Of course,” he said politely. “We all know that, for the most part, fire burns things, it reduces them to ashes. That’s why the flames of Lilith are our redemption, they burn away our unclean, unwanted parts, and reduce us to our simplest form. That way we can be loved for what we truly are.”
There were gasps of awe and acceptance from the audience. Lying sack of shit, thought Sean. He had witnessed the flames of Lilith first-hand, he had walked in the ashes of entire civilisations, endured the heat of thousands of embers, stepped on the bones of their defenceless victims, so he was aware of their vehement atrocities.
“How do we worship Lilith?” asked a young man.
“Simply by accepting her,” Vox explained. “We don’t ask you to pray for forgiveness, or for a new car, we don’t ask you to go a church. All we ask is that if we appear for you, if we ask for your service and assistance with anything, you could find the time to help. We rarely ask for anyone though… and we certainly won’t ask on a Sunday morning.”
A burst of giggles erupted from the audience followed by a raucous round of applause. Vox smiled.
A particularly less enthusiastic man rose to his feet. “Why should we believe you, out of all the gods and all the religions, why should we believe this is the right one? You came out of nowhere, no one’s ever heard of you before, and all of a sudden you want to help us.”
The laughter and applause abruptly died. All eyes turned to Vox, awaiting his reply. Instead of flying into a rage or berating the man, he remained unruffled and firm.
“We’re not saying we’re the right religion,” said Vox. “We’re not saying we’re perfect, that we have every answer, that we’ve got everything you need and you’ll never want for more. What we’re saying is that our beliefs, our system, our god, the love we have for every living thing, should be shared to the like-minded and the lost. You can’t blame us for trying to spread hope.”
A final round of blistering applause roared. Vox raised his hand, accepting it.
“A lot of your teachings warn of a false-god,” shouted a woman at the back. “What are we supposed to look out for? What should we do?”
Vox stared out. The corners of his lip twitched. Sean grinned.
He took a moment to consider his response.
“When it comes to the false-god,” Vox answered, “we must be vigilant, we must always be looking out for their missionaries, the ones who would take you from redemption–”
He turned and looked directly up at Sean, who felt his heart chill.
“—and they must be stopped by any means necessary.”
He looked back to the audience, said a polite ‘thank you’ and exited the stage. His masked compatriots guided him around the back, through a laterally sliding metal door that slammed shut behind them.
Sean stared at the stage, bewildered and shocked. Vox’s eyes burned directly into his soul. In a daze he clambered down from the sign and staggered to the metal door. His body moved on its own accord- he knew he wanted to chase Vox down, that he had to stop the madman- but bouts of fear crippled him. Vox looked directly at him, straight into him. There was no element of surprise anymore, he realised, no chance for an ambush or a stealthy assassination. Approaching the door, mustering his courage and what strength was left in him, with a flick of the hand he opened the portal and stepped through.
North Court was split into two sections; the lower half was much like the rest of the port, sprawling stalls and hordes of keen tourists and avid shoppers, but the top half, into which Sean now stepped, was the luxury sector and was thusly slightly quieter. High-end shops and hotels and holiday villas were the primary sights here, as were the numerous fountains and small ponds, not to mention the illustrious art galleries and cinemas. Every building was painted white to contrast it with the darker metal alloys present throughout the port and although you wouldn’t find any parts of former mountain ranges here, there were several cave formations fashioned into apartments for rent, a la ‘The Flintstones’, for those who craved a more earthly place to lay their head.
Directly in front of the door rose a platform, to either side of which were two sets of stairs. Sean took the left path. The platform was surrounded by faux-trees and a small garden, which sat atop a red-brick wall. Around the small platform, in a horse-shoe formation, were ten soldiers dressed in red, all of whom trained their weapons on Sean. In the centre stood a smiling Vox.
Sean didn’t bother to raise his arms. If they were going to shoot, they were going to shoot.
Vox stepped forward and extended a hand.
“You must be Sean,” he said. “We haven’t actually met but I’ve heard a lot about you from our soldiers.”
Sean stared at him. The offered hand withdrew.
The two men stood in silence.
“I trust that there’s a reason for you being here,” Vox continued.
“I trust there’s a reason I haven’t been shot dead yet.”
“Depends on your reason.”
Sean eyed the surrounding soldiers. They were all human, all young, and that worried him.
He sighed. “I think you can guess why I’m here.”
“To kill me?”
“Might as well,” he said, shrugging. “I’ve got nothing else to do at the moment.”
Vox nodded gravely. A faint wind, also artificially generated, blew gently across the platform. In the breeze, Lilith’s insignia floated from the soldiers’ armour. On the spot, Vox paced slowly. He was deep in thought.
“What makes you think you can kill me?” he asked finally. “I know that you’re strong, I know that you’ve been blessed by the Ogrohad, I know that you have abilities that even across the entirety of the multi-verse could strike fear into most hearts, but I also know that you’re still human. I’ve got many years more experience than you do. You’re rather young.”
Sean spit. “Jack kicked your ass.”
Vox smiled. His features were too pleasant to be a man of murder, yet exuded from his very presence was a dominating aroma of unfathomable aeons spent sadistically extracting blood and accumulating death. Even when he smiled, his eyes betrayed him. Something akin to insanity loitered perilously close to the surface.
Jack previously described him as the one man he never wanted to fight. And if Jack was scared of him, so was everybody else.
“Yes, yes,” said Vox, “I suppose he did. But remind me, how well did that end for him?”
The nerve had been struck.
In one fluid motion he brought his hand up and sent a sea of crackling blue flames outwards, completely consuming Vox. The fire cracked and cackled and spit, and into it Sean poured all his rage. He watched the flames spread outwards like a cloud, and rise and fall, and of its own accord, assaulted the Pantheon commander.
However, the flames were re-directed. Inches from Vox they passed harmlessly around him. He looked into the screeching blue inferno and sneered. Flushing the flames with potent force of wind, Vox rendered Sean nearly defenceless. With what was called a ‘blink’, Vox appeared beside Sean and pummelled his chest, throwing him backwards into the wall. Sean screamed, throwing up a barrier just in time to defend himself against a volley of telekinetic bolts. They crashed against the shield ferociously, nearly breaking it to pieces. His riposte was a charged ball of electricity, sent forward at a heightened velocity. Vox ducked it with ease, blinking behind him, grabbing him by the throat, pulling him down and applying pressure. Sean spluttered, punching and fighting against the colossal arm choking him. As the sight of the stars above began to fade and warble, he reignited the flames and with a bloodcurdling scream let them loose.
Vox stumbled back, desperately throwing up his own shield. Several rebellious flames broke free from the pack, singeing and burning him all over. Again he attempted to blow the flames out but this time, Sean was ready for it and was on his feet standing over him, forcing the flames downwards, willing them to stay alive.
Suddenly, Vox blinked out of range. As Sean turned to defend against a follow-up attack, Vox grabbed blinked back in, clasped his neck tightly and lifted him off the ground.
“You never answered my question-”
Sean’s head cracked into the wall. Vox leaned in.
“How did it end for him? Did Emily survive?”
Downwards, blood poured from an open wound on Sean’s forehead. He was barely able to stay conscious.
“Why… do you… care?” he said, gasping.
Vox’s eyes flashed furiously.
“I need to know how many of you I still have to kill.”
Sean’s lips pursed. The question hollowed his chest.
“Not going to say anything?” Vox sneered. “I suppose that’s quite clever of you. Keep me guessing.”
Squirming to get free, Sean searched his mind for a way out. Few possibilities were offered to him. He stared at Vox, struggling for breath, and then came to a singular conclusion.
Spitting, he scoffed at the man. “You know, we’ve learned since we last fought you. We know how you work.”
“We’ve noticed. Gone are the days you people dropped like flies.” He screwed his face up. “Or… didn’t?”
“I’m not telling you anything,” said Sean defiantly.
Vox loosened his grip.
“But if I correctly understand how you people work, you rarely travel alone. In fact, I’ve never heard of any stories where you worked alone. You travel in pairs or as a pack, you communicate everything, every single one of you knows exactly what’s happening to the other at any given point in time. So, I imagine Jack already knows I’m here.”
Sean’s heart sank.
“And if he knows I’m here, he’ll be coming for revenge. Or won’t he? It doesn’t matter if you answer me or not, he’ll answer for you.”
Kicking and punching, Sean struggled and wriggled as much as he could manage, trying frantically to open even the slimmest opportunity for escape. Vox kept him stuck against the wall, occasionally tightening then loosening his grip. Sean could feel blood pouring from the back of his head. He looked up at the stars, begging for an answer. Against all odds, one came.
A very crooked, half-beaten smile.
“I told you,” he said, preparing himself, “we’ve learned since last time. We know how to do certain things you couldn’t ever do. We’ve adapted. We’re stronger. And you’re going to suffer for it.”
Vox’s grip suddenly slipped. As he tried to clamp down again he found nothing but thin air and evaporating blue smoke. At first, the idea was foreign to him. Perhaps Sean was simply invisible. But he’d be able to sense him, smell him, hear him even, so this must be something else entirely, he thought. Then he remembered a few of the stories that drifted from the riff-raff soldiers to their superiors ears.
“Long-range teleportation,” he whispered to himself. “He’ll be long gone by now.”
He wondered what other abilities they might’ve picked up over the last three months, what new things they might be capable of. There was a lot to consider, a lot to prepare for, and there was nothing he enjoyed more than figuring out a way to beat them.
He turned around.
On the floor of the platform lay the defeated bodies of his soldiers. Each was face down, with a glaring hole in the back of the head. Blood rolled down the slope and pooled in the gutter. He inspected each one from afar. The bullet was unlikely to be ballistic, he decided, given the huge splash pattern and impact- plasma, then. But who could get the drop on a bunch of soldiers so easily? And take them down without him noticing?
That was when he saw the armed figure standing at the tip of the platform, gun drawn and settled on him. The gun was unmistakable, the figure a little more so. Three months ago this figure and him fought on the plains of Time. Three months ago this figure had seemingly lost something very important. Three months had passed and the figure appeared in a rather dire state, Vox concluded. His hair was longer, his beard disgustingly equal, his shirt ripped and bloodied and what flesh could be seen was bruised and scarred. Vox placed his hands behind his back, pulled his gaze from the readied weapon, and settled on the figures eyes. Like all ‘verse-travellers, the tell-tale silver specks twinkled in the light. But that wasn’t as important to him as the raging fires burning in the centres. This was the mark of a lost man ready to give up what was left of him.
It was the mark of a man to be feared.
“Jack,” he said.
Blue energy swished in the air as the gun whirred to life. A finger teased the trigger. Vox’s smile faded.
END OF PART ONE