Read part 2 of the story ‘To The End’ for free!
Sean tumbled through the mirror, falling face-first onto solid rock. He groaned.
The cold stone was less than welcoming, especially since his body already ached terribly. He felt arms grab his and pull him up. He was thrown over a shoulder.
“Gavin?” he questioned dizzily.
“I was just hoping it wasn’t Rachel.”
“I’m here too,” she piped up.
“Oh, shit indeed.”
He was dropped at the precipice of an incredible pit, which looked like the monstrous mouth of hell. Although the bottom couldn’t be seen it was known that a deep pool of shimmering still water was down there, inhabited by a sole, strange occupant.
The yawning pit was the main focus of the ‘room’ they were in, if it could indeed be called a room at all. It was a humungous cavern, the roof of which could barely be seen due to both its height and the unnatural lights that streamed down from the accentuated fireflies that called the roof home. From the top down, this cavern was shaped much like an L, which extended into several ante-rooms that the team fashioned into bedrooms and living areas. At the bottom most part of the L, facing each other on opposing walls were six mirrors that all played the parts of both entrances and exits. The cavern was hollowed out but it wasn’t exactly unblemished. The walls protruded menacingly at several points and stalagmites and stalactites extruded from the ceiling and floor, often requiring careful navigation.
The bedrooms, if they could be called such, were in a far better state. This was mainly due to Rachel’s insistence that if she was going to be stuck there, it better be a nice place to live. Sean recalled, not too fondly, spending an entire week with Legion hollowing out the rooms to ensure they would be safe and acceptable.
Other than the occupied bed in the corner and the blasting hole in the floor, there was little of interest in the main chamber.
Rachel lifted him to his feet and inspected the damage. Time hadn’t placed a finger on her. She was still as beautiful and youthful as ever; long black hair cascaded down her back in a pleaded ponytail, shockingly green eyes stared out above a perfectly placed nose- but she took it upon herself to look more the part and fit into the team, dressing in the most uncomfortably tight denim jacket and jeans. Her preference was for slacks or anything that summoned relaxation.
“Did you fall into a meat grinder?” she said coldly.
“I had a slight altercation with a cat.”
“And Vox, so we’ve been told. You’re lucky to be alive.”
He winced as she slapped his back.
“What was that for?”
“Almost getting killed. This is for surviving.”
She gently kissed his shoulder and embraced him. Ignoring the tremendous pain ripping through him, he returned it.
Gavin coughed to announce his presence. He was the same age as Sean but looked considerably younger. He flaunted a striking blonde mop that touched his eyebrows, a strong jaw-line and for the most part appeared as a brutish thug; and the jet-black clothes he wore did nothing to alleviate the impression. The hair seemed out of place.
“We should… uh…” he mumbled. “We have something to discuss.”
“That’s rarely a good thing,” Sean sighed.
Rachel took him by the hand. As soon as she did, he knew something terrible had happened.
“What is it?” he asked anxiously.
As if to answer, Legion entered from the left bedroom. At first Sean saw nothing unusual but his brain quickly put the information together. He traded nervousness for pure fear.
There was a nervous shuffling. Nobody could look him in the eye.
Taking that as his answer, and without a second thought, he broke from Rachel’s clasp and sprinted straight to the mirror. Instead of morphing at his touch it remained solid. He barged against it, almost cracking it.
“Stop!” Rachel shouted, grabbing his arm. “Sean, look at me. Stop!”
“Why isn’t he here?!” he roared. “Legion, I told you to find him and bring him home!”
“We did!” they claimed. “But the Ogrohad…”
Ignoring the rest of them, Sean charged to the pit and stamped his feet.
“What is it?! Why did you send him back?!”
Deep in the ground there was tremendous rumbling; as though the plate of the planet was shifting. Then came a voice both ethereally wraithlike yet palpably booming.
To save you he was sent, to protect you and prevent death’s ascent
“Cut the crap! You sent him to Vox. You know what that means.”
There was a low growl.
More valuable you were deemed, than the soldier unclean
Sean could barely contain his rage. He reeled back, flailing his arms and smacking his temples. His teeth grinded and his eyes blazed. Rachel, seeing him like this, decided to clarify.
“The Ogrohad decided to send Jack in place of you. He was supposed to come save you.”
“I didn’t need saving!” he shouted.
“You were going up against Vox alone,” she said. “The last time anyone fought him there were three of us and…”
“Did you do this?” he asked her.
“No, she didn’t,” said Gavin. “This was the Ogrohad’s decision.”
“And Jack just accepted that, did he?”
“All he heard was that you were going up against Vox. That’s all he needed to know.”
Sean couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He turned to the Ogrohad.
“The second that you start valuing one life over another, all life becomes worthless! Open the gates!”
There was a loud, thunderous rumble. This was deduced as a solid ‘no’.
“If you don’t open the gates I’ll blink there if I have to,” he threatened.
Rachel grabbed his shoulder and whipped him around.
“No, you won’t. It would kill you!”
“I’ve done it before,” he said assuredly.
“And you were bedridden for two weeks! Or do you not remember the vomiting and the convulsing? You were like a recovering drug addict having an epileptic fit. We aren’t built to survive between ‘verses.”
“We’re not built to shoot fire from our hands either!”
Sean walked away again, running his hands through his hair. His head was bursting with anger and headaches were in full control.
“Let me go back,” he pleaded. “Let me go back and help him. I can’t let him die.”
“He might not die,” Rachel empathised. “You survived.”
“I knew when to leave. Do you really think Jack’s going to walk away alive?”
She placed a hand on his shoulder. “It’s not over yet.”
“I can’t just leave him to die,” he said, voice cracking.
Gavin and Legion wandered away, leaving Rachel to comfort Sean as he struggled over the potential loss of his closest friend.
“Are you going to shoot me?”
Vox stared straight into Jack’s eyes. Mere moments had passed. The gun kept whirring. Jack kept his mouth shut.
Vox couldn’t figure his nemesis out. The last time they met, he seemed more of an open book but now it was as though Jack had met Vox but not vice versa.
“Are you here for revenge or is this just a nice little visit?”
“I’m here to help Sean,” said Jack.
“Oh, so you do talk.”
The commander fidgeted. The air was stagnant. Jack wetted his lips.
“I’m not going to taunt you, Jack,” he said solemnly. “I don’t think there’s much I can say to a man with nowhere left to fall.”
Jack growled. “That sounded like a taunt.”
Immediately and sincerely, Vox apologised. “I didn’t mean it like that. What I meant was, you probably shouldn’t be here.”
“People should stop telling me where I should be. I’m the one with the fucking gun, I decide where I go.”
“Very well,” said Vox, backing off.
Jack tightened his grip. Vox studied his opponent carefully. He was aware Jack lost the nanotechnology that rendered him immortal, and he was aware that the Ogrohad refused to bestow a blessing on him for purely that reason, but he could sense something distinctly different about him. There was a strength running through him that surpassed the biology of an ordinary human. Still, thought Vox, he could die as easily as the rest of them.
“Sean is gone now, you realise that?” he said. “You’re a little late to the party.”
“I know that. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do next.”
“You could leave.”
“But I have you at gunpoint.”
“So you’re here for vengeance, then? Emily is dead?”
A sudden outburst genuinely surprised him. It sounded like a shark ripping apart a bear.
“Don’t you dare say her name.”
“I won’t say her name.”
“Don’t even think it.”
Vox silently agreed. The question was burning through his mind; he wasn’t even the interested in the answer to begin with but now that it was met with such an adamant wall he was too intrigued to let it go. Jack gave no answers away. He seemed to be here for vengeance but he hadn’t shot yet. He got angry at the mention of that name yet retained enough sense to not lose his mind. Whenever the answer went in one direction, a tangential curve took it the other way.
There was one thing he didn’t doubt however, as it was beamed unswervingly at him, was the penetrating, boiling detestation scorching in Jack’s eyes.
“What are you waiting for?” he asked.
“I’m not sure,” was the answer.
“Why are you still here?”
“I guess…” he gulped. “I guess I always imagined this moment. For the last three months I’ve been waiting to have you right here. And now I don’t know what to do.”
“It’s not like you can kill me anyway,” said Vox. “You know that I could kill with the flick of a hand.”
“Then why don’t you?”
“You’re a good man- a good soldier- you deserve a warrior’s death.”
Jack stared at him, unblinking.
“Then provide one.”
Vox raised an eyebrow. Perhaps it wasn’t a mission of revenge after all; maybe it was a suicide mission. Now that he considered it, looking at Jack’s weakened form, his depressed eyes, even his presence here, it was entirely plausible.
He stepped forward, arms outstretched. “So be it.”
Blinking forward, he readied himself to snap Jack’s neck.
There was a flash of blue.
The smell of burning plasma filled the air.
Vox groaned on the ground as his chest burned.
“Dumb-ass,” Jack sneered.
He leapt from the platform and broke into a sprint. He followed the path, which led around to the rocky hotels, and ran upwards. Behind him he kicked up clouds of sand, bearing as quickly as he could away from Vox, who was no doubt quickly recovering from the shot. He hoped the shock of the shot would keep him down a little longer while he made his escape.
Leaping upwards, his foot was suddenly caught and his full weight collided with the ground. Without looking, he whipped his gun around and fired three shots, two of which connected, and then kicked off again.
A glance over his shoulder confirmed a rejuvenated Vox. Pissed off, is the term he used.
The path snaked into a busy market place, a large coffee stall in the middle serving tens of people. The surrounding walls were as small cliffs but large chunks were cut out of them, providing space for more small hotels. Looking up, he registered one of these chunks as his best escape and the one with the lowest amount of casualties.
Off he ran again, swiftly elevating the rock face. Most were too busy or simply too distracted to notice him darting about the place like a wild badger. Vox was a ruthless man, completely uncaring as to how much damage was dealt or how much was taken. As a nigh-immortal there was little need for him to care about his own safety. Jack on the other hand, had a lot more to consider.
He smashed through the front door of the nearest hotel, silently thankful the place was empty. Through the living room and into the kitchen he dashed, only for the sure glint of a blink beside him stopping him. A fist suddenly filled his vision- he ducked, rolled, shot, then tumbled back onto his feet and continued running. This time, Vox was quicker, firing a tailed fireball directly at him. He felt the heat and dodged, smashing through a kitchen table, then barged through the back door.
It was abundantly clear that this area was off limits, as instead of finding himself in the same décor, he was now standing in what looked the maintenance tunnels from before. Instinctively he ran left through a corrugated pipe that halted abruptly over a bottomless drop. He skirted at the edge, almost falling over.
Don’t be stupid. Keep calm.
He took a moment to breathe. His heart was racing, his head was relentlessly thumping, and his tired legs refused to move a muscle more. He bent over panting.
This respite was short lived however, as the sound of Vox barrelling through the tunnel behind him shocked his body into response. With nowhere else to go, he made the leap.
Mid-air, he twisted around. Vox was closer than he expected, an arm’s length away, hand outstretched towards his foot. Thinking quickly, from his jean pocket he pulled one of the few relics he still kept from his now-deceased world- a small, timed grenade that functioned much in the same way as C4. Aiming for the chest, he threw it.
The sticky side met its mark, much to Vox’s shock. He stared at it, then back at Jack, who, to Vox’s unbridled fury, extended his middle finger and stuck out his tongue.
Two painfully long seconds later the grenade exploded fiercely, sending Vox directly down but propelling Jack straight through the opposite wall. He landed shoulder first. Although the pain was unbearable he didn’t have the time to dwell on it or on his immediate surroundings. He looked for the closest source of light and bounded unstoppably toward it. Unfortunately, this source of light turned out to be a street lamp reflected in the eighth-story window of the house he was in.
With surprisingly feline agility, he turned mid-fall, lobbed a fist into the brick, and slowed his descent down massively- although the final crack at the bottom still broke several ribs.
He ignored the concerns of the locals, brushing them off with a wheezing ‘I’m fine’. Stumbling around, he searched for a mirror.
“Hey!” he shouted, coughing. “Anyone know where I can find a fairly large mirror?”
He received blank stares.
“Okay, good, I was worried for a second there.”
Sensing Vox’s recovery, Jack broke from the market, ascending several flights of stairs and finally entering what looked like a gym. Lockers were on the far wall, neon lights danged above, a few patrons running on treadmills in a connecting room watched him closely as he entered. The smell of stale sweat burned his nostrils.
Must be a mirror in here, he thought. Why else would they be trying to look good?
He jogged forward, suddenly smiling. On the run from Vox, up against the Pantheon, facing unsurmountable odds, battling immortals, this is why I’m here, this right now.
It had been a long time since this much fun pepped his step, a long time since he’d managed to genuinely smile. The last three months were an entropic blur. All the missions, all the ‘verses, all the planets, all the lifeforms- they all merged too easily together. Time was a strange thing, he observed. It made a mockery of experience, too often shrivelling so many different things into a snapshot.
I haven’t had this much fun since…
The lockers stopped his fall. He gripped onto them. His heart slowed brusquely as though no longer wishing to beat. Vomit impatiently roiled in his stomach. Any energy left in him seemed to diminish instantly as though sapped. His legs refused to take a step further. His hands were incapable of making a fist and his arms turned liquid. His breathing was strenuous. Falling into the lockers for support, he placed his head against them and invited their chilliness to calm the heat.
Why now? Of all times, why now? I could’ve escaped, I could be away.
Vox the ruthless, Vox the merciless, Vox the pitiless- many a time he’d been called all three. Throughout the stars and ‘verses he was known for his bloodthirsty nature. There was no way to count the amount of souls he’d reaped, how many civilisations and planets he’d burned to a crisp, how many stars he’d torn from the sky, and no aggregate of beseeching could terminate his savage rampage. He walked into the room, ignoring the stamp of feet on treadmills, and settled his eyes on the broken Jack.
Dull pain shot through Jack’s side. Brutally, Vox hammered his skull into the lockers once, twice, then lifted him from the ground and chucked him through the wall and into a large locker room. The floor was coated with a thin layer of water. The lights flickered.
Vox continued his assault; knocking the soldier to the floor, then with the heel of his boot applied a tremendous ton of pressure to his ribcage. Several shattering cracks echoed. Next was the breaking of his legs, which Vox achieved by simply clomping down hard on the knee-caps.
Jack, barely conscious, barely able to feel a thing anymore, peered up through hazy eyes and watched as Vox raised his right arm. Around it began to form a red cloud. This was the finishing move. Like a shotgun blast to the face there’d be little left with which to identify him. This was it, he thought. Eighty years of life was about to be extinguished. He was powerless, enfeebled, ruined and beaten. This was the end.
Look at you. Remember how strong you used to be? You fought this bastard before. You won against this bastard before. Now you’re lying in a locker room staring up at him, waiting for him to deliver the coup de grace. This is the bastard you blame for all of this, this is the one that… that…
Get the fuck up. You’re not done yet.
With the most horrifically terrifying roar he could manage, he pulled his broken right arm from under him and fired off a volley of shots, not bothering to confirm they’d met their target. With his free left arm he clung to the damp tiles and heaved himself along the floor. A full length mirror decorated the wall not five feet away. He clambered forward slowly, dry-heaving and retching with each pull. His body was resilient but it wasn’t that resilient. The broken bones and torn muscles begged him to stop. But he couldn’t. This couldn’t be where he died.
He was at arm’s length of the mirror when he heard Vox growl and shout. The Pantheon’s commander had recovered. He could hear his boots splash in the water. As if he wasn’t already pushing himself too hard, he assembled the minute total of energy he had left and increased his speed. Vox was right behind him.
He’s right there. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. He’s right there! He’s right there!
Sean sat on the cold stone floor with Rachel. The conversation already covered most of the last few days since they last saw each other. Sean recounted his time with Legion, which he explained as being both as painful as usual but as never having a dull moment. Rachel told him of Gavin’s attempts to get an old TV he found into working order, which she described as ‘like watching a penguin trying to work a quantum computer’.
“So it’s been okay?” he asked.
“It’s not been too bad,” she said. “It’d be nice to have some proper coffee.”
“I’m sure the Ogrohad would let you go get some coffee. It’s not like your walking into a mine-field.”
There was a deep rumble.
“I don’t think It wants me going anywhere now,” she said sighing. “I hate being stuck here while everyone else gets to go out and do things.”
“What can I do to help?”
She thought for a second.
“Coffee, that’s the main thing. Find me some real coffee like we had back in our ‘verse. And maybe some films.”
“I’m on the lookout for Star Wars for Legion. They’ve never seen it.”
“They’ve never seen Star Wars?” she gasped.
“I know,” he said. “It’s a disgrace.”
He turned away. As much as he wanted to focus all his attention on Rachel, his mind was elsewhere. He stared at the mirrors longingly. The Ogrohad refused to open the gates to leave but thankfully allowed entrance. That was, to any of the team. Anyone else trying to get in would be sent back to wherever they came from. He silently prayed for Jack to burst in, go on an angry tirade, berate the Ogrohad for sending him to save someone who wasn’t even there, and then stomp off to his bedroom like a jilted teenager. He’d take that over hearing of his death.
Rachel took his hand.
“It’s okay,” she said softly. “He’ll be back. You know what he’s like.”
Sean gritted his teeth. “I know what Vox is like, I saw what he’s capable of.”
“Jack knows all that too. He can handle himself.”
“It’s not that he can’t handle himself, it’s that he can’t control himself.”
Unable to sit still, Sean got up and started to walk in circles. Burning at the back of his mind was the thought that the last thing he did with Jack was fight. He’d hate that to be the last thing they’d do together. It would haunt him.
“What if,” Sean thought out loud, “he dies?”
“Don’t think like that,” said Rachel gravely.
“But- what if? We’d… we’d be losing a lot more than just him.”
Rachel cracked her knuckles. Instantly Sean knew to change the subject.
“All right, I’m sorry. We shouldn’t be talking like this.”
“No, you shouldn’t,” she said. “Get your head together.”
“Try harder,” she ordered. “You have a team to lead, you have people who depend on you.”
“One of those people is out there right now facing his ultimate demon,” Sean argued. “And I’m not there helping him.”
Rachel cracked her knuckles again. He relented. There was a deep rumble from below.
The gate is open
Sean sprung around. “What?!”
The gate is open
“What do you…”
Realising what It was saying, Sean instantly sprinted toward the mirrors- one of which shimmered slightly, then through it a bloodied hand poked.
“RACHEL! GET EVERYONE!” he barked.
He grabbed the hand and pulled an extremely bloody body through the mirror. He recognised Jack immediately.
“Oh fuck, fuck!” He panicked, looking at the protruding bones and mess of red. “LEGION!”
Legion, along with Gavin and Rachel, joined him at the mirror. All of them gasped in horror.
“What do we do? Sean asked. “What do we do?!”
Legion stared at the broken body. Inside their crowded mind many former doctors and surgeons screamed information. The others told them to calmly reiterate.
“Okay,” they said. “We take him closer to the Ogrohad.”
Sean bent down to pick him.
“No! Not like that. Use your mind, you’ll be able to keep him steadier. We don’t want to do anymore damage.”
Focusing his mind, Sean levitated Jack off the ground and quickly moved him to the precipice of the Ogrohad’s maw, where he placed him gently on the floor. They all crowded around him.
Ribs jutted out of the flesh, his jaw was slack and positioned off centre, his eyes were tinted red and embossed veins offended the usually lax white, both arms were dislocated at the shoulders and both forearms twisted violently from the elbow in the wrong direction, his knees were buckled, nose broken, fingers snapped- but nothing was more horrific than the state of his torso and chest. They were a mess of exposed muscle and organs and looked much like the opened cavity of an electric conduit- random wires and unknown things spiking out intermittently from the core. Sean didn’t know where to start. His mind was screaming nonsense at him.
“What do we do, Legion?” he said, trying to stop himself panicking. “What the fuck do we do?”
Legion examined as quickly as they could. Even the experienced medical professionals were a bit stumped. They’d never seen someone so badly damaged.
“We need to stop the bleeding first,” they explained finally. “Stop the bleeding, next the bones, then the muscles and tendons. It’ll take all of us to do this.”
“How’s he doing?” Rachel asked, ripping off her jacket.
“Surviving,” said Legion grimly.
Sean focused as much he could. “Legion, you’re going to need walk us through this.”
And so they did. Piece by piece, from the bottom of the cavity up, they sowed the broken soldier back together. They started with the most basic stitching of the veins and arteries, ensuring everything was connected to an organ where it should be. Next, they drained the excess blood, depositing what they could back into the system. Sean gagged several times. Legion guided them to then fuse the ribcage back together- no small feat by any means, as each bone had to be perfectly placed. While Rachel held the bones together, Sean welded them. Gavin kept on top of the bodies inner temperature, making sure it never dropped too low or rose too high, and constantly scanned for any impurities that might infect the body.
The hard part came next. After all the various connections of muscles, tendons, veins and arteries were reformed, the torn and ripped flesh had to be remade.
“We’re not sure how to do this part,” admitted Legion. “We’ve never done something like this before.”
“Can’t we just heal it like we usually do?” said Rachel.
“But some of the skin is missing and he doesn’t heal like we do.”
Sean reached into his belt and grabbed a vial. “Would this help?”
Legion inspected the bottle.
“Did Jack give you this?”
“Then it’ll help.”
They poured the contents onto the skin, which hissed and burned. Suddenly, Jack’s entire body started to tremble. He cried out and screamed. Gavin held him down.
“Fuck! What the fuck is happening?!” Jack screeched.
“It’s all right,” Sean said desperately. “It’s all right, calm down. We’re fixing you up.”
“Where am I?”
Another forceful spasm burst through him, rocking him like a tremor. He cried out again, screeching inhumanly.
“Legion, help him!” Rachel pleaded.
“We don’t know what to do!”
Sean budged Legion out the way. “Ogrohad, do what you can to dull the pain.”
A low rumble confirmed assistance.
“This is… all starting to feel a bit… familiar,” droned Jack blearily.
“Jack, I need you stay quiet.”
Physically grabbing the flesh with his hands, he turned to Rachel. “I need you to keep his heart pumping.”
“Gavin, I want you to help me with this. Use your mind and keep the skin from breaking any further. Legion, keep pouring that stuff.”
All did as instructed, and, as Jack’s body tremored and shook, as Legion dropped more of the royal red liquid onto the broken skin, as Rachel mentally found the heart and kept it pumping, Sean pulled like a curtain the skin across the bones. Without a second to spare, ignoring Jack’s heart-wrenching screams, he fused the skin together. A steady stream of blood leaked as he closed the slit. Gavin wiped it away.
They all sat back.
The formerly tattered body was now a slightly raw red slab. Jack opened his eyes.
“Hey, hey guys,” he said dazedly, “don’t… don’t… ever… take cheese… into space.”
Legion observed the damage. There were scars- many of them, both fresh and old- but for the most part everything seemed to be okay. They strangled a bubble of surprise.
“He looks okay,” they said tiredly. “Somebody should put him to bed.”
“I’ve got it,” said Gavin, lifting him up over his shoulder and carrying him away.
Sean lay spread eagle on the floor, letting the cool air wash over him. His head burned fiercely and his eyes stung but they’d managed it- somehow, they’d managed it. Everyone was panting and wheezing.
“Everybody, go to bed,” he ordered. “Rest up.”
Legion disappeared first, blinking away. Rachel offered Sean a hand to his feet.
“I’ll come through in a bit,” he said. “I wanna lie here for a while.”
She left him alone with his thoughts.
Despite the state he returned in, Sean couldn’t be anything but thankful Jack returned at all. Visions of him lying bleeding out in a gutter somewhere plagued him heartlessly and the thought of him dying alone with Vox towering over him was too much to bear. But he was back, weakened but alive.
I must admit surprise
Sean sighed. “Why?”
He came back
“I have half a mind to come down there and kick your ass. We agreed I’d lead the team.”
And without you, who would lead? Your death would be far more disastrous than his
“Like I told you before,” said Sean, getting to his feet, “you might be God but you’re also a colossal dick-head.”
The next morning Adrian returned- both to the shock of seeing Jack in such a dire state and to a whip round the head from Legion for getting time off- and was regaled with the story of how it all came to be.
Sean sat at the fire of the main living room, which they had festooned with rickety old chairs and futons to emulate a sense of homeliness. The fire burned in the centre of the room, around which the chairs were focused. Legion sat perched on a tartan recliner, Adrian awkwardly endured a small wooden stool, Gavin lay flat on the floor while Sean proudly took the leather chair. This was where all team meetings took place.
“So, Vox is back?” Adrian said in shock after the story was finished.
Sean took a sip of what was supposed to be coffee but tasted more akin to grinded grass.
“He never left,” he pointed out. “But yeah, I suppose you could say he’s back.”
“So what do we do?”
“We do what we usually do.”
“Almost get killed?” Adrian whinged.
“It’s what we do best,” said Sean.
Adrian went to sit back then remembered there was no back to sit on.
“We should bring Drada and Jarn back,” suggested Gavin.
“I’ve thought about it but what they’re doing is important- really important. We need them to do this.”
“What about the space port?” asked Legion.
“What about it?”
Legion suddenly became animated, flapping their hands around. “The Pantheon are there! Isn’t the whole point of us doing this, doing all of this, to stop them? We can stop them taking a whole ‘verse… right now!”
Sean took another sip.
“How would that end exactly? We saw what Vox did to Jack and he didn’t even have backup.”
“Jack was alone as well,” they pointed out. “And he survived.”
“I don’t see what the problem is,” they said. “We go in together, we fight together, we mess them up.”
“We go in together, we fight together, we die out on the cold metal together,” Sean grumbled moodily.
Legion whipped back. “So we let them take it? We let them get away this?”
“We don’t have a choice,” he said.
“Couldn’t we contact the Aeternus?” asked Gavin.
“The Ogrohad said there weren’t very many left,” Sean explained.
“But there are some?”
“Very few. And I don’t know how many Vanguards are left either- probably fewer.”
“But that means we have backup!” shouted Gavin. “We’re not alone in this.”
Sean sighed. Rachel came through the doorway, munching on a large plate of….
“Bacon and chocolate?” Sean gasped.
“Yeah,” she said between bites. “It’s amazing.”
“Give me a rasher, please.”
“Go make one.”
“Come on, please?”
“Could we try and stay focused here?” said Gavin.
Adrian gawked yearningly at the plate. Legion was too busy arguing when the last time they saw bacon was to care.
“I don’t know what else we have to discuss,” Sean said, making his way to leave.
Rachel threw out a hand and stopped him.
“You have plenty to discuss,” she said, pushing him back to his chair. “As the leader of the team you’ve got things to do.”
Begrudgingly, Sean sat back down.
“Fine, what else have we got?”
Gavin glared at him.
“We all want do to this,” he said assertively. “We all want to take the fight to them.”
Sean considered the idea carefully. At first thought, he too wanted to go back to the port and fight the Pantheon off but in the grand scheme of the multi-verse, the port was a tiny spot of dust on a smaller speck of dust, on a smaller spot of dust on an even tinier speck of dust, drifting in the wind of black-hole. To lose someone to something insignificant was too large a risk to take. They could lose the port with nothing lost. It had no strategic value, it contained nothing of importance, it was just another area to belong to the Pantheon. Why should he put any of the team in danger for nothing?
He almost slapped himself. He was sure that if Rachel could read his mind she’d have slapped him too. Of course there was something important there. It wasn’t an object, it wasn’t a resource to be ignored. Maybe the Ogrohad was starting to influence him indirectly.
“You’re right,” he said. “You’re right. Everybody! Grab your stuff.”
“Whoa, whoa,” said Gavin. “Just like that you’re on-board?”
“You made a convincing case.”
“I barely said anything.”
Sean jumped from his chair and started to the exit. Before he could leave, Legion grabbed him.
“There’s something else,” they said.
“You’re not going.”
“We talked about it before you got up,” explained Gavin. “You’ve got responsibilities. You’ve got Rachel. The Ogrohad might be an ass but It’s right. You shouldn’t be going out.”
“Excuse me,” said Sean, bewildered. “Who’s in charge here?”
Gavin, Legion and Adrian all turned to look at Rachel. She smirked.
“Hey!” he shouted, clicking his fingers. “I say what we do. You’re not telling me to stay here.”
“You’re in charge,” Legion agreed, “but we can argue. We’ve always been allowed to argue. And we’re arguing that you shouldn’t come with us to something as dangerous as this. You have a lot of responsibilities now.”
“You’re all my responsibility,” he disputed. “I’m not letting you go without me.”
“You can’t really stop us,” said Adrian.
Rachel finished off her meal and moved to deflate the situation.
“I think they’re right,” she asserted. “For one thing, it’d be nice to have you around more. And it’d stress me out less.”
“And what about my stress? Do you think I’m going to be relaxed knowing they’re out there by themselves?”
Legion scoffed. “We’re not children, we can function without you.”
“Actually- you are,” Gavin pointed out.
“Come on,” they wined. “We’re on the same side here.”
“Everybody, shut up,” Rachel ordered. There was silence.
She took Sean away from the group and into the main chamber, sitting him on the ground. She sat cross-legged across from him, staring. After a few seconds he became uncomfortable.
“Why are you staring at me like that?” he asked.
“You know they’re right.”
He scoffed, throwing his arms up. There was no way in hell they were right, he thought. No way in hell. To send them out into the field alone would be marching them to their deaths. Even if they hated it, they weren’t strong enough to do it by themselves.
“They’re not right,” he whispered angrily. “Jack is more prepared for a fight, more experienced with it, he knows his way around a gun and look at where that got him. He can’t get out of his bed- he’s not woken up since yesterday. Do you really think any of them could handle Vox?”
“Not alone,” she said. “But there are three of them and you’re going to get in touch with the Aeternus to help them.”
The Aeternus- also known as the Impero Aeternus- was the name given to the order of Nephilim that protected the natural order and ensured the Causal Nexus’ safety. The Nephilim were often described as horrific, terrifying looking creatures that appeared as humanity bonded hideously with nature; such as with wood, rock, etc. They hid in the shadows of planets, keeping to their selected wards, only revealing their forms when the natural order was threatened. In their normal state, policing and patrolling their designated areas, they sent their Vanguards in their place, to represent them out-with the boundaries of their control. Vanguards were the second tier of the Aeternus, regular beings plucked from each ‘verse to serve as the Nephilim’s guardians. They were bequeathed with similar powers to the team, albeit at a lesser degree. They weren’t as hardy or as powerful but they could still pack a punch.
They kept to their own, rarely venturing outside their home-‘verses. As a result there existed a tension between the team and them. There were many times in the past when, having been confronted with enormous forces or dangerous animals, they called on the Vanguards to assist only to receive precisely zero aid.
Thusly, Sean concealed no longing to contact them. Even when lives hung in the balance they declined to appear.
“I’m not contacting them,” he said boldly.
“Yes, you are.”
“You can’t force me to.”
“Then I’ll contact them.”
“Fine, but I’m still going.”
She cracked her knuckles.
“Sean,” she whispered, “you need to stay here. They need to go out. They need to fight. You need to live. I’ll get the Ogrohad to close the gates to you if I have to. We’re all agreed on this.”
“I don’t remember this being a democracy,” he mumbled. “I wasn’t voted in.”
“You were, we just didn’t say it loud.”
Sean gritted his teeth. “I hate staying at home, it makes me nervous.”
“Imagine if I was out there, right now, with all that would be on stake. How nervous would you be then?”
“Not nervous at all. Who’d mess with you? You’re terrifying!”
She pinched his arm.
“You’d be petrified. That’s how I feel all the time. Every time you walk out those gates I’m petrified you won’t come back. And you’re not staying here just for me. There’s a lot on the line if you die.”
She was correct of course and as much as Sean hated it he couldn’t argue. But to stay there, for what was likely to be quite a while, would drive him insane. He was a creature of habit and required a place to stretch his legs as well as his mind. But figuring out exactly what to do would have to wait.
“Fine,” he finally conceded. “Fine, fine, fine. Let’s go tell them the ‘good news’.”
On telling the intrepid trio, they put on beaming smiles.
“I think it makes us all feel a bit better about all this,” said Adrian.
“We’re just glad we don’t have to deal with him anymore,” said Legion coldly.
Sean shot them a silencing look.
“However,” he said, “urgh… I can’t believe I’m about to say this but I have to put one of you in charge.”
All three puffed out their chests and flexed. After a few seconds Legion deflated again, murmuring something about buckets.
“I’ve decided to appoint Gavin as your temporary boss.”
The announcement was met with swift anger. Gavin smiled proudly.
“How can you put him in charge?!”
“You know some of us are former presidents, right? We know all about being in charge.”
“Neither of them can lead. I can!”
“We were born leaders.”
“Shut up, no you weren’t.”
“You can continue talking when you figure out how to turn on a TV.”
“Hey, my ‘verse didn’t have TV’s. I’ve had to figure out all this new technology by myself. That proves I’m good… at…”
Gavin grabbed them by the shoulders, doing his best to calm them. “Guys, guys, just because I’m in charge doesn’t mean you can’t make suggestions. I’m not a dictator.”
Sean grimaced. Already he was regretting his decision. Rachel nudged him. He groaned.
“So, grab your stuff,” he ordered through clenched teeth, “and get going. And pray to Ogro you make it back… or make it there.”
He sighed, turned, then walked away, leaving the trio to argue over who got to attack first.
“You made the right call,” Rachel told him as they exited.
“Tell me that again when they end up in the wrong ‘verse fighting an angry glacier.”
“I don’t know, it’s something I can see them doing. Oh, god…”
Several hours passed. After the morning discussion the trio wasted no time getting everything together and venturing out. Sean felt like a father watching his children move out for the first time. At thinking that, his stomach churned. Rachel managed to keep him calm for the first thirty minutes but gave up at the hour, ultimately deciding to leave him to his grumpiness.
For the last hour he’d been organising the kitchen, properly ordering the food in relation to their expiration date, then by how tasty he found them, then finally by colour. Presently, he was using an orange as a ball and bouncing it off the wall. Its buoyancy was dreadfully ineffective.
Sighing, he took a walk to the main chamber, throwing the orange up and down. As he looked around he pondered how quickly the human mind could become adjusted to the surreal. Eight months ago, on a curiously confusing island, he, Rachel and Gavin had left the comfort of their ‘verse, accepted the Ogrohad as the Creator of all things, accepted the existence of the multi-verse and all that entailed, and simply vanished into a strange, overbearing world in which battles with immortals were commonplace, where undead consortiums were friends, where the Creator of all things was something you could argue with on a daily basis, and all of this was nothing strange to him.
Rachel had also adjusted quickly but that was to be expected, given that she spent more time here than anyone else. The Ogrohad wanted her kept safe at all times and out in the field that couldn’t be guaranteed, even by Sean. As such, she spent most of her time preparing for the next step in the plan. Sean was aware she didn’t think of herself as ready but she’d be damned if she let anyone see that. He couldn’t imagine what it was like for her to spend all of her time in such close vicinity to the Ogrohad. Just five minutes with the Thing infuriated him.
Electing to check on Jack, he wandered to the bedroom. In contrast to the living areas, the bedrooms were luxuriously decorated and furnished. From one end to the other there was nothing but gold and trinkets, usually taken as souvenirs from ‘verses. Each room, except for Sean and Rachel’s room which housed a double bed, contained a rustic, antiquary single bed as most of the rooms weren’t large enough to contain anything larger. Sean and Rachel had purposefully taken the time to hollow out more of the cavern wall to guarantee their comfort. Jack’s room was a little less grand than the others, however, as like most things he took little pride or care in its appearance.
On the bed, face down in a pillow, Jack snored. A lot more colour was in his cheeks now, Sean noticed gratefully, and the rest of his body seemed to be repairing. Rachel, watching over him from a wooden chair, nodded as Sean entered.
“How’s he doing?” he asked, taking a seat on the other side of the bed.
“It looks like he’s doing okay,” she said. “But I’m not a doctor, I don’t really know.”
“Neither’s Legion… oh no, actually at least one of them is- are.”
He screwed up his face.
“I’ve been thinking,” said Rachel, “I’ve got a few ideas I want to run by you.”
“Well, first off, aren’t you a little sick of all this?”
“Of all what?”
She paused for a second. Concern and tinges of sadness watered her eyes.
“We’ve been doing this for eight months. That’s eight whole months of fighting, battling it out with Lilith. Aren’t you sick of it? Aren’t you tired? Aren’t you… aren’t you angry that we’re always on the back-foot, that our back is always to the wall, that we’re always running, we’re always hiding?”
Sean considered it. It was true; they were always on the run, always poking their heads out to find what they could and then at the first sign of trouble they were gone. There wasn’t a whole lot more they could do.
“I guess I am a little sick of it,” he admitted. “But we don’t have a choice. We’re here to save… everyone. We’re here for more than just us. What’s the alternative?”
“This isn’t the first time I’ve had to look at one of our closest friends in this state,” she said, tearing up.
He lowered his head.
“I don’t want to see anyone like this ever again,” she added.
“I get it, I get it. But what would you have me do? What if we stopped doing what we’re doing? Stopped the plan? That wouldn’t help at all.”
She leaned in.
“That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is, we stop running, we stop hiding, we stop retreating. We take the fight to them. We start hurting them. We start taking something- anything– from them. It’s about time we hurt them the same way they’ve hurt us. We’ve lost… we’ve lost a lot and we stand to lose a lot more. How about- we burn down their barracks, we assassinate their high tiered leaders, we take the fight to them.”
Sean leaned back. He wasn’t expecting that- but he should have. After all this time and heartache, after all the pain and struggling, the fire still burned as brightly and as fiercely as ever. And it was beautiful. Gavin often joked that if it wasn’t for the Ogrohad’s insistence otherwise, they could send Rachel to Vox and the war would be over within seconds. Eight months ago he’d fallen head over heels, then after discovering her fiery temperament he was hooked without a chance of escape- and not a single part of him wanted to. He couldn’t suppress a smirk.
“What are you smiling at?” she asked.
“I’m remembering why I fell in love with you.”
Within seconds, her face contorted into a painting of pure repulsion.
“What, are you going to start writing poetry now?” she mocked. “You going to start making sickly love stories? The hell is wrong with you?”
His beaming grin grew. She matched it.
Biting into the orange, he pointed to Jack. “But you’re right though. We can’t keep ending up like this.”
“You going to think of another plan?”
“I’ll put something together,” he confirmed. “Too bad I won’t get to enact it myself.”
“We’re just trying to keep you safe.”
“My life isn’t worth more than theirs and it never will be.”
“But you can see where we’re coming from? Why it’s more important to protect you?”
“I think the most important thing,” he said, swanning over to her side, “is keeping you safe.”
“Have you decided who you’re going to leave leadership to?” she asked.
He shook his head soberly. “It was difficult enough picking one of the three stooges to lead for one mission. I don’t see how I could pick one to lead forever.”
“Maybe you could consult the Vanguards, see if one of them could lead,” she suggested seriously.
“I’m not having one of them in charge,” he groused.
“They don’t… they have a unique perspective on things, I guess death does that to you, they don’t understand the importance of life.”
“They’d protect all of us,” she pointed out.
“But not anyone else. This is all about more than just us, they’d have to understand why it’s so important to save everything.”
“What about Gavin, then?”
“A little too nice,” he explained. “I like him but I can’t see him as a leader.”
Rachel exhaled loudly.
“Then there’s Adrian.”
“The Amish from another time? Definitely not. He tried to put a piece of bread into the DVD player the other day.”
“I don’t think you have that many choices left,” she said sadly.
Unable to tear their eyes away from Jack’s sleeping form, they wondered separately if he could take the reins, if he could get himself together enough to make it work, but both settled on the morose conclusion that he would cull the proposal outright. Plus, Rachel thought, even though he was once a leader- and a good, feared one at that- the shadow that clouded his mind kept him from returning to that. Where once there was a great leader there was now a battered skeleton.
“I’m going to go…” Sean murmured. “Actually I have no idea where I’m going to go. That’s strange, I don’t like that at all. What do you do around here all day?”
Rachel’s eyes lit up. “Do you want to go throw apples at the Ogrohad?”
He perked up instantly. “Yes! Why are we not doing that right now?!”
There was absolute blackness.
There was absolute silence.
Adrian’s voice drifted through the dark.
“Hey, you alive?”
“We hope not. We’ve been dead for three months.”
“No- what? No, I mean, am I alive?”
“Probably. Most people are less annoying when they’re dead.”
“Are you the exception?”
Legion groaned, lifting their body up.
The blackness dissolved, revealing an expanse of twisted metal that warped and stretched like a roller-coaster track. They strained to figure out the purpose of the metal contraption, why such a thing would be created or required, but nothing obvious came to the surface.
They looked left, where along a familiar looking walkway crowds of people went about their daily lives. They were on the space port, they realised. But how’d they get there?
Gavin was already on his feet, observing the space port for the first time with fresh eyes. There was clear wonderment striking him. He let out soft ‘ah’s and ‘aw’s every now and then. Amazement filled his every breath.
“This is incredible!” he gasped.
“Yes, it’s very pretty,” grumbled Legion. “We’ve already established that.”
“But did you see-”
“The stars, yes, also very pretty.” They got up. “Have you figured out what happened?”
There was no answer as he was already away chasing new sights. Legion sighed.
Adrian rose slowly to his feet. He too was mesmerised by the influx of astounding views and advanced technology but Legion predicted this- since Adrian was from a ‘verse in which technology hadn’t advanced beyond the medieval ages of their home ‘verse and was thusly more likely to wander off in search of new experiences. They grabbed him and pulled him close.
“Don’t go gallivanting,” they warned, walking over to the main crowd.
“But… there’s so much to see!” he cried.
“Shut up. You live in a multi-verse, this is nothing.”
Legion looked to the right, where around a market stall Gavin was leaping around like a toddler released early from school. A lot of dirty looks were sent his way.
They stomped over to him, grabbed him by the arm, and wrenched him onto the main pathway.
“What are you doing?” he asked, pulling away.
“We’re not here for sightseeing,” they hissed. “We’re here to a job. Now, does anyone remember what happened? Why’d we black out?”
“I can remember walking through the mirror,” said Adrian. “But the next thing I remember is waking up and asking you if I was alive.”
“Did you see that?!” Gavin exclaimed, pointing to a holographic display made for kids. Adrian similarly voiced an impressed ‘whoa!’
“Stay focused or none of this is going to be left standing!”
Both men exchanged worried glances, then turned to face Legion with a more attuned attitude.
“What do we do?” Gavin asked.
“First, we have to figure out what happened to us,” they explained. “Then we go to North Court, that’s where Sean said Vox was.”
“How do we figure out what happened to us?”
“We’re not sure. You two go to North Court.”
“I thought I was in charge,” said Gavin.
“You are,” Legion proclaimed. “But you lost that right when you wandered off like a lost kid.”
“What do we do at North Court?” Adrian asked, desperately endeavouring to keep his eyes from roving elsewhere.
“Wait outside the front gate for us, we’ll figure out what happened when we arrived.”
Abandoning the two at the stall, Legion shot back to where they’d woken. As they approached the empty metal sector, many sets of eyes urged him to stop.
Where there had once been emptiness there was now a squadron of what looked like heavily armed policemen, dressed from head to toe in black, white and blue. They took over the place with a number of roughly 30. Legion scanned them.
Before they could figure anything out, the guns turned and raised. Legion presented their arms defensively.
“Don’t shoot!” they shouted. “We come in peace!”
We come in peace?
Why did we say that?
Because we do!
We know that, but it’s not a legitimate thing to say.
You need to shut up. Let me talk.
No, you shut up!
I’ll come over there right now and beat your ass!
Like hell you will!
Everyone, please be quiet. Let’s approach this rationally. They’re policemen, they don’t mean any harm.
They’re armed policemen. Armed with guns. Guns that are pointing at us.
It’s not like they can kill us.
That’s not the point! We come in peace, say it again!
“We come in peace!”
That was stupid. Forget we suggested that.
You’re such an idiot.
Now we sound like a dangerous alien. Who else would say ‘we come in peace’?
We’re not an alien. Are we?
I don’t know, ask the policemen.
We should say something.
How long have we been silent?
Too long, we should say something.
They opened their mouth.
Did that really just come out our mouth?
What the hell is ‘brustlingdoop’? Who came up with that?
We should go- like right now.
Legion sprinted northbound, bursting through the waves of people. Surprisingly the police were fast-moving, catching up freakishly quickly. They were shouting something incoherent amidst the noise of the hurried port.
Where are Gavin and Adrian?
We do. Quite a lot, actually.
We told them to go to North Court. Let’s go to North Court.
But we don’t know what happened to us earlier. Why’d we wake up in pitch darkness? Why did we black out?
Again- who cares? We’re fine now.
Actually, we’re not.
What do you mean?
Our legs are getting tired and our eyes are getting weary.
But we don’t get tired- we can’t get tired.
That’s why we’re not fine.
They slowed almost to a crawl, grasping at a nearby railing for support. It was indeed true, their legs were tired and vision was beginning to confusingly blur. This was unheard of. There were only two possibilities- the Ogrohad was messing with them but there was no clear reason for it, the other was that Lilith was somehow exerting influence on the port. But the ‘verse hadn’t been taken out of connection with the Nexus yet so She couldn’t be doing that. Why would the Ogrohad…
It didn’t properly remove the barriers. We were sent without protection.
That’s… is that possible?
How else could you explain it?
If we’re in this state…
Adrian and Gavin might be worse off.
At least it would explain why the police are after us. Travelling between ‘verses causes huge amounts of electrical discharge, we probably fried half their systems.
Doesn’t that mean the port is in danger?
Let’s try not to think about that.
Sean would think about that.
Groans filled their head.
Why?! Why would you say that?!
Now we have to care.
Blinking as far as they could, they managed to reach North Court, leaving the hounding police as distant memories. They knew, however, that more would be on the way. Past a shoddily crafted stage, crumpled up into balls by a large metal door, were two figures they recognised.
“Hey! Wake up!” they shouted, shaking them. “Get up!”
In a livid daze they opened their eyes. They were like two drunkards after a particularly long and particularly heavy booze session.
“Legion?” Gavin said dreamily. “You’re… here…”
He reached out an inquisitive hand. It was batted away.
“Get it together. We’ve got stuff to do.”
They kicked both men. Both men groaned. With a heavy sigh Legion grabbed both and hauled them up, mentally inspecting them. Gavin was in a worse state than Adrian, who was only slightly dazed, and seemed wholly stunned. They whacked him on the head.
“Try and stay with us. It’d be helpful for all involved if we could do this mission for Sean.”
“Wh… urgh…” he gurgled.
The sound of boots stamping on metal suddenly broke above the general, busy ambience. Without turning round Legion could sense black, white and blue marching on their position. They grabbed the dazed pair and hauled them through the metal door. Legion wondered when the last time they dragged two impudent children around a busy market. Fond memories of many days spent shopping, towing small children around with them flooded them. Everyone cooed lovingly over the euphoric recollections. There was no ill-will toward death for taking them since they could now see the futility of life in its final beauty but there was certainly hatred toward Lilith for prematurely inviting this new perspective. She took their children, she took their mothers and fathers, their brothers and sisters, their husbands and wives; She took so much from them and asked nothing in return but their silent passing. There was a score to be settled.
On the other side of the door there was a platform and two sets of surrounding stairs, Legion could see that much. But in front of said platform, standing malignantly with guns raised, was a troop of the Red Regime at a number large enough to snake their way up the stairs, overwhelm the platform, and look like a very contorted crimson creature. They all stared down the barrels of their guns at the frightened trio.
The sea of red split in the middle and through the opened pathway walked Vox. Legion recognised him. He was responsible for their deaths, directly and indirectly, and at the sight of him many voices rose up in a dissonant clamour, and if they all had individual hands they would be reached out to his throat.
“Gentlemen,” Vox said. “And ladies.”
He nodded to Legion.
They recalled his suave attitude, his captivating charisma and his uncanny aptitude for morphing words into daggers that you’d gladly throw yourself on. They’d been drawn in by it, thinking they were being drawn to the light at the end of the tunnel, finding out at the last second that it was actually a black-hole and they were about to be turned into dust.
“Vox,” they said. “We were looking for you.”
“We’ve been sent to kill you,” they announced, yawning.
Vox stayed surprisingly calm- eerily calm.
“Didn’t one of you already try that earlier?” he said. “I’m sure I remember fighting someone.”
Legion, still holding Adrian and Gavin up, took a step forward. The soldiers all mirrored it in unison. It was a not-so-friendly reminder that an arsenal of guns was pointed directly at them.
“Did he survive?” Vox asked.
“Of course he did.”
“I don’t believe you. How could he have survived?”
“He’s stronger than most,” said Legion. Adrian and Gavin began to stir. The effects of the unshielded ‘verse-hop were wearing off.
“But he’s human,” Vox reasoned. “He doesn’t have any abilities, no strengths, no blessings. He should be dead.”
“He should be. But he’s not.”
“Why don’t you try and figure it out?”
Vox sighed. “What’s wrong with those two?”
“Nothing, they’re fine.”
“Are you trying to stall for time?”
“If we say yes, will you play along?”
He smiled. “I’m not that stupid.”
“You certainly fooled us.”
Legion stamped their feet down on the ground hard, sending a massive shockwave of energy bounding outwards, taking the soldiers by surprise. They were knocked to the ground, guns flailing, several of them firing blindly. Gavin and Adrian were thrown to the sides, where Legion left them to recover. Vox stood unharmed, waiting for them to make the first move.
We’re fighting Vox now. Whose idea was that?
That’s why we’re here. We’re supposed to be fighting him.
I totally forgot.
So did I.
The metal door slid upon and through it poured a large squadron of policemen. At first, they trained their weapons on Legion and shouted for their subdual, but a quick glance around the area turned their attentions elsewhere. At the sight of the many guns of the Red Regime and their frantic, erratic firing, the police immediately called for backup and for the soldiers to lay down their weapons. Vox raised a clenched fist. All soldiers, as though a part of a hive-mind, leapt to their feet in unison, recovered from the shockwave, and focused their weapons on the police. Legion, stuck in the middle, nervously and awkwardly fidgeted. They weren’t sure where to stand.
“Lay down your weapons!” shouted an officer.
“You lay down yours,” Vox shouted back. “We have a higher authority than you. You will lay down your weapons.”
“If you do not lay down your weapons and back away we will be forced to open fire!”
Vox smirked. “I don’t think you understood me but if you’re going to shoot, I suggest you aim for the head.”
There was a moment of silence. Not a creature stirred.
Then there was chaos.
Bullets ripped and whizzed through the air. Legion dropped to the ground. Overhead, volleys from the police occupied the air. They were rudimentary and basic, Legion deduced, and though they didn’t want to admit it, they’d have little effect on the soldiers. For what seemed like an eternity, gunfire resonated spitefully. Legion could hear tearing flesh and slight grunts of anguish but no bodies hit the ground.
There was another moment of silence. This time it dragged indefinitely. They were reloading.
Legion could sense Vox’s smile.
“Hurutk!” he shouted. The soldiers cocked their weapons. “Hursan!”
The electric tinge of plasma, like an all too familiar aroma, overwhelmed the senses. Terrifying screams of pure anguish were thrown to the stars. Flesh ripped and burned. Bones snapped on impact. Now bodies started falling.
What was left of the police after the initial barrage returned fire. The bullets barely made dents in the soldiers’ flesh. Legion crawled along the ground, trying to ignore the flashes of red and the horrific sounds, making their way to the plant bed Adrian and Gavin landed in. They were completely unconscious, blissfully unaware of the brutal firefight occurring around them. Legion grunted angrily.
Splashes of blood painted them red. It wasn’t the first time they’d crawled through a savage battle drenched in blood and they had a suspicion it wouldn’t be the last time.
Grabbing them by their ankles, Legion blinked back behind the metal gate, where the sounds of ruthless gunfire and abhorrent screeching were muffled. A small crowd gathered by the stage, curiously listening in to the battle. They jumped back in horror as Legion appeared out of nowhere carrying his two sleeping comrades. They looked up.
“If you wish to live, please return to the safety of your homes,” they declared.
The crowd was silent for a moment. Then, all at once, they cracked into screams of terror, flustering and thrashing madly, running around in circles, and eventually broke away in chunks to escape the white-eyed, outwardly magical creature. They moaned.
That was a poor choice of words. It made us sound like we wanted to hurt them.
They know we didn’t… right?
Sure, sure they do. That’s why they ran off screaming.
Legion chucked Adrian and Gavin into a heap by the stage, crouched down to their faces, and slapped the two of them. They scarcely registered it.
We know what we have to do.
It’s more a question of whether or not it’s the right thing to do.
They might wake up in a lot of pain.
We’re doing fine now. They should be okay.
They’re not like us.
Hey, shut up!
Sensing no other choice, and knowing Vox and his soldiers would make short work of the police force, Legion extended their mind and mentally invaded the comatose pair. Such a thing was rarely done because Sean considered it a gross insult to privacy and chided Legion into seldom using their inimitable ability. Several of the others had tried to match their mental prowess but none could figure it out. Even Legion wasn’t sure how it was done, they simply knew they could do it.
Gavin was dreaming of his home ‘verse; running across meadows and frolicking by a lake, while Adrian dreamed of his time on the Island- the same island that had brought all of the team together, except for Legion. They grimaced at both dreams. Finding the cause of the damage in the brain and isolating the dream and sleep centre, they sent a surge of pure, unshaped energy to wake them. With a shuddering jolt the pair shot up, practically giddy and jogging on the spot.
“What- what is this?” Gavin said in amazement, staring at his hands. “I’ve never felt this alive!”
“Me neither!” yelled Adrian, bouncing up and down.
“I’ve given you both a shot of pure energy,” Legion explained. “You’ve been unconscious for about twenty minutes.”
“We went to North Court, Vox and the Red Regime were waiting for us, we used a shockwave to gain some time, you two fell in a flower bed, the police turned up and started fighting the soldiers, then we blinked us out of there.”
“So we go back and help the police?” said Gavin.
“We haven’t decided yet. There’s also the issue of our black-out earlier.”
“You figured it out?”
“We travelled unprotected. We may have caused some damage to the port.”
Their buoyant, animated energy suddenly diluted.
“What do you mean?” asked Adrian worriedly.
“Well,” said Legion, “there’s a good chance we’ve thrown this entire place into peril. Travelling unshielded causes huge electrical disturbances and it’d explain why we were being chased by police.”
“We were being chased by police?”
They sighed. “Yes, try and keep up. Step one- stop Vox. Step two- figure out how much damage we did and fix it. Step three- go home.”
“You make it sound easy,” said Gavin, grimacing.
“We can do it, don’t worry.”
Legion turned on their heels at the sound of the metal door grinding. Through the open portal poured out a flood of red. As if their armour wasn’t blatantly crimson enough, the blood drenched metal sang a horridly gruesome tale of viciousness. They funnelled in unison. Vox, also saturated in blood and other visceral details, stepped forward from the dreadful crowd.
“Give it up!” he shouted to the trio. “You don’t stand a chance.”
“Can we shoot him?” Gavin asked.
“Of course you can shoot him,” said Legion. “It won’t do any good but you can shoot him if you’d like.”
Gavin flicked out the gun he kept holstered in his belt, lifted it eye level, and threw his arms out invitingly.
“What are you going to do?” he shouted. “You can shoot us, we’d survive. You can burn us, we’ll get back up. You’ve got nothing!”
“How do you think we knew you were here?” said Vox. “You travelled here unprotected, you started an electrical storm, you shut down half the port. Would you survive the vacuum of space?”
Legion went into a panic. Sean’s voice rung through them. He wouldn’t have let this happen- at the very least he’d find a way to stop it.
“You’re lying!” shouted Gavin unconvincingly.
“Believe me or don’t believe me, it’ll happen anyway,” said Vox, shrugging. “Stay or don’t stay, the port goes down.”
Surely there would be alarms- something to warn everyone, if the port was going down?
You’d think so. You’d think they’d evacuate everyone.
All the police were…
Surely there’s maintenance, engineers, someone else in charge?
We hope so.
Then they’ll evacuate the port if it’s in danger.
We should still help.
Of course we’re going to help.
Legion slammed their hands to the ground, sending a current of electricity directly at the group. With serpent-like dexterity it travelled across the metal and exploded on contact with Vox. The soldiers cried out as electrical sparks arched from the ground and struck them, leaving huge black blemishes and frying several to death. Vox was unperturbed.
“That’s not going to help you,” he shouted as the remaining soldiers regained their bearings.
Gavin fired two shots. His gun was gifted to him by a Vanguard he’d made friends with. It was built from solid titanium, with laces of a substance known as ‘Torininium’- a feather-light metal hewn from the lowest mines of an exceptionally thriving and industrial ‘verse. Instead of energy projectiles or bullets the gun fired honed, moderately sized harpoons capable of piercing several men through a wall. The results were often disastrously messy.
The first harpoon struck Vox’s barrier, harmlessly tumbling away. The second drove its way through a soldier’s skull and pinned him to the metal door. Vox looked at the resulting gory mess, impressed and surprised.
The metal door slid upon again, catching on the soldier’s corpse. Underneath the staggered door crept another platoon of crimson clad soldiers to replace the fallen ranks. Legion cursed.
“We’re everywhere,” taunted Vox, casually jaunting forwards. “You might think you’re here to save this place, that you stand a chance at repelling us, but we’ve already won. We are many and you are few. My soldiers have taken the port and when it falls, which it will, we’ll make our way down there.”
He pointed to the Earth, soaring serenely.
“You’ve lost this ‘verse,” he continued. “You might as well pack up and go home. There are three of you, there are hundreds of us. The Pantheon claims another world in the name of Mother Lamia.”
“Bullshit!” Gavin cried.
“It’s true,” he said. “It’s unfortunate for you, granted, but it’s true. By my reckoning you have about thirty minutes before the port’s artificial gravity fails, another ten minutes on top of that before the force-field fails, then about five minutes before the port falls towards the planet. So you have about an hour- tops.”
“Wait, to leave?” quizzed Gavin. “Are you saying we can go?”
The commander pursed his lips.
“Sure, why not?” he said suddenly, laughing. “Go home, go be with your family! Go be safe, go be happy!”
He started to cackle insanely. Legion felt a sting of energy building in the air.
“What’s happening right now?” Adrian asked them. He too could sense the copulating build up.
It was like watching the Mona Lisa morph into a painting of the Devil. Vox’s usual gracious, nuanced sophistication burned away, leaving a wind-swept, chaotic demon in its wake. His features didn’t physically alter at all but there was an overbearing sensation of something truly demonic; like intense vengeance as a portrait.
As instantly as it happened, Vox was back to his normal self and the energy build up was gone. He stood proudly, cracking his neck. The trio stood in astonishment. None of them could figure out the confusing turn of events.
“Uh… what…” Legion scratched their head. “What?”
Vox shook his head as though trying to clear it.
“Fuck it,” mumbled Gavin, firing another shot.
This time, the harpoon surpassed the barrier and lodged itself into Vox’s windpipe. Shocked and gasping for air, he dropped to his knees, clutching the metal projectile. He yanked it free, at the same tearing flesh and muscle from its usual resting place. He coughed, spraying blood. Gavin, bewildered, lowered the gun. He watched in stunned silence as Vox struggled for breath.
“We’re not sure what’s going on,” admitted Legion. “This is all very confusing.”
“Are we… are we winning?” Adrian asked.
“We think so. This is a very strange feeling. Is this how the Pantheon feels all the time? We could get used to it.”
Vox grabbed at the metal floor, rasping and spluttering. Blood coloured the ground a visceral red.
“Why isn’t he healing?”
Suddenly, there was a bulbous explosion of energy with Vox at the epicentre. Strong enough to knock the trio off their feet, it swept across the port like a hurricane, sending stalls flying for miles, cracking huge chunks from mountains that went dancing across the heavily populated areas, discarded metal pipes shot from their slumber and impaled any unfortunates in their path, and at random intervals across the huge expanse, flammable items combusted, setting much of the place alight.
Legion, disregarding the tremendous aching, recovered first. Around Vox, striking blast marks stretched outwardly from him, with the marks a deep red at the closest point and growing incrementally lighter the father away it reached. At first they believed Vox activated some kind of self-destruct but closer inspection revealed him standing, unscathed, in a cloud of black smoke.
“Explain!” they demanded.
He broke from the winding smoke. His boots clinked on the metal ground.
“Figure it out,” he said aloofly.
Is he being serious?
He looks serious.
He looks different somehow… eviler.
Agreed. There’s something about him, like a smell, that’s suddenly different.
Does everyone feel that?
You mean the buzzing? It’s energy. I swear we’ve felt this before…
Where? Don’t leaving us hanging.
Remember the plains of Time?
“You’re… that energy… that was Lilith…” they gasped, backing away. “But She can’t-”
“She’s stronger now,” said Vox. “Much, much more powerful. She can’t interfere directly, obviously, but She can grant me the strength needed to do it in her stead.”
That’s why he’s different, that’s what the energy build up was. It was Lilith giving him more power.
What about the harpoon through the throat?
A brief moment of weakness while his body adjusted, then an explosion to solidify it all.
But that means She was here- She’s watching this happen!
Should we moon Her?
An inexorable sense of dread flooded through them. Gavin was up, brandishing his gun defensively. Adrian readied himself for a fight.
Vox batted away a harpoon with a flick of the hand. Adrian followed up the assault with a telekinetically charged jab which was dexterously deflected and returned, throwing him ten feet away. Legion considered their options: attack, defend, or escape. Defence was pointless; Vox would break it effortlessly. An attack would render them vulnerable. They could grab the other two and blink away, find a mirror, and run. Escape seemed like their only option.
But that’s not what Sean would do, many voices called out. He’d stand and he’d fight. He wouldn’t walk away with so many lives in the balance. Sean was a good man, they reminded themselves, and no matter the circumstance he wouldn’t abandon anyone to die, he’d do everything he could until he could breathe no more. It was his greatest asset- the entire reason why he was chosen to lead. They weren’t going to run, they decided unanimously. They would save the port, save the planet, and save the ‘verse.
Legion barged into Vox, tackling him to the ground, and then punched wildly. Vox successfully blocked each blow, turning the tables swiftly with a few well-placed clouts of his own. Legion was knocked meaninglessly away. Vox stood.
As Gavin raised his gun to once again attempt a harpooning, the soldiers opened fire, sending a flurry of plasma bolts hurtling toward the trio. They all ducked to cover.
“What do we do?” Gavin shouted over the deafening sounds of close gunfire.
“We have roughly,” Legion calculated the time, “twenty minutes before the artificial gravity fails.”
“If we believe Vox, that is.”
“We believe him.”
“What do you suggest then? Do we run?”
“No, too many lives are in danger… and we put them there. We don’t leave until we fix this.”
Gavin and Adrian both nodded in agreement. They’d see this through.
“But what do we do about them?” Adrian asked, gesturing to the red bolts flying overhead.
“How many do you think we could take without dying?” Legion asked. “We mean, without being destroyed.”
“Not a lot,” Gavin said sternly. “You’d survive about ten seconds at most, depending on how good a shot they are.”
“We’re still alive, aren’t we? Figuratively speaking, of course. They can’t be that good a shot.”
We could blink away, make sure the port gets evacuated, then come back.
Or we could…
All thoughts were cut short, as along the main walkway a parade of red-armoured soldiers marched, all bearing Lilith’s insignia. At this angle, the trio were easy target practice.
“We should move,” Gavin suggested. An explosion to the left claimed the idea was ridiculous.
“We don’t have anywhere to go!” Adrian roared, wincing as a bolt cut through his upper leg.
Legion grabbed their shoulders and blinked upwards- the only place they could think to go. Halfway to the upper force-field, they realised their predicaments.
“Oh, look, we’re falling to our deaths!” Adrian shouted as the air rushed by.
“And if we survive, look what we’ve got in store!” said Gavin, pointing to an undulating red mass.
Vox wasn’t lying, it appeared, as in their hundreds the Red Regime marched across the length of the port. All over they spread like an infection; stopping their march to occasionally shoot a few people in cold blood, or upturn a stall, or indulge in a little vandalism. Fires raged uncontrollably everywhere.
“The ground is a lot bigger now, don’t you think?” Gavin said, rolling his eyes. “Are you going to blink us back down?”
Legion couldn’t answer. Their mind was telling them something they didn’t want to hear: there were no other options, no other possibilities- this was it. It didn’t matter if they blinked down, if they fought until they couldn’t, they’d be gaining nothing. No matter how many times Sean’s voice told them to fight, it wasn’t an option. The port was lost, the planet forfeit and the ‘verse Lilith’s.
They sighed. They felt like they had sighed a lot more than usual lately.
“We have to go,” they said despondently. “We can’t win this one.”
Grabbing them and blinking to a spot they deemed somewhat secure, Legion morosely trampled around searching for a mirror. Defeat coloured them mute. No one wanted to talk, no one wanted to think. Shame burdened their chest. They had failed Sean, failed the Ogrohad, failed Rachel, failed the entire team and everyone in that ‘verse. The blood of an entire world was on their hands.
As Legion sat dejectedly on the floor, Adrian and Gavin checked the immediate area for a mirror. As they did they mutually experienced a familiar prickle. They turned to each other.
“What is that?”
“I’m not sure,” said Gavin. “I know it from somewhere, I know that I know it. But I don’t know where from.”
“I feel like I haven’t experienced this in ages,” Adrian said. “I know that I know it too but I can’t put my finger on it.”
“Wait… you don’t think it’s…”
They shot upright. “What?! What is it?!”
Legion did indeed sense something in the air. “Wait… is that…”
The force-field around the port glimmered and wavered. Around its circumference, intense white lights penetrated its skin and into the synthetic atmosphere migrated. They rollicked for a moment, then hovered, and finally nose-dived to the ground. Legion jumped out the way as one of the lights crashed right beside them.
In place of the light stood a young man; dressed in blue, baroque armour that shone radiantly under the dim glow, caught on his face were striking brown eyes, and he was crowned with floaty brown hair. A few scars framed his face. Poking from behind the small gaps in his armour were blue tattoos of passionately elaborate nature that, as Legion knew, covered most of his body and extended to his hands. Though he was ostensibly youthful there was an age and wisdom to his eyes few could ever match. Legion met this man once before- in the cavern of the Ogrohad. This was Stenror, the unofficial leader of the Vanguards.
“You’re here…” Legion said in disbelief. “You actually came.”
“Yes, we did,” he said firmly. “Vox is here, yes?”
“At North Court. But the Red Regime have taken pretty much all the port, there’s nowhere safe.”
Stenror, notoriously strict, simply nodded and turned to leave. More orbs of light floated downwards, materialising as Vanguards when they reached the ground. They were far less dressed for the occasion than Stenror; few of them flaunted armour of any sort, preferring the comfort of their own contemporary clothes. Against the backdrop of a space port they looked out of place. Especially for a battle of the sorts they were expecting.
Legion grabbed his arm before he could leave.
“Wait, there’s something else,” they said.
“What is it?”
“The port’s in a little bit of trouble. We may have caused some damage.”
“How?” he growled.
“The Ogrohad closed the gates, It didn’t want anyone leaving… for reasons… but then when the gates went back online the shields weren’t replaced. Basically, we ‘verse-hopped unprotected. Apparently it caused some trouble with the electrics. This whole port is going down.”
To their surprise, Stenror simply nodded.
He has the emotional depth of a teabag.
That’s a weird thing to say.
“We’ve not come alone,” he said, gesturing behind them.
Like three colossal monuments, a trinity of massive figures approached them. These figures were rarely seen by any populace of any ‘verse. And they scared Legion to death.
These were three of the Nephilim.
On the far left was Veritas, a gangling weave of flesh and tree. Muscles and ligaments spirited around the overall cocoon of wood, which lacked any twigs or leaves. Only thick branches protruded externally and it was understood that he could control them like any other appendage. It was excruciating just to look at. He walked as though in constant agony, always huddled over and pacing slowly. He was considered the friendliest of the Nephilim as he had little in the way of weaponry and always remained in good temperament.
In the middle was Pennana, a winged hawk-like creature whose body slimmed downwards like the point of a pencil before cutting off completely at the feet, which were wispy, waiflike orbs. She was considered the most human looking of all the Nephilim, sporting a somewhat feminine form and being the sole Nephilim with a face that didn’t distort or twist menacingly. Her claws were particularly pronounced and were enormously dreaded by those unlucky enough to see them.
Finally, on the right was the most terrifying Nephilim of all. Legion recognised it from the stories they’d been told by the Ogrohad. This was Calignox and very few words in the English language could describe him. The Ogrohad explained it as a bizarre, unhallowed hybrid of humanity and dark matter. Legion wondered what such a thing would like… and regretted ever having it confirmed. It retained a humanoid shape for the most part but beyond that there was little humanity present.
Each of them towered at a height of 8 foot, though the Nephilim could change their size at will and no matter their apparent disposition, were prevalent proof that the ‘good guys’ don’t always look good.
Collecting their jaw, Legion stood as strongly as they could when the trinity approached.
“Veritas, it’s good to see you,” they said, smiling.
“And you, dead ones,” he replied in a deep, gravelly voice.
Gavin and Adrian neglected Pennana and Veritas, staring acutely at Calignox. Legion couldn’t deny the captivating allure he projected but purposefully averted their eyes to focus on something-anything-that made more sense and was more based in reality.
“You’re aware of the situation?” Stenror asked them.
“We are,” said Pennana. “We’ll stabilise the port while you and the chosen clear away the Red Regime.”
“After the Red Regime have been taken care of we’ll deal with him together.”
With the commands given, Stenror barked an order to the surrounding Vanguards to prepare themselves. As the surrounding masses marched off to battle, Veritas waddled next to Legion.
“Dead ones,” he said, “how is everything?”
“We’re surviving,” they jested.
“And the rest of the crew?”
“They’re doing… most of them are doing okay.”
As best he could, Veritas nodded. The movement seemed to cause him great pain.
“Word reached the Aeternus that Jack engaged Vox,” he said. “How did it end?”
Legion took a few seconds to form an answer.
“Not well. He took quite a beating and very almost died.”
“But he’s alive?”
“You know how stubborn he can be,” they joked.
“How exactly did he manage that?” Veritas openly questioned.
“You remember the nanotechnology he used to have?” Legion explained. “He had them for so long that they altered his biology. He’s mainly human but he has a little extra.”
“Ah,” the Nephilim expressed. “But not quite as powerful as he used to be.”
“Exactly. We think he described it as a ‘water-downed’ effect. He can’t leap buildings in a single bound or survive having his limbs cut off but he’s still pretty tough.”
“I’m glad that everything is going well,” he said.
Legion stepped aside as small squad of Vanguards ran by. It felt like they were on a military base preparing for war. Calignox and Pennana already left, smashing most of what they considered ‘inconsequential collateral’ away from their path.
“Calignox is… a little…” Legion struggled to find the words.
“I’ve been told before that his appearance can be unsettling,” Veritas chuckled. “But I’m sure, dead ones, you understand that completely.”
Veritas gave a soft ‘goodbye’ and followed the path of destruction left in the wake of his fellow Nephilim. Gavin and Adrian were busy conversing with a Vanguard.
“Are we ready?” Legion asked them, butting into the conversation.
The Vanguard, a slightly older man dressed in a blue trench coat that floated around his knees, nodded.
“We’re ready,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for a fight like this for a while.”
“There’s been plenty of fights you could’ve helped with.”
“I think a few of the Nephilim were a little annoyed when the Ogrohad chose you lot,” he explained.
Legion looked him up and down.
We know this guy, don’t we?
The beard is definitely familiar.
It’s a magnificent beard. Ask if we can touch it.
Wasn’t he a Vanguard for Gelus?
“Is that what happened with Gelus?” they asked.
The response was immediate and packed with melancholy.
“Gelus was an idiot. A foolish, selfish idiot. Please tell Jack I’m sorry.”
“We will. It’s not your fault anyway.”
He agreed but in his eyes were signs of sincere misery. Gelus’ betrayal had damaged much of Aeternus’ uniformity. Former Vanguards were being questioned to ensure that the rogue Nephilim’s defection to Lilith wasn’t a hint at a deeper problem. A lot of trust- a bridge already shaky to begin with- had been vanquished with his recent conquest of Jack’s home ‘verse. They were trusting in the Nephilim to properly deduce who was most likely to defect and deal with them accordingly.
Sounds of gunfire and rabid screaming packed the air. The battle was beginning.
Legion, Adrian and Gavin moved from the main centre, gasping as a fiery explosion erupted not ten feet away. They found themselves suddenly on the field of war.
On the right, squadrons of Vanguards, some armed with advanced weaponry, some not, charged the field of metal. On the left, the soldiers of the Red Regime blasted their attackers. What resulted was a frenzied flurry of blue and red bolts, electrifying the air with unexploited energy. Blood spurted from both sides, many fell from the first few shots, but the bloody battle raged on. The screams were deafening. If Legion had to pick one word to describe it they’d choose: chaotic.
They charged into the fray, closing the distance with a blink, then dived into the fight. The first few soldiers were caught unaware and fell easily to a few telekinetic shots. When the guns turned, they ducked out of the way, blinked to safety, then returned with an assault from behind. The soldiers cried out as Legion ripped through them like paper, dodging and ducking from danger, blinking in and out of the fight, eventually culminating in an enormous blast of energy that knocked them all down. Now defenceless, they scrambled for safety, only to be drawn back in by the blood-thirsty Legion as they let out of a blast of wickedly blue flames, engulfing and scorching them to ashes.
Adrian, surrounded by a group of soldiers, grinned happily. This was how he liked it; facing impossible odds armed with nothing but a drawn sword. While the rest of the crew relied heavily on their exceptional gifts, and rightfully so, all he relied on was his increased hardiness and strength. He didn’t need to shoot fireballs or electricity or blink out of danger. He ducked, slicing in a wide circle, cutting through thighs and separating the necessary tendons required to stay standing. Following his attack, he performed a pirouette, and as the soldiers fell the blade sliced their throats, opening up mortal lacerations and tempting floods of blood. In unity, the soldiers smashed to the ground. Unharmed, he glanced around, selected his next group of victims, and stormed sword-first.
Gavin held back at range, utilising his hand-made gun to its full proficiency. Harpoons perforated the air at an accelerated rate, shredding through lines of soldiers as they were busy dealing with the Vanguard assault. None caught by a harpoon stayed standing; more often than not getting fixed to the closest wall. As he reloaded, a crafty solider snuck behind him, wrestling the gun from his hand. The two engaged in a co-ordinated fist-fight. Gavin blocked a low punch, grabbed his assailant by the temples, and then squeezed. The strength of an ordinary human is often regarded as being little, and in the endless route of the multi-verse could be said to be so, but even an ordinary human can push beyond their limits. But Gavin was no ordinary human and so when he applied pressure to the soldier’s head, instead of causing mild discomfort and pain, the skull shattered under the compression, the skin savagely mangled, the eyes popped, ultimately condensing into a torrent of brutal, gruesome particulars. He pulled his hands free from the gory clutter. The soldier’s body plummeted. He flicked his hands to get rid of the worst of the nauseating residues. Retrieving his armament, he skimmed the battlefield for more enemies.
The Vanguards were hastily advancing, making surprisingly easy work of the soldiers. All across the port heavy battles were raging. There were many deaths, both civilian and otherwise, but none could be avoided. Explosions rocked the port. From above it looked like a dazzling light show; blue and red striking across the length of the port, pyrotechnics venting from timed enablers, but the truth was not nearly as docile.
Legion, in the middle of a fight, made a startling observation.
He’ll be causing trouble somewhere.
They extended their mind, distributing curious mental tendrils. Each one selected a different mind and probed inquisitively. No one they scanned held any recollection of seeing Vox. They extended further, hastily searching more minds for an answer, but no one could account for the absent commander.
He has to be here.
Maybe he left. Maybe he saw the Nephilim and ran.
But he was just imbued with more energy, Lilith literally granted him more power. He’s never been stronger!
Why can’t the Ogrohad do that for us?
It’s already too weak, It doesn’t have anything expendable.
They hailed a telepathic distress call to the Nephilim. Though they couldn’t answer in words, a slightly shaped thought confirmed they were on their way.
Adrian, cutting down a line of soldiers, jumped to Legion’s side.
“Where’s Vox?” he asked, repelling a bolt of plasma.
“We don’t know,” they admitted. “Nobody’s seen him. We’ve sent for the Nephilim.”
“I don’t think that’s who we’re getting,” he said, nodding to a tattooed, lavishly armoured man breaching through a barrier of people.
“Stenror,” they said. “Why’d they send you?”
“Because we have a problem.”
The entire port shuddered. The shooting and fighting ceased sharply. Metal groaned.
Legion steadied themselves. “What’s happening?”
“The port is now in critical danger,” said Stenror indifferently. “We have about fifteen minutes before the entire place blows up.”
“What?!” they gasped. “How did that happen?”
“Vox is inside the main engine, ripping it to pieces.”
“Then go stop him!”
“He’s placed a powerful shield over the entrance,” he said.
Is he an idiot?
How can anyone be that stupid? Isn’t he supposed to be in charge of the Vanguard?
After their Nephilim, he is.
“Where are the engines?” they asked.
The port shook violently, throwing many off their feet.
“Passed North Court. There’s nothing we can do to stop the port from falling. We should think of evacuating.”
“How long can any of us survive the vacuum of space?”
“Roughly ten minutes, provided one has enough energy to create a bubble.”
“Then we’ll be fine,” said Legion, launching away.
Adrian and Gavin followed them as they raged through North Court.
“What are you doing?” Gavin asked.
The area was relatively quiet. A few soldiers were hastily dispatched as they moved.
“Apparently Vox is tearing apart the engines and the port has less than fifteen minutes before it explodes.”
“I thought we had an hour?!” Adrian gasped.
“Not anymore,” they said. “He’s placed an unpassable shield at the entrance. The Nephilim can’t get through without burning to death.”
“Stenror said that?”
“Not in so many words. But that’s the only reason we can think of that would stop them breaking through it.”
“Then what are we going to do?”
“Use our initiative,” they said.
They grabbed both men and blinked, stopping when they detected the reverberation of the port’s engines.
The metal dipped, creating a shallow bowl, with a hearty circumference, amidst what looked like an engineer’s graveyard. For reasons unknown, fallow metal constructs beleaguered the zone. There were pipes, cables, cords, beams, scales, and sheets of metal all around. Legion considered it as a junk-yard. The luxury of North Court’s grandiosity was a wave that never broke forth on this desolate beach.
They dropped into the bowl. There was definitive rumbling from below. Legion mutely affirmed this was the correct place.
“What do we do now?” Gavin asked, testing the strength of the metal.
“We break through.”
“A little human creativity,” they said. “This is the roof of the engine room.”
Adrian was cut off by the noise of grinding metal. The bowl dipped further.
“Legion…” Gavin murmured anxiously.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Don’t worry about it!”
The rim of the bowl, as though under a horrendous encumbrance, began to split and fray.
“Legion, this is insane! We could do more damage than good!” Adrian pleaded.
“Don’t worry about it!” they repeated.
The edges buckled horrifically, the sound of which echoed through the surrounding area.
“Legion, what if this doesn’t work?!” Gavin shouted in a panic.
“Don’t worry about it!” they shouted back.
They didn’t have a choice in their mind. Sean would do everything he could to stop this happening- to stop Vox, save the port and protect the ‘verse. He wouldn’t let good people die for nothing. It’s what they did. The metal, to their surprise, was astonishingly robust and thick and required more energy than expected to break. But break it they would. Their mission was no longer Vox’s defeat- it was the safety of everyone involved.
The metal cracked.
The bowl split.
Gavin, groaning but aware of a hostile presence a foot away, leapt to his feet.
The room was no larger than the bowl they’d fallen through and was cylindrically shaped. Immediately in front of Gavin was a narrow tubular socket through which travelled grey piping. Orbicular lights shone radiantly, illuminating a crouching figure ripping the piping to pieces. There was a tentative droning emanating from inside the socket. On his left, a computer conduit, blaring red warning messages, slotted into the wall.
Adrian and Legion moaned.
“Vox!” Gavin shouted.
The crouching figure ceased its gutting and stood. Red tresses of superfluous energy glided around him.
“Could you please shut up?” Vox threatened. “I’m trying to kill you all.”
Legion and Adrian finally rose.
The trio glared at Vox.
“Give it up,” said Legion firmly.
“Why? I’m winning.”
“Look at where you are,” said Gavin. “We’ve got you cornered, you’ve got nowhere to go. You’re outnumbered, outgunned, and you know it. Why else would you throw up a barrier?”
He struck a nerve.
Fire surged from the socket. Gavin flipped backwards, Legion materialised a shield, while Adrian leapt into the stormy inferno, blade drawn and begging for blood. He ignored the scorching pain, trusting his skin to be resilient enough for it not to matter, then brought the sword down. Vox dodged to the side, grabbed him by the throat and pinned him against the wall. Using the hilt of the blade, Adrian fired it upwards awkwardly into Vox’s chin. The strike was disregarded.
Gavin rushed in, tackling Vox to the ground. The two savagely beat each other, throwing punches and brutal jabs, forcing elbows into faces and knees into ribs. Vox got the upper hand, thrusting a fist into Gavin’s shoulder, shattering the bone and piercing the skin. He disengaged, scowling in agony.
Legion blinked into the fight, smashing Vox’s head on the ground. He broke their grasp, snapping their wrist, then blasted them with an unblockable strike of energy that sent them hurtling into the piping.
Adrian recovered, bringing his sword down. The blade sank into Vox’s chest. He roared as the commander reached out, grasped his ankle, and through him channelled a swell of electricity. Adrian forced the blade deeper until it was met with metal. Vox was suddenly upright. Adrian twisted the blade. The commander was undisturbed. A powerful blow of energy struck Adrian to the floor.
As the three tried to recuperate, they sensed an ominous accumulation of static energy building in the tube. Vox was preparing for something big- that much they knew. They clambered out of the tube as quickly as possible.
His entire body blazed a radiant red. Energy poured from him and he quaked fiercely. His face twisted in pain.
Gavin watched him closely. This amount of energy would be causing havoc with the port’s engines. It wouldn’t go unheeded. A shell of power encircled him, rendering him unassailable.
The energy disappeared.
The red vanished.
For a moment, nothing happened.
Around Vox detonated a tubular tower of flames that swept in a fiery loop, burning through everything close-by. It started to revolve, with Vox as its central gear. When he stepped forward, the swirling inferno moved with him. It seemed to be separated into two distinct walls; the greater, outer wall that incrementally expanded every few seconds, and the lesser, inner wall that rotated in the other direction and appeared there mainly for additional protection. Vox’s form was a silhouette in the blaze.
As the outer wall stretched, it scorched more of the metal and piping. The computer conduit boomed furiously before melting. The heat in the room rose to exponential levels. The trio had to focus more energy to reinforce their shields, chary of the elevated temperature.
The fire thundered and cracked, expelling manic embers from its immense and growing body. The sweltering heat commenced to liquefy the contiguous metal. Gavin was awe-struck. The flames were imposing enough but to bring such a dominant thing into actuality and keep it not only alive but flourishing and developing required a surplus of energy unlike anything he’d seen before. Even if Legion blinked them out, Vox was now simply too powerful to stop. His heart sank.
Legion regarded the soaring inferno.
How did he do that?
He’s a man of many talents and a lot of power. He’s fully capable of things we couldn’t dream of doing.
But this… this is beyond anything we’ve known so far.
It’s not just alive and burning, it’s actually growing.
We all know that we can’t stop this, right?
We’re beginning to realise that.
This is power we can’t match.
Are we going to die again?
No one had the guts to answer.
We could try and contain it. At least then the Nephilim might stand a chance.
The amount of power that would require…
It’d be suicide.
One last stand.
For Rachel and Sean.
A sacrifice worth making. At least we’re all in agreement for once.
To our last breath.
They strode forth. The flames burned a metre away and with each revolution steadily paced towards them. They could see, through the intense blaze, Vox’s darkened form waiting for the flames to encompass the whole room. Although they had no real reason to, Legion breathed in. It was a force of habit.
We do this together.
It’s not like any of us could do it alone.
For once, Legion’s mind went silent.
Gathering their reserves, they established the most robust shield they could conjure, strong enough to physically peek into reality. Like a huge pane of glass, it emerged proudly in front of them.
The flames edged onward, spitting at the barricade. Cinders flickered. Legion focused everything into the shield, willing it to be strong.
The fire grazed along the barricade. Legion winced as the shields rippled.
Suddenly, supplementary energy flooded through the shield. They turned. To their left Gavin joined them.
“You’re not doing this alone,” he said.
Another burst of energy coursed throughout the shield. Adrian joined them.
“To the end,” he said.
“Sean is going to be pissed.”
The flames collided with the blockade in full force. The growth spurts stopped. The trio instantly knew they weren’t going to win. The impact alone nearly eradicated the shield completely. As the fire grinded intensely, they all realised they’d have to give it all. The firestorm compelled the shield back.
Legion reached deep, locating their pool of energy, and transferred 90% of it to the shield. They immediately wilted, their senses clouded and their mind squealed. 10% wasn’t enough to live on for a day let alone survive another assault. Blood trickled down their lips.
Sensing their weakness, Gavin grabbed them before they fell. He tried not to let his attention slip from the shield but Legion’s body was upsettingly light.
“Legion?” he asked worriedly.
All they managed was a gurgle.
The fire hissed. The inferno fulminated on, besieging the barrier with its full power. The extra energy provided by Legion stopped the entire thing from buckling but cracks were beginning to form around its boundaries. Red and orange tendrils snuck over the barriers edges, snapping at their targets.
Suddenly swelling in velocity, the blaze’s supremacy rose ten-fold. Vox’s silhouette became more prominent. He was throwing everything he had into shattering the shield. There wasn’t long left.
Adrian and Gavin turned to each other. Both had the same look of defeat in their eyes. They could struggle for as long as they wanted but for them it was over. They might’ve baited Vox into using more energy, hopefully sapping his strength in a future fight, but there was no hope for their escape.
The pair traded nods. There was an unspoken bond. Both of them knew what it meant- ‘to the end’.
The fissures in the shield grew and grew until it looked like a road map. The cracks split through it with such a force that it was simply too much to stop. They had seconds left.
“To the end,” Gavin whimpered, clutching Legion. Adrian dropped to his knees.
The flaming tornado whirled and sizzled. Bending and shattering, the shield bowed.
“We could use your assistance.”
Gavin opened his eyes. The flames burned fervently beside him but offered not a lick. They danced inches away, innocuously waving behind a transparent sheen. A new barrier stood in the former’s place- this one a gleaming and formidable wall.
“What?” he gasped.
“I said- we could use your assistance,” repeated a familiar, deep voice.
He whipped round. Veritas, Pennana and Calignox had broken through Vox’s anti-intrusion field. By directing all of his deliberation to the fight, Vox inadvertently permitted the Nephilim to enter without harm. Their arms were outstretched, lending their strength to the barrier. Adrian expressed relief.
“We don’t have much left to give,” Gavin said wearily.
The shield flickered.
“Very well then,” said Veritas. “Pennana- engage. Calignox- assist.”
Pennana glided through the barrier, straight into the inferno, flapping her wings to disperse the fire, while Calignox created a vacuum around her, protecting her from burning. The firestorm flared wrathfully, sensing its imminent destruction. The outer wall undulated, receding from the barrier to focus on the Nephilim. It couldn’t put so much as a finger on Pennana as she utilised her wings to create enormous blasts of wind. As though in the throes of death, the inner and outer walls of the flaming tower screeched ghoulishly, and through its fiery mass spindly fingers reached out for salvation.
Vox’s silhouette became more and more solid. Gavin could now make out his entire physical form. The commander lunged at Pennana, grasping her wings and forcing her head into the wall. With his foot on the middle of her back, he started to pull.
Veritas, trusting the flames would cause no further damage, dismissed the barrier, allowing Calignox to rush Vox and send him flying through the end of the tube. The metal shattered from the force of the impact, unable to halt the form crashing through it. A circular window of space, with the Earth’s curve peeking on the left, opened up and through it the commander flew. For a few seconds he floated. He stared back at the triumphant Nephilim through the circle, sneering. Liberated from his nose, a few drops of blood dripped down his chin. He was strong- and with Lilith’s gift even more formidable- but the Nephilim were stronger and he knew it. He didn’t stand a chance.
In a puff of thick, blood-red smoke, he vanished.
This was when the port, having taken quite a beating during the battle on deck and scarcely capable of keeping itself afloat, began to fail.
The force-field crunched then fell. The artificial gravity gave up. The engines stuttered to a stop.
The entire port tilted on an axis. Everything went skittering to the right. Gavin, still clutching Legion, expected it, landing on his feet. Adrian went smashing into the wall. The Nephilim, as though stuck to the floor with glue, barely noticed something was amiss.
The one thing Gavin hadn’t expected however, was that the force-field kept the physics of space applying to them. Now that it was gone, so was the air and the synthetic atmosphere.
They floated for a moment before Adrian generated an invisible bubble around them. Such a thing was rudimentary and existed solely to trap air for them to breathe. Sean and Legion were capable of surviving the vacuum of space for long periods of time- since Sean knew how to convert CO2 back into oxygen and Legion was dead and thusly not inflicted by meagre mortal perils- but neither Gavin nor Adrian had spent any time alone in space. They didn’t know how to function within it.
“What do we do?” shouted Adrian, gripping onto the wall.
“I don’t know,” Gavin replied, trying to adjust his perception so the world made sense.
Everything was turning upside down. He started to worry about the Vanguards and any remaining civilians on deck.
“We have to extend our bubble around the port and stabilise it,” he continued, thinking on his feet.
“How do we do that?!”
Gavin shook his head. “I don’t know if we can!”
“We can stabilise the port,” said Veritas, poking into the bubble. The Nephilim, being neither alive nor dead, were untroubled by the vacuum.
“Alright! Stabilise it! Can you keep it afloat?!”
“Yes, but not forever,” he explained. “You’ll have to figure out what to do with it when it’s stabilised.”
The Nephilim kicked off the ground, floating away. Pennana, as the only one truly adapted to a weightless climate, led them out the newly opened window.
“What do we do about Legion?” Gavin asked. Their body lay coldly on the wall.
“I don’t know… Gavin, I just don’t know.”
“Hey! Wake up!” he said, slapping them.
They remained practically spent.
“We could give them energy,” he thought out loud. “Enough to wake them up and make sure they’re okay.”
Adrian woozily wavered. “I don’t know how much I can give.”
Gavin noticed his eyes drooping. Maintaining a bubble dense enough to withstand a vacuum and large enough to hold three people was a fast and easy way to drain your energy reserves. It was starting to take its toll. Adrian’s eyes suddenly rolled to the back of his head. The bubble crumbled.
Grabbing him with his free arm, Gavin held him against the wall. He cursed, rapidly producing his own bubble.
The port shook. The Nephilim were steadying it, he guessed.
He looked at his unconscious friends fearfully. Adrian was breathing, at least, but unless Legion was awake there was no telling what was going on in their head. Their heart didn’t beat, they had no need for air, and any other effective signs of life were utterly absent.
He could feel his own energy draining. His best estimate gave him five minutes to live, provided he didn’t exert himself elsewhere. If Legion was awake, he thought, they could send a distress call. But giving them the last of his dwindling energy would sacrifice himself and Adrian to space. Legion would survive, send out a distress call, but there was no way of knowing how long it would take for someone to reach them. If it was longer than ten seconds then the pair would die. And Legion wouldn’t have energy left to generate a bubble. The alternative was to hold out as long as possible and hope for rescue.
As his vision started to haze, he gawked at the unconscious pair. An impending choice brewed. An impossible choice.
What would Sean do?
Sean would save everyone, he thought wearily.
Then the choice is easy.
His heart jumped. He could save everyone- it was a risk but he need to take it.
He lifted the pair onto his shoulders, allowed the bubble to shrink the furthest it could go, then walked across the wall and out of the bowled roof.
The port was still slightly tilted but the Nephilim were slowly turning it right side up. The metal squeaked grotesquely as it moved. The entirety of the ports surface contents were floating into space. Gavin couldn’t see a few bodies drifting alongside the stalls, bins and garbage. He recognised a few Vanguards but was thankful to see more red-clad men than not.
The port itself was in a desolate, terrorized state. Little remained standing. There were scorch marks, from plasma bolts and no doubt some energy-fused fires, marring the metal all over. The battle had been savage, it didn’t take a genius to see that. Half-destroyed buildings hung from their steel foundations. It seemed what had been left were the discarded skeletons that no one cared about. The port was a floating hearse now. Was there any point in saving it?
His question was answered when, across the port, amassed a huddle of civilians protected in a bubble provided by the surrounding Vanguards. Gavin struggled to identify any of them. His vision started to fail, his legs weakened. His knees buckled. He shouted out to the Vanguards, then remembered sound didn’t travel in a vacuum. It would require more energy to project it directly at a Vanguard. He went to check his reserves, then stopped. He didn’t want to know how much was left.
He summoned what he could. The bubble wavered. Legion and Adrian weight down on him heavily. He panted. Against his will, his eyes started to close.
Not yet, not yet.
Willing his legs to stand and setting aside his deteriorating vision and the mounting pain, he forced himself forward. Each step was excruciating, as though his feet were being dipped in lava. His heart was thumping against his ribs. Every part of him was giving him up- other than his mind. He wasn’t going to let them die.
Like a crippled soldier, he crawled towards hope.
Stenror walked across the port and peered over the edge. Suspended in space, the three Nephilim focused all their energy on balancing the port. Streaming energy buzzed.
As the port rotated, he moved back into formation. The Vanguards had collected all of the civilians they could, ushered them to the centre and protected them from the vicissitudes of space. Many hundreds had perished during the battle. They tried to save what they could but ultimately there was a limit to their defences, leaving a large portion unprotected. Overall, Stenror was pleaded with the result of the battle. He had sensed Vox’s departure- as had the Red Regime. At that point, the soldiers’ resolve faltered, leading to many of them withdrawing. The few that remained were swiftly dispatched.
The survivors would be moved back to the planet as soon as he was sure the port was secure. He studied them. Terror coloured them manic. They didn’t understand what was happening, why the port was suddenly under an incredible attack. Most were covered in blood, cuts or bruises. Loss subdued them. He wondered what their lives would be like from now on; to have survived such an ordeal wouldn’t weigh lightly on the soul. He wondered how many would still be standing after a week.
As his eyes drifted across the marred surface of the port, he spotted movement. Initially believing a few stranded survivors or soldiers, he started toward them. That was when he saw a struggling man he recognised.
Blinking to his aid, he allowed his personal bubble of atmosphere to surround the trio. Legion and… the other one… were out cold. Gavin was striving to stay conscious. His eyes screamed hope and determination, two sentiments his body couldn’t follow through on. Stenror mentally lifted the cataleptic pair, giving Gavin a fleeting respite. His breathing was arduous, sweat gushed down his cheeks. He flopped to the floor. Raising him as well, Stenror moved them all into the survivors bubble.
Unlike a large quota of the Vanguards, Stenror bore no grudge against the Ogrohad’s chosen. He saw them as children, yes, but not as unruly toddlers that irked everyone unfortunate enough to cross their path. Within them they held the potential for true greatness. He particularly liked Rachel. Her straight-shooting attitude was a trait he could empathise with. Sean too tended to be direct and suited his role as leader. Stenror appreciated their company.
Gavin, wheezing and panting, unsteadily rose.
“You…saved…” he rasped and coughed.
“I did,” said Stenror. “But only because you have to decide what happens with the port now.”
“Is it… is it…” He coughed and spluttered. “Is it…fixed?”
“No, it’s not. The Nephilim are steadying it but there’s only so long they’ll hold it for. Decide what happens with it.”
“I should… I should… check with Sean.”
“No,” Stenror said firmly. “You have to decide right now.”
“What are my…choices?”
“You can choose to let the port be blown up once everyone is off board. The remaining debris will be collected before it can harm the planet. You can choose to lower it back onto the planet’s surface and allow the indigenous population the opportunity to fix it. As you can imagine, this is my least favoured option.”
Gavin nodded. “Exposing ourselves to an entire planet. That’s not really how we do things.”
“Precisely. The third option is that you simply allow the port to gravitate to the planet and crash.”
“Why would I choose that?” he gasped. “That’s not an option.”
“It is,” Stenror emphasized. “It is an option. It’s not an option you like but it’s still an option.”
“What else?” said Gavin, ignoring the previous suggestion.
“You can ask the Nephilim to send it off into space,” Stenror continued. “It shouldn’t harm anything.”
“It might crash land on a random planet if it gets caught in orbit.”
“Yes, there is a risk.”
Gavin closed his eyes, considering each option. Blowing it up seemed like the best idea but an entire planet looked to it for inspiration. It would be like taking the most prized possession of every person alive and throwing them all into a furnace, filming it, then sending them the video.
Lowering it back down to the planet could cause serious ramifications. The survivors of the assault would be mind-wiped by the Nephilim, their memories of the occasion replaced with false ones, so that there wouldn’t be any trace of what happened. Waltzing to their front door and exposing their abilities would completely forsake their personal dogma.
The third option wasn’t an option.
Sending the port off floating into space seemed like the best option. But there were variables to consider; the port contained advanced technology and having it involuntarily crashing on an uncivilized planet would cause extreme penalties for the Nexus.
Sean would know what do.
“Send it into space,” he said. “I think it’s our best option.”
“Not what I would’ve chosen but fine,” Stenror said.
“What would you have picked?”
“Have it crash land on the planet,” he said coldly.
“Now you know why the Ogrohad didn’t pick you,” Gavin replied, averting his attention to Legion and Adrian.
The latter slept soundly. Gavin knew he didn’t have to worry about him, he was breathing and alive- it was Legion he was distraught over. The barrier only survived as long as it did because they’d impelled far more energy into it than they should have. Admittedly, Gavin was grateful. But he’d never forgive himself if Legion died because of that.
“Stenror,” he called. “Can you check if Legion is alive?”
“They’re dead,” he sighed. “They have been for a while.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Gavin snapped. “I mean undead. Check if they’re still here.”
Stenror obliged, sensing urgency. He scanned the conglomerates body. Gavin ordered his frenzied senses to subside.
“They’re in a very weakened state,” he said finally. “But nothing some time in the Ogrohad’s presence can’t fix.”
“But,” Stenror continued, “tell Sean to keep an eye on them.”
“I didn’t realise you cared so much.”
“It’s not Legion I dislike.”
“Has anyone ever told you how much of a dick you are?”
“I’m not familiar with that linguistic idiom,” he snorted.
“You are, you just don’t realise it.”
Stenror huffed. The port balanced out.
“Once everything has been dealt with, myself and a few of the Vanguards would like to accompany you to the Ogrohad,” he said.
Gavin would’ve chuckled if he wasn’t so tired.
“We’d like to discuss a few things with Sean,” he explained. Gavin could tell he was holding back.
“What kind of things?”
“Things that don’t concern you.”
“Oh, but they do,” said Gavin. “Anything that concerns one of us, concerns all of us.”
“I’m sure if that’s true Sean will tell you everything. But I’m not telling you anything.”
“I’m not your enemy.”
“You’re not my ally. You just happen to know people that are.”
Gavin scoffed derisively, flaunting a cold shoulder to the Vanguard leader. Stenror unfeelingly walked away to inform the Nephilim of the choice Gavin made.
Rachel demolished a meal of ham-wrapped chicken topped with cheese, served with a side order of bacon and washed down with the closest mimicry of coffee she could find, trying to find comfort on the cold ground of the main cavern. She didn’t want to sit there, of course, but since Sean refused to leave the main cavern until the ‘three stooges’ returned, she wasn’t left with much of a choice.
“Why aren’t they back yet?” he said anxiously, pacing the length of the room.
“I don’t know, Sean,” she answered wearily. This conversation was on its tenth re-run.
“You should be able to find out where they are!” he called to the Ogrohad.
Find them I cannot, in the Nexus’ blind spot they are caught
“Hey!” Rachel exclaimed, turning to face the gaping hole. “Why do you not rhyme when it’s only you and Sean? When anyone else is around you rhyme.”
There was silence.
“Hey! I asked you a question!”
“Rachel, please don’t antagonize God.”
She mumbled a few curse words under her breath then returned to feverishly destroying her plate of food.
“They should be back by now,” Sean muttered. “They should be back.”
“You don’t know how long it’ll take.”
“It shouldn’t be this long. It should never take this long. What if something’s gone wrong? Oh, something’s gone wrong. Something’s gone wrong and they don’t know how to fix it. I should never have been talked into staying. Those idiot Vanguards better have showed up! Of course they didn’t show up, why would they show up? They never show up when we call them. I’m gonna find Stenror, I’m gonna drag him to-”
Three of the mirrors shimmered. Sean whipped around.
First to enter was Gavin. Sean exhaled relief.
They’re okay, they’re okay, they’re…
In his arms Gavin carried an immobile Legion.
“What’s wrong with them?!” he exploded. “What happened? Are they okay?!”
“They ran out of juice,” Gavin said tiredly. “We all did. Apparently all they need is a little time in here and they’ll be okay.”
Sean nearly hyperventilated. “You ran out of energy? You ran out of energy?!”
“Can we please just get them in here and safe?”
Behind him followed Stenror, carrying Adrian. Sean nearly flipped out.
“Are you kidding me?!”
“He’s alive,” said Stenror.
“Well, that’s all right then! That’s absolutely fan-fucking-tastic! He’s alive!”
“He’s pretty weak though. I suggest-”
“Shut up,” ordered Sean firmly. There was a dangerous look in his eyes. Stenror complied.
Grabbing the unconscious Adrian, Sean heaved him closer to the Ogrohad and laid him beside Legion. His head relieved a little upon hearing seeing his chest move. The Ogrohad’s immediate presence had a passive rejuvenating effect; with the potential to heal minor wounds and restore energy reserves. If the team were cars, the Ogrohad was a gas station.
“What happened?” he whispered to Gavin, who was lying on the ground, collecting his thoughts.
“The Red Regime attacked,” he said. “Vox tore the engine to pieces. The whole thing went to crap pretty quickly. We had to expend a lot of power to stay alive. Stenror saved us.”
“That piece of… he saved you?”
“We’d have died if it wasn’t for him.”
“Urgh,” moaned Sean. This would mean ‘thanks’ are in order.
He turned to Stenror, breathed in and swallowed his pride, then extended a hand of gratitude. Stenror accepted it.
“It was pretty rough going for a while,” he said. “I wasn’t sure your little comrades were going to make it.”
“They’re stronger than they look,” said Sean through clenched teeth.
“We have a few things to discuss with you.”
All of the mirrors started to shimmer. Groups of Vanguards flooded through. Sean raised an eyebrow.
“Do any of those things explain why our home now has a hundred, bloody, sweaty soldiers walking through its doors?”
“Then I’m all ears,” murmured Sean unconvincingly. “Through this way.”
They disappeared into the main living area. Rachel moved to follow but recalled Legion and Adrian. She couldn’t leave them alone. Especially with so many Vanguards around. A few of them pointed to her, nudging each other and snickering like school-kids. Even a few of the girls joined in.
“HEY!” she shouted. “Shut the hell up!”
Instantly there was silence. She got to her feet and angrily stomped to the core of the clustered group.
“Something funny?” she asked, glaring at them.
“No,” one of them whispered. She latched on to them.
“Then why are you laughing?”
“We weren’t,” he said. He looked about the same age as her, Rachel guessed, but that only meant appearance-wise. He was likely much, much older than her. She forced a smile to stay hidden. This aeons-old man cowered in fear of her. And she liked it.
“What were you doing then?” she quizzed.
“We were… I don’t know.”
Rachel looked at them all surrounding her and felt a tinge of superiority. These Vanguards were technically under her charge.
“Everybody!” she shouted. “Touch your toes!”
They all bent over.
“Touch your knees!”
They all complied.
“Shout ‘I am an idiot.’”
“I am an idiot,” they shouted in unison.
“Now, two of you go into the kitchen and make me the best meal of your lives. Go!”
As two split off from the group and sprinted away, she shouted, “and make it sure it has olives! I’m craving olives right now!”
A few hours later Adrian and Legion woke. They too found discomfort in having a host of Vanguards take up the main cavern. Rachel had spent the day forcing them to clean the bedrooms and even held a competition to see who could get closest to the Ogrohad without passing out. They considered it blasphemy, she considered it her entertainment for the day.
“What did Stenror talk to you about?” she asked Sean.
They were in the main living area catching up. A blue fire heated the room. Stenror and the Vanguards left some time ago, leaving in a hurry after Rachel suggested a game of energy-dodgeball.
“Stuff,” he said gruffly. He hadn’t spoken much. Rachel kicked him playfully.
“Come on,” she insisted. “What kind of stuff?”
He knocked his head against the back of his chair.
“The stuff that happened three months ago.”
“Yeah,” he said, sighing.
“What about it?”
“He wanted to know what Jack and Emily found out,” he said. Rachel furrowed her brow.
“They found out that Vox is dangerous,” she said. “They weren’t sent to gather information.”
“That’s what I told him. He was adamant that one of them must’ve discovered some long lost Pantheon secret or stumbled across a new type of weapon.”
“Are we supposed to be expecting that?”
“I didn’t think so.” He stretched his legs and yawned.
“But now we are?” she pressed.
“He told me that we should always expect the Pantheon to try and get the drop on us.”
“And what did you tell him?”
“The truth- that Jack and Emily found nothing. Nothing they told me about, anyway.”
“And what did he say?”
“He said ‘okay’.”
Rachel circled the flame. Talk of Jack and Emily was scarce these days. No one mentioned their names in the same sentence.
“What else did he ask about?” she continued to question him.
“He asked about you,” he said. “But almost everyone does so there’s nothing weird there.”
She looked into the empty main cavern, her mind drifting away from her. She didn’t hear Sean talking. On the horizon sailed the crowded ship of the future. She was no longer sure who was on board.
“Sean,” she said, cutting him off mid-sentence, “we couldn’t beat Vox.”
“We kind of did,” he said. “The Nephilim did anyway.”
“They didn’t kill him,” she reminded him.
“No, I know-”
“And the more powerful Lilith gets, the weaker they become. One day they won’t be able to save us. And we’re supposed to be the stronger ones.”
Sean rubbed his eyes. The long day was exhausting him.
“So what are we supposed to do?” she asked. The question hung like a knife in the air.
“The next step is pretty obvious,” he said. “There’s only one place we’re going.”
“And then what?”
“And then we continue.”
“Until one day…”
He embraced her from behind.
“Don’t think like that,” he told her. “If you want to think about the future, think about how wonderful it’s going to be. We only know a tiny sliver of what we’re about to do. Once we’re passed that, we’ll know a tiny sliver more. No one can see the future, no one knows what’s going to happen, no one can say what lies at the end of the road, but you still have to walk on it. That’s why we’re doing this. We’re here for the future, we’re here to save it. That’s what you should focus on- the weird, wonderful future.”
“So I’m supposed to forget that a vengeful, wrathful god is trying to kill us with her army of near-immortals commanded by a true immortal that can incinerate a planet with a single thought?”
He thought for a moment.
“Yes,” he replied.
She sighed. He always tried to make her feel better. It was one of the reasons she loved him. But sometimes there were certain things that no matter what he commented could never be properly quelled. Lilith and Her duty of punishment was one of those things. She stayed up late at night, staring at the ceiling, recalling every moment of the last eight months that pulverised her equilibrium. The strain was vindictively rending her. The more she considered the future, the more she felt it weigh her down.
“Come on,” he said, sensing her retreating into dark thoughts, “let’s go see Jack.”
“Is he awake?”
“We can find out.”
They walked hand in hand through the main cavern, where Legion, Adrian and Gavin were arguing over a game of cards.
“That’s not how you play the game!”
“That’s how we played it!”
“Then you all played it wrong!”
“Guys, calm down. It’s just a game!”
“Shut up. You don’t care because you can’t win anymore!”
“I can win… can’t I?”
“No, see, we have these cards here.”
“Wait, what game are we playing?”
Thunderous roars erupted from all three.
The couple wandered through to the bedrooms. At the second opening, they ducked right and entered Jack’s bedroom. He was sitting against the headboard.
“You’re up!” Rachel exclaimed happily.
“Yeah, I’m up,” he confirmed. He was clearly weak; his voice barely travelled the length of the room and he was gently quivering.
“You all right?” Sean enquired, checking his pupils.
“No,” he admitted with a cough. “I feel like…”
“Like you went twelve rounds in the ring with Vox?”
“Twelve rounds… ring… what is that?”
“It’s an expression that- actually, never mind.”
Rachel took a seat on the foot of the bed.
“You gave us quite the scare,” she said.
“I remember… I remember getting home. I remember you guys fixing me up. I don’t remember getting dressed.”
“Legion did it,” Sean said. He checked Jack’s pulse. “Do you want anything?”
“A glass of water, please,” he said, smacking his lips.
“I’ll get you some in a minute.”
“What happened after I got home?” he asked.
Sean and Rachel filled him in. For the entire story he was silent. Not a single emotion made itself known.
“What did Stenror want to know?” he asked after.
“He wanted to know if…” Sean considered lying. “He wanted to know if you or… He wanted to know if you found anything when you last encountered Vox.”
“I don’t know. I told him you didn’t find anything.”
Jack’s head sagged.
“He didn’t just ask if I found anything, did he?”
“No,” Sean admitted. “Did… do you think…”
“I don’t know,” said Jack. He sighed.
“We can find that out later,” offered Rachel.
He stared vacantly. Pain wrought his eyes darker.
“I’m going to rest up,” he mumbled sadly, pulling the covers over. “Stay safe, guys.”
Sean and Rachel exited. Neither wanted to press him any further. Whatever Stenror was after, he didn’t have it. Back into the main chamber they walked, where the juvenile trio were now strangling each other.
“You cheating bastards!”
“We don’t cheat!”
“Yes, you do!”
“Get your hands off me!”
“This is pointless!”
“I’ll throw you into the Ogrohad’s pit!”
There was a deep rumble.
None shall enter here, you will desist or fear
“Way to ruin the mood, Ogro!”
“Yeah, we were having a good time until you piped in!”
They sat down next to them, grabbing a pack of cards and diving into the game. To them, it felt almost like a family. A highly dysfunctional, stressful family but a family of their own all the same. Thoughts of the future dispersed. While they were there, among friends and loved ones, the future was a path they wanted to walk. They would walk it together.
Off to the side, in the archway that connected the main cavern to the main living room, unbeknownst to the group, a shady figure watched curiously. The connectivity of life was a mystery to it- how lower lifeforms could band together in a belligerent crisis, fall out moments later, yet rely on one another for everything. It wasn’t used to relying on others. It was a solitary creature.
Through glassy eyes it watched them laugh and jest, knowing too well that the journey of the future was an arduous, lengthy trek that would likely destroy the conceived bonds of friendship. Still, it hoped, they would overcome this difficulty and rise to the god-like status they needed to be. Without them, Lilith would succeed, the Nexus would collapse, the Ogrohad would perish, and the entirety of the multi-verse would be lost.
Ygssrettfurr chuckled lightly and checked his pocket watch. Time was running out.