The Twenty-Second Chapter
The boy asks himself, who he will be. The man asks himself, who he is. The elder asks himself who he was. The one who is God, asks nothing. – Gnomon.
It had been some time since Fawn had decided to join the fight against the Aeolipile. She had thrown herself into the difficult pipeline it took to become an active soldier, a mechanically enhanced fighter on par with those that were Eaters, the pride of the Nazareth. They had grown in number as well as overall strength, able to beat back Deathless forces even though they were outnumbered. On their side was technology, Deicide had refused to use Negation weapons, even as he watched his armies slaughtered in blood soaked fields. After a battle Fawn had always made it a point to linger behind, hoping she could catch a glimpse of Deicide from inside one of the hangers.
“Come back to bed,” Secant said. Fawn rolled her eyes and grabbed a bottled water from the kitchen. As she walked back to her bedroom she passed Flechette’s room, the woman was already up, religiously maintaining her equipment. Lechwe was across the hall, contorted into some indescribable shape amongst the covers. She hopped over Secant and shimmied back into bed.
“So what are we gonna do today?” Fawn said.
“Eh?” Secant said.
“We can’t lie around all day,” Fawn said.
“Sure we can. Watch,” Secant said, as he lay as flush as he could against the bed.
“Fucker,” Fawn said, pinching him. The two lay tangled together for some time, until Secant noticed some of Fawn’s newest bruises, he kissed each one. They were unusually dark.
“They’ve been rough on you,” Secant said.
“Eco doesn’t believe in wearing the floating armor during training,” Fawn said.
“Yeah. She’s like that. She wants you to always be tougher than the competition,” Secant said.
“I don’t think eaters actually feel pain though,” Fawn said.
Secant dragged his fingertips across her back where the umbilical plug had been, the mounts, now fused with her body would stay, as well as the small well where vestige was stored, removing the rest of the apparatus would cripple her. Many of those that were forced to come off their daily supply of vestige reported being fatigued and sick for months after the withdrawal, but Fawn felt fine, causing her physicians to give her strange looks. Still, the well sitting against her left kidney remained empty.
Fawn fell back onto her pillow and saw the blinking, scramble light, any moment the entire complex would begin to blare with sounds of battle preparations. She turned down the volume of her antlers and snatched a pair of ear muffs from her night stand, harshly throwing them over Secant’s head. As soon as the siren went off, Lechwe screeched and began to fumble about the room. Flechette was already suited and began to wrestle Lechwe into her own battle garments. Fawn quickly dressed in her suit, so much reminding her of an eater’s Skid. Secant had already dashed from the room, and Fawn shook her head. She had reminded him the duty personnel were to practically live in their equipment, but she had seen for herself the type of soldiers Deicide’s army created, death meant nothing to them, even when it was certain to be permanent.
Out on the plaza, small cars were waiting to take the fighters to the launching station; the drivers looked worse off than the fighters did, frantically waiting for passengers. As each one filled, it shot off toward the station. Fawn and her support team, Lechwe and Flechette fell into the back of a car and slapped the driver on the shoulder. They barreled forward, through waves and cheers of the civilian populace. For the first time Fawn realized she was fighting for something that actually mattered, not a rare mineral mine, or some noble’s pride, but against a real oppression that had been called sanctuary by those that created it.
Fawn grinned as she saw Secant race past the little car on foot. It had been explained to her that when certain individuals had spent a considerable time as an Eater, their body continued to produce the chemicals which enabled their freakish strength, as long as they were given a primer. The scientists onboard the Nazareth had created their answer to the inert vestige, but it was only useful to those who had been exposed to pure vestige, and those that had resided in Deicide’s closest ranks.
The car stopped abruptly and the women dispersed, Lechwe went to grab their unit’s allotment of negation shells as Fawn and Flechette prepared their gear. They both slipped on another suit over the one they were wearing, it was covered in contact pads; plates that would keep hold of the Floating Armor when not in use. Flechette began to slap on the cross-shaped armor plates, for Fawn. Fawn was using the ‘Domino’ load out, for an aggressor, while Flechette and Lechwe would use the larger, single-layer plates of the support team. When Lechwe returned they began to load their weapons, just as someone brought Fawn’s Toy Box to her, fresh from being modified to fire Negation rounds. She kissed it just when a civilian happened to be taking a picture of the crew.
Ecocide emerged from the darkness on the catwalk, followed by her sisters, Genocide and Vivicide.
“Obviously something’s up. But Deicide’s down there and I refuse to pass this opportunity,” Ecocide said.
“He seems to be working them up into a frenzy, don’t expect this one to be easy,” Genocide said.
Moments later they were jumping through the hanger doors, through their own folds in space, and into a grim and rainy forest. The planet had breathable air, but their faceplates were down and as they began to creep through the trees, they smelled a strange scent. Ecocide and her siblings led the attack, bouncing off the sides of trees so they could see farther ahead. The wet darkness they were trudging through was extremely uninviting, the cloudy sky practically scowled at them from above. Deicide seemed to have a penchant for the grim and macabre, someone now on the Aeolipile was possibly taking photos that would inspire a painting that would hang in his infamous hall of heroes.
Fawn cycled her weapon out of habit; she liked to feel the ammo revolving inside. They heard an air siren and immediately stopped to listen; Fawn’s eyes darted back and forth across the gray horizon, finding nothing. Once Ecocide gave the order to move once again, they pressed on and as they came to the clearing, they saw Deicide sitting at the edge of a lake. He was alone, antennas glowing red in the dark backdrop, artificially created by the Abyss.
Fawn’s chest tightened, knowing it was a trap, but was unable to perceive where its edges lie. Ecocide returned to the ground with a heavy wet stomp, halting the force. Deicide looked up, his diamond eyes twinkling in the gloomy, partial light. Ecocide nodded toward Flechette, who began to setup for a shot. As she laid into prone position Deicide began to wave lazily.
“Hold it,” Ecocide said.
“Aw fuck no. Who the fuck does he think we are? We grew up with this punk; I helped him run this game,” Genocide said.
“Yeah, I bet Hellmouth and White are itching to pop out,” Vivicide said looking up at the trees.
“But where are the eaters?” Ecocide said.
“More than likely in the lake,” Genocide said.
“That isn’t a lake; it’s some kind of peninsula. Look,” Secant said, pointing to the left and right of them.
“Hey!” someone shouted. Before Ecocide could give the word to retreat their entire flank was met with a wall of the void. From the folds of the physical darkness that had emerged, an array of eyes and tortured feminine moans. It shot up and over their heads, until they were encased in a lightless dome. Fawn immediately began firing, her face lit up by the muzzle of her weapon. The Negation rounds tore temporary holes in the structure of the Abyss, but were quickly filled and she was amused by their persistence.
The Abyss was as large as she had ever been, their negation rounds could not begin the chain reaction which would be needed to weaken her, so that it would leave her pup vulnerable. The Abyss’ screams blared through their communication equipment, leaving them practically deaf on top of being blind. Unseen black tendrils sliced through the air around Fawn’s person; she heard them crash through the armor of her allies, they hollered as the oily javelins gushed poison into their bodies. The countless voices of the Abyss laughed at the anguish she had caused, the kind of madness one only remembers from a nightmare, the type of chaos very few could survive unscathed.
The sound of metal warping was heard as the infinite mouths devoured the guts of those that had been speared, eating them from the insides. As Fawn witnessed the atrocities surrounding her, not once did the Abyss attack her. In fact her inky fibers seemed to go out of their way to avoid contact with the woman. She remembered that an unusual privilege had been forced upon her by Deicide’s wife and now the Abyss was her hellish sister-in-law; or perhaps a mother-in-law?
In the light of a few red flares their group had managed to light off, Fawn saw the Lionesses had finally engaged Deicide. She watched as Deicide fought the women with a lazy grin on his face, looking completely relaxed as he blocked and redirected their attacks. His movements appeared overly rehearsed, like a simple math equation chiseled into some impossibly hard stone; the outcome would always be the same. As she crossed in the darkness surrounding her, the Abyss barred her passage. She fired a short stitch of shells to free her path, but this alerted Deicide to her presence. As if Fawn had called his name, Deicide turned toward her, then grabbed Vivicide by the face without looking and rammed her head into a black spike that the Abyss had provided. The Abyss pumped herself inside the woman’s body until vestige bled from every orifice. Inside her body, every cell was being reprogrammed so that it would fall into lockstep with the Abyss’.
Overtaken by rage Ecocide surged toward Deicide, slashing impotently with her claws as he backpedaled into the Abyss. Fawn urged Genocide to calm her sister while she looked for a way out. She found Flechette maintaining a sizeable hole in the Abyss towards the way they had come; she fired into it at steady intervals. The woman shuffled amongst the mutilated bodies inside the dome until they reached the tear in the black space. Outside was considerably brighter compared to the madness inside, Fawn thought as she was pushed through the hole. As Ecocide attempted to escape the Abyss, the creature oozed over the hole, sealing her in. As the women concentrated their fire, the Abyss’ eyes turned outward and flared up at them as Deicide stepped through casually. As they continued to lay suppressive fire upon him, all rounds were absorbed by the Abyss, her seemingly infinite mass continued to bleed from an unseen source as the Negation shells found her lightless walls.
Deicide raised his hands as they emptied their magazines. Fawn attempted to reload her weapon, but Genocide stopped her by placing a hand over the Toy Box. Fawn scowled at the woman, but then caught the faces of Flechette and all the others who had made it out alive. Flechette, Secant and many more retreated with a subtle signal from Fawn. The Abyss giggled as she dumped a pile of dry, shattered bones drained of their marrow.
“Something for you to bury,” Deicide said, grinning like a wolf god. His uniform was still creased and dry despite the storm of wet entrails that took place within the folds of the Abyss. Genocide lunged forward, but she stopped short as the Abyss blocked her path. Fawn could hear the voices of the Abyss in her own mind. She felt the presence of ancient women around her, whispering to her about the great success of their Last Son.
“Go,” Fawn said, as she activated her floating armor. The plus shapes lit up and began to orbit her frame. Genocide started to leave, but then paused and turned back to Deicide.
“You return with your people,” Deicide said. Fawn urged Genocide to leave, and as soon as the two were left alone silence filled the space between them. The Abyss waited far behind Deicide not wanting to attack Fawn. Fawn watched as Deicide spread his killbox far into the woods, behind her visor Deicide’s sovereignty gave off a bluish hue. She held the Toy Box in front of her, just above the knees. She tried to slow her pulse and listen to the monstrous echoes from Deicide’s mind. Besides the choir of the Abyss moaning praises of encouragement, she could also hear the whispers from signals that crossed into Deicide’s mind, fleeting, nothing remotely intelligible. The minds of Fawn and Deicide were linked now; somehow, she could hear what he could. She wondered how anyone could put up with this and still remain sane; there were so many, some babbling, others voicing unrelated concerns. She was startled by Deicide’s sovereignty pressing against her suit, the only thing keeping her away from his influence inside the killbox. It radiated a field which diverted the forceful pulses being sent from Deicide.
“You rush toward a death that is certain,” Deicide said.
“Nothing is certain,” Fawn said.
“My victory is,” Deicide said.
“By whose word?” Fawn said.
“The Abyss,” Deicide said.
“That thing is nothing more than a mirror of your own delusion,” Fawn said.
Deicide grinned. “Those aren’t your words,” Deicide said.
“Are they true?” Fawn said.
“No,” Deicide said, looking back towards the Abyss. “She’s a promise.”
Fawn hefted her weapon and fired where her mind told her Deicide was to be next, but her physical reaction was far too slow. In the time it had taken her to send a message to her brain to tell her muscles to move, he had already crossed the space between them and found his way to her flank. The Toy Box converted to the laser saw as she spun around. Deicide caught the weapon, the laser blade singed the inside of his forearm as he crushed and warped the weapon with strength alone. Fawn snatched the weapon away and sent the battering ram towards his face. As the blunted end of the object came into contact with Deicide’s scarred hand, the pressurized gas released and shot backwards out of Fawn’s grip. The Toy Box skidded away across the damp ground before the jaws of the Abyss; she consumed and wrenched it apart inside her folds. Fawn’s punches and kicks were useless against Deicide, not even bothering to dodge them; instead, he grabbed her limbs mid-strike and tossed them away.
“The Lionesses were only a threat because they gave everything,” Deicide said. “Luckily Abyss gives much more.”
Fawn opened her visor and switched off her suit, ignoring the screams in her mind telling her no. As the singing of the Abyss became louder and louder she realized that it was coming from her own mind, the Abyss was already with her, telling her that she had no reason to fight Deicide, but there was also another. Fawn ignored the cries, but the touch never left. She could feel a presence slithering underneath her skin and over her eyelids. It was then that a new presence made his level of coexistence known; Fawn could feel her arteries bulge as the creature lined her arterial walls. Then her heart was caressed by a frigid claw and Fawn expelled a frosty vapor from her lips. Fawn had never believed in a God theory, but she was sure, if one did exist, it would feel exactly as she felt now. Her sovereignty began to spill over into Deicide’s, forming a dogbox; the two sovereignties inside were shoved violently against one another. She felt so sick to her stomach she doubled over, her veins shone black across her beige skin. The rapid beating of her heart was accompanied by a strange chatter, unintelligent voices babbling to her consciousness.
“That’s it,” Deicide said.
Unable to hold in the boiling stew in her gut any longer, Fawn wretched up a thick gray paste. The material swirled around her legs and feet, bubbling and writhing until a face emerged at its surface. Fawn recoiled and fell over backwards; the gray sludge crawled up and over her knees and pooled onto her stomach. Its creamy eyes widened as she took notice of them, a jagged white grin formed just beneath them. It began to speak in hundreds of tongues, sounding as if someone was tuning a cosmic radio, and then as if by magic Fawn could understand this mass speak. As she rose she could see that the Abyss was smiling with her eyes; the connection between them severed. Fawn’s body had finally transformed the vestige material into something useable; it was a miracle she had not died before the process was complete.
The gray vestige flared its long and flat, ribbon arms, slowly wafting behind Fawn like a great idyllic sun, it was Long Arms. Deicide approached casually as the Abyss loomed over him like an ominous black cloud. With each breath Fawn could feel the union become more and more complete, this new entity, this other, was parsing her every memory, consuming what it felt was pertinent. Then suddenly her hate for Deicide drained away, and there was only a concern for her brother, the animalistic malice she had struggled with her entire life was encapsulated by this strange creature, her hate had a face and it shown itself just behind her head; a grinning white-eyed monster. Her vestige clung to her shoulders and wrapped itself around her arms, where it hung like a grey shawl. It snickered rudely at thoughts most decent people kept to themselves, in attempt keep society civilized. It was then she realized what this creature was, an embodiment of the wicked little devil and pious angel that sat on each shoulder, but this being was much more honest than the pair; pure consciousness, pure impulse.
Suddenly, the Abyss needled the earth around Fawn with her black tendrils. She avoided them easily and prepared for Deicide’s rush. As he struck at blinding speeds Fawn anticipated the attacks as they moved within all space of the dogbox. It was almost as if gravity did not exist. As she fell upwards into the night sky, she repelled downward as the Abyss arced to slice at her. She touched down, but soon leapt away as giant black thorns peppered the trees around her. It took all of her focus to avoid the jaws of the Abyss snapping and gnashing all around her. From behind her Deicide emerged from the ocean of the Abyss and ripped at the vestige that surrounded her. She watched as the scars at the corners of his lips tore open to allow his jaws to increase their circumference. He thrust the gray vestige he had torn away into his mouth and chewed it like a wad of gum. Fawn had been completely surrounded by the Abyss and only Deicide remained in the darkness, the only light available was coming from his antennas.
To Fawn it seemed they had battled for an eternity within the black dome, her muscles were beginning to shake and her teeth felt loose. She could no longer dodge the Abyss or Deicide. He had consumed most of her vestige and she felt as though she would collapse in front of him if they went on any longer. Deicide grinned as the Abyss nailed her to the ground with black spears. She struggled to sit up, but one was driven straight through her left shoulder. Two through her legs had broken both of her femurs. As the Abyss snatched her tendrils back unmercifully, she giggled and drew herself away, revealing the night sky once more. She happily shrank back to her usual size, and formed around Deicide like a cloak. Fawn desperately struggled to raise her head as the remaining vestige plugged her wounds to avoid her bleeding out.
Deicide knelt over her and brushed her pink bangs out of her face. Her head trembled as she desperately strained her muscles to move, but she was helpless to stop him. She looked up into his eyes, hating him, wanting to taste his blood. A bitter taste filled her mouth, the vestige was secreting pain relievers into her system, and she closed her eyes and waited for the cold embrace of death.