The Seventh Chapter
It was all the madness God could imagine, set free to grow and twist under its own accord. Nothing was its purpose, and yet from this, was how everything came to be. From this world, it would seem that if fate did exist, it was written at the atomic level. – Message inscribed on the Aeolipile’s main reactor.
Deicide woke from the burning sensation in his nose, the membrane filter in his nostrils had liquefied and dripped onto his lips, it meant that his umbilical connection had been severed and he would have to breathe normally. He confirmed it with a hard look at his umbilicals, they acted as pipes directly to his life support system, without the link through folded space, Deicide was cut off from necessities beyond food, air, and water, but also a murky brown solution, known as halcyonic cider. This liquid calmed the bestial properties of an eater’s power, without this chemical Deicide and his troops were less than savage dogs.
Though cannibalistic and inefficient, the Deathless had remained undefeated, but after seeing Deicide devour the heart of a conquered tribe leader, Nott began to develop a chemical substitute that would allow them to channel their predatory focus. This led to the discovery of killboxes soon after, a technique Deicide considered invaluable, but with he and the Abyss running dry of their nutrients, it would not be long before they were experiencing the dark cravings.
Deicide reached for a small pouch clipped to his belt behind him, he punctured the seal with a sharp index finger and retrieved the emergency supplies. After he had allowed the last of the pure vestige to drain on the ground, he began to apply an epoxy resin to seal his damaged umbilicals. He sat holding them, waiting for the substance to harden. With little vestige in them, the umbilicals were dead weight, and lay impotently on the deck. Then he checked to make sure his locator beacon was working properly, but found that it was already dead. He wanted to be angry at whoever had gun-decked this bit of maintenance, but this piece of equipment was new, and nothing faulty was even allowed to leave the factories operating for Aeolipile use, each item was tirelessly machine tested, though he could not be so sure of manufacturing for the Districts.
From the folds in his tattered uniform top the Abyss stared up at him, the size of a softball even after consuming the drained vestige, she was completely harmless; the impenetrable shell of security provided by the Abyss and the Deathless had been torn away. Deicide’s new found vulnerability forced a tremble through his spine and suddenly the surrounding air was much colder than before. With each movement he could feel his muscles burning the energy he needed to live, while connected to the Aeolipile he was immortal, but once out of pocket, Deicide and the Abyss were fuel glutton vehicles with considerable-sized holes in their tanks.
He wondered when the rebels would arrive to place him in shackles, but none came; no one came, to his surprise. Surely the torturing of the cyborgs that threw him down that tunnel had carried on quickly enough. Where was White? Hellmouth? Where were the people that loved him? He shouted ‘hello’ a few times and rocked on his backside a few moments, before speaking words that all of his surrogate mothers and fathers had beaten out him as a child.
“Help!” Deicide said, knowing he would sound twice as pathetic in the enemies’ ears, triple in Hellmouth’s. After shouting a few more times, he was overcome with impatience and shame, hoping no one had heard at all. He was one of the few that made it, the only male no less, they had expected him to die with the others, but she did not. They had made a deal, Deicide thought as he glanced down at the Abyss, her yellow eyes had now consumed most of her total mass.
This new silence was strange to him, not only did he hear nothing around him, but his mind was quiet as well, and there but a single mind, only the brain inside his skull was accessible to him. The Amanuenses’ constant updating, now gone, he had even lost the old message traffic from this morning. Nott was gone too then, if he was severed from the Amanuensis, then surely he had lost connection with her. Any previous silence between him and his wife had been done voluntarily by one of them. How he wished now that he possessed Nott’s wretched telepathy channel, if only to tell her not to worry, that he was alive and would kill whoever dared to separate the two of them, no matter how brief.
Deicide had enough and started his legs moving, dragging his dead umbilicals behind him; he trudged along a winding tunnel littered with exhausted and broken weapons of all types, from gauss rifles to crude spears. Long extinguished flames had scorched the walls, warping the polished arches above, like the pregnant underbelly of some street dog. The roads were pocked with gaping craters; around their perimeter were corpses whose insides were completely exposed to the open air. Nothing about this disgusting scene bothered Deicide, except for the fact that it had not been cleaned up yet, unless they were stacked in piles in the processing factory, he detested seeing bodies strewn about in his Districts.
From his surroundings Deicide could see that the rebel forces had not folded easily, but there was no enemy that could match his Deathless array. As he moved on he noticed that the walls were abnormally decayed, he could not have fallen far from Altura, yet this place looked more in common with the Fringes, which resided at the very end of the city platters, the very back of the ship’s entirety. He wondered how any District could be this far gone without alerting the automated systems monitoring the cities figures. Time had battered this sector more than any battle could, enormous gashes split through the walls from rust, verdigris caked over every copper surface. He caught the sight of a calibration tag for a pressure gauge and was puzzled by the inscription. His wife was very stringent about small details and he was instantly perturbed by the serial numbers being stamped where the date should have been. This check was done by a machine; it lacked the ability to make mistakes, even if one were to manipulate the calibration tag under the machine’s stamp it would wait indefinitely until the right place appeared.
The tunnel opened to a deranged assembly of structures, with Deicide instantly recognizing the Aeolipile’s internal architecture crammed into the street before. He climbed over several twisted roadblocks and into his once noble vessel. The glossy sheen of the walls had been worn away; he rubbed his sharp fingers along a plaque that had a mirror finish just this morning. Calling out only returned the sound of his own voice to his ears, which came back increasingly apprehensive and forlorn. It pained him to look at the destruction surrounding him; he wondered what universal force was so grand that even the Aeolipile could not curb its sway. He wondered if his rival, the Nazareth, had grown so embittered by their impotence in combat that they had sent themselves on a suicide mission. This amount of damage would have to be cosmic in scale. For Deicide to be able to cross into his ship from a District as far down the platter queue as Altura, it would have to be nearly tied into a knot.
Further he journeyed through the wreckage of his ship, its halls only lit by emergency lighting and a blue glowing mold he found more of as he came closer to the executive offices. As he crossed the long deactivated moving walkways he looked over the side through the cracked transparent floors that ran above and beneath him; an immense growth of vegetation was present, encompassing nearly every surface in varying abundance. Thousands of species of plant life spiraled down into the shaft of shattered floors; flora he knew should be extinct had completely taken over this portion of the ship. Roots of some great tree had torn their way throughout the immense multi-level gallery, warping the enormous layered bulkheads, twisting thousands of miles of hallways and catwalks into some galactic scaled needlework. It amazed him that this place could become so convoluted and yet maintain an atmosphere, surely there must be a leak somewhere, but here he was breathing moist, sweet air provided by this strange habitat.
He pressed onward into the office complex, strangely left somewhat intact by the legion of creepers and shrubbery. Desperately he searched for a functioning terminal; most were shattered, strangled by vegetation, and those that were, able to be powered by the emergency hand cranks, were displayed in some garbled machine language. He failed to understand why his wife refused to use one programming language for all. As he began to move his fingers across the faint holographic keyboard flickering from the terminal, he felt something that had always been a novelty for him living inside a ship, a cool breeze; perhaps a District’s wind simulation machine was still active. As the gust brushed passed his antennas immediately shot up and snapped in all directions. He wrangled a few minutes more with the half remembered code, clumsily forcing what he knew into the command line, but just when he had given up his eyes laid upon the date and time of his access. If it was to be believed he was trillions of years in the future. His knees buckled, but he caught himself on the workstation’s supports. He turned around and began to view the greenery as if he had seen it for the first time. He walked over to touch the gnarled roots, and plucked the alien flowers to make sure they were real. The Abyss crawled out to sample juicy fruits hanging from the vines that were braided around the towering columns.
Hours later Deicide was still seated against a balcony overlooking the flora saturated plaza. He looked down at the Abyss, who seemed to be his only companion left in this existence and squeezed her to his chest. Even without her ghastly powers she would have been useful to him, he remembered the first time he had gazed upon her true face, her actual form, a snarling war princess, her tribe torn apart from a battle within the family. He had taught her about the pleasantries of life and she had shown him the realities of a true war, nothing concerning numbers, or ethics, for when a true war ended the figures were too high to calculate and no one left behind to judge.
Their only hope was to make it to the Bridge somehow, there would be a way to access his life support, but wherever this massive tree was, it had turned his beloved Aeolipile into a winding and obscene disfigurement that was soon to be his tomb. The Abyss chirped and broke Deicide out of his morose trance, her considerable loss of size had also turned her usual chorus of feminine voices to a single mouse-like squeak. Deicide nodded and headed back into the office complex, his hands began to tremble and the beating of his heart quickened. It was the beginnings of the eater’s curse; a hunger which would eat away at his mind until Deicide and the Abyss were desperately struggling not to consume each other. Once the sickness had reached the end of this maddening plummet; normal food would be impossible to keep down and any ability to hold a rational thought in his head would drift away.
As Deicide walked through the dimly lit Amanuensis Alley he could smell the ancient death, the Aeolipile was already a grave to the majority, and naturally, he was worried about the circumstances of those that had survived this disaster, if any. He peeked through the spattered and cracked cubicles which housed each of his secretaries. The well preserved half- skeletons of the women still sat at their stations, seeming as if they were ready at any moment to return to work. Deicide saw that the umbilical plugs running from their skulls and into their stations still looked as new as ever. He fought the urge to look closer, the legless women had always been a mystery to him, and he lamented the fact that he never was able to meet them. He wondered what they thought of him and the goals he had set out for himself, they being privy to his thoughts; he could not imagine them being any worse than Nott, who had always remained a ‘sympathetic skeptic’, whatever that meant.
He turned the corner passing his wife’s office, fighting the urge to burst in. He knew she was more than likely not present, but he had no desire to see her in such a way if she was. He stopped when he saw the large roots split up through the atrium between their offices, they led into the study, and into the physical archival library that Nott had been so emphatic on preserving. Paper; all of it, a waste of space, especially the machines used to manufacture it, printing new revisions every few years, but he did love lounging in the library on an idle Holiday Routine. As he passed the great shelves he saw that some of the books were still intact, though he knew that they would probably disintegrate if he tried to pull one away, or even breathed to forcefully near them.
He passed through the library and into his private war memorial dedicated to his greatest of enemies, the Hall of Heroes he called it; cathedral-like, it housed works of art depicting those who were worthy enough to be called a nemesis. The overgrowth had savagely conquered this space as well, the roots had ravaged the hall, splitting and fracturing the seemingly endless frescos that adorned the ceilings. Pairs of statutes were widowed, as their companion pieces were pulverized after eons of encroachment by the roots of this damnable tree yet to be seen. As he made his way to the center of the massive space he saw that his center piece had been filled. A great statue of an Arbaronian woman towered over him; though damaged, she still retained a cynical smirk. Deicide looked down to the engraving beneath her feet.
“Fawna Dearborne,” a voice said. Deicide turned toward the voice, just as a figure emerged from the shoulder of a massive statute. A man with chalky white hair; skin the color of a pearl. Deicide could see vaguely familiar symbols had been carved into his skin, and then they came to him, names. All were scratched out, except for one word, Deicide. Deicide narrowed his eyes as the man began to slam his fists together. The Abyss withdrew inside of Deicide’s shirt as the man leaped from the statue, cracking the stone floor beneath him, upon his landing.
“What happened here?” Deicide said.
“You got your way,” the man said, and lunged toward Deicide. Unable to avoid the swipes, the man’s fingers dug deep into Deicide’s chest. Deicide spun away from his attacker as skin was torn from his body. The two remained still after the short exchange; Deicide was unsure exactly how much energy he could afford to use, but soon the man gave him no choice. The two locked grips and the man pulled Deicide towards him with edged teeth bared.
“Who are you?” Deicide said, snatching his arms away.
“Last ancestor of your center piece, Occidere,” he said.
“I’ve never met that woman,” Deicide said.
“You will. And once you do, the war will break out into what you see here,” Occidere said, quickly grabbing Deicide’s neck, he rammed his head into Deicide’s. The two became intertwined, desperately scratching and biting for position. Deicide could feel his muscles begin to lock up as they scuffled in the dust. Occidere wrenched himself away and kicked the downed Deicide viciously. He produced a knife from some sleight of hand and stood over Deicide heaving, grinning through a scowl as he stepped on the side of Deicide’s face. For a moment Deicide wanted to let it happen, in a single day, his wife, family, friends and his empire had all withered away. This end would be far less painful than the wicked contortion this eater’s sickness would put him through, as his digestive fluids reached unheard of acidity levels, the enzymes in his stomach would slip through the ulcers caused by the churning bile and consume him from within.
With a boot on his jowl, Deicide craned his head desperately to look into the eyes of his executioner; he had expected the eyes of a monster, only to find those of a survivor, a lucky scavenger who had managed to outlive the wolves, yes, as long as Deicide breathed the wolf god would live. Deicide remembered being lectured by Ichor as child, to him, free will was exercised only when one took control of their life. So much of Deicide’s own life had been directed by the guidelines of another, his twisted mission to slaughter the pretender god was not his revenge, and in an instant he was disgusted with himself. It was the weak who should offer their throats to him; it was they who had to purchase their time in this world with tithes of blood. At the very least, Deicide would make sure he was the only soul remaining when the lights of this of the world were extinguished.
Occidere plunged the blade into the man’s stomach, but was surprised when Deicide rolled from underneath his boot. His sharp fingers tore into the man’s calves and peeled the meat away from his shins. When he had fallen, Deicide rose and snatched the blade from his stomach; as the Abyss chirped and plugged the wound. When Deicide engaged with the man once more, this time he allowed his blood pressure to rise. Unable to form a killbox he took an offensive stance, with the Abyss unable to be an extension of his limbs, he was prepared to be absolutely ruthless.
Deicide pulled his lips back, baring his sharpened teeth, a frigid breath escaped from his jaws as he tightened his fists. The small well of vestige material still inside his reserve bladder began to spill into his system and his veins bulged as they ran black. The man rushed him, but the fusion of Deicide and the Abyss could sense that Occidere had long since run out of vestige material in his own veins. He tried to block Deicide’s attacks, but the punches crashed through his defenses. Occidere back pedaled into the dais causing him to stumble, just as Deicide grabbed him by his throat and tore the man’s lower jaw away from his face. He stood there holding the flailing man bleeding profusely from the toothed hole in his face. Though famished, Deicide hesitated taking a bite. Just then the Abyss emerged from the gash in his stomach and devoured the jawbone that Deicide was still holding, before she gorged herself on the rest of the dying Occidere, regaining a portion of her size with every bite.
Deicide dropped the corpse and allowed the Abyss to feed; noisily she spread her tendrils and began to consume the skin of the man, greedily peeling it from his muscle in long bloody strips, the sound of it, like some thick fabric being torn from a giant spool. Deicide tightened his lips as she began to violently yank at the limbs of the body, joints popped free; muscle was ripped from bone and tendon. Her single giggle turned to several as she chewed and gulped down mounds of flesh, stuffing it in her black maw. There was a series of wet snaps as she wrenched open the rib cage, she carefully incised the arteries surrounding the heart and then gleefully handed it to Deicide, and her large yellow eyes began to smile.
Deicide tried to refuse, but the Abyss only thrust it further toward his face. This was how their friendship had begun, just after the naming ceremony she had crushed the larynx of a goat, or some creature that looked it, and tore out its heart to celebrate. The boy Deicide had been was surely more apprehensive then, not out of any notions of civility, but because of the girl’s unwillingness to repress any urge she had, no matter how violent or sexual, and with her the two always arrived in pairs. At first Deicide thought she had turned out this way from her noble birth, but in her world, nobility was granted through submission of all others, not through hoarding of resources and wealth, but through violence. It was the right of the powerful to do as they pleased to the lessers; they had no need to insult the intelligence of the common by building falsities called justice.
Deicide took hold of the fresh heart, still leaking life fluids, and plunged his teeth into it. His saliva quickly began to breakdown the flesh as he chewed, the first satisfying swallow would not be enough to replenish the nutrients he had lost fighting and the Abyss goaded him into finishing the rest. It had been ages since he had fed on the flesh of a sentient being, Nott developing the halcyonic cider had done away with the eater’s need to perform cannibalistic acts for survival, it remained as a mostly ceremonial practice or was done only to highlight an impressive kill. Still, even here with just the Abyss, in this kingdom that had become his prison, Deicide felt a bit of shame for consuming the man, even if he only did so for survival.