“King. What did you do to me.”
I wake up with a start and realize that it’s already nighttime, the hall is only lit by the red sun-blaze itself. What the hell is this? I think. Dark circuit-like veins are all over the throne, they twist and turn in sharp edges then embed themselves in the white marble steps. They run like tiny black wires to the center of the room; as they grow they widen into sheer black ropes attached to a strange dark figure who stands a few feet away from me.
“What is this?!” Drift cries, her voice distorted and warped. As she continues to speak it sounds as if a thousand others are as well. “What did you DO?!”
Half of her body is still intact, the other is absorbed in inky black water that pulses and disfigures her muscles; bulging circuit-like veins reach up her neck and over her forehead. She drips the oil-like fluid onto the marble floor and it eats straight through the stone like acid.
From her back the ropes twist into the tops of the pillars like a spider’s web, their veins sink into the cool marble skin and eat into the body of the columns themselves. They threaten to pull them down and send the entire structure into the inky depths of the pool the widens below her feet.
I’ve been fighting monsters my whole life. I’ve never seen anything like this.
“Drift,” I say cautiously as I watch pieces of the capital crumble and fall to the ground. The sound of crackling stone shatters my ears and I can feel my heart drop into my stomach. “Don’t. Move.”
“Why?!” She wails. “Why would you do this to me?” She takes a step forward, her leg sinks into the floor as she does so and shoots massive Stygian cracks from her footstep all the way up into the high stone ceiling.
“You know why,” I say. “You were supposed to protect Eli while I was gone and you failed. Now you’re paying the price.”
“I did no such thing!” She says. She moves towards me again and the capital strains, her inky black veins have now reached up the walls to spill out the windows.
“LIAR!” I scream, no longer able to keep my anger under control. “I KNOW WHAT YOU DID. YOU THINK YOU CAN KEEP SECRETS FROM ME?!” I stand and jab a finger at her, seething with rage. Her eyes turn jet black and the wire-like ink spreads through her cheeks and over her ears.
“I’m sorry,” she cries. “I was a fool, I was just trying to protect the kingdom.”
“By SELLING my SON to the ENEMY?!”
“I did it to save everyone! You were gone and Fix said they would attack if I didn’t! We would have lost without you here. What’s one more useless kid, huh?!” I can tell that she’s trying to be angry, trying to cover up how fucking terrified she is as she sinks into her rapidly disintegrating body.
“So you admit it.” I spit back. “You were a part of the plan. Fix took MY SON to use AS BAIT, and YOU JUST LET HIM DO THAT?! YOU HELPED HIM SET THAT UP, DIDN’T YOU? All for WHAT? So that you could take my place? My power? MY THRONE?! DID YOU REALLY THINK YOU COULD KILL ME THAT EASILY?!”
“King, I would never,” she says with garbled words. “I loved you...”
I walk over to her shaking with fury. I stare up at her beetle black eyes, grab what’s left of her clothes and pull her down to my level. The ink spills all over my hand and onto the floor; it slowly begins to burn my skin but I ignore it.
“I never loved you, Drift. I don’t fall for traitors.” The black ropes continue to sink beneath us and the capital shakes as it becomes increasingly unstable. “You were only ever an asset for me. Now that you’re useless,” I say as she continues to drip through my hand. “Your work for me is done.”
I punch that traitorous bitch so fucking hard that I break through the skin of my own knuckles.
Drift stumbles backwards and holds her freshly broken nose with both hands. I run, dive, and ram my torso into her waist and we both tumble through the black ink together. The vines release her as we slam down on the other side of the web, both of us now free from it’s grasp. The rumbling capital shudders to a halt as the vines loosen their grip.
Her spider web remains behind us however, waiting to reattach to the host so that they can begin their feast once more, and the acidic lake where she once stood continues to eat through the ground. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m projecting or if it actually smells this way, but it puts off a putrid stench that resembles burnt rubber.
She tries to block my punches in vain, the virus has weakened her too much to fight back. I pound my fists into her face until it’s nothing but black inky pulp, the blows are too quick for her mutation to heal the wounds. It hurts me too, I’m not sure how much longer I can last with the acid eating my skin; regardless I persist.
I pick her up and punch her once again, this time she stumbles to her feet and then tries to rest on one of the pillars, her face marred and unrecognizable through the smear of blood and ink. I swing once again at her cheek and bring her once more to the ground, then pick her up and slam her into the column. I no longer care about saving the capital or the throne. Now that she’s sat upon it it’s forever tarnished; I do not care if it’s destroyed.
The force of her body against the pillar breaks it clean in half. It crumbles to the floor and the ceiling sinks above us; I grab her away from the wall just in time for it to spill stone where we were seconds before. Right as it crumbles the acid finishes eating away the other columns; they detach from the ceiling to slowly pummel into the ground. I grab her barely conscious body and dodge the falling temple as I go. Without a moment to lose I throw us both into the inky pool where she once stood and we slide beneath the earth together, burning in the hot sticky oil as the Capitol collapses and traps us in our inky tomb.
I grab her hand and swim through the hot oil to the top, my skin screams as red and yellow boils begin to appear, my lungs are on fire as they beg me to refill them with oxygen. Desperate for survival I don’t notice that my victim had come back to life; much like the monster at Jawbone she now emerges not as herself but a brainless beast. I can’t see anything through the ink, but I can feel the vines wrap around my throat and my own waist as she pulls us upward through the crumbled stone.
Drift bursts through the fallen capital roof and drags me with her, the stone pieces of debris fall away as her body expands wider than the sky with me wrapped up and burning in her grasp. She throws me away from her and I sail through the hot sticky air; I swear I was airborne longer than ten seconds. I hit what’s left of the ground hard, then slide and bash the back of my head on something cold. Something metallic. The back of my skull feels hot and sticky as my own blood drips onto the nape of my neck.
Somehow during the destruction of the capital, the painted wall survived as well as the amber throne itself in all its luminous glory. I groan and stand to come face to face with a beautiful, terrifying, monolithic ink goddess.
Holy hell, I think. This is why you don’t shoot up before a fight, kids. And then my heart freezes as I remember that my blood is pure and all of this is real life, not just some drug-enhanced hallucination.
She’s a strange beast, a dripping, horrifying mutilation of the human body. She’s far larger than the one I fought at Jawbone, rising just as tall as what the Capitol used to be. Her entire body is black and her head is nothing but a ghost-like, faceless dome. Her limbs extend until they are strange bony appendages that sink into the ground. Her legs are almost catlike, the way they bend backwards and then angle down into the concrete. The oily black ropes now twist into spines that extend down her back; her body looks as if a terrifying and monstrous animal had run off the page of a pen and ink picture book.
She comes to stare at me in front of the amber throne that she threw me against and brings her face to level with my body, ink drips off her chin and sears into the marble steps. Her blank face empties into terrifying rows of sharp iron teeth with a demonic-like tongue flicking in between them, a cruel smile that curls all the way up to what would be her temples and hairline. I do what any sensible fighter would do. I will always do what I have to in order to preserve my pride and exhibit my boundless courage.
I jump up on the throne and throw myself over it, then ram my whole body through the painted wall at full force. I hit the wall with such power that I bust right through the stone, I don’t stop to consider the weight of my own strength as I dash towards an oak-tree skyscraper that sits far behind the capitol ruins.
A great roar shakes the ground as she advances and I hear glass shatter as she rips through the rays and demolishes what was left of the throne room. I glance back to see past her hulking form at the remains of the capital; despite the destruction of the painted wall and the scarlet rays, the amber throne still stands.
I turn around and focus once more on my hopeless dash to safety. “SCATTER!” I scream as I pass gawk-eyed residents who just stand there to watch the show. They dissolve into panic and clear the city streets, hundreds upon hundreds of people evacuate to the ladders that take them out of the crater while others jump through tunnels dispersed throughout the streets and make their way to the underground.
My syndicate members pour from the earth in droves and advance both me and the beast, I continue to pursue the approaching tower as they flank me and await orders. I stop in my tracks and face Elephant, their leader and one of my top assassins, who was probably at my side long before I realized it.
“GET THOSE PEOPLE OUT OF HERE!” I command. Ele nods and they all bound away into the city to hastily follow my order.
I reach the skyscraper and deftly leap from landing to landing, branch to branch, vine to vine until before I know it I’m almost at the top. As I run however, I notice black veins following me; they slither underneath until they surpass me. I mistakenly look down to see Drift in her full form, now complete with black wires connected from her head to the ground that rips up the concrete behind her like tree roots. Her body is about half the size of the building and she rams her claws into the cold stomach of the tower, her jaws wide and gaping and ready to rip me off the cool stone wall.
I fling myself off a vine and run straight up the skyscraper. I use the momentum to push off the side and twist through the air, fooling gravity for as long as I can stand it. Her mouth opens beneath me to expose those dripping sharp metal teeth and long split tongue; her breath sends waves of hot acid straight through my skin. I fall head first into her jaws like countless monsters I’ve beaten before, but this time I’m not sure if there will be a body for me to pull out, and I’m not sure if I will last long enough to do so.
At the bottom of the beast is a strange eerie glow, like finding a light at the pit of a dark well. I can no longer see my surroundings or hear anything; I feel as if I’m suspended in hot oil, only the light leads the way. Everything is strangely red, what’s stranger still is that the lake is collapsing like the one at Jawbone without my initiating it. I swim to the bottom and watch in horror as my skin peels off one layer at a time in the acid, my face stings as it eats straight through to the bones underneath. But the farther I fall the less the acid eats me up; slowly the red glow envelops me and my skin begins to heal on its own...
What do you know, I think. The red bacteria are eating the beast.
I don’t know how long I was in there swimming through the red light but deep down at the bottom of the inky burgundy ocean I finally see her, or what’s left of her I suppose. She’s nothing more than a skeleton with a few pieces of flesh, almost completely absorbed by both the bacteria and the acid. I myself have to hurry before they make a meal out of me as well; which is a bit problematic since I’m surrounded by them. I wonder for a second why they hadn’t attacked me yet, but then shake my head and focus solely on the mission.
I grab her body and use my knife once more to rip her from the black tendrils that secure her to the beast. Right as I pull her away the midnight sea dissolves around us and washes over the great oak tree skyscraper. I come up gasping for air and watch dumbfounded as the little red rays of light devour the black abscess; the oil slowly fades into nothing but shining red pieces of tar.
“Alright,” I say. “I’ll let that be a problem for someone else.” I turn around and drag what is left of Drift by her hair; we leave a trail of oil behind us as we go. I plop down on my amber throne and look out over a desolate and damaged city, the edges shine and twinkle in the light of a thousand stars.
“King,” a hoarse voice speaks from underneath my chair; it startles me and I look down to see her still breathing as black gunk slowly leaves her skeleton and fries the steps beneath her.
“Well shit,” I say. “You’re still alive? How unfortunate for you,” I stare into her decaying face, surprised to see that her delicate features are still there underneath the inky skin.
“Please--” she says, and she spits more oil onto the crushed marble steps. I smile and put my boot on her head, then slowly smash it into the ground.
“I’m sorry Drift. I need the money.”
I press into her skull and feel it pop under my shoe, then quickly add that sound and that image to my list of disturbing things I’d rather not remember. I push her body out over the crumbled stone of the capital and cross my feet over it, put my hands behind my head, and sink into a nice long nap as the sun rises over the horizon.
Thank you all so much for reading and thank you for your comments. I hope you are enjoying it so far. The next part is my personal favorite and I can’t wait to get into it!