Dark Omega

All Rights Reserved ©

Chapter 30 GOODBYE IS NOT FOREVER

“I...” Marcus began. Some unseen force grabbed at his throat. He couldn’t breathe, let alone finish the sentence. The pressure increased, threatening to crush his windpipe. He lashed out mentally at the only possible source of the sudden attack, Haides Guillaume. The gatekeeper deflected most of the psychic energies, but he was sufficiently distracted for Marcus to break free of the telekinetic vice.

Marcus gulped down air, and his hand reflexively rubbed at his throat. It’s not real, none of this is real. He can’t really hurt me. It’s all in my mind. Marcus could feel Haides’s grip starting to tighten again. Screw this—if the bastard wants to play with fire, I’ll show him fire. Marcus had no talent for telekinetics, but he knew how to fight force with fire. He set up a psychic feedback loop. Whatever telekinetic power Haides applied to him would be returned onto him twofold as heat.

Marcus’s counter had the desired effect. Haides let go and lifted his hands, not in apology, but as an offer of truce. “Relax. I meant you no harm. I just needed to test your resolve a little.”

Marcus’s throat was still raw. “Relax?” he croaked. “You just attacked an agent of the Dragon Order. Swift retribution is required!”

“Well, yes, I believe I just did,” Haides said, his tone neutral. “Attacked an agent operating without the blessings of the Assembly that is. An agent toying with the thin line between loyal service and high treason. Don’t get coy with me, Marcus. You know you shouldn’t be here. And you knew you’d be tested. Be happy—you’ve passed another checkpoint.”

“If you try a stunt like that again, I will retaliate, damage to the Maiden be damned.” Marcus fought to keep his anger in check.

“And risk the wrath of your precious master? I think not,” Haides said. “If you’re quite done bitching, we can resume.”

“Fuck you, Haides. I’m not diving in there with you again.”

“As you wish.”

------

Marcus stepped back in time again, to war-torn Thira, but this time he kept immersion shallow. Simple sensory input only. He did not want to be distracted if the gatekeeper attacked again.

------

“I kept a low profile over the next few days, staying mostly indoors and only going out at night. Stayed away from my usual haunts, the 57th compound included.”

“Waiting for the word from Luca.”

“Yes, but things didn’t turn out as expected,” Haides said. “One cold and early morning—the sun was nowhere near up, just barely hinting at dawn—I was ambushed by a group of my fellow Akakians on my way back to the apartment.”

Marcus suppressed a snicker. “The great Haides, ambushed?”

Haides nodded. “Indeed. I had been careful, but not careful enough. My cautiousness was only skin deep. I had succumbed to overconfidence, to hubris. I believed myself victorious, and the Khiones destroyed. I knew that my brother was alive. I should have assumed he was not the only one remaining. There are always survivors.”

“They were out seeking vengeance. And of course, they knew where you lived,” Marcus interjected. He tried very hard not to sound pleased. He didn’t entirely succeed.

“Are you smirking, Marcus?” Haides said. “You are. You’re an evil man.” When Marcus didn’t reply, the gatekeeper continued. “That they did. I blamed Jan. That goes without saying. Truth be told, they hardly needed him to find me.”

“Jan wasn’t with your ambushers?”

“I didn’t say that. I noted that even without Jan, they could have gotten to me,” Haides said, draining his drink.

“So he was there then. I guess that vindicated all the bad blood between the two of you,” Marcus said.

“Oh yes. Like Horus finding out what his mother Isis did to his father, the mighty Ra,” Haides said, making a reference to the most infamous betrayal of the godly realm.

“So, what happened? How did you survive?” Marcus asked.

“Through no skill or trick of my own. The surviving Khiones roughed me up pretty good. I was stealthy and quick and all that, but I was only thirteen and not much of a fist-fighter. I was barely clinging to consciousness and utterly unable to defend myself. I had cracked and broken ribs and internal bleedings and whatnot. And the outside was a tapestry of bruises, scrapes, and cuts.”

“And?”

“And my sister appears.”

“Your sister? Why didn’t they just take her down as well?” Marcus said, but he already knew the answer.

“Because of the sweetness between her legs? Guilt over what had been done to her mother? Because of eyes as dark as the Pit? The eldritch power crackling in the air? Because of the primeval fear that only proximity to the power of the Abyss can conjure?”

Marcus didn’t reply.

“Her arrival gave me a short respite. I looked up at my assailants through swollen eyelids, knowing I was living on borrowed time. I remember as if it happened only yesterday, not centuries ago: her slender figure, dark hair tousled by a breeze that touched no one else. She stood there and looked at us. Jan was the first to run. He already knew what she was, what was to come.

“The others required a demonstration to understand. One of the boys, a big fellow with calloused hands, slapped my sister across the face, sending her tumbling to the floor. He took a step towards her. I could feel the pack responding to his lead. Soon they would descend upon frail, little Eli and do to her what they had done to Mother.

“The room got cold all of a sudden. Really cold, like that time when Janus pissed himself and run away. The guy that had slapped Eli started screaming. He held his hand in front of his face, and he screamed and screamed. His fingers turned black, like a severe case of frostbite. Have you seen frostbite, Marcus? Seen the skin turn white, felt it become rigid against the flesh underneath.”

“No. As I said, I never went skiing. Not a lot of winter experience.”

“Later, it turns black. Fingers and toes, ears, and noses. That’s when you have to cut it away to avoid the rot spreading. The guy didn’t stand a chance. I watched with a growing sense of horror and fascination as the blackness spread up his arm. It took only seconds before his screaming became a sobbing—then silence.

“The rest of the Khiones stood there, rooted to the spot. They knew, intellectually, what was happening, but their minds couldn’t cope with what they saw. The man who had struck Eli was all rigid now, frozen solid. He toppled, hit the ground, and shattered into a thousand pieces of black ice.

“Whatever courage remained to the Khiones evaporated as my sister’s body rose from the floor, straight as a rod, arms outstretched, her hair a dark halo around her head. Within her dark eyes, I saw strange shapes moving, like leviathans swimming in the deep ocean. They ran, all of them, completely panicked.”

“Your sister was turning into quite the little witch.”

“Take a good look at yourself, Marcus,” Haides said, “and then tell me who the witch is. Mind-raping that poor librarian...”

What! How did he...

------

Inside his mental fortress, Marcus re-examined his cognitive architecture. Haides had read his thoughts, no question. There! The chink in my armor. A tiny flaw in his archiving subroutines allowed remote observation of memories being filed. Haides, you sneaky bastard!

Marcus closed the gap, but the issue was more extensive than plugging holes. He needed to continually monitor and re-evaluate his architecture and psychic defenses. Setting up something static and trusting it to hold wouldn’t work against the Gatekeeper, no matter how foolproof the setup might seem. Haides was constantly probing, testing, and adapting, trying to get into the parts of Marcus’s head he wanted to keep private. I cannot be static. I must become agile. Change before Haides has time to find an opening.

------

“My sister’s timely arrival—she admitted to having dreamt of my death, so we’ll call it premonition—saved me. She took me back to the apartment and cared for me. Worked double shifts, so to speak, to get the medical supplies I needed.”

“That was...nice of her.”

“It was. Which highlighted her later betrayal all the more,” Haides added. “For days, I was delirious. When I came around, it was weeks before my body worked properly. Only I didn’t have time to wait. I had this bad feeling in my gut. I had to check in with the 57th.”

“Premonition? Or just heavy bruising?” Marcus tried a joke but got no response.

“I ran at my best possible speed down to the compound but found it deserted. The 57th had packed up and left. Just I had feared. Very recently by the looks of it. I was devastated. Ended up wandering the ruins of Thira without purpose until well after dark. Eventually, I found myself back at the flat. It was empty. Eli had abandoned me. All of them had. They had tricked me and left me to rot.”

“She went with the 57th, didn’t she?” Marcus said.

Haides leaned back, folding his hands in his lap. “She did. It’s one of the more ironic moments of my life. Even as I ran to the compound by the south route, an armored car had left the main column and driven the northern route into the indig zone to pick me up. They found only my sister, so they took her with them, leaving their brother in arms behind.”

“How sad,” Marcus said, making no effort to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

“Thank you for your touching concern, Marcus. You’re a true champion of humanity.”

“You’re welcome.” Marcus made his mouth smile in stiff Haides-fashion. “And I suppose you put the blame for this where it belonged.”

Haides grinned right back at him. “Well, of course, I did! It was Jan’s fault, first and foremost. I also had this splendid, highly paranoid theory about how Eli and Luca had plotted behind my back. Luca had even left Nik behind to torment me a little extra. Everything according to Colonel Joaquin’s orders, mind you.” Haides helped himself to another drink. “Took me a while to realize nothing of the sort had transpired—quite the contrary. The Colonel suspected I was a bit flaky but was still willing to let me come since I had passed his little test with the coilgun. Luca genuinely regretted not finding me. And my sister Eli...well, she wasn’t quite right in the head, so I can’t blame her for plodding along. It was what we had agreed to after all. Luca had left the dawg behind, but not out of ill will—he left it there because he knew I would need a companion.”

Marcus’s grin widened. “Just pure bad luck then? That really is ironic. Could have been the Will of the Gods, though. Maybe they had a plan for you?”

“Do you believe in luck, Marcus? Or do you believe in predestination and the omnipotence of the Gods?”

“I believe in the power and majesty of the Gods of the Pantheon, but the Celestial Dragon is the greatest of them all, eternal and unrelenting. Yet even the Dragon isn’t omnipotent. No god is.

“And I’ve seen too much to believe that every little thing is predestined. Whether you call it luck or chaos or something else is immaterial—there is an element of chance involved in all things.

“But this relates to your situation, exactly how? An evil spirit hexed you with bad luck?”

Haides shrugged. “Whatever happened to me, it wasn’t completely random. There was a guiding hand behind it all. But yeah, there is always room for chance.”

Nik stepped out of the darkness and began circling the table.

“I was alone in the world for the first time. Alone for real. That really rattled my remaining bones. For good or bad, I took one giant step towards the man I would later become. Haides Guillaume, alone against the galaxy.”

“But you weren’t alone, the dog was there. Luca left him behind, hoping the animal would keep you sane,” Marcus said, nodding towards Nik, standing next to Haides, panting.

“I gathered up my few belongings, called Nik over, and stabbed him in the heart with a Coalition-issue combat blade.” In a re-enactment of the real event, Haides called the Nik mirage over. It padded over to its beloved master, and Haides stabbed it in the jugular with a hidden blade. The beast made no sound of protest. It took a while to die, leaving a growing pool of blood under the table.

“You killed you canine? What for? He was your last remaining companion,” Marcus said too quickly, too heatedly. Why do I even care? The dog is long dead. Haides is long gone. None of it matters.

“And that was the reason. Nik was the last living thing I had any connection to. So I killed him to spare myself any further agony.”

“Jan. It was Janus’s dog. That’s how you rationalized it. I’m right, am I not?”

“Maybe you are Marcus, maybe you are.” Haides finished his glass. “He was a good dawg. If anything of him had remained to me, I might have had him cloned. Or maybe not, I’m not too fond of clones.”

“Did you go after the 57th? Did you find them? Did you kill them too?”

“I certainly contemplated going after them. To exact bloody-handed vengeance. But I didn’t know where they had gone. Nor did I have the resources required to cross a war-torn world. Thira was a dangerous place, but it was a place of known dangers. I had no idea what awaited me beyond the city limits.”

“So you let them go, and that was that?”

“I did. There was naught to do but put them from my mind. Many years passed before I learned of their fates.”

“Illuminate me.” It was immaterial to Marcus’s mission—but he needed closure. He had come to know the men as Haides had and was curious as to their fate.

“Sarge went on to become an upstanding member of the community, eventually accepting a commission as an officer in the new Protasian Armed Forces. Years later, he actually left the planet as a regimental commander would you believe.” Images of Sarge in a colonel’s dress uniform, golden epaulets, and ceremonial sword and everything flashed before Marcus’s eyes.

“You met him again? That’s how you learned?”

Haides dodged the question. “Mazzo avoided a return to a life of crime. Instead, he did the next best thing: he set up as one of the first attorneys at law in his new hometown. His forceful personality and big mouth served him well. As did his ability to make shady deals and apply violence when all else failed. He became quite wealthy and was eventually appointed mayor of his new hometown.” Marcus could see Mazzo now, dressed in a somber, yet immaculately tailored business suit. His smile was bright and warm, his gestures big and fawning.

“Roverto settled on an abandoned farm, its Akakian owners long dead or fled. He wasn’t much of a farmer, but his tech skills made him a natural go-to for mechanical and electronic aid. With money lent him by Mazzo, he set up a small factory. He became an important supplier of agri-machines and construction engines for the entire region.” Marcus could see rows of tractors and threshers, trucks, and dumpsters. Roverto stood looking at the parade from an office window. His girth had expanded to match his height.

“Luca married my dear little sister, and by all accounts treated her well. There may have been love involved. Unfortunately, Eli was her mother’s daughter. For the same reasons my father had become alienated from my mother, Luca became estranged from his beautiful young wife. One night she left him without saying goodbye. Rather than remaining at home, heartbroken, and alone with two small children, Luca chose to join his old sergeant for one final campaign. Their two children were adopted by Roverto.”

Luca’s apparition, now a platoon Lieutenant in scout-sniper gear, moved to stand next to Sarge-turned-Colonel. Eli’s image faded away, and the two small kids turned and walked towards where Roverto was standing.

“Colonel Joaquin Burness didn’t follow his men into civilian life but continued his military career. I met him again under very different circumstances on a far-away world.”

“Did you kill him when you got a second chance?” Marcus asked.

“Kill him? Why would I kill him? He had offered me a chance at vengeance, and I had passed it over. There was no ill will between the two of us after that. I don’t kill random people.”

“And Jan, did you learn what became of him?”

“I certainly looked for him if that’s what you mean. Looked a lot. But I couldn’t find him. So I had to conclude: Jan too was gone from Thira.”

“You never saw him again?”

“He actually landed in my lap, but that’s a story for another time.”

Silence filled the ring of light. Haides sipped his drink. Marcus kept his mind impassive.

“Are you sure you want to continue like this? Your access improves, and you decide to go back to the start? Just because you’re ashamed, I took you by surprise? It happens to the best of us,” Haides said in reference to his own near-death experience.

“I’m not ashamed,” Marcus snapped. Focus, Marcus. Stay calm. Don’t fall for his ploys. He’d been taken by surprise, and he was angry because of it. The whole situation made him angry—Marcus Aurelian wasn’t used to being pushed to the limit, to being outdone.

“I’m not going to argue with you, Marcus. We’re both too smart—and stubborn—for that. I’ll simply note that you won’t get down to the ninth and final circle by going back up. But perhaps it’s for the best.”

Marcus knew the gatekeeper was trying to goad him, manipulate him. But Haides had a point: what he sought was deeper down, and turning back now wasn’t really an option.

“Very well, I’ll join you. But if you attack me again, I’ll burn your ego core to ash and be done with this crap.”

Haides smiled his not-smile.

Marcus smiled back in kind. Time to grab lunch and see if I can catch you lying. But first, I want to see what really happened to your brother.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.