It was different with someone beside me. Only a few scant minutes ago, it had been the disaster of wandering in the dark that had made me terrified. The lack of contextual evidence had made the creature terrifying instead of pitiable. But now, it had been enlightened into a mere horror. but not for long
Cassandra cocked the shotgun back and checked the munitions. “Call out where they are, we’ll need to hold this place if we’re going to have any chance of getting out.”
“Got it,” I clicked back at her, then closed my eyes. Apart from the gleam of Cassandra’s light, there was little point in trying to track where they were coming from in the first place.
Breath in, breath out. Calm the pounding of my own heart. Feel the air, become one with the wind. Like back at the dojo, or facing down my own death, I needed to become one with the situation.
“Three-o’clock,” I said out loud, pointing blindly.
The shotgun disturbed the air as it moved through, thick and hot with dust and bone smoke, and went off. In the distance, a scream, a wild cry that was half human and half death, and the beast threw itself away from the light.
Breath in breath out. Take catalog of things.
So many legs, so many arms, and so many whispers of other places, mostly forgotten. Tendrils of green, and tendrils of cool rooms they had spent most of their lives in diving knowledge. How many crumbled equations had they forsaken in order to cling to the mortal coil? What was a man that would throw away their dignity in order to fight for the hope that they could yet live so monstrously?
But I could only recall when I had done that not so very long ago, and had come out diminished, but living. How could I call them out on this when I would’ve made the same choice, or doomed Mobile to an incineration?
“Twelve,” I said, just barely loud enough to be heard over the crashing beast heading towards us.”
“Got it,” Cassandra replied, and the gun went off, and something shrieked, howled, made a horrific noise of garbled doctorates and theoretical information that would never reach the public eye, and clattering limbs and smeared things from organs that didn’t exist, not anymore, but desperately wanted to.
In the darkness my companion lit up like a beacon, a bastion of the world above. While everything else shifted, she did not, calmly reloading.
The things in the darkness skittered about on too many legs to count, or rather, the number shifted as I counted them, six, five, seven, eleven, while contextualized, in the darkness there was no observer, no thing to lock them down, no storyteller that could keep them in one form apart from the bard’s song of lead.
My head swam with the failure to contextualize.
“Careful over there, they don’t need to be understood in order to be defeated,” Cassandra said, calmly feeding her shotgun. How did she remain calm when there was so much out there that could not be known? How many even were there in that infernal darkness?
My hands shook against one another. “Ten.”
Cassandra strode past me, and my eyes flickered open to watch her go. The gun flashed once, illuminating and contextualizing something maddeningly complex and simplistic, eyes, mouth, teeth, jaws, that had been away from the mortal eyes for long enough to divert against humanity; perhaps defining itself by features instead of what those features should look like. How else would so many fingers attach themselves to arms, how else would such things glimmer and glint against bare bones?
“Don’t focus on them, focus on victory,” She said, again.
The Com went off in my hands and I clicked it open to raw static and garbled voices.
“On the Approach to the place marked on our map,” Excelsior’s voice came out wobbled and muffled. I guessed at a few of the words, it wasn’t hard to take context from our previous lines.
“Hurry quickly, Gale’s getting tired down here,” Cassandra barked. “And I don’t want to try fighting these things blind, I don’t have enough observers to keep track of them.”
Eyes closed themselves again, and I hummed something softly under my breath. A lullabye perhaps, because I needed something to drown out the buzzing in my head, the flustered scientist inside of me, the one that craved permanence and ideas, screaming out indignantly against the shifting tides of whatever beast remained intact.
“Eleven,” I hissed.
The death bringer went off, and lead contextualized the flesh of something far larger than a man, but smaller than an elephant. The air gave me conflicting ideas of what the dimensions were between there, but I knew that the screech meant that it was injured.
“We wanted to make gods,” The darkness whispered, but my eyes were shut and I could see the eyes gleaming, reflecting off of the shotgun.
“You failed,” Cassandra dismissed, snapping her gun into the darkness. One more blast, and the entire world lit up. Doctorates, people smiling, laughing, crunching, researching, beasts asleep, the gene of divinity, tests, tubes, elaborate conceptions, Osteor, standing among them, regenerating tissues for the world and
“We made gods in the darkness for ourself.”
A flurry of movement, inconceivable, the slurry of ideas and sensations and rapidly multiple places but
“One!” I shouted.
The gun went off.
Then Cassandra pulled the trigger and it clicked.
My eyes snapped open and I looked at the gun.
Cassandra sent me a regretting smile. “That’s all I brought with me.”
I jerked my head at her belt, and she grinned, a sad little thing stitched into her flesh with all the care of the unknown gods littering the stars, watching and wrestling, were they looking upon us even then? and her numb fingers pulled out a hatchet. A survival tool.
“Now the fighting’s close,” Cassandra said, handing it over. My right hand clenched around it and I hefted it, ignoring the countless scurrying things in the darkness. My left hand ached, and staggered, I dragged it over the right hand and clenched down.
Harsh pain dragged out the darkness, and clarified thought. Potentials realized, and uniform waves collapsed into alacrity.
Cassandra finished putting the bayonet on her shotgun, the light still bright as ever.
Then the god in the darkness struck at us. One moment the air was clear and then it was thick with toxic smoke, rib cage legs clicking wildly at the ground like a massive centipede. “NOW!” she shouted, jabbing the blade up against the bottom of the beast, where rotten flesh still peeled and organs hung loosely wrapped in organic fat.
There was a moment of hesitation as the minds of the dead flittered through my own, demanding I remember their names, but they shouted them on top of each other and I could not grasp anything except meaningless academia and some vague idea of importance, and then I lashed out.
Lunging forward, the air behind me roaring, I screamed and struck at the beast’s head. All at once it was that of a snarling wolf and a string of skulls clicking their teeth together while rotten tendons twanged like the strings of a guitar.
“STRIKE!” She shouted, and the bayonet flashed again in the flickering light of the room.
“WE MADE GODS!” The god shouted, and the scythe blade of a femur came down upon me, whirling crazily in the midnight sky of green towassa, where everyone was immortal, if only for a while, and then the axe in my hands reflected something else, something in the darkness screaming out my name, muffled static from the com.
And I blocked the beast with the edge of the axe and the blade continued on past me, slicing through walls and construction and leaving to fall to the ground in a clatter of destroyed research.
“GODS MAY DIE,” Cassandra returned, and she struck again, nimbly dancing beneath the malleable bones of the god’s form, unable to give a damn about what it actually was, murder on her mind.
I could admire that in the same way I admired Colton’s conviction, or the waver of Hands as she tried to stop us from falling apart.
And it was from those two and the buzzing of voices growing more and more clear that made me slide in next to her, the axe suddenly as long as november all at once and striking at the creature’s neck.
“And we made you gods,” The god cried, staring at me with all of the eyes, a proper number in its head, unknowing, blind, but looking past me and something deeper. “We spun you out of raw genetics and theorized you would be greater than us, weaker than us, a myriad possibilities.”
“Fuck you,” I said, and the axe came down across the beast’s neck, chipping into rotting bone and squelching raw ichor and marrow.
“That’s the spirit,” Cassandra said, slicing down the center of the beast.
But she didn’t expect the tail that flicked by, knotted spinal cords and desperation, smashing the gun out of her hand, or the spray of blood that came from her forearm.
The sole light bounced and rotated, giving us brief flashes of the darkness; beasts, faces, old research, birthday parties, gunshots, firebombs, new arrivals, new breakthroughs, and the desperate idea that the universe was wrong but we could fix it.
And then we were blind as the light plunged into the elevator shaft, leaving us with only a dim outline to work with.
I snatched up the com, having the air sense to cheat with, and shouted into it. “EVAC NOW!”
From the elevator shaft came another light and I stared at it.
“Looks like your friends are finally here,” Cassandra said, wetly, laughing. “Goddamn I am so glad I came properly vested up.”
And I found I couldn’t remember if she was or not, and it didn’t matter because the world shifted and she was beside me, inside of the air sense.
“And we made gods for you,” The beast whispered, and all around us came the skittering of legs and the chattering of teeth. “And we thought they might be monsters in the dark, and we prayed to them for salvation, and-”
“Will you remember us for us? We have a problem with names, and I wish that we…”
“GALE!” Hands shouted through the elevator shaft, and I scrambled towards it, locking arms with the Cuban Patrol agent to drag her with us.
The edge of the pit was lit with the lost gun, which afforded me the worst possible situation.
The shaft was thirty feet of sheer rock with no hand holds.
Designed to hold people prisoner.
But at the top, I could see them shining lights down. Frantically, I shouted back. “WE’RE HERE! The light’s gone, get us out!”
Cassandra laughed crazily. “Get me another weapon, I have a god to kill. The soldiers back at base will shout my name a thousand times and tell of the time I killed an Association demon!”
I slapped her and she glared at me sourly. “We’re going to die here.”
“No you’re not,” Excelsior said, and then the beasts behind us clicked their teeth too close.
Pushing us back towards the elevator. A dead drop below, another thirty feet where the elevator had slammed into the bottom floor.
No way up, and we couldn’t go down. What else lurked in those depths, unkillable and unknowable?
I grit my teeth and stared into the darkness, feeling the light above dance across my shoulders. “I need you to tell my father I went down fighting, alright?”
“We will,” Hands promised, her voice faint. Resolute, stony.
“No we won’t,” Excelsior hissed, something like desperation in his tone. When had I heard such raw anger from the man?
“No we fucking won’t, that’s right.” Colton hissed, and then there were sparks down the side of the elevator and like a fucking lunatic, the knife master vaulted down the walls, using the friction on his daggers to slow his descent.
“Not over my dead body.” The sound was agonizingly heroic.
Then he landed next to me and glared into the darkness.
“I don’t give a fucking shit what the fuck you think you are, if you think you’re going to get Gale, you’re going to have to through the rest of us!” Colton shouted.
“Adventurous,” Cassandra said.
For a moment my heart rallied and the wave of panic sweeping down upon my stilled.
And then I snapped my head over to Colton.
“I have an idea.”