Gods can only view the mortal world through their followers’ eyes. As one of the few humans to survive the apocalypse, you have dozens of bored gods in your head competing for your worship.
The daemon stared at me from across the cafeteria. A dozen cans clicked together in my bag.
Upside down face, fangs drooling black ink. Face taker; had a half dozen borrowed lifetimes under it’s belt.
I’d been hoping to avoid this.
The mouth opened and the forked tongue flicked out, eyes flicking across my body. Getting a read of what I’d do.
I didn’t know what I’d do. That was what made me interesting.
I moved first, and threw my satchel across the room towards the exit.
Glad I did, because in the next moment, the beast was moving, launching itself forward on humans legs contorted with black fibres. The table exploded underneath of the creature’s weight, and in the next moment, it caught a chair across it’s fucking ugly face, and I was moving, feeling the strain in the back of my shoulders where I’d thrown it.
It fell over on it’s side, legs flailing like a damn spider, and I fucking booked it.
It screamed in a little girl’s voice in frustration, but by the time it’d flipped over I was already by the door to the cafeteria, hooking my satchel over my shoulder. The cans thumped against my back.
No point looking back. The Daemon would be there until it had my face.
But fuck it, it’d been half a year since the end of the world, and I’d picked up a few tricks as well.
The burnt out building had been a school before the end of the world. Classrooms stood with skeletons rimming them, with the occasional communication on blackboard. Evacuation plans written on walls, yellowed from the black haze in the air. The sun hung low, broken in a grey sky.
But fuck it, and fuck them for dying, I was going to make it out alive.
“Where are you going? Don’t you want to play?” The Face-taker whispered.
Oh my god how I didn’t want to play. Another few yards and I was out of the front of the building. It wasn’t the way I’d came in, but the man-spider had showed up while I was raiding the kitchen, so I was fucked to go back that way.
Which was why I was surprised to find the beast’s web. Braided paper, ribbed, sharp, studded with remnants of the beast’s kills.
And straddling the entirely of the street like a big sticky trap. Crows warked inside of it, screaming for help.
I wasn’t going to have anything to do with them.
I kept running and slammed the rusting doors in front of the Daemon. Okay, fine, the way ahead was blocked, and the way back was covered in a mess of a fucker I didn’t have enough time to deal with.
So I ran across the crackling dried lawn of the school yard, careening towards the fence. Then jump up, did a few lazy steps up the posts (felt it in my legs, I wasn’t made for this at all), wished I’d been into parkour instead of retail, and then hurled myself across the other side.
Which was when shit got bad, because I felt a god slide in behind my eyes. “You seem to be in a bit of trouble,” the god cooed, his voice like a cat’s purr played on a violin.
Amused creature, amused voice. I’d heard them a dozen times, and never had the courage to respond to them. It was bad luck to owe a god a favor of any sort.
I ignored it, and kept right on running.
The man-spider, the face taker, had covered up the road, the easiest way back into the city where I could find my camp and hope to god nobody’d taken my stuff, but that didn’t mean there weren’t alternate routes.
A sprawling mess of alleyways was perfect.
For me and the spider.
I dove into the first one and skidded in the muck; half finished from last night’s rain, drainage clogged up. I clipped my elbow across the wall, stars dancing across my eyes, and barely avoided face planting, but then I was back on my feet.
“Oh,” The face-taker whispered. “You’re hurt. Let me fix that right up for you~!”
It was on the building now, hands digging into the window frames, pressing against nooks and crannies, breaking off fingernails from dead finger tips and it sounded like death itself crawling smooth.
I turned the corner and kept right on running.
Another fence, this one half bladed. If I just got a little further, just a little bit more.
“I can help you know,” The god offered. “If you need it.”
I slammed into the fence and desperately tried to mount it, clawing at it… but momentum failed me and I tumbled back down onto the muck and decay.
Leaving only the spider closing in.
Saw it move, saw the fingers twitch. Another added life the beast’s span. A fucking mindless hunter was coming after me, and it was going to get me because I’d been caught out.
My heart pounded in my chest to see it here. Now that my avenues were reduced…
I didn’t want to do it. Doing it would consign me to misery. Pain. Break the vow I’d made five months ago, when he’d left to go north.
But I wasn’t going to catch up to him without it.
So I broke the vow to remain godless.
“Fine, fine fine,” I muttered under my breath. Fingers balled up into fists. I couldn’t die here. I had to make it to the next city. Had to make sure he was still there, waiting for me.
I couldn’t let him down. Not dying in the middle of a goddamn burnt city like some nobody.
The gods were petty petty devils. The settlements I’d been in had told me that much. Tricky things that demanded and took and competed for followers in the hollowed out shell left behind of planet earth. If I was lucky, it wouldn’t kill me.
If I was unlucky, it might just save me entirely.
“Am I your first?” The god cooed.
I swallowed. I’d heard it hurt.
“Unfortunately…” I whispered. The spider drew closer. I could hear it breathing from its upside down face. Judgement day hadn’t done a thing to it, when man lost the battle.
But we were still clinging on. We were still trying. And if I was lucky, I might get to a hold out point.
My left arm exploded into pain. Skin crawled, nerves re-positioning attached to bone tugging tension. Fist clenched.
A strangled yelp came from my throat, and my stomach heaved.
“Keep it steady,” The god cooed. “Or you might draw another god to laugh at your misfortune for letting my blessing kill you.”
I didn’t want a laugh track to accompany my death, so I clenched my right fist as hard as I could, until the nubs of my fingernails kissed the skin white.
The Face-taker cooed, and the face rotated ninety degrees. A little girl, perhaps, had been the last meal. How many months ago was that?
This city was long gone.
My left arm burst into fire, and then wept shadows.
“Now,” The god said, grinning behind my neck. I could hear the breath on my shoulder, felt the wind whistle with his touch.
And then death, hot, raw, painful, bleeding, leapt from my left hand, obliterated out of my mortal flesh, tugged at the very fabric of my very real soul, and flew at the spider.
A momentary flash of recognition in the beast’s face. Just a moment when the eyes twitched too real, too alive. When it stole their lives, had it taken their minds as well?
Then the blast took it, and it fell coated in spreading black and twitched on the ground at the mouth of the alleyway. Arms flickered and flexed.
My left arm smoked and sizzled. Bones crackled unnaturally. I couldn’t look at it for more than a second.
“I hope you have a way of fixing that,” I muttered. But I’d acknowledged the god again, and they laughed.
“Oh, my darling message boy, we have so much more than just fixing it in mind.”
and distantly, I could hear the whole chorus of gods laughing as they found someone else to torture. Another pilgrim to test to see if he was worthy. Another person to constrain.
But I was a cynic to the core. A dozen gods flitter fluttering past.
But now I owed a favor.
Sweat rolled down my brow. Hitched my backpack across my shoulders again, stepped around the Daemon, and started on my way.
And you repaid the gods, one way or another.