November 27th, 2015.
"Open your eyes, kiddo," said a seemingly cautious and troubled voice of a man.
Natalie was cold, even freezing. She could feel the rough stone beneath her digging into her bare knees, and cold metal around her wrists, holding her arms into the air. Though she could feel everything, her eyelids were heavy and closed tightly.
She opened them, forcing them to quickly adjust to the room around her. As images formed in front of her, she could see a single man. She jolted in shock, but her hands were shackled to the ceiling, and her legs were weak.
Guessing he was just under six feet tall, she could see he was wearing a dark brown heavy coat, the kind you'd expect someone on an expedition to wear, fur around the hood included. Thick black pants and gloves to match, his hood was down. She could just make out his short, parted brown hair. He had stubble in place of a beard and mustache, and didn't appear to have shaven recently. He had both the hilt of a machete, and butt of a rifle coming from his back.
The man held both of his hands towards her as he spoke, to keep her calm.
"Listen, you're in a very bad situation. I'm here to help you get out. You have a lot to catch up on before I release your chains, so we can avoid an incident."
She simply looked back at him both curiously, and in fear. He continued.
"You've been in this facility twice before. You're in Panthalassa once more."
"Panthalassa?" she asked, trying to keep her shaking minor to avoid rattling the chains.
"You don't know of Panthalassa? With someone with as much experience as you in it, I'd assumed you'd worked that out. In short, Panthalassa is Enki's realm. When he has someone he wants to hunt, or someone he needs in isolation, he transports them here. Every time you'd entered the facility, you were in Panthalassa."
"Wait, I'm back here?! You don't mean-"
Her raising voice was cut off by the man's hand over her lips.
"Yes, you're here once more. Your child was born, Natalie. This facility exists for the sole purpose of you raising your child in the way deemed necessary. You had your mind taken from you, and a friend broke the control. He chained you up so that you wouldn't panic and run, along with forcing you to remain unconscious until I arrived."
She spoke through her muffled voice beneath his hand until he moved it.
"It was designed for that? Then Joseph was my fault..."
"No, the blame falls on many things, none of them being you. Jackson is an entirely different topic, kid. We really need to get the hell out of here."
She nodded in agreement, as the man leaned forward and examined the chains around her wrist. As he leaned forward, she could see the machete and 30-aught-6 on his back were held on by makeshift sheaths from some sort of leather.
"Why are you helping me? You went through a lot of trouble. Are you some sort of saint?" she asked gratefully.
"I'm definitely not a saint. I've done more twisted things than you could imagine, kid."
"I can imagine some very twisted things."
She felt her right hand release from the brace around her wrist. As he moved to her left hand, the man kept talking.
"My name's Michael Asher. If you wanted to know why I was helping you, we'd need a damn long time to explain it, and time is something we don't have. Just know that when you're out of here, I'm giving you your life back. You're going home, and all of this will be over."
"You're giving me my normal life back?"
"Mhmm," he answered. "Your privacy, dignity, life-"
The cuff around her wrist came apart, freeing her from the chain.
"And your freedom," Michael added.
Natalie felt her wrists, rubbing them and soothing the tense pain. When she felt ready, she began to stand. Stumbling at first, Michael stretched one arm out to make sure she didn't fall, re-balancing her. Once she gained her footing, she spoke.
"How long have I been controlled?"
Michael waited a brief moment.
"It's November twenty-seventh."
"November twenty-seventh?!" she repeated, the color draining from her face.
"I took some time to prepare for this. I've survived in Panthalassa since the end of April. The same month you were taken."
"I don't understand, how do you know so much about me?"
"I know your name is Natalie Sutton. I know you live in Tutelo on Highpoint street. I know you are currently seventeen years old, and I know that this world itself wants you dead, now that you're able to think properly. So, if you don't mind, can we get going now, or would you like to stay here, becoming the post-mortal trophy wife of a random creature out of your nightmares?" he snapped at her.
She didn't bother saying anything more. Her head was a vicious storm of questions, but she had to find the calm. For the time being, that is. She stayed quiet, and took a step towards Michael.
"Good," he continued. "Through this door, you listen to everything I say. This is survival or fates worse than death. We won't have time for second thoughts."
His eyes kept track of her with eagle-like pride and dominance, asserting himself as her only hope.
"If you can really give me my life back... everything I had before all of this, I can't think of anything I'd want more."
Michael looked down, breaking his stare. A smile began to creep its way up his right cheek, before his face reset.
"It's a promise."
Into the Hellmouth
Turning around, Michael put one hand on the lever-mechanism on the door. Pulling it towards himself, Natalie could hear the locking mechanism sliding around and opening.
"Effective locking mechanism. Closed it behind me to prevent any aggressive interruptions."
Natalie didn't want to think about what was down here that forced even this seemingly seasoned man to take precautions, even for a few fast minutes.
When the door's lock was completely finished, he pressed on the door, swinging it open. The door eventually hit a wall to the right, when it faced directly forward.
"So, we're at the corner of a hallway or passageway."
"Don't even bother attempting to figure out a way out of here from memory. Hell, I'm willing to bet the layout is severely different from when I entered just under an hour ago. Took me a bit to find you. You certainly realized on your second trip here that it was different and didn't make sense."
"Well, if the door locks from the inside, how did your friend even manage to lock me in here without getting stuck?"
Michael fully smiled this time, even giggling with it.
"You really don't understand where you are. You have a lot to learn."
Beyond him was the dark. Almost completely pitch-black, it was impossible to see more than five feet in front of his face. Switching on the flashlight on his shoulder, it provided a few feet of light.
The air was frigid, and smelled of wet stone. Michael pulled his hood up over his head before pressing on into the hallway, signalling for her to follow him.
They paced their footsteps and made sure not to walk flat-footed. If there was one thing they didn't need, it was excess sound echoing through the halls. Creeping through the darkness, Natalie couldn't help but at least try to make up her surroundings.
She looked around for a good thirty seconds before Michael came to a hard stop, causing her to accidentally walk into him from behind.
"And here comes the fun part," he said. "The fucker changed the path, just like he does anytime someone's here. We're going to have to find a way out the same way you did before."
"Searching aimlessly?" she said, looking around Michael at what his flashlight was showing.
What she saw shocked her with horrific memories. Four rotten wooden doors. Two on each side. Dead end straight forward.
"These doors!" she said, attempting to keep herself quiet. "They were in the hallway the trapdoor led to!"
"Similar layout, most likely."
He didn't wait to start searching. Taking the attachable flashlight off of his shoulder, he held it in his left hand. In his right, he armed himself with his machete. As it slid out of its sheath, Natalie couldn't help but get shivers.
He scanned around the door's frame with the flashlight, before centering the light. Pushing on the door with his machete-equipped hand, he used the light around the room. Natalie watched with a keen eye.
To the left there was an old, torn up green couch with wood sticking up from the top, a rotted circular table with empty pill bottles laying over it, and some split pipes sticking out from the wall to the right of the door.
"I've been here before. This exact room, I mean."
"This place changes whenever Enki wants it to. Same rooms and hallways, always in a different order. Only other people to have come down here never got out," he responded, turning around and walking towards the door across from him.
"Have you been here before as well?"
"I spent a lot of time here. You really have to admire the architecture, as far as stability goes, don't you?"
"It's a hellhole!" she quietly responded.
"Actually, I've nicknamed it Hellmouth."
Looking around this door frame with the light, he again apparently spotted nothing out of the ordinary. Opening the door, there was only darkness. He aimed at the corners, revealing walls of concrete that stretched forward into an abyss.
Tilting the flashlight into the darkness, he looked at Natalie and nodded his head, directing her to look behind them. She could see a faint light coming from the end of the hallway.
"But how? There was no door on that end of the hallway, was there?"
"There is now," Michael added, going to the door to his right.
Scanning the door frame, he came to a sudden stop. Throwing his arm up to stop Natalie from advancing, he calmly spoke about what he saw.
"Small cast-iron notch. Tilts down from the ceiling, over to the other door. The same shade as the cement around it. Designed to shoot a poisoned spike once the door opposite of it was opened."
Natalie looked at the door, then back over towards the trap.
"We don't have much of a choice. We have to go through one of the doors," Michael continued, reattaching his flashlight to his right shoulder.
"One's boobytrapped to shoot at us when we open it, and the other is possibly just as dangerous."
"Then we're at an understanding, that no matter what choice we make, we're still taking a risk."
Natalie approached Michael, standing right behind him.
"At your lead."
"Same process as before. You stay behind me. Walk quietly. Listen to everything I say."
She nodded to him. Opening the door, he revealed yet another hallway. Looking down the hallway they had already traveled down, Natalie couldn't see the flashlight. This was a new passageway. Along the walls, on both the left and right side, were lines cut into the walls about three and a half feet off of the ground. Michael rubbed his right index finger along the line as they walked forward.
They pressed on together. The passageway only got colder and colder as they walked. The air was a lot thicker here, and there was no end in sight. The very faint footsteps they couldn't fully muffle were the only sounds to meet their ears, excluding the two of them attempting to regulate their breath.
If Natalie didn't know better, she'd think her blood was turning into a jagged stone inside of her veins. Her movements became rugged, her muscles tense, and her skin started to hurt. That's when Michael felt some resistance on his right ankle as he stepped forward - that of a wire. The wire gave out, breaking and falling. He nearly stumbled over it, but stopped himself with his other foot.
"There it is..." she could hardly hear him mumble to himself.
Using his left hand, he had three fingers out. Putting one away each second, there was a quiet click from inside the walls when all of his fingers were gone. In front of them by about fifteen feet, they could see thick steel cable shoot from the left wall to the right, before locking into place.
Turning around and jumping in one motion, Michael tackled Natalie to the ground. Just as they hit the hard and unforgiving floor, the cable shot past them at incredible speeds, all the way to the entrance of the hallway itself. When its travel stopped, the wire was let go by the right wall, where it was sucked back into the left.
"Crisis averted. No one's cut in half from the stomach," Michael joked, laying on the ground.
"My guts thank you," Natalie joked back.
Before they could even stand, a ear drum shredding roar came from the end of the hallway. Sounding like steam rushing out of a melting kettle, Natalie covered her ears. Michael didn't. He was all too familiar with this roar. Grabbing her head and jumping on his feet before his heart could finish the beat it was on, he pulled her out of the room and began sprinting for an exit.
"What was that?!" Natalie asked, sprinting with him.
They reached the entrance much faster than they originally walked away from it. Thankfully, it was still open. They could hear the sound of heavy feet smashing into the floor, four feet in total. It was catching up - and fast.
When they passed through the door, there was no stopping. Michael rammed into the door across from them, maintaining his momentum. As they continued their sprint into yet another dark hallway, they could hear the boobytrap shoot a pike at them, which was powerful enough to stick into the stone just inches away from Natalie.
The rumbling of the beast behind them only became more powerful, though Michael could distinctly hear four running feet become two, as the assimilator began sprinting on two legs as well. He could hear both the ceiling and walls being chipped away as the creature's size apparently tore through the slightly too small running space. The flashlight was shaking too violently from the sprinting to make out exact shapes.
In the chaos, he could see two things. The end of the hallway, and a large square hole in the ground. There were no second thoughts. Going from a full sprint to a free-fall jump, the pair both fell into the seemingly endless abyss below. The sprinting of the chasing creature stopped. It did not follow.
Goat Horns Among Humanity
Flying down into the shadows, they could hardly even see each other. Falling at escalating speeds, Michael stretched his limbs outward.
"Where are we going?" Natalie screamed.
"I couldn't tell you even if I knew, just brace yourself!"
The world around them seemingly shifted. They could both, hardly through the panic, make out the sound of crumbling stone. Large sums of dust and small pieces of rock bombarded them, causing them both to close their eyes.
Then, nothing. The falling feeling had come to a complete stop. Michael opened his eyes to see that walls stood by his side, his back to the floor. The light of torches that somehow still burned on said walls illuminated the room enough to show him the massive hole in the ceiling, which they had just come from.
"How the fuck are we still alive?" he asked in a moment of disbelief.
"Uh, Michael?" she responded just as confused.
When he turned to look at her, he felt his entire body shift. Spinning around, he could see that they were mere inches off of the ground, floating. He could also see that the wall in front of him had a single door, decorated with obsidian and gold.
The only other exit was a wooden door opposite this one. His confusion became hatred at the site of the door alone. The pair both fell to the ground, stomach first. Unlike Natalie, Michael jumped up and unsheathed the machete from his back.
Before she could even question what he was doing, he was already pushing on the door. From the scrapping sound of the door on the stone floor, she could make out that it was extremely heavy. He struggled to push it open, using his machete-equipped arm to push into it. When the door crossed into the territory of the room beyond, it simply flew open.
On the other side was Mendes, about fifty feet onward, surrounded by nothingness. The dethroned God of knowledge, now with flesh and hair, sat in a black void on the same level as the floor Michael was standing on.
The skull that once sat on his head was a fully alive deer head, and his black cloak still covered his abdomen. Chains around his wrists which reached forever into the nothingness, holding his arms in a "v" position. He was looking down into the darkness below him.
Natalie screamed out when she saw Mendes, immediately recognizing him, even with the skeletal corpse now a living body.
"He's the one that led Joseph and I back here!"
Michael simply walked into the darkness without a word. He did not fall into the void, but rather continued forward at the same level.
Mendes didn't look up at Michael as he approached. Whether that was due to a flood of regret or hate was unknown. When Michael reached him, he hit him across the face with his unarmed left hand.
"Look at me! You fucking look at me!"
Though Mendes was on his knees, he was eye level with Michael when he sluggishly looked up. His eyes were filled with sorrow and incomprehensible emotional pain.
"... I loved you as a true friend even in the moments you struck me down. I tried to save your species from Ereshkigal, you stood against me-"
Michael raised the machete to Mendes' neck, laying it across.
Natalie stood and watched, attempting to draw in any of their cryptic discussion, hoping to piece together the backstory between the two.
"Everything was the fault of you and Enki! You helped all of this! I banished you here instead of killing you, and I've thought back on that choice these last few months. You took everything from me. Everything! Jonah, Vincent, Joshua, Melody!"
Cutting through the bloodcurdling aggression, Dread's voice came from the void.
"Melody died at her own accord, to preserve your life."
When the voice faded away, Dread stepped out from the void. His silver laughing drama mask came first, with the black trench coat that was just a few shades lighter than the rest of their surroundings coming into view next. When he was in full sight, he was just feet to Michael's left.
Michael recoiled at the sight of the deity of humanity.
"Indeed. You currently hold a blade to the throat of one of our own. Mendes accepted the philosophy and turned against Enki, attempting to separate the child from Natalie. It was you whom stood against him and returned the child. Now, you hold such a hatred for Enki that you directly go against him. All it took was a few months of thinking on your lord, and the philosophy itself. Now, imagine if you worked with Enki since the beginning of the universe. Nothing can summarize how much regret Mendes feels for his servitude, and for the species that fell at their hands."
Natalie couldn't understand what was going on, but each sentence between the three simply scrambled her mind even further. She was in shock, but walked forward at the mention of her name.
"... You worked for who?" she questioned, her voice filled with the tone of betrayal.
Dread broke eye contact with Michael and went to Natalie, placing his right arm around her as he walked her into the void. Michael slowly retracted his blade from Mendes' throat, but didn't look away from his eyes.
"Do not fear. Micheal is the one whom contacted me to chain you up so that you wouldn't move whilst brain controlled, thus he could save you from this torment. At one point, young one, all three of us served Enki. I turned against him far before your time. When you met Mendes, he was still aligned with Enki, and thus you lost your dear friend, Joseph. He then accepted the philosophy I attempted to spread to him and felt guilt for his past actions, standing against Enki beside me," Dread attempted to explain, as he slowly walked Natalie to Michael and Mendes.
"Who is Enki?"
"You knew him by the simple name, The Tormentor. Enki is the sentient shard of the universe, Mendes was knowledge, and I am humanity. Enki finds sentient life, teaches it and helps it grow, and once it develops, destroys it. He then uses the knowledge he gains to teach the next species. I, Mendes, and now Michael, want to stop this cycle. We want to rid humanity of this burden, thus save it."
They had reached Dread's original position. Standing to the left of Michael by about ten feet, Dread continued.
"When Mendes made a deal with you to remove the child from your uterus, he did it under the guise of having Enki cease his torment. In reality, it was an act of defiance. Michael accepted the philosophy and now stands against Enki as well. You have already met the child you birthed in your time here."
"What of the people Michael listed?"
Dread simply looked up at Michael.
"I will leave that up to Michael to tell you."
Mendes opened his mouth once more, beckoning to Michael.
"Little root - Collins - I-"
"Don't fucking call me that!" Michael retaliated, pressing the blade harder into him.
The machete's blade was just beginning to puncture enough skin to draw the first drop of blood. Michael thought on it, and he thought hard. Michael drew his blade back to his left shoulder, ready to swing if the choice was made.
"Michael, he's on our side. You blame Mendes for the actions of Enki, which he was simply a pawn in!" Dread exclaimed.
"He hurt me as well," Natalie cut in. "But if he can help make things righ-"
"Everything that happened before we turned against Enki, we did in servitude. I truly feel nothing but horror knowing what I caused and spread under him. If it is vengeance that will make it right in the universe, so be it. It won't bring Melody back, you'll still be a necrophiliac, a cannibal, a traitor to your friends, and a trophy of Enki's work," Mendes cut in.
Micheal let out a scream of rage as he swung the machete to the right in one furious show of bloodlust. The blade cut through the wind before it touched flesh, slicing through Mendes' neck. The sharp sound of the wind was completely halted by the meat's distinct ripping sound that was only broken by the sound of the disconnecting spinal cord, with the thick muscle's resistance offering nothing in Michael's way.
The red ichor of the once-was god flew to the right, as the now decapitated head released from the body, crashing into the group with a thunderous thud. The ever-flowing stream that released from the neck sprayed upwards, shooting out of the body. As the blood sprayed out, some of it crashed into Michael, painting the large areas of his left sleeve and arm red.
Once the deed was done, Michael was unable to comprehend what he just did. Mendes was once his master, his partner, and even his close friend. What was once a blind need for revenge, was now replaced with empathy, sadness, betrayal, and an emptiness in the spot that Mendes once filled in his soul.
He simply didn't feel full anymore, and he didn't know how he felt about that. He spent every sentient moment of his life with Mendes either above him or beside him, excluding these last months - since their conflict. He simply stood looking at the corpse, arm still extended, and machete at his side.
Dread and Natalie both stood in shock. Natalie wouldn't speak, but she had no qualms with the death of Mendes. She very much blamed him for Joseph's death and her rape, regardless of how he attempted to redeem himself.
Dread, on the other hand, had no words. Mendes was dead. A deity he had spent so much time attempting to convince and save from his dark alliance, now nothing but a bleeding corpse, killed by what was once his loyal servant and friend.
Dread was weak at the knees. He didn't let out a sound as the eyes of his mask flashed a piercing blue. Everything was a blinding flash, blocking all vision once more for Micheal and Natalie. When the flash was over, they were no longer in the void.
Dread, Mendes' chained body, and the darkness was all gone. They were back in the prior room with the torches on the walls, this time with no obsidian and gold door. The only exit was the wooden one across from where the decorated one was.
The blood dripping from his machete was very much still there.
Path of Subterfuge
Michael stood holding his arm away from his side, slightly pointed to the ground. The only sounds in the room were Michael's heavy breathing, and the occasional drop of blood from the machete. Natalie stood quietly, cold as ice, yet her face as hot as fire.
She was confused and curious at some of the things Mendes spoke about, but most of all, she was frightened by Michael's sudden burst of rage, and willingness to kill someone he apparently once considered a best friend and even a lord. She still didn't have any reservations about the cervine deity's death.
It was Michael that eventually broke the silence.
"... I have waited so long to do that. So many times I had questioned his leadership and demands. So many deaths that needed repaid... it's a small victory in and of itself."
Natalie flinched as he straightened his posture and flicked the machete to send most of the loose blood onto the ground. The sound of the blade cutting through the air was spine shivering.
"Michael," she slowly forced out, hardly able to form words in her fearful stutter. "What was Mendes talking about when he-"
He was aggressive in his language, almost as much as he was with Mendes. She took a step back, and raised her hands up in front of her chest to keep space between them as a reflex. Michael watched and noticed how cautious she was being. He sheathed the machete and kept his hands at his sides as fists, clenching them to the point of severe discomfort.
"I'll tell you all about everything Mendes and Enki told me to do, and everything I did for them when we get out of here, but we only raise our chances of dying the more we stay in here, you understand? I'm not going to hurt you. Mendes was a monster, Nat."
It took a moment, but she believed him. She couldn't quite tell why - he had just decapitated someone he most likely said more promises to than greetings, but she believed him. She was reassured. Carefully putting her arms back down, she looked towards the only remaining door in the room. The wooden door.
"Shall we go through the only exit, or do you have more tricks up your sleeve?" she joked, attempting to take the light off of the aggression.
She could see as Michael's fists became looser, and eventually open. His anger was leaving his body. In fact, he wasn't even thinking about Mendes at this point. He was only thinking of how he was finally standing against Enki, and how he was finally making things right in some way or another.
"The door will suffice for now," he joked back.
He took a deep breath, before he walked over to the door. As he got closer, he could see that a small hole had rotted into the wood - perfectly eye level. He looked through before recoiling back and covering it with his hand, eyes widened.
"I want you to know that whatever is through this door, we absolutely have to make it to the other side. We can't turn around once we step in here."
"What's on the other side?"
Placing his hand on the doorknob, he opened it just fast enough that the smell wouldn't overtake her in one rush.
On the other side of the door were three steps that led down into a long, thin pool, with three steps on the other side leading to another door.
The pool contained no water, though. Instead, countless corpses filled the trench for all of the estimated fifty feet to the other side. Their blood filled the spaces between them, even overflowing above them at times.
Some bodies fully naked, all in various stages of decay. The stench was thick and full of rotting meat and nickle coin, with insects crawling through the bodies in their vicious feast. Different gases flowed in the air from the bodies.
Some were purple and black, bloated to the point they might burst and expel their innards, whilst others were still tan-skinned and tense from rigor mortis. Most of them either had bile seeping from their mouths, or waste speeding from the rest of them.
"Oh my God!" she yelled as she covered her mouth, gagging uncontrollably. "How didn't we smell this?!"
"A lot of this place doesn't work how it should."
The two of them simply stared at the room disgustedly, but Michael was ready to take the plunge. Natalie was far less so. Hesitant to even walk towards the steps, Michael was already one step down before she knew it. He reached out his hand to her.
She reluctantly stepped forward and grabbed his hand.
As one they stepped down the stairs, but it was his feet that met the gore first. Sinking down between the first two bodies, the blood floated up into his boots, flooding in. It was heavy to raise feet out of the muck, but he made progress.
When she stepped in, it was the stench that got to her the most. She hadn't become anywhere near as desensitized as he had to this sort of thing, but she didn't know that the wretched smell would become this much worse every inch she gained on it. She covered her nose with her other hand.
Before they knew it, they had struggled their way about five feet from the stairs, only inches away from each other.
"My personal hell of an eternity is finally over, and I find myself looking back at it. I saw more of humanity in those repeating settings than anyone could imagine. I have all of the power I could have imagined, but I have to admit there were quite a few parts I enjoyed-" they both heard a mysterious voice say, seemingly from all over the room itself.
"Jackson! That was Jackson's voice!" Natalie yelled out, as she began to frantically look around.
Michael pulled her in close, one hand on each shoulder.
"I've heard enough about Jackson in my lifetime to assure you that he's dead, Nat. I even heard from him after... something I'll tell you later. He's dead. We're in Panthalassa, you have to remember that. You're hearing his memories, nothing more!"
"What if he comes back, Michael! What if he comes for me?!"
Tears flowed down her cheeks like a torture victim. Michael responded quietly and honestly, holding her still.
"Then I'll fucking gut him. I'll drag my machete across his stomach and let his entrails fly. I'll add him to this room's wide collection of corpses, and bury him deeper than anyone has ever been buried before. I promised to protect you. We need to keep moving."
She looked into his eyes for a few undisturbed seconds, and while she didn't stop crying, she began walking through the mess of bile and flesh once more.
They made it about twenty long feet further. They were both enduring severe pain in their legs from how difficult it was to maneuver in this cesspool. Their breathing became heavier, though they didn't want to breath in the rancid fumes around them. Regulating their breath was both a must, and an obstacle.
"One of my favorite moments was when Natalie and I had our special moment. It wasn't so much the action itself that I loved reliving over and over again, but the aftermath. Watching her crawl away with that line of blood from between her legs? Priceless."
Once more Natalie's crying escalated to the point of collapsing. She bent over, both arms on her stomach, a fine stream of tears falling from her face into the unpleasant water below, only further corrupting it.
Michael couldn't blame her. He knew the trauma she was going through, and he knew it was the darkest part of her soul. Instead of pulling her forward forcibly, he closed in and hugged her. She threw both arms around her back and buried her face in his neck, crying on his shoulder. He'd never hugged anyone, nor been hugged quite so tight in his life.
"I'm going to get you out of here, and get you resituated anywhere you want. Then, we'll get you on so many antidepressants you couldn't take an insult personally if you tried. Just keep fighting. He's long dead."
"Being dead didn't stop him last time!"
"You didn't have Dread and I last time."
In their embrace, they could make out the faint, then heavy pounding of footsteps. Like drums on a viking warship, their advance signaled a coming terror. Louder and louder, they were eventually right behind the door the two were walking their way towards.
Michael pushed all of his weight forward, tipping Natalie into the disgusting collection of bodies, dipping into the red water. As Natalie was about to yell out, Michael pulled the nearest body by the wrist onto them, covering them at stomach level. Both of their heads were slightly tilted upwards, allowing them to see the door.
Almost entirely hidden from outside view, the door burst open just as Natalie was about to ask Michael what the hell he was doing. Her crying came to a complete stop. Her breath became still. The assimilator had arrived once more, which, even though he wouldn't admit it to Natalie, brought back memories for Michael.
The room on the other side was just as lit as this one, allowing for a full view of the assimilator. Standing at nine feet tall when fully bipedal (and it often, even as a child, also walked quadrupedally), though it seemed to walk with a slouched posture at all times, like that of a raptor.
The body was distorted, with the flesh shredded all over, hanging down like cloth. The stomach was caved in, granting a full view of the ribs as they almost pierced their way out. It looked starved, but Michael knew that was not the case. Its eyes glowed blue, which conflicted with the skinless, revealed-muscle body. Both the hands and feet were paired with claws, each claw being inches in length.
The head was still a revealed skull, but it simply didn't look human anymore. With two large horns and two small horns on top, the skull looked alien. More compact than normal around the nose, which was simply two holes for nostrils with no other impressions, the mouth is where the head was the most strange, specifically the teeth. The teeth were long and thin, but twisted and even split like tree branches at points. Overlapping the "lips", the teeth were outside of the mouth and interlocked, even when the mouth was closed.
The tail was now much longer than he remembered, being almost as long as the creature itself. The end of the tail was still tipped with a hypodermic needle-like ending. Its back was now decorated with metal spikes that traveled from the base of the neck to the end of the tail, and, most shockingly, a pair of bird-like wings, which even when folded took up a large sum of space. The feathers were a glistening white.
The assimilator bent over and let loose at least a quart of white bile onto the bodies that were the closest to it. They immediately began melting away as the super-strong stomach acid ate at them. The smell of rotting meat was soon replaced with something along the lines of spoiled milk, as the assimilator sat and waited for the corpses to melt fully. That was when Jackson's voice returned.
'Last, you have Enki's child - or rather, my child. Enki already chose a name for it, Abaddon. He claims it holds a significant place among the culture of a wide sum of humans, but I never recalled caring much about anything in that idiotic book. Regardless, he has great plans for that child. It's a wonderful thing that I was the one to bring him to this Earth.'
"So, you've named him Abaddon," Michael whispered to himself.
"Is that... it?" Natalie asked, just as quietly.
All he could do was nod to her as they watched Abaddon, as it was named, suck the white liquid back into its body in one distinguished line. It gave off far more of an aggressive eating sound than a drinking sound. As the white liquid entered its body, the tail slowly grew at the same pace. By the time it was done absorbing all of it, the tail had grown about half a foot in total.
Abaddon looked up from his meal, looking down the room. Both Natalie and Michael stayed perfectly still, even going as far as to completely hold their breath. It had seemingly picked up on their whispers, as it intently stared forward.
In just a moment, Abaddon turned around and ran at great speeds, turning left right on the other side of the door. His monstrous footsteps became more and more faint, before they were simply not heard at all. Michael raised his hand with all five fingers extended.
Without warning, he sprung up and grabbed her hand, bolting for the door at a full sprint. From the room behind them, where they had originally fallen into when Abaddon first chased them, they heard one of the stone walls blow in as if a stick of dynamite had been set off.
"I knew there was most likely a dead end at some point that led to that wall. He doesn't care about dead ends!"
Adrenaline acting as their fuel, they reached the door in no time, jumping over the three stairs and lunging out of the door, they heard as Abaddon's feet splash into the foul water. Natalie closed the door behind them with her free hand.
Three paths met up where they were standing, one forward, and one at each side. Though the paths to each side were lit, the path forward was pitch black. Though the smell of carcass was gone once more, the smell was replaced with wet stone.
Just as the door closed, Abaddon shrieked on the other side. The familiar rumble of the shifting Hellmouth returned, cement and stone breaking and dust being kicked up, though it was all contained to the other side of the door this time. Abaddon's scream became more quiet as time went on, as the room he was in was apparently dragged away.
After the stone stopped shifting and the scream was gone, Natalie placed her hand back on the doorknob. If the beast wanted through the door again - if it was even on the other side, she knew it would simply fling open the door again, or simply bash it down.
Pulling the door towards her in one swift second, only a wall of solid stone greeted her on the other side.
From behind the pair was a single flash as bright as lightning. Michael, unlike Natalie, knew exactly what that meant. As she spun around to see what caused the flash, Michael drew his machete and turned around.
In front of them was a man in white robes that reached the floor, with his hands and face, the only part of him not covered in the robes, giving off a light so bright that any features at all were impossible to make out. He was just as tall as Dread and Mendes were, towering over Michael and Natalie. Natalie let out a gasp before the man spoke in the honeyed voice that you would expect from a holy figure. Deep and oddly sweet, yet intimidating.
"Is this how you come to greet a god?" he said in a disgusted tone, waving his hand as if turning them away.
The blood that they had been drenched in from the previous room had simply disappeared off of them, but the blood on Michael from Mendes stayed untouched.
"Are you the one that had just sent Abaddon away by shifting the Hellmouth, Enki?" Michael asked, holding the machete up in an offensive position.
"No, Abaddon has the ability to alter the Hellmouth on his own accord. He has the divinity of his father, mind you. He can change the layout of this place as he pleases. Also, I'll remind you that your blades will not, and can not, inflict damage upon me."
Michael still didn't lower the blade.
"His father? You're Enki?" Natalie asked, feeling not only anger at this confrontation, but also disparaged.
"That is correct, child. Jackson contained my seed within him during your impregnation. You may remember me in a far more vile form, which I believe Joseph Kaufman nicknamed "The Tormentor"," Enki responded, fully monotonous.
"Why me, lord? If you're a god, why did you chose me? Why did you have Joseph killed?"
"Because you were already close to Jackson. As for Joseph, he was an obstacle to get to you, but towards the end it was simply a rivalry between Jackson and Joseph, that Jackson took into his own hands when he received the opportunity."
"We're just toys to you! We were good people! We were happy! How can you call yourself a god? A god should act out of love, out of care!" she retaliated, her frustrations echoing throughout all three hallways.
Even Michael was shocked that she would choose such a tone in the presence of Enki.
"Do not mistake my cruel actions for hatred, child. I love all of the life within me equally. Upon finding an intelligent life form, I aid it in growing. Mendes was also involved in this process, but I can feel that he will not be any further," Enki said whilst looking at Michael. "Once it reaches full maturity, and I collect all knowledge it has amassed, I put an end to it. I then go to the next developing life form, and complete my cycle once more. I do this out of equal love for all of you. Abaddon will be the one to end your species before I continue to the next. He is your destiny."
She was breathing heavily at this point, and any further arguing on her end with Enki could end very badly for everyone involved - except the god.
"Why would Abaddon send himself away if he is hunting us?" Michael asked more aggressively, taking Enki's focus off of Natalie, and putting it back onto him.
"He is still just a confused child. He wants his mother, whom would be Natalie Sutton, and he is willing to kill to get her back. He then notices it is his old friend, Michael Asher who is the one that has taken her. What do you think this does to a child's mind? He is still very undecided on whether he wants to kill you or not, and he's having a very confusing time attempting to chose between the two."
He thought on that for a moment, before getting straight to the point.
"So why do you appear here in front of us, in your true form, nonetheless?"
"I have something I must ask, Michael."
"What could you possibly ask of me?"
"What do you think you will accomplish here? If you and Natalie escape into your world, it's only a matter of months until the species will be smitten. Cleared from the slate. Is it some sort of redemption you seek? Do you believe making this one choice of yours "fixed" in your eyes will correct everything you did under my rule that you see as wrong?"
Natalie picked up on one of the details Enki has just let out.
"His choice?" she asked, almost scared of the answer.
Enki proudly answered.
"It was Michael that both delivered Abaddon back to you, and made the choice to brainwash you into raising him. It was he that created the mask Jackson wore, and the icon he used to summon me to any location at a moment's notice in my hunting form. This very facility you stand in, the Hellmouth as he calls it now, he built specifically for you to raise Abaddon in. Even though it is now ever-changing, the reason you've gotten this far, is that he can at least remember the layout of the moving rooms."
She immediately had conflicting thoughts on the entire situation. Was he in this for himself somehow? Was she really just a ticket to redemption in his eyes? Was his promise of a normal life even possible?
"Everything I ever did wrong is your fault! It was all at your command!"
"Now, you believe in saving the species you worked with me in preparing to erase. Is that not simply the philosophy of a madman getting to you? It found its way into Mendes' head, which you have now severed from the body, even though you fought for the same side."
"You don't want to face the fact that humanity stands a chance, Ereshkigal. Dread told me a lot on that boat. It turned your best two servants against you. At what point will you acknowledge what stands against you and let humanity be?"
"You mean the philosophy of that darkened soul Olen Grant," Enki added. "Or should I say Jackson Wilkerson?"
Both Natalie and Michael looked at Enki confused, neither following him fully.
"When Olen was born, I was already watching him. He had something fascinating about him that I had never encountered before. The darkness of his spirit was unmatched to anything I'd ever encountered. When he launched his killing spree in Santa Monica back in 1946, I sent Dread to observe him and record what he did. Even as a child, it was as if Olen's mind was fully developed to the level of an adult. I've never seen anything like it."
Enki took a deep breath in nostalgic anger before continuing.
"This proved to be a bad decision on my end. Olen was killed by detective William Taggart. With his soul in my possession, I was given a chance to experiment. Cleaning his memories and experiences, I placed his soul into the fetus of a woman a few decades later. This child was born as Jackson Wilkerson. Taggart had moved east to Tutelo, Pennsylvania, and eventually had a son of his own. This son had his own child, which was Joseph Kaufman."
Michael looked over at Natalie, whom shared his stare. Both of them shared the same distraught expression, before he broke eye contact and directed his attention to Enki once more.
"And that's what led you to chose Tutelo, because Taggart's grandson was there. That in turn led to you selecting Natalie, as both Joseph and Jackson were close to her. Am I getting this right?"
"You have it perfectly, my child."
"You decided you'd reincarnate the most vile, corrupted thing you've come across? Does Jackson know about this?"
"I am not sure reincarnate is the proper word to use here. Whilst it is the same soul, the personality was, as with anyone, built around their life experiences and outside stimuli. Same soul, different people. Why, it was much to my confusion when Jackson turned out to accept my leadership so willingly at such a young age, and it shocks me even more so he stuck with it. He has known about his origin since he was young. In fact, it was given to him when he first proved his loyalty. He rejected Olen Grant's ideas completely."
Natalie had to ask. Though she hated Jackson more than she could possibly hate anything else, she still thought of him as a friend before all of this happened. As far as she knew, it was a betrayal of his friends, not a simple ruse.
"Since he was a child? Was he r-really ever a friend of Joseph and I?"
"Since the moment his sentience sparked, he was made aware of my presence. Jackson has no empathy towards others. He is the most apathetic being I have ever met. The entire world is a playground to him, excluding one thing. His loyalty towards me never wavered," Enki finished, now looking at Michael.
Michael knew exactly what he was getting at. Before Michael could think of a snarky response, Enki twitched back to Natalie.
"You," he said, raising his finger to her. "You don't like thinking of the fact Jackson was once a child. You don't like knowing that the man that impregnated you was always this way, nor the fact he's a human, like you. Why, even when he was a child, he let his emotions be expressed in odd manners. Whilst he might not have truly loved you as a friend, as you thought, he still had emotions. That's the part that didn't make sense to me. Whilst Olen completely rejected the presence of any being above man, Jackson latched onto it. In fact, he expressed it as a child."
Putting both of his hands together, Enki placed them against his chest, standing in the sort of holy pose you'd expect to see in a renaissance painting. With another small flash, he opened his hands. In his hands was a crude, childish drawing in crayon on paper. It represented three beings.
On the far left was Enki. His face and hands were completely pale, which Michael assumed meant Jackson, as a child, had seen Enki's true form. Displayed in his white robe, he was letting off some sort of aura that kept the shadows around him at bay.
In the middle was Dread. His silver laughing drama mask displayed on top and signature black overcoat gave it away. The space around him was completely colored red. Michael couldn't think of what this could signify.
On the far right was Mendes, still in his skeletal form. His arms appeared to be twisted, and he was in his charcoal robe. The space around him was colored brown, which he could theorize on for days.
All of which were facing left, looking at the one in front of them. Enki allowed the two of them to get a look at the paper before pressing it up against his chest, and with another contained flash, it was gone.
"Mendes is someone I've known since the first sapient species came into being in the universe. When the first creature became sentient, Mendes came to be. That first species was also the first that fell to my cycle, but Mendes became a friend," Enki stated. This was the first time Enki had ever spoken in a tone that even hinted at being nostalgic or sad, and not even just to the ears of man.
"Just like Dread for humanity," Michael added.
"That is an anomaly even I cannot explain. There is no reason that Dread should have manifested."
Enki looked at both of them. Natalie was looking back at him as if he was the most revolting being conceivable, whilst Michael still gave him his combat-ready look. Enki straightened his posture, looming over Michael.
"I'm positive you know how this ends, Michael," Enki said, sounding even a bit remorseful. "You were a prime subject until you decided to stand against me. For that, you will meet nonexistence."
Enki pulled his right arm back, ready to strike. Though his hand was too bright to see clearly, crystalline blades grew from where his fingers were. A jagged blue light often stereotypically associated with lightning began traveling up and down the length of his arm. Michael knew that escaping the wrath of Enki was a dream no one could achieve, but he stood defensive, putting his arm in front of Natalie.
Just as Enki tried to step forward and slice at them with a lunge, Michael watched as a plethora of arms seemingly made from black smoke reached out from the void behind Enki and grabbed his arm, completely halting his swing.
Enki himself was caught off guard. Not only had he been physically hindered, but he had stopped by something with enough strength to hold him back. Turning to look at what could have possibly halted his attack, he looked behind him to see a silver mask in his face, decorated with a laughing grin. Enki opened his mouth to say something, but was instantly hit with the metallic impact of the mask headbutting him in the face.
All of the arms let go as Enki grabbed his face with both hands, taking a few steps back. The impact of metal against his head echoed seemingly endless times in the halls. Michael was in shock. Dread had just struck Enki! Not only had no damage ever come to the deity before, but until this point, nothing was even capable of assaulting the god.
"There comes a time when gods have to stop fighting to be above man, so that they can welcome humanity among them. You have yet to learn this," Dread said, tilting his head to the left as he spoke.
Enki attempted to strike Dread back, but Dread dodged to the left, avoiding the hit all together. He instantly returned with a sluggish, yet powerful, punch to Enki's abdomen. Curling over his fist, Enki returned the favor with a knee to the chest, followed by a punch to the bottom of Dread's mask. Michael snapped out of his trance by Natalie pushing his shoulder hastily.
"Just run!" Michael yelled out, as the pair began to run down the hallway to the right, away from the two deities and their conflict.
The hallway was lit fully, not just by torches like the others, but by several hanging oil lamps, all on chains. Michael and Natalie sprinted down the hallway with all the speed they could muster. The hallway ended in a single ladder leading into the ceiling, with the majority of it surrounded with a metal cage-like covering, to stop someone from accidentally falling down.
Adrenaline was pumping through them, as they ran and ran, chased only by the impacts of successful attacks, which were complimented by the brief silence between them. The sounds of their boots hitting the ground pounded almost as fast as their hearts, which were only a single digit away from cardiac arrest.
Covering more yards in such a small amount of time than they thought was humanly possible, it was only a moment before they stood under the ladder.
"You first!" Michael ordered, waving his hand to signal her to use the ladder.
As she climbed on to the ladder and began her ascension, Michael looked back at the fight. Sheathing his machete so that he could climb, he saw Enki grab Dread's neck and shock him with enough electricity to cause him to shake slightly, and a thin layer of smoke to leave his body. Before he was finished being electrocuted, Dread grabbed Enki's head by the top, smashing him into the wall at their side. The wall split open, sending dust all over the two.
When the dust cleared, Michael could see Dread's mask somehow still shining. He and Enki were exchanging blows, Enki now swinging his hand around, flames drawn from the surrounding torches floating around him in streaks, assaulting Dread in unison with his strikes.
"Little root! The connection between Abaddon and his mother is the key keeping you two here! You know what is beyond that ladder! He is very powerful, but not immortal!" he could hear Dread yell in the middle of combat.
Enki went for another strike at his throat, but was stopped when Dread's forearm blocked his own. The two looked at each other with nothing but contempt, fire rushing onto Dread with no effect. They each pushed the other away.
Dread charged at him, but Enki lowered himself under Dread's slow hook. Whilst behind him, Enki raised his arm towards Dread, and all the flying streaks of fire flew towards the masked deity. When they pelted his back, smoke clouded the two from view. The only two things Michael could see were the glow of Enki piercing the shield of smoke, and the shine of Dread's mask looking back at the Enki, reflecting his light.
Michael let out a smile. He had trust in Dread. He fully believed that Dread could end Enki's cycle, and that this might be the final day that Enki ruled over humanity.
He grabbed on to the cold steel ladder, and began climbing behind Natalie.
Reminiscent of Oceans Lost
Climbing off of the ladder into the room above, it was a perfectly even square room with only one metal door directly in front of the ladder, which came up in the center of the room. The door was locked with a level mechanism on their side of the door. The entire area was kept alight by a single hanging lantern above the ladder's opening.
Just as Michael got off of the ladder, the area below them was filled with the loud burst of an explosion, before they could both see it get brighter and brighter, before Dread crashed into the bottom of the ladder with a fireball. He was covered in flames.
The ladder contorted on impact, before he raised his left hand to them, as if reaching out. This was shown to not be the case, as when he pushed that hand to his other side, the cement on the left side of the hole stretched to the right. Completely filling the hole that allowed entry to the room they were in, the two areas were officially sealed off, with the top of the ladder only leading into a solid floor. Another explosion was heard from below, even through the now complete floor, before absolute nothingness.
"Is he going to be fine?" Natalie asked, worried.
Michael looked at where the hole leading down once was, before shaking his head.
"Yeah, he'll be fine," he said. "You heard what he said about that door, correct?"
"The link between Abaddon and I is what is preventing our exit, meaning he has to die."
"It also means that we don't have a definite chance of survival."
Walking over to the wall to his right, he sat on the ground, back against the cold stone. He patted the ground to his left, as she came and sat beside him.
"So, we might as well get our little talk out of the way. Go ahead and ask me whatever you want," Michael said, his tone of reflecting the fact he didn't want to talk about any of those moments behind him.
She thought for a moment, recalling everything that she had heard about him. She decided to start from the beginning.
"How did you become involved with Enki and Mendes?"
"Same as Jackson. I was born, caught their attention, and they have been contacting me since I was first able to process thoughts. Things others would scream at and run from aren't so scary when they've been a part of your life since your first memory. I had a decent home life, but I chose them over my actual family. So, I played it normal around family until I thought I was able to survive on my own, while doing their bidding the entire time. Never contacted my family again. Enki and Mendes provided for me."
"Did they chose you because you were close to Tutelo?"
"I wasn't close to Tutelo at all, actually. I was born and raised in Sanibel, Maine. When I moved away, I moved to the Coral Gables, Florida. I wanted to get away from the thick woods and moose, I suppose. Of course I didn't walk or drive, they teleported me. Enki told me that he chose me simply because I felt right. Pretty much just his way of saying random selection, though he always implied that there was some higher reasoning to it."
"What age were you when you moved?"
"Seventeen, so it wasn't that bad. The law really didn't care about it that much back then, especially when it was just a year. I got a job fixing things. You know, houses. Florida weather practically takes them apart. When that didn't pay the bills, you never struggle when you have friends like Mendes and Enki."
"... Friends. That's haunting."
"After a few months, I met two major figures in my life. Joshua Fedrick, and his father figure Vincent Hinder. I met Joshua at a hotel I stayed at after I decided I needed to get away from my apartment, when Enki had me kill someone for him, as always."
"Why did he force you to kill, and how didn't you get caught?"
"He didn't force me. He asked me - his humble, loyal, and loving servant. I took pride and honor in doing what he wished. As for getting caught, you just saw Enki remove the blood from our clothes in an instant, without a trace."
"Stupid question, please continue..." she said, disturbed to the core.
"Anyways, I met Joshua in the hot tube, relaxing. We talked about music and what we thought about Bob Graham, the governor of Florida at the time. Eventually, Vincent showed up, talking about his boat. That started us talking about fishing, and that led to talks of a party, ending with us rambling about our issues. I became good friends with both of them after that. When I turned eighteen, Vincent took me along with he, Joshua, and Melody Asher, a friend of Josh's to his camp in Okaloacoochee. The best thing to ever happen in my life."
"Same last name. Marriage?"
"... We'll get to that name eventually," Michael said, ripe with regret and depression.
"She was amazingly beautiful, and as a result, I avoided talking to her. Simply being near her filled me with the urge to show off, and be better than I was in every way. Eventually, this had to end. Joshua and Vincent told her it was my birthday on the drive up to Okaloacoochee, which prompted her to ask me about my life. I was as nervous as a teenager sneaking a peek at a porno mag before bed, and about as awkward as one, too. That night, though, she was sitting out back when we were the only two up, at just about nine thirty."
"The other two fell asleep awfully early."
"Vincent had fallen asleep early because he stayed up the previous night to drive, and Joshua had passed out from the stern will of a 40 ounce of whiskey. He wasn't waking up anytime soon. She had a fire running by herself. She was on a wooden bench beside the fireplace, which was really a bunch of loose, piled rocks, when I walked up to her, and unknowingly slightly in front of her. Long, beautiful blond hair came down past her shoulders, and she was dressed in a baggy red top with purposefully torn jeans. It was the style in the 80s."
Michael ignored her and continued where he left off.
"I wanted to say something to her, but I didn't have anything to start a conversation with. Plus, add in the fact I was as nervous as a teenager sneaking a peak at a porno mag before bed. Before I had the chance to give up and walk away and regret it, she turned around and joked about me standing there. Of course, I still remember the quote. 'If you're trying to shade me so that I don't get a sunburn, it's a bit late'. I would have taken it as an insult and have walked away red-faced if not for her gorgeous smile afterwards."
"She seemed wonderful," Natalie said, smiling at the cute story. She'd almost forgotten all of the earlier talk of murder.
"After that, I tried to put out some sort of response, before things got awkwardly silent and I looked like any more of a creep. I ended up saying what I thought was the lamest, cheesiest thing to ever come out of a human by choice. 'I just thought I could admire two beautiful stars today'. She laughed a bit, and allowed me to take a seat beside her. We talked all night, until the sun almost came back up. She gave me her address when we got back, and invited me over so that we could talk more the next night. If it seems like it was moving too fast, giving someone your address after one conversation, that's because it was. Hell, I would have kissed her that night if I wasn't so absorbed in her jokes and in what she had to say. I swear, she knew more about me in those few, short hours than any of the family members I left behind."
"Did you two ever date?"
"We did everything you'd expect a couple to do- the fighting, the fucking, the holding. I don't think we ever applied the official term, though. We'd told each other we loved each other multiple times over those few years, going off and on in our situation. When I was twenty one, nearly twenty two, Joshua, Vincent, Melody and I all organized a fishing trip together. One month out in the open waters, with nothing but relaxation. It was here that I first saw Dread, and where Mendes told me to prove myself to Enki."
She saw as the color drained from his face, his once tan complexion now nothing but a ghostly white. He was expressionless, obviously haunted by his actions greatly.
"You don't have to tell me if you don't wa-"
"I want you to know everything I can tell you. You deserve that much," he said with a tone that would only match that of a depressed dying man. "We went on that boat and reached international waters. Vincent drove us when the rest of us slept. In my dream, on that first night, I was taken here. Panthalassa. It was Dread, telling me what Enki demanded. Dread, unlike Mendes, whom showed up later, wanted me to see the way against Enki. He wanted to turn me against him. The two of them appeared multiple times, even during a kiss with Melody. They'd told me that Joshua and Vincent had to die... they said Melody would be fine! I wanted to protect her, and was willing to do anything Enki wanted. Even just as friends, she made me the happiest I'd ever been. I simply loved being around her."
Natalie looked as if she wanted to ask something so urgent it hurt her to hold back, but was restraining herself. Upon seeing this, Michael began tapping his fingers against his knee and continued, with the part he assumed she was curious about.
"It started with Joshua. He had just cooked for us, and was sealing the meat of the fish we caught in air tight bags. I pulled a machete off of the table, which we were using to cut apart larger fish like Tuna-"
He caught her eyeing the blade on his back up and down.
"Same machete?" she asked, raising her finger to the blade.
"Same machete. I drew it back and when he turned around, I slit his throat. He looked me in the eyes as he fell to the ground, dead. I've never seen such panic, not even in others that had the same thing happen. Then, Dread came again, and told me what Enki wanted me to do. I cut him open and ate him. Simply cannibalized and moved on, which is something I've thought about so much it no longer haunts me. With blood still covering me, I went to hopefully finish Vincent in his sleep. He saw me covered in Joshua's blood. Fought back and ran to the top of the boat to warn Melody. I never intended to hurt her, and focused on him. Besides, at this point, I had his revolver. Dread took it and gave it to me."
"What'd you do to him?"
"I slashed the oil pouch, I think it was called. He ended up covered in spilt oil, and I shot it. He went up in flames. I betrayed them all. They were different from everyone else I'd ruined... They were my friends! I didn't let him burn... I took aim and shot his silhouette in the head. His body fell overboard."
His pale face started to have some expression again, though it was of deep despair and anguish. Nothing but horror and misery was reflected in his eyes, as everything else around them became so, so cold.
"You can skip the next part."
"I went to Melody," he said, completely disregarding her comment yet again. "She was at the front of the boat. That's when I realized I had been betrayed as well..."
For the first time since he had lived through this nightmare, tears fell from his eyes. Choking on his words and twitching under his eyes, he told her what he had tried to base his revenge on, when in reality it was destroying him.
"Enki had contacted her during our kiss. He had told her everything. One of us was allowed to live. I'm telling you, I tried to shoot myself, but she stopped me... said that she would live on through me. She took my gun and aimed it at her own head. I should have sent my own fucking brains flying, and none of this would have happened!"
His voice was cracking worse and worse with each word. His chest was expanding and contracting so fast it generated enough tension to burn within his muscles, which was odd, because his heart never felt so cold. He rubbed his face, trying to clear the tears as they fell.
"Michael..." she tried to comfort him, putting her hand on his shoulder.
When he opened his eyes, he let out a scream of mixed emotions - both terror and sadness, witnessing his hands covered in dry blood. Natalie looked at him worryingly, not seeing anything. He continued his story, now rushing out words between sobs.
"Dread came afterwards, told me she loved me - that Enki was the evil one - I should have listened! It's all my fault! I committed necrophilia with her body, before Mendes sent me to 2014! They were my friends, all of them, and look at what I did to them! It was all me and my fucking choices!"
At this point, he was scratching at his face, leaving long red lines on his skin. His crying didn't leave any room for breathing, and his sorrow didn't leave any room for actual thought. He could only remember.
Natalie pulled him into a hug, even letting out a few tears of her own. For a few minutes, the two sat together, locked in each other's arms, whilst Michael let out all of his emotions he had been using as fuel for his rage.
"You still love her. You really do."
"I can't imagine a day without loving her..." he said, hardly able to form the words.
She pulled him in closer, locking him in her arms tighter. He squeezed back just as hard, crossing arms on her back. He latched on, this being the first time he properly wept in his entire life. It was something special. So sickeningly special.
Before they knew it, his crying had slowed. It hadn't stopped completely, but he could now form proper words. Pulling away from her hug, she loosened her grip on him, before leaning back against the wall. Looking down at his hands, they were clean. No trace of dried blood, except of the ichor left by Mendes on his left arm.
"Please, no more. There's no need for you to suffer on that."
"You weren't there. There is more reason that you could possibly know. When I was sent to Marington in 2014, a town near Tutelo, by Enki and Mendes, I was tasked with building three artifacts. The first, all of this," he said, raising his hand to the facility around them. "The second was the icon. A small bronze face that summons Enki directly to where it is placed. Finally, the mask that Jackson wore. A symbol of his place as Enki's champion."
"Chosen as his champion because of his soul with Olen?"
"I suppose so. He is the exact opposite of the man Olen was, though. Both were fucked up, but Olen believed man should be free. That nothing should be above it. No limiters. This is what led to Dread, and later Mendes, turning against Enki."
"Mendes turned after Joseph was killed because of him."
"He was considering it at that time, looking back. When the time came for your child, he had fully sided with Dread, and accepted the philosophy. He separated the child and you to avoid, well, this. I was tasked with returning it to you, and I made the mistake of accepting. The child and I beat Mendes in conflict, and made our way to you."
"I forgive you," she said faster than he could interject.
He was shocked. He'd never expected him to fully be forgiven, especially during this conversation. In fact, he expected an attempt at his life.
"You weren't the one that caused it - that was Jackson. You were listening to your master. You're helping me now... redeeming yourself. I can't blame you, just them. You know, Joseph said something that stuck with me. 'The good go to hell because they can't forgive themselves'. Think about that one a while."
"Let's hope Jonah feels the same way."
"He was the only actual friend I made up in Marington. Stopped by my place needing fuel for his broken down truck. He was extremely kind. Same sort of isolated and peaceful personality as I tried to put off. Long story short, he was transferred, unknowingly, to Panthalassa with me when I was going to deliver the child. He saw it. He died the same way as Joshua, but his eyes were seemingly knowing. It was like he forgave me as he died, but I can never know for sure."
"Does that include, you know-"
"Your child ate him first. I had a bit after my mission was done. I gave him a proper burial afterwards... I really miss him. He had an uplifting spirit."
"Sorry to bring it up."
"Regardless, I completed my mission. I pulled you into Panthalassa, which brainwashed you. You came here. Even after what I did to Melody, Vincent, and Joshua - I was still happily Enki's loyal fucking servant. I still loved him as any believer loves their god. I was a foolish tool being used by a cruel leader. That day, the conflict with Mendes, the death of Jonah, and at the end, your loss of free will was the last nail in the coffin. I officially grew a conscience. Started thinking about what Dread had said."
"And that's why you're here today?"
"I decided to stay in Panthalassa after that. It was hell, but I spent the entire time thinking about what I had done to all of my friends, and to you. You'd be surprised how hard it is to survive here, even when resources are copied. Had to eat a lot of dry ramen noodles, and even had to burn a wound closed with gun powder because I couldn't find any other medical supplies. I met with Dread and spoke to him about my plan. He was ecstatic to finally hear of my transfer. I decided humanity shouldn't have a leader, especially not Enki, though it may have just been my newfound hatred speaking. How I didn't notice Enki's impurity or what he had done to me before that point is beyond me. Even after taking all of my friends from me I thought he was holiness and perfection personified... I'll never forgive myself for that."
"Don't hate yourself for not turning against him earlier. You followed him. He is, as Dread put it earlier, the universe itself. I understand that you did all of those things for what you thought was the perfect god."
"Dread chained you so that you wouldn't move, and would be in a specific room when I got here. Now, Dread and Enki are finally in confrontation, whilst I am trying to make at least one thing right. Even though Mendes was on our side, I couldn't stop my rage. I had to kill him. You understand, or at least, you seem to."
"I can't forgive Mendes. No matter how much I try, I can't forgive him for what he did to Joseph. It's irredeemable."
"I can sympathize with him. Dread and I both can. We all did a lot of things we regret for Enki, and all of us eventually turned against him. When I saw him, I just couldn't control myself. He had done so much to me personally, and played such a major role in my life, that I needed to avenge it all. I assumed you'd be the same way towards me, which is why I wanted to tell you after we got out of here. I'm very happy it didn't go that way, but if it did, I was willing to accept the consequences. That was certainly something I thought of a lot in my time here."
"You all fight against Enki, but what happens if Dread wins? We're free from Enki forever?"
"Dread is the only person that has more of a grudge against Enki than myself. If - no, when he wins, Enki will leave humanity alone forever. We'll have no leader or limits, free to actually live. That's if Dread doesn't flat out kill him. Unlike us, Dread has the power to harm him. He may seem evil at first, but his intentions were always good, even when he was instructing me on that boat. He wants the best for us, he truly does."
"Then let's help him win. Just one thing left for us to do before we can escape."
Michael smiled and stood up, lightheaded as hell. It was like a new world opened up for him. She forgave him for everything he did to her. When she stood up as well, his smile, along with his newly warm heart, faded.
"Sorry about this," he said, grabbing her shoulder. "I have to do this alone, and it's best if he's angry. "
"God dammit. Of course," she said as she slowly turned around and braced for impact.
When she was facing him, he punched her in the side of the head, knocking her unconscious. He gently sat her up against the wall, back against the supporting surface.
Walking to the door, Michael gripped the lever with both hands from the side. Pushing it to the left hard enough to stress the muscles in his shoulders and elbows, the lever let out a terrible shriek as it slowly tilted to the side. Once it was completely turned, the lever crashed to a sudden halt.
Pushing into the door with flat hands, it took all of his strength to move the door, as it dragged and screeched along the floor. As the space between the door and wall grew larger, he could see into the room, or rather, space beyond.
Darkness, only obscured by white specks off in the distance. Once the door was open enough for him to squeeze through, he tapped into the darkness with his foot. The ground was solid, though it appeared there was none. Actually, it had the same feel as the cement floor in every other room. He knew this had to be an illusion or trick of some sort. Pushing himself through the gap, the door pressed against his chest, and the wall scraped against the back of his coat, before he was released from the tight spot, and into the spacial void.
He took the 30-aught-6 off of his back and began aiming in in random directions, walking away from the door. These odd specks of light off in the great distance, they gave a certain comfort to him. Within the darkness, there were shapes and light. Looking up, he could see what appeared to be the long, stretching arm of a spiral galaxy far, far away, yet looming overhead.
Wonderful combinations of purple and blue emitted from the arm's length, with the bright clusters of light complementing it. Wonderful shades he never thought he'd see, at least not in person, overloaded his senses as he was looking on in awe. His grip on the gun loosened, as he lost himself in the eerie beauty off in the far distance. A distance so large he couldn't comprehend, but the massive show of light still hung above him, as if he was standing between two arms for an embrace.
Though there was no movement, the differing levels of brightness in the stars provided a distraction. He began to notice the stars fading away, not just one by one, but in massive clusters at a time. Every time he blinked, less and less brightness filled the darkness. The colors began to fade into grey, and then into black, before he was alone in an abyss once more.
He felt cold. There was nothing except the light shining behind him. It wasn't more than ten seconds before the distinct sound of flint being scrapped echoed around him, before the sound of oil catching flame followed.
Starting directly above him, an oil lamp gave light far above his head, perhaps twenty feet high, but shined exceptionally bright. Just as he had anticipated, there was grey concrete below him once more. As more oil lamps began to catch fire in a straight line, one after the other, more and more of the room showed. All of which burnt extremely bright. He remembered making this room very clearly.
It was a massive room, stretching one hundred feet wide and two hundred feet long, and being supported by four large pillars in each corner. As the light began stretching forward, it gave enough room for shadows to still exist at the sides of the room and around the pillars. When it finally reached the other end, he could see Abaddon, curled into himself, facing the wall in a state of torpor. His breathing was heavy and violent, sounding reminiscent of the fierce winds of a hurricane.
He didn't dare let go of his gun as he advanced towards him slowly. His boots hitting the ground were not ignored, as Abaddon began to twitch out of his state of lethargy. Michael didn't take his eyes off of him. When he was standing ten feet from the Abaddon, he stopped dead in his tracks, holding his gun across his abdomen.
"You've grown so much since I've last seen you."
Seeing the child this close once more was oddly nostalgic. He couldn't help but think back on the time he had spent with him all those months back. Though it was hell living through it, he couldn't help but admit to himself that he did care for the child. He left an effect on him.
Abbadon unraveled himself before Michael, paired with the sound of morphing flesh and snapping bones. On all four legs, he turned to look him in the eyes. All of the spikes on his body were laying flat against his skin.
"Friend?" the child asked curiously. His voice was a mixture of light and deep, with one part sounding as if that of a human child, but seemingly coupled with a much deeper backing voice that spoke at the same time.
"Foe," Michael corrected.
Upon hearing this, Abaddon drew back. His blue eyes were now filled with confusion and betrayal. Abaddon stared at him, but that's all it took for Michael to know what he was thinking about.
"You're what's keeping her here. You know that?" he asked Abaddon, with sympathy breaking through his voice. "... She's in the other room. Unconscious, but alive. I need to get her out of here, and you know that."
Upon hearing that statement Abaddon's back stretched out, allowing him to stand bipedally. He bore his teeth, which glared against the lamplight, along with the spikes on his body that now stood fully erect. He flung his wings to the open with a nasty growl that you could only expect a dragon to produce. The only difference being that Abaddon was very much real.
Michael tightened his grip on his gun, refusing to stop looking at the nine foot tall behemoth looming in front of him.
"I don't want to have to kill you. You love her, I realize that, but we're walking out of here," Michael attempted to reason with the beast. "She doesn't deserve to be locked up in here and you know it. If you could see the actions of your father through her eyes, you'd agree with me."
Abaddon's eyes flickered around for a brief moment, before drawing back his right claw to his side, ready to strike. Michael could see both regret and pain in the child's eyes. Neither of them wanted this fight, but they simply landed on opposing sides.
Even though Abaddon's mind was young, Michael knew he could comprehend the situation, but he also knew that Abaddon's destiny, the path Enki had chosen for him, was to end the cycle in the ultimate genocide of the human race. Abaddon hadn't become immortal yet. He had his father's powers to some degree, but had not become powerful enough to overcome the possibility of death, at least by what Dread had suggested. There was no way to prevent this fight.
Before the moment's passing, he swung the gun towards Abaddon as fast as possible, pulling the trigger. The recoil was powerful, but the gunshot was hardly audible compared to the shriek Abaddon let out after the fact, as he swung his hand in retaliation, which only managed to take Michael's left hand off of the gun by forcing it to his right side. It wasn't more than a second before Michael had both hands on the rifle again.
If Michael was in his right mind, he would have fallen over in pain. He wasn't in his right mind. He was troubled, pained, and otherwise at a war within himself at the same time as this conflict.
More than just adrenaline was pumping through his veins as his battle ready expression fought on. He had noticed Abaddon had fallen back after the gunshot, but he now saw him leaning forward with one hand on the ground, and another on his chest.
Heavy breathing was all Michael could imagine the poor thing could do in a moment such as this. Ululating, the cruor from the gunshot wound leaked between his sharp fingers. The bullet didn't seem to pierce through the back, though.
That's when he heard the returning sound of morphing flesh and snapping bones, as he witnessed long legs, reminiscent of those of a centipede, shoot out from his spinal cord, flinging deep red sanguine towards the roof. The insectoid legs lifted out of the body cavity and found their way to the ground, and had now freed themselves from the boundaries of flesh by piercing the skin.
Michael took a step back, and then another as he witnessed the legs, tipped with a lethally sharp tip, reach the ground for the first time. The legs he used for bipedal and quadrupedal travel folded into Abaddon's abdomen and disappeared into the flesh, which made it apparent what he was doing. Abaddon was using the bone and muscle from his legs, along with the corpses he had earlier eaten, to create new appendages, along with elongating his arms.
Putting the gun against his shoulder, he looked into the iron sights. It was from here that he saw the darkspawn's head and watched a plate of bone curve over the majority of it, and four mandibles stretch from the corners of his mouth. He couldn't just pull the trigger. He couldn't shoot him whilst he was transforming.
Abaddon earned a fight. No, he deserved one. He wasn't going to put him down like a sick dog. Taking his eyes off of the iron sights, Abaddon came back into his focus. His body had begun to flatten, except the head, and the wings had begun assimilating back into the body as well. The entire length of his body was now segmented, making him a metamere.
His arms now long enough to reach the floor and the centipede-esque legs from the base of his neck to his tail had finished developing in full. There was no longer a tail to speak of, but rather, a last segment on the body that ended in two claw-like growths designed for grabbing, facing each other. The transformation was complete.
Abaddon raised his head to the air and let out a final battle cry, showing in full glory what he had become. Positioning himself in a backwards arch with half his body in the air, Mendes would have been horrified to see this creature come this far.
Once the roar, his head lowered itself back down to Michael, whom pointed his gun at Abaddon's head. The two looked at each other, both waiting to see who would make the first move. It wasn't long before that question was answered, as another gunshot ripped through the air, which only sparked against Abaddon's new plating.
Though the assimilator let out a cry and covered his face with his left hand, Michael knew this was not a cry of pain, but rather another cry recalling the ongoing fight he saw as a betrayal. Taking his claw off of his face, he swung it in retaliation.
He was able to throw himself back to dodge the swipe, but landed on his ass as a result. Scrambling to stand, he was forced to throw himself to the left, as Abaddon had already swung his other arm at him. Smacking into the ground again, he quickly pulled back the bolt of his rifle, ejecting the empty shell.
Pushing himself forward as he stood up, he shot once more, but this time at Abaddon's body, which only sparked off as well. He only had two shots left in his rifle, something he couldn't forget. Ejecting the bullet once more, distance was not the number one priority.
Turning around and sprinting, he heard the clicks of Abaddon's legs hitting the group behind him. Then, he heard them beside him. Then, in front of him. Abaddon had the gift of mobility on his side. Perching his body upwards, Abaddon's mouth began to secrete the goo-like acid Michael had seen far too much of in the past. Only now, he had a new tactic.
Hurling the acid from his mouth in a scattershot of digestive fluids, Michael only managed to avoid damage by turning and sprinting to his left. The acid hit the floor and even began to work away at the stone, bubbling and liquefying it.
Once Michael was near the wall enough that he could slip into the darkness left untouched by the light, he did, and made his way down to the closest pillar without breaking his sprint. Pressing up against it, he circled around until he was standing behind Abaddon, whom was sucking back up the acid and assimilating the stone.
Michael could see the space between some of his segments becoming closed with stone, which gave him a dangerous, yet possibly effective idea. He took his time aiming his gun, as he had to make his shots count. He found a segment which wasn't being filled with the stone. Halfway down the creature's back. Steady arms, steady aim.
One more gunshot tore through the air, but this time, it tore through Abaddon as well. A clouded mist of red burst from the other side of the assimilator, with a scent strong enough to fill Michael's nose with the putrid smell of acrid flesh. The smell was pungent at best, and caustic at worst.
Abaddon launched himself in the air towards Michael, which only gave him a second to move out of the way. Just as he left the pillar, Abaddon crashed into it, bringing it down into rubble. A section of the ceiling fell, bringing dirt and an unforgiving cloud of dust with it, blocking his vision.
The dust began to clear, but Abaddon was nowhere to be seen. He looked frantically around as something occurred to him. The segments were extremely difficult to hit with a bullet, but the blade would stand a much better chance. The risk of being that close to the assimilator was worth the risk. He swiftly switched out his rifle and machete, holding on to the grip with both hands.
Looking around frantically for the beast. He turned on his shoulder mounted flashlight, which sliced through the thin, now almost fully dispersed layer of dust. As his light pressed into the darkness the oil lamp would not, he saw that the wall which was normally hidden by darkness now had what looked like ridges and bumps.
He crept to it, sure not to make too much noise. Raising the machete into the air, he squinted to attempt to make out what was on the wall. He began to make out segments as he noticed the long legs digging into and holding on to the wall, as Abaddon was sideways against it, suspended. Right next to the segment he was looking directly at, to the right, was the beast's head.
Then, it hit him. Or rather, attempted to bite him. As the head that was only feet away lunged towards him, mouthpieces and maw open, Micheal tilted his wrist so the machete was pointing upwards and swung into the bottom of Abaddon's jaw. The slice caused even more repugnant ichor to fly into the air, but stopping the incoming attack.
Crawling its way onto the ground once more, Abaddon was given room as Michael backed up, allowing it to get off of the wall. The repeating ticks of the insectoid legs was now partnered with the sound of dripping blood, before Abaddon was once more on the ground, and perched itself up into its combat position reminiscent of a snake about to strike. Michael had backed up about four yards to allow this, but that only meant the wall was, for the most part, out of the picture. The light from the lamps were fully casting down on them, shining off of Abaddon's red body, hard as a rock, yet as shiny as a gemstone.
Swinging its right hand towards Michael in another attempt to claw him, but also slowly gaining ground with his slow advances during his slash. The first slash missed by only a few inches, causing Michael's heart to feel as if it had been shocked back into action after a long, cold rest.
The left attack, however, was brought into range from Abaddon's crawling towards him. Michael reacted the only way that came to his mind. As the hand came close to him, he slashed the blade along the length, which created a gash starting from the base of the wrist that exited between the thumb and index finger.
The assimilator drew his hand back in pain and stopped his slow crawl, before raising both above his head. Almost completely obstinate to its newfound wound, it smashed both fists downwards, trying to crush Michael, whom frustratingly rolled out of the way to the left. Abaddon was getting more angry by the minute, and his tactics were certainly evolving. It was certainly concerning to see how well the assimilator had started using the environment, hiding in the darkness like that.
Michael was beginning to question his own chances, but it didn't feel devastating, like it would in any other similar situation. Instead, it was a feeling of rivalry. Whomever came out on top wasn't ever going to hate the one they slew, and the slayer wouldn't ever forget the time spent with the deceased.
Stretching his left arm forward with his hand open, Abaddon grabbed Michael and raised him up a few feet until he was level with his mouth. The tight grip felt as if it was going to pop his organs inside of his stomach, or force his eyeballs out of his head.
He watched as the mouthpieces opened once more, all four moving into separate directions. This wasn't preparation for a bite, though. The white acid he used to assimilate other material began collecting in his mouth, and Michael knew he was going to weaponize it yet again.
He thought only for a brief moment on what he had to do before that feeling of violent lust he had become all but accustomed towards started to come back to him. He rued what must be done, but that coldness was fought back by the flaming heat of carnage that was placed within him. His stomach, his face, and his blood all felt as if they were replaced by burning embers which consumed all they touched.
His grip on the weapon was more than just something allowing him to protect himself. No, the weapon in his hands was, once more, a symbol of power and survival. It was his redemption and his damnation.
Swiftly, Michael sliced towards the right, carving into the assimilator's left wrist once again. He could feel the Abductor pollicis brevis muscle simply give way to the blade, severing and giving out, which released the thumb keeping him in his death cage.
Dropping to the ground and landing on his legs, his blade was already drawn back by the time his stance was fully stable. All he saw was red as he let loose his weapon on the separation between the segments halfway down the body of the child, which was arm level with him. The blade perfectly cut between the segments, and the bones and organs in his way stood no chance against the uncontrollable bloodlust as the blade ejected from the left side of Abaddon.
Screeching in horrible pain and falling to the ground as his body opened up and split into two almost equal portions, Abaddon fell against the hard floor, bouncing once but bleeding endlessly.
Michael was left breathing deeply and intensely, as the reality of what he had just done came to him. He dropped his once more bloodied steel to the ground, piercing through the pained gargles and cries of the severed baby. Walking over to the dying child, he fell to his knees beside it as he watched the assimilator swallow the acid it had prepared for an attack.
"F-friend?" Abaddon said, his mixed voice now carrying an excruciating pain.
He watched as Abaddon seemed to struggle to move his head upwards, before falling back down to the ground. Putting his hand behind Abaddon's head and another on the segment below it, helping him lift his head off of the ground. Michael could swear he saw tears forming in Abaddon's eyes, but the more he looked into them, the more he remembered caring, protecting, and delivering the child.
"M-mommy lo-love me?"
His heart felt cold. Soul crushing and deprived are the only words that could even attempt to suggest how it feels to hold something you care for as it dies by your own actions, questioning why. It was a feeling Michael had felt before, but one he would never get used to.
He couldn't tell Abaddon how Natalie felt. He simply couldn't bring himself to do it. Abaddon deserved to die at least thinking he was cared for by his own mother. It was something he just couldn't take away.
"She loves you so, so much. She was telling me about how she wishes you could come with us, how she can't wait to see you again-"
"See h-her again?" he interrupted, trembling in Michael's hands.
"Of course you will. No matter what happens or where we go, she'll fight to see you. She loves you more than you can possibly know..."
The eyes that were once filled with childhood curiosity and a will for experimentation now repeated only nothingness. No soul lurked behind them any more, as the body fell limp in his hands. The head tilted backwards as he gently laid it back unto the ground, taking a moment to recollect himself, however hollow he felt. He closed his eyes and regulated his breath.
He could hear the sound of fierce wind pushing through branches, though he felt not even a draft. Intense light enlightened the entire room, as he heard the voice of Enki come to him as the sound of cutting wind halted.
"What have you done?!"
Not only was his voice rife with anger, but disbelief was the most prevalent emotion. Michael turned to look at the god slowly over his shoulder, without moving his body.
The light which shrouded Enki's face and hands was far more dim than before, now completely comfortable to look at. Certain parts of the light kept giving away, revealing what appeared to be human flesh beneath it. He was holding his stomach, apparently covering a nasty wound, as what appeared to be liquid gold fell from between the gaps in his fingers, dripping to the ground.
"Only what you forced me to do," Michael asserted. All fear that might have existed for the god beforehand was now more fuel for his anger.
He turned and looked back at the corpse of Abaddon. He heard Enki begin to walk towards him, but his footsteps were irregular, obviously fighting great physical pain. When he reached Michael, he instead stood to his side, over the body of Abaddon.
"Abaddon, may your memories not be soiled by failure..."
"Since you're still alive, what does that mean of Dread?"
"That worm is nothing but a pathetic dreamer attempting to delay what he can't comprehend!"
"And are we not your dream?"
Enki ignored his comment, continuing to speak through his shock. His stance became slightly more hunched forward, as the golden elixir pouring from his wound began to leave at an increased rate. This time, there was another drop of gold that fell from the god - from where his eyes would be.
"Did you know that out of all of time, this was the first attempt I'd made at birthing a son of my own? Abaddon was the only thing past love. He was the ultimate gift from the universe unto itself. But now, you've crafted an uncaring god... You want humanity to be free from my cycle, to be able to run its course freely. You and Dread win. I will no longer attempt to harm nor save humanity. You are officially a species without Ereshkigal - without the caring universe. You will be left with one final judgement. Overcome it, and humanity will never be interfered with again."
"What would that judgement be?"
"When the universe came into existence, I came into existence. I am the sentient shard of the universe you exist in. When the first sentient race evolved within this existence, Mendes came to be. He was the manifestation of sentient and sapience. When Homo Sapien Sapiens first came to be, Dread manifested. I still do not know why humanity is the only race that another deity was born from, but in 1918, another strange soul came into existence within Olen Grant. Whilst I could feel the power within both Mendes and Dread, something about Olen Grant felt simply wrong, as if it was not meant to exist within this universe. I hereby grant the mantle of humanity, the right to kill or save you, to the reincarnation of that soul. Your souls forever remain my property."
"You give the mantle of humanity to Jackson? Is that why you had him within that time loop? To train and change him?!"
"I would never let such a good resource go wasted. He was originally going to join Mendes and I among the deities once I rid myself of the tumor that is Dread, taking his own place as my executioner. My general. The one that would aid me in destroying races, whilst Mendes was to aid me in teaching them. He is more powerful than anything you could imagine. He is simply put, something not comparable to anything I've ever witnessed or felt within my entire being."
"You're scared of your own creation yet again, is that right?"
"As he went through the cycle, his dark being simply changed. The amount of power he gained was always inexplicably higher than the power he was given. I have created a life of unlimited age due to the cycle, of unlimited power to use as it wishes, and one which will harness this all! I have created the ultimate life form, even above myself! Is that not the mission for any deity?"
Michael brought himself off of his knees, fists curled and held tight, as he turned to the being that was once his leader.
"I'll kill him, or Dread will kill him. When we're done with that freak anomaly, so help you god, we're coming for you."
The two of them looked at each other with disdain. Nothing but scorn and derision between them.
"Your victory in infanticide was your final victory. The next time we come together will be after death, when I claim ownership over your soul."
"As the universe, you didn't create us. We simply evolved within you. What right does that give you to limit us and claim property over us?"
"Your atoms and the events that allow them to construct you don't just belong to me, they are me. Humanity, and any other life form is a shard of me that will return upon death. Their atoms will feed back into me, and I will allow them to be used for more creation. As for ownership over you whilst you live... that now lies within Jackson. Or, as he is now called, Leviathan."
As he spoke the wretched name of Leviathan, Enki faded away fully, only leaving small spots of liquid gold that had drained from him behind. While these piles of gold glowed as if they were fire, the room became noticeably darker as Enki left.
The wall opposite of the entrance formed into an archway, with a chunk of it simply disappearing like a fading hologram. On the other side was a hallway, kept bright by more hanging lamps on chains. He could recognize the hallway immediately. Four doors, two on each side, and a long stretch leading to a trapdoor - this was the entrance to the Hellmouth that Natalie had been forced to walk twice before.
Enraged, Michael stormed over to his machete and picked it up, before walking back to get Natalie.
Leviathan: The Mantle of Humanity
"Open your eyes, kiddo," she could hear Michael say, followed by two light slaps on her left cheek.
"Is it... gone?" she asked, as her eyes slowly opened, revealing Michael crouching before her, very clearly distraught.
"I'm still alive. That should give you all the confirmation you need," Michael said, the sound of regret never waning. "We need to get out of here now. We don't have time to waste."
Natalie extended her hand, allowing Michael to pull her up. When she was on her feet he held on to her shoulders for a moment, making sure she was not going to black out after just being awoken. Though she swayed a bit to the side, she resettled, and the two began walking to the exit, Michael in front.
As the room beyond, and the corpse of Abaddon came into view, Michael let his right hand trail behind him, which Natalie held as they walked into the room. Together they walked towards the body, and harder he pressed down on her hand.
When they reached the body, Michael's grip became intensified as he stepped over the glowing spots of Enki's golden blood.
"What is this glowing stuff?" Natalie asked, as she stepped over the spots.
"Enki bled. Doesn't that just ring in your ears?"
Between the two having one last speaking moment within this tomb, the unmistakable pounding of Dread's boots came from the shadows on the wall to their right.
Turning their heads, they watched as it seemed to open by itself, showing that the room's light had fully died. The room was so dark Dread had simply manifested within it.
Though his clothes were tattered and filthy, his mask, however, was untouched by damage and filth alike. There was no hint of blood leaving his body. In fact, he seemed unharmed, walking as if he had just been crowned king of the world.
"Enki has left humanity out of his sphere of influence, but that does not make this any more of a peaceful place. Come, let you stand on Earth, the actual Earth, and out of Panthalassa," Dread exclaimed to the pair, victory chiming like a bell in his voice.
She could feel her mouth begin to tweak into a smile, as if it was acting at its own accord. Michael's grip softened once they had passed the body of Abaddon behind them and continued in silence, now both smiling.
As they came to the arch, Michael stopped in his place, Natalie beside him. Turning to her, he grabbed on to her other hand as well. Holding her hands firmly, but not harming her, he did one last check on her before they passed through the final corridor.
"You can make it through this last stretch, right?"
"... I've been here twice before. Walking through it one last time will almost feel like a final goodbye."
That's when he let go of her hands and allowed her to walk first. She'd deserved her own personal farewell to this place, however she saw fit.
Trailing behind her as they walked under the arch, she let her fingertips rub on the door to her right. Upon reaching the next door to the right, she stopped, yet kept her fingertips on it.
"One thing I have to check before we go..."
"The room where his corpse was when he was in his cycle. I didn't expect us to just pass it up."
Pressing on the door with her already touching fingertips, she looked on as the door gave way to a trashed, yet terrible room. A flipped bed frame with a long-since-usable mattress sprawled out and opened on the floor, only given company by a fully rusted and caved in locker on the right side.
"I have something I need to ask," she said, the hint of chambered emotions no longer being kept thin.
"Anything. I at least owe you that."
"Joseph never made it out of here - what happened to his body?"
Though he was prepared to answer much worse, the question still hit enough to cause his eyes to drift elsewhere. Being forced to face the consequences of his actions under Ereshkigal was both painful and unnerving. That is why he sought to make amends with this final beacon of forgiveness.
"I collected his body and buried it within the surrounding forest. I cleaned all of it."
"You didn't... do anything to him, did you?"
"I didn't have so much as a taste. He was buried in the condition I found him in."
"From his body spawned the most beautiful flowers in this entire region of Panthalassa. Enthralling blues and reds, topped off with majestic shades unheard of on their stalks," Dread added, hoping to boost her attitude in the moment.
Michael looked back at Natalie, whom was returning the stare, but he was avoiding eye contact out of sadness for her loss - he didn't want to look her in the eyes. She knew he'd lied to her, and of course Dread knew. He had just a taste, a little taste, but it was enough to reckon this a lie.
"What do you say we finally get out here for the last time, for both of us?"
Though it seemed she had a clue that something was off, perhaps even she knew, but this was a moment of triumph and victory. She let her hand out for him to grab once more, as they began walking towards the trap door at the end of the walkway.
This time, it was Michael that felt her grip getting tighter around his hand. He could almost feel her anxiousness seeping into him. With every step, there were two heartbeats so powerful her hand shivered. He couldn't imagine how this moment would feel for her. Their walk became a light jog, as her hand now pressed down hard enough to cause him a tense burning pain - which he wouldn't tell her.
No longer was she simply anxious, she was ecstatic. Her pulse, which he could feel beating from within her grasp, was so vigorous it escalated his own. Before they knew it, they were under the trap door, a wall in front of them, and Dread behind them - whom didn't increase his walking speed.
As they waited for Dread's slow walk to catch up with them, Natalie stopped her grip on Michael's hand and held her face with both. He could see that she was beginning to whimper, both from the sound of her choking back the tears, and the first drop that made it between her fingers. This was joy. For once, she cried in joy.
When Dread reached them and stopped under the trap door as well, she took her arms and embraced him, to which he stayed still with his arms at his sides.
"Thank you for this, both of you!"
"There is no reason to thank us. Had I not waited so long for an opportunity, I might have still been able to defeat Enki. Michael and I are simply setting our mistakes right. Your life from this point onward will not be fear, but rather how it should have been all along," Dread said back, sincere and full of sympathy.
Dread moved his arms up her back, returning her embrace. The two remained like this for a few seconds before she drew back and looked at Michael. He simply smiled at her, as she wiped tears of joy from her face.
Dread raised his right hand into the air, index finger pointing up, which caused the trap door to swing open with great force. The cold air from the surface above was even more cold than the air down in the Hellmouth. They could see snow falling from the sky, and beautiful twisted arms of dead trees. Even within his coat made for very low temperatures he felt his muscles attempt to shiver, which he fought.
This was odd - Michael didn't remember snow falling this thick commonly in November, nor did he remember it being so oddly cold. He didn't let his confusion be shown on his face, though. No need to panic Natalie in her moment of joy for no reason.
Interlocking his fingers, Michael went down on one knee. She took one hard breath before stepping on his hands with her right foot. Lifting slowly, he was able to grab on to the ledge and pull herself up.
When she hit the surface, it was a rush of ecstasy to her head. The sun was just beginning to rise, allowing lines of light to break between the thick canopy of dead branches all around her. Serotonin, dopamine, whatever chemicals were being released at this time, she loved it. Spinning around gleefully in almost a foot of snow, she saw all the trees move past her in a blur.
Trees stood all around them, but around the trap door there was about fifteen feet in every direction of flat, uncontested land that held only snow thick enough to crunch with her steps. It was still very early in the morning, appearing to be around six based on the sun's location. The darkness still held strong, though some light made its way through the dark clouds dropping snow and provide a bit of a shine through peaks of the trees.
Michael was the next to raise to the surface. When he lifted himself, he immediately noticed something was off. Not only did this patch of the forest not look familiar, but unlike Natalie, he could notice the peak of a large mountaintop raising over the treetops in front of them.
Dread simply jumped out of the hole, crashing onto his feet beside Michael, whilst Natalie looked around and admired her freedom. Now, even she was slowing down, as she noticed how different the surrounding area was from her memories of home.
"This sure as fuck isn't Pennsylvania," he whispered over to Dread. "Panthalassa?"
"No, not Panthalassa. We're certainly on Earth..." Dread whispered back.
"Where are we, then?"
Dread waited a moment, and the eyes on his mask began to shine a deep blue, glowing against the morning light. They stopped glowing as he bobbed his head up and down, almost knowingly.
"Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska."
"Alaska?!" Natalie said, spinning around and placing her hands on the sides of her head. The look of shock in her face was battling another rising emotion - a state of deep dejection.
Just as Michael and Dread looked at each other, Natalie's glare was turned towards her left, into the woods. She let out a gasp and took a few steps backwards slowly, drawing Michael and Dread's attention to what she was looking at.
The shadows of the trees were not the only darkness in the forest. From deep within the woods, a mass of dark smoke as black as a shadow's umbra made its way to them. The smoke appeared just like the kind Mendes and Dread used to teleport themselves, and manifest from - a dark mass floating off of the ground, three feet high.
Michael pulled the gun off of his back and put his hand out to usher Natalie behind him, as Dread straightened his back and prepared himself. Once Natalie was behind him, he took aim at the mass.
It had come to a stop at the edge of the trees. Swirling around itself and growing in size, a seven foot tall being manifested within the mass. As the smoke parted and grew thinner, the being was revealed.
Jackson Wilkerson, or as he was now called, Leviathan stood before them. His body, excluding his head, was completely covered in seemingly ritualistic and royal armor. The cuirass, greaves, and pauldrons stood out as a shining silver, with each shoulder ending in one horn-esque spike that curved inwards slightly. The rest of the suit was a blank sable, decorated only in rough edges and jagged spikes.
The gauntlets completely covered the fingers, ending in sharp fingertips. Both the forearms and the thighs sported overlapping layers of decorative edged metal. The smoke he had built himself within did not simply fade away, however.
Instead, it fell back to his shoulders and formed itself into four long centipede-like legs, obviously a nod towards Abaddon. All four of them floated behind him, not connected to his body at all, still semi-translucent and dark, being made of the regularly shapeless smog.
His head, which wasn't covered by any sort of mask, still had the slicked back black hair and devilish grin reminiscent of his attitude.
"I have some unfinished business here, before I claim my proper crown," he said. His voice was gravelly and snarky, mocking them where they stood.
Michael took no time to pull the trigger, firing his last bullet into Leviathan's head. The bullet entered his eye and blew out of the back, but no gore came with it. In fact, all that blew backwards was more of the slate black smoke.
Tilting his head back up, the shade that had been thrown back by the impact of the bullet came back to him, reforming his head with the sound of stretching wet meat.
Michael threw his gun to the snow and pulled out his machete whilst Natalie kept backing up in shock. Michael stood ready with his blade as he saw Jackso- I mean, Leviathan's, eyes drift away from him. First towards Natalie, then towards Dread.
In front of all of their eyes, he simply deconstructed back into the smoke, which faded into nothingness, before reconstructing within a split second in front of Dread and struck him with one of the disconnected appendages across the chest, sending him backwards onto the ground. He then instantly reappeared in front of Michael, grabbing him by the throat and causing him to drop his machete from the sudden assault.
"Someone else wishes to speak to you, Collins."
Just as he finished speaking, a portal of swirling reds and whites opened to their right, the sound of lightning and fierce wind coming from it, which he immediately tossed Michael into. The portal closed just as Michael disappeared into it. The disconnected weaponized limb stopped attacking Dread and returned to him.
Natalie let out a fierce scream as Michael left her view, stumbling and turning to run into the woods. Dread cocked his arm back and charged at Leviathan, whom turned around and caught the punch with his own hand, as one of his disconnected weapons lashed out at Natalie like a scythe, slicing both of her heels open, causing her to fall to the ground in a ballad of pain between the first two trees.
Dread punched with his other hand, hitting him in the stomach and cracking the air with the sound of struck metal, but apparently causing no pain. Leviathan twisted the hand he had caught before releasing it, picking Dread up by the neck and smashing him down into the snow once more. He walked a few paces back and allowed Dread to stand, pounding on his chest plate is a show of vanity.
"I worked beside you once, Olen! You influenced me to do all of this and save humanity!" Dread lashed out as he stood, confused and emotionally exasperated.
"No," Leviathan corrected. "I am not Olen!"
The anger and viciousness in his voice was unmatched by any prior examples on Earth. Leviathan outstretched his right hand and lunged towards Dread, whom ducked under the slash and returned it with a tackle. Just as he made contact with Leviathan, he disappeared once more and reformed behind him, kicking him in the back and sending him to the snow face first.
Attempting to drag herself away from the battle, Natalie, sobs of pain and shock never ending, tried to grab the ground and pull her body. The snow simply crumbled in her hand and pulled towards her, making no progress.
Just as the panic began to elevate her heart to levels she didn't think possible, she noticed a faint blue flash only a few feet in front of her. In the place of the flash when it was over, was Joseph Kaufman. His clothes, skin, hair, all glowed a deep blue, but it was undeniably him.
She attempted to pull herself forward even harder, simply taking away from the snow in front of her and moving it towards her, moving a centimeter at best. He simply walked over to her and crouched in front of her.
His short, wavy brown hair and defined jawline still intact like when he was alive.
"Natalie... you look so much more grown and mature..."
It was Joseph's voice to the key. He looked just as she remembered him as well. Her rushed heart slowed, even in the heat of the situation, and she felt an overwhelming sense of nirvana overtake her. The warmth of seeing an old friend once more, after waiting valiantly for this day to come for so long, was indescribable in comparison with the basic array of human emotions.
She reached up for him, but noticed that her hand simply slipped through his torso. The space within him was hot compared to the chilled air everywhere else.
"It's really you! How are you here?"
"I suppose the tormentor thought he owned you as much as a peaceful death."
"I-I don't want to die here... not like this!"
"No, no, please don't look at it like that, Natalie. No matter what happens to you here, no matter what that sick fuck puts you through, you'll be at peace when it's done. That's something he can never take from you."
"Will I see you?"
Even in death it appeared he was subjectable to typical emotions, as a pained, yet sincere smile came across Joseph's face.
"Of course you will. Nothing could stop me from seeing you again, I promise."
"... What does it feel like to die?"
That was something he obviously didn't want to think back on, but he did it for her.
"It feels as if your memories are leaving your body. You slowly forget, piece by piece, everything you knew and all the people you met, even family... then, you wake up in nothing but darkness. You can't feel, you aren't conscious, but yet you're aware in some way you can't comprehend looking back on it. Then, it all rushes back to you, and you're fully awake again."
"Is it beautiful over there?" she asked, the pain of her ankles no longer tearing her apart, but rather the pain of accepting a coming death.
"Some people get non-existence, some people get peaceful existence, and others feel his wrath. I've been at relative peace, so believe me that you'll get a peaceful existence..."
She noticed that his glow began to fade away, splotches leaving one at a time, and his overall color fading.
"Before you go, what was yours like?"
"... waiting for you."
The sadness of death was gone, in an almost twistedly poetic way. He was gone completely, and she was left simply repeating his name with a whisper, tears dropping into the snow.
Just fifteen feet away, Dread and Leviathan were still in fierce combat. Dread's trench coat and mask were covered in snow and dirt, whilst Leviathan was just as spotless as when he arrived.
"Why do you fight for death and destruction?" Dread vociferated. "You could help stop Enki's rule forever!"
Dread tried to punch him once more, but was stopped by one of Leviathan's four scythe-like arms cutting him diagonally on the chest, tearing his trench coat and flinging a stream of coal-colored blood into the air.
"If he stands in my way, I'll have no problem killing him as well. I serve no one any longer. I am the strongest! I hold the mantle, now!"
Leviathan delivered one fierce strike across Dread's mask, ringing it like a bell. He retaliated by shouldering into him, which only served to knock him back a few inches.
"What else could you possibly fight for?"
"Imagine a universe without any of the Pantheon's work or image. No Mendes, no Enki, no Dread. You broke the natural order every time you lifted a finger, even when you helped humanity. You wrote yourself as great spirits deserving of praise, modeling yourselves as truly dignified gods. That is a power only I deserve, and only I will have. I will slaughter until your image fades away. I will remove all of the concepts you manifested from. Sentience and humanity coming to an end begins today. The universe, however, will exist as my domain. Enki will simply not be able to challenge me, and if he does, will die trying. Should I decide to have sentient life, I will recreate it- but free will shall never work against me. As each race evolves into sentience, I will devolve it out of sentience - starting with humanity."
"You cannot deny the venerated right of life to those that come to be! Look at what they have done with such a gift!"
He launched sluggish, energy deprived punches towards Leviathan's face. As each hit backed him up about an inch, his face did not change. Dread could feel, and hear, Leviathan's jaw crack under the force of his punch, only to reform itself right away before the blow was even finished.
Leviathan returned the favor with a knee to his chest, before slashing shallowly at Dread's stomach. Hitting him across the face, his entire body tilted with the blow, before another bash forced him to tilt the opposite way.
Letting his sadism take over, Leviathan allowed all four of his weapons to assault Dread's torso, none of them cutting deep enough to hit any organs, but all of them cutting deep enough to draw blood. Almost ten seconds of blinding lightning-speed attacks, before they came to a sudden halt. His trench coat torn in the front and cloth hanging loosely all over, he fell to his knees, ebony gore leaking out slowly all over him.
"... Self awareness is what allows life to truly live! The freedom of choice, consciousness, you cannot take their very soul away from their control! Humanity has always deserved to be its own god, not a bringer of death!"
Leviathan reached down and grabbed Dread's throat, lifting him off of the ground.
"I think it's safe to say you and I have differing opinions on this matter. From this instant onward, I am death."
He threw Dread to his right, where he crashed into a tree and fell to the ground motionless. Walking over to his still body, he made sure to pick up Michael's machete on his way, stepping on Michael's empty gun to break it in half.
Lifting him by the throat, he raised Dread until he was just above eye level, pinning him against the tree.
"I am the only God humanity has from this point onward, because I'm the only God humanity deserves."
Cold and raspy, Dread knew he would only be able to make out one more sentence to Leviathan before it was finished. It was almost bittersweet knowing that this is how it ended. So much had been done for victory, which was so short lived. He's seen humanity grow from typical primates, to world conquering masters fighting for control over their own fate.
The plants and wild animals of Earth had changed, but the human spirit never had, not even between ages. He should have fought beside humanity the day he manifested. He accepted it as a blessing, never a curse, to be able to see such a powerful and majestic species grow right in front of him. One capable of love and sympathy, so filled with creativity and emotion that they both created and mastered the power of art and music, and one so courageous and curious with the power power it had, that it ventured off of the planet it had evolved on. Every new achievement, regardless of how small, made him so proud to be a part of it.
They worked so valiantly together, so lovingly, that they completed feats even they saw as impossible. They had birthed their way of life, order, and civilization from nothing. Even when that love was shrouded in hate, and even when hate itself had brought its wrath into society, nothing could deny the connection between humans. The unity, the perfection. Leviathan, no matter what the dark origin of Olen's twisted soul was, where it was from, or what it symbolized, couldn't hope to win. Nothing compared to the beauty of humanity and the human spirit.
"... I can see Olen in your eyes..."
Leviathan let out a ferocious roar as he plunged the machete into Dread's stomach, going through the deity and into the tree. As he was impaled, the eyes of his mask let off a bright, shining blue light, and what appeared to be a hologram of the milky way galaxy projected from them between the two god's heads as Dread let out a continued, monotonous scream.
The hologram zoomed in at extreme speeds and seemingly scanned around randomly near the Orion Arm, before zooming in at extreme speeds once more, stopping at one special destination. Earth.
Leviathan scoffed as he pulled the blade out of the deity, the light leaving his mask's eyes at the same time, ending the apparent projection. Dropping the blade to the ground beside the dead body, he made his way over to Natalie.
When he reached her, she was face down in the snow, shivering to the point you'd expect it to be a seizure. She hadn't moved (obviously), and was mumbling under her breath.
"You and that cunt of yours killed our offspring. For what? A chance at freedom that was never going to become a reality?"
He stood above her waiting, but she gave no response.
"I can understand why Enki would want to put you through the torture he did. Seeing you in psychological despair was all you were good for from the start, but I can't see why he'd chosen you to birth what was meant to be his son. Any other life form, even a common rat, could have provided much better attributes to Abaddon than you. You weren't worth the energy expelled that was required to rape you. The psychological damage it did, that part's debatable."
She still gave no response. She had stopped her mumbling, but he could see she wasn't crying. In fact, she seemed to be ignoring him as a whole.
"Every time I kill, I'm going to have you and that cunt Joseph in mind. Each and every time, I'm going to be thinking of what I'm going to do to your wretched soul when I'm finished with the living. You've already removed Mendes and Abaddon, Dread is gone, Enki is now emotionless towards humanity- that leaves me as the god, always holding the mantle of humanity. You are rightfully my property, Natalie. I'm going to enjoy seeing just how much damage can possibly be inflicted on you given infinite time."
She began to bob her head very slightly and create some muffles in the snow once more, something he noticed right away.
"Now your cry, that's something I hope is never forgotten about you!"
Using two of his floating limbs to flip her over, even he was shocked. This was laughter, directly in his face. The ultimate mockery to the newfound god! She was laughing right in his presence, careless to his threats.
"Michael's going slaughter you like he did Abaddon. Just because you stand over humanity, doesn't mean it'll let you own it. Don't you think Enki had the same thoughts before Dread took him down today? Humanity won't allow you to control it or to kill it. You'll be cut down and Joseph and I will watch it happen. You were scarier when you were rotten, you twisted motherfucker!"
Rage shot through his entire body like lightning as her smile taunted him. Raising his right foot off of the ground, he quickly crushed her head beneath his step, sending her gore forward in a splatter effect of death to paint the same snow she had mixed up attempting to crawl away.
Two bat-like wings punched through the back of his armor, as he took into the air above the trees.
Michael flew through the portal, landing on his side in a realm of simply white. He stood up on the flat color, which apparently had a floor somewhere, and immediately began to urgently look around for an escape. Instead, he saw Enki at his side. He was in his white robes, splattered in his golden blood which he had apparently not cleaned. The golden glow that once shielded his face and hands was no longer active, making his divine countenance completely visible.
His hair was grey and touched the back of his shoulder blades, completed with a mustache and beard combination of rather short and trimmed length. His skin appeared as tan as a Greek, and his eyes were a thick reptilian pattern of green, with the pupils being a thin line of black down the center.
"Send me back!" Michael demanded, stepping towards the god that had just given up the mantle of humanity.
"You took my child from me, Michael. Now, I'm going to allow Leviathan the chance to take something from you and allow you to live through it. Your redemption."
Enki's tone was mellow and calm, almost the tone you'd put off attempting to reason with a child.
"Haven't you done enough to her!?"
"And what would you rather see me do? Allow her to return to her normal life? No, that gives you what you wanted. The redemption you wanted in her forgiveness and in righting your wrong. You and Dread do not deserve that blessing."
Michael stood quiet for a moment, thinking against the rapid beat of his heart and the boiling blood in his veins. He knew Enki wouldn't budge, that was the hard reality of it. He'd dealt with this sick fuck before. His entire life, for that matter.
"I'm currently attempting to draw the line at what is 'enough', and what is justified punishment for you."
"You've done enough to me in my lifetime. If I had Dread's powers in that moment he ended your terror, I wouldn't have let you limp away to see your son's corpse like a bleeding coward."
"You speak ill of a child you murdered! He was to be the holder of humanity's mantle! He was the blessing I bestowed!"
"If you want to speak of murdered children, Joshua was somebody's son. Vincent was somebody's son. Jonah was somebody's son. Melody was somebody's daughter! If you could look out of your own point of view for just a moment, you'd see just how much of a tyrannical, genocidal freak you really are! Enki, Anu, Nibru, the tormentor, Ereshkigal, whatever name you want to go by, you created a destroyer and abandoned a species you claimed to love when it defends itself!" Michael said, grabbing Enki by the collar of his robes.
No mortal being was ever able to physically touch Enki without his permission. Enki looked at the hands holding him in awe as the burning anger dwelling within Michael became altered into a depressed state of brutal and corrupt realities.
"...If she has to die, at least give her the chance to speak to Joseph first. Don't punish her because of a situation you put her in. I'm the one that cut Abaddon down."
Enki went silent as well, thinking on it for just a brief moment. The right corner of his mouth twitched a bit before he spoke.
"Very well. I suppose she has endured enough to deserve at least that," Enki said as he moved his eyes' coloring changed from a sickly green and glowed bright blue for a split second. "It is done. He has been allowed access to visit her."
Michael released his grip on Enki and took a step back. They both sat, unable to even guess why Michael was able to physically touch Enki, let alone grab him. Was it the infernal anger that constantly consumed him in moments of bloodshed? Was it something to do with Leviathan? Not even the old deity could speak on the subject.
"Now, I have a few questions you have to answer. You at least owe me this, for all the things I did under your rule. After this, we'll officially be done with each other. Enemies until the bitter end, but we won't see each other until death makes that meeting happen naturally."
"Where is the closest city, town, whatever to where we are?"
"A small town north of where you exited from the Hellmouth. I assume you saw the mountain top cresting over the trees. Continue in that exact direction for fifty miles. You will reach a town called Pecutani. That is also where I am positive Leviathan will begin testing his powers slowly."
"Why did you give up so easily on humanity?"
"As I said, I had never attempted to spawn a successor or child. I see that you acted to defend your species, but he was the completion of my cycle on your planet. I had chosen that it was time for humanity to end, and the cycle was interrupted. As far as I'm concerned, humans are already extinct to me - even if you were to somehow kill Leviathan. When you touched me, could I not have slain you in retaliation? I'm finished with humanity as a whole. No longer shall I alter its path."
"If this ends in a victory on humanity's side, you will no longer intervene, correct? Right, wrong, regardless of situation, you will stay out of it?"
"I will be so far away that your sun's light will not have even started to appear. Sentient life forms do not often evolve anywhere near each other. I sense that Leviathan is finished with his entrance, now... This portal will transport you back to your previous location."
The red portal of mixing reds and whites opened behind Michael again. He could feel the cold air blowing in from the other side. Just as he turned to enter it, he thought of one more question, stopping himself.
"Enki, I have one more thing to ask."
"You may go ahead, child."
Even Enki needed to take a deep breath to answer the question.
"...I needed you to prove that you were completely loyal to me, and that I was your lord above all. Including those you loved."
Michael pushed into the portal, eyes shut, not even dignifying Enki with a response.
Landing on his feet in the snow facing Dread, whom was on the ground sitting with his back against a tree. The sun had set already and night was just starting to come - he had been gone longer than he thought.
He stumbled over to Dread's body before he even gained his balance. Looking at the gashes and open wounds that littered the now deceased god, he slowly grabbed his machete off of the ground and flicked it once to cast Dread's blood off of it.
"I'm going to make the motherfucker pay... for all of us," he whispered as he looked at his old friend.
Turning to exit, he saw the leftovers of yet another fatality. A female body laying in the snow. He walked over to it, stumbling in shock, regardless of the fact he knew she would be dead upon his arrival. He just didn't expect to actually see his retribution in such a display. The closer he got, the more he saw in the growing light that the head had been crushed, and the snow above the body was painted red.
From within, he could feel his anger take over. His rage consumed him yet again, his blood running like a burning solution of acid inside of him. The feelings that arose in him were not inhuman, but rather the other side of humanity, as Dread would put it. The side that wasn't afraid to fight, but rather demanded it. The sociopathic horror that dwelled in every human as an opposite to the endlessly praised love. Natalie was his, and Dread's, little redemption. They owed salvation and a proper life to her. If she was not to be his redemption, there was only one option left. One which the fires inside of him demanded he take.
He stumbled confused, determined, and fueled by rage into the forest, making his way north.
Only fifty miles to go.
Written by ShawnHowellsCP
Part 4 of the In Torment Series
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