Epilogue

Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4Part VPart VI, Part VII,

23.

Long shadows stretched across the valley. The sun would soon give way to the dark and the horrors that lurked within. A solitary horseman clad in crimson and purple greeted the two men that limped from the cave into the twilight. The first man was clad in the same garb as the horseman. The man behind the first wore intricate armor and carried a shield on his back. His hand was placed upon the shoulder of the man in front of him, eyes darting back and forth, unseeing.

The horseman called down from his steed,

“Captain…so it was you.”

“Yes, it was. If you are here to kill us you are free to try, but make it quick. I am tired.”

“Truly, I do not know what my intentions are anymore. I rode here with a full division behind the lord of our land to put you to death for treason…and I watched him wither away to dust before my very eyes. Everyone scattered at the horror.”

“He was not your true master, but a simple tool. The puppeteer is gone, and so too is the puppet. Are we going to fight?”

The horsemen looked down at the battered man and his blind companion.

“No, I think we will not” the man turned his horse and left. The two men on foot watched as the horse and rider trotted off into the distance and disappeared.

***

They walked all night and into the next day, always east. A woman and child waited there in a small town. The woman had expected one man. When two appeared she met them with weapons drawn, but in the bloodied face of the unknown man she saw the child that she had taken as her own. Her weapons would not be needed. She wept tears of joy and relief as she beckoned for the men to enter their home.

Reports of famine and disease ravaging the lands to the west trickled in from merchants and travelers that stopped for rest on their way to the coast. No crops would grow and livestock that grazed there died within days. No women could bring a child to term. Many of the men were driven mad. They gave themselves over to unnatural acts and ritualistic mutilations of self and fellow man. The land was cursed. The land was poison.

The blind man stayed until the light faded from his eyes and he could see once again. He gathered his belongings and mounted his horse, then headed for the coast. The endless ocean and the strange lands on the other side were waiting. Maybe somewhere, somehow, she was too. 

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Salt Plains 3

Part 1 Part 2

I wanted someone to see me for who I really am, you know? Not just “captain of the cheerleading squad” and “most beautiful girl in school.” I wanted someone to see the me inside…and that was you

The beautiful girl on the screen kissed the man wearing glasses and wearing clothes that didn’t fit right. An upbeat song about love and finding your dreams began to play as the camera zoomed out and the credits began to roll. John turned the monitor off and laid down in the dark. Time passed, but sleep did not come. He thought of taking some sleep medication. His dreams were always the worst on disposal days. No sleep meds tonight. He wanted to drive, but…

Something is out in the salt plains. What if it saw you? Who’s going to take care of the sleepers if something happens?

No. There is nothing. There is no one. I am alone.

John grabbed his night goggles and headed for the door.

***

The wind was strong, but the night sky was clear. The faint band of far off celestial bodies clustered together to form clouds against the dark. The car darted along the dusty road, abandoned structures and piles of rubble flew by. The milky purple sky remained motionless. John arrived. He stepped out of his car before the expanse of land that lay before him shimmering in the night. The hood of his protective cloak had not been secured properly. Cold wind whipped against the small patch of naked skin. The windburn would be painful in the morning, but he didn’t care. He sat on the ground and stared up at the endless dome above him.

The birth and death of all things had occurred under that same sky, all things to come would do the same. The sky and the stars will one day pass away too, but what will be there to witness and mark its passing? Who will be there to mark my own?

John waited. No lights appeared on the horizon. “It was just my imagination.” he said aloud. He picked up a rock and throw it into the empty ocean. It bounced a few times and then lay still among the other rocks. Rocks that served no purpose in a dead ocean on a dead planet where there was nothing but death to look forward to. The exposed skin on his face hurt. He reached up to fix it, but instead tore the hood from his head in rage and threw it at the car. The wind blew his hair about and stung his face. The pain was real, he was real, this was real. This wasn’t some simulation for electronic ghosts orbiting the planet until the end of time. The rocks were real too. He could just lay down there among them in the freezing night and drift away to whatever waited for him after all of this.

“You should put your hood back on. It’s cold out here.” a voice called out.

Salt Plains 2

Part 1

The rest of the drive back to the compound was a blur. Next thing he knew he was sitting in the dark of his room staring at switched off monitors. He turned them on. The vital signs of the sleepers looked normal. He put on a movie made for young adults about courtship rituals that used to be common in schools:

“So…ummm…you going to the dance with anyone?”

“Not yet…”

“Want to go with me?”

“Thanks, but I was kind of waiting for another person to ask me…sorry”

“Oh, yeah, sure no problem…see you around”

The boy on screen turns away from the rejection and tries to hurry down the hall just as the cleaning man turns the corner pushing a large garbage bin. The boy lands face first in the bin. Everyone laughs.

John turned off the monitor. He walked over to his bed and laid down. When he closed his eyes he dreamed of falling down a bottomless chasm. As he fell he watched a light above him get smaller and smaller until it was just a speck, then it was no more.

***

John awoke to a steady alarm sounding from the vital signs monitor. He walked over and silenced the alarm. The words “Soul transference complete” flashed on the screen. He put on his clothes and goggles, then headed out into the scorch of the sun.

The winds kicked up dust as he walked the short distance to the main sleeper building. He had made this walk countless times, but this time felt different. There was someone, or something, else out there. It was always a possibility that others were still alive, be it in other similar compounds or…somewhere else. He half expected to see some monstrosity waiting for him on the other side of the fence. Nothing but dust and solar panels greeted him. Maybe it was all in his mind.

John entered the main sleeper chamber and immediately saw a red light blinking above a glass tube in the back corner of the room. The red light signaled that transfer had completed and the body had been shed. He checked the monitor attached to the tube, “Transfer complete.” was all it said. He looked in the tube and saw a the body of a woman. She was 54 years old at time of transference. John remembered her. She had been there when he was tested for genetic compatibility with the process, had told his weeping parents that their son was condemned to mortality on a dying planet of dust and wind, but that he could still serve. Someone had to stay, now the choice was easy.

John disconnected the metal tube from all of the sensors and loaded it onto a powered cart. He guided the cart out of the sleeping chamber and into the disposal building. This was his least favorite part of the process. He loaded the glass tube onto the trap door mechanism that hung above a large vat of chemicals used for the disintegration of husks. For a moment the face of the woman was even with his, and though it was impossible he feared she might open her eyes and condemn him again. She did not. He pulled a lever and the tube released its contents into the liquid below. John remembered what it felt like to dispose of the bodies of his own parents, how he wept despite knowing that they were nothing more than empty organic shells. This time he felt nothing.

He took the now empty glass tube to storage in an adjacent building. The tube was placed among other glass tubes, indistinguishable from the rest. John wasn’t sure why he was storing the tubes, no one else was going to use them. It just felt…necessary to keep them. He wanted to remember. He looked at the room full of empty glass glittering in the sunlight that managed to get in through the open door. They reminded him of the stars. It was almost beautiful…almost. 

The Salt Plains

“I used to collect these little robot action figures when I was a child. They were only a couple inches tall, and usually came in packs of three. All of them were brightly colored and were aligned with one side or another of an eternal conflict. I would play for hours with them, waging war across the floor of the living room and beneath the dining room table. Then one day, I stopped. I took my basket of robot toys downstairs and stared at them. There was no desire to play, no affinity for the little figures that I had collected and brought to life on so many occasions. I felt only a hole where the joy once was. I don’t remember the exact day it happened, but I remember the feeling. I’ll never forget that feeling. I bet you’ve felt like that before.”

The man in the metal and glass container proffered no response. None was expected. He was sleeping, had been sleeping for several years now. Soul transference took a long time, and the length varied depending on the person. The important thing was to let the process work and to never wake them up. Data corruption was worse than death. John’s job was to keep the machines running. That was his only job.

John finished his check of all the sleepers and decided to head back to his living quarters on the other side of the compound. The noon-day sun stung his eyes when he left the main server building. He pulled down his shaded goggles and walked over to the fence that secured the small group of buildings. Solar panels stretched to the horizon, each reflecting the star above them. It was like a sea of blinding light. Even with his goggles on he could only look for a few moments. John turned back from the fence and walked to the small square building that was his home.

It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the comparative darkness of the interior. Eventually he could make out the wall of screens, the few pieces of furniture, and the small stove and refrigerator that were the only things decorating his living space. He turned on two of the monitors. One displayed the vital signs of those in his ward, the other an episode from a criminal show made long before. In this particular episode the protagonist tells a lie to his girlfriend in order to go to a sporting event. She ends up at the sporting event too, unbeknownst to him, resulting in hi-jinks. It was all very amusing. The show ended and John sat in silence with his eyes closed listening to the desert wind blowing sand against the walls. Then, he slept.  

***

John wasn’t sure why they had left him a car, but he was glad they did. It ran on solar power like everything else, and it gave him something to do. There was no place worth driving to except for the great salt plains not far from his compound. He drove fast along the dusty road: 180 mph, 200 mph, 220 mph. The stars in the night sky blurred past as he sped along, frost collecting on his windshield. The nights were cold and the days were hot.

He was the only one awake in a world asleep. He had read records of deviants that lived far away out beyond civilization. They had rejected the future and had even opposed (sometimes violently) the great migration. Fences were built around the compound for a reason. That was long ago, though. John had never seen a deviant, doubted they even existed. Fences were a relic of the past, just like his car. The great salt plains appeared on the horizon, an endless expanse of white glowing in the moonlight.  He brought his car to a stop and stepped out into the night.

The frosty ground crunched beneath his feet as he walked to where the dusty ground bordered the salt plains. Long before he was born, this had been a great body of water filled with life. Now it was salt and dust, merely reflecting the life of the stars that danced above it. John looked up at the sky. He could see the blinking lights of the ships that orbited the Earth, each one carrying countless souls and the servers that housed them. He picked up a rock and threw it out into what was an ocean. It skidded to a stop a few hundred feet away, one more rock in a sea of rocks. He got up to leave when a light flashed on the horizon.

The light was brief and very far away, but he had seen it. He was sure. Then the light flashed again. John felt his chest tighten as fear gripped him. He ran back to the car, stumbling over his panicked clumsy feet, and took off in the direction opposite from the dead ocean. The salt plains were a speck in the rear view mirror before he regained his senses. He brought the car to a stop and sat there in the dark listening to the gentle electric hum of the engine and the pounding of his heart.

I wrote this because why not

The girl in the next room was laughing loudly about something that probably wasn’t very funny. The loud thud that followed her shrill laughter was most likely her falling or knocking something over. I don’t know her name. She might have told it to me, but doesn’t look like it was worth remembering anyway. The kitchen in the apartment smells like old water and cheap cucumber melon body spray. I’m not really sure what expensive cucumber melon smells like. The world is a mysterious place. When the awkward overweight guy in the corner who wouldn’t stop talking about Halo passed out and started snoring and I realized the party was over.

“Hey I’m going to head out now, thanks for letting me come over”

“Yeah no problem! You sure you’re gonna be OK? Lot of snow out there…”

“Pretty sure drunk walking isn’t illegal, even in the snow. I’ll be fine”

Also this place is going to smell like stale beer and vomit soon. Worst case I freeze to death, still preferable to staying here.

“Alright man, later”

The hallway was empty but for half a bag of Doritos strewn about the hallway that no one bothered to clean up. Nacho cheese flavored, it’s always nacho cheese. No one wants to hookup with someone that smells like cool ranch. I watched the snow fall outside the glass walls of the stairwell, orange and gray sky glowing. Going to be a long walk. Boat shoes were a mistake.

Streets were empty, sidewalks were empty, hands were empty and shoved into the pockets of a jacket too thin for the heavy snow. It felt cold despite the alcohol in my system. Maybe I should have slept on the couch next to Halo boy.

Keep walking. Follow the road that leads away from campus and you’ll be back to your bed surrounded by empty boxes and cans of soup, or you’ll be somewhere else. No one is waiting for you.

I passed by rows of beautiful large houses, roofs covered in white. No signs of life, just darkened windows reflecting the snow and the idiot wandering the frigid wasteland alone. I came to a large wooden sign illuminated by spotlights in the ground. “Welcome to [generic neighborhood name]” it said. I’m sure the name referenced some kind of tree or rock or tree/rock hybrid. Hope whoever named it got paid big for their creativity. I walked up to the spotlights and tried to tear them out of the ground. My hands were too numb to be of any use so I stomped on the lights until the sign was as dark as everything else on the street. I stood there in the snow and waited for something, anything. No sound greeted me but my ragged breathing and the wind shaking empty branches in the trees above.

 

Trying to Write Part VII

I, II, III, IV, V, VI

[This segment is shorter, but I wanted to avoid having too long of a gap between writing sections. Hopefully this will help me be more consistent]

22.

Orren could see the deadly dance between man and demon from the corner of his eye as he knelt on the rocky shore. It was like viewing a memory within one’s mind. Orren was present in body, but his spirit was no longer confined to the cave. The runes he had carved into the ground around him would prevent the beast from assaulting his physical form…for a time. He could see the Mountain with his mind’s eye, could feel the power that lived eternal at its peak.The fight was not his to win or lose, he could but call for aid and hope that his petition be answered. He closed his eyes and began:

“Descend oh Sorra;
Scatter your enemies
and those who hate you and flee before your name.
As smoke is driven away,
so are they driven;
as wax melts before the fire,
so the wicked perish in your presence.”

I see you mortal…I feel your weakness, your pathetic summons. Why must you call for help? Why should he not come down off the mountain of his own accord? Because there is nothing on the summit. You are alone. I am all there is.

“We drive you from us,
whoever you may be,
unclean spirits,
evil powers,
infernal invaders,
wicked legions,
assemblies and sects.”

We need not be enemies, my son. I know your deepest desires! I have peered into your heart and the hearts of all men, I have seen the faces of those you long for…the ones you lost…the ones you failed. They are here with me in endless night, tormented by the flames that give no light. Say the word…serve me, serve my master and they will be free. Ride through the gates with us! We shall burn the city to the ground. We can rebuild it in our image, you will be Lord over all those that cast you out.

He began to feel again the cavity deep within his soul, the wound born from cruel twists of fate and the inscrutable will of the divine. A faithful shieldbearer and defender of the holy were all he had ever been. His devotion was rewarded with ashes and misery. Was he nothing more than a tool, something to be discarded once its usefulness has run its course? Were they? He felt his connection to the Sorra begin to fade. He looked over and saw Berek crouched behind Orren’s shield, pinned between the blows of diabolical tendrils and the wall of the cave. He would not be able to withstand the blows much longer.

He is nothing to you! Let him die. It is a just punishment for his crimes. He will not be mourned, he has no one…he is nothing. He is dust to be shaken from your shield when I am done.

His shield, his life, his purpose. He remembered now. He remembered her song. He remembered their faces. He remembered the spark of the creator that lived within their eyes. Nothing was ever truly gone once willed into existence. He would see them again, be it this day or another. It was time to finish the rite.

“Cursed dragon! Weaver of lies!
We adjure you by the living One, by the true Sorra,
by the One seated on the Holy Mountain,
cease your deception and withdraw the poison offering not but eternal damnation.
Return to the abyss from whence you came!”

As Orren finished the words a blinding light shot forth from the pike. The weapon was a rod of pure flame and light. Orren felt the palms of his gloves begin to burn away and his skin began to char. He stood and hurled the pike at the great beast. The tip of the weapon struck the behemoth and a great explosion of light filled the entire cavern. In that subterranean hell Orren’s eyes filled with the white light of the throne made manifest before a blast of power knocked him from his feet and he saw no more.

Part VI

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

19.

Orren had crossed half the distance to the tent before Berek noticed his companion had left. He saw him throw back the drape covering the entrance and disappear inside. A moment later a naked, hairless man with sunken grey-white skin came hurtling head first from out of the tent. He grunted as he hit the floor. He rolled onto his back and Berek could see blood dripping from his mouth. He raised his hands to shield his face in anticipation of further attack from the assailant.

Orren’s eyes blazed with fury. His pike was still slung at his side, but his shield was covered with spotted blood from where it had been driven against the face of the cave-dweller.

“Orren! This is the demon? Surely this shriveled man is not the one we have feared all this time, the one that has consumed my people’s innocence.” Berek shouted, trying to calm the rage burning inside the shieldbearer. It was a moment before Orren gained his composure and looked up at Berek.

“This is not the demon, but neither is it a man.” Orren replied. He then looked down at the man lying before him. “You know not what I saw in the tent, things no man should see.”

The being on the ground began to laugh, deep choking cackles that gargled blood.

“If you did not wish to see then why did you come you fools? What did you think happened to the ones left as gifts for my master? I am simply the servant. I deliver the parts that he requires, the rest…”

Before he could finish Orren slammed the base of his shield against the man’s chest, knocking the wind from him. The grotesque man spit out a mouthful of blood and looked up again, laughing.

“What can I say? A man must eat.”

Orren drew his pike and in one swift movement drove the blade through the neck of the monster that lay before him. Berek stood staring at the bloody scene, then fell to his knees. He looked around at the cave. This was a tomb. The sins of his people laid bare before him like some hellish monument, his sins.

Orren turned and faced the frozen lake and spoke. “There will be time for mourning later. We must finish the task at hand.I need your help with this body.”

Berek stood. “What are we to do with it?”

“We’re going to fish.”

20.

The two men picked up the naked corpse, one holding the head and the other the feet, and carried it over to the shore of the subterranean lake. The body had already begun to decompose. Foul powers had kept it alive, had prevented its aging during its unnatural existence. They were needed no more. They swung the body like a sack of grain and launched into onto the icy surface of the water. It landed with a sickening thud, but did not break the ice.

“Now what?” Berek said, dipping his hands into the icy water to wash the stink of the corpse away.

“Now we prepare.” Orren removed his shield from his back and held it out. “Take this. When it arrives you must protect me until the rite is completed.”

Berek hesitated, “Why don’t we just stab it to death? That usually works.”

“It will not work…not for this. You must trust me. Please, take the shield.”

Berek reached out and took the shield. He was startled at the lightness of it. It became like a natural extension of his arm. There was no struggle in his grip, swinging it around in different defensive positions was effortless. Berek was not one to use shields but this…this was different. There was power here.

“Ready yourself. It is time” Orren said, pointing his pike out across the frozen lake. A great shadow began to grow beneath the ice. It was larger than any beast Berek had ever seen, larger even than the great horned beasts from the scorching plains of the southlands. Orren walked down a few steps from the edge of the water and drove the end of his extended pike into the rocks until it stood on its own. Then he knelt behind it. Berek looked at him for a moment and then turned to the coming shadow. He drew his blade and held up the shield. Then he laughed.

“We’re gonna die.”

21.

The ice cracked beneath the rotting corpse and two black tendrils the size of tree trunks broke through. Each tendril was covered in a sheen of glowing mucus. The black appendages arced and bobbed around the corpse like a snake about to strike,  then they shot down and coiled around the body pulling it beneath the surface.

All was silent for a moment, then a great roar rang out from below the ice shaking the walls of the cave. The tendrils shot back to the surface still holding the now dismembered corpse. They arced back before hurtling the pieces in Berek’s direction. He was able to dodge the flying torso at the last moment but was not prepared for the second volley. A pair of legs struck him in the side and sent him bowling over.  He landed on his back not far from where Orren still knelt.

“I guess it doesn’t like the taste of old rotting man.” He called over to Orren. It hurt when he spoke, probably due to a broken rib, or two, or three. Orren gave no response. Berek winced and got back on his feet. He looked down at his companion, lips moving and eyes closed, hands clasping his pike driven into the ground.

Another roar erupted from the lake and the whole surface heaved upward. The ice broke into massive chunks and splashed down around the gigantic shape rising from the waters. It was matter without form, an ever shifting mass of congealed night. On the surface of the shapeless behemoth were thousands of small human eyes. They were different colors and shapes, each one blinking independently.

Berek gaped in horror at the madness before him, the existence of which was more than his mind could comprehend. It bore no resemblance to anything in this dimension for it was an affront to creation, a demoniacal mockery of all that is good and true. His grasp on reality begin to slip; then he looked down and saw the shield. He felt the cold steel of his blade in his hand, remembered the one waiting for him.

There are worse fates than death. It was the cowardice of my forefathers that allowed this curse…this plague. If my life is the price for defiance of that horror…then so be it.

Berek ran to the shore slamming his sword against his shield. He stood with his arms outstretched at the water’s edge and let forth a primal howl of fury. All of the beast’s thousand eyes focused on the challenger, and then it lurched toward the shore.

 

-Kaiju