Dark Illumination

An entwined pair of stories that evolve murder, cults, and pseudo-science. Constructive criticism is always welcome. That's what the critique bowl is about.
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Epilogue 2

“Wait wait wait. Start over. This is all nonsense.”

In the nothing of the abyss sat two figures on a piece of brick wall, their feet dangling over its side.

“Okay okay.” Max took in a deep breath. “So, we killed the prophet, right?”

Megan nodded. “I got that part, I was there.”

“You were there for everything!”

“Just-”

“Fine fine. So we kill the prophet, who was actually the speaker.”

“How?”

“I’m guessing reentering a looping dimension at different parts of his life.”

“How do you even-”

“Starting it over, usually. Erase everything down to a certain point. Don’t know when that is. But we just saw where it ended! Pretty cool.”

“Yeah, sure. I still don’t-”

“Okay, look. We can either spend eternity figuring this out, or spend it looking for something out here.”

“…Fine. But there’s nothing out here.”

“Well, not here. Its null space!”

“Right, nothing space. I got that. But if its all nothing, then there’s nothing out there.”

“Lies! Were here.”

“Yay. We found us.”

“Oh hush. Just saying. Other stuff too.”

“Then why can’t we see it?”

“Because we aren’t in the same thing.”

“A-”

“Think of nothing like lots of separate nothings. Since nothing is nothing, you can divide it however you want! Its pretty neat. It makes everything in it feel like nothing, since that’s what it is!”

“This almost makes nonsense.”

“Perfect!”

“So… How do we jump into other nothings?”

“By making out?”

Megan threw Max a glare. “That line of thought really is going no where.”

With a shrug Max said “worth a shot.”

“Yes it was.” Megan punched Max in the arm. “But seriously.”

Max shrugged. “It’ll happen when it wants to. Which is to say its already happened!”

“Max, when do you even-” That’s when it was happened. “Oh.”

Epilogue 1

The sayer blinked and shook his head a little. He was in a small white room, as well as several other places. But the focus is on the little white room; the expanses of the “multiversal constant” is not something anyone would want to get into. Fourth dimension nonsense and all that. Suffice to say, he was in this room, and that is all we really need to worry about. And it was not a room he was particularly fond of. It lacked the deliciousness that was fried food. Something to do with it corrupting the soul.

There was also a woman in sharp business attire standing next to him, slightly to his left. She furrowed her brow as she examined the expression on the sayer’s face. “Something wrong?”

“I, uh. Hmm. Not sure.”

“Really? That is new. I was under the impression your kind has experienced everything.”

“’Ppearntly not.”

The woman waited a moment before she decided that the sayer was not going to be saying anything. “So? What was it?”

“We had a reformat set in that garbage dimension, right?”

“Yes, though I assume something was going to go wrong. We waited too long for Carmichael to finish his loop.”

“Yeah. Well, something happened. Think they killed the young Carmichael.”

“Well that is troubling, isn’t it?”

“Less troubling than the alternative.”

“Yes, of course. We can’t have such paradoxes out here in the clean universes. But things like that have happened before. Why-”

“Double paradox.”

“…And? While rare, it isn’t unheard of. Especially in such a corrupt-”

“Yeah, one inside the other. One physical and on chronological.”

“Oh? You mean…?”

“Yeah, time travel.”

“Damn it. Wait. Was that what-”

“Dunno. Thing is, we never let anything get out intentionally before before the Prophet project, right? Nobody jumping into restarts of themselves. Nobody leaving before a reboot?”

“…No.”

“Wierd… Something got out.”

“Something… what?”

“I dunno. Something popped out of the inner paradox before the other ate it.”

The woman began to pace. “That’s a problem, isn’t it.”

“I don’t know. Should just be out in null space. Pretty sure its the safest place for it. Shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Why’d you bring it up then?”

“Shouldn’t.”

8.7

With a flick of his thumb Hubert Malloney (referred to as “the devil” by some) lit a cigarette, bringing in a long drag as he shook the match out. He brought his scarf back over his mouth and let the smoke waft out from his nose. Today was a good day, not something a man with usually such grim tasks could usually say. But today was a possible turn toward a new future. Years of research brought him to this point, this meeting. To think that a young girl would be the mind behind time travel, a concept that has eluded science for the ages. A concept that would be quickly ended with a knife if certain someones could get their hands on it. The IPD never liked anything they couldn’t control, especially if it could erase their whole little project from existence.

Malloney took in another long drag letting this one sit in his lungs, burning them. Nothing quite like getting cancer in a garbage dimension. But where else would such prospects even be allowed to flower? One in millions of a chance. And here, oh and here it was, at the exact unknown millionth.

Down the alleyway Malloney could hear the voices of a man and a young girl. He dropped his cigarette onto the ground, squishing it with his heel. It was almost-

-click

At the corner of his eye there was a strange warping sound, followed by a flux in the air. Had they found him? No, it wasn’t a crack like would be expected. And there was no flash light, just a waft of darkness. Malloney carefully looked up, and there wavered a figure: pale, his head bandaged and his eyes sunken. In one hand he held a briefcase, open where its odd contents shown to the world as well as… his arm? He looked to make sure his was still connected (and it was) and new thoughts rammed through his head. Panic. Who was this man? And why did he have his gun. Oh God, in his other hand was a gun, pointed at him like he had pointed at so many people. More people that he even knew. But the pale man obviously did.

As the pale man’s form solidified, it jerked a small smile across his face as he pulled the trigger. Bam! The sound echoed and the sound of a little girl’s scream could be heard right behind him. Malloney grabbed at his chest, smoke beginning to filter through a chasm in it. “Hah.” He coughed blood. “I… did it.” Even though Malloney was about to fall over dead, the pale man shot him again, his head nearly exploding from the impact. Another scream, this time the pale man heard it and slowly turned around after he watched the body fall to the ground. To the scared man with a child crying into his stomach, the pale man looked happy and sad.

Then he spoke in a familiar voice. “I’m sorry Jacob, and you’re welcome.”

The man’s eyes buckled. “Charles?” But before he could question any further, the pale man vanished.

It wasn’t long before a detective in a trench coat arrived (although he didn’t ever hear sirens) to usher them off.

8.6

“What do you mean?!” The prophet shouted at the shrugging sayer before he began pacing again up and down the alleyway rubbing at his temples. Thoughts snapped in his head as he snapped back pointing an angry finger at the sayer. “No. No! I have worked too hard to- I can’t die here, I’ve seen me, I know I live.”

The sayer wrapped his fingers around his greasy beard, wringing all the oils through them. “Is the problem, ain’t it?”

“I… I demand to be recalled! This will not stand under code B17-”

“Code Null000 says yeh can’t. Too much corruption.”

“I’m done with you, I want to talk to Sehnaji. Now!”

“She’s right here mate, listenin’ to the whole mess. ‘My condolences, Mr. Whilington.’ What she said.” The sayer gave a nod to confirm.

“Fuck… No. Fuck her. Fuck this whole God damned project! And for good measure, why don’t you go ahead an fuck-” Three figures appeared at the end of the alleyway, their silhouettes thrown by a crash of lightning. The avengers who had followed the not so quite easy to miss shouting in an otherwise silent city. “-Me.”

“Don’t mind if I do!” One of the figures drew a gun as they all moved down the alleyway.

The prophet, the father… he had only one last ditch effort, not that it would mean much, but still. “Stop him,” he shouted, pointing his finger briefly before attempting to jump over a fence.

He didn’t make it. There was a crash of gunfire followed by a man hitting the ground hard into the one working alleylight. The three figures walked into it, revealing themselves. Adeline was holding the gun, Max was slamming a fist into his palm with a menacing smile and Megan… she just grinned. “Sorry, a little slow there. Let me stop her for you.” Megan took the gun from the reluctant Adeline, pointing it at the prophet. “I’ll do it.”

The prophet stumbled into a standing position, hobbling toward a wall gripping his blood soaked leg. Another crash echoed through the narrow way as a whole ripped into the man’s chest towards the bottom of his rib cage. He took in a gasp of air that was half breathing, half gurgling.

Max walked over to the man, gripping him by his collar (to no real effect. The man was not struggling and Max wasn’t tall enough to actually lift him off the ground). He got real close to the man’s face and angrily whispered “What the hell?” The man smiled, his teeth red with blood. “Oh hell naw.” Max took a step back and round housed the man in the head sending him spiraling across the lap of the sayer. Who was, for the lack of a better word, surprised.

He old, greasy man spoke, his eyes still cocked and slightly out of their sockets. “I believe a man is breathing on me.” He slowly looked up and to his left. “No no. I think these young folks will deal with it.”

And they did, flipping the prophet over and off the sayer’s lap. The prophet who still hung onto life, for some queer purpose. “Give me the gun.” Adeline motioned with her fingers, still starring at the man.

“I don’t think so.” Megan dropped to a knee and witnessed the broken man before her. “Who the hell are you?”

The man wouldn’t have told her anyway, but the punctured lung and broken jaw were good excuses. Megan stood up and pointed the gun down. Bang. A hole appeared in the head. There was not much of a mess other than the bloody pool forming below his head.

Megan stood up and passed the gun to Adeline as she drifted by blankly.

“Sorry about the mess.” Max looked between the body and the alley for somewhere to stash it.

“No bother. This world is about to end in a few moments anyways. No need to clean up before hand.”

Max’s brow furrowed. “Huh?”

The sayer shrugged and Adeline nodded. “I’ve been trying to tell you. Now, grab me and lets go.”

“Huh?!”

Adeline threw her arms around Max. “Your happy place. We need to go. Now.”

Megan turned around at this new development and Max met her eyes. Max was grinning as he turned back to Adeline. “Noooope.”

Now it was her turn to say it. “Huh?”

But before she could even shake the confusion Max slipped out from the loving grip and barreled down the alley, grabbed her by the hip and ran themselves both into a wall.

“No no no!” Adeline tried to catch up, but she could only catch the bodies as they fell to the ground.

Click-Click. Click-Click.

Click-Click. Click-Click.

And then everything blinked from existence.

8.5

The loud splish-splashing of three foot falls echoed though the dark backalleys. The rain had stopped momentarily, but the thunder rose with flashes of light in the distance. The city’s power grid seemed sketchy at best, lights beginning to flicker and fade. It was this reason that the three of them nearly missed the speaker who was curled up in between a couple bags of trash. But Megan, she stopped. There was a sense of unease twitching at the back of her neck, and she knew she had to stop. That’s when she heard the muffled coughing. Max had to yank at Adeline’s wrist to get her to stop pulling him along. Max shouted back to Megan who was looking at the man. “What’s up?”

Megan knelt down and placed her hand on the speakers shoulder. He began to uncurl, his sickly looking yellow eyes wavering. He rose a shaking hand up as if to touch her face. In a raspy voice, he said “come closer,” as he attempted a sitting position. Megan helped him sit upright and then he pulled her ear to his mouth, gripping at the back of her head. Suddenly she was face down onto the wet ground, it smelling of mildew and sulfur. Before either Max or Adeline could react, the old man had flipped open a knife with his free hand and jabbed it into the back of Megan’s neck. He dropped the knife and immediately plunged his dirty, shaking hands into the wound, pulling something out with a bit of a spark.

At this time, Max did react, driving his foot into the side of the speaker’s face, his weak, elderly bones crackling like popcorn. Adeline drew her gun and shouted for Max to move. He didn’t at first, and then dove after he looked down to see the blood. One shot to the head, Adeline’s low caliber bullet making a clear hole in the old man’s head.

Max rolled over to Megan, who was already rolling over, her hand on the back of her neck. “What the hell?!”

Max stood up, offering Megan a hand as he and Adeline shrugged.

Megan repeated herself at a higher octave as she rose to her feat and approaching the woman with a smoking gun. “What the hell?!?!”

Max looked down at the ground. He want no part of this, even though he knew it was the right thing to do. She was being attacked! Adeline, however, just shrugged again. “What did he say?”

“No, you do not just get to make this so… so casual.”

“I make a lot of terrible things casual. Ask Max some other time. But for now, what did he say? Its obviously much more important.”

As Megan held the wound on her neck, Max realized by the amount of blood that it didn’t seem to be a very serious injury. And she was walking too. So instead, Max wandered to the dead old man and took whatever he cut out of Megan’s neck. He looked at it and was rather confused. Adeline was obviously done with this. She just wanted to shoot a different man. “Fine, don’t tell us, but we’re on a pretty tight schedule here and-”

Megan’s eyes glossed over as she remembered the words. “He is me and paradox will set us free.” The words obviously shook her.

Max began to walk over with the thing in hand. “Deep.”

Adeline grabbed his collar. “More like ‘Deep shit.’ He caused the paradox that were about to experience.”

“What? How?”

“I mean, duh. They’re the same guy from different points in his own timeline. Pretty obvious, with that nose and all.”

“Oh. And?”

“And we have to kill the earlier one?”

“Oh.”

“…Which means the older one couldn’t have ever existed.”

“Ooooooooh.”
“Or maybe there was an even older one in the same universe, which means that we-”

“Gotta boogie.”

“Double boogie.”

Riddled with a bit of anger and confusion, Megan slapped Max on the back of his head with her free hand. “What?!”

“Uh, silly things about time travel and the ending of a dimension through paradox and some other stuff. We can try and explain it on the way but…” Max looked over to Adeline, who was a little angry for Megan slapping Max. “You have a bandage or anything?”

“Of course.” Adeline roughly applied the bandage, bopping it when she was done. “Okay. So. Long and short is the world is ending and we got shit to do before that happens. Yeah? Okay. Lets boogie.”

“Double boogie.”

8.4

Patton hadn’t been able to answer the devil’s question. In his head, the question had changed, altered, magnified, transposed and then taken itself way out of context. But it was there in that vaguely obtuse, red, upside-down pixel that had once been his understanding if everything that he had hatched an answer.

Of course, Patton did have to give the devil an answer. One he’d accept. “Nothing. I have nothing, expect nothing since there is but nothing left.” Utter defeat, his head hung low, up turned hands in his lap sitting in that uncomfortable chair. And it was true. Oh it was true, as Patton had felt absolutely nothing. And it had to be true, else the devil would never believe him. And this sorrow had to be so complete. It was required by the plan that the blanket of sorrow would hide. And the hate! Oh the hate, how that had to be buried beneath an entire abyss filled with junk emotions, his true intention being hid from all reality. So much hate. So much God fucking terrible hate that would leave to one thing, and that only. To truly answer the devil’s question: what would Patton gain from anything? To see the bastard’s head on a pike floating through this abyss he called his home.

Patton sat in the white, sterile lab with the aluminum case open revealing all its intricate wiring and various switches. And the two bulbs. Tools were scattered about every which way in their respective places. There was no need for them, but Patton just wanted to throw them in such a pattern that the Devil might think it more than intentional. And so that his impatience would increase. But not so much as Patton’s stare. What felt like hours had he stared at that little red switch next to the dark bulb. Such a silly concept: how much death had happened for something as silly as a bulb that makes darkness? Ah, but the ramifications were so intense, that only this much death would be a worthy sacrifice to its creation. And destruction.

“So?” A voice broke the silence, projecting from a small box in the corner of the room. Up above was the devil himself viewing from a glass observation deck. “Are you just going to look at it? Waste precious time?”

Patton made no gesture at a response. Maybe he didn’t hear. His finger and thumb just rested on the red switch.

“I don’t believe just looking at the device is going to fix it, my dear Patton. Unless you have some how managed to develop telekinesis as well? Oh, how I am going to enjoy digging through your corpse.”

Such inspiring words. But oh how helpless the devil must have felt, two failed experiments staring each other in the eyes, so to speak. It must have reminded him that he did not, in fact, control every fabric of reality. So then who did? “Me,” Patton announced under a breath.

“What was that?”

“Come here.” Patton hadn’t moved a muscle, still staring at the dark bulb.
The devil’s frustration manifested in every pore of his being, which of course meant you couldn’t very well tell. He flashed into the room. “What?”

“Look.”

The devil leaned in. “What am I looking for?” He straightened back up. “Damn it man, just fix it.”

“Can’t… Too weak.” And it certainly looked like it. The dark circles under and in Patton’s eyes had nearly reached his lips, and with his recent surgery, he certainly didn’t look well for wear.

“Fine.” The devil leaned in again. “What am I looking for.”

“Just look.” Patton flipped the switch on, then off.

“…Yes, nothing.”

“No. Look again.”

The devil approached closer, leaning further and further in with every flip of the switch. There was something there that apparently he couldn’t see. How was that even possible, given his eye augmentation for ten times zoom. And how could this… neanderthal see it with his natural eyes? More psycho nonsense? Likely. Regardless he peered in further. Inch by inch. A certain entrancing effect. Had this been why the man hadn’t moved in hours? No, that wasn’t it. What was- A trick.
But before the devil had the chance to react to his new thought, Patton had grabbed the back of his head and slammed it into the light bulb of the device, cutting half of his face off with its heavy glass. The devil pushed the weak man off of him, bleeding profusely from his right eye socket and temple. His eyeball fell to the floor with a squishy, hollow bounce as it sparked and fizzled.

“Nobody, NOBODY! Lays a hand on ME!” The devil pulled his gun from his holster, his one good eye and shock making it a bit difficult to train its sights on Patton. To hell, he had more than enough bullets to kill him. He fired two shots, both misses to either side of what appeared to be a lifeless Patton on the floor.

Until it started laughing. Subtle at first, a couple chuckles under his lifeless form, and then turning into a hysterical nonsense as he rolled over to see the bleeding man above him.

“Shut up shut up SHUT UP!” Three more shots, one finding its mark in Patton’s leg. The pain did not stop the laughing, though it did slow it down. With a snarky smirk that only a villain could possess, Patton pointed with a lazy index finger upward. “No. You shut up.”

And shoot yourself. What? I didn’t think that. The devil turned to his right, as if someone would be there. What was that? Nobody. It wasn’t Patton. It sounded like- Bend elbow. He did so. But why? He didn’t think such a thing, but it was him. It was his thoughts telling him this, only he didn’t think these thoughts, and there was no way Patton could get through the- “Oh dear-” No time for talking. Elbow up, gun at temple. “No no no no nonono.” Pull the trigger. “No. No no nononono.” Shut up and pull the trigger. No. I’m too strong for- Pull it. Pull the trigger. Pull the trigger you useless piece of God fucking trash. No body has ever loved you. You have spent a lifetime building an empire of hate and fear, now live in it. Fear yourself. Hate yourself. Hate everything you’ve ever done, fear yourself. No no no. The devil’s knees buckled, tears beginning to stream down his unbloodied half face. Pull the trigger. No! Pull. The. Trigger. It is the only good you will have ever graced the world with.

The gunshot echoed through the room, the devil’s lifeless head hitting the floor the only thing louder and more satisfying. Patton smiled.

8.3

Filling the small Church of Grace was the busy silence of robed figures being escorted into police cars and officers talking to exasperated followers. Megan sat int the corner wrapped up in a wool blanket starring blankly at her robes which currently sat below where her feet dangled. Max’s blood was stuck to its very fibers. They had taken his body fifteen minutes prior. Megan would have gone with the body, but Lee wanted to see if he could get her coherent enough to explain what the hell was going on.

That wasn’t ever going to happen.

Lee sat down next to Megan and handed her a cup of cop coffee, which she took in both hands, not even glancing up at Lee’s concerned face. She was too focused on the blood. Max’s blood. Why?

“Ready to talk?”

Megan just shook her head “no,” staring through the cup.

“Well… I am. Its all kinda strange. This doesn’t surprise me in the least.” There was a certain sadness in his voice, like giving a eulogy at your great-grandparents funeral, and you didn’t really know them well enough to sat anything, but there was a deep, concerned emotion. “Always knew he’d go early, the way he acted. I tried to keep him out of trouble, but he… I dunno. Was just drawn to it.” Lee tried to smile at his next thought. “I always figured he’d go because he was tied to a rocket by an evil scientist and being shot at the moon or something. ‘You won’t escape me this time Ma-”

Megan cut him off as she dropped her cup between her knees and wrapping her arms around the bastion of worst comforter ever. Not that she’d tell him that, her face was buried into his shoulder.

Lee carefully put his cup down next to him and gently rubbed her back while looking out the door. Kind of weird. He was seeing things. Guess he was grieving more than he thought, if he thought he just saw- There it was again. “Max?”

Megan raised her head and punched Lee in the chest, still coughing up tears. “Don’t you even-”

“Oh hey! Lee! Leeeeeeeee!” Max was jumping up and down at the front of the mob that was growing the the dying storm outside, just behind two burly officers who saw the look on Lee’s face and let the strange boy pulling at the arm of a pale woman with deep red hair along behind him.

Lee… didn’t have anything to say. He was sure this was some serious grief. He guessed that he had taken for granted everything he’d ever-

“M- Max?” Megan turned around to see Max: all smiles and giving her a little wave with his free hand. Tears trailing behind her, Megan punched Max as hard as she could in the shoulder. “God dammit Max!”

“Ow, what was that-”

But the facade fell and Megan wrapped her arms roughly around him.

Thank God she’s seeing it too. Lee wanted to say something, like that he had actually missed the runts antics and a bunch of other stuff he would not have even thought to think not thirty minutes ago. However, the only thing to make it out was “What. The. Hell.”

Megan seemed a little more coherent as she stopped embracing and punched Max again in his other shoulder. “You don’t fuck with people like that!”

“I didn’t mean to!”

The pale woman, who was still holding Max’s hand quite tightly, cleared her throat in an effort to dispel and mood that might have been brewing.

“Uh. Right. Megan, Lee? This is Adeline. She’s helping.”

Megan raised an eyebrow. “…With what?”

Lee also raised an eyebrow, but his was more a failed attempt at being suave. “I could think of a few things.”

Adeline too raised an eyebrow. “What? No. Gross. Max, you didn’t tell me your friends were tactless.”

“Just Lee. Though I do suppose that’s like a third of my friends. Anyway, doesn’t matter.” Max turned back to the other two. “Where’d the prophet go? We don’t have much time left.”

“For what?”

“To shoot him.”

“Wait, what?” Lee seemed to be the only one who was not okay with what was just said. Megan had already thrown off the blanket to the floor over the bloodstained robe that she could forget about now. Lee wave his hands in front of him. “You can’t just-”

“You aren’t stopping me.” The glare in Adeline’s eyes gave Lee a terrible tremor down his spine.

Max smiled. “Its true, she’s got a laser gun.” Megan was about to say something, but Max interrupted. “No time to explain. Megan, you think he’d go back to the warehouse or something? Maybe ask the old man?”

“Uh, yeah.”

Turning to Lee, Max held out his hand. “Lee. Keys.”

“I can’t just- You don’t even know how to drive.”

“I do.” Megan in a deft maneuver walked by Lee and in the process managed to pilfer his keys from within his jacket pocket.

As Max ran by Lee, he shouted “Sorry Lee, not enough time left,” and knocked off his hat in an attempt to slow him down.

Max, Megan and Adeline ran out the back door with gleeful blood-lust on their faces.

8.2

Max blinked his eyes a few times. Not because they were dry, but because opening them was difficult. He couldn’t much feel himself. Probably for the better, considering what his body had likely been through. He saw Adeline putting this kind of corkscrew-hand-blender thing back into her old, rusty toolbox. Then she turned quickly at him, and he tried to close his eyes even quicker. Didn’t work.

“Max! You’re back!”

Max tried closing his eyes harder. “No I’m not. Nope.”

“So?”

“So what?”

“Did it happen?”

“Nothing happened. No one here to have anything to happen to.”

“Uh… huh. So it happened.”

“Nope.”

“You weren’t out very long.”

“How do you know? I’m still out.”

“Seriously Max. This is the compilation of everything we’ve worked for.”

“Maybe, and this is nothing saying this, I’m just done with this whole thing.”

“But… Max! All of this would have been for nothing!”

“All of the torture? All of the pain, suffering-”

“I never made you suffer.”

Max opened his eyes and looked right into the eyes of the woman standing in front of him. She was genuinely upset at the statement. “…Really?”

“I never made you suffer.”

“Uh, so you don’t think that being stabbed, scrapped, poisoned, electrocuted, and chewed on would cause any suffering?”

“…You never said anything. I would have stopped the moment I knew that you weren’t-”

“Seriously?” Max shook his head. At least those muscles were working. He would’ve pointed, but he was still numb and strapped. “Are you dumb? I mean, I know you aren’t and I hate to say it, but are you so dumb that you would think that stabbing someone, something typically illegal, wouldn’t cause pain.”

“I knew it would cause pain. But it was required for the experiment. I needed you to leave. I wanted you to stay, but I knew you had to leave. But you came back! Would you really come back if you were suffering? Would you really come back if you didn’t love me?” Adeline took a few steps forward, but Max just shook his head. “…What’s wrong.”

Max laughed. “Damn. You really are that stupid. Geez. No seriously. Don’t give me that pouty face. I know what its like to actually have a friend. One who isn’t, you know, torturing me. So don’t try to go for sympathy. I know what you are going to say, so just stuff it.”

“But-!”

“No. You know why I came back? I died. Stabbed, I think. And-”

Adeline’s eyes instantly squinted in fury. “Who stabbed you?”

“I dunno, some cultist dude.”

“How dare he stab you!” She marched backwards further into the room and then began pacing with a few grunts of disdain. “Oh, nobody hurts my Max, nobody!”

“Well, except you.”

She marched right back up to Max, Adeline’s face not even an inch away. She had some kind of needle and a vial of glowly stuff in her hand. “That’s right.” She kissed him on the nose then stabbed and injected the liquid into Max’s thigh.

Max winced in pain. “What the he-” But before he could finish, he felt a warming coolness search through his body. It was like his back had been infused with frozen lava. In this pleasurable feeling, he could hear the sounds of his straps being unbuckled. Then he could feel his arms again, although they were terribly pins-and-needley. “Wait, what’s going on?”

Adeline, who was back in her toolbox, just turned her head slightly and smiled. “We’re going to go kill the bastard that killed you.”

“Oh.” Max sat up fully and swung his legs over the side, despite the head rush he was experiencing. “Okay. Yeah, let’s go do that.”

8.1

Patton sat in an oversized, under cushioned seat in the “office” of the man whom he was sure was the devil. But that was of little consequence. More important was his skin under his bandage which he rubbed with the tips of his fingers. Not but half an hour ago it, his forehead had been torn in two. But now! Oh but now it was smooth. Like glass. Like loose fitting glass. What precision instruments did they have that let them seemingly stitch as a molecular level? And why keep it from the world?

“To answer your questions in order-” said the Devil from somewhere behind him, his hand appearing spontaneously on Patton’s shoulder, “Nanomachines, because people aren’t skilled enough to do it themselves, and because you didn’t deserve it.”

Patton was too taken aback to understand the later statement. “Wh- What?”

“Would you give a stray cat caviar? A baby diamonds and pearls?” A smile twitched on his face as he passed Patton to face him. “Your love to a tramp?”

“What-” But Patton could see it clearly. An inaccurate image of him with Nora. Patton couldn’t move, no. His body was still quite sedated. But his mind, oh! That was as powerful as ever. The image he sent back to the Devil was so powerful in its angry that the man’s face went from clever to anguish as he toppled over sideways.

The Devil lay on the ground. Laughing. “Hahahaha!” It was a terrible laugh, the hidden chuckles within the blusterous maniacal full of schemes which Patton could only catch as fleeting kittens. The laughing man eventually stood up, dusted himself off (despite the floor being too white to actually have any dusty) and adjusted his tie. “I fear I overstepped. Now. My technician said you came upon a light bulb, as it were.”

You think I’d every help-

Yes “Now get on with it.”

Patton might have made more of a fuse, more of a fool of himself likely if he had not wanted to see this damn thing work. 'Damned' thing. Hah. My only hope is the work of a devil.

“You discredit your friend’s work. Now can we hurry this up? I would very much like to get you back under the knife and know how that brain of yours works.” The Devil rubbed his chin.

So would I. “There are more pressing matters, unfortunately. Like destroying the very fabric of space and time.”

“Oh? So you realized the importance of what we are doing here? And you know your previous folly?”

“Yes.”

“And?”

“I need the device.”

“And you think I’d just give it right on over to you, something that, in your own words, is your ‘only hope’?”

“…Yes.”

“Hah! I don’t think you realize that you are quite transparent Mr. Patton. Not only from your overreaching thoughts, but your face! I see it. A desperate man. A man willing to do anything.”

“Including helping you.”

“Oh, I can help myself.” The Devil tapped the side of his head with his index finger.

“…I doubt it. Did you see the preliminary reports from the ‘mining’?”

I did. “No.” He took in a deep breath. “No, that’s not right. Why lie? I did, and yes, it might prove-”

“Unreasonable. Something that will likely kill me before you have the chance to figure it out.” Patton sat silently staring at the man. His mind was blank. Not thinking a thing. Or maybe it was moving so fast he couldn’t see it. “…Why don’t we salvage something from all this? This huge mess you and I have gotten ourselves into.”

“Oh? And what do you think you can benefit from this?”

“Life?” Not that it could ever be normal again. Or all that long. “I’d just like to get back and try to… I don’t know. I’ll figure it out.”

“…Back where, pray tell?”

“Back… home? Why?”

“I’m afraid come tomorrow morning, your world will have never existed. Your ‘home’ where your wife is fornicating with your stable boy will have been erased.”

“What?!”

“So I ask you again, what is it you think you can benefit from this?”

7.11

The bright hall of the Church of Grace was full of unsure murmuring full of concern mixed in with the pious reassurance of those that dragged the prior group along. There was no place to sit; the benches had to be removed to fit all the people into the tiny little building.

In the room where he had killed his mentor, within earshot of the noisy crowd, the prophet, the father sat on the golden altar balancing the golden ornate knife in his hands, judging its weight against that of his spirit.

One of his assistant, the large man known as Strongarm, approached him, placing his hand on the father’s shoulder.” Having doubts sir?”

“Hmm? No. Of course not. Even if I’m wrong, I’m only just speeding up the process of their deaths by mere hours.”

“Then you ponder on the possibility of your failure?”

“Failure is a bit harsh of a word…”

“Of course. I apologize.”

“But no, I am not worried about my success as you put it. There is another issue entirely.”

“Hmm? What is that? Are you worried about the original Speaker?”

“No, not him. His associate. The young woman.” The father rubbed his knee with his free hand. Microsurgery always made him itchy. “I could feel her mind. Her emotions. I could bend them. I shouldn’t be able to receive feedback. I should only be able to suggest, not actually change.”

“Some kind of interference in the E.A.R.? A malfunction?”

“No. I think she is the one malfunctioning.”

“Sir?”

“I can only think of one device that allows that kind of mind manipulation.”

“A mindhack?”

“Yes. But even then, I shouldn’t be able to access it without it being programmed to my biometrics. Regardless of her malfunctioning.”

“Obviously she was bound to you.”

“…Which is the problem.”

“Why? Can’t you simply use her in case those fools actually try anything?”

“Oh, I will, trust me. It still begs the question…”

“Which one, sir?”

The father rolled up his blackened sleeve to reveal his R.I.G. Then pressed a few buttons and a holographic display lit up above it covered in numbers and various bits of data splotted with color. “Do you see the corruption rating?”

“…Yes. Isn’t that why we are here?”

“Do you see this purple portion?”

“I do, but I don’t recognize-”

“You wouldn’t. I wouldn’t have either had I not read the old man’s notes. Its a paradox rating. Most universes lack it entirely. If it does exist, it is in the infinitesimal.”

“That… doesn’t look infinitesimal.”

“It isn’t.”

“…So?”

“I believe I exist somewhere else here.”

“Huh?”

“I believe I may have met my present self. That he somehow doesn’t know is troubling for my future. Possible dementia maybe. Not a very bright future. If any at all.”

“That might explain why the Department are so interested in destroying this place.”

“Yes. But then again, it is just a theory, and it too may fail.” The father turned the display off and rolled back down his sleeve.

“So you think you will try and destroy yourself tonight?”

“Yes. Yes I do. For anything is possible. Which is why I fear our experiment will be fruitless. These are very unique circumstances, and I highly doubt they will ever be repeatable. Now enough of this banter.” The prophet flipped on his dark hood. “Let us begin the end of the beginning.”

And with those words, the doors to the main hall immediately shut, along with the lights snapping off. There were gasps and “what the fucks” being thrown around until a beam of light hit the far end of the room revealing a man in dark robes standing above his golden altar. He didn’t move from his position immediately. He listened too the silence. That silence was important. He needed to bask in it. Just before he felt he could take no more, he swung his hands in large archs before he flipped off his hood. People gasped for one reason or another.

“Welcome. I’m sure most of you have many questions. I am afraid I cannot answer them. The only thing I can promise you is time. Time will be your salvation. And it is time you will have to fight tooth and nail to receive. Without time, you are but nothing, as nothing is what you will become.

“What is this nothing that would like nothing more than to remove you from its pages? To tear at the very fabric of space and time to prevent your continued existence?” The prophet smiled. “Why its you, of course. Every single one of you. Its you and your way of life that will prevent your existence. Why? Its you who make this world evil. Its you who pollute it with your corruption. Its is you who make the gods themselves wish for your eradication.” He left a pause. People were still silent. If not silent from fear, then from the need to scoff in an unfriendly environment.

“I’m sure you’ve all felt it. Shadows creeping at your ankles. Figures at the corner of your eyes. The unnaturalness of the storm which bellows outside, its raindrops foreshadowing the abyss to which will otherwise be your doom. Ah! But I promised you salvation, didn’t I? I promised you time itself. How? How could I construct a man made idea and deliver it to you? Its simple. You take it. You are corrupt beasts, and you should revel in the idea! Who other than the corrupt looks after himself at the expense of others? Who other than the corrupt seek to better himself for himself that he might survive the turbulent waves of dread and despair? Who! But the corrupt would drown his fellows to reach the last ounce of air?

“You.” He turned his back to the crowd after releasing that short, blunt word. He could feel the fear, the desperation in the room. After he swam in its exhilleration, he spun back around. “Yes. All of you. There is only one solution. One salvation. It is time. And you must take it, for no one will give it willingly. The more corrupt, the better. The more evil, the more vile, the more disgusting wretch you can find, the better.

“So. Given this knowledge, I ask one thing tonight. For you must do it tonight or else it will be too late. Find the guilty. And take their time.” The light shut off, a strike a lightning nearby, and when it returned there was a white sack on the altar. Not a sack… a person. Its hands and feet tied to its base. “Friends… Fellow beings of corruption. Tonight, I share a gift. I share what I speak of. I give you time, a taste. This fiend it of most distasteful disgust, a being that fractures the very fabric of space. I give you hope dressed in blood. But he? He is only the beginning. Tonight! Tonight is only the beginning!”

The bag wriggled a little. No one hid their eyes as the prophet rose the golden dagger above his head, his eyes fixed down onto the monster in front of him. There was nothing that could-

A thud at the door. Another. A third, and the door bust open, pushing two mean holding it back against the wall. The wind howled behind the hooded figures numbering in seven. They were back lit from the blinking street lamps outside. This only heightened everyone’s fright, though not as much as the man in the lead pointing a gun straight at the prophet, but plenty for sure.

The prophet just smiled, the dagger still above his head. He went to drop it into his sacrifice, but the speaker pulled the trigger first. But not quick enough, as Megan, who was at his side, felt the undesirable need to push the speaker from the side. Her bump into the speaker made him miss his mark, merely striking the prophet in the shoulder.

The speaker stumbled slightly to his left. There was a terrible pain surmounting in his shoulder. He didn’t understand until he looked up at the prophet. Everything stopped. He had seen this all before. Just… had he? From another direction, this had all happened before. He- Time resumed and the speaker fell to his knees.

Megan saw this and dove for the gun. The prophet managed to regain some composure and rose the blade once again to its height. Megan fired a shot, her hands jerking to the side, forcing her to hit the wall behind the prophet. She tried again. And again. The prophet smiled and drove his knife down into his sacrifice. It wriggled for a moment, then slowed as the red pool began to build. He looked down at his attackers, people who entered with so much vindication and now looked terribly distraught. Except her. She still had fire in her eyes, regardless of the people flooding away and outside around her. Megan pointed the gun again, but the speaker reached up to her, a tear of fear in his eyes. “Don’t-”

She didn’t pay him any heed. She shot again, this time hitting her target true in the chest. Now the other darken robed figures were panicked as they rushed to aid their master, sheltering his as they brought him into the back room. Megan kept firing despite having ran out of bullets. She was sure the shot was fatal.

The room was almost empty now, save herself, the speaker and the body. The ground was littered with fresh pamphlets. She slowly approached the body, not entirely sure she should. She felt the need to. Making this murder a faceless one.

Megan ripped the knife from his chest, the crimson stain increasing in size. She then slowly removed the hood.

“Max?!”

Max smiled. Or he would have had he not been gagged. Megan removed the gag, then he did smile. “…Hi…”

“No, Max, hold on. I’ll try to… I don’t know Max, just hold on.”

“…kay… Ugh… Never actually been fatally stabbed.” He spurpled out some blood from his mouth. “Don’t think I got-”

“Shut up Max. Just… Shut up. I can do… something! Fuck Max, why? Someone call an ambulance!”

“…Nah. I’m good. Fading. Later…”

“Max? Max?!” Megan threw a fist into his bleeding chest. “Dammit!, don’t you dare! Don’t you fucking dare!”

Max’s last thought was that he just might.

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