Initiation

An individual ran through the cold of the night, their breath laboured as they could taste iron in the back of their throat, and their breaths had turned into laboured heaving. With each exhale they let loose a torrent of phlegm and white vapour. Where once their arms had been driven through the air like cutting blades, they were now limply shaking by their side as their feet started to stray, and their knees began to faulter. Those of Hollow can push their bodies to the absolute extremes, but even they reach a point where their bodies give out, the woman collapsed to the ground, bile from her stomach was pushed out from the shock of hitting the ground, all the actual contents of her stomach had been expelled many kilometres back, eaten by the thing chasing her. Despite her erratic breathing that forced her whole body to rise and fall filling her ears with the sound of faltering lungs, she was still able to hear the horrid hissing of the thing that was slowly lurking behind her. She knew could tell by the feel of the vibrations in the ground that its feet where right behind her, the intense heat of its many breaths was heating her back, even though her back was already warmed from the intense muscle strain of her journey. Each head of the nightmare that stood behind her had a different stench to its breath, a different monstrous cry as it inched ever closer to its pray. The woman didn’t even have enough energy to cry out as one of the many heads started to swallow her right leg, or even when a second head started to snake its way up her left leg, not gnawing and gnashing the flesh, but crushing it with immense throat muscles. Her vision started to blot out with shimmer patches from the pain, quickly consuming her whole vision, but she didn’t need her vision to hear the crackling of teleportation from a Hunter, their was no sound at all, until the deafening strike from a hammer came crashing down into the nightmares spine, it was both the sound of too many bones crushed under the weight of the blow, and the sound of several nightmarish cries, from mouths with too many throats, then there was relief as the woman fell unconscious. There were many moments of near life as she was transported, they were filled with blinding white light, and an all-consuming pain that started in her legs, radiated through her muscles, and tore up her lungs as every breath in felt like needles stabbing her lungs from the inside, and every breath out was only slightly better. Her ears rung, but they were still working, they could hear the chatter, and how her environment changed. At first sounded like the crisp crunch of nearly frozen leaves cracking, then there was the cacophony of a vehicle, it was loud, and sounded as if every part of the machine was taking turns at colliding with every other part. Then there was a moment muttering, her vision had not returned at this point, but she was able to make out shadows, and it appeared as if there were people, many of them moving around. Her next point of consciousness had her passing under an equidistant set of even brighter white, and the steady hum of electronics filled the air. Finally the next few instances of consciousness were remarkably the same, the same hum of a small machine next to the right side of her head, her vision was still blurred, but now could see the faint touches of colour, and many bright lights around the room filled the rest of her vision with white, the kind of white that caused a migraine, and felt as if it was pushing a thick piece of metal into the back of your eye. Soon she was able to smell again, faint at first, but without a doubt the smell of blood and chemicals filled her nose, with the distinct smell of grease lingering as an after scent. Then there was a strange darkness, it was not unconsciousness, but she was unable to move, and she could feel her limbs being pulled at, she could feel her flesh tearing, and bones not only snapping, but being ground down. She could feel all of it, but there was no pain. There was the whirring of high speed blades, and the sound of many power tools that she recognised, but she was confused as to why she was hearing them. Then, there were mutterings, and eventually words, but by the time she could actually make out words they were of a farewell. “We have done all we can do.” “Will it be enough?” “That is up to her, I have others to see to.” “I guess I just wait then.” There were many more instances of varied sensations, until finally her eyes forced their way open through swelling, and a crusting of yellow mucus that lined the middle of her eyelid. When she struggled to breath a full breath she engage manual breathing, and forced air through her broken nose, creating a dull hiss as she did. She flexed her jaw the little it would move, and her eyes slowly absorbed the environment she was in. There were grey walls that dripped water periodically from various points in the cracked concrete ceiling, a simple tube light lit up her room, and she could see through a grime covered window that there was another light just outside her cramped room. “Where am I?” She muttered out, her mouth barely moving. “You.” A deep voice came from beside her, “are in one of the many medical facilities hidden by the Hunters, you have done well Constance, if you survive your recovery, you will make an excellent addition to the ranks.” Constance turned her neck slightly, the muscles in her neck rigid like rock, creaking as they moved. Looking at the gargantuan man in the corner of the room she could not help but notice the plague mask that sat on the seat next to him, and the hammer weapon leaning up against the wall with the head sitting on the ground in a small indent where it was set down too hard. “But I didn’t finish.” Constance slurred, “I was going to die, why did you save me?” The mans eyes were black, with the faintest cracks of red veins cutting through the darkness. He was covered with scars, his lip was missing a small wedge, revealing a sharpened tooth tipped with metal. He groaned an exhale before taking a deep breath. “The challenge isn’t exactly doing the tasks at hand, it is about doing your best to accomplish the task. Most of the tasks aren’t achievable with skill, luck perhaps, and while luck is beneficial in this role, so is the ability to push yourself until your body fails. If you had fallen even one step sooner, I would have left you in the field, to be devoured. You live, because you have the strength to live.” “But I am weak, nothing but ash to the flame of the world.” “When ash gets wet it turns to paste, when the wind blows it floats, when it hits ground it rests, when stood on it moulds to the boot, and when pushed it disintegrates. You were not only pushed, you were shoved, stepped on, beaten, and nearly eaten, and yet here you are, you are a nothing like ash, you yourself are a tiny flame, so much potential, rest now, we can talk when you wake.” Constance nodded ever so slightly, letting her head to return to its resting position she slipped from consciousness. There was weeks of flitting in and out of consciousness, each time her body healed a little more, and everything hurt a little less. By the time she was able to sit up she finally noticed that her hands were wrong, looking at them there were ten fingers again. Three of them were fully mechanical, while another had the end joint made of metal. Constance looked at them closely flexing her hands they moved as she would expect any other finger to move. “My, my. It has been a while since I had ten digits, it feels so much better than seven and a half.” “I am glad to hear.” A woman said walking into the room. “That was my work, that along with the legs.” Constance looked down at where her legs were, the blankets above them made them look like her legs, but she still ripped the stained sheet off of her to reveal her new legs, the left was fixed from the knee down, and the right from the middle of her thigh. They were remarkable thin for a metal prosthetic, barely thicker than her original legs, not that they were around to compare to. “You will have a couple of weeks of getting used to them before the Hunters can use you, but don’t take too long, they don’t wait forever.” “I, ughh, who are you?” “I am your mechanic, my name is Siktel. I am just checking to make sure that there is no rot, these prosthetic have a tendency to be rejected by the host. Hold still.” Constance was too dizzy to protest, so she just watched as Siktel prodded the skin around the prosthetic, poking at her with the end of her pen. “How long?” Constance asked. “Hmm?” Siktel responded. “How long do they wait? The Hunters.” “Ah right, I think the longest I have seen them wait for an initiate was two weeks after full consciousness, they give time for recovery, but they are not patient, hey wait…” Siktel said as the skin she was investigating moved. Constance turned her legs to the edge of the bed and pressed her feet onto the ground, getting a feel for the toes. “That works for me, because I am very restless.” Constance could feel the world turning around her, her head felt as if it moved even after she had stopped. Siktel moved around the side of the bed, kneeling on the floor. “Don’t move again, or you won’t make it to the hunters, because I will rip my prosthetics from your body. Those who have my mark do not disrespect me and live.” Constance froze, it was a mild relief to be still, although she could feel the itch of wanting to be healthy, to be ready for commitment. Her stillness was broken as Siktel grabbed her hands and investigated the connections. “Well, flawless as always.” Siktel said as she stood up. “To be honest I have never had a rejection, and I was not going to let you be the first.” “How would you stop me from being the first, isn’t it up to my body to decide whether it takes to the metal?” “Well it is, but it is also up to me how much you bleed out from your neck when I stab it with a screwdriver. Can’t reject my prosthetics if you are dead.” “Well that is one way to false a statistic. Can I move now?” “You can move all you like now, providing you can. This is my last check up, so I don’t care what you do.” Siktel took of her gloves and let them slap onto the ground, setting up a puff of dirt. She then walked through the door and disappeared down the corridor. “Alright Constance, we have it. We do not lay where we fall, we are not ash, we are the flame, we dictate what burns.” Over the next week Constance forced herself to move, vomiting from a strange sense of motion sickness over and over again, but eventually she was walking around the room as if nothing had ever gone wrong. She marched herself out of the room and down the halls until eventually she found …

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The Person On The Hill

A person sat down on a hill in the middle of the night, their right arm rested against their right knee, their hand shakily rose to their lips so they could take a drag from their cigarette, the strange plant material inside let off a green flame as they inhaled as much as their lungs would allow. Their eyes were blood shot, and their mouth was slightly ajar whenever the cigarette was pulled away. They bit their lip slightly, pulling the stickiness from his lips, and spitting the bitter substance to the ground. Their eyes remained open as they stared into the darkness of the night, they did not blink, and they could not move, their body was in so much shock that all they could do is take drags from their cigarette, and once that burnt out, they continued the action despite nothing being there. Their head became so light that eventually he was incapable of holding himself up, he dropped onto his right side, his eyes still wide open, his breathing increased in speed, and decreased in volume until he was barely inhaling any oxygen. The blood from the gaping wound of where his left arm used to be dripped down the side of his face until it started to trickle off of his nose and onto the ground, just as his breathing stopped. The sound of crunching stones filled the space as a lone individual walked up the hill to where the man laid dead, the person knelt down and looked down into his eyes. “Who were you friend, what could you have been if you hadn’t crossed my path this night?” The person said as they searched the body, taking what they could from the pockets they sat in the crook of their body, using them to rest. Each time they breathed out their breath appeared in the cold of the night. “I don’t know if it matters, but I didn’t want to kill you. I know it is controversial here on Hollow, but I actually don’t enjoy killing people, I might if I felt they could put up a better fight, but against a high impact, long distance rifle people don’t really get much of a chance to fight back. But as far dying goes, I don’t think you died poorly. I have taken off a few limbs, but seeing someone sit down to smoke calmly is new to me.” The person filtered through their cash, and looked over a strange box that the man had in his pocket. The persons eyes narrowed as they looked over the inscriptions of the box. “I don’t recognise this script. Now I wish you were still alive, not that it matters, I am sure I can find someone who will tell me something. Maybe them…” They said trailing off. In the distance, nestled into the base of a hill a small light escaped a dense thicket of bush. “I get the feeling like you may have been looking for that friend, which explains why you looked like a lost animal searching for its mumma.” The person took a deep breath before standing to their feet, their rifle slung across their back they wandered down towards the light, leaving behind the man on the top of the hill. Down at the base of the hill the person looked back to the man, watching as nearby birds were already fighting over the corpse. The person grimaced, looking down at the box in their hand they gripped it tightly and kept moving. They pocketed the box, and stood outside the thicket, their eyes narrowed as they let their mouth hold ajar before drawing their pistol and calling out. “I know where the box is, kill me and you will never find it….” They waited, the shuffling that they could hear before stopped compleltly, and for a while there was silence, before the haggard voice of a sleep deprived individual called out. “I don’t care who you are, return with the box of doors and we can get started. Oh, and put your gun away, I need a second person to open it.” The person outside stepped through the thicket, putting their gun back into the holster they opened the door that was left slightly open. They walked in to see a nearly empty room, just a table on the far side with a monitor showing various small screens from video cameras, and a pile of notes, some of which were on the floor. The other person stood with her hands on the table, muttering under their breath they read from the paper before them. “Hurry up would you, we don’t have a long window where this will work, so we really need to move fast. Which isn’t ideal, and I would have had more time, but I assume you took your time with killing my runner?” “Kind of, I shot his arm off with a long distance rifle, then let him finish his last moments. Although, I had been watching him for a while, I think he was lost.” There was a groan from the woman at the table, she turned around pinching the bridge of her nose. “This does not surprise me, honestly you have probably done me a favour.” She extended her hand towards the rifle wielder. “My name is Dr Srent. Who is my new assistant?” The other person extended their hand in turn. “I am Kayla, I don’t know how to be an assistant.” “Oh it is easy, just do what I say, when I say it.” Dr Srent replied The Doctor ran around the room frantic, her face lit up with glee as she shuffled everything away. “Do you know the history of Enadrome, Oculi, and Anodyne?” Kayla shook her head. “No, is it important for this box to be opened?” “Almost not at all, but listen as I do what only I can do.” The doctor started to scribble notes from a book onto the ground, getting Kayla to place the box in the middle of the room. “Okay, it is quite simple. Anodyne made Hollow, this everyone knows, but one thing that was annoying him was how often Holites would escape through portals, and how often others came here through the same means. In response to his frustration he made the god Enadrome, a god to guard Hollow from all portals, then in turn Enadrome created the angel Oculi to help manage their task.” “Gods can create gods?” “Of course they can, but there are different ranks of gods, Enadrome will never be able to fight against Anodyne, because Anodyne was born, and Enadrome was made. But there are even more ways for a god to come into existence, but we don’t have time for that right. Essentially with Enadrome in place it was impossible for beings to travel to or from Hollow using portal magic. But one thing Enadrome and Oculi can’t stop, is other gods, because gods can tap into a power we could never dream of obtaining, they open literal doors between worlds, using enough energy to shame a supernova in the process.” “So in this box is a god, or like a key to a door? I do not follow what this has to do with this box.” “You are actually pretty close. During a fight with another God, Anodyne killed the other god as they were summoning a door, while the door disappeared as they usually do, what is in this box fell to Hollow. It was contained in that box by a prominent scientist so that they could study it safely, but with a little help I managed to leverage the artifact, so now we are going to open the door, we are going to leave Hollow for a world of less suffering, we are going to be free of Anodyne.” Kayla looked at the box sitting on the floor, her eyes transfixed as she whispered to herself. “I never even thought of escape as an option. Hollow is so…” “Absolute, trapping, soul destroying, corrupting?” The Doctor interrupted, Kayla remained quiet. “It does not matter what Hollow is, because we are leaving.” The Doctor stood, pointing to a circle she had drawn on the ground she mumbled an instruction as she stood in another one. Kayla had not heard the instruction, but it was not hard for her to figure out what the doctor wanted. She moved into the circle and stood still as the doctor looked over her work. “Okay, this probably wont kill us.” Before Kayla could question the remark, the doctor had already pulled a metallic lever and sent a bolt of electricity into the box, the intricate line work around it lit up as if the chalk she had used was made of lights, and the electricity was needed to bring out the light from them. The room filled with a strange wind that was warm, it tossed the loose paper around the room as the two Holites braced their stances so they were not pushed to the ground. The light from the ground was getting brighter, as the box flew higher. It turned and cranked, and the outer shell fell to the ground, damaging the wooden planks below it. Inside was a simple copper door knob, lightly worn, and rather unremarkable. “What is supposed to happen now?” Kayla shouted. “We wait for the rest of the door to apperate, then we step through, to freedom.” The door knob started to rattle, it shook as a door started to form around it, a dark wood of worn planks and twisting creaks slowly appeared. The two of them stared with amazement as the door finalised its form. “It is beautiful, I never thought I would see the way out of Hollow, all within my grasp.” The doctor said as she reached out to the door. Kayla was practically salivating, her eyes trained on the doctors hand, staying within the circle she stood in she tried to look around the back side of the door she was looking at. As she looked she slipped from the tips of her toes, placing one foot outside her circle. She looked down at her foot, then back to the doctor, there was panic in Kayla’s eyes as nothing happened. She let out a long sigh as the doctor was not paying attention, she grabbed the handle twisting it, and pulling it towards herself the door jammed, and she felt her hand get stuck. “Why have the circles if they were not protecting us?” Kayla asked as she stepped completely from the circle. The doctors eyes widened, and she screamed. “You fool, it needed two life forces to open. You have killed us both.” The doctor started to melt, her skin slopped to the ground as her bones cracked, and she withered away. Kayla watched as the other circle where she once stood erupted into fire, a fire that spread at un-natural speeds arounds the building, surrounding Kayla. Outside, the corpse on the hill was being plucked at by the local birds, one eye gone, the flesh from around his hands all but gone, and most of his face had been stripped clean of skin, suddenly, his second eye opened and he swatted at the birds. The birds squawked and protested, but eventually flew when the man got a hand on his pistol and started firing wildly around him. He was panicked, with laboured breathing, and pain that was so intense that he felt as if he should have passed out, but he remained conscious. He sat down onto his knees and stared down at the fires that were erupting from his master’s hidden lab. He was so confused that he just sat and stared, even the sensation of the pain was numbed as he racked his brain for any information on why he had returned from the dead. Unsure of what he was seeing was the reason he was …

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An Imp’s Journey

The small frame of an imp darted over rocks and rubble, its clawed feet scrapped on the stones beneath them. Its small wings twitched with excitement as they reached the peak of mound they were climbing. Their feet slipped as the peak of the rubble slid away from under their feet, quickly they caught themselves and jumped back behind the rubble. They heard voices from the other side and the sound of distant footsteps staying distant. They crawled on their scaly belly until they could peer over the top of the scrag, hoping the misshaped stones would hide the horns on the top of his head. His three clawed hands gingerly gripped onto nearby stones to help balance as he peered down at two humans searching through the rubble. The two humans looked under every large chunk of stone and building that they could lift, sifting through all containers and making sure to explore even the smallest of crevasses. “Maybe when Anodyne came through, he cooked everything.” “Don’t be stupid, this wasn’t a dream purge, someone just pissed him off. If there is anything of value in this shit little town, we will find it.” The imp smirked as they watched the humans narrowly missing the items of value that laid on the ground. “Stupid humans have terrible eyes, I am going to name you Gargantua.” He muttered as he looked at the larger of the two men below. “And you… Nose.” He said about the other, his eyes affixed on a prominent nose occupying a heavy portion of the man’s face. The imp jumped up and announced himself to the humans with a bold stature and what he perceived to be a deep, and thunderous voice. “I am Tenner, I am the leader of a mighty imp clan, I can lead you to riches if you promise to share.” The two men winced at the shrill voice of Tenner before looking to one another. Turning back, they threw what was in hand at him. “Get out of here, don’t need the bad luck of an imp around here.” Nose yelled with a small hint of fear trailing at the back of his throat. “Yeah, no one wants any of your kind around. You never actually abide by your contracts, you just find the loop holes and fuck off with everything you can.” Gargantuan added. Tenner dodged the thrown stones with ease, before stretching out his little wings he used them to help with jumping higher, and slowing fall rates and he dexterously made his way down the rubble. The two men groaned and started to move away from the imp. “Get back you little rat.” Nose cried out with another stone in hand. “Come friend, I just want to help.” Tenner said as they pulled an item of value from the rubble. “Bullshit, no one does anything for free, why even bother with such a terrible lie?” Gargantuan snarled at Tenner. His face of distain fell away as he watched Tenner pull up a small, metal, container, no larger than a mug. All the markings had been scratched off, and the housing was dented. Nose ran over to Tenner as fast as his poor choice of footing would allow him, nearly falling many times he eventually reached Tenner and snatched the container from Tenner’s hands. “Oh, this is the good shit.” He said, practically salivating as he read what was left of the label on the bottom. “It comes from Vents.” Gargantuan recoiled. “You are a fucking addict, no sane person actually thinks that Vents is anything more than rat soup. Even the assholes out here would know that.” He said kicking a mutilated corpse that laid at his feet. “But the poor bastards probably can’t get the Runners to deliver good emotion drugs out this far. It would cost too much.” Nose looked away from Gargantuan and sheltered the container in his hands, pulling it close to his body. “What do you want imp, and be specific.” He said, pointing down at the imp. “I don’t want no bullshit contract.” “Come on, don’t be an idiot. No one wins out on deals with imps, unless you have up street smarts.” “I got up street smarts.” Nose protested. “Up street? You barely have gutter smarts you fucking tweaked out addict.” “Ignore him. What do you want, and what can your round bulgy eyes see?” The imp hummed, looking over the two of the men. “Do not include me in this, this is his deal.” Gargantuan stated as he saw Tenner sizing him up. “Well, for you. I would do it for a hole.” Nose rolled his eyes from side to side as he tried to think. Gargantuan rubbed his temples before going back to sifting through the rubble. “I am going to be over here if you come back alive.” He said wandering away from Nose and Tenner. “What kind of hole?” Nose paused. “What size of hole?” Smirking to himself as if he had just outplayed the imp. “The hole needs to be one meter wide, and three meters deep. Before you ask, I need it just over their in that small clearing.” Nose wandered over the rubble, slipping on every slop that wasn’t course enough to create a decent friction. He finally found himself standing in the clearing. Grabbing handfuls of the dirt, then across the rubble to the intact spade that was sitting there. He looked back to Tenner with an inquisitive look. “I put that there, but I am too small to use it.” Tenner stated, correcting Nose’s look to one of satisfaction. “In return for this hole, what do I get?” “You get everything I find in that time, but I get to keep one item at the end. Because I will be doing all the real work.” Nose looked at the small container in his hand, then back to the shovel. “I think that, maybe. Yes. I’ll, do, it. Deal.” “Good luck dead man.” Gargantuan shouted sarcastically as he picked something from the rubble and pocketed it. “Oh give it up, you can put whatever trash you want in your pocket, but I will leave here with the best stuff.” “Come on, it is literally getting you to dig your own grave.” “Who needs a three meter grave, last time I checked two was more than enough for a proper burial. Not that I would even need to be buried, there are so many corpses around anyway.” Gargantuan dusted his hands towards nose and continued with his own work. Nose lifted the two fingers next to his pinkie finger and cursed at gargantuan. “Alright imp, I dig, you dig through trash and get me those gold nuggets.” Nose said eagerly. Tenner bowed slightly and smiled. “As it is in our contract.” He said with as much boyish charm that he could muster. Tenner dug through the slate and trash to pluck what few gems they could. Small trinkets of precious metals, electrical components, and mechanical fittings. All things that would sell fine on any market Hollow had to offer. “Come on Imp. This is a big hole, you better turn over more than that.” Nose said after digging half way through his charge. Sweat had no time to bead on his brow, instead it poured down the channels of his thick eyebrows and down the ridge of his nose. Forming a steady drip at the tip that would often drip down onto his lips. “The deal was I search, you dig. Not my fault if I don’t find anything you want.” “Just look elsewhere, fucking spread out. You have probably picked this area clean. But don’t fucking run, because I will get you.” Nose struck the ground again with the spade. “You know what, go search by him, rub it in his face every time you find something he missed.” Tenner bowed again and ran off to search near Gargantuan, who upon seeing Tenner wander over sat down hard on a fallen support beam. “So, what is it imp? There is always something with you lot, you scheming bastards.” “No scheme, I just need a hole.” “Right a hole, a very large hole, in the middle of a town that just got destroyed by Anodyne. Any reason for that?” “The Holites here wouldn’t let me do it when it was a town, so this is my opportunity.” Gargantuan shifted his sitting position and started to play with a snapped beam of rebar, smacking a nearby piece of dirt with it as he spoke. “The only reasons I can think of, for someone wanting a hole, are to bury something, or to un-bury something.” “What about a pool?” “Or for a pool.” “How about a basement?” Tenner added plainly. “Yeah, well you aint building a luxury resort or a home, so what is it?” “What is what?” The imp asked, looking up with an exaggerated face of confusion put on for show. “Digging up, or burying?” The imp grinned slyly and whispered with a crackle in his throat. “Both.” Gargantuan looked down puzzled, his brow furrowed and his mouthed his thoughts before rolling his eyes and groaning. “I will never understand you lot. Too smart for me.” “Then why bother asking? Why waste my time with answers if you are not going to understand them?” Gargantuan juggled his grip on the rebar and looked intently at the back of Tenner’s head. He raised the tip into view and switched his focus between the two. “One little whack and I would be done with this.” Gargantuan whispered. “Yes? What now large man?” Gargantuan dropped the rebar and stood up. “Nothing, I am done here. Nothing of value.” “What about this?” Tenner said with glee. Gargantuan turned to see a large stone in both the imps clawed hands. On it was a symbol that gave off a faint glow. Pulsing like a heartbeat, it drew him in. “Hand it over imp.” He said with a growl. “No, belongs to Nose. No deal was made with you.” “Whatever, that works. I will still get my hands on that, you do understand that right? Whatever he owns, I own.” “What if he never owns it?” Gargantuan muttered under his breath, and looked over to Nose to see dirt fly out of the hole followed by a cheer. “I have done it, three meters, by one meter. Pay up imp.” Before either of the two above ground could do anything there was an echoing collapse. Stone cracking on stone, and dirt filling all the cracks as Nose fell even deeper into the planet. Gargantuan stayed where he was side eyeing the imp. “Behold the nest I made. Now given a whole town to rule over. You humans may not know how to live with the nightmares that plague the surface, but we are exceptional. We can eve…” Gargantuan snatched the stone from Tenner and sprinted in the opposite direction as the swarm of imps climbed out of the hole. The sounds of Nose’s screams soon fell silent as the next wave came out covered in his blood. “Come now Gargantuan. That is no way to treat your hosts. Let us teach you some real manners.” Imp king Tenner screamed as his horde ran after gargantuan. Their much smaller, and nimble bodies allowed them to bounce off each piece of debris as if it were a trampoline. Those with wings were able to glide short distances and hop even higher than the others. All of them spread out over the ruined town as Gargantuan ran in silent determination. He knew the chance for death was real, and that he needed to keep a cool head if he was to make it out alive. So, he took each step and each bound as it came. Putting all his focus into where he was stepping, he made sure that he was moving in the most efficient way possible. But despite his best …

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The River

A lone man sat on a hill looking over the turbulent river that toiled down below him. He took long, slow, drags on his cigarette. His hands almost locked into position from the years he has spent smoking. Scars covered his hands and arms, with an absent mind he picked at the fresh scabs as he watched torn up trees smash their way through the river. They splintered and broke apart as the brown torrent swept through the valley below him. His dark, stained, and tattered clothes blew gently in the wind. The soil beneath his feet slowly slipped away as he put more pressure onto them. “Well.” He said as the ground beneath his feet slipped away, lying his legs flat. “I suppose I better move on.” He continued as he slid his heels into the ground, pushing himself to a stand. His hands covered with mud and small chunks of grass. Brushing off the worst of it he slid, and stepped his way down the hill, following the flow of the river. Keeping a wide distance, he stayed back from the water that over flowed over the sides, carving a path into the landscape beside it. He trudged slowly through the mud, chaining the cigarettes from his seemingly endless supply that came from the large pocket on his well-worn coat. “Ah, there she is.” He chuckled as he glanced back to the loud cacophony behind him. A large tin shed made its way through the overflowing river, breaking into smaller parts as it passed the man. Its metal slamming against itself, tearing, and screaming as it was swept out of sight. The man grinned as he lit another cigarette, smiling through the pain. His left hand pressed against his lips, while his right pulled a wallet from his pocket. Flicking through the paper money he had available he scowled. “What am I going to do with this?” He asked himself as he scratched at his short beard hairs. Enjoying the sensation, and using it to distract him from his financial troubles. He folded his wallet away and marched in solitude, his only companion, the mud that stuck to the bottom of his pants, and shoes. Behind the roars of the river his ears picked up the soft squelching of light footsteps sinking in and out of the mud behind him. He rolled his eyes and drew a large barrel pistol from under his coat. He rolled the four-barrel chamber to check it was loaded. Satisfied he clicked it back into place, spun his upper body, and aimed his weapon. Behind him crept a creature that mimicked the texture of wood. Its legs looked like thin posts, its torso was clothed, but rigid. Its head moved as if it were made of flesh, but with the grain of wood engraved deep into the skin. It shrieked as soon as it was seen. But the man did not react. Firing his hand cannon his eyes remained open as the bullet tore open his target. He watched as it writhed on the ground and screamed. Blood poured from it as if it were any other normal living creature. He pulled the gun back and watched as the creature begun to slowly sink into the muck. “Shit.” He said plainly, as he heard an uproar of noises coming from the nearby forest. He looked to his side as the forest seemed to shake with excitement. Still with his smoke between his fingers he gripped the handle of a bladed weapon resting on his hip while he raised his pistol to the tree line. He carefully eyed through the coming darkness of twilight. High on a hill not too far away a young man sat with crossed legs. He watched with a giggle in his throat as the man below him unloaded his pistol, before he drew a large machete from his side, swinging with great precision he cut down many monsters of the night before he fell to their might. “Stupid old man, who uses such a loud weapon this far out?” He muttered to himself as he cautiously checked to make sure his gun was still on his hip. Feeling the handle, he patted it, reassuring himself. Cautiously he surveyed his surroundings as sounds from behind the hill carried on the wind, giving the young man chills. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as he gripped his gun, his eyes darted around as he started to move to the crest of the hill. Keeping himself low to the ground he peered over the top to see what was creating the noise. Down the jagged hill two woman fought. A singular bar of metal between them they fought for ownership. Neither one of them willing to release the bar to be used as a weapon by the other. The young man saw this as an opportunity for himself. Just meters from the girls was a wagon with a large Oxen strapped in as its form of locomotion. Carefully making his way down the hill he got to a position just out of the girls eyeline. Raising his weapon, he fired. A vibrant bolt of energy arcs from the tip of his pistol in near silence. The electricity collided with the metal bar, shocking both women. The skin on their hands cooking slightly as they were forced to grip the now heated conductor in their grip. The young man holstered his weapon and sauntered over to the woman. Their bodies contorted in odd ways as their muscles locked in place. But before he could do anything his ears started to ring when a sudden, cracking, force collided with his skull. His vision blurred as he jolted to the side, the whole world turning as he plummeted into the half frozen dirt beneath his feet. “Come on you two, stop playing around. Let’s get his shit.” Neither of the other girls could respond, their jaw muscles still frozen from the shock of the gun. “Oh right, I guess you two are a little tied up right now. Guess I’ll do all the looting then.” The third woman cracked out as she searched the young man as his blood pooled onto the ground around his head. Satisfied with her loot she looked back to her companions on the ground. They were slowly recovering when she fired a second bolt of lightning at them. Starting their agonising muscle spasm once again. “Sorry, I know we said we would split the loot three ways, and that since we have been together for years we would always have each other’s back. But frankly, I really want everything we have, and I don’t hear any complaints, so I am going to just take the carriage and head off. Enjoy your metal stick.” She laughed as she shot the metal rod for an extended blast. The metal started to heat so much that it turned red. The smell of cooking flesh filled everyone’s noses as the third woman climbed into the cart, flicking the reins the Oxen started to pull the carriage, and she was off. Before the rod could cool both the woman made the decision independently to rip their hands from the metal bar. Their hands shook as they brought them close to their chest for comfort. “How long has that bitch been planning this?” One of the women said as they rolled on the hard soil in agony. “Planning, do you really think she can plan? I think she got greedy today and took what she wanted. But we will get her back.” The other said as she slowly made her way onto her feet. “Now get the hell up, we got to hit a town.” Both women climbed to their feet and started walking in the direction that their cart was driven off in. Much to their own surprise they managed to find their way into the nearest town without sustaining too many injuries. The cool air of Hollow slowly calmed the throbbing in their hands until it was only a slight ache; providing they didn’t touch anything. They wandered until they found the nearest doctors, stepping inside they were instantly being examined by a small team of people. They walked around them grabbing and prodding at different body parts, making notes. They flashed lights in eyes and probes into ears invasively. Eventually they stopped abruptly and left a pile of notes on the front desk before sitting down to wait for the next person to enter. On the far side of the desk sat a portly man who seemed to be sweating perpetually. He licked his swollen lips as he looked over the pieces of paper dropped before him. His thick fingers stuck to each page as he lifted them from the desk. “Burnt hands, and over tensed muscles. You two seem like you have had fun today, because that looks fresh.” He said as he pointed at the still raw wounds on the hands. “Yeah, we had a little hassle with the person you suggested. She decided that the goods we gathered were hers. Now she is gone, and we have virtually nothing.” “well I can’t have that for my favourite customers. Now usually I don’t run compensation on a deal that happened over a year ago. But I will run you a little trade. Interested?” The two-woman looked to one another, muttering, and darting their eyes around in communication. Turning back to the man they gestured for him to continue. “Well.” He said as he stood from his chair. “I have a very high reputation with my labour hire, one I wouldn’t want tarnished. So, this is my deal, you keep your mouth shut, I stitch up your hands and release those tensed muscles for free.” “Don’t get us wrong, we like to be ahead. But there is no way you are trading down in this exchange.” The man knocked his fist on the wooden desk before making his way to a back door. “This back here is what I keep, and there is an additional prize for our lasting friendship.” The man ushered the others into the back room, were their cart sat. It was unloaded, and all the goods stacked neatly. “I keep the goods; you take the cart. In the back is your prize.” The two women made their way to the back of the cart and grinned as they watched their betrayer squirm in her binds. “She came back to me trying to make a deal, but she didn’t understand how I run my business. Now, she is your business. Now come with me, we will sort out those wounds and send you on your way.” Once the woman woke up from their sedation, they slammed their heads against the wooden post behind their heads. “Stupid, so stupid. Why did we trust that fat fuck?” The two women took in their surroundings. Looking at all the other slaves that were chained to various posts and bound with metal chains to large stones. “How does he even have connection to a slave mine?” “No talking, if you are awake, you are working.” Yelled a man before he cracked a whip over their head. Reluctantly they stood and took the pickaxes that laid at their feet. Starting to swing they waited for the slaver to move away from ear shot before continuing their conversation. “How long has it been since you were a slave?” “Probably, six or seven years. You?” “More than ten now, and the only reason I got out was because my slave camp got raided and I snuck out. How did you get out?” There was a short moment as the second women smiled softly but before she could answer a lashing from a whip carved through her back. She knelt to the ground and threw her pick away. The slaver approached her, grabbing her shoulder. She turned as soon as she felt his hand, …

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Master And Underling

A man stood high above the surface of Hollow. Staring over the edge of one of the many floating islands that dotted the landscape the man watched as conflict tore up the streets below. He waved his hand and a child ran over to him, gripping a small device in their hand. “Now what is it you see below Ahsat?” The girl looked over the edge of the floating island. She dropped to her knees, making sure to keep the device from scraping against the dirt she peered over the edge. “I see two Hunter squads; they are fighting Vindicators.” “Vindicator-s?” The girl looked up at the man, she then looked back down at the conflict below. Her eyes focused on the fighting. She tracked the movements of all involved, and before long she amended her last statement. “A, Vindicator… Why is there so many Hunter’s for just one Vindicator master Reaf?” Reaf waved his hand, signalling for his device. Ahsat rushed to her feet, handing over the device. “A true Vindicator is trained from birth, fed the crystals that grow in their mountain they become ever stronger. Skin as hard as steel, impossible speeds, magical abilities. Far more than any other Holite, at least more than most. The fact there is only two Hunter squads on this one must mean the Hunters are preoccupied today.” “Ah, that is why we have brought the prototype. Are we going to test it on this conflict?” Reaf looked down to the device in his hands, he touched through the menus before looking back to Ahsat. “I brought the prototype in order to test it, it is convenient that its purpose happened to be here today. A true test of its abilities, instead of simple combat training.” “You were going to train it on Hunters?” “I was going to train it on anything that crossed its path, but this is better though. This is intended.” Ahsat watched while Reaf hovered his finger over the activation button, his eyes watching intently on the conflict below. “What are you waiting for master?” “I am waiting for the Vindicator to be in a better position. No more questions, we will be waiting a while, and I need to concentrate. Because if I deploy this prototype wrong the test will be over before it begins.” Ahsat sat down on the ground, peering over the edge she tried to decern the position that her master was looking for. The shrill screams from below were quickly over run by the low rumble of a wall collapsing. Dust from the wall settled and the pale white skin of the Vindicator gleamed in the morning light. The dust seemingly repelling from his perfect skin. Meanwhile the dark dust settled on the streets and the three Hunters that stood around the Vindicator. “Three smote, three left. I am yet to break a sweat, how is it looking behind those masks? My guess is that there is mainly sweat, but soon it will be blood.” The vindicator said as he eyed his opponents. Their black plague masks hid their expressions, and the dark thick clothing they wore was adorned with flowing cloth that made their movements hard to gauge. The largest of the Hunters leapt into the air and disappeared into a thick black smoke, then the second one did the same. “Your comrades have abandoned you, leaving the smallest with a pointy stick to take me on?” The Hunters mask hissed, venting smoke through the stitching. “You zealots are so confident, too confident.” Lunging forward the Driver drove his lance forward. The Vindicator stood his ground, waiting for the lance to come in range. As it came within arms reach the Vindicator rose his hand, pushing his palm against the blade it sparked against his skin and slid past his face. The Hunter stepping past the Vindicator, having to step several times before regaining their footing. “Are all Hunters this clumsy? My masters had me come here to train; this is my day of adorning. I have been told by others that it would be the hardest day of my training, but so far, I am disappointed. Maybe they should have sent me to Rem, where the Hunters have actual training.” The Driver turned back to the Vindicator, slashing, and lunging with vigour. The Vindicator parried every strike, merely needing to step back in order to make sure no strike landed. He laughed as strikes tickled at his thick skin. Then without warning the Driver disappeared into a thick black smoke. The Vindicator was taken back by the sudden retreat, then by the tightness around his ankles. Out of the corner of his eye he spied one of the other hunters that left before, their body still surrounded in smoke, and their whip was tightly wrapped around the Vindicators legs. He struggled against the whip as the Clamp tugged tight on his whip, attempting to pull the Vindicators legs together. But the strength in his legs was proving to be too much, not that it mattered. The Clamp knew he had done his job as his eyes hidden behind his mask looked upwards to the sudden apparition of their largest comrade. Shrouded in the thick smoke that flowed off of him mixed with the tatters of cloth that adorned his armour. Falling by the weight of his weapon the Hammer slammed his club downwards into the Vindicator. The Vindicators fast reaction time allowed him to raise his arm in defence, but with his attention distracted his leg were pulled together. Panic started to set in as he felt his feet be pulled from the Clamp’s whip, and his body started to be forced towards the ground as the Hammer’s club slammed into his arm. The Vindicator noticed another small cloud of smoke appear behind the Hammer’s hulking form. The Driver was now high in the air, his spear aimed downwards towards the Vindicator. He tried to move, but the bindings on his legs kept him lazy as the club pressing down into his arm pinned him. The Driver’s lance was drawn back and thrown downwards, the blade pierced into the Vindicator’s chest bringing forth a scream of pain the Vindicator had only used at his weakest moments in training. “Master, it does not look like we will get this Vindicator into a position we want. The Hunters are sure to kill him.” Ahsat said as she peeked her eyes over the edge of the floating island. Her masters laugh drawing her attention. “We are not after this one, we are after the one that will come to save this one. If they actually let their adornies come alone to fight Hunters there would be none left to fight. Well all except Sephrial of course, that winged bastard was killing Hunters since before his adorning.” “Would our prototype hold against Sephrial master?” Reaf looked down at Ahsat with amusement in his eyes. “You think we could build something to take on Sephrial?” Ahsat looked back up at Reaf confused. “Well, we can create anything to beat anyone. That is why we are safe up here is it not?” Reaf knelt besides Ahsat. “The only reason we are safe, is because those stronger than us, have no interest in us.” “Does that include Sephrial?” Reaf’s attention was caught as he noticed a plume of white smoke appear from the forest outside the town’s borders. “Oh, here is the real fight.” Reaf stood up eagerly with his finger re-positioned above the final button on his device. The Vindicator on the ground screamed as his right arm was hacked off by the tiring Driver. His attacks getting sloppier as his muscles started to drain of energy. “Scatter!” Screamed the Hammer as he looked up. The Hammer, and the Clamp both disappeared into smoke. The Driver sluggishly turned his head just in time to see the white plume of smoke make impact with him. The Driver slid across the ground; a deep wound burnt into his leg. The new Vindicator stepped out of the smoke surrounding him, his beautiful visage only second best to the flaming sword in his left hand. It’s golden sheen giving a strange luminacins to the flame. “Adornie, pick yourself up. You have failed your test. You are to return to the mountain.” Said the regal new Vindicator. “You here have defeated one of my Adornie’s. You should feel good, that is not something that is easily achieved. But I shall not faulter like my trainee.” The Adornie held his arm to his body as he ran from the city. Using his masters presence as a distraction. “I am lord Conflagra of the Vindicators. Your purging shall be in the name of Sephrial, and in alignment with summoning the Crystal Maw.” Conflagra raised his sword and brought it down into the Driver. His limbs tensing before falling limp. “A pitiful excuse for a combatant, made weary from removing a limb.” Conflagra looked around at the cowering eyes that peered out of the reinforced buildings that built up the city. “Pathetic heathens, no wonder your protectors are weak, if these are those they protect.” Lord Conflagra turned and walked away, following the path of his Adornie when a sudden devastating crash tore up the road behind him. His motion stopped. Turning around he watched as a large mechanical humanoid rose from the tar and brick of the road. Reaf and Ahsat watched from above as their creation began its duty. On the side of its head it was branded. “AVU – 002” “What new monstrosity is this?” Conflagra laughed as he looked at the shaky frame of the AVU. “This is even more of a joke than the Hunter vermin that guards your cities.” The AVU walked slowly towards Conflagra, stumbling on the rubble it created. Conflagra grinned as he walked forward, raising his sword he slashed forward. The flame dethatching from the sword and arcing towards the AVU. Conflagra’s smile faltered as a shimmering visage surrounded the AVU that moved the flames away from its shaky form. “Interesting, I guess a more physical approach is needed.” Conflagra lunged forward. His eyes cold, and focused on his target, striking with precision. They felt their hand vibrate as their sword clashed with the same energy field that stopped his flame. His eyes focused as he scanned the shield, but failed to notice the arm reach towards them. Conflagra was grabbed and tossed across the street like a rag doll. His sword scattering to the ground. Eyes from homes locked onto the sword, the desire for its power welled up in those who saw its potential. One man burst from his door, sprinting across the street he picked up the sword and started to run. Conflagra raised one hand out to his blade, it started to wreath in flame and the man soon found himself covered in fire. “You dare soil my weapon with your touch? You are lucky I have no time for you today, or your punishment would have been much worse.” The screams from the man slowly faded as the flames died out, Conflagra walked over and picked up his sword from the charred corpse. “As for you, robot. We have unfinished busin…” his words were cut short by the sound of whirring metal and the cascading of shell as gun fire unloaded towards Conflagra. He leapt behind the nearest building to avoid the bullet storm, waiting patiently for the gun fire to cease. As soon as the sounds stopped he pulled the corner, sprinting at full speed his eyes were focused, but wild. Looking for the weakness, or for the point of entry where he could plan his next strike. Watching the wobbly robot he noticed the shield was localised to the front. He planned his movements carefully, making sure to be ready for any strike. With a few well-placed steps he found himself behind the AVU, and within its shield. The …

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Skin Pale And Body Limp

A gnarled, sick tree sat solitary in the middle of a woods. Its bark stained red from blood, and black from the pustules that grew and split, from the sickness that took a hold from within. Its thickest branch twisted and turned, outstretching from the short but stocky trunk of the tree. Pustules dot its split and weak bark. Small branches grow outward to no avail as they lack any new or old vegetation. Half way down the branch a thick rope was tied, frayed, and overlapping. A single strand lowered till it hung two meters above the ground. At the very end of the rope was a thick knot that created a crude ball at the bottom. The air was cold and unnaturally still, the small dead grass clumps scattered around the tree remained static, almost frozen. Nothing around the tree moved until two sets of feet planted down heavily in the cracked, dry, stone like dirt. “That is the tree we are going to climb?” said the shrill voice of a boy from behind a nearby shrub. “Don’t sound so much like a wuss Tommy, it is an Enadrome tree. They are one of the safest places on all of Hollow. Said an equally shrill voice. “But Monty, I really don’t think we should be here. You heard all the adults talking about what they saw.” “That is precisely why we are here.” Monty answered with his eyes locked onto the rope that sat perfectly still. His eyes danced over the form of the tree, finding the best way to get inside. All the way to the glorious bits on the inside. Monty started to move forwards as Tommy grabbed his arm. “What are you doing? Let me go!” Monty yelled quietly. “Look maybe we shouldn’t be messing around with this. Who knows where is might take us. Without Oculi…” “…Without Oculi we can wander through with our eyes open. It is free for the taking.” Monty interrupted. His eyes darting back to the tree. “If you are too scared you can stay here. But I aint fraid of no stupid tree.” Monty pulled his arm free and started to carefully walk towards the tree. He crouched as if he wasn’t in the middle of a forest clearing, instead staking a house during the middle of the night. Tommy face palmed and stood up straight, walking beside Monty. “You are an idiot, and you are going to die without me.” Tommy said as he stared straight at the tree. “That’s the Tommy I know. Now we just need to get up there.” Monty said as he pointed into an opening at the top of the tree. “So climb the rope and get up there. I will follow behind you.” Tommy stated, gesturing to the obvious choice of approach. “Na, it is too…simple. Surely if we touch the rope something bad will happen. I mean just look at all the blood stuck in it.” Monty said as he circled the rope getting a good look up and down. Tommy frowned and the two of them circled the tree, being very careful not to touch the clumped grass or roots that protruded from the ground. Round and round they went, carefully examining every part of the tree. Coming from opposite sides they both ended back at the rope. Staring at each other knowingly they looked to the rope. “So who goes first?” Tommy asked. “Well we gotta be careful here. If the challenge is physical I should climb first.” Monty said, flexing his weedy arms. Tommy nodded with absolute agreement. “But if it is a speed thing, you should go first. You are always running away, you gotta be good at it by now right?” Tommy frowned as Monty laughed at his own joke. “Always running away ae? If I always ran away would I do this?” Tommy jumped and grabbed the knot at the bottom of the rope. Dangling his feet off the ground. Monty’s eyes went wide and he darted his head around as Tommy started to climb. Talking between grunts. “Sometimes, you, just, gotta, jump.” Monty’s eyes locked onto one of the grass clumps as it started to move, shaking ever so slightly. “Grass clumps are moving Tommy, climb faster!” Tommy started to pull as hard as he could, Monty stood under him. Letting him stand on his shoulders so he could get his feet to the knot at the bottom of the rope. As soon as his feet were clear Monty jumped for the rope, but missed. He tried twice more but was too short to reach. “Tommy what do I do?” Monty screamed out in panic. “Why do I have to solve your issues?” “You got us into this mess now help me!” Tommy was already walking across the thick twisted branch when the grass clumps rose from the dirt. Long tendrils extended, the grass clumps atop the tendrils feathered out and straightened to a point. Tommy stood dumfounded for only a moment before he ran to the mouth of the tree. Holding onto the mouth of the trunk, bracing his knee against the branch he lowered his leg. “Run up the trunk and grab onto me.” “You better be as strong as you are taller than me.” Monty ran up the tree, kicking several pustules on his way up. An acidic smell filled the air as fresh black ooze seeped from them. Monty was struggling up Tommy’s leg when the first tendril lashed out. Landing right next to Monty. The straightened grass blades cut deep into the bark, pulling pieces away and leaving thick gouges in those that remained. Both Tommy and Monty were screaming as Monty clambered his way up Tommy and onto the lip of the trees trunk. Meanwhile bladed tendrils were lashing out at them, scaring the tree and frightening the boys. Once Tommy had balanced himself from Monty climbing over him he leapt head first into the open top of the tree trunk., grabbing Monty by the scruff of the neck they both were pulled in by a strong gravity like force. Their world was consumed by a dark void before they fell hard onto their backs. Tommy was breathing hard and fast as Monty lay besides him crying out in pain. Neither of them could see through the sick darkness that surrounded them. Eyes wide Tommy tried to look around for Monty. Patting his hands on the cold, smooth ground beneath him, heading in the direction of Monty’s voice. “What is wrong, why are you screaming?” As Monty started to bite down into his own thick shirt and his screams subsided, Tommy could hear the thrashing and whipping of something. “You said Oculi wouldn’t be here, what is that?” A tendril flew past Tommy and cut his cheek as something hard glanced it. Tommy cried out and raised his hands to his cheek, tears welling up in their eyes as they felt the blood trickle down their wrist. Grunts and whinces made Tommy quiet as Monty stood to his feet. “You seriously complaining about a little scratch? You big baby.” “I was cut, why were you screaming?” There was a small pause, then Tommy continued. “You’re the big baby.” “That things was stuck in me, the stupid grass clump stabbed me before we jumped.” They continued to yell at one another in the black void until four thin slivers of light appeared, drawing their attention and silencing the both of them. Tommy started to run to the door frame, drawn like a moth to a flame. Monty did his best to limp after him, his whole body tensing every time his right footed slapped the cold floor in the void. “Hurry up Monty, we are so close.” Tommy yelled as he looked back, the light from the door frame illuminating the terrible condition Monty was in. Tommy slowed and watched as Monty limped through the pain and pushed his way through the door. Tommy watched as the blood soaked through the entirety of Monty’s pants. “Hey Monty do you think you will be fine?” Tommy asked quietly as he followed Monty through the door. A blinding light burned his eyes. Leaving them both in a white blanket. Fading to red before finally allowing the two boys to look at the landscape around them. Monty awed at the expanding landscape that laid before him. The yellow glow of the sun warmed their skin, while the cool breeze that rolled through made sure they did not burn. There were birds flitting through the air and small mammals darting through the roots of the trees, and winding their way up the trunks. There was a chattering from all around as the stepped into an environment full with life. Tommy was too distracted by the blood now pooling at Monty’s feet, staining the vibrant green grass with the deep red of his blood. “Monty, should we do something about your leg? Because that is a lot of blood.” “What?” Monty said, frowning at Tommy before looking down at his own leg. “You are focusing on that.” He said gesturing to his leg. “There is a whole new planet in front of you and you focus on something that happened on Hollow?” Tommy looked around and the environment stilled his heart as it all overwhelmed him. But his eyes went back to Monty’s leg. “I see what you mean, but if we don’t sort, that.” He said pointing to the blood on the ground. “Then you wont get to see any planet ever again.” Monty groaned, shredding his blood-soaked pant leg with a small knife he had in his pocket. Cutting the fabric into strips he tied a tight knot above the wound, restricting circulation. “Happy?” “I guess. I mean what else can we do right?” Tommy said looking at Monty in defeat. “Thank you, lets go see if we can find someone to annoy.” Monty grinned as he limped down from the hilltop they appeared on. Tommy looked back to the sick tree that stood behind them. Mirroring the one they entered to get there. But this one, although obviously sick, was much healthier and greener than the one on Hollow. It was not long before the two children found a caravan moving slowly along the road, the back filled with crates and barrels. The two kids stayed at a distance watching those walked around the cart. Laying on a hill they discussed what they wanted to do. “Hey Tommy, do they look really, like, not paying attention?” “Uh, yea. I don’t think they are even looking for assailants, let alone a wandering nightmare.” “I mean, have you seen any nightmares here?” Tommy shook their head as they took a moment to look around them. “It feels so empty here, maybe we should just head back. This place is strange.” Monty rolled his eyes. “Of course you want to run away.” “I don’t want to run away it is not like that.” “Hey my name is Tommy and I like to run away from a quiet place. Please don’t hurt me. Ow my face got a boo-boo…” Monty continued as Tommy stood up shouting over him. “I’ll prove to you I don’t run away from things.” Tommy ran down the hill and started to approach the caravan. Tumbling down the hillside Monty laughed. Watching as Tommy was noticed by those at the cart. “Looks like I need a new best friend.” Monty muttered to himself as he watched to men approach Tommy. They gently helped him to his feet before muttering something and waving their hand over his cheek. Tommy grabbed at his face and turned to face Monty. Monty ducked into the tall grass. “Idiot, don’t kill me too!” He yelled softly into the soft grass beneath him. Laying still he heard approaching footsteps. Leaping to his feet Monty drew his knife and held it aggressively towards those approaching him. Two men …

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Welcome Back

“Sir, don’t you think it has been a minute since you actually instilled your presence on Hollow?” The conductor asked as he watched over Anodyne’s shoulder. Anodyne seemed oblivious to the Conductors remark. The conductor leant a little further over his shoulder to get a better look at what Anodyne was holding. “Someone you my lord?” He said as he looked at a small locket in Anodynes hand, holding the face of someone the conductor had never seen before. But just as the words escaped the conductors mouth the locket vanished and Anodyne turned to face the Conductor. “If you ever dare to mention this, or to remember that face. You will find yourself suffering a worse fate than Xarius.” The words seemed to clamour out of Anodyne’s mouth. Eager to assault the conductor, they raced forth and overwhelmed the conductor with emotion. He fell to one knee reluctantly. Tears streaming from his face and his cheeks flush red. “My lord I would desire nothing of the sort.” The Conductor said sincerely. His hands shaking from rage. Anodyne looked past the Conductor, across the empty valley that they stood. “Do you hear that Conductor?” Anodyne asked. “Silence my lord, bar the birds and insects of this fine valley.” “I find it disturbing that that is all we hear. Are we not close to a town here?” “Yes sire, but only a small one. I don’t believe these Holites even bothered to name this one. It is but a handful of residents, living in one of your original barricades. It seems that those forts have stood the test of time, you made them stronger than any natural wood. It is no wonder that all the current cities were founded from your forts.” “It does seem that way, it feels to me that I have given them all too much. Maybe I should take some of it away.” The Conductor grinned and stood, facing Anodyne he gestured wide with one arm. Showing the way. “After you my lord. Let them know of how they have been living their decadent lives, and how they should be humbled by your presence.” Anodynes eyes shimmered blue for but a second as his feet lifted off the ground as if he were lifted by an unseen force. But it faded, and he returned to normal, looking at the Conductor with glee. “I think you may be correct my dear friend. I expect you to follow closely behind.” Anodyne followed the Conductors wild gesture and started walking towards the town. The Conductor’s elation could not be hidden. His feet stamped into the dirt beneath his feet as his body failed to contain his excitement. “It is beyond swell to have you back again sire. You have been missed.” The Conductor followed Anodyne as close as he would dare. Being more of a shadow than Anodyne’s shadow could hope to be. As Anodyne marched the Conductor could feel the heat radiating from his body. “Are we excited my lorde?” “Excited? You know full well what I feel, you know this is rage. Why can’t I hear anything? Do I not do my best to provide these miserable Holites with entertainment? The nightmares that…” Anodyne stopped walking and looked around intently. “Ahhh.” The Conductor said as he peered around. “None of your nightmares are roaming. Where could they be?” Anodyne turned himself and the Conductor invisible. “We do this the old way, we observe first.” Anodyne floated with the Conductor in tow. They both sailed through the air, clearing the tree line they moved quickly across the landscape. The dead grass mixed with the thinned top of the trees as the image of everything blurred in their peripherals. But soon the bleak browns and greys were illuminated with the orange, yellow, and red of fire. Anodyne slowed himself to a standstill. “Are you impressed, or enraged sir?” Anodyne looked down at the circle of fire that encompassed the sturdy wooden walls of the town below. “Who knew fire could be used as a means of defence for a town of wood.” The Conductor looked towards Anodyne. “Just how strong did you make those walls?” He jested. “Not strong enough to withstand fire you fool. Besides these fires are nearly a hundred metres from the walls. The thing that makes me most curios is how they keep the fires going.” Anodyne slowly floated about the wall of flame as it licked at his feet. His nostrils flared as the smell from the smoke listed into his nose. He recoiled and moved through as fast as he could. Anodyne turned back to see The Conductor go through a similar process, a toothy grin turning to an awkward grin. “That is not smoke like I know it my lord.” “No, it, isn’t.” Anodyne stared at the small wooden fort laying just shy of a hundred meters into the halo of fire. The ground had a gentle gradient from ashen dirt to a dead scattering of weed, all the way to a vibrant green broken apart by small patches of turned dirt that housed small patches of life. “Look my lord, gardens.” The conductor fell from the sky. Bile and blood streaming from him as his limp body descended. Colliding with a resounding thump that echoed much louder than it should have. Leaving a crater far larger than anything of his meagre form could produce naturally. Anodyne looked down at the mangled form of the Conductor, then back to the strange fire wall with its foul-smelling smoke. “Now this is interesting. I like this town.” The Conductors bones slowly snapped together, his limbs twisting as his body realigned. The horrible sound of grinding bones and snapping of sinews continued until his body was whole once again. More vomit poured from his mouth like a fountain as he collected himself. His eyes continued to liquify and reform and his tongue rotted piece by piece from his mouth as fast as it healed. He bit his tongue out, hoping to eradicate the seed of the rot. As the tongue healed back into place, he felt it remain whole. He started to breath heavy as the symptoms stopped. His body shaking as he found himself down on all fours struggling to see straight. Spiting the last of the filth from his mouth he stood shaking. “It seems my lord that I am only going to slow you down for a while. By your leave I would like to rest.” Anodyne floated towards the wall of the town, acknowledging the Conductors request by leaving him behind. Watching Anodyne fly away The Conductor sighed and laid back into the ash, and stony soil. Anodyne watched as the wall of the small town started to populate with bodies at the sound of The Conductor colliding with the ground. Anodyne floated directly overhead to hear the conversation of those standing just below him. “I am telling you I heard a noise.” Charlotte whispered as she looked out over their land. Eyes rolling Seb replied. “I am not doubting that there was a sound, everyone heard the sound. It was like a size five or six flying nightmare colliding with the ground. But I don’t see anything out there.” “There,” Charlotte continued. “I don’t think that crater was there before. That is new.” Seb looked out, squinting. “Oh yeah, but there is nothing in it.” Anodyne grinned as lifted the invisibility that was shrouding the Conductor. “Let’s instil a little fear!” Anodyne thought to himself as he waited for those on the wall to react. “Wait, I see some…one in the crater.” Seb said as he leant closer, doing what little he could to get a better view. Charlotte started to jump and flail her arms as she squealed. Grabbing onto Seb she shook him from side to side. “What in the duality has gotten you so worked up?” Charlotte brought Seb’s face close to hers as she smiled from her mouth to her eyes. “It is The Conductor. He has returned, which means Anodyne has returned. The Duality is here, he has heard our prayers. We have so much to prepare!” Charlotte ran down the stairs, down into her town. Screaming for everyone to wake while Seb stood on the wall staring towards The Conductor as he stood slowly, shaking off the last of the effects of the smoke. Propping his top hat back to normality and resting it on his head, turning to face Seb on the wall. Seb couldn’t help but smile, captivated in the moment he ran as soon as his legs would let him. Heading into the town. “A smile?” The Conductor whispered to himself. “What is this town?” “What indeed.” Anodyne said as he landed beside him. “My lord?” “It turns out we are not as hated as we thought we were. We may even get a little welcoming party.” The two of them stood waiting for the rush of those from the town. “But we have had many welcoming parties before, what makes this any different?” “This time, it is an actual party. Or at least it seems that way.” The Conductor dusted himself off, removing clumps of dirt from his suit. “And to think the best I can present is the torn suit covered in filth.” Anodyne patted The Conductor on the back, ushering him forward as he too started to walk. “Your clothes are not what make you. If they can’t see past your clothes they don’t deserve to worship us. Despite there progress and innovation, if they fail to recognise you they shall burn in their own flames.” The Conductor stood taller, his back straightening as he let the remainder of the dirt reside on his weathered suit. A grin crept across his face as he felt strong under Anodyne’s words. They walked in silence for the first few metres before The Conductor couldn’t hold back his excitement. “What do you expect them to do, they already seem to be making quite a noise. Bells, screams, and to be honest I am not sure what…” The Conductor waited to hear a specific noise. “…That noise is.” “That my dear friend.” Anodyne said with a wide smile. “Is excitement, and joy.” “It is a strange way to express an emotion. It is very loud, none conducive to survival.” “Look around you. There is no need to survive, these people are living.” Anodyne stopped in his path as he heard a familiar song start to rise. The light of the town condensing into a single location and the sound of marching was soon drowned out by the singing. “My lord, that is your song is it not?” Anodyne was dumbfounded and stood in disbelief as he watched as a small parade of people marched around the corner of the town. Simple beats from drums made of animal skins and flute made from their bones. All dressed with simple pants, shorts, or loin cloths they marched. As a choir, chanting the prayer of Anodyne. “Be it day or night You are the beacon of blight The fear in our throat, that we try to swallow You are the true god of Hollow.” Over and over they chanted, beating their drums, and playing their pipes. Children danced around as the adults chant grew louder. The children had masks made of bone. They wore tattered clothes and wielded weapons of torture. Skin flayers, gougers, injection daggers, bone-extractors. The cheerfully chased one another and poked at each other in playful ignorance. “I don’t mean to be to bold sir, but should you not reveal yourself? They have done so much for us, do they not deserve a reward?” Conductor looked around sheepishly to see no sign of Anodyne. He smiled as he turned back to the marching masses. “What have you got planned my lord?” The Conductor whispered under his breath. Keeping an eye out for Anodyne’s next move. The Conductor amplified his voice and let it …

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Let Me Feel

A calm summer breeze rolled through the open plains, the grass swaying and shining under the pale light of the full moon that rose high into the night’s sky. Every star shone as brightly as they could, clear of light pollution. Picking up speed the wind approached a rise, spilling into the small bowl like hole on the other side, ruffling the clothes of the two individuals that sat around their small fire. As quick as it arrived, the wind was gone again. The only reminder was the earthly smell that it carried. “Do you think Manaia will be back soon, I am starting to get quite hungry,” Seth said, clutching his grumbling stomach. “She can’t be far now. But more importantly do you think she will take the news of us splitting up well? She has not taken this… change of management well,” Logan replied, poking the fire with a stick which let loose a torrent of embers that drifted towards Seth. Shielding his eyes Seth let out a moan of aggravation as the embers burnt his skin. “Sorry,” Logan said putting the stick down. “I can get the first aid.” Seth waved Logan down. “It really isn’t that bad, just a sting. Don’t you think you are taking this being nice to an extreme?” “Maybe. Never did any of this under Anodyne’s rule, we were always too… hard? Tough?” “Stupid?” Seth laughed, Logan joining in. “Anodyne put us in a position where being nice was dangerous, we don’t have that with Xarius. He is a good god; he cares for us.” “Yeah, I mean we would never get to sit so freely with Anodyne ruling. We would be buried in muck, trying to avoid the roaming nightmares. Chilled to the bone under those frigid winds that seemed to be everywhere.” “This fire would be a beacon, we would be slaughtered in seconds by anyone and anything that could see it,” Seth added, moving a little closer to the orange glow. Trying to get as much as he could from the fire. “But you have to admit, the thrill of nearly dying made every day a day worth living.” Seth looked confused. Lying down he shut his eyes, took in a deep breath and spoke calmly. “Look, I am heading north to start my farm. You are heading south to live in the Opeos, like everyone else who wants to have a good time. But if you keep talking like Manaia, you are going to end up with her. Sinking back into the old routine we used to have. Things don’t have to be that way anymore.” “Things don’t have to be what way?” Manaia said, cresting the hill that surrounded the pair. Her clothes muddy and tattered, the opposite of the other two. While they were by no means clean cut, they did manage to keep their clothes free of the layer of mud Manaia had managed to accumulate. In her hands, she held three rabbits by their hind feet. Blood dripped from crudely made holes in the back of their skulls. Logan and Seth looked at each other and then back to Manaia, neither of them speaking. “What? Didn’t expect to see such a magnificent haul? Well you should, Xarius has made everything easy. I have never failed to catch something under his rule.” She kissed her blood-soaked fingers and raised them to the sky, speaking out sarcastically. “And long may he reign.” Manaia threw her catch at Logan, splattering blood across his clothes. “Skin them would ya? You got that fine knife work that makes no waste.” Logan threw the rabbits off and took a small water skin canteen to wash the blood out. “Damn, that is going to stain,” Logan said, rubbing the blood harder. Seth looked up at Manaia with an expression of disappointment that a father would give his daughter. “Those are Logan’s good clothes. Why couldn’t you just put them down like a normal person?” Manaia sat down chuckling to herself, her eyes widening as she looked at the stern face of Seth, and the silent determination of Logan. “Wait, you are serious? It is just a little blood. The damn squirters sprayed me when I bashed their skulls in.” Manaia raised her arms. Her tattered sleeves were covered in splatters of blood and the fire in front of her illuminating the specks of blood on her face. “Yeah, I can smell that. Those clothes were clean before you left, how did you get them so dirty?” Seth quizzed as Logan finally gave up on cleaning himself and pulled out a knife to start skinning the rabbits. “Well one of the buggers got out of my snare trap, so I chased the fucker down and caved his head in with my elbow as I dropped on top of him. I ended up sliding through a mud patch a little. Then once I stood up I went for another slide, since the first one was so fun.” Manaia cleared the mud from her elbow, revealing a deep red stain. Then she reenacted the act of falling onto the rabbit. “Urgh, I am going to have a smoke. I assume you two can start the cooking while I am away.” Seth stood up heading away from the fire. “Yes sir, anything for you, Boss. But if you come back dirty your father and I are going to have a serious talk with you,” Manaia spoke out with a gruff voice. Logan laughed under his breath, sparking a feeling joy in Manaia. “The quicker I leave, the better.” Seth muttered under his breath as he walked off. Seth wandered till the grass was hiding his waist. Sticking one hand into his pocket he pulled out a cigarette. Several more fell to the ground. “Ah shit, I really need a case for these things.” He said watching the white sticks disappeared into the grass, bouncing off the blades as they went. Seth frowned as he looked at the one he had grabbed. Fiddling with two hands he straightened it as good as it would go. “Good enough, I doubt a kink will do any real damage,” he muttered, sticking it into his mouth. Patting down his pockets he pulled a metallic lighter from his pocket. With a flick and a spark, the cigarette was lit. The embers at the end flaring with every inhale. The other two were getting noticeably louder, their chatter overflowing from their campsite. “Logan you are going to throw your life away if you talk to her for too long. She won’t change. She will never accept the world that Xarius has built. She is going to suffer under this new world. You are going to be dragged down if you are not careful,” Seth said staring over the open plains, watching as the calming winds swiftly parted the grass, revealing their silky shine. “This world is beautiful now, we have a second chance at life. You shouldn’t throw it away because of her.” Seth looked back with distain, taking one last long drag he tossed the filter away. The orange glow snuffed by the damp grass it collided with. “Don’t worry Logan, I won’t let her corrupt you.” As Seth made his way back to the camp the laughter became one of hysterics. Coming back into sight both Logan and Manaia’s laughter became louder, both of them holding a wrist and imitating the sounds of an injured person. “What can possibly be so funny?” “You!” Logan exclaimed. “We were reminiscing when we found that bar underground. The one with all the drug lords and Imps. Do you remember how much fun we had there?” Seth sat down, looking at the poorly placed rabbits. He adjusted them to make sure they would cook evenly. “I remember the pain that lasted for weeks after that little encounter, probably longer for you Manaia. Seeing as you got stabbed through the hand. Twice.” Logan reached across to Manaia, grabbing her hand he held it closer to the fire. “You can barely see any scars. Can’t have been that bad of a stabbing.” “But we are sure that you got proper messed up when you punched Fetayne and he broke your wrist with his demon hand. It looked like he turned it to powder.” Manaia grabbed her wrist again, making more painful cooing noises. Logan joined in for a moment, before being stared down by Seth. Feeling uncomfortable, he stopped. Leaving Manaia to jest all by herself. “We could have died that night, is that the life you want to live? One where you could die just for entering the wrong room?” “Oh lighten up would ya? You are making Logan boring like you. We were having a great time before you came back.” “Would you prefer it if I went away?” “Come on Seth don’t do that,” said Logan. “No, why not? He is being nothing but a downer. Sucking the dick of Xarius, and swallowing his bounty without thought. Why don’t you leave? Let Logan and I reminisce on the good times.” Logan let out a long sigh, drawing all the attention to himself. “What good times are those? Let’s face it Manaia, we suffered before Xarius. Now we get to live.” “Fuck off with that shit, this is not living. We are just waiting to die. When Anodyne ruled we lived, he made sure every day was a reward for surviving the last. He made life have purpose. What the fuck do we have now?” “Nothing.” Seth said.  “Thank you, finally someone talking some sense.” Manaia yelled. “Nothing, yet. But I am heading north, I am going to start a farm, and Logan is heading south to live in Opeos. Isn’t that right Logan?” “What the hell are you on about. Get a farm? You need money for that, you daft bastard. Good fucking luck buying land. You are nothing but a highway man. As soon as you realize that you can’t afford this farm of yours you are going to steal and murder again.” “No, I will work. This is a new world, Manaia. Better adapt or die.” “Firstly, us true Holites, the ones who don’t change, are going to run this place as we spit in the face of your rules and burn you weaklings to ash.” Manaia turned to Logan, continuing her rant. “Secondly, what are you going to do in Opeos? It is filled with ash that calls itself Holite. Soft, drifting souls that disintegrate when you crush them in your fist. We used to laugh at them, now you want to join those weaklings?” “So what if I do?” Logan argued. “It is better than just sitting here talking about the old times. Or dreaming of owning a stupid farm. I just want to do something. Opeos has a lot of things to do.” Seth turned on Logan. “What is wrong with owning a farm? Better than being a vagrant in Opeos. What are you going to do down there? Learn how to juggle and join the gypsies?” “Oh you talk down about them like you have never tried to join them. I recall meeting you in a slump behind their carts. Crying because they told you to fuck off.” “I wasn’t crying!” Seth yelled. “Oh shit. You little cry baby,” Manaia laughed. “I have heard crying makes a good impression, makes everyone want you to join.” “Talk it up Manaia,” Seth retorted. “But what about when Logan found you?” “What about when Logan found me?” “You were bloodied in a dumpster, left for dead. From memory your man got mad when he knocked you up, so he threw you out in the trash.” “Damn straight, and I fucking lived. I had three men, and I mean true Holites, beat the shit out of me, and I survived. You got denied access to a little club and cried in the street.” “You little bitch!” Manaia stood up, arms spread wide. “Come at …

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At The Base Of A Gnarled Tree

Ontop of a small hill at the base of the large gnarled tree Enadrome two men stood one set of hands holding manacles and chains. The other bound and presented before the great tree. “Enadrome I have found another, open your door and allow Oculi to take them back to the world they belong.” The tree creaked and swayed gently in the wind. “I pushed my way through interdimensional walls with technology that took generations to perfect. You expect me to believe this tree just has the magical powers of inter-dimensional travel.” “This magic tree is the guardian Enadrome, he guards the inter-dimensional doorways. But some do manage to slip through. Just be thankful Oculi did not apprehend you.” “Who or what is an Oculi.” The tree started to shake as the core of the tree split open, revealing a black abyss that expelled arctic winds at high speeds. The bound man stepped back as his eyes opened with wonder and fear. “How is this possible? Surely this is a machine designed to look like a tree.” “Your universe may have the intelligence that allows you to jump worlds. But you have a lot to learn about the different powers of the universe.” A high pitch scream emanated from the black that resided within the tree. “And a lot to fear.” A writhing mass of tentacles emerged from the black, they outstretched around the opening. Encircling both men, blotting out the sun. They both stood in darkness before a set of eyes opened before them. Then another, and another. Soon both men were surrounded by lightly glowing eyes, all human, varying in color. The bound man fell to the ground in fear. “What are you?” An eye as large as the man opened before him, he then heard a shrieking voice all around him. “All seeing.” “Oculi I have apprehended the individual in question, may I take my leave?” “Go Tiberius, you have done well this day.” The eyes looked at Tiberius for a short moment before creating an opening in her tentacles. Tiberius gave a humble bow and left her embrace. As the tentacles closed screams started immediately before the mass shifted back into the black, leaving the chained man on the ground. His hands clutching at his eyes as blood poured out. His hands pulled down to reveal his eyes had been removed from his skull. Oculi gently wrapped her tentacles around the man and dragged him back into the black portal. Enadrome closing his front, returning back to his tree state. Tiberius lit a cigarette and walked out into the fields below the hill he stood on. A long slow walk through the country side is what laid before him, he had his smg and pistol hidden under his coat in case anyone came between him and the temple of Oculi. The knee-high grasses gave plenty of opportunity for nightmares to hide, giving Tiberius a level of unrest that he was not comfortable with. But no matter how many times his order cut a path, it had always regrown the next day. Slight rustling caught Tiberius’s attention, he gave a glance and knew what was trying to stalk him. He calmed his heart and walked over to the noise, picking up a small shadow rab that tried desperately to escape his grasp. Its black wire like hair scratching Tiberius as he struggled to get a good group. “Hey there little guy, you’re going to come with me.” While continuing his walk he wrestled the little monster. A rabbit like creature with a long tail and long black, wire-y fur. It gave off little screeches as it continued to resist its capture. Eventually giving in to his embrace. It laid un-moving with an irked look upon its face. “I actually have a friend I want you to meet my little friend.” Tiberius said to the Shadow Rab. “He is afraid of a lot of things, so you should have a lot of fun with him. He stole from our temple, we tracked him down, and now he is our…guest.” Tiberius found himself standing before the walls of his town Verinal. A small town with a simple wooden wall. The wall was varied from additional fortifications and parts where large creatures had given a good attempt to try get through the wall. Many patch jobs gave the wall a uniqueness from any other in the area. The partially ajar wall gate was open enough for him to squeeze through with his traveling companion which he hid from view under his coat. He walked the streets in the early morning air. Many people already wandering around from their early morning start. Silently Tiberius moved as he tried to avoid eyes of anyone else. Quickly he found himself stepping into a small shack near the back wall of the town. Closing the door firmly behind him he looked around the small shack, a plain interior with a bed jammed in the corner of the room. He walked over to the bed and dragged it out into the center of the room, pulling the floor boards beneath it with it. Where the bed once was, now an opening with a stair case that lead down. “Welcome to your new home little guy. A place that you will thrive in as you help us deal to our enemies.” Tiberius descended the stairs, pulling a lever to close the stairs off once again. Through a dark corridor he walked with light beaming from under the door in front of him, along with the commotion of hastened footsteps that laid just beyond. Pushing the door open he was once again among his people, he was back in the temple dedicated to Oculi. He was in the Hands of the eye. He made his way through the barren halls, navigating his way through the various rooms until he eventually found himself standing in front of a prison cell. Inside a scarred woman sat in the dark, she held her sores as she looked through swollen eyes at Tiberius. “What more could you possibly have? How are you going ruin my day today?” Tiberius remained silent, his empty stare unbroken from her eye line. He slowly opened the cell, revealing the now restless Shadow Rab. He tossed it in and closed the cell behind it. “No more games, no more gimmicks. We need answers, and you will provide them.” The woman stared at the Shadow Rab as it scurried around the cell, hissing at her. She recoiled further into the corner of her cell. “Take it out, or you won’t get anything from me. You’ll have to get me out of this cell with a mop.” The Shadow Rab started to twitch as it rose its nose to the air sniffing towards the captured woman. “It is a simple question, where is he? You better answer quickly, your fear will soon transform the Rab and our janitors will have to clean you out of the cell with a mop. Just like you said.” “I can’t tell you.” The woman stared at the Rab as it started to shake uncontrollably. “But I can take you there.” Tiberius stared at her with an un-amused expression, folding his arms he continued to watch as the Rab’s form started to change. The woman started to crawl towards the bars, reaching through them with desperation. “Please, I will take you to him. Just get me out of this damn cell.” She broke down and started to cry as she laid down on the cold cell floor. Her wailing being drowned out by the sounds of gunfire.  Body tensed, the woman turned to see the half deformed body of the Shadow Rab with bleeding holes in its grotesque body. “We leave in the morning, get sleep now because we won’t wait for you.” Tiberius turned and walked away from the still weeping woman, heading back to his sleeping quarters. He changed and climbed into his bed. “Your back late, did you catch the world jumper?” A soft voice sounded from the other side of the bed. “yea, I had to go to Oculi. I don’t think I am used to her form yet, or the way she removes eyes so violently.” The woman reached across the bed and spooned with Tiberius’s back. He pushed back into her embrace. “We do dark things here, don’t think I am unaware of that. But we do what we must for Oculi, and to protect this world from the invaders of others. Since Anodyne grounded Enadrome he has been unable to do his job properly. We need to pick up the slack, and in this world, you don’t gain unless someone loses. It is the law of this universe, one that can’t be broken.” The woman cuddled up as much as she could, kissing Tiberius softly on the back of his neck. “We are doing something good, and I will always love you because of how this affects you. Shows me you still have a heart that not even this evil world can break.” Tiberius grabbed her hand and kissed it. “I love you too Rachel, I have a long few days ahead of me. I should go to sleep.” “Okay, I will be quiet for you.” A moment of silence fell over the room before Tiberius spoke up. “Or you could talk like you always do, I like falling asleep to your voice.” Rachel smiled and started talking about various trivial details of her day, her voice trailing off as she fell from consciousness, not before leading Tiberius into a blissful sleep. Come the morning Rachel rolled over to an empty bed, she gave a little smile before cuddling up to Tiberius’s pillow, allowing his scent to lead her back to sleep. “Get up.” Tiberius threw a bucket of ice water over the woman. She shook as she rocketed off of the floor. Her swelling being slightly reduced by the nights sleep she looked with clearer vision as water ran down her face. “I am up, please stop.” She looked at herself, trying her best to push the water from her clothes. “Can I please get something to dry off, it is cold where we are going.” Tiberius opened the cell and waited to the side. The woman lowered her head and started to walk up the stairs from the cell with her head hanging low. As she climbed the stairs hands appeared from behind her and bound her eyes, tying a cloth tightly around her head. “You will get to see once we are far enough away. For now you will be blind.” Tiberius walked the blind folded woman through the town till he felt safe that she would not know where they came from. He removed her blindfold and looked at her. “Alright, let’s go. I don’t have much patience so you better lead me quickly.” “It is a long journey as you can imagine, we will be gone a long while.” “Well you shall make it as quick as possible, I have many tasks to attend to here.” The woman groaned. “The faster I make this journey the more dangerous it becomes. I can get you to him in a day but there is a near guarantee of death for both of us.” He looked at his watch. “In that case I should be home in time to make good on plans I had for tomorrow. Lead on woman.” The woman gripped at the bruises on her arm before she started her slow walk out of town. Every few steps Tiberius jabbed at the woman. “Move faster, I have to talk to him now.” “I don’t understand why you want to meet him so badly, no one really likes him once they meet him. Hell no one likes him, even before they meet him.” “I also hear he kills everyone that figures out where he lives. So, what makes you so special?” “Because …

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The Wisdom Of A God Or A Fool

Have you ever played god? Have you ever taken the time to pluck insects from the soil and place them on an ant hill? Controlling the fate of a life can be an empowering moment, it can feel as though you are the biggest thing in the world. You can become the governing power where your word is natural law. Pluck enough insects and your hand might become another force of nature insects fear. Gravity binds them to the earth, and the hand plucks them from it. Maybe insects were too small for you, maybe they didn’t have enough emotion for you to get your kicks. So instead of insects, you played with small animals. Taking one behind the shed where no one could hear their yelps of fear but you, slowly you claim their life and their cries for help are silenced. As you feel their breath stop under your crushing grip you feel absolute, like nothing could stop you, no matter how hard it tried. No matter where you start you always end in one of two inevitabilities. You either stop because you can’t gain pleasure from the act due to your unwillingness to take the next step. Or you are the bold who takes that next step, you move on to bigger, and more emotive things. Being human though you don’t have the capability to be satisfied for long, you will always crave more. More power, more strength, and more control. Eventually the small animals won’t do anymore, while emotive they pose no challenge. Some might have claws, but they can only hurt, not harm. You move your way up the food chain, you start to hunt the larger animals. Animals that can fight back add another layer to the complex, overcoming something that you assumed would claim you. Returning home others notice the scratches, the bite marks. You have to lie, you have to deceive those around you so you may continue your acts of power. You are no longer a mindless brute, you have to use your divine knowledge to mentally defeat your oppent, testing your wits against those of lesser being. But one day the questions will baffle you, they will unwind your little tale of lies and others will uncover the truth. Your days of controlling life and death are over, you are going to be losing your godly powers, unless… Unless you act, your run is up, your time as a god is over. You must act quickly. You do to those as you have done so many times before, no longer are you dropping beetles on ant hills, nor are you crushing kitten’s throats. You have moved up to wrestling with dogs and now find your-self at the precipice of power. Claiming the life of your own kind, the ultimate test to your divine abilities. Or so you thought. Your used to over powering creatures by now, the challenge remains but you quickly discover it is by far not the hardest challenge for your powers. Before you lay a corpse of an active member of society, to others they have simply disappeared. To you they are the rush that gives you purpose. Convincing one person you were doing no harm had failed, how were you to convince a multitude of others that you are a saint. With one you had to test your mind, now you must take the final exam. Now you must survive. Lie after lie you realise, you are no god, you are a fool. Blinded by your own ineptitude you strode as if you knew every stepping stone, unaware of the fact you had been wading through the water all this time. Slowly, or sometimes quickly you are caught by your inability to lie. As that sentence is passed and the hammer drops you feel your mortality become a reality once again. Sitting in that cold chair you stare down the man who holds the lever to your fate. He stares unblinking at you with tired eyes, eyes of one who no longer feels from the ability to kill. No pain, nor delight, a man who has broken the sanctity of death. Without remorse in his eyes your life is forfeit, he claims it without a second thought. Later he is never questioned why he killed, unlike you. He is never arrested for murder, unlike you. He is never charged of being inhumane, unlike you. And unlike you, he will sleep without waking, he will sleep as if nothing had happened that day. Meanwhile you stare as your body dies, convulsing all around you, you feel your consciousness leave. After a while you feel your consciousness return to a form and all of a sudden you find yourself as a baby once again. Screaming in your mother arms, you cry for your memories start to fade until you return to the mental power of a babe. This cycle seems to repeat endlessly, until one day your consciousness seems to drift away from Hollow. This time your debt of 100 years to Ompti would have been paid, you will be reborn as a god. A true god, not just one you imagined yourself to be. It is then that you will see how truly small you are. The preacher concluded and those in the congregation started to discuss among themselves what the sermon meant. “Clearly this is teaching us that there is no point in attempting to be a god, for one day it will come naturally.” “Wrong as usual, this sermon was about the folly of attempting to be god, because even when you achieve it you are barely stronger than you are now.” Two or three individuals turned to this man. “Yea right, gods are barely stronger than us. I am sure we are a mere stepping stone away from being able to reincarnate all living things.” “Well if I am wrong then how did we manage to crucify and bind a god in our church?” The congregation turned to the bloodied individual that was nailed to the cross at the head of the church. “Can’t be that much stronger than us if we could do that.” The deity remained nailed to the wood that bound him, listening to the conversation that played out before him. Infuriated by the ignorance in the room he spoke out. “You are all fools, you deserve my silence. Be thankful that your stupidity has enraged me so much I feel the need to enlighten you. There are a couple of things that gods are weak to, the number one thing is a church to another god. Secondly, they are weak against crucifixion, it nullifies the abilities of a god. None of our abilities seem to work while we are in this state, and none of us know why.” The people stood amazed that after nearly 100 years the god finally spoke. The preacher was the first to respond. “You should have stayed away from here, be thankful we did not call down Anodyne to deal with you.” “Be thankful? He isn’t here, he hasn’t been here for the last 100 years and yet you still use him as a threat.” “Anodyne never leaves, he may not be here for a while but I can assure you he lurking in the shadows waiting.” “My name is Xarius, I find it hard to talk to things if they don’t have names, what is yours.” The preacher seemed hesitant at first but reluctantly gave it up. “Dimitri, my name is Dimitri.” “Look Dimitri, your god has abandoned you. He dipped his toes in the Eternaverse and then immediately dove in. You are now nothing but a dream of a pet he used to play with. Every god goes through it, they realise there is no need to create and maintain life when there is so much more to do out there.” The preacher scoffed at Xarius. “Well then Anodyne is outlying data, because I can guarantee you he is coming back. The more we suffer the more power he gains, and besides, he hates people touching his stuff.” The priest moved to another part of the church where a cup filled with stale stood. “I shifted this once, his response to form a water bubble around my home until I put it back.” Xarius leaned as far forward as his body would allow, lurching his neck forward to stare the priest in the eye. “You are governed by a child god. Torturing you for touching something like that is a clear sign he has the mind of an infant. I feel sorry for you, living under the rule of a mean two-year-old must be exhausting. I am not the nicest of gods, but I am consistent, why not follow me? The first thing I would do is remove all these roaming nightmares. You actually have a beautiful planet it is a shame most of you never leave cities.” The priest looked back at the glass sitting on his table, then back at his people. “We don’t follow Anodyne, this is a church of Ompti. All we do is acknowledge that Anodyne is not only the creator, but the most active god on this planet.” “Give allegiance to me, give me the power of your fear and respect. When he returns he will have no power as you all surge me with energy. He will be a visitor in his own universe, an unwelcome visitor I will purge from this world.” The room sat quiet, no one was sure what to do. Before them they had an option at potential peace, or maybe a fate worse than Anodyne. No one was willing to step forward and remove the pinned deity, for no one knew if he was in fact worse than Anodyne. “If we can capture you, then Anodyne will crush you in seconds. We have tried for generations to capture him to no avail.” “But if you recalled correctly, you did not capture me. Sylum did. I understand that you mortals have terrible memory but this is shocking for only a hundred years. Sylum gave the preachers of the time a spell to disable me, then he watched as you all strung me up how he said. So while it was done by your hands it was actually him, not you.” Xarius leaned back against his cross and attempted to obtain some form of comfort. “Sylum I would fear, but with your energy focused at me I know I could handle him too. Even if his lap dog Anodyne came to fight too.” “But if Anodyne does defeat you he will destroy us in the most creative of ways.” “Look your so-called god could not defeat a simple Holite who accidently ascended to god hood. While sure he confined him to one island he was unable to kill a new born god, he is a joke of a god. Follow a stronger god, follow one that can fight. You will know I can fight soon whether you follow me or not because I have nearly broken my bonds. I either leave my prison as a liberated king, or a psychotic murderer. The result is up to you.” Centre stage stood a broken looking individual bolted to a cross. A man with a microphone cried out to the cameras that circled the stage. “How long did we exhaust ourselves under the mad rule of Anodyne? How many lives have been claimed by his mood swings and games? How many years has it been since his last sighting? We are no longer bound to a god because he created our planet, tonight we give praise to a god that deserves praise.” Two men with large bolt cutters moved forward and removed the bolts sticking through the deity’s hand and feet, allowing him to drop to the stage. He cracked his bones and stood upwards, his beleaguered form transforming back into one of physical perfection. “Today …

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