One Shot

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After Erebus - One Shot
Post by Nadia "Osmosis Lass" Johansson on Mar 15, 2007, 5:32pm

After Erebus - One Shot
Despair.

Cover Description: A semi close up of Arthur staring blankly at the reader. In the background over his right shoulder is a vague shadowy monster of some sort. Over his left is a blonde teenage girl hugging her knees and burying her face into them.

Setting: Perhaps a week after Arthur left the infirmary after Seeing Red: Arthur and Nicolette, in a city in Canada.

Note for those using the Hellions Page Setup: There's black text in here that will blend in with the background for you. Just highlight any awkwardly placed gaps.

***

"Oh my God. I swear, on my life, the minute hand is actually moving backwards. Go ahead, look at it."

"That's nice."

"Are you looking?"

"Yeah."

"You don't look like you're looking."

"Peripheral vision, baby. I see all."

"Liar."

Dhalia rapidly turns around in her desk to pester somebody else. Perhaps somebody not so engrossed in, she would shudder, actually doing her work like Alice was. What a loser. Though she probably would never go so far as suggesting that the clock was going backwards, here anyway, Alice definitely could feel it dragging. (For the record, their positions could probably switch pretty damned easily in Law… honestly, it's like the guy devours any enthusiasm in the room and shunts it off to a far off dimension every time that he opens his mouth). But dragging or no, Alice is actually mildly interested in this English assignment which, she's fairly certain, hasn't happened since she was in the fourth grade. She mouths off one or two distracted responses to Dhalia such as "okay." and "Sure I am." without realizing that she isn't even talking to her anymore. She continues to write away as the majority of the class gets increasingly restless and begin to chatter, similar to Dhalia. It's infectious.

Luckily for these poor saps, the clock is not, in fact, moving backwards and soon enough 2:40 rolls around and the bell rings. Freedom! As the students begin packing their bags and making their exodus from the classroom as quickly as humanly possible (maybe more so?), Mrs. Gerges yells out over the shuffling that they should remember their reading assignment for tomorrow and that their essay is due in just a week. Approximately 10% of the class hears her. Half of those that do ignore it.

"Hey, Al. Any plans tonight?"

Alice shakes her head to Dhalia as they walk towards their lockers.

"Just going to start that essay. I'm sure that it's a new concept to you, but I want to avoid having to stay up all night right before it's due."

Dhalia just rolls her eyes. "Lame, bitch. Lame. You never do anything."

Taking the effort to shuffle her books into one hand so that she has the other freed up to give Dhalia the finger, Alice laughs the comment off. "You're exaggerating."

"Not, hey watch it, not even!" Crowded halls. It's like a zoo in there. "When's the last time I've seen you after three o'clock? When's the last time anybody saw you after we leave school? You're turning into a recluse. Like your-"

"Don't say it."

"You know it's true."

"Do. Not. Say. It."

"Your mother."

Alice shudders.

"It had to be done."

"Maybe… but it still hurts."

"Then let the healing begin. My cousin can get us into pub night down at UFT."

"Which pub?"

"Does it even matter?"

"Point."

"So Thursday?"

"Ugh… you realize that we still have to come to school on Friday?"

"Okay there, Mrs. Liddell."

Alice shudders again.

"Yeah, okay, I'll be there. I promise."

About ten minutes later while Alice walks home she processes every possibility that she can imagine on how to get out of having to fulfill her promise. Simply getting out of it would be easy enough. Getting out of it without getting Dhalia and everyone else incredibly mad at her is another thing all together. She's been ducking out of… "social functions" like this for the last few months. Alice enjoys underage drinking as much as the next lass, but going partying just plain isn't an option. It hasn't been for a few months and probably will not be for some time. Priorities. Other things simply have to come first.

She deliberately begins walking slower and slower the closer she gets to her apartment building. Once she's close enough to see it she's wishing she was back in the dragging English class. Oh, hell. She wishes was back in Mr. I Demand Your Enthusiasm For SUSTENANCE's Law class. Almost anywhere would be preferable to going home. She stops worrying about getting out of Pub Night with Dhalia and the gang and starts searching for an excuse for being late that won’t be an obvious lie.

She comes up with nothing.

She can feel the first pangs of it the moment she steps into the lobby but it quickly subsides. That probably wont last all that long. A couple minutes of small talk with the old couple from the fourth floor passes a few minutes. Yes, school is going just fine. Mom is doing well. Aaron? Oh, you know Aaron. That sounds great, I'll talk to Mom about it. Maybe on the weekend. And so on. Standard fare. She gets on the elevator. Eighth floor. Fifteenth unit. All the way down the hall. She's never particularly fond of what comes next but it always amused her that she has to walk the entirety of the hallway to get there. Such a convenient set up for long dreadful walks. Key into the door. Turn.

The walls are literally pulsing. Throbbing black veins run along them in seemingly random patterns. The pangs return the moment that she steps inside. The beating of the walls (is there a heart in there she sometimes wonders…) sounds far louder to her than it actually is, resonating within her eardrums.

"Hey. I'm home." She calls out.

"Good. You're late."

"I was talking to the Petrovs. They want us over for dinner on the weekend."

"Well, I do hate to disappoint them. Such a nice old couple. Fifty years this June… that's longevity."

"Sure, I guess."

"How was school."

"Pretty much the same as every school day for the last four years."

"That's nice. Why so cold? Come give mother dearest a hug."

Alice lets out a sigh as she leans against one of the less alive looking parts of the wall by the doorway. Every. Fucking. Day. Dropping her school bag by the door and kicking off her shoes, she trudges down the hallway towards the living room. Her Mom meets her part way, just in front of the entrance to the kitchen. She stands there with open arms. Alice embraces her. It feels the exact same way that it always feels. Cold. Soft. Rotting. Moving - as if she were nothing but a human shaped sack of maggots by this point.

"Aw. The love between a Mother and daughter. It warms the heart."

The creature whose name would require a minimum of seventeen tongues to speak in anyway that a human could understand it (so we'll just be calling him Quortoth because it's close, in the sense that a glass can hold close to the amount of water of a pool) sits on the leather two seater in the living room exceedingly pleased with himself. Quite possibly because he just pleased himself. He stands up, roughly nine feet tall. His skin's texture is like a very smooth rock. No horns on his head, though with his personality you would almost expect it. Claws on his hands and feet and the very tip of blades that no doubt extend farther protruding from his forearms aside, his body is rather smooth all over. From his bald head to his firm buttocks. His eyes are a solid, eerie yellow. His teeth (Not fangs. Teeth.) are pearly white.

The rest of him is pitch black.

"Come to me, girl."

No longer kept walking by Quortoth, Alice's mother collapses onto the floor as soon as Alice begins to approach the creature. She stops in front of him and stares. Quortoth waves a hand over her and the glamour she wears outside subsides. There are no massive differences between what stands in her living room now and what she goes outside with. Just a lot of little things. She looks thinner. Paler. Dry. A little unkempt. Tired. She looks very, very tired.

"Open wide."

She does. Quortoth leans in as if he's about to kiss her but at the last moment he simply open his mouth as well. They stand frozen like statues for a couple seconds before a smoky, yet somehow more substantial black mass leaves Alice through her mouth and enters Quortoth's. He shivers noticeably before taking a couple steps backwards and falling onto the couch. He's breathing a little bit heavier.

"… the day that stops being such a rush is the day that eternal life stops being worth living."

Alice herself falls to her knees and breaths just as heavily, maybe more so. She looks incredibly drained. All the same though, she looks a little bit brighter than she had a couple moments earlier. After catching her breath again she looks up to Quortoth.

"Can I go to my room? I have an essay to write."

He looks at her for a moment with a very thoughtful expression on his stony countenance.

"Sure. Go. But when you get there, strip. Then wait. It occurred to me that I've been on Earth for months now… surely I can do better than my left hand?"

Alice remains on the floor looking on incredulously, not entirely certain that she believes what she just heard. But instead of saying anything, ultimately, she stands up and begins to walk out of the living room to her quarters to do as she was told.

Before she could get very far at all however, she was met by a familiar face.

***

Erebus left me holding the bag. It's hilarious, really. When he was defeated by the Hellions and New Mutants in the Darkforce and I manage to claw my way into dominance, my first words were "I'm free." What a complete and utter crock. I'm as confined now as I ever was. The only real difference is that I've been moved into a different cell. Erebus got to run around for over three years using our body to commit nearly every horror imaginable. Just three years. I really wouldn't have imagined that so much damage could be done in so little time. But then, Erebus proved that assumption wrong. And now, as far as I can tell, he is as buried inside of me as I was buried inside of him. He's gone, for all intents and purposes. But I'm left holding the bag. Everything that he's done, I'm responsible for. He commits all the crimes… and I'm left to do the time.

It's a long road. A very long road. In, perhaps, 70% of the cases there simply is nobody left alive for me to attempt to make it up to. Which you would think lightens up my load considerably, but when you consider how massive that final 30% is you realize that I still might die of old age before I get around to everybody. If I'm lucky, somebody very angry and unforgiving will get to me first. But hey, in the genetic lottery that is mutation I got the power that killed half the people at my birthday party and locked me in the Darkforce for months on end until a being of unspeakable horror was generated within me. So it's a fair bet that luck probably won’t be on my side.

On some level, the first group - the 70% that are simply dead - are the lucky ones. You might ask "Hey, they're dead. How lucky can they be?" Very. If they're dead, Erebus probably did it quickly. And if he didn't, it lasted a week at most before he got bored and moved on. But the ones still alive… well they've been suffering all manner of hells for quite some time. Nicolette… she wasn't unique. Well, maybe the fact that Erebus possessed actual disdain for her as opposed to choosing her because she looked entertaining to torture. That may have been unique. But she was far from the first to go through his mind games, his soul games, and his tortures in the Darkforce. Those are the ones still alive and plagued by whatever metaphysical afflictions Erebus saw fit to give them and forced to live with them. They're the ones I have to get to. To help. To undo what Erebus did. And maybe, just maybe, find redemption. The question still plagues me - with one half of my soul being evil personified and the other half being, well, as good as your average human is capable of being… just where do I go when this is all over? When we're dead, whose deeds will count for more?

A question for another time. Today I begin my backwards trip through all of the things that Erebus has done. Some situations… are simply more dire than others. This is such a situation. Mississauga, Ontario. Canada. It was a couple months before Shinobi Shaw managed to track Erebus down and offer him membership to the Hellions. He was taking a rare break from murder and mayhem and all that good stuff to recharge his batteries or some crap like that. To come up with new ideas. Why he chose a glorified suburb to do it in is beyond me. The fact that he was on a strict "no-kill" break is probably the reason that the person I'm approaching today even ended up with this fate…

He met a girl. Her name was Alice. He was having a gay old time freaking out the employees at a Pizza Pizza restaurant near a high school with his appearance. No killing, but he had to amuse himself somehow, right? Alice and friends showed up on their lunch break (or maybe they were just cutting a boring class, I don't know). Most of them joined the bright orange wearing employees in being freaked out by the mutie. Alice was clearly amused. Her chuckling instead of reeling back in horror at the man of skin as dark as a starless night is what got his attention and probably cost her more than she could imagine. Dark as a starless night. That's actually how he describes himself. So fond of cheap theatrics. And while he would never admit it, the theatrics are, indeed, cheap.

He teleported away, his fun already had, but his mind wandered back to the flatscan that wasn't remotely afraid of him. She was hot, he had time to kill - so he tracked her down after school was out. While talking to her Erebus found two things out. The first being that he sucked at telling whether people were mutants or not. Not a flatscan at all, Alice possessed hypnotic, illusion casting capabilities as a result of her mutation. The second thing that Erebus found out was that he was hopelessly smitten with her.

For a few weeks it played out like most boring teen relationships that you could imagine, except for a few minor details that could only possibly arise in the case of a relationship between mutants. Such as, for example, Erebus whisking her away to foreign countries for lunch and Alice making people embarrass themselves for both of their amusement. A good time was had by all.

Which Erebus, eventually, realized was a serious problem.

He was Erebus. Bringer of fear. God of the Darkforce. He leaves trails of bodies in his wake wherever he goes. To but know him is to despair. How was he happy with a vapid, bubbly, teen relationship with a very much human girl? It kept him up at night. The answer came to him in a flash of inspiration - I wasn't nearly as destroyed as he thought I was. This was back before we even knew that Kelly existed and long before the battle with Nexus. As such, at this point we were still integrated. I was weak, shunted off into a far corner of his soul, but I was there and I was inside of him. And parts of me influenced his actions. He hated everything about me. That I was human, and thus, he was human. The discovery that I had not been completely eradicated, and what was worse, was influencing the things that he did and the feelings that he felt sent him flying into rage. Any association with me pissed him off. Nicolette calling him by my name on their first meeting was most of the reason he hated her so damned much. Knowing that you have a human component makes it difficult to maintain a God complex.

So. Back to him flying into a rage. He realized that my capacity for emotion was leading him into falling in love with this girl. He couldn't have that. He lifted the no killing rule. Alice returned to her apartment one day to a dead brother and mother and grinning Erebus. To but know him is to despair. She broke down into despair, rage and above all, confusion. After all, she was unaware until that point Erebus could so much as harm a fly. Erebus had been grinning for her sake. In his mind, it was strictly business. He could have sent her to the Darkforce like he did to Nicolette, but that would have taken too long. He had to prove to himself that he was still a monster and he had to do it very fast. He manipulated her soul directly, not using the Darkforce to do it for him. Despair. That was the word of the day. That would be, in fact, the word of everyday from then on for Alice. Erebus turned her into an infinite well of despair. It would make up the entirety of her soul to the point where it just bleeds off of her. He saw to it that her will was completely and utterly shattered. He wanted her resigned to her fate. And what a fate it was.

His proof of his monstrosity was barely started. He plunged into the deepest corners of the Darkforce to find a demon known as Quortoth - or at least that's as close as I can get my mouth to saying it. Which isn't very close at all. Beside the point. He was a one time servant and current fugitive from one of the Fear Lords. He had taken to the Darkforce to hide from his less than benevolent master. Erebus provided him a different option. Between a spell furnished by Quortoth and Darkforce wraiths found, subjugated and trapped in the walls of the apartment by Erebus, they were able to create a set up where any probing magics would note only the wraiths and then pass on. Quortoth could stay there, safe from the angered Fear Lord for all eternity if he wanted to. But there was a further benefit to Quortoth that truly sealed the deal.

Alice was eternally filled with and producing despair - the emotion on which Quortoth and creatures like him feed upon. Between Alice and the apartment, he was provided with an infinite source of sustenance and a place where his old master could not find him. And said source of sustenance already had her will broken down so she would simply never have the heart or the drive to run away or to resist. A sweet deal for an underachiever from Hell. Even if Alice ever found her willpower again, the nature of the constantly overwhelming despair within her was such that she could go two days, max, before finding herself so overrun that she would simply fall into the fetal position and stay there. She needed Quortoth to feed on her for her to be able to function at all.

Erebus was quite pleased with himself.

Me? Not so much. Priorities. There are certain atrocities that have to be remedied first. Alice has been at the demon's mercy for months now. Others have suffered for longer periods of time… but this is pressing. Erebus put as much energy into forgetting about Alice as possible but she was the first person to come to mind when deciding which of his sins to subvert. I don't have feelings for her… I don't think. That was Erebus, though he used my emotions to do it. But I think the fact that I'm actually involved in this one, in some capacity, makes me feel like it's more my responsibility than most of the others.

I'm still feeling a little bit beat up - only a week has passed since Erebus' battle after all. Taking refuge in the Darkforce allowed me to bounce back far quicker than I could have out here, but I'm not back to full capacity just yet. Which is a damned shame… Quortoth outclasses me on essentially every level. Taking another week to heal would be ideal. Nah. Erebus never having been born would have been ideal. Another week would just be a nice thing to have. But I can't really justify taking another week, knowing what Alice is suffering from. So to Mississauga I go.

It takes me a while to find the place. It was hard for him, but Erebus was capable of hiding his memories from me. He didn't do it often, because there really were few things that he cared whether I knew or not. Plus, like I said, it was hard. But this was something that he wanted to forget as well, so the level of repression is enormous. We spent about a month here, but it's all new to me. I recall details about the events that took place here fairly clearly - those details were freed up upon his defeat. But the geography of the city is all guarded. I can't remember where she is.

I spend a lot of time teleporting around the city looking for anything remotely familiar looking, but find nothing. I begin to get really frustrated with it when I slap my self across the forehead. It was obvious.

Darkforce wraiths.

A dozen of them are conjured and trapped within the walls of the apartment, working in concert with Quortoth's spell to keep any mystic probes from finding him. Erebus put them there. And with all of his powers… I can track them. It takes a minute. It's no New York, but it's a big city all the same. But I find them soon enough. The twelve wraiths in one place stand out like a sore thumb really. I teleport over there immediately. I land on the balcony and look in. From the looks of things, I could have stood to arrive a few minutes earlier - Quortoth just finished feeding on Alice. But, if takes every last breath in my body, I intend to see that this was the last time.


Re: After Erebus - The Long Road #1
Post by Nadia "Osmosis Lass" Johansson on Mar 15, 2007, 5:32pm

Part of me wants to just rip my way inside, but I can't do that just yet. Instead, I teleport inside. I'm met immediately by a worn and ragged Alice. She stares at me with a look I can't quite identify. Familiarity is certainly there. We have different skin colors, hair colors and I have pupils where he does not, but the features and shape of my and Erebus' bodies is the exact same. I think that rage is in there somewhere. But she can't bring it to the surface. Willpower… shattered.

"… Erebus?"

"I must say Erebus, I'm about as surprised by this reappearance as she is. You were fairly clear last we met that I would never see you again.

Quortoth smiles.

"Not that I'm not glad for the company…" He waves a hand and Alice's mother's corpse rises to its feet and waves. "The stiffs around here aren't exactly big on conversation. How have things been?"

I stare at the corpse and fight the urge to throw up. Erebus was the one to kill her but when he left she was still fairly… fresh.

"So… you kept her around."

Quortoth laughs a little.

"Oh, sure. Need to keep up appearances from time to time." He waves his hand again. A glamour covers the rotting corpse with the image of Mrs. Liddell as she looked in life. She speaks the same overly pleasant voice she had in life.

"Oh, hey Erebus! How has life been treating you? A fresh batch of cookies should be done any minute now, you should stay a while and have some!"

"You know. Parent-teacher meetings, visiting neighbors, that sort of thing. She has uses."

I'm a little curious about what other uses he's talking about but I would rather not think about that. He raises one of the ridges over his eyes - because he has no eyebrows.

"What's with the new look?"

I shrug very lightly.

"A change was in order."

Quortoth screw up his face in disagreement.

"Change… I think it was unnecessary. The black skin and white hair suited you. Besides, change can be overrated in general. I learned that the hard way… try to kill one Fear Lord and spend the next millennia running and hiding…

He brightens up. As much as a demon that's blacker than tar is capable of brightening up.

"But hey, thanks to you, I have an indefinite solution to that problem. Thanks again, Erebus."

I figure it's time to stop humoring him.

"Sorry. Erebus doesn't live here anymore."

Alice proceeds to look even more confused. Quortoth just stares. Not just at me, but through me. Just like Erebus had a tendency to do. Somehow… someway… he grimaces and smiles at the same time.

"Ah. You. Arthur, right? The human half of Erebus. You know, when hanging in the lower realms, he would deny vehemently to me and my ilk that there was any human left in his soul. And when I say vehemently, I should really say violently. Oh, the bodies left in his wake. Apparently, he found demons as satisfying to wipe out as humans. Granted, only the low caste dregs. Nobody like me."

For maybe ten seconds, we just stare at each other.

"So you've guessed at why I'm here then?"

"Oh, I have an inkling or two. Erebus has been dispatched… leaving a little man with too strong of a conscience. Do the smart thing and flee this place, Arthur Allan. Surely you know that this is hopeless?"

I force a smile for him.

"That's the thing about being the good half - I have an abundance of hope. This girl is free of you Quortoth. You will never see her again."

Quortoth laughs at that one.

"Really? Such an impressive claim for such a little mutant. Just how do you intent to back it up?"

I blink and Alice is teleported into her room. Dark armor forms underneath my cloak and blades of Darkforce erupt from my forearms.

"Take a guess."

Not inspiring confidence, Quortoth laughs again.

"Hah! Spunk. I like that, boy. I like it a lot. Erebus was quite the entertainer but he wouldn't challenge beings above him. Partly out of respect, partly out of a strong self preservation instinct. But you clearly have no issues engaging in battles above your station. That's respectable. So respectable, in fact, that I'll see to it that you get to die quickly."

He attempts to make good on his word very quickly. The blades in his wrist protrude fully and he rushes me. But I'm pretty fast myself. I teleport behind him and watch as he goes on and slices the glamoured Mrs. Liddell in half in my place.

"Fuck. I'll have to sew her back together."

"If you're around long enough."

My turn. Rushing through the air towards him, looking like a wavy, black, ghost thanks to my cloak, I slash his hide with both of my blades. He winces a little bit, but I don't leave so much as a scar on his stony skin. A back hand throws me across the room and crashing through an oddly placed desk and into the wall. The armor eats most of the damage, but I can still feel it. He leaps towards me, intending to impale me upon landing. He doesn't get that far. A facsimile of the Hulk appears and catches him in mid air. It immediately slams him into the ground and begins pounding on him. I'm not one to let a prime opportunity go to waste, so I generate back up for the Hulk. Thor, Hercules, Wonder Man, the Thing and more. The room is soon crowded with dark, replicated heroes fighting to bash on the fallen Quortoth. It looks like things are swinging my way for all of fifteen seconds.

I was expecting him to burst through the constructs on pure strength alone. That's why I flooded him with so many of them. But then, strength isn't the reason he's beyond me. Magic is. Sure, the Darkforce is supernatural, but I have no gift with typical spells. Quortoth, on the other hand, does. I don't see what he does or hear what he says but the next time I do see him, he's enveloped in a bright field that I can't identify and every construct that he touches dissolves instantly.

"Sorry boy. Try something else."

Oh, shit. I had thought that if I could lure him to the Darkforce that it would be possible for me to take him on my own, but with whatever this is in his arsenal, he would be as immune to me there as he is here. Though futile, I generate all manner of whips and chains to lash him and bind him and hold him back for even a second, but it all dissipates on contact. Even Kelly's powers weren't this good at stopping me. Not even close. He renews the attack that he was attempting when the Hulk cut in by lunging at me with one of his forearm blades. I dodge to the side and it gets embedded in the wall. I take off down the hallway as he pulls himself out. I leave in my wake a fell beast out of my imagination that there really isn't a name for.

As take off down the next hallway towards Alice's room I hear him bellow.

"Have you simply not learned yet boy? Your Darkforce powers are useless against-"

He gets cut off by the Beast-Without-A-Name exploding into a thousand sharp shards. A short cry confirms that his field isn't destroying my constructs completely instantaneously since the fast moving shards got to him before they could fade away. But I doubt that will delay him more than a few seconds. In all likelihood, all that I've done is make him mad. Because luck is clearly on my side, I have to go through all three doors to find the bedroom Alice is in. She's just sitting on the edge of her bed, laptop on her lap. Typing. Nude. Not wanting to think about why she stripped, I wave a hand and she finds herself in clothing constructs.

"Come. In a minute this is all going to be like a bad dream…"

Being subjugated to my and Quortoth's will, she rises to approach me without question. I extend a hand towards her but get yanked backwards before mine and hers can connect. The next thing I know, I'm being held up, face to face, with Quortoth. I notice many punctures from my last attack. But his field is still up and from mere proximity to it, my armor and cloak begin to dissolve.

"Surely you didn't think me so easily dispatched? As I was saying, your Darkforce powers are useless against me."

"Darkness."

"What?"

"Darkness powers. Not Darkforce powers. I can manipulate any darkness, not simply that which is born within the Darkforce Dimension. For example?"

The arm that he isn't using to hold me up slashes the connected blade across his stomach in a swift movement. Screaming out, he throws me into Alice's room and grabs his stomach to keep the contents from spilling out while he heals it.

"ARG! Forget what I said boy! Your death will last a thousand years! I have ways of making you live that long! You thought Erebus could create agony? You know nothing!"

I rush to Alice and place my hands on face immediately. His control is such that the only reason I was able to do that was because he didn't expect me to do something like commandeering his body. It won’t work a second time. I have to work quickly. So I do. Nicolette refused my assistance… wouldn't let me undo the damage that the Darkforce had wrought. Typically, I would respect somebody not wanting me to touch their souls. But Alice has been left so screwed up that she simply is in no place to make such a decision on her own. And given the circumstances of this case, I may not have given her the choice even if she did have enough of her will and faculties to say no. This needs happen.

I delve through her soul. Considering all the damage that can be caused through this process, it is incredibly easy to cause in the first place and only a little bit harder to undo. The despair permeates the entirety of her soul, but I command it to recede. So much built up anguish… I minimalize what I can and take what I can't into myself. I'm better suited to deal with it. The hardest part, really, is freeing her spirit. Returning her free will to her. It's locked away in the very core of her soul. I'm there. I'm tearing away at the prison. Then Quortoth's blade is slashed against my back. Disconnecting from her, I cry out and fall to the floor.

"Quit bitching, boy. It's a shallow cut. Like I told you - your death will last for a millennia. Her though? She's no longer of use. She dies now."

As I watch him raise his sword I wonder if I freed her will or not. It would take a while for it to show in her face or her movements. I realize that it doesn't matter. I have to do it now.

"I told you that you would never again see this girl! Now I make good on that oath!"

The black veins in the walls disappear. Quortoth swings around wildly, looking for them, even poking his head out into the hallway but he will find nothing. They are gone.

W-what have you done, boy! What have you done!"

"You can't guess? Your cloaking spell only worked so long as you had another supernatural essence to present to any probing spells in your place. Erebus provided those essences by hunting down twelve wraiths in the Darkforce, bending them to his will, and conjuring them in this dimension as parts of the walls. I on the other hand… just took them away. Guess what that means?"

He doesn't have to. The walls of the apartment seem to disappear, as does the ceiling. In fact, aside from Alice's room, the rest of the apartment building seems to be gone except for us, the floor and the furniture. And outside is nothing but a howling void.

"You have no idea what you brought here!", Quortoth shrieks, with fear in his voice.

"Oh, I know exactly what I've brought here. I met them, in fact before I came. We have a deal. I mean, with Erebus faded, the deal you had with him is gone with him. I'm free to make new ones."

"The boy speaks truth, Quortoth. It's been a long time."

A pale skinned being, garbed in black with a cape appears within the room. His arms are folded and he stares intently at Quortoth.

"… just you?" He begins to chuckle a little bit but he's clearly still uneasy. "Leave while you can, D'Spayre. You didn't possess the power to stop me a thousand years ago, and you don't have it now."

D'Spayre cocks his head to one side.

"Ah. Yes. A thousand years ago. When you rebelled against the master. Your very creator! And attempted to wrest his power, his position away from him. You assumed that because he was sealed away, he couldn't possibly possess enough power to endure you and your fellow insurgents."

D'Spayre smiles.

"Though you learned you were wrong the hard way. Over the past thousand years, every last demon from your pitiful little army has been brought forth and judged, Quortoth. It is now your turn.

Quortoth is still uneasy but defiant nonetheless.

"Yeah? You and what army? You're ignoring the fact that between you and the boy here you don't come close to halving my power!

A thoughtful expression passes over D'Spayre's face.

"An exaggeration. But not one without some merit. But no, Quortoth. It is only your ilk that requires armies to go to war. Our Lord… he is a force all his own.

Out of the howling void emerges a massive form. Blue and imposing, he wears bands on his arms and possesses a head reminiscent of an octopus. Veins bulge from his massive head. Yellow, piercing eyes bore right through Quortoth.

"…impossible. You hear me! Impossible! I deny you! The Lord Dweller In Darkness was bound away from the realm by the sorceress Zhered-Na with aid from Agamotto and Valka! You cannot be here!"

The Dweller simply stares for a moment before uttering in his monstrous, terrifying voice,

Can't I?

"Nonononono, this is wrong, this isn't supposed to happen…"

Quortoth backs away but there is nowhere for him to go. A step more, and he would fall into an endless abyss. I look to Alice and am glad to see that neither D’Spayre nor the Dweller are taking any notice of her whatsoever. These are beings that feed on fear and despair. By our agreement, I would reveal the location of Quortoth to them by removing the wraiths that his spell was dependent on. I could have done that at any time. But if Alice had still been emanating despair when they arrived, there was no chance that they wouldn't have taken her to feed on. I needed to heal her soul first. I had hoped I could destroy Quortoth on my own, but really, knew it would never work. Thus my gambit - who better to deal with a demon than a stronger one?

The Dweller in Darkness extends an arm towards Quortoth. He panics. Quortoth leaps at the Dweller and attempts to slice at his hand, but he is stopped on the way there. An incantation uttered in so guttural a tone that I can't make out any of it escapes from the Dweller's mouth (assuming there's a mouth under those tentacles). In a bright flash, Quortoth falls to the ground.

Inside out.

Still alive, he screams a scream that I just know will haunt me at nights.

Take him, D'Spayre. He will be judged. And punished. A thousand years for every one that he spent running.

"As you command." D'Spayre bows. Grabbing Quortoth, who is still screaming by the way, he flies off into the void. I, Alice and the Dweller simply stand there for a minute, none of us talking. Quortoth's scream persists for sometime. Finally, the Dweller In Darkness breaks the silence.

You fulfilled your end of the bargain boy. A boon. That was your price for offering us the renegade fear demon Quortoth. A single boon. Speak it.

Getting a gift from a demon… it definitely feels wrong all over. But what I'm going to ask for… I need it.

"My soul… it is splintered. Into two halves. The good, which is me. And the unspeakable evil which is the entity known as Erebus. He was recently defeated and buried deep within me. But I don't feel that it will stay that way forever. For my boon, I want him removed, our souls disconnected entirely, and Erebus banished to whatever far corner that you deem fit. That is the reward that I choose."

Dweller In Darkness simply stares at me. His piercing eyes seem to glow an even brighter yellow. Then he speaks.

What you speak of is impossible. It cannot be done by an external entity. The influence of the Darkforce Dimension has permeated your soul. Every inch of it. Even what you call, "the good." More than a taint, it is a claim. The Darkforce Dimension has priority over your split soul Arthur-Erebus. It has claim over you. Nobody else may touch it. Not even me. Not even Death herself. When your mortal life expires… the Darkforce will be your afterlife. Your boon cannot be granted. Yet, in attempting it, I have fulfilled all requirements to you. Another boon shall not be issued. We are even. Pray to your Darkforce that you never see me again.

The moment he finished talking he was gone. As was the howling, infinite void. I was standing in Alice's room, alone with her. And I was crushed. I fell to my knees and struck the ground repeatedly. I had resigned myself to responsibility for Erebus' actions. But I had truly believed that the Dweller would be able to take him away from me and erase him as a potential threat, forever. What's worse, I have an answer to the question that has plagued me. It doesn't matter whose deeds count for more, between me and Erebus. the only Heaven or Hell that we will ever know is that of the Darkforce. It's as if nothing I do here even matters…

But no. That can't be right, can it? Even if I'm cheated out of an eternal reward, any good that I do is validated by the content of the actions. That's right. Right? It has to be.

I get up and look to Alice. While I was hurting my hands on the floor, she was getting dressed in real clothes. Probably a good idea. She looks at me blankly. That's her face. Her soul… is conflicted. Too many feelings for me to pick out a dominant one. Anger, sadness, mourning, depression. But there's also joy, liberation, hope… and love. Leftovers from her time with Erebus. No feeling is dominant. They're all in competition with each other. Both the ones I mentioned and so many more. To the point where all that she can muster is a blank stare. I decide that I have to talk first. Imagine that she picked up a certain amount of it… but she needs to know everything.

"Look, Alice-"

"Sleep."

***

I wake up at 4 AM. I'm lying on the floor and trying to remember what happened. Then, when I do, I try to figure out how the hell it happened. Then it comes back to me. Mutant. Hypnotist and illusion caster. Though she only bothered to use the hypnotizing capabilities this time. I stagger to my feet and begin to look around. Some of her stuff is missing. Enough to fit in, oh, say a garbage bag. She's gone. And I'm feeling an empty, unsatisfied feeling inside. I have no idea what's going on here.

She didn't make me kill myself, like part of me thought she would when I was coming here. She didn't even hurt me in the slightest, which it was completely in her power to do. She left me alone, packed her things and hit the road. I don't know what any of that means. She couldn't have caught more than bits and pieces of my situation from those conversations. It couldn't have possibly been enough for her to forgive me. And even if she had forgiven me, why would she knock me out and leave instead of talking to me? On the same note, if she hasn't forgiven me at all, why leave me unharmed? She didn't so much as call the police to get me while I was knocked out. Nicolette may not have killed me but she made it abundantly clear how she felt about me.

Alice? I've got nothing. Part of me is satisfied for having released her from the hell that Erebus put her in. But part of me is emptier than I have words to express. There was no resolution here. I have no idea if she holds me responsible for the actions of Erebus. I don't even know if she fully understands my relationship to Erebus.

I've got nothing.

I leave the apartment. The mundane way - by walking. Yeah. A walk. I need that. A very long walk. I need to think. This was the first step on a long path, and it's left a sour taste in my mouth. It would have been more satisfying for her to simply choose to hate me. But nothing? That combines with the truth of what happens when I die to make this a very ominous start. I need time to think.

I leave the building and circle the block until the sun rises.


Re: After Erebus - The Long Road #1
Post by Nadia "Osmosis Lass" Johansson on Mar 15, 2007, 5:45pm

Okay, Post writing writer's notes, as I always do.

- The city this takes place in is where I live. The High school Alice went to was the same as mine, though I never got around to naming it in the story. Mrs. Gerges was my grade 12 English teacher. And I, indeed, had a student teacher for Law for a few weeks that sucked the enthusiasm right out of the students. Hell, Alice's apartment and room are also both mine. I don't know why I did that, but I did.

- Not the last you're seeing of Alice, but worry not GMs, I'm referring to other fics, not introducing her to the game.

- At over 7500 words I think this is my longest fic to date. I get the feeling that if it bombs like my last Erebus/Arthur fic did, it will be more because nobody wants to read this much, more than the shoddy quality.

- I don't know what Dweller In Darkness' timeline is like. I know at some point he gets freed from his prison, but I don't know if that's happened yet by this point in our continuity. Honestly, it doesn't matter. If he hasn't been released yet, just assume it was an Avatar.

- I may call this issue #1, but as of yet there are exactly zero plans for further issues. Maybe if something hits me.

- Arthur clearly can't, and probably never will, catch a break.

- On the off chance that you checked it when it first went up, like Sephula, and saw it disappear, this PM I sent him explains why.

Quote:When I was running it through the spell check in word, occasionally the mouse was double clicking at times that I didn't intend it to. As a result, every so often, I was fixing spelling errors that I didn't want fixed. For example, and this is a biggie, every single instance of the name of the main antagonist was changed to "Quartet."

I didn't notice until I had already posted it. I took it down to fix that. There are probably other similar errors.

I'll go through it eventually, but if you catch any, please post what they are.

- Being completely honest here, I know very little about Dweller In Darkness and D'Spayre. Basically I skimmed wikipedia. But what I did know was that they were beings that lorded over fear and fed on despair. I figured, with Quortoth being a similar demon, the best choice of entities to put the smack down on him would be these two. And I had to choose some entity because I didn't want Arthur to be able to handle Quortoth on his own. I considered Nightmare, but he's slightly more high profile and I figured there was a greater chance somebody would want to use him, and I didn't want to take him off the table.

Not that these two are in anyway off the table. Basically, what happened here amounts to a cameo for them.


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