Be sure to read Incompositus before this.

The Black King’s Sword arcs downward [Essum-] at a furious rate of speed, but I still feel as if I am caught in slow motion. Dark flames [No-] trail the blade as it travels, seeming to split the air itself as it glides to Balance’s jugular. Anticipation and triumph build up in me as it reaches his neck-

-And stops. What- Balance’s hand closes around the blade. But that is not what stopped it. My eyes travel farther, and I see what did. My other hand is clamped in a vice grip around my wrist. What is [Engineered-] happening? The [Revenge-] voice builds, growing to a shrill and painful [Defeat-] cacophony in my mind. Balance attempts to stand, wrenching the Black King’s sword from my grasp as I stumble backward, clutching my head. [What-] The voice begins to [End-] drown out my own [Praetorious-] thoughts, and I feel it [Destroy] overtaking me furiously, drowning [You did this-] me. My vision [Angela-] grows hazy-[Get out of my head, Essum!]

My vision focuses sharply again. I see Balance holding the Black King’s Sword, looking somewhat dumbfounded. I can feel Essum inside me, squirming in rage and confusion [How-]. I look at my hands, the ceramic fingers ending in wicked points. So this is what I’ve become. They fill me with revulsion. Looking down, I can see that my body is covered in the horrific material. I am suddenly aware of it, the cold evil boring into me, consuming me. Without being fully conscious of what I am doing, I dig into my ceramic face with my fingers. I can feel the injury without feeling pain as I attempt to rip it away. Shards of ceramic fall to the ground as my hands search for other cracks and recesses, digging into and tearing away the ceramic where I find it. I realize, suddenly, that my throat is on fire from the scream I didn’t know was exiting my mouth. I tear still at my face, and then begin ramming my clawed fingers into my shoulders and neck, trying to scrape loose the material. I look down, and what I see makes me cringe with disgust.

A hole in my chest, with a small orb of black flame burning grotesquely at its center. I touch it gingerly, and pain, real pain, shoots through my hand, searing into my brain so deeply that I cry out. In that instant, however, I realize what I must do. I plunge my left hand into my chest, gasping in the sudden agony. My hand closes around the flame, and it sears into it, the pain more than anything I have ever imagined. I watch as the ceramic of my hand is atomized, followed by my skin. My flesh is flayed away slowly as I try to pull away the accursed flame. My eyes lose focus, and I feel as if I am weakening. Dying. It feels like I am ripping out my own heart. I am aware of my vocal chords, or whatever serves their purpose, burning and stinging, my cry of agony growing louder. Suddenly, something seems to give way, and the flame tears free from my chest. A roaring, screeching sound ensues as it expands, coalescing in the air. My limbs suddenly seem to go limp, as if my bones had disappeared with the flame. Looking at my left hand, however, I can see that the opposite is true. Only bones remain of it and half of my left forearm. I slump over, rolling painfully onto my back.

Through half-opened eyes, I can see Balance walking toward me, his weapon pointed at my throat. “Who are you?” he demands of me, the blade pressing into my neck.

“I… am not… your primary concern…” I manage to rasp out. Balance turns around, seeing what I see. The black flame has formed into a shape, purely black and radiating hatred. I watch Essum reform, this time having no cloak to cover his appearance. Essum has no legs, a torso seemingly made of a deep black smoke hovering in the air. Skeletal arms form, longer than they should be, from the shoulder sockets, hands flexing grotesquely. I see his face. Or rather, their faces. It changes constantly, twisting and contorting disgustingly into various features, some human and some not. I can tell instinctively that they are the faces of all the beings he’s consumed. All of the beings I’ve consumed. I see Angela’s face, black and smoky, atop Essum’s neck. I see my own. My eyes close.

I awake vividly aware of being slammed into a wall. I open my eyes as Balance slams me again into the stone column. “Who are you?” he demands of me. I cough and sputter at first, disoriented.

“My name… is Praetorious…” I manage to say, the words beginning to come more easily. “A very long time ago, Essum robbed me of the person I love the most. I became a monster to get revenge, the Objects consuming me until I forgot why I was a Seeker in the first place..." I blink, memories coming back to me. "I killed and destroyed indiscriminately to get the Objects, to try to have my revenge, but I didn't know who I was avenging or who I was revenging against. And then Essum found me again. Used me as his vessel. I was engineered.”

Balance raises his weapon, pointing it at my chest. “That won’t do you much good,” I tell him, pointing to the hole that remains there. “You could try decapitating me, if you really wanted to.” He considers it briefly before lowering his weapon. “What happened to Essum?” I ask of him.

“Essum is gone,” Balance says as his glance wanders briefly to two halves of the Black King’s Sword, “I banished him back in time, to grapple with my predecessor for eternity. He will never emerge again.”

“That’s good to hear,” I say as I manage to stand upright, swaying slightly. I look at the Black King’s sword, and reflected in the blade, I can see my own face. It is pale, unnaturally so, and my eyes have changed. The irises are a bright gold, the sclera deep black. Looking down at my left hand, I see that the flesh is gone, only the bone remaining, somehow still held together. Balance looks at me, asking me what both of us are thinking.

“What are you?”

I try to think for a moment, but eventually give up. “I have no idea.”

“Are we allies?”

I pause to consider that question, trying to focus my swimming thoughts. “No, I don’t think we are. There was some merit in what Essum thought. Your role is to temporarily impose order upon the chaos. It is futile. But Essum’s was wrong, too. He wanted to bring about the chaos, try to force it. I don’t think it works that way.”

“Then what is the answer?” Balance asks me.

“Do what you’re doing,” I tell Balance, “and I won’t stand in your way. I have my own answers to find. My own crimes to deal with. As for you, Essum’s legions have surely killed millions. I’m sure you’ll have plenty to balance in the years to come. But know this: some day, the world will crumble. The universe will burn, and existence will unravel. And even you won’t be able to stop it.”

I walk to the edge of the Tower, gazing down at the massive drop. Essum’s freakish creatures are gone, piles of ash left where they once were. I have no doubt that his legions met a similar fate. I turn toward Balance.

“Cherish her,” I tell him, gesturing to his unconscious former paramour, “I don’t know when the end will come, but it will be soon.”

I hold my arms out slightly, my heels at the edge. “Wait!” Balance yells to me, “will we ever meet again?”

“I doubt it.”

I close my eyes, and feel the tug of gravity, slowly at first, then increasingly strong as I lean back. Eventually, I feel my feet leave the platform, and I fall backward. I feel the wind rushing past my face as I plummet, and I relax. I can almost hear Angela’s voice in my mind, whispering things I cannot make out. I can almost see her face. For the first time in decades, I feel content, happy. I smile.

I fall forever.


Conclusion of the series Ieiunitas, Infectus, Talius.
Last modified on 2009-08-12 17:09:08Average Rating: 5 / 5 (2 votes)Viewed 7023 times

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