The Destroyer and the Dead God
–The Age of Death,
Ki'minsyllessil, Post Exodus 586–
Journey’s end . . .
After a rampage of destruction that took him through some of the darkest realms of the universe, he had finally arrived – Ki'minsyllessil, the darkest world yet.
This was it . . . the source. He sensed it, hidden somewhere deep within the colossal trunk of the tower-like tree – the Graelic. The tree once worshipped by the elves as a god of purity and life, had been poisoned by an undead heart that was corrupt and evil beyond imagining.
The moment his bare foot touched the world’s soil the source sensed him as well. The roots that covered the land were suddenly ripping free from the ground, uncoiling in his direction. A swarm of vines fell from the sky, darting towards him.
But it didn’t matter . . . it was time to do what he was born to do. It was time to destroy the source, to tear out the hellish heart and send it back to the Void where it belonged.
“You’re telling me Anon’s somewhere up there?” Alec asked, as if oblivious to the ten foot thick black root rising up above his head, or the many barbed vines slithering from the sky.
If Anon was truly up there, then why couldn’t he sense him? In the tree . . . in the world, he felt only madness and death. He craned his neck upwards, but saw only an endless black trunk and a sky full of skeletal branches.
“Unfortunately, yes,” his companion and guide, the Dead God Imorbis whispered in reply.
Anon . . . if Imorbis was to be believed (even after tearing through his mind, Alec wasn’t sure he was) Anon could very well be a true god, or at the least a direct conduit to the power of this so-called Maker. And the tree had taken him! If so, how in the dead was he supposed to prevail when even the Maker had not? Considering the ominous sight of the towering tree in front of him and the depths of evil within, he began to wonder how far he could trust Imorbis – or his own power for that matter, so closely tied were the two. Could he face such an evil? Did he actually have a choice? The only certainty was that this was his destiny, he had to face this evil – and if his life was to have any meaning . . . he had to win.
“Well then, if Anon’s up there, you may want to leave now, Imorbis,” Alec said, sparing the former Dead God a backward glance. “I’m not sure what’s gonna happen when I try to save him . . . but I can guarantee you it won’t be good.”
As ever, Imorbis wore a skin of dark energy that turned him into a living shadow. But somehow, in this place, he appeared more solid and real and could have almost passed for a living being. Alec didn’t have to read his mind to tell that the Dead God was eager to see his plan fulfilled and had no intention of leaving. He had planned for ages for this moment, and Alec knew nothing would keep him from missing it – this was Imorbis’ destiny as well. Alec had seen the Dead God’s mind, and the countless evils he had unleashed upon the universe. He could even make a strong case that the spread of the Plague was his doing – without a doubt it was his creation. Still though, Alec saw something else in the being when he tore through his mind. Hidden deep within the pile of shadows and fleshless bones there existed the remnants of a gifted and highly intelligent young man who was once capable of love, and cared deeply for those he called friends. The infection erased such thoughts – to be replaced by the Hunger, but now, nearly devoid of the dark power, bits and pieces of that young man began to return. Despite all the evil that Imorbis had done, he was trying to set things right – a feeling Alec knew well. Because of that, Alec couldn’t help but feel a shred of sympathy for him, and felt it necessary to at least offer up a warning before he unleashed the full might of his power and gave the Dead God his final death.
Imorbis didn’t respond, nor did he have to. He looked on at the towering tree, lost in memories of the past. The layer of dark energy that held his body together vibrated as if in anticipation.
Alec turned away from him – he knew damn well this was where his life would finally end.
He gave his full attention to the deadly onslaught of roots and vines, which continued to tear free of the earth, rising up hundreds of feet into the air. For a moment they hovered over their heads, slowly swaying back and forth . . . then they smashed downward . . . A million vines with needle sharp tips joined them, falling like rain from the sky to dive straight towards the pair . . .
Alec’s bare flesh became black flames. His aura swelled, becoming a pulsating wave of dark energy. As if effortlessly, Alec disintegrated everything the Dead Tree sent. The roots fell upon the pair in a shower of dust. The vines withered and retracted to the dark recesses of the night. More came . . . more took their place . . .
Alec grinned as they came on, then he destroyed them all . . . for as far as he could see. The sight of the tree evaporating made it hard to keep his grin in check before it became a smile. But he knew he must be cautiously optimistic. It was a small victory, and granted it was a small display of his power, but the roots were an inconsequential obstacle . . . the true evil had yet to be faced. His power may seem limitless, but so too did the evil in this world. The last thing he wanted was to realize his new-found power did have a limit, and to find it before he was able to defeat the source. Apparently, the source held similar thoughts, for it was holding back as well, and now the distant mountains of roots remained deceptively still.
“Looks like your old pal isn’t too happy to see you, Imorbis,” Alec said, the black flames retracting into his body.
“Humph . . . yes, he’s unhappy to say the least. But most likely, I am too insignificant to occupy his thoughts. You however, seem to have drawn his full attention.”
“No doubt, exactly as you anticipated . . .”
Imorbis fought well to keep the smile from creeping into his shadowy features.
“Well then, you may as well see to it that I’m properly introduced . . . shall we?” Alec asked, waving his hand towards the Graelic.
“After you,” Imorbis replied, no longer able to keep the smile from arcing on his face.
Alec headed out, not entirely comfortable having the Dead God at his back, but far more afraid of what dwelt ahead of him.
Together the Dead God and the Destroyer strolled out to the trunk. Had it not been for the giant monstrosity looming over the landscape, and the stench of death permanently embedded in the air, the journey would have almost been peaceful. Looking upward at the Dead Tree, Alec could almost imagine the bountiful garden of life it must have once been . . . almost. The planet had come a long way from the world of Solo Ki’s birth. Instead of lush green branches dancing in the breeze, the black limbs swayed menacingly though the air was still and dead calm. Instead of leaves, and ripened fruit, bodies dangled from the branches; the immortal kin of Solo Ki, damned to suffer for eternity lest Alec can set them free.
And somewhere among them was the man he sought, Anon.
The closer he came, the more Alec was in awe of the tree. He had seen many worlds, many wonders (unfortunately, all of which were long since sent to ruin), and Alec could think of only one other structure in the universe that could compare with the Graelic – it was the black obelisk, Imorbis’ ‘Alpha’. The similarities between the two entities could not be coincidental. Both rose to the heavens, both were alive with a mysterious and unfathomable power that could only come from a true god. Both were simultaneously full of the essence of life and death, and were capable of spreading either force throughout the entire universe. Somehow, they were tied to one another; a secret only they shared. A secret he soon hoped to share as well – he would find it in the massive black trunk. First he would find the source . . . then Anon. Between the two of them he will have all the answers.
With Imorbis little more than a shadow cowering at his side, Alec at last stood at the base of the Graelic. In front of him, the roots rose like pillars and twisted together to create a maze of tunnels leading into the tree. The vast collection of warped arches kept the tree upright, displacing its weight to the anchoring system of roots that burrowed to the heart of the world and covered the planet’s surface as well.
For a second Alec paused, wondering what would happen if he simply disintegrated them all, used his power like a lumberjack’s axe and let the whole damn tree fall. What a sight it would be to watch the evil tree topple to the earth. Likely, the force of such an impact would throw the entire planet out of alignment, disrupt its orbit and send it hurtling into the cold depths of space for all time. But would that be enough? Could victory be so simple? There was that – a strong sense of doubt that his enemy would die so easily, but also Alec couldn’t help but feel that the complete destruction of the tree seemed sacrilegious. It was infected. It was evil. But it was still very much godly. The true victory would be had, not by its death, but by tearing the infection out.
Besides, he thought. If I destroy the thing, I’ll never have my answers. I need answers . . .
With that thought in mind, he sent his power out, a thousand threads of black smoke probed the surface of the tree then delved its interior as well. To sense the tree (even with his power) was to flirt with madness. But he needed answers . . .
To command his power – the power of the Void – he had accepted a truth. Reality did not exist; he saw it for the illusion it was and could unravel it and return it to its true state with a thought. He knew well the power of the Void, and that the universe was a cold and uncaring bitch of a mother that didn’t give a damn about him or those he loved.
Even so, as heartless and false as reality proved itself to be, there was one thing he had yet to accept -- the belief that life – HER LIFE – held no meaning.
Nathalia . . .
What was the damn point? Life – even though it was some sort of grand illusion, it was yet a miracle, the greatest ever. Why then had it been reduced to madness and meaningless death? Such a miracle – such a gift – it should be a blessing. Why must they live if only to suffer and die? Could there be a better way? Could there be peace? And if so . . .
How do we find it? – perhaps the toughest question of all. I have to find it . . .
With all the power he now commanded, if he still couldn’t find it, then there truly was no hope.
Hope . . . it drove him onward (that and revenge). Was there a point to it all? Or was the universe merely random madness, and the nothingness of the Void is the only constant in what is otherwise pure chaos?
These questions filled his mind as he probed deeper into the tree. The chaos was calling to him, taunting him with an answer to all his desires at the end of what was an infinite pit. A part of him dreaded to find the answer -- the rotten and corrupted wood echoed his every fear, and the realization that he already knew what the answer would be.
He continued on, fully aware of the dangers. The drain on his ability was great, but Alec knew there was no other way; to find the source he had to risk himself, and to hope his power was the stronger force. He flooded the tree with his power, entering every last infected cell in his search.
He was falling now, falling into the tree’s dark heart. He became one with the Dead Tree. There was a moment when he realized his power was dwindling and that eventually he would need it to escape, to free himself from the tree and reenter his own flesh. But he left the point of no return and his flesh behind . . . to find the source, Alec delved deeper.
He was the Dead Tree.
He felt what it felt; not simply a desire to kill, but to desecrate all that existed. For the tree, reality was the true desecration – an abomination to the purity of oblivion and the Void.
He had hoped to find Anon, and with him a reason to believe in something more. That life was real, and that it had meaning.
He didn’t find Anon. Nor the smallest glimmer of hope. What he found was the source. Alec found nothingness . . . with his power tied to the tree he felt it spreading throughout creation. It permeated the air around him; continually splitting and dividing as it branched out through space. It burrowed below Alec’s feet. The very earth was infected as it leeched into the soil. Throughout the universe, it was returning creation to its original state – nothingness.
And the source of it all . . . finally he had found it, but when he did, he realized his error . . . There was no source, only madness and a meaningless gift – life. He saw himself through the eyes of the Dead Tree and saw his deepest fears staring back at him amplified a million fold. He saw a shell . . . an empty vessel . . . a collection of matter that tricked itself into thinking it was alive, and then again fooled itself into believing that life had meaning. He was dust, cast off from one star after another to drift through space, time and time again reshaped and remade in an utterly random manner. All that he was, and all he could ever be would inevitably be washed away by the winds of time – to become dust once more. It didn’t matter what he did. Even his power meant nothing to this force, this emptiness – this Void.
In the mind of the evil being, there could never be peace for there was only chaos -- it was the foundation of it all. Deep down Alec knew this as well. He had been born with the knowledge. Like the rest of the living, it had been forgotten. As a child, his mind struggled to make sense of its surroundings, crafting the illusion of order where there was none. Once more, his mind fell into the madness of this truth -- he was born again. To see through the eyes of the source was to look with newborn eyes; to see a reality that held no meaning. Like a babe pulled from the womb Alec looked at the world around him and, in fear and confusion, he screamed.
Meanwhile, too engrossed in discovering what dwelt inside the tree, he never saw the vines unfurling above his head and slowly drift his way.
He never saw the black vines as they entered his flesh, pumping him full of a thick, black liquid. His eyes glazed over in a sheen of oil. High up the trunk, a dripping slit opened to the tree’s interior. The vines hoisted him up to the crevice. Alec was still screaming as his body was sucked inside.
Once there, he didn’t find Anon, but he found an answer . . .
Reality no longer made sense to him – if ever it had. He may have had his answer, but he no longer comprehended his own questions.
Nor did it matter . . . the Destroyer was now one with the Servant of Death.
There was only chaos . . . forever and always there had only been chaos.
Alec had his answer.
Pain . . . suffering . . . madness . . .
They were all so familiar to him they had become redundant. Imorbis had lived with them for a millennium, even Sevron had nothing new to show him – but oh how Sevron tried . . .
“You were a fool to return . . .”
Even Sevron’s voice was pain . . . a thunderous noise that rattled his soul.
“Even more foolish to think I could be defeated by your creation . . . His power is mine now. Soon all will be mine . . . I alone will remain, my existence a testament to the truth. The Age of Lies is at an end. The illusion of life will be no more, no more pretending. The dream you savored, and fought so hard to extend is over now. It’s time you see the truth, old friend, as I once did.”
Sevron showed him . . . a new horror and a new pain beyond even Imorbis’ imagination, and at long last Imorbis found his penance – the suffering he so justly deserved. Even as Sevron sent him to hell, Imorbis couldn’t help but laugh. He knew he would never find the Maker, but instead suffer eternal in the mind of Sevron. Still though, Imorbis knew something that Sevron did not; the Maker was real. And though this age was at an end, a new beginning was to come. And it would not be by Sevron’s design, but would once more follow the Maker’s path. Before he was utterly sundered body and soul, Imorbis’ shadowed lips split into a wide grin. He found it ironic, that of all the places he had been, he would at last find peace in Sevron’s hell, for he went there knowing that he had corrected the error he began so long ago . . .
Imorbis’ died . . . but his plan survived, and it was fully in motion.