“It has been such a long time… far too long… my oldest and newest… friend.”
The King stood amidst a frozen landscape, with great pillars ringing the sky in a circular fashion, with strange buildings clinging to them. Standing before him was a young red-headed man in his late twenties. He was skinny and clothed in a black robe that snugly fit his lithe person. The King reached for his gun to shoot him but found nothing. The man before him approached him, the icy ground turning black with every step he took and made a show of embracing him coldly before whispering in his ear, “You seek me, and I seek you and so we will find each other. For we have unfinished business, you and I.”
Even in his lucid, dream like state, the King’s eye of night boiled inside of his head, forcing him to stumble over and onto the ground, away from the man. Behind the man, a great burning black sun appeared, reaching into the sky as it melted all that was around it, shattering the cities that hung in the sky as it slowly advanced towards them. The King clutched his Eye of Night as he writhed in pain, before locking his Eye of Day with the man before him.
“Who are you?” he spat.
But he already knew the answer to his question. The man before him slowly raised his arms in euphoria as he took in the oncoming doom behind him.
“You know me, and I will know everyone. We met atop the tower as I have met countless others atop many worlds.”
From the man’s spine a pair of skeletal wings, a mockery of that of a bird, burst from his back, leaving him naked from the waist up as his black cloth was cut to ribbons. There was no blood.
“I am called the bringer of the end by the foolish.” He slowly turned back, wings stretching out and walked towards the King, cupping his chin with his hand as he reached him. “I am recognised as the end by the wise.” He lowered himself down to the King’s level and whispered in his ear. “I have devoured, will devour and am devouring countless worlds.” The King was somehow crying, partly from the pain of his eye and partly from witnessing his oncoming doom.
But before it became too difficult for him to do, he managed to whisper one word. “Why?”
The man before him rose up from the frost covered ground and floated before him, unaided by his skeletal wings. “I did not consent to creation. And I will no longer tolerate its flaws.” He said, arms raised in silent prayer “so I shall consume all and right the wrongs that others created.” With shocking ferocity, he threw back his head as more bone burst forth from his chest and forehead, forming a horrifying span of bone and a crown of white atop his head as he roared into the frozen landscape.
“I shall remake creation so that the end becomes it! I will make all tremble in fear and love until they can feel nothing! I am the righter of wrongs! The bringer of change! I am, The King of The End!”
The fire was almost upon them, “and you, my dear friend, are out of time.” As the fire consumed them both, the King could feel his skin melt and his blood boil. His bones became ash and he was swept away with the explosion. As he was eradicated he could hear the whisper from the King of the End follow him as he was swept back from the doomed world to the realm of nothing. “We shall meet again… my friend. And I shall bring an end to all prophecy and all the whispers of soothsayers… or perhaps I shall prove them right. We shall see… we shall see. Be ready.”
And once again, the world was nothing.
The King awoke with his face stained by tears, the same from his dream. He climbed out of the landed Slyer rubbing his face as he did so. He saw Nyla standing with a strange telescope of some kind pressed to her eye and followed her into the place before them. The city was old. Very old. It looked like any other city the King had seen in design, but all the buildings were made of a strange black marble. There were also the black marble obelisks that remained somehow untethered to the ground, moving in a seemingly random fashion, with a slow methodical purpose as they made their way across the city. The King looked on in awe as he and Nyla climbed their way past an oncoming slab, hugging the wall as it narrowly clipped them. The city seemed so sure to him in some unfathomable purpose, its low humming being a resonate sound in a realm of supposed emptiness. He did not know who made it, or for what purpose. But he knew that it was old. Older than the King of the End for sure, and perhaps even older than the realm of nothing itself. He could only speculate as to what was its purpose. Did it create the nothing? Or was it simply built around it?
He found himself staring at a statue in what must have once been a market of some kind, the large square now eerily quiet. The statue was of a large creature of some kind. It walked upright like a man but had the mouth of some amphibian, its jaw jutting out and its body covered in scales. In its arm it carried a tablet with words unknown on it, while its other was reached towards the sky above. The King stared at this oddity for such a long time that Nyla turned back and called out to him. Blinking several times, he looked away from the pillar and followed his guide once more. They travelled through the quiet for many hours, picking their way gingerly over long collapsed pillars or correcting their path when one of the obelisks moved to block them. The King was on edge, he knew something was around the corner, but what it was he could not tell. Years of war had taught him to trust his gut reaction in these situations, and so he removed his weapon as he quietly continued through the city, motioning for Nyla to do the same.
As time passed they found new and strange things in the timeless city. Stairs which they had to climb up on their hands, crooks the size of two horses and several pillars rising from the ground, meeting in the middle with each other, forming a wide entrance-way to somewhere beyond them. Nyla had readied her weapon too as they both ventured into this opening. It was through this opening that he saw it on the other side. It was resting in one of the crooks down below, the winding steps of the area leading down to an opening before it, watching him with those same orange eyes that it had done so back at the tower. When The King locked eyes with it, he saw it slink back into the darkness of a nearby opening in a massive collection of the black obelisks that formed the base of the level below.
“Remain here Nyla,” he said. Nyla turned to him, eyebrow raised.
“There is something I must do,” he grunted, walking forward only to hear her walking after him. Calmly he stooped and slowly turned his head back to regard her. “Alone, Nyla.”
With defiant eyes she brought her foot forward and made to walk by him. He put his free arm up and stopped her. “Please” he pleaded, eyes locked with her own. They held each other’s gaze with a few moments, each trying to understand the other. Slowly she nodded her head and stepped back. “Thank you,” was all he said before he began to walk down the steps.
“Don’t have me saving your life again!” he heard her call after him, making him smile. Eventually he made his way into the mess of black obelisks before him that framed the entrance to the cave that the monstrosity had slinked into. The cave appeared to be a sunken pit, covered in bronze-like chains. He gazed upon the mechanical monstrosity once more. It was sat on its forelegs, regarding him just as much as he regarded it. The King could see the intelligence behind its eyes as they drifted down to the weapon by his side before flicking up to match his gaze once more. They let out an audible click as they closed together before opening once more, and to the King’s wonder and horror, the monstrosity spoke.
“You are no longer alone,” it droned in a low humming voice.
The King was at first taken aback but he soon followed up on his own curiosity when he replied
“I am not no… but tell me now machine, how is it that you are capable of speech?”
The beast lifted its head up before resting it back down and humming. “I learned,” it said, “I have had time to learn… a long time.”
The King sensed some level of sadness in its voice and decided to seize upon it.
“Do you like talking to others then beast?” he said while walking across from it, eyes firmly locked on its own.
“I find it… preferable than the alternative,” it replied.
The King turned on it and in a flash of anger barked “And yet you kill everyone you encounter…why?”
For a moment he was afraid he had gone too far, dared too much, as the machine drew itself up and let out a low hiss, its gears clicking and whirring. But it soon ceased this and rested itself down once more, letting out a mechanical groan. “I was… I am, hungry… so very hungry.”
Satisfied with the answer, the King decided to play his hand.
“You are lethargic beast, tired of your existence, but I ca-” but before he could finish, he was interrupted by the beast rising once more and humming dangerously,“I. Was. Alone.”
On its back, several armour plating clicked and slid over one another, rustling in the same way the feathers on a bird did back in The King’s world. The beast’s voice lowered deeper still as it dangerously growled, “I. Am. Alone”
The beast’s voice returned to normal, but the edge of danger was not lost as it continued.
“But”, it said, “When I consume, I am not. The silence is gone for a while and I think clearly. I remember what it was to be before… I forget what it is to be now.”
The beast took a step forward as it walked towards The King, smoke coming out of its now open and dripping mouth. “The silensh” it slurred through it’s now gaping mouth, “Itsh growing again, consuming me.”
The low whine of the beast reached a crescendo as it drew itself back. “Help me,” it whispered with a surprising amount of pain its voice, so much so The King was taken off guard as he was hit by a pang of pity for the beast. So much so, he was taken off guard as it charged towards him; but this time he was ready for it. Turning aside as the beast ran past where he was moments ago, he brought his glowing weapon out and fired three times along the beast’s mechanic side, drawing a howl of pain from it as that same black liquid poured free from its now ravaged side. The King would have fired more, but the beast’s previously inactive tail burst to life as it slashed savagely down at him. The King leapt back once more, but this time too slow. The razor-sharp tail’s tip managed to catch him down the front, cutting through his shirt and burning his chest as it sliced into him. Blood was drawn forth from the long wound as his shirt was stained red with the fresh blood, but the wound was a shallow one. The beast flashed around to him, knocking its heavy frame against a nearby black pillar, smashing the black marble into dozens of smaller ebony pieces as it did so.
The beast leapt forward, kicking up several of the chains as it did so and snapped its maw at The King, only to catch the air as he dropped onto the ground beneath it. Before the beast could react, he had his gun placed firmly under its vulnerable head and squeezed the trigger. The blast from the gun rang heavy throughout the empty city as The King was coated in shrapnel from the beast’s ruined face. Not falling for the same thing that got him last time, The King quickly rolled away as the beast brought its heavy legs down on the spot he was at as it continued to howl in pain. Rolling to his feet the King dashed up a nearby face of black marble, gasping in effort as he pulled his body up it and not stopping until he was behind a nearby pillar on top of the new level. Gazing from behind it he saw the beast below bucking madly and shooting flames from its now ruined face. One of its eyes was smashed and an entire side of its face was hanging on by a few wires that sparked dangerously as it once again turned towards the King, raising itself on its hind legs and bellowing as its raised legs slid open with a mechanical click.
The King had time to quickly duck as a torrent of small delicately designed arrows spewed forth from its appendages, slicing into the pillar he was behind, chipping away at it. Feeling the structure begin to give way under the projectiles he knew he had only moments to react. Taking a deep breath, the King slid out the side of his cover and levelled his gun, ignoring the pain as one of the many darts embedded itself just below his collarbone and fired his gun once more at the beast. He could not help but smirk as the bullet hit its mark and went into one of the beast’s legs that was holding it up, smashing it apart as it did so. Unable to support its enormous weight anymore, the monster groaned as it collapsed onto its back. The King swiftly ducked back behind the pillar and gingerly pulled the embedded dart from his person, wincing as he did so and drawing forth even more blood on top of that which was still trickling from his chest. Turning back around the pillar he could see the beast kicking wildly as it struggled to bring itself upright again. With a heavy thud, it managed to kick itself back to a standing position, dragging its ruined leg behind it as it slinked over to the raised position where The King was. Its half-blasted maw snapped open once more and spat forth a torrent of black oil up onto the pillar and around The King’s cover. Confused for a moment, The King took the brief respite to catch his breath, only for his panic to rise as the beast let forth a burst of green flame from its maw. The connection with the liquid was near instant and the explosion both blew the pillar to pieces and knocked the king back across the black marble floor. He blinked through the darkness and haze that had obscured his vision, only to discover that his hearing had deserted him. Slowly he brought his hand up to his eyes and rubbed them, clearing the trapped smoke from them as he did so and eliminating some of the haze from his head.
When he opened them, the ringing in his ears stopped and his sense returned with an explosion of noise. He saw and heard the Beast climb up to him and slowly stalk its way through the wall of green flame towards him. Groggily, his head still ringing from the explosion, he raised his weapon once more and squeezed the trigger. This time the bullet harmlessly clanged off the monster’s armoured shoulder, leaving a dent and nothing else as it whizzed off. The King forced himself to his feet and stumbled towards a nearby set of enlarged stairs. The beast followed him slowly, dragging its useless leg behind it as its charred head was scraping the floor. If it weren’t for the fact that he was in mortal danger, he would think it was a rather pitiful sight to behold.
With a new burst of energy overtaking him, he decided to put it towards putting the beast out of its misery. The King opened his glowing gun to reload it, but stopped when he spotted a better alternative out of the corner of his eye. He forced himself to clamber up the stairs, hands scraping against the black slabs as he pulled himself up. When he reached the top, he found the object of his desire: a single, loose slab of that same black material that made up the city. Putting his shoulder into it, he groaned in effort as he slowly moved it along the floor. Below, the beast had started to drag itself up the stairs, snorting in an exhaustion that matched The King’s own. With one final, almighty push, The King launched the slab over the side and down to the stairs. It never saw it coming. The stone slab caught it in the back, crushing it nearly in two as the heavy material knocked pieces of shrapnel across the steps. As the final, startled cry of the beast drifted away into the city around them, the area was left eerily silent.
The King collapsed against a nearby wall and took the moment to breathe in deeply through his nose. He closed his eyes as he exhaled, partly from satisfaction and partly from relief. As he opened his eyes once more, he was briefly concerned that the beast could still be alive, and he renewed his tight grip on the weapon at his side. But from below he heard nothing, and he was reassured. Sighing, he reloaded the revolver and held his now free hand to his bleeding breast as he made his way down the stairs. It was still alive. It shouldn’t have been possible, but it was. The light in its single remaining eye was now dim, like the evening sun, where once it had been as bright and angry as the afternoon. The clicking and whirring of its now fragile, broken frame intensified as The King neared it. Once more they locked eyes with one another. The beast opened its mouth and closed it again slowly, repeating the process several times before finally rumbling out a single word from its damaged maw. “Sorry.”
The King sat down next to it and allowed it to place its ruined head in his lap. He rocked it slowly, humming a song he had not heard since his mother was taken by the fading when he was but a boy as he did so. The beast continued to jerk quietly as it whined, its eye never leaving The King’s own as it continued to rumble its apologies over and over. After a while the beast’s clicking, and jerking ceased in its entirety. With a final groan, the beasts’ dull orange eye finally shut for good. But as it did so, it quietly whined “So… sorry”. After that, it said no more.
Slowly, and with some sadness, The King removed the beast’s now quiet head from his lap as he stood up. After a moment of reflection, he raised and fired his pistol into its head until he had expended all the bullets that were in its chamber. For although he pitied it in death, he had to be sure that that death was sure.
Solemnly he returned to Nyla through the haze, finding her cleaning her strange weapon. He avoided her gaze as she raised an eyebrow at his rough appearance. Instead he went for the bag next to her, taking out the same stick she had used on him to heal his shoulder and brought it down on himself twice. He was knocked back onto his knees from the shock of it, but soon his wounds were healed, leaving behind a new set of scars and his still stained red shirt.
Soon they continued to make their way through the ever-expanding maze of the ruined city, Nyla leading the way confidently with her bag and weapon slung over her shoulder while The King followed, pistol held ready to fire in his hand. After a while of advancing like this through a narrow passage way, they passed the old burnt out wreckage of a Flyer lying smashed into the side of what appeared to be a collapsed version of the black blocks that still moved above them. Nyla stooped to look at it for a moment before sighing and moving on, eyes downcast. The King soon followed her.
After a few more hours of walking, Nyla came to a stop in a wide-open space, surrounded by a circular ring of sliver tipped pillars, the path straight ahead opening in a narrow crack, through which they would no doubt have to crawl. As The King made ready to do this he turned around to see Nyla halted behind him, head raised above to look over the pillars and bag dropped on the ground with weapon at the ready. The King followed her gaze to find a man standing atop the ledge above. He had a red bandanna across his face, along with a large backpack covered in several weapons, pans and other items that were unfamiliar to him. It was similar to the bug-eyed man he had saw earlier in his journey. He wore a long, buttoned up trench coat and had a wide brimmed hat atop his head, which was currently tilted to the side as he quietly regarded The King and Nyla. Slowly he let down his back pack and started to dig through it.
Both Nyla and The King raised and readied their weapons at him, ready to fire at the slightest hint of danger, but the man above made no sudden movements. After some time of digging through his large bag he came back up and threw an object down, before shouldering his bag once more and turning to leave. Suddenly, he stopped. Turning back around slowly he dragged off one of the man blades on his back and tossed it down to them, where it landed with a clatter near Nyla’s feet, before he finally turned away and disappeared from their vision for good. Nyla picked it up and slowly slid it from its sheath before snapping it back in while the King wandered over to the other object and picked it up. It was a pistol. But not just any pistol. As the King lifted and tested it he knew, without a shadow of a doubt in his mind, it was Kaldenan.
He gazed up at the building once more, but the man was gone for good. Sighing, he slid the weapon in beside his other pistol. He walked back over to Nyla, who was clumsily experimenting with the sword. He motioned for her to give it over to him, which she did so in an uncharacteristically sheepish fashion. It felt good to have a blade back in his hand after all this time. He slid it once more out of its sheath and practiced his swinging once more in the air.
“Hold it tighter! When you swing at someone swing at them! Not their blade!” he heard Brougha bark at him., “If you do that you’ll not be swinging for much longer!”
Even from beyond the grave, he heard the lessons of the dead man echo in his mind. Placing the sheath on his waist he flicked the blade back into it and turned to regard Nyla who was coolly staring at him. Grinning, he patted his pistol.
“This is your thing, and this,” he continued, bringing his hand down to the pommel of the blade, “is mine.” She started to laugh. It was a soft and infectious thing and soon he was joining her. By the time they had finished he was doubled over and wiping the tears from his eye of day. They decided to spend some time in this position, to rest up and take stock of their position before heading any further in to the ruined city. Nyla said that the gate was about another half a day’s walk away and while the King felt ready to go, he knew that Nyla was no doubt feeling tired. Nyla removed a bed roll from her back pack and laid it down, humming something to herself as she did so.
The King found himself remembering his mother and how she had brought him up in the shadow of Blackdroft. One day they had been brought into the castle before The King’s old adviser, Fearnor the Grey or something like that. He had died soon after. On their way into the mighty citadel, they had passed the grieving Queen drabbed in black. She had taken one look at The King, who was still so young that he held his mother’s hand as he waddled through the quiet corridors, and she had turned away in disgust. The King, that is his father, the old King, was sitting atop his stone throne as his mother carried him into the long hall. He too was dressed in black and his slain son, the true born son, lay before him on the burial wreath. He wore still the armour that he had taken into battle and even at his tender age The King could make out the rip in his throat where that last Kaldenan bullet had caught him. The King had his attention entirely focused on the dead man, his half-brother that lay in rest before him as the grownups talked. He had no recollection of what they said to each other but once they were done his mother leaned down to him with tears in her eyes and embraced him. She left him with his father in that great hall and didn’t turn back when he called out to her. He tried to follow her, but his legs weren’t quick enough, and some guard picked him up and carried him away. The next time he saw her she too was lying in state. Her skin wasted away and her once beautiful golden hair left in tatters from the fading as he cried into the skirt of his nurse, watching on as they put a torch to the pier. He was four years old.
His hand went to the locket on his throat, fingers tracing over it as he took a deep, calming breath. Slowly he slid open the pendant and smiled at the golden hair resting inside.
“What’s that?” he heard Nyla say suddenly, causing him to jump and quickly snap the locket shut in panic.
“Nothing!” he barked as he turned away from her, only to feel her hand on his shoulder, rubbing it gently. Breathing deeply, he reached his own hand up and clasped her own on his shoulder, squeezing it as he did so.
“Bad memories?” she whispered.
“Yeah” he mumbled, leaning back into her, “bad memories.” He stayed for a while like this as she ran her hands through his hair, humming gently as she wrapped her arms around him. He was surprised as she suddenly stopped and stood up, his eyes widening as she began to loosen her belt, dropping her trousers to the ground. “Don’t you read too much into this now” was all she said before pressing her mouth against his own.
The two shared a passionate few hours together, enjoying the feel of each other’s bodies; one soft to the touch and the other rough. They enjoyed each other in that place without joy. Passion standing defiant to the black mourning of the hollow city. After they were finished and exhausted, they lay naked next to each other on Nyla’s bed roll, holding on to each other as The King brought his hand slowly once more to his pendant, still firmly around his throat. The memory from before came flooding back to him. “My mother…” he croaked. Nyla raised her violet eyes to meet his own, encouraging him to continue. “My mother was a whore… she died when I was four…”
Without realising it, his eyes had become misty and he was choked on emotions long kept bottled up. Nyla raised herself up and, snaking her hand down to his own, brought it up to her face and kissed it before pulling him towards her bosom and holding him as he quietly sobbed.