The students broke apart explosively as the water kicked up under the impact of a creature with too many limbs to count. Some immediately ran off into the forest. Everyone on their feet assailed the creature at once.
It was a light show as they attacked. Flashes filled the edges of the forest, showing so many inhuman silhouettes setting upon strays. The water doused Porter and others as all hell broke loose.
The horror was immediately encapsulated by an invisible orb which contained the fire, lighting, and green cloud of needles which latched onto it. A spear was thrown in which caused its limbs to implode. Through all this, the horror shrieked and flailed, but in every moment of obscurity, it continued to reappear unhurt.
It was Cobb, who leaped and brought down his fist on the sphere, which caused the entire thing to flatten, compacting it to nothing. Folded out of sight.
O’Reilly screamed. “Incoming!”
The Elephant Man came into the middle of them, bursting through the trees. Those trees split the group of students along the narrow river as they fell. With the professors near one end, the students on the horror’s side were all alone, singled out.
Porter launched forward. He sailed over the tree and fighting people to bury his katana into its back. The Elephant Man lurched forward, dropping on its hands.
“Solidarity,” he groaned, pushing down on it.
His mind raced. A manifestation of aloneness. Choice and human will, I can take it. A declaration… If he doubted now, he could feel it grow stronger under him with the thought. Just making contact, it was in his head. His arms shook as the battle raged around him, two twin horrors rushing students. Every ounce of his being strained. He’d felt this before, fighting gods. A battle of belief.
His sight sunk back like he was watching a shrinking screen in the darkness.
Porter threw himself off into the water, away from the Elephant Man. The thing gave out, slumping into the mud as he splashed down. He tried to keep his head up to gasp air. He wasn’t sure where or when he was anymore.
“Professor,” a rasping voice came close over him. His eyes stared uncomprehendingly back up at another man without eyelids. They continued, “just ignore it. It works.” The gaunt man pulled on him, trying to raise him up.
When Porter was on his feet, they went sprinting up the riverbank and into the trees.
He caught his bearing and retrieved his katana with one swipe.
The Ouroboros was lashing out with his sickle, taking most of the horrors breaking through. Porter looked over the corpses in the water, past fires and fallen trees. He thought he saw Babba face down.
A shout cut through the noise. “Doran!”
Porter recognized that voice. He looked, but it had come from someplace distant.
A black cloud, he saw, was seeping over his feet. They were numb.
That’s not good.
“Move!” he roared. “Into the forest.” Porter’s hand shot out. Those that didn’t listen, their legs buckled and they disappeared into the water.
When everyone remaining was on the left bank, he tried to count heads. There were too few people, many of them had gone out of sight, stretched out along the river.
Flares shot up into the sky, painting the forest from above in shadows cast through bare branches. He didn’t see Christopher, Cobb was the only Master in sight. The Ouroboros was gone.
Flashes of blue light came with a heatwave. Crackling energy passed between trees.
A headless naked woman came sprinting through the forest with her arms out. Porter cut her down as she veered towards him.
This was chaos. He had to find the Ouroboros. They couldn’t be divided.
“Help!” A student came running past him, screaming for help. They were passing through the trees like they weren’t there, unable to see anyone.
“Master Porter,” a girl said. In sight, there were a half dozen students and Eidolons, congregating near him, now. “We’re all getting split up. I can’t find my friend.”
One twitchy Eidolon in the back opened fire with his gun, stopping Porter from answering.
“We need to stay together. I have to find the Ouroboros.” That was more important. “Now!”
He urged them to move deeper into the forest. The flares overhead were gone, the light dropping down again to that of the eclipse. He could only follow the sounds of screams.
They weaved between the trees until they quickly came to another stream. One of them slipped on the bank, the sound causing a sudden quiet.
Porter jumped down to follow. When he hit the water, there was suddenly nothing beneath it.
He was instantly submerged. The world was an echo again, everything distant. Looking around, it was like the earth and all the trees were floating on the water, a deep abyss beneath them. The dark moved beneath him until, out of the black, he could see a single light drifting up.
When the hand hooked into his collar and hauled him up, Porter was again in only a foot of water.
“Why the fuck is he so heavy!?” he heard.
Porter threw what had been the source of the light onto the riverbank.
A mounted gun from the back of a Utopian vehicle. It had black growths across it but still had power. It had come out of whatever hole he’d fallen into. A gap in the water the students couldn’t find anymore. “Where’d it go?” the Eidolon asked.
“Doesn’t matter,” Porter coughed. He’d inhaled salt water. He sputtered, “that’s a… bad fucking sign.” When he’d caught his breath, he looked at their confused faces. “It’s-”
A shriek interrupted them as a horror fell from out of the open sky, from above the trees, into their midst.
“Shit!” A Magi with a hammer crushed them down into the mud and rock. He stood over the twisted form that had been a woman in a red dress, her limbs sticking up. “That scared the hell out of me.” Her hand lulled to the side, finger caressing his leg.
Porter watched as the Magi compacted where he stood, the damage of the hammer conferred onto him. His limbs twisted, his organs exploded through his exposed ribcage.
Porter jabbed his Katana through the magi and into the horror. With the barrier of flesh between them, her healed arms couldn’t reach around to touch him. He lifted them and ran them back before driving the two of them into the ground.
The others watched.
“Bring me the hammer!” he groaned. The horror had too much strength.
Another Magi, clearly unfit to wield the massive thing, drug it to his side.
“Fuck,” Porter swore. “I have to do it fast.”
Porter stepped back and withdrew the sword. He traded it for the hammer and brought it up over his head. He slammed the horror with all his strength. Its hand shot out through the dead Magi’s chest, bones extending to reach. He pulverized the two of them, but not before a gentle brush of her nails.
He left the hammer where it was, lodged into the earth with them.
“Master Porter?” the other Magi asked.
He took back Hasami’s sword from their hand, not meeting their eyes.
“That’s… ironic.” He took a few more steps and stopped in his tracks.
“You’re bleeding,” they said.
“I noticed.” He considered the forest. He checked the path of the river. Though he couldn’t see where it ran, he felt a cold breeze coming down its length from one direction. He felt out, but he couldn’t sense past the shadow over the entire world. Beyond that, there was only silence. He stared past the young Magi. “How many of us are left?”
“What do you-” they looked over their shoulder to where he’d been looking. Where the others should have been. “…I’m not supposed to be here.”
“I realized that.” Porter finally looked at them. The girl was in a robe, water soaking her up to the waist. “Listen to me,” you’re already dead. “You have to get away from here,” I don’t want to watch. “Follow the river to the ocean. Follow the coast until you’re out. Do you understand?”
“Reality’s falling apart. I don’t know what you’ll find.”
Reality was conserving energy. She wasn’t important. If she left his side now, she’d simply cease existing. She’d go back to the start or go nowhere. He didn’t know.
“It’s your only chance,” he said. “Get out.”
The Magi said nothing, she only went where he pointed, quickly turning her face. She soon disappeared out of sight. She was gone.
Not knowing is better. It really wasn’t.
It was just him, now. Like it was supposed to be.
Porter took his sword into both hands in preparation. He heard footsteps breaking the water, echoing from down the river, opposite direction the Magi had gone.
Cobb’s white suit was marred by blood, his grey beard had been ripped from his face. Catherine was right behind him. Wherever the fuck she had come from.
The two of them noticed Porter and picked up speed.
When Cobb reached him, he only had one thing to say. “We have a plan.”
O’Reilly drove his spear into the body of a giant skittering creature. The tip of the spear filled its insides with fire. The fire crept through its many slicing legs, turning it into a husk in seconds.
It was just him, among a field of mangled trees and bodies.
As the skittering thing was going limp, one of its still moving arms beat itself against a tree, snapping off.
“FUCK!” he cried.
The limb regrew an entire body before he could dislodge his spear. Its front arms sprang out, knocking him off his feet.
O’Reilly impacted the tree trunk and had to quickly dig himself out of its bark. His shoulder slid back into the socket, he felt. There was such a quantity of bodies beneath him, that he simply reached down to pick up a discarded claymore.
He took it underhanded and pierced the earth, taking a knee.
The skittering thing was breaking off pieces of itself on the trees as it charged, there quickly being exponentially more of the horrors. In an instant, every one of them was swathed in a pillar of fire. The fire clung to every surface, every tree and rock. It spread around him as he watched. In the tornado of light and heat, he could make out their black keratin forms writhing until the intensity blotted them out.
He withdrew the blade and the fire sunk into the ground, leaving only… nothing.
O’Reilly’s eyes adjusted, but he could no longer make out the forest. He was surrounded by a patch of charred earth, but beyond, there was only darkness.
He threw the claymore up, holding it out towards the sky. A beam of light shot out which illuminated the landscape. The trees could be seen in the distance, beyond the charred earth, but were getting further away. He’d scorched more of the earth than he’d intended.
That wasn’t right. He shouldn’t have been getting more for the power he spent.
That was a grave a sign.
Ash began to fall on him. He looked down to keep it from getting in his eyes.
A pain grew in his hand.
He sat down at the base of the tree he’d been thrown into before. Enough of it remained that he could lean back. He looked at his hand, removed the glove.
Between his index finger and thumb, there was a small, growing splinter. He felt them all along his chest, where the skittering thing had hit him.
He lifted the claymore as much as he could beside him and pushed the tip between two roots. He held his breath and lit the fire.
On the tree line, Aziacht watched the flames reach for the sky.
Everything in its place, he thought. Time for an end.