Quiet was broken by the sound of frantic footsteps. The splash of water as Christopher jumped down into the river, then, trying to climb out, scrabbled against the rock.
Everything according to plan.
He was spewing a stream of manic laughter as he went, casting glances over his shoulder. He was just playing, at this point. Terrified as he was.
Christopher sprinted breathlessly, clambering over dead horrors. This path had been trodden before, he knew. If he could make it to Porter, the man, there’d be…
He heard his pursuer take to the air. He fell backwards, off the rock and again into the riverbed. He barely dodged them.
Aziacht had landed in his path, stepping down onto the bank. In his grip, he had the Ender Blade. Its weight pressed down on him in the waters.
Christopher lost it. His laugh pitched low and ragged, spewing blood down his neck. He held out a hand as he scurried back. “How long’s it been?” he asked Aziacht. “That you’ve waited?”
“I don’t remember when we first met, honestly.”
Christopher stared into those eyes. Doran’s dark irises surrounded by stark whites, wide and alert. His face was calm, if tinged by determination and pain.
“I do,” Christopher told him, his back hitting the bank, the gnarled roots of a tree growing there. He pushed back into it as Aziacht leveled his weapon.
“Yes… yes. But first…” Christopher rolled to the side, dodging Aziacht’s reactive stab. He was up, pushing off the rock to kick him in the jaw, then landing.
Aziacht backed up with a hand out. He nodded, amused. “Tell me about it.” Christopher leapt onto the forest’s edge. Aziacht followed him as he started walking. “There’s nowhere to go,” he said.
“I know.” Christopher ducked around the tree, reaching a hand out for Aziacht’s throat. That hand was severed instantly in a flash of rusted metal. He jumped back into the trunk of a tree, clutching the stump and laughing. “I know,” he repeated. “I know it’s you sparing me. The contradictions. I love them.”
“When was it, Elicht, that we first met?”
He walked again. “Despite what you think, Aziacht, I came around first. I was alive for a long time before you, driving things. And the Ouroboros, seemingly the last of us to manifest, he was first. He was the first order, I was the chaos that came, you were the response to both. Yet you came around before us all, you think? Perhaps it’s because we were deaf. Insulated. Nobody sane considers you.”
“Try again,” Aziacht countered, forcing him to duck as his sword bit through the trunk.
Christopher narrowly missed the falling tree as he shot back up. “A drop in the bucket easily evaporates,” he admitted. “But I’ll tell you, the first time we met, it was in the desert. I remember it clearly. Me, pushing my little humans out there in expansion. Marching an army, you know? And, there I find you. That was before you played human. In those days, you were violently opposed to disturbance. We met on the dunes and we just talked. It was so nice, you know? Back then.”
Aziacht looked off into space as if he was remembering.
Christopher continued. “That was the first time either of us had met another Eternal. We had so much to discuss! I told you about my plans, right? To raise them up, to take it all away and show them what we both knew. There’s nowhere to go. Teach mortals what it took us an eternity to realize. There’s no escaping this torrent. We quickly realized, though, didn’t we…”
“This was never going to work,” Aziacht finished the thought, his eyes deeply unfocused. “It was the knowledge of each other’s existence which led to this.”
“Killing you wasn’t going to be easy,” Christopher agreed with a grin. “But I had to try.”
Aziacht slid forward, pushing his blade between the gap of their left arm and slicing upward. The arm fell limp on the ground and Christopher went to his knees, laughing hysterically. “Think about it!” he screamed, trying to regain composure. “The ultimate joke, right? That your plan is just a function of mine? Your will, just a thing happening over time like everything else. Ultimately, I was just born to be right.” Aziacht kneed his face, sending him into the dirt. “If I was… you know… born at all,” he panted.
Aziacht sat down beside him, letting out a sigh. “I went to all this trouble just to shut you up, you know that?” Christopher lost it again, laughing wretchedly. He spoke over the noise, scowling. “It was your willful ignorance. I remember now. In that desert, I’d been there so many times, watching my footsteps stretch out in front of me. I stayed away from the humans because they were a tragedy to me. Even if I made them immortal, they were never eternal. Anything they did… a story is defined by its ending, Christopher. And the order they struck out to build would always crumble. It was futility. But then I met you, and I tried to explain to you. If you kept doing what you were doing, eventually you’d see everything. Literally everything. Every conversation you had with them, every game you played, it would have been done so many times. But I spoke to you, and you just stared at me. You asked me how I could stand to be so alone, like it mattered so much. I saw in your eyes, self-obsessed eyes, that you would never tire of them. You’d bring them up and break them, again and again. I realized that it wasn’t enough to just reject the temporary, because of you. It’s immoral in its bones, I saw. Being.”
Christopher’s smile faded. He started to crawl. Aziacht drove his sword through their leg, pinning them to the rocky ground. He groaned. “We all wanted different things… Only the Curse wanted to survive unchanged. He wanted process.” Christopher turned his head back to look at him, a dead serious gaze. “I wanted godhood,” he told him.
Aziacht shook his head. He gestured broadly. “I never wanted… any of it.”
“I know, friend.” Christopher pulled hard enough that his leg tore off. He restarted crawling. He finally made it again to the edge of another river and rolled down the bank.
Aziacht, close behind him still, put a foot on his back. “You’ll do anything not to take responsibility for the part you play. It’s not about happiness. It’s about indulgence. Animal.”
“You know what I think, if we’re throwing insults? You’re a joke, Doran,” Christopher challenged. “You’re the last recourse of failures.”
Aziacht pressed down on the back of his head, willing him to drown. “You wretch.”
When he came up gasping, he rolled over onto his back. He began to float down the shallow river, merrily. “I’m the ultimate hero,” he sputtered.
Following him, limply carried on the current, Aziacht looked up at the dark sky. “You’re not the hero here. Neither of us are. You’re not the villain, either. That’s me.”
Christopher’s body stopped as the water became shallower. He was caught on the riverbed. He raised his stump towards the silhouette of the Deus Ex in the sky. “Godhood,” he said.
Aziacht grimaced. He understood what he was trying to do, but he knew it wouldn’t work. When he killed the Ouroboros, the continuation would end. Nothing new would be made. There’d be no recovery.
He cast his eyes down on the dismembered body in the water. Pathetic. He reached down and grabbed Christopher by the neck, hurling him out of the water and into the forest.
Christopher stopped dead against a shattered rock, at the end of a long rut in the earth. He watched as Aziacht approached, tightly holding his weapon. Ready to end it. “I’m the truth of the test!” Christopher taunted. “You make your testament! Prove wrong justice! But I’m not done, it’s you, you’re finished. You were only ever meant to prove my point. He’s false.”
Aziacht picked him up again, holding him against the rock as he brought back his cleaver. “There’s no place for you.”
“Not while he’s alive,” Christopher spat. “But you’re both already dead. You were never viable. Stillborn, both of you” His eyes lit up as the blade slide between his ribs and into stone.
The world rumbled. The sun flared bright. The crack in the rock split deeper, fractures forming in the earth, lancing through everything. Cracks in the trees, cracks in the sky and air. Christopher’s jaw fell open, his eyes looking up, a smile trying to form one last time.
Aziacht withdrew the blade and let him fall to the ground. He let out a last breath. The sun was setting now, no longer eclipsed. The Deus Ex loomed high, but faint above.
He knew exactly where the Ouroboros was, and Porter. They were last, they were ready. He weighed the sword in his hand and tried to shake the miserable feeling he felt in his gut, looking down on the twisted, charred face. Christopher was dead. The abomination could never manifest again.
“Damn you,” he said. Aziacht knocked the boulder aside where Christopher had fallen. He left the body behind, walking forward into the forest. In the distance, he could barely hear the ocean roaring. Calling. He wiped away the blood from the sword on his arm. He shook his head violently. “There’s nothing keeping you from the pit. Understand that!”
Someone was behind him. “You’ve darkened the sky,” the Ouroboros told him. Aziacht had known he was there. “Look at what power you have. You are what we all know but can never believe. There’s no one behind you, now. No one can stand with you because they know it’s wrong. So, I ask you, can you really do this?”
“Wrong,” he scoffed. “I have very little to say to you,” Aziacht growled. “You, who made this happen. A liar and sadist… I hate you.”
There was silence between them. The Ouroboros had no reply.
Not until, finally, they had waited long enough. His ethereal call echoed out. “Come, Porter!” Then, he spoke to Aziacht. “You brought me out of the void because you wanted the truth. Aziacht and Elicht were not complete.” He tried to get Aziacht to acknowledge him, but he wouldn’t meet his eyes. “No hope was given. You know I gave it to you!” Ouroboros pleaded.
“Glorified irrationality.” Aziacht started walking. “Opium dulling the pain. That was your hope. You-!” He had to stop himself, hanging his head. “You brought this on yourself. Now, bring on your dog. This will be over quickly.”
Sickle and cleaver clashed.