Previously in RESUME GOD: Carl went to a job interview at Hesperides Publishing, but while waiting for his appointment, received a psychic alarm from his new avatar, Gisae… Kaerbanus had come to Nataal.
Part Seven (of Nine)
Gisae slowly regained consciousness, but waking was more of a nightmare than oblivion. The trees around her were aflame, but rather than the natural fire that burned, these flames twisted and corrupted. She could no longer hear the screams of the wood spirits. Looking at the bloody red bark and pus-taloned leaves of the trees that once dripped nothing but shade, she hoped the spirits were well and truly dead.
The air around her was fouled as well. A stench, like that of a diseased man’s innards, permeated the woods. Rather than breezes, the air had denser pockets where the smell worsened. Beneath her feet, the earth crunched, like wet soil after a sharp frost.
She slowly picked up speed as she stumbled, then lurched, then finally barreled through the perverse forest. Though everything around her was wrong, it was still recognizable enough for her to make her way towards the village that was–hopefully still–her home.
The power within her protected her physically from the reality infection. She could feel the world around her trying to find a grip on her body, her mind, even her soul, but she could keep Nataal in her heart, unalterable. It also gave her strength; not only the physical strength to run but the emotional strength not to crumble and wail at the end of all she held dear.
Green smoke, the color of disease, rose in clotted puffs from ahead, where the village of Clan Dharlu was. Screaming again in her head to Carl, praying for him to heed her and return, she finally crested the once-protective hillock that looked down over the circles of her home.
Flames and rot.
At least a dozen Kaerbani demons played amongst the ruins of her village, immune to the defiling fire. The stone waves that sheltered her people had changed to spikes, and several forms were impaled upon them, their flesh melting and merging into the very earth that had speared them. The bonfire in the center had been replaced with a tear in the world, bigger than any she had ever heard of. Her heart seized up even to look at it.
Where are you? she screamed in her head down the thin conduit to her absent god. As if her prayer really was a scream, the Kaerbani below suddenly turned their attentions to the white-haired shamaness.
“Oh crap,” Gisae muttered, a phrase she had never ever heard before but somehow came naturally to her lips.
Two of the nearest Kaerbani altered themselves to face Gisae and flowed through the clotted air towards her. Gisae turned and ran.
She had always been in tune with the world around her, it was part of why she had been chosen to train and become the Future of Clan Dharlu. Here, though, where Nataal had been debauched like a Hesyrian whore, Gisae could no longer find footing. Ten paces and she stumbled on a root the shape of a scream desperately attempting escape from the earth that no longer nourished it. The root burst as she fell, and a white milky ichor splashed her legs, the drops slowly coalescing into maggots with tiny eyes.
The only spirits she could sense near her were mad with pain and did nothing but scream. Gisae had no weapon, and the trick Carl had done summoning a staff from the earth seemed only likely to spawn something horrible.
The two Kaerbani slowed as they approached, looming over her. She stared into their not-a-faces defiantly even as she could feel the things on her legs moving, growing, beginning to taste her.
“Nataal will never fall,” she said, spitting the words with bravado born only from years of practiced defiance. She expected no response.
“I… I need to go,” Carl said to no one in particular, standing up and looking around the Hesperides reception area like he wasn’t sure where he was. The book in his hand dropped to the floor.
“Mister Herrick just finished his meeting, I’m sure he’ll be with you in just a few minutes,” the perfect young man said without looking up.
As if to pull Carl back to reality, the phone in his pocket buzzed twice. He took it out by reflex and looked at it.
MINDY: Thinking of u! Best of luck! ❤
The exterior panic in his head didn’t cease, but Carl pushed it down. He would head to Nataal as soon as he arrived home. This was the reason he had appointed Gisae his avatar, after all. She could handle it until he got there.
Carl sat down and picked up his book, hoping to lose himself in Toledo’s bullfighting. He couldn’t.
A second time, he rose to his feet, but before he could do anything more, the functionary spoke.
A third Kaerbani demon had approached. The other two seemed to have stopped their approach, deferring to the newcomer.
“Nataal will fall. You will love Kaerbanus. All will be right.”
This wasn’t possible. Kaerbani didn’t speak… they were mindless beings of rot and destruction. In hundreds of years, no one had ever communicated with a demon.
Gisae somehow found enough composure to be the first.
“Who are you?” she asked. “Why do you do this?”
“Kaerbanus,” the demon said by way of answer. Its face was spread out all across its bulbous head, and yet it seemed to Gisae like it was smiling at her. It was an awful smile.
“You’ll never win,” Gisae repeated. “Nataal will drive you back. Our god is with us.”
The thing laughed a hacking, mucusy laugh.
“You will see,” it said, turning away from her.
With its strange shifting gait, it walked down into the village again. The two demons followed. It was like some kind of silent order had gone out. All the Kaerbani stopped what they were doing and slowly made their way into the world-tear in the center of the destroyed village.
Were they… leaving?
Gisae stumbled down, half walking, half crawling over the brittle spiky earth. As the demons entered the tear, it seemed to shrink. Gisae’s new senses told her a different story, though. It wasn’t so much that the wound in the world was dwindling as it was… scabbing. Like an unwashed wound, an infected cicatrice was clotting around the tear between universes.
As the rotflames died away, there was a blackened figure left behind in the center of the bonfire like some kind of scabrous coal. Step by horrified step, Gisae approached the twisted remnant.
It floated about a foot above the ground, held up by the forces that now knotted Nataal and Kaerbanus together at this point. It had once been a man, but no man ever contorted his body in such a shape of pain and despair. His face was distorted, his jaw stretched to the center of his chest in an endless cry of violation.
It was also a message.
The man who was now no more than a foul nexus between worlds had once been the Present of the valley clan.
Gisae, though, had called him father.
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.