Bookwyrm, Part 14

Day 79. 62 pages, 25,046 words.


The weird, thick light and the sweet, swampy smell hit Predericon’s eyes and nose at about the same time, leaving her momentarily disoriented.

Before she could get a good look at the space – there appeared to be some sort of light shifting and glowing in the centre, and a few indistinct formations of pale hull-material scattered around it – she was buffeted aside by something. A shape hit the rear wall of the airlock chamber and flailed there for a moment, hissing and splattering damply. Predericon managed to stagger upright and half-turn, then Odium screamed.

“No!” the Demon, breathing raggedly as though it was still a living human that even needed air, lunged out of the little room and dragged Gyden with it, then spun her in its grip like a doll and flung her back between Predericon and Lelhmak, directly at the thing that was still scrabbling at the rear of the airlock. The shape swayed aside lazily and Gyden struck the wall – which was now darkened and streaked with strange, clotted slime – awkwardly with her right shoulders. She crumpled in a tangle of arms and legs, and the thing slid past the other two Molren and advanced on the Demon. “No!” Odium screeched. “No don’t! No, take her!”

Lelhmak and Predericon had flattened themselves against the side-walls of the chamber, but Predericon couldn’t check on either of her companions at that moment. Her eyes were fixed on the thing that was casually following Odium out into the weird aquatic light of the lower archives.

She tried to convince herself that it was a Flesh-Eater. She really tried – it was a strange sensation that at least one part of her consciousness was able to examine. Her brain worked at it. It looks sort of like one, she bargained with herself. Just ignore the rest, and remember that it’s a Flesh-Eater like Stankley.

But it wasn’t. Not exactly.

Like a Flesh-Eater it was gaunt, vaguely Molranoid, and seemed to have four spindly arms terminating in blades, or at least tapering to points. Details were hard to make out because a lot of its pallid Flesh-Eater skin was streaked and beaded with the same thin, greyish slime and darker clots that it had smeared on the rear wall of the airlock in its attempt to escape. But there was something else … melded to the Flesh-Eater frame. Something pinkish and yellowish and scaly. Something with a great arching neck and head, making it even taller than the Molren and letting it tower over the Demon. The sides of its neck were flattened and flared out in a serpentine hood. It was twisted, mangled, but all the more horrifying for its beauty.

But the worst part was that the two merged entities were themselves incomplete, and didn’t add up to a complete creature. There were gaps. If smoke and mist could be formed out of flesh – mangled and boiled and rotted flesh – that was what made up the gaps in the figure’s construction. And those missing pieces shifted, consuming and replacing parts of the thing’s body, chewing up scales and hard, pallid skin and peeling back to reveal unblemished surfaces behind them, like wandering anatomical overcast.

It was horrible, yet hypnotic. Predericon couldn’t look away, couldn’t even move. She heard Gyden shift, draw in a short hiss of pained breath and then groan in faint disgust, presumably at the mess in which she’d been unceremoniously rubbed. Then Gyden also stopped making any discernible sounds. Predericon was unwilling or unable to turn her head to check.

The strange snakelike figure weaved from side to side as silently as a shadow, and continued to advance unhurriedly on the Demon it had apparently selected as its prime target. Its arms came up, shifting and swelling and glistening as they changed from state to state.

Odium gave a final squeal, the sound obscenely ecstatic, like a child being chased and tickled. There was no sanity in it. “No don’t please-”

The thing wrapped its arms around the Demon with a wet crackling sound, and marched with it into the crawling lights in the middle of the chamber, seeming to descend as it marched. Odium’s screams continued, wavering from breathless primate shrieks to rending, ear-stabbing sounds like tortured metal inside a broken machine. It was unthinkable that even an undead throat could make such noises.

The light pulsated, darkening and brightening in an unpleasant accelerating pulse like a circulatory system, like a gland. It flushed red, then returned to the odd colourlessness it had exhibited at the start. Then it went red again, then faded. With each shift, the screams of the Demon changed in urgency and tone. At one point the pulsing slowed, and the squeals dropped into low, insistent cries of distress – the bawling of a hurt and exhausted animal that didn’t understand what was being done to it. The groans sharpened abruptly into, not a gasp, but a heavy rupturing sound, wet and emphatic and accompanied by a gusting cough. Something, a patter of small objects, flew out of the light and rolled across the floor.

Predericon managed to flick her gaze downwards at the nearest of the pieces, and was dully unsurprised to see it was a digit, either a toe or a segment of finger. Nearby, she caught the gleam of a tooth that would have been difficult to see in the shifting light and against the white enamel floor, but for the ragged edge of flesh and a broken second tooth alongside it. Teeth and appendage alike leaked a strange dark fluid that wasn’t blood, but may have been the diabolised equivalent.

At the same time as the heavy ripping cough and the little cascade of body-parts, the screaming resumed frantically and the pulsing light accelerated again. And it went on.

And on.

Predericon wasn’t sure how long it lasted. Less than ten minutes, more than five. More than she thought even a Demon of the Adversary should have to suffer. On four more occasions there were the slow-downs, the pulsing stopped and the shrieks faded to sobs. Then there was the same abrupt build-up, the heavy tearing sound of impact, and a patter of small pieces of flesh, bone, and things that might have been internal organs. The noise redoubled, and the pulse sped back up to a horrible exuberant rush.

Finally, though, it was over. The screams ended in a final choked sigh, and there were a half-dozen more of the loud, meat-rending blows, each one accompanied by a spray of flesh, then of bone-fragments and black paste, then simply of droplets of the fluid itself, with neither sobs, renewed screams, nor an accompanying increase in the light’s palpitations to go along with it. Simply the aimless sounds of something visiting mindless brutality on a piece of already-dead flesh.

Then there was silence for another minute or so. Predericon could hear both Gyden and Lelhmak now, breathing quickly and lightly in a harmonic to her own rapid breaths. She still couldn’t unlock her frozen muscles, but she began to feel a slight lessening of the animal panic that might, just maybe, allow her to move in due course. She even began to think that if she and Lelhmak edged back towards the rear of the airlock where Gyden was crouched, the lower archives door might close and permit them to escape. Their mission, after all, would seem to be accomplished. This was clearly the means of disposal the Destarion had intended for Odium all along. She just hadn’t told them so, perhaps because they might have balked.

I would not describe it as anything so prosaic as a waste disposal system, of course, Predericon remembered Segment Four telling them.

Then it was too late. The misshapen figure stepped back out of the light and started towards them.


– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.

About Hatboy

I’m not often driven to introspection or reflection, but the question does come up sometimes. The big question. So big, there’s just no containing it within the puny boundaries of a single set of punctuationary bookends. Who are these mysterious and unsung heroes of obscurity and shadow? What is their origin story? Do they have a prequel trilogy? What are their secret identities? What are their public identities, for that matter? What are their powers? Their abilities? Their haunted pasts and troubled futures? Their modus operandi? Where do they live anyway, and when? What do they do for a living? Do they really have these fantastical adventures, or is it a dazzlingly intellectual and overwrought metaphor? Or is it perhaps a smug and post-modern sort of metaphor? Is it a plain stupid metaphor, hedged around with thick wads of plausible deniability, a soap bubble of illusory plot dependent upon readers who don’t dare question it for fear of looking foolish? A flight of fancy, having dozed off in front of the television during an episode of something suitably spaceship-oriented? Do they have a quest, a handler, a mission statement, a department-level development objective in five stages? I am Hatboy.
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