If you can call this thing of nightmare a her; dragon scales rippled with a watery sheen and the ever-so slight rise and fall of her breath. Each scale shone as if it were comprised both of darkness and the tiniest slivers of light. It was once said that, to stare at them was to be lost in their shimmer, and for a moment witness destruction spanning thousands of years in a single second. Seeing her was to court madness.
She dreamed. She once roamed the Earth, free and the world trembled. She inspired legends of terrible djinn, fiends from worlds beyond, all were tales of her or her many, many children. She incited madness, lust for power, and ultimately the destruction of all she and her children touched. Sodom and Gomorrah were both victims of her wrath. Mad prophets would later claim it was some other god. Soon after, she consumed said prophets; mangy, stringy things, which stuck in her teeth and gave her a bout of indigestion, but could never find all of the books that took the credit away from her and were later published.
Thinking of those mad prophets made her think of dusty Babylon. Brilliant Babylon knew how to treat a being of her stature, they worshiped her, revered her and gave her the proper homage until they too betrayed her. Cast her into darkness, silenced her destruction. As a parting gift she destroyed their Hanging Gardens and left a seed that would ensure their ultimate destruction.
They could not kill her, she was a god. But they could imprison her and cast her into a darkness that lasted for millennia. A cooling soothing darkness, one which softened her rage, quieted her powers and hid her from the view of man. The darkness was connected to the Void and the Void was everywhere and nowhere. And for a time, she was forgotten. Many of her children were destroyed by heroes of various ages, eventually forced into hiding or exile, lest they too be destroyed. And they too were forgotten.
The darkness hid her terrible bulk, shuttered away beyond the light from the early morning. The green canopy overhead blocked all but the most determined of misty light and kept much of her from view. The monolithic temple hid the rest of her. She was not a thing most humans would want to see. In fact, no human had seen her this way for over a thousand years. Those that had, inspired new religions, talk of serpent gods and the destruction of the world.
She slept easily during those times. They made sacrifice to her and she grew strong again. But she could not attract attention. So during the night, one night a thousand years ago, she drew her new people to her into the Void and they waited, serving her, making new things, and waiting. No human had seen her since. And she preferred to keep it that way, until the prophecy spoken of two thousand years ago came to pass.
This dragon, this monstrosity of scales, this frightening creature of myth and legend, this mother of monsters, eater of men, ravager of worlds, slept deeply and dreamed of mad prophets who said she would return to the world. She had a special penchant for those mad prophets, who even today, preached the revelation of her return, free from constraint, free from morality, free to sow and reap humans like the wheat of dusty Babylon. Such dreams gave this living monstrosity a fearsome shudder and the humans nearby for a thousand miles, in every direction experienced an earthquake.
These quakes were becoming more common for them, more powerful, some causing nightmares. Dreams of more terrible quakes to come, some that spoke of a time, where monsters would rise up and slay men and bathe in their blood. No one ever spoke of such nightmares. Even to acknowledge them seem to drive men to madness. So most kept doing what they always did, living lives of quiet desperation.
Even in her sleep, their fear and terror fed her, pleased her, and for a moment excited her. Then she returned to sleep, a deeper sleep, and in that sleep, she dreamed again. And often those dreams were the stuff of human nightmare, capsizing ships, destroying buildings, releasing volcanoes. Today she dreamed a dream of modern life, putting on a business suit, dark blue, carrying a slim and stylish briefcase and going to work; an insurance firm in New York City, specializing in insuring the rare, the expensive and things so valuable they were irreplaceable. She would not work there very long. Just long enough to ensure that some of those things would cease to exist, through unfortunate accidents, hostile takeovers, theft, extortion or murder; a woman simply has to have hobbies between attempts to destroy the world.
* * *
The first thing he noticed was the chill. It was a pervasive thing, it felt as if it froze the very marrow of his bones. Not normally affected by weather, he found the sensation unpleasant, but not unbearable. Standing up, he began to take in his surroundings. There was no light — no that is not right, there was no normal source of light. No lantern, no torch, no lamp, no light bulb; yet the room gave off a subtle luminescence, centered on where he sat. Driving his vision further past the illumination, he noticed that there was a radius to the field of unlight and the area he was sitting in was larger than he was able to initially perceive.
“Curious.” The sound of his voice, flew free. Encoded with his desire, it fled into the darkness and did not return. The very nature of its failure told him everything he needed to know. This subtle use of his power told him he was not in the world as he knew it. He realized he must be in a nearby Shard or worse, lost in the Void. As he considered this, his apprehension began to take shape.
Almost casually, he inspected himself and found everything seemed to be normal. He was still wearing the grey and black suit and vest common to his attire and the last thing he remembered wearing to work. His shirt was still the silken, Italian blouse he favored for formal meetings. He was wearing his favorite leather shoes, with an added non-slip surface beneath them. Not that he ever feared slipping, but it was a habit from a bygone era when one’s footing might cost one’s life. And until now, He had been very careful.
He looked down at his hands. They were still the strong hands of a Roman soldier, a bit more weathered, a bit less callused, but still capable of relieving a man of his life with a variety of tools. But the thing he was looking for was gone. His ring was missing. The sigil of his power was missing. This did not mean he was powerless, it meant that for his duty to continue, the ring moved to his successor. That meant he could not leave this prison. And that his power was in the hand of a mortal, for the first time in two millennia. A mortal He truly loved but had poorly prepared for this day.
He could only hope that his impressions all those decades ago were right.
* * *
The Director tried to wake from a dream that seemed overwhelming real and quite visceral. It was not his normal condition to dream, having not done so for many years since coming to work at Death, Incorporated. Having not dreamed in decades, left him open to the strange, surreal nature of this dream. He was standing in the middle of a field surrounded by monstrous creatures of all shapes and sizes, wielding a sword of ice and shield comprised of a field of force laying waste to everything around him.
In the distance, he could see demons and angels flashing swords of flame and lightning, illuminating the battlefield. This seemed to last days and nights and then with a final flash of lighting, the battle ended. He was the only thing standing unscathed on the field. Taking in the horrible vista, he wept, openly.
Sensing moving in the corner of his eye, he turned and dropped his terrible, ice-sword, which froze the very air near it and the blade shattered as it struck the ground. It was an Angel still moving slowly, feebly trying to remove the corpse of some horror draped across it. The Director found himself striding toward the Angel with a strange ambivalence in his core. Grabbing the nearest limb of the giant white gorilla, he flung it from the Angel, who sat up.
“Did we win?” the Angel croaked, his voice dry and likely burned from angrily flung cocoastrum during the battle. “I can’t see you, please come closer.”
“No, I do not think your side won,” the Director intoned gravely, “we are the last things alive here, so I can safely assume, my side did not win either. Do you have a name?”
“I was once called Malik, the Guardian, and I guarded the doors to Hell,” the Angel glowed visibly upon the recitation of his former station and for a moment seemed more majestic than his current condition, covered in the blood and offal of other creatures would allow.
“You may call me, Aurelius,” the Director said. “I think I was once the general of this army but now I am not so sure.”
“Well met, former general of a once mighty army. You must have been formidable to have defeated this mighty Host…” Malik began. “I cannot remember why we were fighting, though General. Do you have any memory of the conflict?” The Director seemed surprised by the Angel’s confession and had to think deeply himself.
“To be honest, I have no memory of why or how this battle took place. I am willing to forswear any further conflict if you are, Malik of the Angelic Host.” The Director’s feeling in this regard seemed sincere, even as this very real dream transpired.
“General Aurelius, as much as I appreciate you taking the time to free me from confinement, I am not able to forswear violence toward your person. There is still the matter of the Heavenly Host who even now, tell me to rend thee, limb from limb.” Malik seemed pained to admit this and sat back on his haunches and spread his wings. While he was sitting, he appeared to slowly get cleaner and his injuries began to shimmer and heal themselves. “Perhaps we could simply sit a bit longer and see if we can untangle this since there is no one here but you and I. Perhaps we can come to an agreement.”
General Aurelius – the Director took in the scene and for a moment was surprised by the carnage – there seemed to be a variety of warriors from a variety of ages, lost in time and space, vast incredible armies with amazing technologies all lay about the battlefield. The General’s senses transcended the five and with his extended awareness could see ripples in time and space where these armies were snatched and conscripted. He could also sense the ruptures that the enemy used to reach this battlefield between Time and Space. Until he used those senses, his awareness was limited to this place, this space, this time, suddenly he was aware of a thousand times, a thousand places, where He reigned and suddenly realized where and who He was.
“Malik, Angel of the Host, I declare this conflict completed. And as an act of Mercy, I shall allow you, the final survivor, to return to your Host. Remind them, this is our final conflict. The next time we meet, I shall destroy you and your utterly. Know this and never return,” the pronouncement was clearly delivered and chilled the very air around the both of them. There was a weaving of force, of malice, of murderous intent in those words. The General was sure his words were relayed to the Host, even as he said them.
Malik, clearly shaken by the tone, and the message, stood and suddenly his twelve foot stature, seemed to overshadow the tiny General before him. “General, looking around the battlefield, it is clear that you and I are at the locus of something terrible, but I do not believe that you are in any position to make demands, or to cast threats. From where I stand, it is you, who should be looking at surrender. I am Malik, the Guardian, the warder to Hell, the hand of God and Sealer of Doors. You are in no position to make demands.” Malik suddenly burst into white flames and a blue flaming sword appeared in each of his hands.
The General looked at the Angel and was momentarily in awe. “Beautiful.” With a momentary pause, he whispered, “I’m sorry.” The General raised his hand and suddenly the Angel appeared to be in a fearful wind, his flames flickered and were blown backward, wisps blasted back as the wind increased. Malik roared and leapt forward, blades flashing forward, blue fire glowing like the sun. The General Aurelius, the Director, watched in horror as his outstretched fist clenched and some unknown force exploded forward and simply erased the Angel Malik, Guardian and Warder to Hell, Hand of God and Sealer of Doors, from existence.
The Director screamed, a long wail that caused fear in all who heard it, and then he woke, his right hand burning. On his hand was the ring from his dream, bearing the Aspect Skull of Death backed with a nuclear plume, the symbol of the destroyer of Worlds.
The Aspect War © Thaddeus Howze, 2011, 2012, All Rights Reserved