I sat on an exposed knoll, managing my strength for the long trek and carving off the unspoiled pieces of fungus for a morning meal. I hardly believed where I was.
Here in the emptiness of time there is no end to madness, and the closer I came to the Desiderasha where I knew my Enta must be, the more the madness of this hell gathered in a demonic pilgrimage. Tent villages appeared and disappeared. Kazashas and other monstrous servers of the Desiderasha came from all directions. Feeders of every kind migrated in clusters, making isolated sleeping places more difficult to find with every night.
They devoured each other along the way, many not seeming to care, as if they were ruminants pulling grass. Screaming and sounds of misery continued day and night. I kept my highest vigilance, the closest concern being some Karpolites pulling along three grots, huge, hairy beasts with horns almost as long as a man is tall.
The worst were the Children of the Desiderasha. The day would come soon when I would have to face the ones tending their mother. They came through in bands or alone, all other creatures gave them room, but it didn’t stop them from pursuing and killing with no visible reason.
Formed like men—huge men—they took many colors, and they looked like their skin didn’t fit, drooping along their limbs, but tight across their faces, out of alignment with their eyes and teeth as if they wore someone else’s. They had little or no clothing, but they were neither man nor woman. Spawned from the Desiderasha, they had no need to be.
I have no shame in telling you this. They frightened me. With all the dangers around me, I watched for them most, staying far away from them.
There was no mistaking that this trail of madness led to the Desiderasha and my beloved Enta, and too much despair surrounded me to allow thoughts of her death to extinguish my hope. I only had thoughts of finding her alive and taking her away. The life of those intentions filled my bones and drove me on.
Two Children of the Desiderasha, a red and an orange, appeared from behind the grots. In one smooth motion I threw my bag on my back, got up, started walking away from them, and unholstered my pistol, hiding the gun in front of my leg.
They came after me, and my senses screamed. There were a number of the Children in eyesight, and if they saw me attack their brethren, they would swarm me. I picked out a cluster of tents full of bristers, feeders that strip the flesh off each other and press it on themselves until it grows in.
I broke into a sprint toward the tents. I had to get around them without getting so close it would spook them.
As I’ve said many times before, you must know the monsters of the land to survive them. Yet, the Children of the Desiderasha have always held great mystery. They could feed upon anything or anyone to gain fantastic strength no matter how depleted they might have been. It was said they especially craved pure blood, blood uncorrupted by the feeders, except for the most pure, which they reserved for their mother.
They came fast behind me. They would have caught me without the head start. I went on a dead run for longer than twice my rifle range. The bristers gathered at the close side of camp brandishing scythe-shaped blades.
I couldn’t see other Children, so I slowed and feigned a stumble. I turned on my knee, brought up my pistol and fired at the closer one, the red. It hit him dead center of his chest. Yellow oozed out, but he kept coming. I cursed. I needed every round for the Desiderasha. I shot him in the head. More ooze out of the center of his forehead, but he kept coming. My blood ran cold, and I dug my feet in as they were almost upon me.
The red hit me and took me down, jolting my bones as I hit the ground. His fist was a block of iron hitting my face and chest, my feeble blocking worthless to stop him. He opened his mouth and leant down to bite my shoulder, the smell of his breath like rotting fish.
I pushed and squirmed out from underneath, another blow on the side of my head as I pulled away. He grabbed my rifle strap. I yanked and it broke. I dodged the orange as it drove at me head first, his fist catching my hip, spinning me around to fall on my rear. I used the spin’s momentum to dodge another lunge and stand.
My head rang, my eyes dripped with blood, and I gasped for air. I pulled out my knives. The Children lunged together. I leaped over them, slicing the red on the nape. The knife barely penetrated the tough skin. They turned and came at me again, but I jumped away, then went in for a slice across the red’s ribs, the skin pulling loose and minimizing the cut. I was doing very little damage, but they slowed.
They split up and tried to surround me, babbling to each other in a language I didn’t recognize. I struck first this time, diving low into a tumble and coming up to jam my big blade under the red’s armpit. I felt the bone crack, and it roared like a tsheemaroc. I spun and dove before the orange could grab me, but he hooked my ankle and I went down, dropping my small knife. A fist smashed my back, slamming me into the ground and knocking my face into a stone.
My eyes blurred and my head foamed. I lunged forward and rolled sideways, both of them almost on top of me. As they came down, I drove my knife up into the throat of the orange one, giving it a ferocious twist as the red bit my arm and pummeled my side. The bite passed such pain into me, I screamed.
I pulled the knife from the orange and plunged it into the cheek and down the throat of the red, rotating the haft to scramble his throat. He released me and roared, shuffling away, and it seemed as though the searing pain of his bite penetrated farther as he went. The orange lay motionless beside me.
I forced myself off the ground, agony piercing my ribs. The red crawled away, leaving a trail of yellow muck. He screeched in fits, and I’m certain I heard him mewl the word ‘mother,’ the only word I understood. I dragged myself up beside him and plunged my knife into the back of his neck again and again until he fell to the ground, his head nearly severed.
I wiped my eyes and looked for my things. The fight had scattered my bag, my rifle, my guns, and my knife. Several new rips loosened my cloths, spattered with blood and yellow slime. My ribs felt broken. I couldn’t say how many, the pain was tremendous. I lost a tooth and my lips started to swell, and one of my eyes.
How many of these would I have to face at the Desiderasha?
I chewed some camaroo bark from my bag for pain, then added some strickle root to rub into the bite wound. The root itself was toxic, but would neutralize much of the virulent pestilence he might have passed to me. I’d add other remedies later.
After picking everything up, I surveyed the land. The bristers broke camp in a frenzy. Nearly all the feeders and creatures fled away from me. Except for five almost as far away as I could see that came towards me. Two blue, two red, a green, and a yellow. More of the Desiderasha’s children.
Fleeing away from the Desiderasha was not a choice, so I ran toward her and adjusted slightly in the direction of the densest cluster of fleeing hoards. I passed them all before the day was through, and I didn’t let up until nightfall.