I’d just killed three sleemerins, Children of the Desiderasha with skin like tree bark. Spent three rounds on them, and I was down to eighty-seven. I rested in a tiny chamber, walls oozing yellow as if the Desiderasha’s own wound festered. I dared not sit down lest the wound consume me.
The Desiderasha’s mind haunted me less in the new sections, but they were in ways far more horrible. The eyes of the men knitted into the walls weren’t so vacant, aware of their demise, some with a look of bliss, some with a look of dread and despair.
At first I thought it was a ghost on the air, but the stagnation inside the Desiderasha allowed no breeze.
It was soft and distant, but it was unmistakable. My beloved Enta. The sing-song way she used to call me when she was too afraid to arise from her sleep bundle alone.
I stepped into the outer room toward the corridor, then stopped breathing to listen, but I couldn’t discern its direction.
“Enta.” Barely a rasp, like failing to speak in a dream.
“Enta!” I yelled.
“Enta, where are you?”
“I’m here, Mallo. I’m here.” Her voice carried excitement, but also confusion.
I still had no sense of her direction. I peeked into the corridor and the massive fist of one the blue Children smashed me in the face and sent me flying back into the small room into the wall. The puss splattered and covered me, my pack stuck in the surface, holding me, my rifle pinned. The blue was upon me before I could unclip, smashing me again on the nose and chest, targeting my arm with the knife, which I dropped.
I brought my forty-five up, and he caught my forearm with his fist, jamming the gun into my stomach and gashing the skin through the leather.
He came in for the bite—they always do—and I pulled my small pistol and jammed it between his teeth, shattering them, then fired six times. He bit down on the pistol and staggered pulling it away from me. I unclipped my pack, then bent to pick up my knife. He smashed me on the back, slamming my face into the muck. He fell on top of me and held me. Slime filled my nostrils, and I couldn’t breathe.
I flailed back with the knife, striking something, little time left before strength would ebb and I would be finished. I grabbed his wrist behind me, but couldn’t budge it. I lurched and jabbed with my elbows, but didn’t connect.
This close to my Enta, I couldn’t fail her. I put my hands to the ground and pushed, focusing all the strength within me to my arms I raised my shoulders and then my face out of the filth, then gave a final shove and a spin, twisting my body sideways. His massive hands slid to the ground, and I swung the knife back slicing through his jugular, his yellow blood spraying down upon me. He gurgled and grasped at his neck. I shoved him off me and finished him.
I could barely hear above my own panting, but Enta’s faint calls still came, more insistent now.
“Mallo, Mallo, Mallo, Mallo, Mallo.”
“Keep calling, my love! I’m coming to you. Keep calling!”
The bag was stuck too firmly to waste time with it. I cut it open, filled my belt pouch with the rest of my forty-five rounds, collected some light kits, and grabbed my water skin. I pulled my rifle out of the wall, picked up my forty-five, and sheathed my knife.
I searched corridors and rooms, her voice growing fainter, growing stronger, but I couldn’t get a sense of direction. A dark recess led me to places too low to walk. I progressed on hands and knees, soon having to crawl on my belly through distorted flesh, sour breathed beetles hissing and feeding upon it. A hand grabbed my arm, but didn’t hold, I could see no owner of it.
My breath became short, in fear for Enta in this despicable hell, but also for the stifling air. The darkness was almost complete.
“Mallo, Mallo, Mallo, Mallo.”
I sucked air sharply. Her voice came clearer, and I could follow it.
“I hear you, Enta. Keep calling.”
“Mallo, Mallo, Mallo, Mallo.”
Barely visible in the darkness, the shape of a small head lifted as she called out.
I rushed forward, scraping my head upon the spongy mass overhead, clawing and scrabbling. When I reached her, she raised her head.
“Yes, my love. It’s me.” I cupped her head to support it. “I came for you.”
“Of course you did.” She announced any counter thought as profoundly foolish as only the voice of a child can.
“I’m getting you out of here.”
I pulled a light kit from my pocket, squeezed the oil out into the tiny receptacle and snapped the flint. The filaments caught fire and took hold of the substrate, which glimmered, and for the first time in many long months, I saw her face. My insides glowed, and I couldn’t help a smile.
“Mallo, your face is wrecked.”
I laughed. “It’ll heal. Let’s get you out of here.”
I moved up alongside her and saw the worst. She lay almost half buried in into the surface, the familiar skin of the Desiderasha grown around her. I pulled at it and she squeaked.
The abhorrent skin adhered to her, boring through her clothing and into her.
“Be brave little one. I’m going to separate you.”
“Noooo, Mallo. I can’t.”
“I have to.”
“Be brave, my beloved.”
I’ve told you about the unthinkable things I’ve had to do in this abject hell we’ve wrought in the emptiness of time. This was the most unthinkable. I cut my beloved Enta out of the Desiderasha while I listened to her scream.
I cut gently at first to get close to Enta, but avoid her own flesh, but it seemed only to worsen her agony, so I dug into it farther away from her, with stronger and faster slices. Under the first layer the monster sent many thick, wormy lines into her, like tough veins, and they snapped like cutting through a brogwar’s tendons. Blood ran yellow and red. I cut without ceasing, afraid her screaming would harm her throat and rob her of oxygen, but too afraid to stop and not have the heart to start again.
I made the last cut under her foot and she came loose. I pulled her into my arms, my back on the spongy flesh of the monster. I held her and pet her hair, whispering to her that she would be okay. That I had her. That I loved her. She stopped screaming and quieted into sobbing.
We didn’t have long. Something big crawled toward us. Many somethings. I smothered the light.
Enta could not move her legs, covered in the Desiderasha’s flesh as they were, so I tucked her under my arm and scrambled to look for a way out.