Here in the emptiness of time, where nightmares never end and the unthinkable confronts you day after day, there is no room for myths like the City of Light. A world ruled by a monstrous atrocity grown bigger than a city, her physical elements spread throughout the lands by her ceaseless hoard of servants, doesn’t allow for such a delusion.
Intensely aware of Enta harnessed to my back, unable to tumble for fear of crushing her, I dove forward along a crease of the Desiderasha and scrambled between two nodules the size of porgrents, knife and rifle in hands. The surface of the Desiderasha shuddered, and I turned around to see one of her giant siphons pulling back from where I’d stood.
Like a flea on a dog I jumped between her grotesque tumors, bouncing off their sides to get to the next one. We came across a smooth surface the size of a warlord’s court, one of the shimmery ones that looked toxic, a red ooze at its edge. The air rising from it stung my eyes, burned my nostrils, and made us both choke. I spat on it causing it to sizzle and smoke, so we had to turn back and find a way through the tumors to get around it.
We rounded the first nodule and nearly collided with a red Child of the Desiderasha. He reached for me, grabbing my shoulder as I plunged my knife deep into his throat and wrenched it back and forth. He let go and fell, but I heard many more growling, howling, and gibbering in their incomprehensible language.
I climbed a tumor shaped like a ghowat’s head and observed hoards of creatures coming our way, some just on the other side of my perch. I set my rifle and started shooting, the closest one’s first. I lost count, but I spent about thirty precious rifle rounds, and they kept coming.
“Dive!” Enta pounded my back as she yelled.
I launched myself to the side where the two largest tumors gave cover. The surface shuddered and bounced, a glance back showing me the Desiderasha’s siphon pulling back, a mouth full of her own flesh.
The hoard was close. I could hear them, and I caught flashes of color between the nodules. For a second I thought of cutting off a siphon for a bridge across the toxic area. Such foolish thoughts are born of desperation. Some desperate thoughts, however, bring new life. The hoard was very close.
I crept back to the red one I’d killed, dragged him to the side of the poison, and pushed him onto it. He slid easily over the surface.
I looked across, estimating the thrust it would take, and thought I could do it. I pulled him off and pulled him up from under his armpits. He was immensely heavy, a bolder his size would be easier.
I picked him up and took several steps back, then ran forward, thrusting hard at the edge to propel us across the toxic substance. I pulled my arms from under him and gripped the top of his shoulders. He hit the ground and we landed on top of him, though the toes of my boots scraped the surface. I pulled my knees up and dug my toes into his thighs.
His flabby skin crackled and popped as we glided toward the other side. I quickly realized we wouldn’t make it all the way, so as we slowed, I pushed with my boot, but it only slid, and my sole grew hot. We slowed to a stop a few strides from the edge. The underside of the red’s body melted into the Desiderasha. My toes were on fire.
I stood up on his chest, visualized my three quick strides, and stepped onto the surface. My foot slipped, pulling me forward. I lurched to keep my balance, horrified that I might fall on my back and push Enta into the poison. Sliding my feet to keep my balance, I glided slowly toward the edge, and stepped off.
Both feet burned and smoked. I pulled off my boots, melted through and ruined, my right foot already blistering.
Across the way, the hoard assembled along the edge, watching us. Several pursued around the edge. I crept up one of the nodules to look around. The end of the Desiderasha was only a pistol shot away. I picked a path between two siphons that would be difficult for either to reach. I slid down the tumor and ran as fast as I could, bouncing between the growths.
Toward the edge, the nodules smoothened out, and I sprinted toward the end. I saw the siphon coming this time, dodged it, and kept my stride, turning and sliding feet first to the edge, stopping on my stomach. I dropped down and surprised a few of the breadloaf creatures, sending them scattering.
I sprinted through the crowds of feeders, watching for the Desiderasha’s Children, but I saw none. I laughed. I’d drawn them off after all, if not as intended. I sprinted up the hill, and dared a look back from the top.
I sucked air, my legs shook, and I let out a dry heave.
“You okay, Enta.”
“Yes. Are you okay, Mallo?”
I laughed. “I think so.”
I noticed the red streams had thickened, and even as I watched they broke into more rivulets, seeping faster up the hill. The Desiderasha’s tunnels that extended over the hills swayed and stretched as if searching for something. My scalp twisted, I turned, and I ran.
It was well into the night before I found a spot far enough away from Children, spawn, and feeders for my comfort. Any I came across would be ignorant of the mayhem behind us, but I wanted a manageable distance in case a messenger got to them while we rested.
I expected they would hunt for us for days to come, but out here in the bleak wilderness they would soon discover the folly in it.
I unharnessed Enta, untied the blanket, and prepared the ground. I then lay Enta on the blanket and sat next to her. I tried to count my rounds three or four times, but dozed off during each attempt.
I sat cross-legged until sunlight woke me.
Enta stirred and looked up, and though her thin smile warmed my heart, I dreaded what I had to do next.
“Let me look at you,” I said.
I picked at the Desiderasha’s flesh, still clinging to her legs and middle. I pulled it away from her waist. She winced and frowned, her eyes glistening, but she didn’t complain. It peeled away, but some of the veiny worms reached down from the flesh and bored into her legs. I cut away the larger portions of Desiderasha flesh until only the worms going into her body remained.
I took off my tattered shirt and folded it twice, then draped it over her middle, covering her belly and upper legs.
She squirmed when I pulled on her breeches.
The worms formed dense clusters, boring into her feet and calves, then grew more sparse, ending just above the knees. I chose one higher up and pulled.
Enta squawked. “No, Mallo, no!”
“Be brave, Enta.”
She squirmed. “Nooo!” she screamed. “Leave it! Leave it!”
She sat up and pounded her fists on my arm as I held her leg firm and pulled. She screamed and pushed.
The worm released and I pulled about a finger length of it out of her and threw it on the ground a few feet away.
She stopped screaming and looked at me, eyes wide and mouth open.
“Okay?” I said.
She nodded. “Get them. Get all of them. Please, please, get them.”
Little by little I removed the invasive flesh, pulling carefully, each going tight, then releasing and coming out. I only had to dig out one of them, but it was shallow. Her lips quivered tightly, tears falling from her closed eyes, my Enta was so brave. She didn’t cry out, trusting the point of my knife.
She is too small a child to have to bear such things, but she will heal. Even now her wounds reject the poisons of the Desiderasha.
I was wrong about there being no room for anything like the City of light. For my beloved Enta, that beautiful girl who fills my heart with hope and nearly crushes it under the weight of my love, is my City of Light. She is the shining light in this world that makes all other things worth enduring.