Ghost Story - Dominion Day


J. Edward Tremlett

"Thought I saw blood turn to wine
 A vision from the Angel Wars
 I didn't think I'd find the saviour in the dark.
 Thought I saw a light tear the storm
 Showing me the way to God
 Didn't know that Heaven died and went to Hell."

 "Dead Heaven" -- Gary Numan

In the darkness of the Labyrinth, there where no sounds could be heard but the faraway echoes of screaming and sorrow, pain and memory, there was a sound not unlike a ripe fruit being broken open.

A section of the wall buckled outward, its surface gellid and dripping with the raw stuff of Oblivion Itself. It stretched, membrane-like, to fit the contours of a hand surrounded by a great, clanking metal brace. The hand stayed in its position after a moment's exertion, and was then followed by another hand, and then a foot, both surrounded by metal bracing. Another foot followed, and at this point the membrane could take no more: it snapped back and broke, a meat balloon breaking under stress, revealing the prize it had kept hidden for these last eight hours.

Any one of his former colleagues - those who claimed to know Penitent Anacreon Daniel Williams, but would hope to their God that was a lie - would have been shocked to see this change. The base form still held: a somewhat handsome man with a short, well-kept beard, a compelling but blank stare framed by small spectacles, and a strange network of rusting and oily metal braces that straddled his entire body from foot to neck.

But where there was once body beneath those frames, there was now only a grotesque absence. Only head, hands and feet remained, their stumps dribbling reddish plasm onto the floor.

The metal body creaked and swayed as he held his hands up for inspection. They were whole once more, as was the rest of him. He allowed himself neither smile nor sigh of relief at this, though. The assassination attempt had been sloppy and rushed, and he had foreseen it and made plans. These had succeeded, of course, and now he was here.

(I) have much to do, he said, or perhaps thought, to himself, abandoning the redundant language of the Stygian paradigm for the swift complexities of the Hive. Think? Speak? Was there really any difference now?

And, having settled that philosophical question for the moment, he turned and began making his way towards where he needed to go. The slow and steady CHUFF-CHUFF-CHUFF of his legbraces resounded like hoofbeats echoing far and away.

*      *      *


The way to his master's temple was educational.

Daniel's previous journeys to this place were that of the Wraith to the Harrowing. He had come an unwilling supplicant to the shrine, been tested both within and without and then sent back to lick his wounds, not yet worthy to revel in this garden. He had never seen what lay beyond the walls of his cell.

Of his fellow "guards" he saw very little. A group of twisted Shades came by, but fled in horror when they saw the look in his eyes. Off in the distance he could hear an ominous silence, and knew that a pack of Striplings must be nearby, waiting for a fool to stumble into their lair. He was none such, and avoided that way. An Apparition kneeling in fervent prayer did not even notice his passage, and Daniel left him to his earnest worship, even if it was to another godhead than the one Daniel called master. He could afford some kindness; It was too early to be totally ruthless, yet.

The passages were many different things, here. Some were made of pulsing, rotting meat, crawling with maggots the size of pythons. Some were akin to walking in the central groove of the spine of a fallen leviathan. Some were suspended platforms in great, rusting warehouses, filled with swinging chains anchored by man-sized hooks that clanked together. And some were darkened, dripping, white-tile corridors littered with wet corpses that seemed to melt under the pale, flickering fluorescent lights above.

And just as no two avenues were exactly the same, so too did every turn reveal some new, charnel wonder. In the center of a candle-lit grotto a rusting, gallon drum of black water sat, a woman's gaping and eyeless face floating just below the surface. There was a naked and sexless quadruple amputee whimpering at the bottom of a slick, steep stairway, his stumps raw and useless things. And there was a lovely, white cradle rocking slowly back and forth in a hallway made from oversized alphabet blocks. Under the pink blankets was a baby's skeleton covered in thick cobwebs, with a bloated, hairy spider folded inside the ruined skull.

Around the corner was the sound of a man being beaten, or gelded - perhaps both. When Daniel walked by to look there was nothing but a smear of blood-like plasm, a riding crop covered with bloody strips of flesh and hair, and a book entitled A Guide to Happy Families. In another corner a woman was laughing hysterically as she let a deformed, spastic child nurse at her breast. The reddened, jellyfish baby had chewed pieces out of her, leaving great wounds that bled heavily. She found this extremely amusing.

There was a great, dimly-lit schoolroom filled to bursting with pickled animals in glass jars. Each and every desk and table was covered with clinking bottles, their contents turning to sludge in the formaldehyde within. Written on the blackboard were the words "Please come back to me. I love you." Its author was nowhere to be seen, but Daniel could feel him here, as though he'd left an impression in the room from being there too long.

And in one corner a man sat cross-legged, continuously sewing his eyes shut with sharp wire. On his chest, in scars made by constant fingernail-etching, was written the plea PISS IN MY MOUTH. Daniel didn't have the materials to oblige, anymore, but patted him warmly on the head for his devotion and continued on. He thought he could afford the gift of encouragement, for he was nearly at his own destination.

He was nearing the heart of things, here, or was it the head? Directions were meaningless. It was all instinct that mattered. His big mistake had been trying to think, all those years. If he had just let himself feel he would have been here years ago.

That thought was a sobering one. Before, when he'd been to this holiest or places, he had failed. Yet at the time, he'd thought those failures to be victories. He had returned to "society," after all. He had returned to his place, his chains, his post, his duties, returned to everything that Stygia claimed made a free and responsible citizen.

But now, now that he understood the truth of the matter, he realized that this place was the true destination of all. His "victories" had been defeats. "Society" was a lie perpetrated to keep a certain handful of sycophants-turned-autocrats in power.

He would have no more lies. His life had been a search for truth, and now he had found it.

And he turned the corner, walking into a great, gaping passageway, and gazed upon the temple to that truth for the first time.

*      *      *

In the time before, when the Labyrinth had been gnawed from the stuff of Oblivion, the Never-born had eaten their fill, ruled for a time, and then fallen asleep in the womb of their home. Their servants had gone to great lengths to honor and appease them, hewing temples and shrines in the dark, twilit caverns their masters' churning had left behind. And although there were those - the Once-born - who had come after, and claimed godhood and all worship that came with it, their temples were weak and shabby things compared to the glory of the eldests' ones.

This was one such temple. It was a great ur-structure, consisting of a round dome held up by great, thrusting, bone-like supports that arched across the cavern from side to side. Inside, outside, and in all spaces in between were great lines of crystal, all glittering in the darkness and lit by green balefire.

These crystal lines were the tendrils of the godhead that resided within. To touch them was to touch Him, and to touch Him unprepared was to fall under His spell and become like Him. There were many such supplicants there, all man-shaped crystal statues who stood at eternal worship, their hands clutching the nodules they'd sought.

There was an entrance. It was guarded by two Mortwights, lugging their broken and smashed forms along, ever-bleeding onto the floor.

(Who) goes /there/? One of them asked, brandishing a crystalline spear.

(I) do, Daniel answered, (I) am (your) new high priest. Stand /aside/ and let (me) enter.

They looked at him and laughed. Daniel made no sign of displeasure or puzzlement, as this was to be their expected reaction, and he continued forward. One of them lunged forward, still laughing, to try and stop him.

After that, the laugher abruptly stopped.

*      *      *


Inside the temple, the Nephwracks and Apparitions stood about lazily, somewhat bored with the proceedings. They'd been following His absolute and unquestionable dictates for some time, now, and though they held Him in their devotions almost as high as they held Oblivion Itself, something was missing.

In truth, they knew what was missing, though none of them dared speak its name. The end of things was coming closer every day. In their gut they could feel the churning void below, ever eager to spit up parts of Itself and go back on the offensive. A Maelstrom was ripe and overdue. It just needed a catalyst, and though the followers of the other godheads were all searching for such a thing, His followers seemed content to serve, and wait.

Some might have accused them of sliding from Kindling to Barrow, and any who dared would be flayed for it. But the truth? The truth was that they knew this, and seemed content to let it go unsaid. They had mistaken the tool for the project, and seemed to content with the Labyrinth and all its glories to dream of the emptiness that lay beyond it, anymore.

All this and more Daniel took in as he scuffled his way into their presence, the plasm of the two Mortwight guards still staining his hands. A few more guards were roused to confront him, but they pulled back in fear of his eyes and rushed to be beaten for disobeying rather than look at them anymore.

A new (one), the high priest said from upon his throne of stone, bone, gristle and crystal. He seemed a part of that throne - a projection. He resembled little more than a skull and ribcage atop a humanoid pile of quartz that quivered and moved in time with the skull.

Indeed, another one said, his corpus studded with crystal outcroppings that poked through the corpus in strategic points, What is (your) name, newest sliver?

(I) am one with HIM
, Daniel said, (My) name has no meaning before (my) function.

And what is (your) function?
the high priest asked again, feeling a little uncomfortable, as though he could sense what this was leading to.

(My) function is a simple one. (I) have come /here/ to take control of the /temple/ and its ministry. (You) will vacate (your) /throne/ and take (your) place at (my) /feet/, just as (I) take (mine) at HIS.

The silence was deafening, especially in the Labyrinth. It was broken by a wave of outrage and anger.

Heretic! they cried.

Apostate! cried another, brandishing a crystalline sword that dripped ichor, forming small colonies of itself on the floor where it fell. (You) dare pretend to power that is not (yours)? Assume (your) /place/!

Assume (yours),
Williams replied calmly, making the sign of power between finger and thumb. They blanched: no one had known that outside of their number? Who had told?

(You're) a cunning rogue, (little sliver), their seniormost admitted, squirming in his chair, But it will not help (you). (You) must earn what (you) get /here/. It is never merely given away.

(I) did earn it.

the man with the sword asked. /Where/ /were/ (you)?

/Outside/, /where/ (you) cannot go
, he answered, /There/, in life as in death, (I) toiled towards the great understanding that HE brings. (I) sacrificed. (I) dared. (I) risked all (I) had and was consumed, and in dying (I) continued. And /now/..., /now/ (I) am /here/ to take (my) /place/ amongst (you). But not as whelp. As Priest.

(Your) new Priest
, he stated once more, more forcefully, raising his hands: First amongst the Ascending. (You) know this to be true, even if (your) mouths will not admit it. (You) feel it in (your) minds even /now./ Listen carefully to (my) words. (You) will hear HIS voice in them.

Fuck (you)
, one of the Apparitions spat: (I) hear nothing but (you), /here/.

Williams said nothing, and merely reached out to touch the Apparition. It was but a glancing blow of a single finger, and yet when that finger was gone, the Apparition was nothing more than a squirming smear of plasm on the floor. It twisted like dough stretching back to its original position, and mewled for help.

(Your) inability to obey (your) Godhead says much, Daniel said, not giving much thought to his handiwork, (I) see (I) have arrived at the right /moment/.

(The Apparition) spoke rudely, but true
, the sword-bearer hissed: (You) have come /here/ to do nothing but die once more, Heretic.

Williams stood his ground yet again, watching the remaining Nephwracks and Apparitions - even the one seemingly attached to the throne - charge at him.

They were twenty, and he was but one. They were armed with tools stolen from His wisdom and knowledge, and he was unarmed. They were fat and ripe with Being, and the dark understanding that no mere Wraith may learn, and he was a minor speck of a newly-created Nephwrack, and one who had just reknitted himself together from the blast of a relic grenade no less.

But he was a man who had destroyed a Legendary with a mere gesture. He was a man who had stared into the abyss and walked from it, smiling and yet unchanged. He was a man who was rightfully feared for the stare he possessed, for within it was an understanding that no one who had not walked the path he had could ever hope to understand.

And, as of this day, he was a man who had found the answer to that one, true question that had puzzled Mankind for aeons: what is evil if there is no good? In answering, he had passed the test that they had merely pretended to. And Ialdabaoth had showered him with His favors, and given him His imprimatur. His approval. His stewardship. His right to call himself the Priest of this temple and all who prostrated within and without.

Therefore, it was no contest.

The mighty and the bloated and the old were like kindling rushing before the fire. Williams' form warped and extended, an iron anemone flowering in the sludge. Caught unaware in his feelers they were rended, then rendered, and then remade. It was an eternity of pain for them, and their suffering was the stuff of which legends were made. It lasted all of five seconds but seemed to last five eternities for them, especially when Williams cracked their bones between his monstrously distended jaws and devoured them all at once.

And then there was nothing left of them but their dropped weapons, and a squirming Apparition on the floor who was still unable to do more than whimper. Williams tucked himself back into the form He had given him, and decided to let the foul-mouthed whelp continue in being, at least for now. A witness to this divine coup would be needed, and he'd need at least one other to perform His rites this evening.

Larger, feeling more powerful than he'd ever felt before, and buoyed by the dictates of the great shard of divinity in the next chamber, he went to go grovel before Ialdabaoth: to lick His smooth facets and worship every line, every crack, every great and wonderful asymmetry in His form. He would make dark love to his god of light there, in the darkness, and when he had performed that act of duty he would go forth and lead in His name.

This was the nature of things. This was the way it had always been. This is how it would be until the end of things, ever so terribly and wonderfully soon to come.

This was the way of Oblivion.

And the way of Oblivion was truth.