And so we set out, right into the lion’s den, the looming, otherworldly ziggurat in front of us.
The moment we entered, my head spun. There was something about this entire construction that made no sense. There was some sort of insane beauty to it, a disorienting, hellish beauty. The more I looked at the surrounding constructions, the more things didn’t make sense. It was almost as if some surfaces and edges weren’t possible in a geometrical sense.
The longer I stared at the surrounding walls, the more my head hurt. I couldn’t help but close my eyes and breathe deeply.
“Fucking hell,” I cursed as I rubbed my temples.
Sandra next to me spoke up.
“Don’t look too closely, Dylan. This place has been under this creature’s influence and has been altered. It’s not entirely part of our reality anymore. What this thing’s done here, or rather, what it’s trying to do is overlapping different planes of reality. It’s almost as if a different reality is invading our own.”
“How in the hell’s something like that possible?”
“It’s not truly. Right now we are at a place in-between ours and this creature’s reality. It’s a shifting place that’s been meticulously constructed, nothing but a transitional plane.”
As we continued down the long-winding tunnel, I noticed something ahead of us. A creature pushed itself from a tear in the wall.
Its head jerked into our direction and a scream escaped from a gorging, dark maw. It took a single explosive round to take care of the creature, whatever it had been.
As I stepped forward, I saw the creature hadn’t come from the wall. What I saw in front of me was a sort of opening, no, a portal that was slowly closing. For a moment I saw a place shrouded in deep darkness.
The further we went, the more portals we saw.
At one point I caught Theodor getting closer to one of them. Standing nearby, I saw a blazing white light and a giant, glassy plane. Theodor stood unmoving, staring deeply into it with wide, fascinated eyes.
A moment later, Sandra pushed him aside, away from the portal.
“Don’t. Those are dangerous. You might get lost. The longer you stare into it, the higher the chance of falling into it.”
Theodor stared back once more and I could see him shudder before he went on. He never said a word about what he saw.
We saw more creatures ahead of us. I lifted my gun, but the moment they noticed us, they hurried away.
“They aren’t attacking,” I blurted out in a perplexed voice.
“It’s because it wants us to reach it,” Sandra said.
“So it’s arrogant?”
Sandra gave a short laugh, but there was no humor in it.
“It’s got a reason to be, doesn’t it? This entire place here, Dylan, it created it. There’s no reason for it to fear us.”
“So why are we even-?”
“Motherfucker,” I heard Theodor curse and found him staring at the wall to our right.
“What’s going on?” I asked, but I saw it right away.
The wall didn’t just comprise debris. No, there were parts of humans between them. It was almost as if they’d used their remains as plaster.
For a moment, as my eyes stared at the organic-inorganic mixture of the wall, I thought I saw the flesh twitch.
I averted my eyes and took a deep breath. Fucking hell.
The tunnels we walked through, stretched out further and further, becoming longer, more winded, almost labyrinthine. The whole place was much larger than you’d expect.
It had to be because of what Sandra said. Reality was contorted here, changed.
At one point we saw a disgusting, ghastly idol in front of us. It depicted a tentacled mess. The moment I set eyes on the alien thing, my vision became blurry, its forms started to shift as if alive. I couldn’t help but stare at it with a mixture of wonder and fear.
Then Sandra swatted it aside with a move of her hand.
Right away, laughter filled my head, laughter and a vision showing me that similar idols were created in the tunnels all around us.
I don’t know for how long we continued walking. The tunnels were changing all around us. There was more flesh, more blood, warping the tunnels into a grown together mess of flesh, blood and debris.
As I stared at them, my head started to hurt. The patterns all around us were too confusing, too abstract. I popped a memory contraption to keep my brain functioning normally.
Suddenly, Sandra’s face grew angry, frustrated.
“Why are you playing this game? You want us to come to you, so get us there already?” she screamed.
This time, the laughter wasn’t in our head. This time it reverberated from all around us.
And then the tunnel grew smaller, was shrinking.
“What the hell is-?”
“Quiet!” Sandra cut me off.
And then it was over and before us loomed a grand hall.
I couldn’t tell how big it was. Its geometry was impossible. The shapes were too complex, too constricted. They would, no, they should collapse, and yet they didn’t. They could only exist here, in this impossibility of a place.
I followed Sandra into the room, trying my hardest not to be distracted by the alien physics all around me.
A group of strange creatures had gathered in front of us. They were lumbering, twisted things. Their bodies, like the physics of the room, made no sense. They were all wrong, too many limbs sprouting from their bodies, making them look like freakish amalgamations of flesh.
I pointed the gun at them, but they didn’t attack us. They screeched in shock and fled to the back of the hall.
At that moment, I could finally make out what they’d been working on.
“What the fuck,” Theodor pressed out, and I saw his eyes grow wide.
His hands opened and closed, but not in horror. No, in sheer and utter rage.
Sandra next to me cringed, her face riddled by terror.
In the center of the hall stood another one of the ghastly idols. This one, however, was different. This time the shaking and twitching movements were no illusion. My mouth opened, but no words escaped when I realized what it was made of.
Dozens of people had been twisted and fused together into this thing. I saw bodies, limbs, saw wide eyes and mouths perpetually open in toneless screams. Blood was flowing from it and organs dangled from it like ghastly decorations.
The floor of the hall, too, was littered with people.
Theodor next to me was shaking.
“You damn fuckers,” he pressed out and a moment later he rushed forward to throw himself at the creatures that had formed the disgusting idol.
He’d taken only a few steps when the entire hall erupted from a shockwave. Theodor was thrown back and crashed right into me.
Sandra used her powers to shield us from the blunt of it, but I could see her struggling, barely able to keep up with the powers that assaulted us.
Then I saw a tiny, glowing thing floating over the idol. Another burst of energy followed, but this time it wasn’t directed at us.
A vortex formed around the tiny, glowing light and I watched in horror when the people closest to it were torn apart, shredded and ground into flesh and bone, flesh and bone that began reforming into a body above the idol.
I watched as bones formed and flesh grew. Mouths and eyes opened, organs developed before they were incorporated into the rest.
I raised my gun, wanted to shoot, but my arm, my hand, was shaking so badly from its presence alone that I wasn’t able to aim.
Right at that moment, bursting laughter reverberated through the entire hall, shaking me to the core.
Sandra next to me gasped, and when I turned to look at her, all the color had dropped from her face.
“I, I got it wrong. What we saw the other day wasn’t its body. I’d got it all wrong. This thing, it’s got no real physical body like we do. It’s nothing, but a concentrated body of energy. What its forming is just another extension, another proxy.”
My eyes went back to the thing in front of me, to the ever growing mess of flesh and bone.
Sandra staggered, took a step back before she fell to her knees. I was about to call out to her, but right at that moment I was hit as well.
Images flooded my mind, invaded it, scratched at my sanity. For a moment I wasn’t sure where I was as my consciousness was plunged into some dark, twisted abyss. I pushed against it with all I could, screamed at myself and closed my hand around one of the small distortion devices in my pockets. I didn’t know if it would work, but I prayed it would.
My head started to hurt when the small device sent out a sharp, tingly sound. It stabbed into my ears, but the images had vanished.
I raised the gun, shot at the thing. Bullets hit, flesh was torn, but it didn’t do a thing. The damage was repaired almost instantly.
Then the creature retaliated. This time it didn’t bother with our minds. This time it used hard, brute force. When the shockwave hit me, the gun flew from my hand. I was thrown backwards and screamed up in pain when I hit the floor.
I ripped out a grenade, was about to activate and throw it when Sandra raised her hands.
“What do you want?” she called out, panting and shaking.
The thing laughed from the dozens of mouths all over its new-formed body.
“This is not your realm! You don’t belong here! This, this invasion of yours, it won’t succeed! There’s more of us on the way and they will destroy you! It’s futile!”
The distortion device in my hand disintegrated and exploded. Before I could so much as curse, a new flood of power hit me.
I saw images of destruction, of people being torn apart, of a sky in flames. Futility, it was saying, useless.
“No, that won’t happen, you won’t be able to do any of this!” she screamed.
In an instant, she had two more vials in her hand and swallowed their content.
Right away, I could feel the pressure, the power emanating from her. I stared at her as her eyes grew wider and wider, as her hair stood up.
“Dammit Sandra, what are you,” I called out, but she didn’t even listen to me.
Instead her hands shot forward, spread out, and a wave of power descended upon the creature in front of us. Flesh was torn, ripped apart before the creature pushed Sandra’s power aside. A second later, the creatures behind it were hit and evaporated into a mist of gore and blood.
Once more the creature in the center laughed, and I could see how the remains of its underlings were incorporated into its body.
A new emotion appeared in my mind, astonishment, acknowledgement and then… anger.
Before I could even react, the creature attacked again. Flesh poured from its body, formed into appendages, tentacles, that shot out into our direction.
I could do nothing but throw myself back, trying to avoid their attack, but I was too slow.
One of them closed around my arm, jerked it upward, twisted it. I screamed in pain, but a moment later, it fell to the ground, cut apart by Theodor.
In instant later, I saw more of them get a hold of him. He used his combat knife, tried to do his best, but I saw them close around his body, twisting, tearing at him. The combat knife fell to the ground, he screamed in pain, I saw blood running from his mouth. In desperation, I saw him tear at them, saw him trying to free himself.
The gun, where was the gun. I found it, I aimed, but right at this moment, Sandra threw out another surge of energy. The tentacles holding Theodor were shredded, torn apart. Yet, I could already see the remains being pulled back, reabsorbed into the main body.
“Fuck,” I heard Theodor curse as he fought himself to his feet.
“Fuck, why didn’t you,” but started screaming at Sandra, but broke up when the creature in front of us began moving again.
This time, there were no tentacles. No, its entire shapeless body washed over the floor into our direction.
I saw a face push outward, a skull, a head. For a moment its glowing eyes focused right on me and all strength left my body. I crashed to the floor, feeling blood in my mouth.
Jesus Christ, all this from a mere gaze. I had nothing to do here, nothing at all!
Then I heard Sandra scream up. Waves of energy spread out from her body and the thing’s advance was stopped. As I looked over at her, I saw her strained expression, her face contorted by the effort of holding it back.
“What the hell do we do!?” I screamed at her.
“There’s nothing we can do! We gave it too much time! It’s, it’s too powerful! We won’t win this, not on our own! Get out, leave! I’ll hold it off and-“
“Fuck that,” Theodor pressed out. His eyes focused on Sandra, then on me, and then on the people remaining on the ground.
“I won’t abandon them, and I won’t abandon you!”
With that, he ripped out one of the memory contraptions I’d handed him and swallowed it.
“There’s no way I’m leaving you here to die. Even if we can’t destroy it, we might push it back again!”
Laughter, loud, giggling laugher reverberated through the hall and an instant later more of the people on the ground were torn apart.
Theodor’s eyes grew wide, his face contorted in anger. I saw his rage, his conviction, and I picked up the gun again as he rushed forward.
More tentacles short forward, but Theodor was out of it, cutting apart any that got a hold of him while I plastered the thing with explosive ammunition.
Sandra was still pushing it back, but her powers were waning and a moment later we were assaulted again. I was hit by another a shockwave that sent me to the ground, made me almost vomit, but Theodor seemed to be unaffected, seemed to continue pushing forward.
At least for a moment. Then even he was driven to his knees under the powers of the thing.
Sandra, too, was on the ground, panting, her powers gone.
I stared at the thing in front of us, waiting for another assault, waiting for it to end it, but it did nothing. Then I heard sounds, the sound of something moving, of stone grinding, of flesh twitching from behind us.
When I turned, my eyes grew wide. The opening to the hall, the tunnel, it was closing.
“Told you to get out, told you to, but now,” I heard Sandra mumble to herself.
She mumbled something indistinguishable. For a moment her hands were shaking before she quieted them and I saw her down another vial, then another.
“Fucking hell,” I cursed.
Theodor was still on the ground, but a moment later I saw him get to his feet. No being lifted by the thing’s powers. I saw limbs growing, saw bony hands forming, saw it getting a hold of him. For a moment it was almost caressing him before its eyes focused on him.
Theodor screamed up as it brought a surge of power down on him, saw his body twitch, shake.
I unloaded on the thing, threw a grenade against it, but my attack was thwarted, blocked off, deflected. Nothing, there was nothing we could do!
Then I felt something, pressure, power, unbridled, unrestrained power. I looked up, saw Sandra, saw her body contorted, being lifted into the air. The ground in front of her was littered with empty vials.
A moment later, the hand holding Theodor exploded. Yet, he didn’t fall to the ground. He was held up, protected, shielded by Sandra’s powers.
When I turned to her, there was no hint of the person she’d been anymore. She was a blood covered banshee. Blood was running from her nose and mouth, from her eyes, but she pushed on relentlessly.
But she’d said that thing had no real body, that it was nothing but energy. Then what were we supposed to do? What could we do, what could she do?
Right at that moment, I caught something from the corner of my eye. The barrier behind us was moving, stretching, and a moment later some sort of creature slipped through, throwing itself at Sandra.
Before it reached her, I threw myself in its path, pushed the thing to the ground and shot it.
When I looked up, I saw Theodor, saw him in front of the thing’s body, saw him plunging his hands into it, saw him tearing at it. But all there was, was laughter, giggling laughter.
And for the first time, words appeared in my mind, words spoken by the thing in front of us.
“So much effort for nothing.”
Sandra’s body was shaking. For a moment it seemed she was crashing to the floor, but then a bloodcurdling scream erupted from her body as she sent out the full force of her powers.
One of her hands went forward. It opened wide and slowly pushed down. I saw her eyes grow wide, saw the blood streaming from them.
Then she closed her hand again.
Anger erupted from the thing in front of us, boundless anger, but in a mere moment it was pushed around by Sandra’s will.
I saw her bloodied mouth turn to a satisfied grin as she ripped her hands upward.
“Got you,” she brought out with a mouthful of blood.
I stood there, not understanding, but I didn’t have time to think. More creatures slithered from the barrier behind us, desperate to protect their master.
As I fired the few remaining rounds of explosive ammunition at them, I readied two flamers. They flew in a wide arc before they drenched the creatures in hot, burning flames.
When I stared back at Sandra, her arms were contorted, twisted. Her fingers were torn apart, bursting open from her power, power she wasn’t able to contain.
With one final scream, she ripped both of her arms upward and I heard the bones in them snap.
“Now,” she screamed and set out a final surge of power before she crashed to the floor, vomiting blood.
In front of Theodor, something was torn from the body. It was nothing but a tiny, glowing thing, no bigger than a fetus.
There was another surge of energy, another shockwave, more powerful than anything before. I was thrown to the ground, felt the air pushed from my lungs, felt blood in my throat. Yet, Theodor was able to endure it, was able to hold on to the thing in his hands.
And then, from the corner of my eye, I saw him plunge his hands into it, tearing it apart.
An explosion of blazing light and an ear shattering scream filled the hall before all was quiet. Yet, for a moment, there was something else, a hint of a different emotion I couldn’t read.
For a moment, I almost passed out from the pain. I ground my teeth, telling myself to stay conscious.
With shaking hands, I pulled a small healing contraption from my pocket and downed it. It did little, but it allowed me to stay conscious.
Sandra was on the ground near me. She was a battered, tattered mess. I could see the weird angle of her arms and her torn fingers and hands. Her eyes were wide open but unseeing. Her face was still contorted and covered in blood, her own blood.
I saw her body twitch, shake. For a moment there was life in her eyes. Her mouth opened, but she didn’t speak. Instead, another surge of blood erupted from it before she lay still again.
“Sandra,” I called out, fought myself to my feet and stumbled over to her.
When I touched her body, it felt cold, so cold. Her pulse was still there, but it was weak, almost nonexistent. I poured some healing contraptions over her body, but I wasn’t sure what it would do, if it would even do anything. For a second her eyes flattered open before they fell shut again.
I turned to Theodor.
“Why didn’t you run? Why the fuck? We might have been able to get out, all three of us, but you, you-“
“Not me, Sandra was the one who destroyed it,” he mumbled. “If she hadn’t torn it apart then-“
“I don’t give a shit! Look at her! Look at her body, her arms, her hands! She’s fucking dying!”
Slowly, ever so slowly, he turned around towards me, his face ghastly white. Something about his expression was different. At first I didn’t know what it was, but then I realized it was shock, terror, sheer and utter terror.
“Do you know what Nietzsche once said, Dylan?” he asked in a low voice.
“I don’t give a shit about Nietzsche! Because of you Sandra’s… fuck!”
Theodor, though, didn’t even react, instead he babbled on.
“If you stare long enough into the abyss, the abyss stares back into you.”
I stared at him, not sure if I should punch him or shit him here and now.
“I saw it Dylan, I saw where this thing came from and I know what’s coming for us. There’s no hope, there’s no freaking hope.”
With that, he clutched onto his own body, shaking uncontrollably.
Around us, the entire area was reverting to normal. The grand hall and its strange proportions changed back to nothing but stacked stone and debris. The barrier behind us vanished, the hallway shimmered and grew smaller.
Gone were the strange, impossible constructions, the edges, the portals. Nothing of it remained.
And I, I just stood there, holding Sandra in my arms, praying she’d survive, staring at the mess that was Theodor while people poured into the place from outside.
And all I could think about as I stared down at Theodor was one thing.
Fuck monsters and fuck Nietzsche.