There I was, on the ground, a battered, half-insane mess while an eldritch god was making its way into our reality.
My heart was pounding in my chest, and my breath came in ragged bursts. It was only a matter of time before the sheer pressure of what was happening here would kill me.
In front of me, the creature’s delicate tentacles were busily working, tearing apart person after person and adding the parasites to the cocoon in the chambers center. At the same time, though, larger tentacles plunged from the portal, getting a hold of it and spreading it out further and further.
Vile, vapid air pumped from the rift in reality. It was thick and heavy, spreading over the ground like liquid.
I laughed again, laughed because we’d thought we could stop this, any of this.
And all this was merely the beginning.
I pushed myself to my knees as a voice in the back of my mind screamed at me to do something.
But what could I do on my own? What could one low-ranking exterminator do? Omega had failed, Athena had failed, and Theodor, too, had failed.
Half-conscious, I pulled out a flamer, staring at it with a mixture of indifference and hope. Then I threw it at the portal. It flew through the air, but exploded long before it hit its target, the flames fizzling out in mid-air.
I grinned. Useless, it was fucking useless.
A moment later, another surge of mental energy hit me, and I tumbled backward, crashing against the fleshy wall.
I’d have screamed if I still had the energy left. For a moment I wondered why the thing didn’t just kill me, but I already knew why.
I was unimportant. It hadn’t bothered even targeting me. It had merely sent out an uncontrolled burst, the smallest of efforts because I wasn’t worth searching for. I was nothing. An ant, an insect, not even a distraction.
With shaking hands, I pulled out a healing contraption before I let it slide from my hands. What did it even matter if I lived another few minutes?
A quick burst of laughter escaped my mouth, the despairing sound surprising me.
I knew I could still move, but why’d I bother. Instead, I pushed myself up against the wall.
At least, I thought, I’d have front row seats for the end of the world.
Right at that moment, something pushed into my mind. It was distant, coming from afar. I tensed up and cringed back. But whatever was invading me didn’t feel violent or alien. No, it felt… familiar. It was the smallest of breezes, barely reaching me, but it was filled with the strongest sense of urgency.
“Dylan, listen,” a low, almost inaudible voice resounded in my head.
I looked around, confused, trying to find who was talking to me before I recognized Sandra’s voice.
“Sandra? How in the hell are you talking to me? How are you-?”
I broke up when she stabbed at my mind, tearing through it for a second to quiet me.
“There’s no time!”
Now her voice, her scream, was reverberating inside my mind.
Then she used her powers to tap into my memories. Mentalists could scramble up your mind and alter your memories, and that’s what she was doing. She was conveying her full understanding of what was going on, pushing it all into my mind.
And within moments, I could finally understand, to connect all the dots.
During our fight against the A-Class organism, Sandra had protected Theodor, shielded both his body and mind and in turn, during the creature’s last moments, its plan had been exposed to her and allowed her to understand.
The parasite infesting Theodor wasn’t a random occurrence. It had all been part of this eldritch creature to invade our reality. This parasite had been meticulously created to undergo a symbiosis with native organisms, with humans. It would adapt to our reality and stay hidden until this very moment.
Yet Theodor wasn’t the only one. There were more of them. All of them sent here to serve as an avatar, a body it could use to conquer this very reality.
With the first A-Class creature came into our reality, it wasn’t here to create a portal or to fight us. All of this had been a diversion. Its true goal had been to find, alter, and prepare each individual host for what was to come. To create a connection between them and this eldritch creature and allow it to control them once the time had come.
I remembered the glee, the success I’d felt after we’d defeated the creature. Now I know what it had meant. It had succeeded in its plan.
I couldn’t help but laugh. We’d fought so hard. We’d destroyed an A-Class organism all on our own and it had changed nothing, nothing at all!
“So what, Sandra? What does this change? There’s nothing we can-“
But right away, she quieted me again.
“That avatar, if we destroy it, we can stop this!”
“And what do you want me to do? What can I fucking do against, against this?!”
The name reverberated inside my mind, but I didn’t understand.
“He’s dead! He’s been dismantled like everyone else!”
Once more, she revealed her knowledge to me.
This symbiosis, it goes both ways. While the parasite becomes part of the human to adapt, the human also becomes part of the parasite. They are a whole, a new organism. Nothing but a chance result, something unplanned, but something that might help us.
As long as that parasite was alive and allowed to exist, Theodor and his mind did too.
When Sandra protected Theodor, when his mind was joined with that of the eldritch creature, Sandra’s mind was connected to him as well.
“If he’s still there, if he still exists, then for a moment, I might cut the creature’s control over him.”
Her voice trailed off. When it was back it was agitated, erratic, only half-there anymore.
“Might throw it into disarray, for a mere moment, but,” she broke off again.
Then I felt her powers reach out, wash over me, stretching out before a surge of energy followed. Sandra’s powers plunged forward.
I heard her scream inside my mind and knew she was screaming back in the apartment as well. I felt her reach forward, searching for Theodor, but at the same time, her consciousness was fading rapidly.
“Sandra, what are you-?”
But I broke up. She was gone. I couldn’t feel her anymore. In front of me, however, something was happening, was changing.
I felt a distortion in the unfathomable powers ahead of me. It was almost as if… another power was pushing against it, as if something was rebelling against the creature using its own power.
Sandra’s words came back to me.
‘That avatar, if we destroy it, we can stop this!’
This was our chance!
Only half thinking and after gathering what little strength I had remaining, I raised my gun and pointed it at the cocoon in the center of the chamber.
Right at that moment, I felt the alien power of the eldritch creature erupting, felt it gaining control and felt it searching for all obstacles.
A moment later, pain shot through my body. In one moment, I felt my hand holding the cold hard steel of the gun, in the next there was only pain.
I watched in horror as my hand and arm were torn apart.
I crushed to the floor, screaming in agony, and stared at the stump that had once been my arm in a mixture of confusion and misery.
Blood sprouted from the wound, drenching the floor.
In front of me, I felt the eldritch creature ordering its power, restraining whatever had tried to usurp it.
With tears in my eyes, I cursed at myself. The gun, why’d I used the gun!? This had been our last chance, and I’d fucking wasted it!
But then, the flesh around me started shaking and bursting open as Theodor pushed back one last time, using all the avatar’s power.
I didn’t waste any time. This time I took a hold of all the grenades I’d left and threw them.
Don’t let me down, my little friends, don’t let me down, I thought, as they flew high through the air.
A moment later, they crashed against the cocoon in the center of the chamber.
There was an ear-shattering explosion, as it was torn apart.
Theodor’s powers fizzled out, and the alien force was back. It was uncontrolled, brimming with anger and unfathomable power. The flesh around me began stirring and twisting. No, not just around me. The entire womb was.
In front of me, the portal’s surface erupted, was torn asunder as a multitude of tentacles shot forward. They spread out, tearing through fleshy walls of the chamber in blind rage. Chunks of flesh and disgusting liquids descended onto the ground.
And then the portal spilled outwards as the creature began pushing through with nothing but its power.
Images invaded my mind. Images of beautiful destruction, of pleasure and suffering, a celebration of life and its ultimate end. Nonexistence. An end to it all. An end to the curse that was life and existence itself.
I watched in despair as part of the creature emerged from the portal. In a blind rage, a tentacled thing tore through the walls of the chamber, opening it up to the world outside.
And at that moment, I somehow knew that this was nothing but a finger, nothing but the smallest, most miniscule part of its body. But this, even this, was enough to cause such massive destruction.
Part of the womb was gone now, but the portal was ever-extending, flowing outward, spreading to the outside world as another part of the creature emerged.
The creature was now nothing but blind rage, and I watched from my hiding place as the outside world close to the womb was torn apart. It wasn’t trying to conquer anymore, it wasn’t trying to order. No, now all it wanted was to destroy. Even if it couldn’t get through, even if it couldn’t fully come into our reality, it could still reach into it, could still leave its mark.
Each new part of it spread the portal further.
In that moment, though, I felt something under all this blind, unfathomable rage. It was nothing but the smallest of powers, a miniscule effort, hidden and delicate.
I didn’t understand, not at first, but then I knew it was Theodor. It was the last remains of his consciousness, of his will.
I saw the portal distorting, saw its surface shifting and changing. Theodor, he was negating it! I watched in stunned wonder as the flesh used to create the portal folded into itself and eventually tore apart.
I felt another surge of mental energy, another eruption of power, but the portal was torn now.
The glowing surface started bubbling, then changed into a vortex before it began fizzling out and waning.
The creature was forced to retreat, tearing back whatever part it had pushed into our reality.
At that moment, images appeared in my mind again. No not images, memories.
A small boy, playing ball in front of a costly home. He was getting older, out in the streets partying, fighting with the same man. I watched as he turned into an edgy teenager and left home. He was befriending the people out there, helping the homeless. Then I saw him standing in a pool of blood, surrounded by same people now torn apart. I felt his despair, his anger. Then I saw him with us. Theodor, it was Theodor. This was Theodor’s life, his memories.
And then the images vanished as the portal was torn apart and the tear in reality was closed off.
I lay there, on the floor, staring at the bleeding, tethered remains of the womb and couldn’t believe it.
The lingering alien presence was gone. A wave of euphoria washed over. It was over. Somehow, I realized, we’d done it!
No, not us, Sandra and Theodor, they’d done it.
As I lay there, the surrounding flesh began falling apart, pouring from the walls and raining down in wet, rotten chunks.
Behind me, the flesh tunnels began collapsing.
For a moment I felt lightheaded. Dark spots appeared in front of my eyes. I administered healing contraptions to both my torn arm and broken leg.
I had to get out of here, I had to get help, otherwise…
In front of me, the womb had been torn apart. As the alien influences vanished, reality returned. From the tear at the end of the chamber, I saw daylight.
I screamed at myself, pushed aside the pain and began half-limping, half-crawling forward, pushing myself towards the daylight, the outside.
It was so far, I thought, as I dragged myself through rotting flesh and stinking liquids.
I noticed creatures here and there. These stragglers were confused, shuffling through the rotten womb in a state of apathy, not understand what had happened. They were lost and cut off from their terrible god in a place alien to them.
I didn’t care. Instead I pushed onward, dragging my body over dead creatures, the twisted remains of people and torn apart walls. Eventually, I made it outside.
When I fell to the ground, the last thing I saw were the first members of headquarters’ support squad making their way towards me.
When I woke up, I found myself in a hospital bed. I heard voices outside, people arguing, but I couldn’t understand anything.
My entire body was in terrible pain and when I tried to push myself up, I wasn’t able to. In shock, I stared at the stump that had once been my right arm before I remembered what had happened.
Right at that moment, the door opened and someone entered.
“Exterminator 7D11087,” the woman spoke up.
Her voice was as cold and emotionless as ever.
“Adjudicator,” I said, giving her a curt nod that sent shivers of pain through my body.
“We have to give you our thanks. Because of the efforts of you and Exterminator 4B98344, the situation is now under control.”
“So, there’s no need for a cleansing anymore?”
She shook her head.
“No. While there’s still a sizeable amount of creatures at the loose, the clean-up crews should be able to handle them.”
I couldn’t help but sigh in relief, but as I lay there, the events of the earlier weeks returned to me.
“You’re not just here to thank me, though, aren’t you? You’re here to carry out my punishment, right?”
Her face grew hard and after another moment had passed, she nodded.
“As of now, you’re under house arrest and are to remain here until we’ve cleared up the situation. From the data we’ve gathered, we can deduce that you’re not to blame for the loss of Omega. No, it’s thanks to you and your presence that the situation was resolved.”
“House arrest? Sounds lovely,” I said sarcastically.
She didn’t react to the tone of my voice.
“Temporarily, yes, until we’ve got the situation under control and handled all issues regarding the local authorities.”
“Might be tough this time.”
She gave me a cold, hard stare.
“Well, once this is all over,” I spoke up again. “What’s going to happen to me, Adjudicator?”
“You will be relieved of all your duties related to the organization. Given your current condition, we won’t be needing your services anymore. Therefore the higher echelon has decided to put you on indefinite leave.”
This time, her smile was genuine.
“We won’t be needing a low-raking, one-armed exterminator like you. Once all issues are settled, you’re free to go. Should you be interested, however, there are positions available at the archives.”
I nodded, but then couldn’t help but laugh.
“To tell you the truth, Adjudicator, I was never one to read the codex or the compendium. I doubt, I’d be a good fit for that. And I’ve got something else to do after all.”
She was quiet for a moment.
“I take it’s related to Exterminator 4B98344 and her passing?”
I nodded. The moment Sandra’s consciousness had faded, and she’d used her last ditch of energy to reach Theodor, I knew what had happened. And yet, the tears still kept coming.
“How did she,” I started but was choked by tears.
“She must’ve woken up when this creature tried to push into our reality and administered a lethal dosage of memory alterations and mind enhancers to get into contact with you.”
“Dammit, Sandra, dammit,” I cursed while I was crying.
The Adjudicator watched in silence before she turned to leave.
“Adjudicator,” I brought out. “Over two decades ago, there was an incident in a small backwater town in the Ukraine. The one Exterminator… Sandra was from.”
She stopped and waited for me to continue.
“I’d like to know where it was. She, Sandra, always told me she wanted to go home one day, so I thought,” I broke up again.
“I’ll see what I can do,” the woman said before she left the room.
In the weeks to come, all I could do was to rest and recuperate my battered body. The damage I’d suffered was much more severe than I’d thought.
During my time at headquarters’ field hospital, headquarters subjected me to an endless array of questions.
So much for indefinite leave, I thought, as I answered question after question and told them all I remembered.
And yet, I didn’t mind. No, I did all I could to help them, to be prepared and to stop any incident such as this before it could get out of hand as it had done here. I owed it to Sandra, to Theodor, and to everyone else who’d died.
When I was released, my body felt different. They’d been right, I realized. The way I was now, I’d be no use in exterminations anymore.
Their indefinite leave, it was less a gift, and more the expulsion of a useless asset.
The Adjudicator, however, had done what I’d asked her for. She’d left me a note with detailed instruction about the former location of Sandra’s hometown.
Before I went on my way with her remains, however, there was one last thing I wanted to do. No, had to do.
For days, I scoured the city in search of the building from Theodor’s memories.
When I found it, I stood in front of it for a long moment. I took a deep breath and rang the doorbell.
It wasn’t long before an older man in his mid-fifties answered it. He greeted me, but frowned at the state I was in.
“Who are you? Is this about Theodor? Did he-“
“No,” I cut him off before I shook my head.
“To be honest, yes, this is about Theodor. He wanted to thank you for the time you played ball with him. He treasured those memories.”
For a moment the man’s expression grew angry, and I watched as he balled his hands into fists. He opened his mouth to scream at me, but then he must’ve seen something on my face.
The anger left, and only a sad expression remained on his face.
“That damned boy, that damned boy,” he brought out in a shaken voice, and I saw him blink back tears.
“He was a good man, Theodor, I mean.”
The man nodded.
“Of course he was,” he finally brought out. “And, thank you.”
There was no need to say anything else. No way could I explain what had happened to his son.
Once I was back at the apartment, my eyes wandered over the place once more. It was quiet now, filled by nothing but an almost oppressive, all-encompassing silence. So much had happened here, I thought.
Then I picked up the urn containing Sandra’s remains and made my way downstairs to my car. Once I’d made sure the urn was secured, I sat down behind the steering wheel.
It would be a long drive and it wouldn’t be easy to find the place, but this was another thing I had to do.
And so, I started on my way to the backwaters of the Ukraine. Where once stood a small, unimportant town, a town where a woman that would one day save the world was born.