Just joining us? I recommend starting at the beginning
. Too far back? You can read the previous update here
I wanted to rest. Close my eyes and go to sleep. Forever. I wasn't afraid anymore, I was ready.
Another screech, weaker this time. Dad was hurt, and he needed me. I'd lost everybody. Mom. Eric. Grandma. Dad was all I had left, and I was letting him down all over again.
I didn’t have a choice. If Pri’deom was already here, then it didn’t matter whether or not I became a monster. Not anymore. The war was lost.
But I could still win this battle. I could still kill Jake, and still save my father. I found the syringe in my stomach, and pressed down on the plunger.
Adrenaline rioted through me, each breath like fire in my lungs and each movement sending pins and needles shooting through my nervous system. My eyes bulged as pressure built in my skull, and I felt thirsty, so thirsty that my mouth was parched and my tongue was fat, but I wasn’t thirsty for water. I wanted blood. I needed it. My bones snapped and twisted, piercing my skin at points while I choked on my teeth as they fell free of my gums.
I let out an anguished scream as my spine elongated, popping and cracking as it snaked its way further and further up my growing torso. I clenched my fists, willing myself to bear this pain. Was this what dad had gone through? Mom? My neck cranked, snapping in all the wrong directions. Fuck! I'd never been in such agony. It was like my entire body was being torn apart and reassembled from the inside out.
My consciousness flickered but my grounding exercises kept me awake. That, and dad. I had to save him, even if it killed me. I had to, because he was the only person left to save and I couldn't bear to let another person down. Lucky for me, saving him meant killing Jake.
I blinked and my eyelids felt slick, wet and heavy. My vision was no longer the dim, shadowy thing from moments ago, rather now it was a mess of colours; an abstract painting of madness and instinct. A shotgun blast rang out and I staggered to my feet, searching for the source.
Nobody else was here, though. It was still just Pri’deom, my father and Jake. No shotguns. No firearms. I shook my head, feeling dazed and disoriented.
Another blast sounded, and another. I realized they were coming from right beneath me, and I looked down, catching sight of my fingernails falling to the stone shore. They dropped in slow motion, like leaves drifting down from trees, or something descending through water. One struck the ground and I recoiled, its gentle collision creating another ear-splitting blast of sound. I became aware of my ears tugging upward, growing on the side of my head. A cacophony of noise began erupting around me, each sound amplified by a factor of thousands. Each bringing new agony to my senses.
I could hear everything distinctly -- too distinctly. My father’s heartbeat, slow and laboured drummed like a death march, while Pri’deom’s laughter echoed like bats screaming in a cave. I was consumed by sound, pain, and terror.
“Look at that,” Jake’s voice said, loud as a jet engine. “Your son’s finally decided to come around.”
I heard the muscles in Jake’s arm contract, followed by a chorus of my father’s desperate wheezes. More blood thundering on the shore. Could I hear Jake smiling? I needed to get over there.
I stepped toward them and stumbled, my legs numb and unresponsive. Dammit! Clearly my body was still working its way through the transformation. It was all I could do to stand on my fast-growing legs and not keel over.
I growled, staring at Jake. My entire being felt magnetized toward him. I was desperate to sink my teeth into him, to pay him back a hundred times for all the horror he had caused my family. Soon, I promised. Soon. My breath quickened in anticipation, but each gulp of air felt different. Smoother. Easier. Where before my exhales would steam in the chilly night, now there was nothing. The air inside of me was frigid cold.
I was levelling out now, adjusting to the serum. The ungodly pain that had been omnipresent before was slowly tapering off, and I realized the transformation must be nearly finished.
I looked down, gazing at my new body beneath my leather jacket and torn t-shirt. I was lean, but I felt strong; stronger than I ever believed I could be. Stronger than I ever believed anything could be. Yes, I could do it now. I could end
Jake. I could drink his blood and wash away this horrible thirst. I licked my lips and found my tongue much longer than before, serpentine and forked.
“Welcome to the family, Matty!” Jake shouted. “Why don’t you come on down and convince your dad to see some light of reason?”
I flexed my hands and realized they, too, were different now. My fingers were long and thin, playing host to a set of horribly sharp claws. Good. Those would come in handy.
“I won’t lie to you, Matthew,” Pri’deom said. “I’m impressed, but unsurprised.”
I looked to him, willing myself to speak but only managing guttural grunts and snarls.
He chuckled, placing his hands on his hips. “Still learning, aren’t you?” His eyes shifted to Jake, who was still perched atop my father, chewing into his neck, drenching the shore in blood. “It took Jacob years to master sentience, and longer still to truly control his true form.”
I shouted at him to stop this, to let my brother go, but it materialized as an ear-splitting roar and nothing more.
“You’re adjusting incredibly well.” Pri’deom circled me, his gold-flecked eyes drifting up and down my person, his lips in a near constant state of grin. “Your father is nearly as bruteish as he was as a man, but you…" He twitched, his head snapping to the side with a choking cough. A moment later, he ran a gentle hand over his neck and smiled. "Sorry. Still getting used to my new suit. Looks like we're both acquainting ourselves to these new forms, aren't we?"
I heard his words and understood them, but I couldn’t respond. Why not?
“What…” I managed to say, though the word came out twisted, broken and strange.
Pri’deom’s eyes lit up. “Ah, there it is! A new record, I should think.” He pulled out Eric’s phone and looked at it, before shrugging and tossing it into the river with a splash. “Dead battery. Can’t say the time for certain, but your arrival at speech is certainly impressive nonetheless.”
“What…” I said again, pushing the word out more naturally now. I tried to say the next piece, but only managed to choke and growl.
“Easy does it, Matthew,” Pri’deom coached. “Try again, this time without the emotion. It’s often such a stumbling block.”
Fucking hell. Alright, once more.
“What… am… I?” The words were harsh and their pronunciation unnatural, but they were there.
Pri’deom clapped his hands enthusiastically. “Oh, well done! I always knew you to be an Apex, but to achieve this level of mastery so quickly? You’re a true prodigy. I would have been happy to have you serve as my vessel.”
“What…” I repeated, and this time the anger seeped into my words. “Am I?”
“Right,” Pri’deom said, bringing a hand to his chin and appraising me thoughtfully. “Well, you’re certainly quite tall. Those… fangs though.” His playful smile vanished, replaced by a piercing smirk. “I would say you resemble a vampire, one of the Old Ones.”
Dad's voice rang out and I realized I didn't care anymore. I stepped toward Jake, my legs feeling stronger and more balanced now. Yes, it was high time to finish this. I flexed my claws and let out a screech before springing forward, ready to end the bastard's existence. Pri'deom grabbed my heel mid-air, and flung me backward onto the shore. I crashed in a shower of stone pebbles.
“Yes," Pri'deom said, standing in front of me and examining Eric's nails nonchalantly. "The Old Ones were those who existed before the madness of man, before people wiped them from existence. They are the firstborn of this world.”
I staggered back to my feet. Alright, so Pri'deom was powerful and fast. Faster than I was. I looked back to Jake and my father, hating that even as I was now, there was still this wall between us. The Dipshit Beyond the Veil.
Still, Jake wasn't killing him. He'd need to pull his heart for that, and he seemed more interesting in simply keeping him out of play.
"Matthew?" Pri'deom said. I heard a hint of annoyance in his voice. "Are you ignoring me?"
Fine, I'd indulge the parasite for now. "No."
"Such a relief."
"What is...the firstborn?"
“Ah, excuse me. I forget myself. Context, is everything, isn't it? You see, I’m not the villain you’ve painted me as -- and yes, I see the glint in your eyes, the anger, the desperation… the fear. I assure you though, that I am no more your enemy than the breath in your lungs.”
He spoke so casually it was hard to imagine he was the source of all of this horror. He carried himself like a chartered accountant.
“Eons ago," Pri'deom said. "Before man began its slow descent into unfiltered madness, destruction, and war, there was a balance. A calmness in the universe. I once walked this world, you know. I drank in its beauty every day, and I bathed in its wonder.” He did a small pirouette, breathing deep. “It was truly the gem of the universe. Of any universe. It was heaven.”
“How much more... stories….” I growled, my body lurching forward on its own accord. Fuck, my mouth felt thirsty. So dry. I needed to drink something. Jake’s blood would do. Yes, it would do just fine. I stepped toward him again, and Pri’deom hopped in front of me.
“Sorry,” he said, giving an awkward laugh. “I’m almost finished, then you can do as you please. As I said, context is important, Matthew.”
My body was desperate for blood. My muscles twitched and spasmed, eying Jake. I bottled it though, pushed it all the way down and put a cork on it. Just a little longer, I told myself. Sooner or later this cosmic asshole would finish his monologue, and then I could eviscerate my uncle.
Pri'deom folded his arms, noticing my distraction. “The truth is, you humans have ruined everything, haven’t you? You’ve spread across this world, erecting steel monuments of greed and slavery, murdering the planet with every step that you take.” His face -- my brother’s face -- fell into a snarl. “You’ve drained this world of its minerals, its oils, its very lifeblood. You’ve cast a shadow of poison across it, filling it with waste and fallout. You think yourself gods, but you treat each other as ants.”
He took another breath and shook as he did so. He was furious, and growing angrier with each word. His gold eyes began swirling, glowing and brimming with an impossible depth. “You’ve murdered the Old Ones, centuries ago of course, but with wanton cruelty." The words fell from his mouth like a guillotine "You’ve wiped them from human memory, leaving them only as myths, and legends. Stories lost to time, foolish to believe because they were only ever fictitious.”
“Who are you?” I said, surprised to find my voice sounding much more level now.
“I am a means to an end, Matthew. I am the universe redeeming itself. I am the pride of this world come to excise the cancer that is man.”
My father let out a cry, and his massive head dropped to the shore. He gave another swing of his arm, though it was weak now, half-hearted.
“Matty,” Jake called. “I’m serious, get over here and tell your old man to settle down before I actually kill the fucking prick!”
My vision exploded into a watercolour of red and I couldn't control myself anymore. “Jake!” I screamed, launching over Pri’deom. The force of my jump was more than I imagined, and I cleared the gap by wider than I’d intended. I landed on the far shore, with Jake and my father now between Pri’deom and I.
Jake, still eyeless, turned his head to face me as the sound of my body landing on the stones reached him. But he was moving slowly. So slowly.
I might not be as fast as Pri'deom, but I was faster than Jake.
I bounded across the stones, my body long and lanky but with each step I grew more familiar with it until eventually I dropped onto all fours and galloped toward my uncle, letting loose a feral screech. He hardly had time to paint his ape face with terror before I was on him, my claws slicing into his sides. He raised an arm to bash me but I dodged it easily. In this form, he moved so slowly it was like killing a snail.
I cut into him, over and over. Instinct overtook me and I understood what I needed to do. I understood what I needed to destroy. This tendon, that nerve cluster.
Moments later I landed back on the stones, breathing heavy, my long claws wet and red. The sound of fur drifting across fur met my ears, and Jake dropped from my father’s backside, lying motionless on the shore.
“You… little fucker,” Jake gasped, gnashing his simian jaws. “I gave you this and you…”
I stepped over him, pressing one of my thin legs to his chest. “You gave me a living nightmare, Jake. You took my brother from me. You nearly stole my father." The words were coming easily now. I was getting the hang of this serum. "You forced me to become a monster.” I leaned down, and the primal piece of me understood this fight was already finished. I’d cut his tendons apiece. He couldn’t move anymore, not for a while at least. “Worst of all,” My fangs were inches from Jake’s mangled face. “You dosed my brother, and stole my mom.” I pressed my hand to his chest, my claws digging into his flesh.
“Matty,” he sputtered, fear seeping into his tone. “Come on now, I did what needed to be done. You know that, deep down. I mean for fuck sakes, look behind ya, kid! I brought the Lord Beyond back from the Veil. He can fix this world, make it right again."
"Make it right," I said, tasting his excuse.
"That's it, Matty. He's gonna make it right and yes a few people had to get hurt but your brother and I, we've done something incredible."
done something unforgivable.” I tore into his neck with my fangs, drinking his blood, and my body shook with ecstasy. It tasted better than anything and I had waited so long.
“My Lord…” Jake said, voice weak. His head lolled to the side, gazing toward the monster in my brother’s skin. “Please… I brought you…”
Pointless. I already knew Pri’deom wasn’t going to save him. How could he? Everything he’d just admonished about humanity, Jake embodied. He was the poison. The demon in the shadows, that stole the pride of this world and manipulated it for his own ends.
“You thought...” I grunted, slurping the blood from his neck, “that you would be rewarded for your murder, your hate and your sick bullshit?”
I lifted my head from his neck, Jake's blood pouring from my mouth. I positioned my hand over his large chest, my ears picking up the rapid beating of his terrified heart. "You're not greater." I thrust my hand through his ribs and gripped his thrumming heart. He let out a scream, one so violent that the birds exploded from their roosts, filling the night sky with wings and feathers. I leaned back down, my mouth inches from his ear. "I am."
My fist closed tight around his heart, crushing it like a peeled orange before pulling it free from his chest in a shower of blood.
I closed my eyes, feeling the softness of what remained of his heart in my hand. I felt the warmth of his blood on my body. I tasted it on my lips.
The sound of clapping pulled me from my reverie. Pri’deom strolled out front of me, smiling enthusiastically. “You actually get it, Matthew. You understand the madness of this world, don’t you?”
“This… isn’t a solution,” I said, looking at my father. He was bleeding, but I could see the puncture wounds of Jake’s jaws beginning to slowly heal. Whatever was in that serum truly was incredible. Horrifying, but incredible. “It’s a death sentence for humanity.”
“Death sentence?” Pri’deom looked offended.
“You want to turn everybody into this, don’t you?”
“It’s the only way to fix this heaven.”
“What sort of heaven is filled with monsters?”
Pri’deom shook his head, placing an impossibly cold hand on my arm. “Monsters exist in the hearts of men, Matthew. Look at your uncle, was his sin being a beast, or the horror that lived beneath the fur and fangs? The horror of his human aspiration?”
Jake was an asshole, but a poor example. “There’s a lot of good people out there. They don’t deserve this.”
“No, but they don’t deserve to be subjugated either, do they? Slaves to a world that gives them pennies for their efforts, while their lords grow fat on their sweat and blood.” He leaned close to me, his voice intoxicating. “Men treat men like monsters, Matthew. The beasts of the world live by a code, and a simple one. They exist to survive, and little else. They act as their instincts dictate, and even in their proliferation they could never bring this planet to its knees."
He clasped his hands behind his back and began circling me.
“Nuclear warfare will be the end of this world. I’ve seen it. The ash, the fire and the unimaginable pain.” He looked to my grandmother’s corpse, still propped up by the water. “When that time comes, the dead will be the grateful few. You cannot imagine the horror that awaits your human race.”
“It’s not your decision,” I snarled. “If we fuck things up, we fuck things up on our terms. Now let my brother go."
He paused, paying me a remorseful look. “Eric’s a powerful vessel. Unstable, but powerful. To give him up would be to relinquish a millenia of effort.” He shook his head. “No, I’m afraid I cannot. Many times throughout history people have come close to summoning me, to opening the gateway between our worlds. They’ve made a couple offerings perhaps, or three. But never four, and never with a host so... capable.” He flexed his hands, and a nearby tree exploded in a shower of bark and leaves.
I jumped back, stumbling off of Jake’s corpse. I felt stronger than I'd ever dreamed but that? What was this guy capable of? I swallowed, terror beginning to grip me as I realized the gulf between our abilities. “What…”
“What was that?” Pri’deom laughed. “That was what I’ve been waiting for.” He snapped his fingers, and the sky flickered blue before returning to the black of night. “Eric’s even stronger than you, you know. In this body, I can nearly touch the full extent of my power. I can almost wield the Veil.”
His eye twitched.
“Barring some instances of insubordination." He gave his head an irritated shake. "Though, those should come under control in due time. Point is, Matthew, I’ve waited far too long to give this up in the name of a single
human being’s emotional experience." He offered me a half-smile. "I apologize, truly, but it is for the good of us all.”
Good of us all. I'd heard that bullshit before. “So what, you’re going to wipe us all out? Sayonara humanity?"
“Not at all, I thought we covered this? I'm going to make everybody as you are, Matthew. Greater. I'm going to reroute this world from calamity and back toward simple beauty. I'll take the human mold and cast it into that of the Old Ones, into beings free from human ambition and horror."
"You might be surprised to hear that most people don't find werewolves and vampires to be free from horror."
Pri'deom smirked. "Humanity has always feared what it doesn't understand."
“How’s this then,” I growled. “Jake was every bit the monster he always was, Old One or not. And your serum? That made my brother murder our mother!"
“That was an issue with your family serum, I’m afraid." Pri'deom looked down, sighing. "Regretful, of course, but ultimately necessary. To create a truly pure transformation within a human lifespan would be a near impossible undertaking."
He winked and stones began to rise, floating around him. “Luckily for me, I suffer no such limitations. In this body, I can recreate the Old Ones in their original image. I can free this world from the shackles of humanity, and return it to a simple reality of instinct, and survival.”
“You start turning people into monsters, and they’re going to kill people.”
“Billions, if I’m lucky.”
“I’m necessary. If you could see your world’s future, you would grovel at my feet, Matthew. But you’re too absorbed in your humanity to care. To you, the only thing that matters is --” he patted his chest, “-- your brother and the rest of your family. You lack the perspective to see things on a scale so wide as I.”
So, his end game was turning everybody into a monster in the name of stopping some future nuclear wasteland. I clenched my fists, my claws digging into my flesh. If that were true, it could almost justify it. Almost. But it meant removing the one thing we possessed, our free will. There was a chance we didn’t devolve into nuclear war, wasn’t there? A chance we figured this shit out as human beings.
I had to trust in that. It was all I had left.
“Let Eric go,” I snarled. I was done negotiating, done listening to his rationalizations. I wanted my brother back and I didn't care how powerful this dickhead was. “I’m not going to let you turn this world into monsters."
Pri'deom laughed. "Too late, the world's already full of monsters. They just look like you so you don't mind so much."
I racked my mind for a way out of this. How was I supposed to force him out of Eric? I had no fucking clue. This was always Eric’s area of expertise, the planning, the know-how. I hated myself for not reading more of the cave's books when I’d had the chance. Maybe there was some mention of a way to reverse the ritual.
Yes. That was it. If Pri’deom had walked the earth before and been banished, then there was definitely a way to send him back. I just needed to figure out how.
"I think I'll go ahead and get started," Pri'deom said.
He stepped into the river. No, he stepped onto
it. He walked along the water, to the center of the current. "This is where I was chained, you know. A bit further upstream, but still… It's almost poetic that this should also be where I deliver this world's redemption." He took a deep breath and raised his arms, and the water drifted upward, dancing around him. "Sit tight, Matthew. Soon I'll show you that change is a necessary part of our universe, and that some change is inevitable."
Fuck! Right now? He was gonna turn the world right now? Jesus! I looked around me, desperately hoping for some way to stop this. Some way to end this, but I didn't have a library here. I didn't have any counter-spells or ways of reversing the summoning ritual. I just had me, my comtatose father, and the dagger.
I swallowed, staring at the gleaming blade on the shore. It was silver, but its hilt wasn't. I could grab it. Use it.
"Sar'thu," Pri'deom said, his voice so loud that the very trees shifted. "Barthu'nal shry."
I didn't know how long his spell would take, but I did know I was running out of time. I screamed into the night and bashed my fists into the stone shore. What was I supposed to do? What options did I even have anymore?
My mother's voice echoed in my mind
. Matthew, please