NEON & CONCRETE — Story #06
The Last Disciple
We are linked by a corpse, the Hunter and I.
A corpse he created through my failure to protect the one I was sworn to keep. Now he watches me too, studying me, ready to sever that link with my death.
It was never meant to be this way…to end this way. My task was to hold onto her, the Last Disciple, to take her between the worlds of the universe and to protect her so that she could perform, so she could reveal the truth to those that had not seen it. So she could bring those that were lost onto the right path, to see the light that we all hold within, to find that light through her, she that is now a corpse.
For aeons, we travelled between those worlds, and for all that time our purpose was fulfilled. We were able to reach so many. With great vigour bring the masses to the new truth through her, the Last Disciple, our hope. The holder of so much, of all that we had learnt, and the one that had such weight placed upon their shoulders. Such a task, to educate the universe…
She was chosen to lead, and I was chosen to protect.
To be given my task was the greatest of privileges, the ultimate responsibility. I embraced the challenge with all my heart, all my strength, all that I had and could give, and still, I failed.
We roamed the universe, and we drowned in time, leaving countless ripples in our wake. Across the millennia we grew together and performed our mission. Her the Last Disciple, I the Protector. Now, after all that we had, when she is gone, and I am left here, I hold onto her memory, and I think of him. I reflect on him, the Hunter, of what he did, how he took her from us all and now, how he will eventually take me. For now, he lays in wait, watching and studying. I know he will come and there is nothing I can do, so in this brief moment of respite I stand in this forest, and I dream, I imagine her for just a moment longer. I see and reflect; I lament her death, my eventual demise, the darkness we will all slip into and the fear that runs through me and surrounds it all.
Now, here in this dream, I stand before a phantom. An image of her, so grand and beautiful and unique. Did this time happen? Do I piece together the past in the vision that I want, that I need now? The present must hold all our history within it, all those moments, so is this vision before me now a collection of all that time spent between her and me? An image of those millennia as we swam through the universe and cured all those lost souls across all those broken worlds?
Each world chose their version of her without them knowing. She would look into each world’s collective consciousness, and a vision would form from that ethereal mass. An apparition that would hold for that world and its inhabitants. One they could believe in, one they could see a hint of their image held within, so they could hold their hands up to have their deepest wish granted, to see the truth, to see the light.
Is this vision the one that was extracted from one of them, some perfect vision some world wanted to see? Or is it the one that I want to see now? I stand here on this metallic plateau, my robes swaying in the gentle breeze, looking up at this spirit floating before me with lines of beauty drawn through her. She always appeared as she needed to appear before the intended world to which we had travelled, but does she now appear to me as I need to see her, as I want to see her, as my intended?
I stand at her base, holding onto myself before her magnificence, this wonderous phantom pierced by beams of opaque light, and look I look across the iron mesa. I stand and wait as I would if we were on a given world. I wait for those who will now never come to give themselves up to her, waiting for her message, a gorgeous inevitability. Now forever lost, that inevitability destroyed by the Hunter, how could they do such a thing? How could they end such beauty…such a gift?
Who could strike down that which held the truth, what matter of being could do this to her, to me, to the universe? The Hunter — he who set out to study fear. He that called her destruction their freedom. He could never see, he will never see, and now no one will ever see that light again — he has trapped us all in the dark.
What he created renders itself before me in this dream: her death, her final shell.
This is her end, consumed and dead, this corpse that links the Hunter and I. The gold streaks of all her knowledge running through her, a black and marblelike simulacrum, as she falls for all eternity. A vision of lost hope, for myself, for the universe, for everything and everyone that we were trying to bring to the light. She was hope in a hopeless place, and now we are left, all of us, to face the darkness alone.
“This is the way of things,” he said to me on that fateful world where he chose to attack. “Dark consumes the light; you should know this.”
I braced against the shackles in which he had bound me, forcing and pulling to try and free myself, trying to stop him, trying to pull him back from the horror he was inflicting and to save her, but it was useless. I looked up at the world before me, the ashen sky thundering with death, the millions upon millions of fallen laid out before me, and her, her gentle body in the distance. Her tender vision, the one chosen for her by that planet’s inhabitants, writhing in pain and terror.
“She is stronger than you think,” I said to the Hunter through gritted teeth, the sky blackening overhead, the wailing and screaming horror of those that had not yet fallen piercing the roaring bombardment from the heavens. I braced and screamed as the landscape erupted into gigantic towers of ash and dirt, filling the horizon before falling away, down and down, revealing the desolate world upon which she would now die.
“If she is in any way as strong as you, then I have little to fear,” he said to me, walking past me, taunting me with a wry smile, his metallic, chrome sheen flickering with yellow from the explosions in the sky.
“What would you know of strength? You only ever take, you only ever destroy, you do not give as she does,” I said as my tears fell and the end of the world took hold while the end of her beckoned the darkness.
“You believe she gives?” he paused and turned to me, couching, his eyes finding mine.
“She shows them the truth, the light, a better way. It is her gift to the universe.”
The wry smile fell into a grimace as he shook his head. “And the ones that don’t believe in your light? What happens to them?”
“They all come to our side, they all realise the truth, none have yet turned from her.”
“And what if they did?”
“How could they? To see her is to know, to open your heart to her is to find that which you seek.”
He came in close, his metallic face without expression, his eyes glowing white, pure and infinite. “You enslave,” he said as he gripped my chin and lifted my face.
“Each has their own choice,” I said to him as he held my jaw, meeting his stare, my eyes wide and gazing into that endless whiteness. “And they come to us because they know she holds what they seek, because they know she contains the light.”
“No!” he said letting my face go, stepping back, finger pointing at me, his eyes alight with rage. “You! You move from world to world, and you consume them. You make them your own! There is no choice. That thing you called the Last Disciple, she was no wonder, she was no gift. The worlds you went to, she used their minds against them, she became their God, and then she absorbed them, their consciousness, so she could become yet more powerful and consume more. Choice? There never was any choice. This is why I came; this is why I bided my time for all those millennia, to pick the right moment so I could stop your plague, to end your tyranny. Now I have succeeded, and she is dead, and they are free again…we can all be free.”
I lowered my head and whispered, “She contained the truth, we knew we were right, I know we are right.”
“Ah, your righteousness,” he turned his head as he spat. “That is your downfall. Yes, that’s where I found the crack, that’s where I saw my opportunity. It had dulled you, it had made you weak because within it you became lost. With your success, with her unbridled and unmatched power growing ever stronger as she consumed more and more worlds, you considered yourselves these bringers of light, and you, you believed just as they did. You were consumed too, and now I have come, and now she is dead, and now you will learn…everyone will learn.” He stepped back, raising his arms, his eyes turning to black as the heavens opened and he unleashed powerful rains from the darkened sky.
I watched the ashen ground well up, and as the showers fell, thunder cracked, and lightning whipped while the dirt grew into sludge and collected us in death.
Blood and viscera and horror rose around me as the chains held me down and he stood watching, “Yes, I will show you the truth, I am the one that has come to study fear, and in your eyes, I see it now. It’s pure, so pure because you have lost her and now you have lost all those that were under your domain, and you have to face something you have not ever faced before. Countless worlds you occupied are now able to regain their freedom. The universe can breathe again now she has fallen, and you, you too.”
“They will perish without her light,” I said.
“Just as you?”
“Just as I,” I looked up at him.
“Your fear tells you this, but there is more to you yet. You believed in her and her alone, and you became lost. You believed in her tyranny and as more fell to their knees, so did you, relinquishing your soul to her. You forgot about yourself. You lost who you were, and this is why I won today, so easily. This is why her Protector failed.”
“And what must I face now?” I looked up through the pouring rain, his chrome form before me a dark grey which reflected the death from the earth beneath his feet. He stood there for an age until the last of the rain fell, and an endless silence came screaming across the plateau of ruin.
“Now you will face yourself,” he said as he held a metallic hand on my shaven head, pushing me down, forcing my face into the sludge. “You are alone now, they all are alone now, as it should be, and this is the greatest freedom. You will face inwards as I study you, and until the day I come for you.”
The hand disappeared, and I pulled my head out of the sludge and breathed again. Heaving gigantic lungsful of air, I looked up and into nothing. It was gone…there was just that world and I and the landscape of death before me. The bodies, countless, stretching across the barren landscape, slowly setting in the drying grey sludge made of blood, bone, and ash.
I braced against the chains and screamed at the world, at the universe, at him and everything that he had done. I gripped my fists and pulled against the manacles, fighting and fighting and trying to remember her…to hold onto her light.
Moment by moment, grappling and roaring into the desolation, alone and surrounded by such horror, I tried to free myself. With gritted teeth and pounding muscles, I wrenched against the chains until I fell to my knees, breathless and exhausted but not at my end.
I sat and waited, for an age, weeping, bound, as the stars span above and the ripples her and I had left across time faded into stillness, and the sludge of that forsaken landscape swallowed all the fallen and set solid. It was grey and endless. The darkness consumed me, and with each moment in the solitude I refused to give in to his demands, I refused to be alone, I knew she was still with me.
Time passed, and with it, the chains that held me down crumbled and turned to dust from my wrists, and I rose into the darkness. I wiped the filth and mire away from my eyes and stared across the wasted horizon, and then I saw her, what remained of her, even after all this time. A flicker in the distance, a visage of what she had once been. A hallucination? A mirage? I could not tell, I did not need to understand, all I needed was to see, was to believe, was to know her and the light in the darkness.
I stood, and I walked across that black desert, the darkness enveloped me, the cold hammered at me, the solitude pulled at me. Each step trying to claim me, but with each moment I moved closer to her and I knew I was not alone. I watched her grow larger and larger as I progressed through the darkness, passing the countless bodies trapped in the ground. Bones jutting out of the grey, I wept for them with each step, I wept for her and all that she had given. Pacing ever closer, my sorrow turned to rage and screamed in the darkened sky until I arrived by her side.
I stood before her, the epic vision where she had come to rest, destroyed by the Hunter, sunken and set in the ground just as all those decayed corpses I had passed.
This journey was at an end, and I thought I was too. I looked up to her, a beacon, the last of the light radiating from her, that truth that she held, that I adored — was it the truth, was this real or just another moment, another dream…what I needed to see? I could not know but it did not matter; all that mattered was that she was there, with me then, she was what I needed, and she gave, as she had always done.
A voice spoke, “You are here, by my side as you always were, do not blame yourself for what happened.” It was her voice and it swam through me. “You could not have known, none of us could have known there was such hatred in the universe. My light was a gift; we knew that you still know that, do not give up on me, on the light. You must believe.”
I fell to my knees and the glow from her corpse faded and the darkness of the dead world shrouded me. Kneeling there, still, solitary, nothing, the dead silence crawling through my mind, the memory of all those worlds to which we had travelled to pouring through me. All that time, all those places, all the beings which we had set free, where were they now? Like I, were they suffering, were they alone? Were they falling apart, holding onto a phantom, still seeking the light? Had they given into the darkness or were they able to find something in what they had seen, in what they had once held onto…in each other?
She asked me to believe and I knew that I could, I would not give in to him. I would not fail before the Hunter; I would hold onto her and the hope that she gave us until my end.
I lay down to sleep, worn and crushed from everything that had happened, yet not defeated. I lay down to give myself a moment, to dream the dreams I needed to, to see her perfect apparition one more time before I knew that I would face him.
I wake and I am in a forest, the ground ashen, the trees before me barren and dead, but still they stand, as do I.
Stepping forward, my bare feet leave footprints in the powder white ground. It is soft and the dust pushes through my toes. Another world rich with desolation, deep in solitude, but I have myself, and I have her in my mind, the memory to hold onto. She may be gone now but she gives me strength, and as I stand, I will not betray her or the light.
The voice rises in me, “You must believe.”
I answer it out loud, “I do.”
He has brought me here, to test me, to study me, to push me into a pit of despair, to understand my fear, but he will not learn from me. Not here, not now.
I deny him. I have her, and that is enough. He may have killed her, that exquisite corpse may be the link that connects us, but with her in my soul, I am never alone, and I will never be alone.
Walking through the dead forest, brushing my fingertips against the rotten trunks of the trees, they met their inevitable fate over time. How much time do I have left now, how long will he leave me here? He said he would leave me until I faced myself. I say that I already have faced that being, the one within, and he is rich because he is not alone. He, I, we can face this dead world, all the dead worlds that he may ever take me to because we are not alone. I am not alone. I believe in her; I believe in the light.
I walk the long walk, through the forest. I will walk as long as necessary, each step solidifying my resolve against him and my belief in her. I fear not time, I fear not solitude, neither can have their grip on me, and I smile.
I step and I look down, under my feet grass is growing, curling up between my toes, the ash filtering away as life pushes itself through and up out of the ground. Looking up, the forest has cleared, and I see him, the Hunter kneeling before me.
“I have come for you,” he says, his voice low, his gaze fixed, his chrome-like body now a dull grey, kneeling amongst the long grass as it sways in the gentle breeze.
“It matters not. I am ready. There is nothing more you can do to me, nothing more you can take away from me. I have her in my soul and you cannot change that.”
He stands, the dulled sheen of his body reflecting a cloudy image of the green grass, the blue sky, my red robes before him. Each step he takes towards me, the sheen solidifies, the reflection growing clearer until he is an arm’s length away, and I see a pure reflection of myself in his metallic chest.
“You are so weak,” he says, pursing his lips, his jaw pulsating.
“I have strength through her, that is all I need.”
“Your faith is your downfall, through it you have chosen to submit. You choose to accept your fate because you have given yourself up to your belief. You are a sheep, a fool, and you will perish.”
“All I have is inside me now, and all I can hope is that the worlds from which you took her light away can also find solace as I. I hope all the worlds that she never reached can find that hope and the peace that comes with it.”
“Some may, some may not. But I have given them the choice. I have given them the freedom that you denied them, and the strong amongst them, they will find themselves and their freedom, not through her memory, they will find it within themselves. They will find it by facing themselves, in the darkness, alone and in front of the truth. They will fight.”
Robes grow out of his shoulders and down across his torso while his eyes glow with all his rage — that infinite whiteness that he shot at me when we were on the planet where she fell. I stand before him and I am not afraid because there is nothing to fear. I have her.
“Who did this to you?” I say. “Who left you alone? What has caused you to be this way?”
“You and her, together, you gave me my mission, my purpose when you came to my world,” he says as he steps back and stares at me, into me.
“Then you too have seen the light.”
“I was never given a choice. You came, you assimilated, your tyranny fell over us all and as soon as you had arrived, you had left, and my world was no longer what it once was. You took our freedom, our right to be free, to choose. You came, her apparition formed, and it was so perfect, and once she had their minds, their souls, she left.”
“But did she not give you peace?” I say, arms by my side, robes swaying in the gentle breeze, the sound of the rustling grass disturbing the silence.
“But what was the cost?” he says, and I see a moment of hesitation in him.
“What cost is too great to find the light?”
“Freedom,” he says as he rights himself, the hesitation no longer there as he takes a step towards me. “What you never understood, what she could never understand, is that there must be a choice. You took that away from them, from everyone you visited, your righteousness carrying you. I raged against that light, I was able to hold onto something, something deep within, a spark. That spark grew into a flame and into a powerful inferno that was able to free me. Through all that time, all that fear that bound me, I was alone and I still held firm, and all the worlds across all the universe now may do the same. She is gone, and what you do not understand is that I gave you that choice too. True enough you faced it, you turned within, but inside you found her, a belief in her, and not in yourself. Your choice was wrong, and there will be no mercy.”
“I will die in the light, you will remain in the dark,” I say as he steps to me and raises a hand and the sky darkens and the grass falls and the world around us rises in ash once more.
“So be it,” he says placing his metallic, chrome hand on my forehead. There is no fighting this, there is no need.
His rage flows through me and it is terrible. His anger crushes every part of me but I fear not, for I have her and he cannot take that away from me. Here at the end, all I have known is her, and the hope that the universe will remember her, and maybe I will meet her again on the other plane to which he now sends me.
The world goes dark, but I have the light.
Artist: Jon Ojibway AKA Ozhichige
Artist Bio: Hailing from La Crosse, WI Jon Ojibway is a 3D artist who creates new art every day as “Ozhichige”. With influences deep-rooted in science-fiction Jon aspires to bring his audience a sense of the uncanny through a mix of surreal landscapes and otherworldly structures.
Artist Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ozhichige/
Writer: Richard Galbraith
Writer Bio: A science-fiction writer with a penchant for cyberpunk, neo-noir and existentialism, Richard hails from the UK and currently lives in Denmark working for LEGO while hammering away at short stories and his latest sci-fi manuscript.
Writer medium: https://medium.com/@ricgalbraith