.........."No, to your right a bit."
.........."A little more."
.........."Wait, I see you," said Monosmith. Buzzy's bright chartreuse uniform stood out from a half a mile away, even when it was mostly blocked by tree branches. He was seated halfway up the opposite hill. There was a river in between them, so one of them was going to have to get wet. "You stay there. I'm coming to you."
.........."Hurry, that light caught a bit of attention."
..........That was true, but chances were that nothing was paying any attention to where the light was shining so much as they were to where the light was coming from. For good measure, Monosmith didn't let the light hang over the spot where Buzzy stood still and turned it off after shining it elsewhere. Everything went dark, for the brightness of the light had been very, very bright, and the flashlight was a very, very special flashlight. For a moment, everything was silent, too, but he knew predators would come to pick up his scent. He put his flashlight away and ran.
..........The thorny entanglements of bushes ripped past him as he made his way downhill. Several times he had to jump over tree roots and sudden drops. It was a chaotic route, as far off the road as it would ever get. The ground was uneven and not meant for human sprinting, and yet he had no choice because he knew that there were things that came out at night that could glide over this terrain like phantoms. The river was almost in sight.
..........There was a swishing sound. Monosmith pulled out his sword, Thomas. It awakened with a brilliant glittering silver light. There was no way to turn down its brightness. It lit the surrounding area with ghostly contrasts. Everything seemed to be either silver or black. He held Thomas out at length, ready to spirit it in any direction.
..........In spite of the light, there was nothing to see. It seemed as if whatever he had heard simply disappeared into the twisted and confusing branches of the trees. He knew it was still out there.
..........There was a large rock nearby, a broad shape about three body lengths high. Monosmith decided to risk lowering his sword hand and ran as fast as he could to the bolder. He made it halfway up, and then something hit him hard across his lower back, tugging at the tails of his coat. He twisted around and slashed at it. There was a screeching sound, and he saw a dark figure skimp off.
..........He held out his sword like a beacon. Clearly, more shapes were now becoming visible, all in migration towards him, and all coming very fast. There wasn't enough time to scale the rest of the rock.
..........A shadow lashed out at him. He cut it in half, still not knowing what his attacker looked like, not even knowing whether it was a giant beast or a small gremlin. A cold liquid greeted his face. Well, at least he knew they weren't warm-blooded. Several more pounced on him. He felled them all, walking backward up the rock as he did so. Finally, he reached the top.
..........The predators fell pack and seemed to hide behind the trees. He heard further scurrying and the sound of branches ruffling. He looked up and realized that the canopy of the trees were still above his head. Then he brightened the light of Thomas, this time intentionally using it as a light. He saw the figures seeping through the limbs of the trees like rats exploiting a sewer system. Then he saw their appearance, as hideous and as horrifying as the sun was bright. Their skin and internal organs were all transparent, rendering them almost completely invisible as rays from Thomas penetrated through them.
..........Regardless, they could be killed.
..........One sprang out from the canopy and landed across his face, leaving a gash across his cheek. He hoped that the monster blood already on his face wouldn't mingle with his own, or at least that there weren't any unpleasant side effects. He slew the creature, but many more started coming after him, jumping on him from all directions and overwhelming him. His sword was light and he was able to cover as many angles as he needed to in a short period of time, but he was still getting hit where he was least expecting it. What was more, the creatures didn't seem to stop coming, and a minute later he was almost convinced that they had advanced healing abilities.
..........It was after his arm got sore that one finally wrestled him to the ground. Others gathered around to cash in on the kill. They knocked Thomas out of Monosmith's hand. He felt then nipping at his hair and tugging at his clothes, and most repelling of all the sensation of tentacles sliding around his neck and down his mouth. A poison began entering his system that ate at his ability to care, and a black cloud of apathy slowly soaked up his soul. He grew cold.
..........No, he was not going to go down. If there was one thing Monosmith had grown to hate within his lifetime, it was dying. There was too much of that. There were friends to live for, people who would miss him. There were things he wanted to do, things that he had always lived for and never managed to complete. The drug in his system was only putting down his anger and toughness, his aggressive urge to attack. He wasn't going to go to sleep, though, not with a bright summer day inside of him. There were forms of happiness he still longed for, things he wished to live to see. In fact, there was something in particular, something he wasn't ready to give up on. Not yet.
..........Even though his mind was getting sluggish, he managed to remember to grab the light on the inside of his pocket. The monsters almost knocked it out of his hand like they did Thomas, but he endured. He held it close to him and turned it on, then drove up the light output to over nine thousand lumens.
..........The creature directly on top of him shrieked and slithered off. It worked!
..........Monosmith's bloodied face tightened in determination as he fought his way into an upright position. He pointed the light in the direction of the various monsters on his legs. In the blink of an eye they were on either side of the light, but not directly in its path. Now this light was more helpful. It had far more heed than his sword did. Unfortunately, it couldn't shine in all directions. He managed to reach for his sword and use it to slit the throats of the creatures still clawing at his back. With the sword in one hand, torch in the other, he circled around, making sure nothing would come near him. Now that he had more room for movement and time to react, he turned on his light to one million lumens for good measure. Nothing dared to come near him. Still, he considered his options. His senses were coming back to him. His aggression returned. It occurred to him that he could turn the light into a long-ranged weapon, at the risk of setting the forest on fire. He knew he could. He was, after all, not using a flashlight per se but an interdimensional traveling device, by which he was merely exploiting a technicality in time and space by tapping into the unlimited energies of time rifts.
..........Yet today was a day for mercy. He didn't know why. He didn't care about monsters who had no souls. Yet he wanted some measure of peace for the night and didn't desire to spend the rest of it worried about a fire. He had a friend to look forward to.
..........Monosmith stood still, swiveling the light around, forcing the creatures to form a perimeter around him, coming to a standstill. He couldn't leave his high ground and they couldn't enter the circle where the interdimensional rift energy shined brighter than daylight.
.........."Do you really want me? Because I can keep this up all night."
..........An hour passed before the stalkers were the wiser. Maybe they figured out that Monosmith meant to hold up the standstill until morning. Maybe they were just impatient. Monosmith didn't bet on the latter. Either way, they skulked off.
..........He took out a first aid kit and applied blessed water to his face, healing up the cuts. That was all he had and all he needed. He was confident that he didn't have to use it later. The rest of his body remained undamaged, protected by his coat, gloves, and boots. He called Buzzy again.
.........."Are you still in the same place?"
.........."Yeah. It sounds like you're alright. I'm glad."
.........."I'll be right there."
..........He turned off his light again. He made his way down the hill and got to the side of the river. Its pace he could judge with certainty. It was a lazy river. However, it was about three hundred feet across and his gut told him that almost all of it was deeper than his feet could reach. He would risk a lot by swimming across.
..........Yet, Buzzy was on the line. He would risk it for him.
..........Swimming across the river was not easy when Monosmith resolved to keep him supplies and clothes on him. It weighed him down. His clothes were not going to let him forget this trek for a while. In the middle of the river, he stopped to treat water and looked behind him. Even though they were transparent, he could see the wild things that had attacked him earlier gathering on the shore and swimming across. Might he add, they were swimming about as fast as he could run. He whipped out his IDTD and shined it at them, this time spearing no expense and powering his beam up to a tidal wave of light. Water evaporated where the light touched it. The creatures didn't even have time to scream. They burned up and sank in the water. He touched the tan sands of the beach where the remaining horde lurked, and they scrambled only to fall down and turn black, this time the blackness of burn marks instead of shadows.
..........Monosmith turned off the light and became swimming again. He presumed that this had scared them away for good, and if not it would once he reached the opposite shore and swept the area while on good footing. He reached solid ground again, got to his feet, and did exactly that. Water boiled, presumably many fish died, but no fires were started, and he covered a considerable area with two solid sweeps.
..........He swept his hair out of his face. That was that. He remembered exactly where Buzzy was and let his sense of direction guide him. He climbed up the hill, through the bushes, and over the roots, but this time in no hurry. When he came to the spot, he looked around, and then up at the branches. Buzzy was hiding amid the chaos, resting where a pair of limbs split a trunk in two. Monosmith waved at him. Buzzy waved back and dropped down.
.........."You were actually not the first person I expected to come rescue me," said Buzzy.
.........."Buzzy, you're my best friend," said Monosmith.
.........."Yes, but you have you life."
.........."Actually, about that," said Monosmith. "It's not going very well."
.........."Let's talk about it as we walk. The more ground we cover the better."
..........Buzzy nodded and began walking north. He pulled out his pistols. Between the two of them, they could handle all the midnight monsters the forest could throw their way. "Yeah, I'm not going to lie, I can cover a lot more ground now."
.........."What exactly happened to your team?" asked Monosmith.
.........."Would you believe me if I said it was not those things that go bump in the night?"
.........."I assumed it was something more serious, yes," said Monosmith.
.........."Well it was an ambush. Since it was at night I thought it was the predators, but then gut instinct saved me at the last moment and I ducked outside of camp. A missile hit the clearing and killed everyone instantly," said Buzzy. "I'm pretty sure it wasn't any normal attack, either. I never saw my attackers, but I'm pretty sure I saw a silhouette of an Aardse. Again, if I were to go with my gut instinct, I would say that he or she is still out in these woods, and that's a cause for far greater trouble than the natural inhabitants, so I'd keep your sword out if I were you.
.........."Sorry. What were you saying about life?"
..........Monosmith put his gloved hand on the pommel of Thomas, but he didn't pull it out. "For the time being it looks like I've returned to the fight."
.........."I thought you were trying to retire to a personal life."
.........."Heaven knows, I deserve it," said Monosmith. "Yet, I still have my obligations here. As tiresome as it gets, I'm actually not ready to slow down, not until I've finished with my business here."
.........."That sounded like the younger man I used to know," said Buzzy.
.........."I grew old, unlike you," said Monosmith.
.........."I got stuck on a space ship going near the speed of light. I can't help it that primitive means of travel slowed time down for me."
.........."I know. At least on my part I haven't had to suffer having to see you change. At least there are some constants in my life," said Monosmith.
.........."So what changed you mind? I mean, what brought you back, specifically?" asked Buzzy.
.........."Sadly, the usual," said Monosmith. "I want to have a family, and I wanted to have it with someone in particular. It's too bad she's perfectly happy with someone else. I went through the usual stages, including denial, but those went by fast enough by virtue of this being the second time, and this time...this time I think I really have come to accept my calling."
..........Buzzy stopped. "Did you hear that?"
..........Monosmith looked around. The crunching of their feet against the leaves stopped. There was indeed a sound around. Maybe it was the Aardse. A small critter jumped out in front of them, then pranced off.
.........."Never mind," said Buzzy. "But now that I think about it, you're a loud talker. Just going to put that out there. Let's try to keep our voices down."
.........."I think I'm truly back for good, ready to get this unfinished business out of the way," said Monosmith.
.........."Hey, Monosmith, I'm still thinking the right person is out there for you," said Buzzy. "You'd make an awesome husband. It doesn't necessarily have to get in the way of defeating evil. I'm saying this as your best friend, and as someone who's been there from the start. I know that the two of us have been the two most eternal bachelors in the universe, but I truly feel that the right person is out there for you."
.........."You know the sad thing?" said Monosmith.
.........."Please, don't tell me," said Buzzy.
.........."I'm telling you anyway. There's nothing secret between us," said Monosmith. "I fell in love with several different ladies after that. Not that I told them, but I'm longing for it. After the emotional connection with the one ended, my defenses just laid down on the ground and got curb stomped."
.........."We're just two different animals, aren't we?"
.........."Ywis," said Monosmith. "Well, that bit of emotional floundering further separated me from the need to feel attachment to any given human being and advance and agenda for a relationship, barring the desire to build upon friendships that already exist, such as my friendships with you and Ashley, all of which are ongoing stories whose books can only get thicker. As it stands - " Monosmith stopped. There was a light in the distance, something green. "Over there."
.........."I see it."
.........."It looks like you were right about that Aardse." There was no way it was anything but a sword like his.
.........."I think we can make our way around him."
.........."No," said Monosmith. "We're going to hunt him down."
..........Buzzy shrugged. This was Monosmith's jurisdiction, not his, and in that instant the plan was set. Monosmith looked out at the distant hill and calculated the distance. It should take ten minutes if they both ran. There was, of course, the possibility of running into the less than courteous wildlife and getting a bit occupied, in which case there would no doubt be much light and noise, alerting the Aardse of their presence. Yet, it could be assumed that the light of the Aardse's sword was a sign that he or she was having the exact same conflict. On the other hand, it could be an attempt to lure them in. Either way, Monosmith was going to meet this person come HeII or high water, both of which he had recently conquered.
..........Monosmith and Buzzy ripped their way through the forestry, covering the distance in a little more time than Monosmith had predicted. When they came close to the light, the slowed down to reduce their noise as much as possible. They did not hear any struggle going on. It must have been a lure. Maybe the Aardse had guessed who he or she shared the forest with. While Buzzy stayed behind, Monosmith slipped through the trees and grabbed his sword, making the presence known.
..........She - for the Aardse was a she - turned around in surprise. Her angelic wings folded up with tension.
.........."Settle down. You might attract unwelcome company," said Monosmith.
.........."You," said the Aardse.
..........Instead of extending his sword out in an invitation to duel, Monosmith set Thomas down in front of him like a cane. The Aardse couldn't help but flinch. He knew that the gesture had to have a strong effect, and truly, he was one of the few who could rightfully adopt this posture toward another of his kind. "I plead diplomacy," he said. "My only wish at present is that we cooperate as decent rivals and set aside our differences until we part ways."
..........She nodded her head and sheathed her sword. It was good. Then she spoke in Mastertongue, "Monosmith, I will respect you as the noblest of enemies. Truly, it is not my place to challenge you."
.........."Your name," said Monosmith.
.........."Soul Struggle," she said.
.........."Oh really?" said Monosmith. "I think I should know a thing or two about that. Perhaps you should consider rearranging your allegiances."
.........."I have promises to keep," said Soul Struggle.
.........."What a shame. You have such a beautiful name."
..........Soul Struggle's face went steely and defensive.
.........."Perhaps you are aware of Buzzy?" said Monosmith.
.........."Why am I not surprised that he survived?" she said.
.........."You can come out now," said Monosmith, switching languages. "Soul, would it be within your comfort to constrain yourself to Lucian for the remainder of our time together for Buzzy's sake?"
..........They gathered in a triangle in a clearing. Their relative proximity to each other was astounding, considering that just a week ago the conspicuous outsider had nearly killed and certainly stranded the smaller of the men. Yet, Soul clearly knew how well she had it. She was at the mercy of Monosmith, who loomed tall and concealed a device that could fry her in the blink of an eye should he choose to throw honor to the wind. Since there was clearly no point in promoting her own self defense against two apparently courteous men, she looked out at the forest, checking to see if there were any creatures prying about. She had very well invited them to come.
.........."I'm surprised by your tactics here," whispered Buzzy, out of Soul Struggle's earshot.
.........."Well, suffice to say I wished to see this individual," said Monosmith. "Remember, we're better than them. They believe they can inflict judgment. We are ambassadors of mercy."
.........."Whenever we can help it," added Buzzy.
.........."Which is the case now."
..........They looked at each other and came to an unspoken agreement that such was the case, and they continued to observe Soul Struggle. She absolutely refused to look at them. Maybe it was out of discomfort or fear, maybe out of shame.
.........."Be a pal. Set up a fire," said Monosmith. "Trust me on this."
..........Buzzy looked one more time at Soul Struggle, curious, and made a decision to share this trust. There was no need for it to be said out loud, for such was the repreated theme: A friend's friend was a friend of Buzzy's. He gathered up a few sticks and set them in a tent formation in the middle of the clearing. Soul looked around upon hearing enough snapping of twigs and was surprised to see yet another gesture of trust, the setting up of the fire. Monosmith used his IDTD to fire a laser at the pile and set it aflame in an instant. She almost dropped her sword.
.........."I'm guessing that this is a thing for you guys," said Buzzy, rubbing his hands together and kneeling in to the fire.
.........."More so than you might imagine," said Soul, staring into its center. Her eyes betrayed her name.
..........Monosmith removed his sword from the ground and cut down a tree, then divided its trunk into three pieces. "Here, we can use these as benches."
..........They did, and as they gathered around the fire, they began to tell stories. Nothing too personal nor anything that revealed critical information. Mostly it took on a more abstract form, where the stories weren't literally life experiences but personifications of thoughts and ideas that they had. Between Monosmith and Soul Struggle, it became a struggle akin to the Canterbury Tales with an agenda to share the best poetry. Such was the way with Aardses. Buzzy for the most part just sat back and listened, perfectly fine that he wasn't getting any of it. Every once and a while he would poke his way in with something far more concrete just to keep theme grounded, to give them humanity when their intellect carried them too far off the ground.
..........Then they asked questions, major questions, and the inevitable came up, the one that many people had always asked him. "Monosmith, why don't you ever smile?"
.........."Oh," said Buzzy, all too familiar with being the middle man in this instance. It was as if to say "This again!"
.........."Why am I always such a somber presence? There are poor people in this world, Soul. You of all people should know that. There are people who strain to see the the light and only need but a little to show them the way. People have hopes and dreams of bigger and better things, and yet Death blackens the world with sadness. They lose that light, and they lose hope. I cannot be happy so long as there is injustice in this world, so long as men have been lied to and believed in vain. I cannot delight so long as there is no mercy for those who need it most. I grieve for those who don't know the light, who don't know wisdom and what they can have. My heart is not for me alone but for all who walk this world, and what joy can fill it when there are so few who have realized the joy of love and its endless comfort. Yet fine men, good men, suffer in a world filled with only false presumptions of happiness. What am I supposed to tell them? That everything's all right? Soul, oh struggling Soul, I tell you now that there are things worth believing in, but things are not as they should be."
.........."What a passionate man," said Soul Struggle, an eyebrow raised. She turned over a coal with a stick, which was more interesting than his monologue.
..........Buzzy dared crack a grin. Soul decided to make use of that ability as well, although it was a very different sort of smile. Monosmith, stubbornly, refused to follow give up his position.
.........."Monosmith, I believe you are the biggest believer in causes I have ever known," said Buzzy. "Although - get this - the one thing he doesn't believe in is romance. He gave up on it."
.........."Him interested in women in the first place? No way," said Soul Struggle.
.........."Don't tell anyone," said Buzzy.
..........Monosmith looked up at the stars, taken aback that Buzzy had just given away such a private conversation. Whatever the case, he was forgiven. Then he looked at Soul and considered something. "Soul, do people tend to be honest and revealing around you?"
.........."Yes, I was hoping you wouldn't figure that out," she said, crossing her hands.
.........."Well that figures," said Buzzy.
.........."Since the cat is half out of the bag, yes, as it happens, I was once in love," said Monosmith. "I don't regret it for one moment, either. A wise man told me the lessons we learn from pain are the ones that never go away. He was a father to me."
.........."That seems uncharacteristic of Silver Bird," said Soul Struggle.
.........."He wasn't Silver Bird," said Monosmith.
..........There was a burst as a blizzard of sparks whistled out of the fire, and a pause in the conversation.
.........."I have trouble seeing you as a lover," said Soul Struggle.
..........Monosmith said nothing. He presumed that Buzzy could speak on his behalf, especially if there was a literal spirit of honesty about the air. In the face of this, he trusted Buzzy of all people to keep a strong voice.
..........Buzzy began. "There are great men out there. Silver Bird was older than dust and a bit of a priest, always the father figure but never the husband. Me, I always was just a soldier and realized I only ever wanted friendship that could last until the day that I die. There are others, I know, who have literally become one with the cause. Yet you see, Monosmith is more human than any of them. He can be all those things, and yet...he's a wonder. At the end of the day, when you're done fighting for the cause, when you're 'there', what does 'there' look like? There are things worth fighting and dying for, but once you win them, what is there worth living for?"
..........There was silence. Soul Struggle clasped her hands and held her head low. Monosmith could almost swear she was crying. He stood up and made his way to her to put his glove on her shoulder.
.........."What is it?" he asked her.
.........."Don't talk to me like that," said Soul Struggle.
.........."You can talk to me," said Monosmith.
.........."If it has to do with your self-doubts, I'm here for you," said Monosmith. "Soul, you're a beautiful person. I know you've been told this, but believe me, nobody means it like I do." She turned away her shoulder and rejected his touch.
..........The hair on the back of his neck stood up.
..........Oh no. They had lit a light on a hill! He ran over to his bench and uprooted Thomas from the ground. "Buzzy, the wildlife!"
..........Buzzy grabbed his pistols just in time to shoot at a slight dark patch that catapulted toward him. Monosmith swung his sword about and let it shine as a great beacon, as a lodestar that could be seen for miles. Between the three of them, they were going to put to rest the prowling abominations once and for all. Let them come.
..........The world seemed to cave in on them as they rampaged like an avalanche from all directions. Battle instincts told Monosmith that there were ten thousand of them, maybe more. They whirled around him, surprisingly silent. He didn't think, didn't aim. He only let the magic of Thomas control his movements for him, channeling the spirit of battle into him and guiding his arm to where it needed to be when it needed to be there. Meanwhile, he made his way next to Buzzy and stood back to back.
.........."Can you use your IDTD to torch them away," said Buzzy, needlessly shouting. There was no noise to be heard over.
.........."And be caught in a forest fire? Not worth it."
..........Once again, the familiar sensation of cuts to the face pelted him. The monsters were as numerous as raindrops in a storm. Before he knew it, he was standing on them, and a pile was building up. Corpse scattered across the campsite, and a pile of the discarded dead fell upon the fire and put it out. Their chilly blood ran through the soil. Soon there was no soil to stand on, and he was forced to step over the bodies of the individual creatures to maintain a high ground. It was like walking through a giant junk yard, except it was made out of the corpses of monstrosities. Then, rising up from the sounds of silence came something new, something tangible. Something otherworldly.
..........Monosmith looked around. It seemed to come from nowhere, and yet everywhere at once. It was high, shrill, like the sound of a ghostly legion. Through the transparent bodies of the monsters, he glimpsed at Soul Struggle looking around in confusion. He knew it was terror. That sound affected everyone. He had heard it before. Like the sound of the Second Empire, it had a way of gaining automatic access into the soul and paralyzing it with fear.
.........."What in God's name is that?" declared Soul Struggle.
.........."Don't use the Lord's name in vain!" touted Monosmith, an automatic reaction. He had no time to really answer her question anyway.
..........In the naked light he saw a white shape stab its way through the darkness. It was big and unstoppable. It was something to be taken very seriously. While not Craytus, it was still something Monosmith recognized of the insane nuadine species. He forgot all about calling the transparent predators monstrosities. It was now time to correctly apply the word.
..........To describe its form was impossible. How could anyone properly describe the abominations that hid in the forbidden cracks in the universe? Why it had come here, he knew not. The only way he could describe it was to take note of its hovering nature. In a strange way, it reminded him of a zeppelin, except there were strange bulges across its surface and thorny growths in back. Tentacles came from its underside, squirming and hungry for flesh. Covering is was a mix of different forms of eyes that came out of its flesh in odd ways, but what he noticed most, however, was the mouth. It seemed to see with its maw, a giant vertical gash set at its bow with sad excuses for teeth inside, coming in all shapes and sizes, reflecting the distorted, demented world within. He swore he could see a single white eye on the inside.
..........It did see with its mouth.
..........The sound got louder.
..........Flying creatures spawned out of the esophagus and toward him. They bore a strong resemblance to the predators that he already had to deal with. No wonder. It took him a moment to observe what looked like overactive sacks hidden amid the tentacles that seemed to produce the original creatures like an assembly line. Where it got the material to maintain the law of conservation of mass, Monosmith could only theorize, but this was a nuadine. The laws of physics were sketchy with them sometimes.
..........Not that these observations were of any importance. It didn't do him any good to realize that the forest had been populated by the seed of a malevolent alien if it was going to kill him so soon. It was now time for the big guns to come out, forest fire or no. He reached for his IDTD, not caring if he destroyed the world, so long as he destroyed this thing. Yet, the flying creatures maneuvered their way toward him, berated him, and snatched the IDTD away.
..........Well if it wasn't going to be one of those encounters.
..........The big white nuadine came closer. Closer. Monosmith was helpless to do anything but fend for himself as the smaller minions stole away at his time. There had to a way out of this. Buzzy tried firing a few shots at it, but they had no effect.
..........The green light of Soul Struggle's sword shifted the angle at which it shone on the ground, through which Monosmith could calculate her position. He never dared look around and he kept his focus on the floating white terror, but he had a general sense that she was using her wings to fly upward. Of course! She could flee! Then, as it would play out, given the deals people of her kind had with the Devil, certainly there was the chance that a dark force such as this might recognize her as a kindred spirit and spare her. Demons, all of them. The Devil would spare his children, so long as they continued to cement the decree that only the good should die young.
..........Her green light left the melee. He didn't count on her returning. He wanted to say something, an ill-begotten platitude to mark the solemnity of their predicament, to punctuate their sense of abandonment, but he did not want to doom them. He still believed there was a way out of this, as dark as this was, as certain as his death seemed. He wouldn't let his last words be those of scorn, either. Even if his confidence proved wrong, and this really was the end, being killed fighting a nuidine was perhaps the best way to go. It then would have all ended in the same way that is all began, and his journey had come full circle.
..........Just in case, he prayed in Silvertongue. "De Herr ist mein Hirte; mir werd nichts mengeln..."
..........The nuadine was coming closer. It would soon blot out the sky. The tremulous, tormented whine of the nuadine transcended the three dimensions, defied time and space, and felt like they were coming at him from a direction implacable, and from the past and the future.
..........Far off to his side, he was vaguely aware that Buzzy was being harassed, that he couldn't shoot fast enough to ward off all harm. He was at the end of his rope, slick with his own blood and grime. Seeing Buzzy, an honest friend who had been nothing but good to him, his best friend, at the very edge, tormented beyond what people were meant to endure, Monosmith felt the fiercest wrath poor out from him. It was easy to call this wrath hatred, but it wasn't that. He was giving Buzzy everything he had, making sure that all this suffering brought out their grandest spirits.
..........This was the price of mercy. To be abandoned, left for dead. At least he was creating a Tower of Babel out of these verminous bodies to reach out and touch this ugly god with a casting punch.
..........As it hovered above the edge of the clearing, he realized he didn't have any idea how he was going to get out of this situation himself. All of those marvelous things he had done in his lifetime were all accidents, and no glory or credit could be given to him. There would be no miraculous trick up his sleeve that would save him now, unless, of course, if by a literal miracle. He wanted to say "I'm sorry, Buzzy," but continued on with his prayer.
..........The tenseness left his body. He wasn't frightened or unnerved by the ethereal sounds of the nuadine anymore. The dawning comprehension of his death came to him. So these were his last moments. This was what the end of his personal story would look like, feel like. This is how the book would end, and what his final awareness would be before eternal blackness blotted out all knowledge of time. What a beautiful night, he thought.
.........."Gutes und Barmherzigkeit werden mir folgen mein Leben lang..."
..........Then he saw her green sword. It skirted down the side of the nuadine, lashing at its eyes. She was being assaulted by the flying spawn of the monstrosity on all sides, but she broke free, and resisted them all the way as she fought he way to him.
..........Of course. The literal miracle.
..........Soul Struggle landed next to him as the nuadine blocked out the stars. In her hand, slippery with the blood of the lesser monstrosities as well as her own, she held his IDTD. So much power in such small hands. "Let's get out of here!"
.........."What? No, you don't understand. If we just randomly open a hole in space-time, we'll only end up in another dimension's open space and suffer the vacuum!" said Monosmith. "What I really need that for is to create a flashlight!"
.........."Trust him!" shouted Buzzy.
..........She was beat aside and prevented from giving the IDTD to Monosmith. "What do you mean by a flashlight?" she screamed. This time a raised voice really was necessary. She could hardly be heard over the haunting choir of the nuadine's presence. In fact, he couldn't hear her, and was forced to lip-read.
.........."I can use that thing to access a rift dimension and access unlimited energy in the form of protons, and with the proper intensity it is my hypothesis that a focused beam of ten terrajoules per second would be sufficient in smiting this fiend!" He intentionally left out the detail that it would also inflame the atmosphere it left on for two long.
.........."You can do that with an IDTD?"
.........."Of course I can! I invented them! SO GIVE ME THAT NOW BECAUSE I HAVE THREE SECONDS TO LIVE!"
..........Somehow, she managed to get it into his hand with only a second left to go. The nuadine descended upon him, its mouth closing him out from the rest of the world. Soul Struggle and Buzzy dodged to the side just in time. Good for them, because inside the bowels of this creature, which was unpleasant all on its own, Monosmith was about to bring out the apocalypse. And here, blocked out from the rest of the world, he didn't have to worry one bit about inflaming the atmosphere.
..........The milky white eye gleamed from the light of his sword. Strange, toothy tentacles slurped out of the depths of the throat to strip him of his wares, or smother him, or both. He aimed his IDTD straight at the eye.
..........A sheering white threat slit across time and space and met with the giant opal blob. Monosmith had to refrain as the shrieking of the creature climaxed, which was especially bad when he was within its very bell chamber. The eye ruptured and a firestorm of hot liquids fell down upon him. The tentacles agonized and fell back.
..........Then, without warning, the entire thing exploded.
..........Several minutes later, he was still digging his way out, and he could hear the sounds of Buzzy's guns and the swishing noise of Soul Struggle's blade. He had long since turned his infernal device off. It was no longer safe to use.
..........Finally, he caught a mouthful of fresh air. Something latched onto his face and he switched back into fighting mode. Yet, this time he didn't need a retardant to take away his will to fight. He had just killed a larger than average nuadine, and what was he doing now? The offspring were still rampant and running amok, limitless in number. This was too much for him.
..........He turned on the IDTD, but at low levels so that it was more like an extremely bright flashlight, just enough to hold the creatures at bay. He couldn't endure to fight them any longer. They could take turns playing lighthouse and establishing a perimeter until morning, and then they would be safe.
..........Panting, he almost fell over. Both his friends - no wait, his friend and a noble enemy - caught him and offered him their support.
.........."Endure," said Buzzy. Monosmith almost didn't hear him. The howl of the nuadine was still in his ears.
..........Then morning came, and as the first pencil line of sunlight engraved its way across the horizon the transparent creatures sulked back to their daytime hiding places to sleep.
..........Soul tucked a lock of Monosmith's slimy hair behind his ear. "You're so burnt."
.........."It was worth it. You came back," he said.
.........."I'm still struggling," she said.
..........He lifted up his hand to hold on to her wrist. "No, you're not. You've found your way."
..........Suddenly, an appendage thrust its way out of the stockpile of bodied and grabbed Soul by her ankle. She stumbled and reached for her sword. Monosmith reached for his own, and Buzzy reached for his guns, but they were all too late. Monosmith could only look into her eyes in a final moment of horror as the nuadine spawn groped at her neck and delivered fatal damage. He beheaded the creature, but he couldn't undo what had been done. He dropped his sword and grabbed Soul as she fell to the ground.
.........."I can save you!" he said. "Don't let go!" He grabbed the healing water flask from his pocket and held it over her, but it was empty from its previous use. "No!"
..........Soul closed her eyes.
..........Monosmith's face hardened with a mix of anger and sadness, yet for the life of him he couldn't summon a single tear. She was dying.
.........."You have so much to look forward to. You've found your way," he said, willing her to live.
..........He felt her spirit leave her body, and the physical form that had just moments before been the emissary for her soul on this earth he cradled in his arms. Buzzy, at loss of words, collapsed to one knee and put a hand on his friend's shoulder. Monosmith shook, then raised his head and uttered a roar. It echoed across the hills.
.........."Let's take her away from here," said Monosmith.
.........."Yes," said Buzzy.
..........They left and went down to the river, where Monosmith washed himself off and cleaned wounds afflicted to Soul's body. He carried it across the hills that day until they found their way to the ship that would take them home.
.........."Did she have any family?" asked Buzzy.
.........."I don't think so," said Monosmith. "I think we should bury her here."
.........."Here? In this HeII?"
.........."It can be a beautiful place if people come here."
.........."Shouldn't she be buried with her kind?"
.........."The Aardses make all the corners of nature their tomb. This one has remained untouched for too long. In their tradition, their graves are obscure and personal, so this is what she would have wanted."
..........He lowered her body to the ground. This would be her sacred place. He tapped her heart once with his sword. The essence of life traveled from within it into her body, so as to grant it eternal beauty and prevent it from decay, and ward away the worms and other shrouded things that eroded away at still bodies.
..........That afternoon she was lowered into the ground with her sword, now black, the light of life taken from it, in her hands. As the sun set in the west, Monosmith lowered his head and recited a poem from one of his favorite poets, William Cullen Bryant, then moved on to prayers and quotations from scripture.
..........Buzzy patted the fresh dirt down and applied the tomb stone. He stepped aside to allow Monosmith work on the final touches. With Thomas, he carved letters of silver light into the surface. The epitaph read:
The Lord made her path straight and rescued her in the last hour
With an hour to live, she lived, by His grace and by His power
When her journey ended, she knew she had come to her place
She never died, but rested from her travels to find peace
In loving memory of my grandfather, who five years ago today entered Heaven and holds me now as my guardian angel.