Chapter Thirty-Four

War Journal

Entry # 13

The first bolt of lightning landed about six feet in front of me. The second one landed about six feet behind. I wasn't all that surprised to see Rokoko before me when the smoke cleared on the first one -  baring his teeth, as usual - though those empty black eyes made me feel like I'd been dumped into the Chuck E. Cheese at Westworld.

I was not, however, in the least prepared to see Skeerak standing behind me.

He was back from the dead; and what was worse, he wasn't even mutilated. It was like I'd never even killed him at all, except I was still worn out. He advanced toward me, and I justfreaked: next thing I knew, I was winging the table at Rokoko's head and hauling ass.

All the way down the street, with their footsteps close behind me, all I could think about was getting to the Skyrrla. It was the only hope I had, if I had any hope at all. I ran and ran, eyes locked on the door, as if I could will the building closer. When that didn't work, I just ran harder.

A black jellyfish landed square on my back.

I screamed as the first slick burning tendrils draped themselves around my neck. The pain was almost electric, as in electric chair. I felt myself starting to fall, and twisted: landing on my back, smashing that fuckwad into jam. I felt my leathers start to fry, and my back came alive with anguish.

But I couldn't stay down, I couldn't stay down, Rokoko and Skeerak were almost upon me; so I rolled to my feet, got back up, kept on running. Almost to the door now. Running up the front stairs.

Then I went through the door, slamming it shut behind me, buying myself a whole second at best as I ran down the hall to the stairs leading up, door exploding behind me, footsteps huge in pursuit. I took the stairs two at a time, the pain mounting as I climbed, unbelievable now. I could feel it eating into my skin, breaking me down like stomach acid. I couldn't stop to get it off. I couldn't have gotten it off if I tried.

And up I went, past the second floor, the third, the rooftop looming, and all I could think was get to the Skyrrla. Get to the Skyrrla. Even with those monsters on my heels. Even though I was leading them right where they wanted, if in fact they still had any volition of their own.

I had no doubt that they were robots now: self-replicating nightmares, made of nothing but blackness. That blackness was a living thing: subsuming form and hollowing it out. Breaking it down. Destroying it. Killing everything that counted inside.

I had the blackness inside me now, too. It wanted me. It wanted us all. Dead or alive, it didn't matter. It wanted. It wanted. That was all that it knew. That, and the hate that it felt for the life-force: that glorious light, which warms and heals our cells and souls.

I hit the roof, and the Skyrrla called to me. Called out with a surge of brilliance. Begging me to merge with it. Let go. Become One. Become even more than that.

In a flash, I took in the Emerald skyline: saw the jellyfish swarm through the lightning-wracked sky. I saw Glinda's tower, being hammered by the horrors. I saw winged monkeys fighting them, valiantly dying.

I saw Mikio's face, as he turned toward me. Without blame or hesitation, he assumed the battle stance. His friends, too, were ready, closing ranks, bearing up arms against the monsters on my tail. I flashed them a look as I sped between and past them, tried to single out Mikio for the bulk of my love. But the pain was immense, and my time was almost over. I said goodbye to Mikio with barely a glance.

The Skyrrla was calling. I knelt before it, dropping my axe with a clatter to the floor. The Skyrrla flared. All my hairs stood on end, as did all the nerves within me. The blackness that bore into me was just like ice on a burn now: nothing like pleasure, but suddenly no longer pain.

I remembered what had happened to Mikio's shoe. I wondered where the toe went, when he brought it too close. Wherever it went, I was going there, too.

I put my hands on the Skyrrla. And went into the light.

In less than a second

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