This is the first part of a series of three which will conclude the long Eight series I’ve been working on the last couple months. Glad you all have been hanging in there with me, and I hope you enjoy this!
The great mushroom vanished as the fire dissipated, coiling up high into the atmosphere above a massive crater left in its wake, ground zero for the destruction of what was once a proud city of steel. Now it was a city of ash.
As the fire left and the smoke cleared, however, a single figure became visible at the very heart of the crater. It walked a short distance, over to a chair that materialized out of he ashen debris. A black throne, simple, tall. The figure sat down.
High above, a drone circled around the site, its camera trained directly on the figure as, far away, its owners reacted in a panic at the sight of the odd figure where they knew nothing ought to have survived. The figure watched the drone wheeling about, its face displaying the closest thing it could muster to triumph.
In moments, a series of helicopters surrounded the crater and a battalion of soldiers raced in, guns pointed at the figure in the center, none of their skin showing so as to deter the radiation.
The figure was dressed in a simple black robe, with a high collar that tailed away into points. It wore a tall, square headdress that was topped in a similar fashion to the collar. Its face was gray, the sort of color and texture one might expect of a long-buried mummy. Under a wide, flat nose, its lips were curled back to reveal its full set of teeth, yellowed and worn, forever in some kind of demonic grin. But none of this was to compare with its eyes, which were simple, yet large and unblinking so that, if they were to rest on a person, that person might fear as though the eyes would never leave them as long as they lived.
The soldiers reached the figure, their guns pointed at it as one stepped forward.
“In the name of the United States of America, we demand to know who you are and where you come from.”
The figure took a moment to respond; when it did, it spoke in a slow voice which sounded as though it were bored.
“I am Amocualli. I have been awakened. I shall make you my servants and send you against your loved ones, until they join me or perish fighting. I shall devour your children, and leave your spouses destitute and starving in the wilderness I create. Then I shall return the earth to a barren wasteland, and so have peace.”
No one could see the reactions of the soldiers beneath their dark helmets, but it was obvious what they thought of this as they opened fire, their bullets tearing into this Amocualli. But when the last shot was fired and the smoke cleared, the robe was just as whole as it had always been, and the face was without damage. The soldier who had spoken stepped toward his enemy.
Amocualli stood and stretched out his hand, grabbing hold of the soldier’s helmet. With one gesture, it came clear off. The soldier screamed and collapsed, a searing sound emanating from his face. But after a few moments, under the horrified eyes of his comrades, the screams of pain turned to screams of rage and hunger, and the first of many necroids rose from the ground.
* * Ten years later… * *
Laughter emanated from the tank as it rolled up the road toward a hill, upon which rested its inhabitant’s home. Inside the tank, Red wiped away tears as his mirth died down.
“Wow, Nero,” he said. “I never knew you could be so funny.”
“Not all the books I read are boring philosophical treatises,” Nero replied.
“Yeah,” added Adrina, Violet holding her tight on her lap. “Some of them are funny philosophical treatises.”
“How do they manage that?” Red asked.
“Um, guys,” Cheng’s voice called to them from the driver’s seat, who the others realized had been the only one not joining in on their laughter. “Can you all take a look outside?”
Giovani, the closest to the exit, opened the hatch and climbed out on top, soon followed by five of the others. They didn’t say a word.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” asked Albus, who was the only one (with Cheng) to remain in his seat. He stared vaguely in the direction of the hatch. “I can’t see anything.”
Aurus popped his head back down. “The forest is gone. The vegetation is gone. It’s just a barren wasteland.”
It was true. The other five stared out over their home, barely able to recognize it. It wasn’t just that the forest was gone, though; every tree, every root, every wood chip had vanished, as though there had never been anything there but dust and rock. There was no sound: not the singing of birds, the scuffling of rodents, the hum of insects. Nothing.
But their facility still stood at the top of the hill, whole, unblemished. As Cheng parked the tank at the entrance, the others raced inside, anxious to check that everything was where it ought to be. But inside was just as they had left it. Whatever had destroyed the forest had failed to access the facility; or, perhaps more disturbing, had avoided the facility.
“Do you think the school is still there?” Giovani asked as they assembled from checking their rooms in the common area, Cheng leading Aurus inside finally.
“Unless whatever destroyed the forest could also take out brick,” said Aurus.
“I wouldn’t put it past them,” replied Adrina, back in a wheelchair.
“I don’t know,” said Nero.
A knock on the door. They all froze, and Red walked carefully out of the room to the door.
“Antonio?” The door shut as he entered the facility.
“Red, thank goodness! I saw the tank arrive at the top of the hill, and I knew it had to be you all!”
Red and Antonio returned to the common room, all the others staring at the newcomer.
“What happened?” asked Violet concernedly.
“What’s a devourer?”
“What? Oh, yes, you’re not as well-traveled as I. They’ve been cropping up all over recently, especially just north of here. They’re…” He shuddered. “It’s like if you made a necroid out of a necroid. Can you imagine? All that’s left of them is the skeleton and a digestive tract. But that wasn’t the worst of it.
“When they first arrived, the devourers, there was something else with them, some person, or not-person. All dressed in black, with a terrifying face. But the eyes! He looked up at me, and it was like he could see my mind, everything I’ve ever thought. And he kept staring, and I couldn’t move for what seemed hours. Then he just turned away, looking up at the facility here.
“I think he’s coming for you.”