Black Reverb (Short Story): Part O5

Part O5 of Black Reverb. Photo Source: Fresh Eye Solutions.

Conn McCloskey, Contributor

The Delusion

The night had taken his light to pieces. He wandered through the maze of rubble, the gate forever on the horizon, but always out of reach. He would come within a stone’s throw of it, even seeing the opening to the great coliseum that surrounded it, but then one of those great moving pieces of Obsidian, forever in the sky, would descend and move by him and by the time it passed from his vision it would be beyond his reach once more. The fire in his last eye roared as mightily as the metal monstrosity had, causing him to wonder in delirium, seeing impossible things that perplexed him. He saw Brougha smiling at him from the end of a corridor, but as he approached his old friend, the man who had taught him how to be one, he changed.

His face dropped from that toothy grin of his into a slack jawed expression as blood poured freely from his eyes. By the time the King had reached him, he was lying in that same broken pose he had been left in atop the stairs of the tower. He saw Captain Deven Van Roft as well for the first time in ten years, that same cocky smile on his face as he twirled his lance in his hand. In his delusion he went to strangle his old enemy, the man who burned the Hearts Tree and laid waste to Bludgaven, but he simply walked through him. The Van Roft, as those who lived in fear of him called him, had been slain by Brave Loeg at the Battle of Falls End years ago, but when he turned back to him, he too had changed. His appearance was older, his rank now of Colonel and his knife was topped with an eye. The eye that he had taken from the King all those years ago. The King stumbled forward and grabbed it from him, closing his fist tightly around it as the Van Roft began to burst into flames.

The heat from the fire was so intense that the King had to cover his face, blocking his vision. When he brought his hand down, the city was gone, and he once again stood amidst nothing. He looked down to his still closed hand and opened it slowly, gazing at what lay within. What he saw was no mere eye. He saw a brother and two sisters, abandoned by their mother or left orphaned by her – he could not say. But they walked among the same nothing as he did, with the older sister, a girl of late adolescence, leading the way. Behind her came the brother, a young boy on the cusp of manhood, who held the hand of the youngest sister, who waddled and sucked on her thumb besides him. The King called out to them, but they did not hear him and continued.

As time passed, the great black city appeared upon the horizon, but it was different. Gone was the rubble and the dust of time. In its place were a row of hooded figures standing outside of the city’s boundaries. Unnaturally large bodies bowed in reverence to the approaching figures. The youngest sister’s legs began to fail her, and she collapsed to the ground, struggling to breathe, hand still clasped to the brother. The older sister walked on past the hooded figures and into the city. The brother called out to her, but she did not hear him. Or perhaps she did not care. As she disappeared into the dark echo of the city, it lit up and shone with a brilliant white. And the nothing became something. All around him, the nothing began to lose shape as a thousand worlds began to form from the mass around them, spinning away the whiteness and replacing it with substance. As this creation approached them, the brother tried to carry the younger sister towards the city, but he was not strong enough and she was too weak. So, he ran and left her. The King called to him and he stopped, looking back and into his eye.

The young red headed boy stared at him with tears in his eyes before turning away and running into the city after his sister. The King ran, the creation of the universe, of all realities, happening behind him as he did so. Coming to the youngest sister he sat down next to her and helped her up, but her legs failed her, and she collapsed in his lap. He looked towards the city as its colour changed once more from its brilliant white back into its original darkness. The figures were gone, and the creation began to recede. For a moment, the expanse of nothing and everything clashed against one another, vying with each other for dominance, before they settled into a balance of both consuming and destroying in equal measures. The King was left holding the youngest sister in his arms as he too walked towards the city. He had not gone ten paces before she stopped him by tugging on his collar. When he looked down, she reached out her hands and touched his face. He looked into her violet eyes and felt a well of emotion become him as she smiled. And like that, she had faded away. He looked up and found himself far away from where he had been moments before. He was at the collapsed gates of the mighty coliseum, the large, shimmering gateway towering above it. The throbbing in his eye had left him and his throat was raw and hoarse. He reached one hand up to rub at it, as he cracked to himself “my mother was a whore, she died when I was four”. He repeated this to himself with an emotionless drawl until his voice found him again. And so, pulling his jacket around him and drawing his pistol from it, he climbed over the collapsed marble and into the endgame of the horizon.

Part 5

The great mass of wires was connected on all sides of the gateway, a bizarre fusion of fantastical technology and strange magic. The wires lead back to a great machine, not white and pure like those in the hotel had been, but black and crude, with a dark smoke rising from it and a black sludge dripping from it as it groaned under some heroic effort. In front of the gateway and behind the machine was a raised platform constructed out of a mesh of steel, complete with a stairway. On top of this platform was Jack of Spades, the man from his dreams, one hand typing away at a pad while the other cycled through a deck of cards. As the King approached the area of the gateway, he looked around the Coliseum. The structure was dotted with statues of the same strange, elongated fish as the people he had saw in the square, covering their faces and clutching at their ears, a gateway in abject horror. Said gateway began to ripple more violently than usual, swirling in a mix of colours as it built itself up into some unknown crescendo.

 “And how goes your predicament?” Jack called down from the platform, not turning away from his dial. The King brought his pistol level with the back of the masked man’s head and squeezed the trigger. The bullet never reached him, it burned into nothing against some purple barrier that surrounded the platform and flickered to life before disappearing again.

“How are you ever going to meet new people if every time you encounter them you end up trying to kill them, or rather, end up getting them killed?” Jack called down to him, turning around and leaning on the edge of the platform as he did so. “

So, you defeated the troupe?” he continued while shuffling his deck once more.

“Now there’s a card I’ll never get back. But I see you’ve come alone… did your ‘friend’ leave you or…” here he stopped talking and shuffling his cards, only to lean back and rub his chin thoughtfully “how tragic…” he murmured, “the beauty of young love taken away by the horrible masked villain. Why it’s enough to make a man cry…” he finished while motioning a tear down the face of his mask with his forefinger, before turning back to the pad once more.

The King set his jaw straight and began to walk forward, nearing the barrier with every step he took. “And now you have arrived. His majesty’s great quest of vengeance is nearing completion.”

 With a great thrust of his arms Jack brought his fingers to his heart, slowly turning back around as he did so.

 “Come and take it, King of Nothing… Extract your petty vengeance from my black heart and reap the reward that we have worked so excruciatingly for.”

Jack pulled himself up straight as he once more brought his deck out and slowly, dropped them from one hand to the other.

“If you do that- no. If you can do that. Then you would be the most selfish man to have ever existed through all realms of reality and all universes.”

The King made his way into the barrier, pushing himself through the barrier, panting with exhaustion as he finally came through it sweat drenched. Resting on his knee, he looked towards the raised platform and the man on it.

“What are you talking about?” he spat, only for the porcelain masked man to sigh once again.

“I said it before. You cannot fathom what we are trying to do here. But, I also must admit to you, I cannot explain.”

Here the man brought forth a card, the ace of diamonds, and held it between his fore and middle finger.

“But he can” he said, throwing the card into the gateway.

The King brought his weapon up to fire at the man, but the white light that emerged from the portal blinded him and forced him to look away. After a while, the ringing in his ears cleared and the light faded, and he was able to look back once more at the gateway. And he saw him. The man from his dreams. The other King. Mr. Ulysses. Jack suddenly appeared behind him and walked besides the King, and, with a noble grace, bowed down on his knees before the man who emerged from the portal.

“All hail His Grace, Lord of the Dark When, High Judge of the Last Gathering and Progenitor of the Great Cycle and all who reside within it. All hail and all eyes towards the King of the End.”

He stood alone on the platform, draped in that same black robe from before, pale eyes cast down upon the King.

“Cathal One-Eye” he murmured, “you have survived.”

The King shuddered upon hearing his true name whispered by the monstrosity before him. The shiver continued across his entire body, his arms going limp under the Ender of Worlds. His fiery red hair hung limply against his smooth, pale skin and moved with him. The shock of seeing the World Ender again soon passed and, remembering his true purpose, he reached up with his weapon once more, only for his hand to be grabbed by the King of the End appearing before him. The King leaned in closer to him, and effortlessly plucked the gun from the King’s now limp hand.

“Jack” he murmured, causing the still kneeling masked man to snap to his feet, arms behind his back. “Set the course for the next system while I entertain my old… friend.”

Jack lowered his head in reverence and brought his hands together.

“Of course, your majesty” he said, before making his way up the steps, dress coat flapping as he went. The King had grown suddenly very tired, the throbbing behind his eye had begun to match the beat of his heart, making him sweat in exertion. The weariness soon became too much, and he slumped forward, legs failing him, only for his collapse to be interrupted by the King of the End catching him. The King brought his exhausted head up but found himself unable to muster the strength to do so. Instead he simply buried himself in the robes of the King of the End. To his surprise, they gave way and he fell through the cloth. Rather than hitting the ground, he kept falling, the black fabric wrapping itself around him and obscuring his vision. He threw his limbs around him as he went down the unseen abyss, trying to escape his cloth prison. The wind whipped by him and his clothes bellowed around his form as his fall slowed. He was nearing closer and closer to the end of wherever he was. The snap of the fall stopping jolted his body when it came, but he remained unharmed as he pulled himself up to his feet. His senses, once overwhelmed, slowly returned to him as the sensation of falling finally stopped, leaving him standing, naked, on a cold stone slab. Standing up slowly, he tore the cloth away from him and was left in as much darkness as he was in before, a realm of true darkness surrounded him… with one exception. Upon a throne among several thrones sat the King of the End, bare chested and head pulled back with yellow eyes closed in unseen euphoria. He was holding his hands flat on both sides, an eye in one of them while the other remained empty.

“Tell me Cathal” he murmured while slowly opening his eyes as the King wearily approached him. “Art, thou tired of life? Tired of pain? Would thou not careth if the end found him and he entered my domain? If he entered into peace?”

The King of the End raised his palms, the eye within flashing an ebony black that eclipsed the darkness that already surrounded them as he did so, causing the King to fall before him as fresh pain overwhelmed him through his eye.

“Yes, my friend” the King of the End continued “you are in pain… it is all, in pain.”

Leaving his throne, he walked by the King, not even glancing at him as he did so, leaving him to crawl after him on the cold floor.

“What do you speak of, monster?” he called after him.

His only reply was the King of the End shedding his robes, leaving his lithe body naked.

“I speak of all that is Cathal. All that ever will be and all that was.”

Turning around to the King he sat himself down level with him and continued, eyes cast to the stars that had blinked into existence above them.

“So many worlds…” he mused “so beautiful, so transcendent and full of potential. If I truly am capable of love as my sister once told me… then I love creation…”

Perhaps it was the delirium of the pain that had crippled him, but the King thought he saw a single tear well up in the eye of the King of the End. But as soon as he focused on it, it was gone. He was forced to listen over the blistering pain within him as the monster before him continued.

“But, it is also so imperfect, so wasteful of all that brilliant potential and, most damning of all, it is so… unfair.”

 The King felt fresh pain stab at him again through his accursed eye, causing him to yelp and throw himself up, bringing his hand to the centre of his agony as he fell on his back. He writhed for a few moments before becoming perfectly still as he blacked out. When he opened his eye again, the pain was gone, and the King of the End was mere inches from his face.

“I told you once Cathal – no, I warned you. I am an inevitability and I am a necessity, a simple cure for a sickness or a mechanic for a broken machine. It matters not what way you see it yourself. But understand me when I say this to you… I do not hate. Not as you do me. I am not so inclined to indulge myself in that manner. I am beyond it for my purpose is too great.”

Slowly, he lifted himself up from the King’s face and walked away for a few moments, hands stroking something he held in front of his face.

“But I can, mourn Cathal… you will believe me when I tell you that I mourn.”

He tossed the locket in his hand at the King, who managed to fight through his throbbing to snatch it from the air and look at it. It was his mother’s. The same one he had left at Nyla’s graveside.

“I too have lost someone Cathal. A long time ago. She is gone just as your world and countless others are gone” he said mournfully.

“I would bring her back, I would bring it all back. But I can only end. That is my domain. Those who create sneer at me and my brood, forever believing us to be beings of pure evil. They forget that we are akin. And so, they, my own blood, refuse to aid me despite loving her just as much as I did.”

The King, Cathal, clenched the locket and pulled himself to his knees once more and, with saliva dripping from his mouth, spat “You are evil!”

The King of the End turned to him and smiled weakly.

“No, Cathal. I am resourceful. I have had time to understand the difference. I was once content to devour in tandem with those who create, but I must do what I do now for all. When I have consumed all and become all, then and only then, will I create!”

He pulled himself over to Cathal and sat him up, smiling at him as he did so.

“And what a glorious creation it shall be…”

Cathal was overwhelmed as brightness overcame his senses once more, leaving him standing in the gathering hall of his hold once more. It was a celebration. Black Bara was stood atop the long table below him, singing a bawdy tune with flagon in hand as Brave Loeg strummed his lute along to the beat. All over the hall men and women roared in laughter, feasting and drinking as warmth emitted from the fire in the centre of the great hall. Besides him Brougha approached him, picking his massive armour-clad frame over several passed out, snoring figures as he did so.

“Cathal, quite the party you got going here!” he shouted over the music.

Cathal raised his drink in way of response and offered for his old friend to sit beside him, which he did so gratefully.

“It’s a celebration Brougha!” Cathal said, picking his teeth from the juicy lamb he had just finished, the bones littering his greasy plate.

“And what would be the occasion then? Black Bara or Loeg finally find a woman?” he chuckled into his drink. Cathal smiled into his own as he coyly raised it.

“No” he sniggered, “but I have.”

Brougha practically spat his drink in shock, slamming it back on the table and hammering himself in the chest several times as he choked.

“You’re joking, right?” he exclaimed in-between coughs.

Cathal only smiled as way of response, hands resting behind his head.

“Well I’ll be damned! Old Cathal the Unrideable has got himself hitched!” he roared in laughter, those around him joining him in mirth.

“Unrideable?” Cathal said, raising an eyebrow as he did so, “is that any way to talk to your King?” Brougha brought his hands up as way of apology, but still wore that smirk through his beard.

“Apologies your grace, but it’s what me and the other lads used to call you. Before you lost your eye that is.”

Cathal chuckled at the memory, electing to ignore the red headed man seated beside him, who alone in the celebration seemed immune to the revelry of the hall, instead quietly picking at his food. The mood had changed, Black Barra’s rough voice began to sound out a love ballad from the days of the old Kingdom, his singing enhanced by the strums of Loeg who looked up to him from the floor, eyes never looking at what his fingers were doing. Where once there had been a large infectious riot theme to the celebration at hand, now lovers held hands as they slipped off, old friends clasped onto each other and new ones shared flagons. Brougha leaned his mighty spade shaped hands on the table, pulling himself closer to Cathal as he did so.

“So” he murmured, speech slurred by the drink, “who’s the lucky lady?” as he said this, the doors of the hall opened. Cathal smiled warmly, ignoring the dull throbbing from behind his eye patch.

“There she is now” he said, motioning to the door. Nyla was dressed in a rich velvet dress that hugged her form and accentuated her curves. She pulled her hood down from the chill outside and ran her violet eyes over the hall, not stopping until they locked with Cathal’s own. When they did, he smiled as she did. He waved his hand, beckoning her to come forward.

“I must say Cathal” Brougha grinned, pulling his attention back to him, “we live a good life.”

Cathal nodded his head in agreement as he watched Nyla pick her way towards him.

“The Kaldenans defeated” Brougha continued “the Kingdom secured, and you settled down for a life of peace, and not just you, all of us. Been twenty years of war, been all some lads- no, been all you have ever known. Time to give peace a chance I say.”

The red-haired man beside him finished his meal, gingerly picking up a piece of cloth and wiping his face as he did so. Cathal brought his hand up to his eye patch, a fresh wave of pain breaking from it.

“There’s only one thing left for you to do now lad” Brougha said, putting his hand on Cathal’s shoulder. Cathal ignored the pain as he turned to regard his oldest friend, happy to see that Nyla had finally reached his raised dining table and was making her way towards him.

“And what’s that old man?” he chuckled into his drink.

“Forgive yourself.” Brougha whispered.

The room had grown quiet and dark. Black Barra, Loeg and the others in the hall were gone. Only Brougha, Nyla and the other man remained.

“W-what?” Cathal stammered, pain becoming unbearable as he did so.

“Let us go lad. And forgive yourself” Brougha was smiling as the tears poured down his face and into his moustache, Nyla too was smiling sadly down at him.

“I-I,” Cathal choked out, only to see them too leave into nothing. He reached forward trying to grab a hold of them, but they had gone forever.

“They were never really here, Cathal” the man beside him said.

He raised himself slowly up as Cathal turned to face him.

“But they can be.”

Cathal was once more sitting across from the King of the End, unable to focus as reality itself shifted once more around him, obscuring his vision. In some glimpses he would see that same red headed young man, in others a pale dragon or a silver haired man in a suit, and in others still he was a figure cloaked in darkness, his crown an elk’s skull and his cloak a blood crimson set with gold. It was on this his vision focused.

“Will it not be… magnificent, Cathal?” The King of the End said, rising himself up to his feet.

“A single expanse of creation all with one sky. No pain, no death and no gods. Only life eternal.” Slowly he raised his hands up, colours flashing by him as the swirl of darkness evaporated into a haze of beauty, its vivid colours creating a heavenly realm as it swam past him, brushing around him and brushing his senses as it did so.

“I will ascend from my Kingdom of the End… I shall become eternity itself, and all will become free and transcendent, a single being of joy and love.”

Cathal found himself suddenly alone, the swirl of colours parted, leaving him floating eternally amidst a pallet of grey with lighting strikes of black dotted about.

“Stand aside Cathal” the voices of thousands whispered to him, his father, his mother and countless others he knew among them.

“Let us complete our mission for paradise, and we will make you a King once more and return to you all that was lost and all that never was…”

Cathal saw himself on a small farm, crown atop his head with both eyes returned to him. Nyla was at his side, holding on to his waist as a young girl of no more than four giggled as she was carried on the shoulders of Brougha through a garden of strange flowers. He wanted it. He had fought for so long. First against the Kaldenans, then against his father and now against the King of the End. Had he not earned his heaven or at least a small piece of it? A smile dawned on his face and he began to wander towards the happy scene.

“Go to them Cathal,” the great Elk whispered to him, its huge frame bending unnaturally low as he leant down to whisper in his ear, “they have been waiting for you.”

 For the first time in forever, he smelled the comforts of home wash over him. Fresh bread assaulted his senses and the soft gravel comforted his feet as he made his way towards the home. His home. The pain in his eye had left him and his vision returned in the other. Taken his now useless eyepatch off he began to hum that same tune his mother had as he unclasped the latch of the gate, stopping as it swung open in front of him. He wanted to go, he wanted his peace. But as he continued to hum, the pendant, still in his hand, became heavy. Nyla looked towards him, holding the young girl in her arms as she smiled at him from the door. Hand clenched firmly on the pendant, the King took in a deep breath, steadying himself. With one last stolen glance at the happy scene before him he tightened his grip around the pendant, drawing blood from how hard he did so. With one, silent blink he turned back from the future before him to the monster of his past that was behind him.

“I reject you” he whispered.

The great Elk appeared before him once again, black robes and crimson cloak bellowing in some unseen wind as the scene behind him disappeared.

“And so, you have” the beast acknowledged, lowering its head unnaturally to match the King’s as it did so. The colours began to spin once more, the pallet of what was real and what was fake meshing with one another as they flew by him, taking the paradise with it. And the King was brought back to reality with a shock as hard as jumping into ice water. With his senses slowly clearing, he turned to the heavy humming behind him and saw the efforts of his adversary had reached fruition. The gate was rippling violently under the mechanisms of Jack of Spades, who was presently tapping away at the pad he had connected to through the black, oil dripping tubes, to the black machine below. The gate roared like an enraged beast to life with a dark energy unlike any he had seen before. Its violent nature was an opposite to the almost tranquillity of the destruction of his world. The iris of the gate tore open, showing a world within of pure metal, with great towers reaching towards the sky. A strange man who could only have been the King of the End stood before it, his body changed to that of a wizened old man, grey beard trimmed to perfection and elegant cane at his side.

“It is ready my King” Jack said, turning away from the dial in front of him. The King of the End, in his frail form stumbled forward, tripping over his feet. As this transpired the King spied his gun several paces from where he was. Silently and slowly he began to crawl towards it. Jack pushed himself forward to help his liege but was stopped by him raising his hand.

“I’m fine, Jack. It’s always like this.” Jack stood back from his master, hands awkwardly frozen in his helpful gesture until he brought them back down to his sides.

“My King,” he whispered, “you should rest more before the next event, I have never seen you this weak.” His concerns were silenced by his lieges subtle shaking of his head.

“I am weak but have never been stronger in my domain, child. I shall come to it once more Jack, and all will be right.”

The King of the End pushed himself back up with his cane and once more made his way towards the gate.

“I just need time” he muttered to himself. Jack turned away from his liege and back to the dial, only for the King of the End to catch a hold of his arm and turn the masked man back around to him. “Jack” he murmured “My Jack… the best of them all.”

The two held each other’s gaze unaware of the King below them as they silently communicated with one another. Eventually Jack lifted his flat hand towards the gate, motioning for his liege to enter. As Jack turned away from the old man shuffling towards the tare, he saw the King, free of whatever curse he had been under but moments ago. He snapped his masked face back towards him, but he was too late to stop him. During the altercation above, the King had slowly made his way across the floor to his gun, deliberately trying to not draw attention to himself. With one final push he leapt for the weapon just as Jack had turned his pale, masked face towards him. Jack ripped his deck out, snatching a card from it as the rest of it fell into the air. Holding it between his fore and middle finger, he made to throw it at the King. He never got the chance. The gun glowed blue and the ensuing shot echoed above even the violent hum of the machine, the King of the End had time to turn back from the gate to see the cards fall one by one around Jack, who now had a smoking hole in the dead centre of his mask. Slowly, Jack lowered his hands and stumbled backwards, unable to comprehend what was happening to him, until he tripped over a long-uncovered piece of wire and fell back through the gateway, his body disappearing into the swirl of colours. And the Jack of Spades was no more. The King of the End roared in horror, running with unnatural speed and throwing himself over the side of the platform as he did so, body ripping and tearing itself into the same monstrous form he had held atop the tower all that time ago. But he was unable to stop the King pivoting and firing the pistol at the great black machine. The Gun glowed that brilliant blue as it ripped holes unnaturally large into the side of the mechanical polluter, tearing it into a flaming mess. He did not stop firing his weapon until he had no more bullets to fire, and even then, he continued to squeeze the trigger until the King of the End had ripped his arm out of his socket. The King was taken off his feet as the same, scaly elongated and bony hand that had destroyed his arm, lifted him off the ground. He gazed into the gaping and many rowed, teeth filled maw of the King of the End as he was lifted by his shattered arm towards it. Behind him the explosions from the machine was becoming uncountable, firing up into the darkness above as the great black mechanism came apart. The King did not fight his fate. It was not the revenge he wanted but it would have to do. There were worse ways to end one’s life than avenging the woman he loved and saving countless worlds from a crazed god. Dropping his now empty weapon, the brilliant blue it had once possessed now faded into a dull grey. He hanged his head and awaited his fate. Rather than death however, he felt himself being tossed towards the smouldering wreckage of the machine. Everything had become lucid and strange as he tried to comprehend what happened next. He could not focus over the wave of colours emitting over the collapsing gateway and he could not look away from the great, pale dragon that was dragging itself towards him, elongated arms digging through the solid marble as it did so. The beast craned its pale, hair covered head over him, dripping saliva on to him as it did so. With a terrifying roar, it raised itself onto its cloven hooves and embraced the collapsing gateway as it fell towards it and the King. The pale dragon struggled mightily to keep the gateway up, but the strain was too much even for it. The King weakly brought his remaining arm up to defend himself, but not five moments had passed before a large obsidian chunk caught him in the temple and his vision went black. When he awoke, the gateway lay ruined all around them. That great swirl of energy had left it and it was now as dull and lifeless as anything else in the city. The pale dragon too was gone, and the King of the End had returned to the young red headed man he knew all too well. Like he had atop the tower, he lounged among the ruined black obsidian. His mood however, was much less jovial on this occasion.

“You know not what you have done Cathal” he murmured, hand stroking his chin, deep in thought. The King lay there in silence, letting the dull pain from his experience wash over him as the King of the End continued to observe him, deep in thought.

“But,” the King of the End clucked, “I should thank you, for I suppose I had become too… zealous in my task, too confident of my assured victory.”

The King of the End pushed himself up from his makeshift throne and placed his hands behind his back.

“I shall not make the same mistake again” he continued, “I will continue my mission with renewed… ambition” he said smiling weakly, gazing down at the King. The King began to laugh, despite the pain that wracked his body. He doubled himself over with the effort of it, his mad cackle sounding out across the ruins of the coliseum as he did so.

“And what” he laughed “is the next step in your master plan, oh mighty King of the End?”

Pushing himself up he waved his still good hand at the ruined gateway that surrounded them.

“I sit as you stand amongst the ruins of the way to something, with its destruction I have denied you of your right to success. Not only that, but the whole of reality has decried you, shunning you to this realm of nothing with ire, for it loathes you and rejects your lies of a supposed Paradise.”

The King reached his hand down to his belt as he continued.

“It names you false prophet as I have named you false prophet.”

The King clasped his hand around the desired object on his belt, holding it tightly as he prepared to pull it from its sheath.

“You have killed countless billions, ended thousands of worlds and you have fallen to madness. No, King of the End. Your insanity ends here and now.” With a grunt of effort, the King threw himself forward, flinging the knife from his belt at the King of the End as he did so. The blade sank all the way to hilt within the King of the End’s chest, making him look down in surprise. Instead of looking shocked, however, his smile simply widened, a pale facsimile of a human emotion. He reached down and plucked the knife from his chest, tossing it to the floor as he did so. It was without blood or any other stain on it.

“No. Cathal One-Eye. The prophets are wrong. You are not to be my end, for you are no Prince of Nothing, but a King.”

Faster than any man had right to be, the King of the End darted forward and plunged his hand through the ruined eye of the King, tearing aside the eyepatch as he did so. The King felt nothing as his spine froze up and his mouth fell open. If he could he would scream.

“I admire you, friend. You have proved a powerful and potent lesson to me” the King of the End said while bringing his free hand to the King’s head, affectionately petting it and running his hand through his hair.

“In another life you would have followed me to paradise and I would have welcomed your companionship… but you will have to watch me instead.” A cruel smile began to play on the King of the End’s lips as the King felt a strange sensation from within his eyes. “And you will watch forever.”

And this was the last thing he ever heard before the world went to black. But this was not unconsciousness, rather a new state of being. The King’s body was turned to night, his features disappearing into a thin outline of a human being. Slowly he arose, the pain and all other sensations of smell, taste and touch deserting him as he did so. He looked at his hands, marvelling as his cloths slid through his now clear form and onto the floor. He tried to pick them up, only for them to pass through his black ethereal fingers. Had he been himself, he would surely have been lost to panic. Instead he felt nought but a dull echo in the back of his head, a quiet voice warning him that this was wrong. Slowly the voice faded into nothing, leaving him to watch the King of the End arise and leave him. Before going he picked up a ruined slab of the gateway before tossing it at, and through, the ghost like form of the King.

“A last gift from me to you Cathal. I will find another way… You saw me do it once before and I shall do so again.” The strange man made to go, but at the last moment he turned back towards him once more and seemed possessed by some form of anger as he gazed at him.

“Why did you have to Kill Jack?” was the last thing he said to the shade, shaking his head as he did so, before entering the black city. The King, or rather what had once been him did not understand what he was talking about at all and tried to follow him, hoping to latch onto the one real thing in this realm of sheer white. Perhaps if he could find him he could get some answers and find a purpose. He never did find him. He was instead left to the devices of the Dark City, gazing at, but not understanding the many wonders and horrors contained within it. He forgot many things as he travelled through the dark place, unable to interact or be interacted with. He could not remember much of his previous life and he forgot more and more as he wondered. He tried to keep them with the last of his will power, but it was not strong enough. All he could do, was watch. He found himself humming some song on one of these many, many days, but its words, tune and origin drifted away from him. He could not even remember who sang it and soon he forgot that he had even sang it himself. He was soon to exit the city, and he would do so a changed man, if he was even a man anymore. But as he did so he passed a waterfall and a grave. He could not see what lay within it, for his hands passed through it, but he felt some connection, perhaps to his old life which was nought but a dull throb in the echoes of his mind now, to whatever, or whoever, it was. It did not matter to him now and wondering any further about it would be futile. He still spent many hours trying to clasp the locket that rested on it. A pang of grief unexpectedly hit him who had felt nothing for so long as he left the site. He wanted to go back to it. But he could not bring himself to do it. Soon he passed more dark buildings and the memory of the place deserted him. And so, the King left the Dark City to find nothing. And it was strange and beautiful.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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