I rose slowly from the doorway while Cannibal Moxie discarded the top half of The Nike’s head and hurried to help the Other Than off the floor. They held one another, smiled, and rubbed noses in an Eskimo’s kiss. She made a little vocal sigh as he chuckled. I watched, filled with amazement and disbelief.
“How?” I asked.
“How what, my lord?” Other Than answered, not looking at me, just gazing deeply into Cannibal Moxie’s sea-green eyes.
“The touching. How?” I asked, feeling eager and hungry for the answer. Maybe if I knew it, the secret, I could carry it back to my world, my Pantheon.
The answer crushed me.
“Emma. She is responsible for this unexpected bit of happiness. When she altered her, my love, my Moxie, it gave me the ability to finally touch the one my heart desires. I know what you are thinking, and do you really want to bring that little monster back to your world, knowing what she did here?” the Other Than said, still gazing deeply into Moxie’s eyes, both looking as if they were hypnotized.
“But with Moxie…she was always in a child’s body. What of the Huntress? Now, there is a Goddess to go after. There is my lov–,” I began to grandstand, but he cut me off.
“The Huntress? Oh, la-de-da, the huuuuntresssss! That is a child’s love. A child’s crush. A child’s hopes and obsession. You and I are the chaste ones, loving our goddesses from afar. The only difference is my love was accepted, my love is a matured process that has blossomed over time. Then there is you, carrying that ring around your….”
There would have been more but a black tentacle shot out, hard and fast from a wall, separating the lovers and sending the Other Than sailing backward. The tentacle was no longer a shadow form, but a solid black skin with an inky texture and something else. Something I would discover later and it would terrify me. The tentacle receded back into the wall followed by the sound of Emma giggling.
We raced to him. The tentacle had cut him in two, just below the waist. I almost tripped over his legs while Cannibal Moxie nimbly leaped over them. A massive pooling of black ichor stretched between his lower limbs and stomach. He coughed and laughed that tittering high cackle. The Cannibal Moxie cradled him in her arms, making low keening noises in the back of her throat. My mouth hung agape. Until this moment I was always confident—assured— that you could not kill the god of death and yet here I was, staring at my own mortality, to coin a human phrase. He smiled weakly at me and bid me close with a gesture. The Cannibal Moxie’s keening grew louder and began to mix with loud sobbing sounds.
He panted, and though I didn’t think it was possible, he looked paler. I knelt at his side and with a great effort on his part, he thrust his scythe into my hands. He coughed and hot ichor ran out of his mouth and down his chin. The Moxie’s cries grew louder and I just stared on uncomprehendingly. I took his scythe in a hand that felt numb; he noticed, chuckled, and closed his hands over mine so I would grip it.
“You will bury it in the world of sleepwalkers,” the Other Than said, laughing insanely.
“World of what?” I asked.
A mad cackle was his only answer. He was still laughing when he began to emit black smoke from every orifice; until he was nothing but an empty cloak and a puddle of black ichor. Cannibal Moxie threw back her head and screamed, but there was no time to mourn. I felt the hackles on the back of my neck stand up and three inky black tentacles came crashing through the walls.
Carrying the scythes with one hand, I seized the wailing Moxie’s forearm and hauled her to her feet. She kept a death grip (pun intended) on the Other Than’s cloak as we fled from the room.
The tentacle came bursting through, demolishing the wall and doorway as we ran down the hall, making our way to what I believed was the front entrance and our escape into the desolate world, far away from this child monster.
“Bastard God of Death and bitch Goddess of Inspiration, I am coming for you! Olly olly oxen free!” Emma called out from the inside the walls.
It seemed with every room we passed, along this infinite hallway, more sets of inky black tentacles came bursting through. They were snapping at our heels, coming close to tripping us as the demon giggled. She was a cat, playing with her mice before she ate us. But I would not be eaten, nor would this version of Moxie, I would see to that. Six of the appendages busted through the floorboards in front of us, stopping us dead in our tracks, and this time I saw what had disturbed me so greatly upon my first encounter with the physical tentacles.
Where most creatures with tentacles would have suction cups, these had faces. More specifically, the faces of the dead. Of every man, woman, and child whose life she had taken. Pale ghost-like apparitions with black hair and black, sunken, hollowed-out eyes. All of them screaming in silent agony and horror.
I gasped, my cry caught in my throat as my skin broke out in goosebumps. I was momentarily petrified, unable to look away from their tortured faces, and what’s worse, I heard them screaming inside my head. I panted, trying to gather my will and thoughts while the faces swirled around inside the tentacle as if in some sort of storm. I felt Cannibal Moxie hide behind me, falling to her knees and pulling my cloak out in front of her like a shield.
I knew what to do, taking both scythes, one in each hand and crossing the blades in front of me, I severed the tentacles that stood in our way. The house screamed and shook as the appendages fell to the floor, pouring out a black sticky fluid. With a simple summoning of my will and a squeeze of my hand, I puffed the souls trapped inside out of existence. A small wisp of white smoke, a small flash of light, and there was white soul powder on the floor. I don’t use this power often and usually only at the behest of Zeus, Hera, or Hades. I would use it here and now to give these trapped souls relief. I turned to Cannibal Moxie, who had buried her face in the cloak of the fallen Than and wept bitterly into it.
“Come, now! We have to go while the coast is clear,” I said, pointing forward.
She looked up at me, tears streaking her dirty cheeks. She moaned and held out the cloak while shaking her head emphatically, refusing to move, refusing to go onward. I nodded in understanding.
“Then do you seek release, to go forth to the hinterland, to be reunited with he who has passed?” I asked.
She continued to hold out the Other Than’s cloak and nodded her head. I nodded in return and raised my scythe, steeling myself as I brought it down, taking off her head. Her lifeless body fell and her true self exited it. Her brilliant white golden form floated inches above the floor and I raised my scythe again to deal her the blow that would send her hither when a tentacle shot through and out the goddess’ chest.
Everything froze at that moment, my heart dropped and my arms lowered as she hung suspended by a sickly looking tentacle. She gave me one final, mournful look with those sea-green eyes and sparked out of existence. The smell of ozone hung heavy in the air as the last white and gold sparks faded from view.
“Got you, you bitch!” Emma growled.
I literally flew. I flapped my wings and flew through the rest of the house, to and out the front door while the tentacles chased me, breaking up the house as they went. I swept down and grabbed my backpack off the front porch. I was taking my stuff with me, damn it! I landed several feet from the house, and I watched it warily while I secured my pack to my back and tucked the Other Than’s scythe away in my purple sack.
The house exploded.
Glass, wood, and other various items rained down all around me. I closed my wings around myself to shelter my body from most of the damage inflicted by the debris shower. When I opened my wings, I saw it and let out a small cry.
Where the house used to be, a black amorphous being sprouted, its sickening form reaching towards the heavens. It had thousands upon thousands of soul screaming tentacles that writhed and danced around it. The Lovecraftian horror wore the demon child Emma’s face, with hollow black eyes and cannibalistic sharp teeth. The sky above its head had turned the sickly blackish-green color of putrefaction.
“Oh crap,” I muttered as its eyes fell upon me.
One of her massive tentacles came crashing down, and if my paralysis hadn’t broken at that moment, I would not be here to tell you this tale. I dodged and rolled out of its way and it made impact with the ground, causing it to shake and crack. I reached out my will and puffed those poor souls out. The tentacle blew up in white smoke and the Emma beast howled, the sound echoing in the barren landscape.
I took flight, dodging and evading the tentacles the best I could. One sucker-punched me in the gut and the one above it smacked into my back, slamming me to the ground. Thankfully, adrenaline prevented me from staying still too long, and as I crawled away the tentacle that took me down slammed the ground again, leaving a crater where I would have been. With a grunt of effort, I sliced through the appendage as it came at me again and with a squeeze, I puffed those trapped souls out.
Black ichor ran from my nose and mouth as well as from another gash on my forehead. I staggered and ran away, unable to clear my head enough for flight. I barely dodged two of the appendages as they came from either direction to grab me. I dropped and rolled, letting my scythe go, and with the use of both hands, I puffed the souls out of each tentacle.
I lay there on my back, bleeding and panting from exhaustion. Wiping these souls out en masse was taking a toll on my body and I was growing weak. I watched the tentacles rise above, meaning to bear down on me and smash me into oblivion. I closed my eyes and awaited my fate.
Then Emma roared. I sat up to look and it was Moxie, in her true form, darting and weaving around Emma’s head. She looked like a pixie from Tartarus from this distance. Emma swung her tentacles wildly in a vain effort to strike her, but Moxie was too quick and dodged them easily. A cloud of black smoke billowed from behind Emma’s head.
No time to figure out what that was, other than my opportunity to escape. I grabbed my scythe and willed it to take me anywhere, somewhere; the blade lit with its majestic colors and I sliced open a rift, jumping through it.
I landed on green grass under a blue sky. It was warm and I heard people, living people, talking and laughing, children playing. I switched out of my cloak and back into my trench coat. I had a new world to explore.