Monday, August 6, 2012

Wither The Vain: Scavenger Hunt Part 8

Time's Up

Being carried into one of The Scavenger’s hidden temples trussed up for a spit-roasting was not really what I had expected when I let Natalie out of her prison. I had stopped bothering to struggle after the third Sleeper in that damned vulture’s service took it as an excuse to punch me in the jaw. Natalie was waving to everyone happily as she meandered through the wooden pews filled with Sleepers, Judges, and the occasional human. They had all heard The Scavenger’s cries at night and had come, seeking the source of their nightmares. They had thrown themselves before the mercy of Boyd and the others.

It was enough to make me retch. That and the carrion stink that penetrated the air. Dozens of bodies had been hacked into bite-sized pieces. The bloody pieces had then been assembled on and around the simple stone altar at the front of the temple that had one been a meat market. In the center of the bouquet of flesh, the corpse of Consular Mako lay untouched. It was an offering to beg forgiveness.

Mako had been killed in an ambush by an unknown attacker. Those Judges sent to retrieve his corpse were loyal to The Scavenger and had come directly here.

The Scavenger was coming. It had left its roost at Meddigo Tower after most of its servitors had withered away and died without warning. The Scavenger was not ready to devour the world yet; it still had to prepare. It could not do that without attendants.

So it was coming here to roost and to glut itself on the dead. Boyd was at the altar with the jackal that had attended him when we had been attacked on the abandoned street. The bears carrying either end of my pole leaned me against a crumbling wall to watch the proceedings. Boyd glanced over his shoulder and saw me and smiled. The jackal giggled a bit and they both turned back to the preparation of the meat.

Natalie joined them at the altar, kneeling before the rancid offering. Boyd and the jackal embraced her. I could see the words “welcome home” cross Boyd’s lips. Natalie drew a large hunk of grouper from the bloody linen pouch at her side and laid it among the rest of the offerings. Boyd was beaming with pride.

I wanted to shout at them my disgust. I wanted to scream and howl and rage at their idiocy. Worshiping not only death, but rot. Worshiping the end of creation. It was ridiculous. There was only one rule about the destruction of the world that I had divined in the millennia my brothers and I had existed. Those that gave themselves to death freely died first, not last.

The chance to bellow my anger at them never came. The Scavenger did, swathed in the smell of vomit and maggot meat, of rotten eggs and offal. Darkness overtook us as the shadow of The Scavenger covered the entire building. My ears reverberated with suffering as it rrrawkkked noisily from the rooftop. There was a crash as it pecked at the rooftop above the altar.

Hunks of plaster careened down atop the gathered as they watched with anticipation. Their god would soon have a hole made and they could see the creature that they worshiped with such adoration. Two more pecks and the ceiling directly above the altar collapsed, forming a great hole over twelve feet across. First, came the cracked, time-stained beak. Then, came the leathery head and neck, covered with scabs. The stench was unbearable as The Scavenger reached inside to look at us.

Boyd and his jackal companion were hurriedly tossing the hunks of board and drywall that had cascaded down upon the altar. It didn’t look like The Scavenger was going to be picky. It snatched at the pile of meat and rubble. The jackal got caught amidst the rest of the meat and flipped into The Scavenger’s mouth. The congregation rose and cheered for the jackal’s good fortune and honor at being chosen. Boyd made sure to leap clear of the debris before The Scavenger’s head descended again.

Apparently he wasn’t that interested in being honored.

As The Scavenger gulped down its offering with glee, Natalie made her way back over to me. She was in full mantis mode now, clacking her mandibles gleefully at me. The bears on either side were snickering as she came closer.

“Can I stick this piece of meat yet boys? I want a taste.”

“Not yet Natalie. You’ll have to wait.”

“I hate waiting.”

Without warning she buried either bladed claw into the bear men’s chests and jerked downwards. Their innards spilled out in a mad rush to escape their prison. I strained at the rope holding me and breathed a sigh of relief when it burst.

Boyd was screaming something unintelligible through his needle teeth as The Scavenger swallowed the last mouthful of meat. The congregation of death worshippers rose from their seats, ready to come at us barehanded to impress their god.

Then, their god started to choke.

It was a little thing at first. If it hadn’t been a giant, you wouldn’t have even heard it cough. But with its head the size of a house, no one could miss it.

The Scavenger coughed again, blood and spit spattered the floor. It was rrrawwkking again now as the disease custom made for it slipped into its bloodstream from the meat Natalie had offered. Yellow foam formed around its filthy eyes and its leathery skin began to blotch as it thrashed in place.

A hole opened up in the floor, sewer water cascading down on the heads of those in attendance. Arturo emerged clinging to Christoph’s back.

They were both smiling as they parted ways and started killing. Natalie dove towards them, her mantis arms scything through the crowd, the congregants falling like sheaves of wheat.

I made for Boyd.

The badger snarled in hatred as he charged for me. I grabbed a meat hook dangling from a chain as I ran and pulled it with me. Boyd shed his leather coat and bounded through the air for me, claws outstretched.

I ducked and twisted the meat hook in my grip. The chain it was attached to flipped itself into a loop around Boyd’s neck. I continued to run, towards The Scavenger. I spread my wings, flapping desperately, trying to catch its head before it escaped. I drove the hook into the flesh at its neck just as The Scavenger pulled back and began to flap its wings of filth to escape.

Boyd was screaming as he was drawn tight against the ceiling. His screaming stopped as his throat was crushed by the chain and he became another piece of meat in a slaughterhouse.

I pursued The Scavenger’s head up through the hole, cursing under my breath.

Where was Wither?

I shouldn’t have bothered worrying. He was there, making a show of his entrance. Miss Geri’s personal helicopter hovered above The Scavenger as the ancient bird of death died. Its muscles were stiffening, its breathing ceasing, even as it tried to flap its wings to escape.

Wither leapt from the helicopter and landed on The Scavenger’s back, digging his fingers into its mottled flesh. The Scavenger squealed as Wither’s hands drank up its corruption. The screams echoed from city wall to city wall, crossing the hundreds of miles between the two in a heartbeat.

For the first time in my existence, one of Death’s incarnations was dying. And it was to die poorly.

Blackness flowed from where Wither perched on The Scavenger’s back. Its wings turned obsidian, shattering as it thrashed and rolled, trying to escape. The mottled gray of its flesh, the putrescent, rotted egg shell blue of its feathers, the milky gray of its eyes; all color fled as Wither consumed it whole.

Within minutes that which had been mankind’s oldest death made flesh was nothing more than ashes being swept away by the wind. Among the ashes, Wither knelt, his hair cascading down his back in gleaming black waves. He was younger now that he had been in millennia. I had to wonder how long it would last.

I dropped back through the hole in the slaughterhouse roof to survey the carnage.

Nothing stirred except for Arturo, Christoph, and Natalie. All of those that worshiped death had gone to meet it. Things were as they should be.

The Scavenger was dead. The world was saved from death at its talons.

It would have to settle for ours.

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