(It’s growing. Louder.)
“… You’re headed in the wrong direction, brother…” To nearly everyone else, it sounded like bordering on static whispers, and sarcastic snickering. To Mercy, however, the swelling racket was an increasingly irritating reminder of the high life he’d been trying so hard to give up, ”I left all of this already.” He’d been swearing to himself since he’d left Eremis standing in their Maestro’s suites. Not that it helped him any. As he’d retraced his steps past the littered vestibule, and down the slanted elevator shaft, the snickering had turned to jeering. As he’d reached the broken ship’s main corridors, and run the explosive gauntlet towards the terraforming bay, the jeering had escalated to distant laughter. By the time he had landed on the undamaged catwalks that criss-crossed the ceiling over what was officially ground level, it had evolved into full-blown ridicule;
“… You’re not listening, Mercy…” His blood, ever the fucking hypocrite, would soon be making everyone’s skin crawl as he found the proper use of his voice. For the present, their Mad Maestro was content making it abundantly evident it was the back of Mercy’s thick, fucking skull he was once again calling, “Home”.
“I can see just fine, brother.” Enthralled, yet utterly oblivious, Mercy forgot the hivemind, and spoke out loud. He could. SEE what looked like thick, viscous, black bile,
(An Ocean of Ink)
filling the practically vertical hallway he had climbed his way up earlier. It seemed whatever had been expanding from the bottom of the engine room had kept rising in his absence. It lapped at the second doorway, slowly but surely filling the bay, “I want to know why that bloody robot had to bug me with your fucking bullshit.”
“Oh, come now, Mercy, don’t you feel useful?” His name dripped off his brother’s tongue like venom as the Maestro’s laughter became torturously fucking clear, “You, better than anyone, should know what happens when my hive attempts to betray me.”
“No one pisses off THE Queen.” Mercy’s eyes rolled back in their sockets as he re-iterated. He had, though. Royally fucking pissed off his brother. He had cut himself off the hivemind. He had left the Ezramatheia. He had been gone for what had felt like an eternity. He had gotten so close to being rid of the Maestro’s influence for good… But he had witnessed their dear mothership’s demise, and exactly like the fucking clown he always would be, he had come running right back without so much as being asked.
“Correct, brother. You did this. To yourself.” The Maestro articulated, slowly rolling the words around Mercy’s brain until the latter became thoroughly convinced they were his one and only truth, ”I did this to myself.” He readily repeated, submitting to his elder brother’s will. Truly, he should have known better. They were flesh and poisonous blood, after all.
With his most crucial tasks now completed, the half-dead, thoroughly exhausted Maestro, along with his biting comments, and condescending laughter, began to fade. Mercy exhaled through his nose, leaning against the railing as he tried to decide what to do next. The quiet didn’t last. Somehow still attuned to their fractured hivemind despite being fractured himself, the Maestro picked up on something serious enough to make him panic. Without warning, his entire brood screeched glass-shattering murder between Mercy’s ears. Painfully similar to the sound of broken nails scratching along metal strings, the noise made Mercy flinch, ”What’s the problem now, brother?”
“… We can smell… From here… Go… Do something…” His elder brother found the strength to hiss as he vanished into the background.
“What are you talking about?” Mercy asked. Tried to, “Smell what?” But received no response. Not even white noise, “Fucking typical.” He rested his forehead against his palms, sliding his hands down until they covered his entire face. That was when he caught a whiff of it as well, “…pheromones.” Only, it wasn’t the underwhelming scent of overexcited humans, it was the sickeningly rich smell of their own, alien kind, “Where the hell Is it coming from?” It most certainly wasn’t anywhere nearby; even their most devoted worshippers had picked up their dead, and left the immediate area. No, whatever it was, it wafted in from somewhere outside.
Sticking his nose in the air, he followed the smell halfway across the top of the bay, and turned away from the unusable engine room exit. Climbing a short ramp near the centre of the ship led him to a barely noticeable archway, and a partially collapsed corridor with gaping tears all along its sunken side. Mercy made short work of the jump up the wall, and pulled himself into a seated position alongside the hull’s deep, ragged edges. Leaning back, he gave himself another brief pause to admire the open sky, and the plethora of multicoloured, celestial bodies he could see hanging there through the glare of the setting sun.
After a moment, Mercy swung his knees over his head, and back rolled off his perch. He slid down the side of the ship, using his claws to slow his descent. Dropping ankle deep in a growing puddle of the same, black substance that had overflowed from the engine blocks, he quickly realized the fluid had also begun leaking through the cracks in their ship. It pooled behind her propellers, and streamed down the side of the mountain. It sucked the life out of everything it came into contact with, and caused the surrounding vegetation to shrivel up and rot, with vines, and clusters of bioluminescent mushrooms already sprouting up to take its place. Pursing his lips, Mercy spun on his heels, clasped his hands together, bowed his head, and mouthed an apology to their poor, agonized mother.
The angry shrieking returned.
Caught off guard, he first believed it was the Maestro panicking again. Then he believed it was the Ezramatheia vocalizing her displeasure through their hivemind. Finally, Hyde’s words floated up to haunt him, “Nice to hear that fucking banshee…” He faced away from the ship to look at his surroundings, and was almost instantly assailed by the stench of death. It was inhuman, and close enough to overpower the pheromones he was tracking. He let out a cough, covering his mouth with the back of his hand despite himself, “…stupid fucking humans, and their stupid fucking habits…” He hardly had the time to mutter, “Oh for… Would everything shut the hell up?” He groaned as inhuman screams bounced off the tall, thin, impossibly spikey trees that populated the region. Finding her footprints running parallel to the hull, he traced her steps to a cliff, where more shrieks preceded more screams. He thought he was beginning to understand why his brother had panicked. HE HAD been using a human host instead of his own, humanoid form… And Mercy had been repeatedly ordered to deal with her, “She didn’t get within twelve feet of mother,” He observed, “What the fuck did she do to you, brother?” But the Maestro’s entire brood could’ve had completely left him again for all the reaction he received in response to his question.
“You love me. Admit it.”
As annoyed as ever, Mercy nonetheless found his own way through the wasted forest. Getting closer to his mark, he ducked to avoid toxic green entrails draping off some broken tree branches. A few steps later, he caught himself, almost stepping on the freshly eviscerated torso they had fallen from. With only his lightning fast reflexes to blame, he then caught its decapitated head out of the air as it came sailing towards him. Praying she either hadn’t noticed, or wouldn’t care, Mercy fell into a crouch, and snuck up to the low rising cliff where he’d seen movement. Slowly, carefully, he lifted his eyes to take a look; “Un-Fucking-Real” was a human expression he was unfamiliar with, yet still had plastered all over his face. It seemed, unable to get close to, or board the mothership, Rieze had wandered off, and by some stroke of… Something like luck… Had stumbled into a group of jipsa setting up camp in a narrow cave. As frustrated as Mercy was irritated, she had decided to make an example out of all of them. The first, she had ripped apart, and disposed of. She had stabbed two through the chest with her bare claws. She had torn the arms off two others, leaving them to bleed to death. Now, with her back mostly turned to Mercy, she was snapping the legs off the last one like twigs, making it howl in agony.
“And where do you think you’re going?” Rieze was only taunting it to listen to herself talk. Cirxci’s jipsa were exceptional in their appearances, but knew no language apart from their own. They were only, “intelligent,” in the sense they had all more or less abandoned their surface dwelling to hide underground when the Ezramatheia had appeared. Although fully aware they hadn’t exactly come here to establish proper, diplomatic relations, Mercy also knew they had barely had any contact. This, what Rieze was doing, wouldn’t aid their cause, “We’re not done yet.” One of the armless jipsa had staggered to its feet, and out into the open. Giving herself a running start, Rieze pounced on it. She landed on its upper body with enough force to splatter its brain matter as it slammed into the ground, “That’s what we smell,” Mercy swallowed, “Killing them is making her fucking horny.” And still, she wasn’t done. Unwilling to let anything live, Rieze flounced back towards the last, crippled, jipsa. With an obscenely self-satisfying smirk, she placed her foot on the small of its back, pinning it in place;
“Care to join me, Mercy? Or would you rather keep staring like a fucking dummkopf?” She called out, raising an eyebrow in his direction as he dropped out of sight again, “How the hell does she know?” He didn’t have any words to give her. Especially not with the Maestro along for the trip, “Too fucking slow, dummkopf.” Rieze didn’t wait three seconds, “And too fucking bad for you.” She reached down, grabbed the jipsa by its throat, and crushed its windpipe. Its eyes popped as its blood vessels burst, drool dripping down the side of its mouth as it choked, and eventually expired. Once it had passed, Rieze borrowed a page from Mercy’s book; she yanked its face back with both hands, spun it 180° on its spine, and dropped it back into the dirt. She then straightened herself out, shook out her arms, and licked her lips as she inspected her handiwork. Not losing her smile, she rather drunkenly wandered over to where Mercy stood rooted. Ceremoniously, she lay down on her stomach on the stone surface beside him, her platinum hair cascading over the ledge as she levelled her eyes with his, “What’s the matter, Mercy?” She purred, teasing him, “Serpent got your tongue?”
He stopped swallowing, his gag reflex long immune to his brother’s drugs of choice. Neither particularly intelligent nor skilled, Rieze had spent most of her otherwise meagre existence serving as little more than fluorescent decor. She had only started killing when she had found him on Cirxci’s surface. Even at that, she had simply shrugged it off as, “helping,” him get rid of, “parasites,” and rarely touched her victims after offing them.
“Never knew you to be such a sadist, princess.” Mercy left his face blank as he examined the jipsa. With their black-to-silver-white hair, pointed ears, prismatic eyes, and soft pastel coloured skin, they were an astoundingly beautiful race of creatures. Some even had what looked like roughly cut diamonds embedded into their foreheads. It gave them an air of royalty; a quality that had interested, and attracted, the Maestro. Shame, then, that it wasn’t making friends their alien overlord was interested in doing.
“Tell me,” Tired of his idleness, she took a hold of his chin. Digging her claws into his jawbone, she forced him to face her as she smeared the blood on her fingers over his mouth, “Do you know how humans reproduce?”
Still enthralled, Mercy put up no resistance when she reached out to kiss him. Plunging her tongue between his teeth, she wrapped her arms around his neck in a bid to pull him close to her. Mercy let go of the decapitated head as his weight shifted, and his footing slipped. Rieze took the opportunity to slide herself off the cliff, and wrap her legs around his waist. Thrown completely off balance, Mercy fell over, sending them both rolling a dozen feet down the shallow incline in a mess of stifled grunts, and tangled limbs. Covered in dirt, leaves, and ash, he found himself straddled by her full figure as she rolled over on top of him.
“He was going to kill me, and replace me with Eremis,” She huffed, explaining, even though Mercy hadn’t asked, “Decided if you didn’t need him, he didn’t need me either. He had Faustus dig her up from a fucking scrap heap somewhere, and give her an upgrade.” She crossed her arms, and scoffed, “He was going to end me, so I ended him first. Almost.” She brushed her hair away from her face, but it only fell right back as she leaned down. He couldn’t tell if her turquoise eyes were shining from tears, anger, or excitement, “I found actual acid on board strong enough to melt his form. Drove his brood absolutely insane. They ran me off the Ezram before I could kill THE Queen. Fucking pity. I thought for sure the explosion had done him in, but I still can’t board mother, and…” Rieze shifted her head, so her nose rested on Mercy’s collarbone. She ran it up the length of his neck, licked his ear, and sunk her sharp canines into the stiff cartilage, “I can fucking taste him on you.” She sneered with a terrifying mixture of amusement and disgust, “So tell me, Mercy,” For the second time, his eyes rolled around in his skull. Truly, he wished they would all shut up and fuck off with all the names again, “Do you know how humans have sex?”
She licked the side of his face before he could answer, propping herself up to grind her hips into his in a gross imitation of the real thing. Unimpressed, he grabbed her waist with both hands and pulled her up, but only high enough to stop her from moving. Keeping his eyes fixed on hers to make sure she was listening, he slid his hands down her thighs, “Human males have muscles between their legs that fill with blood and harden. They use those to penetrate their human females.” He reached up under what only Rieze herself would call a skirt, and brushed the side of his hand against the sexless mound of alien insects that would never even pass for skin there; “I shouldn’t have to explain how not fucking human we are, but if you’re that desperate for a demo…” He wanted to laugh, but didn’t.
Rieze opened her mouth to say something, but lost whatever sound she was about to make, and gasped as Mercy impaled her… Her brood… On his claws. Her waist dropped from the sudden invasion of physical space, driving his hand even further inward as bug blood gushed down his wrist, “… There you go. Almost like a real human female.”
“… Mmm…” His irony went unnoticed as she grimaced, trying to steady herself, but Mercy wouldn’t slow down, “Mercy, that hurts… Mercy… Mercy, don’t… Don’t… Ah… Ahh… Ow! Quit it, Mercy!” She was shouting, squeezing and loosening her legs as she squirmed around on his forearm, “… Stop it, stop it, I said FUCKING. STOP IT. MERCY!!!” She slammed her fists into his chest, failing to break free from his grasp, “I am stopping it, princess.” Mercy told her without a shred of sarcasm as he located her Queen at the base of her breastbone,
(Off With Her Head)
and decapitated it without a, “Goodbye,” in much the same way she had decapitated the hapless jipsa. She froze as her form fragmented, and also melted. With no Queen to lead them, her brood swarmed in a thick cloud over Mercy’s head. Finally, a quarter of a lifetime later, they floated to the top of the mountain range in a burst of angry buzzing similar to the Maestro’s screeches. Another quarter of a lifetime after that, they dissipated down their far side.
“Bet you didn’t think that would work either.” Mercy said out loud as he stood up, and brushed the dirt off his clothes. He then remembered the hivemind, asking it directly, “You’re not saying anything, brother. Did you get any of that?”
Nothing. Not a damned thing. Dead fucking silence.
“You fucking love me. Admit it.”
“You are such an asshole.” Mercy grumbled as he set off for the bottom of the Ezramatheia with only the breeze, and the crackling forest fires left to keep him any company. He hadn’t forgotten his collection of human bodies, or their spines, fresh for all his pickings. He had all that bone marrow to catch up on, and he was beginning to grow hungry.
“Until next time, brother”