[Episode VI]

“… What…” Mercy’s pupils dilated in disbelief as he reached for the banister and carefully slid himself towards it. For a moment, he honestly believed he’d slipped through a crack in space-time and his sight had decided to fail him somehow, “… in human fucking hell…”

Although unable to pinpoint exactly how long it had been since he’d left the Ezramatheia, Mercy was no slouch. Despite some of her polished, tourmaline-looking spires having broken off when she’d split apart and crashed, he’d all but confirmed she was identical from the outside. The fissure he had fallen through had been next to her half-blasted propellers. To him, that meant he should’ve landed somewhere somewhere by her holding blocks… Except there were no holding blocks next to where Mercy had landed. Instead, he’d opened his eyes on the edge of a precipice; a dangerously slanted, “rapidly losing hold of itself”, ceiling hung catwalk. With vertically challenged, inaccessible doors lining the equally unreachable wall on his left and a gaping, heaving black abyss on his right, it was quickly becoming clear the only way for him to go was up… And much sooner rather than later.

Causing the platform to groan and tilt some more as he hoisted himself up on the banister’s thin, metal bars, Mercy steadied himself, rightly assuming he’d only have one chance to stick his landing. Sucking in a breath, he launched himself towards the dipping, crawling floor overhead. Feeling the banister bend under the force of his jump, Mercy swore when, moments later, the entire catwalk ripped away from its remaining supports and plunged into the darkness below. Increasingly annoyed at the predicament he was in, he kept right on swearing as he clawed at nothing but dirt and rubble, slipping as he struggled to wrap his fingers around the nearby railing. Finally dragging himself up to sturdier grounds, Mercy crawled towards the cracked wall. Propping himself up against it as he regained his bearings, he brought his attention back towards the growing chasm in front of him, “… have you fucking done to our mothership, Brother?”

Mercy was being the furthest from overdramatic. He could see where the propellers should’ve been attached, now up on his left. He knew the nonfunctional doors on all sides lead to the supply rooms they had converted into a bastille of sorts upon the ship’s capture. He even found the partially opened, electronic door that would bring him closer to their mother’s core and their Maestro’s suites, almost out of reach farther up on his right. It was everything in the middle that had utterly vanished… As though Cirxci itself had opened up, swallowed their ship’s bowels and left behind this expanding black mass as a souvenir.

But Mercy knew better. They’d been hounding this planet long enough. There most certainly wasn’t a single soul, entity or force of nature here capable of pulling off such a ridiculous fucking feat.

“Besides, you’re overthinking. Snap the fuck out of it and get going.” He shook his head free of its pointless speculating and stood up, making short work of the remaining climb towards the broken door. Racing across another, steep catwalk, he bounded over the gap that seperated it from the entryway, skillfully catching himself on its frame before squeezing through.

“That was close.” He hardly had time to exhale, struck by a sudden coughing fit as he crossed the narrow, unlit corridor. Distracted as he was, Mercy paid no mind to the tendrils of smoke snaking across the floor until, forcing open the adjoining door, he was overcome by thick, sickly, yellow-grey fumes.

“I don’t have time for these stupid fucking games, Brother.” Covering his mouth and nose as his sockets drowned in saline and began gushing waterfalls, Mercy inched past the threshold and pressed himself up against the wall next to it. Initially thinking he’d walked into a lush jungle, it was only when he made out what looked like hulking, toppled over carcasses did he recognize where he was. Of course. Their silly human pets had loaded their cargo bay full of terraforming equipment for their lengthy, colonization expedition. Unfortunately for them, the Mad Maestro, along with Mercy and their brethren, had overtaken and willed them all into feverish submission long before they had reached their intended destination. As such, their simple tools and primitive vehicles had so far gone untouched while the cargo bay had devolved into an alien, fungi-covered, rust-and-rat infested wasteland of decaying machinery. It was an already godforsaken scene made infintely gloomier by the heavy smoke permeating throughout, “So where the hell are you?”

It was, admittedly, Mercy’s first attempt at using the hive mind since he had sent himself into exile. Truly believing he’d been cut off from their prototype communications system, he was both literally and metaphorically shocked by the ear-piercing feedback that came screeching down his skull in response, “Being a fucking tease, I hear?” He tried again, but this time was met with little more than static. No matter. It was the closest thing to a sign of life Mercy had received from his insufferable sibling since his departure and more than enough reason for him to push on.

“… Would help if I knew which direction to head in.” He thought after taking a few steps. The blinding smoke clinging to the dense flora and huge machines was making it damn well near impossible to move up a foot, let alone get anywhere. Reaching a hand out before he could trip over the overlapping mounds of plants, he felt the cool, flat surface of a rover. Making his way around it, his palm stumbled into thick foliage; overgrown leaves that had burst through the derelict vehicle’s hood and sprouted mutated, iridescent, blue-green fungi the height and width of Mercy’s arm. He grinned despite himself, feeling like he’d won the jackpot for the second time that day.

“And the universe keeps providing.” Without another thought, he snapped off a chunk of the fungi’s bulbous head and gulped it down without chewing. He then closed his eyes and dried them as his blood pressure soared through the ceiling, sharpening all his senses to razor-sharp points. Mercy inhaled, waiting until his own, thundering heartbeat had overcome what felt like an army of cicadas threatening to swarm his nervous system, “Let’s try this again.” He peeled apart his eyelids as he breathed out. He wasn’t disappointed. Floating in fourth dimension, Mercy watched in thrilled anticipation as the smoke melted off into oblivion. It revealed a long line of his brother’s own, beloved insects, all marching towards the far side of the bay, where a corroded metal staircase led up to their mother’s broken heart.

“Much fucking better.” He thought gleefully as he helped himself to fists full of fungi and cramming his pockets before tearing across the glorified junkyard and up the stairs. Similarly to Faustus, it was then only a matter of finding his way through the convoluted gauntlet that spanned the distance to the hub where the entire “family” had once slept; child’s play for a veteran hunter high on alien psilocybin. Aware he was back in the land of the partially living, however, Mercy was becoming wary of the silence. Having missed their mothership, Faustus, Eremis, and everything that had happened before, between and thereafter, he was increasingly unsure of what he’d find upon his unexpected arrival. His sense of foreboding only growing as he reached the hacked door and the red auxiliary lights emanating from within, he stopped himself short of flying into his brother’s personal space. Pushing the door completely open, he cleared the debris cluttering up the vestibule as more incoherent feedback loops and waves of static filled his head. With his nonexistent cicadas receding back to the far corners of his imagination, Mercy poked his nose through the entrance;

“Anyone home?” He called out both verbally and mentally, impressed and yet unsurprised at how well his sibling at least looked like he’d held himself together. Drawn by the smell of copper-tinged flesh, he kept following his nose towards the freshly desiccated shell, still laying on the floor where it had died with its gun in its open hand. Assuming a quick suicide and done thinking for one day, a salivating Mercy made a beeline for the dead body.

“I guess I’m lucky today.” He wiped the drool dripping down his chin, crouched next to the shell and flipped it on its stomach. Short the skinning knife he’d given Hyde, he used his bare claws to rip into its back. With blood pooling over and around his boots, he dug both his hands in to yank out its spinal discs. It was then, with his mouth full of broken bones and his extremities caked in bodily fluids, did he hear the voices coming from their Mad Maestro’s bedroom;

“…that was some fantastic timing. Any later and I more than likely would’ve lost myself.” It was a girl, sounding hoarse as she opened and closed a dresser drawer. Mercy spat out the fragments he had in his mouth and, tracking blood across the floor with him, skulked towards the fireplace, craned his neck and peered inside.

It was Eremis, her straight, dark chestnut hair forever cascading down to her waist as she pulled up the straps of the lacy, white top she’d put on. Two feet away, and standing a full head taller, was a spectral male clad in skin tight leather pants and a red shirt dotted with oddly shaped trees. Keeping his eyes closed as she finished getting dressed, he also held on to equally odd-looking black glasses. Both of them had their backs mostly turned to Mercy while they talked, “Aright, you can look now.”

“Oh, wow… Look at you.” The male gave Eremis a bit of a hand clap as she twirled around and curtsied, “That’s a nice skirt. I might borrow it one day.”

“Well, I don’t think they’ll fit… But I have a few you can bring back with you if you want them.” Eremis bit on the tip of her finger to stop herself giggling too much, then shuddered violently as something came crawling up directly under her skin. Her male companion looked at her in consternation, “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“What? This?” She raised her forearm, where another series of large bumps were moving from her elbow to her wrist, “If I was still fully human this would probably be hurting like hell… But thanks to my um… wonderful… fucking… um… “guardian”, I’m just a ridiculously buggy mechanical cyber doll, that’s all. It’ll get better.” But Eremis forcing herself to smile wasn’t fooling anyone.

“You’re not just a machine, girly. You need to take care of yourself.” The male told her as Mercy realized he was beginning to fade.

“Sure. Says you Ghost-Boy. Look, I told you, you didn’t need to come with me all the way out here and you’re already disappearing. At this rate, you’ll go back home, be hungover for a week, and everyone over there will be asking what happened to you.”

“You mean my family members? They probably haven’t even noticed I left yet. I’ll just tell them I was out taking dancing lessons.” He put his glasses on, “Don’t worry about it. It’s always nice bumping into a friendly face on the other side.”

“We straightened out the bar just in time for me to come back and… Straighten out this whole, other, bloody fucking disaster.” Eremis shuddered again and rolled her bright, fuchsia eyes, turning her head too fast for Mercy to duck. Caught staring, he stumbled back, smashing his brother’s coffee table to pieces as he tripped and fell on top of it, “We have company.”

“Want me to scare him off for you?” Her male friend offered.

“You, your nerves of titanium steel and that whole entire upper half of yours? Are you still fucking drunk, my dear?” Eremis genuinely laughed that time as she grabbed him by the shoulders, spun him around and gently pushed him towards the wall, “Tell you what. You go see your monkey about that elevator, and I will try to have some of this sorted out next time you’re over for a visit, okay?”

He stopped her pushing him and turned around to face her before he’d completely gone, “Only if you don’t show up at the bar first.”

“I’ll try not to do that again either, I promise.” With only his neck and head still visible, Mercy watched as Eremis kissed him on the nose, “Whatever else you do, don’t forget to tell your boss I said “hi”.” The male gave her a thumbs up as he bowed out of the bedroom. Eremis patted herself down, adjusted herself and stepped out to lean against the fireplace. Picking up her music box, she fidgeted with its wind up key as Mercy dusted himself off, setting it down again when he asked;

“Who was that?”

“My fourth cousin, seven times removed. Why were you eavesdropping, Mercy?”

“The mothership exploded and crashed. I came back looking for our Maestro.” Mercy gestured at the room they both stood in, thinking it was fairly obvious. A going-away present she had received from Faustus, Eremis kept her porcelain features intact as she scanned around, “Hmm… Are you sure about that?” She pointed at the partially consumed corpse behind the sofa, “Because it seems like you’ve been eating him to me.”

“What?” Mercy whipped his head around, his jaw nearly hitting the ground as his stomach raced up to meet his mouth in disgust… But caught Eremis’ eyes flashing a toxic shade of biohazardous green, running a forked tongue over her lips as more things appeared to crawl up her shoulders and neck.

“Don’t fuck around, Little Sister. Tell me where our Maestro went.” He tried to sound intimidating but the impassive doll wasn’t having it.

“Where’s your pet, Mercy?” She retorted, sending Mercy’s overloaded mind reeling as she came closer, “Did you ever find her?”

“That’s not what I asked.” Mercy flinched and pulled away as she brushed up against his arm, “What did you do to Big Brother?”

“I didn’t do a damn thing to our Maestro. That fucking lunatic did that to himself. Just like you taught him.” She wrapped her fingers around his neck and hung herself off his shoulder, “But if you clean up your shit and take care of Rieze for me, I’ll tell you where your little one went. I might even let you see your arguably better half.”

“Now why the hell would I listen to you?” Mercy attempted to shrug her off but the petite android had locked her joints and made herself too heavy to move. Once more, she opened her mouth, this time revealing a forked tongue covered in white larvae she then proceeded to stick straight down his ear before he could protest.

“Because I’m not the one giving the orders, you fucking half-wit.” Eremis explained to him snidely as she let him go. Mercy’s dulled senses tingled as the larvae wriggled and burrowed deeper into his ear canal, “Clean up your bloody mess, dump the shell outside and deal with Rieze before she kills any more colonists. We’ll need those if we ever plan on getting our mothership up in the clouds again.”

“You think we can fix the Ezramatheia?” It was faint hisses and whispers, not the cicadas and static loops, that Mercy heard as he talked. It made him sound distant.

“I think we can do whatever we damn well please. Now, hurry up. The faster things go back to whatever passes for normal around here, the happier I’m sure we’ll all be.”

“I don’t think…” Mercy wanted to say but Eremis cut him off.

“No, you don’t fucking think, Mercy. You’re not even supposed to be here, so grab your shit and get out.”

“… But…”

“I SAID GET OUT!!” Eremis screamed, glaring at him while he used a rug to cover and soak up the blood he’d spilled. Wrapping the shell in it, he picked it up, making his way towards the vestibule before stopping to take another look at her, certain he’d forgotten something important.

“Don’t worry. We’ll call you if we need anything before you get back.” Eremis waved him off. With nothing more to do or say, Mercy left the way he came; in utter disbelief as the faint hissing at the bottom of his brain slowly turned into distant, barely recognizable laughter.

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