The Roads to Megiddo, Canto Three
By Patrick M. Tracy
Harkalivad had become inured to the awful knowledge that, somewhere in the universe, everything was possible. This burden of truth, though, weighed heavily on his soul. He had been across worlds beyond counting and seen realities so monstrous that he had come to doubt his own ambitions. Could anything so varied be brought to final, absolute ruin? Grasping the hilt of his doom-shrouded blade, could he find Megiddo and encompass the ending of all things?
He sighed. Doubt would avail him nothing. His dislike for the many worlds, his feeling of the ineffable wrongness festering at the heart of every reality—these needed to serve as fuel for his quest.
Harkalivad squinted, walking out of the cloying, acrid smoke. The building had been reduced to ruins by some sort of explosion. The tendrils of fire yet licked at the detritus. The death and misery here had been his bridge, his portal into yet another foreign and doom-haunted realm.
Strange wailing noises grated on the air. The pitiful noises of the weak and injured cried a counterpoint to this odd, mechanical lament. A bearded man lay upon the broken, stinking earth, clinging to bloodied stumps where his legs had been. The gloomy touch of Harkalivad’s weapon obliterated the wounded man’s soul, feasting with casual vigor on the last of his flesh and turning him to ash.
“Thus do you escape the cycle of rebirth, the agony of existence, the ultimate futility of the universal engine,” Harkalivad intoned. He had dispensed such mercy upon a shadowed legion numerous enough to crowd the endless shores of hell.
Several men—warriors—ran toward him, shaking metal and wood sticks like holy objects against the unclean. Their angry words meant nothing to him, though he imagined that, given the strong desire to make sense of their pidgin, he could have puzzled it out. To what end? They were simply more supplicants, seeking release from their torturous course between petty lives and meaningless multiplicatives of death. This was a technologically gifted reality, with the characteristic artless fighters such realms breed. Their weapons chattered loudly, spitting fire and the smell of sulfur.
Harkalivad felt the bee-sting pain of many small projectiles touching him. These, of course, would avail them nothing. Perhaps once, before the dust of the hundred worlds and the combined atavisms and curses of a thousand monsters and demons girded his skin like anvil-thick iron, he would have fallen, surrendering to the indignity of death. Now, he moved amongst them, cleaving flesh and bone, nullifying souls until all of their unpleasant weapons ceased their juddering roar.
Huge mechanical monsters approached the scene, crawling with uniformed warriors who directed the beast to spit its water on the burning hulk of the building. More of the graceless combatants arrived in their grumbling, dun-colored coaches. Unwilling to stand idle so long as to slaughter them all, Harkalivad elected to pass from their vision and walk unmolested.
Beyond the outer blast ring, the method of paving, its effectiveness, became clear. He hated these worlds and all their petty miracles of intellect. They imagined the low cunning of their devices could cover the litany of their sins. They imagined that, in the hulking shadow of their innovations, they could defeat death and impress their mark upon eternity.
Women and young children held each other, crying at the periphery of the carnage. Old men tore at their hair and beards, lamenting for those who had fallen prey to the holocaust of fire behind him. These people could change nothing. No one could. Other than bringing the whole sad affair to a close, even he could do nothing to alter the relentless press of this flawed over-reality. Perhaps. Perhaps that tingle in the air meant that he approached his final destination, that Megiddo was finally within his grasp, here in the arid madness of yet another world at war.
The black coach came to a stop by his side. Different, always different, but the laconic coachman remained the same. He looked at the shining teeth of the coach mechanism. A thin, three pointed star within a shining halo. A sign. Yes, he was close now. Close to the center of things. Close to the great knot of the universe that his gloom-shrouded blade had been forged to cleave.
When the coach door opened, Harkalivad was only mildly surprised to see that the demoness had returned, healed from the last time he’d slain her. She smiled at him, beckoning him to enter. His body shook, responding to the irredeemable horror of her beauty. Clearly, he would have to kill her again, but for the moment, she could give him some small measure of consolation. Destroying the universe was a desolate business. Even the smallest and most fleeting of comforts were welcome.