The Roads to Meggido, Canto Four
By Patrick M. Tracy
“There,” the grim coachman said, his skeletal hand pointing out into the rough desert. “That way, ten miles overland. The sky will darken as you walk. If you truly wish this—the end of all the many worlds—you must go into the Tomb of All Those Forgotten.”
“And there,” Harkalivad whispered. “I’ll find Meggido?”
“As you call it, yes. If you have the fortitude to walk the chill corridors of the Tomb.”
The coach, its sleek black flanks now sullied with the desert’s grime, came to a halt. Only the smallest hint of the growling power plant now spoke against the deep quiet of the arid scene. It took Harkalivad a moment to understand how to cause the door to open. This world wasn’t like his own. With their feats of intellect, the people of this world had learned the making of such complex devices. Like children, they’d become so entranced with their own contrivances that they had gone blind to all else.
Harkalivad put his boot down on the parched land. Ancient and honest, depleted of all fertility it had once held, made sterile. He looked back into the shade of the coach. The coachman gripped the wheel and looked resolutely forward, waiting. In the eyes of the dying demoness, though…some pitiful something, some plangent chord in her limited, sinful soul. He shook his head, drawing forth his doom-shrouded blade. It would all be over soon. For her. For everyone. Thank the quiet darkness. He turned away without a word.
“Wait!” she cried. “What will become of me? You’ve dampened all the fires within me. You’ve killed me from the inside out with your utter chill of your passion.”
Harkalivad turned back, only part way. He gazed over his armored shoulder at her, the horror of her beauty diminished, the perfect sheen of the skin gone sallow and slack. “You’ll die. You’ll pass into oblivion, just as everything is doomed to. Only…you’ll know your fate better than most.”
He spat upon the earth. “What merit has there been to your long life? What can you claim, if asked to justify your existence?”
“I…I’ve tried to stand with you, to help you on your way. Haven’t I been a good woman to you?” The multiplicative voices, that dark chorus of her speech, had been reduced to a flat monotone. Altogether, she had been rendered mundane. He hardly knew her. Gazing upon her hollow eyes only made his bone-deep fatigue increase. He was tired of being alive, tired of there being such a thing as “alive”. If he could find the strength for one last trial…
“It’s rough terrain, Demoness. Perhaps you have an hour to consider your life. Enough to make some sense of your actions. I fear that the time for some fine deed is long past. If you haven’t accomplished anything of note by now, best to make peace with the hollow places within you and rest easy, knowing you won’t have to carry that burden much longer.”
The demoness hung her head, hiding her eyes. Harkalivad walked away. The dusty land cracked and muttered at his passing, the doom blade singing low lullabies on the wind. So close, Meggido, and yet each step felt as if unseen hands tugged at him, holding him away from his goal. If this dim resistance was all the great universe could summon, the only obstacle left in his way, then the process of existence lacked the will to continue. It had to be put down. If one man, terrible as he was after all these worlds, could cleave the knots and tear everything asunder, than what value could the sum total of life really have? What a frail thing, this tiny spark in the overarching dimness.
Harkalivad ascended a long, pallid track, finally coming to the lip of the rise. There, in the far distance, a pile of ancient brick and stone crouched like a trodden-upon beetle on the surface of the desert. Between him and his goal, though, was one last obstacle to surmount, one final army to obliterate.
Darkening the sky, they bore the soot-steel armor and poisoned arms of their race. The consort demons, all his lover’s sisters, arrayed against him. They flew and dove, arrows to bowstrings, javelins at the ready. Every eye bore the same deep green fire. Every face bore the same lethal beauty, every limb formed with equal aesthetic ideal. Combined, the their flawless beauty bled all the air from the desert. All but his sad demoness, standing pale before him, a husk, a thing dead yet still walking.
“Please,” she begged. “I never thought you’d go this far, never thought I’d have to choose against you, Harkalivad, my love. If it were only my own death…but the death of everything? It’s too much. The pain in us is not so great as yours. We wish…only to remain, to live. If you won’t turn back…”
Harkalivad smiled, closing his eyes for a moment. “And you come against me at last. You do one remarkable deed. I am proud of you, Demoness. You alone, of your whole race will meet the dawn. You will bear witness to their passing, and in your own death, there will be no shame. After all the times I’ve dismissed you with blooded blade, this shall be the last. Sad, perhaps, but it makes me feel…better.”
“Don’t make us, Darling. Please, don’t. Now…you know you can destroy all that exists, you hold the deified power in your hands. You could choose to turn aside.”
“Demoness, I never could. This is my purpose, just as much as this blade. I am the final note in the final symphony.” He smiled at her, perhaps loving her for the first time, just now. “I make no one do anything. They simply choose to respond to what I’ve chosen to do. If you would stop me and save this pitiful spark upon the void, come and do so.”
“As you would have it,” she whispered. “Lover.”
The doom-shrouded blade cried out like a thousand eagles. The combined might of a whole race of demons thundered down upon him, filling the air with uncounted soot-forged weapons. Above, the sky cracked open, utter blackness roiling outward from a Stygian core of absolute nil. The ground shook below, and all the buildings of mortals within hundreds of miles were knocked flat in an instant. The world over, chains of volcanoes erupted their red bile upon the wind. The planet reeled. In the deep reaches of space, stars collapsed upon themselves in an instant. Whole galaxies spun into the unremitting grasp of supermassive black holes. The sum total of all things teetered in the balance. On the plain, dust rose to choke the horizon, and the sound of screams seemed to go on forever.