Illumination 0.9: Intersection of Nightmares

Ajax’s artwork fluttered everywhere, freed from the shattered wall. Descry loomed in the wreckage of his room. The smaller monsters cavorted around the giant one, but stayed carefully away from Ajax.

Ajax, on his back, twisted his torso to kick up at the monster. It caught his leg in one clawed paw, looking down at him with a scholarly interest at odds with its proclamations of hunger.

Natalie’s sword, the blade marked with an unfamiliar character, cut across Descry’s arm. The monster casually reached out and flung her back. “Patience. I’ll get to you soon enough, Guardian.”

She sprang at Descry again. “But I want a turn now. Come outside and play.”

Descry sighed as it turned its bulk to avoid the slash. “Watch and understand, Boything.”

Natalie, her face intent and serious, nodded and dashed out through the broken wall, Descry leaping after her.

Ajax rolled to his feet and fumbled in the wreckage for his baseball bat. As he found it, an unwelcome voice behind him said, “This is why we don’t drink and drive, A.” Leo stood at the door of the room, his mundanity surreal in the presence of nightmares.

After staring a moment, Ajax turned away. Natalie and Seth were both outside, battling a swarm of monsters. He had no time for Leo. But Leo grabbed his arm. “You let your goddamned trashy friends run their car into our house, A.”

Leo had drawn himself up in the way he always did when he was drunk. With a bark of laughter, Ajax realized he was still drunk, too. How else could he be absorbing everything so easily?

“How could you do this to your father? I’m always having to clean up after your messes, A. Jim deserves a better son.”

Everything but that. Ajax’s breath hissed between his teeth. He took another breath, long and deep. A shout outside jerked his attention away. He shook Leo off and climbed over the remains of his wall.

There was a general melee in the street. Seth rolled away from an Awakened and came up under another one, driving in a pair of knives. The Awakened exploded into water, but Seth was already moving toward a third, low and fast. He kicked out, his foot connecting solidly enough to send the Awakened flying.

A ways down the street, Natalie danced around Descry, dodging in and out, her katana flickering. She didn’t seem to be hurting Descry much, but the monster didn’t seem to be hurting her either. Ajax watched her move. For somebody who had never fought something like that before, she seemed to know what she was doing.

Leo made it over the rubble in Ajax’s room and darted in front of Ajax to glare at him. “Don’t walk away when I’m talking to you, A.”

Ajax stared at him. “You don’t see it at all, do you? You’re totally oblivious to all that.” He waved at the street battle.

Leo didn’t even look over his shoulder. “I see a couple of drunk kids playing in the street. Hoping another car comes by, gives them a taste of their own medicine. But I’m talking about you, A.” He shoved Ajax in the chest.

Ajax’s ears rang. It would be so easy to beat the smaller man bloody. So easy. So cathartic.

He ground his teeth together and said, “Sure thing, Leo. Tell you what, why don’t you call the cops or something and I’ll get my friends under control. Go on inside.” His response surprised Leo enough that Ajax was able to stride away from him.

But it didn’t convince Leo to leave off harassing Ajax and go inside. “Yeah, you might as well tell your friends to run off. But I’m not letting you get out of this that easily.” He trailed after Ajax, but at least he wasn’t actively in Ajax’s way any more. Maybe he’d be able to see Descry and that would scare some sense into him.

With that in mind, Ajax headed toward Natalie’s duel with the black and white monster, further down the street. He swung his bat idly back and forth as he approached the fight, looking for an opportunity to smack it. Maybe the bat didn’t help with the Awakened but he’d hurt the Cambion with his bare hands, earlier that evening. The black blood still stained his clothes.

Leo swore loudly behind him.

“See that, do you— Natalie, look out!”

For Natalie had noticed Ajax and Leo, and in her split moment of inattention, Descry caught her. Natalie only escaped the flurry of claws and teeth by rolling backward awkwardly. When she came up to one knee, she was panting and unsteady.

Ajax shouted and leapt at Descry, swinging his bat as hard as he could at the monster’s back. It impacted, oh yes, and broke, too, the splintered end flying past his head. He stabbed the remainder of the bat at Descry’s legs, then scrambled away as Seth called, “Look out!”

But Descry wasn’t interested in Ajax or Natalie at the moment. The back leg Ajax had struck twitched oddly but Descry was watching Leo like a cat watching a mouse. And all of the Awakened, from all over the street, were streaming over. They piled over each other, just outside Descry’s reach.

“Meat,” rumbled Descry. Leo, swaying and glassy-eyed, jumped at the word. Then he squeaked and turned to stumble away.

Descry yawned, and turned his attention away.

It was the cue the Awakened had been waiting for. They swarmed Leo.

Leo sobbed and fell to his knees. To Ajax’s horrified gaze, it was as if Leo split into two copies. The Awakened savaged one Leo, gory injuries opening up under their claws and teeth. It looked very much like they were eating him alive.

The other Leo clutched his head, yelling. A black bruise crept up his face. Then he fell over, shaking uncontrollably as the Awakened pulled his other self this way and that.

Ajax’s brain started working again. “No,” he croaked. “Stop!” He threw himself toward the mass of Awakened. They scattered away from Ajax’s rush, teeth and claws dripping with gore.

But it was too late. Leo gave a final gasping shudder, and stopped moving. His two selves merged together again, the one the Awakened had attacked becoming nothing more than a shredded shadow.

Leo was dead.


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