The ritual hall was empty. An expanse of empty space, large enough to cram a small army, stretching from the doors to the end of the hall. There was no incense, no ceremonial props, no altars, just… nothing.
At the far side of the hall, there was a flat half-disc of infinite darkness. A gateway to an abyssal, unending void. But it wasn’t empty. It was full.
Things wriggled and writhed in that living dark. Tiny motes of light drifted aimlessly through the Void. Other eldritch geometries impressed themselves into Tan’s eyeballs, at once familiar and alien, curves and lines and bulks rotating and churning through branes and dimensions he could scarcely see.
Standing before the Void, his arms outstretched, was a tall, thin man in a cloak of midnight hues.
“Hands up!” Yamamoto shouted.
Voices, thousands of them, resonated in the empty hall. A rough, grating, discordant chorus of male and female and sexless voices, merged with sibilant hisses and the growling of beasts and the steady beating of a million drums thumping as one.
“You are too late.”
“Stop the ritual! Now!”
“We are the Void. We are all, and we are the end. Nothing can stop nothing.”
“I don’t think we can talk to it,” Tan whispered.
“You are potent warriors, one and all. Together, we will become more. Join us.”
Every word was a hammer blow, driving deep into his brain. The voices slithered through his ears and down his spine, mapping his neurons and muscles and bone and sinew. The stars within the cosmic void beckoned him forward, calling to him, willing him to dissolve within itself, to give himself entirely to it and become one with something more.
“No,” Yamamoto said.
“If you will not join us, we shall take you.”
“Shut it,” Connor said.
The bullet snapped the Hierophant’s head back. The Hierophant stumbled. Behind him, the stars whirled about, arranging themselves into a dazzling constellation.
The Hierophant righted himself.
And launched himself backwards.
The Void swallowed him whole. The lights dispersed in a frenetic swarm, glowing brighter. The writhing mass congealed, taking shape and form. Through the portal, Tan sensed an immense presence, impossibly huge, radiating malice and humor and coldness and contempt in equal measure.
“Embrace the Void.”
A mammoth bulk of amorphous shadows lurched from the portal. It was an impossible thing, a creation of anti-creation, breaking down and absorbing into itself everything that wasn’t itself. Millions of eyes and mouths opened and closed up and down its length. Countless feelers and tentacles and arms and claws and horns blooming from its body. Billions of voices sang and cried and roared and shrieked and whispered and chanted in awe and praise and horror and fear. Sentient rainbow shades blazed across its body, dissolving into prismatic shades and recombining into pure white and fading into blackness.
Its existence defied every law in the universe. It was unending, surging from the portal, growing larger and stronger, washing over the hall like a tsunami of sentient darkness. It was inescapable, its edges sloshing about and rushing down the walls to encircle the humans.
It was the Void.
Connor fired. Tan fired. Then everyone fired, pouring out a maelstrom of fire and steel. The Void absorbed the bullets and continued oozing towards the humans. No blood, no ripples, no sign of damage.
As one, the guns went click.
Awful laughter, immense and mocking, filled the world.
“We are unstoppable. We are invincible. We are the Void.”
“No,” Yamamoto said.
He drew himself upright held up his cross.
The cosmic creature flickered. It froze in place for an instant. Then it surged forth.
“Your puny trinket has no power over us.”
It picked up speed, sloshing towards them. Marcie yelped, compacting herself into a ball. Tan moved to her, raising his pistol. But against the vastness of that bulk, his weapon was tiny, offering only a handful of insignificant stings.
“If you wish to see the Void, look at me.”
Complete, utter calm radiated from Yamamoto. His spine and neck perfectly erect, he stood loose and relaxed, completely grounded, utterly still—and yet capable of bursting into motion in an instant. His cold green eyes stared unblinkingly at the thing, his face smoothened over into an inscrutable mask. Yet his expression seemed so fragile, hiding a valley of fear.
No, that wasn’t it. Yamamoto was calm. He had always been calm. But in this moment, he was a perfect mirror, reflecting everything and everyone who looked at him. Into him.
Tan was seeing his own fear in Yamamoto, nothing more.
Tan breathed and looked. Truly, looked.
Yamamoto was serene. A samurai staring down an army with complete composure, having long ago resolutely accepted the inevitability of his death. A cleric burning with inner light, with no room in his heart for anything else. No emotion, no mental turbidity, just… nothing.
Ten thousand eyes, white and lidless, popped open across the body of the Void. All of them stared at the humans. At Yamamoto. Ten thousand more materialized, then more, and more and more. The thing’s entire being was becoming a protoplasmic mass of eyes.
And all its eyes closed.
“What are you?” it demanded.
“A man. A man who has seen the emptiness of existence. That is all.”
The words didn’t make sense. Not to Tan. Existence could not be empty. But whatever it was, it seemed to hold the creature in check. Perhaps it was looking at itself, reflected in the mirror of Yamamoto’s soul—and it was frightened by what it saw inside.
“You are like the other New Gods,” Yamamoto continued. “A false god that propagates heresy and calls it doctrine. Before the emptiness, this true emptiness, you are powerless.”
A sound emanated from the portal. An indescribable sound, a wave of energy that transcended mere sound, a deafening, clamorous force that shook the foundations of the world, hammering at Tan’s ears, shaking up his organs, bashing his brain.
Yamamoto stood firm.
The world went dark.
All light vanished. A totality of darkness so perfect Tan saw absolutely nothing. He heard Ngo’s rapid breath, the rustling of clothing, but he couldn’t see anything.
There was something in the dark. Wriggling, writhing things that bubbled and oozed all about. He spun around, trying to get a better look, but they slunk away to the edges of his vision.
“This is the Void. This is the end.”
Pure, blazing light.
The light slashed through the darkness, burning a circle of illumination. Of reality. In that light, Tan saw Ngo gazing in wonder, Connor and Wood aiming outwards at the dark, Karim’s jaw dropping open, Fox smiling.
And in the middle of the circle, Yamamoto, holding his cross high, pure light pouring forth from the thin metal necklace.
“God said, let there be light, and there was light,” Yamamoto said.
“There are no gods! There is only the Void!”
“See now the light of Light, the light of Creation, the light of God! Dare you deny the truth before you?”
Another thunderous blast issued from the darkness. But now it was… different. Less a scream of defiant wrath, more a howl of anguished futility. It didn’t reach inside Tan the way the previous one had.
They were winning.
“Before the Void, before you, there was God. The Uncreated Creator, the Prime Mover, he who separated light from darkness and spoke all of creation into being. He is the One and the All, he who commands all things, the Lord before whom all will kneel.
“Witness, now, the Light and the Truth and the Glory! You cannot touch us, for we stand in the light! Therefore, be humbled before the God of all! He who is Lord of Lords and God of gods! You might delude men, but God you cannot mock!
“He comes quickly, enkindling fire before him! It is he who abjures you! He who casts you out! He who expels you! From his mouth proceeds a sharp sword, he who is coming to judge the quick and the dead by fire and steel!
“Release now all the souls you have taken! Flee to the Abyss and await your final judgment! Leave this world and never return!”
A terrible howl drowned out the world. Yamamoto raised his voice, shouting above the eldritch chorus.
“Leave! In the name of God, the Light and the Glory and the Truth, I abjure you, I command you, I exorcise you!”
A tormented shriek reverberated in the dark. The writhing things melted away. A vast bulk retreated, pulling back the night with it.
A flash of light.
And the darkness was gone.
Now the ritual hall was empty. Completely, totally, empty.
There was only Marcie Ngo, the operators of the Black Watch, and Yamamoto, his cross held high.
Yamamoto heaved a sigh of relief and tucked his cross away.
“Is it over?” Ngo whispered.
“Yeah,” Yamamoto said, wiping his forehead.
“My God… is the Void gone?”
“It’ll be back,” Yamamoto said sadly. “They always come back.”
If action, adventure and horror in equal measure are right up your alley, check out my latest novel Dungeon Samurai Vol. 1: Kamikaze!
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