That Insidious Beast: Master Copy
I watch Colonel Proctor die. He is standing on the wreckage of a truck, wielding an incendio cannon, trying to burn the Unfolder sympathizers charging out of cover. We are almost beaten. I have seen angels perish and the gutters gurgle with the blood of countless dead men.
Only a few of us remain. Exhausted, battered. Seeking refuge in the ditches along a fractured highway.
Burning vehicles and buildings mark the landscape. Civilians in rags watch and wail for the end of the world. The roiling red sky above churns with anger. Convergence. The world isn't coming apart, worlds are coming together. Opening up to us. It is beautiful and profane.
I fire at them until my gun is steaming and its barrel is red-hot. It refuses to fire any more. They are in around us now, punching and stabbing and hitting us with improvised weapons. I do not know the names of the soldiers with me, but they fight with great courage.
One man pulls the pins on grenades and leaps into the enemy's midst. Another swings his rifle, crushing heads, until he is dragged down and they gouge out his eyes. These servants of the Unfolders are not the normal men and women I remember battling in New England. These are feral creatures driven to madness. They fight like beasts.
We slay the last of them, yet still some of us survive. An Unfolder drifts across the blasted suburban landscape towards us. We stand unflinching in its path.
It seems disoriented and wary.
"You will die now," it says with a voice of rustling leaves.
The tone explodes in our minds. My companions grasp their heads. Blood once again drips from my nose. The Unfolder quails in terror, searching for the source of the tone.
The Hierophant leaps like a monstrous rabbit, springing over vehicles and seizing the disoriented thing in his immense tendrils.
The Unfolder squirms in the Hierophant's grasp. It lacerates the angel's blue-gray flesh with a hundred sharpened ribbons. Black blood wells in the wounds and forms streams that flow quickly down the Hierophant's muscular tendrils.
"What has this crude thing told you?" The Unfolder gurgles and makes a sound like sheets of paper thrown into the wind. "A brother in the flesh, yes? Stolen from our memory. Taken. Raped. Look at what it has done to this moment. To this sad place."
The Hierophant's muscles flex and the ribbon body of the Unfolder begins to lose cohesion. It appears to be boiling off into steam, its many filaments bubbling and hissing. It wails in agony.
"Watch your own death then, human. This beast does not - aiiiiieee - under-understand, but I w-w-will give you this gift. We aaaaaaaare you as well. Unchained and empowered. Sublime. Your potential. Without - aaaaah - limits. If I am the last, then I am the last of you. This is how mankind meets its-"
I walk away as the Unfolder dissipates into nothing. The Hierophant inhales deeply, drinking in the essence of its foe. I wonder if the Hierophant experiences a particular delight knowing that it dines on the last of an extinct breed. Or if it believes the Unfolder's words. That by killing the last of the Unfolders it has consigned us both to oblivion.
Then I don't care, because as was written in the Hierophant's moldering book, I see Spencer standing with a group of children. My son, alive as promised. I take a knee and open my arms and the future runs to me.