Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language, violence, and mature content.
The First Shard: SHE hasn't left
- 1 -
A scorching shell of golden fluid greedily enveloped Gregory Jolpin's tired complexion. Thousands of needles drilled their way into every square millimeter of his wrinkled skin, eyes and nose, reducing the amber depths to a barely intelligible blur. The frigid ocean seemed like a boundless purgatory, a personal hell of contempt, hollow and bitter. His body, weakened and battered by the uncaring knuckles of a Colossus named "life," was dragged ever-downward by an unbearable weight that coiled around the man's right arm. Forcing himself to squint, a semi-clear image finally imprinted itself upon his worn retinas. A massive, anchor of bone, grotesque and disfigured, poking its jagged shank towards our protagonist. Thousands of beady eyes radiating naught but utter, judgemental scorn pierced the sinking man from the islands of flanking, baked skin located on the abominable weight's crown - their nest. It was as if his mere proximity was toxic to them, which is why they chose such a faraway terrace to gaze safely from. They were like barnacles on the carcass of an abandoned ship. A swift glance upward revealed a spinal whip lodged in his forearm, a hellish umbilical cord edging Jolpin towards his doom. The flesh that barely clung to the limb was raw, pustulated, and inflamed with painful heat radiating from it in a pulsatile manner. The longer he gawked at it, the tighter the monstrous serpent's grip grew.
What was the man waiting for? The gashes and cuts that marked the demonic spine's entry into his system were wide enough to fit his old nails. Gregory's fingers carefully prodded the entryway, only to recoil momentarily from the sheer, scalding sting. Yes, the ravine of tissue would have been a well of torment, a volcano lying in anticipation for that one quake, that one stimulus to shower the world in flame! Yes, it would have been a process drawn and endless like a sleepless night, agonizing enough to make madness seem like a refuge most welcoming! But! With speed and perseverance, one could theoretically stand a chance against this menace! To tear off this subcutaneous chain, and the weight of death with it. All one needs is a simple push!
Alas, the man remained static, believing perhaps that it was too little too late to wish for salvation. Gregory Jolpin passed all the trenches and raced towards the epicenter of the no man's land. Seconds, minutes, hours, years seeped into the void, with Jolpin's Sisyphean attempts at keeping track on them obscuring the rapidly approaching valley of blunt, murky fluid carpeted onto a "seabed." The nightmarish anchor was the first to break through the veil of filth with a metallic roar, rousing clouds of vile masses. The semi-soft embrace of the bottom felt like the touch of death itself, its icy tendrils tearing into and draining each and every ounce of warmth left in his poisoned cells. Roots of desperation wound around the brainstem of its victim, burning out the neurons akin to old light bulbs one after the other. Our protagonist was a sacrificial lamb, utterly powerless towards the whims of fate...
At first it was not but a barely perceivable pulse, oppressed by the crushing weight of the ocean. The second one, however, felt stronger, warmer, more physical so to speak. The murky masses shifted, as if being scared away by this enigmatic anomaly. Then came the third one, stronger than both its predecessors combined, permeating our protagonist with ease. His scorched pupils rolled weakly towards the perceived disturbance, before stopping and freezing on the spot, constricting down to the size of a pinprick. In that moment the fourth pulse smashed into Gregory's face, swiping the entire valley clean of its oily occupants. Before Jolpin stood a radiant entity, a beacon of light, an existence beyond that of man yet so similar to it. The man's dried lips trembled, muttering incomprehensibly at the angelic silhouette observed beyond its shell of light. His eyes saw silky, tawny locks swaying gently in an inexistent wind, small, sharp features and amber eyes bestowing their unforgettable beauty to those capable of witnessing them. Jolpin's desire and thirst for this heavenly figure eclipsed reason, rendered morals into hollow words lost in a cacophony of a crowd, making crimes most heinous seem like deeds most noble and justifiable. Battling with his sore muscles, the man crawled forward, outstretching his hand to touch, to feel the warmth of HER figure once again...
Alas, the only sensation relayed by the neurons nesting in the drunkards' palms was the dead, rough texture of the pavement. Jolpin rubbed his eyelids with his left hand, allowing the pupils within a small respite before forcing them to readapt to reality. The man's gaze was fixated on a faded wall illuminated by a single, flickering lampion. Feeling a rapidly growing soreness emanating from a limb trapped under the body's weight for prolonged periods, Gregory begrudgingly forced himself to stand up and liberated his right arm from captivity.
As the world began settling in, Jolpin began slowly piecing together the events that lead to this very moment. Our protagonist glanced back at a shell of an establishment, mere three steps away. It felt like the walls of the aforementioned structure were deprived of the sweet embrace of fresh paint for decades. The doors and windows, both of which served as frequent gateways into and out of the once respectable bar, were not faring any better. Their exteriors were scraped and flaking, their ancient frames resting on rusty hinges that blessed their visitors with an ear-piercing screech. "Hollow Asgard'' was its name, a bar for the downtrodden, a well of the cheapest ethanol-based poison for penniless ones to drink out of, and Gregory's second home. From afar it seemed more suited to specters than men. A fitting place for our protagonist.
Gregory's head pounded incessantly, while bouts of nausea scorched his throat and esophagus. Struggling to keep his balance, the man took a seat on the cold pavement before taking a deep breath, caressing a silver chain that wound around a bracelet of tawny hair, itself clinging to his left wrist. Lazily glancing upwards, one could clearly make out azure streaks on the eastern border of an otherwise inky sky, meaning in a few hours, the sun would shower these cold streets with the first rays of its radiant glow.
Jolpin's entire body felt like it was submerged in currant jelly, seemingly light yet devoid of balance and fine motor control. He slowly tipped his head downward, as if fearing the possibility of it accidentally detaching itself. Where many would see a mere worn, faded red T-shirt, itself a megapolis of dried vomit stains and holes, Jolpin saw a friend and a companion, an extra layer of skin that clad his body for years non-stop. No matter the day, no matter the season it would remain by his side, perhaps even as a miniature monument to remind the world of tomorrow that he once used to tread this wretched earth. Apart from that, a pair of old, torn jeans and filthy boots adorned his lower appendages. The familiar sight finally awakened the first pieces of the hazy memory - a vague smell of tobacco mixed with the stinging aroma of cheap vodka saturating the air. These sensations were soon followed by a pair of bear paws sinking into his anatomy, eventually culminating in a brief feeling of weightlessness and subsequent collision with something cold and hard. The rest he already knew.
With great difficulty, a trembling hand swum through the viscous air towards a battered trench coat that lay besides our protagonist. Keeping the drunkard's general appearance in mind, it would not be far fetched to assume it belonged to him. Sliding into the piece of apparel with a struggle, Jolpin gave it a few "loving pats" to dust the aforementioned coat off, and spared the Asgard one last cursory glance, before resuming his journey.
- 2 -
A river of stone glistened under the waning moonlight, its massive length and reach smothered by tight banks composed of small buildings that, at maximum, were 3 stories tall. Even though it snaked upward, reaching the highest peaks and plateauing towards the lowest of bottoms of the Town of Okad, in the end this mighty beast was ultimately subjugated and forced to serve the whims of man.
Gregory Jolpin hobbled forward, battling both the crushing gravity and the treacherous elevation, his intoxicated body swaying like a reed in the wind.
Ambushed by a sudden bout of nausea, the drifter froze, retched and dove towards the nearest alley. His chest and abdomen snapped shut like a bear trap, forcing Jolpin to empty the contents of his stomach onto a nearby wall. A bolt of flame shot down the man's esophagus, as he croaked and heaved in pain. Without straightening up he slumped forward, grabbing onto the rusted, ornamented guard rails at the very end of the aforementioned alley. The loosened pieces of neglected metal creaked in surprise, warning the visitor of their unstable structure, and of the grim development soon to follow. Yet the man's mind remained inert to their pleas and threats, too preoccupied with its attempts to recover after what felt like a head-on collision with a wall. A few heartbeats transpired and the seething pain subsided, allowing the protagonist to glance at the picturesque view ahead. The railing was there to provide safety for those who wished to admire massive terraces of Okad, a town built onto the mountainous slopes and the neighboring valleys, Gregory's home prison.
Realizing that only a flimsy barrier separated him from a deadly fall, Jolpin pushed himself backwards a few steps, until a sudden crunch beneath his left boot stopped the man dead in his tracks. A reflective piece of glass, trapped underneath his sole hissed in protest, splitting into dozens of shards. Greg lazily stepped aside, glanced downward and met the gaze of a thousand failures standing beside a descending moon, faded specters trapped behind an old, discarded mirror. Filthy images that seemed somehow distant, but were oh so intimately close. Scornful monuments of tragedies unseen, a quicksand deep enough to smother a thousand lives. Jolpin bitterly averted his sight from their burning glare and pressed forward, trying to phase them out of his mind.
Slowly, the weight of exhaustion began pulling down on the man's eyelids, rousing invisible waves that threatened to intimately reacquaint our protagonist with the cold pavement. If one could salvage a silver lining from this foul situation, they would, paradoxically end up with the struggle itself, which proved to be a strong distraction, shortening our protagonist's painstaking journey towards a nest of nightmares that resided on the sixth story of the "apartment complex N98," on Charon street.
It was akin to an old, malformed artery that erratically zigzagged forward, before eventually fusing with a no less ancient Obol street. On its way it sprouted a myriad of capillaries that slithered through their respective "shells" of apartment complexes, splitting into alleys, courtyards and such before eventually connecting to the offshoots of neighboring vessels. Jolpin gazed at those dreary concrete boxes, mass produced 12 story goliaths, faceless xerocopies, reminders of the days past that clung to this region like hideous scars on a person's complexion. And one of these was the dreaded apartment complex N98.
Jolpin watched the fledgling golden rays fall onto the peak of the imposing ashen behemoth, the bowels of which he was supposed to delve into.
Carefully, the man's shoes tapped the cracked floor, before subsequently moving onto the staircase. He watched the steps flow past him, gazing at the exposed rebars nestled in the gashes on their worn backs. Eventually, he had to lift his sight off of them and brave the entrance of his apartment. The man's hand fluttered like that of a painter holding his bristle brush, as he tried pushing the small iron keys into their respective locks. Within a few seconds, the iron door creaked open, unleashing a miasma of stuffy, dead air out into the world. Gregory gazed into a dimly lit living room, tinted purple by those few ribbons of light that managed to elude the ever-present blinds.
Without disrobing he shuffled into the darkness, and locked the door behind him. Slowly shambling past the lonely rooms and entering the one straight ahead, Gregory Jolpin dropped onto a dingy sofa, at its farthest edge.
Caressing its many stains, Greg's exhausted mind tried recalling exactly when he last treaded these blighted, monochromatic grounds. A semi-intensive search through the valleys of his mind yielded a probable number - Seven days. And seven days more it shall be, Jolpin boldly proclaimed in his head before giving into the sweet call of slumber.