The Abyss Stares Back

It was supposed to be a rescue. But Morrigan Scathak knew better. It's never so simple as a rescue. The casualty rates for a squad of Rescue Rangers against the others spoke enough volumes. The Church of Malthus, by nature, made rescue a risk. Their desire for change in human evolution often lead to anomalous exposure on the hostages. It was only in the dark fields and hills of the American Mid-West, would they be swallowed in the wheat and soil.

Morrigan glimpsed back, witnessing that moment in time as their refugee became an involuntary enemy, the moment when the darkest hour struck. In a fire fight with a Church ambush, she was left incapable of saving her comrades. The woman they saved was now a monstrosity, the boy with her could only fall agape, and the rangers were torn of sinew unimaginable. The boy's mother ended where the medusa like tendrils and multiple black eyes began.

When the newly made freak turned towards its former son, Morrigan saw the chance, the next moment in time where light may be possible. She slid down the hill, firing her pistol at the creature's eye, aim true upon the creature's dark eyes. A split second stagger was all she needed to scoop the boy up and dart to the maze of cornfield. A bitter consolation, was her hearing the creature recover, and turn to the Malthus members. Knowing what they will suffer, will at least give hell it's due.

Morrigan didn't even realize how far she ran until passing another field. She looked down, the boy's face was still frozen looking at the last of his mother. It was too familiar an expression for survivors. A smaller house came into view, it was time for the mice to hide. Propping the boy on her arm to lean on her, she was able to clear the house with gun ready. There was no one who will ever be in this home again. She sat the boy against a wall gently, before reaching for her radio.

"This is Ranger Leader Scathak, we've suffered major casualties with a survivor in hostile territory! Requesting an MST for rescue!" The familiar interference met her ear. The Church cut off others from calling in order to do their dirty work in secret. The worst case scenario; alone in the enemies clutches with a boy in shock. The only thing to think of now was surviving the next few hours. Scathak found an iron door basement outside. It was mostly farming equipment, a few cans of beans, and different wheat products. She carried the boy inside and closed the door. Illuminating the darkness with a switch, a dingy ceiling bulb was all they had.

Thoughts of plans and escape filled Morrigan's head as she gulped down the beans. She looked up, the boy simply held the can with no present mind, because it was still replaying the past. Those moments of his mother, he was trying to see her fair hair and grey eyes. But for some reason, the hair would extend to rupturing skin. Her eyes couldn't stay the same either, there were always more than ten, and bulging black. There was a quick moment when she told him she loved him as she cried, but sometimes it would be guttural and through a voice of many. Then it was all the time, and she would say this with her maw opening on him. "I love you, Arthur."

Morrigan shook her head. The situation was worse than she thought. Survival by herself would be one thing, albeit unlikely. But this boy, couldn't be any less a burden. But impossible odds or not, Morrigan was going to shake the kid.

"Kid, you need to eat." The boy kept staring off. Morrigan threw her can aside and grabbed the boy's shoulders.

"Look kid, you don't understand the situation. In fact, if I told you everything when you were coherent, you still wouldn't understand. But it doesn't-Hey look at me!" The boy blinked twice with wide open eyes.

"I can only guess what's going on up there, after what you saw. But I'll tell you what you need to look at now! And right now I need you to listen! Okay?"


"Okay. Now I need you to eat every bit of that can of cold beans." The boy nodded. He scooped up a smatter with his fingers. The taste wasn't pleasing in anyway, the dried cold texture only slowed his resolve to eat.

"Eat!" On Morrigan's command, the boy held his nose and finished every bite.

"What's your name, kid?"


"Alright, Arthur. My name is Morrigan, but from now on I'm Ms. Scathak. Because tomorrow, you will be learning everything along the way. I need you to do everything you can to keep up."

The next morning was only four hours later for Arthur. Morrigan would hear no complaint.

"This is sink or swim, kid. Ms. Scathak's teaching starts today." Arthur closed in at her tone, but nodded.

Morrigan put her ear to the iron door. She looked over at Arthur, seemingly dazed again. She snapped her fingers, he regained focus. She pointed to the door, he put his ear to it.

"You need all that your senses can give you before you proceed." Morrigan herself only heard wind through tall grass.

"What can you hear, Arthur?"

"I think it's, like, umm, grass?"


"It's a lot of wind, so it's pushing the grass."

"Yes. There's no strange rustling like steps. Always check for anything out of the ordinary."

"Yes. Ms. Scathak." Morrigan lifts the iron as quietly as possible, and peaks her head. The ground is tinged in the early red sun. Only a little after daybreak.

"Alright, as soon as we leave, keep pace and your head down. We can't afford to be slow or obvious." Arthur nodded, and Morrigan lead them outside.

It was mid-day, Arthur and Morrigan were keeping through the fields. Arthur was panting trying to match pace. Suddenly, Morrigan halted and grabbed Arthur. She pulled him aside and crouched with him. In view, to the horror of the boy, was one of the things his mother had become. It was as if the person was still there, but the head of a black eyed toothy maw gorgon had taken respite of their shoulders. Morrigan covered Arthur's mouth.

"Close your eyes. Breathe deeply into your nose, and out through your mouth." Morrigan emulated her own instructions.

"I want you to hear the grass in the wind, and see morning sun. Breathe with that wind, as you see the sun bring a new day."

Arthur was shaky at first, when the creature seemed to stop and look around the area with literal neck breaking speed.

"Breathe the wind with me, Arthur. Then we breathe it out to the sun." Morrigan put her hand on Arthur's chest, cueing him to breathe in. Then breathe out. Soon he felt her breath as well, and saw the wind and sun in his mind. There was still fear, but it was calm and contained in his breathing.

Eventually the creature lost interest and moved on. Morrigan checking as she kept instructing Arthur. When it was passing by, for a moment Morrigan felt the weight upon her as well. But she pushed through when she closed her eyes.

"Okay, now we get up, and continue to breathe. And we walk into the morning sun."

Morrigan held Arthur's hand as they left and walked in the opposite direction of the creature. After a few minutes, Morrigan stopped and took one more good breath. Arthur did the same.

"Arthur, whenever you see those creatures, I want you to do as we just did."

Arthur still had his eyes closed, but tears were welling up.

"Arthur!" Scathak snapped her fingers, Arthur opened his eyes and looked at Morrigan.

"Arthur, those things, I don't want you to think of what they are. Just know that they don't hear, smell, or see. They can find you, by feeling the fear they invoke. The irregularity of breathing, that's one. They want to catch what is afraid."

"But, but why did my mom t-"

"No. That is not right now. Right now, it is staying alive. How do you stay alive?"

"I breathe in with the wind…"


"And out with the sun."

"Whenever fear sinks in, I want you to do this. Don't break down. Tears and cries won't save you, only resolve." Arthur nodded his head, emulating his deep breathing.

"Good. But don't let up, you'll most likely have your share by the end of all this."

Three men in the night. Their attire a combination of cultist robes and hazmat safety gear. They carried strange curving staves, resembling a shepherds cane but jagged and practically rotted in areas. They were patrolling along the empty dirt road, a little outside the fields and in forested areas. They had no need to speak to each other, they were looking out and listening in for inconsistencies of the surroundings.

Then a sound of stone hitting bark, all three readied their staves in the direction. One went to investigate, a pebble had hit the tree. He bent down to determine the angle and direction. But then another sound, a cut through the air and a sticking thud. One of them had been knocked to the ground. The remaining two saw the knife in the back of his head. No time left to check, no more cues to look for, as Morrigan jumped from a tree branch. She landed on the adjacent man's head, bringing it down to the ground with a stomp and crack. The third man readied, but she hadn't missed a step as she rolled forward, and grabbed the stave from the remaining man. With her right hand she pushed it to the side, then simultaneously threw out her right fist. She slammed it into the man's throat and carried the force to the tree behind him. As he managed a few last gurgles, he dropped the stave and then himself against the tree.

Taking a few deep breaths, Morrigan walked back to the other two men's corpses. With two tugs, she pulled her knife from her enemy's skull and wiped the blade on his clothes. She looked up at the tree she jumped from as she sheathed her knife.

"Arthur, try to roll as soon as you hit the ground."

From within the trees Arthur shook at the height and the scene that took place before him. But when he hesitated he saw Morrigan's scowl. He shook his head then focused his breathing. He leapt with not a fraction of Morrigan's grace, and landed. He tripped and fell forward. She sighed, then helped him on his feet.

"I'm sorry. Ms. Scathak."

"No sorry. One misstep in this place, and you're the only one who will be sorry. Just do it."

"Yes, Ms. Scathak." Morrigan pointed to her feet.

"When you hit the ground, your feet absorb the impact. This not only hurts, it leaves you wobbly and unbalanced. If for even a second you are like this, your options become limited. But if you roll as soon as you hit the ground, the force absorbed will spread out, so its no longer just in your knees."

So I just roll like this?" Arthur leaned forward with his arms out, readying to roll.

"No, don't go over your head. That's a painful position at best, and fatal at worst." Morrigan pointed to her shoulders.

"When you roll and go forward, you put your head at risk. That's why you turn your shoulder down, and roll on that instead. As you roll, you keep your head tucked in, and let your shoulder absorb everything. This also makes it easier to get back on your feet as it's safer, and faster. The momentum will carry you to your feet." Morrigan saw the slack mouth of Arthur, and shook her head.

"I'll teach you again later. But for now, we need to dispose of these bodies." Arthur looked around, he felt a strong urge to gag.

"Harden your heart to them. You have to survive, and they are an obstacle." Morrigan's words rang through Arthur's heart, but not true and clear. A sickness was upon the death of these men, and it brought Arthur back to what his mother did do the men after her transformation. Morrigan snapped her fingers and Arthur's attention drew to her.

"Don't dwell upon the past and dead, your only way to live is forward." Upon hearing this, Arthur closed his eyes and repeated the words in his head: Breathe in with the wind, and out with the sun. Arthur opened his eyes, meeting Morrigan's eyes with focus.

"I can do it, Ms. Scathak."

"Good. Now, carry one of those staves for me."

Morrigan and Arthur fled through the fields as the moon waxed. After a week of going from shelter to shelter, routine made it easier for the boy. Arthur still had no chance to keep pace but his panting face had steel in his eyes and a grit in every exhale. His feet couldn't push faster, but he would make them push farther than ever before. Even with the extra weight of the barbed stave, he'd go till he'd vomit.

The two wouldn't run to that point however. Morrigan and Arthur found shelter in another empty house, or at least it seemed. For as they entered, two male cultists stared at them in mutual surprise. Arthur's steps behind her, she turns and pushes him to a safe corner. She lost the initiative, one of the cultist drew a knife and charged her. She pushed the man's hand away but her shoulder was grazed. Hissing pain through gritted teeth, Morrigan pushed the man forward and stabbed him repeatedly. As the other approached, she pushed her current attacker off her blade into the other man. The injured cultist lay in agony, while the other was left unbalanced and staggered. She rushed the remaining man, but he grabbed her neck. He lifted her up and threw her against the wall. A gasp of pain escaped her mouth, and a burning sensation crept down her back. The man stepped forward to finish his work, when Arthur threw his stave at the man.
His attention diverted, Morrigan stabbed the cultists foot. He bent down screaming, his face hovering the floor. Morrigan grabbed the back of the standing cultist's neck, and pushed him onto her knife. His gargled curses, lost in the blade's blockage.

With their enemies quickly dying, Morrigan slumped backwards. She looked to her right, the cut on her shoulder was deeper than she perceived in the rush of the fight. it was almost cutting her collar bone, and much of the side of her arm. Her back was still shooting pain. Arthur stared helpless as his now mentor, was compromised.

"Arthur, are you okay?" Morrigan said through winced expressions.

"Y-yes Ms. Scathak."

"Come here." Arthur obeyed quickly, rushing over and kneeling down to meet Morrigan face to face.

"It's not as bad as it seems, but I need you to find something I can use to clean and cover the wound. Find some-" Morrigan paused and wide were her eyes open and mouth agape. Arthur looked with a furrowed brow, then looked behind him, and he shared her reaction. It was one of the creatures, walking up from the basement where the men were. It was then she realized that the men were only in the empty house to hunt down the remaining experiments. And now they were at the wrong place, at the wrong time.

As it reached the top of the stairs, it cracked its monstrous head behind it's body toward Arthur and Morrigan. It's black eyes reddened, and it slowly raised it's hand to point at the two helpless victims. Morrigan, took her hand from her shoulder quickly and raised the barbed stave toward the creature. The creature swiftly dropped it's arm, and it's eyes blackened again. It stood still, except its tendrils were waving frantically.

The surge of pain in Morrigan's shoulder felled her hand, and the stave. However, to her surprise the creature remained compromised. She heard deep breathing, as Arthur had grabbed the stave he carried and emulated Morrigan. The bleeding was getting worse, and she couldn't hold the stave without leaving her arm unattended.

"Arthur, I need you to listen to me. Are you doing as I told you?"

"Breathe in with the wind…" An inhale, shaky but holding.

"Out with the sun…" An exhale, stammered but unfaltering.

"You need to keep the stave on that creature, until you can get close. Then hit it in the eyes with it. Don't worry about the details, or about what it is. If you breathe, you will survive."

Arthur, upon hearing this, closed his eyes. His teeth chattering in cold fear, an almost subtle whimper.

"Breathe, Arthur. Breathe and advance." One deep breath, then two, and after a final third Arthur opened his eyes. Every step was a breath, every breath was a shield against the tide of horror. He was staring at the abyss, but he held the wind and sun. It was enough, and finally Arthur reached the distance, the tendrils thrashing about.

One breath.

Two breaths.

A third and Arthur struck the creature.

It writhed, twisted, and screamed. And like a clumsy rock, fell back stiff.

"Is…is it dead?" Arthur stammered.

"No, it's incapacitated. Run it through the body." Arthur slowly bent down, his head creeping back in fear of a surprise awakening. He quickly stabbed the stave through the creature's monstrous head. And as it rested, Arthur leapt back to berth the nightmare from him.

"As long as that Malthus stave is in the creature, it should keep it down."

Arthur walked backwards, with his eye on the abomination, then slumped next to Morrigan.

"Are you brave enough for one last task?" Morrigan asked. Arthur remembered Morrigan's injury, and almost forgot about the creature.

"I can do it, Ms. Scathak." For the first time, Morrigan had a smile for her circumstantial pupil. Arthur was renewed with a desire to make sure his actions would always bring a smile to his hero and teacher.
"Now, help me get some medicine so we can have cold food again."

The many elites of the Malthus had long been numb to the screams of their victims. The bloodletting in that dark underground cellar was a means to an end, and a tool for Malthus is a tool for the strong. Their low pleas, reached no ears willing or caring enough to listen. The cultists were more attentive of the eldritch runes and contraptions their blood was given.

Then a reaction, a scream belonging to their own. It was silent amongst the cultist, then the next moment a group rushed to investigate their comrades' cries. A single door out was all they had, and in their hurry didn't hear the deep breathing of the boy outside the door. A step through the threshold, another breath, and the first cultist agonized at the rusty sickle in his leg, hit by Arthur. Falling over, the second outside looked around to see the boy. That was the last thing he saw before a bullet entered his skull and reduced his brain to mush.

Morrigan, holding the other side of the door, stepped in front and headed down the stairs. She stomped her foot on the cultist that Arthur felled, and fired forward. With well placed shots of her pistol, two of the cultist fell. The last rounds she saved for a full month now spent, she quickly dropped the pistol. She drew her knife and cut the throat of another man. But she was still surrounded.

"Arthur, just like I told you!" With only a half second to breathe, Arthur threw something in the room. Morrigan quickly turned away and closed her eyes. A great flash left the Malthus to see the light of folly, and unable to deny Morrigan's blade. Having slain the few survivors inside, all that was left was the poor victims hanging from the low ceiling above their ritual symbols. She looked back to see her horrified student.

"Arthur, look away, I'm going to cut them down."

"And here we have our long sought refugees." A voice spoke from behind. Outside the door, came another cultist. But his robes were more intricate, and decorated. Morrigan was prepared with her knife, as the man smiled at her.

"An entire month you spent in hostility, and yet survived even with baggage. You'd truly be a welcome member of our cause."

"I don't have time for this-"

"Come now let's have a chat." The cultist leader held a pistol near his waist, at the ready. Morrigan was still but not unyielding.

"Evolution needs a good push, that's why we exist. But you are proof that some strength lies in a frail form. The strong, that is who we are and who you are." The cultist turned his head to Arthur, who was still looking at a hanging corpse frozen in a wide eyed stare. At the end of the journey, his reward was to find a grotesque visage of what was one his father.

"Some simply cannot move in the face of terror, and others lead by example of strength. The frailty can be forgiven. But some need that push. Because as we feast upon our weakness, we see the true path to take." Morrigan saw the man wave a hand, branded with an inverted symbol of the ones on the floor. The air was filled with a red vapor, but it was thickest at its source: The bodies in front of Arthur.
Arthur could only hear the words 'weak', and the barely breathing mangle hanging in front of him, made the voice stronger. For now the evidence of the man's words were made bare. He couldn't stop his mother's abominable agony. But now, he saw he was too late and weak to come and help the remnants of his father.

Weak… it was all he could hear, even as he saw his parents together. They smiled and repeated the words to him. His mother's monstrous form repeated it, and a dying father repeated it: Weak.

"What did you do!?"

"Giving him a push, showing him the weakness. His potential is like yours, and your guidance lead him here. But he needs to see failure."

"You've fucked with his head enough!"

"What do you plan to do about it? It's his own test, let him face it."

"He's had enough tests. More than you'll know. And he's going home with me."

"You could stop the interference ritual, and contact RPC again. It would bring us back to the reality of the weak. But you know that strength of yours is wasted. Hiding in a cradle of bureaucracy, it can't have the same strength as-" The cultist leader never finished, as he found himself falling over with a sickle in his stomach. The boy mounted the fallen leader, yelling as he swiped the leader's throat. No deep breaths, just vents of rushed air through grit teeth. He couldn't stop his parent's from coming back to him, but the blood might blind him.

The red might blind him.

So he stabbed the leader's eyes. Then inside his mouth, between his eyes, through the cheek. Then he lost track, and only the terror of an unchanging past was left to see. It wasn't until a hand stayed his own, that he saw the mangle and maimed evil he had killed. But even still, he couldn't blind his pain.

"Arthur…" Morrigan had no more words, as she saw the blood and tears run from the boy's face. Arthur's whimpers led to bawling. He threw himself in her arms, embracing her. There was nothing left but a desire to have the pain go away. She held him, hoping a small bit of warmth could give what no cold lesson would. There was nothing to teach here.

"Dear Arthur,

I'm not good at words of comfort or greeting. And to be honest, you don't remember me. That's a fact. But even so, every once in awhile I'd check in on you without you knowing. And even though everything should be gone from that time, your teacher sees your lessons haven't left you. I wanted you to know that I'm proud of you. Maybe you don't know why, but I'm proud of you all the same. For five years you've still held strength that you built in a time when all hope was lost. I even saw you roll properly once, good form. Your track team will be all the better for having someone like you.

Now, here comes the part I had to write over and over again. And that's how to ask you a question: Do you know what you want to do? Even that doesn't sound quite right. But, I wanted to know if your future was something you think you've fully planned. Or maybe, there's something you feel is unresolved. If a quiet, happy life with a family all your own is the path, then pay my offer no mind. But, if you feel there is something you have to face, that there's something you were meant for, a truth you can't help reach out to, then seek the truth.

You're still a kid, you have time to think of this. I want you to consider all of it carefully. But, in the package is a knife, it's been mine for awhile but I have no need for it anymore. If you decide my offer seems outside of your goals, you can throw it away or maybe just keep it as a memento. But, if the time comes you want to take up this offer: Carry it with you. Don't worry, I'll know and I'll talk to you in person before you get in trouble. Can't have you getting arrested because you decided to go around with a deadly weapon. I'd definitely lose my job. If the time comes that you accept, I'll tell you what you need to know.

But no matter what you pick, remember: You're strong. You can see it in the actions that make your character, how failure is a springboard to your success, how you choose to pick a path without anyone making you. Always breathe in with the wind, and out with the sun. Because even in the darkest night, dawn waits closer after every breath. Never let the dark hold you to the past, move to the future. What future that is, is ultimately up to you.

Your teacher,
Ms. Scathak."




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