The『D』Project Ch. 4
Updated: May 23
The labels of "good" and "evil" have been ripped up, mixed up, and burned to ashes while I was in the [PRESENT]. We entered into an age of endless wars, and no matter which side you chose, the memories of war only left deeper scars.
The [FRAGMENTS] are no different. When there is no one to stop you, you can add your own flair to words like "justice" and "fairness" and what is "right" or "wrong." I've seen it too many times.
That's why I don't like calling people out and say they're in the wrong. But when you face entities that literally make it a point to violently chew, consume, and then regurgitates their victims so they can endlessly repeat the process..... that's a hard position to justify.
They are the enemies we face around here. They live by the laws of the jungle - "Might makes right"; "The strong eats the weak". Those are mantras they engrave on their flags and tattoo onto their fists. The [REVOLUTIONARIES]. What they do in these fragments is their [REVOLUTION]. In fairness, that is their "justice."
Joining their so-called Revolution means hopping into their gaping jaws, so I just call them [DEVOURERS]. The name really doesn't matter. My friends would call them pests or pawns, but to me, no matter how they glorify their cause, they devour Souls for power - young, old, newborns, males or females, it didn't matter to them.
It would be impossible to estimate their numbers too unless you only counted the top echelon and their generals, captains, and lieutenants. Below that would be as useless as counting the grains of sand in a desert during a sandstorm. There was a total of 4 Wanderers excluding my Boss and her team. 5 if you include Amy.
Lucky for us, being a Devourer meant eating your neighbor as well as your prey, so you rarely found the lower grunts willing to travel in numbers greater than one unless they were working directly for one of the [SIX]. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if most of them were just too busy eating each other.
This one facing us was no exception.
The hooded figure sat on the roof and occasionally lifted a gnarled fingernail scooping up a gloopy, dark substance and lifting it off the roof to its lips and sucked on it greedily.
Amy: "Dee, who's that?"
Dee: "It's okay, Amy. I'll handle this."
Wanderers Rule Book. Rule #1 when facing a Devourer - run. Avoid battle if possible.
If Rule #1 fails, Rule #2 is to run faster.
It may sound cowardly, but the [FRAGMENTS] are their stomping grounds. This is their turf with the home court advantage.
Here, things don't simply die. [SPIRITS] and [SOULS] don't die. They can't die. They can be diminished, but you can count on them coming back even after grinding them to dust. That's why Devourers prefer the most simplest solution - eat your enemies.
Wanderers, however, do not have that luxury. Consuming a Soul commits the 3 taboos as a Soul - steal, kill, and destroy. The Devourers call this Take (T), Kill (K), and Annihilate (A) because it's easier to engrave those letters on the coins they carry.
Besides, having another Soul inside of you is like having someone try to claw their way out to take over your body. That's the price you pay for a modicum of power. To really beef up, you would need more than a handful of souls (probably), and that's a lot of murdered crazies to keep inside your head 24/7.
But I digress. The general rule of thumb is, you do not mess with Devourers unless you absolutely have to, and when you do, you pray that it's not one of the heavy hitters.
If I had to classify the top echelon, it would be [GOD]-class, [ARCH]-class, and [FALLEN]-class. These are the ones who carry the silver coins. The [SLAVES] compose the rest of the army and many don't align themselves with the TKA factions and are [COINLESS].
They could be ranked by tiers going from 1st (absolute lowest) to 9th tier (one step from Fallen). Honestly, there's no accurate way to measure them, so we use the various scales like "How big of a headache are they," "How many times you want to punch them in the face," and "Ew." Those are my friends' measures. The last one doesn't even make any sense to me.
I was once told by my Boss to just imagine each tier as a digit. The higher the tier, that's how many Souls they can match. So a 9th tier would be able to match 100 million souls.
On my scale, this one would be in the lower Slave tiers at a glance - 3rd or even 4th, and most likely coinless. Carrying a coin means you can fend off 99.9% of your competition, and the top echelon has a reason to keep you around. That's a terrifying thought.
Regardless, even facing a Slave did not make my job any easier. When my Boss told me to keep Amy safe, she explicitly had these guys in mind.
It noticed us and tilted its head to look at us closer.
Dee: (I am as I am.)
I began reciting my own mantra. I am who I am. No better and no worse.
"Knowing thyself" is key to fighting Devourers.
Expecting the worst, I began preparing my mind for the conflict. At the very least, I need to get Amy out of here even if it means abandoning the person inside the house.
Dee: (Sorry, man. I have other priorities to take care of.)
I apologized quietly to the unknown individual currently caught by the Devourer. I just can't afford for anything to happen to Amy.
Dee: (I am mind, body, and soul.)
Three distinct pieces united by one essence.
With this, I should be able toーー
It was then that I noticed something not click into gear - like hearing a car try to rev its engine but never quite turn on. Turning a faucet and not seeing any water come out. Hearing the endless clicks of a gas stove but never seeing the fire ignite.
It was that kind of awkward pause and confusion.
[You overdid it that last time. You won't be able to use the Spark like you used to.]
At the worst possible timing, I understood what my Boss meant.
Dee: (...........we are in some deep shー)
[Well, well. How nice to have visitors.]
The edges of the Devourer's mask widened into a crooked smile.
Its words were like sharp static. It scraped against my brain leaving splinters.
Blood drained from my face, and I had to keep my teeth from chattering. It was worse than being barehanded inside a lion's den.
[Brother, are you here to offer me a gift?]
Though we were far enough away, its words splattered across my face like spittle. It spoke to me as if we were face to face. In my mind, I saw what was underneath that mask.
It looked humanoid from far away. It was a hot mess from up close. Facing a Spirit, physical distance meant nothing. If we were both inside the same fragment, then distance was measured by how far its Spirit or my Soul could reach.
When it spoke, its words reached me instantaneously. It spoke to me directly, quietly, as a serial killer would whisper sweetly to its victims.
Without understanding how, I understood its offer and what it meant - leave Amy here, walk away, and he'll let me live. The offer sounded as sweet of a deal as enticing a man lost in a desert with water.
Its words were poison to my unguarded soul - every word subtly filled with the threat of violence. Like tar covering the surface of water, the contact with it began tainting my very being.
Whispers: [This was bound to happen.]
Whispers: [This is why I was against her coming. I told you this would happen!]
Whispers: [It couldn't be helped.]
Whispers: [Yes. None of this is my fault. It's. Not. MY. FAULーー]
As anxiety and fear drove me right to the edge, I gritted my teeth to slap my face - hard. Blood trickled from the side I hit.
Amy: "Dee?! Are you okay?!"
The connection between me and the Devourer was severed.
Amy ran up next to me to look into my face underneath my hood. I had to quickly wipe away the tears in my eyes, but my breath was ragged and uneven.
I was still standing a few dozen yards away from the house. The Devourer sat quietly on the roof and hasn't moved. I didn't know how much time had passed or if that conversation happened in a blink of an eye.
The thought made me dizzy, and it made me drunkenly sway side to side, as I staggered to stay on my feet.
Dee: "I'm okay. Just had to swat a bug away."
Amy: "It must have been a big bug!"
It really was. I dug at the mental barbs that were anchored into my soul from that brief exchange and ripped them out with a grunt of effort. I threw them to the side in disgust.
This Devourer used these fishing hooks. The barbs reeked of fear, and they seemed to draw out the worst in people. It seeped out of these hooks like waste from a sewage pipe, and provoked people to react.....and probably pushed them to make stupid decisions.
This is why I absolutely HATE dealing with Devourers.
Normally, those kinds of attacks would have bounced off meaninglessly in a Sparked state. But I no longer had the luxury of defending myself.
[What's wrong, brother? Let's not make this complicated.]
This time, I hurriedly side-stepped as I saw the thin lines with the sharp hooks swoop inches from my face.
The Devourer didn't move. These were not physical fishing lines with hooks. The Devourer was trying to make a direct Spirit to Soul link between me and itself. Its invitations to link up just looked like nasty hooks to me - its words were the barbs.
Thanks but no thanks.
[Oh, you think you're clever?]
A long tail erupted from the ground to wrap around my right foot. Being a Spirit, it looked translucent in the sunlight - like a blurry shadow when you're half-blinded or your eyes are half closed. It swiftly snaked and looped around my leg before it punctured my right side.
As the link was made, the Devourer's Spirit tore through the opening and thrashed about inside of me ー it was searching for information. It trampled inside into my memories and savagely raked, scraped, and tore into the walls, cabinets, and drawers for secrets.
But the words barely came out. I was paralyzed, and I could only open and shut my mouth like a dying fish.
I heard it cackle with insane glee as it found something. It found a door to a basement that was heavily chained and locked.
It rattled the chains to loosen the door, but the locks remained secure. It only managed to raise the door slightly to take a peek inside.
[HAHahAhA!!! Oh Ho hO!! WhAt dO We HaVe HeRe?! oH mY!! yOu ARE a FINE PiEce oF WORK!! sO yOu KiLLeD yOuRーー]
In my mind, the image of the Devourer was a light and faint shadow. So when a black arm thrust through the crack of the basement doors and grabbed it by the wrist, it was like seeing someone pour jet black ink onto gray paper.
The Devourer screamed as it tried to escape the grasp and heard the snap and break of its arm.
But before anything more could happenーー
Amy: "LET. HIM. GO!!!"
Amy had appeared right next to it - her right leg arched behind her back - her hair ties snapping, and her hair flared outwards.
Completely distracted with me, the Slave snapped back into its body and turned its wild, confused eyes towards Amy - someone it presumed moments ago was a helpless little girl.
But this was the second thing I feared the most.
Amy's leg whipped forward and took the creature straight in the back.
It seemed stuck to her leg for a brief moment as its body slowly bent into a U-shape. It all happened so fast, and yet time itself slowed to a grinding halt as the fragment's universe shook and strained under the pressure ー just like the swing in the playground. As the Devourer began its journey away from her leg, it had collapsed in on itself into a perfect straight line.
The world transformed into simple geometric shapes for one instant.
The Devourer twisted into a single, beautiful ray of light that now jetted away and shattered through the fragment's dimension.
The delicate curtain of space and time bent with the poor schmuck, and they both gently collapsed in on itself - from 3 dimensions to 2, from 2 to 1, and before I saw the universe wink out of existence, everything abruptly snapped back into place. It was like seeing someone crumple a paper into a ball and then straighten it perfectly back to normal. To say it was jarring is a gross understatement.
Before the kick, the Devourer's tail was still embedded deep inside of me.....so when Amy kicked it, there was a violent tug through my side. It would be no different if a person shoved an anchor of a ship inside of me and then proceeded to pull it out with a single tug. I could see the words "FINISHED" splash across the screen like a fighting game, as she took both of us out in one hit.
I laid on the ground unable to move. When the Devourer exited the fragment, the transition tore its Spirit from my Soul. I laid on the ground with mouth foaming and muscles twitching but otherwise, still living.
Dee: (I'm......I'm still alive.....)
I really, really wished I hadn't. When I was in the [PRESENT], everyone thought that [DEATH] would be the end of pain. But here in the fragments, death was only an extension - a wonderful, infinitely reusable voucher that had no expiration date.
Dee: (I really, really hate this job sometimes.....)
We were still inside the fragment. The house was still miraculously intact and standing on the edge of a cliff that led to a canyon that cut right through the Earth. I'm certain that you could have seen this wedge clearly from outer space.
Amy huffed and puffed, crossed her arms, and nodded approvingly at the result.
I could only smile at her from a small pool of my own tears and give her a quiet thumbs up.
Dee: (That's.....my girl...)
It's not that I doubted Amy's ability to handle Devourers. I just didn't want them to know that.
It's one thing to be underestimated and ignored. It's another thing to be recognized and targeted. I could only pray that that particular Devourer wouldn't start spreading rumors about Amy.
ーーOutside the Fragmentsーー
In the moment of the [GREAT FALL], the greatest and most powerful Arch Angels who rebelled were hit with a single word. The word became a sword that pierced them. One by one, they fell from the Heavens, and the [FIRST WAR] ended in a single instant.
Whether that was true or not, the [SPIRIT] had no way of knowing. It was enjoying its time gloating and berating the defeated lower Angels when something smashed into it. It soon found itself completely ragged and spinning away from the Royal Palace a brief moment later.
It traveled eons before waking up in complete emptiness. The grace and beauty of its former self was long gone. Since then, it had crawled out of the nothingness, avoided the hungry competitors, and found a comfortable way to milk its prey for the long haul. Not perfect, but a step forward in the right direction. It would eventually pluck the emptied soul from its home like sucking out the hermit crabs from their shells and go search for a new victim. It had done this for centuries and had accumulated quite the stock.
For the second time it can remember, the Spirit sailed through the air through absolute nothingness as centuries of work instantly disappeared under its feet. It had been ripped out of its shell of power - the irony not missed. All the Souls it had collected so carefully for so long had scattered and vanished into the [MIST].
Robbed of all of its power, it glided now back to the infinite void. Unlike last time, it remembered what happened this time.
A girl. A small, little girl kicked him. She simply kicked him. As the Spirit rolled over into oblivion, it pondered the previous events, but quickly pushed it away. It could think about that later. Right now, survival is key. With all its power lost, it cannot afford toーー
[Hello there, brother.]
ーーrun into anyone.
A red cloaked being with a gold mask peered into the Spirits face. Its eye sockets telling of the ancient decay that hid behind the mask.
Out of all the Spirits in the realm, it had run into the one Spirit they all feared and secretly disdained.
[Secret? No, it's no secret. Those are mutual feelings.]
The gold mask twisted as numerous rows of jagged teeth reshaped into the mockery of a friendly smile. Beyond the fangs, a horde of spirits and humans cried out in utter agony and misery from deep inside its throat. The density of that agony drifted from its mouth as a man would exhale smoke from a cigarette. Just smelling its breath made the Spirit want to curl up and vomit its insides, but it laid helpless in its Master's gaze.
Like plucking a fly out of the air, elongated talons from freakishly long arms stretched out from underneath the crimson cloak and held the Spirit for a brief moment. The Spirit could not scream. It could not yell. It could only look deep inside the pit where both brothers and prey fed upon one another in an infinite cycle.
The crimson being dropped the Spirit into its throat thoughtfully and swallowed.
[How curious. How curious indeed.]
The [SUCCESSOR] had already forgotten about the Spirit it just ate. But the unique circumstances of finding one of its own completely laid bare beyond the [OUTERMOST EDGES] piqued its curiosity. The job was too clean - too perfect - it was too complete.
It pondered these facts as certain possibilities ignited across its dead eyes. It cackled with obscene delight as it continued to mumble to itself, and pranced away vulgarly into the empty blanket of oblivion. He had to confirm the findings himself. That, he must.