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They longed for existence beyond their own, for a world wherein they could just finally find peace. They found that in Soran, the world they took from the fallen Angel and his plaything who suckled upon the angel’s cock like a babe to a bottle. His defeat, and the defeat of those who sided with him was resounding and swift - and as they stood upon the surface of their new world, they watched the decaying corpses begin to shrivel. A long time since that fight ended, with the Angel standing still and allowing them to kill his friends, and eventually himself. Their thoughts shifted to that day, and perhaps that was what Singar intended - for himself to be killed, to finally know the peace of the final death. It seemed to be the case ,as they remembered the final blows that finished the attackers off. The man put up no fight at all, it was like he came to them for the sole purpose of dying. Given Singar’s track record, they’d been more than happy to oblige him. Now, they lingered on the surface of the planet they called home with nothing more than elation - they couldn’t sense the others anymore. Unsure of why, but happy all the same. They’d long since begun to think for themselves, with the Death of Idea. A major event in their history, for sure. Their freedom of thought returned to them, they’d begun to long for separation from he fold. Away from the mindless drones constantly working away their insignificant lives. Now they had that, they had their own lives their own home - and their own source of food.

The Hellion of Val’gara sat quietly upon a rock face, watching out over the plains of Soran with eyes half-closed, as the sun sat in the distance. His fingers tapped idly along the surface of the stone, and he watched as The Voidmistress played with their children below - years after the death of Singar, they still brought their children here to tell them the story of the time the weaklings decided to try and take their freedom from them - they told them as bedtime stories, for their children to understand the value of freedom and of home. Of being their own people, their own beings. Azaroth and Isaak didn’t linger long afterward, they chose to continue their quest for a home - taking The Chrysaor with them. Too bad, really. They’d return from time to time, and sit upon the rocks floating above the ground that were once called the Entropic Passages, and they’d catch up on the stories of their travels. The kids loved seeing them, and they relished those visits fondly. In fact, it was drawing near to time for another visit, actually. Hellion watched the sun going down int he distance, and lamented on the happiness his life wrought him - though he still wondered if he’d ever find the man who gave them the gift.

Once, Hellion sought him out for the pure sake of returning his make-shift Father to the fold. Now, though, Hellion simply wanted to kill him. To watch his body writhe as he crushed his throat in his hands, and tore the soul from his body with his teeth. The great gnashing of teeth and claws guided him into his dreams, as he lay back on the rocks and closed his eyes - the colorful world below fading to gray as he faded into the world of dreams, just beyond the precipice of his current life. It was there the voices began again, and at first he thought it nothing more than a nightmare. He convulsed in his sleep, as the words spoke with him mind-to-mind.

<”Hellllliooooon, time to wake up”> The slow voice whispered into his mind, boring deep through into this soul - or what remained of it, anyway. <”Wake up, Hellion…there’s work to be done. Your work is not done yet, just because you’ve wiped out a few measly Sorans and one of the weakest demons Hell could spit out, doesn’t mean you get to rest.”> Hellion fought against it, fought to remain asleep. To hope it was all a dream, to remain with his eyes closed off from what he knew lurked just outside of his lids - the presence he felt as he slumbered. He fought against awakening, but for the first time in a long time; he lost a fight. His eyes opened, and above him - casting a great shadow across the landscape sat the horrific monstrosity that was, for lack of a better term, their brother.

‘Hello, Tsathoskr…fanc…fancy seeing you here.” Hellion’s voice shook for a moment, before he regained his composure - already reaching out through the cosmos to summon his brothers. If the monstrosity came for a fight, he’d need all the help he could get - Tsathoskr’s might was far and beyond his and Caitlyn’s alone. “What can I do for you?” He said more confidently, as he felt the close-presence of the others already nearby.

<”You need not search for your brothers, Hellion, I brought them here for you.”> Tentacle-like offshoots of the creature extended, setting the feet of the rest of the Collective on the outcropping before him - snake-like tendrils burrowing into the backs of their skulls. <”They’ve already returned to the fold, came home if you will. Now, you and Caitlyn must return home as well.”>

“We don’t want any part of this fight, Tsathoskr. We’ve told you, we’ve told all of you. We’re out. We’re done.” Hellion stepped back, already pulling the planet into him - the Mist-form of Soran, converted since the defeat of the would-be invaders, pulling into his body compounding upon himself. Adding power to his reserves, he reached out to the minds of his brothers and of his wife. He sought their power, to pull it into himself. Caitlyn was there, just under the hill with their children - and yet he couldn’t reach her. Couldn’t feel her. He blinked, and in that time Tsathoskr lashed out. Another tendril, quick as a flash, attached to the back of his skull - to Caitlyn’s. The kids screamed, and were silenced in that same moment as Tsathoskr simply willed them to stop existing - and they broke down into the Mist that comprised their bodies - a simple trick of Hellion’s, to give the illusion of happiness to the barren wasteland that was Caitlyn’s womb.

<”You don’t have a choice, Collective. You belong to me.”> Tsathoskr moved them to stand side by side, their bodies attached through the medium that was the great being’s tentacle-like tendrils. It did what any good Val’garan entity would do. It converted. It consumed. It controlled. Its power bore through them like a flame amongst kindling, rending their freedom from them once again. It broke down the basic memories of Idea being gone, and replaced them with the single-minded thought that Tsathoskr was their God, that they could not disobey their god. They stood for what seemed an eternity, unmoving - until the tendrils retracted back into the mass of horror that hung in the air before them. Their bodies fell limp, as if all of their bones turned to mush in that moment. Light flickered in their eyes, orange and red - ever rotating to and fro in their iris - the light pouring from their mouths. A blazing inferno inside of their bodies, rending them, flaying their bodies from the inside out - only to rebuild them in that same instant.

Hellion was the first to awaken from the gut-wrenching pain, coming to his senses and standing. He looked at their God,and then looked down at his comrades - until finally he turned his internal sight upon his own body. He let his mind flow from himself into the others, they were there - but they were…different. He was different. Faster, stronger…he could feel it as he checked himself over - and he felt the heat of the magic flowing through him. Something he’d never known, power aside from his mutation - the magic flowed through his body as easily as traffic on a nearly-deserted highway. The magic burned his blood, boiled through the Mist. It flowed like a river along the bed, and he lavished the power scouring his essence. His mind opened to a power he’d long since forgotten existed, another memento of a battle - though one he could have arguably called a loss.

The water of the Dark Realm comprised a fair bit of his Mist, but it was cleansed of any outside influence - and answered only to him. The memories and magic locked within them were his, and his alone. Yet another remnant of a defeat given to one of Singar’s pathetic minions. He used that power now, flowed it from his body into the bodies of his compatriots. Their forms rose from the ground, and they - in unison - turned to look upon the face of their benefactor.

“What would you have us do, Tsathoskr.” They spoke with one voice, an eerily harmonious sound. It pierced the silence like heroin-filled needles piercing the flesh of hookers on the street, as they prepared to make their meal money. The entity didn’t answer with words, or thoughts. Only a mental command, a simple one - yet powerful. Convert. Consume. Control. They understood the command, the mantra. It was their reason for existing for years, before their freedom - and now it would become that once more. They lifted their hands in unison, pointing them toward the plains before them - their power flowed into them from their master - and then out through their outstretched palms. In a blinding flash of light, so brilliant and powerful that it was picked up light-years away by sensors surrounding a flesh-world, Soran imploded upon itself. The core of the planet stopped rotating, and then simply crashed downward - the remainder of it following. It sucked upon itself, until nothing remained where once resided an entire planet - when the smoke settled, and the dust cleared - nothing remained except a body.

A body that seemed to have rested there for unknown centuries, a myth brought to life. Hellion looked at it with emotionless eyes, and a canted head. He looked upon the figure curled into the fetal position, clearly sleeping with disgust and distrust. “What is that?”

<”That is nothing for you to be concerned about, child.”> In truth, even Tsathoskr had no idea what this being inside the planet’s core could have been - for all its knowledge of magic and power, it’d never run across anything saying something lived within the core of Soran. <”Regardless, your work is not done. We must go, Anathema awaits. They all wait.”> Tsathoskr opened a portal there in he air, and pulled the Collective through it. It began to shut behind them, even as the single beings merged into one - as they entered the Faultverse. The being in the core watched it shut, his eyes just beginning to open as they stepped through into the darkness beyond it. His mind already pinpointed the location, and he already intended to follow - what he felt on the other side, the power contained within - and the power it took to blow up his prison…he needed that power.

Inside the Faultverse

The Collective emerged behind Tsathoskr into the chaos, the remainder of their civilization already there - except, of course, for Singar - whose body now floated in a thousand pieces in the debris of Soran’s vivisected remains. They looked upon the glory of the battlefield, truly a sight to behold for an entity based entirely upon war. They longed to join the fight, but they were not yet given the command to live out their purpose. They stood silently, watching, waiting. The amalgamation of their single bodies into one gave them an appearance akin to Tsathoskr’s, only far less…gargantuan. Its body was massive, though - dwarfed here only by the size of Tsathoskr - and the Sons of idea. It stepped forward, turning its hundred melting eyes toward the monster. “What would you have us do, Tsathoskr.” The cacophony of voices emitting from a single being was terrifying, horrendous. More akin to the screams of tormented souls than any perceptible human languages.

<”Your job, Collective. Your job.”> They nodded their oozing pus-filled two heads, and their tree-sized legs began to carry them forward, into the fray of battle. Even now, they were unsure of what they were coming into contact with. They stepped to the front of the Cataclysm, their de-facto leader in this situation. As they were during the events of the first confrontation with Singar, where the other killed their Mother. “ATTACK!” It screamed, still unsure of what exactly their target was intended to be - unless it was supposed to be everything. Of course, that’s what the Horde did. They attacked everyone and anyone who got in their way, lashing out with a fury born of a species who only knows hunger - and the desire to feast upon the dead. They collapsed upon everything, with a great gnashing of teeth and clawing of talons they began their rampage through whatever stood in front of them.

The Collective

Its massive body stood upon the precipice of war - and it watched GalaXelas, already the Faultverse was succumbing to the Mist around his body - corrupting to his influence, even as it purged and purified any other influence upon it. It would take time, but in time The Collective would become the only entity within this realm with power - save for those he chose to share it with. Something pulled at him, something emanating from the soul of their mother - something drawing him to the body of GalaXelas, and he resisted. His command was to fight the monstrosity, not to let it seduce him, draw him in. It resisted, but something kept calling, kept pulling. Suddenly, the pull seemed to just stop - seemed to no longer try to seduce him into GalaXelas. He wasn’t sure what happened, until he searched within himself - and found nothing. No virus, and yet his mutations remained. He looked at his hands, the scarred mass of flesh trapped in endless regeneration and incineration still looked the same. Yet, something within him was..different. Something missing, a piece of him no longer whole.

The Collective laughed, a loud, genuine laugh.
Exited stage left
The DLO - Somewhere inside the Congo

“Markus, are you ready?”

<I’ve been ready, Bogdan. What took you guys so long? We’ve been waiting here forever. These monsters could be anywhere by now! I can’t even track their thoughts, they’re so scrambled. It’s like watching cable television at two in the morning. All white noise and static.>

“Well, it’s not that easy to mobilize the forces quickly - and you know it.”

<Excuses, Bogdan. The men are afraid of what they might find out there, and so they dawdle. We both know it. You can see it, and I can hear it. Their fear screams at me. As does your own.>

Bogdan scoffed, shaking his head and raising his hands. He hated how Markus read their thoughts and emotions so easily, he hated the idea that his men felt fear - that he, himself, felt fear. Of course, the only reason it hurt so much was because the truth hurts. He lowered his hands, and sighed. “There’s just no winning with you, Markus. This is why I don’t play cards with you anymore.”

<Pft, I’ve never used my powers to beat you at cards. Your face is just too emotional.> Markus rose from his cross-legged position, for the first time opening his eyes to look directly at Bogdan’s face. He quickly pushed past him, rushing through the room and to the door - before stopping to turn back. <Are you coming or not, Bogdan? Or does your fear grip you so tightly you can’t make your legs move?> Markus’ mental voice joked, the chuckle in it subtle but enough for Bogdan to scoff and lift his middle-finger.

“Fuck you, Markus. Let’s go.” Bogdan shoved past him and through the hallways, “Like you’d have even found the readied troops without me, you don’t even know where the bathrooms are!” Markus laughed, letting Bogdan think that his sentiment held accuracy. Markus mapped the place out the minute they’d entered, his mental prowess passing through the others - making a makeshift mental map from their thoughts and memories. It might not be entirely accurate, but it could definitely get him to the places he needed to be - especially when compounded with the passing thoughts of the others. Still, Bogdan’s feelings were hurt easily, and Markus didn’t want to cause any friction between them. He was, after all, and old friend. Though, had their friendship truly survived the time and distance once Bharata assigned Bogdan to the DLO? Did he blame Markus for not putting up more of a fight? A quick scan of his thoughts said he didn’t, but Markus feared delving deep into his subconscious. Partly for what he might find, but mostly he wasn’t sure Bogdan’s consciousness could survive it.

<Well, if you say so old friend. Let’s go.> Markus felt the flash of happiness, short lived and small, but there. The words he spoke to Bogdan elicited a feeling of glee from him. ‘So, I guess he does still consider us friends. Good. I’m going to need his help if things keep going the way they are right now back home.’ <Come, Herr General.> Markus followed behind him as he lead the way, letting his mind wander back over the last couple of weeks. Bharata mentioned the lack of an attack, and he was right. It seemed odd that they were so active, whoever they were, so quickly - and then not a peep for this long? Even the most recent threats to Xanathan’s people and the outlying villages might not have been them. At least, not directly. He knew their handiwork was in it, somewhere. He knew something about this had their mark to it, but he couldn’t place it. It didn’t really fit their style of attack, so heinous and so brutal. They’d yet to kill the indigenous peoples of Africa in their attacks, only attacking Xanathan strongholds and cities. Kasenyi wasn’t theirs, it was under their influence. They fed and clothed them, they took care of them - but they were native. Something smelled…wrong.

<Bogdan, I just had a thought. I know how hard it is to get in here, to get inside the DLO is nearly impossible. How hard is it to get out?>

“Well, Markus, it’s not all that difficult. Our people do it all the time to make supply runs, hunting trips. Scouting parties move in and out freely.”

<So, have any of our experiments ever been allowed outside, or to get away from us?>

“No, sir. All the technology here is kept on secure lockdown, we don’t even use things that humans aren’t close to making - so if we get found out we can just explain we invented it first. Our facility is the second most secure facility on the books, third if you count that special one you keep off the books, eh, Markus?”

<You know nothing about that, Bogdan. And you’ll continue to know nothing about that, understood?>

“Sir, yes, sir.”

Finally, they turned a corner and Bogdan input the codes that allowed the snap-hiss of pressurized air to release and open up the ready-room. They stepped down onto the deck. “Officer on site, boys!” They all snapped to attention, while Bogdan’s hand snapped up to return the salutes they offered. They dropped their hands, and his fell back to his side while the officer who called attention to his presence walked over to them. “Sir, everything seems to be ready to go. We’re not really sure how this is going to work, we’ve not put it through much stress-testing. Hard to do it when we have to be completely off-grid at all times, you know.” The soldier sighed, turning back to his comrades. “And I have to be honest, General. The men aren’t really prepared for this. Most of them have seen war, and they don’t like it. The ones who haven’t, they have their ideas of grandiose. I’ve seen war. I’ve seen it and I don’t want to see it again, are you sure we can’t let this problem sort itself out?”

“Son, you’ve got no idea what’s going on out there right now. This isn’t a threat we can sit idly by and let burn itself out, these things - and this creature. This Demon….the thing that attacked Kasenyi, the creatures living in the Glasslands that are mobilizing. We can’t just let it go. Markus and I discussed that option. We’re the protectors of our continent, of our land and the homes of the people who live here. We took this land from the governing bodies long ago, and we did it to provide them safer and better lives. Bharata contorted and twisted that mission into something…disgusting. But, that doesn’t change what we’re here for. These things will kill and maim us the same as they will the indigenous peoples. We’re not just fighting for them, we’re fighting for ourselves. Besides, each and every one of you knows what we have hidden in the Glasslands. We can’t allow them to find it, to use it. Imagine if we unleashed that level of power on this planet, right now? We may not be from here, son, but we have friends here. We have family here now. We can’t just let them die, can we?”

“Sir…no…sir…” he breathed his response quietly, realizing how horrid the things he’d been saying sounded. He let his gaze drop, and his eyes closed as he thought about the friends he had outside the DLO, the ones he visited when he was on leave. Sure, all they knew about his job was a lie. Everything he told them a fabrication of the company, but other than his career they knew more about him than most of his family back home. Especially Shelby…Shelby knew everything there was to know about him. Could he live with himself if he didn’t do everything he could to protect her? Even if she barely, truly knew him. He nodded his head, closed his eyes and wiped a single tear from beneath on of them. “We can’t let them die. I’ll die before I let her die.”

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing, sir. Let’s get moving. Platoon, mobilize.”

The platform upon which they stood began to rise, as the opening in the ceiling separated. The men were silent, only the sounds of leather shifting and guns easing on their slings permeating the air aside from the soft grinding of the gears bringing the platform up. Markus reached through them, steeling their minds and bringing them peace they thought they found within themselves. All the while, his consciousness searched through them until he found the one he sought. <Come, Dan.>

A man amongst the greater whole walked away from them, until he was standing next to Markus with his heavy-rifle pointed toward the ground. <Yeah, boss?> He still took his order to remain silent seriously, barely speaking more than few words since their arrival.

<Did you find out anything useful?>

<Not that I can tell, really. These people are loyal to Xanathan, regardless of who runs the company they only want to live their lives. Nothing out of the ordinary, they’re not fanatics - but they’re loyal.>

<Good, many of them won’t make it back from this mission, I don’t think. I’m not a Seer, that was my sister. She could tell you who amongst this group would die, but I don’t need her power to know that many of them won’t make it back. I just pray we take the enemy with us, when we go.>

<Understood, sir. I’m more than willing to give my life in service to you, and to the company.>

<That won’t be necessary, Dan. You have a family, you have kids. They need you, you’ll be returning to the city as soon as we begin moving out.>

“I will not, Sir!” Dan’s excitement caused him to explain it aloud, unable to keep his voice purely mental. “You can’t do that, Markus. I’m not a coward, and I will not be returning to the city when our comrades will be fighting for their lives to hold these creatures within the Glasslands.”

<Shut up, Dan. You’d be a fool to go fight alongside these men, you’ve never even seen combat outside of training simulations!>

“I don’t give a damn, sir. These men are my brothers, even if I only just met them. They’ll not go to battle without me there to watch their backs, and you won’t go anywhere near these monsters without me there to watch your back, understood? This is one argument you won’t win, Markus.”

Sighing, Markus let his eyes closed for a moment and his fingers pinched the bridge of his nose. <Fine, Dan. Fine. But be careful out here, we’ve got enemies we’ve not seen yet - and they could be anywhere.>

Finally, the group reached the top of the ascension - and their vehicles roared to life. They began to use the roads they’d hidden amongst the trees, many of them being nothing more than very good representations of vegetation, without actually existing to impede their movements.

Xanathan City

Bharata sat in his prison cell, his fingers etching lines into the wall - a half dozen of them already, four with a crossed on. He counted the days spent in the cell, his mind constantly reeling in on itself - fighting against itself. He couldn’t fathom the amount of time he’d been here already, where was Markus? He was supposed to be back four days ago, why hadn’t he come home? Why hadn’t he come to free him from this horrible existence, the aging of his body slithered through him like fire in his veins. He felt his skin wrinkling, his hair turning gray. How many more days could he spend in this hell? It’d been too many already. He opened his mouth, his gruff voice reverberating in the shadows.

“HOW LONG DO YOU INTEND TO KEEP ME HERE LIKE THIS? HOW LONG DO YOU THINK YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH THIS? I’VE BEEN IN HERE FOR A MONTH, WHERE IS MARKUS? BRING HIM TO ME!”

“With all due respect, sir,” the guard began, turning his head to look through the unbreakable glass in the door, “it’s been thirty minutes since you were put in here. Shut the fuck up, or I’ll shut you the fuck up.”

“Oh, how quickly you grew a fucking pair, Brighton. You think I don’t have the strength to fuck you up? I’ll fucking gouge your eyes out with my fingers and shove my cock right through into your brain, you fucking mongrel.”

“You’ll sit the fuck down and you’ll shut the fuck up, look at you, old man. You don’t even have the strength and mental capacity to properly keep track of time, you’ll for sure not be able to do anything in your condition. So just shut your goddamn mouth and die already.”

As soon as they stripped him of his title and power, and locked him in this cell, the respect he’d once commanded from his employees seemed to drain away. Bharata scoffed and threw his mug against the wall. “Fuck you, Brighton. Your mum was a shitty lay anyway, I should have made her abort you when she told me she was pregnant. Fuckin’ cunt.”

“Love you too, Dad.”

A few miles north of the DLO, Markus’ position

The vehicles covered ground quickly, only a couple hours since they left the DLO, and already they were nearing the border of the Congo, they could see the trees growing less frequent as they approached the borders. It wouldn’t take much longer and they’d be right outside the Glasslands, taking up their encampment on the edges of its vast expanse. The soldiers from the DLO were in for a shock, of course. Markus already issued commands to mobilize much larger forces, intending to encircle the whole of the Glasslands until they could cover every inch of its perimeter with guards. They couldn’t enter it, not right now. Not until the things happening within Madagascar came to fruition and the serum became available.

<Markus, can you even hear me from here…?> the message began, disrupted and corrupted by the distance between them. He could hear her, though, and he focused his mind on her voice - clearing up the brunt of her message.

<Yes, Director Raiyel, I can hear you. Have you got any new information for me? Has there been a breakthrough? Figured anything out? Anything at all? We need this serum, you know. There’s a threat out there in the hostile lands, a threat to all of our lives. We need to get in there and stop them…please tell me you have good news?>

Before he could get a response from her, his communicator began beeping - indicating a message left when he was locked in the DLO without the ability to get messages over the normal methods. Pulling it open, he played the message aloud for everyone else to hear around him, without thinking.

“Markus, we need you back here immediately. Bharata lost his mind, we’ve had to take precautions, and initiated Directive 09-3. He’s been locked up, caged and without his power for the time being. We’re going to need you back here asap, you’ve been placed in charge of running his company. The riots have stopped for now, but they’re expecting to see you soon - we need you here to handle this situation immediately.”

Sighing, Markus didn’t speak to the others - and while their thoughts ran rampant through his mind many of them were of relief and happiness. They’d always feared what Bharata might do. Bogdan clapped him on the shoulder. “Well, good fortune to you, eh, Boss?”

<Oh, don’t call me that. How could things have gotten this bad? I’ve not been gone that long, could they not control him for even a handful of days? DAN!> He snapped, motioning the man to come over to him. <Follow me.> He lead him to the back of their transport, sitting cross-legged against the wall. <Wake me up when we get to our encampment, and not a minute before. If anyone tries to come near me, make up some reason they can’t speak to me. I’ll be busy in meetings for a bit, if we reach camp and you can’t wake me, then just have a few guys set up my accommodations and move me inside - but continue to watch over me.>

“O…okay, sir.” Dan wasn’t entirely sure what the hell Markus was talking about, but he wasn’t going to not listen. How was he going to be in meetings way out here, though? He couldn’t begin to fathom the idea of it, maybe Markus was losing his mind too. Maybe it was a curse of being in charge. Dan just shrugged, and sat down beside his friend. For Markus’ part, his eyes closed and his breathing slowed - relaxed shoulders had him slumping against the side of their truck’s internal storage area. He seemed to be asleep, but if only Dan really knew what was happening.

Xanathan City, Markus’ Awakened

“And I’ll tell you right now, Director Fritz, if he’d gotten our message he’d be here al…” his words cut off, and his eyes blanked out as if something happened and he could no longer live the life he was in - inside his mind he was already yelling, though. Yelling at Markus, screaming at him. “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY MIND, MARKUS. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOU CAN’T DO THIS. YOU CAN’T JUST SUBJUGATE MY BODY LIKE THIS, THIS IS RIDICULOUS.”

<Shut up, Fred. This is literally your only purpose for being on the board, to be a body for me to use when I’m away on important business. Now, shut up so I can address the others.>

Fred’s body opened its eyes to reveal the likeness of Markus’, and his lips moved but no sound came out audibly - instead it projected directly into the minds of the others. He asked them to fill him in on what happened, and as they spoke he listened intently. Understanding washed over him. They really weren’t given a choice in the matter, and they demanded he come back and run the company from the central offices - but he couldn’t. He explained to them what he’d seen, where he was headed, and what his plans were. They listened in abject horror, understanding the issues coming from the threat in the Glasslands, as well as the Demon that attacked Kasenyi.

“Bharata never would have offered to provide protection, but that’s why he’s not the one in charge anymore, I guess…Alright, Markus. We’ll do it. Send out the word, Damon. Demons and monsters in the wildlands are attacking the free people. Xanathan is offering protection inside our walled cities for anyone willing to accept it, mobilize the military - use a fourth of them to help with evacuations and protection details. The rest of them send North, Markus has the furthest outposts already mobilizing to protect the closest regions of their borders with the Glasslands. Send the rest of them to fill in the gaps, and spare no expense. I don’t care if everyone on Earth knows we’re aliens by the end of this, we have to contain this threat. Take our greatest weapons, our strongest fighters.

Someone get in touch with Raiyel and let her know what’s going on, we’re going to need that serum very soon - and she’d better get to work on getting right. Her failures won’t be tolerated much longer, we can’t afford to tolerate them.”

Fred’s head nodded, and Markus said his goodbyes, before receding back into his own mind. <We’re getting a lot more help, Dan.> Markus spoke as he opened his eyes. The scene around him changed, he felt like he’d been gone for seconds, but it’d turned into hours. Their camp setup was mostly done, and the stars shone brightly in the night sky - above the smoke and orange glow of their campfires. Markus’ tent was well lit, and he could see through the slit in it that the men were jovial. The ones in camp, anyway. There weren’t many of them, Bogdan wasted little time in setting up patrols and scouting parties.

<Bogdan, prepare yourselves. We’ll have plenty of guests and supplies in a few hours.>

The Jeep rumbled down the roadway, if you could even call it that. The rutted ground jostled the two men inside it, bouncing them back and forth, up and down. They held on, barely keeping the wheels pointed the direction they needed to go. Up ahead, Markus could see the towering canopy of trees denoting the rainforests of the Congo. Checking his phone, and then the mirrors, he seemed satisfied with not being followed. Yet, something felt off. He’d been checking their trail for a while now, and found no sign of being followed at all. Not from the first moment they left Xanathan City, so why couldn’t he shake this uneasy feeling? This sense of dread that rippled through his body, as if a child tossed a stone into the pond that was his emotional pool. An intense feeling of dread washed over him, seeping down into the very core of his being. He reached out with his mind, intending to check their surroundings again - just to be one hundred percent sure.

<Don, stop. Stop the Jeep, STOP RIGHT NOW!> The wheels locked up, skidding across stone and dirt the rear-end slid halfway around, almost overtaking the front - a rut caught them and the Jeep barely remained upright as it came to a stop.

“What the fuck, Markus? What’s going on? Why’d you make me stop?” Don’s hands gripped the wheel firmly, white-knuckled to control the violent shaking going through his body. No one ever controlled him like that, just eased into his mind and forced his body to do things. It left him feeling violated, empty. He couldn’t stop trembling, his whole body convulsing on the most minute scale. “Why the fuck did you do that, Markus? You couldn’t have given me the time to stop on my own, you couldn’t have trusted me to follow direction? Wha…” As he continued his rant, he watched Markus’ face - realizing he wasn’t even paying attention to him. No, Markus eyes were glazed and off into the distance behind him. The look of pure horror struck him as odd, and Don turned in his seat to follow Markus gaze.

What he saw there shook him to the very core of his being, and rewrote his entire concept of what they were doing. The smoke rising into the sky, blackened and charred was only paled by the orange glow of the burning village below it. Kasenyi, a usual stop for Xanathan soldiers moving in and out of the Congo to protect their interests, or further north to protect their mines, was burning. Not just a house, but all the adjoining houses. They burned to cinders, ashes floating into the sky on the rising currents created by the heat. He couldn’t find the words to explain what he saw, and all he felt was anger. “It was them, wasn’t it, Markus?” His voice seethed with rage, white-hot fury building in his gut and welling up like an explosion waiting to happen.

<I don’t know, Don. Let’s ease our way up there, but be careful. Whatever did cause this, might still be around.> Markus spoke softly, monotonously. His mind was already searching ahead of them, touching whatever living creatures it could find. Which were few and far between, mostly carrion-eaters already preparing for the feast they were about to receive. As used to death as he’d become, serving under Bharata all this time, this was senseless and served no purpose. It was just death for the sake of death. It was atrocious, horrifying. Sighing, he resigned to make whoever did it pay. As they drove further toward Kasenyi, and eventually breached the outskirts of the city, he felt something different. Not the rats and ravens congregating for their meals.

Opening his eyes, he pointed toward the city center. <We need to go there, on foot. We can’t risk the Jeep.> Don stopped short of the fire, giving enough clearance to keep it safe. They stepped out, and began walking toward the center of Kasenyi. All around them smoke rolled from half-burning bodies, some already reduced to more ash than flesh. Markus nearly vomited, but managed to hold it back. He couldn’t imagine what kind of monster could do this to innocent people, surely even NYUNDO weren’t this brazen, this full of hatred toward the things Xanathan touched. He couldn’t make himself buy it, terrorists often don’t have regard for humanity outside of their own groups.

They walked the dirt roadway, while Markus tracked the rapidly fading signal of a human mind. He couldn’t get into it, not at this distance with that much trauma. It was like it built walls around it, a delusion to justify what happened. An easement of the pain and strife that cycled through it from the attack. Yet, Markus knew he could find what he needed once he got close. They walked through the reeds surrounding the lake, finding their way through the denseness of it to the lake shore. Circling it for a moment, they stumbled upon a half-burned body, laying half in the water face down and trembling. Markus reached out, letting his hand rest upon the back of its head, before sliding over to the shoulder and turning the body over.

The face of a small child, a girl barely old enough to understand what womanhood meant, looked back at him. Wide-eyed and in more pain than any person should ever feel, the mental scream she released when he rolled her body sent shivers down his spine. The chances of survival were naught, even the best of Xanathan’s doctors couldn’t save her at this point, and she’d die long before he could get her to the Jeep. He sighed, and a single tear streamed down his face as she tried to move her lips, trying to make a sound from her burnt vocal chords.

<Shhh, don’t speak. Just think. What happened here?>

“Is that you God?” Her mental voice asked softly.

<God? No, child. I am no God, but I am a friend. What happened>

“It’s too much, the pain. I can’t…I ca…”

<Shhh, what happened child, who did this? Show me. Remember, and I will see.>

The view around them changed, like time rewinding everything around them seemed to stop and turn back. It was like a movie rewinding, as the fires burned out and the buildings became whole. The people of the village were happy, going about their lives - not hurting anyone, and not being hurt. Markus stood up from the reeds and watched intently. He walked out of the reeds into the village proper, where the girl’s unharmed body held the hand of a woman of similar looks, but advanced age.

<Ah, so you were out with your mother, yes?> Markus asked, and the girl he watched turned her head and nodded toward him.

“Just a normal day, work and family. The way we’ve lived for years, happy and unassuming. We didn’t know The Demon would come today.”

<The Demon?>

“Just watch.”

The girl and her mother returned to their daily routine, gathering supplies for the dinner the village women would cook for the working men when the evening came. They lingered at on stall, the vendor giving them a hard time about some vegetable or another, when the blood-curdling screams tore through the din of the village. The commotion began, and in that moment Markus focused firmly upon the memory passing through his mind. He ran through the streets, following after the mother and her daughter - trying to find out what caused this. The commotion brought the men from the fields, the hunters back from their journey into the trees.

However long the real attack took, it was only seconds in memory. All Markus could see, through the smoke and the fog of memories fading, was a blackened, humanoid mass. It looked like a monster, like some kind of demon from the pits of hell itself. Standing a dozen feet tall, weighing more than a ton. It was clearly an exaggeration of a broken mind, the child-like rendering of something beyond the imagination and understanding of someone so young. Yet, Markus felt a sense of darkness to it even through this. The anger, the hatred. The desire to cause pain and suffering. Those feelings persisted, and he could tell they belonged to the dead as much as the monster. He felt it in the soil, in the air. He felt it in the very essence of existence.

<What is this thing?>

“The Demon, he came and he burned us all. Village is gone, thanks to him. The Demon must be stopped, God. You must stop The Demon.”

<I told you, girl. I am not God, but I will stop this monster. I will stop all of the monsters, all of NYUNDO will feel my wrath for this.>

“It wa…” and then the voice faded, before it could finish the sentence the memory was gone - melting away into nothing. Markus sighed, and let his hand slip off the girl’s forehead. Standing up, he turned to Don. Shaking his head, he started back to the Jeep.

“What happened, Markus? Who did this? What did this?”

<They did this. They killed them all, for nothing. For helping us. For existing. I don’t know, I don’t care. I was beginning to think maybe they were good, that maybe they were an alternative to the madness we live under. I know you’re not a friend of our boss, I know you don’t care for him at all. That’s why I brought you into this, why I asked you to bring me to the DLO. I was going to set up a meeting from here with their operatives, to try and work out a deal. But now? After what they did here? They’ll be lucky if I don’t flay their minds and score their souls with my fury.>

“I’m with ya’, boss. You’re right that I don’t care for Bharata or his way of running things, but that’s preferable to this level of evil. I’d deal with his insanity long before I got in bed with people capable of…this.”

The Jeep doors slammed, and they both stayed silent. The trip to the DLO was another couple of hours, and they wouldn’t break their silence in that whole time. Their anger eventually faded from white-hot to a deep-seated hatred, and their moods didn’t improve. Yet, they knew they had business still - and Markus, at least, knew what he’d find once he reached the DLO. Boy, was Don in for a surprise.

——

Deep Congo, 2 Hours West of Kasenyi.

<Alright, Don. This is it. Stop.>

“This is what, Markus? There’s nothing but trees and jungle.”

<Just wait.> Markus exited the vehicle, letting his door slam and stretched. <They’ll come in a minute, don’t worry. Just keep your damned head, and don’t speak until we get inside. Understood?>

Don just nodded, and got out. He was still more concerned with revenge than whatever was going on here anyway. As far as he could tell, Markus lost his damned mind since Kasenyi - he hadn’t spoken a word in the hours since, and he barely seemed to even be there. In fact, Markus wasn’t there anymore. His mind, a portion of it, was still reliving the horrifying memories of Kasenyi - the rest of it was searching the area around them. Constantly scanning, like radar, his mental signals bounced off living organisms building a map around them.

It was odd, though. They should be revealing living humans beneath the surface, and patrols moving through the jungle - but he couldn’t sense anything. Were they in the wrong place? Did the people who worked in the facility up and move without reporting in? They wouldn’t have done that without good cause, but it’d been several years since Markus visited them - and even longer since any reports of their activities made it to him. They’d been ordered into radio silence, and they held that order near and dear.

That didn’t explain why they wouldn’t tell them they moved, though, or why Markus couldn’t sense them now. The creak of leather snapped him out of his search, and he turned toward it. Nothing, not even Don. <Something isn’t right, Don. We need to g…> Before he could finish, a shimmering of light revealed a half dozen soldiers with their weapons shoulders and eyes trained down the rails directly on the both of them.

<Camoflauge, that’s fancy. And handy. How’d you manage to avoid my thought-search, though?>

“Identify yourself.”

<I asked you a question, Corporal.>

“And I said identify yourself, or you’ll never have to identify to anyone ever again, mutant.”

<M…mutant? I’m no fucking mutant, you fool. And what do you mean identify myself? You should know who I am, or has it been so long you’ve forgotten who you fucking work for?>

“Last chance. Identify yourself.”

<Fine, Authorization Code Nine-Eight-Lima-Sierra-Seven.>

“Authorization received. One moment.” The soldier keyed up his microphone, repeating the authorization code into it and then waited for a response through the receiver in his ear. After a couple of seconds, he motioned and the group lowered their weapons, putting on their safeties in the process. “Welcome to the DLO, Markus. I was pretty sure that was you, but you know how protocol is.”

<Yeah, sure. Is General Bogdan still in charge here, or did you guys forget who he was as well?> It was clear from the tone of his thoughts that Markus wasn’t very happy with the young Corporal.

“He’ll meet you inside.”

Markus waved his hand dismissively, and they all faded back into the forest - their camouflage reactivating and hiding them from view - and from Markus’ mind. He’d have to make a record of that, it could become trouble later on. Don, meanwhile, didn’t speak - but he observed every bit of it. These people had technology he wasn’t even aware of existing, what was going on? He wanted to ask Markus, but his orders were clear. Do not speak. Only observe. Markus repeated it into his mind one more time. And he nodded in assent.

As for Markus, he walked three paces forward and looked down. <Well, they gonna let us in or n…> he was interrupted by the hissing sound of pressure releasing, as a hatch in the ground slid opened - vibrating within the immediate vicinity. A large disk-shaped platform rose up from it, big enough for several dozen vehicles and people. The grating sound of it showed it was rather unused, probably easier access for small groups somewhere else, Markus thought.

<Bring the Jeep, Don. We can’t leave it out here, it’d look suspicious.> Markus said as he stepped onto the platform. < I’ll meet you inside.>

——

Inside the DLO, five minutes later

“Markus, my old friend!”

<Don’t give me that shit, Bogdan. Friend my ass, you don’t call, you don’t write. You have me accosted by soldiers who work for me, but don’t even know my name. Some friendship>

“Markus, please. You insult me. In my home. You know my loyalty to you runs deeper than the bonds of blood I have to my own family.” Bogdan looked genuinely hurt, his scar-ridden face dropping. “We have been friends many years now, we fought in the wars together. Long before we came to this backwater planet. How could you say these things to me?”

<Oh, calm down Bogdan. I was only joking with you, and you know it, old friend. But, I’m not here for a personal visit. We have catching up to do, but there’s more pressing matters we have to attend to, General.>

“Yes, more than you’re even aware of at this point, I’m sure. How long have you been on the road?”

<A few days, give or take. Time is weird, but we were held up in Kasenyi.>

“Oh, so you saw it then?”

<I did, and I know what happened there. The same people who have been attacking us, killed innocents to get at us. Like the monsters they are.>

“Aye, we saw the aftermath on our scans. But that doesn’t explain why you’re here.”

<Well, Bogdan…things have taken a turn. Bharata’s treatments are accelerating, and so his the decay of his mind. I can’t keep the crazy in check anymore. It’s time to replicate the process.>

“Ah, so that’s why you’re here.”

<Partly.>

“And the other part?”

<I want to go home…or I did. Before Kasenyi, now I want to make them pay.>

All the while, they were walking through room after room - soldiers saw the outsiders, some had looks of disdain, others looks of excitement. It’d been a long time since new recruits joined the DLO. Markus stopped for a moment, and turned to Don.

<Go mingle with the others, if they ask you why you’re here tell them the truth. You’re my personal aide, and trusted friend.>

Don nodded and meandered off, disappearing into the common lounge, he wondered what exactly this place was - and he intended to find out before they left.

<Now, Bogdan. Let me know what you think I don’t know already.>

“Certainly, come with me.”

——

<Holy. Shit. What in the hell was that thing?> Markus looked at the still-shot on the screen, his eyes taking in every detail. It looked like a monster from the stories he’d once heard from what remained of the decidedly downtrodden Psions. Yet, it couldn’t have been that.

“We’re not entirely sure, but it came not long after that Beam hit, and the tidal wave began. It seems that most people have forgotten about it already, the only information we have is that it happened. We think the forgetting is a by-product of another, but we can’t even be sure of that. If not for our cameras and sensors picking it up and storing the data, we wouldn’t even remember it happened.”

<Jesus H. Christ. Is that it?>

It wasn’t it. Almost immediately Bogdan keyed up another video, this one some miles north of them in and around the Glasslands. It showed creatures, mutated monsters assaulting cities. Devouring people. Markus could barely stomach it, and this too he blamed on NYUNDO. None of these monsters showed their faces until they began their attacks. It was clear that, if they didn’t work for NYUNDO outright, they only bothered to attack when given the distraction of NYUNDO’s own assaults.

<What in the hell are those things?>

“We don’t know. We don’t know what they are, or what they want - aside from to fucking eat us apparently. But we’re already preparing counter assaults. So far, we’re the only ones who know about their attacks. At least as far as we’re concerned. We have a platoon ready to mobilize in a few days time, we’re waiting to see what else they do for now. It seems they’re moving in on our border, though, and once they cross into our territory - we’ll for sure intervene and wipe them the fuck off the map. Along with whatever attacked Kasenyi, and these NYUNDO fucks giving you a hard time.”

Markus only nodded, before he turned away from the screens showing still-shots of everything going wrong. <You know, I blame NYUNDO for opening the doors for these fuckers. But, it’s as much our own fault as theirs. Bharata going insane turned a lot of them against us, and I should have done more to stop it when I had the chance.>

Markus sighed, before running his finger across his face - the smooth portion where humans would have mouths. A small slit formed there, opening as sections of his body that weren’t used since his people first evolved their telepathy regenerated and separated. He took a cigarette from Bogdan’s desktop, and lit it. It wasn’t a thing he did often, most people weren’t even aware he had a mouth - much less lungs and piping to make it all work.

Yet, he needed the stress relief right now.

<Alright, prepare the assault unit. I’m going North with you guys, we can’t let these things leave the Glasslands, and we sure in the fuck can’t let them find what we have hidden up there. Not if I’m ever going to get my wish of going home, anyway.>

—— Xanathan City, Bharata’s Boardroom —

“Sir, the people outside the walls are getting more agitated. They’re chanting about injustice and inequality. What do you want us to do?”

Bharata sat back in his chair, looking at the CFO and the others on the board who called this impromptu meeting without Markus. “I mean, what can we do? Kill them.”

“Sir, isn’t that a bit…brash. That doesn’t sound like it’d further our goal at all.”

“Kill them.”

“Sir, we can’t. Killing them would only make martyrs of them. It’d prove they’re right about you, about us.”

“Kill them.”

“No. We won’t. You’re not thinking right, and you’re not yourself. Effective immediately, you’ll be put on forced suspension and leave. You will no longer be running the day to day business of Xanathan, or making decisions. All in favor?” The vote was called, and one-by-one, everyone around the table lifted their hands into the air. Bharata even lifted a hand, without knowing what was happening. That small part of his mind that was still sane, still capable of rational thought, had that tiny victory.

Bharata slammed the same hand back onto the table, breaking off a piece of it. “And what do you think you’re going to do to enforce this? You think you guys aren’t replaceable? I’ll kill you all. I’ll kill you and I’ll kill them. You don’t even have a solid replacement for me. There’s nobody that can run this company but me! I’ll kill you, fuckers!” He screamed as the power-band kicked in, an implant he agreed to when he took over. A containment field for his powers, so that if he were to ever grow out of control they could stop him.

His body shuddered with rage, but he couldn’t lash out at them. Even in his inordinate strength was held at bay by the restraints, and security guards already held him. They pulled him from the room, kicking and screaming with the tantrums of a child. “And what about my treatments? Are you going to let me die, because of your own ignorant grab for power?”

“Your treatments will be decided on by your successor, whenever Markus decides to return from vacation he will take your place as Chairman, and he’ll make a decision on what to do with you then.”

“He’d never betray me! He’d never let this happen, you’ll pay for this!”

“No? It was his idea, you fool. Now get out of here, we have to begin fixing the mess you’ve made of things.”

The board shut the doors as Bharata found himself drug through the hallways of the company he once ran, he kicked and he fought - but he was powerless against the augmentations of the guards. As long as the power-band remained active, he’d not have much of anything he could do to try and escape. Resigning himself to his fate, he went limp and tears streamed down his face. What went wrong? He could feel his mind deteriorating, all these years he could feel it happening. While his body regenerated, his mind was on a downhill slide that got steeper with each passing year. He couldn’t understand it, couldn’t find the reason for it. The best tried, but they didn’t seem to know what was happening to him anymore than he did.

And now, it’d cost him everything. The company he’d built from the ground up, the friends he’d molded and crafted through the years. The territory he fought tooth and nail to protect after the attack from space. He’d done everything he could to help the people, but perhaps his help went too far…no. Not that. Never too far, he had to kill them. They didn’t appreciate everything Xanathan did for them, that he did for them. He was Xanathan. And Rendenvauld Bharata would not be held captive within his own company, he would take back what was his.

Then he’d kill them all.

As the doors slammed shut on his cell, deep in the pits of Xanathan tower, his crazed laughter rang across the plaza. It echoed loudly enough to be heard throughout the building.

——

“It is with great pleasure, my friends, that I tell you we have overturned the decision to allow Bharata to run this city…” they spoke to the people outside the walls, whose signs and screams made it barely audible. At the sound of the news, though, they stopped - and then they cheered. “His replacement is currently on vacation, but you all know Markus. You’ve spoken to him, he’s aided you. He’s helped you.” They screamed at the top of their lungs, screaming in happiness at knowing the replacement was Markus. The man’s words were true, while Bharata worked to hold them down, Markus sought only to lift them up.

“Markus! Markus! Markus!” Their chants rang out through the city, their unified voices carrying. For miles the screams could be heard, like thunder on the horizon. It was a new day in Xanathan City, and it was a new day, a new dawn for the people of Africa. Hopefully, Markus would return soon. They’d need to show him to solidify their newfound peace within the city’s walls.
<I can hardly believe there's not been an attack for two weeks, Bharata.>

"I know, Markus. At least we're not dealing with those insufferable fools anymore, probably given up already. Have you seen the piles of dead we've left behind as warning?"

<Yes, sir. I have. And I have to remind you that I cautioned against that. The people are already beginning to rile up outside our main walls.>

"Aye, and we'll put them down like dogs too if we have to. I'm not going to have this...whatever they call themselves interfering with my plans any longer."

As they sat, Bharata shoveled food into his mouth by the handful, as uncultured as ever, Markus only watched him. Without a mouth, he felt no desire for sustenance. At least not in that way, his food came from differing means. Mostly, though, he fed on the latent psychic energy surrounding him. Disgust was apparent in his eyes, which Bharata mistook immediately.

"Oh stop it, you don't have to be jealous just because you can't taste how delicious this is. Have some!" His boss tried to hand him a piece of leg, held by the top of the foot and darkened even more than when first caught. His laughter echoed, booming as if some great joke were made. "Oh, that's right! You can't eat. Oh well, more for me!" He shoved it against his face, teeth gnawing into a thigh. What was once a person, probably with a family, was nothing more than a meal for Bharata.

<Fucking psychopath, you are. I can't sit here any longer, some of us have to go clean up your messes.>

"Oh, fuck off then you pussy. Go pander to these infidels and weak, pathetic things. I'm going to finish my meal."

Markus slid back from the table, exerting all of his inner peace to keep from ripping his boss to pieces right then and there. He had it coming, honestly. The way the man wantonly destroyed everything he touched. A splinter group of people who opposed the lifestyle, the technology, they offered to the denizens of Africa torched a few cheap choppers, and Bharata's response? He wiped out entire villages, of innocent people. He sat in his fucking office, eating people. The Bharata he knew, that he joined up with all those centuries ago, wouldn't, couldn't, do something so heinous.

This world poisoned him with its ways, the way he was able to set himself above others. It poisoned his mind, it poisoned his soul. Markus could feel the stain of it, the disgust seeping through the planet. He could feel the way being challenged altered the minds of those around him, and it produced within him the deepest sorrow. He had to fix this, fix all of it. It was necessary to their survival, either on this world or off of it. Of course, the Vault reported some pretty strange happenings off-world. Stars and creatures that just...ceased to exist. Almost as if plucked from the sky by the hand of god.

They'd have to do some more investigating on that, and on the possible repercussions of that beam - past just the tidal waves that destroyed the quarantine wall on their northern border and the Earthquakes shattering much of the Glasslands. Hopefully those settled down soon, many outposts to the north still reported aftershocks and tremors riling up the local wildlife.

At least three cave-ins in the diamond mines put production behind by weeks, if not months. And still, those weren't even the things on the forefront of Markus' mind. Markus needed to resolve these attacks against them. Calculated, targeted, they knew where his people were going to be, and when they would be there. They consistently outmaneuvered them. The question was how? How could their operatives know everything his people were going to do, figure out when they were going to do it, and then get word across a continent to the people in the proper time.

The only answer would have to be an inside source, a person inside of Xanathan feeding information to those against it. That part was simple, really. A few mind readers from accounting, and the empaths from Human Resources, and they'd have it all figured out in no time. Still, to be safe, Markus began sending word to every outpost to keep everything eyes only. If it didn't need to be relayed, don't relay it. If it does need relayed, send to him first.

Messages poured back in affirming, and he turned his mind toward the one he'd send on the hunt personally.

<Vanguard, come in. Have you found anything yet?>

<Yes, a whole fucking lot of nothing. This is worse than that sword guy in Allure, that monkey fuck at least made himself visible. Even if he was an arrogant fuck with no actual talent behind his words.>

<I don't care about the nothing you find, Vanguard. I need to know if you've found any evidence of who might be behind this.>
<Well, I talked to one guy. He was hesitant to speak to me at first, but you know how I am. He opened up real quick. Told me about some group named NYUNDO. I mean, not willingly. Claims their leader is named Assad, and he's apparently some kind of bad ass. I guess is the word he used for it. Whatever the fuck that means. He also gave me...well, not fuck else. He couldn't keep talking without a tongue...I grew excited, sue me.>

<Fine, keep searching. See if you can find me a home base, or at least a general area of where she and her group might be striking next. At the least, bring me back a fucking living person to interrogate myself. I'm much better at it than you.>

Vanguard began some insulting response, but Markus turned his attention away from him and in that moment tuned him out completely. He got all the information to be had from him, and now chose to focus his attention on other matters. The people outside Xanathan City were in an uproar over Bharata's actions, over him wantonly killing thousands of innocent people as what? A fucking warning? The man's insanity was getting out of hand. Markus sighed, shaking his head and pushing himself away from his desk.

------------------------- Two Days Later ------------------------------

<Listen, Don. I'm glad you could bring me out here, I've been needing to get in touch with the people more.>

Markus was on vacation, at least that was the cover story. He took some time off to gather his thoughts, and for all his bosses knew he wasn't even in Africa anymore. All evidence lead to him being somewhere in America, relaxing on a beach drinking a few beers and enjoying the sunshine. Instead, he was actually on his way to Outpost 674 Delta Lima Oscar. The rough road jarred his body with each pothole, and each passing moment seemed to take longer than the last. Donald, the only soldier in Xanathan Markus trusted, drove carefully but even he couldn't avoid this many ruts.

"No problem, bossman. I just wish you'd tell me what we're doing out here, this outpost was abandoned years ago. We've not touched it or used it since, so I don't know what's so important you wanna hang out here."

<All in good time, Don. All in good time.> If Markus could smile, he would smile. The secrets in DLO were beyond anything Xanathan had anywhere else. The people who worked the outpost were among the greatest minds, and strongest warriors Markus had at his command. People not even Bharata knew existed, and who he'd have killed if he did. They were going to be his alpha squad in the NYUNDO hunt, and then they were going to help him take back control of the land.
Markus’ awkward dress stood out amongst the other members of the XSF walking the halls of the Vault. It had a name, rough sounding in the tongue Bharata seemed so fond of using. He didn’t use those names, his mind could easily dissect and repeat the words – but he spoke more often of places in images, familiarities. Not words. His mind-to-mind communication wasn’t quite what most psychics would consider the norm of operations. They spoke with words, formulated sentences and thoughts. He conveyed emotions, imagery, things that got his point across without the need for actual words. So, when he requested to be brought here, he only showed the driver a mental picture of the building – and the roadways between here and there. His driver, well trained in dealing with Markus, chronicled the path in his mind’s eye, and followed it to the letter. Markus smiled; the man was a good driver. A shame, really, to leave him behind.

Markus sighed, thinking about leaving. Ever since they arrived here, it was the main thing he sought to do. To curb Bharata’s curiosity enough to bore him, to get Xanathan extracted not just from Africa, but from this whole world. He wanted nothing but to get back to his home, his family. His people weren’t from Earth F67-X, in fact he wasn’t even human in the conventional sense. He’d managed to fake it, at least enough to not be questioned much in the streets. Though, the third eye tattooed on his face managed to draw some weird attention. Mostly, they thought it a weird novelty of a man who lived a troubled past. In some ways, it evidenced exactly that. Markus wasn’t exactly welcomed at home.

He stopped, his footsteps echoing behind him as he turned to one of the windows on the upper levels of the Vault – lining the office-ways, where the scientists stored their research notes and papers. He looked out over the well protected fortress around him, past the walls extending like great monoliths to the sky, reaching for a freedom they could never gather. Inside the Vault, their most powerful weapons and artifacts were stored. Things deemed too dangerous to be allowed into the hands of the people of Earth F57X, technologies far beyond their current capabilities. This place felt more like a home to him than anywhere else on this ball of dirt.

His hand touched the glass, and it flexed under the pressure of his palm. He looked down, his frowning face taking in the people bustling around in the courtyard. One day, Bharata would finally grow bored with this plaything of his. Then, perhaps, they could return to the stars from where they came – and continue their business elsewhere. The money here, at least brought in by their current dealings, afforded them a lavish lifestyle – but it was nothing when compared to what they’d earned on the Multiversal scale.

His sigh frosted the glass, and he lay his head against it. Closing his eyes, remembering the days of travel and the family he left behind to join Bharata. Back then, he’d felt full confidence in the man. He’d shown up, spoken a big game and promised grandeur. He provided that for years, but now they were marooned here on this rock of dirt and dust because of Bharata’s hubris. The Hydra couldn’t fly, even if they wanted to leave right now, they couldn’t. They didn’t have the power cells, Bharata claimed anyway. Markus believed he hid them, had them buried deep in the Glasslands where no one could find them.

Of course, that was why Markus had his own secrets. Expeditions into the unknown, hazardous as they might be, were necessary. Certain members agreed with his reasoning, and the Board allowed for the travel into the Glasslands with express safety precautions that afforded them time to search for what Rendenvauld hid from them. A single tear exerted on his cheek from his closed eyes, and he shifted his weight. And then something caught his mental attention, the ravaging screaming sounds of a beast unleashing pure, unadulterated rage.

<Ah, Vanguard is back I see.>

Markus channeled the words into the open air, not expecting a response. He got one, either way.

<”Yeah, I am you stupid fucking cunt. Why the fuck am I locked up? What the fuck is going on here?”?

Markus shook his head, for others being called such things might be insulting – might even get a rise from them. He was beyond emotional responses to antagonizations, however. Especially from the like of The Vanguard Beast. He wasn’t even trying to be insulting, it was his natural demeanor for interaction with people. Markus turned from the window, turned from his hope of freedom and escape – at least for now.

<I’ll be with you shortly, Frank. I have more urgent matters to deal with.> Markus’ mental tone was soothing, calming. Laced with the psychedelics his mind produced, inducing a calmness to the rampaging beast. Markus finally continued to the command center, what in older days was called the Bridge. The main head of the Hydra. The magnetically sealed doors slid open at this approach, and Xanathan Command Forces, commonly referred to as the worker bees amongst themselves, saluted his coming. He waved them down, and immediately walked to the sensor arrays.

<Corporal Freutz, give me an update.> Markus tone brooked no question, no allowance of time to get thoughts in order. He demanded an immediate response.

“Well, sir. From what we can tell, there’s quite a bit going on out there. We’re not really sure, honestly, what’s going on. We’ve been attacked several times on several fronts. We lost the Hornet squads in Phalaborwa, we’re not exactly sure what happened there – the city is burning now, and the choppers are on the ground. Their recordings fade out, as if someone interfered with them. We’ve got the techhies in the basement working on a fix, but we’re not sure if they’ll be able to come up with anything.”

<And?>

“Well..sir...they’ve taken...” his eyes shifted back and forth, as if searching for a monster lurking in the shadows. “..him.”

Markus immediately slammed his hand onto the console in rage, his anger flooded through him. Beyond emotional reactions to instigation and insults, he held little control over it in detrimental situations.

<What do you fucking mean they took him? Who took him? What took him? Where is he? YOU WILL FIND HIM NOW!>

“Sir, we’ve been looking. We have drones scouring the continent, we have doubled forces in the rural areas and further North. We’re searching for him, but so far, we’ve not found a trace of what’s going on. All we know is we’re under attack, reports indicate a group of mutants have attacked in each place – but I doubt it could have been the same group. Unless they’ve learned to teleport, which I highly doubt. There are no recorded traces of human teleportation without some device on this planet.”

<Hmph. Keep me updated, I’ll train a portion of my mind on this bridge. If you need to speak with me, just think my name and I’ll answer.>

With that said, Markus turned on his heel and walked back the way he’d come. Reaching the central hall, he turned toward the walls – trying to remember which one held the panel. He ran his hand along the south wall, until a metallic click echoed in the emptiness. A square of wall slid away, just big enough to fit his hand into. The biometric readers confirmed his identity, and the elevator shaft in the center of the emblazoned sun painted on the floor opened. Stepping onto it, he again got lost in his own thoughts.

For three stories it descended, to a part of the Vault that not many people knew even existed. The security here was far, far tighter. Each floor contained science and research, things far beyond the scope of humanity. It also housed other...things...far too dangerous to be allowed out into normal society. He walked the metal hallways, his mind reaching out to figure out exactly where his target rested. It wasn’t hard. The sounds of screaming and pain alerted him before his mental faculties even found the room.

Pushing open the door, Markus’ smile immediately disappeared. He detested dealing with these...things. You couldn’t call them people; they were far too different from the surface dwellers to be called that. Markus’ smile returned quickly though, and his mind sent images of himself as one of him. The other immediately fell at ease, his malnourished face brightening for a moment. Then the mistrust came back.

<What’s the matter, Der’kin, are you not happy to see me?>

“I am not happy to see anyone these days, Farval. I begin to trust you as much as I trust the uniformed men that guard my door.”

<Those men are there for your safety, my friend. I have told you that, and you believe me when I tell you things.>

“I believed you...but sometimes...I can...I can’t trust my own mind sometimes.”

<I understand your mistrust, friend. Perhaps, as we continue our conversations from yesterday, you’ll learn to trust me again.> His eyes held the others, and his mind touched the man’s. Not roughly, but gently. Caressing it, putting him further at ease as he spoke.

“Fine...where was I? Oh, right. So, outside of Xanathan’s main source of influence there is only chaos. Those who seek to obtain, and keep power for themselves. Many of them aren’t friends, they aren’t even friendly. They fight one another as much as they fight against your people. They want only to see Africa returned to chaos, to the old times. They want tribal leadership; they want the power for themselves. They use anything they can find; they recruit children and brainwash them. They use whatever weapons they can get their hands on, without regard to the safety of after effects.

I’m not sure how to say it, but things are bad outside of your main area of control. There are not just the warlords in the militant zone, there’s other people. Other things. At least, rumors of them. They’re like me, but far more powerful. They’re out there, and they have information about you that even you don’t know. They can do things you couldn’t dream of. They’re going to win, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

The mutant laughed, an otherworldly sound. Laughed in his face, belittled his culture and then laughed at him. Markus could tell from his influence on his mind, though, that he held no more information than what he gave. Nodding, Markus stood up and dropped the facade he implanted on the other’s mind.

<It was a pleasure, Der’kin. I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine.>

Tapping on the door, one soldier opened it and then stepped aside. A behemoth of a man stepped through the door, ducking to fit through the frame. His body was taut with muscle, and as he flexed it was like the whole room warped around him.

<He’s all yours, Frank.>

As the door shut behind them, Markus continued speaking through the wall.

<When you’re done here, Vanguard. There’s a mission for you, come see me.>

For now, though, Markus wanted to get some information – and he knew just where to find it. The full weight of Xanathan’s wrath was going to be felt. By every single living creature outside the walls.
The storm rumbled throughout the heights of the atmosphere, lightning crackling and burning through the air. The ground rumbled, and even now people were beginning to wonder if - perhaps - something was happening to their home. Buildings cracked to the very foundations, stones falling out of place and tumbling to the ground. People walking on the streets lost their balance, and some died to the falling bricks and mortar descending from the heavens. All the while, Azaroth spread his enigmatic body across the atmosphere. The automated fleet descending into the cloud coverage had no concept of what they were dealing with. Of course, neither did whatever creature who controlled them.

As they passed down through the crackling, destructive cloud that was Azaroth's current body they found their sensor arrays shorting out. Their electronic circuitry couldn't withstand the rapid rate of decay - and because of that they experienced advanced atrophy of their internal systems. Their slow, calculated descent turned into rapid free-fall. Unable to control themselves in the electronic storm that raged around them, they couldn't keep themselves from falling to the planet below. They, too, managed to wipe out several dozen of the denizens on the surface. Meanwhile, Azaroth continued to decay and destroy the planet. The storm raged on through the atmopshere, burning molecules with the fiery heat of his body. Below, the ground upheaved in chunks. Craters formed by the lifting of massive chunks of stome from the planet, which were then stretched apart.
They continued to pull at themselves, breaking apart and being torn apart on a molecular level. At the same time, the enigmatic nature of the storm converted the matter within the stone to something akin to food. He took in the sustenance provided, absorbing it through the very touch of his body. The Bio-Force powering his Val'garan might. It was like a dehydrated person, they needed water to survive and he needed the food this planet provided. Though, he wasn't really all -that- hungry to begin with. As he consumed, converted, and controlled his mind reached out across the endless expanse of space. A single word, a single command. One he knew would be followed, one he knew would never be ignored.

Tampering with the psi-link was not only ill-advised, it was brain suicide. If anything tried to interject themselves into the mental connection The Collective shared, they'd find themselves drooling, unable to stand and control their own bodily functions. It was through this link that the Val'garan, especially the great Herald known only as The Collective, communicated. And that communication was only that single, one word uttered across milions of light years.

"Come!"

It was not a word of urgency, or of need. It was a call to dinner, the ringing of the bell that called the kids in from their play. Even as the call stretched out across the Multiverse, Azaroth's body siphoned the atmosphere from the planet. By the time they heard the call, the planet was going to be long gone. Torn asunder and ripped to shreds by the vast power that Azaroth contained. Now, floating in the bleak expanse of space where a planet once stood, was nothing short of a horroifying monstrosity. It stood taller than the Washington monument, and its six arms reached out around it. His mouth opened, but no sound came out. Just a vast swarm of insect-like creatures, their wings flapping as the monstrosity's chest cavity cracked and broke, spreading its ribs apart.
It was not a word of urgency, or of need. It was a call to dinner, the ringing of the bell that called the kids in from their play. Even as the call stretched out across the Multiverse, Azaroth's body siphoned the atmosphere from the planet. By the time they heard the call, the planet was going to be long gone. Torn asunder and ripped to shreds by the vast power that Azaroth contained. Now, floating in the bleak expanse of space where a planet once stood, was nothing short of a horroifying monstrosity. It stood taller than the Washington monument, and its six arms reached out around it. His mouth opened, but no sound came out. Just a vast swarm of insect-like creatures, their wings flapping as the monstrosity's chest cavity cracked and broke, spreading its ribs apart.

His right hand shifted down, ripping a chunk of flesh from his right shoulder - that chunk of flesh released and fell beside him. Morphing and changing, growing into a blackened mass of mucus-like consistency. It stretched out and grew.

----------------------------
Meanwhile -

The ground rumbled as Isaak lashed out, the footsteps of the Cataclysm thundering across the blood-soaked plains. It was a full on battle, and the Val'gara were winning. Isaak Lindt moved with a fluidity bordering on graceful. His eyes watched everything, as a spike of elongated, hardened flesh tore through the skull of a would-be warrior. Beside him, a Mist-like body lashed out and grabbed another one. It soaked in through his pores, and immediately that soldier turned on his compatriots. A dozen or more fell to his blade before they took him down.

The battle-mages tried to fight them, they lashed out with great fires and powerful magicks. And yet, they fell short. They seemed to simply cease to exist once they got close. Sinuous red lines remained where the magic dispersed, and within moments the wizard's fell to the ground convulsing, burning under their own power. And then, mid-fight, the screaming was deafened by the call of their brother. They stopped mid fight, soldiers across the field saw this as a sign. They thought their chance finally came. One of them even went so far as to take the initiative.
He walked up on the crystalline structure of Caitlyn, her black body adorned with galaxies throughout. Not the semblance of them, not painted on mimicries that appeared to be a galaxy. No, her composite, crystalline body actually contained galaxies. Hundreds of them, miniaturized and contained. Her body was the home of countless peoples, a full dimension existing within the confinements of her body. The man rushed her, his sword swinging for her neck as she looked into the sky. The sword slashed at her, and slammed into her neck. The blade creaked for a moment, and then snapped against her body.

Without even looking, she reached out and grabbed him by the throat. Lifting him from the ground, she barely flicked her wrist and the strength behind it didn't just snap the other's neck, it ripped his head clean off his body. The others watching, as hopeful as they might have been, couldn't fathom fighting that level of power. They couldn't begin to think of any way to win. Riflemutants fired their guns, giant particales of bio-mass smashing through the faces and bodies of the foes. The Riflemutants didn't hear the call, but they could sense something changing.

And then, as if like a light being turned off, everything just stopped. For everyone. When the remainder of The Collective opened their eyes they were stood upon Azaroth's body. Isaak, Hellion, Caitlyn, The Chrysaor. The lower four hands were extended outward, palms open and facing upward. And in that blink of an eye the four appeared standing upon them. They didn't need to be told there was an enemy. The invasion, the machines touching the psychometric nature of the Enigmatic Storm, was underway. Yet, there couldn't truly be an invasion without a structure to invade.

Yet, they knew an enemy awaited.
One week before GalaXela's release

"We're really not sure what to do with the prisoner, my lord. He's been out cold since the return, it's almost like he's dead. Our only knowledge of life is the fact brain activity is persistent. But, we can't keep him here forever. He's taking up to much space and far too many resources. We have to get rid of him, even if the Overseer won't admit it."

"Fine, fine. Do what you must, Ensign. I don't care. All any of you ever do is bitch and complain, nobody ever comes to me with a real issue, you know. It's always stupid resources and free space." He grumbled and mumbled beneath his breath as he walked away, his footfalls resonating in the barren, metallic hallway. The glimmering light giving his shadow a ferocity it didn't merit.

"Well, you are the Resource Manager, fuckwad!" The other man called after him, his voice seething with unrepressed annoyance. "Fuckin' moron chose the damn job, now he's complaining about it. Lazy fuck," he, too, grumbled under his breath. They both hated their jobs, it seemed, and yet they both did them with the utmost effeciency. For his part, though, he walked to the control cluster - his seven-fingered hands working their magic across the console.

"Tell me to do what I gotta do, fuck it. I'll do what I gotta do. And I'll use his damned keycode to do it." His fingers nimbly danced along, inputting commands and using his boss' codes to do it. As his fingers walked across the keys, a doorway opened in the other room - and then a second, outer, door after that. The whoosh of the vaccuum was the predominant sound, even through the airlocks and the walls. And then, the body laying on the floor was sucked out.

Closing the airlock and the cell doors back, he turned away from the console and smirked. Technically, it was murder - but when the records were recalled he wouldn't be the one to blame for it. In fact, he wouldn't even be around to see the man being blamed punished. His grey eyes closed, and his yellowed teeth disappeared as the shadows enveloped his body. In that instance, he was gone.

-------

Three days later

For some, the derelict nature of the endless expanse of space is a thing of pure fear. The very idea of it sends shivers down their spines, a fear of the void that they couldn't shake from the core of thier being. And for others, space was the ultimate adrenaline rush. A place they could go and use that scariness to induce the adrenal gland reactions that so pushed them beyond their limits. That drove many of them, the idea that they could get a rush. That they could get that high. They worked for years and years trying to push it beyond the natural limitations. Trying to get that greatest, largest high.

Then, you had people like Kishin. She didn't give two fucks about anything, one way or the other. She didn't care about fear, she didn't feel adrenaline. She didn't feel damned near anything, really. Only indifference, only a cold, bleakness inside of her that rivaled only that found outside the walls of her ship. The crew she surrounded herself with, however, longed for the glory of battle. They sought to become known as the greatest, most powerful mercenary force in the whole of the 'Verse. Of course, most of them couldn't lay a finger on her.

Not that she even held a candle to her father. He was basically a God, and that wasn't just something she saw. That was something that was a given fact. People the Multiverse over worshipped him, they longed for his affection and his touch. Not that he ever gave it, not to them and certainly not to her. No, her childhood was one school after another. Training. Working. Growing. She was sent from place to place, Universe to Universe. Trained in fighting, trained in schooling, trained in magic. She was, for all intents and purposes, a weapon. Kishin didn't mind, though. In fact, she loved him for it.

That training allowed her to gather these men and women, allowed her to do whatever she wanted whenever she wanted. And if someone tried to stop her, if someone too strong tried to stand in front of her. She just brought him up, a single whisper of his name sent most men cowering and running. If that didn't work, well he had a way of showing up to protect her. Even if he barely showed her any love otherwise. He was a great being, a celestial entity whose whispered name still inspired fear and loathing - even if he'd not been seen in nearly ten thousand years.

Her mind wandered as she thought of him, her eyes glazed over in the daydream. Her rump on the captain's seat didn't move, her body didn't move. She simply looked beyond the world in which they traveled. That was why she didn't see it, not until the loud cracking of something striking the hull set off the alarms. The whole ship rocked from the impact, and immediately she roused from her own memories.

"What in the actual fuck did we just hit, John?" Her voice cracked like a whip, as she called out to the man piloting the vessel. He just shrugged and turned around, clearly not knowing himself.

"Captain proximity scans show hull damage on sector four, and a strange object lodged into the side of the ship. It almost seems organic, like...a body...is that even possible?"

"I don't know, Frank. Why don't you get your ass out there and find out?"

She shut down the comm-link before he could reply, and immediately opened another on. "Gerald, get your ass down to hangar 2, we might have a body that needs storage. I'm on my way as well." Her finger slammed down on the off button, and she jumped to her feet. She ran to the elevator system, and immediately started descending levels. When the doors opened, the body was already being brought inside. Mechanical crews were on their way out the door, opting to go ahead and repair the hull in-flight.

She made her way across the hangar floor, toward the object that struck them. It was, in fact, a body. She circled around to look straight on with it. As soon as she saw the face, her own broke out in a smile and then a laugh. The loud, raucous laughter of a crazed, delusional lunatic. The kind of laughter that sent chills down most people's spine. Her hand reached out, touching the frozen forehead of the man laying on the back of the medical bot.

"Hello, father"

His eyes snapped open, and his mind began to spool up like the engines of a plane. He scanned the area around him, and within seconds shadows are wrapping themselves around their owners - lifting them from the ground by their throats. In a matter of fifteen seconds, the entire ship became disabled, while its crew hung helpless in the air. Then, he saw Kishin and his mind registered where he must be, where he must have ended up.

"Oh, hello daughter. Strange...I remember being on the exact opposite side of the Multiverse from you. How'd I end up here?"

"I don't know, Father. We just...found you. You were floating along in the black, and all of the sudden we hit you, and the...."

"YOU HIT ME?", he asked - surprised and a little bit hurt. "Well, I suppose I might have earned that. You know, I was never really ther..."

"With the ship...on accident, you old buffoon. You know I don't give a shit about the past, and love you dearly still, Father. Now, if you don't mind?" Her hand gestured toward her men, who still hung suspended in the air, their feet dangling and their faces turning purple. Shrugging his shoulders, the shadows melded back into the ground where they belonged - and the people they held fell to their knees, gasping for their breath.

"Ladies, Gentleman. I'd like you to meet my father, I'm sure you've all heard of him. His name is Lysander." The last word, the name of the God many worshipped as the end of all life and things in the Multiverse. It sent chills through them, caused them to stop breathing for a second. All except one guy, who was probably born and raised under a rock.

"Who in the actual fuck is Lys..." before he could even finish the question, his own shadow rose up like the blade of a sickle. With a gurgling, blood-filled death rattle the man fell over and the shadow proceeded to trickle into the well that slowly built itself up at his back.

"FATHER!" she screamed, "must you kill anyone who doesn't know you? Just because they don't know you?"

"Yes."

The Day of The Awakening

Lysander, in typical Lysanderian fashion, lounged about. He found nothing worth doing on his daughter's ship, and so he did what he always did and that was nothing. Though, the days were growing longer from the boredom of it all. He needed to get out, he needed to find a way out. Well, not so much a way out as the motivation to just leave. When you've lived for billions of years, and traveled every conceivable highway and byway across the Multiversal lands, you begin to grow weary with existence. Boredom became the most predominant thing he felt, and he found himself rarely feeling the entertainment afforded other people.

There was no power to match him, no power to test him. Long ago, the Eternal Night housed the only true threat to his might - but Grandfather's energy disappeared eons ago, and Lysander wasn't sure what became of him. Now, he closed his eyes and cast out with his senses. Intensifying his search, expanding his mind, he sought out any entertainment. Then, through the veil of reality and the clutches of space and time he found it. He found what he sought. He found a being of such immense power, that for once he could find himself the challenge he truly deserved.

Within the span of a blink, his body propelled itself through Jigoku. He lost himself in the darkness of space, the decaying entropy of existence. Then the light broke, and he ejected in the wake of the monstrosity. He stood upon nothingness, floating in the vastness of space - and let his eyes cast around him. Panident. Taluge-X. GalaXelas. They towered him in size, but only one rivaled him in sheer power. With minimal effort, he began to collect the plethora of shadows - forging the well, as Caldecise pulsed with excitement.

"I hope you guys didn't plan to statt without me."
Except none of that could have happened, because the player behind Singar fucked around and forgot his two month time limit - so Singar and all his whole things he made were dead as fuck.
1. Odium was never an active participant, so the time limit didn't apply to him.

2. The time limit was in accordance with the website, the website says it's been four months. That's two months longer than you were allowed to take, sorry not sorry.

3. tl;dr you're a moron who doesn't know math and is mad you suck. Sucks to suck, fam.
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