The Unbearable Mirror
The lone figure pulled the dark blue plastic slicker he had donned
tightly around himself as he ran through the rain. A short man, he moved a
rapid pace across the muddy ground. As he made his way towards his
destination, hoping to be inside before the storm broke in full, Billy Lee
Black thought about the events that had brought him here.
Things had moved quickly after the fall of Deus. The refugees, the handful
of survivors that had not been mutated into Reapers (he still thought of
them by the Ethos’s term) or been slaughtered in the following purge by the
lethal Seraphs had hailed him and the rest of the Yggdrasil’s crew as
heroes. The remnant, a rag-tag assortment from Aveh, Kislev, Nisan, Shevat,
even Solaris, had come together for the first time in peace. After the
horror that was Deus, their once bitter hatreds towards one another had
seemed meaningless. Ironically, the schemes of the Ethos and their Solarian
masters, which had intended nothing less then the extermination of every
human being on the planet, had in the end actually brought about true peace.
Deep down, Billy was both comforted and disgusted by that knowledge.
That peace, that unprecedented sense of brotherhood and cooperation had
promised the dawn of a new age, free from the conflicts and errors of the
past. It seemed that the ancient cycle of war and violence had finally come
to an end. Billy had actually begun to believe that he would never have to
lift his revolvers in battle again.
Of course, it didn’t work out that way.
Fortunately for him and a great many other people, Billy had put off the
urge to beat his guns into plowshares. What had not occurred to him, had not
occurred to anyone at first, was soon brutally revealed. The Reapers,
Krelian’s bastard children, were still alive and hungry for blood.
It was not as bad as it might have been. Most of the people who had been
transformed when Gasper’s nanomachines had removed the limiters of the long
manipulated populace of the world had either been successfully treated or
had rejoined with Deus, dying along with him. The Seraph angels, nightmares
even to an army of Gears, had been annihilated along with their master. Only
the smaller ones remained, the ones that had not been able to act as parts
for Deus’s rebirth. And there were many of them.
The survivors had scattered. They were few enough as it was; they did not
dare allow the Wels to trap them in one group. The Titans, as Fei, Billy,
Bart, and all the rest had come to be known, were pressed into service once
more, acting as leaders, planners, fighters. Citan and Maria had hurled
themselves into rebuilding whatever they could of the old technology.
Between Citan’s brilliance and Maria’s engineering skills, they had been
able to begin a technological Renaissance, gradually building the framework
for a world without Ether power.
And that was why Billy was here, running through the mud, trying to outrace
a storm. A particularly dangerous group of Reapers had been reported in the
area, raiding the settlement that was being raised nearby. Nearly two dozen
had been slain by the ravening creatures thus far, and the raids had shown
no sign of slowing. They had all but thrown themselves at his feet when they
had learned that he, the famous Reaper slayer, the great Etone, had come to
Billy had felt like throwing up.
Finally, the building he was looking for appeared up ahead. Putting on a
last burst of speed, Billy reached the doors of the abandoned ruin and
forced the heavy double doors open. Throwing off the rain cloak and
revealing the Etone robes beneath, he walked in and looked around the old
Ethos church where the pack was believed to be hiding.
He immediately recognized the familiar layout of an Ethos chapel. The
confessional stall would be to the side, the living and office area to the
back. He saw no bodies; either the Brothers who had watched over this place
had escaped the Solarian and Deusian purges or they had been killed
elsewhere. The sight of the chapel, the same layout as in every Etone
church, brought memories back to the surface.
He remembered the day he had first entered one of them, remembered how awed
he had been at the sight of the stained glass windows and high, painted
ceiling. He remembered the sight of the ranks of the clergy, all dressed in
identical robes, the entire congregation echoing the presiding Bishop
Stone’s words in perfect unison. It had seemed the most holy place in the
entire world to young Billy, the home of the people that served the will of
How bitter that thought seemed now!
He remembered the day he completed his training, when he had taken on the
garments and vows of an Etone, to defend the lambs of God against the Reaper
wolves, to save precious lives and more precious souls. He remembered the
smile on Stone’s face as he personally anointed him with the holy oils,
sealing him as one of God’s Chosen. He remembered, most bitterly of all, how
proud he was to have pleased Bishop Stone, the old man whom he secretly
thought of as his true father.
And then he remembered the rest. The meeting with Elly and the others, the
revelations, the discovery of the true nature of the Ethos, the massacre of
the unsuspecting brethren by Solarian assassins, and the horrifying truth of
the Reapers he had butchered so zealously…
“Humans,” Stone had said. “Just like you!”
In a selfish part of himself, Billy wished he had never agreed to accompany
her, never agreed to help them save the injured Fei.
He remembered the shock of Stone’s betrayal most keenly of all, the
manipulations, the lies, and the truth of his mother’s death. Those Reapers
that had ripped her apart before the tender young eyes of him and his
sister, the Reapers Stone had shot to death seconds too late, they…
And so he had left, his faith in the Ethos destroyed. And with the others,
he had embarked on a new quest, to slay the God he had once loved so dearly.
He was amazed at times that he had been able to go on, to keep fighting.
To think that the Sisters of Nisan, Nisan of all places, had been right in
the end! His mind flashed back to the Ethos’ teaching on the rival religion,
the dogmatic apologetics manuals that had been part of his education. He
remembered the Etones that had lectured on them, remembered their strident,
fervent words. “They are idolaters!” his teachers had cried, always
insisting that they said these things only for the good of the Sister’s
souls. “They pray to themselves, seeking to be as gods themselves, as all
heretical groups have done in one way or another, as Satan, the Father of
Heresies spoke to our first parents!” How was it that one of those writers
had put it? Ah yes, “Throughout history, the same heresy has been arisen,
like noxious smoke out of Hell, the idea that humans can be gods!”
Billy’s mind, even after the truth of the Ethos had been made plain, had
still clung to those teachings, closing his ears to the Sisters’ words. He
felt ashamed as he thought back to the suspicion he had viewed Margie with
The sisters of Nisan did not think themselves gods; far from it. Every time
they knelt in prayer, every time they spoke to their innermost feelings,
they looked into a mirror of themselves, a perfect reflection that forced
them to see themselves for what they were, to face their flaws each and
every day. Who could think themselves a god after that ordeal? Billy wished
he had their courage, wished he had the strength to face that unbearable
mirror that was his soul.
The flash of lightning outside cast the only real illumination in the
ruined chapel. Under its wild, furious light, he saw them.
The Reapers. They came from every possible shadow and entrance; from
behind the altar, dropping from the rafters, from the rooms in back, and
even one stumbling out of the confessional stall (did some part of it still
hunger for redemption?). As they formed a semi-circle around him, a brief
lull came over the storm. The chapel was almost pitch-black, but that posed
no real impediment to Billy. Their eyes, glowing red with a light of insane
rage, of creatures tortured until only blood could comfort them, marked them
clearly, even in the darkness.
Calmly, without a hint of anger, he met their feral gazes one by one. “I’m
sorry,” he said quietly, his voice almost a whisper. “I’m sorry you had to
endure this nightmare, I’m sorry you lost your lives, and I’m sorry we
weren’t able to save you.” Slowly, Billy reached to the holsters in his
robes and drew two revolvers. “And I’m sorry that this is the only thing I
can do to help you.”
A particularly loud clap of thunder broke the silence. The elemental flash
of electricity lit the entire room, revealing the scene. That apparently
broke the Wels out of their inactivity. Snarling with rage, they leapt at
Billy, twisted appendages raking for his flesh.
Billy stood like a statue, guns still by his side. At the last moment
before they had him, he snapped into action. He whirled, guns firing. They
hesitated for a moment, and Billy took full advantage of it. He charged
straight at one of them, firing two quick shots into its midsection and
placing the final one right between its eyes. He threw himself into a
forward somersault, right past the still standing corpse. He spun and began
firing shot after shot, each bullet killing or wounding a Reaper.
Something, a tongue, a tail, a tentacle, Billy couldn’t say, whipped across
his legs, knocking him to the ground. In an instant, a bipedal creature
stood over him, blood covering its face, claws and fangs bared. He slammed
the revolvers into its belly and fired, over and over, nearly lifting the
massive thing off the ground. He rolled to the side as it collapsed towards
him, barely avoiding being trapped.
The storm built, lightning flashing every few seconds. The familiar stench
of gunpowder filled the air, assaulting his lungs. He moved like a
whirlwind, years of intensive training and fighting experience eliminating
the need for conscious thought. He simply moved and reacted by instinct. And
Finally, it was done. Billy, his clothes soaked with gore, gasped,
staggering as he tried to stay on his feet. He looked at the roomful of
Once, he would have been proud of this.
He fell to one knee, gasping from exhaustion and raw emotions. Eyes
blurring with sweat and blood (he tried to convince himself they weren’t
tears) he raised his head and gazed at the altar.
Another Reaper stood there. It was a horrific thing, easily seven feet tall
and hunched over, eyes wild with an unholy rage. Its body seemed stripped of
its skin, laying bare thick cords of muscles across the creature’s huge
form. Massive claws protruded from its bloated right arm, while the almost
human left appendage hung useless at its side. It opened its jaw, revealing
row upon row of razor-sharp teeth, bits of flesh from its last meal still
clinging to them. But the most horrible thing of all, to Billy’s eyes, was
the pendant that encircled its bulky neck like a noose.
It was an Ethos ankh. This creature, this nightmare, had once been an
Trembling, Billy forced his right arm up, taking aim at the creature. He
fired, striking it dead-on in the forehead. The creature, made of pain and
muscle and bone, jerked back, then straightened, apparently unharmed.
Billy fired again, and again, both revolvers firing a fusillade of bullets.
Finally, he heard a dry click.
They were empty.
Billy threw the now useless weapons to the ground, and walked forward.
Standing mere feet away from the monstrous creature, he craned his neck,
looking up into its pain-filled eyes.
“Is it blood?” he asked quietly. “Is it my blood you want, my blood that
can end your pain?”
The creature seemed to listen to his words, to calm a bit as if some part
of its forgotten humanity was touched by Billy’s words. Billy spread his
“Come,” he said.
The Etone-turned-Reaper almost seemed to smile at that. For just a moment,
it almost seemed human.
Then the pain flashed through its mind once more, and it knew only the
desire for blood. It lashed out, seizing the helpless Billy by the neck.
Raising him up, it lifted him towards its salivating mouth like a mouse to a
Billy reached beneath his robes, producing a small combat shotgun,
perfectly crafted to his slight frame. In one quick movement, he shoved it
into the creature’s mouth.
“Forgive me!” he cried as he slowly pulled the trigger.
A lightning bolt struck not twenty feet from the church, shaking the earth
beneath their feet.
They fell to the ground, the Reaper in a crumpled ball, Billy into a
cat-like crouch. Falling to his knees beside the dying creature, he reached
out and gently grasped its left arm, the one un-mutated part of its body.
Forcing his voice into a peaceful tone, he spoke to it.
“Rest in peace, child of the Lord.”
The creature grew still as he spoke, seeming to take comfort in his words.
The hand tightened in Billy’s grasp, whether in a last reflex or in a
message of thanks, Billy could not say. The hand fell limp, all tension
leaving the Reaper’s muscles.
A tear began to fall from Billy’s eye as he looked tenderly at the flaccid
hand. For a moment, he closed his eyes, then threw his head back.
“Damn you Krelian, and all of you works! Damn you Stone, and your promises
of salvation!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. He dropped his head back
down, his voice falling to a whisper. “And damn me for being a part of it
all,” he finished quietly.
A bolt of lightning hit somewhere far off, eerily silent. As it did, Billy
saw a face on the ground before him. It was gone in an instant, leaving a
confused Billy in the dark. Rising to his feet, he stumbled towards the
altar. Grabbing one of the candles that remained there, he reached into his
robes, fishing for a certain device. Pulling the small electric fire-starter
out, he held it to the end of the blessed candle and lit it. It cast little
light, barely a flicker, but it was enough. He returned to the spot where he
had seen the reflection and knelt down, holding the candle above him.
It was blood. A puddle had formed from the gaping wound in the head of the
last Reaper. In it, he saw a reflection, a tear-filled, despairing face that
could only be his own. He drew back, afraid of the sight, then forced
himself to look back. Setting the candle by the puddle, he looked at it, an
expression of mingled fear and hope fighting across his features. Bringing
his hands together, he began to pray, never closing his eyes, never turning
his face away from that mirror.
The doors swung open, and Billy walked through, his body cleaned and his
garments washed. The storm had broken during the night, and the birds were
beginning to sing. He looked up at the sun, beginning to rise above the
horizon. Smiling, he began to walk back to the settlement, back to the
children of God.