“Would you like to take the Tartarus orb to the ship’s secure vault, Seraph?”
The polite question came from one of Metatron’s subordinates, as he and his main honor guard stepped off of the tube connecting the assault shuttle to the command ship that had brought him to this hell hole. The officer was in his early two hundreds and eager to prove himself worthy of such an illustrious position as serving aboard the command vessel for one of the Seraphim.
“No, Decanus,” Metatron replied in a simple, measured tone as he addressed the man by rank. He didn’t want to snap at his own people, particularly just for trying to be useful. Being annoyed at this entire situation was no excuse for snapping at loyal subordinates. “I’ll take the orb to my quarters. I’d rather keep it close, just in case the devil twins added a surprise or two that we haven’t noticed.” He swore that he could feel the orb in the bag at his side, even if that was impossible given that the bag itself was a separate expanded storage space. The orb was technically in another (incredibly small) dimension at the moment. Still, it felt as though the thing was weighing him down.
Giving a few more orders about preparing the ship to leave Rysthael orbit within the next two hours, Metatron made his rounds through the ship. He would have preferred to go straight to his quarters, but it was important for the crew to see him. He took the time to speak to several, greeting them by name, asking how their various mates and families were, and offering advice when it was asked for. That went for Seosten crew members and non-Seosten alike. On board his ship, Metatron didn’t care what species they were, so long as they did the job they were given. Loyalty was what mattered in the end.
It took about one hour for the man to do his rounds. The ship would be jumping within the next hour after that, and he wanted to be on the bridge for it. But first, he needed to clean up and change into fresh clothes. It might have been ridiculous, but he never stood on the bridge before a jump in a dirty, used uniform. It felt like bad luck, a hold-over from his time so long ago serving as a navigator on an explorer ship under Zadkiel. That had been before Zadkiel went through the process that had made him, along with six others including Michael and Raphael, into… what they were now. His own first captain, the man who had been his mentor and friend, had become one of the most powerful beings in the universe.
Not that Zadkiel was around anymore. Not since they had first discovered Tartarus. Not since… well, he wasn’t around. That was enough thinking about that.
And why was he thinking about his old captain? That had been… many millennia ago. He hadn’t consciously thought about the man for a long time, though he supposed his general annoyance with many of the Olympus people probably stemmed from the loss of Zadkiel. After what had happened that made them possible…
Shaking that off, the man walked with two of his aides all the way to his quarters on the ship. Dismissing them at the door, he stepped into the room by himself and let it whoosh closed behind him.
It was either a testament to his distraction, or to… something else, that he made it almost halfway across the large main living room before noticing that while he may have entered the room without his aides, he wasn’t actually alone after all. A figure in a dark coat with the hood up stood with their back to him, facing the screen that showed an image of the planet below.
Instantly, Metatron activated several alarm spells on his person, along with a couple focused on protection, and one that would open a communication line to the bridge and the security office. A pistol materialized in his hand as he faced the intruder. “If this is some idea of a prank—”
“Your spells won’t work in here.” The voice was not threatening, but more matter of fact, as though it were simply pointing out a simple truth. It was also a familiar voice.
“Did you wonder why you were thinking about me?” With those words, the figure turned around to face him. And Metatron saw the man he had thought he would never see again. A man with long black hair, eyes a mix of brown with blue flecks, and a face that was lined more by hard work than by age. He looked exactly as he had the last time Metatron had seen him, thousands of years earlier.
“Zadkiel.” The name left his lips and a hushed whisper.
“Hi there, Navigator.” Zadkiel greeted him with a faint smile. “It’s been a while.”
Metatron stared, more than half convinced he was simply dreaming this. Or maybe it was a trick set up by those damned twins. Or maybe—
Zadkiel interrupted. “It is not a trick. I am here.”
“That is impossible,” Metatron declared. “You were lost. You were the first to go into Tartarus, and you never came back. They lost you in there. You cannot be here on this ship, and certainly not in my room, because you never came out of there. You were lost. You are dead.”
With a faint smile, Zadkiel replied. “You’re right, I did get lost in there.” He stopped talking for a moment, eyes adopting a faraway look as though remembering before he shook himself. “I got lost in there for a long time. But not forever. And not nearly as long as we did.”
Blinking, Metatron found himself echoing, “We?”
His old captain met his gaze, chuckling a little before waving a hand. “Don’t worry about that yet. The point is, I am here.” He turned casually to look back at the planet then, quietly noting, “It’s weird being up here looking down on the world after all this time.”
“I don’t… what?” Metatron was completely lost, still holding the gun on his mentor almost absently. He couldn’t follow this at all. Slowly, he looked toward the planet as well. “Are you saying you were down there?” His eyes widened and he took a step that way. “You’ve been on this world? How? Why? What have you been doing? How did you get out of Tartarus?”
“We—” Zadkiel started before stopping, his head cocked to the side. “Wait. Me. Just let me talk. Let me tell him, just me. I can handle it. It will be better that way.”
That settled it. Whatever was going on, Metatron was going to make sure it was handled properly and securely. With that in mind, he thumbed the pistol over to its highest stun setting and let his finger tighten on the trigger. This was no ordinary sidearm. It was one that had been modified to be his personal weapon, packing a punch that would put down almost anyone. Especially from this range and straight on.
Then he stopped. Or rather, his finger stopped. He chose to stun the man in front of him, but his finger wouldn’t follow through. No matter how hard he tried, his hand was frozen.
A sigh escaped Zadkiel. “We truly wish you hadn’t done that. It was a bad idea. You shouldn’t have tried it. Why didn’t you just listen?” The man’s voice cracked with his own words, his body twitching a little as though he was barely holding himself together. Actual ripples ran through the man’s body, as though there were things crawling just beneath the skin.
Now, Metatron found that he couldn’t move his own body at all. He stood there, completely frozen while the man in front of him twitched and spasmed a bit before seeming to get himself under control.
“Yes,” Zadkiel muttered while taking a deep breath. “We knew this would be hard. But we tried it anyway. We’ll do what we need to do.” He focused on Metatron then, his expression seemingly a mix between pity and anger. “You should have just listened quietly. You had to go and force our hand. That was… a bad idea.”
Finding himself able to talk even as the rest of him remained frozen, Metatron demanded, “What did you do to me? Why can’t I move? Who are you and why did you take that form?”
“We told you,” the intruder snapped, “we are him. He is us. Me. Part of me. Part of us. We are him and he is a part of us.” His head twitched, eyes seeming to roll all the way around in his skull before focusing the right way forward once more.
“Are… are you… possessed?” Metatron asked. His eyes would have widened if he could move any part of himself beyond his mouth.
The intruder laughed. “That is a very difficult question to answer. Are we possessed? Or are we possessing? Which side of it are we on?” He laughed again, the sound trilling up into a high, almost shrill note before abruptly cutting off, his tone instantly sobering, his tone measured and firm. “We were lost. We were both lost in there. We were lost in that place, that horrible, horrible place. We were lost and then we found each other.”
“Who did you find, Zadkiel?” Metatron managed. “Who could you possibly have found in there? You were the only one that went in there. There was no one else. Just the Olympians, and they all came out.”
He was met by a smile, the other man’s words almost sickly sweet. “Not one of yours. Not one of ours. He was lost in there for so much longer. Lost and broken, in fact. That part of me, that part of us, was snapped off of the other. He went in there himself, whole and complete. But that place broke him. It snapped him in half. Half staying in while the other half left. Physically the same, but not. That part of me, the part of him, left. He left himself behind. He left me behind. He left me in there. Left part of himself in there. Until I found him. Until we found each other.”
Throughout that entire spiel, the man’s emotions seemed to jump through a dozen different levels at random. He shouted, whispered, laughed, and cried, sometimes all in the same sentence.
Metatron was so lost in that moment he felt like screaming. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Zadkiel seemed to take a breath, getting himself under control. “ A demonstration, perhaps. Maybe you are a visual learner.” He pointed to the screen and spoke a single word, transforming it into a blank white slate.
“Zadkiel is a circle.” Sure enough, a blue circle appeared on the screen. “His mind is a dot.” A matching blue dot appeared in the middle of the circle.
“He was sent into Tartarus to explore it, to prove that it could be used and tamed to empower the Seosten people. But he was lost in that place. He wandered for a long time by himself. By myself.” On the screen, the circle bounced around randomly.
“The Other… he was in there long before.” Another circle appeared, this one red, with a red dot in the middle of it to illustrate his mind. “That place does things to you. It gives you powers, gifts. And it does… more. For the Other, it split him in half. Two identical bodies, with slightly different copies of his mind going into each.”
On the screen, the red circle split in half, with a red dot as the brain remaining with each half.
“One half left that place.” One of the half-circles and dots disappeared. “But the other half stayed. He was there for a long time. Until Zadkiel found him. We should have fought. But we were both alone for so long. We talked. And we touched. It had been so long since we touched anyone. We had to. We had to make it real. Don’t you understand? We had to make it real!”
As Metatron was forced to watch, the half-circle of the ‘other’ and the full circle of Zadkiel bounced off each other, circling and touching.
“And then Tartarus made it real. Tartarus made it real forever. It put us together. It combined us. He was only half. So he was shoved into me. We are one now.”
The red half-circle and the blue full circle combined then. The dots that were their minds, and the half circle where both of their ‘bodies’ were overlapped turned purple.
“Isn’t that funny? Isn’t that just perfect? After everything that happened between our people, we are one now.”
“Between… our people?” Metatron’s blood went cold. “Who are you talking about? What happened in there? Who were you combined with?”
In answer, Zadkiel straightened. And then he grew another foot or so. His skin paled, turning a bit gray while his actual face remained recognizably himself, though with a few alterations. His eyes grew larger and wider.
His wings emerged. But they were more than just energy constructs. They looked demonic, like massive physical bat wings. The structures of them, the parts where the bones would be, were actually solid, while the middle part that was responsible for catching the air in a normal wing was still made of energy. Half biological monstrosity and half energy construct.
Metatron knew what he was looking at, even as every hope he had otherwise broke into shards and collapsed to dust. His fears were correct. The other being that Zadkiel had been combined with in that place… was a Fomorian.
“No,” he managed a bit brokenly, his heart crumbling as he stared at the figure that he had once looked up to so much. “You should have died. You should have died rather than come out of there with one of them attached to you. You should have killed it, or died trying. You never should’ve come out of there like this.”
Zadkiel, or whatever the two combined figures called themselves, gave a soft chuckle, stretching their wings out to their full, impressive extension. “We are far more together than we ever were apart. We are more with each other than you could ever possibly understand. We’ve brought the best of our peoples into one. And we came here to finish that job.”
“You came here… why?” Metatron managed, while the discussed and horror that he felt rose with each second that he had to spend staring at this abomination.
Rather than answer immediately, the monster turned to look at the planet on the screen. “We have been here for a long time. Longer than even you have been here. We’ve done things here. Nudged things where we needed to. We heard about prophecies. Some we wanted. Others we didn’t. Like the one about the woman who works for Morgana the witch queen.”
Metatron’s head shook. “That woman has many protégés. I don’t—”
In mid-sentence, the man stopped. He frowned uncertainly. Morgana the witch queen? The woman had been missing, presumed dead, for centuries. The Seosten didn’t know where she was, and yet he had just been speaking as though he knew her. As if she was… the… Sinclaire woman. How could he possibly have known that? He didn’t know that. And yet the information had simply appeared in his mind, as if he had somehow known the whole time. And if that information was in his mind, what else did he…
“You should pay more attention,” the monster snapped, and it was almost like being reprimanded by his old captain again. “Virginia Dare. We heard of many prophecies surrounding her bloodline. So we sent people to find her as a child. They disappointed us. But then, that was inevitable. We didn’t particularly care if the girl was brought to us or driven away. All that mattered was that she not live a normal life. And that was accomplished quite thoroughly.”
Still confused, Metatron asked, “Why are you meddling in that? Or in anything on this world? What is it you want?”
The sick, twisted abomination smiled at him. “We came here to find him. And we will do so. We will find him and be one.”
Metatron was silent for a moment before letting out a breath. “The other half of the Fomorian who was in Tartarus. The one who left. You think he’s here on this world?”
“We know he is,” was the response. “He’s been here since the beginning. Through all of their history. He has always been here. Playing nice with them. Being the pleasant old man. He even calls himself Grandfather, of all things.”
“Why can’t I move?” Metatron repeated his earlier question, still straining against whatever had frozen him. He had to tell others. He had to make sure this was known. “What did you do to me? And why have you shown yourself now? Your Fomorian isn’t here on the ship.” He tried to ignore the fact that he had said that while looking at what was at least half of a Fomorian. Half of a Fomorian… and his old captain. It was a thought that brought bile to his throat.
“No,” the monstrosity before him replied, his twisted Fomorian-Seosten visage tearing Metatron’s very soul every second that he had to look at it. “He is not. But you are. And you have brought back what we need to reintegrate with him. Just as you were supposed to.”
“The Tartarus Orb,” Metatron realized, a sudden chill running through him. “If you want that, you’ll have to go get it out of the ship vault.”
In what appeared at first to be a non sequitur, the figure in front of him mused, “We are many things. Survivors. Abandoned. Torn asunder. Joined. Allied. Left, yet found. We were lost, yet we came upon one another. Though not fully whole, we have reached beyond what we were capable of alone. We are so very many things…
“But we are not stupid.”
With that final declaration, Metatron felt his own hand suddenly jerk, seemingly of its own volition. It hurt, as though the bone in his body was moving and dragging the rest of the arm with it. He reached, against his will, into the bag at his side where the orb was kept and plucked the thing out before offering it forward. All the while, he struggled uselessly. “What… what… do you want with this…?”
One of those horrific wings of mixed flesh and glowing energy reached forward, a clawed talon-like extension on the end snatching the orb before bringing it back to the monster’s actual hands, where he cradled it. His voice was quiet. “We are the inevitable conclusion of our species’ endless war, a true peace and alliance. Look at us. Look at us. To end this war, we are what is needed. No Fomorians. No Seosten. Only together.
“But we are not yet whole. We are not yet truly two-in-one. One of us is a half of himself.”
Metatron understood. “The Fomorian down on that world. You want to unite with him.”
“He is our remaining part,” the figure confirmed while turning the orb over in his hands. “He is needed, if we are to complete our purpose. We will end the Fomorian-Seosten war, by ending the Fomorian and the Seosten as separate people. All will be brought together as we have been. And peace will be restored. We will end this conflict for all time by truly uniting our peoples. But we cannot do that without our final part. He is needed. We need him to be a part of us, to make us whole.”
Holding the orb up, he continued. “We can only unite with our lost part through Tartarus. We need to be there, with him, to be made whole. This will be the key.”
That took a moment to process before Metatron snapped, “Here. You want to open Tartarus here on this world.”
That horrible visage stared at him for a moment before the figure chuckled. “Open it? No. We will bring it here to this world. We will make this world a part of Tartarus.”
“Our people will stop that from happening,” Metatron informed him. “They will stop everything you’re trying to do. Do you really think they’ll just allow you to do all of this?”
“Perhaps they would try,” the abomination agreed. “But they won’t know anything until it’s too late.”
“You have the orb,” Metatron reminded him. “They’ll come for it.”
That earned him a thoughtful nod. “Yes, they would. But we do not need the whole orb. Only…” One of his wings tucked in, the talon on the end plunging into the orb with a wet squelching sound. There was a pulsing in the wing, as it sucked Tartarus energy from the orb like a straw. Slowly, the golden energy in the wings turned a dark purple-black color, and the abomination sighed in satisfaction. “Ahhh… there. We only required a portion of the orb. That will serve as a seed, which will grow, in time, to what we need it to be.”
He, or they, or whatever it was, tossed the orb back toward Metatron. One of the wings came down to catch it before placing the thing into the frozen man’s outstretched hand. “You may take the orb back to the Seosten to play their games. It will make no difference in the end.”
Metatron opened his mouth, then paused. “And you’re going to try to erase my memory of this entire thing so I don’t warn them.”
The monster stepped forward, standing face to face with him, their eyes meeting. “Erase your memory? No. You will remember all of this. But you still won’t say a word to anyone. Just as you aren’t moving to stop us now.”
“You may be powerful,” Metatron half-snarled. “But even you can’t control my body from across the universe.”
That earned him a merry laugh. “You believe we are controlling you? That is what you think is happening here? Old friend… why are we standing eye to eye?”
It was a question that made the man blink. Eye to eye. They were standing… at even levels. As he processed that, the monster murmured, “Look down.”
Slowly, reluctantly, Metatron did so. His eyes focused on his outstretched hand, and he saw… pallid gray. Fingers that were too many, and too long.
His eyes rose, and he saw that the screen on the wall had changed. It was a mirror. He saw the reflection of the creature standing in front of him, the monstrosity that had been his old captain, that twisted combination of Zadkiel and his Fomorian half.
And he saw himself. He saw his skin turned gray, his height raised to match his intruder’s. He saw his too-large eyes, the bulbous head with his own familiar face superimposed onto it.
“You see?” His own mouth spoke the words, while Metatron himself screamed somewhere in the void of his lost soul.
“We have already begun our evolution.”