Chapter 0:

Endless Despair, and Fleeting Hope. (1)

Murder of Hornets.

My eyes passed over the many glowing street signs: an open sign here, a closed sign here, myriads of flashing lucky cats. Lucky…the word nearly made me chuckle. A low raspy wisp of a laugh that would catch on the breath and leak out like a small self contained tumultuous bedlam. Bedlam? Luck? Was I ever lucky…? For even a moment of my life? Small shallow steps, hazy vision--no. I had never been lucky for even a moment of my life. All my hope had been ripped from my body, chewed up and spat out as nothing more than despair I was forced to swallow to get by. Fed by the scraps the yawning maws of the gluttonous elite dropped. Deadened eyes, tired, unfocused. Staring into my reflection in an odd alleyway window…I. I could hardly recognize myself. Who was I? Has God truly made me so unlucky I don’t even know who I am anymore? Shuffling suffering feet carried me through the neon streets. Lurching forward in a way of a slouch I wouldn’t’ve been surprised if at least one passerby mistook for the living dead…? There was that same wry chuckle, however this time accompanied by a small snicker.

Day in, Day out. Go to work, go home, sleep, go to work, overtime, go home, sleep, go to work. Go to work. Go to work. Go to work. It felt like I was chanting a mantra only spoken of in bygone ancient texts. Work was hell…and I had made a Faustian deal. Sold my soul the moment I even took that interview…now here I was years later. A man…no I could barely even qualify as human anymore. A husk devoid of hope--devoid of anything that could make me feel human. Did I hate myself? Did I hate despair? I don’t know what went through my head as I tumbled. A step too far out and down, down, down to the subway tracks below. God. had. Abandoned. Me or so I thought.

The preconceptions one might have about a supposed afterlife, what it looks like and the peace that comes with it. We may find comfort in such things, such sweet nothings. These thoughts were sucked out of me in a single moment, as if all my thoughts had been instinctively replaced with the primal fear of infinity.

There was certainly “something” within this afterlife I had found myself: something twisting and crawling.

A glen nearly perfect in every aspect, like I had arrived into a singular frame of a nature documentary. Endless sounds of peace drifted into my ears, the droning calm of a running creek, rustling of leaves, the soft tramping of deer and doe. Was this heaven? Had all my hard work in life truly paid off? The peace that swam through my body took the brunt of hoisting twenty-seven long years of built up stress off my shoulders. I don’t exactly know how long I wandered around this paradise; perhaps days, months, years in the land of the living. The water that cut the land in twixt was calm and inviting, I watched as a flock of roaming deer came one by one and drank of the water before calmly scampering to wherever else in the expansive paradise. Kneeling down It became apparent--not necessarily an idea…or a “thing” but…a concept. A concept we as humans were never meant to grapple with. Swirling ripples drifted under the water surface; not like the thrashings of gathered fish but as if the water itself was being pulled apart atom by atom and glued back together in a fraction of a moment. I lifted a cup of the liquid towards my mouth, the liquid leaped from my hand, forcing its way into my throat and sliding down like a vile sludge, coughing and gagging. A powerful ode of suffocation overcame my being, losing control of my limbs, it was like I was picked up and then swiftly thrown head first into the ground.

That same gnawing terror came back, chewing its way through all of my thoughts.

DESPAIR. Despair, despair, despair! DESPAIR!!!!

Hands crept towards the azure sky, like a corpse I drug myself along the ground, huffing and puffing all the while. The paradise and all the sweet nothings that congregated within slowly began to fall away, like sloughing skin on a leper’s arm. The sky itself fell away like the backdrop of a stage production. The paradise, how little I’ve known yet the sight of watching it dissipate gouged my heart; the creek began to dry, the trees sank, dissolving into the ground and the deers were consumed by the earth. Their cries and screams echoing like a haunting choir as their bodies were pulled to pieces. What kind of an afterlife was this?

Then suddenly, there was ultimate calm. Nothing moved, nothing shifted…it was still.

As if time had no measurable quantity, there was a being. A being so incomprehensible I…I don’t even know what I was looking at: if it was human, beastial somewhere in between. All I knew is when this being appeared everything went calm. The being spoke--or at least I could only describe it as speaking. It was as if the being, this god of peace was warping my own thoughts into nothing but strings of its own declarations.

“Drown in the deepest mire of suffering, thou hast? I bring thy my boon. I, E.N.D, bless you"  when they introduced themself…it felt as though there was something--missing. yet it somehow didn't matter because--just hearing their voice alone was enough to make me feel...nothing. I could raise a single dissenting thought and all I knew was that my innermost core yearned for this being. it was as if the dams of heaven opened--my eyes must've never been dry in my entire life. collapsing to my knees in exaltation; thick sloppy tears ran down my face, holding my hands to the sky. 
"Ease thyself. I come only with love" The being, softly shifted their form moving between amorphous, humanoid and that of a beast I couldn't possibly recognize. yet there was one consistency--an extended appendage. it slithered out from underneath them, wriggling like a quiver of snakes and appearing before me. without thinking I shook it--ending the shake with a recoil. everything went black. 

Through hazy eyes I couldn't make up much of everything.  distant muffled voices. The calm paradise of that being’s world was ripped away--all that greeted me now was a mound of corpses and a brilliant blue moon that illuminated this hell. Choruses of shouting, explosions that rang out just beyond the purview of my hazy eyes. Yes, I certainly was no longer The living dead and I was now just dead. Certainly it would seem being pious and zealous in life didn’t exactly translate into a free ticket to “the good place” it seems. The hell I had been sentenced stretched on for what I could only assume was forever. Xeric sun scorched savannah planes rolled seamlessly into the horizon. An engorged tyrannical orange sun seemed to glare down at me from its position in the sky. Was I so despairingly unlucky I couldn’t even die properly and wind up in a normal hell? Where was the hell fire? The devil? My questions seemed to go unanswered even if I never voiced them. Another concerto of explosions ripped apart the air; I had somewhat tuned out the endless sounds that surrounded me but the explosions and their trisagion sucker punched me back to my senses. Suddenly I was very aware that I was in hell and not suddenly transported to another continent after a bender--I couldn’t exactly think straight but it all felt “right” in the moment. Ducking down and covering my head, cowering as the book of revelation played out around me.

Fireballs and claps of thunder…like the roars of some unseen god of violence ripped apart the planes. Scorching craters opened around me as if I was just in this world and not beholden to it. I was just a wanderer in this violent hell.

Peeking my eyes out from under my cowering hands, glimpses of roaring platoons, blades clashing. The exchanging parties, all of them, from even the most unsure soldier seemed ready to kill. If looks could kill these men would have killed me a million times over. Hope? Was this what fueled these gathered soldiers? Could it’ve been despair? No…it couldn’t’ve been…? Right? The way their mouths contorted into warped prideful smiles as they slashed each other’s throats, the uproarious sounds of abject joy as more and more blood stained the bronze colored sand. Yes--it all made sense now. This: is Rancid Hope as filthy as it comes just begging to be cleaned with a righteous despair.

My lips pursed into a grin, a small chuckle drifted out from between my grinding teeth. This wasn’t hell after all was it? The chuckle seemed to only grow in volume without my conscious need or want. The soldiers--those that were still standing seemed to all turn on a swivel, focusing solely on me. No! This wasn’t hell. This…this was heaven in the purest sense. A place where every sensation is heightened to a degree which could never possibly be fathomed. Hope, despair every feeling now could be boiled down to these two extremes within this perfect Eden. I gathered myself, as much of me I could…muster. Hands caked in mud, detritus and other earthly elements found themselves buried deep in the knots of my gray hair. The laughter didn’t end…no. I couldn’t stop it--nor did I want to. It was as if the laughter that poured out of me was a divine decree from the God who's cause I now served.
did I know what this feeling was? Joy? Anguish? Hopeless prattling on the verge of my own sanity?
was I simply smiling on the precipice of my own non existence as if finding the mere concept of nothing laughable.

"OI!" the shaking voices of the stirring platoon wriggled into the air like a startled koi fish. "Who...who are you? what nation do you serve?" a series of shocked stirring seemed to follow their inquisition. as the question writhed through my ears like a piercing arrow it became all too clear--for what purpose I had been dragged to this hell.
uproarious laughter erupted out of me.

“Y…yes I see now! I see why God has called me. I am the grand Unifier, the great arbiter of hope. TOKUGAWA” lips pursed and twisted pulling back cheeks revealing stained teeth. The hope--the life of all those currently gathered dwindled, the looks in their eyes, the fire in their souls…had silently been snuffed out. Recoiling in horror, dropping their armaments--despair. A silent killer, creeping along the spines of all those who’s sights it sets upon…a crawling creeping chaos.

One step, then another, I was ambling, shuffling towards the gathered mass of congregated fear; the coagulated despair was like breathing in the finest rose perfume.

All of a sudden there was an impounding, a violent pulsating filth that intruded my innermost being. Pain. it started small at first: a simple knocking against my ribs but gradually the pain’s radius and voracity grew like the appetite of a beast. Traversing through my being, I gripped my head, harder than I possibly ever held it in my life. The pain swelled, as if all of God’s wrath was being held back my measly skull. Then came the blood, a rushing torrent of crimson that poured out of my nostrils; staining the withered ground a deep crimson. The cawing of a proud peacock punctuated this parade of internal suffering; calling me to my senses--yes, this was just a test; a test from God.

“H..ho…hope!” the word fumbled its way out of my mouth. I watched as the gathered soldiers quivered, their mouths babbling up and down, teeth chattering against one another. “Hope!” the word recurring once more as if I was repeating a mantra. There was an old adage I should’ve paid more attention too: “Animals backed into a corner are more dangerous” pushed to the brink of their own despair, a certain shuffling came about them; no sudden movements just: shuffling, slow meandering. Weapons once thought discarded were picked up, all with a slowness to their movements. Their relative disdain of speed was swiftly betrayed by an unparalleled burst. Hysteric screams, footsteps, brandished blades.

….is this what it feels like to take a life? My hand felt…warm. The blood flowed in between my fingers, dribbling down off my fingertips and splattering onto the ground. The blood pooled in my palm, a warm odd sensation, like cupping one’s heartbeat.

A punctuating clang resounded into the dry air, the armament, the man beared in his final moments had dropped out of his grip. My hand had been made into a spear’s head, pierced through the chest. A simple toss was all it took to free my hand and discard the body that was claimed. A life taken--despair dawned where Hope had originally been.

When one takes a life are they supposed to feel something? Regret? Remorse? Pity? Shame? The crescent smile eclipsed my cheeks once more. Uproarious laughter erupted out of me. This was the Hope of God--a righteous hope.

The rest of the platoon stiffened, the gathered soldiers while from opposite ends of a conflict I couldn’t care less about. They seemed to nod, forming a bond: “If we make it out of this, I won’t kill you” their eyes spoke more than their clattering teeth. A slap-dash formation of pointed weapons, and firearms had cast themselves in my direction.

There was one amongst the group who seemed--different. He stood up, ostensibly more collected than his peers. Something radiated off of him, a burning smell--suffocating even. The man made a small series of ritualistic movements, a wave of his hand there, a toss of neck here, here and there his body flagged and waved.

The soldier stepped forward, culminating in a powerful scream. His body lurched forward as if pulled along by the rage carried in his fists, soaring along the ground and within seconds he had made it within my range--another sinner upon God’s chopping block. No matter how flowery or flashy he was: he was nothing more than a despair ridden sinner. My fist the distilled wrath of god pounded against the sinner’s jaw; casting his foul blood amidst the sand withered reeds.

“HOPE!” The world felt indescribably sultry as it left my mouth as if it was the most lustful seduction I’d ever spoken. It wasn’t long before the rest of the congregation decided to join. Swinging blades and firing off blasts from their firearms.

….blood. It stained all I could see, there wasn’t a spot clean, it was if I had dyed the whole savannah. corpses littered the ground; their blood flowing through the cracked soil like a drought-ending rain. Sinners lay at my feet--this was God's will. His Justice! this song my heart was proudly singing was not one my body seemed to be able to contend. Pain. It had come awash over my being once more--a sensation this form had become all too accustom. the endless pulsating ill that snaked its way through each synapse, chewed and mauled every nerve. I took hold of my head, my own blood being nothing more than a miniscule drop in the buckets that dyed the savannah. endlessly--mind numbingly endlessly I could hear my own heartbeat--even as I think back to the man I had been in my last life I doubt I had ever paid more attention to the rhythm of my heart. working endless shifts, probably thought of myself less a person and more of one cog in a massive machine--a cog consumed by despair.

Yes! and Now God had granted me a way to cleanse these sinners of their despair. such thoughts repeated--a neigh endless stream of consciousness. I was so lost in thought that I hadn't noticed the commotion. footsteps, lots of them came from behind me. from the sounds alone it appeared as though there was a group--a platoon, and a commander atop a horse. either that or this commotion was caused by just a random group of random farmers.

"looked like quite the skirmish?" came a deep masculine voice. "are you hurt?" his voice seemed to direct completely at my back. when I didn't respond the man grumbled to himself. "Poor guy, shell shock must've gotten to 'im"

a hand--took hold of my shoulder, I peered at it; noticing all the small imperfections, scars and abrasions. a sharp jolt soon followed, I was turned around. a pair of amber eyes examined me, glancing me over. coming upon my nose the man simply clicked his tongue and turned his head.

"This one just awakened! we're taking him back to Kaiz!" the man barked to the platoon behind him. among the midst of those that saluted and nodded were a few who looked remarkably uneasy.

"M...My liege we don't even know where he came from? he could be one of Odin's spies"

"then that is a risk I'm willing to take. if I can save at least one life it'll be worth it in the end"

"Sieg Leonidas!!!" the soldiers saluted.
before I could process I was scooped up and carted off to God knows where.