Chapter 127:

Chapter 127 - Up in Smoke


Marka stowed Lifebringer on his back and took Voidthrower in-hand, limping toward his cousin one agonizing step at a time. The pile of earth he’d fired his way had done its job well; Diallo lay immobilized beneath a heap of rock and dust, his hand grasping for the handle of his gun without success.

Had Marka hesitated a second longer, he might have reached it in time. It lay less than a foot away from the tips of his fingers, its dark metal contours glistening in the haze-filtered sun. Its owner howled and squirmed as he approached, knowing well enough what came next:

Imprisonment in the very void he’d been condemned to back in Port Pistola.

“Damn you, Marka!” he spat, still clawing at the gravel rooftop in a desperate bid to rearm himself. “Buried in filth by a sentimental fool… I will not be defeated like this!”

“You have no choice,” Marka grunted. He dragged his bad leg level with Diallo’s struggling form and looked down at him sadly, his brow creased with pity. “And neither do I. I had hoped to leave you and your schemes behind, but you refuse to leave me be. I see now that there can only be one solution…”

He lifted his weapon, pointing the barrel at the space between Diallo’s shoulder blades. His cousin looked up at him belligerently, defiant to the end.

“Go on, then.”


In the space of a single trigger pull, Voidthrower consumed him whole. All at once, the man, the gun, and the mound of dirt were carved from the face of Cal Vontra, absorbed into a lightless pocket dimension beyond Marka’s own reckoning. He’d inflicted the same on many men before, but no act of violence had ever impacted him quite like this. Inside, he felt drained–empty, as if he had lost a part of himself that he would never get back.

And, for all he knew, that wasn’t far from the truth.

He stared into the dark recess Voidthrower had carved for some time, dwelling on days gone by. It wasn’t until his leg began to quiver beneath him that he decided to relocate, hobbling over to the base of the nearest smokestack for shade and a place to rest. The big man lowered himself to the ground and loosed a sigh, his unfocused eyes drifting over the ribbon of crimson he’d left in his wake.

It wouldn’t be long now. The battle was over, but his wounds were severe; it would only be a matter of time before he bled out. He rested his head against the smokestack at his back and looked up, dreaming of a better sky–a cleaner sky, untainted by the worst excesses of human nature.

Then again, perhaps he didn’t deserve to die beneath a sky like that.

Marka’s gaze shifted back to the rooftop. Idly, he chose to take one last look around, his eyes roving the still sea of bloody gravel all around him. It was then that he spied a hint of movement at the other end of the rooftop–a pair of tiny hands grasping the uppermost rails of the long ladder leading back to the world below. A second later, his daughter hoisted herself up into his field of vision and dashed toward him with all speed, her dark hair fluttering behind her.

“Father! Father!!” Beretta cried, sinking to her knees beside him. “What happened? You are hurt…”

A pang of guilt gripped his heart. He tried not to look at the bowl-shaped indentation behind her as he met his daughter’s worried stare. “Your uncle found me,” he breathed. “We fought. I… I shot him. But not before he caused these wounds you see.”

To his surprise, she answered first with a smile. “It will all be alright, Father,” she said, happy tears welling at the corners of her eyes. “Drizzle and I are here for you.” With that, she held up her water gun for him to see. With every tear that traced her cheek, it filled a little fuller, until its reservoir brimmed with life-giving liquid!

Marka could hardly believe it. His lips parted in a wide smile, one hand lifting to dry her tear-slicked cheeks. “You are a miracle, Beretta.” He longed to hold her close, but his strength was leaving him rapidly, so he settled for the next best thing. “I love you so much,” he said, beaming at her in admiration.

She nodded happily and brought Drizzle to bear, preparing to douse his weeping wounds with its healing waters. The girl was about to squeeze the trigger when Marka noticed something. At first, he thought it was simply smoke issuing from the factory floor far below–a plume of sooty vapor that had managed to escape through a crack in the roof. But, upon closer examination, its true source became disturbingly apparent:

The jet-black smoke was curling from Voidthrower’s muzzle.

“Beretta!” he said sharply, brushing Drizzle aside. “Something is wrong! You must go!”

“B-But Father! Your injuries!”

“Nevermind that! Make for the ladder!” Already the smoke was beginning to assume a vaguely humanoid shape, its eyes glowing with malice. “Hurry!”

With obvious reluctance she rose to her feet, backing away from her newly-restored uncle in fear. She looked between him and her father, the shock and confusion plain on her face.

“I will be fine,” he reassured her, wishing with every fiber of his being that he could believe it himself. “Slide to the bottom and tell the others what has happened here. Go, now!”

Tears stained her cheeks anew as she gave a quick nod and turned on her heel, sprinting back across the factory roof as fast as her legs could carry her. He watched her mount the ladder with a mixture of hope and despair in his heart, secure in the knowledge that there was little Diallo could do to catch her now; she slid out of view just as he’d instructed, which meant she’d likely reach the bottom in less than half a minute.

That would have to be good enough.

Fortunately, Diallo showed no signs of giving pursuit. As he reformed, he continued to stare at Marka intently, his smoky lips curled in a twisted grin. “My poor, poor cousin,” he taunted. “What is a void, if not a wellspring of darkness? Now that I have Nox, escaping such a place is child’s play!”

Little by little he coalesced back into human form, his destined weapon clutched in his hand. Marka glared up at him stubbornly, but he knew that there was little he could do to stop him now. If he’d escaped Voidthrower’s grip, he could probably do so again in a fraction of the time, rendering his best offensive option utterly worthless.

Diallo seemed to know it, too. He slid a knife from his vest and paced back and forth in front of him, eyes gleaming with the thrill of victory. “Finally, my humiliation ends! With you gone, Marka, I will be free to reach my true potential!”

“Congratulations. You have won, cousin,” Marka growled. “Though, if what you say is true, then let this vendetta end with me. There is no need for more bloodshed.”

“Please. You and I both know that will never happen.” With a hiss of delight, he leaned in to slice at Marka’s arm, drawing forth a fresh gout of blood from the opened vein. “I serve Alistair Montrevi, now–a man with true vision. I will eclipse him in due time, of course, but until then, your friends–as well as the little brat you call a daughter–are rebels to his cause. Once I leave here, they are dead. All of them. I will see to it personally.”

Marka grunted in pain. Between the stinging of his wounds and his ragged breaths, he wondered how he had ever allowed such an evil man to hold sway over him. While he silently lamented the past, Diallo dipped in to slice at him again and again, clearly delighting in his suffering.

“What is the matter, Marka? Nothing to say?”

He denied him the satisfaction of a response. Instead, he allowed his mind to drift to thoughts of his friends–of his daughter. Beretta must have reached the ground by now, he mused. I wonder if she has returned to them already. Morgan, Mimi… Roulette…

Can they stop him, I wonder? Can they succeed where I have failed?

He didn’t have an answer. Diallo’s new abilities made him a terrifying foe. He could live in their shadows indefinitely, stalking them as long as he needed to… Until an opportunity presented itself. Until he could drag them off and subject them to the same horrors he was suffering now.

The thought of it made his stomach turn. In that moment, he resolved to do whatever he could to prevent him from getting that chance. Sluggishly, he took up his weapon, drawing a mirthful chuckle from Diallo.

“Oh, now you decide to fight back?”

He took the gun in both hands, doing his best to steady it despite their tremoring.

“Were you not listening? I am beyond you, Marka!”

Finally, with his last ounce of strength, he spun Voidthrower about and turned it on himself.

I am sorry, Beretta. I hope, one day, you will understand…

…That I did this with nothing but love in my heart.

He fired, drowning out the sound of Diallo’s panicked screaming. The last thing he heard before losing himself was the rending of matter, the falling of bricks…

…And the groaning of stone on stone as the massive smokestack behind him began to topple.

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