Chapter 42:

Chapter 42


Elizabeth's body recoiled. She tried not to puke. Isaac and Vera scrambled to their feet. Their bodies forced into fight or flight. Although weak and dazed, Isaac reached for his broken sword and Vera reached for her staff. Their newfound trauma seemed to melt away with the new distraction of Grimwald's face. The absolute violation of their bodies paled in comparison to the violation of their eyes. Rotted, withered, decayed. Maggots wriggled between the loose flesh. Flies nested in his one remaining red eye. Mosquitoes probed for blood that wasn't there. Pus dripped from his pores. His bones were exposed, cracked, and dirtied. His skin was moldy and splotchy. It sagged and almost melted off of him. Grimwald was pale and almost greying. The black plague pooled up around his mouth and other orifices. It dripped like snot, swung like saliva, and oozed like any other nauseating body fluid. His breaths were raspy and shallow. Grimwald leaned back and raised his hands to his chest, as if he was making some sort of offering. His eyes flashed red and dozens of black tentacles erupted from his body. They snatched the heroes of Ethros, tangling around their limbs and vital areas. Grimwald pulled them in like fish. They chocked, gasped, gagged, and wheezed as they were dragged across the floor of the church.

"How does it feel doctor? To know that the Angel of Illness has been lurking within your walls? Does it make your heart heavy? Do you feel short of breath? You must feel like you're burning up. You must feel consumed by fatigue. Don't worry, that's natural. Everyone who crosses me has felt like that before. Every poor, healthy soul reduced to a bedridden sniffling mess. It's only been that way since the dawn of mortality. It's the way things should be." Pestilence tightened the grip of the plague. "So, you must imagine my surprise when I see the very lifeforms we're tasked to keep in check try to overcome this very fact of nature. Developing remedies and cures. It's sickening even for me. I obviously had to do something, despite Death's protests, the utter fool. My brother insisted that it was out of line, but I couldn't help but smell the hypocrisy in that statement. My other brother and sister couldn't resist either." Grimwald brought Elizabeth up to his face. He released her from the binds of the plague but traded their grasp with his own. He slammed her back into the floor and began to strangle her, a delightful grin on his face. "It doesn't matter what you do. I will always be here. The bubonic, norovirus, rabies, HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, polio, influenza, zika, covid; I won't ever stop! I will rot and destroy this world until it is nothing but a pulsating pile of pus! And there's nothing you can do to stop me! I am the harbinger of the apocalypse! I AM PESTILENCE!" Elizabeth kicked Grimwald in the chest. He let go and stumbled back. The plague released its grip from everyone. All three of them coughed and tried to catch their breath. "You insufferable wench! I cannot wait to gut you!" He drew his dagger and lunged at Elizabeth. He tried to stab her, but Elizabeth quickly redirected the blade with her bone saw.

"I took an oath as a doctor, and I intend to honor it!" She shouted. Pestilence grinned. He commanded the plague to grab Elizabeth. The black sludge coated her whole body like a cocoon. Grimwald lifted her into the air. The swirling, pulsating ooze moved to cover her face. "Vera! Burn him! Heat kills bacteria!" She screamed before being fully encapsulated in the plague.

"Don't waste your breath! You'll need all the air you can get." Grimwald's grin quickly faded into a scowl as a burst of flame hit his back. He snapped his head, just in time to catch Vera firing another fireball at him. The inferno consumed his whole body. He screamed a demonic screech before letting go of Elizabeth. She fell to the ground, clutched her chest, and took in several deep breaths. Every time the blaze would let up Vera would release another wave of devastating heat. Grimwald's skin burned and seared. The tar-like consistency of the plague made it especially flammable. It dripped with molten tears. "CEASE MORTAL!" He yelled, grabbing several pews with the plague and launching them at Vera. Isaac jumped in front of Vera, raising his shield to take the brunt of the attack. He gritted his teeth, slid back from the force, and was caught by Vera. They looked at each other and smiled. Vera unleased another torrent of embers. The spiraling collum of flames hit Grimwald with a thunderous force and engulfed his body. "STOP!" Pestilence threw himself back, aiming his gut to the heavens. Bursting from it was a hurricane of plagued tendrils. They wrapped around Isaac's and Vera's ankles and whipped them at the wall. They flew through the air. They smashed into stained glass, the shards embedding into their scalps like a crown of thorns. The smolder died out. Grimwald tried to collect himself but was thrown off by Elizabeth's attacks. She punched, kicked, and cut the embodiment of sickness. Blood, flesh, and larvae tore and flew off of the walking corpse.

"I! Won't! Let! You! Take! My! Home!" She shouted, punctuating every strike. "I! Won't! Let! You! Harm! My! Friends!" Grimwald grabbed both of her fists. He bound her hands to his, and he bound her feet to the floor. The two tried to catch their breaths. They huffed and puffed while they stared each other down, locked together in a stalemate.

"Why do you continue to fight through such a hopeless situation? My brother comes for you regardless, so why do you care so much to defy nature?" The plague began to spread through the cracks in the floor.

"Because if I can make the world just a little better for them when I'm gone, then I'll do whatever it takes." The cracks began to widen.

"So selfless. Tell me, do they even know of your fate?" The church began to split.

"What does that have to do with anything?" The church began to crumble.

"Answer the question doctor." Wood and stone splintered and shattered.

"They don't need to know." The walls started to cave.

"Such a heartbreaker. Don't they deserve to know the truth?" The ceiling started to fall.

"I know what you're trying to do, it's not going to work. And I'm protecting them. I'm protecting them from the burden I carry. They should focus on the quest, the kingdom, their lives, not mine." The floor started to give way. Isaac and Vera picked themselves back up. They looked at the scene in front of them, the collapsing church.

"Liz! We have to go!" Vera called out.

"They beg for their martyr." Grimwald whispered.

"You guys go on without me!"

"What?! No, doc, come on! The whole building is coming down!" Isaac yelled.

"It'll be okay! I've got this!" Elizabeth tried to reassure.

"Convincing them or yourself, doctor?"

"Shut up."

"Elizabeth please!" They begged.

"Why don't you do us all a favor and go join them? You three get to live out the rest of your days together and I get to cleanse the Earth of you mortal filth, win win. I'll even sweeten the deal. I promise to kill you three last, how's that?"

"No! And how do you even expect me to trust you?!"

"You're right, you're right. I did promise Jester salvation for his kind, but I already purged most of his race already." Grimwald chuckled. Elizabeth's eyes went wide.

"YOU WHAT?!" Rage fueled her muscles. She pushed on Grimwald with more strength than she had ever had. Pestilence cackled as the floor finally broke down and collapsed. Isaac and Vera jumped back to the edge of the wall. Elizabeth and Grimwald fell through the air. They twisted and turned, tussling over each other as the floor of the church basement grew closer and closer. Suddenly, WHAM! Their bodies hit something. Elizabeth tumbled across the floor, hitting and stopping by a piece of fallen debris. Grimwald's body remained atop a large stone, his back broken and contorted to the face of the boulder.