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Those Who Came Back

“Humanity? Hehehe, why yes, I do believe in humanity! I believe in them,  I love the pitiable creature called Man. I, I know they can be beautiful, and great, and wise, and wondrous. But not without pain. Not without scars, scars on the outside, and in. Heh heh, not without sin!”

- The most ancient Fiend, in all her lunacy

In the city of Umlott, where the sun never truly set, where it never dipped fully beneath the world’s rim to usher in the dark of night, the citizens contented themselves to leisuring about the grand palatial parkways. Whether by foot or by bike, they translated across brick-paved streets miles long and interlocking like the Rings of their ancient runic sigils, now long since forgotten. For what need is there for folk gods and Their magic, when Total Victory had been achieved in generations past, that ancient birthright long since rendered onto the citizenry in their current ignorance? Now, the descendants of those prideful soldiers took in their artificial sunlight amidst their manicured lawns and gardens, and did little else besides enjoy the fruits of eternal peacetime. The flowers had been rigorously selected long ago, and bred into their current state of perennial bloom, so that spring never abandoned the city. No tree or shrub could produce any pollen, so as to not agitate the people’s senses. In fact, they had to be replaced by their own clones whenever they died of old age, which was the only way they and their human stewards died in Umlott.

Nothing valued ever tarnished, and no one ever worked in Umlott, no one save the…

In the city of Umlott, where the moon had never cast her pallid rays upon the skyscrapers or thoroughfares, where she never cast gray cold-light over steel and glass and brick, the only colors allowed perfectly complemented the citizenry’s blonde hair and blue eyes, their lightly sun-toasted white skin. Everyone wore the brightest reds and blues, whether in dress or button-up form. Wearing a hat was considered an excess. And the shoes, they always fit just right, never too tight or too loose as to slip off at inopportune times, and they never got wet from unscheduled rain, for the city’s climate was always perfectly maintained.

Indeed, no body was naked in Umlott, nobody was ever bothered by the weather, no body save the…

In the city of Umlott, they kept their orgies behind closed doors. They pretended onto the pain of death that such things simply did not exist.

And yet, on the outskirts, by the quarries and mines, by the work fields where their food and their cotton was grown, any citizen could find those secluded cabins, where they could buy time to spend with… nobody.

As you may have guessed by now, there are no people in Umlott. There are only citizens, citizens and their…

Oh, pardon me, and fret not, this is no thought-experiment, no metaphor to tease the brains of common men into questioning their loyalties to their utopian ideals, annihilate their comfort in the certainty of conformity. For as we all already know, thanks to that great king who said it before and better than any of us, “In the end, what is a man? His philosophy? Or himself?”

No, I was merely setting the stage, painting a scene for you, drawing up a map, a tabletop battlefield for our true purpose here. For you see, this is in truth merely a dream I wish to render onto you; a dream of what lies beyond Umlott, of the dark and moonstruck, of the dreaded Other this city would so desperately keep at bay.

And nightmare fit for a spiteful bottled world.

Turn, turn now your mind’s gaze to beyond Umlott, beyond its weathering walls, turn to the frigid Outside, and the barbarian horde waiting just without the gates of paradise.

They were an amassing of unimaginable size, and growing greater in the shadows of the frozen waste all about. They were as thick as fleas in the barren woods bordering the shimmering dome. Tribes made up motley regiments numbering in the hundreds, though some neared a thousand strong, and one and one alone numbered well into the tens of thousands. They each had their rituals of course, each tribal unit a cult of like-minded, maladjusted fightingmen. Maladjusted, but otherwise good-natured, and acclimated to their lot.

Some took to consuming blood, whether from wooden or golden chalices filled from the produce of severed veins, or from bread soaked in menstrual discharge, a bit of semen mixed in as well if they were so inclined. The human body, after all, is a conduit for occult energies, by which daemons and fortitude may be manifested. (No wonder the more civilized worked so hard to police the bodies of their fellow man!) Others took to flagellating themselves, their chaunts a spell to induce a trance strong enough so as to bear the pain of exposing their ribs all along on their backsides. One tribe had chosen to ceremonially decapitate their elders, so as to enshrine their cleaned and bleached skulls within their familial temples, which they took with them upon palanquins. And these were but the un-transubstantiated, who have yet to complete their transition from totally human to Other.

By and large, the bulk of this nation of nations consisted of the undead and transmogrified.

Skeletons kept with their own kind, sharpening their weapons, polishing their armor, and painting their bones in runic script so as to be ever prepared for the next battle. A thousand by a thousand languages they shared between their ranks, and each day each one learned some new word from some newly acquainted compatriot. Those who were but immobile skulls were collected for use in the catapults. They kept each other much needed company. Poetry was a favorite pastime for this most multitudinous of folk.

Wolves and their man-changing kin ran in packs between the various regiments, taking joy in the hunt of spirit deer, which the intelligent beasts had conjured up with their howl sorcery. The ghosts provided poor physical nourishment, but the thrill of the kill enlivened the senses, and fostered camaraderie. Sometimes they got ambitious, and summoned phantom bison, or revenant bear even. The wolves brought the Great Warlord’s standing orders to the Generals, and collected tributaries to share between the various factions in their territory.

The upright leeches, who on the surface seemed totally human aside from their sharpened teeth and angular features, coordinated their thralls of dirt, tar, and insect husks into building their arabesque yurts into great dukedoms. Within tartan walls, they held their great feasts, and downed blood-and-honey wine. Games of insult-calling united the gentry, and instilled in them much needed humility.

Just outside the dome, in a field once known only as the death camp of Aushlitz, the small necromancers reanimated the thousands of dead who had been left to rot in their unmarked mass graves, so that they might take part in the upcoming battle. For should the unjustly murdered not have a chance to avenge their own deaths, whose very torture had given rise to that damnable city forever bathed in sun in the first place?

And still, there were many more tribes, each one a nightmare to plague the brain of more civilized men.

At the fore of this immensity, this infernal host wreathed in simmering chaos waiting to boil over, there grew a graveyard in the gray. It was the only place where it seemed to rain. It rained now in sleets of pelting ice.

All around, in place of headmarkers there instead stood nine hundred and ninety-nine statues, each one hewed into a state of turmoil. Some were to their knees, head bowed in surrender. Others held their hands aloft to the sky, pantomiming fury at the heavens themselves for some cosmic injustice. None bore a smiling face, each dispossessed of all happiness. And in the middle of them, there stood a meager tent of tattered tartan, and eight black boxes, iron coffins awaiting their pallbearers.

Inside, with neither a General nor friend within earshot, the Great Warlord sat upon a folding chair of canvas, brooding silence his only company. They peered out through the two flaps of cloth that failed to keep the wet cold out, gazing at the shimmering dome. Even through the warping of the rain refracting its light, the brilliance of the shell was near-blinding. Then suddenly, the rain ceased. It was time.

A small figure approached from the light. A child.

The Warlord stood up, grabbed their great fur coat, and made way for the small thing approaching. The child, a boy, fell to his knees as he reached the first statues. The Warlord bent down to him, and placed the enormous coat over his small frame, near-smothering the boy in the coat’s overwhelming musk and unnatural warmth. The boy looked up into the Warlord’s face, and stared into the reflective mirror of their unblemished helm of chrome. The Warlord’s visage lacked eyes and mouth slits. The boy did not know how they could possibly see or hear.

And the Warlord spake, voice clear as if unobstructed by unearthly steel plate:

What did you see?

“I saw a child,” said the child. “They were smaller than me, but they might’ve been older. Oh, I wanted to help them, I wanted to take them out of that awful room. But the grown-ups, they said I should’nt’ve helped. They said they needed to stay in that room, that I needed to just accept it. I tried arguing, but then papa smacked me across the face. I ran away, and now I’m here. Am I dead? Am I the child in the room now?”

The Warlord lifted the boy up into their arms, and headed back to their tent. The boy looked to the statues. They seemed to him awfully familiar, as if he recognized their faces, as if he had known them all his life as sure as he recognized his own mother’s face, or his own in the mirror. A man-wolf awaited them by the miserable tent. Its face was already halfway skeletal, a carved apple painted sickly red with shiny paint it seemed.

“My liege,” the beast whispered, “Is this the one thousandth child? Are we to at last put the fire to this honor-less place?”

Aye, this be the one thousandth child to abandon this city, this Umlott.

“Then I shall rally the moonstruck, we muster and make war against the weaklings!”

The man-wolf made haste to regroup with her pack, to spread word of the coming battle. The Warlord instead returned their attention onto the boy, still in their arms.

You are not dead, child, yet you no longer truly live. We of this Outside place exist between the two. You still breathe, as many under the moon still do. You are most fortunate…

It was then, that the boy realized that the statues all about had begun to move of their own will, and only then did he realize that they were in fact people. In the pit of his brain, he knew then why they had seemed so familiar. His father had called them “degenerates,” that they had “gone funny in the head,” and that they had disappeared from Umlott because they had no proper place therein. That they “weren’t proper citizens.”

Not all who wander Out survive their journey to me.

The lost of Umlott gathered by the Warlord’s side, all nine hundred and ninety-nine of them, the boy the one thousandth witness to the scene, to this declaration of war. And the lost spake in unison:

“And who are you, to declare this war?”

I have been known by many names; the Scourge of the Balkans, Temujin, Horus of the Wolves, the Albino From Up On His Ruby Throne, and many more. But beneath this Fiend’s full moon, I take a new name, and that name is-


The boy, no, the man, Wilhelm gazed into his arms, looked into the great coat between his large metal fingers. It was empty. There was no longer a boy therein. The lost of Umlott were gone as well. He was alone by his tent, alone with only the moon to keep him company. Then, the land all to his back lit ablaze with torch fire. Wilhelm the Raider turned to his inexhaustible army. They had come to his call. And he remembered what he had been conspiring to do. He set his gaze back upon the shimmering dome.

Wilhelm would set his father’s fatherland to fire, and free the profaned child at its heart.

The dome first cracked in a park by Wo’Odin Way, as the sun dipped to its lowest point during sunset.

A family of five had been gathered for a late picnic when the first shards of glass blew inward. Two children were shredded to pieces, instantly killed. The father grabbed his surviving child and ran, as the mother went hysterical over her slain children. To her horror, the shadow of Wilhelm the Raider fell over her, and with a raise of his gauntleted hand, her children sprang back to life. Each one grabbed a shard of glass from out their own perforated bodies, and took to slashing her to ribbons.

Word quickly spread throughout Umlott, that something new had arrived to the city, and it was bad and terrible. Evil.

Fog and dank bled in from the rent in the dome, and with it came all manner of wickedness, some of it young, a great deal of it ancient. Flanked on either side of the invaders, a swarm of frogs, snakes, and insects poured like a landslide to cover every inch of land, smother every surface. The artificial sun above was blotted out. The armies of the undead made march against the city, all while right behind Wilhelm there followed those eight iron coffins. Each one spearheaded a movement into the city, endowing their accompanying ranks with strange and unearthly energies, rallying their spirits.

The citizens tried fighting back, some even bringing out old ancestral firearms to defend themselves, family heirlooms not fired for nearly a century. It proved to no avail. They had gotten soft in their toothless decadence. What more, for each flash of undead steel against flesh, each break of skin from monstrous bite or claw, living human flesh turned to ash, ash and frogs, snakes, and insects. The citizens burst apart. The effluvia of Umlott added to the crawling plague.

Those who Wilhelm took pity on, the women and children, they were cast down as painlessly as his army could commit, only to be risen back to un-life in his thrall. Wife turned against husband, children against father. Families tore themselves apart in frenzies of flesh-feasting. The city became a buffet for blades.

The self-flagellaters, finally blessed by the moon, grew furred wings out their backs, and as mothmen took to conquering the skyscrapers. They used their own spittle to spindle webbing to drag down the towering structures with sheer physical force, as if they were toppling a giant.

In the work fields, where the non-citizens had been forced to grow food and cotton for their masters, the un-transubstantiated broke chains and armed their new comrades to fight against those who’d bound their lot for generations, those who’d broken their families apart and despoiled their kin for sport and profit. Those who had broken their backs mining the earth for precious metals and minerals, the very stuff needed to keep the machines of Umlott running, transubstantiated instantly upon hearing the good news; the moon re-knitted their bodies into machines of stone and gold and copper, pickaxe and pistons of rage to unleash terror onto their enemies. In the grueling fight, some lost all sense of their humanity, and made quick transition to un-life.

And as Umlott crumbled and burned and mutated all around, Wilhelm made way for the city’s heart.

The last man in Umlott stared at the barred doors of his sanctuary. Surely, he thought, he was so far underground, surely he would survive whatever fate befell his countrymen outside.

The doors hiccuped inward with a bellicose thud of metal on metal. Something big was forcing its way in.

“No! Please no!”

The latched bar bent. The groan of metal shrieked like a banshee as it stretched and thinned where it finally snapped in twain. A mighty boot finished the door in. Wilhelm solemnly walked in, neck bent in order to make the threshold. His immensity took up half the corridor.

“Stay away!”

The last man in Umlott fell back, locked another door behind himself. Wilhelm followed after, but did not quicken his step. He would reach the man, in time. His boot knocked over a child’s skull halfway down the hall. Above the next door was written AND ONLY THE CLEAN AND UNBLEMISHED SHALL PROSPER. Another boot with the bang of metal on metal downed the useless barrier.

“Why are you doing this?!” the man demanded to know. He kept running.

“The child in the room,” Wilhem answered, his voice barely raised, “I saw the child in the room. What we’ve done is evil.” He knocks over another skull.

“The child?!” the man screamed back. “That damn child in the room? You killed a city over a single child?!”

Wilhelm kicked over two more small skeletons.

“I saw that child when I was a child. Did you see them when you were young?”

“Of course I saw it! We all did, we all saw the child! We all agreed it was fine, as long as the rest of us got to live! We lived for its sake! It was a fair trade!”

Wilhelm, sickened with himself over his oafishness, took great care to not kick over the rest of the skeletons he would find along his way. It was difficult for him not to. The floor was littered in stripped bones.

“But it was never one child. It’s never just one child.”

“Oh, give me a break, you bleeding-heart!”

The last man in Umlott, in his terror and exhaustion, collapsed into a pile of bones. He did not register that he was laying in the ruins of something that had once been human, something that only ever suffered for the sake of this bottled city. Wilhelm caught up to him, as the last man struggled to his feet. Wilhelm bent down to him. The man was drenched in sweat, and breathing hard enough to tear his lungs at the microscopic level. The pain of dragging in ragged breaths set fire to his chest.

The man stared into Wilhem’s blank, reflective visage, saw his own terror reflected back at him.

The man grabbed a thigh bone, and began thrashing it upside Wilhelm’s helmeted head. The makeshift club splintered to pieces in futile swings.

“For Umlott! For freedom and the future of the Teutonic race-”

Wilhelm grabbed a hold of the last man’s throat, and quickly the man turned gray and died, a single tear rolling down his wrinkling cheek.

And you too shall fade, as fog before the coming of the sun.

The last man withers to dust in Wilhelm’s grasp. No creepy-crawlies would even rise up from his sterile ashes. The city conquered, Wilhelm followed the bones all the way to a door at the tunnel’s end. He pried it off its hinges. There was a gasp, a fretful sob. Wilhelm looked down at the profaned child.

They, no, it, it was pale and hairless, a withered and malnourished thing. Its eyes were two opaque pearls hinting not so much at a stunted intellect, but instead an eroded core of base, animal instincts. It was like a flatworm’s brain in a human vessel. The light from the tunnel hurt it as if scolding liquid had been drawn over it. It squirmed to get away from the light. Wilhelm bent down to it. He tried to caress it, show it some small comfort, drive away its pain and horror. But all the stillborn thing did was spasm and squirm away.

Voided. This thing had been utterly voided. So voided, it could never be filled up with anything.

And it was then, that Wilhelm knew he could not save the child. He knew then that he could undo the damage done to this lump of wasted humanity. So, Wilhelm did the only thing he could do.

Wilhelm resigned himself, and died on the spot.

And the Warlord lifted up the profaned child from off the floor, cradled it even as it fought to escape their grasp. They took the damnable thing up through the tunnel, up past all those bones, up to the surface of the blasted heath that was once the city of Umlott. And there, where the Outside was now fully in, the Great Warlord’s host awaited their master, as a red velvet lined iron box awaited its charge.

The Warlord placed the child into the box, claiming its treasured suffering for the moon’s own devices. For the human being, after all, is a mighty font of lunacy.

Those who stayed behind in the corpse of Umlott, the now liberated non-citizens and the scant few citizens who were now in the minority, having had their mind and spirits scarred by the horrors of that day, would in time heal from the ordeal, and in healing began building anew over the ruins of their once seemingly omnipotent jailers. They built longhouses, and taverns, and dance halls, and intermarried and made new families. But they never forgot that day, the day Umlott was felled. Even now, on the longest, coldest night of the year, they told stories by the fire, tales of terror, of ghoul and godlings exacting divine punishment for the wickedness of those who had feared the Other, who had denied the Outside for so long. They kept alive the story of how the Great Warlord took their army, and their nine black coffins, to continue their eternal campaign. For another time and place called out to them, a fine and lovely place where the people bore wings, and where they grew an invisible army of orphans to use against their own kind in secret.

For is it not humanity’s accursed fate, its manifest destiny to reap utopias across the Poly-Creation?

Those Who Came Back: Text
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