Standing on the edge of the world, Sima End watched them. They rolled backwards and forwards in their sea of unending suffering. The low roar of their yelling, screaming and fighting was like the constant crashing of waves.
”This...” sighed Sima into her empty surrounds, “this is gross.”
Sima shook her head. She slipped her hand into her pocket and pulled out a copper watch. She flicked open its lid as it ticked away. The sound of it satisfied her. It was the heartbeat of the world.
She studied its face. Of its three hands, two were tantalisingly close to pointing to the twelfth hour. The third hand, the thinnest of the three, bounced between the tenth and eleventh.
Sima snapped it closed, placing it back into her pocket. She stepped away from the edge and kneeled as she carefully laid a black case on the ground in front of her. She flicked opened its latch and the lid slowly opened.
Inside lay three books. She tapped each of them, one at a time. They silently glided into the air in front of her. She stood up, her chest level with them.
The books had names, but they weren’t important. The only thing that mattered was the idea that each one represented. Consumption, Conflict and Creation. The first two, Consumption and Conflict, were ugly books.
Consumption was a sickening pink colour. It was coated in a thick clear film that made it appear as though it were permanently wet.
Conflict was coloured an unpleasant brown. It was forever ripping itself apart, crudely sewing itself back together, then ripping itself apart again. Ripping and sewing, over and over, until it was barely more than rips and thread.
The one that represented Creation wasn’t ugly. Sima actually felt some empathy for it. Alone, creation is a pure thing, but its purity was defiled. While its cover had a soft, satisfying palette, she knew that on the inside, the book had a black rotten core.
Sima ripped her hand through the air, drawing a line from left to right, connecting all the books with a string of pure white light. The three books flashed. She heard the sound of rock scraping on rock somewhere far in the distance. A black gray obelisk rose out of the centre of the human ocean, reaching deep into the clouds.
It would contain a fourth book. Contentment. The only book for this particular Vault not currently in her possession. It was her prize. She would need to wade through the misery that heaved before her to collect it.
She was prepared for this, but still, she knew it would be unpleasant. She let the defences she had built in her mind to resist them collapse, and the Sendings came shuttering forward. They wanted desperately to come out.
The Sending for Consumption took the form of an enormous ball of pulsating flesh. It had an enormous slimy pink mouth lined with rotten, gnashing teeth. When it moved, it glided in a way that made Sima’s skin crawl.
Conflict looked like a tall, thick man. Every inch of its body appeared crudely sewn together, just like the book. In its gnarled hands it held an enormous, makeshift mace covered in cruel barbs. A black steel helmet covered its long dead eyes.
Creation was a small creature coloured a pastel yellow with bright purple eyes. It looked sweet, until it revealed the corruption it hid beneath its tiny garment. Dark purple tentacles slithered out of its sleeves, collar and the bottom of its robe. Its eyes flickered like the light from a dying ember.
Creation slithered onto Sima’s shoulder. She grimaced at the wet feeling it left on her body. With Consumption on her left and Conflict on her right., she descended into the nightmare.
The Addicts immediately tried to drag Sima and her Sendings into their pit. They had vile smiles smeared across their pale bluish faces. Their eyes were sunken but angry with thick black rings around them. They reached out at Sima revealing arms covered in dark red scratches.
When one Addict charged at Sima from the left, Conflict met them with a violent swing of its mace. There was a sickening thwack before the Addict went flying through the air. Sima didn’t see or hear what happened to it next. A small mercy.
On Sima’s right, Consumption was charged by two Addicts at once. In response, it lazily opened its mouth, revealing a bright, toxic green light. This transfixed the attackers who lost all sense of themselves as they wandered into Consumption’s cavernous mouth. It chewed, gulped then continued to glide alongside Sima.
She continued at a steady pace, barely paying attention to the fighting that surrounded her.
Rather than being deterred, the Addicts continued to come. More and more charged at the four of them. Each time they were destroyed by Conflict or eaten by Consumption. Still, they were at risk of being overwhelmed and when they were but a few steps away from the entrance of the obelisk, one got through.
It had a look of wild surprise and elation on its face for a few short moments, until Creation unleashed itself upon it. There was a storm of tentacles and in an instant the Addict was reduced to a small smear of blue-black mud. As Sima lazily stood over it, not even sparing it a glance, black roses began to bloom out of it. They would die a few minutes later.
The Addicts continued to attack until the group of four closed the entrance way to the obelisk behind them. As she walked deeper inside, Sima could even hear them scratching at the door. She wasn’t sure if it was because they knew what was coming, or if generations of living in the pit compelled them to never stop fighting. It didn’t matter; they were doomed either way.
After several minutes of walking, the only sound became their gritty footsteps bouncing all the way up the endless spiralling staircase they climbed. The Sendings needed no rest as they moved. Consumption, Conflict and Creation were all forever hungry. They never needed rest.
Sima, on the other hand, was a human. She stopped after counting a thousand steps. She sat against a wall, caught her breath then drank deeply from her water canister.
The Sendings waited. She longed to dismiss them. To put them back into the nothingness, but she needed to save her energy. Instead they followed her. Conflict ripped at the string that tied it together. Consumption breathed in an unpleasant raspy manner. Creation sat on Sima’s shoulder, its tentacles occasionally flickering up against her skin.
She slipped the pocket watch out. The smallest hand had moved past the eleven, it crawled ever closer to the twelve. She allowed herself another few moments, and then she resumed climbing.
After she’d counted another thousand steps she decided it’d be better for her morale to stop. By the time she reached the top she would have counted over six thousand steps. The muscles in both her legs somehow felt both extremely tight and utterly mushy simultaneously.
The mouth of the staircase opened onto a plain, stone circular platform. In the middle of it, on a podium, sat a plump book on a fat pink pillow. The book itself was a cream colour, and it looked like it’d been well loved its entire life. Even the sight of it made Sima think it would be the perfect book to snuggle up with on a cold winter night.
Sima approached it on her jittery legs and gave it a quick tap. It floated into the air.
With a yawn, a Sending with the shape of a woman spun out of its pages and into the air before settling on a fat bed that materialised beneath it. It stretched in a way that only creatures who are truly comfortable can stretch. Their yawn ended in a satisfied smile. Its eyes were closed.
Sima approached it with the same disinterest someone might have when approaching a bundle of newly laundered clothes. She pulled a small knife from her shoe, and slit the other woman shaped Sendings throat.
Her eyes flicked open, she screamed and lunged for Sima. It was too late. Sima had already spun around to the podium and sunk her knife into the book in the centre of the room. She pushed it in so deeply that when she tried to retrieve it, the pillow beneath the book was stuck to it.
The woman shaped Sending’s screams died away as she simply faded into nothing.
Outside the obelisk, a change rippled through the Addicts. They suddenly didn’t feel content. They wanted to create more weapons, not the crude simple ones they used on each other. No, they wanted to build weapons that wreaked massive destruction. They wanted more testing combat, not to squabble amongst their equals. Now they wanted to kill kingdoms and break gods. In their stomachs they felt the need to consume... the need to consume everything.
In Sima’s pocket, the small hand of the watch pointed at the number twelve and stopped ticking.
In that moment, when she should have been quietly savouring her victory, she heard something. A tap, then silence, then another tap. She looked up. A small copper frog was hopping toward her. When she saw it, her mouth gaped wide open in shock. She was unbroken.
Unfortunately for Sima, what she set into motion could not be undone.
By Curtis Campion