Your universe is more immense than the human mind can comprehend, filled with more strangeness than it could ever imagine - and yet, just beyond its borders, there are infinities yet greater, for linked to the crossroads-realm that humanity calls home there are countless others, universes so varied that it would take lifetimes to understand even a handful of them. Some are vast, bigger even than our own, while others are no larger than a living room. Some are paradises you would never wish to leave; others, hells you could never escape. Some teem with endless life, squirming and breeding and endlessly growing, and others…
…others lie dead.
Before us is one of the latter kind.
It is an almost empty plane. The light here is dim, shining from far-distant stars and illuminating nothing but dust. A few uneven planes suggest that once there may have been something more here - perhaps monuments, perhaps mountains - but whatever they were is impossible to determine from the ruins. Certainly there is nothing alive, not any more. Even rot and mould would be too active for such an existence.
But that does not mean there is nothing there at all. Something waits in the dust, something grey and quiet and still. It would be wrong to call it patient, because that would imply there is anything it could do to express impatience, but nevertheless it has been waiting here for a long time.
A very long time.
And then something unexpected happens. In this endless, unchanging nothingness, there is a change in the air, and the thing senses it. It lifts its head and reaches out, searching blindly for that intangible alteration. It stretches, searches…finds.
Funerals are made up entirely of cliché. A cluster of black-clad people, eyes too tired to cry any longer, standing around a grave as a priest repeats the same words he’s intoned hundreds of times before. He is doing his best not to sound bored, and mostly succeeding.
“…from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the work-”
There is a thump from the grave, and the priest stops sharply. He leans forward a little, to take a look at the coffin.
It lies still.
He glances around at the mourners, all of whom are looking at him, but he can’t tell if they heard it too, or if they are just confused about why he isn’t speaking. On balance, he decides it is probably the latter. He clears his throat, clears it again, and opens his mouth to resume his speech-
The coffin bursts open, and the screaming starts as something hideous rises up from the grave, something that writhes and squirms and surges forwards. The mourners shriek and scatter as the thing lunges at the priest. He throws himself back, and its first swipe misses, whipping through the air where his head had just been. He scrambles backwards along the ground as the big, shapeless thing pulls itself out of the grave and steps towards him. A desperate push back and he is up, dashing away through the graveyard, and for a few seconds he thinks he will be okay.
Then he hears footsteps, pounding heavily into the earth and coming closer, closer, closer - something hits his back and he is lifted into the air, then suddenly tumbling end over end until he slams bodily into one of the trees dotting the graveyard.
His head swims as the footsteps come closer and the thing reaches down and lifts him up, bringing his face level with its own. It looks like a parody of humanity, a twisting mass of worm-things that wriggle over each other, an ever-shifting confusion of vileness, glaring out of eyeless craters, and speaking from a million tiny mouths.
“Where is your god?”
“What?” The priest sputters, then immediately regrets it as the monster lifts him higher, its grip tightening on his throat.
“Where is your god, fool?”
“I…” he chokes through a throat that’s clenched within a writhing vice, and tries again. “That’s a difficult question. Some people say that God is all around us-”
A massive limb smashes into the tree just beside his head. “Idiot! Do not try to deceive me! Where is the one you call Ra?”
The priest is flummoxed, and all he manages is another: “Wha…what?”
Enraged beyond words, the monster pulls back a limb and prepares to smash it forwards into the priest’s terrified face. It swings forward, a horrific, inevitable mass, and-
There is a flash of light and heat, and the limb is gone.
For a fraction of a second, the monster seems frozen in place, stunned. Its desperate victim takes the chance to wriggle free and drag himself away, pulling his body upright into a run as soon as he can manage. But the massive thing doesn’t pursue him – its attention is elsewhere.
A man stands at the top of a small rise in the graveyard, his hands wrapped in bright orange flames, an arrogant smile on his face and a glare in his glowing eyes.
“You called for Ra, monster? Then face him!”
Another jet of flame lashes out, and this time the creature seems to all but dissolve before it, writhing white worms scattered or burned instantly to ashes. Its torso is gone, and a third blast takes out its legs, leaving nothing but a patch of burning grass behind it. Ra walks closer, to take a look at his fallen enemy, and there is almost nothing to see. He snorts.
“Pathetic. Monsters are not what they used to be.”
Something catches his eye. It is a small movement, and at first he is not sure what he is looking at. When he does see it, he still doesn’t quite know what to do with the knowledge, but he can’t deny what he sees. Before his eyes, the circle of dead grass is expanding.
The tree beside him shivers as its leaves turn brown, and that is all the warning he gets. Ra throws himself aside as the tree bursts into splinters, and a writhing white limb slashes through the air where his body was standing.
He hears the figure laughing in triumph, and rolls, aiming another blast at its face. A few of the worms avoid the flames, a few more are annihilated, but less than a second the figure recovers, looking as whole as ever. It opens that awful maw, leans forward, and seizes the god by his throat.
Ra grimaces, and aims a strike at the hand around his throat, dissolving it into ash, and he drops to the ground, darting backwards as the thing regenerates, the withering aura around it widening and widening. It steps slowly but inexorably towards him.
“Thousands of years, little god. Thousands of years waiting for my revenge against you and your kind. Do you have any idea how much I have hated you?” It swipes another at him again, a thick limb that catches him off-guard and the host of tiny mouths leave stinging lines across his chest. He responds with a quick flash of flame, weaker than he intended but still strong enough to push it back and give him a little space to move. A few more firebolts crash into its body, barely making an impact before it regenerates in a wriggling off-white mass. The thing laughs at him, the awful sound seeming to come from every one of its vicious little mouths.
“Pathetic. Gods are not what they used to be.” It steps closer, and then lunges forward, its limbs coming within a finger’s width of his throat before he can dodge out of the way. A snarl of frustration bursts from its throats. “Know, little god, that your death is righteous and just. Know that you have earned this. Your flesh will feed-”
The voice suddenly stops as a massive forearm smashes through its torso, scattering worms over the grass, and the monster is forced to take a moment gather itself. Ra is only a little less stunned, as before him stands the immense, muscular and completely unexpected figure of the man known as Haka. He flashes a grin at Ra. “Surprised to see me?”
The sun god scowls back. “Of course. Shocked. Now please leave.”
“I thought you might need a little help with your monster situation. Unless you wanted me to wait for the others, to maximise the drama of our entrance?”
“I have this under control. I don’t need any help from you or your friends!”
Naturally, this is the moment that the monster reforms and attacks. Its arm collides with his chest and throws him backwards, tumbling end over end until he lands face-down on the grass. He lifts his head and manages to get a look at the two huge figures smashing their fists into each other.
“Fool! Who dares come between me and my rightful victim?”
A merry laugh booms through the air, practically shaking the earth. “The mighty Haka has dared to face far worse than you, monster! Come, fight me! Give me your best!”
Ra does his best to croak out a warning, and as the creature attacks, Haka throws up his arms to block its strike. He grunts at the impact, then smashes a fist at its head, striking straight through it again, then following up with another attack to the torso, and another and another, not giving it a single moment to recover its strength as attack after attack connects with the thing’s amorphous form. An appendage strikes up blindly from the ground, and the big man moves gracefully out of the way, then returns the attack with a double-fisted smash that pulverises the tendril. That seems, for the moment, to be the last of the monster’s attacks, and he straightens, brushing a last couple of worms from his hands and catching his breath.
Ra narrows his eyes. Something is wrong. A little fight like that shouldn’t be wearing Haka out…
He manages to shout a warning, and just in time – Haka dives out of the way as the thing bursts up from the ground, its arms slashing up through the air and barely missing him, leaving acidic clawmarks along his chest. The next attack connects solidly. The big man tumbles backwards, and lands on his feet, lips drawn in a snarl as the monster gathers itself and approaches.
“You should not have interfered. Your friend is already defeated, and you cannot hope to win alone.”
Haka manages a grin. “Oh, I didn’t come alone.”
There is another flash of light – not flame this time, but a golden beam so bright that it almost turns white. It sears down from the sky and wipes through the monster, cutting half of its mass away in an instant, before winking out and giving way to the winged shape of Fanatic, smashing into the thing with a yell and a blazing sword.
For a moment the creature seems to consider its options, and a couple of half-hearted half-formed limbs raise themselves from the grass – then one is wiped out by a ball of fire, and the other scatters itself into the dirt.
From a host of tiny mouths, a whisper taunts the heroes as the monster flees: “Do not count this a victory. None can stand for long against the God Eater.”
Ra raises himself up, and the three heroes stand quietly in the empty graveyard, watching for the next attack. None comes. Finally they relax, lower their arms, and at once Ra’s body changes, switching from a godly form to that of a normal man. The mortal known as Dr. Blake Washington steps forward, wheezes a little, almost falls, and Haka catches his arm. He acknowledges the help with a grimace.
“Hmph. Well, perhaps you can be of some use in this fight after all. But I think what we need now is not muscle, but knowledge. We are going to have to visit my office."