If a human had been traveling as long as Gerry had they’d say they’d been doing it forever. The Infernals, Divine, Remnants, and whatever Gerry was had a very different interpretation of time and distance. For the majority of human existence, people hadn’t traveled much beyond their dwellings, small villages, and cities. Their world had been as far as the eye could see, which thanks to the curvature of the Earth, was maybe a dozen miles. Even today, with globalization at its height, a lot of humans had never left their hometown. More so, they were content with that decision.
While the gap between Infernal and humans interpretation of distance might be closing, their different interpretations of time would never be shared. A human lived maybe eighty years, and as medical advances continued they might increase that number two or three fold. Still, humans were mortal. They lived and they died while their æther was distributed according to God’s great plan that the Infernals had distorted. Even Gerry, a former mortal, viewed time vastly differently than a human.
So, when Gerry felt the ache in his wings, the cramping in his back, and was laboring to draw breath he knew he’d been flying forever. To make matters worse, Gerry didn’t understand why he was so tired. It was like the bad dream when you’re being chased by someone. No matter how hard you try you can’t run as fast as you know you can. It’s like you’re trapped in quicksand. That’s what it felt like. Every beat of his wings made Gerry feel like something was tugging at him, pulling him down, and expending a lot more energy than he knew it should.
Gerry’s plight wasn’t his alone. Gaius had faltered what felt like hours ago, and Gerry had been helping the gasping general. Normally, Gaius would have been mortified, but at the moment beggars couldn’t be choosers. One look down at the black, churning waves beneath them and the general didn’t complain.
Surprisingly, Pete seemed to be doing the best. He was tired, sweating, and every once and a while the shimmering air around him would falter like someone accidentally pulled the plug, but he always started back up before he dropped more than a dozen feet.
When push came to shove, Gerry knew they were screwed. They were long past the point of no return. If they didn’t find something soon, they’d all run out of energy, fall into the sea, and be devoured by whatever lurked in those dark depths.
“This was stupid,” Pete spoke up after several more hours of struggling. “We’re dead.”
“It was your idea,” Gerry huffed back.
“It was my idea to come down here, not to fly out to sea and be lost forever. I just got out of prison, and now I’m going to drown.” Pete sounded bitter, and Gerry couldn’t blame him.
“You’re all fucking idiots,” Jezebel stated flatly.
She was the only one who had no control over her fate, and ironically, would probably live the longest once they hit the water. She was near full strength, so she’d tread water for weeks if nothing came to eat her first.
Gaius looked like he wanted to say something, but didn’t have the energy. He was currently carrying the Infernal of lust, and he looked like he very much wanted to buck her off his shoulders and into the waves below. He also knew if he did that Gerry would kill him on the spot. Without the ability to really defend himself, Gaius took the approach that allowed him to live the longest, so he sucked it up and kept on flying.
Unfortunately, sucking it up can only get you so far. It felt like a few days went by before Gaius slipped into unconsciousness. Gerry caught him before he hit the water, and thankfully he did. He was pulling the general up when a giant shadow passed beneath them. Even against the black waves it clearly highlighted something huge swimming just beneath the surface. Gerry had not doubt whatever it was would have gobbled Gaius up like a mid-afternoon snack and ended the general’s two millennia of existence.
Pete was still flying, albeit slowly and a bit erratically as exhaustion took its toll. Gerry didn’t want to burden him with Jezebel and Gaius, so as the strongest, he took over. The next few hours were pure hell. Since they were already in Hell that was saying a lot.
Pain seared through Gerry with every movement, everything was cramping, it felt like the æther had abandoned him, and he didn’t know how long he could hold on. Sheer competitiveness and stubbornness kept him going until Pete finally passed out. The Remnant actually landed in the water before Gerry could rescue him. Thankfully, whatever massive creatures lurked in this sea didn’t appear.
Now, Gerry was carrying everyone. Pete was lying across his back between his wings. The old god was denser than he appeared which only made the situation worse. Add to that the awkward position Gerry had to carry him in, and it made muscles he never ever knew he had cramp, seize, and tear after a short amount of time. He carried Jezebel and Gaius in his arms, but their weight continued to drag him down. Failure was imminent, but Gerry pushed on.
When it happened, he almost missed it. Nothing before him had changed. It was black sea all the way to the horizon. The cloud cover was low, like an eternal fog that sought to obscure everything, so when the pillar of rock appeared out of nowhere Gerry almost ran headfirst into it.
He looked back behind him like he’d seen a ghost, and saw another pillar off to his right. He turned his head, his neck protesting the simple movement, and saw another pillar off to his left. He could see more in the distance, but as he looked straight ahead, he didn’t care about the mysterious, pop-up pillars.
In front of him was an island. The dark waved washed up against its muted, gray shore. Large boulders were piled high on the beach before the land sloped upward into a thin forest. Gerry had no idea how the trees could grow without any sunlight, but they were there. They were tall and spindly, with thinly covered branches. They might be there, but they were not thriving. In the distance, Gerry could see a mountain rising. It looked huge compared to the eternal flatness of the ocean Gerry had experienced in the lifetime of flying since he’d left Seere’s kingdom. He wanted to make it there, but his body failed him.
A jolt of pain went through his right wing before he lost all feeling. He tried to adjust with his remaining wing, but he was too tired and weak. He spiraled out of control and plummeted toward the beach. He did his best to avoid the boulders, but he wasn’t sure he succeeded. All he remembered was seeing gray before unconsciousness seized him.
Consciousness returned slowly. It started as a pinprick of light in his mind. Slowly, it expanded.
<Who am I? What am I? Where am I? Who elbow is in my spleen?> Those were the questions that consumed Gerry for the first few minutes. It was the memory that he’d undergone something like this before that brought everything flooding back.
“Ugh,” he groaned as he tried to push himself into a sitting position. His hands disappeared into the soft sand and he fell back on his face. He sputtered and spat out the coarse material before his hand found a nearby rock. It was much better.
It turned out Gaius was the one poking him in the spleen and it was his knee not his elbow. With great effort, Gerry turned and the general fell off his back and onto the sand. Gaius didn’t even grunt on impact. For a second, Gerry feared everyone else was dead. He did a quick check and found they all had pulses. They weren’t exactly strong, but everyone would live once they regained their strength.
It was at that unfortunate moment when Gerry realized he wasn’t healing. His exhaustion persisted, constant spells of dizziness threatened to return him to unconsciousness, and he couldn’t even get to his feet. All he could do was pull himself the short distance along the beach to a boulder. He put his back to it, tried to take a deep breath, and gauged his surroundings.
Everything looked like it had from the air. The beach tapered off and led into a forest. From his new vantage point he could definitely tell the trees looked sick. They reminded him of pine trees, but there were a lot of empty patches. He was looking at one of those empty patches when movement caught his eyes. The wind had blown and ruffled something down and to the right. When he refocused on the spot his body gave a weak jump of surprise. Something was standing there watching him.
It was partially covered by the shadows thrown by the trees. These shadows weren’t created by light. Everything about this place had a dark gray hue to it. The darkness just seemed to linger there, and whatever the figure was, it was a part of it. It looked humanoid, but it was wearing a thick, baggy cloak, so Gerry couldn’t see anything in detail. Some of Beelzebub’s blasphemous creatures were humanoid too, so Gerry didn’t put a lot of faith in a creature’s outline from a hundred yards away.
Fear gripped him for a moment as the thing started to approach, but he quickly realized he couldn’t do anything about it. What strength he had left had been zapped away when he’d crawled to sit by the boulder. He could barely lift his arms, and staying focused on the thing was hard enough.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t in a rush. It calmly picked its way through the boulders with a casual speed that said it knew the area well. When it finally reached Gerry, it came around from behind the boulder. The hairs on his neck stood up as he felt the thing’s presence over his shoulder but just out of sight.
“What have we hear?” There was a sharp intake of breath as the thing breathed in his scent. There was silence for a moment. “Interesting…” A rough hand grabbed Gerry by the collar of his clothing and started to pull him along.
Gerry reached out toward Gaius, Pete, and Jezebel, but they remained unmoving on the beach. Whatever this thing was it didn’t seem concerned with them. His hand fell limply to his side and his head lolled to the side as he lost consciousness.
The creature effortlessly dragging him noticed but didn’t care.