The prequel to “Scourge.” Warning: for mature readers only.
I knew that she was sneaking quick glances at me, and I pretended that I hadn’t noticed her eyes peering out from beneath her long lashes. She wasn’t conventionally beautiful, but there was something endearing about her freckled cheeks and button nose. Besides, I was bored, and I could already feel that heavy dullness settling over my senses. I decided to play along.
The marketplace was bustling, and I had to push past several people to get to my admirer’s stall. She was selling an assortment of fruit and vegetables, ochre berries and spiky melons and brilliantly vermillion things that resembled zucchini. As soon as she saw me approaching, she looked down at her plump hands, obviously shy. This must have been overwhelming for the poor thing. How often did such a good-looking man come to her stall? I knew that she found me attractive because everyone did. I had carefully designed my face that way, giving myself inhuman perfection. It was just another source of amusement for me.
“Can I help you?” Her voice was so soft that I could hardly hear it.
I smiled at her, the sort of winsome expression that could melt a girl’s heart. And from the way that her dark eyes widened ever so slightly, it looked like it had melted hers.
“I’ve come to see an old friend, but I don’t know the area that well. Would you happen to know of a good hotel nearby?” I asked, and she stared up at me bashfully.
“There are a few,” she murmured. “It depends on your price range.”
“Money isn’t an issue.” And it wasn’t. One of the advantages to being so incredibly old was that I had money, lots of it. Not that I needed it, since I could take whatever I wanted and no one could stop me, but it was fun to play at being human from time to time.
“Oh. You’ll want the Lisle,” she said, and I could see the desperate longing in her features. Here was a handsome man, the man of her dreams, and she didn’t have the courage to speak to him. She would go home to her small apartment, the one that she probably shared with her parents, and she’d imagine all of the witty things that she could have said to him.
Fortunately for her, I knew exactly what to say. “Thank you so much…sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“It’s Sadie,” she told me, and when she hesitantly returned my smile, I knew that she was mine.
Sadie had recommended the right hotel; the Lisle was gorgeous, decorated to resemble the Edwardian period on Earth. I had been to dozens of worlds, and admittedly had destroyed many of them, but this was something else. Beside me, Sadie gawked at the gleaming wood and polished brass everywhere, her chin wobbling. She had probably never seen so much luxury in her life.
We got a room, a huge suite with a stunning view of New Chengdu. I could see the enormous palace in the distance, which most likely belonged to the giantess. I bet you thought that you were the last one, I said silently to this world’s Guardian. But you’re not.
My thoughts were interrupted by Sadie, who had given up sipping at her imported wine and who now was all over me. I had been expecting to seduce her, to whisper things into her ear as I ran my fingertips along her body. But she was surprisingly aggressive, kissing and caressing with a fierceness that I appreciated. Normal sex wasn’t exciting for me anymore; I had fucked countless women, and more than a few men, and even the kinkiest foreplay couldn’t do much for me. But I pretended to enjoy myself, and in the end, it was evident that Sadie loved every second of it. She collapsed beside me on the bed, her voluptuous body entangled in the sheets.
“You’re a lovely woman, Sadie,” I said, and I wasn’t lying. I also didn’t feel any sort of emotional attachment toward her, but I didn’t mention that. She smiled and touched my chest, her mouth so close to mine that I could smell her wine-scented breath. We lay there for awhile, the darkness of night closing in on us.
“Do you know anything about the giantess?” I asked her.
“Is that the name that she chose for herself? Yes, her.”
Sadie continued rubbing my chest. “She protects Ersa. She’s protected it for hundreds of years, I think. I don’t know much about her, though. No one does.”
“I know more about her than you’d think,” I said, and Sadie raised her black eyebrows. Before she could say anything, I continued, “What if I told you that I was like Bellona?”
“I’d say that you were lying.”
“Oh, but I’m not,” I said softly, and then I told her everything.
“I was a person once. Most of the volunteers involved in the project forgot what it was like to be human, which led to all kinds of mental instability. Madness, I guess you could call it. The human mind isn’t designed to exist for so long and to be separated from the rest of its kind.
They made us because they thought that they needed us. When mankind took to the stars, they worried about all sorts of threats. We were supposed to protect them from the monsters in the universe. And we did, for a very long time. But that insanity often crept in, made us into monsters ourselves. A lot of people died because some giant or giantess believed that they had become a deity.
And so they made me.
I was the fail safe, the one who could stop those who had lost their minds. Of course I jumped at the chance. I was young, ambitious. I wanted to become something more than I was. Most of the others became Guardians because they wanted to help humanity. I became one because I wanted to help myself. They gave me all kinds of psychological tests, and I passed with flying colors. I knew how to work the system, and so I answered exactly how they wanted me to answer. Yes, I would help mankind. No, I would never abuse my power.
What gullible fools.
I can’t begin to explain how exciting it was for me to shed my old body and become this. I look like a person, but I’m really just a bunch of very, very tiny machines. I control them, and I control all of the other giants. I can change my height, my appearance. I can exist in the cold vacuum of space, or on a burning hot planet. I’m immortal, practically invincible. I’m what humanity has always aspired to be.
My first assignment was on a farming colony near some asteroid belt. I had never heard of it, but apparently, the Guardian there had become paranoid. Authoritarian. And if I’m being honest, batshit nuts. The reports indicated that she thought that everyone was out to get her and the colonists, and so she executed citizens at random. It was bloody, it was brutal, and my bosses wanted her stopped. So they shipped me out to this far off world, and the first thing that I saw was that everyone lived in perpetual fear.
‘She’s crazy,’ they would whisper to me, looking around fearfully. ‘How can we possibly stop something like her, though?’
Fortunately for them, their savior had arrived.
I went to the capital city, and the situation was worse than I had imagined. She had trampled most of the city, and the survivors watched me like cornered rats as I marched toward her palace. It had fallen into disarray, and all of the windows were covered with heavy shrouds. As I stumbled through the darkness, I saw her, sitting there on her throne like some mad warlord.
‘You’ve finally come for me,’ she said, and then she started grinning insanely.
I didn’t deny it, just shrugged. She didn’t like that, and she launched herself at me, doubling in height, and then tripling. By the time that she slammed into me, she was immense. If I had still been a normal human, I would have been flattened into a bloody stain. But I wasn’t a person, and so I grew as well, trying to push her off of me. She was strong, incredibly strong, but I was so much stronger. I shoved her away, reached out to the billions and billions of nanobots in her body…and then I shut them down.
You should have seen the look on her face as she shrank back down amongst the ruins of her palace. The madness left her eyes as she cowered in front of me, and I knew that she was remembering her humanity. Her mortality, her vulnerability, all of that was rushing back to her. The Guardian begged for me to let her go, and I could have done so. The top brass would have believed me if I told them that she had escaped. But I didn’t want to let her go. I liked her cringing at my feet. I let her grovel for a few minutes, then I crushed her under my boot like a beetle. One minute she was a fearsome goddess; the next, she was a red splatter in my footprint. I found myself staring at it for a long time, and I realized that I had never felt so alive in my life.
One by one, I hunted down the rogue Guardians. There were only a few of them, and it was almost pathetic had easily they were eradicated. After that, I was assigned to protect a world named Hlin. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Hlin, but it’s an utterly miserable planet, always cold and dark. Most of the economy was based around mining, and the colonists there were sullen and unfriendly. I would have been driven crazy just because of the sheer boredom, but luckily, I met a woman named Norena. She was a feisty thing, the fiancee of one of the mining company executives. I remember the first time that I met her, standing outside in the snow. Most people were unnerved by me. I could be a big, scary giant, after all. But she was so bold, teasing me.
’So do you go around saying ‘Fee fi fo fum’?’ She would ask, and that made me laugh. I admired her courage, and I couldn’t help but fall for her.
She was the only woman that I ever cared for.
Her boyfriend was away most of the time, so we had plenty of time to see one another. The first time that we made love, I was twice her size and I was afraid that I hurt her. But she screamed in ecstasy, digging her nails into my back and biting my neck. Afterward, I lay curled around her small body, listening to her breathing as she slept.
Our affair would have gone on forever if her fiancé hadn’t found out.
I still don’t know how he discovered that Norena was cheating on him. I suppose that it doesn’t matter. He stormed into my home and confronted me, shouting in my face about how he’d cut off my balls. I don’t think he knew who he was messing with, and it was only when I grew, bigger and bigger until my shadow engulfed him, that he understood.
By then, it was too late. I wasn’t angry with him…I mean, do you get angry with a chattering insect? I was more amused than anything else, especially when I picked him up and squeezed. He pounded on my fingers, initially with rage and then with a desperate fear. I knew at that point that it was my decision whether he lived or not, just like with those Guardians. I decided quickly, dangling him over my mouth. I didn’t want anyone to find his body, so I dropped him into my mouth and swallowed, feeling every squirm and wiggle as he was sucked down into my stomach.
I don’t know if Norena realized what I did to her fiancé. She came over at her usual time and wrapped her tiny, soft body around the circumference of my penis, making me moan while I digested the remains of her ex-boyfriend. Everyone questioned his disappearance, but the local police couldn’t find a corpse. And so things went on as they usually did, until Norena left on a space shuttle to God-only-knows-where. It just happened out of the blue, and once again, I should have been furious. But I felt only a strange restlessness. Hlin was turning into my personal hell, frigid and so damn boring. I needed a way to break through the horrible dullness.
I read a lot, fiction and history and science and anything that I could find. That was how I came across the books about Egyptian mythology. Set in particular fascinated me. He was a trickster deity and the god of many things, including violence and storms. Many of the other giants and giantesses had taken the names of gods as a way to distinguish themselves from their former human identity, and at first, I thought that the idea was ridiculous. But I became enamored with Set, to the point where I took his name. The Hlin colonists seemed fine with calling me whatever I wanted. To them, I was just another thing, a living weapon that protected them from the terrors of space.
And what were they to me? Nothing. Just small things for my amusement. It occurred to me that they were entirely at my mercy, that I could wipe them out without even breaking a sweat. Sometimes I would sit in the local bar, nursing a beer even though I could no longer become drunk, and I would watch the miners around me. How easily it would to outgrow the bar and scoop up handfuls of people in my fists, clenching tighter until they all burst.
I held back for awhile, but as yet another decade passed and I knew that I was trapped on this hellhole forever, I broke. I broke harder than the rogue Guardians, who had destroyed a city or two. They had tried to justify their cruelty, and maybe to their mad minds, they were doing the right thing. But I had no delusions about what I was or what I was about to do.
I showed up at GrayGulf City, three hundred feet tall and thirsting for destruction. The tiny people didn’t even fight back; I smashed everything in my path, savoring the wild thrill of causing such chaos. Soon enough everyone was dead and the snow was stained scarlet with blood. I didn’t feel remorse, I only wanted more things to destroy.
So I grew, the snowy world seeming to get smaller and smaller until people and vehicles were mere specks. It felt right, being this huge and unstoppable. Even my time with Norena paled in comparison to the heady feeling of total freedom. I strode off with newfound purpose, and when I came across one of the mines and the surrounding town, I crushed it with a single step. All of those miners and their families, gone. Just because I happened to be passing through.
My body heat warmed the snow, melted it into great floods of water as I expanded even more. Hlin didn’t have much of a space fleet; I was supposed to be their defense, after all. The few ancient star cruisers tried to ward me off, but they were smaller than fleas to me. I didn’t even bother to flick them away; instead, I let them crash against my mountainous body. There were brief bursts of light as they exploded, little puffs of smoke rising from my limbs and torso.
I grew so colossal that the planet could no longer support my weight, my boots sinking down deep into the crust and leaving behind titanic footprints, glowing bright with magma. No one on Hlin would survive me, and I wasn’t upset about this. I truly was Set at that moment, bringing about violence and death.
By the time that I stopped growing, I could have walked around the world in twenty paces. I laid down, looking at the landscape below me. It was as though I was looking at satellite footage, clouds drifting along near the ground. I ran my finger along a patch of tan and gray, what was a city, and licked up the bitter and gritty remains. It seemed that I was worse than the rogues that I had been created to destroy, and that made me chuckle, my laughter reverberating around me. If anyone was alive, the sound surely burst their fragile eardrums, sent trails of blood running down their necks.
I studied the dying world beneath me, touching myself until I grew erect. The clothes were a part of me, controlled by the nanomachines, and it only took a thought to reveal my huge malehood. It was obscene, it was awful, and I loved it. My cock created a vast cylindrical shadow over the land, and my fingers merged with the shadow as I stroked myself. I let my mind float away, only concentrating on the pleasure; when I came, my seed annihilated life rather than create it. Most of a continent was submerged beneath the thick gunk. I felt inordinately pleased as I looked up at the blackness of space, embedded with little white stars.
I wish that you could have seen this, Norena, I thought, reclining atop the world that had once been Hlin.
I don’t know how long I was alone there; months, maybe. Eventually some rescue ships came, and I killed one of the soldiers, changing my face and body to match his. Sneaking aboard one of the ships was easy, and no one suspected that I was the one who had destroyed Hlin. Some of the soldiers spoke about in hushed tunes, talking about how entire cities were reduced to mere molecules.
‘There were nothing left but huge craters, so big that you could see them from space,’ someone said, and I could see the beads of sweat form on their brows.
‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ someone else muttered.
I had to try my best to keep from smiling and letting them know that I was responsible for the destruction.
What did I do after that? I roamed around the galaxy, settling on one world after another, obliterating or sparing them, depending on my mood. I could sate my hunger on the lives of billions, eat a planet like an apple, or I could choose to let them live, to flourish and to die as the universe intended. But even being an omnipotent being became dull. So I turned my sights to the remaining Guardians, who at least could entertain me.
I traveled to their worlds and destroyed them in front of the people that they were sworn to protect. There was one giantess in particular who gave me a run for my money, a dark-haired Guardian named Macha who was swift enough to punch me several times before I could incapacitate her. The pain was refreshing, like having cold water thrown on my face, and I almost regretted shrinking and stomping her as the onlookers watched. She was defiant until the end, screaming ‘Monster!’ at me while I looked down at her. I gave her a horrifying view of my bootsole, and then I ground her into bone-strewn jelly. Her most faithful followers experienced a similar fate. They shrieked, they ran, I hunted them down.
Once the Guardians were dead, I felt…nothing. Not joy, just absolutely nothing. I began to realize that death was no longer such an unattractive option. But that option didn’t exist for me.
You see, I can’t die. The others can, although I’m the only one who can kill them. I don’t think that those who made me thought that I’d go rogue as well, and so there’s no one to stop me. Immortality is fantastic…for awhile. But I’ve lost the excitement of being all-powerful, and normal people are just so damn boring. I’ll confess that I fell into a deep depression when I realized that I had killed all of the other Guardians, who were the closest beings to myself. But then I found out about her, the Guardian of this world. Somehow I had missed her during my rampages.
She fascinates me. How has she been able to hold onto her humanity for so long, I wonder? Can someone really be that strong? Or will she crack under the pressure, become like me? It’s so terribly exciting to think about it.
And that’s why I have to find her.”
Sadie giggled nervously. “You’re joking, right? That didn’t happen.”
“Of course it happened. I’m Set, the Red God. Devourer of Worlds, Bringer of Storms.”
She sat up, frowning. “This isn’t funny.”
“I’ll show you,” I said, taking her right hand. It would have been easy to twist her arm from the socket, but I was very gentle, entwining her fingers with my own. Before she could jerk away, my nanobots acted upon my silent command. I revealed my true face, my features rearranging themselves, my eyes darkening into a dark crimson. Sadie gasped and dove off the bed, her mouth gaping in horror.
“Please don’t hurt me,” she pleaded, and we both knew that I could have ripped her apart, devoured her alive and screaming. But I just stretched out on the satin sheets, smiling at her.
“Go,” I said, and she did, wrapping a blanket around her naked body and running from the hotel room. The door slammed shut behind her, and I wondered if hotel security would arrive soon. If they did, I’d squash them into unrecognizable pulp. There was also a good chance that I’d raze this entire city until nothing was left but smoldering rubble. I half hoped that Sadie would flee to somewhere safe, and I half hoped that she stayed so that she could see me in all of my terrifying and deadly glory.
My eyes drifted back toward the window and the palace, which was now a mere outline against the starry sky. Somewhere in that beautiful building, there was a woman who had resisted her inner demons for such a long time.
“I’ll see you soon, Bellona,” I said, smiling.