On 30 May 542 at the bloodiest height of the Battle of Camlann, King Arthur
(you may have heard of him, he was kind of a big deal in the 6th century)
charged at his traitorous nephew,
(or maybe he was his son, this particular family tree’s roots are pretty gnarled and twisted)
Mordred, and ran him through with a spear.
(And you thought your family had problems?)
More of a badass than anyone realized, Mordred impaled himself even further to be within striking distance of his hated relative, and landed a killing blow with his sword to Arthur’s head.
Or so the legend goes.
But there are many worlds, more than the human mind can conceive of. In one such reality it wasn’t Mordred that the king faced at Camlann. It wasn’t even a single mortal foe at all, but rather the avatar of a force more insidious than Arthur ever could have imagined. On that fated day one of Britain’s most revered rulers took up arms against one of the first five beings in existence on the mortal plane, a real nasty piece of work named Erebus. This primordial deity considered himself the personification of darkness itself.
(He abandoned that illusion pretty damn quick.)
At the battle’s climax Arthur Pendragon stumbled through the wreckage of a once majestic stronghold, his fabled weapon, the cursed sword, Excalibur, cutting into the stone and the corpses of slain Saxons and Arthur’s forces beneath it as he dragged it along.
“You may have vanquished me… you devils… but my Camelot will rise again,” he boasted to his foes, his breath ragged but still commanding.
Nothing more than a hulking skeletal figure wrapped in an ebony cloak made of black smoke, Erebus had no lips but his response was succinct to say the least. “ƗŦ ŴƗŁŁ ŇØŦ.”
Undaunted, the depleted sovereign continued. “Your masters have hidden themselves well, hiding behind Morgana and that traitorous bastard, Mordred. Who are they, truly? Speak… you unearthly, damned devil!”
“¥ØỮ ĦΔV€ ₣ØỮǤĦŦ βŘΔV€Ł¥… ₣ØŘ Δ ŴØŘΜ, ΔŇĐ ŞØ ŦĦ€¥ ĦΔV€ Đ€ĆƗĐ€Đ ŦØ ǤŘΔŇŦ ¥ØỮ ¥ØỮŘ βØØŇ. ŦĦ€¥ ΔŘ€ ǤØĐ’Ş ₣ƗŇ€ŞŦ ĆŘ€ΔŦƗØŇ. Ħ€Ř ĐƗVƗŇ€ ƤØŦ€ŇĆ¥ ǤƗV€Ň ₣ØŘΜ ΔŇĐ ₣ỮŇĆŦƗØŇ. ŦĦ€¥, ĐØØΜ€Đ ҜƗŇǤ, ΔŘ€ ŦĦ€ ĐΔŘҜ.”
The king’s code demanded he take the measure of his foes before battle. And so now that he had a name to put to the unspeakable acts his adversaries had committed, Arthur Pendragon raised his weapon one last time. “On my sword I vow… this is not the true end! Somehow… someway… I shall always fight The Dark.”
Arthur across the Multiverse…
Centuries later, the memory of that day still burned bright in Erebus’ lightless, demented consciousness – especially as he gazed into the eyes of another equally intractable worm. William Nemesis should have surrendered his sanity in the face of such incandescent hatred and malevolence, but to tell the truth, he was filled with more hope than he’d known in years.
It really pissed Erebus off.
Nemesis could see the dark god’s inner turmoil and decided to press his advantage. Hard. “It’s been centuries since you faced someone like me, right, you unearthly, damned devil?”
The phrasing struck a nerve in The Dark’s enslaved servant. Recollections of a sunless, blood-drenched day when the air was thick with the stifling scent of ash and death cascaded through Erebus’ tangled psyche.
(He wished he had the time to truly savor the moment.)
But he a holy mission to continue, one that had become more herculean with the inconceivable extermination of his beloved mate.
“Ŵ€ ĦΔĐ ŦΔҜ€Ň Μ€ΔŞỮŘ€Ş ŦØ €ŇŞỮŘ€ ŦĦ€ ΜΔŇ-ĆĦƗŁĐ ŴØỮŁĐ Ň€V€Ř ỮŇŁØĆҜ ĦƗŞ ŦŘỮ€ ƤØŦ€ŇŦƗΔŁ… ΔŇĐ ¥€Ŧ Ħ€ ĆŁ€ΔŘŁ¥ ĦΔŞ,” Erebus’ words buzzed in Nemesis’ mind, like a head full of bees.
Fortunately, the young Multiversal voyager wasn’t rattled easily. “Yeah, as you’ve probably guessed by now… you have me to thank for that. My mental powers aren’t very strong, but they were enough to give those voices in Tommy’s head the extra oomph they needed to finally break free of the psychological walls you put up.”
He could feel the pitch-black spiders that had formed a sarcophagus around him hiss and twitch, desperate to devour him whole, but this just made an even bigger grin form around Nemesis’s lips.
“¥ØỮ ₣ΔĆ€ Δ ₣ΔŦ€ ŴØŘŞ€ ŦĦΔŇ ŦĦ€ €ЖŦƗŇǤỮƗŞĦƗŇǤ Ø₣ ¥ØỮŘ ŁƗǤĦŦ… ΔŇĐ ¥€Ŧ, ŦĦ€Ř€ ƗŞ ĴØ¥ ỮƤØŇ ¥ØỮŘ ƤỮŦŘƗĐ VƗŞΔǤ€, ŴØŘΜ?” the primeval daemon would never understand mortals, especially this one. But it was of no relevance. “¥ØỮ ΔŘ€ ΔβØỮŦ ŦØ Ş€ŘV€ Δ ǤŘ€ΔŦ€Ř ƤỮŘƤØŞ€, ŁΔŘVΔ. ØŇ€ ¥ØỮ ĆØỮŁĐ Ň€V€Ř ĆØΜƤŘ€Ħ€ŇĐ.”
“Oh, I know exactly what you have in store for me. You want to trap me in that celestial fragment your overlords acquired, siphon off my power and dispatch it to them in the prime reality via some sort of supernatural Uber Eats type of deal. I’m red hot, right?”
Curiosity gave way to inconceivable rage as Erebus summoned a gateway above Nemesis’ prone form. “€ŇØỮǤĦ! ¥ØỮ ΔŘ€ ŇØ… Ħ€ŘØ…”
(oh, how he hated that word!)
“¥ØỮ ΔŘ€ ŇØŦĦƗŇǤ ΜØŘ€ ŦĦΔŇ ₣ØØĐ! ΔŇĐ Δ ŞƤØƗŁ€Đ Μ€ΔŁ, ŇØ ĐØỮβŦ!”
His improvised living casket began to break the bonds of gravity and hover towards the portal – but Nemesis had one helluva an ace up his leather sleeve.
“We grubs have a saying,” he declared, his voice quickly becoming a roar. “When you stare into the heroic abyss…”
Erebus felt yet another unnatural sensation cleave through his primal carcass. He simultaneously mutated from his core identity to the hundreds he had assumed over the course of his cursed existence.
“The heroic abyss stares back, bitch!”
The black magic arachnids convulsed and faded as Erebus’ heinous omnipotence was overwhelmed. White-hot fluorescence erupted in his core. For the first time in his unholy existence he screamed until his ancient throat drifted away along with the rest of his form.
He was one of the First Beings, given life by the Creator as one of the pillars of the Balance, the bedrock of the worlds She was building across a newly-birthed Multiverse. Nemesis knew the depth of his actions this day – just as he knew he had no choice but to carry them out.
The die fatefully cast, William Nemesis collapsed on the debris scattered across the Empire Diner’s shattered floor, fatigue finally taking an unbreakable hold.
(Rubbing out an archaic deity really takes a lot out of a guy.)
For a nanosecond silence reigned between the Empire’s broken walls.
Then an otherworldly hum filled the space and another player joined the game…