Discussion of cannibalism (let’s be honest this is pretty much constant now)
Lots of blood
References to genocide
Sexual violence (this is very edge-case but I’m warning for it anyway)
“Everybody up! Grab our gear, stow the food, be ready to move. Vicky, Atyle, stay here with Kagami and Amina. Get in the doorway and watch the ends of the corridor, don’t get pinned down. If something happens, make your way to the ground floor, to the front, where we came in. We’ll regroup there. Illy, with me!”
Elpida leapt to her feet, grabbed her submachine gun, and bolted out into the corridor. Ilyusha’s talons scrabbled against the floor, then followed with a rapid clicking of metal.
The distant sound of gunfire cut out. Elpida kept moving at a rapid combat walk, weapon tucked tight against her shoulder, muzzle panning over every doorway and shadow. Ilyusha took her lead without the need for orders, covering Elpida’s brief blind spots with her rotary shotgun.
Pira was shooting; Pira needed backup. Elpida would respond — but she was hyper-aware of potential ambushes, of tricks and traps to draw her out.
She would not fall for that again. Her senses felt sharp and clear, her belly full of meat, her body re-energised by the grisly meal of cold grey matter.
Another burst of gunfire. Ground floor. At the rear.
Elpida hit the stairs. Tall windows flooded the stairwell with gloom-thick light. She hurried down, leading with her gun at the corners, boots slapping on the plastic flooring, echoing down into the empty reaches. Ilyusha leapt the bannister, sticking her gun into doorways, sometimes a pace ahead, other times a pace behind, always turning and watching and twitching. Elpida was relieved that even after the terrible revelations and arguments about feeding, Ilyusha did not hesitate.
The ground floor of the structure was dimmer and darker than the upper two floors, sunk in the shadows of the neighbouring buildings, graced by only a few stray slivers of choking red. Elpida hurried past yawning nooks, plunging along umbral corridors, passing through shafts of bloody sunlight.
She hissed, over and over: “Pira! Pira! Answer me! Pira!”
The rearmost area of the ground floor was semi-ruined: corridors lay collapsed in jumbles of breeze block and clinging bio-film mats of black nano-gunk. These passages had once led into a large two-story one-room extension at the rear of the structure — perhaps some kind of sports hall or religious gathering space or sparring ground. Elpida had ignored the ruined section when she had scouted the inside of the building; the jumble of fallen masonry, twisted metal girders, and shattered roof sections was impassible. But a small section of it was still accessible and intact, beyond a pair of double doors at the end of a long corridor.
Elpida signalled for Ilyusha to pause at the doors. She eased one side open, hinges creaking in the silence; she peered through, muzzle-first. Nothing moved. Red sunlight trickled down from the fallen roof above. She slipped through with Ilyusha at her heels.
The ruined hall was a huge space. Most of the roof was gone. Fully half of the walls had collapsed into a tangle of metal and shattered breeze block. Barely twenty feet of clear ground lay between the double doors and a near-impassible hill of rubble and razor-sharp scrap.
Brass casings littered the crescent clearing — two whole magazines worth, if Elpida had to guess.
And standing in the middle of the space, facing away from the doors, calmly reloading a magazine from the pouches on her webbing, was—
“Pira,” Elpida said. “We heard gunfire. What’s happening?”
Pira’s flame-red hair caught in the dark light, dyed umber and bronze. The black and grey of her flak jacket and bullet-proof vest blended her with the rubble and ruin. She grabbed another handful of bullets. Her fingers slid them into the magazine: click-click-click-click.
She did not turn around.
Ilyusha stalked forward, tail rigid, hands swinging her shotgun left to right. She grimaced. “Reptile cunt’s lost it.”
Elpida kept her hands on her own submachine gun. She scanned the rubble. There was nothing. “Pira, what were you shooting at?”
Click-click-click-click went the bullets into the magazine. Pira shrugged beneath her body armour. “Driving off a curious scavenger. Nothing important.”
Ilyusha gave Elpida a look, peeling back her lips and shaking her head, blonde hair waving in the faint wind through the ruins. Elpida chopped sideways with one hand — no. If Pira was having some kind of emotional breakdown, Elpida did not want Ilyusha to be the one voicing concern or provoking a reaction.
Elpida spoke slowly and clearly: “Pira, you said we need to maintain stealth, and I agree with you. Gunfire may have attracted attention. If you were warning off another revenant, then good work, good job. We may need to move now. How many—”
Pira turned around. Stone-faced, eyes the blue of a frozen sky. Her fingers flickered — click-click-click-click. “A scavenger came through the ruins. I shot at her. She left.”
Ilyusha snorted: “Lotta fuckin’ bullets.”
Two full magazines? Ilyusha had a point. Elpida didn’t say it out loud, but Pira wasn’t stupid; she must have known her half-truth would not stand up to examination. Had she shot at nothing in a fit of pique — or unloaded more than necessary on a single brief target? Venting frustration — or baiting a challenge?
If one of Elpida’s cadre had acted like this, she would have called out the challenge for what it was, and put the offender flat on her back, with Elpida’s hands on her throat and groin.
Her heart leapt. Sweat broke out on her back. She coughed once.
Pira was not one of her sisters.
“Alright,” Elpida said. She had to take a deep breath. “Good job. Thank you, Pira. We may need to relocate. We should head back—”
“I reacted with instant violence the moment I saw her. She has no reason to believe there’s anything here but another lone revenant, with nothing but a gun. She won’t be back.”
“Still, I’d rather take the precaution. We—”
“What’s the point?”
Pira clicked the final bullet home, slammed the magazine into her weapon, racked the charging handle — then clicked the safety on and let the gun hang from the strap. Her eyes bored into Elpida.
Ilyusha hissed, rolled her eyes, and let the muzzle of her shotgun drop. Elpida held out a hand to stall any further reaction, and said: “Pira, let’s at least get out of the open. We can talk inside.”
“The rubble blocks all the sight-lines from the nearby buildings. The hole only reveals the sky. I’ve yet to meet a revenant who can fly.”
Pira was correct — but her stare did not waver.
“Pira,” Elpida said. “If you discharge your weapon, I’m going to come running to help you. That’s what I’ve done right now. If you have a problem, we can discuss it.”
“What’s to discuss?”
Ilyusha said: “Fuck’s sake. Fuckin’ bitch. Say what you mean!”
Elpida gestured to Ilyusha. “Illy, stop, please. Pira, what’s wrong?”
Pira just stared.
Ilyusha snorted, “Knickers in a twist ‘cos we’re not perfect, huh?”
“Illy,” Elpida said. “Please. Pira? I can’t solve a problem if you won’t voice it.”
Pira spoke soft and slow: “You’ve eaten those brains, haven’t you? You’re visibly sated. Both of you.”
Ilyusha stamped one clawed foot, red talons raking the floor with a rasp of metal. “Better we all fuckin’ die, huh?! Starve so we’re not like them?” Her red-tipped tail jabbed toward Pira. “Stab your fucking guts out for a ration card instead? Is that better, fucking reptile shit!”
Pira didn’t flinch.
Elpida stepped forward and grabbed Ilyusha by the shoulder before the situation could deteriorate. Black and red bionic muscles twitched beneath her grip. “Illy, stop. Please. For me. Illy, please.”
Ilyusha spat on the floor, then twisted away, ripping free of Elpida’s hand. She stepped back, glaring at Pira. Her tail lashed back and forth. Her fingertip claws clicked against her shotgun.
Pira said: “I’m not claiming to be better than you.”
Her voice quivered. So very gently. Perhaps undetectable without genetically augmented hearing. She was addressing Ilyusha — but Ilyusha just snorted.
“Pira?” Elpida pitched her voice soft; Pira was in a hole and she needed digging out, not burying. “Pira, if you need—”
“I thought you were different.” Pira’s gaze flickered back to Elpida, blue eyes burning bright, backlit by the bronze furnace of the undead sun in the necrotic sky. The outline of her body was blurred by the black-and-grey camouflage. “I thought maybe you would be different. After so many tries, so many failures, so many deaths. Maybe I’d finally found somebody worth following again.” Her voice dropped, hushed and raw. “I’ve never seen a fresh revenant take charge like you did. So quickly, no hesitation. The way you killed that zombie outside of the tomb, for a bunch of girls you’d known only for a few hours.” Pira’s throat bobbed. “Nobody does that. People who were leaders in life, great leaders, chieftains, priestesses — you think they’re anything, here? If you remove a human being from their social context, they are nothing. The greatest leader, the smartest thinker, the strongest warrior, the cleverest soldiers — none of it matters, here. We have no context. We are nothing. Meat.”
Elpida nodded. She focused on Pira’s eyes, to show she was listening.
“But you?” Pira almost whispered. “Commander? You kept going. You died, you came back. And then you pushed on. You won’t even stop and hide. It’s madness, and it’s working.” She shook her head. “But like all the others, you have to eat. In the end, like everyone else, you eat. I wanted to believe … maybe … ” Pira’s voice cracked. “Maybe you were different.”
Ilyusha barked: “She is!”
Pira said, “She’s not. You’re not.”
Elpida spoke quickly. “Illy, I need you to do something for me. Head back to the others and let them know everything is okay, but stay armed and be ready, in case we’ve attracted any attention.”
Ilyusha pulled a very unimpressed face. Her tail flicked at the air. “Serious?”
“I’m serious, yes. Illy, it’ll be okay. I would like to talk to Pira alone. But I need you to inform the others.”
Ilyusha shot a suspicious look at Pira, and said: “Don’t try shit.”
Elpida said, “It’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. Please go tell the others.”
Ilyusha bumped her head against Elpida’s shoulder, then slipped back through the double doors. Her claws clicked against the floor for a few paces, then vanished into the depths of the structure.
Elpida was not certain about the expression on Pira’s face — the bitter frustration, the unwillingness to express herself in clear terms, the old pain and open-wound traumas behind her eyes. But it reminded her of a specific look she’d seen before, only a few days earlier — a million years ago.
Pira’s look of resigned anger and wounded hope reminded Elpida of some of her sisters as they had waited for death together. But without the companionship, without the solace, without the warmth of each other’s bodies.
Elpida stepped closer, close enough to reach out and take Pira’s shoulder, if the gesture seemed right. The sky smouldered beyond the remains of the metal roof.
“Pira, what you said earlier about cannibalism, I was listening. I won’t force you to eat human flesh. I will stand in front of the others and make them respect your choice. You don’t have to leave the group. I’m touched by your desire to believe in me, thank you — and I won’t let you down.”
Lies. She’d already let down everyone. Twenty four sisters, all dead. Elpida almost choked when Pira said:
“You already have.”
Pira blinked — no tears, just a ghost. “I’ve done things I’m not proud of. Been part of things I’m not proud of. I’m not pure, or clean. I’ve eaten human beings, human flesh, and brains, and done worse — far, far worse. All sorts of people think they have the answers, here.” She gestured up, out, at the world. “Ways to make sense of it. To make something out of it. To drag meaning from this.” She shook her head. “No. Not again. Not again. I’m not participating anymore. I’m not better than you because you eat and I don’t, I’m just not participating.”
“And I’m telling you that you don’t have to. I won’t make you.”
“But you are participating,” Pira said. “The others are participating. I thought maybe you might be different — in charge, really in charge. The others would have listened, they would have followed. But you’re going to be like all the rest.”
Elpida put real belief in her voice. “I am in charge. Eating the brains is not a slippery slope. I won’t kill to eat. And I won’t let the others do so, either. Pira, I promise. You can hold me to that. If I go back on my word, kill me.”
Pira shook her head. “You’re not in charge.”
Elpida spread her hands. “Then challenge me.”
“The nanomachines are in charge. They have you by the belly. You’re part of it now, like everyone else. The system will force you to eat other people. And you’ll do it, because you have to live. And that erodes you. You eat yourself every time you eat another. You’re not exempt. You’re not special. I was wrong about you.”
Pira’s face was unshuttered now, more so than ever before. She did not cry, but her eyes were hollow and empty.
Elpida spoke very gently. “Pira, it doesn’t have to be that way.”
“It is. You can’t change it.”
Elpida tried a different track: “What you told us about the graveworm, was that the truth? It’s really a giant nanomachine factory, with more than enough raw blue for everyone?”
Pira blinked and sighed. “As far as I know.”
“And that’s your aim? Getting inside it? Co-opting part of … all this?”
Pira’s eyes searched Elpida’s face. “You’re going to tell me that the ends justify the means.”
“If the end result is freedom from mandatory predation on each other, then yes, that end does justify eating human flesh and brains. I will eat as many kills as I need to, in order to keep this group together, alive, and get us to the combat frame.” Pira opened her mouth, but Elpida kept talking: “Pira, I understand your goal. It’s the right thing to do. And maybe it can be achieved by living on ambient nanomachines alone — but equally maybe it can’t. If we have to scavenge the dead and eat those who try to kill us, then I will do that — but I promise you two things. One: I will follow your goal of getting us into the graveworm. Not just because I can’t see any other goal, but because it makes sense to me. You’ve convinced me. I’m with you. And two: I won’t resort to predation, I won’t kill to eat. The others will follow my orders.” She extended her hand. “Will you?”
Pira stared at Elpida’s hand, then looked away, at the rubble.
Elpida read the shift in Pira’s posture and felt a thrill deep in her chest and down in her belly. Perhaps Pira thought she was being subtle. Or perhaps she was, and Elpida’s gene-altered senses and lifetime of close combat training was giving her an advantage. Or perhaps Pira wanted her to see.
Did Pira want to be forced?
Elpida decided to give Pira the opening. Perhaps she wanted to lose; Elpida would make it quick.
She dropped her hand, then sighed and smiled at the same time. “Okay, so you don’t believe in me. That’s fine too. Listen, we can still head back to the others.”
Elpida turned her head to glance back at the double doors.
Pira drew a combat knife from within her body armour and lunged for Elpida’s throat, in one unbroken fluid motion.
Quick, for a baseline human; Elpida had to give her that.
Elpida was ready — she jinked out of the way, caught Pira’s arm, pinned it against her own side, then used Pira’s own momentum to drag her forward and slam her into the floor. The flame-haired girl landed with a crash, the air forced from her lungs, head bouncing off the ground with a nasty snap. Elpida twisted Pira’s arm as she went down; fingers loosened, knife clattered free. Elpida kicked it away.
Pira tried to break Elpida’s grip with a boot-heel to the elbow — but Elpida just let go. She stepped back, hands wide, heart pumping. She was enjoying this far too much.
Pira jumped to her feet, panting for breath, shaking her head to clear her senses. She raised her fists and dropped into a crouch.
Elpida almost laughed. “Why not just shoot—”
Pira’s fist crashed into Elpida’s jaw.
Elpida went reeling. She shook her head and coughed, heart leaping and lurching, blood surging. This feeling, this kind of combat — she knew this, inside and out, she knew it like she had known every one of her sisters.
She knew what Pira wanted.
Elpida straightened up in time to block Pira’s follow-up punch, but not in time to stop Pira kneeing her in the gut. She grunted and heaved and slammed a fist into Pira’s throat. Pira’s eyes bulged in shock — but zombies didn’t need to breathe through bruised windpipes; she punched Elpida in the face again, then again, then again, pistoning her arm, smashing knuckles into mouth and nose, knocking blood from burst lips, forcing Elpida back.
Elpida’s bloodstream flooded with painblockers — an unfair advantage. She spat blood in Pira’s eyes and got a fist into her gut, driving the breath from Pira’s lungs and making her double up. Elpida scrambled to get a hold of Pira’s arms, get them behind her back, pin her somehow — but Pira was too slippery, too quick. She slammed into Elpida’s hips, arms around Elpida’s waist, and sent both of them tumbling to the floor.
They rolled together, coat and armour grinding on concrete, guns forgotten in the melee, each trying to pin the other. Elpida was taller and stronger, with a longer reach and more experience. Pira had that single full bionic arm, which hit like a brick and whipped like a snake, and she struggled like a weasel in a sack.
Elpida hadn’t fought like this in years. This wasn’t anything like the carefully delineated matches on the sparring room mats, even the most emotionally charged and important ones, the ones to establish pecking order or prove herself to some Legion onlookers who’d never seen the cadre before.
This felt like the old days. Like being thirteen years old again and discovering that she and Howl could beat each other black and blue for hours without stopping. Like the inevitable night afterward. Like fighting because it felt right and good, hot and wet and urgent.
Elpida found herself pinned. Pira slammed her shoulders to the ground, fist raised in threat.
And Elpida laughed, blood singing, loins burning.
She wanted to fuck Pira. Very badly.
Pira had been about to say something — but then she frowned and paused. Perhaps she saw the need in Elpida’s eyes.
Elpida bucked her off. Pira tried to cling on, but Elpida slammed a fist into her gut and a knee into her groin. She swarmed over Pira, got her fingers into that beautiful flame-red hair, and straddled her belly, pinning Pira’s arms to her sides beneath Elpida’s iron-muscled thighs. She held Pira’s head to the floor.
“Yield,” Elpida panted.
“No,” Pira spat.
“Yield. I’m stronger. Have you pinned. Better at this. I win—”
Pira jackknifed her entire body. She kicked her feet and reared up. Head-butted Elpida in the face. Nose bone went snap; blood exploded everywhere. But Elpida held on and slammed a fist into Pira’s sternum. Pira wheezed, whining with shock.
“Ahhhhhh,” Elpida groaned, shaking her head. Her nose felt loose. Blood splattered down onto Pira’s face. “I win. Yield. Give. Give!”
Pira went limp. “Win. You win. A-alright. But no— no flesh— no—”
“Don’t have to. Told you. Won’t make you. Shoot me. If I do. Shoot me.”
They both panted for breath, bruised and sore and bleeding. Elpida began to reach back behind her, one hand going between Pira’s legs to grab and squeeze and knead—
Elpida stopped herself before making contact. This fight did not mean the same thing to Pira as it did to her. With any member of her cadre — yes! But Pira was not of the cadre.
Quivering with repressed desire, Elpida let go. Pira just lay there panting beneath her. Elpida’s blood dripped onto Pira’s face.
Pira’s tongue emerged, pink and soft. She licked at the blood on her lips.
“Blood,” Elpida croaked.
Pira blinked slowly, clearing her eyes. “Ah?”
“Blood. Nanos. Are there nanomachines in our blood?”
Pira blinked again. Her tongue retracted back into her mouth. She swallowed. “Of course.”
Pira huffed. She rolled her eyes. And she licked her lip again.
Elpida rolled off Pira. She lay on the floor, exhausted, humming, ready for more — for more than Pira could give. Pira licked the blood off her lips, then used her fingers to wipe her face, licking them clean. Slowly, numb, conquered.
After a moment, Elpida said: “I’m serious. Drink my blood. You don’t wanna eat, drink me.”
“That’s still participation. Being part of the cycle. The system.”
“Won’t let you starve.”
Elpida sat up first. Pira followed. They were both bloody and bruised. Elpida could feel her wounds throbbing, black eyes and an aching jaw and a broken nose — but less and less with every minute. The meal of brains had done her good; her flesh was healing, faster than before. Pira had Elpida’s blood all over her face. She stared at Elpida, open-faced at last — and more bitter and sullen than ever.
Elpida told her: “Kagami thinks you’re a traitor. I don’t. I think you’re with me.”
“Pira isn’t my original name.”
Elpida shrugged. “It’s the name you use. That makes it your name.”
Pira shook her head. “It’s a zombie name. A here-name. I use it in front of you people — all of you. All descendants of the culture which murdered mine. All of you did this, created this. All your cities, all your teeming millions. You all did this.”
Elpida said, “If you want to share another name with me, you can. I won’t tell the others. Or the name of where you came from, or—”
“It would mean nothing to you. They erased us.” She shook her head. “Being here, over and over, has erased who I was. I told you before, it’s like asking me to share who I was in the womb. It means nothing.”
Elpida said, “Telokopolis is eternal. And Telokopolis has a place for all, whoever you are, and wherever you came from. I promise you, Pira. You’re human. You’re one of us. I won’t know about your people, because Telokopolis made us all one.”
Pira smiled, sour and beaten. “You really are one of them.”
“And you’re one of us.”
Pira swallowed. She shuddered once, then raised her head. Her eyes were shining and vulnerable. “I’ve been dead a hundred times longer than I lived, but I still believe in one thing, I remember that I remember: I shit on the memory of Caesar. I shit on all Caesars, all they build with ash and blood, and all the flesh they gorge upon.”
Elpida waited, but that was all; what a strange name Pira had uttered.
She reached out, gripped Pira’s arm, and said: “Pira. I don’t even know who ‘Caesar’ was.”
Pira stared — then laughed. Just a little huff through her nose. Bloody-mouthed and bloody-toothed. But real. “Okay.”
“Pira, I’m with you. Are you with me?”
“I can smell brains on your breath.”
“But are you with me?”
Pira sighed. “You win.”
“Good enough. I’ll get us to the combat frame. And then, the graveworm.”
Pira looked down at herself. “We’re a mess. You and I.”
“Mm.” Elpida rubbed at her own face. Her nose crunched. She tried to set it straight.
“What are we going to tell the others?”
Elpida stood up, slow and aching. “Tell them we fucked.”
Pira blinked. “What?”
“It would make sense if you were one of mine.” She offered her hand to Pira, to help her up. Pira stared, then accepted, but with a frown.
“One of your what?”
Elpida shook her head. “One of my sisters. Never mind. Come on, Pira. Let’s go rejoin the others.”
Pira stayed where she was as Elpida turned to leave. She said: “I still don’t think you’re any different.”
Elpida said, “Maybe. Maybe not. Shoot me if I fail. Are you willing to let me try?”
Pira picked up her fallen combat knife. She held it for a moment, staring at Elpida. She raised it — then slid it away, inside her body armour.
Nothing like a good fist fight to get the blood pumping, eh? Elpida certainly thinks so, though this act means more to her than Pira could even guess. A slippery slope, perhaps? And what about Pira? She certainly doesn’t seem like a traitor, in the heat of the moment, pinned beneath Elpida’s thighs. Gosh! This chapter turned out much, much more horny than my initial outline suggested, but I am extremely happy with it. And so is Elpida. Perhaps she can finally get this lot moving. Unless … there might be a little surprise, next chapter.
No patreon link this week! Why? Well, because it’s the end of the month! In the meantime, check out this incredible fanart of Serin, by the reader sporktown heroine, over on the fanart page! I absolutely love this one, so much. Just look at her! Perfect.
No TWF link either. Why? Because this week I’d like to do a shout-out to one of my own favourite stories.
Feast or Famine by VoraVora is a wonderfully dark work of psychological horror, full of wit and introspection and philosophy, and also incredibly funny. The setting is deeply bizarre in the best of ways, the protagonist is unique and normal terrifying very normal! And, as Vora herself has told me, the story is explicitly influenced somewhat by the first parts of my other web serial, Katalepsis. If this sounds at all interesting to you, I highly recommend giving it a read! Great time to catch up with it too, since it’s on a short break.
And finally, thank you! Thank you so much for reading my little story. Necroepilogos is going so much better than I could ever have hoped for, and I hope you are enjoying the ride. Until next chapter!
Oh, how I love this.
Yay, Elpida. When she gets like this I get the giggles.
Thank you for the chapter.
Ahhh, thank you so much! Yay! You’re very welcome and I’m delighted you enjoyed the chapter!
Haha, Elpida is quite unstoppable when she gets like this. I actually didn’t expect her to take it this far.
I’m so glad she did.
Thank you for replying.
You’re always very welcome!
Well, I suppose that might be the mistake, sure she’s a genetically engineered super soldier, but she’s still just a person. As is anyone else. Take comfort in it or not, but both the best and worst people are just that. People. Feel like I should add something else, but I’ve got nothing… Anyway, thanks for the chapter!
You’re so very welcome! Glad you enjoyed it! And yes, Elpida might be superhuman, engineered to maximum tolerances beyond any of her current peers, but she’s flawed, and messy, and human, and prone to mistakes just the same.
Wow, this turned into some twisted guro hentai bullshit out of nowhere. I think I’m dropping the story here. The horror was great, but the bizarro sex stuff is physically stomach-churning.